DISCLAIMER: The characters all belong to Shed; they are not used for profit etc...
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Zen and the Art of Horseriding
By Rooineck

Part 1

The car bumped down the dirt track, now turned to a sea of mud by the rain, occasionally clumping over a stone or shooting through a water-filled rut. As a sheet of spray flew up by the window, Helen cursed. She had no idea how she had let herself get talked into this.

The idea of learning to ride hadn't been such a bad one, but she had envisioned galloping across a sun-drenched beach, or a gentle hack through a leafy New Forest in the summer, not some God-forsaken farm beyond the back of beyond in the middle of winter.

She pulled into the yard, trying not to park near a puddle and sat there for a moment, garnering up her courage. Rain sheeted down the windscreen now that she had turned off the wipers, obscuring her view. She fought an impulse to start the car again and got out, opening her umbrella and peeking out from underneath the edge.

There was no one around, just a few horses' heads hanging over the edge of the half-doors, chewing and watching her disinterestedly. All she could hear was the noise of the rain on the roof of the low buildings surrounding her on three sides.

The smell was different too – damp earth mixed with the smell of the countryside. She headed off into the nearest building which looked like it didn't contain stables and found herself in a warm room redolent with the smell of leather, filled with saddles and bridles and other unidentifiable bits of equipment littering every surface.

She backed out and went next door, the smell of grain greeting her. Large plastic bins and piles of buckets filled this. The next room appeared to be some sort of office and that was it.

She stood under the cloister style roof, looking around her, wondering where everybody could be. She knew she was slightly early, but hadn't expected it to be quite this empty. She had thought that the place would be full of pony mad little girls or something, even at two o'clock on a wet and windy Sunday afternoon.

The rain was letting up, although the sky was pewter, dark and forbidding. She caught a glimpse of a building behind the stables opposite and set off to investigate, picking her way carefully across the gravel.

There was a small door facing her, which she opened and went up the steps inside. At the top, she found herself in a gallery, looking out over a huge covered arena. There were jumps arranged throughout and a blonde woman was striding around, counting out loud.

She debated making her presence known, until the blonde shouted at someone who must have been directly below her.

"Nik, I told you, it's only six strides and then a quick four into the double. Try it again."

She heard the beat of hooves and then a horse and rider appeared in her field of vision, going away from her. The rider wasn't wearing a hat or helmet and all she could see was dark curls, almost matching the colour of the horse's tail atop a blue jumper and beige jodhpurs.

About half way along, they turned and started going faster, suddenly popping over the huge jumps.

"That's better. Now, one more time."

She watched as they did it again, this time going around the whole arena twice before pulling up at the far end, walking back towards her. The woman seemed perfectly at ease, her body moving elegantly with the rhythm of the horse..

"I think we've got company, Trish." The voice was amused and then Helen realised that the voice was talking about her. "Can we help you?"

"Who is it?" Helen heard Trish's voice again.

"Probably a spy. Can we help you?" The woman on the horse asked again.

"I…er. I'm supposed to be having a lesson today."

"Are you indeed?" The horse and rider approached. "Ok, then, give me a few minutes and we'll get you sorted."

"Nik…" Trish said the name in the sort of tone Helen used to her mother when she was warning her not to embarrass her.

"It's alright, Trish. I just didn't know, that's all." She rode under the gallery, out of Helen's sight and there was a furious whispered conversation that Helen couldn't quite catch.

"Come down here."

"How do I get down?"

"I'd try the stairs, if I were you." Helen bristled. She hated that smug, superior tone and hoped that the woman called Nik wasn't going to be her teacher.

"There's a flight at the other end of the gallery that leads down here." Trish let her know.

"Right. Have you ever ridden before?" Nik asked when she appeared. She was now standing, holding onto the reins of her horse. Even then she was still several inches taller than Helen.


"Ok. Trish, can you tack up Barney?" Trish went off towards a large door in the side of the arena. "And grab a helmet, please. What hat size do you take?" She turned back to Helen.

"I don't know."

"Big, medium, small?"

"I have absolutely no idea."

"Grab some hats, Trish. This one's got no idea."

Unable to think of anything to say to that, Helen just stood there, nervous and wishing she'd never agreed to this. She'd never learn with this bitch teaching her, and she'd never be able to ride as well as Sean anyway, so what did it matter?

Nik seemed to be unaware of the uncomfortable nature of the silence and just ignored her, muttering to her horse, tying it up and then walking around, dismantling the jumps.

