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Authors: James Patterson

The Horsewoman (12 page)

BOOK: The Horsewoman
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DANIEL ORTEGA, WHO
never liked to let his guard down, who never wanted you to know what he was really feeling, looked as happy as I felt.

He walked up and took Coronado’s reins, smiling broadly, and planted a big kiss on the side of Coronado’s head.

“Oh, sure,” I said. “
He
gets a damn kiss.”

Then Daniel reached up for a high-five and I slapped him one as hard as I could.

“Holy mother of God,” I said.

“I may have said a prayer myself,” he said. “In two languages. I watched just about every horse out there today. And I knew their times going into the last three jumps. You and Coronado beat them all by two seconds.”

“Thanks for the heads-up, by the way.”

“I might have scared people on the side rings.” He grinned and said, “Other than that, we had it all the way.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Piece of cake.”

Results were posted on the monitor next to the in-gate. While Daniel went to check them, I turned Coronado back around, walked him a few yards back into the ring. Daniel always told me that a deeper understanding of the course comes from looking back at it when the round was over.

One tenth of a second.

We’d made it to Saturday night by that much.

When I turned Coronado back around again, I saw Steve Gorton standing with Daniel, nodding as Daniel pointed at the ring, Gorton’s face looking slightly flushed, another glass of champagne in his hand.

Daniel extended his hand to Gorton then. Gorton either didn’t see it, or simply ignored it.

“I got it, okay?” I could hear him saying to Daniel. “I don’t need a tutorial on the scoring.”

Then Daniel said something that I couldn’t hear.

“I told you,
I…get…it,
” Gorton said.

Then he was walking out on the course as Coronado and I walked toward him. I actually thought he might be smiling. The round hadn’t gone the way I would have drawn it up. But that didn’t matter now.

“So what did you think?” I said.

“Not good enough,” he said.

DANIEL AND EMILIO
walked Coronado back to our barn. I told Daniel I’d see him down there later, then went looking for my mom and Grandmother in the tent. No one was going to be celebrating, or as Grandmother liked to say, spiking the ball. We’d live to fight another day. Still a good day for us. We’d had enough bad ones lately.

They were still at their table when I got there.

“Well,” Grandmother said, “that was certainly fun for the whole family.”

“And certainly not dull,” Mom said.

“From the time he landed until I turned around and saw the time,” I said, “I’m pretty sure my heart stopped beating.” I grinned. “But only for a tenth of a second.”

“You rode great, honey,” Mom said. “Neither of those rails were your fault. You know I’d tell you if I thought they were.”

“It wouldn’t have mattered whose fault they were if we hadn’t picked it up the way we did at the end,” I said.

“But you did pick it up, that’s all that
does
matter now,” Mom said.

“Great jockeys talk about asking their horse in the stretch,” I said. “Not sure I ever really understood until today.”

“Asked and answered,” Mom said.

“Great horses have an extra gear,” Grandmother said, waving at a waiter and telling him she needed a damn drink, and she needed it right now.

“Top riders, too,” Mom said, patting me on the arm. “Your old mom is thinking that maybe you answered some questions about yourself today.”

Mom moved her chair close to mine then, picked up her phone, hit Play, and showed me the video of the round, breaking it down. For as long as I had been riding, she’d never been close to an easy grader. She was almost as tough on me as she was on herself. And her standard was to jump even higher than everybody else in the field. Mom’s score on any round I rode secretly mattered more to me than any judge’s, whether or not I won a ribbon.

I could see how fired up she was today, the excitement in her voice and in her eyes, pausing the round a few times, showing me places where I’d picked up time, even when I wasn’t pushing the horse, especially on what she called one ballsy turn where I went inside the flowers and not out.

“That,”
she said, “was riding.”

“Good thing,” I said. “Or we finish out of the money. Pretty much in all ways.”

“There’s a great old sporting line,” Mom said. “What could have happened
did
.”

Then she was the one giving me five. As she did, we heard a loud explosion of laughter. About ten tables down from us, Steve Gorton was sitting with Tyler Cullen.

We watched as Gorton leaned across the table, said something to Tyler, who laughed his ass off until the two of them clinked glasses, finished their drinks, and stood up. As Tyler came around the table, Gorton clapped him on the back, then put an arm around his shoulder, like they were heading back to the frat house together.

Mom and Grandmother were staring at them the same as I was. “Well, pardon my French,” Grandmother said, “but there’s a couple of pricks who deserve each other.”

“Gee,” I said, “and we were all having such a nice day.”

“We’re still having a nice day,” Mom said. “And they do kind of make a cute couple, don’t you think?”

I was barely listening as I watched Steve Gorton and Tyler Cullen head down the ramp. As they disappeared through the tent door, I said, “At least we know who Gorton wants the next man up on Coronado to be.”

