Thursday, April 5, 2012

Three Days to Die


I've been getting a ton of e-mails regarding the next Michaela book. I promise it is in the works and will be out this summer. Here is a sneak preview. Also, be sure to check out my new book The Grey Tier: A Dead Celeb Mystery. http://www.amazon.com/Grey-Tier-Celeb-Mystery-ebook/dp/B007R98NYM/ref=pd_rhf_gw_p_t_2
Have a great day and enjoy!


CHAPTER ONE

Michaela Bancroft had to be crazy. What in the world had she been thinking? Who decides to get married during the holidays?! Oh yeah, she and Ethan, that’s who. “Let’s get married on New Year’s Eve,” she’d said. “It’ll be like starting over, with a clean slate.” He’d happily agreed, and the rest, as they say, is history. But now, just a few weeks before Christmas and up to her neck in holiday planning, it didn’t seem like such a great idea. Michaela smacked herself in the head. Brilliant, Michaela. Just brilliant.
The baby monitor suddenly crackled to life as Josh whimpered softly in his crib. She set the box of Christmas ornaments aside and headed toward the nursery. “I’m coming, little man.”
Truth be told, her best friend Camden was to blame for this whole mess. If she hadn’t insisted on having a mai tai bar for her Hawaiian wedding and if Michaela hadn’t caught the bouquet…although in retrospect, she was damn glad she had and even happier at the grin on Ethan’s face when she turned to look at him. Then there was the slow dancing and the kissing, and the passionate interlude back in their suite at the resort. Well, after all that, a New Year’s wedding seemed to make perfect sense. Until now. Why hadn’t she suggested a good old-fashioned elopement? To Vegas? But Ethan had already been there, done that with Summer, his ex-wife and Josh’s mother. And that ended with Summer ditching Ethan and her infant son for another man. Apparently being a wife and mother wasn’t her forte.
Michaela opened the nursery curtains and lifted Josh from his crib, cuddling the toddler to her chest. As hard as it had been to watch Ethan deal with Summer’s abandonment, she couldn’t help but be glad things turned out the way they did. She now had Ethan—her childhood friend and lifelong crush—and Josh, who was by every standard (except biological) her son. Life was good. So, in reality, when she thought about it, a New Year’s wedding wasn’t such a bad idea after all. The holiday trappings would go along nicely. Everything would be perfect. Sure. 
 “Hello? I’m here,” Camden’s voice rang out from below. “Where’s my god son?”
Michaela carried the drowsy, blue-eyed boy down towards the open arms of his godmother. Camden’s latest hair color was bleached blonde and she’d pulled it straight back into a high, tight ponytail. She’d taken to wearing Wranglers, cowboy boots, and a silver belt buckle. Being married to Dwayne, Michaela’s right hand man at the ranch, had obviously turned haute couture Camden into a true blue cowgirl. She even rode on a regular basis—something Michaela never expected to see.
Josh adored Camden as much as she did him. He reached his pudgy arms out to her as she cooed his name, “Joshy, Joshy boy, come to Auntie Cam.” The little boy almost leapt into his godmother’s arms and snuggled into her soft denim shirt.
            It never ceased to amaze Michaela just how much Camden loved Josh. Yes, he was an adorable little guy, but Camden wasn’t exactly known for her maternal ways. Her idea of a home cooked meal was Hamburger Helper, packaged salad, and a frozen margarita. All Michaela could figure is Dwayne had something to do with it. Since she’d married him, Camden had started cooking (real, albeit not gourmet, food) and had fallen hard for little Josh.
            “I’m feeling a little second fiddle here,” Michaela said wryly.
            “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 she and Ethan married. It was clear to all involved that Summer didn’t want to be his mother. She’d abandoned him as completely as she’d abandoned Ethan. But all the same, when it came to signing away any rights to the little boy, Michaela wondered if Summer would go through with it.
“He knows exactly who his mommy is.” Camden tickled Josh’s tummy and he let out a squeal of delight.
            Michaela smiled and glanced down at her watch. “Okay, I should be home by lunch time. I’m going to run over to Winsor and take a look at that horse Devon called me about, and then swing by the florist. If I have time afterwards, I may try to squeeze in some more Christmas shopping.”
            “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 decide whether or not a horse will fit in my program or choose flowers for my wedding. As far as Christmas shopping goes, I already know what I’m buying everyone. I’ll be in and out in a jif.” She snapped her fingers. “Now 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 little boy giggled.
            Michaela kissed him on the cheek. “Okay, be back in a bit. And remember, do NOT let him watch those reality TV shows.”
            “Oh come on, he loves The Housewives of OC! Those L.A. broads are crazy!” She circled her index finger by the side of her head.
            “No. I mean yes, they’d have to be crazy to be on that show. But no, I don’t want him watching that stuff,” Michaela replied. “Nick Jr. or Discovery Kids if you have to. Actually, I’d prefer no TV time. Play with him.”
            Camden rolled her eyes. “You know I will.”
            “Ok, ok. Be back soon!”
