Authors: Jenny Oldfield
© 2009 by Jenny Oldfield
Cover and internal design © 2009 Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover photo © Jupiter Images
Internal illustrations © Paul Hunt
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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.
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Originally published in Great Britain in 1999 by Hodder Children’s Books.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Midnight Lady / Jenny Oldfield.
p. cm.—(Horses of Half Moon Ranch ; bk. 5)
Summary: Thirteen-year-old Kirstie gets into trouble when she tries to help a mistreated horse escape from a neighboring ranch.
[1. Horses—Fiction. 2. Ranch life—Colorado—Fiction. 3. Animals—Treatment—Fiction. 4. Colorado—Fiction.] I. Title.
Printed and bound in the United States of America.
VP 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
“… Copper Bottom and Steel Dust; that’s where it all began,” Hadley Crane said as he backed the trailer out of the parking lot at San Luis Sale Barn.
“Yeah, like, I know exactly what you’re talking about!” Lisa Goodman raised her eyebrows at Kirstie Scott. The reversing trailer raised a cloud of dust, which blew grit into the girls’ eyes. It was late afternoon and the baking sun was sinking low in a clear blue sky.
“Two sires,” Hadley went on. The head wrangler at Half Moon Ranch positioned the trailer to wait in line at the wide exit onto Route 27. “Copper Bottom and Steel Dust started a specialist breed of horse way back in the 1930s.”
“What was special about them?” Kirstie could hear the three young horses they’d just bought stamping impatiently inside the metal trailer. She fanned her face with the sale program, then pulled down the peak of her baseball cap to shade her eyes.
“Easy to keep. Good feet. Small. Fast.” Tersely, Hadley listed the strong points of the breed of horse used by the ranchers in the West. “Mighty fast, as a matter of fact. You put a postage-stamp-sized saddle on one of those guys, set him on a sprint track around the outside of a rodeo arena, and he’d blast out of that starting gate like a bullet out of a gun.”
Kirstie grinned at Lisa. Get Hadley talking about his favorite subject, and there was no stopping him. The normally silent old ranch hand could ramble on for ages. “Isn’t that why they’re called quarter horses?” she asked, as their tall vehicle eased out onto the road.
“Sure.” He signaled left and followed the sign that read: Minesville 8 miles, Renegade 3 miles. “Those races were no more than a quarter of a mile long. The horse never drew breath the whole time he was sprinting. He slowed up over the finish line and realized he might be kinda short of breath out there. But there was nothing to beat him for a short burst of speed. Short horse, or quarter horse. And it’s all because of Copper Bottom and Steel Dust.”
“Hmm.” Lisa was impressed. She settled back in the passenger seat for the drive down the narrow, straight road to Renegade. “So the three horses we bought for Donna Rose back there, Skeeter, Moonpie, and Midnight Lady, they’re all quarter horses?”
Skeeter, the three-year-old black-and-white paint. Strangely named Moonpie, the flea-bitten gray with a rash of brownish markings. Long-limbed, dapple gray Midnight Lady. Kirstie held a picture of them in her mind, their nervousness in the sale barn arena, heads up, ears flicking this way and that in reaction to the unaccustomed noise and bustle.
She recalled the paint’s high-pitched whinny as Hadley led him up the ramp into the trailer, Moonpie following reluctantly where his more spirited leader had already gone. And the trouble they’d had loading Midnight Lady, who’d objected to the dark steel box and the echo of her hooves as they struck the metal ramp. She’d pulled and strained at the halter rope, until Hadley had switched tactics and offered her a handful of sweet alfalfa hay to tempt the hungry horse inside.
“I guess the paint and the flea-bitten gray are your typical quarter horse,” Hadley agreed. “I knew Donna would want to use those two the minute I set eyes on them. Stout hindquarters, deep chests; good ranch horses the both of them.”
“What about Midnight Lady?” To Kirstie’s eye the dappled gray horse seemed different. Not so stocky—taller, more slender. A lady, in fact.
Hadley took a right, heading off the main road out across a flat plain, away from the Meltwater range of mountains, where he helped Kirstie’s mother, Sandy Scott, cope with the hundreds of guest riders who visited Half Moon Ranch each year. At the end of the straight, narrow track lay Donna Rose’s working cattle ranch, the Circle R. “The gray is a grade horse, which means she’s been upgraded. She’s a mustang crossed with a quarter horse. She’s got breeding, but no papers to prove it, if you catch my drift.”
“She’s wonderful!” Kirstie breathed.
Long legs, long arched neck, a haughty tilt to her head.
“You would say that!” Lisa joked about her friend’s well-known love of every single horse on the planet. “But let’s hope Donna thinks so, too.” She reminded them of the problem they’d had getting the third horse into the trailer.
