A/N: I've bought this fic over from Lost Diaries as it looks likely the site may sadly close. I hope to see my old readers here, and maybe even a couple of new ones. Thanks to Jnyuj for beta reading.
Disclaimer: I only own the horses! All characters are the property of the wonderful writers of Lost :)
The morning air was crisp and cool against Kate's face as she cantered her horse through the fields of her family estate. Beneath her, her mount tugged at the reins, asking to be given his head and she shifted her weight a little to let him ease out into a ground covering gallop.
"Come on, boy," she whispered as she guided the aging stallion down the path to the river. This was her favourite time of the day, a time when everyone else was still in bed and she could be alone with her beloved horses. She'd first started riding in the early morning back when she was fourteen years old and her father had been killed in a car accident. She'd taken his death hard, and even now, ten years later, she still thought about him almost every day. His memory was most vivid for her at times like this, when she was riding Dylan - his most prized stallion - around the grounds of the farm that he'd built up himself. Highgrove Stud had been her father's passion, and now that he was gone it had become Kate's.
As the terrain under Dylan's shod feet became more rugged, Kate reluctantly pulled the stallion back to a trot. They followed the river for another half a mile before finally slowing to a walk and then turning back towards home. Kate leaned forward and stroked Dylan's sweat soaked neck. "Good fella," she whispered as she let her hips roll softly with the horse's swinging gait.
The sun had risen a little since she'd left home and now it's rays bounced lightly off the river, making her squint a little in it's glare. Letting her reins out to the buckle, she began to go over the day's chores in her mind. The two youngsters she was bringing on needed to be worked, plus she had a session on Phoenix - her graded show jumper. As if that wasn't enough, she had to oversee Karl, the stable boy, and make sure he didn't skimp on his chores around the yard. It wasn't that the boy was lazy as such, he just had a tendency to day dream - a fact which was often reflected in the quantity of his work.
Reaching the gate to the training yards, she dismounted and led Dylan through. Karl was nowhere to be seen, so she walked the horse back to his stall and began to unsaddle him. She took the time to wash the excess sweat from his flanks and chest before rugging him up snugly. As she finished, a noise behind her drew her attention. Seemingly, Karl had finally decided to show his face.
"Can you turn Dylan out in his paddock for me please, Karl?" Kate asked without bothering to glance around.
There was no response from the boy and she reached forward to untie Dylan's rope. As she straightened up, she instantly became aware of a presence standing very close behind her. Whirling around in fright, she found herself facing a very solid, very masculine chest. A rumbling chuckle erupted from the chest's owner and he began to speak.
"Well now, I don't believe we've met."
Struggling to regain her composure, Kate eyed the man before her. He was tall, with broad shoulders, and dark blonde hair that fell into his eyes - his incredibly blue eyes - she couldn't help but notice. Despite Dylan being almost right behind her, she pressed herself closer to the horse, trying to distance herself a little more from the man and the disturbing effect his nearness was having on her. "Who the hell are you?" she demanded, relieved to find that her voice didn't waver.
The stranger extended his hand, "Name's Sawyer."
"What are you doing here? This is private property." She ignored his offered hand.
He smiled, alarming her with the dimples that appeared in his cheeks. Lowering his hand, seemingly unperturbed by her snub, he replied, "I work here."
"Work here? Since when?"
"Since about half an hour ago, if you wanna be precise," he drawled in a heavy southern accent.
"That's ridiculous. If we'd hired another employee, then I'd know about it." Kate didn't bother to hide her growing anger.
Sawyer grinned and shrugged his shoulders. He laughed, "Sorry to disappoint - but it would seem not."
Shooting him a glare that would have sent most men scurrying for cover, Kate pushed her way past, leading Dylan behind.
"Hey, steady on...Freckles."
"The name's Kate," Kate called over her shoulder, not bothering to turn around.
"Whatever you say," his taunting reply was called to her retreating back.
Kate stormed out of the barn, pausing briefly to turn Dylan lose in the nearest paddock. She made her way directly towards the house, not stopping at the heavy oak door to remove her boots before entering. Her riding heels sounded out against the tile floor in the foyer as she crossed to the staircase and ran up it two steps at a time. A man appeared as she neared the top and he reached out to grab her arm, halting her progress.
"Katie," he crooned, "...what's the problem?"
The alcohol on his breath was unmistakable and Kate automatically recoiled.
"Not now, Wayne!"
She tugged her arm free from her step-father's grip. A slimy sensation stirred in her stomach as he looked at her, but she refused to dwell upon it, choosing instead to continue on her way upwards. She had enough things to worry about today without adding her step-father into the mix! Reaching the master bedroom, she grabbed the door handle and threw the double doors wide open. Her mother was inside, sitting at her vanity and brushing her hair. Seeing her daughter, Diane paused in mid-stroke.
"What in God's name is that man doing in our stables, Mother? Did you offer him a job here?"
"Good morning to you too, Katherine," her mother addressed Kate by her full name. Turning to face her more fully, she distastefully took in the girl's dirty riding clothes and disheveled state of hair. "Goodness, I can smell the horses on you from here," she wrinkled her nose. "Now, don't look at me like that. It's time you took a real interest in your future instead of running wild on the farm all day. Besides, you admitted yourself that you have more work than you can manage. I hired the man simply because I thought you could use another pair of hands."
"I can't believe you'd take on someone without consulting me first," Kate fumed. "Besides, it's not like we can afford to pay the guy!"
