Leaning on the cross bar of the paddock fencing, Bethany-Anne Stapleton stared up at the lowering sky. The clouds were a deep gray, and she wondered how long they would have before it either started raining or snowing again. As it was, there were piles of snow stuck up in drifts all over, and the ground was slick with ice. It was also bitterly cold. She shivered, blowing on her fingers. Her cloves and coat seemed to be doing next to nothing to keep her warm.
“Not long now,” her father said, smiling down at her.
“I hope you’re right,” she said. “It’s a miserable day for it.”
“You can’t help the weather,” her father said.
He was tall and stocky with the same dark hair she had only his was turning gray. Running a thumb over his mustache, he regarded her with his keen eyes. “I have a good feeling about today, Beth,” he said. “A real good feeling.”
Bethany-Anne shrugged. She was cold, and that was killing any good feelings she might have otherwise had.
Around her, the sounds of the cattle market droned on. People moved between the penned-up animals inspecting them to see if they wanted to part with their money for the beasts. She quite liked the county market days, held every three months. They were a great place to look for bargains. Usually, she was in a great mood and looking forward to inspecting the animals, and she was today, only she wanted to do it quickly and get home for hot cocoa.
“Here they come,” her father said, pointing into the paddock.
“Ug, the Gundersons are here,” Bethany said, rolling her eyes. Rodney and his son Hein Gunderson were their neighbors and closest rivals. Of course, it was hard to tell that since her father and Rodney were such good friends and poker buddies.
Her father turned, waved to the Gundersons, and then turned his attention back to the paddock. They would meet up for a chat before going home, and Bethany would have to be polite to Hein, which severely tested her social graces.
He was a doughy-looking young man and full of himself, just like his father. Bethany disliked him intensely.
A groom was leading a group of horses into the paddock. A murmur ran through the group of people gathered around the fence. They were stable owners, and buyers, who made their money off finding and buying up good racehorses. Some of those gathered bought horses for other reasons: to pull coaches, plough fields, etc. But Bethany-Anne and her father were only there for one thing, to find a diamond in the rough.
This habit of going to the fairs that usually didn’t supply well-bred thoroughbreds started when Bethany’s father was a young man. Bernard Stapleton had harbored dreams of becoming a great jockey. He’d loved horses his whole life and wanted nothing more than to ride them for a living.
Having been a short young man, light and spindly, he was perfect for the job, if a little young at sixteen. He’d been set to be picked up by one of the local stables when he finished school. And then he’d grown two feet and put on about fifty pounds of muscle, and suddenly, he was far too large to ride.
Not being the kind of person who let setbacks get the better of him, Bernard Stapleton turned his attention to grooming, caring for, and training horses, finding jobs wherever he could. And after placing more than a few rather insightful bets, he had enough to set up his own stable. The first horse he ever bought, trained and had win a race came from this market. He’d been back every year at least once ever since.
The horses were in the paddock now. Brushed and shined, they looked good if cold. Bethany turned her attention from the imminent rain clouds to the creatures and watched them. They were left to walk around the paddock, but the grooms stood close by in case someone wanted a closer look.
For a good long while, Bethany watched the horses walk back and forth. She spotted a good mare, a little old for racing, but she might make a good dam. She had lovely proportions, a glossy dark coat, a beautiful line, and a very expressive face. She reminded Bethany of her own favorite horse, Jolly Jumper, who was waiting for her at the hitching post just outside the market. It was something in her eyes.
“I think that mare,” Bethany said, pointing surreptitiously. She didn’t want others to see what she had spotted. It could turn into a bidding war.
Across the paddock, she spotted Mr. Rodney Gunderson and Wallace Roodts, his trainer. The two were watching her and her father. Bernard lifted a hand in greeting, and Rodney replied with a wave of his own. Then they went back to ignoring each other, which was how Bethany preferred it. Gunderson stables was her family’s closest rival.
And then, with her eye just roaming over the horses, she spotted them. Two colts, yearlings if she was any judge, huddling together looking scared. They were not happy, but they were very handsome horses, their dappled gray coats making them stand out against the backdrop of browns and chestnuts. The one had a stripe of white fur running down from his right ear to his muzzle, and the other had a white star shape on his nose.
“Ha, star and stripe,” Bethany said softly to herself.
“What’s that?” her father asked.
“I think we need to take a look at the two colts huddling together,” Bethany said.
