Revival of Ancient Errors
Rating: R (for language)
Word Count: 10,538
Summary: He's never liked the name Wonder's Star, but he lets it stick for sentimental reasons.
Continued from part one.
It’s not too long after that when Ashleigh arrives in his office with a sour expression on her lips. They don’t see very much of each other these days, with Star running in the morning and maintaining a strict schedule. Ashleigh can’t very well abandon Whitebrook’s morning routine to see one horse breeze, but Christina certainly does with enthusiasm.
He watches her sit down across from him, and admits to himself that even with her sick expression he’s missed her presence. Not that he isn’t usually on the receiving end of most of her unhappy emotions, because those are the ones he’s grown accustomed to. He thinks, though, that she’s happy here sometimes. Occasionally, he’s seen it. He knows the history of her and this place, with him.
“I need some advice,” she says, like she’d rather lick sandpaper. He narrows his eyes at her.
“What kind of advice are we talking about?”
“When Townsend Acres was in trouble all that time ago,” Ashleigh says, and something twists in his gut. “What did your father do to avoid selling off Wonder and Pride? Most of the stock, even? I never saw much of an outward change.”
He laughs, because she really wouldn’t want to know the answer. “My dad is a shrewd businessman and a liar,” he says, which makes her blink in confusion. “The deals he made back then aren’t the kind of thing you’d be interested in doing pretty much ever, Ashleigh.”
“So it was dirty,” she assumes.
“Sure it was,” he says. “You must have suspected, especially after we only really gained a solid foothold after I married Lavinia.”
She nods. “I suppose, on some level.”
He has to ask. “What’s going on with Whitebrook?”
“I’d rather not discuss it,” she replies primly, like showing off one’s financial disaster in horse country is considered a faux pas. He grins at her, however humorlessly.
“Well, regardless of what the problem is, you’ll have to fix it,” he says, like it needs to be said. Sometimes, with her, he wonders. “Admittedly, I’m not surprised. The economy is shit, the auctions are dismal, and there are over two hundred farms for sale around Lexington alone. How bad is it?”
“Bad enough,” she says.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Nothing,” she tells him almost immediately, and he narrows his eyes at her again.
“What are you going to do?”
She winces. “Downsize, I suppose. I can cut the broodmare band in half, sell off all the young stock…”
“The stallions?” he asks.
“I’d rather not mess with that aspect,” she says after a minute of considering.
“Why not?” he asks her, drawing some surprise. “Look,” he says. “If you’re going to cut your broodmares by half, you’re going to have to cut your stallions. You’ve got a couple of nice boutique studs that are at home at Whitebrook, but there are others that you know aren’t pulling their weight. Cut a few loose to smaller farms out of state.”
She says nothing for a minute, and continues to say nothing until he groans and says, “There is a time and a place for your stubbornness and Mike’s misplaced stoicism. This probably isn’t either.”
“Never mind,” she says, standing up.
“Ashleigh,” he says, calling her back. “I’m not telling you to get rid of Pride or Mr. Wonderful. You do know that.”
She stops in the doorway and looks back at him. “I know,” she says in a small voice he can just barely hear. He would like to be straight with her, inform her that Pride’s too old and too unsuccessful a stallion to meet any interest anyway. Mr. Wonderful is at best a stallion who commands a small book of decent mares.
As it turns out, the one breeding success that Wonder ever gave them lives in Dubai. Champion’s babies have been cleaning up purse after purse in Europe, which he routinely avoids telling both her and his father. He’s not interested in starting an argument about hindsight, which neither of them apparently have much of.
“Are you coming up to Saratoga this summer?” he asks as she mills there in the doorway. “I’m putting Star in the Hopeful, after I get an allowance into him first.”
“Mike is going,” she says after a minute, because of course Ashleigh doesn’t think about leaving Kentucky. Not anymore.
“You sure about that?” he asks.
She nods once and is gone.
While Star is cleaning up at Saratoga, demolishing his allowance race and winning the Hopeful by a solid two lengths, Ashleigh spends her time getting Whitebrook in order.
