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UNTAMED


EVENT #1 FROM THE WILD HORSES SERIES



OLIVETTE DEVAUX




Mugen Press

Pittsburgh, PA



Copyright ©Kate Pavelle 2012


Published by Mugen Press

www.mugenpress.com

This book is a work of fiction. All characters, places, and events are the products of the author’s imaginations and any resemblance to real persons, places, or events is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, known or unknown, or shared for free. Please don’t be a pirate.

It is permitted (and encouraged) to quote a brief paragraph for editorial or review purposes.


This is the 2nd edition of this story. First edition was published in 2012 by Dreamspinner Press (“Wild Horses” by Kate Pavelle.) This 2nd edition represents author’s preferred version, and under its new name and pen name (“Untamed” by Olivette Devaux), begins the Wild Horses Series.


Cover Art

© 2018 Pavelle Art

Cover content is for illustrative purposes only and any person depicted on the cover is a model.




UNTAMED



He could feel the heat break as the westering sun hid behind the tall glass and concrete buildings of the Pittsburgh downtown. A sip of warm water from his bicycle bottle failed to stop the rivulets of sweat that fought through his sodden bandanna and made their way down his forehead. His eyes stung with his own salt.

Late July sucked, especially if you were so strapped for cash you couldn’t afford a single item off the McDonald’s Value Menu. Then again, the humid heat made the thought of food revolting.

Kai sent a prayer of thanks for the abandoned half-sandwich that he had been able to scavenge from the outdoor café table in the Strip District during lunch hour. The oddball area consisted of warehouses, food stores catering to various ethnic groups, restaurants and street vendors. It was a decent hunting ground not only for the occasional odd job, but for spare food as well.



THAT, HOWEVER, had been many hours ago. Now Kai crouched over his rusty ten-gear bike, biding his time downtown. Tourists tended to come out of the old, majestic hotel down the street, wallets in their pockets. They emerged from the brass revolving doors and had their inevitable first look up and down Grant Avenue. A good third of them got stuck at the intersection of Grant and 7th Street, waiting for the rush hour traffic to pass while gazing at the stone-carved buildings around them.

Kai had heard it said that Pittsburgh was full of architectural treasures and landmarks. He was too busy trying to eke out a living to notice such niceties, but the visitors from afar usually took their time to look around.

Just like the guy in the tuxedo, right on the corner. He was poised and calm and smelled of money. His black hair spilled down his shoulders – he pushed a stray strand out of his eyes.

This motion uncovered his pocket.

He did it again as he gazed up at the sculpted cornices that gleamed up high, where the sun reached over the tall buildings.

And again.

And every time he cleared that oh-so-cooperative strand of hair out of his eyes, that pocket was unprotected.

Silent as the evening breeze, Kai coasted closer on his bike from behind.

Then even closer, pushing the pedals slowly, preventing the bike from making a sound.

Now they were even, he on his bike and the rich, good-looking mark in a tux who seemed absorbed in the decorative elements many stories above him.

Slowly, gently, Kai reached into his pocket and extracted its contents with his left as his right gripped the curved handlebars of his antique bike.

Pushing hard, he darted through traffic. Lucky he, lucky for a brief lull in the incessant flow of cars. He weaved his way in the wrong direction, earning a few irritated honks, steering with one hand and holding onto his ill-gained loot with the other.



ATTILA KELEMAN was staying downtown only because he absolutely had to, and because he trusted Tibor to send his boys to the stables in the morning and take care of the horses. The Equine Behavior Society Conference was an important professional event, but the mere fact that he had honored him as their featured guest speaker didn’t mean he enjoyed the pressure of the people around him.

Colleagues, perfect strangers, or family – Attila couldn’t abide crowds.

He was waiting to cross the street, following directions to the nearby Omni Hotel where he was to eat, speak, and shake hands with his colleagues and their aspiring students. As he sweated in the tux which was a lot hotter than his most formal dressage riding outfit, he took in the sights, grateful for something – anything – that would distract him from the throng that waited to cross the street.

Studying sculpted lintels and decorative facades kept him from dwelling on his upcoming fate – the terrible and inevitable reality of a conference room full of people.

People who’d be looking at him, listening to his words. Crowding him. As happy as he was to teach all that he had been taught - even at the cost of having to interact with throngs of humans – he made sure these events didn’t occur very often or didn’t last too long.

The light was about to turn. Attila felt a light touch against his tuxedo jacket. Pulled out of his distracted bubble, his hand flew back to its protective position a moment too late. A man wearing only torn Bermuda shorts and sneakers pedaled hard through the busy intersection.

One touch, and he knew his pocked had been emptied.

Ah, the joys of city life.

His money clip held only sixty dollars – that much he could do without.

His iPhone? Not so much. Attila swallowed an ungainly curse. The next two blocks were spent thinking about the streak of a wild, tattooed, red-headed man on his rusted bike who risked his life in rush-hour traffic for a lousy few bucks and a cell phone. Instead of rehearsing his speech, Attila Keleman was pondering the best way to retrieve his irreplaceable telephone.



SAFELY TUCKED away, Kai examined the contents of the wallet. He hissed under his breath, part in amazement and part in gratitude. Sixty fucking bucks!

And a new iPhone.

Kai could hardly believe his luck. The cash would let him eat for a whole week if he was careful. There was a greengrocer on Smallman Street who’d let him buy fruit way below cost. He’d go to JoJo’s tomorrow and order one of their famous omelets with hash browns and toast and butter and jam, and get it to go – it would last him for two days. And then, a special treat: a cup of the best cappuccino in Pittsburgh. La Prima Espresso, where the barista made a pretty, feathered leaf in the steamed milk foam if he flirted with her and asked her nicely. These days, coffee was a rare luxury.

