About the Book:
Title: Stonehill Downs
Author: Sarah Remy
Publisher: Harper Collins/Voyager
Stonehill Downs follows Mal, a powerful mage who functions as Lord Vocent, the king’s personal forensic scientist and detective. Magic and murder are his calling. Never have the two entangled in quite as terrifying a manner as on Stonehill Downs, where Avani, a Goddess-gifted outsider, has discovered a host of gruesome corpses reeking of supernatural malfeasance. The investigation is haunted by ghosts of Mal’s past, and the two quickly learn that they must cast aside their secrets if they are to succeed in unearthing the pervading evil—before it’s unleashed from the boundaries of the Downs, straight into the heart of the kingdom.
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Guest PostThe Drop Off
by Sarah Remy
With horses come dogs, everybody knows that. Even if you're new to equine sport, you catch on quick; you can't lead a horse to water without tripping over a Russell. No matter which particular round of the circuit you're working - Florida, Arizona, California, even the Hamptons - you'll find a pack of Corgis roaming the stable rows, lifting a collaborative leg here or there, blessing a patch of grass or a tack trunk or, if you're not careful, the boss's newest pair of Vogel boots.
There are Labs of every color, smiling in the heat. I've seen delicate Chihuahuas dressed head to toe in couture, happily dodging between aluminum-shod hooves. In Tucson there's a Bulldog who prefers to ride from ring to ring behind the wheel of his owner's golf cart, plaid scarf draped around his thick neck. In Wellington there's an equestrian who refuses to enter the arena if her rescued Greyhound, Sookie, isn't in the stands, carefully ensconced in the lap of a groom hired specifically to nanny the dog.
And, of course, every show ground has more puppies than horses for sale. Canine pedigrees are debated seriously and hound dog stud fees might be more than a good A circuit groom earns in a month.
I pay attention to pedigree, but I'd rather waste money on the Lotto than blow bills on a dog whose daddy once won a trophy for bagging mallards. The same said about horses. Breeding's important, but sometimes it's the mongrel gets the job done.
First year I worked the circuit the pedigreed dogs puzzled me.
"Arno," I said around an apple I'd stolen from the feed room. "Where are all the normal dogs?"
"You know, normal dogs. Not fancy dogs."
"Mutts?" Arno suggested in his thick German accent. The gelding whose hind legs he was trying to wrap had decided to make a lunch out of his greasy curls.
I chewed the apple and considered. "Sure, yeah. Mutts. Like the big old hound we picked out from the shelter when I was a kid. How come there's only fancy dogs? Whatever happened to picking your dog from the pound?"
Arno cracked his spine as he moved to the gelding's right hind. "The mutts stay home because they are afraid," he replied and tossed me the last roll of vet wrap. "Finish."
I probably thought Arno was pulling my leg. I know I spent the first half of that winter looking down at the horse crowd from a towering moral pedestal. Middle America they weren't. Sure, there were four or five regular families struggling to make ends meet so their little girl could find glory on the A string. And there was the trainer who'd managed to make a living breaking track horses. But it seemed to me that most of the circuit lived in a world far removed from my own daily grind of manure stains and fast food and cheap beer in a cheap hotel.
I figured the fancy dogs were just another reflection of self-absorption, akin to the latest 'IT bag' I heard one teen describe to her friends.
That first circuit, I spent most of my time wishing I'd listened to my uncle and taken a job in the city.
But I had some skill with horses. I kept at it through the next summer because my employer gave me a raise and an apartment on his farm and I was curious to see what Virginia looked like. Five other grooms who'd been hired on as temporaries took the same permanent pay check and made the journey north with me.
The apartment turned out to be a cot on the second floor of a hay barn and a bathroom shared with six other men, but I didn't mind so much. The raise was solid and the longer I stayed the more I learned. And the horses seemed to like me well enough.
"It's because you have big hands," Arno explained. "You walk quiet. You've learned to stay in the saddle. And you think as slow as any gelding."
I didn't take it as an insult. I did do plenty of deliberate thinking as I tossed hay and mucked stalls and shared my supper with the boys. I was young and content and in no particular hurry to get on with life.
The next winter Arno got a better offer and switched barns. The new head groom was a woman named Betsy. She had gray hair and seams down her cheeks. She'd been an Olympic contender at some point, or so the boys whispered, until she'd fallen too far into the bottle.
She slept in an old RV she kept behind the barn and in the four years I worked for her I never saw her drink anything but Coke.
She kept an old Golden whom she called Hank. The dog had only one eye. The other eye socket was empty, the lid concave. Hank didn't seem bothered by the lack, although as far as I noticed, Hank never left Betsy's heel.
Betsy fired most of the boys but kept me on because, she said, she liked the way I could lunge anything on hooves. With less staff my work hours skyrocketed but so did my pay.
Betsy worked me hard but she also taught me everything she remembered about horses, which was considerable.
The first show we traveled to together happened to be Del Mar, a straight shot across the country from our own piece of life. Betsy drove the bigger of the two horse trucks. I was assigned to the dually and the barn's smaller trailer.
