It’s time for another edition of our ‘Olympia Extracts’! Christmas is almost here, we don’t want to just post about Christmas books, but this one has a real Christmas vibe to it.
Tori Brown is recovering from an embittered breakup of her engagement and seeks solace in the depths of Herefordshire. Living alone, she adapts to the close and friendly village life where her personal life is not questioned. She is soon riding her horse Carlos on the bridle paths and through the woodland, beginning to enjoy her life once again. Sudden events take a hold, Tori is thrown, not only from Carlos, but into the beginnings of a new life. Someone else comes into her life. Johan Andersen, a local Norwegian forester, captures Tori's heart, and from that point on life is not the same again... just better, beyond her wildest dreams.
The cold wind felt refreshing as it blew against Tori’s hot face. Her horse beneath her was galloping hard and she breathed in the smell his sweat, mixed along with the aroma of autumnal decaying leaves from the forest floor. Flecks of sweat were all over her jodhpurs and riding boots, mixed together with mud churned up from the horse’s flying hooves. The forest floor sounded hollow beneath Carlos’ huge hooves as they made light work of the hill side ahead of them. She urged him onwards up the hill toward the top. She smiled to herself, taking in the enjoyment of riding her horse and her picturesque surroundings. Slowing to a canter and then a trot and walk, she let her horse have a long rein and stretch his neck. He was a fit horse and it didn’t take him long to get his breath back from the gallop. Carlos had been a big part of Tori’s life for many years; he was her rock, her place of solitude and resolve. She remembered a time when he was a nervous, lanky four-year-old, afraid of his own shadow. Her brother Tim had rescued him and given him to her as a twenty-first birthday present. She would be forever grateful to him for bringing them together.
Carlos’ large, well-shod hooves clattered onto the cobbles of the stable yard as they arrived back. Tori loosened Carlos’ girth and swung her leg over the back of the saddle, dismounting onto the cobbles of the yard. She attached Carlos’ head collar to a ring in the wall outside his stable with a quick release knot should he decide to pull back suddenly. Carefully, she removed his saddle and bridle and groomed the dried sweat and mud from him. His muscles twitched as she moved the body brush over him. She pushed down hard, moving the brush over his taut body to remove the ingrained mud, then she ran it over the metal curry comb in her left hand, cleaning the brush as she went. He turned his head toward her and grasped the edge of her pocket and tugged hard. He was looking for treats, she laughed at his behaviour and handed some to him. He gently took them from her hand with his lips tickling her with his long whiskers. Leading him into his large and well-bedded down stable, she fetched his dinner from the feed room next door, tipping it into his feed bucket inside his stable and standing back to watch as Carlos tucked into it without hesitation. He scraped a huge hoof along the stable floor, flicking up straw as it went. He was hungry after his ride. He was an amazing horse, at 17.1 hands high he was vast. He was flaxen chestnut in colour, having a golden coat with almost white mane and tail. He had two white socks on his front legs and a white blaze running down the middle of his face. He had transformed in the eleven years he had lived with her into a kind and generous horse who would face anything with her on board. She would have the time to enjoy being with him now she was here for six months.
Finishing up, she hung his hay net and then dressed him in his stable rug, ready for the night. Carefully closing the door, she went into the tack room to hang up the saddle and bridle rinsing the bit in the sink and quickly removing the mud off the girth on the saddle. She chatted casually to the staff who were enjoying coffee in the tack room about their Christmas plans. It was, after all, only just around the corner. She thought about the gifts she must get sorted out for her friends and family back home.
Driving back to the cottage she was renting, in her battered old Volkswagen, Tori’s thoughts returned to Nick. They had been together for five years and had almost gotten married when she had caught him in bed with his very young PA. That had been the end of it for Tori and she had packed her bags and left him. Despite the calls and text messages from him begging her to go back, she knew that this was the right decision. He had been the love of her life and she had been devastated by his actions. After weeks of deliberating, she had decided to move away and had rented the cottage in the Herefordshire countryside for six months to get herself together. She would decide what to do next once she had recovered herself.
The large, metal key turned in the old oak door and Tori let herself into the old cottage, locking up behind her. The cottage was built of stone and had low ceilings. The oak front door led into a small hallway with a coat cupboard to the right. The flagstone floor led into a kitchen/dining room on the left hand side and a fair sized lounge on the right with a large fireplace. The stairs from the hallway led up to the two bedrooms and bathroom upstairs. The smell of the open fire still filled the small cottage, it was warm from the night before. She smiled, this cottage was a real find, a holiday rental that now out of season, she had managed to get for next to nothing to rent for the six months. She had found it online one day. ‘A stone’s throw away from the picturesque village of Great Diameade’, the web site had told her. Indeed the village was very picturesque, filled with beautiful cottages not unlike the one she was renting and houses built out of the local sandstone, her new setting was very beautiful. It was certainly very uplifting to move somewhere so beautiful in the middle of winter.
