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The Saddle Creek Series 5-Book Bundle

The Saddle Creek Series 5-Book Bundle

Christmas at Saddle Creek / Dark Days at Saddle Creek / and 3 more
edition:eBook
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Dark Days at Saddle Creek
Excerpt

Alberta Simms studied the black clouds gathering overhead and hoped the rain would stay inside of them for just another few minutes. All day long the sky had swirled with indecision, but now it darkened with the inevitability of a massive downpour.
Easy does it, boy. There it was again. The voice. Her heart quickened. She examined the crowd at the horse show, her eyes darting from one person to the next, alert to every facial movement and gesture. Nothing. Was she imagining things?
Twice now, she’d thought she’d heard a mental transmission, but both times she hadn’t been able to locate the origin of the voice. It was unique, somehow. Was it a human, and not an animal, that she’d heard? She set her jaw. Forget it, she told herself. If it’s real, it’ll come again.
Alberta, or Bird as she was known, heard a distant rumble of thunder. She wondered if her sister’s class would have to be cancelled. Now her fingers were crossed.
Determined to remain undistracted by the weather or the voice, Bird leaned on the white rail fence and refocused her attention on the action in the show ring. Her younger sister, Julia, was doing a great job of steering her chestnut pony around the course of jumps. Theirs was the fastest time so far, and all the rails were still up. Julia had talked of nothing but showing since her first-place finish at the Palston Classic in June. Now it was August, and they were back for the Summer Summit.
It was the last class of the day, and Julia was the last rider. The skies blackened dramatically as the pair made the final turn into a line of jumps. Small raindrops were beginning to fall.
Earlier that day, Bird and her formidable horse, Sundancer, had won their class, setting high expectations for the other riders from Saddle Creek Farm. Bird replayed the moment in her mind with considerable pleasure. It had been close to a perfect ride. Sunny was responsive and brave, and Bird was on her game. Horse and rider were totally synchronized — listening and moving and thinking as one.
After that, though, the entire day had felt odd — ominous, even, with the weight of humidity and the threat of rain hovering. Red-haired Kimberly and her mare, Moonlight Sonata, had gone off course and were whistled out. Liz and Pastor had crashed through a jump. But perhaps the barn’s luck was about to change. If Julia and Sabrina kept this up, there’d be two firstplace ribbons for Saddle Creek Farm.
Sabrina, Julia’s pretty Welsh pony, was certainly intent on winning. Her tiny pointed ears strained forward and her mouth was tense with effort as she cantered over the blue and white oxer and took three quick strides to the red and green vertical. One stride, then over the yellow boards with her knees tucked up neatly under her chin. They landed safely and raced through the finish gate.
Julia’s face broke into a huge grin.
Bird slapped her sister’s calf when she trotted out of the ring. “Good job, Julia!” She gave Sabrina a pat on the neck. Good job, Sabrina! Did you have a little trouble on the far corner?
A huge flower popped up!
Bird smiled. A woman had opened her yellow umbrella just as Sabrina and Julia were cantering past. It might have seemed like a surprisingly big flower to the pony.
You did well to stay focused, Sabrina.
Think I’d spoil my ride because of a stupid flower?
Bird laughed out loud. Other horses would have spooked.
Julia slid off Sabrina and removed her helmet. “I wish Mom had stayed to watch that.”
Bird hugged her little sister. “She’ll wish she did when we tell her.” Eva had been around earlier in the day, but something had “come up” and she’d left before Julia’s class. Bird snorted. Probably a manicure or a shoe sale. Maybe lunch with a gossipy friend.
Big drops of rain landed on their heads. Julia looked up at the sky. “It’s really starting now.”
And start it did. Thunder rolled and the clouds let loose their burden. All around, people hurried for cover. Umbrellas opened and horses were dragged into trailers. People crowded under trees, dashed for their vehicles, and ducked under overhangs. Within seconds, Bird and Julia were soaked to the skin.
“Let it rain!” yelled Julia as they ran for the trailer with the pony. “I had the best time of my life out there!”
“I think you won first,” called Bird, running beside her.
You think? We won for sure! corrected Sabrina.
Bird dropped the rear ramp of the horse trailer, and Sabrina trotted right up beside the other horses. The sisters jumped in, and together they stood dripping as the rain pounded on the aluminum roof.
“Holy,” said Julia. “I’m glad this waited till we finished.” Bird nodded. “Yeah. Your ride would’ve been called off with this thunder.”
The rain was coming down so hard that a curtain of water streamed down the trailer door opening, inches from the girls. Julia put out her hand and squealed as water sprayed everywhere.
“Bring it on,” laughed Bird. “We couldn’t get wetter if we tried!”
That’s just stupid, commented Sundancer. The big chestnut gelding stood on the other side of Sabrina. I was perfectly dry until now.
Suck it up, Sunny, answered Bird. A little water never hurt anybody.
Tell that to a cat!
Sundancer always took an animal’s point of view, Bird observed. Where is everybody?
Moonie and Pastor are here in the trailer. Duh.
I can see that, smartass. I meant Aunt Hannah, Liz, and Kimberly.
They’re in the truck.
Bird spoke aloud to Julia. “Let’s go for it. When I count to three, get out. We’ll close up the trailer, run to the truck, and beat the rush out of here.”

