Castle Roland

Lessons Learned

by Andrew Todd


Chapter 15

Posted: N/A

Tanner took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Dylan reached over and rubbed his back--he could feel the muscles bunching up and tightening in Tanner’s back. Dylan knew exactly how he felt.

“When Dylan stopped coming to the farm and stopped talking to me at school, I was lost,” Tanner started. “We had been best friends since we were seven or eight--we had done everything together. We rode together, we trained together, had sleepovers.” He looked at Dylan; both boys’ eyes were wet. “You were my best friend and then you left me. I understand why, now, but then it hurt so much.”

Dylan wrapped his arms around Tanner. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered, as he rocked Tanner in his arms.

“I know,” Tanner sniffled. “And I forgive you, but at the time, I was lost and hurt and then Cody started trying to ‘help’ me. I didn’t think anything of it. He had always been nice to us. He had helped us train for that show and he had taken you on his bike. I should have known something was up, cuz it was after you went with him that everything hit the fan. But, I was so angry and Cody was there. He was always offering me a shoulder to cry on, he was helping me train. He let me ride Chance,” he looked at Zak, “his horse. He was so much bigger and stronger than Dodger and Keystone, so when he let me ride him it was a rush, almost as much as riding his motorcycle.

“After a few weeks of practice and training just about every day with Cody, he told me he was going to take me to Sue’s. That was a high school kids’ hangout and kids our age never got to go there. I was excited; it was the first time in weeks that I actually felt happy and was looking forward to something. It was the end of the school year, so Cody told me we were celebrating. I met him here and we rode to Sue’s on his Ninja. We had dinner and everyone kept coming to the table...Cody was so popular and had so many friends. It was a rush being with one of the most popular kids in town. After we finished, he said he was going to take me to his house, he wanted me to see the ribbons and trophies he had won over the years.”

Dylan stopped rubbing Tanner’s back and stiffened.

Zak noticed Dylan’s reaction. “Dyl, are you alright?” he asked. “We don’t have to do this now.”

Dylan shook his head. “No, Tanner needs to get this out and I need to hear it. It’s just bringing up some...”

“Bad memories?” Zak asked gently.

Dylan nodded.

Zak looked at Tanner. “Tanner, I know you need to do this, but take your time, we have all weekend if that’s what it takes.”

“I know,” Tanner answered. “But I need to do this now or I may never get it out.”

Zak nodded.

Tanner continued. “So we went to his house. He took me up to his room and showed me all the awards he had won riding. It was impressive and it made me even happier that he had chosen to help me.” Tanner paused for a moment; he had a faraway look in his eyes. “I guess I should have suspected something before that night. Cody was always touching me. He’d rub my shoulders, he’d hug me--which didn’t seem unusual given what I had been through, but he’d rub my thigh and his hands would inch up. It was never enough to make me feel uncomfortable, but thinking about it now, I should have known.”

“You couldn’t have known,” Dylan protested. “If I hadn’t withdrawn into my little world and had warned you...”

Tanner turned to Dylan. It was his turn to comfort his friend. “Stop,” Tanner said. “It wasn’t your fault any more than what happened to you was your fault, it was Cody.”

Tanner took another deep breath and continued. “Cody had me sit on the bed with him and we were talking. He kept rubbing my arms and my legs; it was starting to turn me on. He gently took my face and kissed me. I didn’t know what to do--he was way older than me; but I was lonely and I was hurting so I kissed him back. We just sat on the bed kissing and he was rubbing my crotch the whole time. I was afraid I was going to shoot in my pants so I stopped and hopped off the bed. He walked over to me and grabbed me and started kissing me again. I pulled back and told him he was scaring me. That I liked him, but I didn’t want to have sex with him.

