Ride A Dark Horse
Pocket Books (February 27, 2001)
Set against the sweeping landscape of Virginia horse country, this breathtaking story of love in the wake of tragedy marks the debut of an exciting voice in romantic fiction.
Cassie Miller was on track to be one of the best equestrian riders of the sport when a terrible accident left her as the guardian of an orphaned niece and nephew. Seeking means to support the twins -- now five years old -- Cassie takes a job as a horse trainer at the prestigious Five Oaks farm where she finds not one, but two worthy adversaries -- Orion, a bold, dark horse that has yet to find a rider it deems its equal, and local veterinarian Caleb Wells, a man whose startling good looks and quick wit leave Cassie unnerved.
As Cassie trains Orion for competition, Caleb, a partner in the farm, watches over their progress. A womanizer since his recent divorce, he soon finds his heart softening for this strong and gifted woman -- and for her unconventional family. But as Orion's Hampton Classic competition looms, Caleb's vengeful ex-wife threatens to ruin everything Cassie and Caleb have worked for...
Reminiscent of the early classics in romantic fiction, Ride A Dark Horse is a winning tale of the bittersweet glories of life and the transformative power of love.
Read the Reviews
"Ride a Dark Horse is a romance novel by Laura Moore that takes place on a horse farm in Virginia. Its heroine, Cassie Miller, is left as guardian to five-year-old twins. In order to support her new family, she takes a job on Five Oaks horse farm and is given the job of training a headstrong horse for the Hampton Classic competition. As she gains control over the headstrong creature, the local veterinarian falls for her. Unfortunately, his ex-wife has a taste for revenge. Moore's gift for dialogue and character development make this first novel an irresistible read."
The Women's Times
"If you've ever longed to read a true romance novel that incorporates the jumper world into its plot line, then Laura Moore has just written the book for you. Set in the Virginia countryside, Ride a Dark Horse is a story about love and loyalty, entwined in a well-written horse tale.
The novel opens at a horse show, where a jumper named Orion is not being ridden to his full capabilities. Standing ringside, Hank Sawyer, owner of Five Oaks Farm, and his partner, veterinarian Caleb Wells, debate the future of Orion. While searching for a rider who can handle the large stallion, Cassie Miller arrives at the farm in hopes of filling the position....
....As all romance novels do, the plot moves as expected through their relationship, while we wait to discover the fate of Orion. Will the big stallion successfullly compete at their summer-long goal of the Hampton Classic? The surprises are few, but the story is light and enjoyable.
With very few equine-related vocabulary and terminology flaws, Moore has successfully introduced the sport into a romance novel without it being just a 'roll in the hay."
The Chronicle of the Horse, April 27, 2001
"Due to a bad decision by a divorce court judge, veterinarian and horse owner Caleb Wells lost ownership of his prize horse Orion. Caleb's ex-wife Pamela is allowing Caleb to slowly buy Orion back, but in the meantime, is making his life miserable.
Caleb and his partner Hank Sawyer dream of Orion winning the Grand Prix, but have been unable to find a rider/trainer. Then Hank interviews Cassie Miller, a gifted rider. Hank senses that Cassie is the right person for the job and she really wants to work with Orion. Her promising career was sidetracked due to a family tragedy. Now as the mother and guardian of her orphaned niece and nephew, Cassie is building a new life for them all.
Both Cassie and Caleb agree that Orion has potential to become a champion... if only Pamela doesn't sabotage their dreams.
It is always a thrill to discover a marvelous new talent in romantic fiction, and Laura Moore has immediately made her presence known. A strong and vibrant first book that is sure to gain Ms. Moore quite a following."
Jill W. Smith
Romantic Times Magazine
"Wow, save time for this one! I was knee deep into another book when I casually picked up RIDE A DARK HORSE when it arrived and read the first page. Everything went out the window as I was glued to this fantastic story of Cassie Miller, a young woman, who is hired by Hank Sawyer to train and ride his partner Caleb Well's spirited stallion Orion, and make him into a winner on the show circuit. Cass is 24, a gorgeous blond, a woman who knows horses, and the mother of two twins, Jamie and Sophie, two of the cutest towheads you'll ever meet. Hank is a little nervous, as he's not too sure how Caleb is going to take his hiring Cassie without his meeting her firsthand and approving. Wait until you read about this first meeting. It's so special and original...
...The horse training and shows are marvelous and you can tell Ms. Moore has been around show horses and their training by the way this book is so well written. Ms. Moore's characters are so darn charming and loveable you feel like you know them. The supporting cast is exceptional and they worm their way right into your heart with their sense of humor. She also has some devilish ones you would like to strangle at a moment's notice.
