Hope you enjoy this first chapter, and if you have not read the series, the print books are still available with my name, or get them for your kindle as an A.K. Alexander book. If any of that is confusing, e-mail me and tell me I'm a nut. We all know that anyway!
Michaela Bancroft had to be crazy. What in the world had she been thinking? Who in the heck decides to get married during the holidays? Whose idea had that been? Oh yeah, hers and Ethan’s. What was their thinking? Wouldn’t it be great to get married on New Year’s after all they’d been through? Right? It was starting over. Starting fresh. She smacked herself in the head. Yes, brilliant. She set the box of Christmas ornaments aside, hearing Josh’s whimper through the baby speaker. “I’m coming, baby,” she said out loud.
Her best friend Camden was to blame for this Holiday wedding idea. If she hadn’t insisted on that margarita bar for her wedding out in paradise and if Michaela hadn’t caught the bouquet—although she was damn glad she’d caught it, and even happier to see the grin on Ethan’s face when she turned to look at him. Then the slow dancing and the kissing, and back in their suite at the resort, a New Year’s wedding in that moment sounded perfect. Now what sounded good was a good old fashioned Vegas wedding. Hmm…couldn’t do that. Ethan had already been there and done that with the mother of his son. But Summer had decided not too long after having Josh that marriage and motherhood was not her forte and ran off with some other guy. Michaela had tried to save her childhood friend Ethan—the same childhood friend she’d been secretly, madly in love with since she was a girl—she’d tried to convince him that Summer was bad news and always would be. But although, it was kind of obvious to those in the know that Ethan didn’t exactly love Summer, he was a good man, a man of his word and he made good on it by marrying the witch, after she’d told him she was pregnant
And, the witch lived up to her reputation and boy was Michaela glad she had. So, in reality, when she thought about it, A New Year’s wedding was a grand idea and all the holiday trappings would go along smoothly. They just would. Sure.
Michaela picked up Josh and cuddled the eighteen month old tyke who now called her Mama, and by every standard besides the biological one, Michaela had become his mother. Life was good.
“I’m here,” Camden’s voice rang out from below. “Where’s my God son?”
Michaela carried a sleepy, dark haired, big blue eyed boy down stairs to see Camden.
Camden’s latest hair color was bleached blonde and frequently worn pulled straight back. She’d also taken to wearing Wrangler jeans, cowboy boots and a silver belt buckle. Being married to Michaela’s right hand man at her ranch Dwayne had turned high fashioned, high falootin’ Camden into a regular old cowgirl. She even rode on a regular basis—something Michaela never expected to see.
The other funny thing that Michaela never expected from Camden was her adoration for Josh. Yes, Josh was an adorable baby and hard not to love, but Camden was not exactly maternal. Her idea of a home cooked meal was Hamburger Helper, packaged salad and a frozen margarita. But Dwayne had domesticated the divaesque Camden quite a bit. She’d fallen for Josh and she’d started cooking some—albeit, the food wasn’t exactly, hmmm, how to be tactful—gourmet.
Josh appeared to love his Godmother as much as she did him, as he reached out to her while she cooed his name, “Joshy, Joshy boy, come to Auntie Cam.”
They both held out their arms. “I’m feeling a little second fiddle here,” Michaela said.
“Don’t be silly. He knows who his mommy is.” Camden’s eyes locked on Michaela’s. Neither one said what they were both thinking. Michaela was hoping to adopt Josh after Ethan and her were married. She knew Summer didn’t want to be his mother. She’d abandoned Josh. But all the same, when it came to signing away any rights to the little boy, Michaela wondered if she would do it. “He knows exactly who his mommy is.” Camden tickled Josh’s tummy who let out a squeal of delight.
Michaela smiled. “Okay, well I should be home by lunch time. I’m going to run over to Winsor and take a look at that horse Devon Winsor called me about, and then swing by the florist. If I have time after that I was going to try and get some more Christmas shopping done.”
“Oh honey, it’s eight already. You’re going to need more than four hours to do all that.”
