Excerpt: Ace of Hearts

Atreyu. Ashton Langley’s heart hurt every time he thought about him. His gorgeous, elegant gelding was now only a memory he was trying to let go of. Ashton turned away from the empty pastures behind his house and went back to bed. It was only two in the afternoon, but he hadn’t been doing much more than sleeping lately anyway. The doctors had cleared him three months before, but he still felt the pain of those broken bones, and the ache of losing his best friend, every day he was alive.

The house was quiet around him. The five-acre property had been a gift from his mom only a week ago, something to keep his mind off the accident since he’d moved out of her house. But he saw it for what it was. The property was ready for horses. Three small pastures and a barn sat waiting for him if he was interested. He definitely wasn’t. He planned to never get on another horse again. There was no reason to. And the property was just a bribe from his mom to tempt him back into riding, but this was one time that he was absolutely going to disappoint her. In twenty-six years, that had never happened before, but it was time now.

Even though he didn’t have any interest in owning a horse again, there were horses nearby. The house next door, a property similar to his own, housed four of them. He hadn’t seen any of them being ridden—yet, at least—but then again, he’d only lived in the new place for a short time. He’d lived with his ex before the accident, then in the hospital, then back home with his mom for a bit. The change to living with her again had been abrupt and unwelcome, but he understood. Justin couldn’t handle having a boyfriend with baggage. Not many guys could. They’d only been going out for a year before then anyway, and most of Ashton’s time had been spent away while he’d been competing. They were never going to last, but the suddenness of the change in his life, along with every other aspect of what had happened that afternoon, bothered him. It was just one more thing in a long list of things that Ashton had to get used to now, and he didn’t like change to begin with.

With a sigh, he curled up in his bed and pulled his blankets up around his head. The sun was coming down on him through the open window. He hadn’t cared enough about it to go buy some curtains. Going shopping seemed like a tedious and completely unwanted interruption to his misery, especially when his mom only lived five minutes away and could bring him anything he needed.

His neighbor had a noisy truck. He hated hearing it rumble down the dirt road, kicking up gravel in its wake like it currently was as he was trying to get to sleep. The truck needed work and it was old. Ashton didn’t know enough about vehicles to know just how ancient the truck was, but he hated the sound of it all the same.

Ashton had seen the guy a few times, though never on any of the horses. Maybe his horses were unable to be ridden or something. Ashton didn’t see the point of keeping horses who couldn’t be ridden, but that wasn’t his business. Maybe some people just liked having horses as pets.

When he heard horses neighing he got up to close his window to cut off some of the sound, but then he stayed there to watch what was happening. The guy—his neighbor, whoever he was—was unloading hay from the back of the truck. Ashton had a truck too, but it was perfect and shiny, a prize he’d won at a show jumping event two years before. This guy’s truck was a noisy piece of crap with rust spots all over the hood and a mismatched door that was dark green while the rest of the truck might have been black at one point but was now faded into a sun-bleached gray. The neighborhood was much too nice for a truck like that. Ashton hoped the guy, his horses who never got ridden, and the truck moved soon. Hopefully they were just renters. Then maybe he could sleep for a while. Maybe, if he was very lucky, he could just go to sleep and not wake up too. That plan sounded particularly attractive.

Unfortunately, three hours later he was hungry and in desperate need of something to eat, as well as maybe a movie to watch. He wasn’t really sure what was even out anymore, but he needed something to do. Sleeping wasn’t enough for him right then, and he needed something more, something interesting, to beat his boredom. When he’d lived with his mom, she’d kept him busy against his will, but still, he’d had some routine with her. Before that he’d been strict about his daily schedule, and most of his time had been spent at the barn. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do now. Maybe some time out of the house would be good for him. He thought it might help clear his head a little. He forced himself to get up and get his keys. At the very least it would be something to tell his mother he’d done so she could get off his back about how he did not do anything anymore.

As he was pulling out of his driveway, he noticed the obnoxious truck was gone from next door, and the horses had been put in the barn—the only thing his neighbor ever bothered to do with them.

The grocery store was only a few minutes away when he was driving but nearly fifteen minutes when he was walking. He’d tried walking it a few days ago, but he was lazy after so many months of not having to do anything but physical therapy in the hospital. His arms were okay, his hip hurt sometimes, but his back was mostly crap at this point. He could walk, which was good and something he might have lost at some point if the doctors hadn’t helped him as fast as they had, but he definitely didn’t enjoy the constant, low pain that thrummed up his spine. It was especially bad since he was allergic to anything with morphine in it, or that was somehow a derivative of morphine, which sucked because that left him with extra-strength over-the-counter crap that barely did anything for his pain. But at least it didn’t make him really sick like morphine tended to.

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