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Bobby Cameron was in the south of France on the day his father

Leaning hard into the filly's left flank --- he was breaking in a
feisty bay yearling called Mirage for the legendary French
racehorse owner Pascal Bremeau --- he brought her around for a
third time as the dry dust of the training ring billowed and plumed
up around him, enveloping both horse and rider once again in a
thick, stifling cloud. Fighting back the urge to choke --- he
didn't want to do anything now that might frighten or unsettle the
horse --- he leaned back in the saddle, relaxing into the
languorous, cowboy-style riding that he was famed for, closing his
eyes to help himself tune in to her movements. Soon he could feel
every pulse of her taut young muscles between his thighs and the
nervous straining of every sinew as she cantered into the turn. It
was as if he and the filly had become one being, one fluid
organism, circling rhythmically beneath the blazing Cote d'Azur

"Non! Pas comme ça. Regard, she is steel favoring the
left. You see?"

The voice came from Henri Duval, Bremeau's trainer, who was
standing by the side of the schooling ring, scowling, in shorts and
a T-shirt, his few remaining strands of straggly dark hair stuck
with sweat to his otherwise bald forehead, alternately yelling
instructions to Bobby or roaring with Gallic bad temper into his
cell phone.

"Écoute! She needs more steek, Bobby, uh? Deesmount!

Keeping his eyes closed, Bobby tried to block out the sound. He
wished Henri would go terrorize someone else. He was ruining his
concentration, not to mention Mirage's. Was it any wonder the filly
was so goddamn flighty, if all she ever heard from her trainer was

"Arrête!" The Frenchman was yelling so loudly now that
reluctantly Bobby was forced to open his eyes and bring the horse
to a stop.

A fine spray of white foam had formed across Mirage's shoulders,
frothing like milk above the gleaming coffee color of her coat, a
testament to the intensity of her morning's efforts. She was a
terrific little horse, this one, brave and determined. Bobby could
quite see why Bremeau had paid three hundred thousand for her, even
though on paper she'd been a risky investment. Sired by the great
Love's Young Dream, a Belmont winner, but out of the unknown,
unplaced mare Miracle --- she could go either way. She'd either
make a great racehorse or burn herself out before she ever got as
far as the track. But that was just the sort of horse he loved: a
ball of raw energy and speed, just waiting for a little gentle,
Cameron-style direction.

At only twenty-three, Bobby Cameron already had a reputation as one
of the most skilled horse breakers and trainers in the world. With
his straw-blond hair, endlessly long legs, and soulful hazel eyes,
the brilliant but notoriously arrogant son of the famous cowboy
Hank Cameron had been born with an incredible gift: a unique
rapport with difficult horses. Animals that other, skilled trainers
could barely get a bridle on seemed to calm instantly at his touch,
soothed into submission by the low murmuring drawl of his voice. It
was a talent that owners like Pascal Bremeau were prepared to pay
handsomely for.

Even as a small boy Bobby had showed no fear around violent,
kicking stallions, animals that could easily have killed him with
one carefully placed hoof to the head. Instead, he radiated a
quiet, calm authority that even the most stubborn or disturbed
horses seemed to respect. By the age of twelve he was breaking in
wild mustangs for his father. At sixteen, he was earning pocket
money doing the same thing with valuable standardbreds and quarter
horses, the classic cowboy's mount, for other wealthy California
breeders and owners. And by the time he hit twenty, his reputation
had spread beyond the state line. He spent what ought to have been
his college years training difficult Thoroughbreds on some of the
most prestigious, multimillion-dollar Kentucky farms, eventually
getting commissions from owners as far afield as Ireland, Dubai,
and, most recently, the south of France.

Born into one of the oldest, most respected ranching families in
the West, Bobby grew up running semiwild at Highwood, the stunning
three-thousand-acre Cameron ranch nestled deep in California's
Santa Ynez valley. All the local kids envied him his freedom ---
neither of his parents seemed to mind much that he regularly
skipped school to disappear into the hills on his father's horses
--- but in fact his childhood wasn't the idyll it appeared.