She was whistling between her teeth as she worked and Helen had an opportunity to observe her without being watched. The hair was short and tousled, curling into the collar. Nik's limbs were long and lean and she looked almost lanky in the tight clothes she was wearing – even her boots looked as though they had been painted on her. From behind, she looked like a swimmer, broad shoulders tapering into an enviably slim waist.

"So why riding?"

"I'm sorry?" Helen was miles away, wondering if riding could help her lose some of the extra weight she was carrying around.

"I said why riding? Why not orienteering or figure skating or going to the gym?" Nik was at her shoulder, leaning casually on one of the jumps that, now she was on the same level, looked even bigger, nearly as tall as her. From here Helen could see that she had incredibly dark brown eyes.

"I…er…have to. For a job. And my fiancé rides and he said I should learn – then we could do it together."

"Why doesn't he teach you?"

"He doesn't have the time and I don't think he'd make a good teacher, to be honest. He's not patient enough."

"Why? Are you going to be rubbish?"

"No, I just don't like horses. They scare me." She gave a little jump as Trish came back in with a horse that looked massive to her.

"Barney will look after you, don't worry." She said with a smile and turned to take Nik's horse and leave.

"Aren't you the teacher?" Helen hoped that her disappointment didn't show in her voice.

"No, I'm just the stablehand. Nikki will look after you." Helen suspiciously watched the two of them exchange a glance and smile at what she took to be her ignorance.

"Here are some helmets. Let's get one that fits, shall we?"

"I'm serious you know, I hate horses and I'm scared of heights."

She saw Nikki smile and stuck her tongue out at her. It was incredibly childish, but still satisfying, nonetheless.

"Barney's a pony. He's small compared to the others. He's got no back and he's very gentle, so he won't hurt you and you're unlikely to hurt him. Don't worry, the chances that you'll fall off today are pretty remote."

Helen looked the horse over from a safe distance, fighting back any comment on the strange colour of the horse in front of her, lest she betray just how ignorant she really was. Still, she'd never heard of a pink horse before. She also thought that having a back was a prerequisite for a horse, especially if she was going to sit on it, but said nothing.

"You'll have to go a bit closer before you can get on."

She smarted. This woman was the pits. How dare she talk to her like that?

"I told you, I've never been near a horse before, I don't know how."

"Maybe it would be easier to get a new fiancé. Or a new job." The drawl was really starting to annoy Helen now. Ever conscious of the fact that her accent stuck out like a sore thumb in rural Essex, she was very sensitive of that posh drawl that the landed people had here which reminded her of a teacher she had had when she was a teenager. That woman had always made fun of Helen, constantly seeming to look for excuses to show her up in front of the whole class, and now this bloody woman seemed to want to do the same. Thank God she had insisted on private lessons.

"I think I'd rather learn to ride, but not if you don't want to teach me."

"Oh, I'd love to teach you a thing or two sweetheart, but I don't think you're ready for me yet." Helen blushed furiously, more so when she realised that Nikki was staring her up and down. She hadn't ever felt so thoroughly mentally undressed by anyone, and she'd had a few experts try in their time.

"Then maybe we should get started." She tried to ignore the blatant innuendo and wondered if there was anyone she could report this woman to. Trish would obviously be of no use, if she was just the stablehand.

"I'm ready when you are." Helen was by no means ready, but wasn't going to give this woman the satisfaction of running away. She wouldn't come back here, however much Sean recommended it, but she would not run away now, not unless this huge beast took off with her.

She walked slowly up to the horse, concentrating on moving one foot in front of the other as much as possible.

"Come on, we haven't got all day," Nikki snapped irritably at her.

"I'm psyching myself up. You might think these creatures are some sort of wonderful thing, but I don't."

" It's just that time is running out. How long is the lesson supposed to be?" Helen wasn't surprised by her attitude; being nice would obviously be beyond Nikki's capabilities.

"Two hours."

"Two hours? You must be mad. You might last two hours, but you'll really know about it tomorrow. I hope you don't have anything planned, like sitting down."

"I'm sure I can cope." Helen said stiffly.

"Well, don't say I didn't warn you." She shrugged, an expressive gesture that seemed to use nearly every muscle in her upper body. "Right, this is how you mount."

"Isn't there something I can stand on?" Helen said after flailing around for a few minutes, trying to raise her leg high enough to throw it over the saddle, as Nikki seemed able to do with ease.

"It's easy when you get the knack, have another go."

