I have been out of the loop for some time and do apologize. Kids are back in school and life is sort of getting back into a routine that I can manage.
I wanted to share something with the readers here and get some opinions. I had a conversation with a literary agent a couple of weeks ago who said that she heard horse fiction does not sell well. This really bothered me for obvious reasons. Do you all buy that? If so, why? I believe that there are a lot of readers out there who want to read anything and everything if it concerns horses. Let's face it, horse folks are a passionate group of people and there are a lot of us. I say we make some noise! Support horse related fiction, movies, etc!
For those of you who have never picked up one of my mysteries, I thought I'd give you a taste over the next few weeks and post some chapters from my second book in the series--Death Reins In. The bad thing is, I only have my original copy on the computer so you'll get some typos with it, but the story does not change. Due to copyright I cannot post the entire manuscript, but I can give you a good chunk. Hopefully, you like the series and you may decide to head to the local book store and pick up a copy of one of the books. Keep in mind that if you got a copy of each one of our books here on Equestrian Ink and put them in a basket with some horse treats, maybe a lead rope, some other goodies, you would have one heck of a nice holiday gift (hint, hint).
Have a wonderful week. Happy riding and reading.
Death Reins In
Memories raced through Bob Pratt’s mind—both good and bad—as he lay gagged and tied in the trunk of the car. He hadn’t seen the make or model, didn’t even really know what had happened other than he’d been ambushed from behind as he went to get into his truck at the end of the day. He’d worked late, jotting down his notes on one of Eq Tech’s new supplements, specifically designed for racehorses. Bob didn’t even really feel it when he’d been slammed over the head--by what he didn’t know, by whom, he could only guess at. There were a handful of enemies who’d want to see Bob in this state, and probably a few people he called friend. The trunk smelled like dirty socks and fast food. He could hear the faint thumpings of rap music and occasionally he thought he might have recognized the sound of laughter coming from inside the car. Did that mean there was more than one person who’d taken him when he’d left work? Probably. He wasn’t exactly a little guy at over six feet. They knew he would’ve fought, so the sneak attack had to have been carefully planned.
His head ached as if it had been shoved into a vice, making it almost impossible to think, but he wanted to try—try and play out what had happened. He needed to remember if he’d heard anyone say anything, if he noticed anything at all. Damn, he’d been so caught up in his findings that he simply had not been paying attention. He had to try though, had to, in case he ever made it back alive. But the deep hole in his gut told him that wasn’t going to happen, which led him to one continual thought streaming through his mind: his sister Audrey, and what this would do to her if he didn’t come back. Oh hell, what if his theories had been right? What if he had stumbled onto something sinister and revealed too much to her when they’d spoken the other night over dinner? He didn’t think he had. As soon as she’d guessed something was wrong with him, which Audrey was so astute at, he’d tried hard to blow it off, said it was a little woman trouble, an issue at work here and there, that sort of thing. But he knew his sister well. He knew that nothing escaped her and if he’d said one wrong word, she might have picked up on it. He had to get out of this. He could feel his heart racing, beating hard against his chest, could smell the horse he’d been working with at the center on him, now mixed in with his own fear and angst.
Oh God, what if? What if he didn’t get out of this? Poor Audrey. He’d given her problems all of their lives and now—finally--when the two of them had made amends over the past few years and grown close again, he was leaving her. All alone. He loved her. She was a good sister. She had a sweet smile, warm-hearted nature, and a gentle touch with her animals that everyone who knew her admired. And she’d never given up on him. Never. She’d always believed in him and picked him up off the ground. Even when he’d turned his back on her, his sister had been right there with open arms, cheering him on. She was the reason he’d been able to not only maintain an equine veterinary practice, but also a position as a top researcher with Eq Tech in some very exciting fields of equine medicine and health.
The car slowed. What were they going over, an old bridge, a railroad crossing? A plume of exhaust wafted throughout the trunk, dizzying his already altered senses. Noises. More noise from outside; and the smell. It had changed, drastically. Petroleum; yes, that’s what it was. And something else? Food? Trash? Death? A mixture of all three. Then it hit him. They’d crossed the border. He was in Mexico. Oh Jesus, they were surely taking him there to kill him. He knew now that what he’d found out was the truth. And they knew he’d discovered it. The back of his neck broke out in a cold sweat.
The road wound around several curves, jostling him from side to side. Then, through the drone of the car and the grade of the trunk, he sensed they were going up a steep slope, maybe a mountain. And then he got it. He knew where they were going. Soon enough they’d be skirting the Baja coastline. He’d made this trip himself before. Would they kill him there along the highway down to Ensenada and dump him in the ocean? Or would they take him east and leave him to rot in the desert? Either way, Bob realized he was totally screwed.
