Posts Tagged ‘horses’

The Exmoor Pony is the oldest breed of native pony in Great Britain, first domesticated by the Celts. They are  stocky, sturdy animals, known for their hardiness and resistance to many of the diseases that affect most other breeds of horses. I first read about them years ago, and the notion of an ancient, almost mystical breed of pony running wild on the moors and mountains of Devon captured my imagination and wouldn’t let go. The seed of Recklessly Yours was planted then. In the story, Colin is protecting a herd of Exmoors, although in his own words, he belongs to them much more than they could ever belong to him. His fate, and that of his family and those who live on their Devonshire estate, is closely tied to his ability to do right by these exquisite creatures.

If you’d like to read more about Exmoor Ponies, here are some links:

www.exmoorponysociety.org.uk
http://www.exmoorponies.co.uk/
http://www.horseshowcentral.com/ponies/exmoor_pony/376/1

Excerpt: (In which Holly is attempting to avoid a gang of angry villagers outside Colin’s estate on the Devonshire Moors…)

Beyond a doubt, she had taken a wrong direction. As she raced around the rheumatic twist of a dead rowan, the stream, foaming furiously, wound its way across her path and brought her to an uncertain halt. Some dozen yards to her left, a very different footbridge from the one she’d first crossed spanned the flooded banks. This one, made of wood, appeared much older and narrower than the other. She sprinted to it only to discover the planking to be faded and splintered, even broken in places. The structure hardly looked trustworthy.

Another glance behind her revealed no sign of either the villagers or the man in the greatcoat. Had they given up their pursuit, or slipped into hiding to await her next move? She scanned the horizon ahead of her and to her great relief detected the corner of a chimney scraping the sky. The rain began to fall harder, obscuring her vision.

Grabbing hold of the rail, she gingerly placed a foot on the first plank. The bridge trembled slightly but otherwise seemed solid enough. The way across couldn’t be more than a dozen yards, a stone’s throw. If she went quickly and remained light on her feet . . .

Halfway across, the bridge sagged beneath her weight. The stream lapped at her feet, shocking her toes with frigid water and making her afraid to move in either direction. Logic demanded she continue forward, but her next step produced a resounding crack.

The slat splintered in half and one foot fell out from under her, plunging calf deep into the racing water. She gripped the rails with both hands and for several seconds clung to hope. Then the bridge shuddered and broke apart. Holly felt herself falling, splashing into the frothing, frigid water, engulfed in her own terror and the relentless current.

#

Deep into the valley a mile and a half from Briarview, Colin shortened Cordelier’s reins to slow the stallion’s pace. The Exmoor ponies coursed around him and pounded past, their ranks narrowing as they surged between the rocky granite tors that ringed the valley’s eastern rim. Cordelier came to a restive halt, snorting and pawing the ground while the last of the herd disappeared at a gallop.

As the trembling of the ground stilled and the air quieted, the euphoric thudding of his heart eased and the rush of blood through his veins calmed. They were his responsibility, those ponies, and his duty to protect them brought him joy he never spoke of, not to another living soul. However much his father believed he owned the herd that roamed his land, Colin knew the ponies belonged to no man. They belonged to the earth, to tradition and legend. They were free, and only by the dictates of their collective will did they tolerate an outside presence among them.

As they tolerated Colin and Cordelier. As a boy he’d discovered that all he needed to do was ride out across the moors, and the ponies would gallop with him, accepting him as one of the herd. He didn’t understand it, but the realization had dawned that he belonged to them far more than they could ever belong to him. True, they needed his protection from those who would separate or abuse them—men like his father—or those who would destroy their native habitat, but he needed them just as much, for it was only with them that he felt truly alive.

He laughed out loud at the notion, a bitter sound bitten off by a rainy gust. Ironic that it took a herd of wild ponies to remind him that he was a free man with passions and dreams of his own, and not merely Thaddeus Ashworth’s heir. Here, on the upper reaches of the Devonshire moors, with the ground coursing beneath him and the sky stretching above, the pounding of hooves drowned out the cynicism and self-doubt his father had planted inside him at an early age.

At least, all that had been true as recently as two days ago. Now, however. . . .

