Hi all! We can’t wait for our Summertime Boxed set to be released this month, including seven great new novellas by Authors of Main Street authors! It’ll feature my Once Upon a Vet School #6: Fifth Miles at a Breath! (Yes, you noticed… I’m going backwards… LOL)
Well… mine’s sort of a novella… I seem to have this little problem with “writing short“. It’s come out at 59K… when it was meant to be… much less. I hope you enjoy it!
Like horses? Things veterinary? You’ll love Fifty Miles at a Breath!
Here’s the first chapter from Fifty Miles at a Breath:
Southern California, 1986
“You’ll regret you refused me,” Gareth Barnett-Payne menaced, reaching for me, but I spun and ran until my legs—
“Lena… Lena” Raywyn, the head veterinary technician, waved her hand before my eyes.
I blinked, shaking my head and willing my heart to stop pounding in my chest.
“Are you okay?” Her brows knitted together.
I gripped the edge of the desk before me. “Yes, fine,” I mumbled, wondering how anyone could be so vicious. “So,” I swallowed hard and dragged myself back to today, “what’s the surgery schedule for tomorrow, Ray?”
She looked at me sideways, then turned to the schedule before her.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to release the tension stacked up from three weeks of flea allergy dermatitis, hotspots, anal glands and catfight abscesses. Through those stinking hot Santa Barbara summer days, I yearned for the touch of a velvet nose, the solid muscle and bone, and the scent of a horse. Any horse. It wouldn’t be much longer before I could go home to my own roan. I bit my lip and scanned the small animal clinic, my eyes and nose running as freely as they’d been since the moment I first walked in through the practice doorway. Cat allergy in a vet—great. Thank god I was going to be an equine vet.
“Let’s see,” Ray’s finger ran down the page, “two dogs spays, a cruciate surgery, four cat neuters, and… hmmm… I can’t read it. I’ll need to ask Dr. Franco.” She flashed a grin at me. “With your handwriting, you should make a fantastic veterinarian, too. I can’t read a thing you write.”
“I really do try,” I said, with a rueful grin.
“Could have fooled me.”
“Not too many cats for tomorrow, then,” I sighed, “that’s a good thing.”
“We don’t have many appointments, so Dr. Franco will be free to supervise and you should be able to do most of the surgeries.”
“I’m pretty lucky,” I nodded, “I get to do so much surgery here. I’ve been speaking with some of my classmates. They just don’t get the opportunities I’ve been handed. I’ll be forever grateful to you and Dr. Franco for that. I’m going to be a horse vet, but I’m sure there’ll still be other animals in my life.”
Ray looked at me, brows narrowed, until I began to squirm, with an overwhelming urge to cover myself. “What?”
“It’s a man, isn’t it?”
I gritted my teeth and held my breath. “Maybe.”
“No maybe about it. Who is he?”
“Some creep with a control fetish.”
Ray blinked and shook her head. “Tell me he isn’t your problem anymore.”
“He’s not my problem anymore.”
I nodded. “Never was, much, though he encouraged the idea… rather forcefully.”
“You need to come out with us to a few clubs tomorrow night. Just the girls.”
“I’d rather stay away from men, but thanks all the same.”
Ray’s smile faded. “It’ll be fun, Lena. It’s a group of women. We’ll dance, have a blast, and go home. Alone. Can you think about it?” Her smile was hopeful.
“I’ll think about it,” I said, biting my lip. “Can I tell you tomorrow?”
“Sure, but we’d love to have you along.”
“I don’t know… I’m truly over men,” I swallowed hard. “They’re just not worth the angst.”
“All you have to do is come out with us. You don’t even need to dance with them. You can dance with the rest of the girls.”
I was far from certain, but I had no other plans for my hot Friday night. “Okay,” I finally said.