Once she had managed to get on the beast, she spent the next hour and a half trying to stay on. Barney's back seemed to be wide enough to fit a football pitch on and she seemed to be slithering about alarmingly.

After what seemed like a modest eternity, Nikki, who had proved to be a very demanding, difficult to please teacher, stopped by the door, bringing Barney and the lesson to a halt.

"That's it."

"That's it? I'd expected to be going faster by now."

"Really? Well, if you'd like to have a quick canter, let's go."

Before Helen could say anything, Nikki had swung up behind her and had grabbed the reins. Suddenly they were headed towards the far end of the arena at what seemed to Helen to be a breakneck, rash speed. Hardly able to look, Helen shut her eyes as she felt Barney swing around.

She was unable to control the scream in her throat and was mortified to hear Nikki laughing in her ear. It seemed to go on forever, then suddenly they were still and all she could hear was Barney snorting. Nikki's arms were still around her, then she was released and she was gone.

"You bitch. Just where do you get off, treating people like that?" Helen eventually found her voice.

"You wanted to go faster and now you have." Nikki shrugged and smiled, but not in a friendly way. "Right, to get down, you should stand up and move your right leg over so that you are standing in the left stirrup, holding onto the saddle just to keep your balance. Lean slightly forward, put your weight on your arms, slide your left foot from the stirrup and drop to the ground."

Helen did as she was told, but when she tried to move her legs found that they were frozen in place. She managed to just get her leg over the saddle after a few moments concentrated gritting her teeth, but when she fell to the ground, she dropped into a heap, partly falling against Nikki.

"Whoa, steady on. I told you that two hours was too much." She felt Nikki's hands on her arms and her body behind her propping her up as she tried to straighten.

"This is going to hurt," she moaned as she reached her full height of five foot three.

"Wait till tomorrow. You ain't felt nothing yet." She could feel Nikki laughing against her back and pulled away from her. "Have you got far to drive?"

"About twenty miles." She wasn't sure she could make it as far as the car right now. She had no idea that horse riding was quite so difficult. It had always looked so effortless when she had seen Sean competing.

"Where have you got to go?"

"I'm staying near Tolleshunt D'Arcy."

"That's a bit of a hike."


"Why learn to ride all the way over here?"

"I was recommended it."

"Really? Who by?"

"Sean, my fiancé suggested that you would be a good teacher. And Terry said that you were good too."

"Terry Devlin? Which would make your bloke Sean Parr?"

"Yes, that's right. How did you know?"

"Terry's the only person I know who has horses anywhere around there."

"How do you know Terry and Sean?"

"I know Terry, and I've met Sean, but I can't imagine either of them would say I'd be any good as a teacher."


"I'm just not known for it, that's all." She walked away, leading Barney, Helen trying to follow without making her discomfort too obvious.

"Aren't you Ms Hopper?"

"Me? Good God, no. I'm Nikki Wade. How do you do?" She laughed and held out her hand.

Part 2

"This is Home Farm, right?"


"And there's only one Home Farm?"

"There are millions of Home Farms all over the country. Are you in the wrong place, dearie?" Nikki asked sarcastically.

"I think so. Is this place owned by a Ms Hopper?"


"I don't know," Helen said sulkily. "All I know is I had a lesson booked at Home Farm with a Ms Hopper at 2 pm today."

"If it's Jackie, I expect she forgot you were coming. She's gone out."

"So are you a teacher then?" She followed Nikki into a stable, leaning tenderly against the wall as Nikki started to strip the tack off the pony.

"Not exactly."

"What does that mean?" Helen asked.

"Well, I'm not qualified or anything." She was now brushing the horse and not looking at the angry Helen at all.

"So I've just wasted my money being given a lesson by some jumped up stablegirl?"

"No one has asked you for any money, have they?" Nikki stood and pointed out reasonably.

"No, but I bet you were going to."

"Of course I wasn't. I'm not that stupid. Anyway, it wasn't even a school horse you were taught on, it was one of mine." She returned to her task.

"That's not the point. I have to learn how to ride quickly and you don't even have any experience."

"I never said I had no experience, just that I wasn't a qualified teacher."

"So you are a teacher then?"

"Um, no, I'm not."

"So you just thought you'd do this for the fun of it?"

"Pretty much, yes." Helen watched her straighten up and walk around behind the horse towards her.

"You should think yourself lucky. You've just had a free riding lesson on a good horse. Next time you come, you'll have to pay. I was doing you a favour, love." She brushed past Helen and out into the courtyard, carrying the saddle, bridle and brushes.

