A wide smile spread across Kris' lips as she felt Wildfire's muscles tense in excitement beneath her and with habitual ease she leaned over the racing saddle to give his neck one last encouraging pat. "Ready to win boy?" she murmured, a giggle of anticipation leaving her throat as his ears twitched back towards her in acknowledgement, his hoof pawing the ground impatiently.
A deep laugh resonated around her and she turned in the saddle to see Matt loosely hanging on to Wildfire's reins, guiding him, with a calm she envied, to the starting gate. "Of course he will, he'd do anything for this particular jockey, especially when she's in Raintree's silks."
"He's very loyal." Kris agreed with a smile, reaching down to brush Matt's sculpted face with her gloved fingers. "Thanks for the vote of confidence." She whispered sincerely.
"I love you." He replied simply, squeezing the hand that still rested on his cheek.
"Love you too…" She breathed against his lips before they finally met in a sweet, but all too brief, kiss.
The horn that signalled the trainers to leave the track sounding and Matt pulled hurriedly away, giving Wildfire's flank a confident pat as he shouted over the din of the crowd, "Good Luck!"
Kris barely heard him, his voice suddenly distant and far away as the starting gate opened, the familiar surge of adrenaline filling her veins as Wildfire sprang forward…
She woke with a jolt, the heavenly dream abandoning her as quickly as it had descended upon her in sleep. However strong her longing to return to her dream world was, the mercilessly blinding light streaming through the cheap grey curtain pulled hurriedly across the motel room's single window forced such wishes aside, she was late for work. Her lips twisted in a wry, humourless smile at her own thought, yeah, what she was doing could be called work, but she doubted the counsellors and Camp LaGrange would've agreed, or…Matt for that matter. She blinked rapidly as the guilt and grief fought to escape the back of her mind, stubbornly throwing her legs over the side of the bed, she had never been the wallowing type, and tossing on some random clothes. She couldn't help catching a glimpse of the calendar on the back of the door as she wrenched it open, March already. Immediately she thought of the upcoming racing season, was Matt enthusiastically working out schedules as he had done every other year or had Jean won him over with her dude ranch idea? Tears began to burn at the rims of her eyes but for once she ignored them, plunged into the dark hole that was memories of the past. Did Raintree even still exist? It certainly wouldn't be the same as when she'd left, she knew that. Why did everything have to change… Her thoughts stopped their cruel assault as she tasted salt, from her tears, on her lips. As she wiped them away and disappeared through the door, she tried not to think of the dream, but thoughts of Matt's impossible kisses still hung over her like a shroud.
Her turmoil of inner emotions must have made her appear even more antisocial than usual, for that morning Sarah, the owner of the café she frequented regularly out of necessity didn't ask many of her well meaning questions, letting Kris escape onto the pavement outside to wait for her ride with barely a "Goodbye". Thankfully Tony was impatient today, his gleaming truck already waiting for her, which Kris knew probably meant today would be a good payday. "Hey." She muttered as she climbed into the front seat, barely glancing at the three burly men in the back, her competitors.
"You're late." Tony grumbled as he pulled out and revved quickly through the tiny town, soon on the dirt track that would lead them into the depths of Colorado woodland.
"I slept in." She replied sharply. "Which course are we doing?" she asked as the truck stopped in an unfamiliar clearing, where four horses, two bays, a grey and a palomino, were tied forlornly to a post, already tacked up.
"A new one, it goes right around the base of Mt Munro." He answered, sounding pleased with himself.
Kris swallowed slightly, this was pushing the concept of cross-country racing a little far, but she hid her apprehension and instead just raised her eyebrows, "If you want us to go mountaineering, you'd be better to give as mules." She commented as she patted the lean flank of the palomino that had been singled out as her ride.
Tony grunted impatiently, "The purse is 3500. You want to try for it or not Furrilo?"
"I'm already on the way to the finish line." Kris muttered as she pushed the horse after the other three riders.
