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Fast & Loose

Fast & Loose, April 2008
by Elizabeth Bevarly

Berkley Sensation
Featuring: Lulu Flannery; Cole Early
304 pages
ISBN: 0425220850
EAN: 9780425220856
Paperback
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"Delightfully fun and sexy romance ensues in the week before the Kentucky Derby."

Fresh Fiction Review

Fast & Loose
Elizabeth Bevarly

Reviewed by Lissa Staley
Posted March 18, 2008

Romance | Contemporary | Romance Contemporary

Lulu Flannery loves living in her hometown, Louisville, especially during the weeks before the Kentucky Derby. The lavish fundraising parties, the famous horse owners and trainers in town for the event all add to the excitement of the crowd as the city fills with tourists. Lulu always just watches the Derby on television though, since she doesn't really care for horses. She's happy to concentrate on her work as a glass artist, which keeps a roof over her head, although that roof could use new shingles. A rental agent convinces Lulu to stay with a friend and rent out her bungalow for two weeks to a horse racing fan. Although the money is too good to pass up, Lulu is concerned about having a stranger stay in her home, especially when she discovers who it is!

For Cole Early, this is the year he's going to win the Triple Crown. He already has a celebrity reputation as "King Cole" the well-dressed, handsome horse trainer, and when his horse wins the Derby in a few weeks, he will be on his way to success. Cole didn't anticipate that no hotels would be available for miles around Louisville though, and he's finding the little bungalow he rented to be a bit distracting. He's intrigued by his fantasies of the woman who lives here, imagining from her possessions that she's captivating, exotic and passionate. When he finally meets Lulu, he's surprised by the reality, but not disappointed. Lulu and Cole couldn't have less in common, except for the attraction developing between them!

This novel takes the actual Derby house rentals in Louisville and imagines a fabulous romance developing from the situation. The writing captures the spirit of the Kentucky Derby, although actual scenes featuring horses are minimal. The author's note at the end clarified which tourist attractions are fictitious or based on actual locations, which readers appreciate when learning about a new locale through fiction. With well-developed, entertaining characters and humorous dialogue, FAST AND LOOSE will keep you reading until the end of the race.

Learn more about Fast & Loose

SUMMARY

Thoroughbred trainer Cole Early needs a place to stay while his horse is preparing for the Kentucky Derby. With Louisville booked solid, he snaps up the snug little bungalow his real estate agent miraculously finds.

Glass artist Lulu Flannery has agreed to rent out her house for Derby, but quickly begins to worry. What if her boarder is someone like that rowdy “King Cole” person who keeps popping up in all the places she seems to be? A guy like that could really mess with a girl’s feng shui.

But it isn’t Lulu’s feng shui that Cole is interested in. Especially after he discovers she’s the mysterious woman whose house is filled with such sensual indulgences. What’s a guy gotta do to bring the passion out of the self- possessed Miss Flannery?

Excerpt

Chapter One

Nothing brought more joy to Cole Early’s heart than watching the day dawn from the railing of a racetrack. As he sipped strong black coffee from the cardboard cup in his hand, it occurred to him that Santa Anita was one of the most glorious tracks for doing just that. At barely six a.m., the crisp yellow sun was cresting the St. Gabriel Mountains in the east, spilling over the shallow green peaks to limn them with gold. A trio of tall date palms stretched high over the grounds of the track between Cole and the foothills, black silhouettes against the young sunlight, their broad fronds fluttering in the cool, early April breeze.

It was that magical moment between darkness and light, night time and day, when anything–anything–seemed possible. Closing his eyes, he inhaled the mixed aromas of damp dirt and expensive equine, a fragrance found nowhere else in the world but at the track. His chest filled with something big and undefinable, a sensation he’d never quite been able to identify, but one that made him feel as if nothing in his life would ever go wrong again. Only at the track did Cole feel it. There was just something about the confidence of the owners, the arrogance of the trainers and the dominance of the Thoroughbreds all meeting and commingling that spawned a force of energy that was almost a living, breathing thing.

