When happily ever after.., p.1
When Happily Ever After Ends, p.1Lurlene McDaniel
Hurled backward, Shannon strained to see around her mother. What horror had happened? Where was her father? Instantly, her gaze found him at his desk. His body was slumped forward and blood puddled on the gleaming wood surface. Shannon gagged and tried to force her way past her mother, who struggled to push her out of the room.
Shannon heard someone screaming and screaming, and until her mother stopped shaking her, she didn’t realize it was her.
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Copyright © 1992 by Lurlene McDaniel
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Bantam Books Edition published March 1992
First Laurel-Leaf Edition April 2003
I would like to thank Mary Peiz, Signal Mountain, Tennessee, for her generous sharing of time and materials about horses and hunt seat equitation. Also, appreciation to Sue Holtkamp of Something More for her input.
This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you, life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life.…
DEUTERONOMY 30:19 (NIV)
“Happy birthday, honey,” Shannon Campbell’s parents announced in unison. “What do you think of Blackwatch?” her father asked. “Did we surprise you?”
Speechless, Shannon Campbell stared at the horse in the stall. Her horse. A gift from her parents. She turned toward her parents. “He’s mine? Really and truly mine?”
“Really and truly,” her mother confirmed, smiling. “We’ve been looking for just the right horse for months. Your dad found him at auction in Kentucky last spring. We’ve been boarding him there until today.”
Shannon could tell from the look on her father’s face how pleased he was by her total surprise. “But you never said a word!” she cried, throwing her arms around her mother, then her father. His flannel shirt was soft against her cheek. “Daddy, I love him! I just love him. You too. Both of you.” She bounded to the stall, opened the door, and stepped inside. The horse, munching on feed from a bucket, pricked his ears forward.
His coat was a deep shade of chestnut, almost black, and his large brown eyes were bright and intelligent. “He’s got good bloodlines,” her father explained as he entered the stall and stood beside her. “Thoroughbred and Morgan. He’s registered under the name of Blackwatch—that’s also the name of a Scottish fighting brigade. I thought it fitting.” He ran his hands along the horse’s thick, well-muscled neck, across the sleek flank and down one long, perfectly proportioned leg. “He’s five years old and sixteen hands high. He’s had some jump experience, but he’ll need plenty of work before he’s ready to show.”
“When can we start?” Shannon asked eagerly.
“Can we eat birthday cake first?” her mother asked. “Your grandmother and your friends from the Pony Club are up at the house waiting for the guest of honor.”
Shannon had all but forgotten. Right now, she didn’t care if she skipped the rest of her fifteenth birthday party. All that mattered was her horse. “Does Grandma know about him?”
“And you all kept it a secret from me?”
“It was difficult, but we managed,” her father said with a conspiratorial look toward his wife.
“This is really great. We can spend the whole summer working with him. Maybe we can enter him in some of the events at the Nashville horse show. Can we?” she pleaded with her father.
“That’s only three weeks away. You’ll do better on Pippin. Blackwatch is hardly ready for a meet yet.” Shannon noticed fine lines of strain around his eyes as he spoke. “I’ll do what I can to help you, but I can’t work miracles.”
“Yes you can, Daddy,” Shannon said. “Who taught me to ride my first pony when I was two?”
Her mother slung her arm over Shannon’s shoulders. “We do have other students here at the stable, you know. Business is good right now. You’ll probably have to start working Black without your dad.”
Shannon refused to feel disappointed. Her parents owned Scotland Yard, one of Chattanooga’s best riding and boarding stables. They gave riding lessons and trained students and horses for southern riding meets and horse shows. Shannon had been riding and competing on the circuit for years. But now she had a horse that was worthy of genuine training effort.
“I only have three years before college,” Shannon said. “There’s a lot to do.” She stared longingly at the big, dark horse.
Her father gave her a bemused smile. “I think we can work something out. You can start him in the ring on the lunge and side reins. You won’t need me for that. But right now, we’d better head up to the house where your guests are waiting.”
Shannon didn’t want to leave her horse for a minute, but she also wanted her friends to see him. They’d all be excited. Especially Heather. Her best friend had had her own special jumper, Fantasia, for over three years. And only Heather knew how much Shannon had wanted a special horse to train. A horse worthy of the time and dedication it took to produce a championship jumper. “All right,” Shannon said. “I’ll be right there. I just want to spend a few more minutes alone with Black.”
Her mother laughed and locked arms with her husband and started up the winding path that led from the barn to the house. “Don’t take all day,” she called over her shoulder.
Shannon watched them head out into the bright June sunshine, then climbed up the railing on the stall and clucked softly to the big horse. Black pricked his ears forward. She stared into his intelligent, dark eyes. She’d had other horses, but never one this special, this valuable. Her heart swelled with pride over the horse, with love for her parents, with excitement over the thought of molding a champion with her father’s help.
