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Authors: Adriana Kraft

Cassie's Hope (Riders Up)

BOOK: Cassie's Hope (Riders Up)
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What happens when a
fiercely loyal widowed half-Ute cowboy meets a fiery redhead with an Irish
temper to match? Cassidy O’Hanlon

Cassie, to her
friends

has set aside her
Chicago career for six months to train racehorses for her dad after his stroke.

 

Furious the
interloper has shipped in a ringer from the Chicago circuit to his Wyoming
turf, Rancher/trainer Clint Travers sets out to put her in her place. Sparks
fly immediately, but after their rocky start, the two quickly forge a
passionate relationship, and he follows her to Chicago.

 

When it becomes
clear someone is drugging Cassie’s horse, Clint sets out to solve the mystery,
but storms off in a cloud of wounded pride when suspicions turn to him.

 

Can love trump
pride?

 

 

Riders Up

Book One

 

Cassie’s Hope

 

by

 

Adriana Kraft

 

 

 

 

This
book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are
products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not
to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual
events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

 

Riders Up: Book One

Cassie’s Hope

By

Adriana Kraft

 

ISBN: 978-0-9894693-4-0

 

 

 

Copyright © 2013 by Adriana Kraft

 

 

B&B Publishing

1970 N. Leslie St. #560

Pahrump, NV 89060

 

 

Cover by

Rebecca Poole

Dreams2Media.com 

 

 

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this
book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written
permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical
articles and reviews.

 

 

Riders Up

 

 

Book One: Cassie’s
Hope

Chicago, 1996

Available now

 

 

Book Two: Heat Wave

Iowa, 2000

Release date: April,
2014

 

 

Book Three: Willow
Smoke

Chicago, 2002

Release date: August,
2014

 

 

Book Four: Detour
Ahead

California, 2004

Release Date: December,
2014

 

 

 

1996

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

“You must know your
heart. Trust your blood.”

The setting sun cast a
warm glow on the reddish clay hills of eastern Utah. Resting one foot on the
lowest corral rail, Clint Travers paid close attention to the soft words spoken
by his grandmother. She
stood patiently,
hands clasped at her waist, gazing at the eastern horizon.

Clint loved the
bent old woman whose dark hair hung in a single braid over a heavy shawl. He’d
fight mountain lions barehanded for her. But she wanted him to see the world as
she saw it, and that wasn’t entirely possible.

“You are a good
grandson. Listen carefully. A red ball will rise from a great lake in the east.
Those flames will make for you much joy and much pain. Do not be afraid. They
are your destiny.”

“What do you mean,
Grandmother?” Scowling, Clint pushed away from the fence. “I’ve never been good
with riddles.”

“I speak no riddle.
I speak of your future.”

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

“Dad, I’ve got a
life. I want to live it.” Arms folded and shoulders squared, Cassie glared at
the tired old man slouched in the battered arm chair.

“Now, Cass. I’m not
askin’ much. Six months. You can manage that for old time’s sake, if nothin’
else.”

Cassie dropped her
gaze. Before his stroke, Tug O’Hanlon had been such a vibrant man, full of
unstoppable energy and everlasting dreams. Now her father sat with blankets
draped across his thin shriveled frame, his energy sapped. Yet, somehow he was still
able to dream.

She shook her head.
“Old time’s sake.” Her voice strained from remembering. “Maybe we recall the
past differently.”

She paced slowly. “Broken
down trucks, rusting horse trailers, rundown hotels—if we could afford them. Watching
you chase rainbows from one racetrack to another. I don’t know about old times,
Dad. As I recall, they weren’t so grand.”

“They weren’t so
bad, girl. You saw a lot of country most kids don’t ever see. You got to dream.
Many folks don’t never dream. You know horses inside and out, better than most
who make a living with ‘em.” The old man paused to catch his breath. “And we
always had this place to come back to.” He squinted. He choked. “Could’ve been
worse.”

Cassie winced at
the sudden ache behind her eyes.
Not now. Don’t give in now.
But she
found herself kneeling by her father, holding his wrinkled hand. “I know. We
had a lot of good times. I’m sure it could’ve been worse. And through it all,
you never gave up this land.”

Gruffness returned
to his voice. “You sell your land, and you risk having nothing left.”

How many times had
she heard that aphorism in her twenty-seven years? Scenes raced through her
mind’s eye, each one tumbling into the next. Spending summers on the road with
him when school was out, getting caught up in his dreams, mucking the stables,
exercising horses, cheering wildly when their horses ran well, and wondering
where the next meal was coming from when they didn’t. And coming home to the
farm and Aunt Lizzy with little to show for their efforts. He’d always said he
wasn’t looking for a derby horse, just a consistent stakes contender. So many
risks taken—but never the farm.

He’d lost so much. Even
her mother, who deserted both of them before Cassie was two. Abigail O’Hanlon
wanted more out of life than chasing dreams from one bush track to another. Apparently,
her mother also wanted more than a chubby red-headed baby girl.