“He told me he knew what I wanted, that he had seen me and Dylan at the farm and he was going to

‘give’ me what I ‘wanted’. I kept telling him that I liked him, but I wasn’t ready to do anything. Dylan and I had only ever kissed and jacked each other off. We had never gone any further. I kept trying to tell him, but he wouldn’t listen to me. He pushed me on the bed and pinned me down.” Tears were streaming down the faces of all three boys as Tanner continued. “He pulled down my shorts and underwear. I kept begging him to stop, telling him he was wrong, I didn’t want this. Then he...” Tanner sobbed.

Zak walked over and sat on the other side of Tanner. Both Dylan and Zak wrapped their arms around Tanner. All three boys were crying.

“Tanner, it’s ok,” Zak whispered. “You don’t have to say anymore.”

Tanner sat back and shook his head. “I know it’s wrong, but I must have liked it,” he cried.

Zak held Tanner’s face in his hands and looked in the younger boy’s eyes. “Why do you think that? Because you had an orgasm?”

Tanner nodded as he cried.

“Tanner, look at me,” Zak said gently. Tanner looked up at him. “You can’t control what that thing between your legs does. Have you ever had an erection for no reason?” Tanner nodded. “It’s the same thing. Just because your body had a reaction to what Cody did to you, does not mean you wanted or you liked it. Did you tell him to stop? Did you tell him NO?”

“Yes, but...”

“No, buts. You didn’t want him to do that; even if you wanted to kiss him and it made you feel good, you have the right to say stop anytime. Cody took that right away from you and Dylan. What happened to you guys is not your fault, not Dylan’s fault, it’s entirely Cody’s fault. You guys trusted him and he violated that trust in the worst way.”

Zak kept one arm around Tanner’s shoulder and reached over with the other to pull Dylan closer.

“You guys have been through the worst thing that could happen to a person, but you’ve both survived it and there are times that that is the best we can hope for.” Zak pulled both boys to him and hugged them tight.

Zak just held the two younger boys for a few minutes while the two friends cried and tried to exorcise their personal demons.

“Tanner?” Zak asked after a few minutes.

Tanner sat up and wiped his eyes with his sleeve. “Uh huh.”

“You haven’t talked about this since that day?”

“No, just when I saw Dylan at the mall and at the hospital and we didn’t really get into it either time.”

“So, how do you feel now?”

“I feel like shit,” Tanner grimaced. “But, I also feel a little relief to have actually told someone what happened.”

“Have you thought about what happens if they catch Cody?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, since Dylan told everything to his therapist, she was required to report his rape to the police and now there is an arrest warrant for Cody. But if they catch him, it will be a hard case to prove, since Dylan waited so long to report it.”

“But, if I was to report it too, it would be two against one,” Tanner realized.

“But, even more, it might bring others forward.”

Tanner’s eyes got really big when he realized the implication of Zak’s statement. “You mean you think he did this to more people than just us?”

“I think there is a good possibility,” Zak nodded. “Danny and I talked about it and if he did this to the two of you in such a short period of time, it would seem that he had probably done it to others. He may have been preying at the farm for a while.”

“But, we were the only gay kids there,” Tanner declared.

“That you know of,” Zak replied. “Dylan said you were pretty careful, so most people probably didn’t even know you were gay. And Cody was preying on younger kids--I’m sure he didn’t care if you were gay or not. Odds are Cody’s not even gay.”

“Then why would he do this to us?”

“Tanner, rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power. Cody could just have easily done this to other boys or other girls, as long as he saw them as smaller and weaker. There may have been some attraction there, but that attraction was based more on his power thing then on actual sexual attraction.”

“I wasn’t sure I was gay until he did that to me,” Tanner said looking at the ground.

“What do you mean?” Dylan asked.

“Well, when you and I got together, it was about experimentation for me. I knew you were gay, cuz you told me and I figured I probably was cuz I liked kissing and beating off with you. Then when Cody did what he did to me, I knew for sure.”

“How’s that?” Zak asked gently.

“Well, he stuck my...and that’s what gay guys do. So I must be gay.”

Zak shook his head furiously. “No, Tanner, what he did to you and how he did it have nothing to do with your sexual orientation. He raped you. He violated you. He hurt you. None of those things have to do with the person you are or who you want to be with. When you look at Dylan what do you see?”

