Available on Amazon
“Mum, I need money to pay for the rest of the trip today. You asked me to remind you.”
Jessica sighed and picked up her purse off the kitchen table. She opened the flap and shook her head. “A little notice would have been nice, Cathy. I haven’t got any cash in my purse.”
“Sorry. Want me to nip down to the hole in the wall for you?”
Jessica mulled the idea over for a few moments before deciding against it. “No, I’ll do it.”
“That’s nuts. You’re not even dressed yet. You know it takes you an eternity to get ready in the morning. Give me your card. It’s not as if I haven’t done it for you in the past.”
“You can be such an impatient minx at times. Okay, the number is—”
“Six eight three seven. Yeah, it’s imprinted on my mind,” Cathy said with a chuckle.
“Is that so? Maybe I should consider changing my PIN if that’s the case.”
“Whatever. Don’t you trust me, Mum? I wouldn’t dream of nicking any of your money without your say so.”
She leaned over and ran a hand down her daughter’s cheek. “I know you wouldn’t, darling. I was jesting. I trust you with my life. Go on then—get out what you need for your trip and take an extra tenner for yourself.”
“What about topping up your purse?”
“You’re right. Get me out an extra twenty then, but no more.”
Her sixteen-year-old daughter smiled, snatched the card from her hand, and sprinted out the back door. Jessica took the time alone to reflect on how lucky she was to have such a loving family around her when most of her friends were ‘happily single’ again after their divorces, except they weren’t. Though the cracks in their joyful charades were easy to see, she would never dream of tackling them about the lies they were telling, for fear of hurting their feelings.
She sighed contentedly as her husband’s handsome features filled her mind. He was away for a few days, some kind of trade fair to do with his business, not that she was that interested in his business, as long as it brought in the money to keep the substantial roof over her head and paid the gardener every month to care for the five acres they owned.
The house was newly built, and they’d lived there for only a month. She was eager to get the paddocks in good shape before she transferred her beautiful stallion, Nutmeg, to his new home. His stable had been erected, but she was far from satisfied that the paddock was free from all the nails and debris left behind after the construction. The more she’d instructed the builders to clean up after themselves, the more they’d seemed to ignore her pleas, so much that she’d delayed Nutmeg’s arrival.
Once Cathy was out of her hair and at school, Jessica intended to spend the day with her beautiful Nutmeg. She had neglected him lately because of the move and all it entailed. She was one of those women who worked her socks off to make sure her new home was up and running promptly. After three days of hard work, not a single packing box remained in sight, and the house looked warm and inviting, as if it had been their family home for years instead of mere days.
She had spent weeks planning out the garden with the landscapers and the build team, ensuring that Nutmeg would be moving into a beautiful home with enough space to trot around in. But no one could have foreseen the dreadful downpours they would have to contend with throughout the month of May.
Panting from her exertion, Cathy entered the back door and placed her mother’s card and money on the kitchen table. “One hundred and fifty for the trip, a tenner for me and twenty for you, and there’s the ticket to prove I haven’t pinched anything else.”
Jessica frowned. “I believe you, love. Why would you say that?” She placed a concerned hand over her daughter’s.
“No reason, Mum. I just don’t like you thinking that I take advantage of you. Look, I better get off to school now. Have a fun day with Nutmeg. Give him a hug from me.” Cathy pecked her mother on the cheek, picked up her school bag, and left the house.
Jessica placed her card and money in her purse, locked the back door, and went upstairs to get ready for her trip to the stables.
Almost forty minutes later, she left the house, her hair still damp from her shower, and immediately got ensnared in the traffic. She lashed out at the steering wheel of her four-wheel drive. “Why didn’t I leave it an extra ten minutes? What the heck was I thinking?” Her eagerness had far outweighed any common sense she’d owned when she’d set off.
She turned on upbeat music to distract her and to attempt to keep her calm during the traffic jam. It worked, too—another twenty minutes dragged by until she pulled into the livery yard a few miles from her home. She spotted Belinda Moss coming out of a nearby stable and ignored her. Belinda turned her head swiftly, obviously embarrassed, and made her way into the next stall to tend to someone else’s horse.
As long as she keeps her distance, everything should be fine. I’ll ignore her. I have a handsome stallion waiting for me.
