Lisa Atwood and her boyfriend, Alex Lake, are finally back on track—even if she’s still keeping some secrets. Carole Hanson’s slipping grades could take her away from her beloved Pine Hollow Stables unless she does something drastic. Callie Forester, the congressman’s daughter who recently moved to Willow Creek with her brother, Scott, has things she doesn’t want folks back home in Washington to know. When someone close to her betrays her confidence, Callie doesn’t know how she’ll ever be able to trust anyone again. And now a terrible fight could end Lisa and Carole’s relationship for good. Stevie Lake refuses to take sides . . . until she’s caught up in a tangled web of lies and deception and has to choose between Lisa and her twin brother, Alex.
Can their bonds survive the fallout?
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Pine Hollow, Book Five
By Bonnie Bryant
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1999 Bonnie Bryant Hiller
All rights reserved.
"What are you doing in there, anyway?" Stevie Lake called impatiently, rapping sharply on the shower door. "Some of the rest of us stink, too, you know."
From behind the opaque fiberglass door, she heard her friend Lisa Atwood giggle. A moment later the door opened a crack, allowing a burst of steam to escape. Lisa poked her head out. "Sorry," she said. "The warm water just feels so good after our long ride. I'll be done soon. Promise."
"Okay." Stevie returned her attention to the old tavern mirror hanging above the two slightly chipped ceramic sinks in the long, narrow women's bathroom at Pine Hollow Stables. She stared at her own reflection, trying to decide whether she needed to wash her dark blond hair or not. After giving the ends a quick sniff, she decided she probably did. She, Lisa, and a group of their friends were going to dinner and a movie in a little while, and Stevie knew that sometimes the scents of horse sweat, hay, and manure—sweet and comforting as they might seem there in the stable—weren't quite as welcome in the outside world. "Ugh," she muttered, giving her hair one last sniff. "That's what I get for spending two hours mucking out stalls before our trail ride. It's all Max's fault."
Lisa stepped out of the shower stall, a large white towel wrapped around her, just in time to overhear the last part of her comment. "What's Max's fault?" she asked.
Stevie slung a towel over her shoulder and grabbed the small mesh bag where she kept extra shampoo and soap for just such occasions as this. "It's his fault that I stink," she told Lisa, stepping into the shower but leaving the door slightly ajar so that she could continue the conversation. "Remember? I told you I got here early today to talk to Judy about Belle's inoculations, and Max put me to work."
"As usual," Lisa called back. "At least he's consistent."
Stevie grinned. Max Regnery, the owner of Pine Hollow, hated to see idle hands. From the first day new riders set foot in the stable, Max taught them that hard work was part of riding and that everyone was expected to pitch in. Riders not only groomed the horses they rode and cared for their tack, but they also were expected to contribute to the general upkeep of the entire stable. Sometimes they helped mix grain or sweep the floors. Other times, like today, they mucked out stalls.
Stevie peeled off her dirty riding clothes and tossed them onto the wooden bench where she had set her other things. Much like the bathroom itself, the shower enclosure was long and narrow, which meant there was a dry end and a wet end. Stevie went to the wet end and turned on the water, wincing slightly as the cold spray hit her.
Once she had adjusted the water to a comfortable temperature, she leaned toward the door opening to talk to Lisa. "What time does the movie start, do you remember?" she asked, raising her voice to be heard above the hiss of the shower.
"Not until eight," Lisa called back. "And it's barely six now. We'll have plenty of time to eat before we have to head over to the theater."
"Good," Stevie replied. "I'm starving. I just hope Phil doesn't eat all the food at the restaurant before the rest of us get there."
She stopped talking for a few minutes as she lathered her hair and rinsed it. Before long she was stepping out of the shower stall, feeling completely refreshed. A couple of hours of stable chores followed by a strenuous workout on the trail with her horse, Belle, had worn her out—but only temporarily. No matter how tired she got, Stevie almost always managed to find enough energy for fun. And what could be more fun than spending the evening hanging out with her friends? Especially Phil, she thought with a slight smile. Despite the fact that Stevie and her boyfriend, Phil Marsten, lived in different towns and attended different schools, their relationship had only grown stronger over the years they'd been together. Stevie's friends sometimes teased her about that. In many ways she was an unlikely candidate for a successful long-term romance. She was headstrong, quick-tempered, opinionated, sometimes reckless, often stubborn. However, she was also intensely loyal—to her best friends, her family, her horse, and most definitely to Phil. Just a couple of months earlier, Stevie and Phil had celebrated their fourth anniversary of the day they'd met at riding camp.