The cell phone, though. He could sell that easy – it was a new model with obscenely huge memory and a much-improved camera. He liked the sleek feel of it in his hand. He could get over a hundred bucks for it, which might convince Nelby to let him back inside the apartment. Then Kai wouldn’t have to sleep on the streets anymore.

An apartment meant a permanent address.

A permanent address meant a better chance of landing a job.

He needed a new job badly. After the recession layoffs three years ago, nobody seemed to have a need of a vo-tech graduate with three years of factory assembly experience and minimum computer skills.



KAI’S SANDWICH was long gone, and he sucked his plain water down like the elixir of life it was. As he lay sprawled on the loading dock behind the closed greengrocer’s shop, he enjoyed the relative solitude of his hideout. The small roof overhead gave a modicum of shade, and even though the filthy concrete still radiated the heat of the day, it would cool soon. Then he’d be cold enough to pull out a hoodie from its nearby hiding place. He might just bike over to Butler Street and see if Nelby was ready to talk business.

The cell phone chimed in his pocket.

He pulled it out curiously, pushing the single depression. Even though he had never owned one, Kai knew how to operate the device.

He straightened with surprise when he realized that the message was for him.

:Are you truly so poorly off that you need to steal necessary items from perfect strangers?:

Kai stared at the words. The question wrapped itself around his mind. The last three years had been bad. Terrible, even. He just couldn’t get a toehold – not anywhere. The last thirty-six months had been a litany of failed efforts.

Another chime, another text.

:You may keep the money – obviously you need it. However, I need my phone back.:

He hunched over the device, letting his feet swing off the loading dock. The stink of rotting produce yielded to the fresh smell of river mud off the Allegheny River. Kai lifted his face into the evening breeze. This was the first time anyone had contacted him. He was intrigued by the memory of a silent, poised figure in a tuxedo, waiting to cross the street.

With great hesitation he touched the glowing screen. A keyboard popped up. Unaccustomed to the task, Kai began to compose an answer

:Thanx. Sorry.:

He pushed the ‘send’ button. Soon, the device chimed again.

:You are welcome. Please return the phone to me, or to the concierge at the Omni hotel. My name is Attila Keleman.:

Yeah, right. The device in his hand was worth six weeks of food. No way would he just return it. The stranger with the strange name was obviously rich enough to buy a new one. It was kind of weird, though, the way he didn’t seem to get mad. He typed a new message, his fingers clumsy, having to backtrack over mistakes.

:Why?:



AS ATTILA STARED at the one-word text, he felt his heart sink. That phone had everything on it – everything.

His whole life was tied to that convenient little device. There were photos from horse shows and messages from his vet and his farrier. There were emails with instructions, and he sure would miss the wealth of contact information that stretched from personal to professional.

Most especially, he’d miss his schedule. He used to have it all backed up on his computer, but two days ago his old desktop machine yielded to the summer heat and to the sawdust particles that forever surrounded the stables, and died.

His students, his charges, his friends, their addresses and telephone numbers and their lesson schedules – they were all on that phone. Training records, vet records, a small expenses app that let him keep track of who paid for their lessons and boarding fees and how much he’d paid for last year’s supply of hay – all gone. The backup drive he had used with his computer was too old and outdated to be compatible with the new iMac he purchased earlier today, and he still didn’t know whether the self-styled “geniuses” at the Apple store would be able to convert the files from his old machine into readable files that he could at least print out and retype. His life, the flow of which soothed his social anxieties by its smooth and organized structures, had turned into a nightmare.

:My whole life is on that phone and I have no backup. The photos and records are irreplaceable and essential to my business.:

Attila sent the message from the borrowed cell phone and handed it back to its owner. “Thank you, Steve. Should anything come up, would you kindly inform me?”

The other horse trainer nodded. “Sure. That’s a terrible thing. You are at the Westin, room 611?”

“Yes. Thank you.” Attila’s voice was a soft whisper as he stood.

The time of his public ordeal has come. He drew a deep breath, and as he exhaled, he visualized a riding arena.

That’s all this really was, a riding area, a place that always calmed him. A safe space where he was always in control. The chairs, the tables, the trappings and decorations – those were here only for the others, for his colleagues and his students.

Calm and collected, he approached the podium and looked at the hundreds of faces that were packed into the ballroom. They had all paid for the privilege to be there and hear his words of wisdom.

After the customary introductory address, he deviated from his plan and met the eyes of the crowd. Instead of the sea of faces, some familiar and most new, a vision of wild, rust-colored hair and a shoulder tattoo kept intruding into his mind, and with it, his stolen cell phone problem.

He cleared his throat, and continued. “It is important to remember that each horse is, essentially, wild at heart. Before the horse responds to your requests for canter or counter-canter or extended trot, that wild heart needs to be tamed first.”



TWO DAYS HAD have passed and the owner of the phone was long gone. Kai kept rereading the last text message.

:I need to return now. Please mail the phone to the Blue Heron Acres. The address is in the phone directory. Remember, you are better than stooping to such acts of petty thievery.:

Kai’s waking hours were haunted by the mild words of admonishment and his dreams were populated by graceful men with black, flowing hair, all dressed in tuxedos. He wished the phone’s owner had at least gotten angry and called him names.

Now, more than anything, Kai felt a profound sense of shame. The man had not even tried to blame him. He told him to keep the money. From the looks of it, he was most interested in the information stored in his telephone.

