2. The Meeting
A shout of delight announced the arrival of the third place team across the finish line. Ally noted his happiness and could appreciate how well he had done. She suspected he would have preferred to finish in first place. Taking a deep breath she walked forward in her usual energetic bouncy manner towards Steve. She decided to disregard her stinging hand. She couldn’t prove he had intended to hit her.
Hand outstretched she congratulated him. He ignored her offered hand, saying, “You were lucky this time.”
Ally nodded at him and turned away. She had expected no more from him. She could see the third prize winner breathless and smiling making a fuss of his dogs. He was new to racing but she had the odd sensation that they had met before.
Steve’s next words brought her attention hurtling back to him.”Racing is no place for a woman, but if you were looking for attention to get your dogs noticed. It worked. I’ll take your lead dog off your hands. She is the best of an okay lot. ”
She acknowledged his words with a cool tone in her reply. “I’m not asking for anyone to take any one of my dogs, off my hands, as you so sweetly put it. And they are much better than okay.”
His next words put a chill racing through her, “I’ll wait, you will be glad of the money soon enough but I won’t make as generous an offer the next time. It was a lucky win. You and I know that.”
With his comment swirling in her head Ally said, “Hmm. I suppose it was down to luck that I walked the route earlier and got thoroughly soaked. You should know conditions can change in a few minutes depending on weather and how many races are run before ours.”
His expression became sterner. He moved closer. He towered over her as he began, “now look here.”
He got no further because a smooth warm voice interrupted Steve saying, “I didn’t realise this was a contact sport. If you are looking for an opponent, next time please make an appointment with me. I’d be happy to knock some sense and manners into you, Steve.”
Ally watching Steve’s face recognised the dangerous gleam in his eyes. She looked at the newcomer. She wasn’t prepared for the cold calculating look in his eyes. Turning to Ally he said with a warm smile, “She’s one smart, fast dog and you handled your team like a professional. I, on the other hand, made a mess of the last kilometre especially that bend.”
Steve looked at him and grunted, “Great Tom. You know nothing. Just you remember what we talked about before.” He turned on his heel and left them.
Shoving his sunglasses to the top of his head the man before her said, ‘Now the oaf has left let’s start again. Thanks for a great race. I’m Tom Lynch and I really enjoyed that. It was exhilarating.’
Her cold hand was enfolded in his large warm hand. As they shook hands a ripple of energy coursed through her causing her to let her hand drop from his. Looking up at him Ally discovered she was being watched by the darkest pair of eyes she had ever seen.
“I look forward to racing you again and I hope it will be soon.” Tom said leaning towards her.
Ally felt she might be swallowed up by those eyes. She opened her mouth but didn’t get a chance to reply because the moment was lost as she was surrounded by a group of older men who were loudly congratulating her on her win.
She was aware of Tom standing to one side listening to the murmurs of, ‘well done Ally love,’ and “you have done Sam proud. Good girl.” Then she forgot everything. The mention of Sam’s name brought tears to her eyes. Ally noticed some of the men wiping their own eyes as they turned away. Ally’s dad, Sam, had been respected and loved in this racing world. She missed him, but racing brought his memory closer to her.
“May I offer my sincerest sympathy?” Tom’s voice was soft but she jumped when he spoke, for a moment she had forgotten him.
The warmth and sincerity in his voice got to her. Ally blinking furiously to dispel the further rush of tears, nodded her head. “Thanks. He got me into this mess in the first place.” All about them people were busy, shouting instructions to others or to barking dogs.
Tom kicked at a tuft of grass at his feet as he said, “Me too. I came to watch a race and met Sam. His enthusiasm encouraged me to pull Mac off the sidelines. He gave me a lot. Tips, advice and his time.”
As he spoke his team had her attention. Ally chewed on her bottom lip waiting for a break in conversation to give him the bad news. She managed to suppress a grin when she saw two of them chewing through their shiny new harness. Her words sharper than she intended, “I think you should rescue your gear. They appear to like the taste.”
Tom glanced behind him and groaned. He was moving towards them as he said, “Thank you and again, I’m sorry about Sam. Watch out for us next time. I’ll be looking for you.”
Ally dripping mud and water looked towards her team who were in a mucky but happy state. She walked over to them. After giving each dog a hug and praising them Ally became aware that one was missing: Bob.
She hadn’t seen him sitting at the finish line with Bill, her father’s best friend. Puzzled, Ally went in search of her team cheerleader. She discovered he had ditched Bill. Bob was sitting under a golf umbrella, with a lady. Ally noting her grey hair and twinkling eyes and gentle way of speaking to the dog, groaned. He had gained another fan.
The lady was enjoying a drink and a sandwich. Bob, Ally noticed, was being very attentive and appreciative. A sandwich was placed before him. He carefully inspected it, nudging aside the top layer of bread. Thin slices of cucumber and ham were swallowed in a hurry when he saw Ally thundering his way.
“I told you not to go around begging. Bob, what am I going to do with you? Can’t I leave you for a moment? Bill was minding you, what happened?” Ally paused to glance at Bob’s hostess.
“I’m sorry. It’s my fault, I fed him. You look tired and wet. Would you like some tea?” Bob’s new friend sounded concerned.
“No, thank you.” Ally gritted her teeth and reminded herself to be polite. After all, this lady knew nothing about her wayward dog’s love of begging.
“Bill had a job to do. He asked us to keep each other company. I do think you are being a bit hard on Bob. He has been great fun while my son deserted me to chase some woman or dogs. You know what men are like, always chasing something.” She smiled at Ally. With a flick of her thin wrist she apologized, “Bob reminds me of him. So handsome that you can’t refuse anything he asks. Please don’t scold Bob. He’s a child; look at those soulful sad eyes.”
Ally remembered her manners. “Thank you for minding him. However he’s a bold child. We must go. Come on Bob, up and at ’em.” She didn’t have to say another word, the dog got to his feet with difficulty and lumbered after her. Ally turned to him and said, “I hope the cucumber gives you trouble. You deserve it.”
His loud belch ended the conversation.
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