“You sure?” her father asked.
“Alright,” he said and signaled a groom. The man hurried over to them, bundled in a thick jacket. Her father made his selection of horses to inspect, and the groom brought them over. They included the three that Bethany liked.
They were led out of the paddock and to an area where the horses could walk back and forth and be inspected from all angles.
“Now, Beth,” her father said. “What do we look for?”
Bethany smiled. He had taught her this long ago, but he loved to have her recite the list nonetheless.
“We’re looking for balance, bone, athleticism, and intelligence,” she said.
“Good,” he said. “Let’s start with your mare.”
The groom tied the other horses to a post and brought the mare forward for inspection. She was a lovely chocolate brown, with a glossy coat, large, pricked ears that turned this way, and deep, dark eyes that stared pleasantly at Bethany. The horse’s face was lovely, with good nostrils and a solid bite. Her teeth looked good.
“How old is she?” Bethany asked.
“Five years old,” the groom said.
“And where is she from?” Bethany’s father asked, stepping forward and inspecting her teeth to confirm her age.
“She is from Winston Meyer’s farm,” the groom said. “She and the two colts are from there.”
Bethany’s father nodded. “That’s good stock,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” the groom said. “She is pleasant and quick. I’ve had no trouble with her today.”
“Good to know,” her father said.
Bethany continued to inspect the mare. She wouldn’t make a racehorse, but she might be good for breeding or as an opponent for the actual racehorses to run against.
“Yes, I think we’ll take her,” Bethany’s father said.
He went to work inspecting the other horses. A strong and good-looking stallion on the top half was dismissed when they noticed that he was far too back in the knees. He would put too much strain on his joints and be out of racing with injuries more than he would be in the race. Also, his feet were too small for his size, and that was something Bethany knew her father would never put up with.
There was another stallion, a two-year-old who was jet black. He looked very promising, and his build was good. His feet were a little turned in, but on the whole, he had the potential to be a magnificent creature even if he was a little scrawny now.
They took him.
The next two horses were too flighty and kept rolling their eyes and trying to bite the groom and were instantly dismissed.
Then came the two colts that Bethany had liked. She wasn’t sure what it was about them, but she wanted to see them.
First, she stood in front of the one with the star on his nose. He was dark brown with lighter ears and a jet-black tail and mane. His ears were up, and his eyes bright with intelligence. He watched her looking at him and seemed a little defiant as though he was daring her to find fault with him.
His chest was a good size, and his shoulder angle was around forty-five degrees. Perfect. He had a short back, and his hindquarters were good and had the potential to be well muscled. The problem was his knees. He was a little forward in the knees, and his feet turned out.
“Can you walk him for me?” he asked the groom.
Watching the horse walk, Bethany looked over at her father. He was studying the creature intently but looked away and gave a little shake of his head. He didn’t think this one was right. Bethany bit her lip. The problem was, she really wanted this horse. Both of them, regardless of what they looked like.
Next, they inspected the one with the stripe down his face. This horse was well built, good potential for muscle, but he seemed to be a joker. When walked by Bethany, he opened his mouth and pulled the woolen hat from her head.
“Hey!” she cried trying to grab it. The horse made a snorting sound that seemed a lot like laughter, and Bethany grinned. Oh, yes, she was in love. The brothers were too wonderful. She had to have them.
That little stunt, however, was enough to make her father shake his head.
“Okay, the stallion and the mare only,” her father said to the groom.
Bethany’s heart thudded in her chest. “Father!” she said. “Don’t you want to know what I think?”
Her father looked around at her and frowned. “Well, of course,” he said signaling the groom to stay. “I apologize. I thought we agreed.”
“We are,” Bethany said. “The mare and the stallion are two wonderful horses, but …” she cast an eye at the brothers. “I think they have the potential to be great racers.”
Her father raised his right eyebrow at her. Bethany knew that look. It said that her father didn’t agree with her but was willing to listen. She had to present her case clearly and firmly or lose the brothers forever.
Clearing her throat as the first drops of fine rain began to fall around them, Bethany made her case. Yes the yearlings were a little scrawny and a little unruly, but with the right training and care, they would grow to be strong.
“Look at those intelligent eyes,” Bethany said, walking over to Stripe and taking her hat from him. It was a little chewed and wet, so she didn’t replace it on her head. Instead, she held it and patted the horse’s muzzle with her other hand. “See how relaxed he is and how sure his feet are when he walks. He’s going to be a good strong horse. And his brother will grow out of his problems. You know how much a colt can change between one year and the next.”
