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Ride: Competing for the Cup

Published by Candlewick Press (MA) on 2018-03-13
Hardcover: $16.99

Horse-loving American teen Kit Bridges is in it to win it when her new boarding school’s House Cup competition begins.

Fourteen-year-old Kit Bridges is slowly growing accustomed to her new equestrian school, the illustrious Covington Academy, and life as an American teen in England. But it’s not easy finding a new normal since her mother’s death, especially when it seems like her dad, Covington’s riding instructor, might be starting to move on. She’d confide in her new friend, Anya, but Anya’s been acting so odd lately — almost like she’s hiding something. Not to mention all those confusing British boys, including one who’s been sending Kit notes in secret. Kit knows she can count on the connection she’s made with her favorite horse, wild, unpredictable TK, but he’s just one mishap away from being sent away from Covington — and Kit — forever. With the quest for the House Cup under way, tensions among students are mounting. Who will ride to the top? And who will end up underfoot?
(Hardcover, 2018-03-13)
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ASIN: 0763698547
ISBN: 9780763698546
EAN: 9780763698546



Book cover For novels: minor spoilers are fine, and kind of necessary in order to discuss the book; but do avoid huge spoilers like giving away the ending!
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Bobbi JG Weiss

Chapter 1 Chapter 1 NIGHT TERROR NIGHT TERROR NIGHT TERROR In the stable, Kit wrapped her arms around TK. The big black gelding's neck curved gracefully over her shoulder, his chin bumping against her back. Kit laughed as he raised and lowered his head over and over so that he could repeatedly chinbump her, whuffl ing with contentment. His hot horse breath in contrast with the air made her realize she was freezing. Too excited to sleep after the excitement of the bonfi re, she had sneaked out of bed and slipped on her mackintosh with just her jammies underneath. Her muck boots, while usually warm enough, weren't doing the job so well at the moment. She'd neglected to put on socks. 'Okay, big guy, I think the lovefest is over,' she said. 'I can't feel my toes.'

&% Those were the last calm words she said. The next sounds out of her mouth were a series of incoherent wails as something right outside the stall made a sharp crashing noise, like a door slapping open in the wind. A ceiling timber fell, the heavy wood clattering against the wall, and Kit thought, The roof is collapsing! TK squealed and jerked away from her, his nostrils fl ared. He pawed at the straw, his ears nervously swiveling back and forth, his eyes wide and darting. Kit's fi rst instinct was to calm him, but for once she listened to her father's voice in her head: 'A spooked horse is not a rational animal.' So she shuffl ed backward and reached around to unlatch the stall door without taking her eyes off him. The door wouldn't open. A timber had fallen right through the wooden railings, effectively locking it. 'Kit!' The lights fl ickered on, and Kit's father, Rudy, appeared. He had pulled on a pair of work jeans and boots, but his coat wasn't entirely zipped up. He pulled at the timber stuck in the stall door, freeing it from the railings and hefting it to one side. 'Out!' he commanded, sliding the stall door open.

&% Kit ran out as TK reared, terrifi ed as the sounds of more falling timbers and the other horses? growing panic echoed around them. 'Go outside!' Rudy told her. 'I'll take care of this!' 'No!' Kit shouted. 'I'm not leaving you!' She almost screamed when hands grabbed her arms. It was Will Palmerston. He must have heard the horses and come running at top speed from nearby Juniper Cottage. He worked as a stable hand, and his natural way with horses was quite amazing. He took one look at the wreckage in the corridor and said, 'It's not safe in here ? you need to get out!' 'No, I need to help Dad and TK!' Will leaned down, staring directly into her eyes. 'Kit. Go.' Kit resisted. Timbers, old equipment, and bales of hay were still dropping from the ceiling, and she wasn't about to leave her loved ones in danger. 'Hey,' Will said, his voice softer but no less commanding. 'Trust me.' Will's steady blue eyes met her own, and in that moment, Kit trusted him. And she wasn't sure she

&% could be of any help inside the barn, either. She let go of his arms and ran outside. She stood in the courtyard, covering her face and trying to fi gure out what she should do. Just as she decided to ignore all good sense and barrel back into the chaos, her roommate, Anya Patel, and several other students from nearby houses came running up, all of them holding robes and coats closed against the frigid England night. 'Are you all right'? Anya panted, her words barely audible amid the mayhem of horses whinnying and people shouting. 'No! TK is freaking out, and my dad and Will are in there!' As if conjured up by the mention of his name, Will strode out of the stable, a cell phone to his ear. 'We need an ambulance,' he said into it, and then paused, listening. 'To Covington. Hurry.' That's when his gaze met Kit's. She tried to run past him, yelling, 'Dad!' but Will grabbed her and held on, even when she struggled. 'Dad!' she yelled again, thoughts of her mother fl ashing through her brain. She's been gone a whole year, and it's been so horrible without her. And now Dad . . . no, not Dad, too . . . please, please no . . .

Chapter 2 Chapter 2 Remember, Remember Remember, Remember Remember, Remember the Fifth of November the Fifth of November the Fifth of November Kit paced nervously, trying to forget the last time K it paced nervously, trying to forget the last time K she'd spent a whole night in a hospital. It had K she'd spent a whole night in a hospital. It had K been when her mom . . . well . . . when that had that had that happened. Her logical brain knew that hospitals are designed to help people. They're places where doctors, nurses, and staff have to be able to do their jobs quickly and effi ciently for the sake of their patients. But Kit's logical brain wasn't in charge at the moment. Her emotions had battered down her logic walls in tsunami waves, reducing her thoughts to a jumble of I hate this place! Where's my dad? I hate this place! Is he okay? I hate this place! He has to be okay, he has to, he has to, and I hate this big, stupid, cold, sterile place!

