Vanquish (The Xander King Series Book 2), page 23
Sarah Gilbright had managed to steal Xander’s heart somewhere along the way.
And Xander didn’t mind, not one little bit.
After Sarah and Xander finally collapsed in exhaustion, an hour passed and Xander was still staring up at the same strip of moonlight that streaked along the ceiling over top of his bed. His body still thrummed with pleasure from the intoxication of Sarah’s body. He vibrated in relaxation, but his mind couldn’t rest. Mostly due to the surprise of how calm and clear everything seemed to him. The moment he had found out it was actually his father that was responsible for all of Xander’s heartache, he thought for certain that it would haunt him for the rest of his life. He would never have guessed that taking his father’s life would actually have lifted the burden. He would have sworn it would have had the opposite effect. But as he lay there, watching the blades of the ceiling fan twirl over him, relief, and excitement for the future played in his mind. For the first time in a long time, he was truly excited about life. Sure, there had been many moments over the years that he cherished. But no matter how great those were, they were always shrouded in anger, and sadness. He had the feeling that he could finally let it all go. His mother’s death was no longer the focus of his memory of her. Instead, it had already been replaced with the myriad good times they spent laughing and playing together during his childhood.
Xander put both hands behind his head and smiled. He didn’t have a clue what was next, but he was excited. He knew that he wanted to continue to try and make a positive difference in the world. And who knows, now that Mary Hartsfield had taken over for Director Manning, maybe there was actually room to work together with the government again. Of course, he would make the rules, but it would be nice to not have to worry about doing things illegally. It could work.
His thoughts then drifted to Natalie Rockwell, as they inevitably seemed to do since she barged into his life. His feelings hadn’t dampened for her. But something certainly was different now that Sarah was here. As much as his entire being wanted Natalie, he felt just as strong for Sarah now. As he thought about it, things just made more sense with her too. Natalie could never understand Xander’s life the way Sarah could. Xander just wanted Natalie to be happy. If that meant a life without him bringing unwarranted trouble into her life, then that was the way it should be. He would always have a giant place in his heart for her.
Xander glanced over at Sarah beside him. So delicate. He wondered for a moment if it was the last couple of hours with Sarah that made him think of Natalie this way. He wondered if in the morning it would be Natalie he would think of first.
Sarah rustled beside him.
“Everything okay?” she asked. Her voice wrapped in sleep.
Xander leaned over and kissed her forehead.
“I’m going to get some water,” he brushed a strand of hair back behind her ear, “can I get you anything?”
Xander obliged, then rolled out of bed, pulled on a t-shirt and a pair of cotton pajama shorts, slipped his feet into a pair of slippers, and made his way downstairs. Moonlight poured into the kitchen window. Xander grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator and walked over to that window that looked out over the back of his property. In the distance he could see the moonlight sparkling off the top of the weathervane that sat at the top of the stables.
He remembered a text that his head trainer, Gary, had sent earlier saying that his favorite race horse would be leaving the stables early in the morning for Belmont Park in New York to get acclimated for the upcoming race. The finale of the Triple Crown. Xander hadn’t seen Ransom in a while. He didn’t even get to see him win The Preakness. An excitement came over Xander and he just couldn’t wait any longer to pet his equine best friend on the nose. Xander went back to the refrigerator, grabbed a nice juicy red apple, and practically skipped out the back door and out onto the patio. As soon as he opened the door the warm summer night fell over him like a warm blanket, fresh from the dryer. The smell of pine, grass, and a hint of honeysuckle flooded his senses as he walked down the steps, around the pool and down the narrow drive toward the stables. The sliver of uncovered moon shed plenty of light on the path, and Xander tossed the apple in his hand as he listened to the vibrating chorus of the cicadas and the intermittent solos of a family of tree frogs. Crickets offered the treble and a couple of bull frogs supplied the bass. Summer nights in the south were unbeatable.