He opened his eyes again and let that energy wash over him, bathing in it as if it were the fountain of youth– which, quite honestly, he couldn’t say it wasn’t. Thoroughbred racing was ageless, the sport of kings for centuries, a place where any Average Joe could, with one lucky bet, become a king himself. And Cole should know, since it hadn’t been that long ago that he was an Average Joe himself. Now he was one of the top Thoroughbred trainers in the country, dubbed nothing less than “King Cole” by the racing media.

These days, he could afford to look the part, too. His dark hair was expertly and expensively cut to seem carefree and cavalier, and his suits were tailored by one of LA’s finest couturiers. Today’s was a dark olive that matched his eyes, paired with a dress shirt and necktie, both silk, that were the color of Fort Knox gold. His Bulgari sunglasses were tucked into his breast pocket beside another scrap of gold silk, this one perfectly folded with three points showing, just as his tailor had shown him how to fold it. His shoes were Gucci, his wristwatch was Movado, his underwear was Parah. Hell, even his grooming products bore a European name whose pronunciation he’d had to look up on the Internet.

Cole really didn’t give a damn about his physical appearance, but having been thrust into the media spotlight two years ago with a sensational win at the Pacific Classic, he’d consciously begun to cultivate an image as a player. It wasn’t an image anymore, though. Cole Early was a player. A major player. And his status was only going to explode in… He glanced at his watch, also gold–real gold–turning it a little to catch a shaft of gilded sunlight. In roughly ten hours and fifty-two minutes.

Any day at the track was a good one, as far as he was concerned. But this day was going to be his best yet. Because this was the day that Silk Purse, the filly Cole had trained from infancy to three-year-old, was going to win the Santa Anita Derby.

He was as certain of that as he was his own name. He didn’t care what the handicappers were saying. The thirty- eight-to-one odds on the horse right now only meant Cole would be that much richer at day’s end after plunking down the cool ten grand on the animal he always slid through the pari-mutuel window, figuratively speaking, whenever he had a horse running. Of course, all his bets were handled by electronic transaction now, so large had they become, something that took a lot of the tradition and fun out of the racing experience. But the end result would still be the same. Three hundred and eighty grand if the odds didn’t change by race time. Not to mention a nice share of the winning purse, worth three-quarters of a million dollars itself.

Even better than the money, however, was the fact that when Silk Purse crossed the finish line ahead of all the other horses, she’d qualify for the Kentucky Derby, four weeks from today. And that race, more than any other right now, was the one Cole wanted to win. Because it was the first jewel in the Triple Crown, which he was determined would belong to Silk Purse. That would put the horse in an elite group of only eleven other Thoroughbreds–and put Cole in an even more elite group of only nine other trainers–to win the distinction. And it had been three decades since the last ones, Affirmed and Lazara Berrera, had managed it.

As recently as a week ago, Cole hadn’t been confident of today’s win. But something had happened to the horse over the last six or seven days, and the new kid exercising her had a way with animals that had made Silk Purse seem happier somehow. Cole could just feel victory in his gut, and his gut had never steered him wrong. The filly might not be as experienced as some of the other horses running today, and she faced a gender bias the other entrants didn’t. But she hadn’t lost a race yet. She wasn’t a favorite among the bettors and bookies, but by God, she had more heart than any horse Cole had ever encountered. And he’d met more than a few animals with potential, because he’d been training Thoroughbreds since he was a teenager. Silk Purse was going to go all the way to the Belmont finish line, or his name wasn’t–

“Cole Early!”

He turned at the summons to see Susannah Pennington, Silk Purse’s owner, emerging from the paddock with her hand lifted in the air. She was dressed for Derby Day in a short, clingy red skirt and white frilly blouse, an enormous red straw hat encircling her platinum hair like a halo. It was a mystery how she navigated the damp earth on spike heels, also red, but damned if she didn’t manage it with grace and style, picking her way carefully over the uneven sod.

