La Duquesa – Wonder Horse Book Two
By Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
Maryann and Aunt Ginny spent two days a week driving to San Juan Capistrano so Maryann could ride Prince Ali. Becky asked her mother or Luis, their barn supervisor, to lounge Ali daily. Between the riding and the lounging, his condition improved significantly in a short time.
Maryann rode La Duquesa at Ginny’s ranch as often as she could. She still took her lessons with Melissa, Susie, Kathy, and Heidi on Wednesdays. The five girls worked hard and played hard afterwards, sometimes taking short trail rides before finishing up for the day. Since most of them planned to attend Youth Nationals in July, lessons were on Saturday mornings as well. Saturday afternoon was in San Juan Capistrano with Prince Ali, so Maryann had very little time for anything else. She was looking forward to school ending for the summer so she could spend more time riding.
Celeste Carnegie was in her office working on one of her numerous charity events when the butler brought her the mail for the day. She held the stack of envelopes in one hand and flipped through them, pulling a few aside that related to the project she was working on. A single envelope jumped out at her. It was a plain envelope, not one of the fancy engraved ones she normally got from donors, friends, and other supporters. It had a return address from a Virginia Hartley with a post office box number in Pinon Hills, California. Celeste knew where Beverly Hills, California was and had visited friends there. Pinon Hills was a mystery to her. She had no idea where that was, nor was Virginia Hartley a name familiar to her. She had a lot to get done that day so she put the envelope aside for later and went on with her project.
Celeste came across that envelope again several days later. She picked it up and looked at it one more time. She was about to toss it in the trash can under her desk and decided to open it instead. Curiosity got the best of her. When she pulled out the letter, a photograph fell face-down on her desk. She read the letter. By the time she was done reading it, tears streaked down her face. She picked up the photograph and turned it over. She broke down completely. She sobbed as if her heart were broken. The maid heard her from another room and came running to see what was wrong. Celeste couldn’t speak. She just kept sobbing and staring at the photograph.
Alarmed, the maid rushed downstairs to find Charles. He had guests at the time. She pulled him aside and told him there was something terribly wrong and he needed to get upstairs to his wife’s office right away. Charles excused himself and rushed upstairs. He found Celeste sobbing. She was unable to tell him anything but she handed him the letter. Standing, he read what Virginia Hartley had to say then almost fell into the chair behind him. Celeste handed him the photograph that came with the letter. It took his breath away. He was staring at a feminine version of his own son! They knew! There was no doubt in their minds!
Charles got up from the chair and walked around Celeste’s desk, pulling her to her feet and wrapping his arms around her. He held her until she calmed down. They sat back down and stared at each other for a few minutes. “What do you want to do about this?” he finally asked her.
“How soon can we fly to California?” she asked.
“How about day after tomorrow,” he said. “I need a day to clear my schedule and I’m sure you do too. Why don’t you make flight arrangements and clear your schedule. I’ll get rid of my company downstairs and start clearing mine. What do you think we need? A week?”
“What if she doesn’t want to see us?” Celeste almost whispered.
“We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it,” Charles answered gently. “Let’s go and hope for the best. We have a lot of apologizing to do when we get there.”
Celeste took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “You’re right about that. Me especially. We lost our son almost 14 years ago. That also cost us 13 years with our only grandchild.
I was so hateful that night. I said horrible things to her. I’ve thought about it many times. She didn’t deserve it, but I had no idea how to reach her and apologize. I was hurting so badly I just wanted to hurt something else, and she became my target. I’ve done a lot of thinking over the years. If we could go back, I would change a lot of things. You remember Chip growing up. He always had a pencil and sketch pad in his hands when he wasn’t playing sports or riding his polo ponies. WE decided he had to go into medicine. That’s why he was away at college in the first place. And I decided I was better equipped to pick a wife for him. That’s why I rejected Rose. She didn’t fit MY standards. If I had let him make up his own mind, he would be here with us right now.”
“Don’t beat yourself up now,” Charles said quietly. “We can’t go back, but we may be able to go forward. Let’s get ourselves ready and make the trip. Maybe, just maybe, we can salvage a beautiful granddaughter out of this mess. I will call that Virginia Hartley and let her know we’re coming. I’d like to surprise Maryann if we can.”
