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Horseman Spell by Cheryl Rhodes

Horseman Spell

by Cheryl Rhodes

Musa Publishing

eBook ISBN: 978-1-61937-334-1

Pam never expected to be spending time at the racetrack again, but a romantic connection with Scott – her ex-boyfriend’s brother – throws her back into the exciting world of horseracing. As if mysterious phone calls and unknown late night visitors weren’t enough trouble, big brother Lyle returns to town.

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Chapter One

Pam swung her car off Thomason Road and pulled into Joanne’s driveway. Her old friend was descended from the pioneering Thomason family, early settlers in the area who were rewarded with a street named in their honor. The two girls had been fast friends since first grade. They rode the school bus together, went horseback riding through the trails that wound through the abundant Thomason property, graduated high school, and kept in touch even though life pulled them in different directions. She parked her car, frowning thoughtfully at two strange trucks in the driveway and sincerely hoped that Joanne was not attempting to fix her up with another of her husband’s friends.  Stepping outside, Pam leaned against the door to close it with her hip, drew in a deep breath of the fresh country air, and studied the land for a moment. A light wind ruffled her blonde curls and she pushed them out of her face, unsuccessfully trying to secure the loose strands behind her ears. She smiled as she looked around the property remembering when this section of Thomason land had been fertile pasture where cows had once grazed contentedly. As the siblings grew and married, the parents divided up the land and the Thomason kids built homes and stayed close to the original homestead. Joanne and her husband Bob had done a terrific job of landscaping, turning most of their yard into an attractive Japanese garden with stone walkways winding between shrubs and perennials that required little upkeep. The only resident animal on this land was a sleepy black Labrador in the carport who lifted his head, blinked his eyes at Pam, and then rested his head on his front paws.
A young man in his late teens walked around the side of the carport clutching a chainsaw in his hand. When he saw Pam he grinned and raised his free hand in a casual wave. He stopped at the green truck and swung the saw over the tailgate into the bed. He turned to the older woman.
“My aunt and uncle said I can borrow it.” He offered as way of explanation. “Dad’s saw just burned out and he was near the end of the job and wanted to finish today. I’m Denny Thomason.”
Denny held out his hand.
“Pam White.” She shook his hand marveling at his manners.
“Oh, you’re Aunt Joanne’s friend. You live on a farm over on Bramble Road.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the general direction of Pam’s farm and then pulled his keys from a back pocket.
“That’s right. So which Thomason is your dad?”
“Ben. We live down the road apiece, but then so do most of my relatives.” He chuckled and jiggled the keys in his palm.
His laugh was contagious and Pam grinned at him. Yes, the Thomason family was certainly a big brood.
“So, what do you, Denny? Are you still in school or have a job?”
“I graduated in June. I haven’t found a job yet so I’m helping out around the farm until something else comes along.” He fiddled with his keys, bouncing them in his palm.
“Farming not in your blood?” Pam joked.
“Well, I like living here on the farm. It’s all I’ve known. But I don’t like the work. Dad pays me for my help and I’m trying to save my money to take a computer course at the college. Maybe get into computer repairs. There’s good money in that.” The keys slipped through his fingers, bounced off his boot, and landed in the gravel.
“Yeah, you’re right. I use a computer all the time, but when something happens to it I don’t have a clue how to fix it.”
“What kind of computer?” Denny bent down and retrieved his keys.
“It’s a Carson. I bought it a couple of months ago. It has more bells and whistles on it than I’ll ever figure out. I mostly use it for word processing, e-mail, and surfing the Internet.”
Denny nodded. “A lot of people would love to have a computer like yours. The next time you have a problem give me a call and I’ll drop by to take a look. Anyway, I’ve got to get home. Enjoy your dinner.”
He snickered as he walked around to the driver’s door and pulled it open.
“Denny, is there something you’re not telling me about dinner?”
“Have you ever eaten one of Aunt Joanne’s meals before?”
Pam nodded and scrunched her face, remembering how Joanne liked to cut corners. Rather than wasting time shopping for ingredients missing in the pantry when making a meal, she often made crazy substitutions. A few years ago she watched Joanne prepare roast beef in the crock pot. Unable to find a can of beef broth in the cupboard, Joanne substituted with a can of diet coke. She chopped an onion and carrots and added them to the pot. There were no mushrooms in the fridge. Not a problem for Joanne. She opened a can of cream of mushroom soup and dumped it in. As a final touch she pulled a bag of strawberries out of the freezer and dumped them into the crock pot. Almost immediately Joanne noticed they weren’t the beets she’d meant to add. She left them in there to cook with the roast anyway. Apparently some of Bob’s friends were coming for dinner that night and Pam was glad she hadn’t been invited! She walked behind the trucks and noticed the red pickup had a bumper sticker advertising a feed store in town, the same place where she bought her horse’s grain. “Do you know whose truck that is?” Joanne pointed to the red pickup.
