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Authors: Nikki Tate

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BOOK: Razor's Edge
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“Sounds good to me,” I say.

Jasper fills out the form for Finnegan.

We have more trouble finding suitable races for Romeo and Dig in to Win. It takes nearly half an hour to debate where they will run. We wind up entering Romeo in the fourth race on Saturday and Dig in to Win in the last race on Sunday. We can only hope they get in and draw good post positions. If there are more than nine entries, we might not get selected, and we'll have to sit out. Whether we race or not, the horses need to be fed and watered and the stalls cleaned. We push back from the table and get to work.

Dusty Rose stamps her foot and paws the rubber mat in the paddock stall. It's Friday night, and we're waiting for the start of the third race.

“No patience,” Sassy says. She adjusts the lightweight cooler we have draped over the filly.

“She knows it's nearly time to go,” I say.

Sassy moves to Dusty's other side, ducking under the filly's head. She brushes against me. It seems to me she pauses for just a moment before continuing. “Does she know she'll make you a small fortune if she wins this one?” Sassy asks.

“She knows,” I say, letting Dusty lip my open palm. “Does she care? That's another question.” Dusty is the long shot in this race for good reason. We're not the only ones to realize she's out-classed
in this field. That doesn't stop us from dreaming of the big upset. We all have bets riding on the race. Not big ones. We're not stupid. But if, somehow, Dusty pulls off a spot in the top three, we'd feel like idiots if we didn't have money on her. Ryan is the only one in our group old enough to legally gamble, so he's the one who takes our money and places bets for us.

“Where's Tucker?” Sassy asks, checking her watch for the tenth time in the past few minutes.

“Should be here any—Hey, Tucker. Speak of the devil. Your ears must be burning!”

Tucker Lamaze is driving for us today. He's been around forever and drives for pretty well everyone. He's in just about every race today. He trains, too, and also owns a couple of horses.

“Crazy day, Travis. Crazy day.” He takes a quick look around and unzips his fly in the corner of the paddock stall.

“Tucker! What are you doing?” Sassy asks.

“What does it look like I'm doing?”

“Don't you know it's bad luck to take a leak in the stall of a horse you're racing?”

Tucker shrugs. “When a man's gotta go, a man's gotta go.”

“You've got to go right now,” I say, anxiously watching the other horses start to leave.

Tucker zips up, takes the lines and nods. “See you later,” he says as Dusty Rose begins to move.

When Tucker is on the race bike and heading for the track, Sassy and I move to the end of the barn. A couple of propane heaters blaze close to a big tv. Dusty is horse number three, not a bad position for her to start the race. We watch the screen as the horses jog around the track, loosening their muscles, waiting for the starter's call.

Sassy bumps my side and I take half a step away, not wanting to get too far from the heater. At first, I think Sassy is distracted and not paying attention to where she's standing. But then she nudges my side with her shoulder.

I glance down and catch a sly grin sliding across her face. “I'm cold,” she says, her eyes twinkling.

“How's your cat?” I blurt out. What does she mean she's cold? We're all cold.

“Argentina's fine. Thanks for asking.”

Sassy reaches down and grabs my wrist. She tugs upward on my arm.

“Freezing cold,” she says.

I don't have a lot of choice. My arm rises and settles around her shoulder. Sassy burrows into me, snuggling close. She says she's cold, but she feels warm to me.

My eyes never leave the screen as I pull her a bit closer. Part of my mind watches the horses on the tv make their way past the grandstand. The other part of my mind is in total shock. I hardly know Sassy. Do I know her well enough to have my arm around her?
She
seems to think so.

“Here we go,” she says, craning to see.

The horn blares and the starter calls the drivers to the gate. The drivers turn their horses and set off, pacing toward the starter's car.

Harness races begin with a rolling start. As the horses approach the starter's car, the vehicle moves slowly away down the track. Two hinged steel gates stick out sideways behind the car, stretching like massive wings across the track. The horses fall into place, the numbers on their heads matching their positions. Number one is on the inside of the track. Number eight is high on the outside. The number nine horse trails just behind the number one horse, low and inside but just back a bit. The car picks up speed and we all lean forward, watching.