Celeste had more trouble planning her wardrobe for this trip than she ever did before. She cleared her calendar for a week, claiming an emergency in the family. She made flight reservations to Ontario International Airport. She had no idea where that was. She booked them a suite at the local Hilton Hotel and set up a limousine to pick them up and drive them to Pinon Hills. She had no idea where that was either, but it didn’t matter. That was where her granddaughter lived.
Celeste flew all the time. She flew to Europe. She flew to the Far East. She flew to South America. She flew to Africa. She was nervous as they boarded the flight to Ontario. She could hardly contain herself. Charles had the jitters himself. They didn’t know what kind of reception they would get when they landed. They desperately wanted the meeting to go well.
The limousine driver met them at their terminal when their flight landed and stowed their luggage in the trunk. He helped Mrs. Carnegie into the limousine. He asked Charles, “Where to?” Charles gave him the address he’d gotten from Virginia Hartley. The limo driver was not familiar with the area and had to look it up on his GPS before they left. He told Charles it would take at least an hour to get there. Charles mixed them a drink from the limo bar and settled back for a long ride. Celeste hardly knew what to do with herself. She barely took a sip of her drink and stared out the window as the limousine traveled along the highway toward Las Vegas.
Ginny called Rose at the hardware store and told her she had some special guests arriving that afternoon she wanted her to meet. She told her they were going to watch Maryann ride La Duquesa.
Maryann arrived at the ranch and handled her chores first. She wanted to ride. Brody told her they were expecting guests, but he didn’t know who they were or why they were coming. Maryann finished up her chores and tacked up La Duquesa. She had just started riding when the limousine showed up at the gate. She’d never seen a limousine in this area before. It surprised her. She wondered who the fancy people were who got out of it and were talking with Aunt Ginny on the deck. Maryann concentrated on her riding and ignored them. Ginny walked the guests to the rail at the top of the arena. The three adults watched her ride for several passes before Aunt Ginny called her over.
“Maryann, these are some nice people I’d like you to meet,” she said.
Celeste opened her mouth first. “My name is Celeste, and this is my husband, Charles,” she told her. “We’ve heard quite a lot about you and wanted to meet you.”
Maryann looked at her fancy clothes puzzled. “Why would you want to meet me?” she asked.
“Actually, we wanted to meet you because you are our granddaughter,” Celeste told her.
“No way! My mom’s parents are dead,” Maryann said, looking at the woman strangely.
“We’re not your mom’s parents, honey. We are your father’s parents,” Celeste said gently as she could.
“The mean, rich ones?” Maryann exclaimed with her eyes open wide. She slapped her hand over her mouth. She couldn’t believe that came out like that.
Charles grinned at her. “Yes, my dear, that probably describes who we used to be.”
Celeste piped in, “I was very mean to your mother once. I promise never to be mean to anyone again as long as I live.”
Charles laughed. “We wanted to get to know you. You are our only grandchild, and we didn’t know about you until your friend here, Virginia, contacted us. Would you be willing to give us another chance?”
“I guess so, as long as mom doesn’t mind,” Maryann answered uncertainly.
“I understand your mom is coming here soon, and we’ll talk to her then. In the meantime, who is that beautiful horse you are riding? I’ve never seen one so lovely. You know your father used to ride polo ponies, but nothing as beautiful as that one,” Charles told her.
“Really? My dad used to ride horses? I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. I don’t know much about him. Mom doesn’t say much. Maybe you can tell me more about my dad?”
“Oh, we’d be delighted to tell you all about your dad. You look so much like him, you know,” Celeste answered.
“Well, if you don’t mind, I only have a few more minutes of practice time with Quesa. I’d like to finish my ride, then maybe we can talk some more in the barn while I groom her and put her away,” Maryann suggested. She was trying to wrap her mind around these visitors and needed some time with her horse alone. Grandparents! Who’d have thought? And they didn’t seem to be mean at all. She needed to adjust. She didn’t know what her mother would say.
“Do you mind if we just watch you?” Celeste asked.
“No, not at all, but you might want to stay back a little, so you don’t get dust all over your fancy clothes,” Maryann answered. She continued her ride while her head whirled. Who were these people? She’s heard so little about them from her mother. It would be nice to hear more about her dad.