Denny shrugged. “I dunno. Belongs to some guy in the house. I’ve never seen him before and they didn’t introduce me.” He tugged the door shut, waved, and drove off in a light cloud of dust.
Slowly shuffling up to the house wondering what horrors awaited her, Pam knocked on the door. In three seconds it swung open, and a woman grasped her hand and pulled her into the house.
“Great! You’re here. Give me your coat.”
Shrugging out of her light blue windbreaker, Pam passed it to Joanne who in her haste to hang it in the closet had forgotten to shut the front door. Just like Joanne. Too impatient to finish things properly. Some farm girl! The rule of the land was to shut doors and secure gates so the animals couldn’t escape. Pam shook her head, wondering what might be happening with the dinner that was surely falling victim to Joanne’s shortcuts.
“Thanks for inviting me. It’s nice to have an evening out.”
“You work too hard.” Joanne shook a finger in Pam’s face. “It’ll do you good to get away from the computer for a while.”
“Something smells scrumptious.” Pam drew in a deep breath. Seafood cooking in lemon, thyme, and rosemary if she wasn’t mistaken. “Is that salmon?”
“You guessed it! My brother-in-law caught a few salmon yesterday and dropped one off for us. I made your favorite chocolate cake too.” Joanne lowered her voice conspiratorially. “We’ve invited someone Bob knows for dinner. Wait till you see him. He’ll knock your socks off!”
“Joanne!” Pam’s eyes widened and she glared at her old friend in exasperation. Her suspicions about the strange truck in the driveway were true. She was becoming prey to another game of matchmaker.
“Well, it’s time you started meeting some decent guys. Besides he’s a horseman so I know you’ll like him.” Joanne picked a dish towel up from the floor. “Bob sold him a farm a few weeks ago and he has a stable of racehorses. He’s trying to convince Bob to invest in the racing business. Fat chance! My conservative husband thinks being a realtor is a high risk job.”
Crazy about horses, Pam had worked for a stint at the local racetrack and dated some of the horsemen. Was it only five years ago? It seemed a lifetime away. Although she still loved horses and owned a retired pacer, she was happy in her current career as a travel writer and not interested in becoming involved with the racetrack again. Joanne stepped around Pam to close the front door and chattered away about Bob’s new friend.
“He’s gorgeous. Tall, brown hair, dreamy eyes, and muscles like you wouldn’t believe.”
“Gets them from mucking out stalls I suppose,” muttered Pam, desperately hoping the horseman was not someone she knew. She and Joanne entered the dining room where Bob was leaning against the fireplace mantel and the other man had his back to the women.
“Ladies,” greeted Bob. “Pam, I’d like you to meet Scott.”
Pam had put her hand out to shake the newcomer’s, but snapped it back to her side as if it had been burned. Scott wheeled to face her.
“You!” Pam backed up a step.
“You!” The accusation in his tone cut off and filled the room with an awkward silence.
They stood motionless glaring at each other.
“I, uh, take it you’ve already met.” Bob cleared his throat and twirled the beer bottle in his hands.
Scott set his bottle down on the fireplace mantel and Pam scurried to the front hall. She grabbed her coat from the closet and curled her fingers around the front door’s handle.
“Don’t leave on my account,” the sarcastic voice behind her mocked. “I’ll go.”
Looking over her shoulder, Pam saw Joanne and Bob frozen in the doorway of the living room. They looked dismayed, but she couldn’t deal with them now when they only thing on her mind was putting some distance between her and Scott. She gripped the doorknob tighter, turned it, and marched out of the house. Hearing Scott’s footsteps close behind, she quickened her pace, reached the car and fumbled for the keys.
“I want to talk to you.”
“Forget it. Nothing you have to say interests me.” Pam tugged her car door open and slid into the driver’s seat. Before she could slam the door, Scott maneuvered his body between the open door and the driver’s seat. He braced his hands on the roof of her car and used his body to prevent her from closing the door. Pam desperately fought not to notice his thigh muscles bulged against his blue jeans as he flexed against the door at her eye level.