Tanner looked at Dylan with a puzzled look. “I see my oldest friend, my best friend. The person I would turn to for anything.”

“Do you love him?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Are you in love with him?”

Tanner looked guiltily at Dylan.

“Don’t worry Tan,” Dylan grinned. “I’m not in love with you, either.”

Tanner exhaled. “No, I’m not in love with Dylan.”

“Does being here with either one of us excite you at all?”

“Not really.”

“How about any of the guys you met this afternoon?” Zak asked. “Just remember, hands off the Indian.”

All three boys laughed.

Tanner shook his head, “No.”

“When you jack off,” Zak started, as Tanner blushed. “Oh, please--we all do it,” Tanner and Dylan giggled. “Who do you think of?”

“Brittany Hobson.”

Zak looked at Dylan, who cupped his hands and held them about six inches from his chest.

Tanner laughed, “Actually, they’ve gotten bigger.”

“So, Tanner, let me see’re not in love with Dylan, you’re not even remotely attracted to any of the really cute guys you’ve met this afternoon, including the Indian,” Dylan and Tanner laughed. “And you jack off thinking about a girl with apparently the biggest tits in your class.” Tanner was laughing hard at this point, but nodded his head. “I think we can safely say, you are incurably straight.”

“But, what about what me and Dylan did?”

“What about it?” Zak said. “People our age experiment. If every guy that ever touched another guy sexually was gay, we’d probably be able to take over the world.”

Tanner grinned at the thought.

“So, now how do you feel?” Zak asked again.

Tanner sighed, “Like a huge weight has been lifted off of me.” He smiled at Zak and Dylan. “Thank you.”

The boys stayed at the lake a little longer, talking and joking. Tanner and Dylan regaled Zak with stories from their childhood together. Eventually, it was time to head back to the ranch.

CJ crawled out of the big king-sized bed trying not to wake up Danny. He quickly got dressed and slipped out of the room.

He went down to the main floor and looked for the lady who ran the bed and breakfast. It was a family-run operation. A mother and her teen-aged children, two sons and a daughter, ran the place.

He found the mother in the dining room setting up for breakfast. He explained to her what he wanted.

She gave him directions to a quiet wooded area in the mountains about half an hour away and she told him that she would prepare a picnic lunch for him and have one of the kids leave it in the back seat of his Jeep.

CJ thanked her and ran back upstairs, quickly undressed and slipped back into bed; when Danny awoke about a half-hour later, he never knew CJ had left.

CJ and Danny snuck into the bathroom at the end of the hall and quickly showered together.

They ran back to their room and dressed. CJ instructed Danny to dress warmly and wear his hiking boots. Danny grinned, knowing that CJ was up to something.

They went down to the dining room and enjoyed breakfast. After they were finished, the lady who ran the bed and breakfast gave CJ a subtle nod and he smiled at her in thanks.

CJ led Danny out to the Jeep.

“Where are we going?” Danny asked, knowing this was a game for him and CJ.

CJ grinned, “If I tell you, then it’s not a surprise.”

Danny grinned back as he climbed into the passenger seat.

As he got into the Jeep, CJ glanced back and saw several blankets covering what he assumed was their lunch behind the driver’s seat.

CJ backed out of the driveway and drove in the direction the owner had given him.

As they drove, Danny reached out and placed his hand on CJ’s hand that rested on the shift. They intertwined their fingers and continued the drive in silence.

After a half-hour or so, CJ pulled into a small clearing off the dirt road they had been driving on.

They both got out of the Jeep and CJ reached into the back seat and pulled out the blankets and picnic basket that had been left there.

Danny smiled when he saw CJ carrying the blankets and baskets. He took the blankets from CJ and followed him into the woods.

They walked in silence, taking in the beauty of the woods and listening to the birds and small animals.

They came to the clearing the owner had described to CJ.

Danny inhaled deeply as he looked around. It was small meadow about fifty yards in diameter, surrounded by tall pines. To Danny it was like a small outdoor chapel. He could almost feel the presence of a greater power.

