Can she handle everything they are?
True to her Hopi mother's restless spirit, Terena Rothrock follows news stories all over the Southwest. Lately, though, her heart is calling her back to the rez. But not before she swings through Phoenix to see her cousin race his amazingly fast new horse.
At the track, two powerful men watch the horse with suspicion in their eyes. Watch Terena with the drive to possess her oozing from every pore. When they seem to shift into stallions in her mind's eye, shock--and arousal--flood her body.
Far from home and their herd, Nokoni and Hah-Tee can't afford to draw attention to themselves. Instant attraction to Terena complicates their already competitive relationship, but she's their one connection to the man they suspect stole one of their mares.
Overcome by instincts as ancient as time, the urge to mate rolls over them with the speed and ferocity of a desert storm. Yet even as Terena struggles to make sense of her desire for the swift, mysterious shifters, danger lurks. Someone is out to collect every last one of the horses born with wings on their feet--even if it means bullets must fly.
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Samhain Publishing, LTD
March 26, 2012
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Excerpt from Studs by Vonna Harper
"There they go!"
The unnecessary announcement barely registered. Terena Rothrock's entire being was locked on the ten horses at the starting gate, and she sensed their gathering muscles before they exploded. Just like that, the years she'd spent apart from horses fell away. She again became a teenager bent low over the straining neck of a galloping mare, stallion or gelding. The creatures' strength and determination seeped into her, and she lived for the feel of powerful muscles in motion.
Shaking off the past so she could concentrate on this moment, she shielded her eyes. Arizona spring heat seeped into her back, dust from the dirt track billowed into the stands, and splinters from the wooden bleacher threatened to stab her buttocks.
No more than two seconds had passed since the starting gun assaulted her ears, but already one horse was pulling ahead of the field. The horse, a tall burgundy mare with white markings on her chest, ran as if she was floating. Yes, her muscles rippled, and her hoofs rhythmically attacked the ground, but Terena had no doubt she galloped because she loved speed, not because her rider was encouraging or forcing her to.
Ah, yes, Terena reminded herself, the rider. As man and horse all but flew past, she turned her attention from the gorgeous young animal to the slim yet sturdy Hopi with long, glossy black hair flowing behind him. Her cousin rode as she once had, part and parcel with his mount. Ahote couldn't have simply agreed to jockey the mare for a paycheck. He was sitting on some fourteen hundred pounds of animal because nothing made him feel more alive.
And because this horse was incredible!
Terena had picked up the racing schedule as soon as she'd arrived at the country fairgrounds, so knew there were three stallions in this race. They should be in the lead, not this two-year-old still-growing mare. The mare continued to float, her movements becoming more magical with every step. Terena half believed the mare was running on a cushion of air--a swift-moving current.
The one-length lead became ten. Seconds later and only halfway into the race, the chestnut her cousin was astride led by more than fifteen lengths. It couldn't be! No horse could run that fast.
"Do you believe this, folks?" the announcer screamed, his voice mixing in with the excited audience's yells.
He said something else, but clapping and static ate up the words. It didn't matter. Something unbelievable was happening this afternoon at a small-town racetrack in central Arizona. Like everyone else in the stands, Terena was on her feet, clapping. The cowboy boots she seldom had reason to wear drilled the wood plank under them. The bleachers creaked and complained. What did she care whether it collapsed? She'd breathe with the lightning-fast mare. They'd shared the same muscles, heart and lungs.
"Run you beautiful thing! Run! Feel it, feel it, feel it!"
Twenty lengths, then another five. Ahote and the wonderful flying beast under him surged around the turn and neared the finish line.
"Explode!" Terena screamed, not caring that the mare couldn't possibly have even more speed in her.
But the mare did. With maybe a hundred feet between her and the end, she kicked into an impossible gear. All around Terena, the fans went crazy. Much as she ached to join in the screaming, she couldn't, because her throat had closed down. Hot tears burned her eyes and then her cheeks.