“You need to hear this.” Scott slapped the roof of her car once.
Pam raised her eyes and his dark eyes stared back into hers. Frown lines wrinkled his forehead and he scowled at her. Pam swallowed, remembering how many times she’d seen that expression before.
“Leave me alone or I’ll scream so loud I’ll have every person within five miles running to help me.”
“When are you going to grow up?”
They glared at each other. Scott bent down, his mouth drawn into a hard, thin line, his face getting closer to Pam’s. She pulled the seatbelt out, clicked it into place, turned away to put the key in the ignition, and started the car. Scott backed away from the car, palms toward her as if he were trying to ward her off. Just before Pam slammed the door shut, she heard him say, “You can’t avoid me forever.”
That’s what you think, she told herself, as she shifted into reverse and gunned the car down the driveway. She backed onto Thomason Road and jammed the car into drive. One final glance up the driveway and she saw Scott standing in the same spot, arms crossed over his chest. She shook her head, partly to clear it, partly in disbelief that she’d run into that nasty man again. What would Joanne and Bob think of her thoughtless behavior, running out before dinner was even served? Better to run out now than face the misery Scott would put her through if she stayed.
Driving home on autopilot, Pam’s mind was revving a million miles an hour, a frenzy that had not settled by the time she reached her destination a few minutes later. She heaved out a huge sigh and parked next to her old fashioned whitewashed house. The picket fence veranda grinned at all guests who came onto the property, and she grinned back at it now, leaning into the car seat, feeling safe. A barn and a couple of outbuildings dotted the attractive acreage that was sprinkled with a variety of fruit and nut trees. The place had remained empty since her parents died in a boating accident three years earlier. Pam was living in Victoria at the time, working as an assistant editor of a travel magazine produced by the British Columbia Department of Tourism, and couldn’t part with the old homestead despite offers from several vendors. Luckily the McDuff family next door had been terrific about keeping an eye on the property, mowing the lawn, and collecting any junk mail or flyers that an ambitious salesperson might have dropped off on the front porch. They were thrilled when Pam returned to the farm intent on making her living as a freelance travel writer. Unfortunately the McDuffs had decided to retire and move up to Osoyoos. They had packed their belongings and left the week before. Pam glanced over at their farm, a ghostly silhouette in the twilight. The new neighbors should be moving in soon and she hoped they would be as friendly as the McDuff family.
Stepping out of the car, she locked it, and walked past the cottonwood trees to the pasture. It was early October and still mild enough to leave her horse out all night. Whistling for her Standardbred gelding, Ranger, he trotted over, nickering loudly, expecting a treat. Formerly known as Rocket Ranger, he had raced as a youngster but was now Pam’s good old riding horse. She scratched him behind the ears and gently rubbed the white blaze that graced his long, soft nose. Walking along the fence line, Pam stopped at a tree to pluck two juicy apples, and held one out to Ranger who eagerly pulled it from her hand and began munching. Pam took a slow bite from the remaining apple, remembering she hadn’t eaten dinner and was hungry. She’d been rude to Joanne and would phone her later to apologize; she just wanted to wait until she was sure Scott had gone home. After offering her apple core to Ranger, she wandered restlessly around her yard as darkness settled. Moths fluttered against the light on the back porch and frogs croaked from one of the swampy areas in the rear field. Finally she returned to the house to be greeted by a ringing telephone. She rushed to the living room and pulled the phone out of its charger.
“Hello? Hello?” She heard a click as the receiver was placed down on the other end. Must have been a wrong number, she shrugged it off.
Aimlessly she paced the living room straightening pictures on the wall and fluffing up couch pillows before finally plunking down in front of the TV. She was unable to concentrate on the movie, her thoughts betrayed by an image of Scott. Darn that man! His unexpected appearance had rattled her more than she cared to admit. He’d always been nasty to her without reason. What had she ever done to him? Annoyed that she couldn’t push Scott out of her head, Pam jumped up, stalked to the living room window, and parted the curtain. Not expecting to see anything in the black night, she was startled to see a light on in the McDuff house, but just as suddenly the light went out. What’s going on, Pam said to herself, her heartbeat quickening as she wondered whether or not to call the police. Burglars would find nothing left to steal. Perhaps it was the new owners checking on things. How odd to stop by after dark. She saw headlights blink on and watched twin taillights trail down the McDuff driveway, turning south towards Cloverdale.
Another hour passed before Pam called Joanne to apologize.
“Has he gone yet?”
