Authors: Laura Mills
My Forbidden Mentor
Excellent characterization in this novel. Mills’ character development paired with the excellent plot makes this book the perfect weekend read. - Writer’s Digest
Copyright 2016 by Laura Mills
All Rights Reserved
Mills Vivid Image
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
Richmond, England 1820
This glorious spring day started out like any other for Lord John Blackburn, but little did he know it would end on quite an unusual note. As he eased into his frock coat, pulling his black ponytail from beneath the collar, Vanessa Walker requested he stay longer.
“It’s never enough, you know?” she said, smiling and enticing him with bewitching blue eyes and a seductive swing of an exposed thigh.
Ah, Vanessa. She tempted him with her fiery lovemaking but put him off when she challenged their understanding. In his favor, she had a few select suitors to keep her occupied and in financial means and for that John was grateful, but today she was pushing him beyond his tolerance level.
“John, you know I would give all this up for you,” she told him, gesturing toward her pampered possessions.
“Vanessa, please. Why are you doing this and now when I’m late?” he questioned while buttoning the front of his coat.
“I know we have a mutual understanding.” Her head bowed while her eyes lifted and searched his neutral features. She’d lost interest in other men. John was the only man she wanted. To her misfortune, he didn’t seem to reciprocate. She knew she wasn’t his only lover, although she could bet he saw her more often than the others, it was the “understanding” that she longed to change. But, no matter how urgently she wanted that change, he reminded her every time of their circumstances.
“Vanessa, surely we’re not going over this again?” His eyes narrowed as his voice grew more serious. “What we have between us is physical. We have a grand time of it, but that’s all it is. You are well aware that I don’t have time for a relationship. My business needs my full attention. My thoroughbreds require it.”
Vanessa sighed in heavy despair. “I know your horses come before me.”
His level of frustration elevated. “You need to be fair about this, Vanessa. Don’t make me say something you don’t want to hear.” He whipped his collar down flat.
She forced herself to break into a smile. “Don’t be cross with me, John. I can’t help but enjoy your company and it doesn’t seem to last long enough.”
Frustration faded from his features. “I enjoy your company as well.” He pulled out a timepiece from the inside pocket of his coat and glanced at it. “I must be off,” he said, making his way out the door. He turned, giving her one last lingering kiss. When his lips came off hers he smiled at her sulky expression, skimming his fingers through her platinum blond hair. “Good day,” he said, while turning to leave.
Her hands grabbed at his coat lapels. “John, wait,” she cried, stealing another kiss.
The Lord pulled back, tearing away from her. “I must go, Vanessa.” He’d already stayed longer than anticipated. Vanessa was testing him again, he was well aware of it. Forgetting to supply them with contraceptives was intentional on her part, but he’d learn to come prepared, which irritated her and bothered him.
She acted oblivious to his distress, smiling at him as she gave him another quick peck before releasing him.
John skimmed the porch steps to his carriage impatiently instructing his driver to head for Middleham racecourse.
Settling in carriage, the Lord leaned his head against the soft black leather. His eyes closed as he thought about Vanessa. She was without a doubt one of his favorites, but of late a possessive nature seemed to be evident. Feeling a permanent entrapment coming about, he intended to reduce his visits with her. He wasn’t looking for a wife and if she had any ideas regarding that issue, she’d find out how wrong she was. Yes, better lay off with her for a while.
His gray eyes opened after catching the scent of lavender drifting through the open windows. His sight found the purplish-blue plants that extended in rows along both sides of the main road in Richmond. The long stemmed flowers were reaching for the rare sun, making an elegant statement to their surroundings. Springtime was upon them.
John’s features turned peaceful at the thought. Springtime always reminded him of his mother and how she loved this time of year. Eighteen years after her death he still missed her. Having a father with all other interests except his son, John had accepted years ago that his similarity to his mother drove his father away from him, so after his mother’s death, at the age of twelve, John discovered his very own safe haven, the racetrack.
Encountering a natural ease with his thoroughbred companions that he watered and fed John had discovered acceptance, and within weeks, he found a true friend in another boy his age. That same boy and now partner that, John could bet, was waiting with restless patience for him at the front entrance of Middleham Racecourse.
Arriving at Middleham, John stared outside the carriage window as his driver maneuvered into a tight spot near the front access. The crowd appeared fierce today, just as John had expected. With races being held only three days a year at this particular track, the local residents from nearby villages would swarm in droves to take part in the entertainment.
The track held appeal for many. Some bet for investments, some visited old acquaintances, and some even dallied with prostitutes. The majority went for the races themselves. Local landowners depended on these temptations, including the added bonus of free entry, to lure enough people in to ensure a profit. Although this providence was set most of the time for smaller courses, at these gatherings the less fortunate people of everyday living evolved into a world of their own. The racecourse atmosphere became a place where social hierarchy blended and knew no bounds.
For some, horse racing was a day of entertainment. For others, it was a business opportunity. For John Blackburn, it was his life.
John found Robert standing in the same pose he always did when he was delayed. His stiffened body leaned into a thick wooden post with arms crossing over a broad chest and long legs crossing at the ankles. His scowling expression matched his stance and seemed to distort his normally carefree appearance.
John climbed out of his carriage, preparing for harassment from Robert.
As John strode toward him, Robert asked with knowing intentions, “Let me guess, Vanessa?” He knew full well of John’s habits. “She’s the only one who makes you this late.”
John’s answer began with a wide grin. “The wench is pushing her luck with her forgetful mind,” he told him, adding, “I had to resort to my coat of armor for protection this morning. I hate using that blasted thing.”
“Obviously not enough to skip another tumble with Miss Vanessa,” Robert commented. He could never stay upset with John for very long, so in a matter of minutes Robert’s short-lived irritation turned into teasing.
“Damn it all, but I hadn’t any choice.” John replied before adding, “You know I don’t take chances with anyone, especially Vanessa.”
“I know that, John. Still, it didn’t stop you from strapping on the reserve so you could toss up her skirts again,” Robert replied.
John just glared at his best friend, all in friendliness, of course.
“Well, then, it sounds like you’ve had quite a rough morning.” Robert offered.
“Indeed.” John agreed.
They turned to enter the track.
Both gentlemen shared a strong bond of thoroughbred racing and training, so working together proved favorable and successful for them. John, a self-starter, acquired an interest in horses at a young age, learning everything he could and building from there. With acquired success, he now had his very own training stables and invested shares in Catterick Racecourse.
Robert, on the other hand, had the same fondness for the brilliant beasts but his interest was induced by his father, from whom he’d inherited top hand knowledge. When his father passed on Robert acquired his extensive bloodstock, allowing him to carry on tradition.
Needless to say, John had the clout and money to finance and Robert had extended experience. Their strong friendship enhanced their partnership, which resulted in good teamwork, but most of all their combined passion for thoroughbreds was the key foundation for their continued success.
Today was no exception and would bring an important race with their top stallion, Chief, making roaring progress. A young newcomer to the track, he had power, grace and extreme speed, not to mention beauty. The dark amber of his coat gleamed glossy over the sleek solid muscles his powerful body displayed. He always held his head high and proud when strutting around the track, the coppery strands of his mane bouncing along with his almost conceited prance. Chief’s desire to race required little motivation on the rider’s part. He had a natural tendency to push himself, giving his rider an effortless ride. Chief was John’s rising star and he was making a statement to the racing world.
On the way to a choice viewing box both men waved to familiar acquaintances, at the same time discussing their competition. While John and Robert conversed about their competition, a new competitor was preparing to ride at Middleham.
Since the tender age of eight Melissa Howard had wanted to race thoroughbreds. As a young girl she had often observed her mother taking occasional bets to race along stretching green fields, much of the time beating her opponents. Melissa’s visions went beyond mere racing for amusement, frequent and professional were more her style. At the same time she was well aware of society’s view on the outrageous notion of women and racing, but it didn’t stop her from forging ahead. She couldn’t sit by and wonder about how it would have been. She craved the experience.
Today, at the graceful age of twenty-one years, Melissa gazed into a brilliant April sky, hardly believing she stood within the confinements of Middleham Racecourse readying herself for a landmark race. Indeed she was taking a big risk today, but her confidence soared. Even if her appearance caused controversy, to experience a real race against professional riders was all that mattered. Today she would test her ability, proving to herself that she was good enough to race with the best of them.
Her gaze shifted forward when Kurt called to her and motioned for her to follow him. As he led her gelding Melissa trailed behind, thinking how perfect it had been getting to know Kurt Spencer. He worked at her father’s carpentry business and also as a groomsman for Middleham Racecourse. He was her ticket into the track, not as a bystander, but as a rider.
They passed through mazes of people before reaching the backstretch of the course, where only a few men and women remained. Melissa stopped but Kurt kept going beyond the stables toward what looked like an abandoned shack.
Kurt motioned to her again, informing her that the “grooms room,” as they called it, would be an ideal place for her to hide until she was ready, and that it was big enough to house her gelding as well.
“Kurt, are you quite sure I won’t be disturbed?” she asked while slipping through a creaking wooden doorway.
Kurt scanned the immediate perimeter before leading her gelding inside and closing the door. “Yes, Mel, at present all the groomsmen are busy. I should be able to keep them away for at least two races.”
