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Lake Placid, New York
"Omigod! Omigod! Ty, Ty, it's him!" The force of Lizzie's elbow into her ribs sent Ty stumbling, smearing a thick coat of mint chocolate chip ice cream across the front of her nose.
"Jeez Louise," Ty muttered in aggravation. She looked reproachfully at her perilously lopsided cone, now in imminent danger of landing on her beige breeches. Recognizing this as a crisis situation, Ty wiped with the back of her hand at the sticky green mess coating her face. Then she carefully brought the cone within range of her mouth once again and gave it a long, hard sweep with her tongue, righting the precarious lump.
Unfortunately, the sharp mint flavor no longer tasted quite so refreshing, even in the heat wave that was currently roasting the Northeast. It was barely nine o'clock, and already the thermometer was in the upper eighties. The forecast predicted a weekend high of a hundred and one degrees, practically unheard of in upstate New York. A wholly unanticipated side effect of the stifling heat wave, and an especially low blow for Ty, was how it destroyed her enthusiasm for one of her favorite foods. Now the ice cream treat was little more than a sticky, melting mess clasped between her fingers. She wanted to get rid of it. Normally, Ty loved the liberty on show days to eat the most improbable foods at whatever hour caught her fancy. Pizza at eight, a hamburger with the works at ten, ice cream who was going to argue that it was still breakfast time when she'd been up for hours already? And if her father bothered to come and watch, he wouldn't arrive a minute before her classes were scheduled to begin, so she never risked his chilly disapproval at the sight of his only child doing something so vulgar as eating ice cream before lunch. This morning, however, it was simply too darn hot to eat even ice cream.
Appetite gone, Ty spotted a trash can a few feet away, still three-quarters empty, with only a few bees buzzing around its rim, as very few of the spectators or competitors who'd arrived this early had begun eating in earnest. Ty dropped the offensive cone into its gaping mouth. Glancing down at her hands, she wished that earlier, back at the concession stand, she hadn't so hastily declined the offer of a napkin from the man scooping ice cream out of the enormous ten gallon cardboard drums. Now, she thought gloomily, she was doomed to walk around the show grounds with a patina of green goo all over her.
Recalling what had caused this catastrophe, Ty glanced over at her best friend, Lizzie, who was still standing transfixed, apparently struck dumb by whatever had caught her attention. That set warning bells a-ringing far more effectively than Lizzie's linebacker's shove of a few seconds before. Lizzie was constitutionally incapable of keeping quiet, as their eighth grade teacher, Mrs. Brockhurst, loved to proclaim at regular intervals. As this was about the cleverest thing Mrs. Brockhurst had ever said, the teacher was tickled pink each and every time she found an opportunity to repeat this insightful comment. Poor Mrs. Brockhurst.
But who in the world could possibly have her best friend acting as if she'd just caught a glimpse of Tom Cruise right here in the flesh? Tom Cruise...Wait a second, hadn't she read an article about him and horses in one of those glamor magazines she'd flipped through while waiting her turn for the orthodontist to torture her mouth? Ty's eyes lifted, scanning the crowd.
All thoughts of Tom Cruise vanished.
When at last she remembered to breathe, Ty had to force air past the lump that had taken residence in her chest. It was a lump of longing, formed by countless articles clipped from Equus, Practical Horseman, and other horse trade magazines she read, mentioning the man standing twenty yards away. She'd even videotaped interviews he'd given on ESPN, allowing Ty to replay the sound of his voice, his Kentucky accent wonderfully exotic to her ears, watch that quick grin of his flash across the TV screen, and then sigh wistfully whenever the camera lens happened to catch those twinkling blue eyes as he replied to the sportscaster's questions with clever, insightful quips about his fellow riders and their mounts.
He was her idol.
Steve Sheppard. Could it really be him?
She'd dreamed of seeing him so many times now, at the bigger horse shows she competed at, always wondering, as she lay in her bed the night before, whether he might just possibly be there, too. Maybe he'd happen to see her ride and would be wowed by the exceptional talent of this young rider. He'd want to meet her, and there'd be this instant attraction that would flare up between the two of them. They'd get to talking, and...he'd understand her.
"Do you see him?" Lizzie's voice carried an urgency appropriate for the occasion.
