The Barrington Trilogy
"When I want something, I find a way to make it mine."
After a near-fatal accident, Hollywood hotshot Grant Carter never imagined returning to the equestrian world. But producing a movie about a racing dynasty means he has no choice. Luckily Tessa Barrington, star jockey, provides the distraction he needs—feisty attitude, stunning looks…and a surprising innocence he can't resist.
Tessa won't give herself to just any man, especially a smooth-talking player like Grant. Once filming wraps, how can she trust he'll stick around? He's already keeping secrets.
Besides, Tessa has her eye on bigger prizes…unless falling in love is the biggest prize of all, for both of them.
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With a nice, round backside greeting him as he stepped over the threshold of the fancy stables, Grant Carter was more certain than ever that accepting this film project was not only a chance of a lifetime, it was a gift from God.
He might be looking to settle down and calm his ways, but to ignore the perfection displayed before him would be a sin. Besides, Grant knew his place, and he hadn't worked this hard in Hollywood to blow it just because temptation seemed to be glaring right in his face. Literally.
Temptation would have to wait, because producing a film revolving around horse-racing icon Damon Barrington was an opportunity he couldn't pass up…no matter the nightmares that followed him here.
The shapely woman in front of him might be a slight distraction, but that's all she could be. The new clause typed up in his contract had been reinforced before his arrival at Stony Ridge. Apparently, fraternizing with anyone involved in this film was a no-no. Shame, that.
Besides, even without the clause, nothing could cripple him more than being thrust back into the world of horses. But he could compartmentalize and he could be a professional on set. He simply couldn't let personal conflicts pass the barrier he'd built around his heart.
Grant eyed the round bottom hugged by tight black riding pants. Damn clause and personal demons.
The familiar smells of the straw, the feed, the leather saddles; the sight of beautiful Thoroughbreds… The combination brought back memories—memories that had no place in his life. Especially now.
Concentrate on the backside. A body like that could surely cure all ails. Even if she was off-limits, he had already taken a mental picture to fuel fantasies.
"Excuse me. Can you tell me where I can find Tessa Barrington?" he asked, carefully stepping farther into the stables, straw crunching beneath his new boots.
The petite, yet curvy woman stood up, turned and slid the vibrant red ponytail back over her shoulder. And he'd be a complete liar if he tried to deny the punch to the gut he felt when those sapphire eyes landed on him. In an instant, he wondered how many times she'd used those intriguing eyes to lure a man into her clutches.
Between the body and the face, she was a stunner, but he wouldn't be as cliched as to say so. No doubt she had men falling all over her, and he refused to be so predictable.
"Are you the producer?" she asked, setting aside the brush she'd been using on the horse.
"One of them. Grant Carter." He closed the gap between them and extended his hand.
Surprise slid through him, but he prevented himself from dropping his jaw…just barely. So, he'd been admiring the beautiful jockey. Interesting.
When she propped her hands on her slender waist, just above her flared hips, he nearly swallowed his tongue. That sweet little package all wrapped in denim and plaid? Who knew he had a thing for country girls? Of course, Tessa Barrington was hardly just a country girl. This woman put the fear of God in most male jockeys, trainers and owners, if rumor served correctly.
"My father said you'd be arriving today." She gripped his hand, her gaze sliding down to his feet. "Pretty shiny boots you got there, Slick. We'll have to scuff those up a bit."
He couldn't help but smile at her piercing glare, her judgmental words. A woman who didn't hold back and wasn't throwing herself at him? He liked her already.
When she pulled her hand from his, Grant hated how such delicate features had calluses on them, but he knew this jockey took her lifestyle seriously. She didn't get to be the number-one contender in the country by sitting on the sidelines sipping mint juleps and wearing oversize hats.
"It's a pleasure to meet you," he told her, offering a smile. "I have to say, you're quite impressive."
A perfectly sculpted brow lifted as she crossed her arms beneath her breasts.
Grant laughed. "That didn't come out right."
Seriously? Was he in high school and suddenly unable to form an intelligent sentence?
"What I meant to say was I'm impressed with your talents."
Damn it. Nothing was working for him right now.
"I'm assuming you mean because of my racing," she replied, her brow still raised.