"Trish, have you done the feeds yet?"

Helen was startled by the shout, as well as Barney's reaction to it. He stamped and swung around, blocking her exit. She pushed gently at him, but he didn't seem inclined to move.

She realised that she could hear voices and the sound of a car drawing up. She was just about to shout when the door to the stable opened and someone came in.

"Do you think she saw us?" Trish was giggling.

"No. She'll go into the house first, so we've got a few minutes." Nikki spoke next, her voice sounding different. Probably because she wasn't being superior or sarcastic for a change.

She manoeuvred herself so that she could see over Barney's back and was about to speak when she realised that she was watching the two of them kiss. She gasped, and Nikki must have heard her, because her eyes opened. She didn't stop what she was doing, but just stared at Helen while kissing Trish passionately, her hands roaming over the blonde's back, and lower.

They broke apart after a few moments, Nikki pulling away from Trish with a smirk on her face. Keeping Trish's back to Helen, she reached around and smacked Barney's rump, making him move, all the while smiling at Helen until she led Trish away.

Helen scooted past Barney while she had the chance, but stopped just inside the door, as she came face to face with Nikki. Unable to meet her eyes, she ducked her head and tried to get past.

"I suggest that you keep out of the boxes in future. We wouldn't want you getting shut in, would we?" Nikki leaned down, blocking her exit. Helen could feel her breath on her face and smelt mint.

"It was an accident. If you'd just left me to pay, I'd have been gone by now." She said stiffly.

"I thought we'd established that you were fortunate not to have to pay. Although I'd gladly give you free lessons in anything you wanted."

Helen pushed past her and fled, unable to meet her eyes again. She could hear the sound of chuckling as she rushed over to her car and jumped in. She would never, ever come back to this place, not as long as she lived. Riding was a pain and far too much effort, and she wasn't going to put herself through this humiliation again.

Most of all, she never wanted to come face to face with Nikki Wade again. The woman was a menace, giving lessons when she wasn't qualified, jumping on stable girls and laughing at her like that.

There was a tap at the window, startling her and she let her foot off the clutch, stalling the car. She opened the window a crack. Another blonde was looking into the car, blue eyes staring at her, a smile on her face. She was a good ten or fifteen years older than Nikki, putting her at about forty, forty-five, which put Trish in her late thirties, Helen would have guessed.

"Hello? Helen Stewart? I'm Jackie Hopper. There seems to have been some sort of mix-up. You're down in the book for a lesson tomorrow, so I guess we'll see you then?"

"I'm not sure that me learning to ride was such a good idea, actually." Helen gabbled, desperate to get away.

"Really? Nikki said that she thought you wouldn't be bad, given practice." She looked back over her shoulder. "Hey, Nikki, I think you've scared her off."

"Shame." Nikki strolled up and ducked to look in through the window. "I was rather looking forward to our next lesson. You learn quickly, and you have sensitive hands. Most of the idiots who turn up here yank the poor animals around or bounce on top of them."

"You should come back tomorrow for your lesson. Nikki is one of the best teachers I've ever met."

"I thought you were the teacher? Nikki's not qualified, surely?" Helen managed to utter, her mind screaming at her to get out of there and never come back.

"Oh no, but she's very good with nervous riders. Much better than me. So that's settled then? We'll see you tomorrow." She straightened up without waiting for an answer and moved away.

"Wait!" Helen managed to squeak.

"Sorry Helen, was there something you wanted to tell Jackie?" Nikki's head was poking in through the open window, her eyes shining and a big smirk plastered across her face. Helen could recognise a challenge when she saw one.

"No, I just wanted to say goodbye," she said breezily, quickly pressing the button to raise the window, hoping to trap Nikki. She seemed to stand there until it was too late, before moving away, leaving the window closing on air. Helen satisfied herself with pulling off quickly, giving Nikki a mud shower.

Part 3

"Shit. Bloody woman!" Nikki scowled as she stood there, dripping with muddy water.

"You asked for it, Nik, teasing her like that." Trish was not succeeding in hiding her laughter.

"It was only a laugh, and she did get a free riding lesson out of it. There was no need for this." Nikki indicated her state, uncomfortably aware that there was indeed reason for it. She hadn't meant to tease Helen quite so much, but she had been unable to resist some of the comments coming out of her mouth. The small Scot had brought out the worst in her for some reason, a desire to show off, to get herself noticed. She'd obviously succeeded, a bit too well.