"Yes," Ty managed to whisper, still staring, drinking in the sight of him as he stood, his blond, close-cropped head bent at an angle as he listened to whatever the woman next to him also a competitor, judging from her rust-colored breeches and sleeveless rat-catcher was saying.
Ty looked on, filled with awe and longing as Steve Sheppard and the woman turned and began to walk around the perimeter of the schooling area.
"Come on," Lizzie urged, grabbing Ty by the elbow and dragging her along, "We've got to follow him."
"But we can't! We can't just follow Steve Sheppard around the show grounds. It's not right, I mean, he's Steve Sheppard!" Ty finished desperately, as if that were all the explanation needed.
"Yeah, and you've had a humongous crush on him for how long now? Since fifth grade, that's when. Remember when we first saw him at Madison Square Garden, when your dad gave Sam permission to take you to the National Horse Show, and you begged and pleaded until Sam let me come, too? Come on," Lizzie repeated impatiently, pulling the reluctant Ty after her. "We're not runty fifth-graders anymore. We're women."
Oh sure, retorted Ty silently. Lizzie might have acquired all the physical equipment necessary to make the boys drool every time she passed by, but Ty was sadly stalled in prepubescent limbo. Her body was just one embarrassing joke. A few months ago, she'd thought she was at long last growing breasts. Hah! All she had to show for herself were two puny bumps where her nipples were, sort of like the floppy end of a balloon where it hasn't been inflated fully. Only with Ty there were no balloons to parade around with.
But Lizzie had balloons, hips, and a lovely rounded bottom. Not too big, just right. The boys swarmed around her like bees in clover. Older guys, too. Not that Ty minded, she loved Lizzie too much to be jealous of her best friend's beauty. It was just that by comparison, Ty was a walking, talking stick and generated as much interest as a mushed sandwich among the few boys who mistakenly spared her a passing glance.
And Steve Sheppard wasn't a mere teenage boy. He was twenty-three, almost a whole decade older than her, and the most exciting American rider to grace the show circuit in many years.
Again, her eyes feasted on the sight of him.
He was dressed in jeans and a cobalt-blue polo shirt. His casual attire stood out in sharp contrast to the multitude of tan, fawn, and white breeches, black field boots, short-sleeve shirts, sleeveless rat-catchers; nobody was going to put on their hunt jackets until the last possible second, not in this heat. Ty suspected that splash of bright blue was what had caught Lizzie's eye. It was a cinch to identify him after that. Steve Sheppard's golden good looks, combined with his aura of quiet authority, made him a man people had a hard time forgetting.
Lizzie was still pulling her along in his direction, when Ty saw the young woman who'd been walking alongside Steve Sheppard stumble slightly, her body brushing his side. He paused, looking down at her with mild concern. His lips moved, the question obvious, his hand supporting her elbow. In response, the woman's slim form stretched as she rose up on her toes and planted a kiss on the corner of Sheppard's mouth.
Ty's heart lurched as she caught the fleeting smile of triumph cross the woman's face as the pair turned, heading off in the direction of the parking area, jam packed with vans of different sizes and colors. Lizzie, too, had witnessed the kiss but dismissed it immediately, refusing to let such a minor incident deter her from her mission. Any woman in her right mind would be tempted to give a dreamy guy like Steve Sheppard a kiss. He probably got accosted by little old ladies crossing the street, so it was stupid to blow what had been a mere peck out of proportion. Ty might not see it that way, but then Ty hadn't had a whole lot of experience with kissing. Lizzie had done her level best to help out in that area, pointing out boys from the private school across the street who might prove worth her while as candidates, if Ty would only give them half a chance. So far, Ty hadn't seemed interested, which Lizzie considered a terrible waste. What were boys for, after all? But she knew Ty would give the moon to meet Steve Sheppard. So Lizzie was bound and determined to arrange it. Like a bloodhound on the scent, she followed Steve Sheppard's retreating figure, dragging along a protesting Ty.
When Ty dug the heels of her black field boots into the grass, again forcing Lizzie to slow down, Lizzie shot her a look, impatient to keep their quarry in sight.
"Lizzie, stop! We can't do this. First of all, we've got to go warm up, and second, do you really think Sam is just going to stand around with a big, happy smile on his face while I go chasing after someone like Steve Sheppard? For sure," she finished heavily.
