Equilibrium excerpt, plus a contest

June 24, 2011

OK, I’m back with the first excerpt that I’m going to post today. This scene is from the beginning of the book, when Michael’s still a newcomer to Burreela and he’s trying to find his feet. Just when he thinks he’s got a handle on things, Ryan Mitchell comes along and knocks him completely off balance. :)

Within this excerpt you’ll find the answers to the following questions:

What is Ryan’s horse’s name, and why do they have to call the vet out to see her?

Everyone who comments with the correct answer goes into a draw to win an ebook copy of Equilibrium.

—-

JANUARY

THE heat hit Michael like a ton of bricks as he opened the door of his borrowed ute, the stifling air heavy with the smell of dirt and animal. A yellow Labrador standing in the shade of the main house’s wraparound veranda barked at him, its tail waving. Where the house’s yard stopped and the farm began, a pair of black and tan working dogs slumped against the stable wall, snapping at flies and ignoring him completely. A scorching wind blew across the open ground, making little whirlwinds out of the dry topsoil and the branches of the big eucalyptus trees flanking the house creak and groan. It snatched at the brim of Michael’s brand new Akubra hat, threatening to send it tumbling into the dirt.

Michael’s stomach churned as he turned and walked toward the stables, adjusting his hat with an unsteady hand. He’d been in Burreela two weeks. Every day of those two weeks, his new boss, Bill, had been shadowing him, looking over his shoulder during his consults and his surgeries, taking him to farms out in the middle of nowhere, making Michael do all the dirty work while he leaned against the fence and chatted to farmers who pretended that Michael wasn’t even there. But apparently two weeks was some magic number, because this morning, when he’d been looking at the appointment book and finishing off his morning coffee, Bill had come into the back room and thrown the ute’s keys at Michael’s head, Michael just managing to catch them before they’d smacked him in the forehead.

“Leave that,” Bill had said. “Take the ute, and go up to the Mitchell farm. They’ve got a horse that needs seeing to.”

Michael had stared at him, his fingers wrapped tightly around the keys. “But I’ve never been to the Mitchell farm before.”

Bill had smiled. “Well, it’s about time you went then, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, but, Bill….”

“‘Yeah, but Bill’ nothing, Michael.” Bill had stepped into the room and taken the appointment book out of Michael’s hands. “Get your ass up to the Mitchell farm, and fix their horse.” He’d turned and walked out of the room with the appointment book tucked firmly under his arm, leaving Michael no choice but to finish his coffee in two huge gulps that burned his mouth and throat, grab his kit, and get in the ute.

When he’d first arrived in Burreela, Bill had given him a map of town and the surrounding countryside. He’d used the map to get to the Mitchell farm, feeling like a bloody tourist and wishing desperately for a GPS unit as he drove with the map spread out half in his lap and half on the steering wheel. Even with the map, he’d still managed to almost miss the farm’s entrance, but now he was here, with his guts turning to water and his legs like jelly, to cure a horse of only God knew what because he’d forgotten to ask.

As Michael got closer to the wide-open stable door, he could see a dark-colored horse in a stall a couple down from the entrance, and two men standing near the door of the stall: a young man, who looked a few years older than Michael’s own twenty-six, facing the stable doorway, and an older man standing facing the horse. They were both tall and broad, but lean, the older man, who looked about sixty judging from the gray in his hair, only just starting to get the belly to go with his age. The younger one nodded toward Michael as he approached the stable door, saying something to his companion, who turned to look at Michael with the exact expression of someone who’d just bitten down on a lemon.

“You’re not Bill.”

Michael tried for a smile, the expression feeling fixed and fake even to him. “No, I’m not,” he said, as cheerfully as he could. “I’m Michael, the new vet. Michael Stone.” He stuck out his right hand; the old man stared at it like it was a snake readying itself to strike. For several long, excruciating moments there was silence while Michael stood there with his hand stuck out like an idiot, but then the younger man stepped forward and shook it firmly.

“I’m Andrew Mitchell,” he said with an apologetic smile. “This is my dad, Greg. This is his farm.”

“Oh yeah, of course,” Michael said, smiling back without bothering to hide his relief. “Nice to meet you.”

Andrew nodded. “Nice to meet you too.”

Silence descended again, but Michael broke it this time, nodding toward the horse in the stall, which he could now see was a bay with a white stripe down the middle of its face. “Is this the horse that you’ve got a problem with?”

Andrew looked toward the stall. “Yeah, that’s her. Charlie. She got herself tangled up in some barbed wire in a back paddock overnight. She must have panicked and tried to pull away from it but just got tangled up more, and some of it dug in pretty deep. We’d take care of it ourselves, but she’s a valuable horse and we can’t afford to have it getting infected. Plus, she’s my brother’s horse, and he was all for getting the vet out.” He smiled again. “So here you are.”