Lisa was thinking about her own boyfriend, Alex, as Stevie stepped out of the shower. Lisa and Alex had known each other for years—ever since Lisa and Stevie had become friends, in fact, since Alex was Stevie's twin brother. For years Lisa and Alex had thought of each other as mere acquaintances. That was why everyone they knew—themselves included—had been so surprised when they'd suddenly fallen deeply in love the winter before. Now Lisa couldn't imagine how she had existed for so long without the constant comfort of Alex's love and support. He gave her life a wholeness that made every day a little brighter—a wholeness that had been sorely missing since her parents' divorce.
Lisa glanced at her watch. Alex would be there soon. He had learned to ride shortly after he and Lisa had started dating, but he still didn't spend nearly as much time at the stable as she did. "Have you seen Carole and Callie?" Lisa asked Stevie. "Shouldn't they be in here changing, too? I know I just said we have plenty of time, but only if everyone's on schedule."
"Don't worry about Callie," Stevie said, rubbing her hair vigorously with her towel. "I saw her on my way in here. She's already changed—she just wanted to spend a few minutes with PC before we go. She's probably finished by now."
"Good." Lisa was careful to keep her voice cheerful as she combed a straight part into her damp hair. She had shared her confused feelings about Callie Forester with Stevie just the evening before. Callie and her family had moved to Willow Creek, Virginia, a few months earlier, at the beginning of the summer. That was when things had started to change ...
Lisa couldn't help sighing as she thought about everything that had changed in the past few months. She, Stevie, and their other best friend, Carole Hanson, had been inseparable since the day they'd all met at the stable some four years earlier. Now they were in high school, with new responsibilities and busier schedules, but they had remained a tight threesome. Or they had until the Foresters came to town. Callie's father was a United States Congressman, and Callie herself was an accomplished endurance rider. Lisa had known that much before she'd left to spend the summer with her own father in California. What she hadn't expected was that the new girl would be partially paralyzed in a car accident, an accident in which Stevie had been driving, and that Callie would have to spend the entire summer learning to walk again.
The other thing that Lisa hadn't known before she left, or even suspected, was that Callie would become such good friends with Stevie and Carole. That had been a shock, especially when Lisa had first returned in late August. She was starting to get used to their friendship, but it still didn't come naturally to her to include Callie in their plans.
Stevie didn't seem to notice Lisa's thoughtful expression. She was busy trying to work a knot out of her thick, wet hair. "As for Carole, don't ask me where she is," she said, gritting her teeth as she yanked at her comb. "I guess she must be running early, too, because I haven't seen her since before our trail ride. She must've already showered and changed."
Lisa finished fussing with her own hair and turned to her small cosmetics bag. She didn't wear much makeup—just a touch of tinted lip gloss and a little mascara were all she really needed to bring out her large, almond-shaped eyes and healthy, glowing ivory skin.
As she stared into the mirror, she thought about the trail ride Stevie had just mentioned. "Today was fun," she said softly. "But I really wish I'd been able to ride Prancer. I miss her."
Stevie stopped struggling with her hair long enough to shoot Lisa a sympathetic glance. "I know," she said. "Like I said last night, I didn't really think much about it when I first heard that Max wasn't letting anyone ride Prancer. I mean, I guess I thought it was kind of weird, but I just figured it was one of those Max things, you know? But I can understand why it's freaking you out, especially since it's been, like, weeks and Max still isn't talking."
Lisa nodded, thinking of the beautiful mare she usually rode. Used to ride, she corrected herself with a little frown. After all, I've only ridden her once in the past two months.
When she thought about it straight out like that, she could hardly believe it was true. Before her summer in California, Lisa had rarely let more than three or four days pass between rides on the sweet bay mare, no matter how busy her schedule got. But after one trail ride upon her return in August, Max had suddenly banned everyone from riding Prancer. That had been annoying. For Lisa, part of the joy of riding was riding Prancer. Still, it had been the beginning of Lisa's senior year, and she hadn't had a whole lot of free time to spend at the stable anyway. So for a while she hadn't thought much about it.
But days and then weeks had passed, and Max still wouldn't tell anybody why the Thoroughbred was off-limits, although Lisa had asked him about it more than once. Max was a kind, understanding man most of the time, but when he didn't feel like talking, it was impossible to pry information out of him with anything short of a crowbar. Lisa had been forced to speculate and come up with her own theories. She'd tried to be optimistic for a while, but at this point it was becoming more and more difficult. She couldn't imagine anything innocuous that could keep a good school horse completely out of commission for so long.
Lisa tried not to think about any of that right now, since she knew there really wasn't much she could do about it. Her friends sometimes thought she worried too much, especially about things she couldn't control, and Stevie, in particular, had very little patience for thoughts and worries and conversations that circled around and around without going anywhere. And that was exactly how Lisa's thoughts about Prancer seemed to work these days. For the past couple of days, especially, they had started revolving in a big circle, beginning with It's probably nothing, just my imagination running away with me, passing through Maybe it's something minor, like a new training schedule or a pesky case of worms, then on to She's got a fatal disease and they don't want to tell me before returning to It's probably nothing once again.
