Authors: CM Foss
Table of Contents
: Published by CM Foss
Copyright © 2014 CM Foss
First Kindle Edition: 2014
Editing by: Victory Editing
Cover Art by: Book Covers by Kim
Interior Formatting by: Streetlight Graphics
Cover Photo by: Lisa Barry
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the author of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
To my husband, the love of my life.
seventeen-year-old girl leaned over the top of a wooden corral to scratch the forehead of an aging, gray gelding. The North Texas sun beat down heavily, heating the white cotton of her tank top to the point of singeing her skin. As she blew the wet tendrils of her dark brown hair from her forehead, the horse sidled up to her, lifting his nose to meet her face. He huffed a gentle breath onto her cheek before turning around and leaning his rear end against the fence.
The girl chuckled and started to rub the dock of his tail with her fingers. “Who’s going to know to do this for you when I’m gone? Everyone will think you’re about to kick the crap out of them.”
She climbed over the top of the fence, hopped down, and then reached her arms out to wrap them around the neck of the gentle horse. A little choked up and a little sentimental, she buried her face in his mane and took a few deep breaths. “You be a good boy while I’m gone and enjoy your retirement. God knows you’ve earned it. Thanks for taking care of me, for teaching me, for saving my ass and making me look good.”
She stroked her hand down his sleek neck and across his shoulder, scratching that spot on his withers that always made his lips dance. Once her arm got tired, she linked her fingers over his neck again and hung against him quietly. She could hear the music and laughter of the party back at the stables, and her lips curved into a small smile.
“He’ll be happy, sweetheart,” her dad said from behind her. “He has all these youngsters to look after. You know he’s always wanted to manage everything around him. He’s in his element now.”
She sniffled. “I never wanted to be one of those sappy girls who couldn’t sell a horse or move on.” Her breath hitched, and she fell silent.
Her dad leaned against the fence. “From a business perspective, there are certainly times you’ll have to move on. But there are also times you can remember how you got to where you are and honor those who helped you along the way. Sterling was your stepping-stone. No one had any idea of how far you two would go and what an impression you would make. Now you have an opportunity to live your dream. Just because he’s staying behind doesn’t make him any less a part of it.”
“I know. I really do know all that. It’s just hard to think of leaving him for so long.”
“What about the rest of your family?” He laughed.
She rolled her eyes and giggled. “You guys are easy. I know you’ll bombard my phone every day. Sterling I can’t talk to.” She swallowed. “Thanks, Dad. For letting me go. I’m so excited to move to Virginia and ride full-time. I know it’s probably not what you dreamed of for your daughter, but there’s nothing else I want to do. I know I can make a good career out of it.”
He let out a long sigh. “If anyone has the tenacity to do it, it’ll be you. We still want you to think about college though. Just don’t write it off completely. Riding any horse can be dangerous. You could get hurt, and then you’d be out of a job. We’re going to stay strict on the one-year rule, you know. We’ll help with your expenses for now, but at the end of the year, you have to either be able to fund yourself completely or you go to college.”
The girl climbed on top of the fence to sit next to her father, giving the horse a final pat as he ambled away. “I know.” She nodded.
“I just want you to make good choices while you’re out there. You’ve always been older than your years, and we wouldn’t let you go if you weren’t as responsible as you are. But just don’t get caught up partying or get involved with any lowlife guys.”
“Well, I was young once, believe it or not. Before I met your mother—”
“Aaaah la la la.” She covered her ears.
Her dad let out a bark of laughter. “Come on, sweetheart. Everyone’s waiting at the barn, and I want you girls to get a good night’s rest before you start your drive in the morning.”
“Yes, sir.” She sighed dramatically.
“Don’t be a smart-ass.”
She grinned at him.
They walked down a lane toward a large wooden barn where picnic tables were laden with drinks and trays and bowls of food. A large banner hung at the top of the sliding doors. Good Luck, Lissa and Steph was written across it in dark purple lettering and sprinkled with glitter.
The two girls, who’d grown up together, met up and hooked elbows, tilting their dark heads together and looking around at their farm family. Young girls and boys they’d given riding lessons to over the years were running around, laughing at the idea of having a picnic with their ponies and imagining with awe the prospect of doing nothing but riding for the rest of their lives. Parents smiled and chatted and secretly hoped their children never decided to embark on a lifelong career of training horses. Other teenage girls rolled their eyes, wondering how it would all play out.
“My dad says we’re gonna get hurt and knocked up by some loser,” Lissa said, gazing ahead.
“Did he now?” Steph asked with raised eyebrows, her curly hair frizzing in the Texas humidity.
Lissa shrugged. “Well, maybe not word for word. And he said it with love.”
