Private investigator Vanna Marbury arrives in Lexington to search for a stolen thoroughbred. She boards her daughter’s horse at Big Sky Stables and becomes curious about the mysterious black colt the owner keeps sequestered in the barn. Stable owner Braxton Hicks lives up to his name. He can truly be a pain with his grumpy demeanor and arrogant attitude.
To Brax, Vanna is nosey, over-bearing and too damned attractive, and he considers telling her to take her horse elsewhere. Especially after she tells him she is an investigative journalist. The last thing he needs is more headlines and a snoopy woman looking over his shoulder.
Despite their differences, Vanna is attracted to the dark, brooding horseman, and an unfamiliar jealousy stirs in Brax when he sees the way his brother Pete looks at Vanna.
“What the hell is going on in here?” Brax strode into the barn, toward the shrill whinnying and snorting. He stopped in front of a stall where a large, jet-black thoroughbred colt reared up on his hind legs, kicking at the air.
“This horse is just plain crazy.” His brother, Pete, edged out of the stall. “He’s gonna kill one of us—probably me.”
Brax stood with his hands at his waist staring at the colt. “Ever think it’s you that makes him crazy? I think he’s magnificent.” He cautiously opened the gate and slid into the stall. The young horse stomped and took a few steps back, snorting. His wild eyes rolled as he seemed to study Brax. “Easy, now. Settle down.”
“You’re nuts,” Pete muttered. “As crazy as that horse. And maybe you’d like to let me in on what he cost us and what you plan to do with him.”
“I didn’t buy him, and he’s not costing us anything. The owner prefers to remain anonymous, and he’s paying us good money to take care of his horse while he’s out of the country. He has a vet and trainer in place, and he’s paying to repair the old quarter-mile track.”
“I fail to see the need for all the mystery, unless there’s something illegal going on. Why not just board this colt at one of the local thoroughbred stables and train him there?”
Brax shrugged. “I guess the owner wants to keep him under wraps until he’s ready to race again. Supposedly, he had an injury and is now recovered and able to resume training.” He scowled at his brother. “I don’t ask a lot of questions. We board horses and the owners pay us for it. This owner is paying us quite well, and all I have to do is muck out the stall and give him his special feed.”
As if wanting to end the discussion, the colt reared and rolled his eyes.
“He’s completely wild. Look at him. He’s got the devil in him.”
“I told you I’d handle him. Shhh. Easy, boy. Can’t have you getting injured on my watch.” Brax soothed the frantic animal, his voice low and calm. “You can leave, Pete. I got this.”
Brax rubbed a palm over the colt’s velvety muzzle. “Thatta boy. Easy now. You’re really something. It may take time, but you and I are going to get along just fine.”
“Hello? Is anyone here?”
The colt startled at the high-pitched female voice and whinnied, dancing sideways in his stall.
Brax reached back with one hand and fumbled to open the gate. He stumbled out of the stall and his heel caught, sending him backward onto the hay-covered cement floor. Instinctively, he jammed a foot against the gate to prevent the colt’s escape. He found himself flat on his back, looking up at the blue-eyed blonde who now stood over him.
The woman gasped. “Oh, are you okay?”
He examined his left hand, which had inconveniently landed in manure residue. “I’m fine, no thanks to you.” He scrambled to his feet and reached into a bucket for a rag to wipe his palms. “Why the hell would you come in here and screech like that?”
She gasped again. “I did not screech. I went up to the house and then I walked around outside, but no one was around.” She looked at the agitated colt. “He’s beautiful. What’s wrong with him?”
“There’s nothing wrong with him. You startled him.” He shifted his gaze from the horse to the woman. His quick and not-so-covert evaluation told him she was probably about thirty, just shy of his six foot height, and with the bluest eyes he had ever seen. In horse terminology, she was a fine-looking filly. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m Vanna Marbury. I spoke to someone earlier about boarding a horse.”
“Vanna? Like the letter turner on TV?”
“Vanna as in Savannah. You know, a city in Georgia.”
He extended his hand, then dropped it when she shifted her gaze from his palm to the rag and then to the spot on the floor. “Braxton Hicks.”
The corners of her mouth—a very tempting mouth—twitched with the usual reaction. “Did you say Braxton Hicks? You’re kidding, right?”
“Am I smiling? Most people call me Brax. Besides, you’re named for a city.”
“Yes, and you’re named for labor pains.”