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Mystery at Saddle Creek
Excerpt

CHAPTER 1: BACK AT SADDLE CREEK

Tan ran as fast as he could through the dense underbrush, back toward the safety of his makeshift camp. Somebody had seen him! He stumbled on a root and fell to his knees, panting hard. He had to get away, get back to safety. There’d been so much blood! He scrambled to his feet and ran on. So much blood! He had to get the sight of it out of his mind.

Ten whole days!
Alberta Simms wiggled her toes and shivered with pleasure. She and her sister were staying at Saddle Creek Farm with their Aunt Hannah for ten whole days while their mother and Stuart were on their honeymoon. The girls had returned to the farm on Saturday night, after the wedding, and Alberta was already loving every minute of it.
Everybody called her Bird. Her long, dark hair was lightly brushed and needed a trim. She had tawny skin and sparkling, somewhat mischievous, deep brown eyes. Her graceful, slight limbs gave her a younger appearance than other fourteen-year-old girls, as did her ripped denim shorts and old white T-shirt. But Bird didn’t care. It was the perfect outfit for a day on the farm.
Ten. Whole. Days. Bird could think of nothing better in the world as she sat on the top step of the kitchen stoop, taking in every detail. Sunday’s persistent drizzle had greened up the fields. On this perfect Monday, late in June, the sky was pure blue and songbirds chirped madly. Bird took a deep lungful of sweet air and stretched like a cat.
As she waited for her Aunt Hannah — they had to get groceries, then pick up Julia from a friend’s house in Inglewood — her eyes absorbed the peaceful scene across the driveway. Two horses grazed in the front field, sleek and shiny in their summer coats. Charlemagne, Charlie for short, was jet black with a white blaze and four white socks. Sundancer was a tall, coppery chestnut.
The chestnut’s head shot up. What’re you looking at?
You, you handsome son of a gun.
Can’t blame you for that.
Sunny, you never change.
Bird smiled broadly at the horse’s enormous ego. Last summer, against all odds, she and Sundancer had won the trophy at the Haverford Fair. It had been a total upset. Sunny’s clean, careful jumping skills and quick turns had rendered the competition speechless. And out of luck.
Sundancer was a champion jumper; there was no question about that. More importantly, though, he was her best friend.
Bird absently picked at a scab on her calf as she waited; a mosquito bite gone bad. Aunt Hannah could take her time. She’d happily sit here all day long.
Life hadn’t always been this good. Her mother, Eva, had gone from job to job and man to man, and Bird had never known her father. He was a rodeo star whom Eva had met at the Calgary Stampede, and he’d left town long before Bird was born. She had been named Alberta after the province.
Bird knew she’d been a difficult child. At first everything had seemed fine, but that all changed when Bird was six. That’s when she’d stopped talking. The doctors called it selective mutism, but for Bird it just meant that she couldn’t get the words out of her mouth. Soon enough, she’d stopped trying — at least with humans. Animals, on the other hand, were no problem. Bird had always had an exceptional ability to communicate with them.
Eva probably would’ve had trouble coping with a perfectly “normal” child, but there was no way she could handle a girl who refused to talk. In desperation, she’d sent Bird off to Saddle Creek Farm to live with Aunt Hannah. It was a good decision for the entire family. Bird found what she needed to start speaking again. Eva found Stuart Gilmore, the local school principal, and fell in love.
Bird licked her finger and wiped the blood from her leg where she’d picked off the scab. Rays of light shone through the leaves, glistening on Sundancer’s sleek, coppery coat. She breathed in deeply and sighed with pleasure.
The screen door opened suddenly. Hannah appeared, followed by a young dog. Bird glanced up at her aunt — a tall, slim, middle-aged woman in jeans, a mint green blouse, and flip-flops.
“What are you waiting for, Bird? Let’s go!”
Bird jumped up. “Sorry to keep you waiting!” she shot back.
“I know, I know. But the phone rang again just as I was almost out the door.” Hannah walked briskly to the white Ford truck. “It was Paul. Vaccinations, worming, papers, entry forms for the show … you know!”
