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Will, aka preppy clod, talked to Razor like they were old pals. He patted Razor on the neck and offered encouragement in his ear. Lexi didn't doubt the boy could ride. He appeared relaxed and held himself well in the saddle, but he was foolish to think he could race a strange horse and come out on top. They were on Lexi's turf, and she and Jackie O had ridden across that stretch of sand hundreds of times, beating the very horse Will was straddling.

"Okay, Will. Listen up," Lexi said as she brought Jackie O alongside Razor. "We're going to race to that first outcropping of rocks. It's about a hundred yards." She pointed to the craggy collection of rocks she and Dion always used as their finish line. "There is enough beach for two horses to pass easily at low tide, which is now. Dion, will you do the honors of starting the race?"

"My pleasure."

Dion pulled off his shirt, twisting it between his hands as Lexi and her opponent lined up. A zing of excitement sent Lexi's heart soaring. She loved the way her adrenaline pumped when she prepared to compete. This was the real-world application of blood,sweat, and practice, her dad would say, but she didn't look for him in thecrowd watching on the sidelines. Instead, she allowed herself a brief glance atLuke. He stood a few feet away from the other spectators, appraising her with a subtle smirk, and she offered him a wink before putting her game face on.

"On your mark... Get set... Go!"

The flag came down, and Lexi urged Jackie O into a gallop with a flick and a prod. Razor was quicker off the mark, which Lexi expected, but Jackie O's desire not to be left behind had her snorting at her opponent as she caught up. The two horses rode neck and neck for the next forty yards, and while Lexi's lungs expanded and contracted powerfully, she didn't push too hard, holding a steady pace as she waited for Will to make his move. With thirty to go, he spurred his horse faster, and Lexi's endorphins skyrocketed.

"Giddap, Jackie O!" she called. "Beat that annoying gelding."

Encouraged by Lexi's enthusiasm, Jackie O sprinted like lightning, and Lexi's muscles clenched as she held on like her life depended on it. If she lost her grip now, she'd be thrown off at twenty-five miles an hour and smash her head on the rocks. Not a pretty ending to a harmless challenge.

As they reached the finish line, Jackie O blasted ahead of Razor and his fatheaded rider, beating them by half a length. It was a close race, but Lexi and her determined mare had won. Although she hadn't been worried about the outcome, the win still felt good, and knowing the boy would pout after getting his ass handed to him, Lexi wiped the grin off her face as she slowed her horse. But Will hadn't done the same, and Razor barreled past them, spooking Jackie O and causing her to rear up. 

"Whoa, girl!" Lexi felt the balance switch as her horse struggled to right herself, and her heart stuttered when she realized she was going down. She quickly freed her boots from the stirrups as she toppled over the back-end of her horse. The unforgiving wet sand came at her like a brick wall, jarring her body with a painful crunch, and she rolled toward the waves a bit before stopping at the water's edge. A moment later, the shadow of a horse appeared in her peripheral view, followed by the thump of boots.

"Lexi, are you alright? Razor didn't want to..."

"What the hell?!" Lexi only managed to choke on her curse as she spit sand out of her mouth. "Don't you know anything about racing etiquette? Reins are for steering, dumbass!"

"I... I'm sorry..."

He stuttered his lame apology, forgetting to offer any kind of help as Lexi pushed to her feet. If she didn't feel like spilling her guts, she would pummel the dumbass into next Friday. Voices carried behind her, and she turned to find her entire family dashing across the beach toward them. Luke and Uncle Z were engaged in their own competition to see who could get there first, while Will remained in a stupor, the color draining away from his cheeks. No doubt, he was anticipating the sting of someone's fist.

At least Jackie O knew how to be helpful, and she nudged Will aside to stand next to Lexi. The pain registered as soon as Lexi slung her arm over Jackie O's neck, and her left hip twinged, but her mind was not on the long-term effects of her injuries. Luke and Uncle Z had reached her, and she chose to fall into Luke's outstretched arms rather than her godfather's. Once Luke had her, Lexi buried her face in his neck so she wouldn't have to look at the expression on Uncle Z's face. She knew exactly what a scowl looked like.

PLAYLIST SONG: Confident by Demi Lovato

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