The Son & His Hope Page 2

She bit her lip, looking at the flags and fake bull in the corner with barely any effort. “Yeah?”

“That’s for Working Equitation. Perhaps, when you can steer a bit better, you can have a go at an obstacle.”

I fully expected that promise to cheer her up. Working Equitation was awesome.

But it didn’t.

“Umm, ca-can I get off?” Her chin tucked, and she pulled on the reins instead of using her seat like I’d told her.

“What? Why?”

“Stop.” She pulled harder, then remembered her manners. “Please.”

I stopped walking, and Binky let out a soft sigh. Little asshole knew he’d won.

Without waiting for me to help her down, she swung her leg over the saddle and leapt before taking her other foot out of the stirrup.

She tumbled toward the ground.

Instinct made me leap forward and half catch her, half act as a landing pad as her weight tripped me sideways.

“Oof!” I crunched into the dirt with her on top of me.

“Oops!” Her knee caught me in places it shouldn’t, and her elbow jabbed my throat. “Sorry, I—”

“God’s sake. Stop squirming.” I clamped my hands on her shoulders, holding her in place while I made sure she wasn’t tangled with any tack and Binky was a safe distance away to shove her to her feet.

Helping her upward, I stood as she swatted at sand and dust on her no-longer-new jeans.

Arching my spine, working out the kink she’d left me with, my gaze trailed to something lacy and black left on the ground.

Scooping it up, I narrowed my eyes at the tatty piece of torn something or other.

Fast fingers snatched it from me, then stuffed it into her back pocket.

“What was that?” I dropped my hand slowly.

“Nothing.”

“It was something.”

“Forget it.” She stomped toward her dad, undoing her helmet and letting it swing from dejected fingers.

What the hell had gone wrong?

She’d been all over this thirty minutes ago…and now…she acted as if I’d forced her onto the damn horse.

I whistled for Binky who trailed after me without having to hold him. Together, we followed Hope while I did my best not to eavesdrop.

“Lace? What’s up?” Her dad put his phone into his pocket and went to open the gate to exit the arena. He grabbed her in a hug, pressing her face to his chest. “Something happen?”

Hope sighed heavily. “I suck.”

Ah! So that was what was going on.

“You don’t suck.” He chuckled, which was probably the worst thing he could do. I knew because it all made sense now.

Hope had been one of those.

The type of rider who watched so many programs and movies and dreamed about riding, they thought they’d hop on and it would be natural. That the horse would do what they wanted when they asked, and it would be a seamless bond between human and animal.

Silly girl.

“I do. I’m terrible. I don’t want to do this after all.” Hope tore herself out of her dad’s embrace. “It was stupid to come.”

“You waited a year to try horse riding. Don’t give up after a few minutes.” Her dad glanced at me lingering with Binky.

Hope shook her head vehemently. “Don’t care. I suck and want to leave.”

Her dad clucked his tongue. “Ah, now, everyone sucks when they first start.”

I groaned under my breath as he said yet another wrong thing.

I didn’t want Hope hanging around Cherry River, but I didn’t want to crush her dreams either.

I’d been semi-responsible for her disappointment.

I’d let her fumble around like a moron without giving her proper guidance.

This was my fault.

I wanted to keep my mouth shut and celebrate that she was about to leave, but the longer I watched her, the more guilty I became. So guilty, my stomach churned and the heavy presence that I always felt when I screwed up whispered down my back.

Dad hadn’t told me off often when he was alive, but his ghost was judging me now. Arms crossed, head shaking, reprimand bright in his dark gaze.

“Yeah, yeah.” I sighed at the sky. “I know.”

“Did you say something?” Graham looked up, worry etching his eyes as Hope brushed by him, her boots kicking dirt with frustration.

“Yeah, I did actually.” Grabbing Binky’s reins, I pulled them over his head and passed the worn leather to Graham. “Hold him for a sec.”

Without waiting for his reply, I jogged past him and caught up with Hope. “Giving up, huh?”

She glowered with angry green eyes. “Just realised horses aren’t for me.”

“I call bullshit.”

“Don’t swear.” Her hoity-toity nose rose. “Dad will hear you.”

“Don’t care. And I can swear. This is my home. My rules.”

“And now you get your home back, don’t you?” She sneered, no longer the sweet kid trying to be my friend. “We’re leaving.”

“Not yet, you’re not.”

“What?”

“Wait here.”

“Nuh-uh.” She crossed her arms, planting herself to the ground. “I want to leave. Right now.”

“Two minutes.” I held up two fingers, then took off toward the back meadow.

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