“This is beautiful,” Danny gasped as he continued to take in the scene around him. He grabbed CJ’s hand and squeezed it tight.

CJ put down the basket and took the blankets from Danny and laid them on the grass. He took Danny in his arms and lifted him off the ground. When they were eye level he tenderly kissed Danny.

Danny wrapped his arms around CJ’s neck and kissed him back.

The lingering doubts Danny had nagging him were starting to melt away. He knew that CJ loved him, but he was still worried that there was a part of CJ that still didn’t forgive him. Seeing what CJ had put together for him that morning, made him start to realize that CJ had truly forgiven him.

The sun shone brightly through the trees. The air was quickly warming up. For an early October morning, it was unusually warm. Danny and CJ both stripped off their jackets.

CJ laid out the blankets on the grass and pulled Danny to him.

CJ gently brought his lips to Danny’s and they stood in the clearing gently kissing as their hands roamed over the other’s body. Both boys kicked off their boots while they kissed.

CJ reached down and pulled Danny’s t-shirt over his head. He did the same with his own and threw them down on the blanket.

Danny leaned forward and locked his lips onto CJ’s dark brown nipple. He sucked at one and then the other, while his fingers found their way to CJ’s ass. He slipped his fingers between CJ’s pants and his hot skin.

CJ dipped down and sucked on Danny’s neck. He gently licked his way up Danny’s neck and bit at his earlobe.

As if they were sharing the same thoughts, both boys reached for the other’s belt and undid it. The boys unbuttoned and unzipped the other’s pants and almost slammed their heads together when both decided to pull down the other’s pants at the same time. CJ stood up and let Danny yank down his pants and underwear, then CJ bent over and removed Danny’s pants as well.

CJ cupped Danny’s ass in his hands and lifted Danny up. Danny wrapped his slim legs around CJ’s waist and the two kissed more passionately, their tongues exploring each other’s mouths.

Still holding Danny, CJ dropped to his knees and laid Danny on his back. He leaned over his blond lover and licked a path from Danny’s Adam’s apple straight down between his pecs and to his navel. He proceeded lower until he felt the head of Danny’s hard penis poke his chin. He lifted his head slightly and took Danny’s cock into his mouth.

“Oh, Baby...” Danny groaned as CJ attacked his stiff member.

Danny ran his fingers through CJ’s hair as he wriggled and moaned.

CJ pulled off and looked up at Danny.

“I want you to fuck me, Baby,” CJ declared.

Danny was speechless; in the three-plus years they had been lovers he had topped CJ maybe three or four times. CJ was almost always the dominant one in their relationship.

“Are you sure?” Danny asked.

CJ grabbed Danny’s cock and jacked it as he looked into Danny’s crystal blue eyes. “Yes, dammit, I want this in my ass...NOW!!”

Danny sat up. “Assume the position,” he instructed.

CJ got on his hands and knees, his ass in the air.

Danny crawled behind CJ and pulled his ass cheeks apart. He dove in licking both of CJ’s cheeks before sending his tongue as far into CJ’s hole as it would go.

“OH, God!!” CJ groaned. “Baby, do it now.”

“I need to stretch you,” Danny said.

“NO!!” CJ ordered. “Just DO it!!”

“Did you bring any lube?”

“In my jacket pocket,” CJ replied. “HURRY!!”

Danny rummaged through CJ’s jacket and found a small vial of lubricant. He squirted a bit on his hard cook and a small bit on his fingers. He rubbed his lube-covered finger into CJ’s ass.

“Danny...I,” CJ panted through gritted teeth.

Danny lined his cock up with CJ’s hole and pushed the head past the tight ring of muscle. Danny tried to stop once the head of his dick was through to give CJ a chance to adjust, but CJ shoved the whole lower half of his body back so that he was fully impaled on Danny.

“Oh, shit,” Danny moaned as his cock was engulfed by CJ’s ass.

