Below is the opening chapter from my new book, when you’ve read it, please do the Poll when you’ve read it. Its nothing like Tom!
Amber opened the back door to let the dogs out into the garden and smelt the new morning. Dew lay thickly on the grass and the faint smell of the Peonies was in the air. Somewhere the Blackbird was singing despite the snufflings and barging about. Another day, another routine of lessons, mucking out, cleaning tack, walking dogs, just where was it all going? There seemed to be no direction any more.
The dogs came scurrying in ready for the next stage of their wonderfully ordered routine which included toast and trying to get the cat’s bowl down off the dresser before he had finished. All too soon it was time to go to the yard, and once again the car wouldn’t start. Ratty, the black Collie cross sat patiently on the front seat as the flooded petrol leaked away, Amber stroking her absentmindedly. Mutantmutt jealously put her head on her shoulder. The third turn and the engine sprang into life and they were on their way. She was still the first at the stable-yard and savoured the moment of the eager heads appearing over box doors and low whickers of complete cupboard love in aid of getting their breakfast earlier. The others always missed this reception as the heads were firmly in mangers when they arrived. Swiftly stepping over the yard dogs, Amber went to the feed room and collected the premade feed bowls. There was something to be said for an orderly routine, five minutes in the evening was worth half an hour in the morning, as was for new stables with feeders in the doors, so there was no barging in and out of boxes as the horses tried to snatch a quick mouthful. Munching noises filled the yard, and Amber took the time to look at the horses feeding, all ten were eating well, no rugs slipped and hay nets all emptied, good. Another routine day, even Keith, the stallion was feeding as if he never thought of anything else.
The sound of tyres heralded the arrival of the others – car sharing from the town as usual. Slamming of doors and barking, her dogs could never get used to the two Tschitzus that belonged to Tanya. Well at least this was a job where dogs were welcome. The three girls went straight to the tack room for a brew without looking at the horses, they knew Amber would have already fed, and the kettle was soon on.
‘How did the Pub quiz go last night? Amber asked
‘We won –YAY!’ replied Tanja with a smirk.
‘Great, I suppose it’s the White horse for the finals then? Tanja nodded and the conversation foundered. As usual, there wasn’t quite enough water for Amber’s coffee but she was used to it. As usual she then said, ‘ I’d better do the feed bowls’ and left them to it. Shutting the door, she heard the conversation begin with giggles, and it hurt as much as usual. She looked down and saw she had her purple jodhs on again with the lime green t shirt, would she ever learn – at least this time they hadn’t laughed and then shook their heads in disbelief at her fashion sense and said so. Working alone with Tanja or Chloe or Sue was no problem, it was just them as a group made her feel fat and awkward and forever the outsider. Maybe it didn’t help them all living in the town and being that generation younger than herself. She should be used to it by now.
Feed bowls rinsed, it was time for mucking out, Amber went to collect her wheelbarrow – at least she got the best tools this way, she saw Sheila arrive. Well at least maybe today she might get a hack out with the kids, and not more lunging….To her surprise, Sheila was coming straight in her direction and smiling. She was late middle aged with iron grey hair and ran the yard with orderly precision. This Amber appreciated but not the withholding of information such as the daily ride order, maybe it was a control thing, but Sheila would never let the daybook out of her locked office. She was still smiling, this was not good at this time of the day. Usually she went straight to the office and didn’t emerge till the yard was being swept – as if there was the most enormous amount of paperwork to be done.
‘MorningAmber, could you just pop into the office with me?’
Amber felt sick and sicker as Sheila twiddled with the locks.
‘Do sit down’, even worse, it must be the sack.
‘Now as you know, there’s been some conversation about the future of Keith’ Amber didn’t but this was a better turn than expected.
‘Last summer was a nightmare with the mares arriving just as the school hols were starting, let alone with the lack of boxes. So we’ve decided to put him free range’ Sheila smiled conspiritually.
‘Most of the owners as you know left their mares here for three weeks or more especially when they had to be collected at the weekends. So we’re going to put Keith up onto the hill grazing at John Brown’s place, and run the mares with him. He’s an experienced stallion man, having had his own Foresters in the past’
What has this to do with me? Thought Amber and then the penny began to drop. She was the only one who could drive the box.
‘Now we will need someone to go at least once a week with the mares as most boxes won’t get up that lane, you’ll have to liaise with John, so that you can do trips loaded both ways. He’s happy to remove the any shoes too’. Amber’s heart sank to her boots, all that driving, all that time away from the yard.
‘I’m sorry but this will fall onto your shoulders, but we will try and get Tanja’s licence sorted out’ Sheila was continuing, ‘We will pay you for all your time away from the yard as if you were here’ I should think so too Amber thought,’And overtime if you get held up, you may take the dogs of course’ Crumbs getting overtime was like blood and stone usually.
Sheila was still smiling and Amber realised that for once she hadn’t been sure of her reception, she may have even expected Amber to refuse. For a moment the opportunity was there and yet again, with her slow thinking times she’d missed the opportunity, it was gone, for Sheila was standing as if to usher her out.