He should have lived differently. Should have made peace with the people he’d hurt. But it was too late for that, if he was right about who was behind this abduction. He would not be coming back. He’d been found out and would be dead before the sun came up. He was sure of it. Bob prayed his sister would accept that and drop it. Oh God, how he prayed for that.
Michaela Bancroft smiled as she placed a hand over Genevieve Pellegrino’s smaller one. Together they brushed the horse. Michaela spoke in calm hushed tones as the little girl’s father, Joe, Michaela’s good friend from childhood, had directed her. At first Michaela had been apprehensive about working with Gen. Joe had never told her, until she started giving her riding lessons, that Gen was autistic. She'd thought that maybe she was just quiet and a bit slow. Michaela hadn’t been around Joe’s family much after high school. Although they had always remained good friends, life seemed to get in the way. It was her Uncle Lou’s murder that had brought them back together.
“That’s good. See how clean he’s getting?” Michaela said. “What a good job you’re doing, Gen. Look at how pretty you’re making Booger and he likes that a lot.” Working with the little girl was as therapeutic for Michaela as it was for Gen. Maybe even more so.
Once Booger had the therapeutic saddle on him and Michaela slid a headstall over his ears, she kept him on a lead line and put Gen up, leading him to the arena. Over the course of half an hour she watched as the child relaxed into the saddle and seemed to almost become one with the horse, a smile appearing on her face as she asked him to trot. Booger performed his version, which was more of a very fast walk, semi-jog. But Gen didn’t seem to care that Booger was lazy. An easy calm came over the little girl’s face and she truly looked relaxed up on the horse.
“Okay, Gen. It’s time to get off now and we’ll give him a brush-down. Are you ready?”
Gen nodded. Michaela helped her dismount. With a slight movement of the hand, Michaela pushed aside the strands of curly black hair that had fallen into the girl’s eyes. “You did a great job today. I am so proud of you.” She removed the school saddle from Booger’s back and set it inside the tack room, which was in serious need of an overhaul. She’d have to get on her assistant trainer Dwayne about that. He knew better than to keep things in such disarray.
She brought a soft bristle horse brush back to Gen and placed it into her hands. She knew to keep the barn quiet when the girl was there. No country/western on the radio blaring through the breezeway, and she’d asked Dwayne to wait to turn any of the horses out. He also knew to keep his distance when Gen was there. She figured at this time, mid-morning, he was likely making a feed run. They were getting low on grass hay.
As Gen slowly brushed Booger, Michaela stood back and watched her, knowing it gave the girl a sense of peace and accomplishment. There was a connection being forged between horse and child that could only benefit both of them. “Why don’t we give him a treat?” she asked in a soothing tone.
She didn’t get a response other than a slight glance from Gen. It was important though, she’d learned from Joe, that Gen be apprised of all that was going on. It helped her stay focused, but without overwhelming her. Gen handed her back the brush and followed her into the feed room; the smell of molasses and fresh cut alfalfa perfumed the air. Michaela grabbed a blue bucket off one of the post nails and scooped it into a trashcan filled with oats. “Okay. I think he’ll like this. What do you think?”
“Yes. I think so.”
Good. She’d spoken to her today. That made Michaela wonder about Joe’s offer. Should she take it? She wanted to help out. It felt so damn good to work with Gen, but what if she screwed up? What if someone got hurt? She couldn’t take it if that happened. She didn’t want that kind of responsibility, but the pleasure and peace it gave her to work with Gen brought her senses to life. It was as if she’d found her calling.
They gave the horse his oats, and after a good brushdown put him back in his stall. Taking him to the wash rack and bathing him would be too much for the child. She’d wait and let Katie, her afternoon student, wash him when she was finished riding.
After putting Booger away, Michaela was startled by the sound of a car horn. Oh no. She looked at Gen’s face, which suddenly turned ashen. The car pulled to a stop outside the breezeway and Michaela heard Katie’s voice. “Michaela, Michaela, my dad brought me early. I wanted to come help.” The nine-year-old bounded down the breezeway.
Michaela started to bring a finger up to her lips to quiet the enthusiastic girl, but it was too late. Gen let out a horrible, almost primal scream. Her eyes widened with fear.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” Katie yelled out, only exacerbating the problem.