Bird followed at a more leisurely pace. She opened the rear door of the truck and motioned to Lucky. “Get in, boy,” she said aloud, catching her aunt’s pleased glance. Hannah still worried that Bird communicated too much with animals and too little with people, even though she’d been speaking aloud for a year.
Bird silently asked Lucky to bark. Speak dog-talk, Lucky.
“Arf arf arf arf!” he obeyed cheerfully.
Good boy! “He told me we’re out of dog food,” Bird said.
“Remind me to smack you about the ears.” Hannah shook her head and chuckled as she stepped up behind the wheel and started the engine. “Have you got the list?”
Bird waved a yellow sheet of paper in the air and jumped in. As they started down the lane, the impatiens and bluebells in the farmhouse gardens caught Bird’s eye through the truck window. Vibrant reds and purples and blues. Hannah sure loved colour.
Sundancer looked up as the truck moved past. Where are you going?
To the store. Let’s go for a ride when I get back.
Maybe. It’s kinda hot and the grass is delicious.
We have to practise.
Practise, shmactise. I can do those baby jumps with my eyes closed.
But I can’t.
You’re such a perfectionist.
See you in an hour. Get your saddle on and wait by the mounting block.
Ha ha ha.
Bird laughed with him, ignoring Hannah’s questioning look.
“I saw Cody this morning,” said Hannah. “Somehow he knows you’re back at Saddle Creek.”
Bird smiled. The small coyote was very clever. Of course he’d known that she was back. He knew everything.
“I’m so glad you and Julia are around for a while,” continued Hannah as they drove down the hill, past the badlands and over the railway tracks. “Like the old days! But the time will go by fast. Your mother and Stuart will be back before we know it.”
Bird didn’t want to think about it.
“Is there anything you especially want to do while you’re here?”
Bird shook her head and grinned. “Just ride and ride and ride. And go to horse shows.”
Hannah smiled broadly. “A girl after my own heart. But you’ve got a lot of catching up to do if you want to take Sunny this Friday.”
Bird nodded. “I’ll start as soon as we’re back from the store.”
She could hardly wait to get riding again. Since Bird’s speech had come back last summer, she’d fit in at school for the first time in her life. Suddenly, there were friends to hang out with, sports to play, clubs to join — and a new boyfriend — as well as schoolwork. Her days had been full and she’d ridden only sporadically since last summer, a fact that she now regretted. There was so much to do!
“Are you and Alec still dating?” asked Hannah. “Tell me if it’s none of my business.”
Bird blushed. It was all so new. “It’s none of your business, but yes … if he doesn’t forget all about me over the summer.” She was joking, but she really wasn’t happy that Alec would be away for three whole months. He had a job as a counsellor-in-training, or CIT, at Camp Kowabi, teaching kids how to canoe and make fires. Some of her other friends were CITs, too, but Bird hadn’t applied. She’d wanted to stay close to home so she could go to horse shows with Sunny.
“How could Alec forget about you? You’re an original.”
Bird grinned. Original was a nice way to put it. She thought about their last date, just a few days ago. She’d invited Alec to her mother’s wedding. Bird was busy being a bridesmaid, but after the vows, they’d danced the night away. She hugged herself and tingled with the memory of their kisses under the trees.
Hannah turned off the road and parked the truck beside the Inglewood General Store. They got out, leaving the windows down for Lucky.
Get me a treat?
I’ll see what they’ve got, Lucky, but you can’t have a treat every time we stop somewhere.
But can I have one this time?
Bird patted his furry brown head and ran her finger down the white on his nose. She smiled. Lucky was indeed lucky to live with Aunt Hannah.
Inside the store, Hannah took the grocery list from Bird and began gathering items while Bird looked through the movie selection. She’d seen a lot of them, but some new releases had just come in, and a few looked intriguing.
Suddenly, the door burst open and a middle-aged woman rushed in. Her face was red with exertion and her bleached blond hair was flattened with sweat. It was Ellen Wells, a neighbour.
“Call 911!” Ellen ordered. “A woman is lying on the road up at McLaughlin and the Grange. She’s bleeding badly, and my cell went dead!”