&% Will was the only person with her. Sally Warrington, one of Covington's English teachers, had driven them to the town hospital, but she had stayed downstairs in the main lobby to intercept any students or staff who came to show support for Kit and her father. Sally had also sent Will to wait with Kit for news of her father's condition. Kit shuddered to think that even her teacher realized that Will seemed to be a strong, comforting presence for her. He sat on one of the numerous plastic chairs in the emergency waiting room, his padded blue coat piled on his lap, his handsome face blank of expression. 'Why would somebody stuff all the Guys in the ceiling'? Kit muttered as she paced. 'What kind of stupid idea was that'? Leaning forward in his chair, his chin in his hands, Will recited: 'Remember, remember the fi fth of November Gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder, treason Should ever be forgot.' Kit looked at him. 'What'? Will seemed to come out of a trance. 'Oh, um ? it's a famous poem about the whole Guy Fawkes

&% thing and the attempt to kill the king. I learned it when I was a kid. It just came to mind because, you know . . . the Guys falling out of the loft and all.' Kit nodded. The loud crashing noise that had started this whole disaster had been the trapdoor in the stable ceiling, the one that led to the hayloft, falling open. Juniper Cottage hadn't really won the Covington Guy Fawkes competition after all. Someone had stolen all the Guys from all the other school houses and hidden them up in the hayloft so that Juniper Cottage could enjoy an easy win. Too bad whoeveritwas hadn't secured the latch properly. Kit paced some more while Will sat glumly. 'I need to know what's going on!' she fi nally griped at him, as if he could magically make the doctor appear but was choosing not to just to torture her. Will grabbed a bag on the table next to him. 'Do you want some crisps'? Kit sighed and turned away. 'No'? Will gave a weak chuckle. 'Sorry. That's ridiculous. So not what you need. They're prawn fl avored.' 'Eww, that's not a fl avor ? that's a punishment.' Kit's response to the little joke slipped out

&% automatically, sarcasm being a major Bridges family trait. What she really wanted to do was scream and maybe throw one of the ugly plastic chairs across the room. Yanking those cheap blinds off the window would vent some frustration, too, but she did none of those things. She just hugged herself tighter and turned farther away from Will. He tried again for humor, shaking the crisps bag once and then setting it back on the table. 'Well, at least you know where they are in case I say something idiotic again.' The joke fell fl at, so he added sincerely, 'I just wish I could help.' Kit sat down next to him. 'I'm so worried about Dad. What if he can't walk'? 'Come on, everything's going to be all right.' 'I hope so. But his foot looked so messed up.' 'Your dad's a really tough guy.' Will stated it as a fact, a fact in which he clearly believed. Kit appreciated that. She could always count on Will to tell her the truth, and right now, the truth meant everything. She usually hated being told that everything was going to be all right. Why did people always say that? Don't worry ? everything is going to be all right. She'd heard it over and over when her mom had . . .

&% well. And things hadn't been all right, not for a very long time. And now they weren't all right all over again! Yet here was Will, assuring her that, yes, things would turn out fi ne, that her dad was stronger than any little foot injury, and despite her own bleak outlook, she believed him. Dad really is strong, she thought. In fact, when this is all over, I bet he'll go straight to the horse that stepped on his foot and step on him back. A ridiculous idea ? Rudy would never hurt a horse ? but the idea of such a silly retribution lifted her spirits. 'I just wish my mom was here,' she admitted. 'Yeah.' Kit glanced at her watch. 'You know, you don't have to stick around. Really. Miss Warrington said she'd drive you back.' 'I want to stay, at least until we know something.' Kit smiled. She was so glad that Will wanted to stay with her. She wasn't quite sure what was happening with their odd relationship. It felt like it was growing into something more than friendship, but exactly what, she couldn't yet say. She had hopes, though. For some reason, that reminded her that her dad hadn't been the only victim when the Guys had fallen out of the hayloft. 'Are the horses okay''

10 &% Will nodded. 'Yeah, they're fi ne. A little bit spooked, and Thunder got a little nick on his fetlock, but they're fi ne.' 'I can't believe someone would stuff all the Guys in the ceiling,' Kit said for probably the nineteenth time. 'I mean, who would ''? 'Hey, Kit'? It was the voice of Rudy Bridges as he appeared through the doors in a wheelchair pushed by a nurse. Kit leaped to her feet. 'Dad!' She threw her arms around him and squeezed with all her might. 'What are you two doing here'? Rudy said around the mass of distraught daughter clinging to his neck. 'It's late. You should both be in bed.' Kit kept hugging him. 'Miss Warrington brought us over while you were in the ambulance.' The pressure of heldback tears strained her voice. 'What did they say'? 'I'd tell you, Kit, but I can't breathe.' Rudy gave her a fatherly pat on the back before gently peeling her off. 'Sorry,' Kit said, standing straight again. 'I'm just worried.' She continued to grip his hands, afraid of losing physical contact.

11 &% He gave her a reassuring smile. 'I just have to have one more Xray to see if I need surgery.' At that, Will said, 'Oh, no. Mr. Bridges, I'm so sorry.' 'It's not your fault, son,' Rudy said. 'Why don't you two head home? It's going to be a long night for me, so there's no sense in it being a long night for you, too.' Kit looked at him as if he'd gone nuts, or as her British friends put it, gone mad. 'I'm not going anywhere!' 'I think she means that, sir,' said Will. 'Yeah,' Rudy sighed in defeat. Kit smiled, glad that her father was accepting the facts. A twothousandpound Clydesdale horse couldn't have pulled her away from him now. 'Well, then,' Rudy said to Will, 'why don't you head home with Miss Sally'? He politely informed his nurse, 'My daughter's going to come with us. There's really no point in arguing with her.' The nurse nodded with a knowing smile and started pushing Rudy's wheelchair to the door that led to Radiology. Kit fetched her coat and turned to Will. 'Thank you for being so helpful.'

