Until last week.
Thursday morning, I was hit upside the head with a sledgehammer and now I'm possessed. This is the first few paragraphs from my new WIP, A Poppy for Christopher. This is all I'm putting up on this blog from this, for now. There's a long row to plough before it's finished. But, I wanted to put it 'out there'. Enjoy.
“Arse like a fry cook,” Harry declared.
Grace glanced up from the hoof she was examining. “Whose got an arse like a fry cook?”
“This horse, Boss.”
She straightened up and looked at the second travelling lad. He had just finished putting the shark’s tooth quarter- marks on Allonby’s hindquarters and had stepped back to admire his handiwork. Considering that he had probably spent at least three hours in the pub after morning stables, he looked relatively sober. The quarter-marks were perfect and the colt’s coat gleamed like varnished oak, even in the gloom of the saddling enclosure. Grace had learned that Harry could be as pissed as a rat and still turn a horse out to a very high standard.
“He does look good, doesn’t he?” A racehorse trainer had once said that a good horse should have ‘the look of eagles’. Grace was pleased to see that Allonby had that look as he lifted his head and surveyed the activity on the lawn beyond the enclosure. His ears were pricked and his eyes were fixed on something that no mortal creature could see. That serene and arrogant stare gave her goose pimples and she knew that she was looking at the winner of the night’s five-furlong sprint. She patted his neck and glanced at her watch. “The General should be here soon.” The paddock was filling up with other horses, trainers, grooms and owners, standing in knots on the lawn. Women dressed in summer finery enjoying the soft warmth of the July evening as they strolled across the lawn. Grace envied them their Pimms and gin and tonics as she took a sip of lukewarm water from her plastic bottle and searched the crowd for Allonby’s owner. The jockeys were already making their way out of the weighing room and she spotted Billy Riley in the General’s grey and claret silks. To her relief, Allonby’s owner, guest in tow, was right behind him.
Grace allowed herself a relieved smile as Billy handed her the saddle, grateful that the General was one of those owners who stayed out of the saddling enclosure. She hated the owners that lingered in the box, pestering her with questions and talking as if they knew something. She tightened the girth and patted the colt on the rump as Harry led him out towards the paddock. She watched Allonby walk, remembering another pearl of wisdom, ‘walk like a hooker’. He had a loose, easy swinging walk and, although he was busy looking around, the lead rein remained relaxed and his ears twitched as he listened to Harry talking calming nonsense.
“He looks good, Miss Webb,” Billy observed as they walked towards the owner.
“He does. I reckon, if you behave yourself, we might win this one.”
The jockey laughed, “Don’t you worry. I’ll save the bad stuff for after, fancy joining me?”
“No thanks. You know me, no stamina these days. Plus, Dad’s up at York tonight so I’m in charge tomorrow.”
“You always have an excuse, boss.”
“With good reason, remember the last time we went out? I don’t think I stopped vomiting for days. You have lousy taste in restaurants, Billy.” Grace smiled as she approached the General. He was easy to spot in a crowd, with thick white hair and an alarmingly red complexion.
“Hello Grace,” he took her hand and kissed her cheek. “It’s lovely to see you.”
“It’s lovely to see you, too.”
“I brought a guest, I hope you don’t mind. Mary couldn’t make it, bridge tournament or something.”
“No, I don’t mind.”
“This is Christopher Beaumont. I served with his father in the Army. His family and mine have been friends for years.”
Grace became aware of his companion for the first time, a tall lanky man with short, tousled hair and almond shaped eyes the color of strong tea. “It’s nice to meet you,” she murmured as he shook her hand.
“It’s nice to meet you, too. I’ve heard a lot about you, Miss Webb.”‘How,’ she wondered, ‘am I supposed to concentrate on a race with this distraction?’ “All good things, I hope.” She offered him a smile and took in the jeans and the blue and white striped shirt. My God, he’s beautiful.