            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. She’d had to poultice and wrap him to help sweat out the swelling. Dwayne would have already checked him and likely rewrapped him when he fed Leo that morning, but it was rare for Michaela to leave the house without a quick hello to her horses. Today was Monday—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 she wanted trained as a hunter jumper. Michaela had done some jumping throughout the years but explained that it wasn’t her strong suit. The owner didn’t care. She’d heard wonderful things about Michaela, going so far as to call her a horse whisperer. Michaela still cringed a little when she thought about that. She just did what she did best—train using empathy and kindness, setting boundaries where needed.
            Leo stuck his head out of the stall as he heard his “mom” approaching. “Yes, I have a treat for you.” She rubbed his face and kissed his nose, his hot breath puffing on her face and hands as he sniffed for the treat. Michaela reached into the front of her jeans pocket and took out a handful of carrots. He nuzzled the palm of her hand as he sucked them up. “You’re not a horse. You’re a vacuum cleaner.” 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 perfume ever could. She bent down and checked Leo’s wraps. As suspected, Dwayne had beat her to the job.
            Speaking of Dwayne, he was probably back in bed. He also took Mondays off and, according to Camden, typically spent them watching reruns of old shows like Gilligan’s Island, Three’s Company, and I Love Lucy. 
            Michaela closed Leo’s stall door behind her and continued down the breezeway. Immediately the young horse started banging against the door of his stall with his hoof. “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.”
            There were twelve more horses to kiss and hand treats to. Some were there for training and some for her lesson program. Michaela gave lessons to kids. She’d also developed a program for autistic children. Nothing gave her more joy than the moment when a kid had a breakthrough because of a horse. Horses were gentle souls who, for the most part, seemed to understand how to help a person grow, heal, and be nurtured.
            After her brief visit with the horses, she headed out to Winsor. Winsor Riding Academy was a nearby high school prep academy and riding school that educated both local and out-of-state kids. It definitely wasn’t for families short on cash. Most of the kids at the school trained in three-day eventing, which Michaela loved to watch, especially the cross-country jumping. Those riders had some serious cajones! Galloping through a course, jumping over stationary obstacles—usually wooden logs that jarred both horse and rider if they hit.
            Devon Winsor, one of the owners, was an acquaintance and had given Michaela a call the other day about an older gelding in their stable. Apparently he was also an appendix—half Quarter horse, half Thoroughbred—and although he’d been an excellent eventer 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 special needs kids. This horse sounded like a good fit, but she wanted to see him up close and personal—preferably without Devon hovering—to make sure. She didn’t know Devon that well and before Michaela plunked down a few thousand dollars on a lesson horse, she needed to take a peek at him. His name was Silverado and per Devon, he was stabled in barn three. The horses had name tags on their stall doors, so she figured it wouldn’t be a problem finding this one.
            Cruising slowly down the long driveway leading up to the academy, Michaela noticed how empty the place was. Most of the kids had gone home for the holiday break. And while there were a few local boarders around, the place was pretty deserted.
            Michaela smiled as she pulled up in front of the barns. Dr. Grace’s truck was parked out front. Grace Morgan was Ethan’s business partner. He’d recently bought into her veterinary practice when he’d decided to make a move from his old partnership. Ethan’s former partner wasn’t willing to learn new techniques and his bedside manner was far from pleasant. That was enough for him to buy the guy out and find a new partner. When Dr. Grace mentioned an opening at her practice, Ethan jumped at the opportunity.
            Grace was well respected and renowned for her veterinary skills in Indio and beyond. She was cutting edge and did a lot of lab work and looked deeper than most to get to the bottom of a number of horse ailments. She cared deeply for the animals and it showed.
            Maybe Grace could vet Silverado for her. She called out the doctor’s name as she entered barn three. No answer. She called again into each of the barns. Still no response. Maybe Grace was up at the main house with Devon? Michaela checked her watch and realized she only had a few minutes left to check out 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 opposite stall banged against the door just like Leo had done earlier that morning. “Ah, another begger,” she said, turning around to see what she guessed was a Dutch Warmblood. He was huge. At least seventeen hands, and had a wild look in his eye. He snorted, weaving his great head back and forth.
            Michaela turned back to the grey gelding. “Looks like your friend has some issues to work through. But you, on the other hand look very sweet.” She liked his soft, kind eyes. Devon said 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. But so far, so good.
            The wild guy across the way though—he was something else entirely. He became more agitated as she stood 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 happening. She swallowed hard.
            “Oh my God.” Her voice came out in a croak. It didn’t sound like her at all. She stared down at a sight she was certain she’d never, ever forget. Dr. Grace lay sprawled on the floor of Geronimo’s stall—dark patches of dried blood all around her.

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