Cole returned her wave as he watched her approach, appreciating, as he always did, the length of bare leg extending from Susannah’s short skirt. At fifty-two, she was ten years his senior, a dynamo in the field of high finance and a self-made millionaire many times over, just as he was himself. She owned three other horses in addition to Silk Purse, all of them fillies, all of them sharing her initials, and all of them stabled and trained by Cole at Early Farms in Temecula. Silk Purse showed by far the most promise, though a one-year-old, Sinful Pleasures, would perform very nicely when she started racing in another year or two.

“How does our girl look this morning?” Susannah asked as she came to a halt beside Cole and assumed the position– weight shifted to one foot, arms resting on the track rail, fingers loosely clasped, her gaze focused on the gray filly who was now running on the far side of the track.

“Poetry in motion,” Cole told her. “She’s really taken to the new kid exercising her. What’s his name again?”

“Jason.”

Cole nodded. “You should pay him more, make sure you keep him around.”

“Done,” Susannah immediately agreed, just as she always immediately agreed to Cole’s suggestions.

“She and Esteban have clicked extremely well, too,” he added, giving well deserved props to the horse’s jockey, Esteban Santos. “I like him. He’s been good for her.”

“I thought you said he was too inexperienced,” Susannah reminded him, smiling, since she’d been the one who’d had to convince Cole to give the young jockey a chance. Susannah had a thing for young jockeys, though, and Cole had been afraid she only wanted Esteban to ride Silk Purse because he was her current lover.

“I stand corrected,” he told her. “The kid’s got talent. And heart. Just like the horse, come to think of it.”

“I told you they were a good match.”

Cole grinned. “You and he are a good match, too,” he told her. “And he’s lasted a lot longer than the others. Is there something I should know, Susannah?”

She arched a pale blond eyebrow. “Maybe. We’ll see how he does today.”

“With the horse, or with you?”

Her grin went supernova at that. “Oh, he’s already done fine with me today.”

Cole chuckled. “The day’s barely started, Susannah.”

Her answering smile was dazzling. “I know,” she said, punctuating the words with a wistful, hopeful, sigh. “There are still so many hours of it left to fill.”

“Don’t exhaust the poor guy,” Cole warned her. “He’s got a big race today.”

Susannah waved a careless hand. “And he’ll be in excellent spirits for it, I assure you.”

They watched Silk Purse make another circuit of the track, her glossy gray coat turning first silver then gold as the early morning sun washed over her. It was A Very Good Sign, another indication that the fates were smiling down on them. Cole just had a good feeling about the day. And the horse. And the race. And about every other damned thing else in the universe. As the sun rose higher in the sky, so did his spirits, and when another of his and Susannah’s horses placed in the fourth race, he began to feel almost invincible.

As the time drew closer for the horses in the Derby to receive the call to the gate, Cole and Susannah made their way to the Directors’ Room to watch it. The elegant–and very exclusive–restaurant was open only to the wealthiest and best connected track patrons. It was a thing to behold, with its finely carved pine walls designed in the 1700s and its crystal chandeliers dating to Regency England. Must have cost a fortune to import it all, Cole thought as he entered the richly appointed room. But then, richness was evident all around him here, in the patrons as well as the decor. It wasn’t unusual to find movie stars, pro athletes and business tycoons milling about with the owners and trainers, especially on Derby day.

Had someone told him twenty years ago–hell, five years ago– that he would someday feel right at home hobnobbing with the Thoroughbred elite, Cole would have laughed in that person’s face. Not because he hadn’t thought he had what it took to be a power player, but because he’d had no desire to join such ranks. He’d spent his life scoffing at the rich and famous, thinking them shallow and superficial and undeserving. Now he was one of them. And truth be told…

Well, hell, Cole thought as he and Susannah shouldered their way toward a window. It was a damned nice place to be.

The moment before the start of a race was even more magical a moment than the one before dawn. It was almost as if the world came to a stop in those immeasurable, cumbrous seconds. As if sounds and smells and sights all smudged into a blur, bulging with fear and hope, expectation and anticipation. As Cole watched Silk Purse make her way toward the starting gate, he could feel all of those things humming just beneath his skin, accelerating his senses to the point where everything around him seemed almost surreal. Something happy and potent vibrated in his chest, pressing harder as his horse entered the gate. In his mind, he could hear the metallic click of the latch closing behind her, then the muffled, anxious murmuring of the horse as she readied herself for flight. And then, then–

“They’re off!” cried the announcer through the speakers, and Cole felt the air whoosh from his lungs, as if he were the one pummeling the dirt beneath his feet while he ran with all his might.

“Go, baby, go,” he murmured under his breath, voicing what had become the official slogan of the Thoroughbred industry, so often had the words been muttered over the years.

Without even realizing he was doing it, he began to bounce on the balls of his feet, his eyes never leaving Silk Purse. She left the gate strong but was quickly squeezed out when the horses on each side of her pulled ahead. She dropped to fourth, then fifth, then sixth. But Cole wasn’t worried. Her favorite part of a race was the final length, the straightaway after the last turn when she just seemed to be overcome with a burst of energy that sent her down the stretch like a cannon shot. Esteban knew that, too, so the jockey bided his time with the animal, steering her into an opening whenever he saw a break. Gradually, she moved ahead, into fifth, then fourth, then third place. Cole held his breath as horse and rider rounded the final curve, and then–

“Oh, yeah,” he breathed solemnly. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about. You go, girl. You go.”

Silk Purse exploded at that point, Esteban pulling her to the outside so she could run at will. This was what Cole had recognized in the animal that no one else had seemed to see yet. Her unmitigated love of running, the sheer joy the animal seemed to feel when she had the room and opportunity to just run.

And, man, did that horse run.

By the time she reached the finish line, Silk Purse was a full two lengths ahead of the second-place horse and the crowd around Cole was screaming in surprise. He, too, let out a cry that came from the very deepest part of his soul, the place where he stored all his hopes and his desires and his dreams. He turned to Susannah and kissed her full on the lips, a gesture borne of nothing more than pure euphoria. Then the two of them erupted in boisterous laughter, clinging to each other’s shoulders as photographers and sports writers and news crews pressed around them, shouting questions and snapping pictures and thrusting microphones between the pair.

For the moment, Cole ignored them all, looking at Susannah instead. “We’re going to the Kentucky Derby,” he told her with a huge grin. “And then to the Triple Crown. There’s nothing–nothing–that can stop us now.”

#

Okay, so there was one thing that might stop them, Cole was forced to acknowledge later that night. Or, at the very least, stop him.

“What do you mean there are no rooms left in Louisville?” he cried into the telephone as he poured himself a second celebratory brandy. “It’s a big city. There must be a lot of hotels.”

He heard his travel agent, Melissa, sigh on the other end of the line. Although her agency had closed two hours ago, he’d called her on her cell phone and dragged her out of a wedding reception to make his travel arrangements for his trip to Louisville at the end of the month. Hey, he threw a lot of business Melissa’s way, and she’d told him herself to call her anytime he needed her services. And hell, she had two other sisters who’d be getting married someday. It wasn’t like this was her only chance to be a maid of honor.

“There are indeed a lot of hotels in Louisville, Cole,” she told him, the statement punctuated by what sounded like the ruffle of some stiff fabric. “Hang on a minute,” she added. “I have to shift the phone to my other ear on account of there’s this big-ass bow on my shoulder that’s about to put my eye out. Yeah, sure I can wear this piece of crap dress again someday. Hah.” He smiled as he waited for Melissa’s voice again. “There, that’s better. But there are also a lot of out-of-town visitors in Louisville,” she added. “Derby is the biggest time of the year for travel to that city. I’m telling you, there are no rooms left. Nothing. Nada. Nil. El Zippo.”

“What’s Susannah doing for lodging?” he asked, knowing Melissa handled her travel account, too.