The device had 68% charge left. Kai found the address for Blue Heron Acres, but was somehow reluctant to spend the money for the padded envelope and postage. Not even realizing it, he no longer cared about its potential financial value all that much. The sleek device, and the texts from the mystery man, had become his tie to civilization. To a man who had told him that he was better than all this.

Am I? The question resonated through his subconscious, making waves on formerly placid waters.



HE WAS LOATH to spare the money. He could, however, spare the time and he did have a bicycle. The vision of the calm, well-dressed man with an exotic name, one who wouldn’t yell, beckoned to him. It aroused his curiosity. He was sorely tempted to look through Attila’s records and photographs, but the battery was getting a bit low, and he knew he’d need the juice to power the map app.

Next day, he filled up his water bottle, filled the pockets of his hoodie with two bananas and two apples, and mounted his bike in the early morning dusk. He missed the morning traffic as he pedaled across the Roberto Clemente Bridge toward the North Side, and continued all the way along the river bike trail toward the West End Bridge.

Groomed public landscapes with a lush science center and a glitzy casino gave way to weeds by the path and broken concrete by the docks.

The trail ended by the jail. He found this fact to be an ironic reflection upon his own situation, and pulled out the stolen phone, activating Google Maps. The address of Blue Heron Acres had already been entered in, and Kai followed the blue dot along Route 65 North toward Ambridge. That was way out of town - good sixty miles out of Pittsburgh.

The river path had ended in a light industrial area marked by bad pavement that started to heat up in the morning sun. He followed the blue dot to the highway and made a right onto its emergency lane, hoping to evade the attention of the police and the backdraft of speeding cars.

When the sun began to beat upon his hot, dry hair and when the black hoodie had become unbearable, he removed it and tied it around his waist.

Two hours later, he hid in the shade by the highway and ate the bananas.

Another hour later, his water was gone.

Battery power was down to 35%, and he used the map feature sparingly. The terrain had become hilly two hours ago, and his fatigued and dehydrated legs refused to work. Kai had to climb off and push his bike up the hill only to ride down the other side.

He began to question his judgment, his decision to return the phone, and most of all he questioned the act of stealing it to begin with. His tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth and his eyes glazed over with the merciless glare of the sun that bounced off the concrete highway. Yet whenever doubts threatened to overcome him, the words of the text came to him again:

Remember, you are better than stooping to such acts of petty thievery.

Traffic began to thicken as the day wore on, stinking up the thick and humid summertime air. He dodged another cars speeding by.

At three o’clock in the afternoon, in what appeared to be a thinly populated residential area near a large, wooded park, he spotted a gleaming white sign with blue lettering:

BLUE HERON ACRES



THE HEAT OF THE day kept the horses placid, and Attila couldn’t blame them. Even the shaded arena with fans on seemed to hot for riding. He considered cancelling lessons if tomorrow turned out like today. For now, he refocused on his student’s father.

“He did well, Saul.” Attila did not smile, but his blue-grey eyes warmed in acceptance as Willie made a happy, unintelligible sound up in the saddle. Attila reached up to unbuckle the boy’s safety belt.

“Willie, it is time to dismount.” An expression of crushing disappointment flooded the eight year old boy’s misshapen little face.

“You can come again on Wednesday. That is two days from now. Will you come and ride Chicago again?” The boy nodded, then freed his right toe out of the stirrup and attempted to swing his leg over. Attila helped him down while his father fished a horse treat out of his pocket.
“Say thank you, Willie.” The boy took the treat in his hand and extended the flattened palm to the horse, who accepted it.

Attila let him, even though Chicago still had his bridle on. For Willie, he was willing to make exceptions.

“Will he ever ride like we do?” Saul asked, peering through his horn-rimmed glasses.

“He will ride in his own way.”

“I suppose. Thank you, Attila.”

“You are welcome anytime,” Attila replied, almost smiling. “My regards to Mimi.” Saul Brenner nodded and took his son’s hand, leading him to the car.

Attila began to unsaddle Chicago right there, outside of the barn. The short gelding was placid enough and did not need to be put in cross-ties.

Being outside, Attila was visible to his observer. He knew the man was out there, hiding in the tree line above the paddock. The dogs had barked earlier in the afternoon, and Sensational Snowfall had stopped in mid-canter, pointed in the direction of the tree line, and whinnied. He trusted Sen’s instincts more than his dogs’.

Attila understood men very little, but he knew horses, and a wild horse was best coaxed in slowly.

First, you tame the wild heart.

He slipped a halter onto Chicago’s head, tied him to the post, and took his tack inside. He took his time getting out again, making sure that his observer wasn’t alarmed by his continued presence.

When he emerged, he focused on brushing the horse entirely before he took him to the spigot, where he hosed down his hot, sweaty flanks. The appaloosa just snorted and turned into the cool water spray, playful and comfortable. Attila laughed, taking joy in his horse’s enjoyment of the day. Then he slipped him a treat, opened the gate to the paddock, and let Chicago run loose.

His visitor did not emerge.

No matter. Attila had a strong gut feeling that his iPhone was near, and all his vital information with it. He had never heard of a pickpocket thanking his victim for the money, and he had never heard of one apologizing by text, either.

This man was... trainable.

Attila pulled a cold bottle of Gatorade out of the refrigerator, a granola bar from the snack basket, and set them out on the picnic table by the barn. He stood there in the sun for a short moment, gazing toward the tree line.



THE FOOD and drink were set out and abandoned, and therefore it must have been a test. Taking them without asking first would have been one of those acts of petty thievery that Kai now believed were beneath him, but he didn’t have the courage to approach the quiet man who had been acting in such unusual ways as to attract his attention over and over again.