Way down the track, the isolated ranch house came into view. It was surrounded by a green sea of prairie grass whispering and shimmering in the wind, making the house itself look like a becalmed wooden boat. Close up, they saw the red tiled roof, the log walls, the overhanging porch—and Donna Rose standing in the doorway ready to greet them.
“Howdy, y’all!” Donna’s smile was broad and sparkling white. Her hair was streaked blonde, her turquoise earrings dangled down almost to the wide shoulders of her crisp denim jacket. She wore a white shirt and a big silver buckle on her broad tan leather belt.
“Howdy, ma’am.” Hadley stepped from the cab, hitching his leather gloves into the waistband of his worn jeans. He strode to the back of the trailer, ready to unbolt the door and let down the ramp.
“Hey!” Kirstie said to the ranch owner with a shy, awkward smile, while Lisa scrambled past her to follow Hadley.
“You bought me some neat horses?” the glamorous, middle-aged owner of Circle R inquired, stepping down from the porch in her fancy, tooled brown and cream heeled boots.
“We sure hope so!” Lisa’s smile matched Donna’s in the dazzling department. “Hadley paid a mean price leastways.”
“That’s why I asked him to do me the favor,” Donna went on, smooth as silk, sweet as sugar. She stood to one side, hands on hips, ignoring the dust and the tumbleweed that rolled across the yard in front of the ranch house. Behind her, swinging from the porch was a giant bundle of chili peppers, hung out in the sun to dry. A gnarled pair of stag’s antlers were propped to one side of the doorway; probably a hunting trophy from many seasons ago. “Me and Hadley, we go way back. I know he drives a hard bargain!”
The old ranch hand ducked his head. Beneath his wide-brimmed dark Stetson hat and his all-year-round weather-beaten tan, Kirstie could have sworn he was blushing. To hide his embarrassment, he kept busy unloading the horses while Donna talked.
And boy, did she talk.
“When I say way back, I mean we were in high school together,” she explained to a still grinning Lisa.
Kirstie frowned and did a double take. Donna Rose was smooth-skinned and young looking, where Hadley was lined and worn. Surely she was years younger! But then, maybe it was the carefully styled hair and glossy pink lipstick that did it.
“Hadley’s much older than me, naturally!” Donna continued, as if reading Kirstie’s thoughts. Her voice held a teasing lightness. “And if he was the gentleman I believed he was, he’d have been the one to jump right in there and tell you that!”
The heavy bolts slid back and Hadley let down the ramp. Inside the trailer, the three horses stamped and barged.
“He was in tenth grade at San Luis High when I got there. I was Donna Ward back then. All we innocent young gals adored him, he was so tall and handsome!”
“Wow!” Lisa giggled at Kirstie. Hadley handsome?
Ignoring them all, Hadley stomped up the metal ramp into the trailer, unhitched the first horse, and led him out. “Easy, boy, easy!”
Kirstie watched Skeeter clatter down the ramp. The black-and-white horse emerged into the low sunlight head high and staring. His nostrils flared wide, his jaw was tense; sure signs that the journey had disagreed with him.
But Hadley held him firmly on the end of a short rope. He spoke soft words of encouragement. “C’mon, Skeeter, there’s a good guy. Ain’t nothing here to worry you none.”
“What do you think?” Kirstie asked eagerly, the moment Donna Rose stopped talking and switched her attention from the wrangler to the beautiful horse. In the background, she noticed a young man come out of the barn across the yard and head slowly in their direction.
“Pretty!” The lady ranch owner murmured her appreciation. “I like paints. They’re my favorite.”
“Are you gonna use him as a cutting or a roping horse?” Kirstie wanted to know.
“What’s the difference?” Lisa snuck into the pause while Donna contemplated her answer.
“You use a cutting horse in the spring and fall for cutting out from the herd those cows you want to brand and doctor,” Kirstie explained quietly. “He’s trained to work off a loose rein and respond to your voice. That kind of horse needs a lot of natural savvy.”
“And I guess a roping horse is the one you use to chase and lasso the cows with,” Lisa put in. “Gee, I’m learning so much!” Up went the dark, ironic eyebrows and the corners of her full mouth.
“You did ask!” Kirstie retaliated. By now the stranger from the barn had joined their small group. He was tall and lean, with a narrow, cleanshaven face and a noticeably big, bony nose. His shirt was bright red, with silver buttons and plenty of fancy over-stitching, and he wore expensive, brand new leather chaps over his tight jeans. Instead of saying hi and joining in the conversation, however, he stood slightly apart, managing to avoid eye contact by concentrating entirely on the three new horses.
“Cutting or roping?” Donna turned to the young newcomer for advice.