She does an impressive job. When he comes back, Whitebrook is half its original size.
He cuts her a check for her half of Star’s winnings, and she accepts it without question.
The Breeders’ Cup is at Churchill Downs this year, and it’s this reason alone that he thinks she decides to watch the Juvenile, which he has entered Star in with no say so from her. Christina still hasn’t forgiven her, not after spending most of the summer in New York and cultivating her craft, which she’s managed to do due to a very convincing forgery and knowledge of where Ashleigh keeps all the important documents, like her birth certificate. Brad never questions her, because honestly he’s on Christina’s side.
He has to hand it to Christina. She’s motivated and scary good when she puts her mind to things. He thinks it’s time to test her a little harder. Possibly harder than she’ll ever be tested in her life, and pulls her aside one day to say he wants to put her on his entrant for the Mile.
She nearly loses it. Her skinny arms wrap around his chest, and for a wispy girl she can squeeze harder than anticipated.
“Thank you,” Christina says so fast the words blend together. “Thankyouthankyouthankyou.”
There’s bouncing up and down, then she spins off to go find Parker so she can begin spreading the news across Lexington.
Ashleigh comes storming onto his property again not six hours later.
“Seriously?” she asks, throwing herself down onto the sofa. “You’ve been letting her do this right under my nose.”
“Well,” he says, “it was mostly done under Mike’s nose. She’d ask to ride races when he was out of town, and no one told. It was a miracle, under the circumstances.”
“You are missing my point,” she says through her teeth. “You let her do this. You knew. Fuck, Brad, you probably facilitated half of it.”
“Most of it,” he says. “They’re my horses.”
If looks could kill, he thinks, she and Christina would have the same style. Although he’s been on the receiving end of this stare for what feels like the beginning of time. It’s lost all meaning to him anymore.
“Give me one reason why I should let her ride in the Mile,” she challenges him. “Just one.”
“She’s fucking good,” is his response. “And she’s played ball, Ashleigh. She’s done what I’ve asked of her, and she hasn’t bitched once. She’s ridden my bottom of the barrel horses, and got a few claimed for me. I’m more than happy to give her a chance, because if she inherited anything good from you it’s that she knows how to ride a horse.”
“I was expecting something more inspired,” she says. “Like, it’s destiny and I owe this to her, or maybe you could namedrop Wonder in there somewhere.”
He laughs. “I’ll stick with real reasons,” he says. “She’s done her part, and now it’s time to see what she’s made of, especially if she’s going to ride Star next year. I can’t have some girl with a known name and little else riding him to the Kentucky Derby next year.”
She stands up and crosses over to him. “You’ve put a lot of stock in Star.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” he asks.
“And in Chris,” she adds.
He scoffs. “Because she never would leave.”
“You’ve totally made me the bad guy,” she reminds him. “Again.”
“Yeah,” he says. “Well, I’m not parenting her here, Ashleigh. That’s your department.”
“Will you at least keep me in the loop next time you make some grand decision concerning my daughter?”
“I’m a busy man,” he says to her. “Keep yourself in the loop.”
She shoves him lightly on the arm. It’s the first time she’s actively touched him in years, so he’s more than a little surprised. So much so that he nearly misses the next thing out of her mouth.
She nods slightly and says, “I might have to do that.”
Christina comes in fifth in the Mile, but she’s overjoyed because that still means a little bit of money and a little bit of money for Christina at this point in her life is a raging success.
When the Juvy goes off, Christina is back in the stands, where the Whitebrook and Townsend Acres contingents have come together for the first time in years. Star wears the green and gold silks, as he does in every race by Brad’s demand and Ashleigh’s disinterest, but up in the stands it’s clearly a hodgepodge of supporters.
The colt wins by daylight.
They win the Eclipse Award for best two-year-old colt. They all knew that they would.
The colt ships to Florida to begin an old dance. Their aim is to sweep the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby, then come home to rest on their laurels until the Kentucky Derby.