The electronic music throbbing across the dance floor jangled in my head. It was so loud, my heart thumped in shock along with the beat. With a deep breath, I forced my butt to stay on the barstool. And tried to smile. And look pleasant. Hard when everything about the place made me want to run screaming out the door. The men either plastic and young in their shiny, synthetic shi—
“Aren’t you glad you came with us, now?” Ray’s voice cut into my thoughts during a momentary lull in the noise,
I bit my cheek and nodded. No use wrecking her night, too. There certainly wasn’t anyone here with whom I’d want to wake up, much less spend the rest of my life. Maybe I was just too serious.
“That guy,” Ray nodded her chin, “the one who looks like he never leaves the beach, has been eyeing you up for the past half hour. Why don’t you go put him out of his misery?”
I rolled my eyes as the music started pounding again. “Come on, Ray, you know I can’t shoot guys in here,” I shouted over the music and smirked. “Someone might object.”
Ray closed her eyes and shook her head. “You really are a tough case, aren’t you?” she yelled back.
“Okay, I’ll go. I don’t imagine he knows how to dance Western Swing,” I said into her ear as I hopped from my perch.
“You go girl!” Ray barked, her eyes twinkling.
Mr. Lifeguard may have been eyeing me up, but he looked ready to bolt at my approach.
“Hi, my friend thought I should come ask you to dance.”
“Hello,” he said, with a heavy accent and I blinked.
“A Danish hello?” A smile cracked my visage.
This could be interesting.
His rabbit-in-the-headlights look dissolved and he laughed.
“Hvordan har du de?” he said, in my mother’s native language.
“Fint tak,” I replied. That made me smile. My mother would be pleased,
He started off on a stream of rapid-fire dansk, and with a laugh, I put a hand on his arm to stop him.
“Whoa there. You’ve already heard most of my Danish. From my mom, I learned hello, thank you, you’re welcome, and stand up. Baby words.”
His smile melted, and he bit his lip.
“It’s okay,” I smiled. “Want to dance?”
“Tak, thank you. That, I would love,” he said, as he put a hand on the small of my back and guided me to the crowded dance floor.
“You wouldn’t know how to dance properly, would you?”
With a smile that lit the whole room, he took my hand and whirled me around the floor. The man could dance—and I was thankful once again for my many years of Latin and ballroom lessons. I never knew when they’d come in handy, like now.
“What are you doing so far from home?” I asked, after we’d been dancing for what seemed like hours.
“I’ve been at University here, studying marine biology.”
“Really?” So, the lifeguard guess was close. “I almost did that. I love to dive—I started when I was an undergraduate here,” I shouted, “but I’m in veterinary school up north now. Maybe we could go for a dive before I have to go home.”
“I would love to,” he bit his lip, his brow furrowed, “but I fly back to Danmark tomorrow morning. I wish we’d met sooner.” He genuinely looked wistful and my heart twinged at the thought of the friendship we might have had.
“Believe me when I say I’m gutted to hear you’re leaving.” That’d be right. I finally meet someone with the same interests… and he’s heading halfway around the world the next day.
“Sorry, very sorry.” My mouth twisted.
“Me too,” said the Viking. He took my hand and made a little bow over it, then he kissed it. I had to take a deep breath and lock my knees to keep from melting. I love Europeans.
“It seems your friends are ready to leave.” He nodded at Ray’s table full of women. They looked at us over their empty glasses, purses slung over their shoulders. “Mange tusind tak, and goodbye for now,” he said, as he turned away toward his own friends.
Many thousand thanks…
My heart sinking, I rejoined Ray and her friends as they walked out the door.
Outside on the street, Ray and I split from her friends and turned toward our apartment over the clinic. Ray stared at the retreating back of the blonde Viking as he and his friends headed away from us and tripped over a crack in the pavement. She recovered and turned back to me. Her mouth twitched in the light of the streetlamp. “Well, you’ve certainly found yourself a live one,” she said, with a wink. “When will you see him again?”
