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Authors: Sasha Kay Riley

By Chance

BOOK: By Chance
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Dedication

For Grandpa

I don’t think you would have appreciated the subject matter, but I hope you’re okay with my pen name.

 

Chapter One

 

T
HERE
WAS
one place where Vince actually felt sure of himself, and that was near a horse—more specifically when he was on the back of one. Even more specifically was when that horse was his personal mount, Sir Galaxy, more commonly known as Xander. The gelding was one of close to twenty retired racehorses currently at his family’s farm, Anderson Stables, where they specialized in retraining and rehoming thoroughbreds fresh off the racetrack. Vince had owned and trained Xander for the last five years. The big bay gelding had gone from failed racehorse left to die of neglect to promising jumper that was spoiled rotten. They’d done well in the last five shows they’d competed at together, and Vince planned to get them to another by the end of the summer.

Vince knew they had more training to do before that show. He currently had three jumps set up in the outdoor arena. Both he and Xander were tired of the indoor arena they’d ridden in all winter; it was time for fresh air, even though the early spring was dreary. Vince could tell Xander was excited to be working outside for once.

“Easy, buddy,” Vince told him, reining the thoroughbred in after an overly enthusiastic jump.

The gelding tossed his head and snorted, but listened.

“He’s got some spunk today.”

Vince looked up at his father, who was leaning on the arena fence.

“Definitely,” Vince agreed, patting Xander’s neck.

“Take him around again,” Wes Anderson instructed. “I want to see more action from this beast.”

Vince smiled and got the gelding moving again. He could feel the power of the horse beneath him, a horse bred for speed and strength. When they jumped, it was like flying. He could only imagine what being a jockey felt like, but being five foot ten made him too tall. He was content with show jumping. It was just as exciting and competitive as racing, without size restrictions.

When they finished soaring around the ring, Vince pulled Xander up at the fence in front of his father and smiled when he saw his girlfriend standing there as well. She smiled back at him and reached out to rub Xander’s nose.

“Getting ready for the show in July?” she asked.

He nodded and kicked his legs from the stirrups to stretch his ankles. “Yeah. Hopefully, he won’t be this crazy by then.”

Xander nuzzled at Jane, and she laughed before handing over a carrot. “You’re spoiled.”

“Hey, Vince,” his dad said, drawing his attention away from the snacking horse. “I just got back from the track, and the colt we brought back from Florida two weeks ago has been lame since. The vet took a look and said it may be a permanent issue and not to run him. Mark thought it would be best to send him to us for light training. He’ll never be able to compete, but it’s likely he’d be fine with light trail riding or flat lessons. I said we’d take him.”

Vince hopped off his horse and unfastened his helmet. “When are we going?” he asked as he ran the stirrups up.

“I told him tomorrow, late morning. He says he’ll be there all day and just to swing by.”

Vince nodded, then pushed at Xander when he nibbled at the pocket of his jacket. “I don’t always have treats for you, spoiled brat,” he stated, then looked back at his father. “Sounds good. I’d like to see the other horses he’s got there.”

“How about we plan to leave at ten?”

“Sure,” Vince agreed, pulling a treat out of his pocket as Xander nuzzled his jacket again.

“You’re such a pushover,” Jane said with a laugh. She opened the gate for him, and he led the horse out.

“You know me,” he agreed with a smile.

She shook her head and shut the gate again. “Sometimes, I think I know you better than you know yourself.”

He just rolled his eyes as she fell into step beside him on the way to the barn. There had been a time when she would have demanded to take his helmet so she could hold his hand while they walked and when she wouldn’t have been happy without getting a kiss the moment he saw her, even if he had to stop what he was doing to run over to her. It had always made him uncomfortable, but he’d wanted to make her happy.

But four months ago, he’d gone down to Florida with his dad for two weeks to see the farms and racing facilities down there—it was where most New York racehorses came up from, so it was nice to see it all. It was the first time he’d been down there, despite his father going for a time almost every winter, and he really enjoyed it. When he’d come back, though, Jane had changed. The time away had definitely been good for her. She wasn’t so demanding of his attention in any form; she didn’t need to hold his hand, they didn’t need to kiss all the time, and she didn’t even mind if they didn’t have sex for a week. The relationship felt like a true friendship at last, and he really liked that. It made him feel grounded and mostly happy.

He didn’t know why he still couldn’t be happy all the time, but he tried not to think about it.

When they got to the barn, Vince led Xander to a set of cross ties and removed his bridle to put on a halter, then clipped the ties to it. He hung the bridle on the wall for the moment and turned back around to find Jane rubbing Xander’s neck and kissing his forehead.

“You know,” he commented, “anytime you find one you really like that isn’t mine, let me know. I’ll make sure Dad gives you the friends and family discount.”

She smiled at Xander and gave him another carrot from her pocket. “I’m always hoping to find one that I love, but so far, I haven’t. Even this boy would be too much for me to ride.”

He started undoing the girth of the saddle and replied, “You’re not a beginner. I know you can handle him. I just have to get you up on him to prove it.”

She rolled her eyes. “I want a trail horse. Though, those breeches might look good on me; they do on you.”

He snorted. “I’m pretty sure they look good on
almost
anyone.” The ones he was currently wearing were living on borrowed time, though. They were stained, and he’d worn a couple of holes in them, but they were just for riding at home. His show clothes were practically new and hardly worn.

“I do have nicer boots than those, though,” she added, grinning.

“So do I,” he reminded her. The boots he was wearing were his beat-up training boots, not his high show boots. He also had on a red jacket with the Anderson Stables logo across the back and with his name on the chest, as well as an old pair of riding gloves. He tended to wear things out completely before he replaced them. It bothered Jane.