"Do you think she'll be back?"

"I doubt it. She'll barely be able to walk tomorrow, let alone ride. I doubt we'll be seeing her again." Trish walked off, and Nikki looked down the track. It would be a shame not to see her again – she was easy on the eye and seemed very nice, unless provoked. Which begged the question. What was she doing with Sean Parr, wanker extroadinaire?

"You know she's going out with Sean Parr, and staying at Terry's place?" Nikki ran after Trish, catching up with her in the feed room.

"I suppose that means that she'll tell them?"

"I think she'll tell them I'm here." She said gently, taking the suddenly immobile Trish in her arms. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out the rest."

"Damn. I s'pose that means we'll get a visit soon, then," the blonde muttered into Nikki's shoulder.

"I expect so. Look, Jackie can teach her tomorrow, we'll go into Colchester, get some lunch and do some shopping if you like?"

"No, I think I'd like to stay put, face him when he comes. Anyway, we've got your training to think of."

"We could always skip a day?" Nikki offered, dipping her head to look Trish in the eye.

"No, we can't. Your jumping let's you down, and the more practice you get, the better. Since we've been here, you've improved loads."

"Trish, I don't want to cause any trouble between you. I never did."

"I know, Nik, my love, and it wasn't your fault. I made my own decisions, and Terry and I have to live with that."

"And me, I hope." Nikki grinned at her, an engaging lop-sided grin.

"Yes, and of course you." She sighed. "I just hope that this won't cause problems for Jackie."

"I doubt it. Terry won't hold it against her that I'm here. He must have known I'd come back sooner or later. He knows that Jackie will help me."

"Sean might be a bit peeved." Trish pulled back and started ladling food into buckets.

"Peeved would be putting it mildly. I think he took it harder than Terry when you left him." Nikki rinsed out another pile of buckets as they talked.

"He was trying to support his friend." Trish's voice was tired. They had had this discussion before.

"And what about family? Doesn't that count for anything?"

"I'm only his half-sister, so no, I don't suppose it does. Nik, can we leave it? I'm tired. Jackie let everyone go off so we have to do evening stables and I want to get it over with and go to bed. I haven't worked this hard for years."

"Once you'd have taken all this in your stride. Now you're old and incapable. Go in if you want, I'll do it for you."

"You should think about what you're going to do when you quit. It's not that far off now."

"Thanks for reminding me. I have a few ambitions left to fulfil before I retire." She thought for a moment. "I like teaching – maybe I'll take it up when I retire. That or jumping."

"You'll never be good enough at that to compete with the Sean Parr's of this world, Nik. However hard you try. Those who can't do, teach, remember?"

"Just rub it in, teacher."

"I don't have that bond with the horses that makes a great jumper. It doesn't mean that technically I'm not good enough. You have the bond, but you lack the technique. It makes it easier for you, but you're too impatient."

"There's always something else to do."

"So get on and do it, and then I'll meet you in the bath in an hour." She leaned in and kissed Nikki, leaving her with the full buckets to distribute.

"So how was the lesson love?" Sean leaned back in his chair, stockinged feet propped on the kitchen table as he flicked through the adverts at the back of 'Horse and Hound'.

"Fine, if you count the fact that I was taught by the sarcastic bitch from hell who wasn't even qualified." Helen secretly acknowledged the fact that she had learned a lot, and that although Nikki's teaching methods seemed overly sadistic, she had seemed impressed with her riding. It didn't change the fact that she had felt bullied and belittled by the whole experience. "She seemed more interested in snogging the stablegirl than teaching."

"That doesn't sound like Jackie, unless she's had a complete change of heart since I last saw her." He dropped the paper and let his chair land with a thump, giving her his full attention.

"It wasn't Jackie who taught me, it was someone else. Which reminds me, you sent me off up there a day early." She sat down on a spare chair, after shooing off one of the cats. "Ouch." She winced, acknowledging that Nikki had been right about just how sore and stiff she would be feeling right now.

"Did I? I could have sworn it was the seventh that you were supposed to go?" He grinned insouciantly, uncaring, as always, that he had made a mistake. He leaned back in his chair again. "So who was this teacher then? Jackie changed sides, has she? I must say, I never had her pegged for a dyke. It's a shame, she's a bit of alright for an old bird." Helen cringed. She hated Sean's casual judgements of people.

"No, it was some woman called Nikki Wade. She was a nightmare…" She wasn't allowed to finish, Sean's 'fuck' cutting her off as his chair crashed over, depositing him on the floor at her feet.