His mother, Diana, a teenage rebel from the Danish tourist-trap
town of Solvang, had conceived him during a one-night stand with
his aging cowboy father, Hank. A local legend, the reclusive Hank
Cameron was a natural with cattle and horses, but children were
another matter entirely. Having acknowledged the kid was his and
named him as his heir, he considered his paternal duties to be
completely fulfilled. Beyond that, Diana was on her own.

She loved her son --- that wasn't the problem. But this was
California in the early seventies, the era of free love and cheap
drugs, and she was still only seventeen. Consequently Bobby spent
the first ten years of his life on the road, traveling with his
mother from one hippie commune to the next, never staying in one
place long enough to put down any roots or make any real friends at

Sometimes, overwhelmed by the responsibility of it all, Diana would
disappear completely for months at a stretch, usually on the back
of some scary-looking guy's bike. Terrified that she had gone for
good, Bobby spent her long absences being passed miserably like an
unwanted parcel from one distant relative to another. Eventually,
of course, she always returned, disillusioned with her biker and
full of kisses and promises to get her act together. But by then it
was too late. Her son had already learned two important life
lessons: that loving people was a risky business; and that the only
person he could truly depend on in this world was himself.

Shortly after Bobby's tenth birthday, broke and exhausted, Diana
decided to pay Hank Cameron a visit.

Bobby would never forget the drive out to Highwood that day. It was
the first time he'd seen the property that would one day be his,
and he couldn't believe his eyes. Sitting in the front passenger
seat of his mom's dilapidated VW bus as they bumped and spluttered
down the long, winding drive, he gazed in awe at hills so green
they looked like something out of a cartoon and seemed to stretch
as far as the eye could see. All across this emerald canvas were
grazing herds of cattle, searching for shade beneath the ancient
sycamores that peppered the landscape or making their way down to
the river that rushed alongside the driveway like a dancing stream
of molten silver. Not even in his imagination, on those many long,
lonely nights when he'd lain awake fantasizing about the mythical
Highwood, had he ever seen anything quite so beautiful.

Hank, needless to say, was less than thrilled to see the pair of

"What the hell are you doing here?" he barked as Diana clambered
out of the bus, her dirty, skinny son loitering behind her like a
stray dog. It wasn't exactly the welcome that Bobby had hoped for
from the father he had long built up in his mind as some sort of
cool, romantic hero. But he didn't dwell on it. By this time he was
used to being an unwelcome guest, and he was stoic when Diana
announced she was leaving him with his father for the summer while
she went to try to find work in Santa Barbara.

"Leave him here? With me? You can't be serious," Hank spluttered
incredulously. "I don't know what to do with him."

"Yeah?" said Diana, climbing purposefully back up into the driver's
seat. "Well, guess what? Neither did I when I was seventeen years
old and you sent me packing. But we did okay, right, Bobby? Now
it's your turn."

While the two of them fought it out, Bobby stood calmly on the
porch steps beside the one pitifully small suitcase that held all
his worldly possessions. Most of what they said was a blur,
although he could remember his mother's parting words as she sped
off down the driveway in a plume of dust: "He's your son, Hank,"
she yelled out the window. "Deal with it."

Hank had dealt with it --- by ignoring his son completely.

"You do your thing, kid," he said, showing Bobby up to what would
be his new bedroom, "and I'll do mine."

And for the next thirteen years, that was pretty much the way
things had gone between them. Bobby never did go back to live with
his mother again, although Diana continued to pay semiregular
visits and had him down to Santa Barbara for the occasional
birthday or Christmas. But whatever disappointment Bobby may have
felt at her abandonment, or Hank's lack of paternal concern, was
more than made up for by the sheer magic of being at Highwood.
Before that first summer was over, he had become fast friends with
the other ranch hands' kids. But much more important, he'd
discovered what was to become the one great love of his life:

For the first time in his life, he felt he really belonged

This, at last, was home.

Vaulting down lightly from Mirage's back, he took off his hat, an
automatic gesture of courtesy that belied the dismissive, irritated
scowl on his face as he approached Henri.

