The Mystery of the Masked Rider

Contents

1 
Great Expectations

2 
Poison Words

3 
A Nasty Trick

4 
A Painful Surprise

5 
Sharp Moves

6 
Intruder in Disguise

7 
Food for Thought

8 
Bumps in the Night

9 
A Very Close Call

10 
Bound for Trouble

11 
A Dangerous Challenge

12 
A Sudden Realization

13 
True Confessions

14 
Evil on Horseback

15 
Desperate Choices

16 
Winners and Losers

1
Great Expectations

“Wow! Nightingale's turned into a gorgeous horse!” Nancy Drew exclaimed. She and her best friend, Bess Marvin, were standing in the center aisle of the barn at Fox Hollow Farm. An attractive young woman, her blond hair pulled back in a short ponytail, was leading a chestnut mare toward them. The horse's reddish-brown coat gleamed, and her muscles rippled.

“And what a sweetie pie,” brown-eyed Colleen Healey said, ruffling the mare's mane. The blond girl, who lived with her parents on the small horse farm, had been friendly with Bess and Nancy in high school.

“I really lucked out when I bought her as a yearling,” Colleen added. She halted the horse in front of Nancy and Bess. Ears pricked forward, Nightingale stared curiously at the two girls.
Then she nuzzled Bess's hand with velvet-soft lips.

“No wonder we haven't seen you in a while,” Nancy said as she stroked Nightingale's white blaze. Nancy was casually dressed in jeans and sneakers. The eighteen-year-old's strawberry-blond hair fell below her shoulders. “Training your horse and going to all those shows must really keep you busy.”

“Too busy,” Colleen agreed with a sigh. Then she smiled. “At least that's what Phil would say.”

Colleen had been dating Phil Ackerman ever since the girls had graduated from high school. Phil was a junior in college, so Nancy and Bess didn't know him well.

“Phil and I haven't had much time together lately,” Colleen went on. “Actually, I haven't had much time for
anything
but riding, so I'm glad you two were able to come by this morning. It'll be fun having lunch together again. Plus, I want you to get to know Phil better. Because . . .” She hesitated and looked down at the toes of her paddock boots.

Nancy gave her a curious glance. “Is something wrong between you guys?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that,” Colleen said quickly. “It's just that I've got some big decisions to make, and I guess I need advice from old friends.”

“That's us,” Bess said brightly. She wore
checked stirrup pants and a bright red top. Her black flats were already covered with dust from the tanbark particles in the aisle.

Colleen handed Nancy Nightingale's leather lead line, then bent down and picked up a brush from a tack box by the open stall door. “Seems as though things weren't nearly as complicated back in high school,” she said.

“Want to talk about it?” Nancy asked.

Colleen nodded. Just then, the sound of tires crunching on gravel made the girls turn their heads toward the barn door.

“I wonder who that is,” Colleen murmured as she walked down the aisle. “This place has been like Grand Central Station. Gloria Donner, a local trainer, showed up here at the crack of dawn.” Colleen looked outside and groaned. “It's the San Marcoses. I told them not to come.”

Puzzled, Bess looked at Colleen. “Who are the San Marcoses?”

“Oh, they own a big horse farm in Florida,” Colleen explained. “Diego San Marcos and his daughter, Marisa, are in Illinois for the Midwest International Horse Show, which starts Sunday.”

“That's tomorrow. Aren't you showing there, too?” Nancy asked as she led Nightingale up the aisle and stood next to Colleen.

“Yeah, but not until the last three days,” Colleen replied. “Marisa's showing all week. They
came a day early to let their horses get settled from the long drive.”

The San Marcoses' silver Mercedes halted under a big oak tree.

“Looks like they're rich,” Bess said from behind Nancy.

“Boy, are they,” Colleen said under her breath. “And they'd do anything to get their hands on Nightingale.” She reached out and grabbed the mare's halter protectively.

“Ah, Colleen!” a large man with thick black hair called as he climbed from the car. “There you are, señorita. And there's the beautiful Nightingale.”

“Hi, Colleen!” A pretty girl of about fifteen bounced from the other side of the car. She had her father's thick black hair, but not his Spanish accent.

“Nightingale!” she squealed when she saw the horse. Running up, she took the mare's head between her hands and planted a big kiss on the horse's nose.

“Hi, Marisa, Mr. San Marcos,” Colleen said in a formal voice. “I'd like you to meet two of my friends, Nancy Drew and Bess Marvin.”

Diego took Bess's hand in his and, raising it to his lips, kissed the back. “Enchanted.”

“Likewise.” Bess blushed.

Before he could do the same to Nancy, she took his hand and gave it a firm shake. “Nice to meet you, Mr. San Marcos.”

“I just couldn't wait to see Nightingale,”
Marisa told Colleen. “So I made Daddy drive me all the way up here.”

“But it was my pleasure,” Diego said. Taking the lead line from Nancy's hand, he led Nightingale into the sunlight.

Nancy glanced over at Colleen, who smiled as if to say it was okay. It seemed Mr. San Marcos was used to having his own way.

“Whoa, my beauty,” Diego crooned to the mare. Nightingale halted. Arching her neck, she gazed curiously around her. Her white socks looked as though they'd been painted on her legs, and her copper-colored coat gleamed like a new penny.

“She is more perfect than I remember,” Diego commented. “You have done a good job getting her ready for the show. Though if she were
my
horse—”

“But she isn't,” Colleen interrupted. Smiling politely, she stepped forward and took the lead line from his hand. For a second Mr. San Marcos looked surprised. Then he bowed his head in a small nod.

“Not yet, anyway!” Marisa exclaimed. “Have you made up your mind, Colleen?” she asked eagerly.

