Authors: Sofia Grey
This book is a work of fiction.
While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either 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.
Copyright © 2016 by Sofia Grey
All Rights Reserved
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Her best friend, or her lover?
Jon’s glamorous life as a racecar driver is poles apart from Anita’s job in a bookshop, and he’s drawn to her in a way he never imagined. After one unfaithful, soon-to-be-ex-wife, and a revolving door of models and actresses, Jon finds Anita’s innocence and vulnerability a breath of fresh air.
Anita’s abusive ex-boyfriend left her running scared of any kind of relationship. Picking up the pieces of her life is hard, but her best friend since childhood, Danny Webster, is only too willing to help. And then she meets Jon. He completes her in a way Danny never could.
She doesn’t expect the men to hate each other on sight. Losing Anita isn’t an option for Jon or Danny, but only one man can take pole position for her heart.
Huge thanks go to: Allyson for her patient critiquing, tireless enthusiasm and hard work behind the scenes to format and release Pole Position; Sotia for another gorgeous cover that really captures the mood of the story; and Angi Kelly for her detailed edits.
Thanks also to the people who read this as an early draft, and told me they loved it. Your encouragement was much appreciated.
A standalone novel
“It’s said that love and hate are opposite sides of the same coin. I’m not sure I agree. Jealousy should definitely be there too.”
I hit the road with a jolt that rattled every bone in my body. The air whooshed from my lungs and I lay sprawled on the tarmac, winded and shocked. In the distance, my horse, Sam, cantered away into a nearby field. If this had been a cartoon, I’d have had a circle of birds tweeting around my head. My ears buzzed, and after a moment, I recognized the noise as a voice. I blinked. Waited until I untangled the furious words.
“You idiot! Didn’t anyone teach you to look out for traffic?” A pale face glared down at me, vivid blue eyes blazing. “I could have killed you both!”
My brain finally kicked into gear. I should have been paying more attention to the road when I emerged from the meadow. I’d been riding for fifteen years—I was a qualified instructor for chrissake—and I routinely warned my pupils about the dangers of riding on the road. The first rule was
. And was I? No. I’d been too busy daydreaming about winning the show jumping cup at Charrington.
The stranger paused for breath, and I managed to wheeze a reply, my lungs still refilling with air.
“You were going too fast. This isn’t a race track.”
He opened his mouth as though to argue, but paused, and stared at me. Holding out a hand, he helped me to my feet. His grip was warm and sure, but as soon as I stood, I went dizzy and sagged at the knees. Before I knew what was happening, he slung a strong arm around my waist, and guided me to sit in his car. He peered at me, worried face close to mine.
“I need to catch my horse.” It felt as though I was going to faint.
“Easy now. Get your breath back.”
While the world reasserted itself and stopped spinning, I watched the stranger walk calmly up to Sam, click his fingers at him, and catch hold of the bridle. He untangled the reins, soothed my nervous horse, and led him back to the gate. I was impressed.
Sam whickered, as though he liked the stranger, and I liked what I saw too. Taller than me—always a novelty when you’re five foot nine—slim and wiry, with short, messy dark hair. As he turned back, I added brilliant blue eyes to the inventory. His car wasn’t bad either, some kind of low-slung sports job with the steering wheel on the left. American perhaps?
Embarrassment swamped me in a scalding rush. I managed a weak smile and stood up, only slightly shaky now.
“Thanks, and well done for catching Sam. He’s fussy about who he goes to.”
“He’s a nice horse. Are you sure you’re okay to ride? Should I phone someone to come and fetch you?”
“Oh I’m fine, really. I’ve had worse falls.” This may have been true, but of course made me sound as though I fell off regularly.
He held Sam and gave me a leg up into the saddle. “You’re awfully pale,” he said. “Do you have far to go?”
“No, only a mile or so, to Higher Farm Riding School.” I gathered up my reins, straightened my hat, and managed a wobbly smile. “Thanks again.”
I thought he looked relieved to see us go. It had to have given him a shock when we emerged onto the road without warning. I heard the car restart as we trotted off.
It was only later, as I untacked Sam back at the stables, that I realized I’d lost my crop.
I particularly liked that crop—a silver-tipped one I’d won in a jumping competition. I must have dropped it when I came off. I’d go back tomorrow to look for it.
Back home, I soaked in the bath and relived the humiliation from earlier. God. What had I been thinking? The realization struck if the driver hadn’t reacted so quickly, I might not be here now.