“She’s staying with some friends of hers in Shelbyville. And their son in Lexington is going to share his apartment with Silk Purse’s exercise boy. But Susannah had to call in a couple of favors even for that.”

Cole blew out an exasperated breath. “Can’t you find a hotel for me in Lexington?” he asked. “That wouldn’t be so bad. It’s only an hour away.”

“Lexington is also full up.”

“Frankfort?”

“Full.”

“Southern Indiana?”

“Full.”

“How about–”

“Cole,” Melissa interrupted, “there are no rooms within two hours of Louisville. You should know better than anyone how important the Kentucky Derby is to the Thoroughbred industry. People make hotel reservations a year in advance for that. I even tried the flea bag motels. I’m telling you, there is nothing left, hotel- wise.”

Something in her voice made it sound as if all were not lost. “Hotel-wise,” Cole repeated, hopefully. “You say that as if there are alternatives to hotels. What? Like could I get a condo or something? That’d be fine.”

“There are no condos to be had, either,” Melissa told him. But,” she added just as he was opening his mouth to say more. “I can get you a house.”

“A house?” he repeated, having never considered such a possibility. Now that he did, however, he kind of liked the idea. There would be more privacy in a house. More freedom. More room to stretch out. Of course, most furnished rental houses sucked when it came to decor, but, hell, he wouldn’t be there all that often. And it wasn’t like he hadn’t lived in dumps before. Years ago, granted, but he didn’t mind slumming for a couple of weeks.

“Yeah, a house,” Melissa said. “Evidently a lot of the locals who don’t care about the Kentucky Derby–”

Don’t care about the Kentucky Derby? Cole thought incredulously. How could a person not care about the Kentucky Derby? Especially someone who lived in the same city where it took place every year? That was just…wrong.

“–will clear out of their houses,” Melissa continued, “and rent them out to people who can’t find hotel rooms or who just want the comfort of a house instead. Some of the houses that go up for grabs are pretty nice, too. Six and seven bedrooms, some of them. Stately old manors. Or new McMansions in gated communities. With country club memberships. Access to pools and golf courses. We’re talking massive luxury for some of these places.”

Cole perked up considerably. Now that was the way to spend time at the Derby.

“Unfortunately, those are all gone,” Melissa said.

Of course.

“Besides,” she continued, “the houses that go up for grabs are only available for the two or three days surrounding the race, and I know you and Susannah are planning to be in Louisville for a couple of weeks. So I did some calling around after you called me, and I found a guy who specializes in Derby rentals. He said could guarantee me a house for the two weeks preceding the race in an area called the Highlands which, according to him, is a very nice neighborhood, parts of which are very upscale. And lucky for you, Cole, he said there are lots of restaurants within walking distance of just about every street.”

“Walking distance,” Cole repeated distastefully. She called that lucky? Nobody in southern California ever walked anywhere. That was even more wrong than not wanting to be in Louisville during the Kentucky Derby.

“Anyway, I’ve got the house on hold until midnight our time,” Melissa said, “but after that, it’s going to be gone. As it was, I had a hell of a time finding that one. I sincerely doubt you’re going to find anything else, Cole. You really came down to the wire on this.”

“Very funny,” he replied, though he had to admit that the racing metaphor was apt. He really should have booked a hotel the minute he realized Silk Purse had even a tiny chance of winning Santa Anita. He just hadn’t wanted to jinx it, that was all. Booking a room before having the win in their pocket had just seemed like the perfect way to ensure Silk Purse didn’t win.

“I’ll take it,” he said.

“Don’t you want to know how much it’s going to cost or hear about the amenities?” Melissa asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” he told her. “I need a place to stay. Whatever you have to do to get this house for me, do it. At this point, I’ll take what I can get.”


What do you think about this review?

Comments

1 comment posted.

Re: Delightfully fun and sexy romance ensues in the week before the Kentucky Derby.

I love to learn about new places via my reading! And it's great that Ms. Bevarly includes a note about the spots that are "real" and those from her imagination!
(Fresh Fiction 5:08pm March 18, 2008)

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