Sam Brody had been with the New York Police Department, a detective or something, before Father had hired him to protect her. It was yet another huge embarrassment in her life she didn't need a bodyguard, for heaven's sake. No one would ever know her from Adam; she looked like anyone, normal. It wasn't as if there was some sign attached to her that read, "Hi, my father's mega-rich, kidnap me!" At least Sam was kind enough not to make it totally obvious he was watching her every move, as well as everyone else's who came within ten feet of her.
A small frown moved the freckles sprinkled over Lizzie's forehead and the bridge of her nose. Shoot, she'd forgotten all about Sam. It was kind of cool, the way he could be only a few yards behind Ty and be so, well, invisible that you just forgot his presence. That is, unless you were Ty Stannard. She figured she'd think it was a major drag, too, if her father were paranoid nutso enough to hire a personal bodyguard for her. Then again, her folks didn't have billions of dollars, either.
"Okay, so we lose Sam. And we'll warm up after we've met Steve Sheppard. There's still gobs of time before our first class. If we pull this off fast enough, Sam probably won't even realize we slipped away."
Ty's jaw dropped at the outrageousness of her friend's suggestion. Fourteen-year-old girls didn't just lose bodyguards like Sam Brody.
"You don't really believe we can lose him, do you?" she croaked.
"Of course we can." Lizzie's voice rose with excitement at the daring of her idea. "See, we'll pretend we're going to the toilets over there. Steve Sheppard's heading that way, anyway. Then we'll kind of duck out behind them and run real fast. I'll be watching which way Steve goes the whole time. I'm betting he's going back to the van to change or something." A small giggle escaped her. "Maybe he wants to show Miss Lips his tack. What's the name of the stable he rides with? Golden Club?"
"Gold Crest Farm," Ty replied automatically, realizing a second too late that Lizzie was teasing, as if she weren't perfectly aware he was still riding with that private stable in Southampton, even though the latest buzz was that Steve Sheppard had recently bought a farm in Bridgehampton, New York. She wondered whether he was planning to open a stable of his own soon. But Ty knew she'd never get the chance to ask him.
She knew it; the trouble was, Lizzie didn't.
"For Pete's sake, Lizzie, I hope you know this is not going to work. What've you been watching lately? Marathons of Miami Vice? 'Lose' Sam, 'shake' him off? We're setting ourselves up for a major grounding, and I'm not even going to mention how embarrassing it's going to be when Sam catches us."
Somehow, despite her objections, Ty found her feet moving in the direction of the bright blue row of plastic portable toilets. Lizzie had that kind of effect on people.
"Yeah, well, you'll never know until you try, will ya?" Lizzie shot her a wicked I-dare-you smile and then, in a pathetic imitation of Groucho Marx, wiggled her strawberry-blond eyebrows exaggeratedly. "You know, Ty, sometimes a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do."
Lizzie was totally ridiculous. Totally.
Laughter abruptly bubbled up inside Ty and erupted. She stood, clutching her sides, laughing hard enough that tears trickled from the corners of her eyes. Her braces flashed in the bright sunshine as she continued to laugh, heading off toward the toilets. This was just another reason she loved Lizzie Osborne more than anyone else in the whole world.
Lizzie's incredible zest for life drew everyone in, Ty included. It enabled Ty to imagine that she, too, could do wild and stupid things, like any kid. Her life didn't have to be perfect, deadly boring, something from the sterile pages of Town and Country.
Lizzie was the best friend she could ever have. Had been, since that first day in third grade when Ty had come to the private girls' school as a new student. It was a class in which all the girls had been together since kindergarten. Out of the seventeen pupils seated behind their plastic and metallic desks, Lizzie had been the only one to smile at her. She'd won Ty's heart and steadfast loyalty when, in the middle of second period, while their teacher droned on about a multiplication problem Ty had already finished and checked by herself, Lizzie swiveled around in her chair and whispered to Ty, asking if she wanted to play jacks at recess. At Ty's shy nod, she'd grinned and uttered, "Great!" loudly enough to receive a warning from the teacher.