"Nonsense, dear. Don't talk like that. You'll have people thinking we're paupers." Diane shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes, as if the mere suggestion was ludicrous.
Kate looked at her mother in confusion. Did she really not see what was happening to their home? What was happening to her father's dream? Shaking her head sadly, she tried a different tack.
"But mother, Dad wanted Highgrove to be the best stud farm in the country." She paused for a moment, hoping her next words would sink in. "And back when he was alive, so did you. Highgrove was his life, he put everything he had into making it what it is. Now it's all falling apart - and you don't even seem to care."
It was Diane's turn to look away. "Well Katherine, you father's been gone for a long time. Things change. People change..." She trailed off.
Kate was silent as her mother floundered for words. She knew what was coming next and she didn't want to hear it.
True to form, Diane started on her favourite subject. "Besides, Wayne-"
"Don't bring Wayne into this. I'm sick of hearing about him, everything always revolves around what he says or what he thinks. Can't you see what Wayne's doing to this place - what his constant drinking is doing to our home?" She was near tears and she bit her lip to stop them from springing forth. "Don't you see the gambling debts he's running up?"
"Katie, you're being over dramatic," her mother soothed. "Wayne loves you. He might enjoy the occasional game of cards, but that's just what men do. He'd never intentionally do anything to hurt you." She sighed and eyed her daughter sympathetically. "Now why don't you go and take a long hot bath. I'm sure everything will look a whole lot brighter when you're thinking more calmly."
Kate watched speechlessly as her mother reached for a tiny brass bell and rung for the house maid. Seconds later, a young girl appeared at the door. Doing an awkward curtsey, she awaited her orders.
"Alex, be a sweetheart and run a bath for Kate would you? Oh, and while you're at it, please fix me some pancakes for breakfast."
"Yes ma'am," Alex's dark curls fell forward as she bobbed her head and left the room.
Turning her attention back to the mirror, Diane resumed brushing her hair as if Kate too had already left.
Feeling like she was watching the scene from a great distance, Kate swayed slightly on her feet. Obviously, as far as her mother was concerned, the conversation was over. Silently, she turned and left the room, making her way in a zombie like state to the second floor bathroom. By the time she got there, Alex had just finished running her bath. Clouds of steam filled the room and water beaded lightly on the oak paneling that lined the walls midway.
"Thanks, Alex," she managed to get out.
"You're welcome," the girl dismissed. "Mr. Shepherd called while you were out riding."
"Oh?" Kate turned her head at the mention of the local veterinary surgeon's name. "What did he want?"
"I don't know, he didn't leave a message."
"That's fine, Alex. Thanks for everything."
Kate gave the maid a weak smile and signaled to be left alone. As the door clicked shut, she let her thoughts drift to the phone call that she'd missed. Mr. Shepherd - or Jack as she'd begun to call him - had been calling around a lot as of late, she realized. Usually, he had good reason, especially with Hi-jinks being as close to foaling as she was, but Kate still got the feeling that business wasn't the only reason for his visits. Conveniently, Jack always timed his arrival to coincide with her lunch breaks so that he had an excuse to stop and chat to her before doing his checks on the horses. During his last visit, she could have sworn she'd caught him checking out her posterior in the tight fitted riding pants she always wore. In truth, she'd found his attentions to be rather flattering. Jack was well known for being one of the most eligible bachelors in the district. He was wealthy and successful - and he certainly wasn't any slouch in the looks department either. Tall and dark, a hint of stubble on his chin and jaw line, what more could a girl want? She looked forward to his visits, if only because he managed to distract her from the sorry state of the stud's finances for a few hours.
Thinking about Jack, she crossed the floor to pick up the towel that Danielle had left for her on the railing. A quick glance out the window showed her the new employee, Sawyer, tending to one of the wooden fences in the yards. Oblivious to her watching, he deftly drove nails into the fence posts, re-securing any weak points that he came across. Kate's eyes fell to the faded denim jeans that hugged his hips, lingering for a moment longer on the length of his taut thigh. He wore the sleeves on his black shirt rolled up, exposing the muscles in his tanned forearms and she watched as they flexed with every lift of the hammer. She couldn't see his face, but found it's features were strangely etched into her memory regardless. The determined brow, the full lips, the stubble covered jaw...
She was still recalling the details when he suddenly straightened from his work and looked up at her window. Their eyes met for the briefest of moments and to Kate's horror, he gave her a cocky grin and raised his hand to her in a mock salute.
She shrank back from the window in discomfort. How embarrassing to be caught watching like a school girl! Deftly, she yanked the small curtain across the window, blocking him from her view. There was something about the man that she didn't like. He wasn't needed, nor was he welcome at Highgrove she decided with a frown. Silently, she vowed to herself that she was going to make dead sure that he knew it over the coming days.
Forcefully pushing the man from her thoughts, she discarded her clothes and sank her suddenly tired limbs into the warm depths of her bath. Bubbles foamed up around her nose and she blew them away absently. Using the bath pillow to support her head, she relaxed backwards, staring upwards at the high ceiling. She'd never noticed before, but the once beautiful paint on the white patterned plaster was beginning to crack and peel. Her eyes followed the crooked zigzags that had begun to form, and suddenly she found her tears from earlier had reappeared. Her father would turn in his grave if he knew what was happening to his beloved house. No-one cared enough to fix things as they slipped slowly into disrepair, and even if they did who would pay for the materials? Leaning forward, she rested her elbows on her knees and gave into the heaving sobs that shook her body. What was going to become of Highgrove? What was going to become of her and her family?