The drive would take four long days of highway, with overnight stops to rest the horses along the way. Betsy set us to packing the truck early and hovered behind us like an irritable mama quail. We minded her carefully. It would be our hides as well as hers if we left something important behind.
It was while we were hauling leftover trunks into the back of the dually that I noticed Betsy's other half was missing.
She tilted her chin at the horse truck. "Underneath."
He sure was. The dog cowered behind the back suspension, belly low, his one eye fixed on my boss.
"What's wrong? He sick?" In four months I'd never seen Hank leave Betsy's side, not even to chase the ball I occasionally tempted him with.
"Nah." Betsy looked unconcerned. "Scared. He knows we're going traveling."
She wound the hose she'd been using and detached it from the well spigot. "Can't leave him behind. He won't eat if I'm not about."
"What's he scared of? Car rides?" I didn't know much about dogs but I supposed it could be not every hound stuck his head out the window and smiled like in the truck adds.
"Doesn't mind cars," Betsy said, hands on her hips as she surveyed the loaded dually. "It's horse shows he's scared of. Hank's a drop off."
"A what?" I peered under the trailer at Hank. He paid me no mind. It was Betsy he loved.
Betsy slapped her thigh. "You haven't been to enough shows if you haven't got a drop off." When the thigh slap didn't work she whistled sharply. "Hank!"
Hank slunk out from under the trailer. He straightened as he reached Betsy's side, but he kept his tail between his legs. Betsy set her hand on his head.
"I notice the dogs," I said. "They're always getting in the way."
Betsy massaged Hank's ears and the dog relaxed enough to pant. He lay down against her boot, neat as a pin.
"Sometimes it's us in the way." Betsy regarded the horse truck with a critical stare. "Drop offs are the unwanted ones. City people think horses mean farms. Regular, they drop the animals they can't keep or don't like at the show grounds. They suppose we'll take better care of them than the shelters."
She stripped off her gloves. "Usually dogs. Sometimes cats. Once that I remember, two pygmy goats."
"Somebody didn't want Hank?" The dog met my curious stare and his tail twitched in the dust.
"He's only got the one eye, hasn't he?" Betsy was a master at sarcasm. "Some of them are in bad shape when we get them. We do our best for each one, find them homes, do what we can." She glanced at the dog in her shadow. "Hank here was in bad shape, skinny as a stick and that eye gone with infection. Show vet did what he could. My old terrier had up and died the summer before and Hank seemed a good sort, scared as anything but didn't bare a tooth. That was Arizona, seven years ago. He's still thinking I mean to leave him behind some day."
Hank allowed me to pat the top of his head. "He'll be like this the whole show?"
"You'll get used to it. Sometimes he needs a bit of extra handling, is all."
The drive across country wasn't bad. Spring meant rain east and west and wind in the middle, but Betsy kept the horse truck at an easy 65. I tagged behind in the dually, three horses riding on my hitch. Every time a horse moved I could feel it in the steering wheel.
I kept the music up and chewed Tums and didn't worry.
Betsy knew every truck stop and bar along the route. At night we'd unload the horses where we could, usually at a local fairgrounds, one evening at a fancy barn where Betsy was apparently remembered and well loved.
Each evening after our cargo was safely bedded down, Betsy would take command of the dually and find us dinner. Hank, because he refused to move from Betsy's side, rode in the passenger seat while I squeezed onto the back bench, knees against my chin.
Betsy preferred bars and steak to fast food and pie. She drank Coke and dosed her meat with Tabasco. I drank beer and ate what came cheap, usually a burger.
Hank got a chicken sandwich, dry. I learned later that Betsy knew where the dog would be welcome, so long as she had a twenty for the bartender.
We slowed and stuck in traffic as soon as we crossed into California. Stalled on Betsy's tail, I had little to do other than cruise the local radio stations. When we hit the coast, Betsy put down her passenger side window. Hank stuck his head out and sniffed the salty breeze.
Once, sitting at a dead stop on the I-5, I stuck my own head out the dually and called the dog's name. I knew he could hear me, but he didn't bother to look my way.
We made Del Mar long after dark, closer to AM than PM. The show stables were mostly quiet, asleep. We unloaded as quickly as safety allowed. I was tossing flakes of hay and thinking about a hot shower when Betsy came stamping down then aisle.
"Bay mare's got bloodied on the last stretch."
My gut clenched. If the mare had injured herself, it was my job on the line. I'd gone over every inch of the interior before loading, checking for hazards.
Betsy shook her head. "Not your fault. Got herself bit. But it's deep. The vet's set up two barns away. I'll walk her over."
"Okay." Relieved, I returned to flinging hay.
She lingered. Because Betsy wasn't the type to waste time I looked back around. "You don't need me to come with?"
"No. Stay here, keep an eye on things." She hesitated and then spat it out. "Hank's under the truck. Won't come out, as usual. He needs his dinner."
"I'll shove a bowl under his nose, sure."
I felt her glare and realized she was worried for the dog. "See that he gets water. I put his bed in the back of the dually. He'll be more comfortable there."
"Thought you said he wouldn't come out."