The conviction had filled him that with Holly at his side, he had the power to break free of whatever curses, real or imagined, held him and his family. With her in his life, he might finally know happiness.

Sucking a draft of soggy air deep into his lungs, he swung Cordelier about and headed for home. Bringing Holly into his world would more likely change her life for the worse, than his for the better. It was not a chance he’d willingly take.

He neared Briarview’s forested acreage, preparing to jump Cordelier over the stream that looped around it. He leaned low over the stallion’s dark mane just as a tangle of rotten, broken boards rushed by on the water. Screams pierced the wind. Colin lurched upright in the saddle, prompting Cordelier to bounce to a stop. Colin pricked his ears, and another desperate cry sent Cordelier rearing up on hind legs, his front hooves thrashing.

Colin’s blood ran cold. The old footbridge. With a tap of his heels he and Cordelier set off at a gallop.

In less than a minute he came upon a half-submerged flurry of dark skirts and white petticoats; a pair of hands groped frantically at the air. Holly’s desperate face appeared briefly in the foaming waters. The current closed over her, flipped her around, and thrust her upward again. All Colin could see of her now were glistening, streaming ribbons of red hair. His heart rocketed into his throat. Oh, God . . . oh, God.

“Holly!” he shouted, “I’m coming!”

He turned Cordelier again and urged him to a full-out gallop along the bank of the stream. As he went, Colin slid free of the stirrups and slung a leg over the stallion’s neck so that both his feet dangled toward the water. Holding his breath, he waited until he rode up even with Holly, and then passed her by several long paces. In a few more yards the watercourse would narrow slightly—enough, he prayed, for what he intended.

A tightening of the reins slowed Cordelier to a canter. Colin mentally counted to three, then propelled himself from the saddle, hitting the bank with a force that clacked his teeth together. Using the momentum, he slid down the bank into the water. Submerged chest deep, he fought past the chill and battled the current to reach the middle of the stream.

His arms outstretched and his feet braced as solidly as possible against the rocky stream bed, he waited as swirling fabric, streaming hair, and Holly’s white, terrified face rushed closer. She hit him with an impact that knocked the breath from his lungs. His feet threatened to slip, his legs to swing out from under him. He closed his arms around her and she went limp against him, her own arms hanging slack, her legs tangling with his. The water clawed at her saturated skirts, almost prying her loose from his arms.

Clutching her tighter, he called on all the strength he possessed to hug her to his chest. He sidestepped toward the far bank, where the overhanging branches of a willow tree skimmed the current. Limbs stiff with cold and muscles aching from the exertion, he fought his way closer to the tree and chanced lifting one arm from around her. Reaching out, he gripped a branch and hauled himself and Holly out of the water and onto the muddy bank.

Her eyes closed, her body wilting against the ground, she showed no signs of consciousness. On his knees beside her, he swept the sodden snarls of hair from her cheeks and cupped her face in his hands. “Holly. Oh, God . . . please . . .”

He rubbed her cheeks, hands, and arms in a desperate attempt to force the blood to flow. Hunching over her, he slipped an arm beneath her shoulders and lifted her against him, pressing his lips to her forehead, to her mouth. Then he remembered something vital. As her sister had once done for Simon after an experiment had nearly killed him, he opened her mouth and breathed into her, forcing air in and out of her lungs. All the while he prayed and raged and promised God anything . . . anything. . . .

A sputtering cough sent dizzying relief all through him. Her eyelids fluttered, and a racking cough shook her frame. Over and over she coughed, cringing from the force, her shoulders wrenching.

Twisting away from him, she doubled over, her face hanging low over the ground as she gagged and purged the stream water from her lungs. Helpless to provide relief, Colin thrust an arm across the front of her shoulders to support her while with his other hand he gathered her hair and held it back from her face. Each convulsion echoed through him until the tension flowed from her body.

“What . . . happened?” Her head hanging, her voice came as a tremulous flutter. Wiping shaky fingers across her lips, she gazed feebly up at him. Her image blurred before his eyes, obscured by tears he couldn’t prevent. He felt her cold palm against his cheek. “You saved me.”

Then her hand fell away and she collapsed against him in a dead faint.