As he approached the stables, the scents were swapped for hay and horse manure. Not in a bad way though. Xander tugged on the massive sliding door that opened to the stable and stepped inside. The door on the other side had been left open, not an uncommon thing. It gave the horses some fresh air and kept it from being so stale inside. As he walked along the stalls, his other thoroughbreds-in-training stuck their curious heads out to see who might be visiting at that hour. Xander continued past them toward King’s Ransom at the far right hand corner of the barn. The moonlight was coming in the open door and shining directly on his stall. He couldn’t see his head yet. You couldn’t miss it if it was there. Ransom was a behemoth among giants. Xander figured the old boy was probably lying down for a nap.
The closer Xander got to his stall, the more a strange and foreign scent met with his nose. A very metallic scent. Not a common smell at all for the stables, so it really stood out. He couldn’t put his finger on what it was. Not until he peered over the stall door and looked down at the ground, then it became horrifyingly clear what that metallic smell was.
The sight inside the stall nearly knocked Xander off his feet and the apple fell from his hand as he lost control of his ability to hold on to it. There on the hay and dirt covered ground lay his beloved King’s Ransom. His body, completely separated from his head. The amount of blood in the stall could have been mistaken for an oil spill. It was everywhere. Xander was having a hard time processing what he was seeing. He opened the door to the stall and stepped inside. Blood pooled around his slippers. Ransom’s head sat about a foot from his body, his eyes still open. Frozen in a look of shock. Xander’s heart dropped and emotion flooded his being. His throat tightened and his stomach clinched as he dropped to his knees in the gap between body and head. One hand on Ransom’s massive, but cold, front quarter, the other rested on his neck, just above the mess of torn muscle and bone. He was so caught off guard that the shock of the moment stole his air.
Xander was so overcome that he just continued to stare down at the lifeless body of his beloved friend. Images of him frolicking in the pasture came over him. The moment when Ransom crossed the finish line at the Kentucky Derby, laying the blanket of roses across his back in the winner’s circle, and the day he first saw him at the yearling auction all played across his mind like a movie.
And just as soon as it appeared, suddenly it was gone. The beautiful movie playing in his minds-eye disappeared and it was replaced by the most horrifying thing that Xander had ever seen. He was so distraught over seeing his horse dead on the floor of that stall, that until that moment, he hadn’t even noticed.
On the wood planked back wall of the stall, directly in front of him, was something that scared him in a way that he had never been frightened before. In messy print handwriting, written in the blood of his dead racehorse, scrawled out in big bold letters were two simple and bone chilling words...
Letter from the Author
I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for spending a few of your precious hours with my imagination. My only hope is that Vanquish was as much fun for you to read as it was for me to write.
Xander is in a real spot right now. And Natalie, as you now know, is in even worse shape. I am currently doing my best to help Xander get her out of trouble. Needless to say, Xander has been too busy to take my calls. You’ll find out what
The response to Xander and company has been amazing and I have been humbled by the kind words that everyone continues to share online and via email. As long as you are willing to read, I will continue to write. Thank you again for helping to make my dreams come true.
As always, my favorite thing on earth is interacting with enthusiastic readers, whether it is about Xander, or about landing on the moon, lets have a chat about it. E-mail me any time: email@example.com or catch up with me on facebook.
Thanks again for reading.
All the best,
Bradley Wright is the author of the Xander King series. He and his wife spend time in both sunny California and the great state of Kentucky, where he does his very best to be charming, witty, and clever. When those attempts inevitably fail, he locks himself in a room and makes up characters who seem to always find him far more interesting than real people do. Funny how that works.
Bradley has been writing since he was a child. He started with songs and poems, but finally gave in to writing stories when the voices in his head resorted to shouting. He is inspired by every author he reads, most notably, Stephen King, and Carsten Stroud.
For more information visit: www.bradleywrightauthor.com
Wright, Bradley, Vanquish (The Xander King Series Book 2)