(Again, I apologize for the review being delayed. It will definitely be up by this weekend. This week I got swamped!)
A Canter of the Heart is the romance of a new millennium, a story that you’ve never heard before, and one that should take its place amongst the iconic romances of our time. But most importantly, it is a romance that will speak, most unapologetically, to your heart. A Canter of the Heart is the first book in ‘The Equestrian and the Aviator’ trilogy that sets our intrepid heroine on the journey of a lifetime. The first thing that you will no doubt discover is that Eleanor, fickle girl that she is, has already found the love of her life – her inspiring love of horses.
This trilogy is based on a true story, and is a testament to the therapeutic riding programs offered by the Riding for the Disabled Association of Australia. It is dedicated to the many remarkable, selfless people who made and continue to make those programs possible.
Excerpt (from Chapter one)
The bedroom was freezing, I realized, shivering in brief spasms while pulling the covers higher up under my chin. It wasn’t bad enough waking up with this nasty belly wog, I had to be born at the start of winter too? I loved Carol and Annette, but why on earth did they have to buy me that horrible blue drink? Still, you only turn twenty once, and that was the first and the last time I’d have turps like that.
I didn’t know if it was worse to lie here or to try to get out of bed. The guinea fowl were chattering and making such a racket that it was impossible to sleep anyway, but I did my best to ignore them as I laid in bed a little longer, pinching my eyes shut in an attempt to squeeze out an errant ray of morning sun as it snuck through the gap in my bedroom curtains. I only wished I could’ve squeezed out this niggling headache as well.
“Oh, sod it!” I thought. “The sun’s up, I might as well be too.”
Haltingly, I tried to sit up, only to pause while allowing my stomach to settle before laying back down and pulling the covers up to my cheeks. On the third attempt I managed it, accepting that my stomach ache would persist, no matter what I did, so I resolved myself to greet the day. Sliding my legs out from under the covers and off the side of the bed, I positioned my Quickie wheelchair and lifted myself across, pulling my feet up onto the footrests before heading off down the hallway to the kitchen.
Mum, who’d just returned from milking at the Roberts’ dairy, was adding some jarrah to the cooking stove’s fire-box, getting ready to make breakfast and heat up the water for the house. It was warmer in the kitchen, and a nice hot bath would be brilliant later. Dad was sitting at the dining room table reading his paper.
“Morning Mum,” I barely whispered.
“Morning Mouse, care for an egg?” Mum replied brightly, looking askance from the stove. “Feeling crook?”
“I think I’ll survive,” I replied too soon, squinting as a wave of throbbing pain returned to my temples. I raised my hand, as if asking permission for the room to stop spinning, then added while waving it back and forth for emphasis, “No eggs, thanks, Mum,” then continued toward the dining room as something caught my eye. “There’s a scorpion next to your foot, Mum,” I warned as I rounded the kitchen table.
Mum crushed it with her slipper, reached down and flung it into the fire.
“Blasted things are coming in off the woodpile again.”
“Sorry Mum, next time I’ll run him over for you.”
I proceeded into the dining room, taking my place next to Dad.
“Morning Dad, how’s your foot?” I said in as loud a voice as I could muster, which wasn’t much on this particular morning.
“Bloomin’ gout’s agony, but it won’ get tha better o’ me, nowt as long as I’ve somethin’ to say about it. ‘Ow about you then, ‘ave a right good time at the pub did ya? Givin’ the blokes a bit o’ trouble?” he replied in his usual gregarious manner followed by a hearty chuckle.
Unlike Mum and myself, Dad spoke with a pronounced Devonshire accent, moderated only slightly by his years at boarding school in Brighton. Living amongst the farming communities of southwest England before moving to Australia accounted as much for his skills as a farmer as for his accent. My own accent was a mixture of what some would call ‘posh’ or ‘proper’ English as learnt from Mum and Gran mingled with Australian as taught at private school and a smidgen of Yank thrown in from the American romance novels that were my mainstay – much to my family’s chagrin. Next to my Aussie mates, I didn’t have much of an Australian accent. Anyway, I loved talking with Dad as, no matter what state he was in, and he’d been through a lot between his gout and his heart condition, he never failed to make me feel better.
I smiled, “No Dad, it was a girls’ night out at the Lord Forest. We’re supposed to go out again tonight to a dance exhibition. It’s something called the Lambada that Carol wants to see and it’s meant to be quite the event.”