“Where’s the grooming bucket?” Jane asked as he pulled the light saddle from Xander’s back.

He nodded to a spot behind her. “Right there. He’s starting to shed. Have fun.”

She smiled and pulled a pair of gloves from the pockets of her jacket, which matched Vince’s, and grabbed the bucket of brushes. “Means spring is coming, finally,” she pointed out.

“The mud was enough of a clue for me,” he grumbled, settling the saddle on one arm and grabbing the discarded bridle with the other.

It was a short walk down the hall to the tack room, which was the biggest tack room Vince had ever been in, and he’d been in a lot of barns. They had tack for every discipline a thoroughbred could be trained for, along with personal tack for each person at the farm who owned his or her own horse—currently five of them.

And it smelled like leather, which he loved.

He hung his saddle and bridle in Xander’s designated spot in the room and went back to where he’d left his horse and girlfriend. Jane was telling Xander how handsome and good and awesome he was, and the horse was holding his head up like he knew she was complimenting him. Vince shook his head and grabbed a brush to work on Xander’s other side.

“So,” he asked, “what do we want to do about dinner?”

“I was hoping you’d suggest something,” she replied, glancing at him over the horse’s back.

He shrugged. “I have none.”

“Guess you won’t eat, then,” she teased.

“Guess I’ll eat some of what this boy gets,” he countered with a shrug.

Jane laughed and shook blonde hair out of her face. “Would you ever really do that?”

“Why not?” he asked seriously. “It’s literally just oats and oil. I’d eat it if the only other option was to starve.”

“Unless it meant Xander would starve. I know how much you love this boy.”

Vince smiled as he brushed his horse. “Yeah, he’s special.”

“He’s definitely lucky to have you,” Jane added quietly.

Xander sighed, almost as if he was agreeing, which made them both laugh.

 

 

V
INCE
WAS
out of bed at six the next morning. Normally, he’d let himself sleep a couple of hours longer, but they were down one stable hand since they’d caught Alex stealing horse medications and worming paste from the feed room. Alex wouldn’t say why he was taking them, but they all assumed it had something to do with making drugs. Wes had given him one hour to get off the property or he was calling the police and pressing charges. Alex was gone in less than half an hour. Vince couldn’t understand why anyone would want to get stoned off horse drugs, but he guessed some people just didn’t care what they used for their highs. So, because of Alex’s potential drug problem, for the last week he’d been getting up early to help the other four hands do the morning chores.

He changed into an old pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, then gave Jane a kiss on the cheek before leaving her to sleep for at least a little while longer. He grabbed a granola bar, pulled on his jacket, shoved his feet into his paddock boots, and left the house he shared with Jane for the barn. The farm was on a piece of property large enough for two average-sized houses, a trailer house—they referred to them as cabins—for each stable hand a twenty-four-stall barn, an indoor and outdoor arena, and three big pastures. Plus the area that wasn’t fenced in and was used for trail riding through the woods.

Vince hadn’t actually seen the deed, but he was pretty sure the property was close to fifty acres. He did know that it had once been his grandfather’s dairy farm.

He followed the gravel path from his house to the barn, eating his granola bar and silently complaining about the snowflakes floating around him. It was April, for crying out loud. It shouldn’t be snowing.

The barn wasn’t much warmer than it was outside, but it shielded him from the wind and snow. The hands—Mia, Chris, Anna, and Joe—had already started the morning rotation. That meant four horses were out in the pasture while their stalls were cleaned, then they’d come back in for breakfast. They’d get pasture time in the afternoon, depending on when they were being trained. Then they’d be fed around seven in the evening, and the barn would be locked up for the night, to be checked before morning if anyone was up late. Vince paused to rub Xander’s nose as he made his way down the aisle to the stalls that they always started with in the morning.

“Heard there’s a new guy coming today,” Joe said, looking out of the stall he was cleaning. “Does it matter where we put him?”

Vince grabbed a lead rope off the wall as he answered, “Not really. Wherever it’s easiest.”

“Want to bring us back another hand, too?” Mia asked from the next stall over.

Vince laughed. “I can try, but I’m not making any
promises.”

Chapter Two

 

F
OUR
HOURS
later, Vince stepped out of the passenger side of his dad’s truck at the local racetrack. Wes had pulled the truck and trailer as close to Mark’s barn as he could, and almost as soon as they got out of the truck, Mark was coming to greet them.

After a round of hellos, they started walking toward the nearest barn, and Vince asked about the horse.

“We brought him up from Florida,” Mark explained. “He was fine before we left, but his first workout, he ended up lame. His owners said he was lame a few months ago, but he was sound in a day, so they didn’t think much of it. Guess they’ll know better next time. The vet said he shouldn’t race, so I asked the owners what they wanted to do. They sold him to me for practically nothing when I said I knew a guy who’d make sure he had a good life. The other option was auction, and we all know the hell he could end up in after one of those.”

Vince tried not to think about that. Life for a washed-up racehorse wasn’t usually good if it was sent to auction, and it wasn’t usually a long life then either. That was why places like Anderson Stables existed and others that specialized in just rescuing and rehabilitating horses.

“I’m glad they care about their horses’ welfare,” Wes commented. “Still not enough of those owners around.”

“I agree there.” They came to a stop outside the stall of a chestnut horse who looked at them expectantly. “His name is Sweet Justice, but we call him Justin.”

Vince let the horse sniff his hand, then offered him a treat. “He doesn’t act like he’s in pain.”

Mark nodded. “That’s why his owners didn’t realize he had an issue. Guess it doesn’t bother him that much, but running would ruin him.”

BOOK: By Chance
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