The word courage stuck in the craw of his mind, and as Kai sat few trees inside the woods and watched the establishment, he mauled it over.

He had courage. He had always had a bit too much of it, actually – but what he now also had was a profound sense of shame. How could he possibly face the man who had been kind enough to gift him the money he had stolen?

He’d have to wait until Attila was gone, then leave the phone on the picnic table. Meanwhile, Kai distracted himself from heat and thirst by turning his attention to the four-legged occupants of the paddock.

He had never seen horses up close before, not in real life. A light, pungent scent of manure nearby was like nothing he had ever smelled in the city. Stepping in dog shit left on a city street had always been the worst, and human stuff wasn’t far behind, but to his surprise, horse droppings didn’t bother him.

A butterfly settled on a weed two feet from him, brown with blue dots, and beautiful.

Time passed.

Sound of hoof beats had Kai look up. There was that smaller horse of many colors that the phone’s owner had hosed down before. As the horse slowed down to a walk, Kai recalled the way the spray of water had bounced off the horse’s white and brown flanks. It had looked divine from afar, cool and refreshing, and most of all, wet.

The big, white horse that had whinnied at him from his pasture had a round rump and a mane that somebody cared to braid down his thick, curved neck. There was a chestnut stallion, almost red in the sun, with a long, black mane and a black tail that reached almost to the ground. He looked wild and at odds with the commanding white. Kai liked him the best, both for his spirit, for his small and graceful head, and for the way his long legs ate up the ground as he ran.

More than anything, though, Kai wanted to know what was going on in the large, covered building behind the barn. He saw people lead horses inside, and after a time, they returned into the barn again. Some were untacked, hosed down, and let loose into the paddock. Others stayed inside.

Sitting still wasn’t easy. Trusting the trees to hide him, and wanting a better look at the horses, Kai stood.

He swayed and reached out.

His palm hit the coarse bark of a nearby trunk, breaking his fall. That’s when he realized he was getting dizzy from the heat.



IT TOOK KAI a good half hour to circumnavigate the fenced paddock through the dense woods, making his way down the hill toward the building. The new, white siding showed no regular windows, but large doors were open on each end. Kai hunkered down in the shade of a nearby bush, catching a glimpse of a man his own age astride a tall, black horse.

Attila, the owner of both the iPhone and everything that seemed attached to it, stood in the center in his tall black boots, wearing tan riding breeches that hugged his legs all the way up, and a loose, white linen shirt. His black hair was up in a ponytail and he wielded a long whip in one hand.

Kai’s eyes widened as he heard it crack through the air, tickling the horse’s rump.

“Don’t let him get away with this, Tim. Yukon is too intelligent not to understand what is required of him.” Yet the black horse known as Yukon refused to move. The man with the whip sighed.

“Stay here. I’ll get your spurs.”

The lesson continued. The rider was making progress with his grudging mount until they were riding in perfect circles and number-eight shapes both slow and fast.

Both horse and rider were drenched in sweat by the end. Kai didn’t know why. What they were doing looked easy enough.

“Good!” Attila’s voice carried a note of approval which filled Kai with envy. “Once you’ve cooled him down, spend some time with him. Get to know him better. He’ll want to be hosed down and let loose.”

Kai ducked around the corner and took cover behind a tool shed as Attila, still whip in hand, headed for the opening yawning doors.

To Kai’s surprise, Attila wasn’t going after him. Instead, he sauntered up to the paddock gate, and whistled. The white horse galloped up, followed by the chestnut, who also vied for his attention.

“Not you, Vermillion. It’s Sen’s turn.” His voice was like a smooth, cool chocolate milkshake on a hot summer day. Kai shivered. He peeked from his hiding place, only to see the white horse follow the man on his own, without being led on a rope like the others. They disappeared into the barn.

Kai heard a loud snort, almost jumping with surprise. The chestnut horse stood by the fence with his curious nose pointed in his direction.

There was something about him, something wild and enticing.

Kai looked around. The place seemed deserted. The few riders present were tending their mounts inside the barn. He took a deep breath, then slowly walked toward the fence.

“Vermillion, heh? What a fancy name you have.” He put his fist out, the way he knew to do when meeting a strange dog, and to his surprise, Vermillion nudged him. His black nostrils were silky soft as he snorted against Kai’s hand. His chestnut coat appeared almost red in the setting sun.

“What? You want something?” Kai started at the sound of his own voice.

The horse’s soft nose softly touched his chest, and he dared to step closer, all the way to the fence. A long, sinuous neck bent down toward the pocket of his hoodie, giving it another sniff. Vermillion pawed at the ground.

Which is when Kai remembered his apples.

He pulled one out and twisted it in his hands, breaking it in half. He held it out on his palm, just like he saw the little boy hold the treat earlier in the day. The horse sniffed it, then engulfed it in his large mouth, making short work of it with his massive teeth. The treat gone, Vermillion pushed his nose into Kai’s face and Kai smelled his sweet, horsey scent and his sweat, and for the first time in years he felt a special kind of soothing comfort. Daring greatly, he lifted his hands and stroked Vermillion’s muscled neck, running his hands up to Vermillion’s ears. He heard the horse huff and shy off, but Kai didn’t break their contact.

“Shhh…’ts okay. I’ll give you another, see?” Kai fished in his hoodie, pulling out another substantial part of his dinner, and offered it.

Nothing in his past had prepared Kai for the intense thrill of seeing is offering accepted, nor for the pleasure of feeling the warm equine neck lean into his shoulder, as he was tolerated – or perhaps even welcomed – in the noble creature’s space.

