Taking the Reigns


Pulling out onto the road Harry turned to Alyssa and patted her leg, "It's a well known truth that all men are pigs," Harry said. "You find the rare one that is trainable but mostly they just root around in the dirt until they grow up enough to realise...," she paused searching for the right word. "Shit, I don't think they ever grow up."

"Where are we going?" Alyssa asked without much interest.

"My place," Harry said brightly. "Tom's on his way. I told him I would keep you safe till he got there. He didn't want you driving when you were so upset." Harry smiled, "He might be one of the few exceptions to the rule about all men being pigs."

"He can be a pig," Alyssa smiled. "We sort of grew up together so I have seen a broken heart or two that he has left behind him. He's a good friend to have though, but I guess you know that."

"Yeah," Harry agreed. They shared stories about Tom as they made the half hour drive back to Harry's place. She was glad that Alyssa was looking and sounding better than when she had first seen her slumped at a table, her blotchy tear stained face showing the depth of her hurt.

They pulled up in front of a brightly lit warehouse by the river, "It's a share house," Harry explained. "I like having interesting people around. It keeps life exciting."

Alyssa tried to hide her reluctance to be around other people as she got out of the car. Harry grabbed her bag and led the way inside. Loud music blared from a stereo in the corner of the cavernous room they entered and several people wandered about within the space. Alyssa barely had time to take it all in though as Harry took her arm and led her up a spiral staircase to the second floor.

In stark contrast to the lower level, this floor was dark and silent. They must have great insulation Alyssa thought as she followed Harry to a bedroom. "You can stay in here tonight. Now let's see what you have in this bag to wear." She was all business as she inventoried the small bag Alyssa had brought down for the weekend. "None of this will do. Wait here," Harry instructed.

She returned with a little black dress that she threw on the bed and helped Alyssa take her coat off revealing her completely nude body. Harry didn't comment but drank in the delicious sight before pulling the little black dress over Alyssa's head and zipping it up for her. The low square neckline revealed more cleavage than Alyssa would normally have allowed but it was a surprisingly good fit, hugging more than snugly to her curves. "Come on, Doll, I will introduce you to the other hotties downstairs." Harry took her hand once again and dragged her back down the stairs to the loud music and bright lights.

Alyssa let herself be distracted by the friendly, colourful people she met. A glass of wine in her hand, she allowed herself to believe the image of her friend and her boyfriend entering the apartment arm in arm was just a dream. Her phone continued to ring and in the end Harry took it and answered it, "Listen arsehole, just stop ringing. She won't talk to you tonight so go do whoever you were doing and leave her alone." She hung up and handed the phone back.

Alyssa stared wide-eyed at the phone as she felt the tears threatening to spill over the rim of her eyelids again. "Harry is such a bully. It's okay to feel crushed after the night you had," said Gwen, one of the never-ending stream of housemates appearing beside her. She wrapped an arm about her shoulder in a sisterly embrace.

"Does everyone know?" Alyssa whispered as a tear trailed down her face.

"Not many secrets in this place, hun," Gwen laughed. "I drove Harry to pick you up. Don't worry, we have all been through break-ups at one stage or another. How else would fabulous women like us still be single?" She smiled, "It's Friday night, this place will be buzzing soon. Friday night is always open night here. Forget about your troubles for a while, deal with that shit tomorrow." Gwen refilled her glass and encouraged her to go through the music they had on hand, warning, "Nothing sad and dreary. Friday night is party night."

The night wore on and the place became crowded, Alyssa was passed from housemate to housemate as if they were afraid to leave her alone to dwell on her problems. Each time she put down a drink, another would be thrust into her hand and she quickly became light-headed even though she only sipped at the golden liquid.

A man approached her as she off-loaded another glass onto a near-by counter and turned back into the room. "Ah here is the mystery girl! Harriett tells me you are Lady Godiva."

"Hardly," Alyssa laughed, "I just don't have the hair for it." She continued to laugh, confusing herself as to why it amused her so much, it wasn't like she hadn't heard that line before. She was contemplating whether it was the wine or the odd man himself that made her laugh when he spoke again.