She didn’t know what else to say. It was a feeling that was driving her, something in her gut that said that these two would become winners if taken in hand. They could win the Triple Crown, which was the most prestigious of cups.
Stapleton Stables had only won the Triple Crown once, and that was with Run Honey, a beautiful stallion who still lived at the stables but was too old to race.
Her father sighed, his breath clouding in the air. “You’re not going to leave here without them, are you?”
She shook her head, tendrils of her dark hair stuck to her face in the worsening rain.
“Alright, add the colts in, too,” her father said.
The groom smiled and nodded. “As you say sir.”
It took an hour to ride along the track through the rolling prairie grassland back to the stables. With the distant mountains still capped in snow, it was a lovely view, if chillingly cold. Two of their grooms, Harry and Ben, brought the new horses, riding their own and leading the others on a long rope. It was slow going. The colts were nervous and scared, as was to be expected. They were being led off to who knew where by strange people. Bethany thought she would be a lot more trouble than they were if the same were to happen to her.
Her father tutted a lot at their behavior but kept his eyes on the hills and woodlands they passed, making his disapproval clear with his silence.
“They’ll settle down,” she assured him, hoping to all that was holy that she was right. If these horses turned out to be duds, her father would be furious with her, and it was likely she’d never get to go to the market with him again. And that would break Bethany’s heart.
To say she loved horses was a grave understatement. She was not happy unless she was riding one. With Jolly beneath her, Bethany was on top of the world. How could it be any other way? She had been in the saddle since before she could walk. Much to her mother’s horror.
Riding in through the gate, they could hear the yapping of dogs from the kennels. Gray, white, and black heads with lolling tongues looked out from between the slats in their pens. Another head popped up. It was blonde and belonged to Bethany’s mother.
“Oh, you’re back,” she said. “How did it go?”
“Well,” Bethany said before her father could reply.
“We have some good buys and a couple of iffy ones,” her father said smoothly.
“Oh good,” her mother said. “Well, the Hansons are here for another pup. Eloise is showing the litter to them now. And Dr. Horn was here for Fifi.” She patted the closest English setter’s head absent- mindedly.
“How is she?” Bethany’s father asked. Bethany suspected he wasn’t really too worried about the dog but showed polite interest in his wife’s passion.
“She will be fine,” Bethany’s mother said. “He gave a new salve for her sore. I only hope this one works better. She’s still in the house, poor little soul.”
“I’ll bet she’s very upset with being in the warmth all day when the others have to come out in the cold,” Bethany said, knowing full well the dog was more than happy to be lounging in the house.
“Don’t be trite, Bethany,” her mother said. “Oh, can you please go and see where your brother is. I’ve asked Adam to come and help me with this bedding a million times, but he has his nose in a book, and we might never see him again.”
Bethany nodded. Her younger brother was not one for a cold day outdoors. Come to think of it; he wasn’t one for a hot day outdoors either. Adam loved nothing more than to lose himself in a story.
“I’ll …” Bethany began, but a cry rang through the air, and all thought escaped her.
Flicking their reins, Bethany and her father urged their horses into a run and charged down the track towards the scream. It came from the paddock.
Reaching the training area, they found two groups of people, mostly grooms and stable hands, gathered. One was around a groom, holding the reins of Black Heath, their prize runner. The horse was bucking and rearing, showing his large blunt teeth and rolling his eyes.
Bethany slid from her saddle and went to the groom. He eyed her and tried to shove her back out of the way, but Bethany knew this horse. She’d known him since he was born in the stable four years ago.
“It’s okay,” she said in a soothing voice. “Black, it’s okay. Come on now.” She reached out and touched his side and neck. He reared up again, flinging mud in all directions, and she stepped back. The grooms stepped closer, all making soothing noises. Tyler came in as well. He usually worked with Black. He reached out to pat the horse slowly.
Black saw him, and although his ears were still back and his eyes were rolling, he seemed to calm a little. Bethany stepped closer, taking the rope another groom had given her to tie to Black’s bridle and give them some control and distance. Her foot slipped, and looking down, regaining her balance she saw the sheets of ice that hadn’t melted yet on the ground between the slippery, muddy sections. This paddock was a broken leg waiting to happen.