I replayed it in my head. The shock of seeing a bright red car when I expected an empty road. The gut-wrenching fear. The screech of tires as the driver swerved, almost putting his car into the ditch. Sam rearing up, frightened, and dancing on his hind legs, while I fought a losing battle with the reins.
At least I’d been on my own. Although I knew if I’d been leading a group of riders, I wouldn’t have been lost in my own head. Apart from being winded and collecting a few bruises, it was just my pride that hurt. Sam escaped unscathed, thank God. If he’d been injured, I’d never forgive myself.
A knock on the door snagged my attention. “Anita? You going to be long? There’s a casserole in the oven for you and Danny.” It was Colette, one of my housemates. “And I’m going out tonight, so I need a shower.”
“Ten minutes,” I called, and heard her footsteps go back down the stairs. I liked Colette. We worked in the bookshop together, and became good friends before she moved in. She grumbled about sharing a house with two horsey people, while tripping over piles of tack and muddy boots, but always in a good-natured way. And since it was Danny’s house, and we were tenants, she didn’t make too much fuss.
Colette was the perfect social butterfly. She was always out drinking and dancing with her friends, and frequently brought her current boyfriend back home. She failed to understand why I was not only single, but adamant I didn’t want a boyfriend, and I couldn’t tell her.
Apart from Danny, I hadn’t told anyone, and he only knew the bare details.
The girl on the horse had been right about me driving too fast and her comment stopped me in my tracks. I went cold again, just thinking about it. For one heart-stopping moment, I’d thought she was dead. I couldn’t describe the sense of relief I’d felt as I’d watched her trot away.
But now I had a dilemma. She’d dropped her riding crop in my car. It was a flashy, ornate one, and was obviously something special.
I could just imagine walking into a stable yard crowded with young girls and them muttering and pointing at me. The press called me a Hotshot Driver, Britain’s Latest Sporting Hope, but they didn’t know I’d almost flattened a local girl. It wouldn’t be the best publicity, and right now, I was trying to stay out of the tabloids.
On the other hand, I felt honor-bound to return it. I sighed as duty won. I’d take it back in the morning, and slip away with a minimum of fuss.
My horse was covered in mud from nose to tail. I sucked in a breath, unable to speak.
“It’s all my fault.” The junior assistant looked close to tears. “Clare asked me to tie him up in the yard for you, but I forgot to use the thick rope.” She held up a thin rope, the end chewed clean through. “He escaped into the field and, well…”
“…rolled.” I sighed, and contemplated my filthy horse. He didn’t even have the decency to look ashamed. The weather had been so wet recently the horses had mainly been confined to their stables. Sam had seized an opportunity to go in the field, and he’d made the most of it.
The stable yard buzzed today, as it did on show days. Most of the classes we ran were for children and pony-mad teenagers, and they loved the opportunity to go to the local shows and compete. I’d been bitten by the showjumping bug when I was small, so I understood. At twenty-two, I was still obsessed with the sport.
Clare stepped up to join us and gave me a sympathetic smile. Co-owner of the stables with Danny, they were my best friends from childhood. “I’ll round up the kids to help me, you concentrate on Sam.” She turned and bellowed for some more of the juniors, and I forced a smile for the anxious Shelley.
“Don’t worry, he’s done this to me as well. Let’s get him clean.”
I didn’t have the heart to be angry with Shelley, and there was no time to waste. We needed to leave in a couple of hours, to get away on time. I’d envisaged a relaxed morning, with plenty of time to groom Sam and pack his things for the show, not this race against the clock to get him clean.
No matter how many shows I’d been to, the buzz of excitement was always there. I didn’t think I’d ever tire of it, even when mini-disasters like this happened.
Shelley boiled up kettles of water, while I worked buckets of warm, soapy lather through the mud splattered onto Sam’s fine coat. Eventually my horse started to come clean, which was more than you could say for me. I looked disgusting. My jodhpurs and T-shirt were splashed with mud and water, caked with hair and grease, and stained with a mixture of sweat and dirt. My hair fell loose across my dust-streaked face, and I pushed it away, wondering if I had something to tie it back.
Behind me, someone plaintively asked about a missing brush—probably the one by my feet—and Danny roared instructions about loading the horsebox. The radio blasted out pop music, with regular time checks, and panic wasn’t far away. Only twenty minutes left, thirty tops. I hadn’t plaited Sam’s mane yet, let alone loaded his tack into the horsebox. I also needed to wash my face and hands, and change into my show jacket and breeches, but that would only take a few minutes.
