Winner Takes All - Anna Harrington Page 0,1

gasp shuddered through him with a pained wheezing.

But he was alive. Thank God.

“Don’t move,” Shaw ordered and ran his hands over the lad’s shoulders and arms, down over his ribs—

“Don’t touch me!”

Shaw jerked back at that feminine cry. What the blazes—

He rolled the boy onto his back. Brilliant blue eyes stared up at him, the color of sapphires in the rain. Shaw knew those eyes, just as he knew the woman behind them. The Honorable Francesca Darlington, daughter of Viscount Darlington.

Frankie. The memory of her corkscrewed itself into his gut.

Unable to hide his stunned surprise, he blurted out, “What the hell are you—”

“My horse!” She glanced frantically down the track, her voice raw from gasping for air. “Where’s Midnight? Was he injured?”

“He’s all right. My groom’s catching him.”

With a scowl, she shoved his hand away—Christ, it was still resting on her chest! No, on the place where her chest should have been but instead was the board-flat front of a boy. She’d wrapped her breasts to hide them beneath the linen shirt and wool jumper she wore against the morning chill. But now that she was out of the saddle, she couldn’t hide the curve of her bottom beneath the buckskin breeches, the fullness of her lips, the smoothness of her cheek.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded again, his frustration rising.

She winced as she slowly sat up, surely to be covered in bruises by nightfall. “Training my horse.”

Her horse? Since when did the daughter of a viscount train horses? Or ride them astride at breakneck speed around a racetrack? “You could have been killed.”

She shoved herself to her feet. “I am perfectly capable—”

Her right ankle buckled beneath her.

She gave a soft cry of pain and fell into him, landing against his front, with her arms flying up to encircle his neck. He caught her. In that heartbeat’s pause, he smelled the familiar scent of her, of wild lavender and the open fields, and he felt the softness of her body in his arms. A sharp yearning shot through him that fours years apart hadn’t been able to dull.

Francesca Darlington, of all women…Damnation.

Biting down a curse, Shaw scooped the little troublemaker off her feet and carried her toward the side of the track.

“Shaw!” Paddy called out from the far end of the front stretch. The black colt had been successfully caught and now flicked its tail as it snorted impatiently, ready for another run. The gray horse pranced beside him as if taunting the black. “Is the boy alive?”

“Not once I’m through with her,” he muttered beneath his breath.

“Please, Jack.” Her old nickname for him fell far too easily from her lips. She clutched desperately at his shoulder to gain his attention. That touch, too, came far too easily. “Don’t tell them it’s me. I don’t want anyone to know.”

Which was why she’d dressed as an exercise boy, apparently. To hide her identity. Damned foolish chit!

Except that she wasn’t a chit and hadn’t been for a very long time. She was a grown woman who should have been married by now to a gentleman who possessed the patience to overlook her antics. Shaw should have left her right there on the turf, to suffer the consequences of her folly.

Yet with a grimace, he acquiesced to her wishes and waved Paddy away. He had never been able to refuse her anything. Apparently, he still couldn’t.

“Twisted his ankle,” he shouted back as he carried her toward the stables. “I’ll tend to him. Keep working the horse.”

“Both horses?” she interjected hopefully.

“Both horses,” he called out to Paddy. “Then give the black a good cool-down.”

With a nod, the older man turned to give instructions to Ghost’s exercise boy and handed him the black’s lead line. Then both horses set off down the front stretch at a slow, loping canter.

“Thank you,” she said.

He grunted in answer and kept his gaze straight ahead. He unceremoniously bounced her with each jarring step he took, all the way to the stables.

Carrying her inside, he shot a quick glance down the wide central aisle to make certain no one was there to see them except for two curious horses who stuck their heads out of their stalls to stare at them. Then he kicked open the door of the feed room, carried her inside, and dropped her onto a deep pile of hay.

She winced as she landed on her bruised bottom, but the glare she shot him proved she was going to be just fine. Unless he throttled her