There was such comfort in it. He had never felt anything like it before. He wanted more, suddenly, and a reckless impulse had him duck through the rungs of the white horse fence.

Nothing separated them now.

Deep down, Kai knew this was probably a bad idea, but he had so little to lose and so much pleasure to gain.

Vermillion whickered, running off a bit, then back. Kai grinned.

The horse wanted to play.

Kai could oblige him – not only that, but the horse trough had water in it and if the horse let him, Kai could appease his unbearable thirst and drink his fill. He shrugged out of his hoodie, took the last apple out of its pocket, and tossed the sweltering garment over the fence. He broke the apple again, gaining Vermillion’s attention.

He whistled, holding the treat on his palm. Vermillion came, ate it, then head-butted him so hard that Kai fell straight on his ass.

“Hell no! Don’t do that!” He called after the horse and scrambled to his feet, walking up the hill to the watering trough.



ATTILA WAS working onesies with the level of concentration only he could muster. The arena was finally all his, and in its calm silence he was able to focus on analyzing the nuances of Sen’s precise gait changes. The mirror that spanned the length of the wall showed his mount’s perfect extension, his front legs skipping on an even beat. He almost smiled.

Then he heard the first whinny.

Vermillion seemed to have detected their unexpected guest.

Attila cantered around the arena three times, letting his horse blow off a bit of steam before they reversed directions and worked the fine, intricate steps again.

Outside, Vermillion whinnied again and snorted, and Attila picked up the sound of a human voice answering back.

He frowned. Vermillion was incorrigible. He had a bad habit of biting, he kicked, and he didn’t care for having a saddle put on his back. The stranger could get hurt. Hopefully he didn’t get too close…

Then there was an exclamation, the young horse outside neighed, and the sound of his hoofs beat a rapid cadence.

Lips pressed into a thin line and his brows drawn together in concern, Attila rode out of the covered arena and toward the fence. Stunned, he saw a half-naked man with a braid of auburn hair lope his way up the hill toward a watering trough while Vermillion was cantering in playful circles around him. The horse, blood red in the light of the setting sun, gave the man a friendly shove in the back with his nose.

The man crumpled to the ground.

Vermillion stepped over him and bent his neck all the way down, nosing his shoulder. An inquisitive whicker carried on the cooling evening air.

The man didn’t move. Attila observed the horse paw the ground and neigh, then run down the hill toward him. His eyes rolled in distress as he bugled a brash call of alarm.

Sen gathered himself under Attila, ready for action.

Attila asked him to go. They cantered around the small courtyard to pick up enough speed and aimed at the fence. The lithe rider felt the white horse’s muscles gather under his legs as he raised himself out of the saddle, pressing his heels down into the jump and absorbing the landing in his loose joints. He stood in the stirrups as Sen cantered up the hill toward the prone body.

Vermillion was already there, whickering with distress. Attila slid out of Sen’s saddle, secured his reins, and knelt next to his fallen intruder.

In profile, his even, angular face was covered in filth but even so, it was apparent that the stranger was younger than him by several years. Attila turned him onto his back. The man’s torso and arms were bronzed by the sun. His left shoulder bore an intricate Celtic tattoo. His shorts were tattered, but the much-patched pocket had something in it. Hoping for a form of identification, Attila slid his hand in. Loose money – over forty dollars – was sharing the oft-repaired pocket with his missing cell phone.

So he had returned it after all.

Except now, the red-haired punk was passed out and hot to the touch. He seemed to be burning up with fever, and his face was flushed.

“Heat stroke, I think,” Attila informed his horses. Then he shook the man’s shoulder, but he failed to rouse. He whistled between his teeth, gaining Sen’s attention, and whispered two words. The giant horse knelt, then lay down next to the two men. Attila pulled Kai’s body over his saddle and sat pillion behind him, then told his horse to rise.

The operation had Attila hold his breath for a bit as he struggled to stabilize the man’s shifting weight over the saddle without sliding off himself, but they managed. He wouldn’t have dared doing this on any other horse.

One more command, and Sen headed for the gate. Only then Attila relaxed enough to look around, and was surprised to see the usually reticent Vermillion walk with them. His eyes were wide and he snorted big, hot puffs of breath. Had he been human, Attila would’ve said he was full of concern.

“Don’t worry, Vermillion, he will be well taken care of.”

Attila’s soothing voice had no effect. Vermillion would not be left behind, and when Attila slid down Sen’s rump and opened the gate for Sen and his unconscious passenger, he barely kept Vermillion from pushing his way out of the paddock.

“No,” Attila said, his voice firm.

Vermillion cantered in a circle and aimed for the fence. Attila watched with both helpless chagrin and admiration as the new horse cleared the obstacle with ease. He came closer then, careful and ready to flee if he had to.

Attila murmured soft words of comfort, not meeting Vermillion’s eyes, not giving him an impetus to run out into the road and get hurt. He kept an eye on him with his peripheral vision, observing the way the red horse was keeping well away from Attila.

He edged closer, then closer still until he nosed Kai’s prone form from Sen’s other side.

In all his years of training horses, Attila has never seen anything like this before. A horse so stubborn and reticent, so woefully unwilling to take the bit and carry a rider, seemed to have bonded with a perfect stranger. With a thief, no less.

“Alright, then. Have it your way.” He let Vermillion follow.