Danny’s head was spinning; it had been so long since he’d felt these sensations.

CJ started rocking his hips and Danny began thrusting hard into CJ’s ass.

Both boys were so hot they could think of nothing but their climaxes.

Danny leaned over CJ’s back and wrapped his lube-covered hand around CJ hard uncut cock.

Danny only managed to stroke CJ once or twice before he felt CJ’s ass clench even tighter around his cock. He felt CJ’s orgasm build and the fiery hot cum shoot out of his cock.

As he listened to CJ bellow to announce his orgasm, Danny lost it and drove his cock as deep into CJ as he could and shot his load up his lover’s chute.

Both boys came for what seemed like an eternity.

Finally, they started coming down from their climaxes.

CJ collapsed on the blanket, Danny came down on his back. Danny went to pull out.

“NO!!” yelled CJ. “Just leave it there.”

Danny kissed and licked at CJ’s neck and shoulders. He bit and sucked at the tender skin, leaving his mark high on CJ’s shoulder.

Finally, Danny rolled off CJ, his now deflated penis pulling out of CJ’s ass with a plop.

“Oh, my God,” gasped Danny. “What the hell was that?”

CJ rolled over and grinned at him. “That was heaven,” he laughed as he grabbed Danny in both his arms.

Danny lay snuggled up against CJ.

CJ pulled a blanket over the two of them and they quickly fell asleep.

They slept for about an hour, both feeling so at peace.

Danny stirred first. He wrapped his arms tighter around CJ and kissed his forehead. He took his fingers and traced around CJ’s jaw line and down his neck. CJ shivered and grinned as he opened his eyes.

Danny laughed, “I didn’t think you were ticklish.”

“I’m usually not, but lying here and hearing the birds and insects, when I felt something on my face, I must have thought it was some creepy crawlies and not my loverboy.”

“Nope, just little ‘loverboy’ me.”

CJ rolled over on Danny and kissed him. “Good. I like it just you and me once in a while.”

“I know what you mean; did you think we’d end up like this? You and me--that I hoped and prayed for; but Mattie and Zak, their boyfriends, the ranch, the horses, everything--I never dreamed of all this.”

CJ nodded. “Me, too. It’s everything I wanted and so much more.”

“It’s perfect,” Danny said as he looked into CJ’s eyes.

For a brief moment, CJ had a faraway look in his eyes.

“What’s the matter?” Danny asked.


“I know that look, something’s bothering you.”

CJ sat up and hugged his knees. He shivered slightly.

Danny sat up behind CJ and wrapped his arms around him and rested his head on CJ’s back.

“I didn’t think you were coming back,” CJ whispered almost inaudibly.


“When you left, I didn’t think you were coming back,” CJ said quietly. “For the first week or so, I made excuses; I thought things had gone a little longer than we expected; I thought maybe something had happened to your phone. I rationalized; I kept coming up with excuses. Then, when you took all your stuff and left me that message, I got pissed. I stopped teaching at the farm. I still went and took care of Angel. As mad as I was I couldn’t desert her, she was my one connection to you. I went to classes like a robot. After a week or so of that, I started going to the bars and drinking--a lot. I’m amazed I passed my classes; I was pretty much bombed most of February. Honestly, I don’t remember much of that period. I would black out and then wake up at home.”

Danny took a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” he said as tears came to his eyes. His heart, which he thought had healed, was breaking again. “It’s my fault. I’m sorry.”

“No,” CJ snapped. “It’s not your fault. You were gone, yes, but I did what I did and that’s on me.”

“What did you do?” Danny asked, not sure he wanted the answer. “Who was he?”

CJ turned so that he and Danny were face to face. He looked into Danny’s deep blue eyes which were filled with tears.

CJ shook his head. “She,” he whispered.

Danny’s eyes went wide with shock. “She?!”

CJ nodded. He tried to embrace Danny, but Danny pulled back.

“Danny, I don’t even remember it.”

“Then, how...why...who?” Danny stuttered.

“You remember at my party, when my father had me stay with him?”

