All That's Unforgiven
Sunnydale Days, Book 4
Hearts, horses and healing...
Released: December 1, 2015
Hearts, horses, and healing…
Can Sam Crawford make up for a decade-old mistake before it ruins his chances at future happiness?
Some mistakes can’t be forgiven; they must be rectified.
Wanting nothing more than a second chance with his first wife, Sam Crawford convinces Betty he’s rooted in Sunnydale Farms and committed to a new life with her.
Betty fears the only thing Sam can be faithful to is the next excitement-filled adventure. Fear becomes reality when someone from Sam’s past shows up in Caseville, Michigan, offering him the high-paying horse-breeding job he left a decade ago.
Will his attempts to amend his past cost him his future happiness?
As the waitress filled his coffee cup, Sam glanced back toward the door and then down to his watch. Since his brother’s call the night before, he had wondered why Daryl wanted to meet for breakfast. As usual, he hadn’t shed a single detail, not even when Sam pressed.
The behavior reminded him of their childhood. Daryl was always Sam’s biggest competitor and most loyal fan. When Sam’s marriage to Betty had begun to feel like a constrictive noose, Daryl had encouraged him to head beyond the borders of Huron County to chase his dreams of rodeo stardom. Sam appreciated the support, but when divorce papers found him in Louisiana, he’d already regretted the choices made.
Nine years on the circuit provided memories and limited success, but numerous falls now restricted his mobility and the time away cost him his wife and son.
Guilt couldn’t change the past, though, and Sam decided years ago the best he could do was appreciate those around him and hold them close.
The bell above the door rang, and Sam looked up. Daryl waved but paused at a nearby table to chat with the Barnes family and ask the waitress for a cup of coffee, before folding his six foot frame into the booth. He dropped the folder he carried to the table and pointed to Sam’s crumpled newspaper. “Any real news this morning?”
Sam waved off the small talk. “Let’s get to the point. I’m curious as a barn cat. Why did you want to see me bright and early?”
“You don’t want to share a meal with your brother? You got to get right down to business?”
Sam flicked his finger against the corner of the menu. He’d never pass up the opportunity to spend time with his brother, but Daryl had hinted this meeting was about a business venture. That had piqued Sam’s interest.
Living in Caseville, his reputation as a skilled horse trainer had been hard to reclaim. Upon his return, it had been easy to ignore what others thought, but as the years began to creep up on him, he yearned to do something more with his professional life than he had recently.
The only one willing to give him a chance to work with horses had been his ex-wife. Those on the outside believed he was now nothing more than a hired hand at Sunnydale Farms. It didn’t matter they were once partners, and he’d been the face out front in their business before their divorce. Most assumed he’d left his best years on the circuit in all those lost competitions.
He took a sip of his coffee, trying to swallow the bad taste in his mouth. “You know I’m always glad to see you. Being close to you—especially after Mom died—was one of the reasons I talked Jade into moving back here.”
Truth. In part. But, there was another piece of his coming home story Sam always kept to himself.
The year after he left rodeo riding, a woman he’d met on the circuit brought him into her family’s racehorse facility. He’d been eager to get involved with Taylor Farm’s breeding program, and sparks quickly flew between Jade and him as they worked side by side producing a new generation of champions.
A dark side to horse racing soon showed itself. When Jade wanted to start a family shortly after they married, he agreed, but insisted they start their new life far away from her family’s business and their nefarious practices.
Jade became pregnant shortly after their move to Michigan, and Sam balanced growing his new family and reconnecting with Ben—his son with his first wife. It took eight years to accomplish that goal.
His marriage to Jade disintegrated much like his first had, but he owed the woman for giving him the twins and leaving everyone and everything she knew behind.
The waitress set a mug down in front of Daryl and filled it, before giving Sam’s cup a warm-up and taking their orders.
When they were alone again, Daryl said. “After we eat, I’d like you to come out to my place. I just bought five young mares, beautiful quarter horse stock.”
Sam’s ears perked up. “Do you need some help training the girls?”
“I wouldn’t turn it down, but that’s not why I want you to partner with me.”
“Partner? For what?”
“I want to breed these mares. I’m talking with the Clancy farm down in Kentucky to use one of their retired rodeo rough stock studs.”
Sam rubbed his temple. “Wow. Sounds like a great adventure, but I’m not sure I can help.”
Breeding horses had been a goal of his when he and Betty were young and newly married, but she always felt the financial risk outweighed the reward. By taking the job with Jade’s family, he’d learned quite a bit about the business, the good and the bad. He knew how to increase the likelihood of producing a foal and had a sense of what it cost to get a set of hooves on the ground.
Maybe Daryl had that kind of money, but he didn’t.