He expects, at first, that Mike will be coming with him. He’s surprised when it’s her instead.
She sits next to him on the flight down and promptly falls asleep, slumping into his shoulder. He doesn’t bother to move her.
Before their allowance race, their little tune-up allowance race they’re using as a prep for the Fountain of Youth, Christina is a nervous wreck. Star wins the race in spite of her, dragging them down the track and winning by an uninspired half length.
That’s not a good sign.
For the Fountain of Youth, Christina is a nervous wreck because she was a nervous wreck before the allowance race, and look out that turned out? They finish fourth in a race with no pace, and Christina blames herself. He tells her to cool out and get her head screwed on right, makes Parker deal with the rest.
He thinks his son might be long suffering. Ashleigh insists it’s love. He’s not so sure.
Later, in his hotel room that overlooks the ocean, he sits with a tumbler full of the most expensive bourbon the hotel has to offer, and tells Ashleigh that he’s thinking of pulling Christina.
“Don’t you dare,” she tells him, flat out. She actually pokes him in the chest as she says it, accentuating every word. She may have had too much to drink, if the affects of half the contents of her glass is anything to go by. He thinks about taking her portion of the bourbon away from her, but she looks like she might not take that well. He leaves her to it.
“It would be the best move for the horse,” he argues. “Her nerves are shot as it is, and I don’t see how they’re going to get better after two times out.”
“Third time is the charm?” she asks him, sipping at her drink.
“As sweet and sentimental as that is,” he says, watching her out of the corner of his eye. “It’s not very helpful.”
“You promised her,” she points out. “You can’t go back on that.”
“I promised her within reason,” he says. “If she’s going to blow her chance, that’s her issue. I’ve got to do what’s right for the horse and the Derby.”
“Maybe you’re thinking too much about the Derby,” Ashleigh says, her words slurring a little. He smiles, watches her sip again delicately and scrunch up her face. He never took her for a hard liquor fan, and as it turns out she isn’t. She’s just as innocent and wide-eyed at forty as she was when she was twelve.
That shouldn’t be something that he should ever think about, but nevertheless it’s there.
“I guarantee you that Christina is thinking about the Derby,” he informs her.
“That’s because she knows you are,” she says. “And she wants to please you.”
He sighs. “And please tell me what’s so wrong about this?”
“There’s a life after the Derby,” she says. “Just because we aimed most of Wonder’s foals to that race doesn’t make it a requirement for Star.”
“No,” he says. “He’s made for that race. He would be logical for that race if we had a jockey who didn’t over think the simplest of moves in a two turn course.”
“It’s harder than that,” Ashleigh admonishes.
“I know.” Then he grins. “Maybe you could ride him.”
“Fuck no,” she laughs, finishes her drink in a long swallow that stuns him just a little bit. Then she makes that face again and he smiles. “You’re sticking with Christina. No backing out now.”
He doesn’t know how they got to the point where she can wrap him around her little finger again, but he continues to let her. “Fine.”
She taps his knee with the empty glass, and he takes it dutifully for a refill.
He puts Christina on Star himself for the Florida Derby, keeps his hand on her knee as she situates herself up there and says, “How are your nerves, kid?”
“Manageable,” she says curtly.
“You know the plan?”
She looks down at him. “I don’t think I know anything but the plan.”
“That’s my girl.” He pats her knee and sends them on their way.
He realizes he’s fucked after the Florida Derby. After they’ve won the Florida Derby by three lengths and instantly became the favorite horse gunning for Churchill Downs. After he’s got Ashleigh in his arms and she’s smiling against his neck, right there on national television, like they’ve been something else for decades instead of what they are.
They come home, and he ignores her. She’s oblivious. That’s probably the worst part of it all.
April will be a long, cruel month.
Thankfully, the lead up to the Kentucky Derby is so time consuming he doesn’t have much time to dwell on Ashleigh Griffen. It’s the galas and the dinners that kill him, since she’s presented as his partner in crime, this duo famous for its sparks and explosions. Everyone looks at them like they’re waiting for the next big drama.
