And They’re Off by S.A. Meade

Ever since I raided my Dad’s bookshelves and found a book on how to draw horses, I have always loved them. I drew pictures of them, read every horse book I could get my mitts on—fact or fiction, learned to ride and care for them, and even had one or two of my very own. In the end, I even married a man who’s worked with horses for most of his life.

That’s really how I got into horseracing. I’d always enjoyed it.  I even lived in Newmarket, the birthplace of modern racing, for a while. Before Newmarket, I’d dismissed thoroughbreds as over-bred ninnies fed on high-octane food and good for nothing but racing. But, after hands-on experience working with race horses, I soon changed my mind. Thoroughbreds are charming, capricious, beautiful creatures. All descended from three stallions—the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian. (If you want to read a great story about Sham, the Godolphin Arabian, I’d recommend this.) Their progeny race on today in all shapes and sizes, from long-legged rangy beauties straight out of a Stubbs painting to short, compact pocket rockets. Some still show their Arabian heritage in their beautifully shaped heads, and their incredible intelligence. Yep, I love them. I love their unconscious arrogance, that look in a horse’s eyes when it’s staring into a place that we cannot see, it’s ears pricked as if listening to a voice we cannot hear.

Then there’s the racing itself. I’m going to offend some readers here, but no one does horseracing better than the British. There is no more pleasant way to spend a summer’s evening than to attend the Friday evening races on the July course at Newmarket. The lovingly tended lawns are shadowed by trees and best of all, there’s Pimms for sale. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time behind the scenes. I’ve mucked horses out, fed them, groomed them, even led two or three up at the races. There is so much story fodder that I don’t even know where to start. My first m/f release, Christopher’s Medal, which comes out later this year, is set in Newmarket and in that world. My book, ‘Mourning Jack’ skirts around the edges with one of the main characters being a racehorse trainer. My first book, ‘Stolen Summer’, also briefly visits Newmarket and the two main characters of ‘Christopher’s Medal’. I’m certain there’ll be more. I’d be a fool not to put all those memories to good use.

Until then, I’ll sit down on a Saturday afternoon and watch the racing. I’ll listen to my husband’s stories, learn all I can from him  and continue to love the oh-so-British spectacle that is the Sport of Kings.

Mourning Jack

When Ade loses his best friend he soon learns that mourning Jack brings not only sorrow but happiness too.

Restaurant chef Ade is a man of his word. When his best friend is killed while serving in Afghanistan, he honours a promise to look after Jack’s lover, Cal.

Ever the white knight, Ade does his best to console Cal in spite of losing his job and nearly losing his life. Ever the fool, Ade falls in love and learns the hard way that loving someone who can’t love him isn’t enough.

With a new job in a new place comes the possibility of a new love, but Eric has baggage of his own. Can Ade and Eric leave their old heartaches behind and find new happiness with each other?

t amazed me how a street filled with people could fall into complete silence. The only sounds came from the distant murmur of the motorway and a group of sparrows squabbling in a tree close to the memorial. The cortège, led by a mute in a long tail coat, crept past the ancient town hall and slowed to a halt in front of us. I stared at the hearse, at the flag-draped coffin and couldn’t imagine Jack being in there. Only the muted weeping of his parents, his sister and her children confirmed that he was. I watched them step forward and place red roses on the top of the hearse. I did the same, mine being a white one.

Goodbye, old friend.

I wiped my eyes, trying to erase the burn of tears. Charlotte, Jack’s sister, leaned against me. I held her in silence while another person approached the hearse. Tall, dark-haired and slender, his face pinched and pale. He didn’t have a flower. Instead, he placed his palm on the glass and whispered something before stepping back into the black-clad knot of mourners. No one offered him comfort except for Charlotte who lifted her head and gave him a watery smile. He nodded and faded back into the crowd—another person in black, stilled and silenced by grief. I wondered, briefly, whether he was the one Jack had written to me about.

“Ade, I’ve finally met someone I can see spending the rest of my life with. I miss him like crazy. I’m counting down the days until leave. I’m climbing into bed with Cal, and I’m not leaving it, not until I have to get on that fucking plane…”

I stroked Charlotte’s hair and swallowed when the cortège moved on, crawling slowly forward past the Royal British Legion members with their lowered standards and salutes. Old men who’d fought other wars, mourning the loss of one of their own from the endless bloody mess that was Afghanistan. Jack would’ve loved this.

Fucking hell, Ade. All this fuss for me? All I did was step on a fucking IED, hardly a hero’s death, just a stupid mistake. Just go to the pub and get rat-arsed in my name, that’ll do.

I swallowed and wiped my eyes.

Charlotte’s sobs subsided to sniffles. She stepped back and smiled. “Thanks, Ade.”

“Any time. You’re coming to the pub, aren’t you?”

“Everyone is.”

“Good.” I kissed her forehead. “I’m going to head back now and make sure everything is ready.”

She nodded. “I’ll round everyone up. We’ll see you there.”

The crowds were breaking apart, people drifting back to their everyday lives. The bikers stood around talking, apart from those who volunteered to look after the mourners. The standards were carried away and traffic moved along the High Street once more. Wootton Bassett became just another little market town with pubs, betting shops and butchers. I walked to my car and wished Jack was still there.

* * * *

The private dining room soon filled with people, all picking at the buffet. I’d gone for Jack’s favourites at Charlotte’s request. There were sausage rolls, pork pies, Scotch eggs, the usual. In spite of his best mate being a chef, Jack always derided the ‘fancy-schmancy’ stuff.

“Give me a good ploughman’s any day.”

I didn’t think he’d mind if the sausage rolls were made with wild boar and apple sausage, or that the pork pies weren’t those unnaturally pink horrors you get in supermarkets. I’d made pâté the day before and the bread that morning. My commis chefs did me proud with the spread. A whole poached salmon, dressed with translucent slivers of cucumber, formed the centrepiece on the buffet table. It had been in my freezer since Jack’s last visit.

“See. I didn’t spend all the time in Scotland in bed with Cal. I brought this for you. Put it in the freezer and cook it for me when I come back on leave.”

It hurt to look at it and at the large photo of Jack standing thigh-deep in a Scottish stream holding the fish and grinning. Sunlight glanced off his fair hair, finding streaks of corn silk there. I could almost hear him.

“Will you look at the size of this fucker. Told ya I could fish.”

Charlotte had had the photo blown up, mounted, and brought it to me. I propped it up on an easel so everyone could see it. People passed by and paused. The man who might be Cal sat on his own beside it, cradling a glass of wine in his hands. I wondered whether I should talk to him had no idea where to start.

“Penny for them.” Charlotte appeared beside me.

“Who’s that, the one sitting by Jack’s picture?”