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Authors: Bonnie Bryant

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BOOK: Hay Fever
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“Not a contest?” Stevie said. “Are you kidding? With Max Regnery the Third up for grabs, and Max the Fourth at stake, I’d say every single woman from Boston to Baton Rouge would want to show up for the trials. He’s a pretty great trophy in the husband-hunting game, you know.”

“It’s true,” Carole said, a touch wistfully. “I hope I’ll marry someone just like him—in twenty years or so, that is,” she added hastily.

“Still planning on having the entire wedding on horseback like Dorothy and Nigel?” Stevie asked playfully. Carole’s intention to canter—rather than walk—down the aisle was well-known to The Saddle Club. The girls had recently helped stage a wedding at Pine Hollow between two famous horse people, trainer Dorothy DeSoto and British Olympian Nigel Hawthorne.

“That’s right,” Carole said. “And we’ll wear pink coats and stocks instead of black tie.”

“And have a carrot wedding cake so the horses can enjoy it, too,” Stevie finished.

“Hey,” Lisa chimed in, “that reminds me. We’d better figure out some way to feed all of these extra people on the Fourth. It is a picnic and cookout, after all. And Mrs. Reg will never have enough hot dogs and hamburgers and stuff unless we tell her.” It was typical of logical Lisa to think of the practicalities in any Saddle Club scheme.
Her foresight had saved them all from any number of fiascoes.

This time, however, Stevie was a step ahead. “Oh, I thought of that already,” she said airily. “It’s Chad’s turn to cook for us again on Saturday, so I’ll just tell him to allow for seventeen extra.”

food problem is solved,” Lisa said. She and Stevie had both taken turns holding the horses, and they were now making their way slowly back to Pine Hollow. “Or at least, I’m going to assume it’s solved.” She turned around in her saddle to give Stevie a meaningful glance.

“Assume away,” Stevie said with a slightly wicked grin.

“But there’s another question. How are we going to get Max to meet all of these women? With any other guy, you could safely predict he would be interested in meeting tons of eligible women. But for all we know, Max will be too busy with the students and horses to even say hi.”

“Then I’ll drag him over,” Stevie said grimly. “There’s
no way I’m going to let him waste this opportunity and put us back to square one.”

“Wait a minute, I’ve got an idea,” Carole said. “Lisa, you made me think of it. Maybe he could do some kind of introduction to the horses at Pine Hollow. We’ll just say that our friends want to try riding and learning more about horses.”

“Do you think he’d do it?” Stevie asked.

“Absolutely. Look how nice and patient he was with Deborah. I was thinking—I’ll bet he’s like that with all the single women,” Carole said.

“You think so?” Lisa asked dubiously.

“Sure,” Carole replied. “What else would explain how nice he was being? I’ve never watched an adult lesson, but I’m sure he’s easier on them than on the younger riders.”

“Actually, he does get after them, too,” Stevie said. She explained that she had once given a jumping demonstration to a beginning adult class, and that Max had been barking commands nonstop.

Carole wrinkled her nose. “But were there any single women in the class?”

“I don’t know,” Stevie admitted.

“Anyway, even if there were, that was a long time ago—probably before Max felt so lonely,” Lisa pointed out, warming to Carole’s theory. “Now he knows he needs a wife.”

“Exactly,” Carole said. “And if he’s as nice to the women at the picnic as he is to Deborah, they’re all going to think he’s wonderful, and he’s bound to find at least one of them irresistible.”

Stevie nodded, then looked at her friends. “Okay, so who’s going to be the one to tell Max that more than a dozen strangers—who also happen to be young, attractive, single, women—are coming to the picnic?”

For the first time that day, silence fell among The Saddle Club.

, there was the normal walking, untacking, and grooming to take care of. Max was bustling about as usual, but somehow neither Lisa, Carole, or Stevie found the exact right moment to approach him. Finally they regrouped in the tack room to soap their saddles and bridles. One look at each other, and they all knew no one had mentioned the picnic to Max yet.

“We’ve invited all these people—we
to tell him,” Lisa said.

“Yeah, but he’s going to think it’s so weird! And what we’re up to will be so obvious,” Stevie moaned.

The tack-room door opened and Mrs. Reg entered. Max’s mother was a favorite with The Saddle Club and with everyone else at Pine Hollow. She was as hardworking and knowledgeable as Max and always willing to lend
an ear to solve a problem. Unfortunately, this problem wasn’t one that she could find out about.
was going to point out Max’s problem to his mother! Stevie, Lisa, and Carole looked down glumly at their tack.

“Why the long faces, girls?” she asked. They all made an effort to brighten up and smile.

“Maybe I’ve got some good news that will cheer you up,” she said. “I was looking at our books last night, and this past year was one of Pine Hollow’s most successful in terms of the number of students taking lessons here. And we’ve had more new adult riders this summer than any summer before, which is good because adults tend to stick with it once they start. I can’t wait to tell Max, he’ll be thrilled.”

“New adult riders?” Carole repeated. “Do you think maybe it’s the start of a trend?”

“Oh, sure,” Mrs. Reg said. “You know how it goes. One woman decides to take up riding, and then all her friends get interested, too.”

“That’s great!” Stevie said.

“It’s the perfect solution,” Lisa murmured.

“Solution?” Mrs. Reg asked. “I didn’t know there was a problem.”

“It’s a solution to—to adults not getting enough exercise,” Lisa concluded lamely.