"I saw Godiva race once, she really was a champion. It's a shame none of her offspring matched her speed and stamina," he said engaging her in a conversation that she couldn't walk away from.

"Didn't think anyone knew she had children, so to speak," Alyssa said softly. "You don't look old enough to have seen her race. I mean it was over twenty-five years ago." She looked him up and down gauging his age to be early twenties.

He laughed and thanked her for the compliment adding, "I can thank my father's Mediterranean heritage for the good skin and youthful looks but I assure you, I am quite old enough to have seen her race, albeit when I was a young boy," he winked at her.

The man's easy banter had put her at ease and she found herself talking to him about the horse that her father had trained, raced and bred on the stud farm named for her. The man turned out to be one of the better sports reporters that followed the horse racing scene fanatically. He had a great interest in the horses her father had raced in recent years and while none of them were the calibre of Godiva, they did quite well in their own right.

Alyssa's sadness deepened as she talked of her father, nothing was going right in her life, not the farm, not her relationship, nothing at all. She looked around the room that was crowded with strangers and she felt more alone than she ever had.

Harry appeared beside them. "Geez, Joe!" She exclaimed, "Don't tell me you're boring our guest to death with your dreadful horse stories, I could see her eyes glazing over from across the room."

"Oh come on. You only want her for one of your human interest stories. All pretty Princess Fru-Fru and no substance," they ribbed each other good naturedly.

"Ooh Alyssa," Harry said excitedly, "How about you do a Lady Godiva ride at one of the big race meets? Joe and I could both write a column on you. He could write about the horses and stables and I could do a piece on you, Godiva's heiress."

Joe laughed and slapped his thigh, "Yeah, you gotta do it! We haven't had a decent streaker at the races for years and years. Plus it would be awesome exposure and publicity for your stables."

"You two are insane!" Alyssa said, shaking her head vehemently. She stood up and excused herself but Harry grabbed her hand.

"Oh sweetie," she said quickly, "We were only playing. Don't be upset with me."

"I'm not upset," Alyssa smiled back at Harry who really had been kind to her since picking her up from the café. "I'm just going to find the bathroom down here, or up there or where ever you are hiding it."

"I'll show you," Harry took her hand and led the way, threading through the crowd to the rear of the room. As usual a line up wound its way around the wall but Harry pushed her way to the front and when the door opened thrust Alyssa in. "Perks of owning the place," she winked and closed the door.

Alyssa emerged a few minutes later to find that Harry was nowhere in sight so she walked determinedly towards the spiral staircase knowing her keys and bag were upstairs. Gwen waylaid her before she was halfway across the room and pulled her into a group who were laughing loudly at an inane story a tall, good looking man was telling. Alyssa smiled and pretended to listen as she was handed yet another drink and stood with the group, longing for some peace from the frenetic pace of the crowded room and loud music. She was getting quite drunk and feeling more than a little bit unsteady on her feet.

It was well after midnight when a cheer went up and Alyssa craned her head to see who had arrived. The place was so crowded she had no hope of seeing who the commotion was over so she rapidly gave up and turned back to the group she had joined, trying to keep up with their conversation while her mind wandered to less pleasant things like why the floor suddenly felt uneven.

A murmur rippled through the crowd moving closer to where Alyssa stood as people greeted the newcomer. "Must be some sort of celebrity," Alyssa murmured softly craning her head around again to see if she could see who it was.

"Only to this crowd," one of the people in the group answered Alyssa's murmur and laughed. "He used to be the party prince of this group," she laughed. "He's just one of those people everyone likes and wants to hang out with. Loads of fun. He dated that supermodel once, you know the one," she punched her friends arm getting their attention, "that could make him a celebrity, sort of."

Alyssa turned around from the woman speaking to look again and stifled a sob. Her oldest friend Tom was weaving through the crowd toward her. She stood frozen to the spot as she watched him advance on her and wrap his strong arms around her, Alyssa buried her face in his coat and let herself cry again as he held her, oblivious to all the open-mouth stares they attracted.