She pulled the bag of carrots she’d bought the day before out of the boot and lugged it over to Nutmeg’s stable. He was pretty vocal when he saw her walking towards him. “Hello, beautiful. How are you today?”
He neighed and nodded, his ears twitching at the sound of her voice. Jessica opened the stable door and stepped in. She lugged the sack of carrots through the stable to the small room out the back, where she kept all of Nutmeg’s accessories in what amounted to a mini tack room. She laughed when her horse followed her and nudged her in the back continuously until she relented to his charms and gave him a carrot or three.
She ran her hand down the length of his nose. “Have you missed me, boy?”
Nutmeg was too busy munching on his carrot to respond. She was lucky, though. He was a super-intelligent horse and understood ninety percent of what she said. Obviously, she occasionally ranted and raved about things—such as the incident that had taken place at the stables recently—and he looked at her a little non-plussed. Overall, though, they had a wonderful relationship that had been built on trust and compassion since Nutmeg had come into her life as a foal over five years ago.
Her anger mounted as the incident reared its ugly head yet again in her mind. “It’s over with now. I need to move on. We need to move on. Don’t we, mate?” Nutmeg finished chewing his carrot and neighed, nodding adamantly in response to her question. She kissed his nose. “What would I do without you to keep me sane, when all of those around me appear to be losing their heads?”
Nutmeg nodded again and pawed at the ground impatiently with his front hoof. “All right, I get the hint. I’m as desperate as you are to get a ride in this morning before the rain descends upon us this afternoon.”
She gathered his saddle and bridle from the tack room and placed them gently on Nutmeg. She always treated her horse with kid gloves. She cared about him, which was why her blood had boiled when she’d learnt what had happened with Belinda. Focus! Ignore what she did. She’s not worth it. Anger eats away at you like an unforgiving cancer. Ignore and move on.
Once Nutmeg was fitted with his equipment, Jessica removed her riding hat from the shelf and placed it securely on her head, attaching the strap under her chin, before she led Nutmeg out of the stable and into the courtyard.
Another regular, Melissa Cartwright, stopped to talk to her briefly as her horse, Daisy, nuzzled Nutmeg affectionately. “Hey, maybe we should consider mating them one day,” Melissa joked.
Jessica shrugged. “I’m up for it, if you are. They seem to get on well, and any foals they had would no doubt have beautiful markings and a temperament to match.”
“Let’s arrange that soon then. We could go halves on what we get for their offspring.”
Jessica inhaled a large breath then shook her head. “I doubt if I’d be able to part with the foal. Could you? In all honesty?”
Melissa’s mouth turned down at the sides. “Now that you’ve said it, not sure I could. Maybe that was a bad idea to even suggest it.”
“No, it was a fabulous idea, but the outcome needs careful consideration before we embark on the adventure. I’m sure these two would be up for it anyway—they’re such flirts.”
They both laughed and went their separate ways. Jessica loved to exercise Nutmeg in the nearby forest before she let him gallop through the open fields beyond. She led him towards the entrance, walking at his side, enjoying the stroll.
When she mounted him, he fidgeted until she was settled in one position. That was unusual for him. They set off, picking their way through the forest. Jessica had to duck beneath the branches, which were bending more than usual because of the constant rain over the last few weeks. Once they were into a wide open clearing, she encouraged Nutmeg to trot a little. He did so willingly, and the wind in her hair in the woodland felt good. A few hundred yards ahead of them, a large fallen tree blocked the path. Jessica mentally prepared herself for the jump. She’d only jumped a few objects with Nutmeg over the years and didn’t want to put extra strain on his joints. They’d never jumped anything as huge as the tree trunk.
She patted his neck. “We can do this, big boy. Dig deep and give me all you’ve got.”
Nutmeg neighed and upped his pace slightly. She had every confidence in his ability to jump over the trunk, but a few feet from it, Nutmeg began to fidget. His pace slowed then sped up, which Jessica thought strange. She considered dismounting to walk him around the offending object, but at the last minute, she decided against it, dug him hard with her heel, and shouted, encouraging him to glide over the trunk.
Nutmeg did her proud by flying over it, but once he landed on the other side, something spooked him, and he reared up. Unprepared for the sudden movement, Jessica let go of the reins and fell backwards. The impact on her spine took her breath away. The last thing she heard before she drifted into unconsciousness was the sound of Nutmeg galloping away from her…