* * *
SATURDAY WAS A WARM, sunny day, just as Win had predicted, and the drive out of Los Angeles was a welcome change from the heavy work schedule Hannah had been demanding of herself for the last few days. Sitting next to Win, wearing a plaid shirt and jeans with her hair pulled back and fastened with a barrette at the nape of her neck, Hannah looked young and vulnerable. The miles sped by, and they chatted easily together, but Win made no further mention of what was so important for her to see at the ranch.
“I’m looking forward to riding today. I haven’t been on a horse for ages. Hope I haven’t forgotten how,” she worried.
“Like riding a bicycle,” he laughed. “Once you learn, you never forget. You’ll do fine.”
Win turned the sleek, midnight-blue Jaguar into a long, narrow drive flanked by split-rail fencing. On either side, rolling green pastures spread as far as she could see. An arched gateway marked the entrance to the ranch. Mounted at the top of the crescent was an imposing round emblem emblazoned with a large metal sculpture of Pegasus at its center.
“Pegasus, the winged horse,” she exclaimed. “What a wonderful name for a horse ranch. Do all your horses fly?”
He smiled. “I’m sure when my dad was so into racing, he wished they could. But it was my grandfather who founded the ranch and named it Pegasus. He named it after the Greek mythological horse in hopes of pleasing my grandmother. She was a very scholarly lady of Greek heritage, very interested in the arts, especially the Greek classics. Grandfather spent his entire lifetime trying to please her, but I’m afraid to no avail. I’m told she detested the West and the ranch, preferring Eastern city life and its more sophisticated offerings. They separated shortly after my father was born. She kept her Eastern townhouse, attending operas and grand parties while he built his empire out here.”
“Sad she couldn’t have enjoyed it with him,” Hannah said. “It’s so wonderfully tranquil here, a truly rare and beautiful setting with the mountains in the background and the rolling green hillsides. Didn’t she ever see the horses race? Not even when the ranch’s prize winners were entered in all the country’s grandest races?”
“No, she never did. And it was a great sorrow to my grandfather. But, oddly enough, he never divorced her. He always hoped she’d change her mind, come back to him, and learn to love the land as he did. My father was raised by Mary Little Deer’s mother here at the ranch. He was an only child, of course, and the lifestyle Grandmother lived in the East was not meant for a boisterous little boy. So he grew up at Pegasus and loved the ranch until his dying day. Now it’s mine, and I must say, I share his deep love for the place.”
They had pulled up to a sprawling Spanish hacienda with a red tiled roof and thick adobe-brick walls. Built around a central courtyard, the house had the look of an early California mission.
“It’s really the picture of the Old West, Win. I can see why you love it here,” she said as he helped her out of the car.
The house’s thick walls and Mexican tile flooring made it cool and inviting. He ushered her through wide carved doors adorned by large bronze knockers shaped like horse heads. As they stood together in the dimly lit hall, Hannah blinked to adjust her eyes. From a stained-glass window at the end, a prism of light slanted across the floor, illuminating a majestic bronze sculpture of Pegasus standing like a sentinel in the massive entry. She stared at the beautiful sculpture. “It looks like it would take flight at any moment, leave its marble pedestal for the heavens.”
“My grandfather had it made in Europe,” Win explained as she continued to study the art piece. “Another futile attempt to win back Athena’s heart, I suppose. The artist who did the piece has become quite famous. Perhaps you know of him—P. J. Mene. He did some smaller renditions of the same subject for him. One is in the garden, but I’m not sure where the others are now.”
Hannah walked closer to the exquisitely detailed bronze statue, gently touching its flowing mane and extended wings. “He certainly captured the spirit of the horse.”
“I thought you might like it.”
“And is this what you wanted so much for me to see?”
“No, it isn’t,” he said, smiling mysteriously. “You’ll have to wait for that,” he teased. “Now let’s see if Mary Little Deer left us a snack in the library.” He led her through wide double-oak doors into a large high-ceilinged room with open carved beams. At the far end was a massive stone fireplace surrounded by walls lined with bookshelves.
“What a lovely room, and such a collection of fine books,” Hannah said, scanning the leather-bound volumes.
“Another of Grandfather’s attempts to please Athena. All the classics are there, with a very special collection of Greek literature and ancient mythology. I’m afraid the architecture he chose when he built the ranch and its name do seem a bit incongruous, but when you know the history of the place, it fits together after all. I’m rattling on about the past too much,” Win said, suddenly glancing across the room. “Sure hope you’re hungry, Mary Little Deer’s done her usual I see. Light snack just isn’t in her vocabulary. Unless she hears the legs groan the table isn’t set, “ he laughed. A tray of assorted sandwiches , a large fruit bowl and a plate of freshly baked cookies with a pot of coffee stood waiting on a long, low knotty-pine table in front of a deep saddle-brown leather sofa.
“It all looks delicious, “ Hannah said. “And actually I’m starved.”
When lunch was finished and cleared away by the silently efficient Mary Little Deer, they went in search of the stables. Once again, Winston Caughfield III was right; it was like riding a bicycle. Hannah settled easily into the saddle on a bay mare. Riding next to her, astride his favorite horse, Alabaster, Win guided them around the barns, past the corrals and the training track, and toward the gently rolling hills. They rode for more than an hour, enjoying the sunny afternoon and clear, fresh air. The bay mare responded eagerly when Hannah nudged her into a canter. Although spirited, the horse was smooth-gaited and perfectly trained, and Alabaster pranced, tossing his head to show off for them both. Win rode with the grace and skill of an accomplished rider. It was obvious how much he loved the horse as he reached over to pat his arched neck when they pulled up after galloping across an open meadow.