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Caged

Caged

edition:Paperback
tagged : law & crime
More Info
Christmas at Saddle Creek
Excerpt

CHAPTER 1: BACK AT SADDLE CREEK FARM

’Twas the night before Christmas …

Alberta Simms awoke with a start. Her eyes flew open to a wall of blackness. The cozy bedroom overlooking the front field at Saddle Creek Farm was totally dark, and apart from the steady pinging of freezing rain on the windowpanes, totally silent.
Her cellphone read 11:33 p.m.
What woke me up this time of night? she wondered. She slipped out from under her warm covers, and her bare feet felt the cold of the old pine as they touched the floor. She padded the two small steps to the window, pulled open the curtains, and peered outside into the darkness.
Alberta Simms was known by her nickname, “Bird.” At sixteen, she was still slight and sinewy, but rapidly changing from girl to woman. Her skin was the colour of caffe latte, her eyes were a deep chocolate brown, and she wore her shiny dark hair long and loose. Bird was proud to be First Nations, and she looked far more like her First Nations father than her blond, blue-eyed mother of British heritage.
Her eyes began to adjust to the murkiness outside, and with effort she could make out the line of split-rail fencing that followed the laneway. Through the hail and fog she could see the three big maples on the lawn. One stood right in front of the house beside her window, and the others were on either side of the front walk. They looked blurry, but their forms were recognizable.
She could identify nothing that might have awoken her from her sleep.
Tonight was Christmas Eve. Tomorrow was Christmas. So far, her sixteenth Christmas was shaping up to be just like the fifteen that came before — full of disappointment and stress.
Her mother, Eva, was throwing hissy fits and bickering with her latest husband, Stuart. Bird and her little sister Julia joked that “Eva stole Christmas.” But it was true. How much fun is it when somebody in the family is miserable and brings everybody’s spirits down? No fun at all.
Bird groaned as she replayed this week’s scene. Eva, with her face red and streaked with mascara, clothes strewn all over her bed and floor, whined that she didn’t have anything to wear to Stuart’s annual Christmas party. In Bird’s opinion, Eva was right. Nothing in those rumpled piles suited her. She should throw out all the ribbons and bows and flouncy short skirts. It was embarrassing. Add overbleached, overcurled, long blond hair, plus too much makeup, and Eva looked like a cheap, wrinkly teenager trying out for the 1980 high school cheerleading team.
But she shouldn’t have said it out loud.
Here was yet another example of how living with elective mutism can be an advantage. It was a horrible, frustrating affliction, and it had caused her untold misery, but when Bird was not able to speak, she never had to watch what she said.
Bird had been misdiagnosed with autism when she stopped speaking at age six. She was not typical in most ways, with her unusual ability to communicate non-verbally with animals, so it must have been difficult for the doctors, she conceded. But they got it right when they landed on a diagnosis of elective mutism. Her vocal cords worked just fine, but she couldn’t get the words out of her mouth.
Now the words could come out, and her mother had not taken kindly to being called a 1980 vintage, wrinkly teenager. She “thought it best” that Bird stay with Aunt Hannah over Christmas. So Bird had been dumped unceremoniously at Saddle Creek, while thirteen-year-old Julia stayed with Eva. And now, instead of coming to Aunt Hannah’s for Christmas, they were going to Stuart’s parents’ cottage in Muskoka for a big family gathering. Bird pictured an ornate tree, succulent turkey, lavish gifts, and joyful people hugging each other and laughing. But not with me, Bird thought. She sniffed back the aching feeling of hurt.
It wasn’t news that Eva loved Julia more than she loved Bird. Julia was far more lovable, Bird admitted, and a blue-eyed blonde like Eva, of which their mother made a big deal. Bird didn’t miss all the fuss and anxiety that accompanied Eva, but she wished that she could at least spend Christmas with her half-sister.
Bird curled her feet and stood on their outer edges to avoid the coldness of the floor. She was shivering but stayed for another minute at the window, just in case she’d missed something that might explain her disrupted sleep.
She had actually been looking forward to the Christmas celebration this year, but what had started out to be a decent-size dinner at Saddle Creek Farm had dwindled down to four people: Aunt Hannah, her veterinarian fiancé, Paul Daniels, Bird, and her grandmother, Jean Bradley. Not exactly a barrel of monkeys. Now it would be a very small gathering, with a very small turkey.
The real blow was Alec, who was now spending Christmas with his mother, which Bird understood completely. But having Alec there for dinner would’ve made everything great, even if nobody else came. She sighed deeply.
During those times when Bird couldn’t talk and acted out in abnormal ways, Alec had been there for her. Everybody in the entire world thought she was a weirdo misfit, but Alec had always stood up for her. Bird smiled as she remembered how he used to translate for her when she couldn’t speak, and how he’d faced down bullies at school when they were cruel.
They’d had a crush on each other for the last few years.
But now, things had changed. His father and her Aunt Hannah were engaged, and Bird wondered if their relationship might be too awkward. She wasn’t sure how it would work at family get-togethers, like Christmas, which were always difficult, anyway. Alec refused to think there was a problem, but Bird had told him that they should talk about it, and until it was resolved one way or the other, at least they could remain friends.
Friends can’t kiss each other, she thought. That might be difficult for her. Wow. Talk about confused emotions. Anyway, he wasn’t coming for Christmas dinner so it wouldn’t come up, but she was disappointed. Very.
She willed herself to focus on happy things. She loved being here at Saddle Creek with Aunt Hannah, Paul Daniels, and their funny brown dog, Lucky. She loved her cheerful little room in the farmhouse, with red, blue, green, and white tartan curtains and matching bedspread, and lively red sheets. She loved her interactions with Cody, the enigmatic coyote who appeared on a whim, or whenever he was needed, and disappeared again just as mysteriously. He’d been around for as long as she could remember.
More than anything else, she loved being with Sundancer, an undisputed jumping champion and her best friend. He was an athletic chestnut gelding who jumped anything that Bird faced him with and in stellar style. They’d had many adventures together, and they usually came home from competitions with trophies and ribbons galore.
There was never enough time to be around horses, she thought. Sunny gobbled up all her attention and still wanted more. Since arriving, Bird had done nothing much other than ride him, clean tack, and help muck out stalls, which was just how she liked it. If she could choose any place on Earth to be at any given moment, it would be right where she was now.

