Thoroughbreds and Trailer Trash

By: Bev Pettersen

Chapter One

It wasn’t stealing. But Jenna peeked over her shoulder as she fingered a bag of horse vitamins, aware Wally didn’t want anyone to see. She slipped the precious supplements into her backpack, along with a tube of dewormer. Her little pony needed all the help he could get.

Her phone buzzed, making her jump. She noted the Philadelphia number and eagerly flipped it open. “Hi, Em,” she said. “How are classes?”

“Fine. Other than biology, the spring semester’s a cinch. But I need more money. When are you getting paid?”

“Hopefully today. And I’ll transfer it right away.” Jenna rubbed her warm forehead and forced a smile, determined to match Em’s carefree spirit.

“Thanks, sis,” Em said. “You’re the best. How’s Peanut?”

“His hair is falling out but good vitamins help.” Jenna dropped a guilty glance on the bulging backpack. “Today he even trotted a couple steps.”

“Good to hear.” Laughter bubbled in the background and Emily’s voice drifted. “Look. I gotta go.”

“Wait—” But a harsh beep replaced her voice. Jenna slowly pocketed the phone. She understood college courses were demanding, but it would be nice if Em would visit some weekend.

Wally Turner, manager of Three Brooks Equine Center, poked his balding head into the feed room. “There you are.” His gaze drifted over her pack, and his voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper. “Keep that bag shut. And if you drop by my office on the way out, I’ll give you the rest of your overtime in cash.”

“Great.” She blew out her relief. “I’ll be right along. I told Frances I’d sweep for her. This place needs a cleaning.” She grabbed a broom, wishing their longtime receptionist did something more than crossword puzzles.

“No worries. It’s another week before the new people arrive.” But the lines around Wally’s mouth deepened, and it was clear he was worried. Little wonder. The Center had just experienced a messy buyout, and the incoming owners had a history of ruthlessly culling management.

She swept every inch of the tiles, grimacing at the stubborn clumps of gum mingled with the spilled grain. Fortunately Wally planned a cleanup. However, she had bigger problems than a messy workplace. She dumped the waste into an overflowing garbage bin and detoured to pick up her pay.

The extra money was a blessing. Wally had definitely thrown a lifeline by offering cash for massaging additional horses. She didn’t want to agonize about her sparse checking account, but Em’s living expenses seemed to be skyrocketing.

Wally’s door was shut when she arrived, his voice droning incomprehensibly through the office wall. His closed door always meant stay out, so she dropped her loaded pack on the floor and flexed her stiff shoulder.

Other than a hang-up about office privacy, Wally was usually lenient and it would be no problem to duck out early, send Em the money and still have time to massage Peanut. Of course, that was assuming her shoulder held up. Massage was physical work, doubly hard since she was trying to learn a more traditional technique. She’d found a new library book on equine therapy, but was stuck on page thirty-eight and so far hadn’t learned much of value. Her mom had taught her more than anything she’d ever found in a book.

The door slammed at the far end of the aisle and a workman stalked in, dented hard hat clamped under his arm. The construction crew had been working nonstop, rushing to build a storage shed for the new owners. Occasionally they ducked into the air-conditioned Center to grab a drink from the pop machine. But this man didn’t stop for a drink.

His stride was long and forceful. Metal-toed boots pounded the concrete then quieted on the rubber mats. Sweat-stained shirt, eyes as dark as his hair, and heading this way. She straightened, prepared to defend her spot in line.

“Wally Turner in there?” Impatience roughened his words and he barely looked at her. A bit of a surprise. Men were usually a sucker for long legs and blond hair, and often just a smile had been enough to extricate her from a tight spot. A smile wasn’t going to work with this man though. Clearly he liked to bulldoze.

“Yes.” She squared her shoulders. “But I’m also waiting—”

His scowl jerked from Wally’s door to her face, cutting off her words with the force of his displeasure. The female exercise riders had been detouring past the construction site all week, smiling and flirting with the crew, but it was doubtful they’d sent many jokes this guy’s way. There was something hard about him, the same ruthless element that had emanated from her father’s cellmates.