Michaela was stuck between the two children and for a moment stood paralyzed, looking from one sobbing girl to the next. Regaining her wits, she went to Gen and in a low voice started reassuring as she wrapped her arms tightly around her. “It’s okay. It’s okay. No one can hurt you. I’m here. You’re safe. You’re safe.”
“Michaela?” Jude Davis appeared in the doorway. Katie got behind her father and peered around him, looking terrified.
“Call her parents please. Their number is on the schedule list in my office. I’m going to take her to the house.” He nodded and Michaela picked Gen up, continuing to talk to her as the child began to calm down.
“Can I help you?” Jude asked.
“No, just please call her dad and ask them to come over.”
Gen was a tiny girl for her age, but not so small that Michaela didn’t feel her fifty-some-odd pounds in her lower back. Going through the back door, she took the girl into her family room, where she closed all of the curtains and sat the child down on the couch. Gen had stopped twisting around and now fell quiet. Ah, better; but Michaela felt horrible.
Minutes later, Joe and Maryann Pellegrino came through the door. “I am sorry,” Michaela said.
Joe waved a beefy hand at her. “Happens.” He looked like an Italian Pillsbury Dough Boy, concern furrowing his bushy eyebrows. “I’m sorry we ran out on you like that.” They’d dropped Gen off today rather than stay to watch her lesson, which they usually did, because they’d had some errands to run.
Michaela felt responsible because she’d insisted they go on ahead and take care of what they needed to with their other four kids. She’d assured them she could handle Gen. What had she been thinking? Well, she now knew what she’d have to tell Joe about his proposition.
Maryann contrasted Joe, being ramrod thin and almost frail looking. She headed straight to her daughter and turned back to Michaela as she sat down next to Gen, grappling for something in her purse, finally finding a medication bottle. “It’s okay, Michaela. This happens from time to time. Do you have a glass of water? I’d like her to take this.” Maryann was calm and collected. The premature lines on her face told Michaela that she shoved much of her worry into the recesses of her soul and likely dealt with them late at night, so as not to worry others in her family. She couldn’t imagine what she went through day to day to manage her large brood, and Joe on top of it.
“Sure. No problem. I can’t tell you how sorry I am, though.” She handed Maryann water and watched as the woman continued to calm her child. Michaela asked Joey what the medicine was.
“Some herbal treatment. Maryann is all into these supplements and herbs and things. Next thing you know, we’ll be having gurus by the house or she’ll be taking the poor kid to yoga or something crazy like that.” Maryann shot him a dirty look. “I’m sure they’re good for her, but I’d feel better if they was FDA approved.”
Maryann stood and took Gen’s hand. “We better get going.”
“You did the right thing, Michaela. No sorries needed. I’d like to talk with you about what Joe and I have been up to, because it concerns you, but she gets tired after these bouts,” Maryann said. “Maybe Joe can tell you while I put Genevieve in the car.”
“Tell me what?”
“We’ve gone ahead and recommended you as a therapeutic riding instructor.”
Michaela’s jaw dropped.
Maryann whispered a goodbye as she closed the door behind her and Michaela turned back to Joe. “What is she talking about? I told you I’d think about it. Why would you put in a recommendation without asking me?”
“We was thinking, Maryann and me, and we got to talking that you’ve been so good for Gen that we went to her therapist and the center she goes to for treatment and told them you would be perfect for the job. Therapeutic riding helps a lot of autistic kids and we don’t have nothing like it out here in the desert. We think you’d be perfect for it.”
“Oh no. No, I can’t do that. Look what happened today. And,” she shook a finger at him, “you had no right to do that without running it by me.”
“But you handled it the right way. The way you were supposed to. You love kids. You make my daughter happy. Give this a try. I see how much it does for you too. After your divorce and then losing your uncle, I know what you’ve been through, and I see you smiling when you’re teaching my daughter. Working with her makes you happy and you’re damn good at it and, trust me, after all these years I’ve seen the good and the bad in this thing, and it takes quite a person to work with these kids. You got what it takes.”
She shook her head vehemently. “Joe…. Oh, man, I don’t know.” She knew that he was right about being happy when she worked with his little girl. But a center? A therapeutic center where she taught more kids? Granted, she now had the facilities to do it after inheriting her uncle’s place, but could she do it? Really?
“Will you at least talk to the gal from the center?”
“I don’t know, Joe. I don’t think I’m cut out for it. I wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt.”
“No one’s gonna get hurt.” He raised an eyebrow, then wiggled the other. He knew how to work it. That always got her. For years she’d been trying to figure out how to wiggle just one eyebrow while keeping the other cocked.