Betsy ground her teeth together and then shrugged and sighed and stomped off again without another word.
I finished feeding and threw rugs on several of the horses and then went in search of Hank.
It was too dark to see anything under the horse truck so I dug a flashlight out of the driver's side door well and beamed it between the tires. Hank lay pressed flat against the dirt, good eye staring. He didn't exactly bare a tooth at the light but I didn't get the impression he was happy to see me.
"Alright, buddy. Boss says you need to eat."
Hank didn't venture an opinion.
I found his bowls in the back of the dually along with his lumpy old dog bed and a bag of kibble. I filled both bowls to the top and slid them under the axle. Hank pretended not to notice.
"She'll be back," I promised, still hoping that a hot shower would come sooner rather than later. I would have to stay until Betsy returned with the mare.
I unloaded show trunks and stacked bags of shavings. I searched out electrical outlets and water faucets and then unrolled hose and extension cords. I found our allotted empty stall and set it up as a tack room.
By the time I'd finished my watch said 5:30 AM and Betsy still wasn't back. I was tired and, now that my hands were still, hungry.
Grumbling, I went back to then dually and dug a bag of pretzels from my snack stash. Hank's dog bed reminded me and I shone the flashlight under the truck.
The dog was still there, bowls untouched.
"Hey, buddy," I said. "I'm liking this job. I don't want to be canned just because I can't look after a dog."
Hank let out a low whine.
"I agree. She's been gone a long time, but you know how it is. Things happen."
Thinking that the dog probably did know exactly that things happen, I felt a shiver of sympathy. I tucked the pretzels under one arm and hauled the dog bed out of the dually. It smelled, but no worse than horses.
I plopped the bed down alongside the truck and sat next to it, flash light balanced on my knees. My stomach growled as I popped open the bag of pretzels.
Hank stared, stern. I stared back. I hadn't noticed before but his one eye was bright and full of intelligence.
"Understand you don't like this place, much." I munched on a pretzel. "Guess you have your reasons. Guess they're good reasons. But maybe you should reconsider."
Hank groaned. I decided to take what was probably flatulence for agreement.
"Too dark to see much, I know. But it smells good, here. Like grass and salt all mixed up." I fisted another pretzel. "And I can hear the ocean. I know you can. Ever been to the ocean, Hank? Don't know much about dogs, but I do know they're supposed to love the ocean."
I dropped the pretzel. Hank licked his lips. I paused and then tossed the pretzel under Hank's nose. He snapped it up.
"Huh. It's not a chicken sandwich, but I suppose it won't hurt you." I tossed another pretzel underneath the truck. Hank devoured the offering.
"I've got a whole bag here," I pointed out. "Tasty. I'll share. But I'm not giving them all up for free. You'll have to do your part."
Hank looked back, grim.
My watch said six o'clock. The sun hadn't exactly come up, but black was turning to grey and I could see without the flashlight. I scooted back from the truck and sat my butt on the dog's bed.
"I'm not saying you shouldn't be cautious." I lobbed a third pretzel, this time under the wheels. "But I don't think you have anything to worry about. It's not like Betsy's going to let you go. She took you in, she means to keep you."
Hank licked his lips again and edged forward on his belly, stretching, until he just managed to lick up the treat.
"The way I see it, you're pretty lucky. You shouldn't squander that luck. Not everyone gets a second change." I skipped another pretzel off the dirt. It bounced to a stop just beyond the edge of the truck. "You should take advantage of it, enjoy it. You seen a sunrise in California before, Hank? Because I haven't, and it's just about to come up, there, over the hills."
Hank's nose stuck out beyond the wheels. I could see pretzel salt on his rubbery lips.
I shook the bag. "I'll share." I patted the bed. "Sit. I won't tell if you don't."
I knew he'd already made up his mind, maybe even before I'd thrown that first pretzel. Sometimes it just takes a little encouragement.
He wiggled and stretched and slunk his way onto the dog bed. I watched the sun come up over the mountains. Hank counted the pretzels left in the bag.
"Good boy," I said. "Maybe tomorrow we'll find time for the beach."
Sarah Remy’s latest novel, Stonehill Downs, was recently released by HarperCollins. Find sarah at www.sarahremy.com
About the Author
In 1994 Sarah Remy earned a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from Pomona College in California. Since then she’s been employed as a receptionist at a high-powered brokerage firm, managed a boutique bookstore, read television scripts for a small production company, and, more recently, worked playground duty at the local elementary school.
When she’s not taking the service industry by storm, she’s writing fantasy and science fiction. Sarah likes her fantasy worlds gritty, her characters diverse and fallible, and she doesn’t believe every protagonist deserves a happy ending.
Before joining the Harper Voyager family, she published with EDGE, Reuts, and Madison Place Press.
Sarah lives in Washington State with plenty of animals and people, both. In her limited spare time she rides horses, rehabs her old home, and supervises a chaotic household. She can talk to you endlessly about Sherlock Holmes, World of Warcraft, and backyard chicken husbandry, and she’s been a member of one of Robin Hobb’s longest-running online fan clubs since 2002.
Her latest is the fantasy novel, Stonehill Downs.
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