Trina Ryan’s challenging summer starts off with a puppy-fueled energy burst as she takes on another service dog for training—an eight-week-old black Labrador named Colton. And to help explore another dream, she’s taken a job at the barn next door in exchange for riding lessons with the barn’s schooling horse. Before long, Trina butts heads with Morgan Hart, an ill-tempered but skilled rider with a gorgeous thoroughbred named Knight.
Adding to the list of frustrations is the difficulty in maintaining a long-distance relationship with Chase, her first boyfriend from last summer, while trying to deal with unwanted attention from a new boy in her puppy training class. At least best friend Sarah still has her back, but as Trina wearies of Morgan’s constant insults and her heartless treatment of Knight, she decides to use her dog training skills to look underneath Morgan’s hostile attitude and develop a sense of trust.
Slowly, Morgan’s angry shield cracks enough to where she’s able to share a troubling family secret. Can Trina help Morgan confront her family problems and make a fresh start?
“Levy is on sure ground in this enjoyable page-turner for young adults. Readers see the world through the eyes of Trina Ryan, a freckle-faced redhead with a big heart for horses, service dogs, and people in need. Trina learns some of life’s most important lessons: that people are not always what they seem, growing up involves tough choices, and a first crush can be more exciting than she ever dreamed. Poignant, fun, and adventuresome.” — Peggy Jo Shaw, award-winning journalist, PR specialist, and book author/editor
“Starting Over is a book you’ll want to give your daughter. A story about best friends, boyfriends, enemies, and how to handle them all. Throw in horses and puppies, and you have the perfect mix for an entertaining, self-evolving read.” — C. Hope Clark, author, Carolina Slade Mysteries and Edisto Island Mysteries
“How do you help a friend and stay true to yourself? Trina Ryan’s struggles to cope and regroup should ring true for teens. Most people probably never dream so much is involved. Teens who love to read about animals should truly enjoy Starting Over.” — Lisa Williams Kline, author, Eleanor Hill, Princesses of Atlantis, Write Before Your Eyes, and the Sisters in All Seasons series
“There’s a lot going on in Trina’s life, but Levy weaves each thread seamlessly. I especially enjoyed the detail about how to train a service dog, as well as her experience in the barn mucking out stalls, caring for the horses, and learning to ride. A must-read YA novel for anyone who loves dogs and horses.” — Judy Sheluk, author, The Hanged Man’s Noose and Skeletons in the Attic
“Dogs! Horses! Boys! What could be better? An energetic puppy learning to be a service dog, a sweet-tempered horse, an absentee boyfriend, and Trina, the girl who has to make some difficult decisions about all of them. A lovely, thoughtful coming-of-age novel.” — Ellyn Bache, author, Kaleidoscope, The Art of Saying Goodbye, and Safe Passage
At three o’clock in the morning, I sat with my butt squished against the wall on the hard tile floor, my forehead resting on bent knees. I’d given up going back to bed and waited for Colton’s next outburst.
Seconds later he whined. I lifted my head as his nose poked out of the crate, sniffing. He tilted his head and toddled toward me. His tail beat back and forth. After a quick pee on the clean newspapers, he crawled onto my lap.
He put his front paws on my shoulders, and his dark eyes flirted mischief.
I smiled. “Ms. Jennifer and Mom warned me you’d be waking up all night.”
Colton’s ears drooped, and I stroked his velvety fur. Cradling his plump body, I buried my face in his fuzz. I inhaled his toasty puppy smell, trying hard not to think about Sydney, the first service dog I had trained. Sydney had come to me when his family had moved away from South Carolina. At six-months-old, he had been trained in his basic needs, and he’d even slept through the night. During our beach vacation, Sydney had worked his special magic with Logan, a young boy with autism. My best friend Sarah and I also met his cute older brothers, Peyton and Chase.
Sydney and I had snuggled on our last night, and I’d told him about my memories of our year together. In the morning, I’d clenched my teeth behind a fake smile and returned him to be matched to his forever companion. Minutes before leaving the facility empty-handed, large, brown puppy eyes from the nursery had connected with mine. I’d decided to train another.
Eight-week-old Colton was a blank slate. I would be his first and only foster momma until he turned eighteen months old. Colton nosed me again. He lifted his chocolate brown eyes to mine, and warmed the achy parts of my heart.
I surveyed the newspapers covering the floor, then wrinkled my nose and shook my head. If I had known how much work was involved, would I have started over again? I sucked in my cheek, nodding. Yeah.
I can do it. I have all summer to get him into a routine. I grabbed my frizzy hair into a quick ponytail, wadded up the messy papers, and spread new ones across the floor. “All done. Let’s go outside.” Before I lifted him, my puppy itched behind his ear with his right back foot. “Hmm. Fleas. They’ll have to wait till later.”
With no street lights, the full moon glowed like a night light and the shiny stars winked at me. An owl hooted in our forested backyard, halting Colt for a second. His ears pitched forward, and then he returned to his adventure. I gave him five more minutes with the sensor light going on and off before placing him and a handful of kibbles inside his crate. “Night-night. Pleeeeease go to sleep.”
He rested his head in the opening of the crate, and fought to keep his eyes open and on me.
I tip-toed back to my temporary bedroom downstairs, grabbed a pillow, and pulled off the top sheet. Wrapping up like a mummy, I laid on the hard, wooden-floor in front of the doggy gate, and let my head sink into the pillow. Maybe being closer to him, he’ll let me get some sleep. Tomorrow’s going to be a long day, I groaned to myself.
