LA DUQUESA – Wonder Horse Book Two
By Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
Sara Evans leaned back on the sofa in her Aunt’s, now her home, in Redlands, California, with a hot cup of tea, thinking about the past couple of months. Aunt Annie passed away of pancreatic cancer two and a half months ago. That left Sara alone in the world. Annie had been her last living relative. Sara quit her job to care for her. At Annie’s request, they moved into her small cabin in Pinon Hills and constructed a corral for Annie’s horse, La Duquesa. Annie loved that mare dearly. Annie wanted Quesa to be the first thing she saw in the mornings and the last thing she saw at night. Quesa and Sara were both with Annie when she took her last breath. A silent tear slipped slowly down Sara’s cheek as she remembered.
Anne Stone was organized. She planned everything before she died, including her own funeral. Sara just had to follow instructions. Pictures of that time fluttered through her mind like a colorful slideshow. Some of the memories were comforting. The eulogies given Aunt Annie by her professor colleagues and many of her students helped Sara realize Anne Stone was special to more than just herself. Anne Stone was loved by so many people.
Sara remembered being in the attorney’s office for the reading of the will. There was only herself, Reilly Stone, and Anne’s attorney in the room. Reilly was Anne’s husband. He apparently expected a windfall. When the attorney finished the reading and Reilly realized he’d been completely cut out of Anne’s will, he was furious and stormed out of the office, leaving Sara sitting there in complete shock. Anne Stone had bequeathed her entire, sizeable fortune to Sara.
It wasn’t until later, when Sara found an old box of photographs in the back of Aunt Annie’s closet, that she realized Anne Stone had been in love with Reilly at one time. The photos were of a happy young couple sharing birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and family gatherings with Anne’s family. That all stopped suddenly, and Reilly became absent. Sara knew he showed up infrequently, stayed a night or a couple of days, and then disappeared again for months or years at a time. Anne never divorced him. He was hateful when he showed up and refused to tell her where he’d been or what he’d been up to. Over the years, Anne received a couple of phone calls from women looking for Reilly. They hung up when she identified herself as Reilly’s wife. She knew what he’d been up to.
Sara stared into the fireplace. Her glance fell on the framed photograph of La Duquesa hanging above the fireplace next to the framed ribbons from her National Championships last year. The gold trophies stood on the mantle under the photo. She realized she hadn’t talked with Tania, La Duquesa’s trainer, since the day Aunt Annie passed away. She called her that day and asked her to pick Quesa up at the cabin. Sara knew she would be too busy in the next few weeks to care for her properly. She’d seen Tania at the funeral, but there had been so many people there she didn’t have a chance to talk to her. She checked her watch. It was still early. She looked up Tania’s number and called her.
“How’s our Quesa doing?” Sara asked when Tania picked up the phone.
“I have no idea,” Tania replied. “I thought you knew that.”
“What? What are you talking about?” Sara suddenly panicked.
“I showed up at the cabin like you asked,” Tania explained. “Some old drunk came charging out at me, threatening me. I told him I was there to pick up the horse. He told me he was Anne’s husband and the horse belonged to him now, so I could get off his property immediately, or he’d call the sheriff and have me thrown off. He was scary! I turned around and left right away. I thought you knew.”
“Oh. No!” Sara almost whispered. “Aunt Annie left me the horse and the cabin in her will, along with everything else. Reilly doesn’t own anything. And he just walks off and disappears all the time. Poor Quesa. I’ve gotta go. I’ll call you later.” Sara slammed down the phone.
She ran to the kitchen for her purse and keys and ran into the garage, hitting the garage door opener as she passed. She climbed into the car, but it took her three tries to get the key in the ignition she was shaking so badly. She stopped and took a few deep breaths. She had to calm down. She forced herself to back slowly out of the garage, shutting the door once she was in the driveway. She took another deep breath and backed onto the street. She drove to the freeway, still shaking a little. She had visions of arriving at the cabin and finding Quesa dead in her stall. She knew there wasn’t enough feed left there for her since her Aunt died. Tears streamed down her face as she begged Aunt Annie for forgiveness for neglecting her prized horse. She had no sense of time passing as she drove until she turned off on the narrow dirt road leading to the cabin. Once she crested the rise and started down the road to the cabin, her headlights lit up the area. The cabin was dark. The headlights picked up small shiny objects on the ground around the cabin. The corral appeared empty. With her heart in her throat, she parked her car, leaving her purse on the seat, the keys in the ignition, and the headlights on. She walked to the corral first, calling, “Quesa, are you there?” She got no reply, no welcome nicker, nothing. She walked all around the corral. She didn’t see the dead body of a horse. There was nothing in the corral but mud. La Duquesa was gone!
Sara climbed the porch steps and found the cabin door unlocked. She walked in and flicked on the lights. Inside, the cabin was a complete wreck. When Sara left the day Aunt Annie died, the cabin was spotless, everything in its place, floors swept and mopped, beds made. She was confronted by trash, whiskey bottles, beer cans, dirty dishes, and muddy floors everywhere she looked. She was furious! How could he? He had no right!
Another set of headlights appeared over the rise, shining in through the open doorway. Sara didn’t notice as she stood taking in the mess confronting her. She didn’t hear the other car door slam or her Uncle climbing the steps to the cabin until he walked in behind her and screamed, “What are you doing here?”
Sara turned on her heel and screamed back, “What are YOU doing here? This cabin is MINE, not yours. You have NO rights here! And what have you done with MY horse?”
Reilly Stone glared at Sara’s red, blotchy face for a minute. “I SOLD her! If I can’t have her, neither can YOU!”
“Take your garbage and get out of my house or I’ll call the Sheriff and have them throw you out!” Sara screamed at him.
That was the last straw for Reilly. He charged her and slapped her across the face. Then he grabbed her around the neck with both of his large hands and began to squeeze. Sara kicked at him and swung at him, trying to punch him in the face. Reilly squeezed harder. Suddenly Sara was afraid for her life. Reilly was going to strangle her to death! Her arms and hands looked for anything she could grab while she tried to knee him in the groin. He shifted his body so she couldn’t hurt him and kept squeezing her neck. Just when things started going black in front of her eyes, her hand found the handle of the cast iron skillet on the stove beside the front door. With superhuman effort fueled by fear and panic, she picked the heavy skillet up and swung it at his head with all her remaining strength. It connected. His grip around her neck loosened enough for her to pull away. She scrambled around his large frame and ran out the front door, straight down the steps two at a time. She jumped in her car, twisted the key in the ignition, and threw it in reverse. She stepped on the gas spinning her tires. Dirt flew in the air obscuring her vision as she backed away from the cabin. She turned the car and stepped on the accelerator again, spinning her tires and blowing clouds of dust and gravel behind her as she drove up the road.
Sara didn’t see her uncle staggering from the blow. He nearly fell out the front door backwards. He kept his feet under himself for two more steps before he collapsed. His body fell down the steps, head down and feet up. His neck hit the bottom step at just the right spot. It snapped, and his head fell over at an unnatural angle from his body. He would never get up again.