GRAND PRIX SATURDAY.

With a 7 p.m. start time, I didn’t do much to shorten my day by waking up—not that I’d slept much to begin with—at six in the morning. No point in trying to roll over and go back to sleep.
That
wasn’t happening. So I threw on some sweatpants and quietly went down to the kitchen and put on coffee. Drank two cups, went back to my room, got into my workout clothes and drove over to the gym at the club. Made myself promise not to look at the clock until I’d done my weight circuit, three sets on each machine, and at least twenty minutes on the treadmill.

Finished on the treadmill, toweled off, drank a bottle of water.
Then
looked at the clock.

Still just nine o’clock.

But three hours down.

I went to the barn and rode Sky, who was still riding like a dream, every damn day. If I
could
win tonight—because that’s what I was thinking, even if I wasn’t saying it aloud to Daniel or Mom or Grandmother or anybody—maybe I could start showing Sky again, even against Coronado.

Just not tonight.

Tonight, it was Coronado and me against the world.

I had to keep busy, or I was going to have an hours-long panic attack lasting until it was time to leave for the show grounds. My idle mind kept turning to the money, the million dollars Grandmother had passed up. Life-changing money for all of us.

In the end, she had placed a seven-figure bet on me.

Longest day of my life,
I thought, and it wasn’t even noon yet.

After Sky was back in her stall, I took another shower—by the time seven o’clock rolled around I was going to be the cleanest rider in Wellington, Florida—and drove over to my favorite beach in Manalapan, just south of Palm Beach. I didn’t often go to the beach, even though in light traffic the drive took only a half hour. The ocean was there when I needed it.

I needed it today. Spread out a blanket and walked for about an hour. Came back and sat and stared at the water and then walked across the street to my favorite ice cream place on the planet, the Ice Cream Club, bought a pint of coffee and a pint of chocolate, then drove back to Atwood Farm.

By six o’clock Daniel and I were ready to walk the course. Tyler Cullen and his trainer were right behind us. He tried to ignore me. Wasn’t happening this time.

“Didn’t know that you and Steve Gorton were boys, Tyler,” I said, trying to sound casual.

“I like being around money,” Tyler said. “You should know that by now.”

“Your horse isn’t enough for you?” I said. “Now you’re trying to poach mine?”

Tyler shrugged. “Can’t have enough money,” he said. “And can’t have enough prize horses.”

He winked at me.

“Long as you can hold on to them, of course,” he said.

I smiled now.

“I better get movin’, Tyler,” I said. “If I stand here like this much longer, people might start to think I’m the bitch.”

As Daniel and I took off, Daniel leaned down and said, “Never heard that one before.”

“Been saving it for the right occasion,” I said.

Forty horses tonight. One of the richest purses of the year. Probably the biggest crowd of the season. Atwood Farm needed that first-prize money as much as I wanted to win it. But the stakes were way bigger:

Ride my horse well enough to keep it.

Once we got away from Tyler, Daniel did all the talking. He had taken a series of pictures of the course on his phone, as if he were walking it inside his head before I even arrived.

Then we were pacing it off for real. He showed me the four different places where I could pick up speed. Then we were analyzing the jump-off course—Daniel kept saying
when
I made the jump-off, not if I made it—and showed me the spots where he said I would have no choice but to take chances if I wanted to win tonight.

“In it to win it,” I said.

“Yes, Maverick,” he said.

“You know what they say about second place?” I said. “Just means you’re the first loser.”

I looked around and saw the stands beginning to fill up. There was always a band and a singer on Saturday nights. I could hear the singer now, a woman, ease into her first song, a really bad version of Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down.”

Yeah, right,
I thought.

I was going twentieth in the order tonight. Matthew was set to go right after me. Tess was going after him. Tyler was last.

Not at the kids’ table anymore.

We stood off to the side now as the other riders and trainers finished their walks. There were even spectators out there. WEF enhanced the fan experience by allowing them to walk the course if they wanted to. It’s why the International looked like a sea of people, men and women, grown-ups and kids. It meant the ring looked exactly like the sport.

“You ride the whole course tonight the way you finished on Thursday,” Daniel said.

“Yeah, but Gorton was right about one thing,” I said. “Just good enough
won’t
be enough tonight.”

I checked my phone. Six thirty. Just a little more waiting. I couldn’t tell the difference between good nerves and bad nerves right now. I was
all
nerves. I tried to lean back casually against the sidewall, fighting a wave of dizziness thinking about what was going to play out over the next couple of hours. What was on the line.

Get a grip.

If you’re like this now, are you going to be in control when you’re up on your horse?

Daniel headed down to the barn so that he could walk back here with Emilio and Coronado when it was time.