12 &% Even as she hurried after her dad, Kit noticed that a strange look had come over Will's face. When her father was wheeled into the Xray room, Kit automatically followed. 'I'm sorry,' the nurse told her, 'but you can't go in.' When Kit gave her a blank stare, the nurse jerked her thumb at the sign on the door. 'Xrays? You do know they're a form of radiation, right'? 'Oh! Right. Yeah. Sorry.' Kit was directed to another waiting room, where she sat down in yet another hard plastic chair. She let out a long, slow breath. Now that she knew her dad was going to be okay, exhaustion hit her like a sledgehammer. No, I can't get sleepy yet, she thought, and bought a cup of really terrible coffee from a vending machine around the corner. After letting it cool, she downed it in three gulps and tossed the cup into the trash. All the things that were happening to her ? they weren't anything like what she'd expected when she'd fi rst come to The Covington Academy for the Equestrian Arts mere months ago. Her move from

13 &% Montana to England had happened so fast! She'd barely had time to adjust to all the changes before classes had started. She had made new friends, true, but she still missed her old ones, especially Charlie. What is he doing right now? she wondered, and What is he doing right now? she wondered, and What is he doing right now? pulled out her cell phone to check the time. It was 1:04 in the morning, which meant it was 6:04 in the evening in Montana. He's eating dinner with his family, she thought. Let me guess . . . meat loaf with ketchup, corn on the cob, and a side dish made with some kind of beans. Oh, and if Charlie's lucky, cupcakes for dessert. Strawberry frosting, of course. Thinking about dinner 'back home? made her think of her mother. Mom, if you were still alive, you, me, and Dad would still be back in our house together, happy. I could still talk to you and go places with you and ? she laughed softly ? and even help you with the housework. And I wouldn't always feel like my heart was in pieces. And I wouldn't have to wait here in this awful hospital all alone. I wouldn't even be in this hospital. Then again, if she hadn't come to England, she wouldn't have met TK. He was just a horse, a silly, irritating, beautiful, stubborn, dancing horse. Kit still didn't understand

14 &% the connection she had with TK, but it was there, and she knew that TK could feel it, too. Somehow they belonged together. Why? She didn't know. But her growing love for the black gelding had been enough to help her overcome her fear of riding, a fear born when she'd fallen off her childhood horse, Freckles. Her foot had caught in the stirrup, and she had been dragged. I was never going to ride a horse again, she thought, but TK changed all that. I rode him! Just a little, but I did it! And she was determined to do more. But now this awful accident had happened, and TK, along with all the other horses, had been badly scared. TK was an especially skittish horse with unusually delicate sensibilities. It would take time to earn his trust again. Kit vowed to do whatever she could to help him. We're a team, she thought, yawning again. TK will be all right. And Dad's foot will heal up just fi ne, and we'll all be okay. Just one question remained: Who put all the Guys in the hayloft'

Chapter 3 Chapter 3 TRUTH AND DIRE TRUTH AND DIRE TRUTH AND DIRE CONSEQUENCES CONSEQUENCES CONSEQUENCES Wquietly ill drove back to Covington with Sally. He slipped into the dorm room he shared with Navarro Andrada to fi nd Nav in bed and asleep, though he had thoughtfully left Will's lamp on. This was good because Will stored most of his clothes and other belongings all over the fl oor in random heaps. He probably would have tripped on his fi rst step into the room. But it also meant that Nav was wearing a black satin sleep mask to block the lamplight, which made him look like a snoozing bandit. Will smiled at his refi ned roomie's habits and climbed into bed, clothes, coat, and all. He kicked off his boots from there and snuggled into his pillow. It would have been nice to fall asleep at that point.

16 &% It was only one thirty in the morning, so there was plenty of time to rest up for the coming day. But for a long time all he could do was lie there, eyes open, battling with his guilt. Will woke to Nav shaking his shoulders. 'Get up!' Nav hissed. 'Red alert! Ducasse just saw Lady Covington heading this way, and I'm sure you know why!' Will jumped out of bed like a spark from a fi re. He pulled off his coat and clothes and began to yank on his school uniform as Nav dressed, too, all the while giving a recitation of all the things they should not have done lately ? like steal all the Guy Fawkes not have done lately ? like steal all the Guy Fawkes not dummies and hide them in the hayloft. 'It may have started as a funny way to win the competition, but it's gone way too far now,' Nav concluded. 'Who knows what Lady C will do to us'? 'Worrying about a punishment is always worse than the actual punishment,' Will assured him. Nav shot him a sidelong frown. 'You would know.' There came a knock at the door, and the boys of Juniper Cottage spilled into the room, all of them

17 &% looking like they were about to face a fi ring squad. 'She's coming!' Josh announced as if they didn't know already. 'Lady C'? Will checked. 'Okay, just calm down '? 'But thththth . . .' Josh stammered for a moment, unable to get a word out, he was so frantic. 'There's no time!' he fi nally blurted out. 'How much is a fl ight to Vegas? Wait, what am I talking about? Nav, dude!' He pointed at Nav. 'Your family jet, right? It makes sense! It's easier!' Nav rolled his eyes. 'No one person takes the blame, okay'? Will told the group, trying to rekindle their camaraderie before Josh's freakout had them all leaping out the windows. 'All for one and one for all.' 'Keep it together, guys,' added Nav in his best tone of authority. They all promptly froze in place when someone taptaptapped on the door. Will remained calm, though he taptapped on the door. Will remained calm, though he taptapped saw Josh rub sweaty palms against his trousers and Nav shove his fi sts into his uniform jacket pockets. The door then opened to reveal Lady Covington, headmistress of The Covington Academy for the Equestrian Arts.

18 &% She was a tall aristocratic woman, more handsome than pretty, and she was dressed in her usual neat business skirt suit and heels. Her ginger hair was styled in its customary French twist, and she wore a single string of pearls around her neck. It seemed to Will that all the women he knew wore pearl necklaces. He found himself hoping for just an instant that Kit Bridges would never, ever own a single pearl. Pearls were so not her. not her. not 'Gentlemen,' Lady Covington greeted them in her crisp, dignifi ed voice. It sounded to Will perhaps a little more crisp and dignifi ed than usual. 'I will be quick and to the point. Clearly someone from Juniper Cottage was responsible for last night's incident. You had the only viable Guy entry. The guilty party or parties has until tomorrow morning to confess.' Will noticed that, for all his usual bluster, Josh suddenly stared down at his toes. One by one, the other boys did, too. Will did not. He kept his gaze steadily on Lady Covington as she continued. 'However, if no one steps forward to do the right thing, every single member of this house will face the consequences. And I assure you, they will be dire.' Nobody moved.