“He left just after you did. What was that all about? Are you okay?”
“Sorry about dinner. If I’d known Scott was going to be at your house I would have stayed home. He is the most horrid man I’ve ever met.”
“So, give me details,” said Joanne.
Squeezing her eyes shut, taking herself back to a time she would rather forget, Pam heaved out a good sigh. “I’ve never told this to any of my friends before, but I used to date Scott’s older brother, Lyle, about five or six years ago. He worked at the racetrack and I’d hang around his stable and help him out. He was Scott’s older brother and Scott disapproved of our relationship and never let me forget it. He fluctuated between being nice to me and being nasty to me. Mostly nasty.”
“You never told me about Lyle before.”
Pam flopped down on the couch. “Well, I was only about twenty-five at the time and the racetrack was my secret life. My parents always told me I should stay away from the racetrack. I guess they didn’t want me getting involved with a horseman. I never told anyone about Lyle. It was a crazy, exciting time of my life and I wanted to keep him all to myself. It seems so long ago and at the same time it seems like only yesterday I was with him. He was a great guy. We got along really well. We understood each other and had tons of fun.”
“Well, what went wrong?” Joanne asked.
Getting up from the couch, Pam walked to the window, pulled back the curtain, and looked into the dark yard. “He left. Moved to Ontario to race his horses. Made it clear there was no room for me in his plans. I was depressed and moved to Victoria to get away from Cloverdale and the track.” She paused, heaved a deep breath, and let the curtain slide back into place. “I didn’t want to take a chance on running into Scott and having him gloat that his brother left me.”
“Why didn’t Scott like you?”
Groaning, Pam shook her head and squeezed her eyes tightly shut again. “I have no idea. Maybe he didn’t think I was good enough for Lyle or thought I would take his brother away from the track. I honestly don’t know. There was always this tension between us and seeing him tonight brought it all back. I don’t want to be anywhere near Scott and listen to any hurtful things he has to say to me.”
“That’s too bad.” Joanne paused and puffed out several short puffs of air. “Hmmm.” She softly whistled a tune. “Well. Um. He seemed like a decent guy, friendly enough. One good thing – he wasn’t able to finish giving Bob his sales pitch on why we should invest in racehorses. Thank goodness! Bob must have been suffering from temporary insanity to even consider that kind of get rich quick scheme.”
“Remember the old saying. You can’t use honest and horseman in the same sentence. Those guys at the track are the most optimistic people I know. Every horse is going to be a winner but only one horse can cross the finish line in first place. There are more dreamers hanging around the track than anywhere else.”
“I’ll try to convince Bob of that,” Joanne laughed. “I doubt he’ll invite Scott back after what happened tonight.”
“How did he meet Scott anyway?”
“I thought I told you. Bob sold him a farm. Somewhere around here I suppose. I never got around to asking where. I can find out from Bob and tell you so you don’t run into him accidentally.”
“No thanks. I’d rather not know where he’s living. It’s hard to believe Scott can even afford a house. He must have a good stable of horses.” Pam let her thoughts trail off. “Anyway, I just wanted to apologize for bailing.”
“Good thing you didn’t stay for dinner. The new recipe I was trying didn’t turn out too well. The salmon came out kind of weird. Had a chocolate taste to it. I don’t know how that happened. It would have been embarrassing to serve it to guests.”
Good old Joanne. Pam was still laughing after she hung up. Nothing would ever change about her old friend. She’d left everything to the last minute again and to speed things up had baked the main course and chocolate cake in the oven at the same time.
Waking in the middle of the night with an idea for an article pulsating through her dreams, Pam groped on the nightstand for the notebook and pen she always kept there, and felt nothing. Darn! They were still downstairs where she’d been jotting some notes before coming up to bed. Half-awake she swung her legs out of bed and stood up, shivering against the cold that settled in her house overnight. Grabbing a sweater off the floor where she’d dropped it before falling into bed, Pam sure-footedly walked to the landing. She paused at the window at the top of the stairs, rubbed her hands over her eyes pushing the sleep out of them, and took a second look. Yes, definitely taillights at the end of her driveway. Was the driver lost and had backed into her driveway to turn around? Perhaps it was a couple of teenagers looking for a quiet spot to neck? She twirled the rod to close the Venetian blinds, pried apart a couple of slats to peer through, and was astonished to see the white back up lights turn on as the vehicle inched down her driveway. This was too strange. Pam flicked on the switch that lit the upstairs landing and walked downstairs. A quick flick of a switch turned on the outside lights over the front door and the floodlight that illuminated the driveway and most of the yard. She peeked around the living room curtains just in time to see the vehicle pull out of her driveway and turn northbound down the road. Good. She retrieved her notebook and pen and returned to bed.
