...Austin smiled slightly and gathered the others to walk out of the barn. For some reason, he trusted Branimir. A guy who ran a rehab/rescue center for horses wouldn’t harm a healthy animal, much less an abused horse.
“Can you describe what you saw? One at a time.”
They gave their statements to the officer, and Masterston took their names and numbers while promising to be in touch. They went back inside to see Branimir shutting the stall door before shaking the vet’s hand.
“What did he say?” Austin pointed his chin at the retreating vet.
Branimir frowned. “She’s five hundred pounds underweight. Another couple of pounds and she’d go down for good. The mare’s covered in fresh wounds and has a ton of scars. She’ll never win a show based on looks.”
Austin leaned on the wall and glanced at the mare. “I don’t care. I’m going to see about getting custody of her. She deserves to have a good life after dealing with that bastard Billings.”
Austin shot the other man a glance. “You know him?”
“Unfortunately. I’ve gotten a few of his horses into the farm over the past couple of years. For some reason, people keep giving him animals to train and ride. I couldn’t get anyone to listen, even with evidence. Do you think they’ll be able to get him this time?”
“We’ve got a ton of eye witnesses, plus the vet’s testimony. I think he’ll lose all his business and his reputation.” Austin sighed. “I guess I’ll leave her here for right now and have Sammy give her some food.”
“The vet left directions on how to feed her.” Branimir dug in his pocket. “Here’s my card. Give me a call when you’re ready to help her get better. I think I can probably help.”
“Really?” Austin took the card and studied it. It had phone numbers, both cell and home.
Branimir smiled. “Not with the physical stuff. That’ll just take time and food, but I can help with the mental and emotional stuff. Teach her to trust us again. I don’t know if she’ll ever be good for anything other than eating her head off in a pasture.”
“I don’t care about that.” Austin frowned. “I just want her healthy and happy. If that means I never ride her, so be it.”
The older man studied him. “Do you mean that?”
“Yes. I’m trying not to sound conceited, but I’m sure you recognize my last name.” Austin waited until Branimir nodded. “So you know any horse I own doesn’t need to perform for me to keep them. I’m not saying my father wouldn’t rather she earn her keep, but hell, I run the horse side of the business.”
Branimir stepped closer to him, their elbows brushing as he leaned against the wall to look at the mare. “If she learns to trust humans again, she would make an excellent brood mare. Her name’s Mary’s Gospel. She’s been trained for the track, but she never really took to it. Billings got her cheap when her last owner decided to get rid of her. Mary’s one of the most talented jumpers I’ve seen and she used to have the courage for cross-country, if you were thinking about eventing with her.”
“You seem to know a lot about her,” Austin observed with a raised eyebrow.
“I’ve been trying to buy her from Billings since he bought her. I knew he’d ruin her given half a chance. Why do people keep giving that man horses to train? He’s managed to mess up every one he gets, unless they were already psychotic when they moved into his barn.” Branimir shook his head and backed away. “I’ve got to get going, but like I said, when she’s healthy again, if you want help regaining her trust, give me a call.”
“I’ll do that.”
They shook hands, and Austin watched Branimir stroll out of the barn. Okay, so maybe he ogled the guy’s ass, presented in faded jeans tight enough to make Austin’s mouth water. Everything in Austin shouted not to let Branimir walk away, yet there wasn’t any reason to keep the man around. Where had he heard the name Branimir Javlosk? It wasn’t the usual run-of-the-mill name. He snorted, and Mary’s Gospel startled at the noise.
“Sorry, pretty lady,” he murmured, not wanting to upset her even more. “It’ll come to me. Until then, you and I are going to work on fattening you up. Things are going to be different from here on out. I wish you could understand me. It would make things go so much easier.”
Austin wandered off to find Carlos, his head groom. They needed to work on putting weight on Mary’s Gospel before he worried about anything else...