19 &% 'Will!' Lady Covington snapped, grimacing at the mess on the fl oor. 'Ma'am!' Will responded. 'Muck out this room immediately. Good morning, gentlemen.' And she left. 'Whwhat happened'? Josh said, shaking his head. 'I think I blacked out.' Later that morning, the tack room was fi lled with FourthForm students waiting for the start of Rudy Bridges's riding class. He hadn't arrived yet, however, so everyone was busy gossiping about the events of the previous night. Kit and Anya, on the other hand, were talking about romance, specifi cally the evolving relationship between Kit and Will. 'When it started to rain, we just stood in the doorway of the refreshment tent and ate s'mores,' Kit told Anya, trying to make it all sound very matteroffact. 'Let's see . . .' She pretended to have trouble recalling details that were, in fact, burned forever into her memory. 'I told him I loved bonfi re night, and he agreed, and we both got chocolate all over our faces.'

20 &% 'And that's when you kissed!' Anya broke in. 'Mmmm, chocolate kisses.' Kit laughed. 'No, we just wiped the chocolate off,' she corrected Anya, trying to hide how dreamy the scene had actually been. The bonfi re had kept blazing even when the rain had started, and sparks had danced through the air like tiny magical fi reworks. The taste of the s'mores had been like velvet heaven, and Will's warm blue eyes had gazed directly into hers as they'd ohsoslowly moved closer and closer ? 'And'? Anya prompted. Kit realized she'd gone silent. 'Oh. Uh, and I thanked him for helping me to ride TK, and he said you're welcome.' 'Wait. Go back to the kissing part. Where were you? When were you? Ohhh, tell me everything!' She was whispering, but her breathy voice held enough excitement for three people. 'Oh, my gosh, I'm hyperventilating!' 'Anya, you can't just stop breathing every time you get excited,' Kit advised her friend with amusement. 'Otherwise you're going to drop dead the next time you see a puppy. And'? she shrugged ? 'we didn't kiss.'

21 &% Anya shook her head. 'La la la la la, can't hear you! In my world, you totally kissed. Twice!' 'Not quite. Elaine called Will over with some question or another, and that, as they say, was that.' 'No!' Anya bleated. 'How dare Elaine ''? 'Shhhh! I'm sure she didn't do it on purpose.' 'Oh, she so did!' Anya was right. Kit had noticed Elaine spying on her and Will right before they'd been about to kiss, so of course she'd put a stop to it. But Kit didn't want to think about it. It made her want to punch things. 'Whatev. We had a good time. And then . . . you know, later . . . Will came to the hospital and waited with me.' Kit marveled at how her time with Will during the bonfi re still seemed like it was happening. Just talking about it put goose bumps on her arms all over again. But their mutual wait at the hospital already felt like it had happened a week ago. In a way, Kit wished it had. The further away in time the hospital was, the better. All discussion stopped when Kit heard the distinct stepclunk stepclunk of her dad approaching. The doctors had placed Rudy's right foot in a big walking boot, practically a cast except it was designed

22 &% to take pressure so that Rudy could walk. A cast would have required him to use crutches. As it was, he had to use a cane. He'd also been given medication for pain. Being the stubborn oldfashioned cowboy that he was, Rudy had complained about the cane and refused to take the medication. Kit watched him hobble into the tack room. He was leaning on Will, who made sure his teacher didn't fall fl at on his face. Kit carefully studied her dad's expression ? he looked annoyed but not too much, which meant that he'd given in and taken at least some of the medication. Good, she thought. 'bergrumpy dadteacher plus classmates with camera phones can only spell a social media disaster. She didn't think she could take one of those right now, and her dad defi nitely couldn't. 'Good morning,' Rudy greeted them, stepclunking into place. 'The doctors tell me I'll live. But before we move on, I want you all to think about what happened on bonfi re night.' Rudy's expression hardened. 'Those horses are our responsibility, and we failed them.' He let that sink in, then continued, 'Now, a spooked horse can be dangerous, so even if you think he's your best friend, take it easy the next few days, yeah''

23 &% Kit felt like those last words had been directed at her. Well, she wasn't going to let her dad or TK down ever again, starting today. Starting right now. Elaine stepped forward. 'Are we forgetting that someone is responsible for Mr. Bridges getting hurt'? she asked the class, sounding more like a peeved adult than Rudy did. 'Did anyone think about that'? 'I appreciate the sentiment, Elaine,' Rudy began, 'but I'm not '? 'His foot is in a cast,' Elaine barged on. 'He is completely useless. How will we ever prepare for the Covington House Cup now'? Kit held her breath in shock. Elaine had actually called her dad useless! Rudy got as far as 'I am not '? before Elaine interrupted him again, fetching a stool. 'Take a seat, you poor man. You have had a diffi cult night.' She placed it directly behind him as if expecting him to dramatically collapse onto it. Rudy's ego seemed to have had enough. 'I am not so banged up that I cannot teach a class,' he declared. Uhoh, there it is, Kit thought. Elaine poked him square in his ego. Now he's going to be grumpy no matter how good or bad he feels. She sighed. Thanks, Elaine.

