The great big gray thoroughbred was already dead.
But even as a corpse he was the fastest horse Clay Logan had ever ridden.
Clay had heard that a man can run a horse to death. He runs because he has a great big heart, because he loves to feel the wind in his face, and because he knows his master desires it of him. He runs to feel the freedom, like an eagle over a mountain canyon. But a horse with real heart can outrun that heart if he is pushed to run and then never urged to temper his speed. He foams and gasps, and his big, loyal lungs surge for air, but the time comes when there is not enough. That big heart seizes up, along with all his power, and he falls, a fall that, if his owner loves him as Clay loved the gray, will shake the very earth.
Clay Logan had listened to such stories since he was able to hear, to understand and to reason. But that type of thing did not happen to Clay Logan. He was horseman through and through. Another man, perhaps. But not Clay Logan. Everything there was to know about man’s partner, the horse, was entrenched in the deepest recesses of his mind. His daddy had patiently taught him all he needed to know about his equine companions over the course of his twenty-six years. He could feel a horse’s pain, sense when it was struggling, or short of breath, or continuing to run only to please its rider. Clay Logan did not kill horses. Beneath his loving hand, a horse grew eagle’s wings and it flew.
So Clay and the thoroughbred flew on that deepest, darkest of nights. They coursed like the zephyrs, along the damp, rutted Ohio lanes of Defiance County, past the dark farm houses and the lonely country inns, never pausing at the crossroads. The doctor’s house couldn’t be more than five more miles. They would reach it, and then the horse could rest. He would trade animals and reward Domino, his beautiful gray, with a much-deserved night in the doctor’s barn, where the hay would be lush and the corn rich and sweet and deep yellow.
For now they had to drive like an Ohio hailstorm. They had to pound down these moonlit highways like a pack of hounds was baying behind them, bent on tearing them to bits. He just couldn’t leave Samantha in so much pain behind him, great with child, crying out for him in their bed . . .
The horse was breathing in great gushes of air. Froth was flying back at Clay. Now and then it spattered his face. The great ribcage heaved between his knees. The horse had begun to saw back and forth with his neck, surging harder and harder, moving to the yells of his rider, his master, his friend.
There was no warning. Domino was strong and beautiful, alive and running. Then he was gone.
A stumble. A grunt and a vast, ragged, tired sigh. They were going down, earthbound like a spine-shot stag. Instinct made Clay throw his arm up in front of his face. It was all he had time to do.
He hit the packed dirt hard, and the horse flipped sideways and spun him over its side, tearing his feet from the stirrups. Clay landed and rolled, he didn’t know how many times. He smelled the dust and the sweat, tasted the blood in his nostrils and mouth, saw the sky spinning. The bright moon whirled above him, zipping past, and then it was gone. He tasted dirt in his mouth and felt cold ground against his cheek and hands.