“Why, look at you three—how you’re beaming from ear to ear. I’d say that’s the Pine Hollow spirit!” Mrs. Reg
declared. She continued through the tack room to her office, closing the door behind her.

Stevie threw her sponge in the air triumphantly. “Maybe our guests won’t seem so out of place, after all,” she said.

“Even so, I don’t think we should really announce the fact that the people we invited to the picnic are almost all young women,” Lisa said.

“But at least, after Mrs. Reg’s news, it might seem a tiny bit more normal,” Carole said. “And anyway—” She stopped short as the door opened once again and Max came in. He was carrying two saddles and two bridles.

“Did someone forget to hang up their tack?” Lisa asked sympathetically. She knew how angry Max got when he found tack lying around the barn.

Max gave her a quizzical look. “No, I just offered to help someone out, as, may I remind you, we’re all supposed to do at Pine Hollow.” He hung up his own bridle and saddle and then put the other tack on Delilah’s rack. Stevie gave the thumbs-up sign behind his back: So far Max hadn’t gone back to his disapproving self, at least as far as the single women were concerned.

“Max, could we have a word with you about the picnic?” Carole asked. When Max nodded, she plunged right in, telling him how they’d invited some friends to the picnic and how holding an introductory class might
be a good idea. “It might even bring some new riders to Pine Hollow,” she finished brightly.

“Great. Sounds like an excellent idea. I’m always happy to show Pine Hollow and the horses to anyone who wants to see them. And in return, I have a favor to ask of you,” Max said.

Stevie, Lisa, and Carole stared. Their minds raced, wondering if there was anything Max could say to ruin the now-perfect plan.

“I was thinking we could have a mounted-games demonstration,” Max said.

All three of them let out a collective sigh of relief. “I’ve been trying to get some more students interested in signing up for the Pony Club games,” Max continued, “but it’s always easier to interest people once they’ve seen them played—especially by a crack team like you three.”

The Saddle Club was so relieved, that the compliment—one of Max’s rare ones—hardly sank in. They immediately set about planning what games they would play. A few were definites.

“I always like the costume race,” Lisa said. That game involved riding down to the end of the ring, dismounting, dressing up in a costume, getting back on, racing back to the starting line, and undressing so that your teammate could then dress up in the same clothes.

“Me too,” Carole agreed. “And you can’t leave out the
traditional relay race with the batons. It’s simple, so everyone can understand it.”

“Simple but boring,” Stevie said. “Personally, I think the one that has the most crowd appeal is the Super Soaker Target Shoot.”

Lisa and Carole had to admit that she was right. Spectators seemed to love to watch riders squirting huge water guns and—most of the time—missing the target and soaking each other, the horses, and even the spectators themselves. In any case, whichever games were chosen, they would be a great diversion for the extra guests—all eighteen of them. Saturday could hardly come fast enough.

what I call a good, old-fashioned Fourth of July picnic,” declared Mrs. Reg. She paused with her case of soda to survey the scene at Pine Hollow. Carole, who was helping her carry drinks from the car to the tables, paused beside her.

Together they looked out over the grounds. A long buffet table covered in a red-checked tablecloth had been set up on the grass. People swarmed around it, helping themselves to pasta salad, cole slaw, and drinks. The waitress from TD’s had contributed two gallons of ice cream that was keeping cold in a cooler of ice. There were groups of young students—the picnic was
to be for them—standing and talking or sprawled on the lawn. In the background horses grazed contentedly, perking
an occasional ear to hear what was going on at the picnic. The weather report had called for a “partly cloudy” day, but so far the only clouds in the sky were huge, white, fair-weather clouds.

“It’s funny, though,” Mrs. Reg observed, heading toward the refreshment table with her case, “I have never, in all my years at Pine Hollow—and that means in all my years period—seen so many attractive young women attend the picnic.”

Carole’s eyes quickly traveled to where Lisa and Stevie had settled, along with their charges, under a big elm tree.

“I guess it’s just what you said, Mrs. Reg,” Carole said.

“What did I say?” Mrs. Reg asked.

“You know, about there being a trend and all that for women learning to ride.”

Mrs. Reg frowned. “Hmm, so I did. But then—”

“Probably one of them takes lessons, and she brought all of her friends,” Carole added hastily.

Mrs. Reg seemed to accept Carole’s explanation. “I never can keep track of the adult students. They’re always changing their hairdos or going on diets.” She glanced back at the group. Everyone was talking and laughing. “Well, at least they’re enjoying themselves.”

Carole giggled silently. Not as much as we are, she thought to herself. Aloud she said, “I hope they’ll all sign up for lessons at Pine Hollow.”

“Good girl—always thinking of the stable. Max would approve,” Mrs. Reg said.

If he only knew! Carole thought.

“Anyway, I’d better get that grill in the barbecue pit going before we have a mass revolution of the hungry.”

After dropping off the sodas with Mrs. Reg, Carole joined Stevie and Lisa under the elm. Unfortunately, her friends were both so busy darting around among the single women that they barely noticed her. Carole was amused to see that Stevie, who had taken Miss Cartwright to the tack room earlier to show her the science project in full bloom, was now stammering her way through an explanation of the different soils.

Carole found the Quantico crowd mingling happily—husbands included. She greeted Margery, Sergeant Kiernan—who introduced her to her daughter, Christine—and the rest. Just as she was about to lie down on the lawn and take a breather, Max showed up.

BOOK: Hay Fever
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