"What's the problem?" Handing the filly's reins to a hovering
groom, he glowered at the French trainer. Even without the hat,
Bobby stood a good six inches taller than Henri in his cowboy boots
and jeans and looked an almost menacing figure.

"You're breaking my concentration," he snapped. "I think you should

The already irate Duval now began to turn a worrying shade of
purple. Having been let down by adults all his life, Bobby famously
had zero respect for authority. It was a trait that had always
infuriated his father; and it did him no favors with horse trainers
either, themselves a notoriously difficult and arrogant

"You theenk I should leave?" Henri couldn't believe his
ears. "She is my 'orse, Monsieur Cameron. Tu comprend?

"Well, now." Bobby smiled maddeningly, revealing a row of perfectly
straight white teeth. "She's actually Monsieur Bremeau's horse,
isn't she? If we're gonna get technical about it."

His voice was low and rich, like syrup, with a deep Western twang
that seemed to soothe horses and excite women in equal measure.
Unfortunately, it appeared to be having quite a different effect on
the apoplectic Frenchman, who had started hopping from foot to foot
with rage, like a lizard on burning sand.

"He hired me to do a job, and you're making that job impossible,"
Bobby continued. "I'd like you to leave."

"'Ow dare you!"

Henri was livid. Who did this Yankee whippersnapper think he was,
waltzing into his stables and presuming to tell him
how to get the best out of the new filly? If Bobby hadn't been six
foot four of rock-solid cowboy muscle, he'd have hit him. As it
was, the strain of holding himself back looked set to give him an
imminent coronary.

"You arrogant leetle sheet," he shouted. "What the fuck do you know
about Mirage? Four days you 'ave been 'ere now and what 'ave you
achieved with 'er? Fuck all, that's what, mon ami. Nosing."
Henri was literally spitting with fury. "She needs the steek, I am
telling you. What is the English expression? You do not make the
omelet without breaking the eggs, uh?"

Reaching out toward another cowering groom, he grabbed a
vicious-looking leather hunting whip --- the French variety with
split leather strips at the end tipped with steel --- and marched
over toward the exhausted horse, waving it menacingly in her
direction as she cringed and whinnied in fear.

Silently Bobby stepped forward, shielding Mirage and blocking
Henri's path with his huge torso.

"Don't touch her."

His spoke so softly it was almost a whisper, but his tone was
menacing enough to stop Duval in his tracks. For a few seconds the
two men remained stock-still in a pantomime standoff, while Henri's
eyes bored into Bobby's. Eventually, when it became clear that the
infuriating, arrogant American was not going to move and that he
needed reinforcements, he turned furiously on his heel and stormed
off toward the house, hurling his whip down on the ground in
frustration as he went.

"Pascal will 'ave somesing to say about theese," he muttered.
"Total fucking deesrespect . . ."

Once he was gone and the grooms had scurried away, no doubt eager
to spread the gossip about his latest temper tantrum around the
estate, Bobby turned back to Mirage.

"It's all right girl," he whispered, stroking her reassuringly
between the ears and feeling her relax instantly beneath his
practiced fingers. "Don't you worry now. I won't let him hurt

Pressing his face into her neck, he breathed in the heady smell of
horsehair and sweat that never failed to calm him.

Duval was an asshole. He wished he could take Mirage with him, back
to California, and protect her from the guy's brutality forever.
But that was the one downside of this job: the minute you became
close to a horse, and won its trust, you had to leave.

He'd faced the same dilemma a thousand times before, of

But it still hurt. With Mirage more than most.

A few hours later, lying in the bath in his luxurious suite of
rooms up at the house, he wondered how he was going to explain
himself to Bremeau when he got back from Paris tomorrow

He was hours away from a breakthrough with Mirage, he could feel
it. But as of tonight, much as it pained him to admit it, Duval did
have a point: She was not yet ready to progress. He dreaded being
forced to hand her back to Duval's brutal schooling regime and knew
for certain that it would set her back. But the fact remained, she
was still favoring her left leg on the turn. He should have
fixed that by now and he hadn't. It drove him crazy.

