I met Nelson Anderson not too long after Wynter O’Reilly started to work for him. I had gone out with a friend to take a look at a horse one of his amateur owners had for sale. The owner was focused on the hunter ring, but her mount had a mentality much better suited to eventing. Since the owner was on a business trip, Nelson agreed to meet us.
“I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t offer to ride him for you.” He gestured to his cane. “I’m afraid those days are over. Thomas, our trainer, has one of the stable girls getting the gelding ready. We can put another rider up unless you just want to go ahead and get a feel for him?”
My friend grabbed her hard hat from the back seat of her truck. “I’d just as soon see how he works without someone else warming him up first.”
Nelson nodded, the sun glinting off some of the silver in his hair. I wondered why a man as young as he was already had gray streaks through his dark head, but one glance at the cane on which he leaned was reminder enough. As a former journalist, I kept up with area news and remembered his story.
“Laura? Is that you?” I turned at the sound of a familiar voice.
“Wynter? I haven’t seen you in ages. What are…?”
“I work here.” Her glance shifted uneasily to the man behind me. “I was just getting ready to walk the gelding out to the ring. You could come with me and we’ll catch up while your friend talks to Mr. Anderson.”
I studied her from narrowed eyes. I knew she’d disappeared from the Southards and got the distinct feeling she didn’t want Nelson Anderson to know her background. I turned to my host.
“Wynter and I are acquainted. I hope you don’t mind…”
He nodded his head slightly, without smiling. “Not at all. Wynter’s one of our newer employees and a very hard worker.”
I smiled. “Yes. She’s always been that.”
As we drew away from them, I glanced sideways at Wynter. “What are you doing here? Does your mom know?”
Wynter shook her head. “Please. Don’t say anything to her. I’ll get in touch with her soon, I promise. I just… You know Mr. Southard pulled my scholarship.”
“Tell me about it. But you’ll never guess. I’ve gotten into Duke on my own, and I just started classes.”
“That’s great! How’s it going so far?”
As we halted next to the arena, I glanced back at Nelson and my friend whose pace was necessarily slower to accommodate Anderson’s limp. “How’s your boss?”
I was surprised to see Wynter blush. “He’s okay.” She shifted nervously, her glance once more on Anderson. Ahh…a bit of a crush. “I gotta go. I still gotta finish shovelin’ shit.”
“Picking stalls,” I murmured automatically.
“Yeah. Whatever. Listen, You won’t say anything to my mom, will you?”
I shook my head. “That’s your job.”
She handed me the reins and darted back for the barn, with a quick nod to my friend and Anderson.
After horse and rider were in the ring, Anderson glanced at me from his dark blue eyes. “If you don’t mind my asking…how do you know Wynter?”
I laughed. “Fox hunting. The Southards kept the poor kid hopping seven days a week.”
I sensed a certain stiffness in Anderson’s manner. “The Southards are friends of yours?”
I arched a brow. “I’m a writer and a journalist who barely scrapes together a hunt subscription each year. Payton Southard and his wife barely know I breathe. I like it that way.”
He relaxed. “Wynter’s told me enough to know she was lucky to get out of there.”
“She was. I hate she lost her scholarship in the process because she’s brilliant and driven, but getting away from that family’s probably one of the best things that’s happened to her.”
He glanced over his shoulder, and I saw the way he tracked Wynter as she rolled the wheel barrow from the barn to the manure pile. His hand clenched on the head of his cane until his knuckles shown white.
“She’s a great young woman,” I murmured. “All she needs is just a few things to go her way for a change.”
I turned back to the ring. Wow, there was already a lot of tension between those two. They just didn’t know about it.
I’m so glad I got to tell their story. You can find it July 4th: Winning Heart from Lyrical Press.