The horses pace quickly, their noses practically touching the gate. Just as we expect the gate to fold back out of the way, the number nine horse crowds a little too close to the number one horse. It's hard to say what happens, whether the number one horse backs off the pace a little or what, but the number nine horse falters. The wheels of the number one and number two bikes touch, causing the number two horse to fall back and get in the way of the number nine. The starter sounds the horn to recall the race.

“Interference,” one of the guys watching with us in the paddock says.

“Recall,” another comments.

A third chimes in with a juicy swear word.

The gate slows, preventing the horses from charging off down the track, but even so, a couple of the drivers have trouble peeling their horses' noses from the gate. These horses are pros. They know the gate means race time. It's like they want to make sure they get a good start.

“Dusty's being good,” Sassy comments. It's true. She doesn't seem rattled by what happened. Tucker has turned her away and completes a big circle down to the left of the grandstand. The last horse has to be guided away by Alice, the pick-up rider who sits astride her tall Appaloosa. It's not until Alice has a good hold of the number four horse's head that the starter can try again.

While the horses get reorganized, Sassy reorganizes her hand. It slips into the back pocket of my jeans like it belongs there. I swallow hard and give her a little squeeze. She smiles and something lurches in my belly.

The horn sounds again, and the drivers guide their horses into position. This time, the number four horse, Yellow Melons, seems reluctant to move up. Yellow Melons is the favorite. She's been racing in California and doing well down there. But she doesn't like the heat. So, this time of year, the trainer moves some of his horses north just in time for the start of some of our bigger money races.

“The Melon-head thinks she's already run her race,” Sassy says. Her fingers wiggle in my back pocket. “That's not a bad thing.”

This time when the starter calls “Go!” and the car shoots forward, the horses get away cleanly. Right away they string out. The number two horse, Charming Eagle, moves to the front with Dusty right behind her. Yellow Melons falls way back and never rallies. The pace is slow, much slower than we were expecting from this field. Dusty stays tucked in behind the leader, looking like she belongs.

“Holy, holy crap…holy, holy crap…”

Beside me, Sassy stiffens.

When the horses pass the grandstand the first time, Dusty is still in second place. As the race continues, things start to get exciting. The field splits into two groups— five horses up toward the front and four behind. It doesn't look like any of the trailers are going to challenge. Charming Eagle seems comfortable and strong. She has a huge, easy stride and doesn't look like she's working too hard. Her driver keeps checking over his shoulder, looking for challengers. When he goes to the whip in the homestretch, he's only waving it around.

That's when the number six and number eight horses make their move. They both pull wide at the same time and charge to the finish, gunning to catch the leaders.

“Go! Go! Go!”

My heart thumps and leaps like a wild thing. What's happening? Dusty was never meant to be a contender! But she's right up there with the leaders. They race across the finish line in a flurry of whips, flying hooves and spinning sulky wheels.

Charming Eagle is the winner by a full length, but after that it's a complete mess. Three horses, including Dusty, come over the finish line practically together.
PHOTO
flashes up on the board. It will take a few minutes for the officials to figure this one out. All of us stay glued to the TV.

The results flicker across the board, and a moment later the announcer's voice echoes over the loudspeaker: “Race number three won by number two, Charming Eagle. In second, number eight, Elegance in a Box. In third, number six, High Road Dancer. In fourth, number three, Dusty Rose…”

I don't even listen to the rest of the results. Fourth? That's way better than we had hoped. We'll get some purse money, which is great. And Dusty Rose ran well. Maybe Jasper's theory was right. Maybe we'll get an even better finish next week.

“Congratulations,
Travis. Can I treat you to coffee and pie? To celebrate?”

“Coffee?”

“Yeah, you know—that hot black stuff people drink?”

“Ha ha.” I know perfectly well what coffee is. What I don't know is how I feel about having a cup with Sassy.

“We can't go now—,” I say.