Suzanne "Already Clamoring for Another Story by Laura Moore after Finishing Caleb and Cassie's Magnificent Story" Coleburn.
Laura Moore is an author I'm putting on my MUST BUY list right now! Her characters are out of this world wonderful as they snap, crackle and explode with excitement, sensuality, and all the right stuff that makes up dynamite read. Don't miss this fresh new voice!"
The Belles and Beaux of Romance
There were crickets chirping in the night air. The sound was incessant, violent. To her, it seemed an ominous sound,, echoing the terrible fear in her heart.
She raised her arm, hesitated and lowered it again. For the third time. Stalling, as she'd been stalling for the past two hours.
Melissa had driven her directly home, making sure to instruct Cassie to take a bath and pull herself together, and not to skimp on the makeup. Cassie wasn't exactly looking her best right now. A brandy might be a good idea, too.
Cassie hadn't dared to glance in the direction of Caleb's house when she returned, so she'd entered the larger, empty one with no one to greet her, not even the dog, Finnegan.
It was a horrible shock when she turned on the bathroom light and caught her reflection in the mirror. Medusa couldn't have been more petrifying a sight. Was that really her?
So she'd sat in the steaming bubble bath for what seemed an age, a cucumber mask covering her face, until she could easily have been mistaken for a stewed prune gone moldy.
Next, she went for the bracing, ice-cold shower, scrubbing her shivering body until it tingled, shampooing her hair countless more times than even the label recommended. Cassie knew enough popular psychology to recognize her behavior as falling into some kind of obsessive or compulsive category, but she was filled with the desperate need to wash her self away.
To emerge new, clean and strong.
And at least she didn't look so incredibly awful any more.
Another hour slipped by as she lotioned and perfumed herself, then dried her hair, making it shine and fall about her in golden waves. She took a barrette and clipped a few strands back, allowing the rest to fall down her back.
She dressed with seduction in mind. But also to please herself, determined that she be armed with as many weapons and as much self-confidence at her disposal as possible in her battle to win Caleb back.
Because she was terrified she'd lost him.
This time, she tried a different approach. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, picturing Caleb's smiling face as she lifted her hand and rapped her knuckles hard on the wooden door. In the seconds that followed, she held her breath, willing him to answer her knock.
She knew he was home. The windows of the converted carriage house were illuminated with a faint glow, and every now and then, she caught a note of music that escaped and drifted out into the evening air.
The door opened with a jerk. Caleb stood before her. Her eyes widened involuntarily as she took in his appearance. Disheveled was the first word that crossed her mind. Drunk was the second. She swallowed hard.
He was shirtless. Half hysterically, Cassie realized she'd never even seen him without a shirt before, simply learned the sculpted contours of his body through her touch. What a sight she'd been deprived of. He was so very beautiful. Perfectly proportioned, lean, honed muscle. Her eyes traveled down his broad chest to where a narrow line of dark hair descended, disappearing behind the fabric of his jeans. Her eyes flew upwards, shying away from the sight of that top button, and the raw memories of this afternoon.
Color flooded her cheeks. How many seconds had she stood there, raptly cataloging Caleb's assets? God, she had to pull herself together. She forced her eyes to meet his.
Caleb's face was a blank mask, his eyes equally unrevealing. His tall, muscular body planted just behind the threshold, not close, yet clearly barring her from entering his home.
"Caleb." Her voice trembled, so she swallowed and began again. "Caleb, please. I need to talk with you."
"Go away. I'm not nearly as drunk as I want to be, and you're interrupting."
The door slammed shut in her face, hard enough for her to feel the woosh of air following it cool her heated cheeks.
Unshed tears stung the back of her eyes as she stepped forward and knocked again. Nothing. Damn him, why wouldn't he open the door? Frustrated, she banged harder.
From inside the house, the music playing on the stereo grew louder, the notes mocking her in their clarity. Fine, so he intended to drown out the sound of her knocking with music, just as he intended to drown his hurt and anger with a bottle of whiskey.
Well, desperate times called for desperate measures. Cassie refused to give in to despair. If Caleb wouldn't invite her through his front door, she'd get in another way.
He sank deeper into the cushion of the large black leather chair in his living room, sipping slowly, letting the amber liquid fill his mouth before it slid down, like a river of fire, into his belly. He supposed she'd gone away. Of course, he'd known she would come. She'd had to. That was the way these things worked, right? So she'd come and now she could just leave him alone.
