At the Hunter’s Chase van everyone gathered around Dungiven. The big gray horse fidgeted at the end of his reins, his black nostrils flaring and his tulip-shaped ears cocked with interest at the swirl of activity surrounding him. His saddle and bridle gleamed, and the dark blue yarn braided in his mane and tail set off the black and gray strands.
Lynn shrugged into her black jacket, all the while issuing commands.
“Gina, go find Mrs. Hunt at the owner’s pavilion. Kate, is that the course map? Let me see—” Kate held it out and Lynn scanned it while she drew on her boots. Nothing Dungiven couldn’t handle, but she hadn’t had time to walk the course. Dungiven’s regular rider had just been carried out in the ambulance after a fall in another class. Nothing serious, a broken collarbone and a cracked rib, but it meant Hunters Chase would have to scratch its entry in the Classic.
Not if I can help it, Lynn thought. She felt an unearthly quiver of excitement in her belly. Someone handed her a hairnet and bobby pins and she stuck her dark hair up haphazardly and crammed her helmet on top, buckling the chin strap. Kate pinned the stock under her chin. Dungiven snorted as if to laugh at Lynn’s pretensions. Lynn was good, but she was Hunter’s Chase’s manager. She hadn’t ridden a professional show-jumping course in years. The butterflies multiplied. Stop that, she scolded herself. “Time?” she said, and Kate turned her wrist to see her watch.”Five minutes,” she said. “Hold your chin up, I don’t want to stick you.” Lynn obeyed, Kate’s knuckles brushing her throat.
Gina came running up awkwardly in her long boots.
“She says to scratch,” she called out. “She doesn’t want you to ride him – ” she faltered to a halt. Lynn felt color flood her cheeks.
Because she doesn’t think I’m good enough.
Kate’s fingers stilled. Everyone looked at Gina, and then at Lynn. Lynn opened her mouth and found she couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Oh,” she said finally. “Okay. Well. That’s probably for the best.” She stepped back and began undoing from the top down. She took off her hard hat and pulled off the hair net and the bobby pins, letting her hair fall down to her shoulders. No one met her eye; somehow that made it hurt worse, that they knew how keenly she felt the disappointment. “All right, strip him and get him ready for the van. He’s done for the day.”
Lynn went around to the cab of the big twelve-horse trailer and sat down on the running board to take off her boots. It was peaceful there. The late afternoon sun was warm against her face, and the loudspeaker was muted. She could feel muffled hoofbeats through the soles of her boots, and let her heartbeat find its own cadence. The headache that had been threatening all afternoon throbbed with the same pulse. Lynn sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. She should have known Mrs. Hunt wouldn’t let her ride.
When she opened them again, she squinted against the sun that gleamed off row after row of vans and trailers in the rough pasture. The outskirts of Gordath Wood inched forward into the grassy space, sending forth saplings and underbrush, but this close to cleared land the woods were sparse. Unthreatening. Here and there the foliage gleamed red, heralding an early fall, though it was still only September. Gordath Wood always turned earlier than the rest of the woods in Westchester County, though. One of the strange forest’s quirks, she thought.
As if to emphasize its eerie reputation, a swirl of movement deep in the wood caught her