“Here I am.” Michael looked toward the stall again. He’d done his equine placements just like everyone else in his year, but he hadn’t done much horse work since then, so what he knew about them was mostly from books. He steeled himself against his nerves; he could do this. “I’ll take a look at her.”

He gathered himself and headed for the stall door, but Andrew beat him to it, stepping around him and unlatching the door. “I’ll go in with you. She’s a good horse, but she has spent the night tangled in barbed wire. That’s enough to make anyone grumpy.”

“Of course,” Michael said, hoping his tone was implying that he was just about to suggest that himself. He stepped into the stall after Andrew, who’d clipped a lead rope to Charlie’s halter and was holding it with enough slack to give the horse freedom of movement, but not enough that she could turn and bite Michael while he was examining her, for which Michael was profoundly glad. To his relief, the horse didn’t bat an eyelash when he reached a hand up to pat her neck, murmuring some comforting words of nonsense to her as he did so. As he ran his hand slowly down her neck, he was acutely conscious of the attention of the two Mitchell men, whose complete silence told him they were watching him carefully. He could see the problem from where he stood, a length of nasty looking barbed wire wrapped tightly around the mare’s right foreleg, just above the fetlock. The Mitchells had obviously done some work, cutting away most of the wire protruding from her leg and leaving only what was deeply imbedded in her flesh. He squatted down to get a closer look, and when he reached out to touch the leg just above the wound, the mare flinched, shifting away from him so suddenly that he had to slam a hand against the side of the stall to stop himself from overbalancing and ending up on his ass. His Akubra tipped off his head and onto the straw covering the stable floor. He looked up, and Andrew Mitchell was looking down at him.

Andrew smiled. “Sorry.”

Michael attempted a smile and tried to ignore the flush he could feel creeping up his neck. “No worries.” He reached for his hat, brushing it off before standing up. “I’ll just go and get my gear, won’t be long.”

He let himself out of the stall and stepped around Greg Mitchell, slapping his hat back onto his head just before he headed back out into the yard, squinting against the too-bright sun. He hated the hat: it was hot and annoying, and he was sure he looked ridiculous in it, but he had to wear it. He’d inherited his father’s brown hair, but that was where any hints of swarthiness ended, because he’d also gotten his mother’s gray eyes and English complexion, the type of complexion that on her had been described as “porcelain” but on him was described as “glow-in-the-dark white.” He knew from the painful experience of his first two days in Burreela that if he didn’t wear the hat in the scorching summer sun his face and neck would go from snow white to fire-engine red in about five seconds, and he’d be using aloe vera on his blistered and peeling skin for the next week.

He went around to the covered bed of the ute and flipped up the hard top, reaching in for his bag and rummaging through it to make sure he had what he needed before heading back. He could barely see a thing as he entered the stables, struck blind by the bright sun, but as his eyes became more accustomed to the dimmer light, he realized that Andrew and his father had been joined by another man, one who looked so much like Andrew that it had to be his brother. The man looked at Michael as he approached and smiled. “Hi. I’m Ryan.”

Michael’s stomach dropped at the sight of that smile, and he could do nothing but stare at the man, stare into hazel eyes that looked almost gold against the man’s sun-browned skin. His gaze took in the high cheekbones and the square jaw dusted with a couple of days worth of reddish-brown stubble, the brown hair that curled around his ears and at the nape of his neck where it showed under his hat. The edges of the man’s—Ryan’s—hair looked damp, wet from the sweat that glistened on the nape of his neck. Michael’s mouth went suddenly dry.

Ryan raised an eyebrow, and Michael realized that he was waiting for Michael to speak. “Oh. Sorry. I’m Michael. I’m the new vet. In town.”

Ryan smiled. “Yeah, I thought so, what with you carrying a fancy bag and all.” He nodded toward the stall. “You going to go back in there, Doc, or were you going to use voodoo to fix her up?”

Michael’s face heated. “Right. Yes. I’m going back in.” He stepped toward the stall again, but this time it was Ryan who went in before him. He did his best to ignore Ryan’s presence as he crouched in the corner to fish out some syringes and vials from his bag, then stood and patted Charlie’s neck again before reaching out for her leg once more. She shifted again when he touched her, but this time Ryan kept her from shying away; Michael could hear him crooning to her under his breath, and that made Michael’s skin prickle with an almost painful awareness of the other man. He did his best to ignore it, concentrating hard on the horse instead. He gave her some local anesthetic around the wound, and a couple of shots of antibiotics and a tetanus shot while he was waiting for it to numb. Glancing up at Ryan as he placed the needles carefully out of the way next to his bag, he saw that Ryan was watching him. He cleared his throat and made an attempt at intelligent conversation. “Do you know how long she was wrapped up in the wire for?”