Emerging dripping from the hot, lavender-scented water he dried
himself off with a towel and, wrapping it Turkish style around his
waist, walked over to the window. Unlocking the heavy, white wooden
shutters, he gazed outside. Bremeau's estate, in the hills above
Ramatouelle, near St.-Tropez, was breathtakingly beautiful. The
house itself was an old sixteenth-century château, and the
stables had been built around the adjoining former winery. As well
as being horse country, this part of the Var was also littered with
vineyards. The endless, neat rows of vines lent the rolling
landscape a symmetrical, regimented air that reminded him of

Closing his eyes for a moment, he breathed in the warm,
honeysuckle-scented evening air, faintly intermingled with the
ubiquitous smell of horses and leather that always made him feel at
home wherever he was. In the distance, he could hear the soft
whinnying of Bremeau's Thoroughbreds, fighting to be heard above
the deafening background cacophony of the cicadas.


He dreamed of training horses as spirited and magnificent as the
prancing Mirage one day, back home in California. He had long ago
given up talking about these dreams to his father --- their
conversations always ended in a screaming row --- but silently,
whenever he was alone, he continued to nurse his fantasy.

Like most cowboys, Hank looked on horse racing as anathema to
Western culture: fine for Arab sheiks and white-collar billionaires
with their pristine Kentucky stud farms, all neat white fences,
manicured lawns, and state-of-the-art technology. But not for the
likes of real working men, men bound to the land and to their
cattle herds, proud inheritors of their long-cherished cowboy

Personally, Bobby had never gotten it. He was as proud of his
cowboy roots as the next man. But he also loved horses --- all
types of horses, from mustangs to quarter horses to exotic Arab
Thoroughbreds. His father would rather die than see Highwood used
for anything other than raising cattle, he knew that. But, really,
what was so wrong about applying traditional cowboy skills and
techniques to racehorse training? And where was it written that a
great ranch had to be about beef cattle and nothing else?

One day. One day, when Highwood was his . . .

He broke away from his daydreaming with a start at the touch of a
cold hand against his back.

"Sorry. Did I scare you?"

It was Chantal, Pascal Bremeau's young and very beautiful wife. He
hadn't heard her come in, and the cold of her fingers against his
warm skin gave him a shock --- albeit a not altogether unpleasant

"No." Like his father, Bobby was a man of few words.

"I did knock," she lied, "but I guess you didn't hear me. You
looked like you were miles away."

Half French and half Venezuelan, Chantal oozed the dark,
heavy-lidded sultriness of South America, although her English was
faultless and bore no trace of an accent. Oddly, that clipped
British voice coming from such a pneumatically Latin body only
seemed to enhance her sexiness.

Bobby bit his lip and tried to think unsexy thoughts: his eighth
grade math teacher naked --- that usually did the trick --- but not
today. Nothing seemed to be working.

She's Bremeau's wife, he told himself sternly.

He mustn't.

He absolutely must not.

"I thought you might like some company," she said with practiced
innocence, before slowly and deliberately starting to twirl her
fingers through the still-damp curls of his chest hair.

Inevitably he felt his cock start to harden and wished he had more
than a skimpy towel between him and this stunning girl. It didn't
help that she was looking even more gorgeous than usual this
evening in a crotch-skimming yellow sundress, which did little to
restrain her full, braless cappuccino-brown breasts.

"No thanks." He tried to sound firm. He had started to pry away her
hand, but somehow ended up with his fingers intertwined with hers
and his eyes locked into her brazenly inviting gaze.

Goddamnit. This was going to be difficult.

With his heart rate rising and his dick taking on a life of its
own, twitching and jumping like it was being electrocuted, it was
all he could do to remember to breathe in and out.