They descended down the hill. A sprawling bungalow sat on a large, grassy flat not far away from a reedy pond. They passed through the landscaped areas, marring the tended lawn and pristine flowerbeds with hoof prints, until they reached a small swimming pool by the rear patio. Attila pulled his guest off the horse and straight into the shallow end of the pool, shorts and all. The water was not too cold, its temperature just right to cool the man’s system.

He supported his head above the water and reached for the phone that now sat in his shirt pocket.



KAI WOKE UP in a silent, dark room, lying under a cool sheet on a comfortable, king-size bed. A glance around the room revealed a stand with two bags of clear liquid and a thin, clear tube going down to a needle in his arm.

The sight alarmed him. His head hurt and his legs ached something fierce, and his tongue seemed to have been permanently stuck to his palate. Kai attempted to sit up.

“Here…” A voice murmured behind him, and gentle hands stacked pillows behind his back. “You can lean back now.”

Kai saw the man come and sit on the side of the bed next to him, where they could see each other. His pale face had high cheekbones and his eyes looked vaguely Asian, but their color appeared a changeable, stormy blue. He was barefoot, wearing swim trunks and a blue t-shirt. His hair was tied back into a ponytail just like before. The man handed him a glass of something yellow.

“Here is some diluted orange juice.”

Kai nodded his thanks and sipped some, his mouth now regaining its mobility.

“Where am I?” He rasped.

“In my bed. Vermillion wanted to be able to see you, and the guest bedroom lacks a door opening onto the patio. He can see you this way.”

Kai pondered that for a moment.

“What happened?”

“You were overheated and dehydrated, and you passed out. Two days ago.”

Oh.

“Did you find your phone in my pocket?” Kai asked. That, after all, was the purpose of his mission.

“Yes. Thank you. You could have just come in.”

Kai looked away.

“I am Attila Keleman. What is your name?”

Kai turned to the owner of this bed, this house, and this land. “Kai. Kai Alewright.”

Attila considered him for a while. “Mr. Alewright, if you have no other commitments, one of my riders got badly injured yesterday. My students help me with the horses, you see. They clean the stables and groom them, feed them…Hal took a bad spill and cracked three vertebrae. He’s very lucky – he is in a back brace now, barred from riding and physical work for three months. Do you think you would be interested in staying here for that long and helping out?”

“You’d let me?” Kai said on an exhale.

“Yes.”

“You’d trust me?”

“Tell me, Mr. Alewright. Why did you return my phone?”

Kai thought back to Attila’s words: ”Remember, you are better than stooping to such acts of petty thievery.”:

He flushed. Nobody had told him that, or anything like it, ever before. At loss for words, he shrugged and let his eyes drift away.

Attila sighed. “When you feel like getting up, you may shower in the bathroom over there. Then we’ll move you to the guest room.”



“YOU’RE FUCKING crazy, Keleman! He took your fucking phone and you let him stay in your house?” Tibor leaned against the railing of the outdoor corral as he and Attila watched young Naomi warm up her horse for a series of jumps. Her blonde hair stuck out from under the black helmet and her short legs reached barely halfway down the horse’s barrel, but her seat was firm, and she was fearless.

“How is Hal?” Attila changed the subject, returning to Tibor’s oldest son.

“Sore.” Tibor stared as his daughter canter half circle and aimed her white horse at the smaller set of jumps. “It could have happened to anyone. Brent is jealous of the attention his brother’s been getting. Annoying little twerp.”

“Send him to me. He can help Kai with the horses.” Attila’s lips tilted up in a hint of a smile. “There is enough work here for a lot more people.”

Naomi trotted her horse up to the railing. “How did I do, uncle ‘tilla?”

“Adequately,” he allowed. “Now go again, but keep his head higher without pulling on the reins. Make it look like a secret magic trick.”

“But he won’t like it, uncle ‘tilla.” The girl-child pouted, big eyes wide.

“If you won’t pull and let him canter as fast as he wants to afterward, that will be his reward. He will do it. You will see.”

They kept observing Naomi’s efforts.

“So you’re keeping that Kai guy around because…?” Tibor asked, again.

“I am not certain yet. He…intrigues me. And then there is Vermillion.”

“Tell me again what you saw.”

Attila repeated himself, resenting the necessity to do so.

“Hn.” Tibor chewed on a grass blade. “Nobody has ridden that horse, ever. What a waste of money – no wonder you got him cheap.”

“I rode him.”

Tibor looked at him, stunned.

“For, oh…ten seconds?”

Tibor bellowed in laughter. “The kid has no chance, Attila.”

“Still, though,” the shorter man said as he watched his young student work the course. “I have been bitten, and kicked, and he ran off on me so many times…it has been months. He should have adjusted by now. He’s the only horse that has never responded to me. Then this guy shows up – some homeless, inner-city guy, driven by a sense of guilt, I guess – and he climbs right into the paddock, and the damn horse just won’t leave his side.”

“So he’s your pet project.”

“Well,” Attila paused, waving Naomi over. “I am considering the possibility. Mostly…he just might be Vermillion’s last chance.”



THE RED HORSE came back and pressed his soft, black nose against the mosquito screen that blocked the sliding door to the patio. He gave a soft whicker, which made Kai open his eyes and realize it was midday already. He sat up, suddenly conscious of his nakedness, and looked around until he spotted a pair of stretchy riding pants, laid out as though for him. He made use of the bathroom first, showering, using the new, red toothbrush he was told was waiting for him, and brushed out his long, copper-tone hair using Attila’s hairbrush, hoping the man won’t mind. He then slipped into the stretchy pants, wondering at the suede patch in his crotch and the pads on the inside of his knees and thighs. There had been no shirt or shoes, and his sneakers were not in evidence. Kai shrugged, ate the turkey sandwich left out for him, drank all the water, and saved the apple for Vermillion. He then walked out to the patio.