He drank again. Shit. He realized that he'd been the one who'd have to leave. Had to get out of here. He'd call the hospital tomorrow and tell them he was taking an early vacation. What did it matter if it screwed things up for a while. He was the head partner, after all. They could deal with it until he felt like coming back.
He reached forward, carefully, studiously pouring more whiskey into his empty glass, his long legs stretched out next to the bottle. His bare feet brushed the sharp edge of crisp white letter paper, dated today, informing him of Orion's sale, transfer of ownership effective immediately to a private group with the acronym TLM. HE knew he'd never need to read the letter again. The printed words were etched like acid in his mind, which no amount of alcohol could melt away.
Leaning back, he stared at his toes, not seeing them. Yeah, he had to go away. Didn't matter where the fuck he went. Didn't matter at all, just as long as he was gone. He'd drive to Washington National and hop a plane to God knows where.
No way was he going to stay here, near her.
Seeing her. Wanting her despite it all. Wanting her despite the fact that he knew it was over. Over before it had even begun.
All he had to do now was drink until he passed out. Simple enough. Hopefully, he'd be so sick tomorrow morning he wouldn't even be able to remember his own name, let alone hers.
Van Morrison's Moondance album came on. Perverse, masochistic bastard that he was, he'd added that CD to the stack and now the song came back to torture him with memories of Cassie, so very beautiful, standing next to his stallion in the dusty light of the barn. Looking like an angel. Killing him.
He closed his eyes.
Cassie crept around the perimeter of the house, fully aware she'd have made a lousy cat burglar, feeling increasingly foolish with each passing second. She hadn't found a single entry she could breach. All the windows she'd passed so far had been too high, except for the enormous picture window in the back. No matter how drunk he was, she doubted she'd be able to climb in through there without Caleb noticing her pretty quick.
No, she had to get in without his seeing her. That way, he'd have a much harder time throwing her out--she hope. Rounding the corner as stealthily as possible, she nevertheless whispered a fierce, "Yes!" in triumph as she spied a wide, rectangular window, a fraction above shoulder height. She pressed her face against the screen. The interior was pitch black, offering no clue to what room she was peering into. But at least the window was open and was a new one at that, sliding horizontally, rather than up and down.
Bless Caleb's parents for renovating the house and doing the windows, too.
The screen wouldn't budge. She pressed, tried sliding it, banged as hard as she dared. Nothing!
Her head pounding with frustration, she dropped it forward heavily against the dratted screen, pulling her hair. Inspiration struck. Reaching around, she fumbled with the metal clasp at the back of her head. Releasing it, she ran her index finger along its edge and set to work.
He was sprawled in an oversized black leather chair. From the soft glow of the standing lamp in the corner, she could make out the bottle of whiskey, and his bare feet, crossed one over the other, resting next to it. She stepped closer. His head was angled up toward the ceiling, his neck pressed back against the edge of the chair.
Another step now, near enough now to see his face. His eyes were closed. Oh, no! Panic shot through her. Please God, not asleep!
Alarm bolstered her courage. She cleared her throat. "Caleb, I need to speak with you. Please, can you look at me?"
He heard her voice, but didn't bother to open his eyes. Anyone who'd drunk as much as he would be hearing things. He let himself drift away once more into Van the Man's "Mystic."
A hand shook his shoulder, jostling his eyes open. "Caleb, you've got to wake up. It's me, Cassie. I need to talk with you."
He stared at her in silence, not quite sure whether he was delusional or just dreaming. Not that he particularly cared one way or the other. He closed his eyes.
She shook him again, more roughly this time. Annoyed, he brushed her hand off. She felt real, but then again, he was real drunk. Maybe she'd leave him alone if he told her to go away.
"No, I won't. Caleb, I'm really sorry I hurt you. I should have believed in you. It wasn't your fault."
He wasn't listening. He was trying to solve a really big puzzle. Front door was locked. He was sure of it.
"Go away," he repeated, just to see if it might work this time.
"No. I won't leave until you've forgiven me."
"Fine, I forgive you. Go away."
"No. I need to talk to you."
"How the hell did you get in here? Front door's locked."
"I know. I had to climb in through your bathroom window. Caleb, I'm really sorry, but I broke your screen."
He was listening now. He stared at her, blinking owlishly. "Say that again."
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, striving for patience. This conversation wasn't going at all the way she'd imagined it. "I ripped your screen when I came in through the bathroom window. I'll be happy to pay for it, but I really needed to . . ."
His laughter erupted, loud, uncontrolled. His knees closed about him like a folding chair, as he wrapped his arms around his middle. Caleb's paroxysms of mirth continued as Cassie stood there, wishing she weren't in love with such a total fool, a drunk one at that.