Michaela raised an eyebrow. “I thought you knew me better than that. I don’t need four hours to make decisions on whether or not a horse will fit for my program, what color flowers or types I need for my wedding, and as far as Christmas shopping, I have an idea already of what I’m buying everyone. I’ll be in and out in a gif.” She snapped her fingers. “I know if it was you, it’d be a whole ‘nother story.”
Camden shrugged. “What can I say? Auntie Cam likes to shop. Josh doesn’t think it’s a problem. Do you Joshy?”
The baby giggled.
Michaela kissed him on the cheek. “Okay, be back in a bit. Do not let him watch those reality TV shows you like.”
“Oh come on, he likes The Housewives of the OC. But he really likes the L.A. broads. Crazy!” She rounded her index finger in a continual circle by the side of her head.
“No. I mean yes, I am certain they are crazy and so are you. No on the watching of that stuff,” Michaela replied. “PBS or Discovery Kids. I’d prefer no TV time. Play with him.”
“You know I will.”
Michaela headed out and did a quick walk through the breezeway of the barn. Her three-year-old Leo had cast himself the other night in his stall and she’d had to poultice and wrap him to help sweat out the swelling. She knew Dwayne would have already checked him and likely had already rewrapped him when he’d fed that morning, but it was rare for Michaela to leave her home in the mornings without a quick hello and if she was leaving—a goodbye to her horses. Today was Monday, which meant a day off for everyone. The horses, Michaela’s students and herself.
Michaela trained horses with an emphasis on reining but she’d ventured out her comfort zone recently when one of her clients had brought over an appendix filly that she wanted to be trained as a hunter jumper. Michaela had done some jumping throughout the years but explained to the owner that it wasn’t what she was the best at. The owner didn’t care. She’d heard wonderful things about Michaela, going so far as to call her a horse whisperer, which kind of made Michaela cringe. She just did what she did best—train horses using empathy and kindness but setting boundaries where needed. One could never forget that horses were very strong animals--much stronger than Michaela’s one hundred twenty pound frame.
Leo stuck his had out of his stall as he heard his “mom” approaching. “Yes I do have a treat for you.” She rubbed his face and kissed his nose, his hot breath sniffing for the treat. She reached into the front of her jeans pocket and took out the horse treat. He nuzzled the palm of her hand as he sucked up the treat. “You’re not a horse. You’re a piglet. My piggy boy.” She undid the latch on his stall and went inside. The woodsy smell of shavings mixed with earth and horse smelled better to her than any floral type perfume ever could. She bent down and checked Leo’s wraps. As suspected Dwayne had beat her to the job.
Dwayne was probably already back in bed. He also took Mondays off and Camden revealed that his Mondays were about lying in bed and watching reruns of old shows like Gilligan’s Island, Three’s Company, and I Love Lucy. She said that he laughed all day and nothing made her happier than to hear him laugh.
Michaela closed Leo’s stall door behind her and headed on her way. Immediately the young horse started banging against his with his hoof--obviously he’d learned to beg. “No more. Knock it off,” she scolded him. His ears pricked forward and his eyes widened. She shook a finger at him. “You heard me.”
Michaela then proceeded down the breezeway that held twelve horses giving each one a treat and a kiss on the nose. Some were there in training and some were there for her lesson program. She gave lessons to kids, and also had developed a program for autistic children. She was busy but nothing gave her more joy than to be part of a moment when a kid had a breakthrough because of the horse. Horses happened to be gentle souls who for the most part understood how to help a person, grow, heal and be nurtured.
After her brief visit with the horses, she headed out to Winsor Riding Academy. Winsor was a high school prep academy and riding school close by that educated both local kids and kids who came from all over the country. It was a place for kids whose families had endless amounts of cash. Most of the kids at the school, trained in three day eventing, which Michaela loved to watch but didn’t know if it was an area of riding she would venture into. Especially the cross country jumping. Those riders had some serious cajones. Galloping through their course and jumping over stationary obstacles—usually wooden logs that when a horse hit, the log wasn’t going to go anywhere.