Pressing a fist to
her mouth, Cassie stared hard at the man with shocking white hair and skin as
fragile as paper hunched awkwardly in his chair. She’d nearly lost him—but how
much did she owe him? She bristled. “And now you want me to give up my life so
you can have one more shot at your dream?”

 “I didn’t say give
it up. Put your career on hold for a few months. That group home you slave at
will always take you back.” Again, he coughed. “You got to go look at the
horse, Cass. I tell you, she’s somethin’ exceptional. You look at her and you’ll
know. She’s got class and desire. Work with her. If she don’t pan out, you can
go back to your social work job and I’ll grow weeds from my rockin’ chair. I
just got to know how good she really is. And the clock is ticking—hers and
mine.”

And what about my
clock?
Cassie wanted to scream at the shell of a man. She’d turned her back on horses nearly
a decade before. Instead, she’d done college with Aunt Lizzy’s help, and then
graduate school. Now she held a steady job as assistant director at an inner
city group home—not lots of money, but far more predictable than horses.

Damn horses,
anyway! They were as cantankerous, beguiling and seductive as men. She’d done
her best to swear off both.

Her father played
on her emotions like a skilled flutist.

“I’ll go take a
look at the filly.” Her voice faltered. Her shoulders sagged. “But I’m
promising nothing.”

“That’s okay. Just
look at her. Maybe I’m slippin’.”

Cassie saw the edge
of a smile creep onto his lips but chose to ignore it. “Which paddock is she
in?”

“Second one on the
east end of the barn.”

“It won’t take
long. Don’t get your hopes up. I’m just gonna look at your latest rainbow.” She
hesitated. “You know, you could sell off just a little land and retire like a
king. You’re sitting on a gold mine, being this close to Chicago.”

Tug blinked. “I
know, but I ain’t done yet. Now go look at Cassie’s Hope—she’s a real looker,
has a lot of spunk, and gleamin’ chestnut hair. No wonder I named her after
you.”

 

Cassie picked her
way through the familiar barn, reacquainting herself with ancient smells. Until
her dad’s stroke three weeks earlier, she’d made a weekly trek out from Chicago’s
Northside to see him. Yet she’d adamantly refused to have anything to do with
the horses. They were part of her past.

Her dad could spin
a web of intrigue and hope that would seduce a concrete statue to blink. Most
people liked Tug. He was friendly, loyal, and could be counted on for a loan,
even if he had nothing to lend.

“Well, where is
this damn horse?” she groused, striding briskly through the barn.

“Ah,” she whispered
as she reached the paddock. “So you’re the cheese in the trap he’s set.” The
filly nickered softly and stepped forward to sniff her visitor. Cassie
scratched the animal’s neck and the horse nodded.

“Oh, you really are
a lover, aren’t you? Damn, you’re a beauty. Straight legs, tall but compact, a
good chest for lungs, and that indescribable fire in the eye. Yeah, you’ve got
promise.”

Cassie waved her
arms, encouraging the filly to dash to the other end of the paddock.

“Oh, my. You’ve got
poetry, too,” she groaned, assessing the chestnut’s smooth gait.
Don’t get
hooked on his dream.
“Okay, I don’t want to do this. But if I’m to be fair
to Dad and you, I’m going to have to feel you under me.”

After Cassie
returned with a bridle, saddle blanket and saddle, Cassie’s Hope stood rock
solid still for tacking up. Cassie led her charge out of the paddock to the
small half mile track her dad maintained for training. Then she hefted herself
into the saddle for the first time in years. She sat a little timid. The filly
shied and skittered.

“Okay, gal, so you’re
not the pony that little girls dream about,” Cassie muttered, regaining her
seat and control of the horse. “Now we’re not gonna do anything stupid. We’ll
just trot a bit and then gallop out a half mile or so.”

“Golly, you love
this, don’t you? Your trot is as smooth as glass. Okay, let’s see how you like
to run.”

With hardly any
encouragement, the filly tucked her chin to her chest and easily moved into a
controlled gallop. After a half mile Cassie settled the filly back into a trot.
“I’m sure you could go miles, but not me.”

Back in the paddock
area, Cassie brushed the chestnut, checked her hooves and let her cool down. “Damn
it, Hope, I was wishing you’d be just another nag that Dad fell in love with—beautiful,
but over-rated. Girl, you’re a lot of horse. You got your grand-daddy’s genes. Seattle
Slew was a runner. Could you be it? Dad would be so thrilled.” Suddenly she
could hardly see through her tears. “He’s lived his whole life for you, and now
he can hardly lift a pitchfork.”

 

“She’s a nice filly.”
Cassie cast a cautious glance at her father, who hadn’t moved from his rocking
chair during her absence. “A pleasure to ride. But a race horse—who knows?”

“I know.” He
paused. “And you know, too. You never were able to outfox your old man.”

Letting out a sigh,
Cassie sat on the arm of a chair opposite her father. “Yeah, she’s got a hell
of a lot of potential. But you know better than I, there’s a lot of room
between potential and being a bonafide stakes contender.”

