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Throw-Away Horses

Throw-Away Horses

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Throw-Away Horses

318 pages
5 hours
May 6, 2019


When Sharon Landry survives a near-death experience as a child, she returns with psychic abilities—a gift she feels compelled to hide. One day, she and her sister Debbie encounter three rider-less racehorses galloping towards them on a nearby beach and take the injured horse, home to their grandparents’ small farm. Sharon plans to adopt the horse she calls Mugs, but before they can execute a purchase, the owner forcibly collects the horse, and transports it to a slaughterhouse. Debbie subsequently exposes a horse-theft ring in a series of scathing newspaper articles, and dies three weeks later. Sharon soon experiences paranormal ‘contact dreams’ hinting that Debbie’s car crash was no accident. Sharon searches for answers to Debbie’s suspicious death, using a false identity, while following her sister’s trail to the slaughterhouse, and awakens a ghostly presence there. When something horrible occurs, Sharon leaves feeling guilty and ashamed. A few decades later, she, and her beloved horse Rasputin, live on a haunted farm in Middleburg, Virginia, surrounded by mysteries she must solve. When two wealthy bachelors compete for her attention, Sharon struggles to open her heart, reveal her darkest secrets, and make peace with the psychic abilities she’d spent her entire life trying to deny.

May 6, 2019

About the author

From Lura Ketchledge, a well-respected paranormal expert, comes The Near-Death Saga book series. Lura is currently open to sharing treatments, synopses and full book text with legitimate agents and movie studios. The paranormal romance novels are set in the horse world, while wrapped in a murder mystery with characters that have had Near-Death Experiences and returned with psychic gifts.

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Throw-Away Horses - Lura Ketchledge


Throw-Away Horses: Part One

Chapter One

Christmas Eve 1980, Middleburg, Virginia

Sharon Landry shuffled from her bedroom room to the living room, her toes entrenched in her pink slippers. Waiting around for the Hamptons to drop by and exchange Christmas gifts made her anxious for the day to be over.

As the fireplace crackled with new wood, Sharon retraced in her mind the tragedy that connected her to the Hamptons.

The day of Madeleine Hampton’s accident felt recent for Sharon, but it was actually twenty months ago.

That awful afternoon, Sharon was in her front yard, mending the damage her horse caused to her garden; the previous day, he got out and trampled her freshly planted annuals. Out of the corner of her eye, Sharon saw a pretty girl drive by in her open Jeep with her big, black dog in the passenger seat. A few minutes later, Sharon heard a second car go by but she didn’t look up, then she heard the crash. She couldn’t immediately see what had happened because the rural road took such a sharp turn that her view was obstructed.

Sharon hurried down the street, thinking that because the country lane is so narrow and nobody slows down, someone had hit a mailbox or the stone fence.

But before Sharon got to the accident, a young woman walked towards her and silently passed. Sharon asked her what had happened. The girl didn’t answer; she just kept a preoccupied look on her face while she passed by. Sharon thought the girl was a rude teenager, but nothing more.

As soon as Sharon turned the corner, she saw the wreck. Alarmed now, she ran down the street. Sharon went to the Jeep first, and in the red Jeep was the same girl she had met on the road just moments earlier.

It was evident that the girl was dead, but Sharon felt for a pulse anyways. There wasn’t one. Next, Sharon went around to the driver’s side of the Mercedes and opened the car door. The man inside yelled and blurted out profanities. Too drunk to unclip his safety belt, the driver kept fumbling with his hand grasping his pant leg. Sharon looked at his car: he was on the wrong side of the road and this was clearly his fault.

Enraged, Sharon yelled at the driver and told him that he had just killed a girl.

All the drunken man said was, Help me, help me.

As Sharon assessed his injuries, the stench of Scotch on his breath made her gag. Sharon could see the driver was bleeding and that he nicked an artery in his neck when his bottle of scotch broke on the steering wheel during the impact. Other than that, the driver wasn’t injured.

How did Sharon know this? Sharon is a licensed practical nurse.

To understand why Sharon crossed the line and took part in a murder by omission, you would have to be in her shoes. She walked back over to the Jeep and looked at Madeleine Hampton again. To make matters worse and seal the fate of the drunk driver Madeleine looked like she was the same age as Sharon’s sister when she passed away.

Sharon walked back to the Mercedes and without compassion watched the driver and waited. She waited for the man to bleed to death. It took fifteen or twenty minutes before the drunk driver took his last breath. During that time, Sharon watched his face slowly turn chalk white as the blood drained out of his body. She witnessed the dead man's soul exit his body. Then she went home and reported the accident to the police.