"Let's find somewhere quieter to talk, hey?" He said softly into her ear. All she could do at that moment was nod and let him lead her back toward the stairs leading up to the quiet bedrooms. In the quiet, dim room where her bag had been put, Alyssa poured her heart out to her friend. The wine loosened her tongue enough to say the things she had kept so secret, like the state of the farm finances and the strain her father's death as well, as the time she had spent at the farm, had put on her relationship with Justin. She had known it was over when Justin had openly admitted his resentment of the amount of time she had spent at home on the farm.

Tom held her silently as she poured out everything she had kept bottled up, asking very few questions even though his head was full of them and inwardly cursing at the cruelty of the men she had loved and how, in their own ways, they had let her down. He had protested as she struggled out of the tight black dress, claiming drunkenly that it was strangling her. She had waved away his protests. "You're like my brother," she said and lay back down against his fully clothed body. "Besides you've seen me in my underwear before when we swam in the farm dam."

"Justin wouldn't swim there with me. He said it was too muddy," she began to cry again. Tom stopped protesting that she wasn't wearing underwear this time and pulled a blanket over her as he stroked her back while she cried herself to sleep. He lay there through the night, holding her as his mind worked over the problems she had just unloaded onto his shoulders. He tried to relieve some of her worry by thinking of a short term solution to the financial crisis at the farm but in reality there seemed to be very few options available to them. He looked down on her sleeping face and was secretly glad that Justin had messed up so badly. He hoped this would end the relationship but he would never tell her that, he couldn't. He didn't know how she would react and he couldn't handle not having her in his life if she rejected him.

As dawn was lightening the sky outside Tom felt a buzz against his thigh. He reached between them to retrieve her phone, gently removing it from where it had become wedged between their legs. He turned it off, the gentle movement causing the sleeping girl to stir. Alyssa murmured and rolled over, pulling at the blanket he had covered her with. Stretching his aching body that had held Alyssa close all night, cocooning her with his warmth, he groaned softly and picked up his own phone to call the leading hand at the farm to explain his absence, saying that it may be extended by a day or two.

He spoke quietly and kept the call short but as soon as he hung up Alyssa spoke sleepily, "Thank you for coming to rescue me from my awful life."

"Nothing awful about your life," Tom said with a smile. "Look who you're in bed with. That gives you instant credibility with this crowd."

"Lucky me," Alyssa opened her eyes and gave him a withering look made all the more pointed by her hang over.

"Indeed. Lucky you," he grinned. "Well if you're awake put some clothes on before I forget we are just friends and consider notching the bedhead as you put it, and we'll go get some breakfast instead." Alyssa raised an eyebrow at his emphasis on the words just friends and heard Marcie's voice in her head hinting that there was more feeling there than she realised.

It was the first time in their lives that she could recall him even hinting at noticing her sexuality and it stunned her. She became suddenly self-conscious and pulled the blanket up higher covering her nakedness. She vaguely remembered the dress being too tight and constricting as she had cried out all her problems during the night. It hadn't even occurred to her to be self-conscious with Tom. He had always been like a brother to her. The soft voice pricking her memory made her question that and she looked at him with seemingly new eyes and blushed.

Tom noticed her blush and chuckled, "Be downstairs in fifteen minutes or I will be coming back up to get you and carry you out of this place." Before something happens that we both regret, he thought to himself.

"Yes, Sir," Alyssa gave him a mock salute and waited for him to leave the room before getting up. She shook her head, banishing Marcie's voice. She had too many complications in her life already. She didn't need one more. She needed her friend and confidant far more than another issue to deal with.

Ten minutes later she descended the stairs and looked around the cavernous room on the ground floor. It looked very different in the daytime without all the bright and glittery people and she spied Harry, Gwen and Tom sitting at a bench in an open-plan kitchen near the bottom of the stairs. She wondered how she hadn't noticed it the night before.

"Harry was just telling me about the idea she and Joe talked to you about last night. It might work you know?" Tom said scratching at his unshaven chin.

Alyssa's brow furrowed as she tried to remember the conversation. "Oh no!" She gasped, "You can't be serious!"

"Why not," Harry said. "You have a hot little body and with the right wig and maybe a side saddle," she too seemed to be considering Alyssa with critical eyes as she paused and Alyssa looked to Gwen for a voice of reason.