I snorted. “Probably never. He flies home to Denmark tomorrow.”
Ray’s face fell. “You can’t be serious.”
“Story of my life.” I nodded. “Told you it’s not worth it,” I couldn’t repress a smile, “but the dancing was spectacular.”
“You two were awesome out there.”
“It was all him. I just followed.”
“Could have fooled me,” Ray muttered.
“Truth be told, it’s easier, or safer, anyway, than dancing Western Swing, where the only rules are to try to stay on your feet while they fling you around. It’s fun, but Jesper’s dancing was… so much more subtle. It was easy, like… like… dancing.” I beamed at my friend. “Thank you for dragging me along. I really enjoyed myself.”
“You at least have each other’s contacts, right?”
My mouth dropped open and nothing came out.
“I can see,” Ray sighed, “I’ll need to take you under my wing. You clearly lack training.”
We both laughed, but mine was a bit self-conscious.
“I’ll be okay.” I gave her a half smile. “My focus needs to be veterinary school now. I really don’t have the time or the energy for anything other than that. The next two years are going to be hard enough just taking care of me and my animals, without worrying about the ups and downs of a relationship.”
“I see,” Ray said, though she looked like she did no such thing.
“It’s really true,” I said firmly, wrapped an arm around Ray’s shoulders, and gave her a squeeze. “I have friends like you. What more could a vet student want?”
“I guess you’re right, and you have your precious horse waiting for you back at home.” Ray stopped dead and stared at me. “Oh my god, horse.…” she slapped her palm to her forehead and jerked her head toward me. “How could I forget about you?”
“A vet tech friend of mine asked me last week if I knew anyone who could help at an endurance ride next weekend.”
“Like a horse endurance ride?” I goggled at her.
“No, you goof, they’re racing penguins. Of course, it’s a horse endurance ride.” Ray’s eyes sparkled. She’d grown up with horses, but with her head tech position at the clinic, she didn’t have time for them now.
“Where do I sign?”
“Have you ever helped at an endurance ride?”
“I’ve been on the ‘P & R Team’ at the vet school and my family’s done endurance since before I was born—I’ve been on my family’s Tevis Cup crew since before I could walk.”
“Boy, am I glad to hear that.” Ray let out a breath and shook her head. “Sarah’s desperate for some helpers.” She turned to me, brow furrowed. “What’s a P & R team?”
“P for pulse, R for respiration. It’s a team of vet students that helps at local endurance rides by taking heart rates and respiratory rates on the horses before they go on to the vets at the control checks. It frees the vets up to focus on lameness and metabolic problems.”
“Oh, of course.”
“Where is it?” A tingle of excitement ran up my back.
“It’s at Los Lomitos, about an hour and a half from here. I’ll make you a deal: if you go help Sarah, you can leave on Friday at noon and needn’t be back at work until Tuesday morning—you can take some time for yourself up there.”
The weight, the tension sliding from my shoulders made me want to dance the rest of the way home. I was grateful for the opportunity offered by this summer preceptorship, but I wasn’t sure if I’d survive a whole two months down here, away from home and my animals, with only patient dogs and cats for company. Ray was offering me not only respite, but horses, too.
“Sweeten the deal,” Ray said, at my continued silence, “I’ll send you with my tent, sleeping bag and everything you’ll need to camp in luxury. Including poison oak medication.”
I laughed, afraid my cheeks might split from smiling so widely. “I’m in. You had me at hello.”
It was still early afternoon on Friday when I arrived at the endurance race campground and found Ray’s friend Sarah, the ride manager.
I’d beamed at myself in the rearview mirror for most of the drive. Four days of horses, camping, and outdoor life after the desert of life in a city. I’d owe Ray forever.
The somewhat frazzled Sarah managed a welcoming smile for me. “There’s nothing you need to do until later, Lena,” she said, handing me a lanyard and passes. “Ray told me your history, and I can’t say how glad I am to have a volunteer of your experience and training.”