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Sundancer
Excerpt

Chapter 1: The New Horse

It is time to tell my story.
I am big and I am beautiful. When I run, I run like the wind, and when I jump, I jump like a deer. I am a winner.

Alone in the paddock, the sleek chestnut gelding grazed. He methodically trimmed the blades of grass close to the ground, left to right, right to left, as far as his neck could reach. He took a step and began again. Row after row. Step after step.
A woman and a girl leaned on the fence and observed him closely, an old yellow dog at their feet. A quiet breeze ruffled their hair and gently rippled their clothing. The woman, fortyish, lean and sinewy, smoothed her fair hair from her face and muttered, “What the deuce are we going to do with him, Bird?”
The girl said nothing. The hot August air blew her unkempt hair into her eyes, and she made no effort to remove it. Her arms were skinny and brown with the sun.
He’ll be my horse, she thought. No one else’s.
Tell me your story, handsome. She aimed the thought in the horse’s direction. No response.
The horse had been delivered earlier, while Bird and Hannah were out checking the fences. Bird wished she’d been there to see his arrival. Their vet, Paul Daniels, had practically begged Hannah to take him in. A favour, he’d said. An underdog in need. Bird could relate.
Lazily, the horse took another step and began a new line of grass. He casually swished his tail to rid himself of flies.
Bird studied the horse closely. He was extraordinarily handsome. Sixteen hands, two inches tall, she guessed. His legs were long, fine, strong, and straight, correct in every way. His neck was elegant, with a graceful curve along the top line of his body, connecting his delicate ears to his generous withers and across the gentle slope of his back to his perfectly rounded haunches. Every movement he made was graceful, and his coat gleamed a fiery copper.
And yet, something about this horse was not quite right. Underneath his calm exterior, as he mechanically grazed and pointedly ignored them, was a nervousness, a jumpiness, that Bird found disquieting. He didn’t trust them. He didn’t trust anyone.
“Poetry, eh, Bird?” said Hannah. “He’s like poetry in motion.”
Hannah sighed and turned back to the house. “Don’t be too long, hon. Supper’s almost ready.” She stopped for a moment, waiting for a reaction. There was none. Alberta, nicknamed Bird, continued to stare at the animal.
“Don’t get any ideas, young lady. Nobody can handle this horse. That’s why he ended up here. Saddle Creek: farm of last resort. I’ll add that to our sign, if I ever get around to fixing it.”
Hannah Bradley shot one last glance at the new horse and headed for the house. She left the girl, the dog, and the horse alone.
Now, finally, the gelding raised his eyes to meet the girl’s. They assessed each other, neither one making a move.
Talk to me, beautiful horse. Tell me your story. Bird willed the big horse to respond. I know you can hear me.
The horse simply stared.
Why are you so suspicious? You have nothing to fear with me.
The horse didn’t so much as blink. He dropped his head back to the grass and continued grazing. Bird crouched down on her heels and began to rock gently. Although she was growing fast, Bird was still small for her thirteen years. She used that to her advantage now, as she manoeuvred her body under the lowest rail of the fence. She inched her bottom over to the post and quietly leaned her back against it.
In spite of spindly legs and oversized ears, Bird was pretty in her own unique way. Deep sable eyes graced her elfin face. Often they were dull and expressionless, but at other times they were lit by flashes of intelligence and sensitivity. Right now, they were almost entirely covered by her dark brown bangs that were badly in need of a trim. Impatiently she pushed the hair off her face and continued to stare at the horse.
Now that Hannah had gone, it seemed quiet in the paddock. The yellow dog dozed in the grass at her feet. The horse grazed in the field. Bird watched and enjoyed the silence. All at once, the horse stopped and looked directly at her, as if waiting for her to say something.