Back in her bedroom, Sharon tidily compartmentalized all thoughts of the car accident and checked her hair and makeup in the mirror. Over the years, Sharon had learned to compartmentalize. It was her saving grace: it kept her sane and was the only way she could cope with her past. She glanced over at the black and white picture centered on her antique oak dresser. It was the last picture taken of her mother alive, and her happiness emanated through the photo.

Lately, when Sharon would look into the mirror, she would see her mother’s face looking back at her. After all, she was only three years shy now of the age when her mother died, and Sharon had always been the spitting image of her as a child. Sharon had inherited her mother’s piercing blue eyes, apple cheeks and quick temper. At just forty-one, Sharon’s face and figure were still holding up. It was a combination of genetics, natural good looks and the fact that she didn’t smoke. Sharon glowed that morning; her shoulder-length blonde hair was swept off her pretty heart-shaped face with two carefully placed hair combs. Her winter white wool pants and matching sweater spelled holiday wear. On the outside, Sharon looked the picture of poise and grace, but inside she felt different.

Sharon double checked the gifts under the Christmas tree, making sure they were arranged so no bows were crushed. The gift wrapping were as elaborate and fancy as any package could be. Talented and artistic, Sharon’s handmade gifts and wrapping were given from the heart. Every inch of her small cottage farm home dripped with tastefully done homemade Christmas ornaments. Sharon spent more money on material to make ornaments than she would have spent just buying them.

Across from the open living room, on the oval dining table, were plates of home baked goodies that included fresh cranberry nut bread, Belgian waffles with a huge side of bacon, and the obligatory fruit cake. The food on the dining table and fresh coffee brewing in the small galley kitchen gave off a wonderful smell that floated into the living room.

Sharon began gathering up the last of the jars filled with brightly colored beads off the living room floor, which had become her makeshift work station. Between the Christmas ornaments and the cooking, she had run out of space. The cords of string with half-finished necklaces looked somehow interrupted as she stuffed them into her already crammed hall closet. She ran the carpet sweeper over the Oriental living room area rug, picking up snippets of string and ribbon.

Okay, Sharon, there is a beginning, middle and end for today. All I have to do is get through today and tomorrow, then it will be over, Sharon mumbled in a low, fragile voice to herself as she placed the carpet sweeper in the closet.

Then Sharon went around fluffing pillows, brushing dog hair off the furniture, and gave her home the once over before her guests were due to arrive.

A minute or two later, Sharon looked out of the front window at the deep snow that had fallen overnight and blanketed all the rural roads. She wondered if her friends could get to her house in these conditions. Sharon already knew Frank Wheeler couldn’t make it home from his business trip because he had called her at 6:00 a.m. and told her the Chicago airport was closed. Frank was frustrated by the weather and heartbroken to have to spend Christmas without Sharon in an ornament-barren hotel without friend or family. Frank’s announced absence for the day didn’t affect Sharon one way or the other. In her mind, he was just one of her beaus, not a serious boyfriend.

Earlier that morning, Sharon could see it wasn’t going to warm up enough to take her horse’s blanket off. Rasputin didn’t seem to mind the crisp snowy weather when she turned him out after finishing his hay. That horse was the only good thing that Sharon had gotten out of her divorce. What cemented her bond with Rasputin most was that Sharon had delivered him along with the vet just weeks before her husband threw her out four years ago.

Even if her friends couldn’t make it over to her holiday brunch, Sharon was determined to be ready if they did arrive. It was good for Sharon to have something do. She wasn’t in the mood to stop and think. She then went back into her overstuffed frilly bedroom to hunt for a decent pair of shoes.

Coming down Fox Creek Way in their horse-drawn sleigh was Dr. Ellen Hampton and her husband, Robert. They had no trouble cornering the turns in their sleigh. The narrow, winding country road hadn’t a single tire mark on it. It looked like a continuous line of white cotton candy atop the stone fences lining both sides of the narrow road. The procession of tall pin oak trees in front of the stone fences seemed covered in white frosting, almost making you hungry.

Pulling the Hamptons’ sleigh was their late daughter’s horse, Shaheen. He was pacing high as he trod through the foot of fresh powdered snow, enjoying himself every step of the way. Broke to harness, Shaheen loved a turn around the neighborhood, pulling the sleigh: he especially liked the praise he got from his owners and the horse treats after the ride. It wasn’t too often that Robert Hampton was able to use his antique sleigh because northern Virginia usually doesn’t get much snow before Christmas and when it does snow later in the winter, it’s usually after ice, making it too slick to drive a sleigh.