With all the activity, I’d not had time to think about the show itself. It was one of the many weekend country horse-and-pony shows, but one we didn’t normally go to. The fences were a little bigger, the competition tougher. It was just what we needed as part of a training program working toward Charrington.
A quiet cough beside me diverted my attention. I swung around, expecting to see one of the juniors, and instead saw
—the guy with the sports car. I blinked in surprise.
Oh, this was so unfair. I looked scruffy beyond belief, was hot and sweaty, and probably stunk to high heaven. While he was just gorgeous. He stood there—a polite smile on his face—wearing a pair of faded denims that fit him like a second skin, and a pale cotton shirt. His sleeves were rolled back enough to see dark, curling hairs on his forearms and a chunky watch on his left wrist. His hair was shaggy, bed-head messy, and his eyes were a bright, clear blue.
As I stared, my face burning with embarrassment, he held out my crop. “I think this is yours. You dropped it yesterday.” His voice had a hint of a Manchester accent.
I gaped in delight, my appearance momentarily forgotten. Pushing back my hair, I wiped my other hand on a towel and went to take back my lovely crop. Our fingers touched, and I swore I felt a jolt, like electricity running up my arm. He looked surprised too.
. I thought I’d lost it. Thank you so much for bringing it back.”
He nodded toward the now gleaming Sam. “Off to a show?”
“Yes. Another half hour and we’d have left. I can’t thank you enough.” I beamed at him.
Reaching out to Sam, he gently rubbed the velvety nose, and tickled under his chin. “I won’t hold you up. Good luck today. He’s a handsome beast.”
He held his hand out to me, and I slowly took it. At that moment, it felt as though we were the only two people in the yard. All the noise and bustling activity faded into the background.
“I’m glad to see you’re okay.” His voice sounded soft and friendly. “No damage from yesterday?”
My cheeks heated. “I’m fine. We’re both fine, thanks.” He must have thought me an idiot, but I felt so connected to him, I didn’t want to let him go. “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”
“Jon. And you?”
“Have a great day, Anita.” He let go of me and with a final amused nod, strode toward the car park.
I felt dazzled by his attention and stood gawping for a minute, twisting the crop in my hands. I laid it on the bench and dragged my attention back to Sam.
“He thought you were handsome,” I murmured, gently pulling his ears. “He’s not so bad himself.”
Moments later, I was trying to get my head, and fingers, around the complexities of plaiting Sam’s mane, a job that really needed two pairs of hands, when Shelley interrupted my thoughts.
“Anita, do you know who that was?”
I glanced over, puzzled. “Jon. He said his name was Jon.”
Shelley rolled her eyes. I dimly noticed the other juniors all gathered round us.
“That,” announced Shelley with a flourish, “was Jonathan Craigowan.”
The name meant nothing to me. “He didn’t mention his surname.”
“Jon Craigowan? Here in our yard. And you didn’t recognize him?” Her voice rose several octaves. The other juniors giggled and whispered.
“Danny!” Shelley yelled, making us all jump. His head popped out of the horsebox.
“Danny, who’s Jonathan Craigowan?”
Danny raised his eyebrows, his surprise clear. “The race car driver? Top of the Formula 3 leaderboard this season and likely to be in F1 next year. Superb driver.”
“He was here. Talking to Anita.”
“Was he?” Danny walked down the ramp, a beaming smile growing on his rugged face. “I know he’s a local lad, but I didn’t know he rode. I wish I’d known. I’d have liked to meet him. Is he wanting lessons with us?”
Everyone looked back at me.
,” I squeaked, my voice deserting me. “I don’t think so.”
They carried on staring.
“I dropped my crop yesterday; he was just bringing it back.”
“Where do you…”
“Do you know…?”
The chatter overwhelmed me, and I gazed mutely at Danny for help. He grinned a moment, then clapped his hands for order and took control of the juniors again. Within moments, they were all loading and cleaning, dashing round getting ready for the show, and I had a few moments of peace.
Okay, so Jon was famous. It had been nice of him to find me and bring back my crop. I doubted I’d ever see him again. I rarely went out, let alone places where you might expect to trip over celebrities.
I could daydream about him later. For now, I had to focus on getting ready for the show.