“Hey, dude.” Kai’s bare feet rested on the cool concrete, unaware that one misstep on Vermillion’s part spelled a world of pain for him. “Want an apple?” He broke the apple in half, just like before, and the red horse tossed his head and nosed his chest.

“Here ya go, fella!”

As the horse was occupied with his treat, Kai ran his curious hand down his flank, marveling at the smooth, tight hide that covered the shifting muscles. It occurred to him that, maybe, Vermillion might be enticed to give him a ride up the hill. He wanted to ask Mr. Keleman as to the whereabouts of his sneakers, and he wanted to know what work needed to be done.

He wasn’t going to be a freeloader. He would pull his weight and do anything that needed to be done. He’d learn all those new things he was likely to need, and he sure as hell wouldn’t give Mr. Keleman any cause for regret.

Kai was resolved to prove his worth.

His heart overflowed with a sudden surge of loyalty as his memory flooded with the man’s quiet voice and gentle, helping hands. There had been another guy, but he poked him with a needle, so Kai chose to block him out.

“Mr. Keleman obviously expects his workers to ride, Vermillion. You’ll just have to help me out here.”

Kai coaxed the curious horse next to a picnic table under a large, spreading tree near the swimming pool. He took the other half of the apple and held it out, maneuvering the horse just so…then he climbed on the table and put his hands on his back.

Vermillion stood still, munching his apple.

Kai moved more of his weight onto the tall withers, then slung his leg over the broad rump, lightly settling on the horse’s back.

Vermillion shied under him and whinnied, almost rearing, and Kai’s fingers twined in the black strands of the horse’s long mane almost by themselves.

He felt his own hair whip his face as Vermillion fled the garden, trampled the flowerbeds, and cantered up the hill to the familiar paddock. The powerful muscles shifted under Kai in an easy cadence, and he clasped his legs like clamps around Vermillion’s barrel as he tried to hold on, barely able to breathe. They passed the barn and the covered arena, but the paddock gate was closed.

Vermillion ran along the fence, his hoof beats a rolling beat a 3-and-1 of ancient jungle drums. Kai absorbed it, moved with it while clinging to his mane, his legs squeezing the heaving barrel for all he was worth. Exhilaration replaced terror as Kai realized he was not necessarily slated for an early death.

Except the horse showed no intention of stopping. They reached an outdoor corral where a single rider was jumping obstacles. With but a corner of his eye, Kai saw two men turn and look his way. Vermillion was off, burning excess energy, running free.



“WAS THAT your guy Kai?” Tibor asked eyes wide.

“Apparently.” Attila whistled, and Sen appeared at the paddock fence. Hearing yet a different whistle, the white Lipizzaner took a running start and cleared the fence, trotting up to his rider.

“I better go after him. He doesn’t even have a bridle. Give me a hand.”

Tibor’s big fingers linked into a step, boosting the smaller Attila onto Sen’s back. The white horse had no saddle, no reins.

“You have no bridle either,” Tibor said with a note of concern.

“I don’t need one.”

They were off. Sen had been babysitting the red horse for long enough to know what was required of him.



KAI ENTERED the shade of the forest trail. He ducked his head, almost leaning on his steed’s neck in an effort to clear the lowest branches of the trees surrounding the trail. After few more minutes – and those felt like forever – Vermillion slowed to a bouncy trot and then to a walk.

Kai dared to breathe again. He considered sliding off, but without proper tack, he would lose the horse and he’d have no way to get back up on his back. Plus Kai had no shoes, and walking through the woods to the house barefoot didn’t sound like a good idea.

On the other hand, the horse knew where he lived. Kai’s best bet was to stay on his back, keep calm, and hope that hunger would compel the beast to head home before the sun set.

Under more controlled circumstances, Kai would’ve enjoyed a ride through the forest tremendously. Even now, as he patiently waited for Vermillion to settle down and get hungry, he began to relax.

The sunshine drifted through the trees in patches of gold the way it never had in the city, and the birds sang in the treetops somewhere to the left. More light shone farther ahead through the branches, and as Kai straightened up and settled into a reasonably steady seat on Vermillion’s back, he wondered whether there was a clearing, and if so, whether blackberries were still in season.

A sudden four-beat cadence split the tranquil silence as the echo. Galloping hoof beats echoed down the forest path. Vermillion tensed.

“Shhh…” Still holding his mane, Kai stroked his neck. “It’s okay…it’s okay.”

A white horse burst into the small clearing with Attila on top, bareback, his narrowed eyes scanning the clearing. Kai saw relief wash over Attila face when their eyes met.

Kai sat still, waiting for the other horse and rider to slow down and circle around to them.

“Hello, Mr. Keleman,” Kai said in a voice he measured carefully to avoid spooking either horse. “I thought Vermillion would give me a ride up the hill, but I guess he got a bit excited.”



KAI LOOKED at the older man’s perfect, poised posture and straightened up some more, imitated him without even thinking about it. Attila noticed right away, though, and a thrill of excitement ran up his spine. This guy was a natural, sitting a wild and untrained horse with balance and ease in just a pair of borrowed riding breeches and barefoot, no saddle, no tack. His skin was tanned and the bridge of his nose and cheekbones were sprinkled with freckles that Attila had seen up close earlier. The sinuous pattern of his Celtic tattoo was echoed by the wind-tangled hair that had escaped his braid and spilled down his broad shoulders.

Kai and Vermillion complemented one another. Their chemistry was almost palpable.