~

Last chance to leave a comment to be entered in my giveaway. There are three copies of RECKLESSLY YOURS and a $15 e-gift certificate, and I’ll be choosing the winners Monday with Random/org. Check back to see if you’ve won!

And if not, click on the covers below to see where you can find Recklessly Yours, and books 1 & 2: Most Eagerly Yours and Outrageously Yours…

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Fact: Most people know that England’s inheritance system was based on primogeniture, meaning that titles and estates were always passed down intact to the eldest son, leaving younger sons scrambling for means of supporting themselves, often by purchasing a commission in the military or entering the clergy. Primogeniture usually involved an “entail”, which basically said the estate – the family seat at least – was legally tied to the title and could not be sold or divided up in any way. This ensured that great estates stayed that way, rather than be chiseled away to become smaller and smaller with each generation by dividing it among siblings. If there was no eldest son to inherit, the next in line might be a nephew or cousin, etc. Except in extremely rare cases, daughters could inherit neither the title nor the entail. This system often led to impoverished gentlewomen with very little means of support other than family charity. And so we have the Dashwood Sisters of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that property or wealth not included in the entail, for instance revenues from other sources such as independent investments, smaller inheritances, or property purchased separately, could be left to anyone the owner wished, including women. There were no laws that said women couldn’t inherit and own property, but they rarely did. The reason? Women were believed to be incapable of managing their finances – they would no doubt squander the inheritance, or be cheated out of it. Most fathers therefore avoided leaving anything to their unmarried daughters, or if they did, they assigned a guardian or trustee to oversee things, which basically left her at his mercy. If a woman was married, of course, her husband immediately gained full control of any wealth she inherited. By the way,Victoria was no great proponent of women’s rights. On domestic issues she typically deferred to Albert’s judgment, and she had no patience for the growing suffragette movement. I know, you’d think…

Excerpt: (Yesterday we saw Colin in action. Today it’s Holly’s turn…)

Perched sidesaddle, Lady Sabrina cantered once around the paddock, catching Holly’s eye as she rode past her and flashing a grin Holly couldn’t help returning.

The filly, Sport o’ Kings, glided in and out of the obstacles, its stride smooth and steady. “Oh, Lady Sabrina is quite good,” Holly exclaimed, her pulse accelerating even as the young woman quickened the pace.

Beside her, Mr. Bentley grumbled, “If their father were at home, he’d never allow it.”

“Allow what?” Holly tilted her head at him, though she kept her eyes on Lady Sabrina. She took the first jump smoothly, but as she approached the next, the animal balked, threw his head up, and swerved hard to the right. Unprepared, Lady Sabrina wobbled in the saddle.

Gasps shot through the spectators. She quickly recovered her balance, but the horse’s footing remained erratic. It shied away from the next obstacle and again, the sudden motion threatened Lady Sabrina’s balance. She hung on and tried to steady the animal, but to no avail.

“She’s in trouble,” Holly announced to no one in particular.

“Good God, not again,” replied a voice she hadn’t expected.

Lord Drayton stood at her shoulder, his brow knotted in a scowl of concentration.

Sabrina came around the paddock toward them, her horse kicking up enough dust to attract first Colin’s attention, then his concern. He studied the animal’s stride, heard the faltering beat of its hooves striking the ground. Around the fence, spectators pulled back and covered their mouths to ward off swirling clouds of earth.

“It’s become a battle of wills,” Miss Sutherland said softly. The breeze shifted, bringing her spicy scent to tantalize his senses. For a moment he forgot his sister and thought only of the beauty beside him. What had she and Bentley been talking about?

Bentley—if ever a man had been in danger of having his neck snapped, he had in those minutes he’d claimed Miss Sutherland’s hand. And yet what business was it of Colin’s whose hand she held? She wasn’t his. She could never be. Period.

“My lord, your sister is typically a proficient rider, is she not?”

The urgency in her voice snapped him back to his senses. “This isn’t at all like Sabrina,” he said. She seemed to be doing all the wrong things and making matters worse. He cupped his hands around his mouth. “Sabrina, ease up and go with her, not against her.”