“Happy to help,” I said. “I just want to touch some horses.”
“Plenty of opportunity for that.” Sarah’s eyes twinkled. “The P & R team briefing starts at 7 p.m. and there’s another session afterward to practice taking pulse and respiratory rates. You wouldn’t want to help with that, would you?”
“Of course,” I said. “I’m at your disposal.”
“I’d hoped you’d say that. Most of the team are experienced horse people, but only a few have taken vitals before.”
“I’d be happy to help them.” I smiled.
“Thanks so much.” Sarah’s eyes glinted. “Go ahead and set up your camp. There’s a nice swimming hole in the creek, just down there,” she pointed, “if you feel so inclined. I need to run,” she said, as a man wearing an OFFICIAL badge touched her on the shoulder, an expectant look on his face. “I’ll see you at dinner.” Sarah and the man headed off at a trot.
As my meals were supplied by the ride management, setting up camp took only minutes and I was soon free to enjoy my afternoon.
A luxury I haven’t had in long months,
Inside Ray’s tent, I dropped my jeans and slipped into my shorts and bikini top, grabbed a towel, and headed for the proffered swimming hole. I hadn’t gotten far when the throaty rumble of an Arabian caught my attention. He stared at me intently from his wooden tie stall and I approached him, looking around for someone connected to this magnificent creature, but no one was near. His blood bay coat gleamed over a faultlessly muscled body. He whickered again as I neared him. With his body carriage, he had to be a stallion, so I peeked under his belly. Yep, a stallion.
I reached out a hand to him and he lipped gently at my palm.
“Ooh, aren’t you the most handsome man?” I murmured.
I jumped when he answered.
“Why, thank you,” came a deep voice, tinged with humor.
I chuckled into the laughing gaze of the man who raised himself from the ground behind the short wall at the stallion’s feet. “I thought he answered me, for a moment.”
The man’s face creased into deep laugh lines around his gorgeous blue eyes. He was as handsome as the horse, to be sure.
“He talks, this boy,” he said, as he slid one arm over the bay’s back and gave him a scratch on his withers, then stuck out his other hand. “Blake, Blake Sagan. Pleased to meet you.”
I smiled and introduced myself. “Just admiring your stallion. He’s a beaut.”
“Thanks. He’s pretty special. His name’s Prince. Prince Witeż, after his grandfather. My pride and joy. Are you racing tomorrow?”
“Not this time. I’m here to help, P & R team.”
“Ever been to an endurance ride before?” He looked sideways at me while he waited for my answer.
“Oh, a few. My grandfather’s done the Tevis Cup numerous times, my mom and stepdad a few more, and I’ve done some shorter rides plus ride & ties. I usually get to crew, though.”
“Ah,” his eyes glinted, “you must be the vet student from Santa Barbara.”.
I blinked. News traveled fast.
“I knew Sarah was looking for helpers.” He smiled. “Thanks for coming along.”
“Glad to help. I was in serious need of a horse fix. I’ve been working in a small animal clinic this summer.”
“Not keen on the smallies?”
“I love them, but my heart’s with the horses.”
“You off for a swim?” He nodded at my towel.
“Sure am. Sarah told me to go down by the bridge.”
“It’s a nice spot, but there’s an even better one a little way upstream. I’m taking Prince down there for a swim shortly.”
“I’ll see you down there, then.”
“Be there soon,” he said, and waved at me as I walked away.
Blake’s gaze—there was more light in that man’s sparkling eyes then I’d seen in ages. I wondered what he did besides ride horses—with that quick, intelligent spark, it must be something special.
What can I be thinking?
The next two years are not about more devastating relationships. It’s time to finish my doctorate and establish my career.
I cannot go there.
I simply cannot.
Want to read more? Keep an eye out for Fifty Miles at a Breath in Summertime Romance on Main Street!
Coming in June 2018!