He thinks it’s been years since Wonder’s Champion won the Triple Crown. For these people it could have been yesterday. He resolves to be boring, just to irk them.
Ashleigh is a harder sell. Considering she’s the most stubborn woman he’s met in his life, that’s not surprising. She wants her own way, and she’s not above petty arguments and backstabbing to get it. That’s what he tells her one day, and she gasps at him like she can’t believe he’s spoken such libel.
“Oh, please,” he says, standing at the rail while Christina is busy giving the colt his last work on a wet track. “Name me a time when you didn’t go behind someone’s back when your stubbornness didn’t win out.”
“That’s ridiculous,” she says. “If I ever went behind anyone’s back,” she says, accentuating words to inform him that anyone is in fact him, “it was because I was put in such a position that I had no other choice.”
“Because you were insistent that you were right,” he says. “That nothing else I could have said about anything would have a shred of truth to it.”
“You are assuming that I’m wrong when I’m making these decisions.”
“No, I’m saying that you’re assuming that you’re right and you don’t want to hear anything else.”
“I can’t even believe we’re talking about this,” she says. “What the hell is your problem?”
He knows precisely what his problem is, and it happens to be her. All of her. Everything she says and does is setting him off, and he’d like to somehow quench this weird feeling and then bury it so deep no one would ever know it had even existed. He has no idea how to do this, so he hasn’t exactly been a joy to be around. Ashleigh is just starting to get that, he thinks. Finally.
“I don’t know,” he lies. “Anxiety?”
She gives him a suspicious look, and then thankfully lets it drop.
They win the Kentucky Derby. They win the Preakness. They move on to New York and it’s easy for him to drown the feelings she stirs up in the incessant lights of flashbulbs.
Star stands in front of his admirers, Christina holding onto the lead rope proudly. He and Ashleigh stand just inside the barn, watching the pair do their thing.
“This is what she wanted, you know,” she says to him quietly, so Christina can’t hear.
“What? To have her Girl Wonder moment?”
“No.” She looks up at him. “To be a part of something.”
He doesn’t see the difference, but he doesn’t say that. Not to her. He thinks she wouldn’t understand anyway.
They win the Belmont, and that’s when things really go to hell. It’s a mob scene in the winner’s circle, and he can’t tell if the grandstand is shaking or if it’s his heart trying to beat its way out of his chest. The colt shies on his way back from the race, dancing and skittering on his long legs, while Christina sits on his back with a delirious smile on her face.
Later, Ashleigh links her arm through his and says, “So how justified do you feel?”
He smiles. “Not at all, Ashleigh.”
She laughs, truly, and stretches up the length of him to whisper, “Liar.”
The colt gets a break. Two months to roll around to his heart’s content in the pastures, and gallop with Christina in the wide green lanes of the farm. Ashleigh’s around all the fucking time, watching her daughter ride the colt and getting in his hair about the right fall campaign that will lead Star into the Breeders’ Cup.
“What about this,” she says excitedly, flouncing into his office one miserably hot afternoon at the end of June. “We start off with another allowance in early August. Star can pull that off, right? Then we go straight to the Travers Stakes to take care of any remaining three year olds we haven’t beaten yet. The late bloomers, the ones who dropped off the Triple Crown trail, and the like. From there we take on older horses at Belmont. Do you think the Jockey Club Gold Cup is too big a race too soon with that competition, or should we downgrade to something a little less competitive?”
He stares at her like she’s lost her mind, because while she’s always been exceedingly competitive he’s not sure he’s ever seen her so enthusiastic. Even when Wonder was racing she’d had Charlie’s litany of idioms drilled into her head about chickens and eggs and whatever else that man said on a constant basis, making her passion for the sport look forced.
She’s not forcing anything right now. If anything she’s a force of sheer will.
“What?” she asks, when he fails to say anything.
He clears his throat. “That sounds like an interesting approach,” he says, and she beams.
“What about the Gold Cup?” she asks. “Too much?”
“How about we start with the Gold Cup?”