“He’s a nice horse.” Shannon almost fell off the rail at the sound of the male voice from behind. She felt her cheeks flush red and the air grow close as Zack Tyner came up beside her.
“Did you know he was going to be my present?”
“I drove up to Lexington in the horse trailer with your dad yesterday to fetch him.”
“Mom told me you phoned in sick yesterday and that’s why you couldn’t come to work.”
“Wouldn’t have been much of a surprise if I told you about it,” h
Zack was tall with black hair, dark brown eyes, and a reserved demeanor that Shannon thought mysterious and sexy. He kept to himself and didn’t speak much to her or any of the girls who hung around the stable. Shannon knew that Zack was sixteen and lived with his grandmother. It was Shannon’s grandmother who had asked Shannon’s mother to hire him after she had met Zack’s grandmother at a social event.
“I’m not crazy about having a teenaged boy around my students all summer,” her mother had responded initially. “These parents are paying Paul and me to train their daughters for the hunt seat circuit, not to be distracted by some gorgeous boy.”
“The girls won’t pay him any mind,” her grandmother had persisted.
“Betty,” Shannon’s mom had joked, “I was a teenaged girl once. Next to our horses, we were crazy about any guy who hung around the stables. Where do you think I met your son?”
“Zack won’t be a distraction,” Betty had assured her daughter-in-law. “He’s had a hard life and he really needs the job. Won’t you give him a chance?”
Zack started at the end of May and worked hard doing very unglamorous chores around the stables. He was courteous and respectful, and sometimes Shannon caught him staring at her, but whenever she smiled, he busied himself. Now, alone with him, she shuffled awkwardly, trying to think of what to say. “Thanks for not spoiling my birthday surprise,” she told him. Quickly, she asked, “You like your job here?”
Zack nodded. “I like horses.”
“Do you own one?”
“No. Even though Gram lives on the mountain, we could never afford to keep a horse.”
Shannon was well aware that plenty of the people who lived atop Chattanooga’s Lookout Mountain were either wealthy or had a lineage that dated back to the Civil War. That’s the way it was for her family. Her grandfather Campbell had been a prominent physician before he died, and Grandmother had come from a family that could trace its origins back to Stonewall Jackson. “Have you lived with your grandmother long?”
“Ever since I was seven.”
Questions crowded her mind and she wanted to know more about him, his friends, his life. Why didn’t he live with his parents? Of course, there was no polite way to ask. “I’ve always liked horses, too,” she said brightly, wanting to keep their conversation going. “Do you ride much?”
“Not fancy, like you do.”
“Oh, you mean hunt seat. That’s just a style. Actually, my dream is to ride for the U.S. Olympic equestrian team.” He didn’t respond, but she knew he was listening intently by the way he tipped his head. “It’s not impossible. The team is picked from the best college riders and their horses.”
“You can take your horse to college?”
“Sure. If I attend one that has a riding program like my mom did. It’s really important to have a great horse. We’re a pair and the horse is often as well-known as the rider.”
Zack’s dark eyes studied her and she felt her cheeks grow warm. “I’ve been riding since I was two. First I had a pony, then I got Pippin. I’ve won lots of ribbons with her on the circuit with the Pony Club, but she’s not a top-notch animal. That’s what counts on the riding circuit.” Shannon returned her gaze to the horse in the stall, wondering if she was boring Zack. Was she talking about horses too much? “Now, I’ve got Black.”
“You’re lucky. It must have been fun growing up on a horse farm.” Zack gestured around the large airy building that contained six stalls, a feed room, and a tack room for storing saddles, bridles, and riding equipment.
“I guess so,” she said with a shrug. “I’ve always taken it for granted, I guess. My grandparents gave my parents this place when they were married—right after Dad got back from Vietnam. Riding students have come all the way from Atlanta to work with my father.”
“That’s a two-hour trip,” Zack observed thoughtfully. “I’m impressed.”
Shannon realized that she was doing all the talking. Embarrassed, she added, “I guess I’d better go up to the house. People are waiting for me for my party. Why don’t you come, too? We’re having chocolate cake.”
Zack slid his hands into the back pockets of his jeans and stepped backward. “Your mom invited me, but I’d rather not. It’s for your friends and family.”
“I could bring you some cake later.”
“Sounds good,” he said. “I’d better get back to work. I’ve got some stuff to do in the tack room.”
She watched him leave, feeling flushed with contentment. Could her life get any better? She had a beautiful, magnificent horse. She’d carried on a long conversation with Zack, and she had an entire summer to train with her father. Shannon turned to the house, at the top of a small hill. She had a quarter-mile run from the barn. Suddenly, she couldn’t wait to open her presents, eat birthday cake, and tell Heather everything!