The filly stopped, lurched, and attempted abrupt changes in direction while Sabrina fought to hold her on course. Miss Sutherland leaned forward over the rail. “Something must be done. If she doesn’t loosen the reins, she risks rendering the animal head shy.”

The term set off an alarm inside him. “I’m not about to let that happen.”

He strode to the gate, swung it open, and entered the paddock. Sabrina came round again, still clearly struggling, the filly increasingly agitated. Colin moved into their path, his arms extended to attract the filly’s attention. The animal knew him; he’d conducted the greater portion of her training and had long since won her trust. He could have approached her in any field, held out his hand, and within moments had her nibbling oats from his palm.

Not today. When she saw him, her eyes rounded and her nostrils flared. Colin sensed her apprehension just before she whinnied and swung wide. The filly reared and Sabrina’s little plaid riding cap flew off. Colin’s gut clenched as he expected his sister to tumble to the ground after it, but her well-honed sense of balance kept her in her seat.

Colin started toward them again. He was still some yards away when hoofbeats surged from behind him and a lengthy shadow swept past him.

Holly didn’t wait to see if Lord Drayton would meet with success. As he hurried to his sister’s aid, she hefted her skirts and ran to the opposite enclosure, where other horses awaited their turn in the paddock. The closest horse to the gate was a bay, already saddled and tied to the rail.

“Miss? Excuse me, but what on earth do you think you’re about?”

Holly ignored the groom and pulled herself into the saddle. With no time for niceties such as adjusting her skirts so she could approximate a sidesaddle position, she slipped her feet into the stirrups. The youth’s face was a streak of ruddy color as she urged the colt past him.

“Miss! Come back here! You can’t—”

The colt’s energy pulsed beneath her like surging ocean waves. She must be careful or she could just as easily lose control and find herself in the same predicament as Lady Sabrina. She glimpsed Lord Drayton’s face as she rode past him, saw his surprise give way to consternation and then anger. She took no heed as he shouted her name.

Sport o’ Kings danced about, shaking her head and pulling at the reins, giving Lady Sabrina a jolting ride. It appeared the young woman could barely manage to hang on. Praying she could keep the colt calm, Holly urged him to the filly’s side.

“Give her her head and allow her to follow my lead,” Holly called softly to Lady Sabrina. The girl nodded and carefully loosened the reins.

Holly wagered on a horse’s instinct to run in a pack, and on the filly and the colt having a rapport. The filly acknowledged the colt’s presence with a twitch of her ears and a momentary easing of her erratic movements. Holding her breath, Holly stole the opportunity to squeeze with her knees and set the colt to an even, comfortable lope.

With a burst of triumph she watched the filly take her cue from the other horse. Matching his pace, she fell in beside him, her stride smoothing and elongating. After a lap around the paddock, Holly ever so gradually slowed the colt to a trot, then a walk, and then finally brought both animals to a halt.

Sport o’ Kings’s fatigue showed in her snorting breaths and her quivering, sweating flanks. Holly leaned over to run the flat of her hand along the filly’s damp neck. Lady Sabrina’s hands shook where they lay in her lap, still clutching the reins.

Lord Drayton ran up to the filly’s side. “Are you all right?”

Her brow furrowed, her gaze pinned on the black mane in front of her, Lady Sabrina nodded faintly. Her brother raised his arms to grasp his sister about the waist. She leaned in to him and allowed him to lower her to the ground.

“You were fighting her, Sabrina,” her brother said quietly. “You know better than that.”

“She has never behaved that way before. . . . I don’t understand it. . . .” Lady Sabrina regarded the filly, standing calmly now and rubbing her head against the colt’s neck.

As Lord Drayton and his sister continued their murmured conversation, Holly became aware of the twittering onlookers.

My goodness, did she really ride in astride?

Did you see how her skirts flew up to expose her ankles?

She did save the day, albeit in a rather scandalous manner.

Her family? They’re nobody, really. . . .

She glanced around at the shocked and curious faces, her cheeks heating. The urgency of the situation had sent her scurrying for a remedy, the only one she could think of. Only now did she realize how she looked to the others, sitting astride in the saddle with her skirts tucked round her legs and her ankles on display. She remembered the earl’s angry look as she had ridden by him. Her heart sank and her cheeks flamed hotter.

