Horse Play (Horse Play #1)

By: A. D. Ryan

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS


Readers, the ones who stuck with me back when some of my stuff was posted online in it’s roughest form and those who’ve just joined me on this crazy life journey: you mean the world to me. Seriously. None of this would be happening if you weren’t all behind me, supporting me and pushing me to be better. Thank you.

For Ryan and my kids, you all have been so incredibly patient and tolerant while I pursue this crazy little dream I have. Boys, Mama promises to write you a story one day soon. You’re both so understanding when I tell you I can’t read one of my books to you, so I promise you that one day, you’ll have your very own book that we can read together. I love you, I love you, I love you. *kisses*

Brothers, sisters, Mom, and Dads … your love and support mean the world to me. You were my first cheerleaders, and you gave me the confidence I needed to pursue something I love doing. Thank you for always being interested and for never holding me back.

My bestie, you’ve been there for me since I posted my first story online (remember that hot mess?). Thank you for holding my hand through the stressful times, and high-fiving me through the happy ones.

Tiff who fell in love with this story when she first read it YEARS ago, I appreciate all that you do, even if we don’t talk often. It’s actually incredible that we can go weeks and months between emails and messages and it feels like no time at all has passed!

I’m adding a new name to my roster with this novel: Marla. Thank you for taking a chance on an unknown wannabe author and helping everything make sense. I’d heard nothing but good things about your editing services, and I’m so glad you were able to fit me in!

And finally, to the pre-readers and my street team; you are all so incredible. I have this very real problem with anxiety, so the idea with sharing something as dear to me as the characters I’ve created is almost crippling. You’ve all been so lovely, accepting not only my personal brand of crazy, but for loving my characters as much—if not more than—I do.

Thank you all. So much.





Chapter 1. Upside Down



Birds chirped in the tree outside my open bedroom window, and a cool morning breeze wafted in and tickled my feet. At some point in the night, I must have kicked them free from my duvet. One at a time, I opened my eyes, looking around my room groggily. My clothes from the day before were draped over the edge of my hamper, my laptop was half-open on my desk, and my curtains were open wide, allowing the early morning sun to filter in.

My house was eerily quiet, and I lay in bed staring at nothing in particular as I tried to find the energy to roll out of bed. The sun was shining in through my window, and it made me giddy for today’s training since I was likely going to be able to ride outside. Suddenly, it occurred to me that it was far too bright to be before six in the morning—which was when my alarm clock was supposed to go off.

Looking to my right, I noticed it was almost seven. I bolted upright and ran over to grab my jeans from yesterday and a fresh shirt. After quickly pulling them on, I ran to the bathroom where I brushed my teeth and pulled my long blond hair up into a haphazard ponytail before heading for the door. I slipped my paddock boots on, quickly lacing them, and then rushed out of the house.

As I ran all the way down my front walkway, I prayed that my father wouldn’t be too upset with my tardiness. I threw the front gate open and looked over at my dad’s house on the right. No one was home, which meant he was already at the barn.

“Shit!” I cursed breathlessly as I picked up the pace in an effort to make up for lost time. When I reached the large barn, I was gasping for air, and the sound of my boots hitting the pavement between the stalls startled several of the horses that had been tethered there for the morning lessons.

“Madi?” a familiar voice called out.

I looked up and saw Thomas Young, my dad’s life-long friend and our lead horse trainer. He pushed his black hair off his dark skin as he walked beside the small chestnut mare and toward me. He was smiling wide, his dark eyes not holding even a glimmer of annoyance toward me, while I tried to regulate my breathing.

“Oh,” I wheezed, looking up at him. “Hey, Tom. Have you … seen my dad?” My chest felt tight and hot as I continued to suck in breath after excruciating breath.

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