"Nikki Wade? What's that dyke doing there?" He broke off to stride to the doorway. "Terry, get your arse down here!" He shouted. "The bitch. She just can't help herself." He started stalking up and down the kitchen, muttering to himself.

Helen sighed, knowing enough by now to ignore Sean when he was focussed on something else and went to put the kettle on, marvelling at the mess that Sean and Terry had made of the clean kitchen already.

"You'll never guess," he said, as Terry walked into the room, with his usual slumped shoulders and air that life was too much to be borne. "Tell him Hels."

"I've told you not to call me that," she snapped angrily.

"Just tell him, will you." He replied, snapping at her.

"I was taught by a sadistic cow called Nikki Wade. Satisifed?" She made to flounce off, but Sean blocked her egress. She was about to protest until she saw Terry go pale and sit down.

"Are you alright?" She asked.

"Just make the tea and shut up, will you?" Sean answered her and she was about to respond in kind, but seeing the size of the whiskey Sean poured and put in front of Terry, she bit her tongue and got to work. As an actress, she could recognise a good human interest story from a hundred yards, and absorbed other people's emotions for later use.

"Terry? Say something, will you?" She watched her fiancé crouch down and talk to his friend and coach in a quiet voice, displaying sensitivity to another human being for a change. He was incredibly selfish, but then every successful person she had ever met was like that, plagued by their own self-doubts and demons of the younger bucks coming up on their heels. She hadn't suspected that Sean would be this affected by another's plight. It just went to show how hidden his depths were.

"Was she there?" Terry looked at her, haggard, almost as if he were about to cry.

"I'm sorry?" What the hell was this all about?

"He means Trish. His wife. My sister; well, half-sister." Sean clarified without looking at her.

"I saw someone called Trish. She told me that she was the stable girl." She spoke without inflection, processing all of the information quickly. It certainly explained how Nikki had known about Terry and Sean.

"What was she like?" Terry's voice was infinitely sad. Helen had always assumed him to be a confirmed bachelor because she had never seen any indication that there had ever been a female touch around here, but she was obviously very wrong.

"Blonde, slim, late thirties," she hazarded.

"No, stupid. Was she OK?"

"She looked OK to me," she replied, too curious even to be concerned about the way Sean was speaking to her. She didn't think that this was the right time to tell them that she had seen her kissing Nikki. But then again, from the way they were behaving, they obviously knew about the connection between the women.

She made the tea and decided to leave them to it, drinking whiskey and getting pissed. She'd get the whole story out of Sean soon, she promised herself that.

Part 4

"So what's the story then?" She asked Sean the next morning, knowing that when he had a hangover he was at his most vulnerable.

"Terry and Trish were married. He's got this great yard, I was just setting up my own, and we became friends. He's been coaching me for years, helping me find horses, that sort of stuff. He even helped set me up with Barry, my sponsor." She nodded encouragingly as he paused, putting his mind in order. He looked really good, despite only having had about three hours sleep and probably a huge amount of scotch the night before.

"Well, Trish was a pentahlete – you know, Modern Pentathlon?" She didn't know, but nodded anyway. "They met because he was providing the horses for the show jumping phase of the British Championships about ten, twelve years ago. They fell in love, the usual story. He was ecstatic, and so was she. It was all going great until she got injured at the Commonwealth Games where we met.

"It wasn't really nasty, but it was her cruciate ligament, so she couldn't compete again. Well, at thirty-two, what do you do? She was mates with Wade then – she was young, up-and-coming, at her first games, sharing a room with her and stuff like that. Wade asked her to be her coach and none of us saw any harm in it. None of us even knew Wade was like that.

"Eventually she just up and left; ran off to be with Wade. Destroyed Terry. He was gutted. I was furious; it wasn't an easy time for anyone about then. We were having trouble with the horses and as I was having a bad patch, Terry was spending a lot of time helping me sort it out and placating Barry."

Helen knew enough of Sean and Terry to realise that that meant that they had probably been focussing on the horses to the exclusion of everything else, including Trish's problems, which, as some kind of athlete, were probably pretty central to her psyche. She guessed that Nikki Wade, when she turned on the charm, would probably be very difficult to turn down, if you were that way inclined. She certainly had seemed a pretty forceful personality in the short time that they had spent together.

"Of course, we found out afterwards that Wade had done it before; stolen a woman from a 'friend'. She did it with some woman before Trish, and when she proved to be useless to her career, got shot of her as soon as. Trish is probably still far to useful to her." Sean broke in on her thoughts.

