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"Sterling Sure Looks Good," Cindy Mclean Said, watching her sister, Samantha Nelson, take the gray Thoroughbred mare over a jump. Cindy was standing with Christina Reese near the arena fence at Whisperwood, the training facility owned by Samantha and her husband, Tor Nelson. As a jockey, Cindy knew very little about jumping and dressage, but she was impressed with how skillfully her sister handled the energetic mare.
Cindy shivered a little and shoved her hands deep into her pockets. The weather was pleasant for early February, but standing in the cool air didn't do much to keep her warm. She should be riding, too. But according to her doctor, Cindy wouldn't be getting back on a horse for several more weeks, and never again as a jockey. She'd better get used to watching other people do what she loved.
Beside Cindy, Christina Reese applauded when Samantha and Sterling completed another jump. Christina's parents, Ashleigh Griffen and Mike Reese, owned Whitebrook, the nearby Thoroughbred farm where both Cindy and Samantha had grown up. Cindy shot a glance at the seventeen-year-old. An avid three-day-event rider, Christina had surprised everyone when she turned her focus to racing and sold her eventing mare, Sterling Dream, to Samantha. Christina had gotten her jockey's license the previous spring and started working intensely with Wonder's Star, an outstanding three-year-old Thoroughbred that she owned with her parents.
"Sammy can sure make Sterling fly," Christina said, nodding in approval as the mare soared easily over a four-foot wall, making Samantha's long braid of red hairbounce when they landed.
Cindy reached up to touch her own close-cropped blond hair. Keeping it short had been convenient when she was a jockey. But now that her career had ended, she could let her hair grow as long as she wanted. She smiled thinly. That was one positive aspect of being unable to race anymore. There had to be some other good things, but Cindy hadn't discovered them yet.
Cindy turned away from the arena to look more closely at Christina. The girl had been just four when Cindy left Kentucky at eighteen, but now Christina was several inches taller than Cindy. Her strawberry blond hair had darkened to a red-brown color that reminded Cindy of a chestnut Thoroughbred's shiny coat. The cold air had reddened her cheeks, and she was smiling as she watched Samantha canter Sterling around the arena.
"Do you miss jumping like that?" Cindy asked her.
"Not at all," Christina said, shaking her head firmly. She swept a strand of loose hair away from her face with a gloved hand. "I love riding Star and being on the track. It would be horrible if I couldnt race." She snapped her mouth shut and gave Cindy an apologetic look. "Sorry," she said, biting at her lip. "I didn't mean..."
Cindy smiled and shrugged. "It's okay, Chris," she said, patting the girl's shoulder. "'I'm all right with it. I've had a good career as a jockey. It just ended a little sooner than I thought it would."
After years of repeated stress and injuries, surgery had failed to restore Cindy's damaged left shoulder to full use. Forced to accept the fact that she would never again be fit to race, Cindy had decided to put her experience to use as a racehorse trainer.
"When are you going to move over to Tall Oaks?"
Christina asked. Cindy had been staying at Whitebrook, where her stepfather, Ian McLean, worked as the head trainer. She had recently taken a job with Fredericka Graber, who had a breeding farm near Whitebrook.
"I need to go up to Elmont and clean out my apartment," Cindy said. "When I get back from New York, I'll move all my stuff into Fredericka's guest house and start my new job."
"Would you like me to go to New York with you?" Christina offered. "I could miss a couple of days of school without any problem."
"That's really sweet of you, Chris," Cindy said, touched by the offer. Since her return to Lexington the previous fall, Cindy knew, she had been pretty hard to get along with. But in spite of her moodiness, her family and old friends had stood by her, and that meant a lot to Cindy. "I can't imagine you'd want to be stuck in the car for hours with an old grouch like me, though."
Christina laughed. "Every time I see you around the horses, I realize that the whole grouch thing is just an act. Underneath it all you're a big softie."
Cindy widened her eyes in mock alarm. "'You're not going to tell anyone, are you?"
"Your secret is safe with me," Christina said, pressing her finger to her lips. "But I'd still be happy to help you clean out your apartment."
"I really appreciate the offer, but I'll be fine,"' Cindy said. "I haven't got much stuff. It won't take long to get it all packed.""
She turned toward the arena again as Samantha stopped Sterling and hopped from the mare's back.
Samantha grinned at Cindy and Christina. "She's such a great horse," she said, petting the mare fondly.
"I know," Christina said, rubbing Sterling's nose.
Cindy watched them fuss over the mare, a tiny smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. She was more no-nonsense about horses than Samantha or Christina, but she understood how they felt. To have the trust of such a big, powerful animal was an incredible feeling.
Cindy thought back to the last several years, when she had been a jockey at the Belmont racetrack. She remembered riding a Whitebrook filly, Honor Bright, in the Gazelle at Belmont when she first got her jockey's license.