The stunning conclusion to Coulter's Regency-set Legacy trilogy.
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April 18, 2004
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Excerpt from The Valentine Legacy by Catherine Coulter
NEAR BALTIMORE, MARYLAND
Slaughter County Course:
Saturday Races, last race, one-half mile
HE WAS GOING to lose. He didn't want to lose, dammit, particularly to Jessie Warfield, that obnoxious brat. He could feel Rialto just behind him, hooves pounding firm and steady on the black dirt, head stretched long, muscles hard and bunched. He looked over his left shoulder. Rialto was coming on faster than a man escaping from a woman's bedchamber before her husband came through the door, and the damned five-year-old had more endurance than an energetic man with four demanding wives.
James stretched as far as he could and pressed his face as close as he could to Tinpin's ear. He always talked to his horses before and during a race to gauge their moods. Good-natured Tinpin was always open to James. Tinpin, like most of his racehorses, was a fierce competitor; he had great heart. The horse wanted to win as much as James did. The only time he was distracted from victory was that time when a jockey had slammed his riding crop on his side, sending him into a rage. He'd nearly killed that damned jockey and lost the race in the process.
James felt old Tinpin's labored breathing beneath him. The horse was more a quarter-mile sprinter than a half-miler, so Rialto had the advantage there, in both ability and experience. This was only Tinpin's second half-mile race. James kicked his sides, telling Tinpin over and over that he could do it, that he could keep the lead over that miserable little chestnut, that he could kick Rialto -- named after a silly Venetian bridge -- in the dirt. He had to make his move now or it would be too late. James promised Tinpin an extra bucket of oats, a dollop of champagne in his water. The horse gave a final burst of speed, but it wasn't enough.
He lost -- by only a length. Tinpin's sides were heaving. He was blowing hard, his neck lathered. James walked him around, listening to the groans and cheers of the crowd. He stroked Tinpin's wet neck, telling him he was a brave fighter, that he would have won if James hadn't been riding him. And he probably would have won, dammit, despite James's reputed magic with his horses. Some claimed that James as good as carried some of his horses over the finish line himself. Well, he hadn't carried any horse anywhere this day.
Actually he hadn't even come in second after Rialto. He'd placed third, behind another chestnut thoroughbred from the Warfield Stables, a four-year-old named Pearl Diver who had nosed past Tinpin at the last moment, his tail flicking over James's leg.