A fleeting thought of Kai staying crossed Attila’s mind. He would teach him all he knew. He would help him train Vermillion, provide for his comfort, and show him how the business was being run.

Finally, after all these years of family either dying or moving far away, there was finally someone.

Attila let out a deep breath, cutting off his ruminations. Having the man around meant sharing space with him. They would drive one another crazy sooner or later and Kai would leave.

They always did.

Attila preferred horses to people most of the time, yet here was a human who apparently got along with his latest equine acquisition. His misanthropic tendencies have driven his family out of the business already – there was no way he could get along with this man, this perfect stranger, this thief.

But Vermillion liked him.

Attila cleared his throat. “What did you need up the hill, Kai?”

The younger man visibly softened at the use of his given name and met Attila’s eyes – the eyes Attila had been told were cold and forbidding – with eager anticipation.

Kai’s gaze were warm and deep and calm – so soothingly calm, Attila could drown in the depths of his eyes. Air became rare as he noticed a blush bloom on Kai’s neck and cheeks under his scrutiny.

“I need my shoes,” Kai said, stammering slightly. “Just my shoes, since my sneakers are still wet, and…and I wanted to know what works need to be done. If your offer still stands, that is. Mr. Keleman.”

“Just follow me,” Attila said, his heart suddenly light as he faced the westering sun. “And call me Attila.” To his own surprise, he felt the corners of his mouth pull up in a smile as he turned to make sure Vermillion was following Sen the way he always did. “See? There’s nothing to worry about,” he added, feeling the need to reassure the newest addition to Blue Heron Acres. “The horses know the way.”



THE END


Thank you for reading “Untamed,” the first event in the Wild Horses series! If the story moved you, feel free to let me know through a review at your favorite book selling website!

And rest assured that Attila and Kai’s adventure isn’t over. To see what you can find in this series, as well as for other works by under my Olivette Devaux hot romance pen name, please check the list below!


As always, thank you for your kind company along my journey. Storytellers would have no purpose without an audience.


~Olivette




OTHER READS

(most are available on audio and in paper, too)



Publishing as OLIVETTE DEVAUX:


WILD HORSES


Untamed (Wild Horses 1)

Wild Horses (Wild Horses 2)

Broken Gait (Wild Horses 3)

Sire (Wild Horses 4)

Horseplay (Wild Horses 5)

Change of Lead (Wild Horses 6)


DISORDERLY ELEMENTS:

Zero Power Signature (D .E. short story 0.5)

Like a Rock (Disorderly Elements 1)

Forbidden Kiss of Life (D .E. short story 1.5)

Like a Torrent (Disorderly Elements 2)

Within a Crowded Blade (D .E. short story 2.5)

Like a Jetstream (Disorderly Elements 3)

Like a Surge (Disorderly Elements 4)

Like a Phoenix (Disorderly Elements 5)

Three Solstice Gifts (D .E. short story 5.5)

Like a Freeze (Disorderly Elements 6)

Like a Dervish (Disorderly Elements 7)

Like a Void (Disorderly Elements 8)

Like a Spirit (Disorderly Elements 9)


OTHER TITLES


SwimBikeRun trilogy

Treading Water (SwimBikeRun 1)

Hard Climb (SwimBikeRun 2)

Final Dash (SwimBikeRun 3)


STEEL CITY STORIES

Lucky Starflowers (Steel City 1)

Yellow Peonies (Steel City Short Story 1.5)

Zipper Fall (Steel City 2)

Compulsion (Steel City Short Story 2.5)

Flux (Steel City 3)


The Fighting Dutchman (Foreign Affairs 1)


Relativistic Phenomena (Stand-alone)

Strawberries in the Snow (Stand-alone)

Adrenaline Rush (Stand-alone).


SHORT STORIES

(in Heart’s Kiss Magazine and various anthologies)


I am here for you

The Aswang Who Ate Stardust

Uncanny Familiarity

Compatible

Forbidden Kiss of Life


Publishing as Kate Pavelle:


Kickass Anthology (M/M romance)

The Crone who Leaned on a Sword Cane (Crone World 1)

Past Lives (Crone World 2)

On the Run (Cancelled Czech Files)

Naked Gun (Cancelled Czech Files)

Just Blow It Up (Cancelled Czech Files)

Raisin Raid (Cancelled Czech Files)

Unsavory Company (Spy suspense 1991 Balkans)

The River Pearl (Short Story M/F , recent history)

Airborne for Love (Short Story M/F’ recent history)


Writing as Kate Pavelle

Published by Dreamspinner Press


Breakfall (The Fall Trilogy 1)

Swordfall (The Fall Trilogy 2)

Landfall (The Fall Trilogy 3)


SHORT STORIES

(in Heart’s Kiss Magazine and various anthologies)


I am here for you

The Aswang Who Ate Stardust

Uncanny Familiarity

Compatible

Forbidden Kiss of Life



ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Under another name, OLIVETTE DEVAUX is an award-winning author and Amazon best-seller.

Her Olivette Devaux pen name is dedicated to LGBT fiction and hot romance. She writes other genre fiction such as crime, espionage, thrillers, recent historicals, humor, urban fantasy and weird fiction stories under her Kate Pavelle name.

Born in Prague, Czech Republic with a name you cannot pronounce in English, Kate enjoys her rich family and professional life in Pittsburgh, PA.


You can reach her under either pen name at:


Mugen Press

c/o Olivette Devaux (or Kate Pavelle)

518 Mary Street

Pittsburgh, PA 15209


You can contact the author through her Olivette Devaux FB profile, which she checks about once a week.



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