After divorce number two, he moved into a small apartment above the beauty salon so he could save money and provide for the twins. A percentage of his limited income went to Jade in the form of alimony. What Betty paid him for his work at Sunnydale didn’t go far, and the part-time job at the grain elevator helped him make ends meet—barely.
“I can’t do it without you. Look, this will put cash in your pocket. I own the mares free and clear, and I can finance the stud fees. I have the room on my property, but you know the process a hell of a lot better than I do. And when the time comes to train the foals, you’re the expert. If you break and train them, we’ll have some quality rodeo horses to sell.”
“Did you bring the paperwork on your mares?”
A large toothy grin lit up Daryl’s face. He slid the folder across the table. “I knew you wouldn’t refuse.”
“I haven’t agreed to anything yet.” Sam scanned the first mare’s bloodline.
“But you’re intrigued.”
“Are you and Jade getting along these days?”
“As well as a divorced couple can, I guess.”
“Do you think she could work out something with her uncle? Maybe we could use one of his studs sometime in the future.”
“Uncle Frank?” Just mentioning the man’s name made Sam nauseous. “There isn’t any way the mogul would let one of his champion thoroughbred’s breed with rodeo stock.” What he didn’t say out loud was it would be a cold day in hell before Sam would get wrapped up with Jade’s family again, for any reason—least of all horse breeding.
“What about Jade then? She knows this stuff too.”
He could see Jade cringing at the way Daryl boiled down her genetics degree and years of experience to knowing stuff. “I’m not sure she’d want to get into business with me.”
“You just said you were getting along.”
“We are.” He took a moment to sip his coffee again. There was a huge difference between being civil enough to raise your kids and working together. “The more I get involved at Sunnydale and with Betty, the pricklier Jade has become. It’s not as if we’re at each other’s throats, I just don’t think she’d be interested in working together.”
“I have to say, it surprised me when you got remarried. I always thought you and Betty were the kind of couple that could endure anything.”
“Anything but my wanderlust.”
“You weren’t out chasing women. You were pursuing—”
Sam hadn’t realized he was grinding his teeth until a sharp pain moved through his jaw. As hard as he tried to distance himself from the past, it always found its way to the present. “A stupid title? Some imagined fame? As much as I loved rodeo riding, all it got me was broken bones and torn ligaments.”
“What about Jade and your boys?”
The mention of his kids pulled Sam’s attention from the mare’s pedigrees. “What about them?”
“They’re worth having, aren’t they? And you wouldn’t if you hadn’t tried your hand at the circuit.”
“Of course. The boys are a blessing.” Sam pushed the folder back toward Daryl. “As great as this sounds, I’m just not sure I have it in me.”
“The breeding or the training?”
He’d given up the dream of being a breeder when they left Texas. It was an ugly world, and he’d made too many mistakes to go back now. “Either really, but I’m getting a little old to break green horses.”
“Too old or too scared?”
It didn’t matter how old they’d grown. Daryl seemed to know what buttons most irritated him. “Screw you. There ain’t a horse out there I can’t ride, but the chance of breaking a bone if I get tossed is higher than it used to be. I’ve got the boys to think about. If I can’t work…”
“We’re not talking about broncos here.” Daryl paused and focused a hard gaze on Sam. “What about those two horses you trained for Betty last summer. No injuries and you two made a fine profit on that deal.”
“Sunnydale Farms made the money. Not me.” But, his brother had a point. He’d put a lot of work into the two project horses, and the payoff had been good. “Let’s say you breed these girls this month and they all take—which is highly unlikely. You’re looking at twenty-four to thirty months before they’re ready to sell.”
“At least that long, maybe longer.”
“I don’t have cash to invest. Even if I did, I can’t wait that long for a payoff.”
“If you have the time, your knowledge is worth as much as money at this point.”
Sam pulled the papers back. His gut knotted again, reminding him of the promise not to tread those waters, but he couldn’t deny the draw. The rodeo and racing worlds were very different places. Daryl was talking about good ol’ quarter horses, not bred-for-racing thoroughbreds. “But you used the word partner, which makes me think you’re in this to make money.”
“Absolutely, it’s a business.”
“If I invest time and knowledge, what is my return?”
“Thirty percent on the first generation of stock. If you invest cash on the next breeding, we’ll up the split to fifty-fifty. What do you say?”
“It sure would be fun to be working with foals again.”
The smile that turned up Daryl’s mouth was a familiar one, but what he didn’t realize was Sam needed something to be excited about right now. As much as he hesitated to get involved in another breeding program, it would help him reclaim his reputation.
As if he knew he had Sam on the hook, Daryl looked over the plate the waitress had delivered and then dug his fork into his potatoes. “I tell you what. After we eat, let’s head out to my place? You can get a good look at the girls, and we can hammer out some details.”
“Sounds good. But, I have to make a stop first.”