I took one more look around the course and then headed to retrieve my backpack from the schooling ring. I was passing beneath the stands when I heard a familiar voice calling my name.

When I looked up, I saw him hanging over the railing, getting ready to take a picture of me on his phone.

“Smile,” he said.

“Hey, Dad,” I said.

I BOLTED UP
the steps to where he was standing and hugged him. Right after I jumped into his arms and nearly knocked him over.

“You’re still full of surprises,” I said. “And it’s not even my birthday.”

“It’s not?” he said.

He looked exactly like, well, Dad. Maybe a little extra gray in the hair and beard since I’d seen him at Thanksgiving in New York. Despite the heat, he was wearing a blue blazer over a white button-down shirt and jeans, and looked nothing like the legal heavy hitter he’d become.

In New York he was known as Black Jack McCabe, now head of the firm he’d taken over when my grandfather had died suddenly of a heart attack. To me, he was just Dad, and I didn’t mind telling him that even though he wasn’t in a business suit, he was still overdressed.

“I heard there was some snob horse race down here tonight,” he said, “and thought I’d stop in and check it out.”

“You know they don’t call them races,” I said. “And you’re the one who sounds like a snob calling everybody else one.”

“Force of habit,” he said. “The only time I ever really like this sport is when you’re in it.”

“What about Mom?”

“The feeling passed eventually,” he said.

He grinned then.

“So how we lookin’?” he said.

“Not much on the line tonight,” I said. “Just Mom’s horse, is all. And maybe the barn.”

“And this used to be such a quiet little town,” he said. “Now it sounds like a reality series.”

“Lot going on, no doubt,” I said.

“How soon before you go?” he said.

I told him where I was in the order, so I had some time before I’d be up on my horse.

“I never liked bothering you once you had your game face on,” he said.

“Just because you’ve watched me ride so often,” I said.

He shook his head.

“That’s my girl,” he said. “Don’t give an inch.”

“You never do,” I said. “And by the way? Can’t you see I have my game face on already?”

“I thought that was your normal RBF,” he said.

We both knew he meant
resting bitch face
.

“And people wonder where I get my smart mouth,” I said. Then I grabbed him by both shoulders and shook him and said, “Holy crap, Dad, I can’t believe you showed up!”

“You know me,” he said. “Always would have dressed up like a rodeo clown to get a smile out of my kid.”

We took an empty table at one of the outdoor cafés on Vendor Row.

“Your mom told me you pulled one out in the qualifier like my Yankees in the bottom of the ninth,” he said.

“Not gonna lie,” I said. “That one didn’t suck.”

I asked him how much he knew of the whole story with Coronado. He said that Mom had pretty much caught him up before he swore her to secrecy on his plan to be here tonight. Then I asked how much he knew about Steve Gorton.

“The only thing that amazes me is that this guy isn’t a lawyer,” he said.

“Wait,” I said, “
you’re
a lawyer.”

He put a finger to his lips.

“Don’t let that get around,” he said.

As nervous as I was, I laughed. It felt good. He was never around, my dad, at least not enough to suit me. I didn’t get to New York as much as I’d like to. But he was here now. All that mattered.

We were both silent then. I looked down at my phone to check the time.

“So how are you doing, really?” he said.

“Other than being scared out of my mind right now?”

“Yeah.”

“I actually like my chances tonight, crazy as that sounds,” I said.

“Doesn’t sound crazy to me,” he said. “I’ve seen you ride.”

“It’s mostly because of the way we finished on Thursday,” I said. “I honestly think I’ve got more horse than anybody.”

When the PA announcer welcomed everybody to the $500,000 Longines Grand Prix, I said, “
Now
it’s time for me to put my game face on.”

The two of us walked down Vendor Row and were about to head into the tent when one of the golf carts that shuttled guests from the VIP parking lot pulled up and Steve Gorton got out with a blonde almost as tall as he was who looked about my age.

Not now,
I thought.

Dad and I felt obligated to walk over to him. He introduced his date as Blaine. I introduced both of them to Jack McCabe.

“Heard a lot about you,” Dad said to Gorton.

Gorton looked at him, then at me, then back at him. Grinning. “Well that can’t possibly be good for me,” he said. “Don’t believe everything she says about me. No matter what she told you, I never slashed the tires of her car.”

I said I had to meet Daniel at the ring and get up on my horse. Dad kissed me on the cheek and wished me luck. For once Steve Gorton didn’t have much choice but to do the same.

I was about to make the turn toward the pedestrian bridge when I stopped and turned around. Blaine must have already gone inside.

Just my dad and Steve Gorton now.

Then I saw Dad lean close to Gorton and say something into his ear and pat him on the shoulder before leaving him there, Gorton staring at Dad’s back until he disappeared into the tent.

BOOK: The Horsewoman
7.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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