Ashley tossed the currycomb into the oak supply box and began braiding Injun's dark mane, weaving in black ribbons and tying off each strand with a tight little double-knotted bow. The chestnut thoroughbred rubbed her cheek with his velvety snout, nipping at one of the gold buttons on her riding jacket.
"Hey, quit that! I've got to look good when we go into that ring." She laughed, hugging the big horse around the neck. He nickered softly, as she went back to braiding his long mane.
"We’ll look great out there, won't we, buddy? A pair of redheads having fun."
She grimaced, shaking her head. Was she really ready for this? She loved riding, and especially jumping this big horse she had bought on a whim, little more than a year ago. Once healthy, he turned out to be the enthusiastic jumper that guy had been promised, and then some! Her vow to Keith to take it slowly evaporated when she realized he was so eager to attack fences.
Now, after ten months of hard training, they were entered in her first tournament, the first major amateur shows of the Northern Illinois season. Nothing like starting big.
Her elation at getting back to the love of her teen years with a wonderful animal under her was sadly dampened by Keith, that very morning.
“No way! You’re not going,” he had said.
“What are you talking about? Of course I’m going. This is what we prepared for.”
“No! You could get hurt… or worse. I forbid it! You’ve gotta take some respons…”
“You what!” She spun on him, smoky eyes sparking fire. They glared at each other for a moment. Then she gathered her riding jacket, black helmet and crop and exploded from the room, the front door reverberating as it crashed closed behind her.
She sighed, shaking her head at the memory.
What nerve. Who does he think he is, forbidding me to ride?
Being almost in her third month won't interfere with her ability to jump the course, nor will it endanger the fetus. She held a pregnancy with utter tenacity, playing tennis into her eighth month with her first two children with no ill effects.
She doubted he really worried about losing a baby he didn't even want. How had this even happened, as rarely as they managed sex anymore? That’s all it was for Keith.
They stopped making love years ago.
Partly my fault, I suppose. Not easy being romantic when I’m scouring the shadows for monsters, just when he’s getting it on.
This strange, uncontrollable panic… The Terror she called it… blossomed early in their marriage. All was wonderful at first, as they kissed and touched, trembling with delicious passion. She’d close her eyes, descending into her special imaginary place, that tranquil little meadow, surrounded by massive oaks and firs. She’d even imagine the tinkling of a brook, tumbling over small rocks.
Mon amour! Mon amour!
That lustful French voice, whispering to her, spilling goose bumps down her spine. Where did it come from? Exciting, but kind of spooky, too.
Then something would change. Ardor and joy were quickly squelched by the specter of a fierce horned apparition, wickedly hooked beak and raking claws, charging from to woods, screaming death. She knew it was imagination, but The Terror clutched her heart, drying up her juices, stiffening her limbs with panic.
She’d fight through it, trying to relax, steadying her breathing, wanting to please her husband. She never discussed it with anyone, feeling foolish, but The Terror had no real bearing on what was going on between them now.
Keith's real concern seemed less about her being hurt, and more over not wanting to be saddled with caring for their children if she were laid up from a bad fall… a fear without basis. Maria loved her kids and was always there whenever Ashley needed her. Ricky and Beth were crazy about “Aunt Maria,” and they were getting quite good at speaking Spanish with her.
Well, she’d deal with Keith later. It was time to get Injun tacked up and out to the ring. They were due to ride in less than thirty minutes.
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Genre – Romantic Suspense
Rating – PG13