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Wild Whispers


by Ryan Jo Summers

Wild Whispers

Set against the exciting backdrop in the chase for the Triple Crown and filled with mystical surprises. Season is not a witch, but she can make a horse run and Ty’s heart race.

Season Moriarty is part fey and part druid. She can see the future and alter it. She wields control over the natural elements of earth, wind, fire and water as well as manipulating life and death. And she is an accomplished racehorse trainer, able to get any horse to run like the wind. Now Season has landed the dream job that will test all of her skills and abilities.

Ty Masters runs his horse racing business with an iron fist. No one dares to question him. He hires Season based on her reputation. Then they meet. Immediately, she questions him, challenges him, infuriates him, intrigues him, captivates him, and even intimidates him a little. Then she spellbinds him. But can she make a Triple Crown winner out of his willful colt?

Mysterious threats to Ty’s racehorses bring him and Season together in a race against the clock. As the stakes for the Triple Crown rise and the mystery of who wants to destroy Ty deepen, so does the undeniable interest and fiery sparks between them.

 


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Release Date: December 12, 2017
Genre: Fantasy Romance


Excerpt

Chapter One

 

Season Moriarty gripped the steering wheel, feeling herself tighten with tension. According to the sign she just passed, she was almost there. It felt like she’d been driving forever, but it was only an hour since she refueled and left Riverton. The sign she passed was one of the first indications of life beyond the patches of dried grass and bare trees. Their ghostly silhouettes did nothing to comfort her. Reflecting, she had to admit these western highways had a habit of appearing never-ending if one wasn’t used to such wide-open spaces. She felt more at home in the rolling green grass of Kentucky.

At least the roads were in good condition considering the early January weather. She was thankful for the good fortune of avoiding severe storms during her long trek from Florida to Wyoming. Why hadn’t she just taken a plane? At the time, the drive seemed like a good idea. Blowing out a shaky breath, she patted the steering wheel. Only two more miles to go and she would be there. Heritage Farms.

And possibly the start of her new future. Or at the very least, a job interview.

Seeing an advertisement last month for a head trainer at Heritage Farms, famed birth place of some of the greatest record breakers of the turf, she’d written. Preparing her resume, credentials, and references all in a tidy little package, she sent it out into the postal world with a prayer and a kiss. She appreciated the old-fashioned charm of someone who still preferred snail mail paper over digital downloads and emails with pasted-in documents. Considering the reputation of Heritage Farms, and the elusive owner, she expected an old-fashioned gentleman.

The owner, Ty Masters, had written back, requesting she come for the weekend. Since there were a number of qualified applicants, he was offering everyone a free weekend vacation at the farm in exchange for an interview. One lucky applicant would end the vacation with a new job contract. Either way, Season surmised, just spending the weekend at Heritage Farms was quite an honor by itself. It was history and fame come to life.

Taking her mind off the fact she was quickly approaching her destination, Season thought about the reclusive owner of the farm. What she, or anyone else, knew about Mr. Masters would barely fill a bucket. He had been born to wealthy English parents. He was rumored to be the black sheep of the family, always seeming to have different ideas than anyone else. The fact that he preferred to live in the wide-open spaces of Wyoming and fly his racehorses to the tracks east and west supported this. Most all other racehorse farms were kept relatively close to the tracks themselves.

When Ty Masters' parents died, he took his share of the vast inheritance and came to America with one foundation stallion. With that single stallion, he worked hard and gradually built the world famous and respected Heritage Farms.

People seemed to know more about the incredible horses that came from the farm and their record-breaking feats than they did about the man who started it all. Every once in a while, he would allow a few snapshots of himself from within the winners’ circle, hiding his face behind something and always refusing to comment. It was if he preferred remaining a mystery to the fans and keeping the spotlight on his horses instead. Season liked how he gave more credit to his jockey and horses. It showed he didn’t possess an inflated ego like some racehorse owners she knew. A few acted like they had gone out and ran around the track themselves. Mr. Masters earned a bonus point in her opinion.