“No, not yet, Marisa.” Colleen shook her head. “I told you I'd make my decision after the show.”

Marisa's face fell. “Is there anything we can do to change your mind?” she asked hopefully. “I'd love to take Nightingale back with us right now.”

“No,” Colleen said firmly. Nancy wondered if Marisa was going to make a scene. The young girl acted as if she was used to getting her way, too. But Marisa's face immediately brightened.

“I understand,” she said. “It would be a hard decision for me to make, too. Can we see you school her?”

Colleen checked her watch, then looked over at Nancy and Bess. “Is that all right with you guys? We still have plenty of time before we meet Phil at the restaurant.”

“Fine with me,” Nancy said. “I'd love to see you ride.”

“Me, too,” Bess said. “As long as we're not late for lunch. I'm getting hungry.”

Colleen laughed. “Still the same old Bess. Nancy, maybe you can help me tack up.”

Fifteen minutes later Colleen was trotting Nightingale in a large ring behind the barn. Nancy, Bess, and the San Marcoses leaned on the top rail of the ring to watch the duo.

“Oh, Daddy, look at Nightingale move,” Marisa said with undisguised admiration. “She practically floats. And her stride! I can't wait till she's mine.”

Nancy looked sideways at the young girl. Marisa sounded awfully sure she was going to own Nightingale. Not that Nancy could blame her for wanting the mare. Even her untrained eye could tell that the horse was exceptional.

Quickly she glanced over at Diego San Marcos,
who was standing beside his daughter. His brows were drawn together in a serious expression. Abruptly he turned and smiled politely at Nancy, but there was a cold, calculating gleam in his dark eyes.

“Are you a rider, Miss Drew?” he asked.

Nancy shook her head. “Just for fun.”

“I want to see Nightingale jump!” Marisa called.

Colleen nodded and turned Nightingale toward a crossbar. As the pair smoothly jumped it, Nancy thought horse and rider made a great team.

“Bravo!” Marisa clapped her hands, then turned to Nancy and Bess. “You should have seen Nightingale at the Columbia Classic Grand Prix. She was spectacular. It was her first grand prix, and she placed third.”

“Wow,” Bess said, impressed. Then she frowned in confusion. “So what's a grand prix?”

Marisa shot her a look of amazement. “Why, it's just the ultimate jumping class!”


Grand prix
means ‘great prize' in French,” Diego explained without taking his eyes off Nightingale. Colleen was heading the mare to an “in and out”—two fences so close to each other that the horse had only a stride in between them.

“The grand prix involves the highest fences,” Diego continued. “Usually they're about four to six feet tall.”

Bess whistled. “Wow. I'd be scared to death.”

“Colleen's been really smart with Nightingale,” Marisa chimed in. “She's taken it slow with the mare's training. Last month was Nightingale's first grand prix, but her performance showed everyone she's going to be the horse to watch at the Midwest International.”

Colleen rode over to the fence and dismounted. “Show's over,” she said with a grin.

“Come, Marisa,” Diego said. “We're stopping at Gloria Donner's barn to see a young horse she has for sale.” He nodded toward the girls. “Nice meeting you, Miss Drew and Miss Marvin. And Miss Healey, we will see you at the show. You and”—he paused a second, his gaze resting on Nightingale—“your lovely horse.”

“Yes,” Colleen said politely, but Nancy could tell she was uncomfortable. “And good luck, Marisa.”

“You, too,” the young girl said.

In silence the three friends watched as Diego and Marisa walked past the barn to the drive. Father's and daughter's heads were close together, as if they were in earnest conversation.

Colleen let out a sigh of relief. “Whew. I'm glad that's over with.” She loosened Nightingale's girth and led her toward the gate.

“They sure seemed interested in buying Nightingale,” Bess commented as they all walked back to the barn.

Nancy nodded. “That's for sure. Marisa acts as if she already owns her.”

“I know.” Colleen halted Nightingale inside the barn and began to pull off her saddle. “And Diego's so polite, but I don't know. I get these strange vibes from him.”

“It seems as if he's used to getting what he wants,” Nancy said.

“And what he wants is Nightingale,” Colleen said grimly. She checked her watch. “I'll tell you the whole story on the way to lunch. We have an hour before we meet Phil. I've got to cool off Nightingale. She already has hay, so it'll just take a minute.”

After Colleen finished her chores, the girls walked to the small ranch house. Nancy and Bess had sodas while Colleen took a quick shower and changed clothes. When she emerged from her bedroom, she was wearing a bright green jumpsuit and flats. Her blond hair was hanging free on her shoulders.

“Ready to go?” Colleen asked. “I've just got to turn Nightingale out into the pasture.”

“I'll come with you,” Nancy volunteered.

Bess offered to pull her Camaro around while the two girls went to the barn. Colleen turned into the small tack room for a lead line. Nancy went to Nightingale's stall and leaned over the half-door.

“Hey, girl,” she greeted the mare. Nightingale was standing in the middle of the stall. Her head was down, and she was breathing so hard her sides were sucked in.

Nancy frowned. Something wasn't right. As Nancy turned to call for Colleen, Nightingale suddenly staggered sideways and fell to her knees. Then, with a loud groan, the mare rolled onto her side.

2
Poison Words

“Colleen! Come quick!” Nancy hollered as she threw the latch on the stall door. “Something's wrong with Nightingale!”

Lead line in hand, Colleen dashed from the tack room. Pushing past Nancy, she went into the stall and kneeled next to the mare's head. Abruptly Nightingale rose up on her front legs, then struggled onto all four. She twirled restlessly in a circle.

Colleen jumped back into the aisle just in time. “Looks like colic,” she said breathlessly. “I've got to try and keep her calm. Will you call the vet, Dr. Hall? Her number's over the phone in the house.”

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