Michaela had known Joey since junior high, when they’d bonded over pimiento loaf sandwiches that everyone else thought were gross, and a mutual love for Billy Idol. Joe had been teased for his weight and Michaela had been on the shy side, so they’d formed a friendship that stuck over processed meat and eighties music. Joe was also known around town as the man with a million cousins. He came from a large Italian family whose ties were far reaching and, many suggested, of the unsavory nature. All Michaela knew was that Joe was a good guy with a lot of relatives, who knew how to find out information or get things done that other people seemed to have a problem doing. And, she was indebted to him. If not for him and the cousins, it was unlikely that the person who killed her uncle Lou last year would have been caught.
“Oh God, Joe, why do you do this stuff to me?”
“I think you should think about it,” Jude said. She’d forgotten about him.
Katie stood quietly at the front door. Jude waved her in. The girl wiped her tears, hesitating. She was a petite thing with wavy, blonde hair like her dad’s and a splash of freckles across her nose that reminded Michaela of what she had looked like as a kid. Michaela had never lost the freckles across her nose and even sported a few more since childhood.
Joe went over to Katie. “It’s okay, sweetie. She’ll be fine.”
Jude shook his hand. “She didn’t mean to frighten her. She was excited and…”
“Hey, I got a handful of kids, and a lot of cousins.” He laughed. “I know she didn’t mean no harm and Michaela handled it. You talk to her, see if you can get her to agree to running a center.”
“Think about it, he said as he walked out.
She walked over and pulled Katie into her. “You didn’t mean to upset Gen. We all know that.”
“Why did she scream like that?”
“She’s autistic, honey, which means she doesn’t react the same way you and I do. She actually hears and sees everything going on around her. Like, listen quietly for a minute. Really listen.” They fell quiet. “Did you hear the birds outside? What about the pool running from out back? Can you hear the grandfather clock ticking from the library? And, if a horse got out, I bet we’d hear all the horses go crazy calling out to him. Gen doesn’t filter out the noises in the way that we do. She hears all of them together at once and it’s very loud to her. So, she kind of shuts down to keep the noises out as much as possible. To you, it probably seems like she’s not friendly or she’s weird. But to her, it’s the only way she can handle life.”
“So, when I started yelling, it scared her and on top of all the regular noises she hears it made her really scared, so she started screaming out.”
“Exactly. You’re a smart kid. What do we say we go have that lesson now? I didn’t know you’d be early, but it works out great because I’m going to the horse races tomorrow in Orange County and I need to be at my friend Audrey’s house early in the morning.”
“Okay, let's go!”
Katie ran up ahead of them. Jude walked back to the barn with Michaela. “You’re headed to the races tomorrow, huh? Sounds like fun,” he said.
She sensed a slight hesitation in his voice. Detective Jude Davis and his daughter Katie had come into Michaela’s life while the detective investigated her uncle’s murder. Since that time they’d shared coffee dates, lots of phone calls, even a lunch and one night a glass of wine while Katie scoped out the trophies Michaela had won over the years showing horses. There was something between Michaela and Jude. That much she knew, but what it was exactly, she wasn’t sure. “I am. My friend Audrey Pratt is taking me. We go every year. She used to work with race horses and has a lot of friends in the industry, plus she manages a young woman who is an up and coming country western singer and the girl will be entertaining before the races start. I thought it would be a good time.”
“Sounds like it.” He cleared his throat. “Anyone else going with you?”
“Nope, just me and Audrey.”
“Oh. Well, you’ll be back tomorrow night, won’t you?”
Michaela looked at him, her expression amused. His light blue eyes had darkened, and he palmed his hand through his hair, something he did whenever he seemed nervous. “Actually, no. I’m going on up to Malibu with Audrey and stay with the girl’s mother, another friend of Audrey’s. There are some horses we want to check out. I’m thinking about purchasing a few more, possibly a better lesson horse for Katie since Booger isn’t much of a challenge for her. Audrey takes in animals off the track to let them retire in peace.”
“Why do I get the feeling that you aren’t too keen on me going?”
“Oh, no. I think you’ll have a great time.”
She stopped and looked at him. “Jude? What’s up?”
He sighed. “Actually…well, I wanted to ask you to dinner. That’s all. I thought it was time we had dinner together. You and me. A real date. Candles, wine, flowers.”
“Oh. A real date.”
“That would be nice. Can you wait a few days?”
He smiled. “I think so.” He squeezed her hand and then let it go.
Michaela’s stomach dropped. She hadn’t had a real date in years. Life was ever changing though, she’d learned that for sure, and although she’d lost quite a bit in the past few years, it made her realize that maybe it was time to live again.