However, it struck her as odd that he would choose to name his farm Heritage when he clearly wanted nothing to do with his own. Rumors flying around the tracks say he left brothers and a wife in England.

Well, none of that mattered now, she decided as she turned her small pickup truck onto a dirt road labeled Heritage Way. The driveway? One step closer at least. All that mattered was she do well at this interview and get that job. She needed this job, so she had to do better than the other applicants. Absently she wondered who they were. Anyone she might know? The racing world could be a small world too.

Topping a small hill, Heritage Farms spilled into view, giving her the first look at history come alive. Driving past pastures closed in with white planked fences, they looked out of place in the wilds of Wyoming. Miles of white fences stretching across acres of green grass was what you expected to see on the horse farms in Florida, not way out here. Nonetheless, horses grazed lazily in the pastures, soaking up the late afternoon sunshine, not caring if it were Florida or Wyoming sunshine. It was all the same to a horse.

Stopping the truck, she looked them over carefully; a few raised their heads to peer curiously at her before resuming their grazing. She liked what she saw in their confirmation, and she stepped back on the gas, resuming her slow descent down the long, winding driveway.

Several white, crisp outbuildings scattered the landscape. An oval training track lay in the distance. Further to one side, she saw a sprawling white, two-level house. Stately pillars flanked the long balcony. A wistful sigh escaped her. It would be nice to live in such a lovely home.

Driving under the iron arch with a horse statue standing atop a circle, she grinned at the letters HF inside. She’d finally made it! She was here! Braking to a stop beside five other dusty and travel worn vehicles, she let out a pent-up breath. One hurdle successfully completed.

Stepping out, she leisurely stretched, sucking in a big lungful of cool mountain air and took in the views of the snowy mountains high in the distance. The air smelled fresh and clean. So different. So good. She bent over to touch her toes, then reached up over her head, and eased the kinks out. It felt good to stretch and feel her muscles expand. Twisting her torso each direction, she continued surveying her majestic surroundings.

It was beautiful here to say the least. Exhilaration chased away her road weariness.

“Very nice. May I see that again?”

A deep male voice behind her made her jump. Whirling, she spotted a tall man leaning causally against an equally tall chestnut horse. He stared at her, smug amusement lighting blue eyes. He towered over her five feet five inches. A well-worn, almost battered cowboy hat covered his head, but a few defiant locks of dusty blonde hair still managed to peek out from under it. A mustache sat under his nose, looking like a comfy caterpillar. Full lips curled up into a mocking grin.

A few soiled patches of straw clung to his faded denim jacket and his form-fitting blue jeans. If he were showered and in cleaner clothes, he might appear handsome. If he were not wearing that mocking smile. He had one of those familiar kind of faces, like she had seen him somewhere before. Nothing came immediately to mind though. It was doubtful. He had most likely never left the Wyoming area in his life.

“That was the best thing I have seen all day,” he drawled slowly. “Care to repeat it?”

A male chauvinist. Suddenly, she felt no amount of soap could ever make this man appear handsome. In her line of work, male chauvinists were an occupational hazard. Still, they always made her skin crawl.

“Sorry, only one to a customer and that was for the horse,” she said, mustering as much patience and charm as possible. “Could you please tell me where the trainer's interviews are being held?”

The mocking smile instantly vanished like a wisp of smoke. The man ducked his head, his hat shading his eyes. “Inside the house, after supper,” he murmured. Pulling the horse's lead shank, he quickly headed for one of the barns, seemingly not able to get away from her quick enough now.

Shrugging, Season wondered what got into him. Well, whatever it was, at least he was gone now. Good riddance. She always got along well with the stable hands, but if she got this job he might be the exception. She grabbed her duffel bags from the truck, and headed up the flagstone path leading to the elegant house.

Sensing someone was watching her, she glanced over her shoulder. The parking yard was empty. The blond man with the chestnut was gone. Somewhere a horse snorted. Quiet blanketed the area.

“All right, Season, get a grip,” she told herself softly. “You made it. You're here now. Don't lose it just because you ran into a chauvinistic jerk right away. You can handle this.”