The snow had stopped falling by 9:00 a.m. and the wind was minimal that morning, so the couple didn’t have to use the heavy red wool blanket they took with them. Ellen held her husband’s arm and smiled as he drove the sleigh. She was bundled up tight, sitting quietly alongside her husband. Ellen’s bulky fleece-lined snow boots served their purpose, keeping her feet warm and preventing frostbite. Over her sweater and jeans, she had on a thick beige sheepskin three-quarter length coat.

Robert looked in sharp contrast sitting next to his wife, wearing a long, weathered brown waterproof farm coat that should have been replaced a decade ago and an outdated winter fur hat that looked like it had been worn in the movie Dr. Zhivago. Robert Hampton was animated, like a little kid with a new toy enjoying the novelty of the sleigh ride. The back of the sleigh was loaded up with presents and a thermos of hot coffee. Under the gifts was Shaheen’s blue stable blanket. Robert included the horse blanket as if it were a necessity, not a symptom of Robert’s obsession with the horse.

The sleigh itself was something to behold: all wood, hand carved, sleek and simple. It could seat no more than four people. Constructed around the turn of the century, it was built for transportation, not luxury. Robert had been lucky enough to find it ten years earlier in an antique store in Laws, Virginia. He paid one-hundred-ninety-seven dollars for it. Robert refinished all the wood himself with some sound advice from a local antique dealer. As for the original leather, he had to replace it all.

Sleigh or no sleigh, it was a Hampton family tradition to visit their neighbors and friends, bringing a small Christmas gift along. Of course, they never brought food, not with Ellen’s cooking. Robert and Ellen had been up early that morning and made two stops already before heading down Fox Creek Way to Sharon’s home. The only thing missing this year was their late daughter Madeleine. It was their second Christmas without her.

After their daughter’s death, Robert and his wife, as well as Madeleine’s friends held a sort of vigil at the Hampton farm. Prostrate with anxiety, Sharon stalked the Hampton farm until she got up the courage to introduce herself and tell the family about seeing Madeleine’s ghost.

Sharon Landry had a paranormal connection to the Hamptons’ daughter. She was the quintessential flame, and like moths, ghosts were drawn to her. The Hamptons only found peace through Sharon – she gave them the key that solved the mystery of why Madeleine Hampton’s ghost came back.

But the only thing new that had happened in the last year and a half was the passage of time. There had been no sighting of Madeleine’s ghost since. Time only applies in our physical reality, the one we live in, not the reality where the dead exist. That truth kept a flicker of hope alive for Madeleine’s parents.

After Madeleine’s death, Dr. Ellen Hampton went back to her work because her patients needed her. It was life or death for some of Ellen’s patients, and that’s what brought her back to a routine again. Robert, on the other hand, took longer to pull himself together. He fell into a deep melancholy that worried his wife and friends greatly. The entire experience seemed to age him dramatically.

After six months of waiting for a ghost that didn’t return and exhausting his sabbatical leave, Robert was forced to return to work or lose tenure. George Washington University as well as his students were glad to have Robert back teaching again. Last month Robert began work on another book. The topic, of course, like all his other books before: the Civil War.

As the sleigh pulled up to her house, Sharon quickly put on her barn coat and slipped into her winter snow boots. Robert began to unharness Shaheen in front of the barn as Ellen unloaded the presents into the house. Sharon helped Robert settle Shaheen into her back field along with her horse Rasputin and threw them both some hay. Shaheen pranced around Rasputin in the small snow-filled paddock, his tail in the air, bobbing his head up and down. Rasputin returned a similar greeting.

With Sharon Landry a regular now at the Hamptons’ farm on Covington Lane, Rasputin had become an old friend to Shaheen. Standing side by side, sharing a few flakes of hay, one horse was a beautiful deep dapple grey, the other a rich chestnut, and there was something that seemed grand about both of them.

Sharon’s farm was a pinch less than four acres and her one bedroom, one bath home was only seven-hundred square feet. In the horse world of Middleburg, Virginia, such a farm was considered a shanty with a big back yard. Lucky for Sharon, her pocket-sized farm was on one of Middleburg’s best streets, meaning the land around her was expensive, so there were two-hundred-and-fifty acres of hunt country woods behind her farm, giving the illusion of seclusion and space.

After watching the horses eat for a few minutes and taking in the winter view of the back field, they all headed for the warmth and comfort of the house.

As Sharon poured her friends some hot coffee, they sat down in front of her diminutive brick fireplace in the living room and talked about the weather, horses and, of course, about Christmas.