He called to Hannah as she reined in beside him. “Over there,” he said, pointing to the ridge. “Just over that crest is where we’re going.” He urged Alabaster into a trot, beckoning for her to follow. At the top of the rise, they pulled the horses up, and Hannah gazed down into a small valley. Several corrals dotted the landscape, each with its own enclosure and hay bin. A feed storage shed stood close by, and a barn was under construction at the far end.
Hannah looked questioningly at Win, but he said nothing, just guided his horse down the slope; she fell in behind him. Hannah’s mare picked her way down the hillside and came up next to Alabaster at the base of the hill. “Well, this is it,” he said, spreading his arm wide to indicate the corrals and structures.
Hannah looked at him blankly. The corrals were empty, and there seemed to be no one around.
“Come on,” Win said. “I want to show you something.” They dismounted, tied the horses, and walked toward the newly erected barn. He swung the door wide for her to enter.
“Almost finished. Some work inside and some paint outside left to do,” he said with satisfaction. “This week will do it, and then we’ll be ready for occupancy. Don’t you think?” He turned to a very puzzled Hannah.
“Yes, it does seem to be almost finished,” she responded. “Are you planning on moving some of your horses here from outlying pastures or the main barn?”
“No,” he said. “I’m not. This is where I thought we could put your adoptees.” His eyes were twinkling with delight now.
“I read those articles you gave me last month,” he said soberly. “And I know how you feel about what’s happening to the American wild horses, the mustangs. You told me yourself about wanting to do a series of stories on the Adopt-a-Horse Program sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management and all the problems plaguing the plan. I thought if you had some space to save a few yourself, it might ease the pain I know you feel for those animals. And we do have room here at the ranch to take in a few.” He looked at her hopefully, wanting so much to please her and let her know he understood how seriously she took this cause.
“Win, I can’t let you do this for me,” she said. “Even if I wanted to, it’s not right. And besides, I could never afford it. At best, I might scrape up the money for the initial adoption fees.”
“Who says it isn’t right?” he broke in quickly. “We can make it strictly a business deal. You can rent the space at a price you can afford, and I’ll give you the feed to start you off. Simple as that. Now it’s settled. How soon do you want to see about the adoption? I’ll even throw in a little assistance in the training program if you’ll settle for one old trainer, me. We’ll turn them into trail mounts and find homes for them. When you begin to turn a profit, you can start buying the feed, stock, and all that. I know there must be good homes to be found for well-schooled riding horses.”
She hugged him. “Oh, Win, it’s perfect.”
“One stipulation,” he cautioned her sternly. “You do your articles on saving the horses, but leave all the corruption, especially Vincent Rossi, out of it. He’s major trouble.”
Her brow furrowed, “Well, if he’s involved in any way, that will be hard to do. But I’ll try. I give you my word on that.”
“Good. Then let’s get down to business. As I understand it, all you need is a $125.00 adoption fee and a horse trailer to haul the animal. Do you have any idea where to go to get these horses? Are they rounded up out in Montana, Wyoming, or where?”
“I’ve gotten some information, Win, but I’ll get more next week. I think a lot are in Nevada. I’ll find out.”
“Good. I’ll wait to hear from you about it in a few days,” he said. “Now we better get back to the ranch and to the city. I have an early-morning deposition to prepare for if I’m going to continue to have any law practice.”
All the way back to the ranch house, she chattered excitedly about the mustangs, the Adopt-a-Horse Program, and their plans. Win smiled happily at her, knowing the project was sure to bring her closer to him. The idea had come to him almost immediately after she had shown him the tiny newspaper clipping about the BLM’s horse adoption program. Her passion and love for her work involving the humane treatment of animals really did impress him. She was dedicated and tireless in her efforts to expose animal abuse and exploitation. He was really looking forward to helping her, but mostly, he had to admit, he just wanted to be important in her life. He’d known that much after their first date.
They had met so unexpectedly. She was seated with friends in the box next to his on the opening day of the Penbrook Park Races. Quite by accident, they were introduced by his friend Neil Jacobs, whose thoroughbreds were running that day. She immediately impressed him with her quiet, unassuming manner. Neil had spoken of her articles and told him she was sure to be a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize one day.
Long ago, after losing his first wife to cancer, Win had resigned himself to a solitary life. But looking at Hannah’s young, eager face today, he felt how much he wanted her near him. At forty-five, Winston Caughfield III was a handsome, distinguished man, and he was very aware that he was fifteen years her senior. But when they were together, the age difference seemed of no importance to either of them. In many ways, she seemed mature far beyond her years, perhaps because of her total commitment to her work and the tragedy of her young husband’s death. She seldom spoke of her loss; only once had she mentioned that ill-fated Chicago flight. She was very courageous. He looked over at her now, long stands of hair loosened from the barrette streaming in the wind as she rode. He never would have suspected that there was such strength in that delicate figure riding beside him, but more than once he had seen her face her adversaries with determination. Some secret source of energy seemed to well up and spill out of her. He’d known when she started her investigation into this horse thing that she would be relentless. He looked forward to sharing in it, but at the same time he felt a foreboding sense of fear for her. Above all, he wanted to protect her and keep her near him.
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Genre - Adventure / Romance
Rating - Adult
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