“That should be long enough,” she agreed, looking at the blond haired, blue-eyed young man that was taking risks for her. She smiled in appreciation. “This means more to me than you know, Kurt. I’ll repay you as soon as I’m able.”
He returned a smile. Any kind of attention he received from Melissa Howard he considered encouraging. He left to give her privacy and returned to his normal duties so he wouldn’t go unnoticed.
The bell sounded for the next race when Melissa scurried from the old wooden structure, heading toward the stables. She was now transformed from head to toe in masculine gear. Although her father’s clothing fit loosely around her feminine figure, the bagginess served to camouflage her even more. Once settled into her disguise she casually stepped between and around the frenzied groomsmen, outriders, and jockeys who monopolized the interior of the stables. She made swift glances here and there in the search for Kurt, who had planned to meet her with her gelding in tow.
When she finally spotted him he was chatting with a tall intimidating figure. She stopped to study the backside of the man talking to Kurt. He had height but he also had width, his shoulders representing a finely-tuned gathering of muscles that broadened his natural physique. A man who was comfortable giving orders by the way Kurt kept nodding his head. When her partner in crime glanced her way she signaled with her eyes, but the man with the long dark hair dominated Kurt’s full attention.
While precious time passed Melissa began to pace. Her fingers intertwined in tight motions before she realized her nervous habits could get her noticed. To take her mind off waiting she started back for the shack to get her gelding. She’d finally discovered a way inside an organization dominated by men and their horses. She wouldn’t lose this chance, she just couldn’t. Kurt had helped conceal her identity but now it seemed she was on her own. As she gained confidence once again her scattering thoughts began to clear. She was in deep concentration, half way to the wooden structure, when a finger tapped her on the shoulder. Startled, she didn’t have time to think about her appearance before turning around. Relief flooded her when she saw it was only Kurt.
Sitting astride her gelding at the starting line she faced forward and didn’t dare look at any of the other jockeys lined along both sides of her, still the feeling of being studied and observed became strong. She took in a calming breath just as a jockey next to her tried getting her attention, but luck was with her as the bell sounded and they were off. She couldn’t worry about her concealment at the moment. Instead, she focused on winning.
But she was noticed, and not in the way she had feared. Lord Blackburn had a good eye for promising, talented riders. While watching his own horse race down the wide stretch of dirt John smiled with pride. Chief was flying by straining thoroughbreds, kicking dirt into their faces. Training the stallion himself, he considered Chief his masterpiece. The stallion’s name flowing out of prospectors’ mouths held enough evidence of Chief’s newfound popularity. John knew Chief would win by a long shot. He could feel it in his bones: the horse was fast.
John continued cheering in silence, watching the powerhouse pulling ahead, having one last gelding to pass. Chief was able to pull away, but not by much. The unknown gelding stayed close behind and would not be left to choke on Chief’s dust, but it wasn’t the gelding that necessarily impressed John, it was the rider. Without realizing it, he began comparing his own jockey with the newcomer. The unknown rider seemed to encourage the speed of the horse, cheering him on with supporting gestures. Chief flew through the finish line, the gelding a close second.
John kept his attention on the unknown jockey who rode past Chief, going toward the stables without waiting for an outrider’s assistance.
Having a single purpose in mind John told Robert that he’d return shortly, leaving Robert to handle associates who approached their viewing box in congratulations.
John continued to make his way toward the stables when he spied Kurt leading the fast gelding, not in the stables but behind it and toward the backstretch. By the time John reached the backstretch, Kurt had finished circling the gelding to cool him off and was leading him into a small wooden structure. Putting the gelding in that small building and not in the stables struck John as odd. He knew the young men used the old shack as a hideaway for themselves but he’d never seen them bring horses along, especially when they had limited space to contend with.
Not a trainer who usually disturbed the groomsmen, John strode in the direction of the building, curious more than anything about what was going on, when Kurt stepped out before him.
“Lord Blackburn, I was currently on my way to Chief.”
“What’s going on, Kurt?”
“Sir?” Kurt responded, a little shaken.
“I saw you lead that gelding in there. What are you gentlemen up to?”
“Well, sir, the gelding belongs to a friend of mine and I was looking after the horse. I’ve put him in a separate place, that’s all.”
“I see. Where’s your friend now?”
“My friend is tending to the horse, sir. They like their privacy,” he revealed, motioning to the small building behind him.
John’s patience began to wear. “Does your friend have a name, Kurt?”
“Mel. It’s Mel, sir.”
“Kurt, I’d like to talk to Mel. Can you arrange a meeting for us?” John’s suspicions grew with Kurt’s continuing agitation.
“Well, what is it about, sir, if I may ask?”