Moving into the small kitchen, she opened the fridge and got out a bottle of wine. She then put herself a supermarket pizza into the oven and went to run a bath.
As she lowered herself into the thick crust of bubbles, she took a sip out of the wine. It was cold and tasted good. Elderflower, her favourite wine. She dared herself to hope things would get better for her one day. She knew that day was still a long way off. The first six months after the break up with Nick, she had not been able to see further than the bottom of the next wine bottle. She had given up running and going to work had been unbearable – all the questions people asked her and trying not to think of Nick all the time and forever questioning herself. Wedding arrangements had had to be cancelled. Invitations had gone out and she had had to call everyone and tell them that the wedding was off and explain why. She still had her wedding dress hanging up at home.
Her mother thought she should have given Nick a second chance but how would she ever be able to trust him again after that ultimate betrayal? She had later found out that the affair had been going on for over a year and she had been totally oblivious. The bottom had dropped out of her world. How could she have been so wrong about someone, someone that she was only weeks away from marrying and had wanted to have a family with? That was what had made her decide to take a six month break from work and move away and try to make a fresh start. Her manager at the florist shop had been brilliant with her and had agreed to give her full pay for the time she was away. That had been eight weeks ago now. She found it hard to imagine she had not been here longer.
Later, she sat alone at the table in the kitchen she crunched on the crust of the pizza and thought of her ride in the forest. She was so glad that she had kept Carlos fit and had brought him with her to Herefordshire. It had been so hard in the early days, dragging herself out every day to come and ride him, suffering from terrible hangovers and being deeply depressed. She thought of the days she had ridden him with tears streaming down her face, she remembered those only too well. Still, she would have been in a much worse place if she had not had Carlos to run to. She had always come back from her rides in a better frame of mind and it had been on one of those rides when she had made the decision to move away, leave it all behind and take on a new life, if only for a few months.
Tori had never lived anywhere other than her home in Leicestershire. She had loved living there until it had turned into her own personal prison. She knew too many people, both friends and customers in the shop. She had realised she would never get any better if she stayed. She had decided to move to Herefordshire because she had once seen it on TV and thought how nice it looked. It had not taken her long to find somewhere on the internet and the following week she was moving in.
Waking early as she always did, Tori showered and ate a breakfast of yogurt and fruit before pulling on her riding clothes and her now clean boots and driving her way back to the stables.
Carlos whinnied to her as she pulled up. He knew the sound of her car and was already pacing around his stable, wanting his hay. Tori put in a net of hay and started with the mucking out, piling heaps of manure and wet straw into the wheelbarrow and then taking it over to the stables muck heap for rotting down. Once finished, she removed Carlos’ rug and groomed him with the soft bristled body brush, carefully removing any dust and muck from his gold, glossy coat whilst he munched on his hay net. After his groom, Tori fetched his saddle and bridle and tacked him up. Carlos was prancing around when she lead him out of his stable, excited about the impending ride, but she managed to leap on board from the mounting block and tighten his girth before reaching the gate to the road.
A mile or so along the road was the turn into the forest. Tori loved this route, the smell of the leaves and the pine needles, the sound of Carlos’ pounding hooves on the earth as they moved along, ducking under the low branches. Carlos was thoroughly warmed up after his trot along the road and started to snort and snatch at his bit wanting to go faster. His breath plumed out of his flaring nostrils but she would not let him go yet, not until they were well out of the reach of the low branches. At the bottom of the hill Carlos sprang into a controlled and bouncy canter, his long legs eating up the earth beneath them. She felt like she could take on the world when she was on his back, he was an equine powerhouse full of muscle, strength and prowess.
The hill took a good few minutes to ride up of which Carlos brought himself back to a trot and then a walk. This was the same route she had taken yesterday afternoon. Today she decided to make it slightly longer with a ride around to the further side of the forest. Taking up her reins and nudging Carlos back into a trot they took the left fork in the bridle path and made their way into unknown territory. Passing woody clearings and a few startled squirrels collecting their winter nuts, she realised that life was at that moment starting to feel good again.