Danny nodded.

“He had one more set of pictures to share. They were of me and a girl at a club, we were...close. There were also pictures of me leaving what I think was her apartment.”

“But, that’s not proof.”

“No, there was a note attached to the pictures. It said to call Doug Marshall, my father’s head of security. Since there are standing orders to do a background check on anyone Mattie or I have or had contact with, that included her.”

“That still doesn’t prove...” Danny started.

“Danny...she’s pregnant...” CJ blurted out.

Danny jumped up and stomped off. He knew that he had no right to be angry, but he was. Everything was finally perfect and now this.

Danny turned back and saw CJ sitting on the blanket--he looked so lost. Danny knew he couldn’t turn his back on him, not when he stood by Danny.

Danny ran back to the blanket and knelt next to CJ; he wrapped his arms around his lover and held him tight.

“Are you sure?” Danny whispered.

“Yes,” CJ sighed. “Doug has a PI he uses down there and when he got the first report, he noticed something wasn’t quite right so he had a second report done and, I don’t want to know how, they got her records and confirmed that she’s pregnant.”

“And you know it’s...yours?”

“Not a hundred percent. But it looks that way.”

“Who was she?”


“Sam?” Danny thought for a moment. “Sam Carter? From the farm?”

CJ nodded. “I know I was running into her an awful lot at the bars and we’d hang out, but I don’t remember ever going any further than drinks.”

Danny remembered Sam; she was a quiet girl that CJ and Danny had recruited to give lessons when things had gotten too busy for them. He thought about what she looked like and it suddenly hit him.

“It’s my fault,” he said. “You thought it was me.”


“Think about know what you’re like when you’re drunk...”

CJ grinned. Both he and Danny knew that he was one of the few people they knew who not only got more amorous when intoxicated, but also was able to perform incredibly well when plastered as well.

Danny continued, “Think about what she looks like.”

CJ closed his eyes. Sam was about an inch or two shorted than Danny, she had short blonde hair and blue eyes and was very thin.

“Oh, shit. You’re right,” CJ said. “Not about it being your fault--that’s bullshit; but about me using her as a sub for you. I never even thought about it, but if you had a sister, she’d look like Sam.”

“Don’t get any ideas; I just got a brother I’m still trying to get used to.”

“But you love him.”

Danny nodded and grinned. “I don’t know what I’d do without him.” He leaned in and hugged CJ tighter. “So, now what?”

“I have to go to Florida.”


“Doug did some research on her, she’s been in contact with an adoption agency and she’s planning to give the baby up. I have to know if it’s mine...and I need to know why she’s giving it up...”

“What do you mean you need to know why?”

“If she’s doing it cuz she doesn’t want a baby then that’s one thing, but if she’s doing it cuz she can’t afford it, if it’s mine I have to help her.”

“What if it’s yours and she doesn’t want it?”

CJ looked at Danny. They both knew the answer, but CJ had to say it. “If it’s mine, I want it. It may be my...our...only chance and I can’t abandon my own child.”

“I know,” Danny agreed. “I wouldn’t ask you to. Especially not after what I just went through. Even if she wants to keep it, you need to make sure you’re a part of his or her life.”

“Then you’re ready to be a daddy?” CJ asked hopefully.

“Ready or not, I guess it’s gonna happen, cuz I’m not leaving you.”

CJ hugged Danny hard. “Thank you.”

“No, thank you. You took me back after what happened and you’ve made me feel loved and whole since I came back. I have no right to be upset over what happened when I left you. I would be more hurt if it had been something serious, but I still wouldn’t be angry with you, I’d be angry with me--I am angry with me.”

CJ hugged Danny harder and whispered to him, “You need to let it go, Dan. We’ve both made mistakes and we need to deal with them, forgive ourselves and get on with our lives. If the baby is mine and Sam doesn’t want it, then we bring it home and we’re dads. Just remember, no matter what happens, I love you. I never stopped loving you.”

“I love you, too. So much it hurts sometimes.”