Yes, something strange was happening here. “I was quite impressed with his riding skills. I believe he has tremendous talent and I’d like to know his plans for the future.”
“Sir, Mel is an amateur.”
“Kurt, I’d like to talk with Mel myself, if I may.”
“As soon as he’s done tending his horse.” When Kurt stood there staggered and unmoving, John pursued further. “Are you going to let him know then?”
“Yes, sir,” he responded with shifting eyes. “What about James?”
“James is busy with congratulations so he can wait a moment longer,” John told him.
Kurt sauntered through the groaning wooden door, making Melissa jump at his early arrival.
“I thought you were caring for another rider?” she inquired, taken back by Kurt’s quick appearance.
“I will be, but we’ve got trouble,” he responded in distress.
“Trouble? What kind of trouble?”
“Lord Blackburn is standing right outside this door, inquiring about you.”
“What? Well get rid of him, Kurt.” What in the world is he so worried about she wondered as she continued brushing down her gelding.
Kurt stepped to her side, whispering in harsh tones. “I can’t get rid of him, Mel. He’s the owner of a couple of horses I take care of. He’s a highly respected man round here.”
“Don’t tell me you’re afraid of his title Kurt?” Melissa still couldn’t figure out what was so urgent.
“That is beyond the point.”
“Are you absolutely sure?” she asked, reaching for the gelding’s tail, taking long sweeps with the grooming comb.
In defense, Kurt answered her. “I do not fancy myself being in the same circles as those superior snobs, but Lord Blackburn is different. He’s a real person, like you and me.”
“So what does he want to talk about then?”
“About your plans for the future. You impressed him with your riding Mel, and now he wants to talk to you about it.” Kurt sat on a splintered chair, raking his fingers through his hair. “Of all the luck, why did you have to ride so well?”
He looked distressed and exasperated. “Forgive me for disappointing you Kurt, but that’s what I came here to do.” Now she was feeling sorry that she had put him in this position. She went over to him and put her hand on his shoulder. “Tell Lord Blackburn that I’m not interested in meeting with him and that I have another engagement I must attend.”
“It will not be that easy with him. He sees potential in you Mel. He’ll want to train you to ride on his team. I’ve seen it happen before. That’s how he got James.”
The grooming comb slipped from her dangling hand to the hardened dirt floor. “Train me? He’s a trainer?”
“You didn’t tell me he was a trainer Kurt.”
“Why would it matter?”
“This is brilliant! In a thousand lifetimes I wouldn’t have dreamed of this kind of luck! A trainer!”
“I don’t know what you’re rambling about Mel. It cannot work,” he informed her as he stood.
“And you say that even though he’s “Lord Blackburn,” he’s like you and me?” After he nodded she spun around. “This is turning out splendidly.”
“Mel, have you heard a word I’ve said?” He had to snap her out of this daydream.
“What is it Kurt?”
“He thinks you’re a man!”
John waited with controlled patience, disappointed that they spoke so low he couldn’t hear. He went to lean against the building when Kurt came out. “Well?” John asked as he turned to face him.
“Mel’s got another engagement Lord Blackburn and cannot meet with you today.”
“You were in there quite a long time. You must have discussed this in length?”
“Mel has quite a lot going on,” Kurt responded, finishing with a hurried statement. “I really must be off. I need to tend James and Chief.”
Kurt took off in a hasty stride while John stood there watching him. Then he shifted toward the door, examining it. Something mysterious was going on here. Unable to contain his curiosity John burst through the old door, intent on confronting the young man who rode in the last race. After colliding into the rump of the gelding he stepped to the side of the horse, catching the sight of a young lady in the process of disrobing.
Hearing her gasp, John stood dumbfounded, letting the stroll of his eyes confirm the least of what he had expected to encounter. Men’s boots were drowned by over-sized trousers which were being held up by a double-looped material of sorts. She’d been in the process of lifting an oversized shirt above her head, he realized, when his gaze rested on the prettiest, daintiest belly button he’d ever seen. She must have followed his blatant stare because all of a sudden her hands were in his sight, covering her stomach while shirttails followed covering her hands, which made his eyes leap to the part of her body previously protected. It couldn’t be helped. He stared some more because further investigation verified for a fact that she had ridden in that race and almost beaten him. A leathered belt flattening her bosom exposed itself from the opening of the gaping shirt. Even though he’d already witnessed the truth self-consciousness had her hands struggling to hide herself from him. With one hand gripping at her shirttails and the other clutching her collar in a tightened grasp she looked positively devastated.
Purposeful gray eyes trapped hers, demanding a confrontation, and hazel eyes beamed back, returning the challenge.
“Who are you?” she asked, adding a bold gesture by raising her chin a notch.