Finally, he managed to speak. Laughter still shaking his voice. "You. . .you came in through the bathroom window. God Almighty, Slim, that is just about the most romantic thing I've ever heard." He sang a line from the Beatles' tune. Horribly off-key. Succeeding only in setting himself off again, until wiping the tears from his eyes, he stood.
Holding a hand in front of him, he ordered, "Wait here. This I've got to see."
The first step was more of a lurch than anything. Then, recovering his balance, he headed off in the direction of the bathroom.
Yup, she'd really done it. He looked at the neatly torn screen hanging like a flag on a windless day, then at the dirty shoe prints soiling his white porcelain bathtub. He grinned. Probably had no idea where she'd end up when she hauled herself through. Pretty gutsy of her, he'd give her that much credit.
What the hell, maybe he was being too harsh on her. If the tables had been turned and he'd caught Cassie in such a compromising situation, finding some man kneeling with his hands up her skirt, would he have believed her, never suffering even a moment of doubt and hurt?
He turned to the sink and yanked the cold water on full blast, plugging the basin drain. Water rose quickly until he twisted the knob shut before plunging in his head. The cold water hurt, stinging him like needles, making him gasp, spewing water. Still, he continued dunking his head repeatedly, feeling the water slosh about his feet, the tiles underneath him turning slick as an ice rink.
Finally, he grabbed a bath towel and buried his face in it, rubbing briskly. He brushed his teeth, then pulled open the medicine cabinet door. He grabbed a bottle of aspirin, popping two, not really thinking they'd do any good, but figuring it was better than nothing. Then he reached for the bottle of Listerine and poured about half of into his mouth, gargling, swishing, spitting. He closed the top, shutting the medicine cabinet once more. It wasn't worth the bother looking at his reflection. He couldn't look like anything but shit.
She was afraid he'd gone and passed out in the bathroom or wherever he'd stumbled off to. Shouldn't she go in and make sure he was okay, wasn't lying concussed, perhaps bleeding on the floor? She dropped her head against the coolness of the window pane, staring blindly out at the trees shimmering in the night breeze. How could this day have started out so differently? She'd been so happy a mere twelve hours ago. Funny how a world could change so quickly. She should be used to it by now, but she kept getting caught off guard. If only . . .
She turned, sensing he'd come into the room. She spoke quickly, determined he at least hear her apology. She had to try to make it right.
"Caleb, I know how much I hurt you this afternoon . . ."
"It's okay, Cassie, I forgive you."
"That's what you said before. But you didn't mean it." Not believing he meant it now.
He smiled. "No, I didn't mean it. I just wanted you gone. I was pretty drunk. Probably still am. But this time, I do mean it. I understand how you might have thought . . ."
"No, no. I was horribly unfair. It's just," her voice dropped. "It's just that I was . . . jealous." Her voice faded into the quiet of the room.
He stepped forward, unsure. He moved close, close enough to read her lips in the half-light if necessary. Close enough to feel the whisper of her words on his flesh.
He might have been talking to a queen, his tone was so polite, his words so careful. "Excuse me, but would you remind repeating what you said? I must still have water in my ears." His hand lifted to his damp hair in explanation.
Her heart thundered inside her chest like a violent storm. She drew in a calming breath. Her words came out, a hushed confession. "I was jealous. I wanted to be her, to be every woman you'd ever looked at, ever touched. I wanted to be the only one."
He closed his eyes. The power of her words sinking deep into his heart. Healing him. Enriching him beyond his wildest dreams. He cleared his throat. He had to tell her.
"Cassie, there's more. She sold Orion."
"What? She sold Orion?" Her voice, though quiet, cracked with disbelief.
"Yes. I don't know what will happen now."
She was silent, absorbing the implications of what he'd told her before speaking, forming the words carefully. "She sold him."
"Yes. I'm sorry."
"She sold him. Oh, Caleb, I'm so sorry." Then, "But that means she's gone."
The slow smile transformed her face. "She's gone, so . . .it's just you and me. Alone. Together. . ."
His breath lodged somewhere in his chest as he heard her repeat the words he'd spoken to her that first night, so long ago. In concert they moved toward each other, stopping mere inches away. He felt the shift of her body, her hands reaching out to bridge that small gap. Seeking, caressing the ridge of muscle and bone that as his ribcage. He felt her cool, soft lips press against his heated flesh, felt the space that separated their bodies as intolerable. His arms circled about her, bringing her where he needed her for . . . forever.