Sharon looked at her friends sitting in front of her fireplace and thought to herself that they must look like a mismatched pair to the rest of the world, but not to her. Dr. Ellen Hampton was the definition of sophistication and social grace in Sharon’s eyes. Ellen in heels was nearly a head taller than her husband Robert. At forty-seven, Ellen was striking to look at, but not your classic beauty. Her straight dark hair was cut just above her shoulders, framing her doe-like eyes and her thick, arched eyebrows complemented her olive complexion. Ellen’s nose was prominent, her smile warm and compassionate, her voice soft and reassuring.

On the other hand, Robert Hampton was not a handsome man. He was a plain man of only average height and in his early fifties. His once dark brown hair was now heavily peppered with gray. The recent lines on his face were now permanent. His wife had to pick out his clothes, and on the days she hadn’t, it showed. People often found Robert to be a bit bookish and dry, and he was certainly not a social butterfly by nature. If you met him at a dinner party and you didn’t know him, you might think him boring or quiet. But Robert was neither of those things. He was just a low key guy who opened up to a few friends, and that was that. Robert’s smile was genuine, his word was good, and his laugh infectious. He was a man deeply in love with his wife, and it showed. Sharon Landry knew they were a perfect fit.

Robert Hampton updated Sharon about the status of the roads while Ellen fixed herself a plate of food. The snow the night before was heavier than expected and the snow plows wouldn’t be deployed to the rural roads for another two days because of the holiday. Ellen asked Sharon if she had enough milk and Sharon retorted that she had enough food to last a month. They all laughed because Ellen sometimes forgot that other people cooked.

Starting with the wreath on the front door laced with baby pine cones, fresh holly and a red velvet ribbon in an elaborate pattern, Sharon knew how to make you feel welcome. Just inside the front door was a cascade of Christmas cards hanging on a candy cane-shaped wire that stretched from the floor to the ceiling. On the side table to the left of the hand-carved Victorian couch was a small antique manger scene from the last century. The hand-painted porcelain figures looked like small works of art. There were lit holiday candles over the fireplace that matched the current crimson and sand color scheme of her couch and drapes.

To the right of the sofa, Sharon had selected the right sized Christmas tree, making sure not to overpower the undersized living room. On the tree were gold bows, the usual lights that flickered on and off, and a variety of English-themed Nutcracker ornaments like the sugar plum fairies. The only ornament that seemed not to match was an old silver bell whose sides were chipped and the silver finish looked worn in places. It was the only ornament from Sharon’s childhood that had survived.

Robert suggested they open up the Christmas gifts. Sharon’s present to Ellen was a repeating pattern of rose quartz and crystal necklace. The interweaving silver stirrups at the ends made it an adjustable lariat necklace that could be shorted and lengthened. Sharon made it herself and it was absolutely stunning with large round pink beads and contrasting two toned crystals. Ellen thanked Sharon as Robert slipped the necklace over his wife’s head.

Her friends already knew that Sharon’s equine-themed jewelry business was born out of necessity. She was broke a few years ago, after her ex-husband left her with nothing, but now Sharon was making enough to live on thanks to her keen talent. Sharon called her little company Lura’s Horse Jewelry, named after her grandmother. Lura was also Sharon’s middle name. Robert opened his Christmas gift so fast, he sent the paper flying in all directions. This sight made the ladies laugh.

Sharon opened her package last. It was a mauve-colored cashmere sweater with a matching scarf and gloves. Sharon was speechless because it was weeks ago that she and Ellen had seen it in Bloomingdale’s and Sharon had stopped to look at it.

Thank you, it’s beautiful! I think I’ll call Bloomingdale’s right now and see if they can hold the coat that goes with this set on my credit card! Sharon exclaimed as she hurried to the phone.

Interrupting the conversation was the loud rumble of a snowmobile thundering down the street. As the noise trailed off in the distance, the conversation between the friends became audible again.

Sharon, put down the phone! Joanne Augustino bought you the matching cashmere car coat, so try to look surprised when you open the box tomorrow at Five Chimneys farm, Ellen insisted.

Ellen really hated to ruin Joanne’s Christmas surprise, but had to intercede before Sharon got stuck paying for a second coat she didn’t need. Sharon smiled and nodded giddily.

Anyone want some more waffles? Sharon inquired.

Robert looked stuffed as he laid down his fork.

I think two waffles is my limit, Robert replied.

Ellen started talking again as Sharon drifted out of the conversation.

What time are we expected at Five Chimneys tomorrow? Ellen queried.

Sharon didn’t answer. Her eyes were transfixed on the chipped silver bell ornament on the Christmas tree.