Black Heath took several more minutes to respond to Tyler and calm down. The horse stopped kicking the air and snorted loudly. Eventually, Bethany could approach him, but by then, the extra rope wasn’t needed. Black was back to his usual wonderful self. Tyler stroked him, and that seemed to keep him calm. She stroked him and cooed to him in tones she knew he liked. The horse nuzzled her, nodding his head. She patted him. “You just got a fright, didn’t you, boy?”
Looking at the other group still huddled around something, Bethany’s stomach fell to her toes. Who was that there on the ground? She only caught glimpses of someone lying in the mud.
“What happened?” she asked Tyler.
“It’s Mr. Walters,” Tyler said, his green eyes huge and round with shock. “Black just kicked out at him when he was talking to Will.” Will was one of the practice jockeys who would help to train the racehorses.
“I was holding Black,” Tyler said. “I don’t know what happened, but he just lost his footing, then got mad or something and kicked out. He hit Mr. Walters square in the back.”
Bethany blanched. That was bad.
They managed to slide a wooden plank under Mr. Walters, a graying older man with tight features and carried him into the house. Everyone ran around trying to help him, but it didn’t look good. When Dr. Plotts arrived, he inspected Mr. Walters and shook his head. Taking Bethany’s father aside, they spoke quietly. Bethany moved so she could hear.
“Broken back,” the doctor said. “I’m sorry, Bernard, but Walters here will spend his days in a wheelchair.”
Bethany balked. That was bad news. Jack Walters was the best trainer in the whole of Montana. If he couldn’t work and train the horses … and then she realized how selfish a thought that was. Mr. Walters would never walk again, and she was worried about winning the Kentucky Derby, the step on the road to the Triple Crown. Feeling awful, Bethany slunk away.
Two weeks later
The train had deposited Corbin O’Reilly in Billings, Montana, the day before. He had come from Utah, where he’d been cooling his heels, looking for work. It was tough to be a freelance horse trainer. Especially one with Corbin’s past. And so, it was a surprise when he’d received a telegram from Bernard Stapleton, one of the top names in horse racing, calling him in for an interview.
Corbin had caught a coach to Penitence from the station, a three-hour drive, and then had spent the last two walking along the still frozen hills out to the stables. The wind was blowing right into his face, and Corbin pulled his scarf up over his nose and mouth. He had long since slung the strap of his bag around his body so that he could wrap his arms around himself to keep warm. This was not pleasant in early February.
He should be close to the stables now, he judged. The coach driver had said it was only about two hours’ walk from where he’d been deposited in the town. His feet were cold as ice, and he was starting to think that maybe, Montana was not the place for him. There had to be horses down south that needed training. Somewhere warm, like Florida. Florida was warm. But they got those crazy storms. Maybe not Florida, then.
A sign loomed ahead of him. The sky was mostly cloudy with the gray things scudding by at speed, blocking out the sunshine only to let it flood back for a moment before hiding it again.
“Stapleton Stables,” he read. The arrow pointed to the left turn in the road. Shrugging, Corbin turned and made his way down the track.
He walked on for another twenty minutes before coming to the gates of the stables. They stood open.
“Welcome to Stapleton Stables,” he read. “Thanks, that’s mighty civil.”
Of course, he was speaking to the wind and the clouds. There was no one there. He hadn’t expected there to be.
Walking under the archway he followed the track through a band of open grass. There was evidence of horse hooves having churned up the turf. Okay, so that was their distance training, he thought. A run around the perimeter was a good way to keep a horse in condition. There was no need to push. This kind of ride would be to keep the horse fit and loose.
A little further ahead was a clump of trees that hid what looked like dog kennels from view. The yapping confirmed his suspicions.
“Hello there,” a bright voice said.
Corbin looked up into a beautiful face. Framed by golden hair, he stared into the bluest eyes he’d ever seen. The smile below them was sweet, made with a pair of full lips.
“Hello,” Corbin said, doffing his hat. “I’m looking for Mr. Bernard Stapleton.”
“Oh, that’s father,” the young woman said. “He’s up at the house. And you are?”
“Corbin O’Reilly,” he said. “Those are English setters, aren’t they?”
“They are; you have a good eye, sir.” She smiled. “Follow me,” the young woman said.
She opened the gate to the kennel and stepped out. Dressed in a riding skirt and coat, she had to push the dogs back in and hurriedly close the gate.