The two enjoyed their picnic and spent the rest of the afternoon talking about their plans for the future and the possibility of an addition to their family.

At the ranch, the boys spent most of Saturday doing chores and taking care of business. Dusty, Spin and Mattie all had lessons during the day. There were two trail rides scheduled, which Dylan and Zak would usually lead, but since Tanner was there as well, Zak pressed him into service helping get horses groomed and saddled for the rides.

Tanner was thrilled to be able spend the day on the trails. He loved trail riding, but trained so much he didn’t get to do it often. He started riding Zephyr. He liked the little Arabian mare, but unlike the boys at the Triple J who rode many different horses, he spent about 95% of his time riding his horse, Keystone. In the past, he and Dylan would switch between Keystone and Dodger, but it had been a while since they had done that.

Since he wasn’t as used to trying different horses, he had a tougher time adjusting to the little mare. A couple of times, Dylan and Zak thought Zephyr was going to throw Tanner. Finally, after watching Tanner struggle with her, Zak suggested that he switch horses with Dylan.

Dylan was riding Apollo, but he had ridden Zephyr a few times and was more used to her attitude. Zak knew Apollo was more mellow and would be less of a challenge for Tanner. Zak was riding Angel, but did not know how Tanner would do on her, so he thought Apollo was the safer bet for him.

Tanner was much more at ease on Apollo and the rest of the ride went smoothly for him; however, Zephyr was no more calm with Dylan than she had been with Tanner. After the mare reared a third time and tried to bolt on Dylan, Zak knew they had a problem.

Not wanting to endanger any of the other customers that were with them, he decided to switch horses with Dylan and have him and Tanner continue with the ride.

Tanner was at the front of the group. Zak had them continue on while he and Dylan switched.

“Are you sure about this?” Dylan asked as he hopped down from Zephyr.

“Yes,” Zak answered as he held Angel so Dylan could mount. “Angel knows you and she should be ok for you, just take it slow.”

“I’m not worried about Angel. She’s usually good for me--not as good as she is for you and Danny, but we get along. I’m worried about Zephyr. She’s being a real bitch.”

Zak stroked the bay’s neck. “She’s just in one of her moods,” he laughed. “Once she’s headed back to the ranch she should calm down. She tried to throw me once when I was by myself, but I rode it out and she was fine after that. I know you guys are good riders and should be ok with the group. She’s just more used to me than the two of you so hopefully, we’ll be ok. The group has about another half hour and then you guys can head back.” He hopped up and caught his toe on the stirrup and pulled himself up onto Zephyr. “I’ll see you guys there. We’ll let her off this afternoon--we can take Whisper or even Phoenix if we have to.”

“Ok,” Dylan said as he rode to catch up with the group.

Zak leaned over and stroked Zephyr’s neck. “Ok, little girl, I don’t know what your problem is today, but you haven’t been very nice to Tanner or Dylan. You better be good for me or Dusty’s gonna give me one of his ‘Arabians are a pain in the ass’ lectures. See, you give me grief and then he’s gonna give me grief and then he’s gonna pick on Apollo and Angel, too.”

Zak kissed at the little mare and kept her at a walk down the trail.

Zephyr seemed to be behaving herself as Zak rode down the trail.

A little while down the trail, Zephyr started acting up again. She did a half-rear and a little buck. Zak took a tighter grip on the reins and tried to settle her. She kept tossing her head and trying to rear up on him.

Zak was about to bail, when the little mare reared all the way up. When her front feet hit the ground she bolted. She so jarred Zak that he lost his grip on one rein. With only one rein in his hand he had no control of the mare.

Zak tried to lean forward and grab the loose rein, but it kept bouncing out of his grasp. He pulled on the one rein he had, but Zephyr was out of control at this point.

“Whoa, girl,” Zak called. “Slow, down, you’re ok,” he kept calling to the mare as she was running.

Then with no notice Zephyr came to an abrupt stop; Zak was not ready and went flying over the mare’s head.

He hit the ground hard, and everything went black.

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