Don’t look at me, Bird thought with a smile. Alberta Simms hadn’t spoken a word for seven years, and she wasn’t about to start now.
Bird was Hannah’s niece, the daughter of Hannah’s younger sister, Eva. Eva had dropped Bird off at Saddle Creek — farm of last resort — two years earlier, on her way to another new life, with another new man. As far as Bird could tell, this was Eva’s way. Bird’s father was a cowboy from Calgary who left when Eva told him she was pregnant. He rode off into the sunset, never to return, Eva was fond of saying, and had never even phoned to find out if the baby was a boy or a girl.
From the time Bird could remember, Eva seemed to change jobs often, which meant picking up and moving to a new place. She was always hoping for something better, more interesting, less boring. Eva had changed boyfriends often, too, always hoping for someone better, more interesting, less boring. The one constant in Bird’s life, until the day she moved in with her Aunt Hannah, was change.
Now, sitting at the edge of this field with this beautiful horse, Bird could feel Hannah watching her from the kitchen window.
What was she worrying about now? The traces of a fond smile formed at the corner of Bird’s mouth. She’s worrying that I don’t talk. She’s worrying that I don’t fit in. She’s worrying that I’ll never be normal. Most of all, she’s worrying about school. And with good reason.
On the last day of classes, Stuart Gilmore, the principal of the Forks of the Credit school, had told Hannah that Bird could not come back. The school was simply not equipped to handle her. He’d given Hannah a list of alternative schools, and for the last few weeks Bird had watched as Hannah tried to find her a place. She’d had no luck with any of the public schools, and she couldn’t afford the fees at the private ones. Now it was August, and at the top of Hannah’s to-do list — posted conveniently on the refrigerator door — was to call Stuart Gilmore. Bird figured that Hannah planned to ask one more time.
Bird hated school. The kids were mean. But if she had to go back, the Forks of the Credit would be better than unknown alternatives.
Hannah called from the kitchen window. “Bird! Supper’s ready!”
Bird was hungry, but she disliked the confinement of sitting properly at the table, and she detested being constantly coached on her manners. Reluctantly, she scrambled back under the fence.
Come for dinner, Hector. Bird stroked the dog on her way past. He raised his head and thumped his tail.
Yummy. I’ve been hungry all day.
So what else is new? Bird smiled. What do you think of the new horse, Hector?
I don’t trust him. You shouldn’t either.
Bird nodded slowly and patted Hector’s head. He won’t talk to me yet, so I don’t know what to make of him. Bird hadn’t faced this before. Most animals responded to her immediately, delighted that a human could not only talk to them, but also understand what they had to say.
She slowly raised her hand and stretched it out toward the horse. The haughty chestnut lifted his head. Bird tried again to reach into his mind. Talk to me. Tell me about yourself.
The horse gave Bird a bored look, then turned his back, providing a perfect view of his welts and cuts. They would heal nicely with proper care, but so far the horse had not allowed anyone to get close to him, let alone treat his wounds. Earlier, when she’d first spotted him, Bird had taken the water hose out to the field. She’d stood on the fence and created a fountain that he had eventually walked into to cool off, so at least the wounds were washed out. She’d tried to squirt Wonder Dust, an antiseptic powder, into the nastier gashes but had only been somewhat successful. Tomorrow she’d try again.
Not for the first time, Bird wondered what had happened to this horse. How did he get those cuts, and why had he ended up at Saddle Creek? What did they do to you, beautiful fellow? Bird waited a moment for an answer then ran to the farmhouse without a backward glance.

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