“They sleep inside, you see,” she said, indicating the dogs, “but they’re bred for hunting, not luxury, so mother insists they spend their days outdoors unless it’s simply too cold.” She looked up at the sky, which chose that moment to send a shaft of sunlight down.
“I see,” Corbin said, thinking she was easily the prettiest woman he’d ever seen in his life. And he’d seen a lot of women.
“So, you’re here for the head trainer job?” the woman asked, brushing dog fur off her clothes.
“Yes, miss,” he said. “That I am.”
She smiled most sympathetically. “Well, I wish you luck, especially if you get the job. My sister has two new colts down there who are nothing but trouble. She’s been moaning about their lack of cooperation for the last two weeks. It seems they are less interested in learning things than they are in fooling around.”
Corbin was about to ask for more information; however, he was halted when a voice rang through the air.
He turned as the blonde woman did. Behind them, another woman came striding up. She wore trousers and boots, a leather jacket, and had a no-nonsense look. From the moment he clapped eyes on them together, he knew they were related. They had the same shaped face and lips but where Eloise was blonde and light, the other woman was dark.
“Eloise, Mother needs you,” the other woman said. “It’s Lucy; the pups are coming early.”
“Oh drat,” Eloise said. She turned to Corbin and then back to her sister. “Can you take him to Father? He’s here to see him.”
The dark-haired woman regarded him and then nodded. “You’re here for the trainer job?” she asked.
Corbin nodded. “Corbin O’Reilly,” he said, offering his hand.
She took it and shook it, “Bethany Stapleton,” she said. “Follow me.”
Eloise rushed off, and Corbin found himself in Bethany’s hands. He was surprised at the difference in the sisters’ demeanors. Where Eloise was polite, pleasant, and warm, Bethany was all business down to her boots.
“So, where are you from?” she asked as they walked along a track that was bordered by tall trees on both sides. Between the now bare branches Corbin could see a large house coming into view.
“I’m from a little town in Ireland originally,” he said, with a little nod of his head. “But my family settled in Wyoming where my father ran a stud farm. Sadly, he died when my sister and I were in our teen years, and we lost the farm. But I’ve been around horses my whole life.”
She nodded. “And where have you worked?”
Corbin couldn’t help feeling he was being interviewed now. Were there two? “Are you always this nosey?” he asked, smiling at Bethany to show he meant no offence.
“Only when it comes to someone applying to work with my horses,” she said.
He noted her words and smiled inwardly. This one was not to be trifled with. She clearly considered herself to be an integral part of the running of the stable. He wondered if her father felt the same way.
“Well?” Bethany asked. “Where have you worked?”
Corbin gave in and answered her question. He had a long list of stables he’d worked at over the years and even had references from some of them. They were in his bag and would be presented to Bernard Stapleton, not his forward daughter.
They came to the large house, their boots crunching on the gravel in the yard. The house was three stories with a pitched slate roof and large windows below which were window boxes. Corbin suspected that they would be a riot of colors in a couple of months. It reminded him of Ireland.
The inside of the house was surprisingly homey. Yes, it was large, but when he stepped inside, he found there were no frills and fripperies. The house was a working home, not something stately presented to visitors.
He hung his coat on a peg in the entrance hall and wiped the mud and grime off his boots with a cloth Bethany handed to him. Bethany did the same and led him down the passageway to a room on the right.
Knocking, she pushed the door open and stepped inside.
“Mr. Corbin O’Reilly is here,” she said.
“Oh, good, bring him in,” a voice said.
Bethany turned to him and waved him in.
Corbin stepped into the room. It was warm. Almost stifling with a fire roaring in the hearth at one end of the room. Two men stood in the room, both with the same dark hair that adorned Bethany’s head.
The younger of the two was clearly still in his teen years, and Corbin wondered why he was there.
Bernard Stapleton came forward, his hand outstretched. “Welcome to the stables,” he said.
“Thank you, sir,” Corbin said. “It’s wonderful to be here.”
Bernard shook his hand and turned to Bethany. “Thank you, Beth; you can go.”
Bethany glared at her father. “But …”
“Beth,” her father said.
“I’ll go,” the young man said. “I don’t really know why you want me here, Father.”
“I told you why,” Mr. Stapleton said, his cheeks flushing. “Bethany!”
Grumbling, his daughter backed out of the room while his son looked as though he’d been handed a death sentence with no hope of reprieve. The young man held a book in his hand and kept raising it and then putting it down at his side again.