‘I’m yes, well fine, but I may need some help unloading’
‘John will do that, he’s met Keith’
Amber was grasping for straws
‘What about my regular clients? I’d hate to lose that continuity that we’ve tried to build up (One of Sheila’s own mottos)’
‘I’m sure we’ll be able to work round, the other girls can always load and get everything ready and I’ll keep an eye on the book’ Sheila patted it’s closed cover, smiling yet again –oh no, she’s lying, thought Amber but couldn’t see any way to escape or run away from the abyss opening before her. The others would never lift a finger to help her. The one thing that kept her going was that bunch of cheeky kids who came regularly to ride after school. Oh, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, she always reacted negatively to new things, time away from the yard might be good, the dogs would enjoy the walk,, maybe she’d have to go and catch the mares, if she could just hang onto her 4.30 slot…….she gave Sheila a small smile and went to muck out.
6.30 had the dogs investigating the back garden in case there’d been any intruders during the day, while Amber sat on the back step in the sunshine nursing a beer before she made any decisions about food. All the events of the day were going round and round her head, she was imposing all the answers and snap humour she should have made, how she could have improved her 3.30 lesson which hadn’t gone well – until she found that the kid had been in bed all week with a cold and the mother had pushed her to come, arh, parents. Eventually even Amber realised she was gong round in circles and it was best to put things to bed. She drained her beer and went to see what enticing ready meal she would devour tonight – well at least the dogs would. Blinking as she went into the dark room, she heard the phone ringing in the hall and stumbled over dogs, piles of books and old carpet in her haste. She got there in time, and was regaled with a deeply chocolate male voice asking for her in person. If only she thought!
‘It’s James Whitaker just confirming that I’ll be arriving tomorrow morning at about 12 and I hope all the paperwork has reached you!’ Oh crumbs, she’d forgotten the new tenant next door, why wouldn’t her parents sell the place, not keep going on about keeping it for her to knock through when she needed to expand the house…
‘Yes, everything’s in order, your boxes have been put in the garage, I’m right next door, so please just come and knock when you arrive. Are you ok with dogs?’
‘Why are they moving in too?’
‘No, just I have two and they may meet you first!’
He rang off and Amber not for the first time wondered if she was in the right job, she loved horses, but working day in and out with them was robbing her of her joy in them, whereas she could very efficiently organise cleaners and lettings for next door. Still tomorrow was the start of her weekend off. She would for a short while be a horse free zone, and after whathisname had arrived would go shopping, yes, Primark was calling.
Promptly at 12.00 the dogs outside began to bark and Amber had her hand on the door handle before the bell rang. She’d managed to find some reasonable jeans and a fairly ironed looking t-shirt ready for her trip to the smoke and was impatient to get going. She had the keys in her hand. What she hadn’t expected was the discrepancy between the voice and the person. For what stood on the doorstep was thin enough to be an escapee fromBelsen and tall enough to regularly have concussion from the cottage beams. Another charity case of her parents no doubt, reduced rates again, it would be nice to make a decent profit on the place one day….All this flashed through her head as she prepared herself to smile. Of course, at this moment Mutantmutt launched herself at her favourite part of the new love of her life which was usually the stomach but this time was the back of his legs. She propelled James through the front door and onto Amber who fell backwards with James landing on her. Momentarily winded and speechless,Amber could do nothing but stare into a startlingly deep brown pair of eyes. Ratty had come to join in and now was doing her growling at strangers routine with her lips bared.
‘You did mention dogs didn’t you!’ James smiled and levered himself off, Amber was still trying to breath and couldn’t answer. He took her hands and hauled her to her feet as she gasped for breath.
‘I’m ssooo sorry’ was all she could finally master, ‘Ratty, Mutt basket! ‘. The two knew it was a step too far and sloped off, nobody loved them anymore. James was smiling, smiling too much, oh boy she’d really blown it. She was stumped for words and so just gave him the keys.
‘I really am sorry, that’s never happened before, I’ll keep them under control.’
‘Do they do that double act every time?’
James’ good humour was defusing the situation.
‘Let me show around’. Amber led the way though the gap in the hedge and opened the front door of the next door cottage. James followed, and she saw him automatically ducking, maybe his height wouldn’t be such a problem, he was trained.Amber went into her automatic explanation of the water, heating, bin bags and so on, while James pleasantly nodded and took in what she was saying. Model tenant and landlady stuff and she was out and shutting the door in ten minutes. Then the embarrassment kicked in, she couldn’t get in the car quick enough and escape.
James sat wearily on the sofa and shut his eyes, all that smiling was just too exhausting, what he would have given to have kicked that bleeding dog in the nads, down the garden and onto the road! Still when you’ve got a really cheap deal on a let and some peace and quiet to write what can you do? At that very moment the dogs, now shut in began to bark. He leapt up and banged on the adjoining wall and to his relief it worked. Once he had everything set up he could wear his headphones as he wrote and that would shut the noise out. He saw some of Amber’s jodhs drying on the line and was reminded, first time he’d been astride a woman for months too – and she was nicely rounded!
