Read about Nancy Familari’s new book, available this month, and stay tuned for an interview with Nancy on October 3rd.
When fifteen-year-old Meg discovers that a beautiful Swedish student with designs on her boyfriend has come to spend a year on her beloved horse farm, she decides to act. None of her plans to force Katrina to leave work. During foaling season, disaster strikes. Will the girls cooperate to save the mare and foal?
Here’s an excerpt from Nancy Familari’s new book, Unwelcome Guest at Fair Hill Farm, available in October.
Meg stood at the mudroom sink letting the warm water flow over her hands. Her parents’ tense voices floated in from the kitchen. The farm wasn’t paying it’s way. She shivered. If they didn’t have a good breeding season, they might have to sell. Meg didn’t want to listen to another discussion of their problems, but she could only prolong hand washing for so long.
“We’ve got to have help this year. Katrina is the only answer.” Mom’s voice carried distinctly into the mudroom.
The rough towel rasped Meg’s hands, but she didn’t notice. She tried to blot out Mom’s words.
Carelessly draping the towel over the hook beside the metal sink, Meg took a quick look in the old mirror hanging above the sink, and ran a damp hand over the curls escaping from her red braid. Hoping Mom wouldn’t comment on her dusty clothes, she edged into the bright kitchen and slid into the chair at the oak trestle table. The rich smell of the beef stew Mom had prepared for lunch made her throat close. She didn’t want to eat, but not eating would only make matters worse.
When she reached for the stew, Mom and Dad stopped talking. Mom brushed a hand across her forehead and said, “Did you have a good morning?”
Meg ladled stew into her yellow bowl. “I cleaned Nicky’s stall.” She dug a spoon into the steaming food looking for a chunk of meat. “Sandy’s coming this afternoon. We’re going riding.”
“That should be fun. Sandy’s a nice girl.” Dark shadows smudged Mom’s eyes. With her short dark curls and huge brown eyes, she was still pretty, but the sparkle was gone.
“We want to talk to you.” Dad laid his spoon on the table.
“What about?” Meg raised a spoonful of beef and gravy to her lips, but didn’t taste it.
“Your mother and I have been trying to decide how to handle the foaling this year, since she had to go back to work.”
“I can help.” Meg let the untasted food fall back into the bowl. “I can take care of foaling. I know enough. We don’t need help. It’ll just be more expense.” She thought for a moment. “Sandy can help.”
“I know you want to help.” Mom sighed. “And Sandy’s wonderful, but you girls have to get good grades. You can’t miss school just because a mare is about to foal.”
Meg shoved her hands under the edge of the table and dug her fingernails into the palms. “It wouldn’t happen very often.”
“Hopefully. You never know with mares, and we get a lot of maidens.” Mom looked at Dad. “At least we used to.”
Meg dropped her eyes. Maiden mares, those having their first foals, were notoriously unreliable and often had serious problems with their delivery, especially if they had been race horses.
Dad dropped his knife on the plate with a sharp rap. His normally mild blue eyes were icy. “Meg, you’re making this hard for your mother. We know you want to help, but your mother would worry about what was happening at the farm when you were in school all day. We need someone here full time.”
Meg picked up her spoon and stirred the stew. “I’m not a little kid. I’m fifteen. I can help. I know a lot about foaling.” She looked down at the brown mass congealing in the bowl. “I could call Doc if there were problems.”
Dad drummed his fingers on the table. “We have some good mares coming this year. If the owners found out that no one was here during the day, they’d send them to a farm where they could get full time attention.”
Meg avoided her father’s eyes; she knew he was right.
Mom touched Meg’s wrist. “I know this is hard, but we don’t have any options this year. We’re very lucky that Inga has an extra girl coming, a girl interested in breeding, who wants to be a vet.”
Staring down at the purple and yellow flowers on the table cloth, Meg felt hot tears build up behind her eyes. “I don’t know why we have to get someone from Sweden. We could get local help.” She choked. “Derek could help. He’s here all the time anyway.”
Dad frowned. “Derek’s a talented driver. He’s got his own career to think about. We’re lucky to get Katrina. The fact that she’s from Sweden and willing to live here is a God-send. I don’t want you to do anything to make her feel unwelcome.”
Ugly words formed on her tongue, but Meg bit them back.
“We need someone here full time.” Mom leaned forward resting her arms on the table. “Horses can have their foals in the pasture in the middle of the day; remember Maisie last year. We need someone to check them regularly and call Doc if there’s a problem.” She patted Meg’s hand. “Give it a chance, Meg. You’ll get to like Katrina. She’s just graduated from gymnasium and wants to go on to vet school. You can learn a lot about Sweden.”
Meg ran her spoon around the inside of the bowl pretending to eat. She didn’t want to learn about Sweden. She hated the very idea of Sweden. A stranger, living in the house, would mess up her family. Meg hated to even think it. Would Mom and Dad still care about her when they had someone else living here?
“She’s worked with harness horses.” Mom pulled her hand back. “You and Sandy could learn about Swedish trotters. They’re some of the finest in the world. They do training a bit differently than we do. You know how successful Inga is.”
Tears stung Meg’s eyes. “I could learn about trotters from Inga, if you’d let me work for her.”
Dad hit the table with the palm of his hand. “You’re being childish. Inga needs full time help as much as we do. Katrina is coming.”
“Besides, it’s only for three months. That’s all they give visas for.” Mom gave a wan smile. “Katrina won’t be here forever.”
Arguing was futile. Three months was forever. She didn’t want Katrina to come at all.
And check out Nancy’s website and blog