That got a reaction, but not one that Michael really wanted, as Ryan frowned, his expression dark and thunderous. “Too long.” He turned his head slightly and raised his voice, directing his next words over his shoulder at his brother and father. “Those back paddocks were supposed to be cleaned up ages ago. I never would have let her in there if I’d known they were still full of crap.”

“Hey, don’t look at me,” Andrew said from behind him. “I thought they’d been done. Otherwise I wouldn’t have let you put her in there.”

“Yeah, well,” Ryan said, his tone still harsh. “I better not find out who didn’t clean it up properly, or they’ll feel my boot up their ass.” He looked back at Michael, who turned away from him quickly, frowning down at the wound as he gently assessed it for numbness, trying not to show how the gruffness of Ryan’s tone had sent a shiver down his spine.

“Right, she’s ready,” he said, more to distract himself from Ryan than give a blow-by-blow account of what he was doing. He took the end of the remaining wire and gently pulled it out of the wound, then set about cleaning the damaged flesh. “Okay.” He glanced up at Ryan when he turned to get bandages out of his bag, feeling a bit more stable now that he had instructions to give. “It looks pretty clean, and even though there’s a bit of swelling there, it doesn’t look as if there’s any tendon damage, which is good. The cut’s deep but not wide, so I’m not going to stitch it up. I’ll dress it, and it can heal on its own. Happy with that?”

Ryan nodded. “Yeah. Do I need to do anything to it?”

Michael shrugged. “Just keep her somewhere where she’ll keep it clean.” He got out some antibiotic powder and puffed it liberally over the wound before starting to bandage it up. “I gave her an antibiotic shot, and now she’s got antibiotic powder on it, too, so it shouldn’t get infected. I’ve given her a tetanus shot as well. I’ll leave you some powder and fresh dressings so that if she does get it dirty, you can change it. In a few days, change it anyway. If it looks weepy or inflamed, give me—” He felt himself blushing again. “Give us a call, and we’ll come out to look at it, but it should be fine. The dressings can come off altogether in about ten days or so.” He tied the bandages off, pulled a packet of wet wipes from his bag, cleaned his hands, then packed up, gathering his bag and the used syringes as he stood. “Okay?”

“Okay,” Ryan said, smiling again and sticking out his hand. “Thanks Doc. Michael.”

Michael had to switch his bag to his other hand before he could shake Ryan’s hand, but as he gripped it, his heart skipped a beat, and he hoped desperately that he wasn’t blushing again. Ryan’s hand was warm, the skin slightly rough, and his grip strong. Michael suppressed a shiver and smiled, hoping he didn’t look as hysterical as he felt. “That’s no problem. Just doing my job, right?”

“Right.” Ryan held on to Michael’s hand for just a moment too long before letting it drop. He stepped to the side to let Michael out of the stall. “But thanks anyway.”

Michael left the stall, nodding to Andrew and Mr. Mitchell as he left. He walked all the way to his ute without looking back, but as he finished disposing of his syringes and stowing his bag in the back and went to climb into the cab, he couldn’t resist. Glancing back as casually as he could, he saw Ryan standing in the entrance of the stables, leaning against the door and watching him. Their gazes locked as Michael closed the ute’s door, and they stared at each other until Ryan moved suddenly, looking back over his shoulder as his brother and father came up behind him. He straightened, saying something to them as they walked past him, Andrew slapping him on the shoulder. All three men headed to the main house, Ryan lingering behind as Michael started the ute, touching the brim of his hat and flashing Michael a grin as he turned the car around and headed down the driveway. Michael watched the house in his rearview mirror until a bend in the driveway put it out of his sight, and he drove the whole way back into town with his stomach in knots.

6 Responses to “Equilibrium excerpt, plus a contest”

  1. Kathy B says:

    Charlie. She got tangled up in barb wire.

  2. Mídia says:

    Her name is Charlie. She got herself tangled up in some barbed wire.

  3. Nikyta says:

    Great excerpt!! Her name is Charlie and she got herself tangled up in some barbed wire in a back paddock overnight and then she panicked and tried to pull away from it but just got tangled up even more so it dug in pretty deep so they called the vet :)

  4. Meredith_Shayne says:

    Thanks, Nikyta! I’m glad you liked it.

  5. Beatrice says:

    *stumbles in* Oh hey there~ The lovely horse’s name is Charlie and some barbed wire got wrapped tight around her right foreleg so they had to call Michael.

  6. monica says:

    Her name is Charlie. She got herself tangled up in some barbed wire so they had to call Michael, the vet.

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