He steadily fetched his boxes out of the garage, and unpacked. Laptop worked, internet functioned – you never could be sure in the back of the woods. He found his favourite Cezanne and put that over the fireplace, removing the dark hunting print. In the kitchen he found no food, just a few tired teabags. A quick trip onto Tescos website soon sorted that out, he was buggered if he was doing the chatting in the village shop with the locals stuff, he’d done his duty on that for years. Medicines and bath stuff into the small bathroom – no shaving for him for a while. He slung his clothes into drawers, jamming them shut ignoring the previous ironings, he’d just grabbed a selection when he’d left. The thick quilt on the bed was appealing, a quick snooze, till the goodies would arrive, then down to work. He settled himself contentedly under it, not even kicking his shoes off.
Keith, is a completely stupid name for a horse thought John as the stallion reversed himself out of the box, but oddly apt. Especially as he was such a good specimen. A real Welsh cob, true chestnut, quarters to eat your dinner off and a huge firm crest covered by a flowing white mane, he wasn’t going to think blonde. The horse raised his head and neighed with the imperious voice of his sex, his body quivering with excitement. Tail held like a banner, he then proceeded to try and cavort around the yard. John could see it, he was yelling for where the girls were, or if anyone wanted a fight. So with an adept yank of the rope he brought the horse’s head down and the rest of him to a halt. He stroke the quivering nose,
All in good time mate! He lead him through the stable yard, and out towards the field where he would spend a couple of nights settling in with John’s own two mares until the visitors started arriving. Releasing the rope, he expected Keith to take off to his mares who were standing under the tree, completely gobsmacked at the arrival of their Adonis. But no, Keith for some reason was convinced that the action was all in the yard and he paced backwards and forwards by the gate, yelling his head off. His pace picked up and finally he turned and swung in an arc as if to jump the gate. John strode to the gate and waved his arms and yelled, diverting the stallions attention at the last minute, sending him swerving up the field where he finally saw the mares and the penny dropped. Keith ponced off up the field to check out the action. Relieved, John leant on the gate to make sure all went to order. Amber joined him at the gate, having swept out the trailer and stowed some bits and pieces.
‘ Well, I suppose that was par for the course for him. I know he’s a splendid Cob, but I can’t help but think, he’s well just a little blonde…….’ Amber remarked. John turned to her surprised, ‘Most women are go-ey over stallions and their lovely manes! But I suppose when all you can think about is sex, it does stunt the brain cells’ He laughed and then they both blushed furiously.
‘Coming in for a cup of tea?’ He babbled, darn he really didn’t have time for this…
‘That would be great, can I let the dogs out?
‘Sure, I’ll let Rex loose, he’s not at all aggressive when he’s off the chain’ They walked back to the yard and the shaggy old Collie was released to greet some new faces with apparent delight. Amber followed John indoors, she’d known him for a few years through the stables and meeting at shows, but the usually quiet man was more talkative on his home territory. The corridor was lined with hooks laden with old jackets, and hats with boots and boxes on the floor. The kitchen was warm through the Aga and painted in pale cream with the ever present huge table littered with paperwork. On the walls hung some tack and rosettes from shows. A home from home Amber felt, she could never really do the horsey thing at home because the parents still owned it and kept an eye on her, through Jane her cleaner.
Steaming cups in hand, they both sat at the table for a few minutes in silence, both trying to think of what to say.
‘I suppose Sheila sprung this on you in her usual manner?’ John finally asked
Amber nodded,’ I just hope it doesn’t keep me away from the yard too much’
‘I did tell her I could come and collect anytime after hay is done’
‘Yeah, but you’d charge more!’ They smiled, finding their mutual company away from yard and people suddenly easier than expected., but nevertheless drank their coffees swiftly.
‘Have you any idea when the first mare’s arriving?
‘Your guess is as good as mine, I’m afraid Sheila does the only giving relevant information thing, I expect she’ll ring you the night before’
Amber glanced at her watch,’ Now I must head back, I need to time these journeys for future trips’
They both went out through the cool dairy this time, Amber admiring the old equipment still being used,
‘Are you still making cheese then?’
‘Just a bit, after Dad died there just hasn’t been the time, I’ll have to get some paid help this summer I think’
‘There’s definitely a market for it here, with the increase in holiday people, we have so many more riders now in the summer’
‘Well I’ll see, I just hope that dumb blonde doesn’t complicate things too much!’ They both laughed and looked up to the paddock where nature was taking its due course. Amber collected the dogs who were all lying together in the sun and drove away. Nice bloke, she thought, funny how you never really get to know people when you’re always rushing around. Then an image of John just now came to mind – he’d been wearing an almost peacock blue pair of dungarees which were too short for him, with an orange spotted t-shirt and the standard farmer’s sunhat in green, not just me with no colour sense!
Copyright Anna Rashbrook 2012