Decibel by decibel, things quieted until she could make out what people were saying. Everyone was still excited of course, their reactions ranging from good-natured disappointment because the horse they'd bet on had been blown away to disbelief. It didn't matter that there was no speed gun or timer here; no one doubted that they'd just witnessed a miracle.
Wiping away tears she wasn't interested in examining, Terena looked around for a way to get out of the stands. Knowing Ahote--at least she'd known him when they were growing up--he'd be anxious to get away from the crowd and into the stables at the rear of the fairgrounds. "He won't answer your questions. Don't ask him to explain what just happened," she'd tell anyone who tried to get more than words of one syllable out of him. At least he would talk to her, maybe.
The people on either side of her showed no sign of leaving, which wasn't surprising since there were still races to be run. Fortunately, the three middle-aged women directly below her were, in their words, going to feed their faces, and shuffled toward the aisle. If she could step over and down without losing her balance, she could follow their escape route. Toward that end, she extended her left leg, her arms out. Darn it, this was going to be tricky.
A prickling along and down her spine told her she was being watched. A little resentful--she was weary of explaining that her features represented both her Hopi and white heritage--she waited until she'd completed the maneuver and then looked around.
Two men standing in the aisle watched Ahote guide his mount toward the exit area opposite the stadium. No, they weren't just standing. Well over six feet tall with shoulders that would never fit in an airplane seat, jeans that clung to narrow hips, no bellies, and long black hair, they grabbed her full attention. Brought heat to her cheeks. She wasn't the only one. Instead of concentrating on their quest for food, the three women who'd been sitting below her stared, practically openmouthed, at men who might be young enough to be their sons.
Something about the men's scrutiny of her cousin made her uneasy. She understood interest in the winning horse and her rider, but this was more, hostile maybe.
Perhaps they'd somehow locked in to her thoughts, because as one, they turned toward her. Native American, she concluded as their obsidian eyes tracked her every move, or rather her lack of movement. The phrase deer caught in the headlights pretty much summed up how she felt, but instead of trying to figure how to cut and run from them, she wrapped their bold scrutiny around her. If this was their idea of a sexual come-on, what the hell. She was ready, primed, hungry.
Not that it was going to happen, but she could dream about standing between them with no way out and their hands all over her. Getting naked.
She was picturing herself sans a single piece of clothing, flanked by the two men who resembled professional football players, when the slightly taller one's attention shifted from her to his companion. Just like that, the taller one's expression changed from bold scrutiny to challenge. His jaw clenched, and his eyes narrowed. Throwing out his white-T-shirt-clad chest, he took a half step toward his companion. Arms at his sides and fingers curling into fists, the other man, who appeared to be a little younger, met the taller one head on. Watching them, she remembered the day last fall when she'd seen two mustang stallions fight for dominance. Would these men battle over her?
Before she could do more than try to shrug off the insane thought, the shorter, younger man stepped back. The way his eyes narrowed told her he hated giving way, but for reasons known only to the two of them, that was the way of their relationship.
"You mind? You're blocking the way."
Startled, she looked over her shoulder at an elderly man with narrow shoulders and a massive belly standing a few feet away. "I'm sorry. Hold on."
Putting off the moment when she'd be eye to eye and maybe body to body with the two dark-skinned, black-haired strangers, she concentrated on her footing as she wove her way around several pairs of, thankfully, child-sized legs until she reached the aisle. Then, because she'd been fighting her own battles and watching her own back since she was sixteen, she lifted her head. The intriguing, compelling men were no longer where she'd last seen them. Instead, they were halfway down the stairs, with the one she thought of as the dominant member leading the way. Studying wide, cotton-encased backs instead of weathering their intense midnight eyes should have been easier on her nervous system and a certain region between her legs. It wasn't. If anything, her awareness of herself as a sexual creature increased. She didn't want to think about how she'd respond if they were any closer.