Gwen shrugged, "Don't look at me. I don't think I really understand what they are talking about I only got here a minute ago myself," she said as she poured a cup of coffee and pushed it toward Alyssa before pouring her own.

"She could almost do it anonymously, I suppose, and leave it to me and Joe to link it back to the ranch in the media," Harry looked at Tom, briefly turning from her inspection of Alyssa. "That way she wouldn't have to worry about fines or being arrested or nastiness like that."

"You can't honestly think I would streak at a race day?" Alyssa looked at them with wide unbelieving eyes.

"Why not?" Harry asked. "You seemed to have no problem with your nudity last night. Plus your hero, Tom, would be there to protect you and I could give you the perfect alibi. You would ride so fast that even the wiliest peeping Toms would be disappointed that they didn't get a photo of the event." Harry looked very pleased with her own cleverness. "And if you did it around the fourteenth of next month, it would help me cover some obscure National Nude Day thing my sleazy boss wants a column on." She clapped her hands happily, a big smile covering her face.

"The free publicity alone would bring in business. It could be the trendy place to keep the horses of the rich and famous and arrange stud fees and if we could just get one more champion in the mix, or one we could claim to be of Godiva's bloodline," Tom was talking more to himself than anyone else as he continued to scratch at his stubble considering what he had learned about the unknown mare and her filly.

"For God's sake, you can't be serious!" Alyssa almost yelled at Tom. "Go shave that stubble and turn back into my friend who has enough brain power to know I couldn't do it."

Echoing Harry's earlier statement Tom said, "Why not?"

"Maybe we could get a body double," Harry mused as she sipped her coffee. "Have you got any tattoos or anything that is unmistakably you under all those clothes?"

"I can't believe we are even discussing thing this," Alyssa said, "Have you all gone deaf? I can't do it!"

"You're right," Tom said, turning to look at Alyssa properly, waiting to see the relief in her face before adding. "I do need a shave," he grinned widely and wandered back upstairs in search of a razor. Hearing her curse under her breath at him, he paused and spoke over his shoulder with a grin, "I heard that and that is no way for a lady to speak."

Settling at the bench with the other two women, Alyssa finally turned her phone back on. It immediately buzzed to life announcing missed calls and waiting texts and messages. She would have to face it eventually so she excused herself and walked away to a couch and sat listening to the pleas of innocence and misunderstanding that both Justin and Danielle had left for her.

The scene replayed over in her mind and despite appearances, she wasn't a naïve little girl who could be cajoled into forgetting what she had seen and heard, she felt her heart being squeezed again within her chest.

Harry came to sit beside her, "Look Doll-face, life has shit on you from a great height by all accounts, and I know this is the last thing you want to hear but sometimes life kicks you in the guts for a reason." She shrugged, "Time to move on and do things your way, not your father's way, not your lousy boyfriend's way, but your way." She smiled, "Now you just have to decide what your way is going to be. Are you strong enough to take on the world and show them you can make your mark on your own or will you buckle under and lose the stables as well?"

While Alyssa had been trying to deal with the financial ruin of the stud farm she had never considered the reality that she might actually lose it and what life would be like without it. The thought shocked her and made her feel ill. It was her home, her life, everything she loved was there. It was in that moment she realised that it was all her fault. She was the one that had pulled away from Justin and returned to what she loved after her father's death. His refusal to help her or understand her need to be there, put a wall between them that she knew would probably always bethere while she owned and tried to run the farm herself. Harry was right, choices had to be made, and though the betrayal hurt, the loss of her lover had occurred months ago when she had moved home and they had tried, but obviously failed, to make it work long distance.

Harry misunderstood her silence for hurt feelings and put her arm around Alyssa's shoulder hugging her. "This too shall pass, as they say."

"Actually I think I needed to hear that," Alyssa said. She picked up her phone and called Justin. "I'll be there in an hour, that should give you enough time to prepare whatever you have to say." Alyssa hung up before he could say anything further. "Time to cut the dead wood from my life and move on," she said determinedly to Harry. "Feel like rifling through a strange woman's belongings?"

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byxelliebabex© 47 comments/ 1260745 views/ 92 favorites

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