Finishing her pep talk, she mounted the stone steps to the brown wooden door. Knocking, she wondered if the illustrious Mr. Masters would personally greet her. Just in case, she put on the brightest, best smile she could, her breath held, shoulders straight, and ready for anything.

Within a few minutes the door swung open and a pimply faced teen-age boy stood there.

“You seriously lost or something?” he asked, clearly surprised to see her. He popped a bubble with his gum, chewing noisily.

“No. I'm here to interview for the trainer's position.” Rattled, Season worked to recover. Did Mr. Masters have a teen-age son? She couldn't make the image work in her mind. It did not go with the reputation he made of himself. No one ever spoke of a child—an heir to the mighty Heritage legacy.

The boy's face dropped. “The trainer's position?” he repeated, as if he hadn’t heard right. “Well, the rest are over in the library room I guess.” He jerked a thumb behind him as he motioned her in and then started walking past her, back outside.

“Wait! Who are you?” she spun and called out quickly.

“I'm Ernie. I deliver Mr. Masters' weekly groceries,” he said, waving his hand behind him and leaving her standing at the foyer of the house.

Hoping it was okay to traipse around the house, looking for the library, she wondered why the host hadn’t yet put in an appearance. And the delivery boy answered the door? How odd.

Following the sounds of male voices, she came to a huge room, lined wall to wall with books. A giant stone fireplace dominated one wall, with a fire cheerily snapping. Cleverly placed chairs invited people to sit and relax. The crackling fire filled the room with the scent of pine, mixing with the smell of old books. Five men, all middle-aged, sat around, smoking and joking, telling stories and resting.

Glancing at them, she did not recognize any. All dressed the same, in faded western shirts, blue jeans and cowboy hats, they instantly reminded Season of the stable hand out in the yard. How quaint. Dropping her duffel bags, she loudly cleared her throat, announcing her presence.

“You guys all here for the interviews too?” she asked cheerfully when they looked up.

“You a horse trainer?” one asked boldly, drawing from his cigarette, doubt written on the deep lines of his face.

“Yes, of course.” Season stepped into the room, her friendly smile fading as she noticed their collective looks of surprise. Much the same as the teen-age boy at the door.

“What did I say?” she asked any of them, feeling a chill slithering up her spine. Whatever was going on around here, she was starting not to like it much at all. And where was the missing host, Mr. Masters? The inviting fire and pine scent of the room faded away, replaced by the startled and suspicious glares from the men. She needed somewhere else to go and wait for Masters.

Hearing sounds coming from another room, she followed the noise, hoping the next person she encountered would be more helpful, or be her weekend host. Hopefully he wouldn’t be upset with her exploring around the house.

At the end of the hall, she stepped into a kitchen, so huge it looked like the cook could feed an army. Shiny clean and modern, it was out of place with the rustic decor she’d noticed so far. A long shiny counter top stretched from end to end, two ovens were stacked by the twin stoves and a jumbo fridge and freezer sat along another wall. Three bar stools lined one side of the long counter. An industrial sized coffee machine and several cups rested on one end. A small table and three more chairs sat nestled near the coffee machine. Fresh fruit sat in a bowl on the table and another on the counter.

A heavy set, burly man with a white apron tied daintily around his wide waist was putting groceries away. He was, without exception, the largest man she had ever seen. Seemingly unbalanced, his small, bald head sat upon a fat, short neck and broad shoulders.

Clearing her throat again, she crossed the kitchen's threshold. The man turned around slowly, a chewed up, unlit cigar dangling from his mouth. Small, dark eyes checked her over, surprised flickering in them.

“Yeah?” he snarled irritably, the noise ending in something of a grunt.

Oh Mercy, they just kept getting stranger and stranger. Convinced she'd never make it to the interview anyway, she pasted on a pale smile. “I'm Season Moriarty, and I’m here for the trainer’s interview.” This time she was more prepared for the same look of surprise that crossed his pudgy face.