“And ignore the Travers?” she asks, aghast. “But there are going to be nice three year olds in that race. Three year olds we need to beat.”
“Ash,” he says. “We’ve got that Eclipse Award locked up. We can ignore three year olds for the rest of the year.”
She frowns down at her scribblings and shrugs. “We could start with the Gold Cup,” she says. “But I’d really feel better with a small prep. Get him something easy to ease back into the swing of things.”
“Sounds good to me. There should be something suitable at Belmont that month.”
“Good,” she says, and she’s so perky he gives her another look that she doesn’t notice at all because she’s twirling around and out the door before he can even begin to comment.
They’re back at Belmont, starting to put Star through his paces. Ashleigh’s spending more and more time in secluded conversation with her cell phone, keeping most of what she’s saying, probably to Mike, a secret from Christina. Brad doesn’t say anything about it, but he knows that Christina at least knows something is up. She always gives him a questioning look when she comes back from working the colt and Ashleigh’s isn’t waiting with him by the rail.
He always just shrugs it off, because it’s not his place. What he does know is if co-owning a Triple Crown winner can’t pull Whitebrook from the brink, nothing will.
The night before the allowance race, he heads down to the track and walks in on the tail end of one of those conversations. Ashleigh’s standing there in front of Star’s stall, the colt resting his head on her shoulder as she mutters a hasty goodbye and shoves her phone into the back pocket of her jeans.
She wipes her fingers under her eyes and turns quickly around, causing Star to lift his head and back into his stall. He knows she doesn’t want him to see her distress, but that’s just too bad because he’s here and he’s not going to ignore this.
She looks into Star’s stall and says, “I think we’re going to sell.”
He stops behind her and mutters, “Fuck.”
“Pretty much,” she agrees, lowering her forehead into her hands. He rests a hand on the middle of her back and rubs his thumb back and forth. She doesn’t tense and move away, so he inches a little closer, shifts his hand up to sit between her shoulders.
“So, seriously, Ashleigh,” he says. “What’s going on?”
She explains to him the investments Gene Reese made years ago, when Whitebrook was a fresh farm just starting out. It doesn’t take a genius to realize where that money went when the economy turned south.
“It’s all gone,” she says. “All of it. I not only have no money to run the farm, but I have no money for Christina’s college fund. What little I have set aside for Chris is in a trust fund, so it’s something she can live on, but we don’t have anything else that can sustain us and the farm. Selling is the only thing we can do now.”
He considers what he is about to say very carefully, and finally says, “I can buy out your share in our horses, Ash. If it helps.”
She laughs, but it sounds pained. He rubs his fingers in little circles until she quiets down and lifts her head. “What do you need with two stallions who’ve never lived up to their reputation in the breeding shed? Or Honor Bright and her beautiful, stupid foals? Princess is barren, and might be at best a worthy addition to the Kentucky Horse Park. Who else would take her? The fact is we shot ourselves in the foot by letting go of Champion and Legacy. We ruined our own chances. I won’t let you waste your money.”
“What about Star?” he asks. “I’ll buy you out, and you know I’ll pay whatever price you set.”
She’s quiet for a long moment, and for a second he thinks he’s said the last thing she wanted to hear. It surprises him, because he imagined she would have loved to hear that proposition three years ago, when she wanted nothing to do with the foal and Christina was the only one singing his praises. He never offered then, because he had known in some way that she would have said no for Christina’s sake. He’s offering now because she’s backed into a wall, and if he can offer her a way out, he’ll do it.
“If you buy me out, that’s it, isn’t it?” she asks, turning around and looking up at him. “I’m done. Everything I did between Townsend Acres and Whitebrook Farm is finished. We’re finished.”
He smiles. “You can’t say that doesn’t hold some appeal for you. I’m pretty sure if you could have bought me out, you would have done it ages ago.”
“That was ages ago,” she says under her breath. “I don’t want to give it all up now.”
“You and Mike won’t be left wanting, Ashleigh,” he tells her. “You sell me your share in Star, you take the money and sink it into a new business. You’ll have people knocking down your door to train their horses. You’ll start fresh.”