“Please, have a seat,” Mr. Stapleton said.
Corbin sat on one of the stuffed chairs in front of the large desk that Mr. Stapleton went to sit behind. His son stood nervously beside the desk.
“This is my son, Adam,” Mr. Stapleton said. “And one day, all this will be his. So, he’s here to learn how to conduct an interview.”
Adam looked as though he was in hell. He cast sad blue eyes on Corbin, who found himself feeling for the kid. Clearly, he would rather be anywhere else, and frankly, so would Corbin. He hated interviews. He was an outdoors kind of guy. He liked riding horses, working on their form, and getting them ready to win races. That was what Corbin lived for.
Mr. Stapleton began his interview, and for the first while, Corbin was certain it was going well. His body of work was impressive. He had worked with some top stables and had several glowing references. If no one mentioned Sundown Stables, he had a hope of landing this job.
“These are good,” Mr. Stapleton said, putting down the letters of recommendation Corbin had handed to him. “Of course, the endorsement I hold in the highest regard is from my groom Tyler Wise. He’s been working for me for the last six years, and he does a wonderful job.”
“Yes, Tyler is a fantastic groom,” Corbin said. “We’ve worked together before.”
Mr. Stapleton nodded. “You weren’t part of that scandal at Sundown Stables in Wyoming, were you? We heard about that even here.”
And there it was. The point in every interview where Corbin’s glowing perfection dwindled and tarnished. This was his stumbling block, and if there were ever a way to go back in time and change it, Corbin wouldn’t hesitate one iota.
He drew in a breath and shifted in his seat.
“I made a poor judgement call,” Corbin said. “But I’ve learnt from it, and it hasn’t happened again. Not in the two years since that post.”
Mr. Stapleton regarded him with a stern look. “That is unfortunate,” he said. “They kept your name from the papers, but I appreciate your honesty.”
Corbin had learnt that stable owners gossiped and spread news like washerwomen. He’d often tried to play down his involvement in the unfortunate incident and found himself labeled a liar and a cheat. It was easier to own up and just take the rejection on the chin.
Placing his hands on the chair’s armrests, he stood. “Well, thank you for your time,” he said. “I’ll see myself out.”
“That would be best,” Mr. Stapleton said. “I’m sorry, Mr. O’Reilly, but since your actions endangered the horses and the jockeys, I can’t offer you this position.”
“I know,” Corbin said. “Thank you for considering me.” He stopped about to turn and leave. “Would you mind if I had a word with Tyler? He’ll be wondering how it went, and I’ll have to move on straight away.”
He didn’t have to, but Utah was the only place he still had family, and he wanted to be somewhere where no one would judge. His sister Mary was always happy to see him.
Mr. Stapleton thought for a moment and then nodded. “Make it brief.”
“Yes, sir,” Corbin said.
“Adam,” Mr. Stapleton said, addressing his son. “Take Mr. O’Reilly to the stables, would you?”
Adam sighed. “Of course, Father.” Then to Corbin, he said, “Come with me.”
Dressed in his coat and hat again, Corbin followed Adam into the yard. The day was clouding over properly, and the temperature was dropping. Corbin blew on his fingers. After thawing in the house, he felt the cold more acutely now.
“Sorry you didn’t get the job,” Adam said as they followed a track down a sloping field.
“It’s alright,” Corbin said. “I’m used to it.”
“What did you do?” Adam asked.
“I trusted the wrong person. They gave me some terrible advice regarding a horse and his jockey. The person involved told me they would stand by me on this decision, that it was the only way to win the race. Of course, when the chips fell, they scarpered, and I was left to hang for it. Proverbially speaking.”
Adam nodded and turned up the collar of his coat. “That’s horrible.”
“It’s life,” Corbin said. “Being stupid isn’t a defense.” He regarded the young man. “What are you reading?”
“From the Earth to the Moon,” Adam said. “It’s a Jules Verne novel.”
Corbin hadn’t read it, but it sounded interesting. “Any good?”
Adam nodded enthusiastically. “It’s wonderful.”
“I’ll have to get a copy and give it a read,” Corbin said.
The young man smiled. “That is a good idea. Perhaps it will make the journey home less tedious.”
“Perhaps,” Corbin agreed.
The stable was a large building, easily holding twenty horses. There were plenty of grooms and hands about, all doing their jobs. Horses walked this way and led from one activity to the next.
