The Winner’s Circle


She’s fearless, generous and kind

STORY SO FAR: While looking through Brennan family photos with Rachel, Ben learns of the tragedy that hit Wind Rider Farms years ago. Was the rider he met in the fog somehow connected to the disaster?

There was a scrunch of gravel on the driveway, and then a blast on a car horn.

“There’s Aunt Leelee.” Rachel pulled her sweatshirt off and tied it around her waist as she headed for the door.

Dazed, Ben followed. Joe Pastore dead? And didn’t have any kids? Then who had he met in the fog? That kid had been the exact image of Joe Pastore. Exact. Now, brilliant sunshine lit up the driveway and front porch, highlighting every potted geranium, every leaf on the overhanging maples. As Ben climbed into the back seat of the blue Suburban, he wondered if he’d been dreaming. He just dreamed the kid, that’s all.

Mrs. Brennan was talking on her cell phone, saying, “Yup, yup, we’ll be right there,” and then shut it with a snap. “We’re going to see the new rescues,” she announced as she put the truck in gear.

Rachel fiddled with the stereo. “When did they ship in?”

“Yesterday. Buckle up, Ben.”

Ben was still too baffled by Rachel’s story to concentrate on the conversation, but he was surprised to see that instead of heading down the driveway, they drove past the barns and toward a fenced pasture. At one point Rachel hopped out to open a gate, holding it wide while the truck passed and then closing it and climbing back into the front seat.

As they continued across the pasture, following worn tire tracks in the grass and through another gate, Ben struggled to make sense of what had happened, because deep down he knew he hadn’t been dreaming. Maybe the kid he had met was some other relative of the Joe Pastore who died. Like a nephew, maybe. Something like that. Had to be. It was the only thing that could explain it. He thought of that cruel sneer and felt a wave of cold seize him, making him shudder.

The truck jostled him from side to side as they climbed a hill into the woods, and when they lurched again, Ben cracked his head against the window. Rachel reached back to rub his head, cooing sympathy and driving everything else out of Ben’s mind. Moments later they were headed down the other side of the hill, and as the trees thinned, Ben saw another fenced pasture, with another farm beyond.

“Our friends the DiSienas,” Mrs. Brennan explained as Rachel opened another gate. “They board the rescues here, and we help with the expenses.”

The “rescues” were horses, Ben soon discovered. They stopped in the barnyard and Mrs. Brennan led the way to a small paddock. Three horses stood together in a nervous, wide-eyed little huddle at the far end. Rachel swung her leg up over the top rail of the high fence and straddled it, her eyes on the new horses. Absently, Ben climbed up beside her.

“Somebody’s investment didn’t work out,” Mrs. Brennan said, her arms crossed on the fence. “These guys were on their way to being destroyed.”

“They call them glue factories,” Rachel added. “Because glue is made from horses’ hooves.”

Ben watched the horses, how they rubbed against each other for comfort. “You mean, somebody bought these racehorses but they weren’t fast enough – so they were going to kill them? Because they were a disappointment?”

“Yep.” Rachel’s voice was hard.

“I’ll never understand it,” Mrs. Brennan added. “How someone gets into this business with absolutely no love or respect for these animals. I could never destroy one of our horses because it couldn’t finish in the money.”

“You’re not that kind of person, Aunt Leelee.”

Mrs. Brennan let out a sorry laugh. “That probably explains why we’re down to our last dollar.”


A distant screen door banged, and they turned to see a woman coming out of the house, with three dachshunds at her heels. Mrs. Brennan walked off to confer with Mrs. DiSiena, while Ben and Rachel kept their perches on the topmost rail of the fence. The dachshunds wriggled among the fence posts, sniffing the grass.

“So they’ll just live here?” Ben asked. “Forever?”

Rachel shrugged. “Maybe, but probably Mrs. DiSiena will find homes for them. That’s what they usually do. Hey there,” she crooned as one of the horses stepped near her. She continued to murmur soft nonsense words to the horse as it moved closer to her alongside the fence, and she ran her hands down the glossy neck. Then she stood up on the fence rail and, with one smooth movement, swung her leg over the horse and lay down on its bare back. She lay with her legs and arms hanging, her face pointed at the sky, and the horse let out a breathy sigh.

Ben marveled at her confidence – he’d never been on a horse himself, and he had to admit he was a little afraid of these three here, so large and so close. So it startled him to see her stretched out across the big animal’s back so casually. How could Rachel be so trusting of a horse she didn’t know? How could she be so willing to take a chance? How could she be so graceful – so beautiful?

She was fearless. She was generous. She was kind.

And Ben had just fallen head over heels in love with her.


1. Do you believe that Ben is dreaming or could something else explain what happened?

2. Explain what the “rescues” are. What did the Brennans save them from?

3. Should animals be killed “because they weren’t fast enough … because they were a disappointment”?

4. What does Mrs. Brennan mean when she says,”I could never destroy one of our horses because it couldn’t finish in the money?”

5. Count the ways that Ben loves Rachel. Why would her confidence be so attractive to him?

6. Predict what Rachel may be feeling about Ben. Do you think she returns his affections?


Image: “That kid had been the exact image of Joe Pastore.” (likeness, reflection)

Rescues: “We’re going to see the new rescues…” (horses that have been saved or recovered)

Baffled: “Ben was still too baffled by Rachel’s story to concentrate…” (confused, dumbfounded)

Paddock: “…Mrs. Brennan led the way to a small paddock..” (a small grass field or enclosure for horses)

Investment: “Somebody’s investment didn’t work out…” (venture, risk)

Newspaper connection

1. Animals serve many roles in our society. List them. Do some of these roles “show a lack of love or respect for these animals?” What are your feelings on how animals are/or should be used? Write an editorial to express your views.

Chapter 7 answers

1. Answers will vary.

2. The rescues were horses that the owners did not want and were on their way to the glue factories. The Brennans save the horses from being killed.

3. Answers will vary.

4. Mrs. Brennan would never destroy a horse because it didn’t win any races and earn any money racing.

5. 6. Answers will vary.

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