24 &% Recalling her interrupted moment with Will, she added, Again. 'Everyone, out into the ring,' Rudy ordered, and he stepped toward the door, putting weight on his injured foot. As everyone watched, pain blossomed on his face and he had to pull back. Nobody moved. 'Now,' Rudy snapped. He grabbed his Stetson from Will and forced himself to hobble out of the room on his own, his teeth gritted and his pride seeming just barely intact. The rest of the students silently followed, including Kit. She badly wanted to visit TK, but more than that, she wanted to get away from Elaine. Why was Miss Perfect so concerned about her dad's health, anyway? Elaine fi led out of the tack room behind the Juniper Cottage students ? Nav, Will, and Josh. She stopped them halfway down the stable corridor. 'So. Juniper Cottage,' she said in a slightly threatening manner. Nav, Will, and Josh turned around. 'You made this personal when you put my horse

25 &% in danger,' Elaine told them. 'Never, ever get between a girl and her horse. Whoever did this will be caught, and the consequences will be dire.' Josh smirked at Nav. 'Why are the consequences here always so dire'? The comment made Elaine zero in on him. 'Joshua, I think you and I should chat fi rst. Meet me after class.' She marched away. 'Oh, man,' Josh grumbled. 'I cannot deal with her. She's like a cold Lady C! I mean, I know I come off as the bad boy of Juniper Cottage '? 'To who'? Will quipped. Josh frowned. 'Relax, boys,' Nav said. 'I know exactly how to handle her.' Kit leaned up against TK's closed stall door, staring at him. He was facing away from her, his head tucked into the far corner. He would have looked kind of cute that way, like a pouting little boy, if circumstances weren't so awful.

26 &% Everyone else in Kit's riding class had just completed a series of simple exercises out in the practice ring to reinforce the horseandrider connection. The horses all behaved well despite having had such a terrifying night ? except for TK. He had refused to come out of his stall, so Kit had spent the entire class period standing with her dad outside the ring. Normally it would have been embarrassing, but mostly she had just felt anxious about TK. Now that class was over, he was still ignoring her. 'Come on, boy,' she called in her sweetest voice. 'It's cool. You're cool. Come on over here and see Kit.' Terrifi c, she thought. I'm referring to myself in the third person. She held up a fi stful of treats. 'I brought you some megayummy snacks!' TK didn't move a muscle, and Kit was so engrossed in getting his attention that she didn't notice Will enter the stable behind her. She frowned. 'Now you're making it look like I'm talking to myself. Come on, boy ? save me!' Nothing. Kit turned around in defeat and found Will staring at her. She noticed that his expression was somewhat anguished, but she was too wrapped up

27 &% in her own present dilemma to wonder about it. 'He won't even come near me,' she said. 'I thought he trusted me.' 'He does,' said Will. 'You're his person.' 'I just barely managed to ride him before the bonfi re. What if he won't let me do it again, and I can't save him'? Kit waited for the perfect words, the exact words that Will always seemed to say at the exact time that Kit needed to hear them. Instead, she got an 'Um.' Then Will gulped. 'I need a pitchfork,' he muttered, and hurried away. Kit couldn't help but feel bad for him. This has been hard on all of us, she thought. And now he's got a ton of work to do, fi xing all the damage the spooked horses did, kicking in their stalls. Still . . . She peered back into TK's stall, where the sign that had been tacked up since she arrived still hung: unpredictable and dangerous. keep gate shut ? horse will bolt TK didn't seem very dangerous right now. Kit imagined that if he were to move at all, he would just

28 &% shuffl e farther into the corner. 'Come on, buddy,' she urged him. 'Hey. It's me. Your person.' TK remained motionless. Will felt lousy. He meandered down the dining corridor thinking of all the repercussions of his one dumb decision. It was a long list. He'd let his friends in Juniper Cottage down by not latching the hayloft door correctly in his haste to get the Guys hidden. He'd let the horses down when the loft door had banged open. He'd let Mr. Bridges down by creating circumstances that had gotten him injured. And only moments ago, he'd let Kit down by running away from her when she needed him, just because he felt guilty. TK was an odd horse, to be sure, but Will knew plenty of tricks that might have helped Kit get his attention in a calm, controlled way. But no, he'd muttered something stupid about pitchforks and made a run for it. How cowardly. How ? 'William,' came a peppy female voice, 'I understand you're assisting Mr. Bridges.' It was Miss Warrington, and she was practically hopping on her toes as she asked, 'How is he''

29 &% 'Yeah,' said Will absently. 'He's getting around. Slowly.' 'Such a shock,' she said. 'I'll stop in later, but, um, could you possibly deliver something to him? From me'? She unslung a large cooler bag from her shoulder and handed it over. Will, often confused by the chirpy young teacher's behavior, took the bag, wondering why she couldn't deliver it herself. Probably busy grading papers or something. 'Okay,' he promised her. Sally beamed a wide smile. 'Cheers!' she said in thanks.

Chapter 4 Chapter 4 SHERTOCK HONES MEETS SHERTOCK HONES MEETS SHERTOCK HONES MEETS MEAT LOAF MUSH MEAT LOAF MUSH MEAT LOAF MUSH The Guy Fawkes investigation was under way. Elaine stood at a table in the student lounge with Peaches perched primly in a chair beside her. They had already shooed everyone else out of the room. Elaine wanted no distractions and especially no interlopers. She was going to maintain complete control over these proceedings because it was a matter of school justice ? and a little bit of revenge. Elaine liked revenge. 'In order to solve this Guy Fawkes travesty, I'll have to embrace my inner Sherlock Holmes,' she announced to Peaches. 'And you, Peaches, are to be my Watson.'

31 &% Peaches's wide brown eyes held no understanding whatsoever. 'Your whatson'? she asked in her thick Eastern European accent. 'Who's Shertock Hones'? Sometimes Elaine wondered why she tolerated Peaches at all. The girl was a total bunnynosed goofball of a person, easily distracted by shiny objects and never quite in sync with what was happening around her. Elaine found her quite vexing at times. Then again, Peaches was loyal, and she did whatever Elaine told her to do. Yes, that was probably why Peaches remained Elaine's number one henchman. 'Who is Sherlock Holmes'? Elaine repeated in surprise. 'Peaches! The world's most famous detective'? Peaches took a moment to think hard. She shook her blond head. 'Nope.' Elaine tried again. 'Benedict Cumberbatch'? Surely the girl watched TV. But Peaches giggled at the actor's name, her pretty face scrunching up in amusement, creating a cute little dimple in the center of her chin. 'What is that'? She laughed.

