Steeplechase jockey Cassie Hinton's dream was to walk down the aisle in her medieval wedding gown to become Mrs. Jack Chambers. Injured in the Grand National, she returns home...only to find Jack is now the Pastor of her parent's church. Jack Chambers, now a widower and single parent, still has feelings for Cassie, but she sees him as nothing more than a Pastor. Even if he could change her mind, there is still his position to consider. With the Royal Wedding fast approaching, Cassie makes her dress, little dreaming of the consequences of doing so.
As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. ~ Isaiah 62:5
Aintree Race Course, Liverpool
Riding into the gate, Cassie Hinton prayed as she always did at the start of a race. She prayed for courage, for speed, the ability to do her best, but most of all, to bring glory to God through doing so. Her bright yellow jacket sparkled in the warm spring sunlight, the purple satin on her riding hat completing the colors of Tanner’s Stables. She leaned forwards and patted the horse’s neck. “Just do your best,” she told him. “Forget this is the Grand National, and the most important race of our career.”
The gate clanged shut behind them, the noise causing Jeremiah’s Fancy to buck, threatening to unseat her. “Hey, hey,” she said adjusting herself in the saddle. “It’s just the start gate. We’ve done it lots of times.”
“Are you okay, Miss Hinton?”
Cassie smiled at the gate handler. “I’m fine. He’s just skittish. He’ll be fine once we get going.”
“All right, miss.” He nodded and headed down the line checking the other horses.
She reached down, petting the white blaze that ran from the white star, down the length of the horse’s dark nose. “You’re fine. Just take it easy, big fella.”
Cassie took a deep composing breath in a vain attempt to soothe the usual pre-race butterflies filling her stomach. As the gate opened, butterflies vanished, replaced by exhilaration and adrenaline as Jeremiah’s Fancy flew from the gate like a bullet from a gun. Cassie rose in her saddle, leaning over the horse’s neck, whispering encouragement.
They leapt the first fence, landing hard but safe on the wet ground. In her peripheral vision she saw someone to her right fall. At the second fence, the horse in front of her fell. She had seconds to react. Pulling up sharply on the reins, she managed to jump both fallen horse and rider, landing safely.
The rest of the fences passed without incident until they reached the big one—the Chair. Other than Becher’s Brook, this one fence worried her the most. A prayer of thanks rose from her lips as she landed safely and set off around the course for the second and final time. Seeing the creek approach, Cassie tightened the reins, and pulled into the lead.
Jeremiah’s Fancy took off perfectly, but his left back leg clipped the fence, throwing off his timing and he misjudged the landing. He tumbled back down the ditch into the water. Cassie didn’t have time to scream or react as she flew sideways, falling with the horse. Pain exploded as she landed face down in the water, the full weight of the horse on her leg and side.
The horse scrambled to his feet, jerking her head from the water as he stood on her leg. Cassie screamed, dimly aware of horses landing above her. It seemed like an eternity before a hand gently cradled her face and someone else led the frightened horse away.
“My name’s Dean. I’m a paramedic. Can you tell me your name?”
“OK, Cassie. Just keep still for me.” Gentle hands moved over her. “Do you know where you are?”
“Yes…In a ditch at Becher’s Brook. It hurts…”
“You’ll be all right. I’m going to give you something for the pain. We’ll have you out of here in a few minutes,” Dean told her. Hands fastened a collar around her neck before slowly lifting her onto a board.
“Is Jeremiah’s Fancy all right?” she asked, trying to raise her head.
“I need you to lie still for me. The horse is fine. The vet will check him over, but he’s up and moving about. Let’s just worry about you.”
Cassie nodded, closing her eyes. She’d be fixable, horses weren’t.
One Year Later – Headley Cross
The spring breeze lifted Cassie’s short dark hair and blew it into her eyes as she limped outside her brother’s fabric and craft store into the warm sunshine. The bunting flapped in the wind above her as the council workmen hung it from lamp post to lamp post. The whole town— the whole country, was going all out to celebrate the Royal Wedding of Prince Edwin to Lady Rebekah, with every shop front being decorated. She’d promised her brother, Danny, the best store window wedding display in Headley Cross.
She slid a hand through errant curls and tucked them behind her ear. Taking a deep breath, she stuck hands in the pockets of her full, ankle length skirt and cast a critical eye over the window display. She tilted her head and screwed up her nose. It looks tacky—and the same as all the others. Two hours’ work down the drain. Scrap it and start over. Second time’s the charm…or is it the third?
“A penny for your thoughts, Miss Hinton.”
Cassie turned, recognizing the voice instantly. Pastor Jack from church. The scrawny ginger kid she’d grown up with had become a fit, attractive man, with broad shoulders and narrow hips—if one could think of pastors in those terms.
Her heart pounded, and a huge lump formed in her throat, threatening to cut off her oxygen supply. “Hello, Pastor. You used to call me Cassie. Miss Hinton makes me sound like my ninety-year-old aunt.”
He smiled, his gray-green eyes sparkling, and his now auburn hair framing his face. “And you used to call me Jack, remember?”
“Yeah, I remember.” But that was years ago when we were kids. You were Danny’s best mate, and I hung around with you because I had a massive crush on you. A crush she was far from over if her reaction every time she saw him was anything to go by. And now you’re my pastor.
“So how about I call you Cassie and you call me Jack, or Pastor Jack if you’d find that easier. How are you?”
“I’m fine. How are you?”
“I’m doing well. I’ve finally lost the plaster cast, although I had to promise not to go skiing again.”
Cassie smiled. “It must be nice to be able to type sermons two-handed again. Not to mention coping with an active seven-year-old.”
Jack’s face lit up at the mention of Lara. “It’s been hard, but the Lord gave me the strength I needed to deal with it.” He lowered his voice. “Although, according to some sources, I’m rubbish at doing one-handed ponytails.”
“So am I.”
“I’m glad I’m not the only one. What’s the frown for?”
“I’m not happy with the display, but I’m not sure what’s wrong with it.” Cassie turned her attention to the window, heat rising in her cheeks. “Everyone else has photos of the royal couple and ribbons, silver bells, hearts and balloons. I wanted something more sophisticated but this,”—she gestured at the window—“isn’t it.”
“Maybe tie it in with what Danny sells. After all, the bakers did a wedding cake and the printers did invitations. He owns a haberdashery so fabric or something, perhaps.”
Cassie nodded, her mind whirling. “Yeah…thank you.”
Jack glanced at his watch. “I’d best be off and get Lara from school. She complains if I’m late. I hope you find a solution to your problem.”
“Thank you. Bye.” Cassie smiled and turned back to her display, watching Jack’s reflection in the glass as he walked away. He’d always been a Godly man, even as a teenager, and despite everything that happened he kept his faith—unlike her. Her life and her faith lay in ruins.