"Oh, well," she said, trying not to let her voice betray her concern. "I'll be too busy for the next few days to do much riding anyway. I have a big English paper due Tuesday that I've barely started. I'm going to be so swamped I probably won't even have time to wonder what's really going on with Prancer."
Stevie winced as her comb finally broke apart the last few stubborn strands of her knot. "Try not to worry about it," she advised Lisa. "It's probably nothing. I mean, everyone knows how you feel about Prancer—there's no way anybody around here would keep anything important from you. Especially Carole." She ran the comb quickly through the rest of her hair and flashed Lisa a reassuring smile in the mirror. "By the time you come out of your English-paper trance next week and want to ride again, she'll probably be back in rotation." She paused and frowned at her own reflection. "Unlike some other nonequine creatures I could mention."
"You mean A.J.?" Lisa guessed immediately. A.J. was Phil's best friend. A few weeks earlier, he had broken up with his girlfriend, Julianna, and virtually stopped communicating with his family and friends.
Stevie's frown deepened. "It's like I was telling you last night," she said. "I haven't actually seen him myself since all this started happening. So for a while I thought Phil was exaggerating when he'd tell me how strange he was acting."
"I know what you mean." Lisa tossed the lip gloss back into her bag. "We all thought A.J. was just upset about the breakup with Julianna, and Phil was upset because A.J. was upset."
"But then I saw Julianna," Stevie reminded Lisa. "She was really upset, and not just in the normal way people get after they break up. She didn't understand what had happened or why he was acting this way. She'd been sure things were going really well between them."
Lisa glanced at her friend understandingly. She and Stevie had gone over all this the evening before, but Lisa didn't mind listening again. She cares a lot about A.J., Lisa thought as she zipped up her makeup bag and tucked it into her backpack. She's trying to figure out a way to help him, find a logical reason for his behavior, so she's going over it and over it in her mind. Sort of the way I keep going over this Prancer thing ... I mean I know it's not the same, but I can't stop worrying about her, just like Stevie worries about A.J. I only hope we're both worrying about nothing.
Stevie met Lisa's eyes in the mirror and blew out a long, loud sigh of frustration. "I just don't get it. He's not acting like the A.J. we all know and love, and nobody can figure out why." Her face took on a more determined expression. "That's why I decided to go to his house after school Monday with Phil. I need to see for myself what's going on."
Lisa quickly leaned over and busied herself with repacking her things to hide a smile. That's Stevie for you, she thought fondly. Whenever there's a problem, she wants to wade right in, see for herself, and find a way to fix it. Then her smile faded as she thought about everything she'd heard about A.J.'s recent behavior. Of course, that might not be so easy this time. If A.J. won't talk to Phil about whatever's bugging him, I doubt he'll talk to anyone—including Stevie.
She stood up again and glanced at her friend, hoping that Stevie hadn't guessed what she was thinking. Stevie was busy packing up her own things in an old blue duffel bag, slinging her wet towel carelessly over her dirty clothes and soapy shampoo in a way that made neat and tidy Lisa cringe.
But Lisa had long since stopped trying to correct her friend's sloppy habits. "Almost ready to go?" she asked, determined to push all the troublesome topics out of her mind. She hadn't been kidding about that English paper—it was going to keep her busy for the next couple of days, so she might as well enjoy herself tonight.
"I'm ready." Stevie glanced at her unopened makeup bag on the edge of the sink. Then she gave herself a critical glance in the mirror. She smiled at her wet hair and steam-flushed damp skin. "The natural look," she declared, leaning over and impulsively kissing the mirror, leaving lip prints on the glass. "It's the only way to go!"
"I hear Callie," Stevie reported a few minutes later as she and Lisa walked down the stable aisle. "Sounds like she's in there."
She nodded to a doorway just ahead, which led to the student locker room. That was what everyone at Pine Hollow called the large, square room off the entryway. Unlike most other areas of the stable, which were dedicated primarily to horses, this room had been outfitted for the comfort and convenience of people. One wall of the room was lined with cubbyholes. Each of Max's riding students, from the tiniest beginner to elderly Mrs. Twitchett, who had to be at least eighty, was assigned one of the two-foot-square cubbies. Students could stow extra boots and riding equipment, schoolbooks, lunches, rain gear—anything that needed a place to stay while they were at the stable. Additionally, there were a few lockers for people who wanted a little extra security. A long, sturdy pine bench stretched most of the way across the room in front of the cubbies, and shorter benches flanked the other walls.
Excerpted from Conformation Faults by Bonnie Bryant. Copyright © 1999 Bonnie Bryant Hiller. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
these are the best seirse of book that i have ever read i like to read anything about horses or any other kind of animals but so far these are my favoite and my name is in the book so that makes it even beter my name isn't very common or conmmnly spell't the same way.