Robert could see Sharon wasn’t herself for some reason that morning and, changing the subject, asked her if she was upset her boyfriend wasn’t there. Ellen laughed and asked which boyfriend he was referring to.

It was common knowledge to everyone but Robert that Sharon Landry was dating several of Washington’s most eligible bachelors. Two of her suitors were competing fiercely over her, and Sharon couldn’t or wouldn’t decide which one she liked best. When Sharon’s ex-husband literally left her with nothing – and most importantly, when she didn’t fight it – he unknowingly gave Sharon the biggest boost in her future love life. The funny thing about rich Middleburg men, or rich men in general, is that when they know you have already married rich and didn’t try to cheat your ex out of his money, it’s like some sort of aphrodisiac to them.

There was also one other thing Sharon Landry was unable to see about herself that the rest of the world did: she was fun.

Sharon didn’t have her neighbor Joanne Augustino’s dark sense of humor or her good friend Ellen’s cool, intellectual wit. What Sharon Landry had was a relaxed way of seeing the world that was one dash sarcasm, one dash sweet Pollyanna, and two-thirds Murphy’s Law. Sharon made people laugh without even trying. No matter how Sharon felt on the inside, she was someone you felt good being around, partly because she wasn’t a saint. Sharon would innocently blurt out what everybody was thinking but wouldn’t dare to say right in the middle of a dinner party, and she got away with it.

Sharon giggled for a moment at the thought of her complex love life, then she paused and became serious again. She explained why Christmas Eve was always hard for her to get through: it was Christmas Eve day when her family had buried her only sister and that was over twenty years ago. Ellen sensed that there was so much more on the subject that Sharon wasn’t telling.

I remember you told me you had done something bad once before, long before my daughter’s death, and you were worried that God didn’t let you make more than one mistake. Does your sister’s death have something to do with it, Sharon? Ellen asked with compassion.

Ellen thought maybe Sharon felt guilty about surviving her sister or guilty about causing her death… maybe in a car accident or something, but Ellen didn’t say anything more. Dr. Ellen Hampton had seen survivor’s guilt first hand in the hospital and how that guilt, deserved or not, had eaten people alive after the death of a family member.

Two twins make a whole. Lose one half and the other sister is forever broken, Sharon answered softly.

Sharon’s reply was unusually dark and cryptic, and the look on her face was one of loss, not remorse.

Robert wondered if maybe, just maybe, Sharon needed to tell a friend to get some relief. After all, it was Christmas Eve and Sharon was all alone. Robert thought back on all the times he and his wife had called Sharon to come over, sure that a ghostly event was about to take place. Nothing had ever come to fruition, so they’d only wasted Sharon’s time and ruined several of her weekends. The thing that meant the most to Robert was that Sharon hadn’t complained once about it. She had always been there to help them out. He wanted with Sharon just once to be on the other end of kindness. For so long he felt he and his wife had taken from Sharon, and today he was ready to listen.

Sharon looked at the Hamptons. She knew this question had been just under the surface for years. She also knew it was the right time to tell them, even if it was Christmas Eve. After all, Robert and Ellen already knew she had practically committed murder and they didn’t judge her. Instead, they had embraced her and taken her into their family. So had the Augustinos and the Menendezs.

Because of the Hamptons, Sharon had a new circle of friends. Friends she could count on.

Chapter Two

As Sharon closed her eyes and leaned back into her chair, she seemed to go back in time.

It all started out so innocently that day by the beach, a lazy afternoon in the summer of 1959. I can still smell the salt air mixed with the fresh suntan lotion on my skin as I swam in a pool that almost kissed the beach. The sun was so bright that day, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I watched my sister running into the ocean with a neighbor girl alongside her. I had just gotten out of the pool and was taking off my tight rubber bathing cap and drying myself off with a beach towel.

It was late afternoon and off in the distance I could hear people setting off firecrackers as if to rush in the Fourth of July fireworks that were still hours away. I remember watching my Nana cut the cards, getting ready to deal another hand of bridge. All of the mothers and my Nana were playing a relaxed game of cards, sitting under a covered table next to the pool, sipping on whiskey sours and listening to Perry Como on the radio. Nana only went to the pool to cool off and socialize. She really didn’t swim much, but she always came to watch us swim. Parents back then didn’t send their daughters out unsupervised on a holiday weekend. My mother wasn’t there that afternoon; she was working the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift at Halifax Memorial Hospital to earn a little extra money. With my sister in college and me in nursing school, Mom picked up extra shifts whenever she could. Up until then, holidays were days we always spent together as a family, Sharon said wistfully

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