The rays of the bright-red rising sun streamed through the glass walls of her corner office blinding Tori as she stood overlooking the panoramic view spread before her. Or was it the tears streaming unheeded down her pale cheeks as the same rising sun threw the towering high-rise office buildings of the Miami skyline into stark relief? The sun-kissed white caps danced on the expanse of Biscayne Bay. Traffic was beginning to move across the causeways to Miami Beach in the distance.
The million-dollar view didn’t register as Tori replayed a video of the past two months over and over in her head as she had done countless times through the long, dark night spent pacing the confines of her 40th floor corner office. How much longer would this be her office? The golden future she had worked so long and hard to carve out for herself was on the verge of crumbling in disgrace. Her stellar career as a litigator was in shambles.
The loss of her parents at a young age, the grueling years in law school, the loss of her adored grandmother, and the bitter ashes of her failed marriage all paled in light of the disaster that had struck like lightning out of the blue. Such blue eyes…such lying eyes.
Bewildered, hurt beyond words, betrayed, the possibility of suspension or disbarment looming—Tori couldn’t quite take it all in. It seemed so impossible. Victoria Rose Aldrich de Alvarez, rising star of the international Miami legal community, was on the verge of being disbarred. A letter of resignation from the law firm lay ready to be signed in the center of her cleared desk. She was awaiting the decision of the Bar Association Grievance Committee that would determine her professional future. She had no idea where she was going with her personal life. Zack. How could you have put me in this untenable position? Why didn’t I see it coming?
Approximately two months earlier.
Victoria Rose Aldrich de Alvarez reclined against the tan leather upholstery of her white Sierra pickup truck which was pulled to the side of the Florida Turnpike in southern Palm Beach County with a flat tire. Head tilted back, Tori covered her eyes with her forearm in the manner of a Victorian heroine who was being sorely tested.
It was eight o’clock on a brisk and sunny Friday morning in early February. Her morning, however, had begun before sunrise many miles to the south. Tori, the senior litigation partner in the well-known Miami law firm of Barlowe, Cannon, Alvarez & Robertson, P.A. was on the road pursuing her greatest passion—dressage competition at the international level. At the moment, however, things were looking a little grim.
The white, custom-designed three-horse slant-load trailer hitched to the pickup carried Tori’s 17-hand Dutch Warmblood stallion, Rachmaninoff, and his stall mate, Rosebud. How did this happen? She moaned to herself. In many years of pulling a horse trailer, Tori had never had an accident or roadside mishap. Good maintenance, a good plan, and good luck had paid off. Nonetheless, here she was, disabled on the side the road with her first ride time quickly approaching.
Tori considered her options, but liked none of them. She could call for help, but waiting for the auto club to come and change her tire would most likely make her late for her first class of the day at the Global Dressage Festival horse show at Wellington, Florida. The twelve-week Winter Equestrian Festival was the premier event of the international winter horse show season. She could unload Rachmaninoff, tie him to the side of the trailer, and attempt to change the truck tire herself. She liked the idea of unloading Rocky on the busy Florida Turnpike even less than waiting for help. She wouldn’t even consider trying to change the tire with Rocky in the trailer. That would be a recipe for disaster.
It was unlike Tori to be helpless. She was generally very much in control of her life, her environment, and her emotions. After the weekend horse show, Tori planned to head upstate to her farm in Ocala for some “R & R.” Since this was the first day of a much needed vacation, she had not brought a groom along. She was entirely on her own.
As Tori was wallowing in self-pity and misery, muttering to herself about the “Rocky Horror Horse Show” this outing was turning into, she smelled an enticing masculine scent and felt a presence beside her. Slowly she lowered her arm and gazed into a pair of ice blue eyes framed by spiky black lashes and winged black brows. The stranger had a very suntanned, rugged face with a killer smile and deep, enticing dimples. Out of the corner of her eye, in her rearview mirror, she spied a black dually pickup pulled to the side of the road behind her rig. The very tall, muscular, dark-haired man wearing a black cowboy hat, well-worn denim jacket, and jeans leaned his forearms on the window, grinned, and said, “Can I be of some assistance here, ma’am?”
“You can’t possibly be the good fairy…but you could be the answer to my prayers,” she replied with a grin, noting his masculine aura cautiously. “I’m competing in a horse show at The Stadium dressage annex show grounds in Wellington. I have to get there by eight thirty at the latest if I’m going to make my first class, and I don’t know what to do about the flat tire on my truck. I didn’t want to unload the trailer to change the tire.”
“I could hook your trailer up to my truck and give you a lift if you like,” he answered, his killer dimples popping when he smiled. “If you drop the trailer and pull your truck out of the way, I can have it hitched up in a minute. We can change the tire later. I’m headed in that direction anyway, and we ‘horse people’ have to stick together, you know.”
I think I’ve met the Marlboro Man.