Star chooses this moment to nudge her shoulder with his nose, inserting himself so completely that Ashleigh breaks down into giant, wracking sobs. He curses and pushes the colt’s nose out of the way, gathering her away from the stall and pressing her close. She burrows against him, crying against his shirt while her fingers dig into his sides.
“Hey,” he says, his hand spanning her back, his arm wrapped around her waist. “Ashleigh, it’s okay.”
“It’s not,” she says, sputtering against him through heaving breaths. “It’s really not.”
So he keeps her like that against him until she calms down, gets her breathing in order, and rests there in the middle of the stable aisle. When she’s quiet, he puts a hand on the back of her head and she pulls back, letting him push her long hair out of her face. Her eyes are red and watery, and she sniffles in attempts to keep from starting up again.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she chides softly. “You’ll make me cry again.”
“I’m not looking at you like anything,” he says, and she smiles because of course he has to be argumentative even now.
When she looks up at him, he thinks he’s in trouble. Her breath catches in the back of her throat, and he thinks it could be from the tears. Or it could be from something else. Either way, she backs out of his grasp and stands an arm’s length away, her eyes still on his.
“I’m going to call Mike,” she announces, and it’s hard for him to not react. He won’t react. “We might take you up on your offer.”
When she turns around and walks out of the barn to seek some privacy away from him, he can’t help but not give a fuck about his offer.
She accepts, with a little change. She’ll sell him the majority of her interest in Star, retaining ten percent so she feels “in the loop.”
He smiles, but he doesn’t think it’s funny. Not in the slightest.
Whitebrook closes its gates when the last horse is trucked off the property. The land sells a month later, the majority of the money going to the IRS and a list of creditors and lawyers that he’s sure is impressively long. The money from Star’s sale is used to purchase a house near Keeneland, where she and Mike open up a public stable. It’s small, but she’s proud of it.
He’s happy for them.
Star keeps on winning, and he hands over her much smaller portion of the purses after each race like clockwork.
The Breeders’ Cup is at Arlington Park in Chicago, the scene of the crime. He’s rarely seen her in the months leading up to the races, so when she finally shows up on the backside of the track the week before it’s a visceral reaction. He just freezes. Christina, who’s been his little right hand girl since they’ve gotten there, seems to notice.
“Are you okay?” she asks him while they watch her mother walk up to them, the chilled fall breeze ruffling up her hair.
“Fine,” he says gruffly. “Keep cooling out Star.”
She walks off with the colt, looking at him over her shoulder with a suspicious glint in her eyes.
They all go out to eat the night before the Breeders’ Cup. Christina and Parker, Ashleigh and Brad. It has a weird, barely functional family dynamic he doesn’t want to think about. Christina keeps giving him the evil eye, while Parker remains totally oblivious and Ashleigh wanders off on tangents that do nothing to distract him.
Afterward, Christina and Parker head off to the Navy Pier and Brad wants nothing more than a drink. Ashleigh decides to join him, and they wind up in a bar near their hotel. She sips on her wine and he nurses his Jack Daniels while she regales him with stories of her public barn and the constant state of crazy in which it seems to function.
She’s bright-eyed and he likes that on her.
He also likes it when she reaches out and bumps him in the shoulder with the back of her hand, leans in and says, “Hey, are we going to win this fucking race, or what?”
“Hell yes,” he says, taking her wrist and running his thumb across the soft skin before dropping her hand on her thigh. She looks at him, caught up in staring. He holds her look for a minute, then turns to finish off his drink.
He feels her rather than sees her hop off her bar stool, and then there’s her little fingers wrapping around his wrist, tugging him to the door. He lets her lead him back to the hotel, right onto the elevator, and lets her pick what floor they go to. She hits a number on the panel, and doesn’t ask for his.
“Ashleigh,” he says finally, because this is probably where he should start asking questions.
“I have something for you,” she says quickly. “It’s in my room. I thought we could go get it, and then you’ll be on your way.”