As my eyes closed, I pictured chasing Colton in the muggy air. I’d teach him new words and then we’d snuggle together. Before long, sunlight from the laundry room window leaked under my eyelids and a whiff of coffee jolted me awake. Colton’s little head hadn’t moved. Feeling a bit jealous he was still snoozing, I unwound the sheet and scooted into the kitchen. I yawned and scanned the room, twisting a loose curl at my neck.
Mom crooked her head. “Rough night, Trina?”
Nodding, I rubbed the tiredness from my burning eyes. “Yep. I can’t believe he’s still sleeping.”
Dad set his coffee cup down. “We heard you two, but we promised to stay put.”
Mom grabbed her purse and headed to the door. “I’ve got to go. Dr. Mayer called early and needs my help with a sick dog. Since I had a spare minute, I took him out for you. You never even flinched. When he wakes, he’s all yours.”
I found enough energy to utter, “Thanks.”
The door closed behind her.
Before I finished my cheese grits, howls pierced the silence. I rolled my eyes. “Sounds like I’m back on duty.”
This is going to be harder than I thought.
* * *
In my shortie pajamas, I carried Colton outside to our fenced yard. He sniffed and bit at pine cones and chased squirrels at a tiny paw speed. His ears raised at the clunk-clunk of Mrs. Brown’s golf cart driving up the path to her paddocks next door. I collapsed on the grass and leaned against a tree trunk. Colton stared toward the clatter and hunched down. He scrambled over my crossed legs and plopped into the gap.
“Mrs. B is bringing in the horses.” I whispered in his ear. “You’ll get to meet her soon.”
He scratched his neck and crept through the trees an inch at a time. The sun simmered overhead and sent a wilted pup back to my lap. I carried him to his crate, and he crumpled into a small heap.
“Whew—finally. We’ll do your bath after your nap.” I bounced into the recliner to text Sarah.
Instantly, she texted. “How’s Colton?”
“Adorable. Meet me in ten.”
Sarah texted three smiley faces.
I grinned and wished my phone could do that.
Yesterday’s clothes lay on the floor. I dressed as fast as I could then hurried to meet Sarah at the huge oak tree. My pounding heart pulsed through my arms and legs. I twisted a strand of hair and rechecked my phone for the millionth time.
Where is Sarah?
I needed to see Chancy, the barn’s schooling horse I rode. Heather, the other groom, had cared for her during my week at Edisto Beach. She spent tons of time with Chancy and even gave her treats when I wasn’t around. I wiped the beads of sweat off my lip and stared at the ground. What if Chancy preferred her over me? Worry bubbled up my throat. If I had to share Chancy, I couldn’t pretend she was mine.
Sarah approached in crisp white shorts, a sparkly pink tee, and French-braided blond-hair. My stomach knotted, and my cheeks burned. Sarah enjoyed teasing me about my out-of-control red hair and matching freckled face. I slowed my steps to let my face cool. Then I tucked loose curls into my ragged ponytail, and smoothed out my wrinkled PAALS tee shirt.
Darby, Sarah’s black and white springer spaniel, wiggled her stub of a tail as Sarah looped her arm through mine. She jabbered on about Peyton’s texts without missing a beat. I nodded and smiled, tuning her out with memories of my first secret kiss with Chase, Peyton’s younger brother. I considered sharing our phone conversations, but a loud noise like a cement truck grew closer and interrupted our conversation.
Sarah squinted. “What’s that racket?”
“Sounds like a big diesel truck. Let’s get closer.” Behind a wide tree trunk, we spied a silver-gray, dually truck pulling a white, two-horse trailer. Five interlocked gray hearts decorated the sides. I clasped my hands together. “Oh, I bet that’s the new boarder. I forgot she was coming today. Let’s go look.”
The truck slowed onto Mrs. Brown’s drive. Sarah’s forehead creased and she screamed over the noise. “Do you know how old she is?”
“Mrs. B said she’s in the ninth grade.” As the commotion lessened, I added, “And, her mother bragged to Mrs. B about all of her winnings since she started riding. Ooo! I can’t wait to see her ride. Maybe, she’ll even ride with me.”
The engine turned off and a tall, dark-skinned man leaped from the driver’s side. At the same time, a long-legged, skinny girl in black riding pants and shiny black boots stepped down from the front passenger door. The sun gleamed on her brown face, poufy bangs, and ponytail. She waved her dressage whip in the air as if it were a sword. The girl’s voice boomed through the trees, “Dad, what are you doing? Look! You’re too close to the fence. Pay attention!”
I turned a wide-eyed look at Sarah, whose mouth hung open. Without a word, Sarah grabbed my arm and pulled me closer.
Her father opened the trailer’s top half doors and latched the panels to each side. From the rear of the trailer, a stately, black horse kicked and neighed. Standing on opposite sides of the trailer, the dad and the girl each pulled a clip out of the lock and set the ramp on the ground. The girl climbed in a side door to untie the horse. He put one hoof a couple of inches behind, and then took another step. After a frantic snort, he lurched forward.
She screamed at the horse. “Knight, walk! Get off the trailer!” Her whip slapped at the air. “What’s wrong with you?”
Without warning, the horse threw his head, showing the whites of his eyes as he bolted backward down the ramp. White foam lathered his glossy chest.
Her voice raised an octave. “Dad, he’s getting away!” Then she shrieked, “Move! You’re no help!”
Holding my breath, I clutched Sarah’s arm.
The father rushed over and pulled the whip from the girl’s hands. “Morgan, quiet down! You’re frightening Knight. Give him a chance.”
She jerked the lead line. “Knight, you stupid horse! You know better.”
“Oh my gawd!” My eyes widened, and I shook my head. “How could anyone treat their horse like that?” I patted my chest. “And what’s she doing at my barn?”