He'd seen this coming, of course. Chantal was a shameless flirt.
From the very first morning he arrived at the estate, she'd taken
to "dropping by" the schooling ring where he and Mirage were
working, often wearing nothing more than a pair of frayed denim hot
pants and a bikini top that wouldn't have looked out of place on a
Vegas stripper. Not that he blamed her for trying. Her old man was
no oil painting, and that was putting it nicely. Truth be told,
Pascal Bremeau was one fat, humorless, garlic-munching son of a
bitch. Plus, he was old, really old, and seemed to spend 90 percent
of his time away on business leaving his bored, beautiful young
wife to her own devices. What did the guy expect?

But the fact remained, women and training didn't mix. Bobby
resented anything that threatened to distract him when he was
working --- and Madame Bremeau certainly fit right into that
category. He had tried ignoring her, had even been outright rude to
her on a couple of occasions --- telling her to leave him alone and
stay away from the stables, that he wasn't interested. But his
rejection only seemed to make her more determined.

Tonight was the last night that Pascal would be away.

And he wasn't training now.

"Look," he whispered, desperately trying not to focus on her
pupils, which were so dilated with lust she looked like she'd had a
shot of horse tranquilizer. "This really isn't a great idea, you
know. Your husband --- "

"Isn't here," she finished for him, backing him toward the bed and
slipping her hand expertly up beneath his towel. "But you are. You
know, it's funny" --- she flashed him a wicked smile, wrapping her
fingers around his cock like a vise. "Duval thinks you are too soft
with Mirage. But you don't feel at all soft to me."

Fuck it.

Groaning, Bobby staggered backward onto the antique lace bedspread,
pulling her down on top of him. God knew he shouldn't be doing this
--- not with Bremeau's wife --- but the girl was a force of nature.
Trying to resist her was like trying to turn back the tide with
your bare hands. It would take a stronger man than he was.

Agonizingly slowly, she started to stroke him, licking her palm for
more lubrication, increasing her pace gradually as he instinctively
arched his pelvis forward and bucked against her. He closed his
eyes, just for a moment, and when he opened them again found that
she was kneeling over him, lifting up her lemon-yellow dress to
reveal a neatly trimmed, very dark bush and no panties. Just as she
was about to lower herself down onto him he grabbed her around the
waist, flipping her over onto her back as easily as he would a rag

"What are you doing?" she giggled, gasping as he climbed on top of
her, nudging her already spread legs wider.

"I don't like girls on top," he said. And with that he thrust into
her like a rocket with so much force that she had to reach back and
hold on to the headboard for support.

Bobby enjoyed sex in a simple, matter-of-fact sort of way. But it
had never consumed him with passion in the same way that his horses
did. Since the age of sixteen he'd attracted women so effortlessly
that he'd come to accept whatever sexual opportunities presented
themselves as no more than his due, enjoying them in the same way
that he might enjoy a good game of golf or a side of home-cooked

There were women that he loved, naturally --- his mother, for all
her faults, was still very dear to him, and the McDonald girls,
Tara and Summer, the daughters of his father's ranch manager, were
like surrogate sisters to him back home. But he had certainly never
been in love, let alone had a steady, serious girlfriend.
The idea had never even occurred to him.

This pointed lack of commitment didn't seem to put women off,
however. If anything, his indifferent, take-it-or-leave-it attitude
only heightened his desirability to the opposite sex.
Unfortunately, experience had failed to turn him into a sensitive
lover. With girls falling into his lap like overripe apples, he had
never learned to curb his natural selfishness in bed. At
twenty-three he still pursued his own pleasure with the same robust
single-mindedness as a young stud stallion, quite oblivious of his
partner's needs or desires.

Feeling his orgasm building almost immediately now, as Chantal
writhed and clenched beneath him, he made no effort to hold it
back, exploding into her like a breaking dam, burying his face in
her neck to muffle the sound of his own release.

Happily, she seemed amused rather than offended by the "wham, bam,
thank you, ma'am" approach and not in the least bit put out that
she hadn't come herself.

"My goodness." She laughed, smoothing down her dress and
rearranging her hair as he slumped back onto the bed. "Short but
sweet, eh? Is that how all the cowboys do it?"

"I have no idea." He grinned up at her like a little boy, happy now
that he'd gotten what he wanted. "You'd have to ask them."

