The bidding was up to seventeen hundred—more than the hay money already. Cory knew what the cost of buying Epiphany would mean. They wouldn’t be able to buy a show jumper prospect as well. Too little money, too many horses. So, there’d be no Washington International Horse Show, no riding on the show circuit this year. There might not be enough to buy more hay to get through the winter. Cory had never considered how much money Vee needed to run the barn. But she had seen how much vet bills were, how much it was to shoe the horses every other month.
Jack leaned in. “I was going to come in late with a bid, after things cooled off, but these hotheads are running up the price so high I’m not sure my strategy’s going to work.”
The auctioneer called for the next bid.
“Then what do we do?” she whispered back, her eyes locked on Jack’s.
“Do I hear nineteen hundred . . .”
A new hand rose briefly and signaled the auctioneer with a curt, confident snap of the wrist. It was a woman with a group of young redheaded girls who all looked alike—pale-skinned with ruddy cheeks. Her bid set off a new cascade of bidding from the outspoken man in the front row, Jewelry Lady, and the meat man. The auctioneer took his cue, and the increments rose steeply. He was now jumping figures in the hundreds, his voice growing louder to be heard over the rain pelting the sheet-metal roof.
Cory slumped against the back wall in the shadows. This was hopeless. Epiphany circled and circled before the crowd.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jack raise an index finger and nod. She sat up. The bidding jumped, twenty-five hundred . . . twenty-seven hundred . . . The figure went up again. He was bidding! The crowd stirred and necks craned around to see who had joined in the game. The escalating amount electrified the crowd, which watching like a thousand-eyed beast. Sitting just under the roof, the noise was deafening. Cory strained to hear how high the price was now.
“We can’t go higher than four thousand. Orders from the boss.” Jack nodded in Vee’s direction. Cory knew even that figure was a lot for a horse they knew nothing about.
Jack raised his hand at thirty-two hundred. Vee watched the horse circling below and scowled. The bidding had slowed, but the auctioneer was calling for the next raise. Jack sat still.
Vee whispered, “Does she look a little short on the left hind to you all of a sudden?”
Jack shrugged. The man in the front row and the lady in black were still in contention for the bidding.
“I really think she’s lame behind,” Vee said louder.
Oh, God, Vee and her imaginary lameness again.
Jack held a hand to his ear. “Can’t hear you over all the noise.”
Vee exhaled in frustration. “Jack, she looks short on that left hind, do you see it?”
Jewelry Lady heard and turned around to see who had made the comment, then spun back to watch the horse. She didn’t raise her hand for the next bid.
The meat man took the bid, followed by the lady with the red-haired girls. The horse was up to thirty-seven hundred now. Cory shifted in her seat. I saw her first. How could these people end up with her?
The auctioneer called the next bid and pointed to the meat man. He shook his head no and waved him off. The auctioneer then scanned the crowd for Jewelry Lady. She hesitated, shifted to look at Vee, then nodded acceptance. It was up to thirty-eight hundred. The man in the front row watched the mare, and nodded. The auctioneer called for thirty-nine. Cory shot Jack a pleading look, and he raised his hand at four thousand. She held her breath. Oh, please, oh please, everyone just give up. The freezing rain pelted the roof for several minutes. The auctioneer called for forty-one. No takers. He looked at the bidders. They averted their eyes. The man in the front row scanned the sale catalog; Jewelry Lady spun a cuff bracelet and didn’t look up.
“Going once.” The auctioneer raised his gavel. “Going twice for four. Nice mare, four thousand . . .” He looked around one last time.
The redhead stood up. One of her kids pushed her from behind. She stepped forward and shouted, “Forty-one!”
Cory sank into her seat. Jewelry Lady stopped digging in her purse, noticed the bid, and raised it again. The price went up and up until the bidding stopped at forty-five hundred. Kids surrounding the redhead woman jumped and cheered. Cory hated them all—the startled woman who looked as if she only now realized what she had done and the gaggle of red-haired girls orbiting around her. Epiphany was led out of the ring and a small bay horse was brought in. It was over.
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