“Of course I know. That’s
why I need you, Cass.” His hands balled into fists. “It’s why the filly needs
you.”

“You’ve got her
nearly race ready. Why not just send her to another trainer? There must be a
dozen who owe you favors and would be more than willing, especially now, to
continue her training and get her started racing.”

“No. No.” Tug’s
voice rose. “I’ve gotta be part of it. If I send her away, I’m out of it. You
and I, we can work together.” His voice became crisp and clear for the first
time that afternoon. “Develop strategy. Pick the right spots for her. You can
train the horse, but you’ll need help at track management, pick’n the races and
so on.”

Cassie stood and
absently wiped some dust off one of her old riding trophies that sat on a
display shelf. “Even if I wanted to do this,” she said, “and I’m not saying I
do, I can’t just walk away from a paying job.”

“They’ll hold it
for you. You know that. And I’ve got six other horses who’ll be runnin’ and
trainin’. Was trainin’ eight more, but their owners moved ‘em to other barns. Can’t
say I blame ‘em much, but they coulda waited a little longer. You’d take in the
trainer’s percentage on whatever we make.”

“I don’t have a
license,” she said, knowing that was no gigantic hurdle.

“No problem, you’d
be my assistant. Besides, you’ll pass the exam standin’ on your head.”

“I’d have to live
out here,” she mused. “Too far to commute daily. Maybe I could sublet my
apartment for six months. That would help a lot.”

“You’ll do it then?”
His voice squeaked.

Guilt, excitement
and fear washed over her in such quick succession that Cassie couldn’t sort
them out. Was she yielding? Hell, it’d been a done deal before she’d left Hope
in her paddock. “Yes, I’ll try. Six months. No more. She is a very promising
filly. I Still don’t know how we can afford to do this.”

“We can afford it.”
Tug’s eyes twinkled. “I got somethin’ else to tell you. Didn’t wanna till after
you made up your mind. Didn’t wanna influence you too much…I’ve agreed to sell
eighty acres to Mr. Dillingham, who’s been after that land for the last five
years. After taxes and everybody’s fees, we should net a little over a million
dollars.” Nodding softly, he said, “For once, I think we can afford to chase
this dream.”

“Holy shit!” Cassie
shrieked. “You did what? Why now?”

“There’s plenty of
farm left for horses. Thought maybe I’ve been too stubborn for my own good. This
may be my last chance, Cass. Holdin’ on to land is an important principle. But
bein’ land poor probably don’t make much sense either. It’s yours, you know. I’m
just gonna share some of it with you for awhile.”

“Oh, Daddy.” She
bent down and kissed him on the cheek. “I don’t know what to say! We could go
out and buy contenders. Horses that could be competitive stakes runners right
away.”

“I know that.”

She saw a quick
flash of that familiar stubborn streak set deep in his cat-gray eyes.

“Nope. The key is
to raise a big horse—not just buy it. Any rich fool can buy into a good race
horse. That’s what baseball owners do when they ignore their farm teams. It
takes skill to raise a contender. Later, we might upgrade our broodmare stock.”

“Broodmares! Now
hold on.” Catching a glimpse of her father’s long range dream, Cassie
stiffened. “Money or not, I’ve only signed on for six months. I’ve got a life. People
depend on me.”

 

- o -

 

“You’re going to do
what?” Dirk Johnson exclaimed, his jaw dropping.

“Like I said, I’m
taking a six month leave of absence to train some horses for my dad,” Cassie
said. “I’ll be at our farm out in McHenry County.”

Cassie doubted if
the short dark-haired man had been out of the city twice in his life. Dirk
worked in the financial district by day, but lived for the night: for opera,
ballet, theater and fine restaurants. She’d met him when he was seeking help
for a younger brother. They were friends. He might see that differently. But
they were just friends. She’d been clear she wasn’t looking for an intimate
relationship.

“It’s…it’s just
such a shock,” he said. “I can’t imagine you working with those huge beasts. And
how can you be away from the city that long? You need to be where life
pulsates, where things happen. My god…McHenry County?”

Cassie flushed. “Not
all of life takes place inside the city limits of Chicago. There’s no moat
keeping me from going back and forth. You could even come out and visit.”

“Fine for you to
say, but the city is my life. I know where I’m going,” he said, peering with
disdain. “I love it here.”

“And I don’t?”

“It doesn’t appear
so. I thought you would tire of working with screwed up kids soon enough. That’s
not surprising,” he hurried on. “But I hoped you would develop a nice lucrative
private practice. Then we could see what the future held for us. You’d be done
playing around...but now?”

“Playing around!” She
spat the words out, then felt her cheeks burn, horrified that people at nearby
tables were staring. “I’ll have you know, Mr. Has-It-All-Together,” she
whispered, “I’ve not been playing around with those screwed up kids. And I have
no desire for a lucrative private practice. I’m sorry I’ll never be worthy of
you.”

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