Despite her determination to remain calm, Lise felt her hands trembling. Maiden mares — trust them to fool you. Often they foaled before they were due, but three weeks was almost too early. She left the stall and went back to the office to pick up the phone, dialling automatically and letting it ring. She unzipped her coat, feeling unusually warm all of a sudden.
“Allo?” A tired voice finally answered.
“Bonjour Papa. Got a surprise for you. Lucky’s first one is on the way.”
“What? Sotisse? Already?”
“She hasn’t broken her water yet, but this might not take long, the way she’s been so far. Are you coming?” It wasn’t meant as a question. She knew her voice betrayed her faltering composure. She didn’t like the pause at the other end.
“Damn, Lise, I’ve got an important meeting I have to get to.” Her father hesitated briefly. “You can handle this. Get Gilles up to help you out.”
Lise choked back a laugh. “Oh, that’ll go over well.”
“Well, he wanted to move into that apartment. Remind him that this mare’s probably still paying for his education. Call Ben, too, and make sure he’s around.”
Lise hung up the phone and glanced up the stairs that led to the apartment her brother shared with one of the farm’s exercise riders. She glanced at her watch — six forty-five. Not exactly the time Gilles would appreciate getting up on a Saturday morning. First she picked up the phone again and called Ben Thomas, the farm vet, expecting and getting his pager. Once she punched in the farm number, she put the receiver back on its cradle and then stepped lightly up the stairs. A vet’s presence wasn’t neccessary at most foalings — Lise had delivered many babies on the farm over the years — but with the value of this mare, and the fact that Sotisse was early, she would feel better knowing Dr. Thomas was aware.
Though she intended to knock softly, her hand beat an involuntary staccato on the apartment door. If Gilles had lived there alone, she wouldn’t have bothered with the courtesy; she simply would have gone in and dragged him unceremoniously out of bed.
It wasn’t a surprise when his roommate answered, but she found herself embarrassed because of her anxiety. That reputation with the farm staff of one always businesslike and under control was definitely not coming off at the moment. She was sure he would see the welling combination of panic and excitement in her dark blue eyes, or notice the tremor of adrenaline rushing through her body. This was it; this was the one. This foal would carry on the legacy created by its parents, who had turned the tides of chance for their Triple Stripe Stud. Nothing they had bred or raced since those two had come anywhere close.
“Hi.” Pete stepped back to let her inside with his usual warm, unassuming smile, though he was clearly a bit surprised to see her. “Pretty cold out there, I guess, eh?”
“I suppose there’s no point in asking if Gilles is up,” she said, adjusting to the new language, her English softly accented. She could hear the sound of a Toronto radio station’s morning show playing softly in the background as she tentatively stepped through the doorway, overly conscious about her presence in the apartment.
Pete laughed. “Yeah, he’s still dead to the world, I think.”
“Figured as much. I’ve got to get him up anyway. The big mare’s started, and my father can’t make it. I could call Jean to come over from the broodmare barn, but they’ll be starting to turn out soon and he’s got a couple people off today. I just want to make sure I have some help if I need it.” She heard her sentences running together. The well-heated room only made her nervous perspiration more evident, and she found it hard to recall just how cold it had been outside.
“Wow, she’s pretty early, isn’t she?”
“Three weeks. Not early enough to call premature, at least.”
“I could give you a hand,” Pete offered casually, seeming to disregard her mounting tension.
Lise considered his proposal quickly. Pete Miller’s help would no doubt be more effective than her half-conscious brother. “Okay. Great,” she said, deciding. “I’ll give Guy a call and tell him we’ll be late.” She eyed Pete— he looked ready for work, dressed for the cold with a turtleneck under his sweatshirt, wearing a pair of faded jeans. “Will you be long?”
“Right behind you,” he said, and reached for a coat that was slung over a nearby chair.