Recovering quickly, he pulled out his cigar, stuck his mammoth hand out to her, smiled broadly and introducing himself as Moose, cook of Heritage Farms.

“Pleased to meet you, Ms. Moriarty,” he said, taking his gigantic hand and dwarfing hers, giving it a solid pump. A grateful sigh of relief escaped Season as she met his friendly grin.

Moose took her around the lower level of the house, showing her the room she would use for the weekend, the study where Mr. Masters would conduct interviews, and added that supper was served at six. Rounding out the tour he added that Mr. Masters would begin interviews promptly at seven and did not like to be kept waiting.

Supper was an uncomfortable affair. With only three bar stools or three chairs to choose from, Season was stuck at the small table with the other men staring curiously at her. She ignored the hushed murmurs until she’d finished her meal and had enough of the men. Marching into the library, she picked the most comfortable chair, near the snapping fire. The Grandfather clock assured her she still had plenty of time before seven and she’d just bet the men would reassemble back in the library.

Shortly after the men strolled in, lighting cigars and pouring drinks from the bar, she rose. She could finish her waiting time by making sure she was totally polished. Selecting a not-so-faded pair of blue jeans and an ivory and peach checkered sweater, she surveyed herself in the full-length mirror. Nice. Both professional and western looking at the same time without either look being too much. Removing all traces of makeup, she completed the professional look by pulling her unruly brown curls into a single thick braid trailing down her back.

Five minutes before seven, she congregated with the other applicants outside the study door. Smoke and travel dust still clung to them, making her glad she took the extra few minutes for a fast shower. Five times she heard a deep masculine voice coming from behind the heavy oak door, calling out a name and nothing more. Five times one of the men entered, disappearing into the depths of the dark room beyond. Each one returned approximately twenty minutes later, looking shell shocked and worn.

Like a mighty clap of thunder, Season's name was the last one called. Drawing an uneven breath, she closed her eyes for a moment, pulling from within herself, and then strolled into the room.

It was dark inside, largely due to the dark paneled walls, dark carpeting and heavy drapery. It was a man's room. It was a giant of a room. A true primeval man cave. The fire blazing in the stone fireplace did nothing to dispel the dim lighting. Suddenly she was eager to meet the man.

“Close the door,” the ominous voice ordered.

Doing so, she turned back, stopping dead as her eyes adjusted to the low light and she recognized the man behind the desk. She felt her mouth hanging open, first in surprise, then disbelief and horror. No, it couldn't be.

“If you leave your mouth open too long, a bug will fly in,” the voice warned harshly. “Who the devil are you?”

“Season Moriarty.” The words tumbled from her tongue as dread filled her, churning in her stomach. Only barely did she acknowledge the heavy English accent.

Ty Masters, the world-famous racer and breeder, was the very same male chauvinist with the chestnut horse she’d met earlier in the yard.

His cowboy hat was off now, lying on the corner of the tidy desk. A thick, clean unruly heap of dusty blonde curls covered his head. Gone were the dirty clothes. He smelled fresh and clean and extremely male and wearing a blue checkered flannel shirt with the top two buttons left undone, showing off a chest lightly peppered with curly hair. She had no doubts he would be wearing hip hugging jeans and boots behind that massive desk. What startled her more was that he actually could be handsome after all. The blue checkered shirt brought out the blue of his eyes.

“That's impossible!” he snarled, dismissing her with an impatient wave. “I have an interview with Season Moriarty for a horse trainer's position. I have no time for bloody jokes, woman. Be gone.”

“I am Season Moriarty,” she repeated tartly, sensing his anger. He must have thought one of the other men brought her along as a companion. “I have an interview with you. You wrote me back in Florida, asking me to come here for the weekend and to give me an interview,” she paused, emphasizing her next few words as though speaking to a dim-witted child. “A job as chief racehorse trainer.”

Coolly, he appraised her like a yearling colt at an auction. Leaning back a little in his chair, lifting the two front legs, he took his time. One blond eyebrow lifted as a sardonic grin crept over his face. His eyes, now freed from the obstruction of the hat's brim, were the bluest shade Season had ever seen. Deep blue like the bottomless lake or the clearest sky after a storm.