We almost never went out to pubs, let alone a posh place like the Lord Forest, but Carol simply had to see this dance exhibition and I’d already told her I’d go, but now I wasn’t quite sure that I’d be up for it.
Mum took her seat next to Dad. “I brought back some fresh cream for your cereal.”
“Thanks Mum, that sounds great.”
“Thanks love,” Dad replied, removing a portion of Weet-Bix from the box and crushing it into his bowl.
Dad may not have been the tallest of blokes, but he was stout with the massive hands of a farmer and anyone would think twice before crossing him. There had been a bloke who’d threatened him with a shotgun once but Dad simply yanked the shotgun out of his hands, punched him in the nose and that was that.
“Looks like another beautiful day, Dad, but I could see my breath in bed this morning.”
“Aye that’d be about right, nearly a record aye ‘ear, and nowt for rain in the forecast. Aye ‘ope we can make it through another year o’ drought with the bore, if the ‘ouse well dries up… Might ‘ave ta put in a rainwater tank. Rainwater’s good for laundry ‘n’ cleanin’, but nowt much for drinkin’, there’s nothin’ like a good well for drinkin’, but water off a bloomin’ dirty roof? Aye don’t care for it m’self. Got the bloomin’ birds dirt, mice, possums and tha like, it’s no good for drinkin’. Should boil it, aye’d say. Other’s may no’ mind, but I don’t fancy it a’ tall. Aye’d rather drink the ruddy bore water than that, it might ‘ave a bit o’ iron an’ a few ruddy stains, but it’s a good bore, never run out and likely never will.”
“I’m sure we’ll get rain soon, Dad, the drought can’t go on forever.”
“Aye ‘ope your right, the paddocks need a good soak too, even the jarrah’s dyin’ off an’ those trees ‘ave been round near a thousan’ years.”
“You up for a potter about on Snowy after brekkie?” Mum asked me with a wry smile.
“Of course Mum, whenever you like.” I’d have to be bedridden before I’d pass up a ride, and even then I’d probably find a way.
Mum smiled as she cut off the top of her soft-boiled egg.
I finished breakfast, changed into my riding clothes and headed down to the tack-shed. Mum had already brushed and tacked Snowy and was cinching down her girth when I stopped to make a fuss over Snowy, giving her a pat and a hug. “Can I pick her hooves, Mum?”
“It’s done, are you ready?”
“Yes, Mum.” I backed up to make room before Mum bent down and lifted me up to the saddle. I scooted back onto the saddle, lifting myself with my arms then lifted my leg over Snowy’s withers and repositioned myself properly before taking the reins. “Thanks Mum.” I smiled as I rubbed and patted Snowy.
“Have a good ride, Mouse,” Mum said before turning to go about her work. With Dad’s gout, Mum had twice the work to do round the farm, but had been helping me ride since I was four and knew how important it was. My physio would always marvel at how strong and well developed my muscles were, right down to my toes. Most folks in my position were a mess of atrophied muscles and a never-ending variety of ailments that came from an absence of good exercise, but not me – thanks to Mum and Snowy.
It turned out to be a lovely day despite the belly wog, which was my only real complaint. Having a potter about the farm always brightened my day. It gave me a feeling of freedom that was far more than simply being out of the wheelchair. I couldn’t fully explain it, except to say that somehow Snowy and I had become best mates. A friend had once remarked that it was like her horse had become her legs and followed her subconscious thoughts, but for me, I felt a connection with Snowy that made me a part of her world, and her part of mine. As we meandered about the paddocks, I felt such an incredible sense of inner peace and tranquillity that I couldn’t help but smile. I was truly free.
I’ve been a resident of the Pacific Northwest for the better part of two decades, and blithely accept life in the shadows of the nesting grounds of bald eagles while ensconced amidst the company of wild, damp and understandably nervous bunnies. I prefer to write at the dining room table, where the light is better and I can work next to Simon, the sweetest one hundred and twenty pound Rottweiler that you’re ever likely to meet — except when he’s in the mood to editorialize, which he is only on rare occasions. I much prefer to write love stories that take place in warm, sunny and exotic locales as I admire and rate the latest downpour direct from the Pacific Northwest’s over-active convergence zone, but in my heart I will forever be drawn back to the lucky country… Australia… and maybe one more lovely canter along an endless beach.
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