“Well, duh. I'll meet you after the eleventh race,” she says. “I'm paddocking for Josh Riley in the ninth. But I'll be done by then.”

She says this like she knows I will agree. What am I so worried about? It's not like it matters that she has wild hair, swears worse than anyone I know and occasionally smokes out behind The Bog. And if I'm feeling weird about keeping her warm without knowing her very well, going for coffee is a good way to fix that.

“If you're worried,” she says, misunderstanding my hesitation, “don't be. I have time to grab Dusty after this race, give her a bath, cool her out and get her back to her stall. I can do all that before I come back over here to help Josh.”

I nod. “Fine. I'll meet you after you're done.”

“Good,” she says, stepping away from me. “There's something I want to ask you about.”

“What?”

She laughs. “That's for me to know and you to find out.”

chapter six

I'm not prepared for the hassle I get from my partners when we all meet in the tack room after Dusty has been bathed and cooled out after her race. The minute she was done, Sassy sprinted off to Josh Riley's barn to help him in the ninth. Sassy's footsteps have barely stopped echoing in the barn when Ryan reaches over and gives me a hard slap between the shoulders.

“Putting the moves on Sassy, I hear.”

I don't bother asking how he knows. Nor do I bother correcting him. Sassy is definitely the move-maker. Around here, word travels fast. Someone must have seen us cozied up while we watched the race. And someone told someone else who told Ryan. And Jasper. And my dad. And anybody else who would stand still long enough to listen to the latest gossip.

“How about that race?”

“My plan worked great, hey?” Jasper grins. He's happy we're collecting a check, even if it isn't huge. And he's happy that our mare held her own against good company.

“Coming over to my place?” Ryan asks. It's a tradition we have, celebrating a win at one of our houses. We didn't win today's race, but we're all feeling the need for a celebration.

“Ahh…I…um…”

Jasper raises an eyebrow, and then he starts laughing. “Don't tell me you've got a date! You don't waste any time, do you?”

“Travis?” Ryan's elbow nearly bowls me over.

There's no way to wriggle out of this one. “Yeah. Maybe something like that. Coffee and pie.”

“Coffee and pie? Sweet apple pie?” Ryan asks.

“Or is that cherry pie?” Jasper says, barely able to stop laughing.

Ryan guffaws.

“Very funny. Maybe I won't have any pie at all. Maybe I'll stop at coffee.”

Ryan and Jasper are laughing so hard tears leak out of the corners of their eyes.

“You guys are just way too funny.” My cheeks burn. I'd like to run away, but that would just make things worse. “Shut up, already!”

They pull themselves together. “Make sure you top up the water buckets before you leave,” Ryan says. “Jasper and I will go and have our own little party. Have fun!”

“Don't do anything I wouldn't do,” Jasper adds. They head down the barn aisle, elbowing each other all the way.

What a pair of turkeys. Jealous. They're just jealous. When I can't hear them talking and laughing anymore, I get to work doing the last chores of the evening while I wait for Sassy to show up for our coffee date.

“A little coffee with your cream and sugar?” Sassy smirks when I pour more cream into my mug and give it a stir.

“It's a big mug!”

Sassy cups her hands around her steaming mug. It figures that she drinks her coffee black. “Puts hair on your chest,” she says.

“Your point? Are you saying you have to shave in the morning?”

I duck sideways as a wadded-up napkin sails past my head. “Jerk!” She laughs though.

“Hey! You're the one who brought up hairy chests!” We're on our second cup of coffee, and I'm kind of shocked by how much fun I'm having. Sassy has a great smile and laughs at my dumb jokes.

I've learned a few things too. She lives with her mom and little brother in the same mobile home she's lived in her whole life. The first chance she gets she wants to quit school and go traveling. New York. Hawaii. When she was a kid, her dream destination was Saskatoon of all places.

“Saskatoon? What the heck is in Saskatoon?”

Sassy looks down in her lap and sucks in her bottom lip as if she'd like to take back Saskatoon. “I was a kid,” she says. “What did I know?” Then, out of the blue she asks what I think about the missing tails.

BOOK: Razor's Edge
6.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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