32 &% 'Peaches, this is precisely why you should never speak.' Elaine heaved a great sigh. Good help was so hard to fi nd. 'All right, this is how it works. You will be the friendly good cop and lull our suspects into a false sense of security. Then I come in full force as the bad cop and tada! We get our confession!' She studied the six large cards arranged on the table before her. She had prepared them that morning, conducting research into all six boys of Juniper Cottage and reducing that information into easytocompare data cards. The cards were laminated, of course. Elaine liked to laminate all her papers and reports, including her daily class notes. That way, everything remained clean and tidy even if it was handled roughly. This investigation was going to be rough indeed, so lamination had been essential. Each card displayed each suspect's school photo, name, residence, and country of origin. Most important, Elaine had included a spot for each suspect's alibi, all of which were uncertain at this point, hence her investigation. Being a creative person, Elaine had decorated the cards, too, placing the famous silhouette of Sherlock Holmes on the bottom and a picture of a magnifying

33 &% glass on the top, fl anked by question marks, and she had designed a neat border of little fi ngerprints all around the edges. If these cards had been a class assignment, she would have gotten a perfect mark. Naturally. 'Let's begin with our weakest link,' she said. 'The evershifty Joshua.' At the same time, just outside the student lounge door, Nav sprawled on a comfy couch. It was there to give visitors a place to rest as they toured the building, but Nav was there to support Josh, who was waiting to be called in for questioning by Elaine. Josh was pacing back and forth in such an annoying display of uncontrolled heebiejeebies that it was making Nav want to nail his friend's shoes to one spot. 'If it were anyone else, I could deal,' Joshua babbled as he paced. 'But it's Elaine! You know she doesn't fall for the same stuff that other people fall for!' 'So don't talk to her,' Nav suggested. Josh shook his head. 'Makes it too suspicious.' 'Look, just stick to the plan, and you'll be fi ne. Just deny, deny, deny, then send her my way.'

34 &% The door opened. 'Joshuaaaa,' Peaches sang out as if she were calling a child in for a surprise party. Josh saw who it was. 'It's only Peaches,' he told Nav with relief. 'I got this.' He plastered a fake smile on and strode confi - dently through the door. But when he saw who was sitting at the table inside the student lounge, his smile fi zzed out. 'I don't got this,' he said, making eye contact with Elaine. 'I don't got this!' He spun on his heel and fl ed like a mouse from a cat. 'You won't get away with this!' Elaine yelled after him. 'We will fi nd you!' This was Nav's cue. He lazily pushed himself up from the couch and sauntered in, closing the door with a casual push of a fi nger. 'My apologies,' he said, taking the seat opposite Elaine. 'Josh is feeling a little under the weather.' 'We are so not done with him,' Elaine said. 'What about you? Are you ready to spill'? Before Nav could think up a suave reply, Peaches leaned toward him and said, 'I'm the good cop.'

35 &% Nav grinned. 'Oh, yes, Peaches. I can tell.' 'But you need to watch out for Elaine,' Peaches went on. 'She is Detective Cucumber Patch.' 'Cucumber Patch'? Nav repeated, puzzled. Then his inner lie generator burst into gear and he said, 'Oh, Cumberbatch! Of course! I know the family well. In fact, it was Phineas Cumberbatch who fi rst introduced me to polo! I think it was at their summer place in Argentina.' He faked a hearty laugh. 'Oh, I shudder to think how pitiful I must have been that fi rst time!' As he spoke, the false incident was growing so vivid in his mind that Nav actually imagined himself falling off a horse while trying to play polo outside a huge mansion in the rugged Argentine hills. Peached giggled at his story, but Elaine looked like she had heard enough. 'You're defl ecting. Watson might fall for it, but I will not.' Peaches immediately stopped giggling. Nav accepted defeat graciously. He had a better strategy ready anyway. 'Let's be frank. I had nothing to do with stealing any Guys. Although it does pain me to have to tell you . . .' He paused for effect. 'Get to the point,' Elaine snapped. Nav leaned forward and whispered, 'I did notice

36 &% Leo Ducasse sneaking out of both Snapdragon Cottage and Birch House earlier that day.' 'Leo'? Elaine said. Nine minutes later: 'Nav said that'? Leo Ducasse sat in the same chair that Nav had vacated, facing Detective Cucumber Patch and Watson, both of whom stared soberly back at him. 'No, no, no,' he went on in his French accent, denying the accusation. 'But,' he added, lowering his voice, 'I did see Alex Taylor carrying something in a huge equipment bag.' 'Alex'? Elaine said. Seven minutes later: 'No,' Alex Taylor protested. 'Take your questions to Wyatt Blain. He claims he hurt his arm during warmup, but it happened during the fi re.' 'Wyatt'? Elaine said. T

37 &% Four minutes later: 'Will,' declared Wyatt Blain. 'Find Will.' Forty seconds later: Wyatt exited the student lounge, leaving Watson and Elaine alone to ponder the staggering amount of information they hadn't gotten. hadn't gotten. hadn't They had heard a lot of stories, but none of them offered any real facts or led to any solid conclusions. 'Oh, I'm so confused,' moaned Peaches. 'How shocking,' Elaine commented cruelly. As usual, Peaches didn't catch the insult. Elaine picked up the last of her cards: Will and Josh. 'Two more left. And failure is not in the cards.' Currently oblivious to his soughtafter status, Will delivered Sally's cooler bag to Rudy in the tack room, as requested. He set it on the desk and proceeded to pull out several plastic containers while Rudy, leaning on the edge of a smaller work desk with his arms folded, watched. 'What's in that one'? Rudy asked as Will pulled out the largest container.