Relieved that she'd let him off the hook, he tilted his head. "I know you have a busy schedule—"
"It's beyond busy, Mr. Carter."
"Call me Grant," he told her, cutting off that curt tone. "We'll be spending a great deal of time together over the next couple of weeks."
Tessa turned, picked up the brush and stepped back into the stall with the stud. "Mr. Carter—"
"Grant," he reminded her with a grin.
Her eyes darted to his, then back to the horse she'd been brushing. "Mr. Carter, my schedule is pretty tight. I came up with a spreadsheet so you can see when I'm practicing, when I'm working in the stables and when I have time blocked off for you. Your area on the sheet is green. I would like to stick to this spreadsheet, but if you have other engagements during our time, I can attempt to rework it."
Grant tried his hardest not to burst out laughing. She was starting to sound like his oh-soorganized twin sister…or at least how he remembered his sister before her accident.
Seeing as how Tessa still hadn't shown a hint of a smile, he assumed she was dead serious. Wow, this woman would be tough to crack. He loved a challenge, but something told him she wanted nothing to do with this movie. Most people would be thrilled to know Hollywood wanted to make a film around their life and on their property. The majority of the women he knew would give their entire shoe collection to be associated with a Bronson Dane movie with Max Ford as lead actor.
Grant watched as Tessa stroked the horse's mane with precision and care. This woman was obviously not impressed with him or this film. She seemed to be in her own world of details and structure, from the spreadsheet to her perfectly placed low ponytail. He had a feeling the beautiful Tessa Barrington rarely had her feathers ruffled.
And he'd so love to ruffle her. But beyond coproducing this film, he couldn't get swept back into the world that had ruined his family's life. He had to keep any personal emotions off this set. His next goal, of starting his own production company, was within reach, and he'd be damned if he'd let his guilt and fear hold him back.
"When is my first time slot, Tessa?" he asked, propping his hands on his hips as he took a step back from the open stall. "My team will be arriving in a month, and I plan on outlining the sites for the order of filming after I visit all the locations. But I'm flexible. I'll work around you."
With perfect ease, she turned, tapped the brush against her palm and tipped her head. "I know my father agreed to have me help you, but my racing has and always will come first. I should make it clear I'm not happy about this film and I don't endorse any part of it."
Grant couldn't help but grin. Apparently Tessa wasn't a fan of having her work disrupted. Actually, she was a refreshing change from the women who stumbled over themselves to get his attention because of his celebrity status and his bank account. Tessa was obviously impressed with neither, which only made her even more intriguing.
"I understand you're a busy woman," he repeated, hoping to use a little charm to get on her good side. "I'll try not to take up too much of your time."
"I only agreed to let you shadow me because I refuse for this film to be anything but accurate. I don't want my father's life spun into something ugly or devious."
Interesting. Clearly, Tessa had had an unpleasant experience somewhere along the way, and now Grant was in her path of anger. Lovely. Nothing like spending the next month working closely with a bitter woman.
"I will make sure this movie is done to everyone's satisfaction and is the best film we can produce," he promised.
"Looks like we'll both be getting our way, then," she said with a tight smile.
Both get their way? His eyes roamed over her delicate frame. Oh, the possibilities. Slipping that tight ponytail down would be the first. Unbuttoning her stiff shirt would be next.
And making use of that empty stall would be another.
Yeah, this would definitely be a long month.
Tessa knew when a man was attracted; she wasn't stupid. And in all honesty, she found this hotshot producer pretty sexy, but she'd built up an immunity to sexy, smooth talkers.
Besides, the last guy who'd captured her attention was a city boy through and through. His polished shoes, designer suits and perfectly coiffed hair hadn't bothered her. What bothered her was when he'd decided to use her name and finances to further his small-business venture.
There was no way Tessa would let herself get sidelined by some captivating, powerful stranger from Hollywood just because he made her heart beat a bit quicker with that one-sided smile and those heavy-lidded eyes.
Most twenty-five-year-old women were getting married and having babies. Tessa opted to chase her own set of dreams—the Triple Crown.
There was no time for serious relationships when she lived in a stable, training most hours of the day. And she most definitely thought more of herself than to let go of her innocence for a quickie.