He hugged her to him, then started stroking her body through her negligee. She felt her body start to respond, even though she could tell that he was going to try and manipulate her into doing something she certainly didn't want to do.

"You have a beautiful body, darling. I could spend hours playing with it." His preamble reinforced her fears and she almost said 'no' before he could speak again. Something made her let him speak.

"You know, you could help Terry out here."

"I am not having a threesome, Sean." She was emphatic.

"No, I didn't mean that, although maybe if Terry gets Trish back, she wouldn't mind…" His voice tailed off at her withering look. "I was just joking, sweetheart."

"You'd bloody better be. I am not that way inclined, into threesomes or otherwise."

"I thought you actors were all into new experiences," he said, nuzzling his way under her straps. "But surely, for the sake of helping a friend, you'd maybe think about sort of, well, helping Terry out?"

"And just what did you have in mind, Sean?" She was trying to ignore the results of his attentions and knew that she wouldn't be able to hold out for too much longer.

"I thought that maybe you could come onto Nikki a bit, just enough to give Terry an in with Trish, then she could see what a bitch that dyke is and she'd come back to Terry. Then you could give Wade the brush off and she could see what it's like to have people playing with her for a change."

"That's a bit cruel, Sean."

"Sod that for a game of soldiers, she deserves it. Don't feel sorry for her, Helen, she's snake in the grass if ever there was one."

"I'm not sure I could carry it off, either. Besides, she knows I'm your girlfriend."

"Of course you can carry it off, you're an actress, aren't you? She'll just see that as a challenge, if I know her. All she's interested in is winning, at whatever cost."

Helen thought that that sounded pretty much like every other sportsman she'd ever met in her life, and she'd certainly met a few. None of them could resist a challenge, of whatever nature. It was certainly like Sean – when he'd met her, when she was going out with one of the Irish show jumpers, he hadn't stopped in his pursuit of her until she'd agreed to go out with him. She'd quickly put him right, that her relationship with Padraig was at it's natural end when she'd met Sean, so that he didn't continue some sort of distorted one-upmanship with him.

"C'mon, Helen. For me," he wheedled, moving his hands across her body under the covers.

"And would we be moving back to your yard soon? If Terry and Trish get all loved up again?" She wanted her wishes understood in no uncertain terms.

"Well, we wouldn't want to cramp their style now, would we?" He smirked, knowing that he had almost persuaded her.

She moved, and her body was immediately aflame with pain from her various aches and pains, instead of the pleasure of Sean's touch.

"Just one problem," she gasped. It seemed to excite him, because he barely muttered 'what?' before he lowered his mouth to her breast. "I can barely move," she wailed.

He jumped away from her like a scalded cat as she stiffened.

"I know something for that. Come with me." He made to haul her up, but she batted his hand away and slowly manoeuvred herself to her feet, making little 'ow, ow' noises as she went.

He led her gently to the hot tub, promising to make her some tea and turn on the sauna so that she could relax, after which he would give her a massage. The lascivious smile he gave her as he promised the massage left her in no doubt as to what sort of massage he had in mind.

Part 5

Five hours later, Helen was still suffering twinges in her posterior and thinking that she would have to walk like John Wayne, but she was ensconced in her car, bumping along the track towards Home Farm.

Sean and Terry had briefed her, and Sean had spent some time ensuring that she was dressed to kill, whilst still able to ride. She was now braless, which she thought was a bad idea, given how bad she remembered trotting was, although her t-shirt was so tight that a small drop in temperature would show up exactly what she was, or more to the point, was not wearing underneath it.

Her trousers were tight lycra, so that she would be able to mount the horse, and she hadn't ruined their line by bothering with underwear. She wasn't sure that this would work – Nikki had looked pretty keen on Trish, and not the predatory woman that Sean had painted at all. But Sean and Terry knew her and therefore it made sense to listen to them.

"Well, well, well. Look what the cat dragged in." Helen winced under Nikki's words and nearly changed her mind right there and then. As she turned, she noticed that her clothes had certainly had the desired effect. Nikki's eyes were flicking over her body, staying slightly too long on her breasts.

Trish was also looking at Helen appreciatively and she hoped that there wasn't going to be an unexpected twist. Trish removed her gaze quickly, as if afraid that she would be caught staring, only to light on Nikki's far more obvious appreciation. The older woman frowned slightly and Helen was pleased to see that Sean hadn't been too wide of the mark in his assessment of Wade.