38 &% Will tipped it one way, then the other, trying to identify the sloshy substance inside. 'Maybe it's . . . food'? He laughed. 'Oh, yeah, you're really selling it.' Rudy moved forward to take a look, seeming to forget about his injured foot. The second he stepped down on it, he stumbled, barely catching himself on the larger desk before falling. He groaned in pain. 'Whoa!' said Will. 'Are you all right'? 'Yeah, I'm . . .' Rudy let Will help him to his chair. 'I think I may have pushed it a little this afternoon.' Trying to be helpful, Will set the big container in front of his teacher. 'Here, try this,' he suggested, removing the lid. When the smell hit him, he blurted out, 'Or not.' Rudy peered at the whateveritwas with genuine puzzlement. 'Is that meat loaf? Why is it so watery'? He offered it to Will. 'Here, I dare you.' 'No, I'm, uh . . .' The smell hit Will again, and he held up a hand. 'I'm a vegetarian'? Actually, the maybe meat loaf didn't smell all that bad. It was the way it looked that made his stomach turn, almost like the mess poor Thunder made after he'd had too many

39 &% treats last month. And, okay, the smell really was bad. Why on earth had Sally put cinnamon in meat loaf? The prankster side of Will couldn't help it ? he was dying to see Rudy try some. 'Oh, come on, sir, you need to get your strength back up,' he urged. Rudy made a skeptical face but spooned up a couple of suspicious meatlike chunks and put them in his mouth. Will counted to two before Rudy gagged and spit them back out. Still feeling helpless and confused by TK's strange behavior, as if the entire earth were rotating without them, Kit entered her math classroom. Anya was with her, trying to lift her spirits with nonstop cheerful chatter. 'What if we wallpaper our ceiling in pictures'? she suggested. 'Wouldn't that be fun'? Kit automatically headed to her desk. 'Yeah, ceiling paper ? sounds great.' Anya waved her hand in Kit's face. 'Hello! Earth to Kit'? It fi nally dawned on Kit that she was being really rude to her friend. 'Sorry,' she said. 'I can't stop thinking about TK.' She moved to sit, and her eyes

40 &% landed on a yellow sticky note on her desktop. She picked it up and read it. 'And I'm not the only one,' she said, smiling for the fi rst time that day. 'What's that'? Kit turned the paper so that Anya could read it. It said, Have fun. Let TK come to you. 'Ooooh, it's so intriguing,' said Anya. 'I wonder who wrote it.' Kit wondered, too. She didn't recognize the handwriting, and the message was too short for her to get a sense of the writer's identity. She glanced around the classroom, still smiling. Somebody cares, she thought. Somebody wants to help me and TK! But why are they being so mysterious about it? Early the next morning, Elaine wandered the hallways before the fi rst class bell, hunting for her fi nal suspects. She spotted Will and stepped right in his path. She knew how sneaky he could be. Sneaky and cute. Really cute. But now was not the time to notice such things. 'I need to talk to you straightaway,' she said, using her best authoritative tone.

41 &% Will broke out in a heartmelting smile. 'Hey! Your hair looks really nice! Did you do something new with it'? A compliment, and such a personal one, was the last thing Elaine expected. She paused, blushing, and stroked her long ponytail. Will had never complimented her hair before, which was strange because she always wore it this way. She found herself growing warm, pleased that she'd managed to wear her hair the way he liked all this time without even knowing it. Will looked embarrassed. 'Oh, sorry. What was your question'? How odd. Elaine had no idea what she'd been about to say. She racked her brain, trying to remember. 'Culprit . . .' she murmured, and then it came back to her. 'Oh! Um, the Guy Fawkes . . . thing. You wouldn't be the one responsible, would you'? 'Oh, no way,' Will replied. 'No, I wouldn't want to wreck your bonfi re night.' He smiled again and started to leave, then turned back. 'Josh looked rather sketchy,' he offered. 'More so than usual, I mean.' Elaine accepted the tip with a vague nod. Oh, that smile of his . . . She felt dizzy, but there

42 &% was something so pleasant about it that she simply watched Will walk away, admiring how nicely he moved, like one of those famous Lipizzaner stallions that could trot so stylishly while never seeming to touch the ground. She resumed her way down the corridor, thinking that maybe it was time to give the ends of her hair a bit of a trim and try that fancy new shampoo. . . . English class ended, leaving Josh to wish he had some kind of futuristic sciencefi ction teleportertype thingy. That way he could just pop! out of the room pop! out of the room pop! and avoid Elaine. He knew she was looking for him. He knew that the minute he stepped out the door, she would appear, probably in a puff of black smoke. He could practically feel her out there waiting to catch him in her cold iron grasp. She would wrest the truth from him, and he would be defenseless to stop her. Why? Simple. She gave him the creeps. She was just too perfect and prepared for even the tiniest events. She laminated everything within a sixmile reach. Worst of all, she didn't think his jokes were funny.

43 &% Yup, something was defi nitely wrong with her. But facts were facts: he had to leave the classroom at some point. So he got up and trudged to the door, only to jump back when Peaches popped in, chirping, 'Good cop!' When Elaine appeared behind her, Josh really jumped back. 'It almost feels like you've been avoiding us,' Elaine commented. Again Josh wished he had that teleporter. Maybe he could fi nd the next best thing. Come on, secret passage way! Covington was an old school. Maybe passage way! Covington was an old school. Maybe passage way! there was a secret door somewhere that would lead to a hidden refuge, like old catacombs lit by torches or better yet, a cave with a stone door that had a guardian genie who would protect him from anyone who freaked him out ? in other words, Elaine. He threw himself at the nearest wall, patting it and poking the wall phone unit, desperately looking for the salvation that he knew wasn't there. 'What's the point of having a fancy old castle if there are no secret passage ways'? he grumbled, knowing he was just wasting time. That was the whole point, wasn't it? Delay, delay, delay, and try to avoid all unpleasantness until it went away.