“Miss Sutherland?” He had moved beside her horse, and stood with his arms extended to her.

“Lord Drayton, I am sorry. I only thought to . . .”

“Yes, but not now, Miss Sutherland. Please, just let me help you down.”

His hands braced her sides at her waist, and what should have been a simple gesture of assistance set off a firestorm of confusion inside her. She forgot to lean and set her hands on his shoulders so he could lift her from the saddle. She knew only that he touched her as he had never touched her before, and that she wished him to go on touching her, touching more of her, touching her endlessly. His hands were strong and warm and sure, as she had always known they would be, all those times she had peeked at them and tried to imagine them on her.

She’d gotten her wish, but to what purpose?

“Miss Sutherland, is something wrong?” Oblivious to her untoward musings, he lowered his arms. “You seemed in control, but perhaps you were injured?”

She shook her head, more to clear it than in reply, so aloud she said, “I was not hurt, my lord.”

Why do you suppose she just sits there?

Can you hear what she is saying to him?

The continued speculation sent fresh waves of heat climbing from her chin to her hairline.

The earl raised his hands to her again. “If you please, then.”

“Oh, yes. How silly of me.”

She set her hands on his wide, sturdy shoulders. He seemed to bear her weight with no effort at all. As he lowered her to the ground, she leaned more fully in to him—she couldn’t help herself—and her thighs brushed his, and then her breasts briefly grazed his hard chest, sending a shock of awareness through her.

“There you are,” he whispered. Her feet touched the ground, but he didn’t release her. They stood toe-to-toe, bodies no longer touching but close enough for his heat to penetrate her clothing, for his breath to graze her cheek, for her lips to feel drawn to his as if by a magnetic pull…

 You know what to do – leave a comment to be entered in my drawing for three copies of Recklessly Yours and one e-gift certificate to a bookstore!

Recklessly Yours releases this coming Tuesday!

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What is it with adolescent girls and horses? If you don’t know what I mean, then maybe that particular bug didn’t bite you when you were younger, but when I was about 10 or so, I suddenly became all out horse-crazy. All I wanted to do was ride, be around horses, become a jockey like Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet.

My parents put up with it, but they hated the whole idea of me riding. It was dangerous. Horses are big, dumb animals that can’t be trusted, etc., etc. I guess I can’t blame them. Horse are big! But dumb? Not in my experience. They’re like any other domesticated animal. Establish a rapport with them, earn their trust, and you’ve got a loving, loyal friend. I was never lucky enough to own a horse, but I took lessons and rode as often as I could, and a couple even became my special friends through the years.

Even now, I can’t explain why so many girls turn horse-crazy. But I do know that during a time of such physical and emotional upheaval, riding is a fantastic confidence-builder. I was about 11 when I started riding. I was a tiny kid and not particularly athletic in the usual sense, but learning that even without muscles I had the ability to control this huge animal filled me with pride and a real sense of accomplishment.

It was also more fun than anything, exciting, and absolutely liberating, as close to flying as a human can come without actually leaving the ground. There’s nothing like galloping across a field with the ground blurring beneath you. Nothing like soaring over a jump (and realizing you’re still in the saddle, lol). Nothing like the focus and rhythm that takes over while your troubles and concerns melt away. And that’s something every girl needs.

I rarely ride anymore, but I remember the feeling, and I remember how much I loved it. And I’ve put all those treasured memories into Holly, the heroine of RECKLESSLY YOURS, whose vow to serve the queen sends her on a quest to recover a stolen Thoroughbred colt. Her love and affinity for horses makes her the perfect person to find the colt, until the question arises as to what’s best for this extraordinary animal. Then, suddenly, Holly’s love for horses…and her growing love for the very man who stole him…threaten to undermine her loyalty to queen and country.

In a very personal way, this is a book of my heart. I hope it becomes a book of the heart for every reader who ever fell head-over-heels in love with horses and riding. RECKLESSLY YOURS will be out on Dec. 6th!

That’s me at about 12 years old.

Were you/are you a horse lover? What else were you passionate about when you were growing up?

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