One of the owners at Winsor, Devon Winsor was an acquaintance and had given Michaela a call the other day about an older gelding they had in their stable. Apparently he was also an appendix—half Quarter horse, half Thoroughbred—and although he’d been an excellent 3 day event horse and a good school master, he was at an age where he needed to be taken off the jumps. Devon felt the horse would be a perfect fit for Michaela’s program. Michaela liked the idea of adding a gentle soul to the barn, one who could teach the beginners and also be great for her handicapped kids. This horse did sound like a good fit, but to now for sure, Michaela wanted to get over to Winsor Farms a little bit earlier than Devon and her agreed upon. She didn’t know Devon well enough to know how honest of a horse woman the lady was, and before she plunked down a few thousand dollars on a lesson horse she wanted to take a peek at him herself. Devon had told her that the horse was stabled in barn three, and that his name was Silverado. Michaela knew that the horses had name tags on their stall doors, so she figured it wouldn’t be a problem locating the horse.
Driving along the long driveway that led up to the academy, she noticed how empty the place was. Most of the kids had gone home for the holiday break. There were probably a few of the local kids that boarded their horses at the academy around, but Michaela didn’t really see anyone. Well it was a Monday before nine o’ clock.
Michaela smiled as she pulled up in front of the barns. Dr. Grace Morgan’s truck was out front. A friendly face. Dr. Grace was Ethan’s partner. He’d bought into her practice recently when he’d decided to make a move from his old partnership. Ethan had felt his former partner wasn’t willing to learn new techniques. He was grounded in an old way of thinking and veterinary medicine was changing all the time. The guy’s bedside manner was not pleasant as Ethan had heard from clients. That was enough for him to buy the guy out and find a new partner. So, when Dr. Grace wound up going through a divorce and somehow cutting her ex-husband who was also a vet out of the practice, Ethan thought it was a good opportunity.
Michaela agreed. Grace was well respected and well renowned in Indio and even in other parts of California and the nation. Grace was a cutting edge vet who did a lot of lab work and looked deeper than most for mysterious causes that ailed horses. She cared deeply for the animals and it showed.
Maybe if Michaela liked Silverado and since Grace was obviously already there, she could vet the horse for her. She called out Grace’s name as she entered barn three. No answer, so she hollered out into each one of the barns. She still didn’t get a response from anyone. Maybe Grace was up at the main house with Devon, but it was a long way to walk. Michaela checked her watch and realized she only had a few minutes to take a look by herself at Silverado.
She found the grey gelding down the aisle of barn three. He stuck his nose out to greet her. “Oh you are a cute guy, aren’t you?”
The horse in the stall opposite of Silverado kept banging against the door just as Leo had done earlier that morning for treats. “Ah, another begger,” she said, turning around to see what she figured to be a Dutch Warmblood. He was huge. At least seventeen hands, and had a wild look in his eye, as the whites showed through. He snorted and weaved back and forth.
Michaela turned back to the grey gelding. “Looks like your friend has some emotional issues to work through. But you, on the other hand look very sweet.” She liked his soft, kind eye. Devon told her that he was eighteen, but there was no sway to his back. He had great muscle tone and a very pretty face. She’d have to ride him to see how his disposition was with her on him. But so far so good.
The wild guy across the way though—he was something else as he became more animated with her standing there talking to the other horse. She finally took a step toward the large animal and spoke in calm tones. “Hey, hey there.” She squinted to read his name plate. Geronimo. Should’ve known. “Hey Geronimo. It’s okay. It’s alright, bud.”
The horse blew out another snort and held his head high and out of reach as she went to try and stroke him on the neck. It was then that she caught a glimpse of what was making him crazy. She took a step closer and the horse backed away. She closed her eyes and shook her head. This could not be. She swallowed hard.
“Oh my God,” she uttered, but she wasn’t even sure that the words came from her. It didn’t sound or feel like her. If Michaela could have guessed who was seeing this horrible scene, who was speaking, who was feeling, she would have prayed that it wasn’t her. But the second time she repeated the words, “Oh my God,” she knew that it was her and she was looking at Dr. Grace on the floor of Geronimo’s stall--dried blood all around her.