Fifteen minutes or so later, the race was going well. Kris and her horse had left the competition far behind as they worked their way between the soaring trees. She pushed the horse a little faster then she strictly needed to, trying to think of an empty, sun baked, California racetrack rather than the similarities between her current situation and the ill-judged match race at Raintree. She could still remember the glorious mixture of adrenaline and disbelief as Wildfire jumped over that lakebed, reaching O's finish line just before Avatar, and Matt's horrified expression of betrayal as he saw her through the trees… The thud of another horse's hooves behind her forced out all other thoughts and she curved her horse expertly round a tree to keep her lead. As she did so, she was sure she saw a bright flash through the undergrowth, like a camera, but as she rushed past she dismissed the notion as unlikely.
Junior felt Taz pick up speed beneath him as they reached the top of the hill, the spectacular view of Raintree stretching out before them. Junior pulled Taz to halt with a light tug on the reins, smiling sadly as Taz strained impatiently, "I know boy." He murmured as he patted him soothingly. Taz hadn't really settled into his life at Davis yet, even after six months Raintree was still home. Not that Junior could blame him, he'd always felt the same way, until recently anyway. With a practised eye he scanned the yard below, no sign of dude ranchers. "The coast is clear." He muttered conspiratorially in Taz's ear, who snorted in agreement and set off down the hill.
"What happened to the Porsche?" Matt's Great Uncle Jesse commented jokingly as he met Junior in the yard in front of the barn.
"This guy's quieter, don't want to attract any dudes now do I?" Junior replied in the same tone as he jumped off Taz and led him into the barn.
Jesse smiled drily, "I wouldn't worry, Jean's got them off on a group trail ride right now, but I'd clear out of here before they come back for the cookout, I already got roped in to help."
Junior tried to hide his relief as he asked awkwardly, "If that's the case then you don't need me to help you with the bunkhouse?"
"That'll only take an hour or so with the two of us." Jesse said with false cheer as he supportively squeezed the younger man's shoulder, "Unless you don't feel up to it?"
Junior shrugged him off and said wryly, "If we waited until we felt okay about it, it would never get done."
"True." Jesse agreed quietly, waiting until Junior had finished attending to Taz before leading the way back outside towards the bunkhouse.
Junior couldn't help but frown uneasily as he saw all the posters on very free surface advertising dude ranch activities, the proud racing stable really had been transformed into a tourist trap. He ran a strained hand through his dark hair, "How's Jean doing?"
Jesse breathed a worried sigh as they reached the door of the bunkhouse. "She's…working through it, literally. According to her, business is booming."
"That's good." Junior said graciously, after all, Jean finding a way to cope was far more important than racing.
"Yeah…it is." Jesse agreed half heartedly as he picked up a cardboard box from the doorway and handed it to Junior, "Put that in the bedroom will you? I need to sort through the photos of my last trip.
"Oh yeah? Where were you this time?" Junior asked as he forced his suddenly leaden legs to propel him towards Matt's old room.
"Idaho and Colorado mostly." Jesse answered as he followed him in.
As Junior set down the box on the floor, he couldn't help but notice a photograph lying loose on top of the carefully labelled packets of others. Feeling a strange, undeniable pull towards it he gingerly picked it up and flipped it over to look at it. He gasped sharply as he instantaneously recognised its subject, Kris Furrilo. Kris, riding a palomino through a sun dappled forest, her concentration etched on her face. "Jesse…" He began hoarsely, barely able to breathe, "Where did you take this?"
Jesse glanced at the photo nonchalantly, obviously not recognising Kris, although Junior wasn't sure how that could be possible. "In Colorado, out by Mt Munro. You want to go out to my truck and bring in the other boxes?"
"Colorado…" Junior muttered distractedly, stuffing the photograph into his jeans pocket before heading out to fulfil Jesse's request, ludicrously glad of the fresh air as his mind made a determined decision. I'm going to find her, she has a right to know.
A/n: PLEASE REVIEW! :D I'm sorry it took me almost a month to update.