“That’s something, anyway. But tell him not to worry. I’ll keep an eye on you.” Steph winked.
“I’m pretty sure that’s his greatest fear.”
They looked at each other and grinned.
Steph pulled her arm from where they were linked and slung it around Lissa’s neck. “It’s going to be great! You’re going to become a famous horse trainer, and some rich hottie is going to sweep you off your feet. And I’m going to ace all my classes in school, become a famous hippotherapist, and some rich hottie is going to sweep me off my feet!”
Lissa rolled her eyes at her friend’s enthusiasm, but butterflies of excitement rose up in her chest.
“I don’t care about fame or riches, but a good job would be nice, and a hottie with an accent wouldn’t hurt.”
Steph snorted. “We’re gonna go for it all.”
They leaned their heads together. “Yep, we are.”
THREE YEARS LATER
ou got married?” My voice rose to a yell as I stared incredulously at my boyfriend. Well, I guess he wasn’t anymore.
“Lissa, look. I’m sorry. Alexis is pregnant.”
Brett ran his hands through his short brown hair. I caught the glint of a wedding band on his finger and gaped at it.
He looked at me pathetically. “We just found out. I… I didn’t know what to do.”
“Who is Alexis?” I started to laugh a bit hysterically. “How is it possible I knew nothing about this? We live in the smallest fucking town in the world where everybody talks about everybody!”
“She doesn’t live in town.” He sighed, slumping against a feed tub and burying his hands in his jean pockets. “She doesn’t ride. It was just… this whole other life, I guess. We’ve been together for about six months or so. It wasn’t really serious at first, but now…” He looked uncomfortable, like he wanted to be somewhere, anywhere, else.
“Right.” I nodded. “Now. Sounds pretty serious. Now.” I heard a whistle from down the barn aisle, signaling my next ride was ready. I was quiet for a minute, just processing the fact that my clearly insignificant other had just come into my work to let me know he was married. To someone else (obviously). And he was going to have a baby. “Look, I have to go. It’s fine. Just… fine. Good luck with all that.”
I spun around to walk down the row of stalls, ignoring Brett’s pleading voice and tickling the noses that were poking over their doors. I redid the ponytail keeping my straight, dark brown hair from escaping and grabbed the helmet sitting on a wooden trunk, then stuffed it onto my head. It was sweltering out, but I did value my brain. I tucked a whip into the back pocket of my jeans and made my way to the stall of my last ride of the day. After that, I could hole up, open a bottle of wine, and just forget the day. But right now I needed to keep my head in the game for one more racehorse.
This was the last horse of a long-ass day. Okay, it was nine a.m., but I’d been riding since four thirty in the morning. That time slot was usually reserved for the babies because the track is less busy. But this morning I was getting on my absolute favorite stallion, Cole. Contrary to popular belief, riders don’t spend their time on black stallions. But this one actually was a black stallion, so every time I got on, I felt like a little girl galloping off on a beach somewhere. Except I wasn’t on a beach, nor was I ten years old, or bareback in a dress.
Anyway, he was badass but a handful. He’d been off for several months due to an injury and was just getting started back into riding. A groom led him out of his stall as I walked up and clicked my helmet strap under my chin. I reached up to scratch Cole’s forehead, and he let me for a moment until his whole body puffed up and he nickered like the stud he actually was. Looked like the only male interested in me at that moment was a horse. At least he was tall, dark, and handsome.
It took two people to get me on the stallion. One was trotting with the horse down the barn aisle, and the other was running alongside me, legging me up into the saddle. Once I was on, Cole was typically pretty good. But the getting on required some finesse… and balls. I had a vagina, so I had to pretend.
I let out a little breath as I settled into the flat seat of the exercise saddle, raising my knees high and poking my toes into the stirrups. I patted Cole’s neck, and he twisted his head playfully, jigging around and prancing. We moved through the barn doors and out onto the grassy area that led up to the track. The heat from a late-September Indian summer beat down oppressively, but once we started moving into a faster trot, the breeze made it bearable. Cole continued to dance around, excited to start his work. I murmured to him in a low, even voice, keeping his attention on me and the business at hand.
I heard a car pull around the driveway of the barn I just exited. I could also hear it was going way too fast for the tenuous grasp of control I had on that horse.
“Lissa! Lissa, just listen to me for a minute!” Brett called out through his car window.
The crunch and spray of gravel under his tires plus the rumble of the engine plus the grating of his stupid accent—okay, maybe that one was on me—and Cole erupted. He reared up and launched forward, jerking his head down. The force of his head moving south pulled me forward as well, shifting my balance way too far over his neck. He came back up into the air, and suddenly he was gone. I was left in the air like Wile E. Coyote holding the wooden sign before he drops. A split second before hitting the ground on my right side, I twisted to avoid the hooves near my head, my left wrist stuck beneath me. Immediately I felt like that was a bad life choice as the bones in my wrist crunched and the rest of the impact jarred my entire body. I lay stunned for a moment before I sat up and removed my helmet, tossing it aside. It had done its job.
