Veterinarian Carter Phillips wants answers. The scandal surrounding his employer's prizewinning horse has left Carter unable to clear Quest Stables' name...or his own. But then Carter spies an exquisite painting of an unknown horse that could finally lead him to the truth....Artist Gillian Cameron knows exactly who the horse is: he's her family's Thoroughbred, Picture of Perfection. But Carter's suspicions compromise the horse's future and that of her family. She knows she can't trust Carter's agenda...so why does she find herself wanting to trust him with a mystery of her own?
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July 07, 2008
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Excerpt from Picture of Perfection by Kristin Gabriel
Carter Phillips stood in the foyer of the hotel ballroom, trying to determine the perfect time to make his escape. He didn't feel comfortable at fancy parties like this-- hating anything that took him away from his horses.
As a veterinarian, Carter preferred spending his time in a barn rather than a ballroom, but working for Quest Stables made events like this a necessary evil. Even if it was for a good cause.
The black-tie affair would raise money for an organization that provided horse therapy to disabled children and adults. Andrew Preston, stable manager at Quest and heir apparent to the family business, had helped Carter organize several of these horse therapy camps back in Kentucky. Carter had seen for himself what a thrill riding a horse could be for a child who wasn't able to walk or run.
Carter slowly scanned the ballroom, relieved that he didn't see anyone he knew. He wasn't in the mood for small talk. His plane had arrived in San Diego at six o'clock this morning and he was still adjusting to the three-hour time difference.
Quest Stables had six horses running at Del Mar this season and Carter had spent most of his day evaluating them at the racing facility. All six horses seemed to have weathered the long flight from Woodford County without any difficulty.
The hardest part of the trip so far was ignoring all the whispers and curious glances at the Del Mar stables. Everyone in the racing world knew about the scandal brewing around Quest and how its most famous prizewinning horse, Leopold's Legacy, was at the center of the storm.
After winning the Kentucky Derby and a stunning victory at Preakness, Leopold's Legacy had been poised to wow the entire racing world by running for the Triple Crown.
Then disaster struck when it was discovered that the stallion might not be a Thoroughbred. A reconfiguration of the Jockey Association's computer system had led to an accusation that Apollo's Ice wasn't the sire of Leopold's Legacy as recorded in the official records. It had stunned the Prestons and Carter himself, who had been certain there was some kind of mistake.
A certainty that had crumbled over time.
Now people in the racing world were throwing around words like fraud and deception while everyone at Quest Stables was scrambling to separate the fact from the fiction. It was a scandal that could cost the Preston family their reputation as well as a business worth millions.
A scandal that could ultimately cost Carter his job as head veterinarian at Quest.
He raked a hand through his short hair, bristling at the uncomfortable fit of his tuxedo. It was too tight across the back and shoulders, making him feel as though he was bound up in a straitjacket. Something he might need if this issue wasn't resolved soon.
Hell, he'd overseen the covering of Leopold's Legacy's dam, Courtin' Cristy, by Apollo's Ice, a prizewinning stallion at Angelina Stud Farm. He'd even been present at the foal's birth. But he knew DNA tests didn't lie, and when the results had come back with solid evidence showing that Apollo's Ice wasn't the sire of Leopold's Legacy, as recorded in the Stud Book, it had shaken Quest Stables to its very core. The Prestons had pulled Leopold's Legacy from the Belmont Stakes and were now working to solve the mystery.
A buzzing sensation in his pocket pulled Carter's mind away from the scandal that had occupied his every waking thought since the discovery two months ago. He tugged the slim cell phone from his pocket, then suppressed a groan when he saw the name on the Caller ID screen.
"Hello, Noah," Carter said into the phone.
"Hey, big brother, I'm surprised you remember my name," Noah teased. "How long has it been since we last talked? Three or four years?"
He swallowed a sigh, all too aware he'd been neglecting his family lately. He missed them, and hearing his brother's voice deepened the ache of loneliness that had been gnawing at him lately. "I was home over Christmas," Carter reminded him.
"That's right," Noah concurred. "I guess it just seems longer because I was stuck in Chicago all winter with the folks while you were soaking up the sun and all those beautiful Southern belles in Kentucky."
He knew his little brother never lacked for female companionship, even at the tender age if twenty-one. Noah's wit and charm provided him with plenty of friends. He lived to party and Carter missed hearing Noah's funny stories even as he worried that his brother would never take life seriously
"It gets cold in Kentucky, too," Carter told him, moving toward the display cases set up in the center of the ballroom.
The California Horse Breeders Association was holding a silent auction as part of the fund-raiser. Since he and Andrew Preston shared an interest in the charity, Andrew had asked him to buy something on behalf of the Preston family and make sure the bid was high enough to win.