44 &% Unfortunately, unpleasantness didn't usually go didn't usually go didn't away. Present example: Elaine was still there. 'We need to talk about the Guy Fawkes incident,' she said, closing in on him. Peaches closed in with her, but Peaches was just too cute to appear properly menacing. Taking comfort in that, Josh sank into a nearby chair. 'Look, I'm telling you right now, you have the wrong dude, okay? The only foxes I know are the two foxes right in front of me so . . .' 'Aww!' Peaches said, seeming pleased by the compliment. Elaine rolled her eyes. 'Don't even try to use that maplesyrupy charm on us. Look, if you didn't do it, then tell us who did.' Josh froze. Looking into Elaine's eyes was like gazing into a nightmare. 'Um . . . I forget.' 'This could all be over now, Joshua. You just need to say a name.' 'Just a name. Um . . .' Josh scrambled for some way, any way, to stall some more. 'Alex,' he muttered. 'Wyatt . . . ? Who was I supposed to . . . ? Uhh . . . can we go back to the good cop Peaches? 'Cause she kind of reminds me of those old ladycop shows that my

45 &% gran liked.' When Elaine's glare grew darker, which should have been impossible but such was his luck, Josh said, 'Yeah, okay, fi ne, I liked them, too, but, like, they're awesome, right? And '? 'Tell. Us. NOW,' Elaine said, getting in his face. Josh couldn't take it. Those nightmare eyes! She was going to laminate him any second! 'It was Will!' he shouted. Getting ahold of himself, he repeated in a more normal voice, 'It was Will.' A strange look crossed Elaine's face at this news. She stepped back. 'Thank you. You've been very helpful. Excuse me.' And she left. Now that her nightmare eyes were off him, Josh regained what little courage he possessed. He sprinted to the door and called after her, 'You can't do this! There will be consequences! Dire ones!' He Dire ones!' He Dire gave a frustrated, 'Argh!' and frowned at Peaches. 'I'm weak, Peaches. So weak.' She gave him a sweet, understanding look. 'It is better you told her. Now she won't make me abduct you in the night.' With that, Peaches hurried after her boss, leaving Josh to ponder her parting words. . . . T

46 &% Kit entered the tack room with Anya in tow. 'Hey, Dad! I have a proper English breakfast courtesy of Sally.' She handed him a small cooler bag. Rudy shuddered. 'Ugh! More? Forget it.' He handed the bag back. 'Feed it to Ducky.' As much as her dad's ugh response surprised Kit, the idea of offering the food to Ducky did not. Anya's horse, Just Ducky, or Ducky for short, was well known for eating absolutely anything you put in front of him. His favorites included crackers, watermelon, and sour gummy candies, but he was not by any means discerning. Anya occasionally worried that he might get sick from it, but as they say, everything came out all right in the end. Everything was not all right now, though. 'That's not very nice,' Kit said to Rudy. After all, Sally had gone to a lot of trouble to make the food. When she had asked Kit to deliver it for her, Kit had seen how much it meant to her. Sally was obviously concerned that Rudy get the best nutrition possible so that his foot would heal well. The school depended on him. But he was refusing it, just like that? 'You want not nice'? Rudy asked. 'Tell her not to cook again. Like, ever. Forever and ever.'

47 &% Kit wasn't going to let him get away with being so rude. 'Ooh, look at me,' she said in a bad imitation of her father. 'I'm Rudy, the rough, tough cowboy. I don't like when nice ladies are nice to me.' Rudy sighed. Hm, not enough response, Kit thought. I've got to hit him harder. She turned to Anya. 'Come on, Anya. Join in.' Anya squirmed uncomfortably. 'I can't,' she said. 'He's a teacher!' Doing her best Anya imitation, Kit said primly, 'You would have me poke fun at an instructor? Oh, I couldn't possibly! Oh, my heavens!' That did it. Anya struck a sassy pose and, in a dreadful American accent, said to Rudy, 'I'm Mr. Bridges, and I am understandably miffed because I got injured and now I can't do my job to the best of my abilities.' She ended the speech with a growly 'Huh!' Everyone ? including Rudy ? burst out laughing. It was so out of character for Anya! Kit was pleased to see her loosen up so much, and to hear her home country's accent butchered so badly in the process only made it funnier. 'You nailed it, Anya!' Kit giggled.

48 &% Rudy surrendered to the teens. 'Okay, okay, I'm being ridiculous.' 'And ungrateful,' added Kit. Rudy nodded. 'And grouchy.' 'And mean,' Kit said. 'All right, you can stop now,' Rudy advised his daughter. 'I'm starting to feel better.' Mission accomplished! Kit thought happily. True, the breakfast had been rejected, but Rudy was smiling, and that meant the world to Kit. 'See you this aft,' she told him, using her signature shorthand, and headed for the door with the cooler. Rudy stopped her. 'Where are you going with that'? 'I'm taking it to Ducky,' Kit replied. 'And then I'm going to tell Sally that you looooved it.' Rudy gave her a lopsided grin. 'Smooth.' As the girls made their exit, Anya tried out her American accent again. 'Hi, I'm Kit! I use my bed for jumping, and I eat chocolate for breakfast, duuuude!' Kit laughed. 'Well, it is true.' And then she got it. From out of the blue, she suddenly understood what her mysterious note writer was trying to tell her. 'Oh! That's what the note meant! Just have fun! ? She started running, followed by Anya.

Chapter 5 Chapter 5 A STABLE FULL OF SECRETS A STABLE FULL OF SECRETS A STABLE FULL OF SECRETS Kit was prepared for Operation Happy Horse. K it was prepared for Operation Happy Horse. K She led Anya to the stables and went straight to TK's stall. She opened the door wide. It was as if the black gelding hadn't moved a muscle since the day before ? he still stood with his head in the far corner, looking droopy. The sight made Kit's heart hurt, but she was sure her plan would work. Throwing all the happy energy she could muster into her voice and gestures, she said, 'Come on, my friend! I reeeally miss you! Let's just hang out ? no strings.' TK's left ear fl icked. 'Perhaps the gentleman would like a shiny new apple!' Anya suggested, also injecting her voice with

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