She blew her horse a kiss and raced up the path, her long blond ponytail flying.
The porch’s screen door clattered shut behind Shannon as she bounced into the big country kitchen where everybody was standing around a massive round oak table. “It’s about time, birthday girl!” her grandmother said with a smile.
“Grandma!” Shannon cried, hugging a tall, stately woman with salt-and-pepper hair.
All ten girls from the Pony Club started squealing. “You got a horse!” Tammy Morrison exclaimed, hopping up and down.
“I want to see him,” chimed in Melanie, who was only eleven.
“After cake,” Shannon’s mother declared, lighting the last of the candles on the colorful cake she placed on the table. “Now, let’s sing!”
Shannon listened to every off-key note, then blew on the candles, which flickered and went out. Her friends applauded and Shannon bowed from the waist. “Thank you, thank you. Now if everyone eats real fast, I’ll take you to see my horse, Blackwatch.”
Her mother cut the cake and passed it around, while Shannon described her horse in great detail. “Sounds like he’s a wonder horse,” Heather said.
Taken aback by Heather’s cool tone, Shannon studied her freckle-faced, red-haired friend. “Well, he’s pretty special to me.” Shannon wanted Heather to say something more encouraging, but all Heather did was nibble at a pink frosting rose.
“I have a present for you,” Grandmother said, interrupting the uncomfortable silence between the girls.
“It’s huge!” Melanie squealed. “Open it right now. I want to know what it is!”
Someone pulled a chair away from the table and Shannon sat down, resting the box on her knees as she tore off the paper. She lifted the lid and discovered a gorgeous riding habit, complete with breeches, black topcoat, blouse with ascot, hard riding helmet, and gloves. “Wow! You’re so lucky!” Tammy exclaimed. “My riding stuff’s so old.”
Shannon held the stylish coat against her body. “It’s perfect, Grandma! Thanks a million.”
“You’ll look like a princess,” Grandmother beamed.
“We need a picture of this,” her mother said, glancing around the room. “Paul? Now where did he go? He was right here a minute ago.” Surprised, Shannon looked about for her father. He’d supported her during every major event in her life. He should have been here now. Where was he? she wondered. “Oh, never mind,” her mother said as she quickly picked up the camera. “I’ll take the pictures.”
She fired off several shots as Shannon began opening other gifts. There was a riding crop, cassettes of her favorite rock group, a new T-shirt, and a box of fancy hair bows. She saved Heather’s gift for last. In a small box was a pair of earrings and a rhinestone bracelet that Shannon had admired during their last shopping excursion at the mall. She hugged her friends one by one, then led the way down to the barn.
“What do you think?” she asked as the girls hung over the top of the stall and peered through the gaps in the wood.
“Awesome!” Melanie said.
“He’s magnificent,” Cathie Kasch added.
“I’m going to start working him today,” Shannon explained.
“Don’t you think you should let him get used to his surroundings first?” Heather asked.
“What’s to get used to? This is his home now,” Shannon said, slightly puzzled by Heather’s attitude. Her best friend wasn’t making nearly the fuss over the new horse as the other girls.
Heather didn’t answer, but wandered over to the stall where her horse, Fantasia, was kept. Shannon followed her. “Will you be riding him in the Nashville show?” Heather asked.
“I’d like to, but Dad doesn’t think he’ll be ready. Even if I don’t jump him, I could still ride in a couple of equitation events—you know, the walk, trot, canter stuff. I don’t know what kind of a jumper he is, but we’ll find out soon.”
“I’m sure your father wouldn’t have picked out a dud.”
“You’re right. Dad knows everything about horses.” Shannon took Heather’s elbow, tugged, and blurted, “Guess what? Just before the party, I spoke to Zack. Can you believe it?”
“Isn’t this your lucky day.”
“Is something wrong?” Shannon asked. “I thought you’d be happier for me. You know how long I’ve waited to get a horse as good as this one. Plus I thought you’d be interested in knowing about Zack.” She waited patiently for Heather to answer.
Heather’s face flushed red, making her freckles stand out in blotches. She scuffed at the straw with the toe of her boot. “You know whenever I try to talk to boys, I start to stutter. If a guy even looks at me, my face turns beet-red.”
Shannon nodded sympathetically. Was that all that was bothering her friend? she wondered. The news that Shannon had made inroads with Zack? “You just need to practice.”
“It’ll never change,” Heather sighed. “I’m doomed. I’ll never have a date.”
“Sure you will,” Shannon said, deciding that her friend was simply having a bad day. “Cheer up. You have Fantasia, and you have me, too.” Shannon grinned and so did Heather.
When Happily Ever After Ends by Lurlene McDaniel / Young Adult / Romance & Love / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes