There it was again, that sound. It was faint, something she could just barely hear if she really concentrated but she was positive. Someone was downstairs in the broodmare barn. Glancing over at the bedstand Pam looked at the clock—two fifteen. It was pitch dark. It was the middle of the night and either someone had broken in, which was unlikely, or one of the pregnant mares needed help.
Getting up she slipped her robe on over her nightgown and, barefoot and as quietly as she could, made her way down to the main floor of the barn, not wanting to startle whoever was there. She'd only been working at Hopeful Farm for a few weeks and she was still feeling her way; she knew horses, but she didn't know the people who worked here all that well quite yet and was hesitant to interrupt whatever was happening. But if someone needed help…
The main corridor was in shadow, only lights were at the far end, the last stall door was open and, moving closer, she could see Alec gently helping Black Minx. The mare was in labor, though she wasn't supposed to be due for a couple of weeks. She was early delivering her foal and Pam could only hope that everything was all right. Silently she watched Alec calming the horse, stroking her flanks and rubbing her gently with a soft rag as she struggled to give birth. It wasn't her first foal and she knew what she needed to do but something wasn't right. The horse was straining too hard, in obvious pain and Alec looked worried.
He kept checking the mare, checking her progress and finally slipped his arm inside of the animal to check the foal, talking gently to the mare to sooth her. He spoke to Pam without bothering to look up, "Come in here quietly and stay by her head. I may have help her; it's breech." The baby was coming out with its hind hooves being born first, instead of its front feet. This happened sometimes and was a more difficult birth for both mother and foal, sometimes needing a foaling man or a vet.
Pam sat by Black Minx's head, stroking her and speaking to her softly as Alec waited to see if the foal would deliver by itself or not. Five minutes passed, ten. After another minute he slid his hands inside again, gently pulling the foal's hind hooves, carefully turning its rump. Slowly, with groans and nickers from Black Minx, the rest of the colt was at last on the straw beside his mother, trembling and looking stunned. After a long moment to rest, Black Minx raised her head to look at her newborn son as Alec placed him up closer to her head, spent time cleaning her up and then watched as she began to carefully lick him clean.
Finally, sitting there in the straw, Alec visibly relaxed and smiled at Pam, "C'mon, let's leave these two alone to get to know one another." They both moved outside the large stall, leaning over the half door as mother and son became acquainted. At length, with his mother standing beside him, the baby struggled unsteadily to his feet and found his first meal. It was a perfect, peaceful moment.
Alec was still watching the scene when he said, "You should go back upstairs, get some sleep."
Pam nodded and smiled as she looked at him. "You need a shower."
Alec was covered with mess from the birth, the slop and blood that he was vainly trying to wipe off with a damp towel. "If I run the water in the house I'll wake up my parents. This will be okay."
Pam made a face at him. "Sure it is—c'mon, you can't be comfortable with that all over you."
She led the way up to her apartment, up the stairs to the large furnished room she was allowed to live in while she worked at the farm. Flicking on the lights, Alec was surprised at the changes she's made since she'd moved in a few weeks ago. There were bright throws over the old furniture, colorful prints of famous paintings—Picasso, Monet and Chagall, field flowers in glasses and paper cups on almost every table or shelf and cheerful scatter rugs covering the scared floor. She handed him a clean bath towel. "You know where the bathroom is, go ahead and get cleaned up."
"No, really—it's okay. I can just…"
"Don't be silly."
He laughed, she was right; he was feeling grungy. "Thanks, I'll just be a minute."
She heard the shower starting as she was putting the kettle on for some herbal tea. It would help her get back to sleep, though she knew she had to be up to exercise the two year olds in less than three hours. Waiting, she tried to keep her thoughts off the fact that Alec Ramsay, the most famous rider in the country was in her shower, just a few feet away. That was enough of a hoot, and she acknowledged to herself at the fact that she was developing a pretty major crush on him, as well. He was—nice. He was, he was…he was a really nice guy. Not to mention the fact that he was about as good-looking as anything on two feet she'd seen around a barn in her whole life. And he was one of the few people she'd met who could ride better than she could—though she admitted to a thrill when she'd realized that she got better results from Black Sand than Alec did. That was a real boost to her ego.
A moment later Pam was pouring hot water into the teapot when she heard the shower shut off. Getting two mugs down from the cabinet, she put them on the coffee table in front of the battered sofa, sat down and waited. Within a couple of minutes Alec walked out of the small bathroom wearing just the towel wrapped around his waist, looking a little sheepish—and damp. The apartment smelled of steam and her rose scented shower gel. "I hope you don't mind, but my clothes were pretty gross."
She smiled, and no, she didn't mind. She had two brothers. "Tea?"
"At three in the morning?"
She held up the box, 'sleepy-time tea'. "Just what the doctor ordered. Sugar? Will Black Minx and the colt be okay?"
"Black, thanks. They're fine—this is her third foal and she's a good mother. I'll check her before I go back to the main house, but I'm not worried about her." They were both quiet while she poured then sat back on opposite ends of the couch. Alec seemed a little shy.
"What would your parents say if they walked in?" Pam smiled at him.
"My mother would be shocked and my father would be jealous." She gave a quiet laugh
as he sipped his tea. "This is good, thanks." He was looking at the framed photos Pam had put on the coffee table—there were seven or eight of them and were obviously of her family and pets. The largest one showed a group of people on a beach, wearing bathing suits and cover-ups, gathered around a fire and looking happy. Alec was a little surprised to realize that in the weeks Pam had been here, he'd hardly said anything to her that wasn't work related. "Don't you miss them?"
She smiled. "I talk to them every week, every Sunday and my sister and I write a lot. I'll see them in a few months. But how about you; do you get homesick when you're traveling so much? You must."
He paused a moment, he didn't know Pam that well yet and he was basically private about himself. "I've gotten to the point where a track pretty much is home."
"That sounds pretty vague; don't you and your parents get along?"
Alec gave a small shrug and—maybe because it was late, maybe it was because he was tired, but he said what he really thought. "No, we do, but we don't have all that much in common. I mean we love each other but most of the time I get the feeling that they really don't get what I do."
"But you said they sold their house and moved up here to the farm so you could all be together. They wouldn't do that if they didn't want to."
"I know that—it's just that neither of them cares anything at all about horses or racing and my mother hates what I do. She thinks I'm going to get hurt so she refuses to watch any of the races I'm in." Alec picked up his mug again, probably so he'd have something to hold, thinking how pretty Pam looked sitting there in a light blue robe, the color an almost perfect match to her eyes.
"What about your father?"
"He's retired so he just sort of goes along with my mother and takes care of the books. They mostly stay up here, don't go to the tracks. I think the last race they actually went to was the Belmont when Satan won the Triple Crown." He realized that he was enjoying talking with her. Normally after a night like this he'd just go back to his room and try to unwind on his own, and usually failed. This was exactly what he needed; someone to talk to who knew seemed to understand.
"That was a few years ago."
Alec nodded. "I don't mean to sound like a spoiled brat or anything—they've let me do pretty much what I've wanted with horses and a career; I guess they're even proud of me but…"
"But they don't get it."
Alec nodded and smiled a little. "It's not that big a deal. They live their lives, I live mine." He took another swallow of tea. "What about you, what do you do—just travel around the country looking for horses to ride?"
Pam laughed, liking the mental picture. "Something like that and you have some of the nicest I've ever seen so here I am."
Alec shifted a little on the couch, tucking his legs up and turning more to face Pam. "Nothing to hold you anyplace? No boyfriend or anything?" He mentally crossed his fingers there wasn't anyone.
"We kind of broke up."
Good. "Should I ask?"
Pam wrapped her arms around herself. "He wanted to get married and I didn't. We broke up. What about you; girlfriend?" Maybe he was as single as he seemed…
Alec shook his head a little. "No time and I'm never in one place for more than a few weeks."
She gave him a sly sideways smile. "You do like girls, don't you?"
He smiled back at her. "I like girls just fine, thanks." In fact he liked Pam. "Sooner or later I'll meet someone who can put up with all of this."
"You want to get married?"
"Not this week, no, but eventually, sure I do. Why, don't you?"
She had an odd look on hr face. "I do, yes, but I don't know…not yet, either. I have too many other things to do and we're both too young—don't you think?"
Alec shook his head. "I don't feel too young; I haven't felt too young in a long time."
Pam gave him a searching look. "Because of everything you've done?"
"And been through, yes. I don't mean racing so much, but the other things—the shipwreck, plane crashes; that stuff. My parents have had two memorial services for me when I was declared dead. It's pretty weird to read your own obituary—the first one I was twelve and there wasn't much to say. The second one, after a plane I was on went down had a lot more because it was after the Triple Crown and some big races; I was more well known." He smiled at her. "I made the New York Times. Anyway, I guess it's all made me feel like I'm twenty going on forty or something."
Pam felt sorry for him and she studied him as he poured himself some more tea. "That must be weird; being famous." She felt as sudden urge to touch his hand, maybe give him a hug but restrained herself; she worked for him, he was her boss. That would be stepping over the line.
"It takes getting used to." He shifted on the couch again then went on with his answer. "It's like these total strangers think they know me or I owe them something because they've seen me on TV or put a bet on some race I was in. It gets—weird."
"Is that why you keep most things to yourself?"
Yawning, he said, "I try to keep what privacy I have." He stood up, taking his cup to the small kitchen area and putting it in the sink. He tightened the towel around his waist, picking up his clothes. "It's late, if I'm not going to be useless tomorrow—later today, I have to get at least a couple of hours of sleep."
Pam stood up, too, walking him to the apartment door. "I'll see you later, then."
"You will and don't worry about working the two year olds at six—eight or nine o'clock won't kill them and I don't want you getting hurt because you're tired." He had a sudden urge to kiss her goodnight but restrained himself. She worked for him; he was her boss. It would be stepping over the line.
She nodded with a small smile. "How about ten?"
"Don't push it." But she knew he was joking. "Thanks for your help tonight, and the tea." He thought again about a kiss or hug goodnight but turned and went down the stairs instead.
Alec smiled as he walked back over to the main house and climbed up the stairs to his room. Glancing out his window he saw the light across the way in the broodmare barn apartment click off. Nine would roll around soon enough. Today was Wednesday, he didn't have to be back at Belmont until Friday and he might even be able to stretch it to Saturday if he got up especially early for the ride down. Maybe he'd help Pam exercise the two-year-olds in a few hours. It was always better if the horses were worked together instead of alone. It would be better for their training if he did. In fact, he'd plan on it.
Lying in her bed up in the apartment, Pam saw the light over in the main house go out, happy that it seemed they had made a connection tonight. She liked him and not just because he was the Alec Ramsay. She'd like him if he mucked stalls for a living. She just—liked him. He'd said that he'd be around for a few more days, maybe they could ride together, if he wasn't too busy…