Besides, she'd learned the hard way how cruel relationships could be and how the word trust meant different things to different people.
"I need to take Oliver out for a ride," she told Grant, hoping he'd take those sultry eyes and be on his way for now. "I assumed when Dad said you'd arrive today, it would be later, so I had blocked out a two hour window for you after lunch."
He checked his watch. "I can come back, but it may help if I have that spreadsheet, so I know when not to disturb you."
Tessa sighed. He was mocking her. That was fine; she was used to it. But the last guy who'd decided to make a joke of her had found himself out one girlfriend and a whole lot of pride by the time she'd finished with him. Of course, his mocking had come on a whole other, more painful level.
She moved to the next stall, where Oliver, her beautiful Thoroughbred, waited for his warm-up. Oliver wasn't her racing horse. No, he was her baby, and she loved him as dearly as she would her own child. He was a bit finicky, a bit hyper some might say, but Tessa and he understood each other. And they pretty much both loathed outsiders.
"I'll bring that spreadsheet to our meeting," she told Grant as she slid open the stall. Oliver, restless as usual, started his bucking dance, his way of letting her know he was more than ready to go. "I can meet you back here in two hours—"
One second she was talking and the next she was in Grant's arms. She hadn't seen him move, but suddenly he was pulling her away from the opening in the stall.
"What are you doing?" she asked, looking up into the most impressive set of dark, near-black eyes.
Grant stood frozen, his arms wrapped around her, his eyes now wide and focused on Oliver. With his attention not directly on her, she could take a moment to appreciate the strong jawline beneath the dark stubble, the tanned skin, his firm grip on her, giving her the opportunity to learn that he had fabulous muscle tone beneath that new gray flannel shirt.
And he smelled so damn good. Perhaps she was just glad to be inhaling something other than hay and horse poop, but Grant Carter's aftershave, cologne or the combination of both was masculine, strong and sexy…just like the man.
"Grant?" she asked, sliding from his grasp.
His gaze went from the stallion to her and held, before he shook his head as if to focus.
"He jumped when you started to step in," Grant told her, taking a step back and raking a hand through his short, messy hair. "I didn't want you to get hurt."
Still confused at his overreaction, but a little touched by his instant ride to the rescue, Tessa crossed her arms. "Hurt? I won't get hurt tending to the horses, Grant. Oliver is always like this. That's why I'm the only one who handles him."
Grant shrugged. "My apologies. I'm just not used to horses."
She tilted her head, still trying to get a feel for this newcomer into her world. "Are you going to be okay on this set?"
"I'm fine." He sent her another killer, knee-weakening smile. "I didn't want you hurt, that's all."
The way those dark eyes held hers, and the soft, yet firm tone of his voice washed over her like a warm, protective blanket. She didn't want to feel anything for this man. But that protective streak, and an underlying secret vulnerability, made him even more attractive in her eyes.
"I don't think that's all," she commented, calling him out on whatever seemed to cripple him. "I don't want to be rude, but you are working on a film about horses. Shouldn't you know something about them?"
That sexy smile spread wider across his face as Grant eased forward with a slow, easy stride any cowboy would envy.
But this man was from L.A., the city of sin and silicone. If it weren't for the newly purchased clothes, which were so fresh looking they might as well have the tags dangling, Tessa would swear he lived on a farm.
But he was in the film industry. He probably always looked the part. Appearances were everything to shallow people.
Grant stopped when the tips of their boots nearly touched, and she had to either stare at the way his dark gray flannel stretched across his firm pecs, or glance up and meet that dark gaze. Either body part would tempt a nun, and Tessa was finding it hard to remember what she was saying when he towered over her and looked straight down into her eyes as if he could see her deepest secrets.
She'd been tempted before in her twenty-five years, but never this fast, this hard. Tessa feared she might be in over her head with Grant Carter because they'd been in each other's presence for mere moments, which was barely a blip on the radar in the grand scheme of things.
"Learning all about horses is why I have you. I've waited years to get a project of this caliber." His eyes roamed over her face, from her eyes to her lips and back up. "And when I want something, I find a way to make it mine."