He thinks to himself oh, thank fuck.
She leads him down to her room, which is quiet and dark. He turns on a light almost immediately, because being in a dark room with Ashleigh Griffen freaks him out more than a little. She shoots him a thankful smile and goes to dig in her suitcase, pulling out a piece of paper and a photograph that catches his attention.
A chestnut horse. Of course it is. She hands it over.
“That is the unnamed daughter of Wonder’s Pride,” she announces, holding up the pedigree she has with her.
He’s confused. He looks it. “Why am I holding a picture of her?”
“Oh,” she smiles. “I bought her.”
“I bought her,” she says again, like it will make sense the second time around. “She never raced, has never been bred, but look at her, Brad. That conformation is Pride through and through. She actually looks a little like Wonder at that age, and I thought she’d be a wonderful investment.”
“She’s never been bred?”
“Nope,” she says. “She’s only two. Her dam is graded stakes placed, and has an impeccable breeding record. Do you want to see it?”
She starts to rifle through her paperwork, and he stops her because this is getting a little suspicious. “Okay, wait. What’s going on, Ashleigh? You bought a mare, and I think that’s great. But I’m starting to question your motives with this whole salesman routine.”
“Right,” she takes a breath. “I was hoping you’d be partners with me.”
That is truly the last thing he ever expected.
“Seriously,” she says. “Chris talks about working with Star, and it just feels like an ache inside. I’m not saying selling him to you was a mistake, and I do retain some small interest, but it’s not enough for me.”
“You want to recreate our situation with Wonder,” he says very slowly, so he’ll understand. She doesn’t deny it.
“Revive, recreate, redo,” she shrugs. “Whatever you want to call it.”
“I’m pretty sure you hated that situation,” he tells her. “Why the hell do you want to redo it?”
“It’s not the same. It will be better this time,” she says, looking up at him and getting caught again. She stammers for a second, and says, “We did things so well with Star. We work well together.”
“Now,” he says. “With Star.”
“And with this filly,” she says. “If you want to.”
He rubs a hand over his face. “This could be a royally huge mistake. I’m…”
She searches his face, standing a little too close with those big eyes and hopeful expression. He does the absolute last thing he should and says, “Fuck it.”
He kisses her, expecting to be shoved back and hit mercilessly, so it comes as a surprise when she practically pushes herself into his hands and kisses him back. He lets the papers she’s shoved into his hands drop onto the bed in favor of spreading his fingers over her back, wrapping one arm around her and pulling her closer as she arches into his hold.
She strokes her thumbs across the line of his jaw and opens her mouth, letting him in. He thinks he might die right here, both from the feel of her and the knowledge that this is the absolute worst idea either of them has ever had. She is married, and he is a complete asshole, but there is an undeniable truth in the middle of all of this and it is that he cannot make himself pull away.
She accentuates this by making a little mewling noise and pulls away just far enough to speak, her breathing ragged as it puffs wetly over his lips. “I love my husband,” she says, opening her eyes and staring right at him. That feels like a knife to the chest, but it does nothing to slow down his heart.
“I know,” he says, moving one hand to the back of her head and tangling his fingers into her hair.
She resists his pull back to his mouth for a second, just long enough to say, “We’re awful people.”
He agrees with her, but he’s too busy noticing how she’s rising on her toes to get closer, pressing into him and digging her fingers in, clinging. He kisses her again, and her tongue slides into his mouth.
He’s always wanted something. Cars and horses and women. He’s always gotten what he’s wanted, but in this case he walks into it knowing there will be nothing in it for him. He kisses her, fills his hands with her, signs his name to her little proposal while she stands at his side.
She tells him, “This can only happen once.”
He’s glad for that.
Star wins the Breeders’ Cup. When the colt flies across the finish line with his orange mane licking behind him like flames, Ashleigh stands next to him, her hand brushing his. As the grandstand quivers and shakes around them, she smiles up at him.
He’s always wanted something.
This might be enough.
- Revival of Ancient Errors (part two)