“Jesus, are you okay?” Brett ran up to me, skidding on his knees to my side.
Oh yeah, the whole thing got so much better.
“I’m fine.” I laughed with no humor whatsoever. “I just broke my fucking wrist.” And I
fine. Could have been worse, right?
“No you didn’t.” He scoffed.
I narrowed my eyes in irritation. “Yeah, I really did. It’s really broken.”
“You wouldn’t be laughing if you broke something,” he insisted.
I gestured toward my left arm, which was already swollen and grossly misshapen. “It’s. Really. Broken.” I sighed. “Please leave me alone. I really don’t want to deal with you right now.”
I headed back to the barn after seeing that someone had already caught Cole. I walked up, cradling my arm against my chest, and gave him a pat with my good hand.
“Sorry, buddy. Not totally your fault. Although next time, not so high, eh?” I nodded to the groom holding him and left to call Steph for a ride to the hospital.
I flopped back on the stiff, scratchy hospital pillow and let out a sigh. Shit.
A knock on the doorframe of the ER room startled me upright, and I looked over to see a cute, sandy-haired doctor walk in. Of course he’d be cute. Because I looked so great in my dirty boots and jeans, sweat-encrusted tank top, and helmet hair. He pulled a clipboard from the tray on the wall and looked at my chart.
“So.” He glanced up from the paperwork and smiled. “Melissa Thompson. My name is Dr. Casey. What brings you in today? It says here you had a fall from a horse?”
“It’s Lissa. I go by Lissa.” I glanced down at my mangled left wrist cradled on a pillow and looked back up. “I did. And I’m pretty sure I broke my wrist.” I laughed a little awkwardly. I mean, I didn’t want to tell the man his job or anything, but I hardly needed a diagnosis. Just treatment.
“Yes. I’d say that looks pretty broken. In fact, I’m not even going to touch it. But we’ll get some X-rays to see what our next steps are.” He paused to scribble in my chart. “Any other complaints at the moment? Did you hit your head?”
I hesitated for a moment. Fact was, you’d always hit your head a little when you dropped from eight feet in the air. But if you told a doctor that, they’d get nervous and you’d spend your day getting CT scans and having people dissect your every word to make sure your brain was functioning. I talked like an idiot most of the time, so they’d likely be concerned.
“Nope!” I said, just a little too perkily. “Just my wrist. And, well, I seem to be having trouble bending my right elbow. I fell on my right side, so I probably just knocked it…” I was so hopeful that I’d just bruised it on impact. About an hour before, I’d stopped being able to bend it farther than a forty-five-degree angle.
“Hmmm.” Dr. Casey poked around on my elbow a bit, hitting a particular spot that made me hiss in a breath as black spots danced in my vision, then he told me a tech would be in to take radiographs shortly. In ER speak, that meant you were fucked and you were also going to have to sit around and wait for at least an hour to figure out just how fucked you were. Too bad I didn’t have a book. But then again, I wasn’t really sure how I’d have held it.
I lay back on the exam bed again and gingerly wiggled the phone out of my pocket so I could text Steph.
Me: Sup. Waiting on X-rays.
Steph: Fun stuff. I’ll be there in 30. Just stopping at feed store.
Me: Bring food? For me, not horses
I tossed my phone on the side table and closed my eyes.
Steph came in about an hour later with a 7-Eleven bag and plopped down on the doctor’s stool, wheeling over to me while sipping her drink through a straw.
“How goes it?” she asked as she tossed the bag onto my lap.
“Yeah, it’s good. I broke both my arms,” I responded nonchalantly.
She immediately started choking and laughing and I glared at her, albeit affectionately. Her long, curly brown hair was knotted behind her head, but wisps were sticking out this way and that. She was typically kind of a mess but able to pull it off really well. Steph had no idea how naturally pretty she was, her laughter showing off her straight white teeth and angled cheekbones I’d die for. She was the type who could shake her hair out of her helmet and still look like she just walked out of a salon. I might have hated her if she weren’t so funny.
“So… have you come up with a plan?” she asked after she regained some composure.
I took a long breath. “I have some money saved up. I can last the next several weeks, maybe months, until I can ride again. They’re pretty sure I’ll need surgery, which sucks but doesn’t really change my healing time anyway. The question is, what do I do after that? I don’t know.” I sighed thoughtfully. “I think I’m ready for a change.”
Steph nodded her agreement. “Well, now would be a good time.” She grinned.