When the bell rang for dismissal at the end of that first school day, the girls from her class watched the way hawks would a field mouse as Ty was greeted by a solidly built, forbidding man who was clearly much too young to be her father they distinctly heard him address Ty as "Miss Ty" standing beside a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. The girls also noted the significant absence of a mommy or a nanny waiting to greet the new kid; they'd hung around just so they could peer into the open doors of the Rolls, the tinted windows previously having blocked their view. Every single suspicion they'd nourished throughout the day was confirmed. Ty was different. Ranks closed, excluding her from friendships or cliques.
Given time, Ty might have been able to win those other girls over by inviting them to her house, but her father wouldn't permit it. It had taken considerable courage to screw up her nerve to ask her father again and again over the following weeks. He never provided Ty with a satisfactory answer. Just: it was impossible, and she shouldn't bother him right now, anyway, because he had some important papers to read, because he was waiting for a conference call or had an urgent meeting at the office, or because the helicopter was ready to take him to the airport where his private jet waited.
Ty stopped asking, realizing her father's response would never change. But she thought about it a long time, turning the problem over in her mind, and came to the conclusion that her father must not believe the other girls at her school were good enough for her. Even then, at age eight, Ty understood that good enough meant, according to her father, having enough money. As Ty came to understand the extent of her father's vast wealth, she realized, too, that if her father truly felt that way, then only about sixty families in the entire world were good enough to be considered friends of Tyler Stannard's daughter. And not one of those other families had a daughter in Ty's third-grade class.
Luckily for Ty, Lizzie had never cared about any of that. She'd never been put off by the large, shiny black car that pulled up in front of the school steps every afternoon at dismissal. She didn't think it unusual or creepy that Ty was never picked up by a family member. Nor did she appear offended or become standoffish when months passed and Ty didn't invite her over after school or accept any of the invitations Lizzie herself extended. Day after day, Lizzie simply waved good-bye to her best friend, calling out cheerfully, "See ya tomorrow, Ty," before skipping down the street, her mother's hand clasping hers.
In the wake of her father's refusal, Ty turned to Sam Brody, her bodyguard. It took quite a bit of hard campaigning before she persuaded him to discuss with Lizzie's mother the possibility of an afternoon's outing for the two girls.
Or perhaps it was eight-year-old Ty's visible loneliness, her poignant need for companionship, which ultimately swayed Sam. Throughout that period, he watched the pattern unfold. Ty waving good-bye to the only girl who called out to her. Ty waiting beside the Rolls as Lizzie skipped down the street until at last she turned the corner and was out of sight. Only then would Ty reluctantly slide into the darkened leather and hand-rubbed mahogany splendor of the car's interior. After he'd witnessed this daily drama repeat itself one too many times, Sam sided with Ty and became her ally. Willingly risking the wrath of Tyler Stannard, should he discover what had transpired without his express permission, all so that Ty could spend some afternoons with her best friend, eating popcorn, working on homework together, and laughing hysterically over nothing at all.
Ty knew she owed Sam a lot, for he had recognized how important it was to have a friend who liked her for herself, rather than because she was Tyler Stannard's only child.
But the plan Lizzie was concocting right now was an entirely different matter. That Sam understood her need for friendship didn't mean he was about to let her run loose over the Lake Placid show grounds, chasing after Steve Sheppard like some deranged fan.
Nevertheless, she was going to do it. Somehow, she'd reached the point where she had to test the strength of the gilded cage her father had constructed around her. Her father, the real estate king, who excelled at building things. She wanted to see whether she could break free, if only for a little while. Surely Sam wouldn't be too angry.
Quickly, before she lost her nerve, Ty grabbed the metal handle on the molded plastic door of the portable toilet, resisting the urge to glance over her shoulder and see how far back Sam was standing, waiting. She opened the door wide, moving her body behind it so that she was blocked from view.
Yuck! The stench of cherry-scented cleanser liberally mixed with fermenting urine assaulted her nostrils, about a hundred times more awful in this heat. She held her breath and pulled the door after her. Praying that Sam's eyes had strayed momentarily as she'd stepped inside, she abruptly reopened the door, slipped out from behind it, and dashed around the back of the tall, rectangular toilet. Lizzie was already there, flushed with excitement.
"Quick, hurry! I saw which way they went!"
"This is crazy!"
"Yeah, isn't it fun?" Lizzie grabbed Ty's hand. Giggling, breathless adolescents, the two girls ran, weaving in and out of the tall metal alleyways of the parked vans.
Copyright © 2001 by Laura Moore