Forcing herself not to bend from his steady glare, she reeled in her temper. He was the boss; she had to play by his rules if she wanted the job. Pasting a bittersweet smile on her lips, she waited until his inspection was done. Would he get up to check her teeth next? She was beginning to wonder.

“You are Season Moriarty?” he finally spoke, his voice and eyes daring her somehow.

Nodding in curt confirmation, she gladly proved him wrong, “Yes, I am.”

“Season,” he muttered, bringing the chair back down, shaking his head. “How was I supposed to know Season would end up being a woman,” he said to no one in general. “All future advertisements will need to specify photos be included with applications.”

Okay, she would overlook how sexist that sounded, and continue to fight for this job. Leaning back a little, she intended to fight hard. “It is a feminine name,” Season countered. Yes, a little unusual perhaps, but not worth the attention it seemed to be getting at the moment. What difference did her gender make? She’d been a trainer for several years.

“It sounds like a man's name. As in son of the seas or something,” he said, giving her a dark look of accusation.

She started to feel a ball of worry forming in her stomach. Just what was he driving at?

“Sorry to prove you wrong, but Season is my name, has always been my name and has nothing to do with sons or seas. And you can obviously see I am a woman.” She hesitated briefly, a light dawning in her mind, making her stomach do a sick little roll. “What exactly does my name have to do with this interview?”

“Everything!” he snapped. Grabbing some papers, he shuffled them around. “Now, I’m very busy so let's just end this and—”

Season blinked in astonishment. He was dismissing her? “Are you saying I’m not qualified solely because I am female?” she demanded of him, feeling her temper rising. Not caring about making a professional impression anymore, she stepped up close to the desk, daring him to look away from her.

“You said it, not me,” Ty Masters murmured, staring directly into her eyes, unflinching.

Now she understood why everyone was so puzzled as to her presence. It all made sense now. Why hadn't she picked up on it quicker? Fury, hot and raw, rose up within her, heating her like lava. She stood ramrod straight, using every ounce of self-control not to slap him. She blinked, chasing the red away that swam before her. She could probably claim sexual harassment, but she wanted this job. Dammit, she deserved this job.

Slapping her hands down flat on the desk instead, scattering papers, she leveled her stare into his cool blue pools, noticing with some satisfaction a tiny tick begin working in his jaw.

“My name and my gender are of no concern to you or at this interview,” she spoke clearly and distinctly. “My abilities and credentials, however, are.” Her gaze fell on a sheet of paper. Her reference page. “Now, if you will be so kind as to review my resume, you will see my qualifications are superior and my references are top notch. They adequately prove I’m capable of doing the job you are asking.”

Willing it to happen, she held her breath, concentrating, waiting until he did as she ordered. He was going to look at her application if it killed her. And him.

* * *

Suddenly powerless, unable to stop himself, Ty felt himself grabbing the papers and seeing the words before his eyes. He really didn't need to, he already knew what they said. One thing had been clear from the very moment he received the application package; Season Moriarty was the best person for the position.

Both father and grandfather were world renowned horse trainers. Surely they had passed along some family secrets for gaining speed from a horse.  Season’s experience and past records were more than adequate. Everything he was looking for in a trainer was right here in black and white. He had already intended on hiring this person if the interview went half as good as the application looked. But he never dreamed Season Moriarty would turn out to be a woman!

It wasn't that he didn't like women. He liked them a lot. Just not working with his horses or living on his place. He knew from past experiences that women on his ranch always equaled disaster, trouble he didn’t need. Men got into fights over each other’s girlfriends, men and women fought over endless things, and it usually ended with the woman leaving and the men all mad at each other. It created friction, distrust, and bad work habits whenever the men had women around. And likewise, prohibiting women to be on the ranch encouraged life to operate smooth and harmoniously, which pleased both Ty, the men, and his horses.

Logically, he had reached the only reasonable explanation: women did not belong on a racehorse ranch. Especially this woman. From the second he saw her turn into the driveway, park and start easing out kinks, his warning lights started flashing and screeching in his mind. Her jeans hugged her long legs, giving the impression she was muscular beneath that medium frame. Her shirt stretched over her lovely bust and the sun shone on her brown hair, burning it to an auburn that matched the chestnut mare he had been leading. At the time, he’d assumed she was a traveling companion of one of the applicants here to watch the horses run for the weekend. Eyeing her now, he realized how terrible an assumption he had made.

He had liked her hair better when it was loose, all wavy and curly, making his fingers itch to touch it, play with it, twirling some around his fingertips. She looked more professional now. Her green eyes, green as the Emerald Isle her family hailed from, had been soft and friendly before, now they were hard, blazing into him, like blazing lights of fire. And making him feel more than a little uncomfortable. Quite an unusual experience.

Wait a minute. Suddenly he wondered why he was the one feeling uncomfortable here. He was the one in control. He was the master. People followed his orders without question. His word was law. Always.

So why did he even care that she was furious? Why did he suddenly feel like a naughty schoolboy? Why was he even continuing this interview? He would give the job to one of the men outside.

So why didn't he?

“Do I have the job or not?” she demanded, her patience just about spent, her green gaze never wavering from his cool glare.

Inwardly, he sighed, feeling something deep inside him collapsing. Realizing he had somehow lost total control of the situation, he also saw he was about to break his number one rule. And worse yet, he was completely unable to stop himself. What just happened? What had she done to him?

“The trainer is to reside here,” he heard himself say, the words coming out by themselves. “That person is expected to fly with the horses to the tracks, stay with them for the duration of their final training and race schedule.”

“Okay,” Season said evenly, eyes boring deeply into his, until he suspected she might crawl into his lap. The thought—and images—both frightened and thrilled him. Shaking his head, he cleared his throat before continuing.

“Everybody is expected to do their share. The trainer is in charge of training, obviously, and to oversee the studs for breeding. Their opinion is wanted for selected breeding partners. Of the horses,” he added, swallowing a hard lump and clearing his throat again. “But that person may also be called upon to help feed the stock or do whatever else is required.” His eyes lit up dangerously. “Even I have been known to muck out a stall or two,” he challenged, taking back a little bit of control from this situation.

“Fine,” she agreed crisply. “I can muck stalls with the best of them. I’ve been mucking stalls since I could barely lift the fork. I have been brushing and grooming since I needed a bucket to reach their backs.”

More images popped into his mind, of a brown-haired wisp of a girl standing on an upturned bucket to brush a horse’s broad back, or heaving mightily at a pitchfork to muck a pony’s stall. That lump in his throat slid south and settled in the pit of his stomach, churning and making a mess of Moose’s fine dinner. How could he still manage to convince her not to take the position?

“We are currently racing three horses. One three-year-old colt and a three-year-old filly. I hope to have another two-year-old colt ready for his first start in a few months.” He paused, and then added, “Do you believe you can handle all this?” Here was where she could back out gracefully and make an exit easier for both of them. He nearly closed his eyes in prayer as he waited for her response, feeling as though his entire life depended on her answer.

* * *

Meeting his challenging gaze Season sensed the currents of electricity coming from him. She also sensed the questions burning in his mind. Giving in and hiring her was costing him a lot, more than he would ever reveal.

“Of course,” she said sweetly, flashing a smile, taking a small step away. Was it her imagination or did he sink a little behind that massive desk? Feeling his surprise, she felt a brief thrill of victory. It took a bit of effort but now she had a job!

“You might as well come meet your new charges,” he said, not looking, or sounding, overly thrilled. Standing up, he waited for her to move to the door first. “Do I need to remind you these animals are worth thousands and millions of dollars? They are not cart hags,” he warned softly.

“Of course not. I have trained a few racehorses before,” she reminded him.

“You alone are solely responsible for their health, their happiness and,” he paused, “their performance on the tracks.” Shouldering past her, he spoke briefly to the men in the library and then wordlessly lead the way outside. Quietly, Season followed her new boss into one of the white barns she’d seen earlier.

“I shall introduce you to our foundation stallion,” Ty announced, pride heavy in his voice. He escorted her to the last stall in the row of about twenty. It was the largest stall, sturdy and well-constructed, as was the entire barn. A black head peered over as Ty whispered softly and Season felt a chill creeping up her spine as she approached.

She automatically knew who this creature was. Here was the king of Heritage Farms. Black Warrior. With utmost reverence, she cautiously approached his stall to look him over.

He was a full eighteen hands high plus a little more, huge, jet black and meaner than a cornered wildcat. Looking closer, she noticed the streamlined body, wide nostrils and well-developed shoulders all great racehorses needed. She felt the fire burning in his soul, the fire of pure hatred. This horse, quickly approaching the ripe age of thirty-two was evil, mean and totally unpredictable. But Season knew this was also the horse Ty Masters had gambled his inheritance and life on. This was the one thing he brought from England and gambled everything on this single animal's speed and competitive spirit. Looking at Heritage Farms now, clearly it had been a good gamble.

“His dame was destroyed when he was just a weanling,” Ty offered, gazing affectionately at the old stallion. “Folks said she was a killer. Funny thing is folks said the same thing about him and he never killed anyone.”

“Not for lack of trying from what I've heard,” Season pointed out. The horse's evil deeds were legendary around the tracks. It seemed Ty Masters was the only person who could handle the huge horse with immunity. “I'll safely say he's dangerous.”

“He needs a gentle voice and a firm hand,” Ty argued. “In the right hands, he is as gentle as a pet lion.” Ty's mouth quirked slightly. That was the most polite way to describe Black Warrior.

“This way.” Motioning for her to follow, they left the dimness of the barn, stepping out into the cool Wyoming dusk. Ty headed for some distant fence, Season having to take two steps to match one of his giant swinging strides.

Ty slammed to a halt at the gate of a white fence, whistling sharply. Scanning the dark field, Season saw nothing but the outlined silhouette of some trees. Then she heard the echoing beat of pounding hooves and a smile flashed over Ty's face.

Following his gaze to the horizon, she watched a large black horse galloping into sight from the night cover. Sliding to a stop before them, he blew air from his nostrils, tossing his head and whinnying.

“This is our main racer, Sky Hunter.” Ty reached out, affectionately patting the horse's glossy neck. “He is sired by Black Warrior.”

If Black Warrior was king, here was the young prince. He was every bit as large as his mighty sire, coal black with four white socks and a striking white blaze racing down his face. He lightly tossed his mane, prancing sideways, unsure what to make of Season. He snorted and blew her direction a few times, looking to Ty for reassurance.

Season saw the same unpredictable wild look in his eyes as she’d noticed in his sire's back in the barn. She reached out to pat him, drawing back when he laced his ears flat, pretending to nip her. Snorting, he pranced away, ears back and head shaking.

“He is no pet,” Ty pointed out. “He is powerful and needs to be handled just right.” As if to prove his own immunity, he reached a hand out and waited calmly.

Soon Sky Hunter returned, stretched his neck out, sniffing loudly. Taking a step closer, he stomped his foot once, sampling Ty's upturned palm, looking for goodies. Within a mere minute, Ty rubbed his hand along the horse’s white blaze, sliding Season a leveled look.

“See, it is all in the handling.”

“I’m also new to him. He undoubtedly has known you since he was foaled.” Was he implying she wasn’t capable of physically handling a large and powerful horse? She’d surprised other men before and she was sure Mr. Masters was going to be in for a surprise soon too. “I will have him eating out of my hand before long.”

Sky Hunter snorted once, and as if to prove her wrong, reached out to nip her.

Instinctively, she jumped back, feeling her face grow warm. Glad for the pale moonlight around them, she watched as Sky Hunter curled his lips back in what looked to be a horsey laugh, twist and take off across the field, blending into the night with only his hoof beats echoing behind him.

“It appears our main star feels differently,” Ty said slowly, folding his arms along the fence rail.

“Clearly you and Sky Hunter share the same opinions. If you ask me, it's the waste of a perfectly good horse.”

Ty blinked in stunned silence.

Season wished she could take the words back, and knew Master’s surprise was because no one dared speak to him like that. Except she just had. And he did not immediately bellow out ‘You’re fired’, so she drew in a deep breath and pressed on before the shock on his face was gone. “I assume there are other horses to view?”

“Of course.” Galvanized, he strode off in the direction of another barn, leaving her trotting to keep up.

They toured the entire farm by ten o' clock. Season saw the breeding barn, the mare barn, the foaling barn, the weanling barn. She inspected the training track and other points of interest. She saw the airplane hangar where Ty housed the plane for the horses and the adjoining runway.

She met Richmond, the youngster she was to school for his first break in the spring. He was a high stepping blood bay colt. Lacking the cruel spirit of Black Warrior and Sky Hunter, he slowly sniffed her over, finally deciding she was alright. She also met Winter's Dawn, a nice chestnut filly, sired by Black Warrior too. Ty held high hopes for her as a racer. She liked the track, having raced twice and placed well. Ty stressed the right training could coax the last bit of speed out of her. The desire was there, he said, she just needed the skills.

The last horse she met was a stable pony named Doodlebug, a delightful mixture of Welsh and Shetland pony. He had the honor of being Sky Hunter's travel buddy. Barely over twelve hands and covered in white and gray patches, Doodlebug took an immediate liking to Season, sidling up against her and begging for a scratch.

“I see you finally found someone you can properly handle,” Ty pointed out, watching the pony make cozy with Season. “I’m afraid Sky Hunter will not be so easy to make friends with. Doodlebug is a friend with everyone he sees.” He said the words as if they left a bad taste in his mouth.

Season was struck with the feeling Ty Master had few real, trustworthy friendships. He seemed like a man who could be friendly on the outside, to a point, but managed effectively to keep all people at arm's length. At least he gave her the strong impression he did not want her too close. But she suspected it extended to more people than just her. A sadness filled her at the thought of anyone wanting to be alone.

Measuring her words carefully, Season met his visual stare. “Actually, Doodlebug is the smarter one. He plans ahead to the day he will need someone to lean on.” She entwined her fingers into the pony’s mane, waiting for his response. He was starting to remind her of a powder keg. If she were not careful, she wouldn’t have to worry about having the job.

He forced his gaze away from her, steadily looking out toward the door, as if considering bolting for the exit. Do I make you that uncomfortable, Mr. Masters? She nearly asked the question but stopped herself, searching for a better one.

“Don't you ever need somebody?” she asked lightly, still scratching under the pony's mane.

“I try not to,” he bit out, stalking away, leaving her alone in the dark with the pony noisily searching her pockets for more treats.

Well! She blew out a breath. She had a challenging new job, a beautiful place to live, and a new boss. And, unless she was mistaken, the battle lines were clearly drawn.

* * *

It was unusually warm for Wyoming and the pale moonlight shown bright, cutting through the trees with alabaster rays. Watching Ty's backside as he strode angrily away, Season felt her nerves stringing out like a worn guitar. Knowing no sleep would come to her any time soon, she decided to explore her new home instead. She could use the time alone in the moonlight.

The air was quiet and cool, only a steady breeze blowing across the snowcapped fields, fed by the colder air flowing down from the snowy peaks surrounding the farm. Night birds called to her, beckoning her down past the barns and into the distant fields, away from humanity and horses. Brushing the snow from a rock, she sat down. This space was quiet, serene and tranquil. Just what she needed.

Spreading her arms wide, she closed her eyes, chanting softly. The night winds spoke to her, whispering, filling her with soothing emotions and gentle thoughts, erasing the earlier strains. Her chanting growing faster and louder, she lifted her arms wider and higher, reaching up toward the shining moon. She felt whole, connected, invigorated. As if she were the only person in the world.

 

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