They found Tyler and Bethany in the training paddock. They had a young colt on the end of a long lead. Bethany was standing in the middle of the round pen with the horse running at the end of the lead. Or at least that was what was supposed to be happening. The colt had other ideas.
Standing with his ears flat back and biting the bit in his mouth, the colt seemed hell-bent on not complying. He was beautiful with a white star on his nose.
“Well, there you are,” Adam said. He offered Corbin his hand. “It’s been a pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Corbin said.
Adam walked off.
Tyler noticed him and sidled over. They shook hands.
“Well, did you get it?” Tyler asked.
Corbin shook his head.
“Sundown again?” Tyler asked.
Corbin nodded. “What’s going on here?”
“Ah, this new colt Miss Bethany bought is giving trouble. He won’t work without his brother, and we can’t run the two at the same time.”
Corbin nodded, and suddenly he was on edge. He saw what the horse had in mind a moment before he reared up. Dashing forward, he got himself between Bethany and the horse, pushing her aside. The colt’s hooves slammed into the side of his chest, and Corbin lost all the air in his lungs. He staggered back and came up against the fence.
“Well, that’s enough of that,” he wheezed, grabbing his side. “You listen here now.”
The colt regarded him and reared again. Corbin stepped to the side and placed a hand on his neck. It was a knack he had with horses, finding something that would soothe and calm them. A way to touch and reassure them. He stroked the colt’s neck. The hooves came down and didn’t lift again.
Letting a sense of peace and calm radiate from him, he ignored the pain in his side and stroked the horse. After a while, his ears lifted, his eyes stopped rolling, and he stopped chewing the bit.
Corbin sighed. “There you are,” he said. “Hello, I’m Corbin, and you are?”
“He’s Star,” Tyler said, smiling and coming closer. “You haven’t lost your touch, have you? I have never seen anyone get into a horse’s head like you do. It’s darn well unfair for the rest of us.” He grinned.
“Apparently, its still in me,” Corbin said. “But you’re hardly a slouch. I’ve seen you tame the most insane wild stallions before. Don’t sell yourself short.” Then turning to the colt, he said, “So Star. You don’t like being anywhere without your brother. Let’s see what we can do about that.”
Bethany was beside him. She smiled. “Thank you,” she said. Then seeing his face, she frowned. “He hurt you badly.”
“Probably broken ribs,” Tyler said. “Won’t be the first time, eh, Corbin. Remember that time you didn’t you see that cart coming down the street, and it clipped you. Man, you were broken that day.”
Corbin waved his words away. “As I recall, that incident was entirely your fault.”
“We’ll call the doctor,” Bethany said, looking from one man to the other.
“No need,” Corbin said, shaking his head dismissively. “I can see him when I get to town.”
“What do you mean?” Bethany demanded.
“I didn’t get the job,” Corbin said.
He had never seen a person’s ire rise so quickly. Bethany’s cheeks went a deep red, and she clenched her fists. He hurriedly took her arm.
“You’d best step out if you’re going to react like that,” he said.
“What?” she asked.
“You don’t want to upset Star here,” Corbin said.
“You’re right,” Bethany said. She strode out of the pen and up the track.
“Where are you going?” Tyler called after her.
“To see my father,” she said.
“Protecting A Soul In Need” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Bethany Stapleton has dedicated her life to horses, spending each day in her father’s stables, sacrificing things like love and family. However, when her father hires Corbin, a new trainer, her priorities change for good. Unfortunately, Bethany’s world falls into pieces, when her favorite horses fail to recover with no explanation. Forced to find out who is trying to sabotage their farm, she joins forces with Corbin, the only person who understands her passion …
Does he hold the key to solving all her problems, or will he soon become one of them?
Horse racing is a cutthroat game and no one knows that better than Corbin O’Reilly. After a terrible mistake, he’s been struggling to rebuild his reputation and career as a horse trainer. When he starts working at the Stapleton Stables, he’s not prepared for what he has to deal with. As the horses’ condition starts to deteriorate, Corbin is brought together with Bethany for the first time…
Can Corbin earn Bethany’s trust – or even her heart, which she carefully guards – in such a short amount of time?
Bethany and Corbin realize that only their determination to be with each other and save the horses from malicious sabotage, can keep the stable from ruin. Will they find out who is behind the hostile acts before their bond is broken once and for all?
“Protecting A Soul In Need” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.