* * * *
The following afternoon Pam took a break from her writing and saddled up Ranger. He pranced around in excited anticipation of a trail ride and Pam guided him onto the quiet country road. She gave the McDuff house a long hard look as she rode by but nothing appeared out of place on the vacant property. Swiveling in the saddle to get a better view of the barnyard, she wondered if she should ride up closer and check things out, but the house no longer belonged to her friends and any problems would belong to the new owner.
Ranger automatically turned down the path to the woods and they spent a couple of hours riding through the trails. Ducking low hanging branches and brushing cobwebs out of her face, Pam smiled at the small wildlife they encountered. The woods were full of birds and squirrels. Sometimes the odd deer bounded through the trees. Not today though. All the Bambis were in hiding. Finally she headed home and when she passed the McDuff property she noticed a flurry of activity. Several pickup trucks were parked on the property. A couple of men balanced a couch and sidestepped to the house.
“New owners moving in,” Pam explained softly to Ranger, who didn’t seem at all interested more intent on returning to his own pasture where he knew food awaited him.
Slinging the reins over the fence, Pam pulled off the saddle and gave Ranger a good rub down and a couple of apples before turning him loose in the field. She glanced occasionally at the McDuff property, watching men unload the trucks, and listening to their muffled laughter and yells that carried across the fields. Then suddenly they were gone. Altogether, as if on cue like a perfectly executed water ballet, their trucks swiftly exited the farm, leaving the house in a lonely silence.
The sun slowly set, and although Pam peeked out her window a couple of times throughout the evening, the house next door remained bathed in darkness. Apparently the new owners weren’t quite ready to spend the night in their new home.
The following day Pam took Ranger out for a ride, slowly guiding her horse past the property next door. She was feeling more curious about the identity of the new neighbors, but there was no sign of life on the old McDuff farm. Once she was certain the new neighbors had fully moved in she would bake an apple pie and bring it around. It had been awhile since Pam lived in the country, but her mother had always brought a baked treat to welcome new neighbors. Did people still do that? Certainly not in the big city. When she lived in the apartment in Victoria no one knocked on her door for introductions. She frequently ran into fellow residents and said a quick hello as each continued on their way. City lives were too busy to stop for idle chitchat.
Returning from her ride, Pam saw a couple of trucks and a four-horse trailer parked near the barn on the McDuff land. Three horses in the field made her glad new neighbors were fellow horse owners. She squinted at the horses and thought they might be Standardbreds, the same breed as Ranger.
“Might be racetrack people,” she told Ranger a little nervously. Don’t be so foolish, she admonished herself. Not all racetrack people are horrible. Some of the nicest people she had met in her life owned racehorses. Darn her ex-boyfriend Lyle for leaving such a bad taste in her mouth about the racing industry! Ranger was chomping on the bit, anxious to get home, but Pam held him in, staring down at the McDuff farm wondering if the new owners might be people she knew. Nobody appeared, and tired of fighting Ranger, she let him have his head and take her home.
After she finished putting Ranger away it was still warm outside and Pam decided to do some writing out on the veranda. She brought out a glass of iced tea, a plate of cookies, her notebook and pen, and settled into one of the wonderful Cape Cod chairs her father had built years before, made more comfortable from the added cushions. Engrossed with her writing she looked up when she heard a distant yell. Over at the McDuff property three horses galloped wildly along the fence line. Her eyes blinked against the strong sun, trying to focus. Three men were watching from the far fence and she wondered if they were all moving in or if they were helping a friend get settled. One man moved apart from the other two and jumped over the fence into the field. There was something familiar in the way he crossed his arms and stared right at her. She looked at him, her eyes narrowing to get a better view of the man. Scott! Her notebook dropped to the patio floor and one hand unconsciously flew up to cover her mouth. What was he doing there? Helping a buddy from the racetrack move in? She hoped he wouldn’t be hanging around there too much and tried to sink further into the chair, willing the cushions to swallow her up, hide her from his burrowing glare. No matter how hard she willed him to quit looking at her, he didn’t, and she couldn’t pry her eyes off him either. In horror Pam watched as the two other men got into a truck and drove away, leaving Scott alone on the property.
“Oh, no!” She gasped aloud. “Scott can’t be my new neighbor!”

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