"I'm here for my next lesson," she announced, hoping that her voice wasn't shaking. Nikki just laughed.

"If you can sit down, you can ride again. I'm impressed. What did loverboy do? Rub and kiss it better?"

Helen narrowed her eyes. Nikki was no fool and it would obviously be harder than she had originally thought to convince her that she was interested. And it would be obvious if she couldn't get the woman onside at some point. The antagonism between them would have to be knocked down somehow, but she had no idea how to go about this.

"Pretty much, yes. It feels a lot better now, thank you." She smiled and watched Nikki consider her.

"Right, ready then? Go and get a helmet and I'll meet you in the indoor school." Helen watched her playfully slap Trish's bum and then she loped away towards the stables.

When Helen arrived at the indoor school, Nikki was waiting with Barney, talking to him softly, and stroking him gently. She had her back to the door and Helen had a chance to observe her. It was like she was a completely different person, softer, gentler. It was only as she got closer that she heard what Nikki was saying.

"She's done up like a right dog's dinner, Barney. Her shirt's so tight, and she's not wearing a bra. Be careful when you trot, she might give you a black eye, never mind herself."

"Nikki!" At Trish's shout, she turned, realising that Helen was standing directly behind her. For a second she looked guilty, and then she adopted her usual cocky smile before looking past Helen at Trish.

"Can you take me into Colchester when you've finished?"

"Can't you drive yourself?" Nikki asked petulantly.

"I'm meeting Jackie and she's giving me a lift back, so no, it's easier not to drive." Trish's voice held more than a hint of impatience.

"I'll do it," Helen said quickly.

"You? Why?" Nikki asked suspiciously.

"That would be very kind of you, Helen, if you don't mind," Trish interrupted Nikki and earned both she and Helen a dirty look.

"Just mount and start walking clockwise. I'll be back in a moment." Nikki snapped as she strode over to her lover.

Helen did as she was told, deliberately riding to get closer to the couple, trying to overhear what Nikki was saying to her.

"Are you out of your mind? She's been sent here to spy on us, on you. She's out to cause trouble. Have you seen the way she's dressed?"

"I don't think I paid quite as much attention as you, Nikki." Trish said sarcastically.

"I could hardly help it, could I? She was practically thrusting her tits into my face. Anyway, that's not the point. She's up to something."

"She might just be 'shock, horror' trying to learn to ride. If she's going out with Sean, it makes sense. Anyway, he had no idea we were back in the country until she told him last night, did he?"

"How do we know? He could have known what was going on for ages. He does have friends in Germany, you know."

"Nik, you are getting paranoid. I'm with you, aren't I? Helen's just being friendly, and if not, then we don't have to have anything to do with her again."

They shut up as she approached, looking like she was pretending not to listen. Nikki scowled at her and she thought that any attempts she made to try and seduce her would now be doomed to failure.

'Plan B', Terry's idea to just contact Trish was suddenly looking more attractive. Still, she'd be out of the way soon, back to the set of the soap she worked on and then Sean and Terry could get on with it themselves.

The lesson was, if anything, harder than the previous day's. Whatever she did, Nikki would find fault with it. She spent most of the next two hours making Helen ride around bareback, watching her slither around and falling off a couple of times.

Finally picking herself up from the ground, she couldn't help herself and ended up screaming back at Nikki, who was denigrating her.

"For Christ's sake, it's not my bloody fault I'm going out with Sean. I don't give a stuff about what's happened between all of you. I don't see why you have to take it out on me."

"Of course not. And you always dress like that. I'm telling you now, nothing's going to split me and Trish up, and certainly not some hare-brained scheme cooked up by you and your dodgy boyfriend."

"It's not like that…" Helen protested half-heartedly.

"It's exactly like that. I don't know what they told you, but it's complete bollocks. I never set out to seduce Trish, it just happened." She ran her hand through her hair. "I can't believe I'm justifying myself to you. I think you should just fuck off right now and leave us alone. I've got far better things to do with my time than teach you to ride." She walked over to Barney and led him from the school, leaving Helen standing there.

As Helen walked out to her car, ashamed of herself, she was waylaid by Nikki.

"I'd watch yourself with Sean Parr, if I were you. He's no good." She started to walk away then turned back to Helen. "And if you're ever serious about learning to ride, come back again. I think you're not too bad, when you're concentrating on it." She sketched a wave and gave Helen a small half smile, then vanished into the stables.

Part 6

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