Bobby couldn't help but admire Chantal. She was that rarest of
creatures: a gorgeous girl with a nice, uncomplicated attitude to
sex. It was a welcome change from all the clingy,
my-love-can-change-you girls he seemed to wind up in bed with back

"I know I ought to feel guilty," he drawled, watching her peering
into the mirror and rubbing off the telltale makeup smudges with
her finger, "but I don't. You're far too beautiful to

Chantal smiled. From anyone else it would have sounded like a line.
But Bobby was not given to flattery, and something told her that a
compliment from him was probably the real deal. She was just about
to turn and thank him, with another offer he couldn't refuse, when
an unexpected knock on the door froze both of them to the

"Bobby? Are you een zere?"

Oh fuck. Pascal.

"Just a minute." Struggling to keep the panic out of his voice, he
leaped off the bed in an instant. "I'm, er . . . I'm not dressed.
Give me a second, okay?

"What the hell is he doing home?" he hissed in a stage whisper to
Chantal, scrambling back into his pants while frantically gesturing
for her to go and hide in the wardrobe.

"I don't know." She shrugged. She seemed marvelously unconcerned by
their current, dangerous predicament. "Why don't you ask

Jeez, French women had balls of steel. What a piece of work! If he
hadn't known better, he could have sworn he actually saw her smile
as she clambered into the huge, antique armoire.

Briefly he wondered how many errant wives of the French aristocracy
had used it as a hiding place before her. Hundreds probably. But
this was no time to get historical. Shoving her right to the back,
he pulled the walnut doors closed behind her and turned the key.
Then with one long, deep breath to steady his nerves, he opened the
door to her husband.

Bremeau had obviously only just arrived home from his business
trip. Still dressed in his formal three-piece suit, he looked white
as a sheet and even more miserable than usual.

Bobby's heart skipped a beat. He couldn't have heard them, could

"Bobby." The Frenchman's short, stubby fingers worked nervously as
he spoke. "This is very bad, mon ami. Very, very bad."

Holy crap. He had heard them.

That was it then: the end of his career and quite possibly his life
if Pascal turned out to be the murderously jealous type, which he
looked like he very well might be. And all over a stupid girl! How
could he have been so reckless? And with his work with Mirage only
half finished too . . .

"Eet's your father," Bremeau abruptly interrupted his panicked
internal monologue.

For a minute Bobby thought he'd misheard him.

"What? My father? I don't understand."

"I'm sorry," the older man mumbled awkwardly. "I --- I don't really
know 'ow to say these, but . . . 'e 'as died, Bobby. In 'is sleep.
About four hours ago."

Bobby stared impassively at the jowly, pale face opposite

No. No, there must be some mistake. It wasn't supposed to happen
like this. He wasn't ready.

"I 'ave arranged for the chopper to fly you to Nice airport in 'alf
an hour. You understand, no?"

Bremeau's look of concern deepened. Perhaps the boy hadn't grasped
his broken English? He kept waiting for him to say something, but
he looked utterly shell-shocked.

"Bobby? Are you all right?"

Stunned and mute, Bobby eventually managed a nod.

"Yes. Er . . . yes. I'm fine. I understand," he said quietly.
"Thank you."

"I'm so sorry."

Reaching up, Bremeau laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. All of
a sudden the guilt he'd been unable to feel a few moments ago
seemed to punch Bobby full force in the stomach. Hank was dead. His
father. Dead. And here was this Frenchman, this total stranger,
trying to comfort him, little knowing that not five minutes ago
he'd been banging the living daylights out of the poor guy's wife
--- the same wife who was hiding in the closet right now.

The whole thing was like a sketch from a bad sitcom. Only it no
longer seemed funny.

His father was dead.

"I'm sorry too, Pascal," he whispered, almost to himself. "Believe
me. Sorrier than you know. For everything."

Excerpted from SHOWDOWN © Copyright 2011 by Tilly
Bagshawe. Reprinted with permission by Warner Books. All rights

by by Tilly Bagshawe

  • Genres: Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 044661890X
  • ISBN-13: 9780446618908