Ginny decided the start of the new week would be a good opportunity to study the latest Timeform edition in the hope of catching up on the European racing she'd missed while in South Africa. But as she reclined in her father's old leather office chair, and turned each page, she was taking little of it in. At the forefront of her mind was her proposed visit to Kerry's aunt Sally, that evening. She prayed that the meeting would be a success. When she had returned home from the pub the other evening, it hadn't been particularly late, yet still Beth Kennedy had fussed, saying how she had worried about where Ginny had got to. Ginny knew something had to give.
A knock on the open door distracted her. Being caught lounging in her chair with her Tweedy Bird-socked-feet up on the desk was embarrassing at the best of times, but in front of a rather attractive stranger was even worse. She whipped her feet down, almost falling off the chair in the process and stood up. The man in the doorway was almost as tall as the top of the frame. His wide shoulders, clad in a well-cut, expensive-looking suit, seemed to fill the entrance. Beneath stylishly windswept blond hair, slate grey eyes twinkled at Ginny's inelegant scramble to her feet, and he suppressed a boyish smile.
'Yes, can I help you?' she replied, brushing her hands against her sides in an effort to regain some dignity.
'I hope so. A friend referred me.'
Curious but encouraged, Ginny gave him a broad smile.
'Come in, come in. Take a seat,' she ushered.
'I'm sorry for not calling first before dropping in on you like this. I was in the area and I didn't have your number to hand.' Despite his apology, he didn't look overly phased by it. 'My name's Mark Rushin.'
'Nice to meet you,' Ginny replied, shaking his outstretched hand. She gestured for him to take a seat.
'A mutual friend told me to look you up,' he said as he arranged himself comfortably on an office chair. 'Said you were just the person to help me; one of the best trainers he knows.'
'Oh?' Ginny flushed at the compliment.
'You remember Charlie du Raand?'
Ginny's smile froze on her face and she struggled to maintain her composure. Maybe this man wasn't as harmless as she'd imagined.
'Really? Charlie said that?'
Mark Rushin laughed.
'Don't look so surprised. Is it that hard to believe? He said that you take your career very seriously and have your head firmly screwed onto your shoulders,' he quoted.
I'm sure he did, Ginny thought grimly. And it probably wasn't meant as a compliment.
'No, he's right. I do take racing very seriously. I haven't spoken to Charlie in a while, that's all. I'm surprised he even knows I'm back over here.'
'The jungle drums beat loudly in racing.'
Ginny looked at him, still wary. If the jungle drums were that loud, how much else did he know about her and Charlie's past?
'I was hoping you might like to train a horse for me…'
Ginny's heart leapt. Maybe Charlie was trying to make amends. She tried hard to keep the feeling of jubilation rising inside her from bubbling over. It wasn't good to look too desperate.
'I'm sure we can sort something out. Tell me more.'
'Well, I have a few horses in training, but Charlie persuaded me to send one your way. A three-year-old filly called Kenya. Heard of her?'
Ginny wished she had got further than 'H' in the form directory.
'Sorry, no. But then I've been in South –'
'Don't apologise. She's a useful horse but she hasn't set the world alight yet. Would you be interested?'
Ginny's initial skepticism of this man's association with Charlie was overridden by the immediate thought of the void left behind by the Forrester horses.
'Absolutely. Would you like to have a look around?'
Mark's eyes crinkled at the sides as he smiled.
'I'd love a grand tour if you're not too busy.'
After shoving her feet back into her boots, Ginny guided her guest out into the late afternoon sunshine. The yard looked fresh and clean after the rain from the day before. Making a split-second decision, she led the way to the stables across from the office and stopped outside Sequella's box. In the absence of Basil Forrester's horses, the big black mare was probably their most accomplished resident. Keeping a watchful eye on Sequella's teeth, she placed her hand over the mare's long bony nose.
'This is Sequella. She placed last year in a Group Three mile-and-a-half race but we're hoping we can improve on that this year.'
Mark looked on from a respectful distance and nodded, his arms folded across his broad chest.
Ginny nodded in agreement. Jim had spoken fondly of Sequella and was adamant that now as a mature five-year-old, they had a 'stayer' to be reckoned with.
'This is Caspian,' she said, continuing on down the row. At the sound of their voices, the bay colt poked his head over his half-door and looked inquisitively at his visitors. 'He belongs to Ravenhill. He's only a two-year-old so we're not sure what we've got yet but my father used to train his granddam, Just Kidding. She won the Oaks for us a few years back.'
'Also pretty powerful-looking despite being a two-year-old,' Mark commented.
Ginny nodded again, her smile widening at Mark's knowledgeable observation. Caspian was heavy for a juvenile. From the work she had already done on him, he reminded her of a swing, rocking back and forth, going higher and higher with each push, gathering momentum until it felt like you were flying, weightless and effortless.
'We're hoping he'll show some of that power on the racecourse later. If he meets our expectations, he'll be entered in the big two-year-old races later this season.'
Mark flashed a white, even-toothed grin.
'Charlie said you were ambitious. That's exactly what I want.'
It wasn't what Charlie wanted, Ginny thought, a bitter claw scraping against her gut. Nevertheless, she smiled.
'I'm sure we'll get on very well then.'
AUTHOR'S NOTE: If you're enjoying At Long Odds and would like to see how things progress, the entire book is now available on amazon as an e-book. Thanks!
Copyright © Hannah Hooton, 2012