Andrea Carter walked down towards Justin’s office after finishing her mother’s shopping for her. She had just finished a whole week of summer holiday and was feeling generally nice to everybody in the world. The sun was shining, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and Cory had lost again to her in a race.
Suddenly, she jolted out of her daydreams by bumping into someone. She uttered hasty apologies and looked up.
“I’m so sorry,” the stranger was saying, a warm smile on his face. Andi drew in a quick breath.
“RILEY WEAVER?” she shrieked. He laughed, touching his hat in a mock salute.
“At you service.” Andi grinned, looking him up and down critically.
“You’re different.” She observed. He laughed again.
“As I should be.” He looked at Andi. “You’re just the same, only a little taller.” Andi punched him in the shoulder playfully, rolling her eyes.
“What are you doing here anyways?” She asked. Riley shrugged.
“I’m old enough to work now, and the only place I could want to work would be with horses or at the Circle C. That’s why I’m here. Speaking of which, have you seen Chad around? I’d like to have a talk with him.” Andi nodded.
“Yes, I have, he came with Justin and I into town so he could pick up some things for the ranch. I’m just now heading down to Justin’s office if you want to come along. I know he’ll be just as pleased to see you. It’s been twelve years!” Riley grinned.
“Sure! I’d like to see Justin again too. It has been a long time.” Andi led Riley to Justin’s office, and they stepped inside it.
When the door closed, a whiff of stale tobacco smoke and cooler air greeted Andi’s nostrils, and she sighed. That smell always brought back memories that she would have preferred to forget: all the times when she had to wait, shrinking under Justin’s glare when she had done something wrong. Tim O’Neil looked up from the letter he was writing.
“And what may I do for you, Miss Carter?” he asked. Andi rolled her eyes.
“Could you let Justin know that I’m ready to go home?” she paused, and Justin’s clerk started to get up. “Oh, and Tim?” he stopped. “Let Justin know I also have a surprise for him.” Tim raised his eyebrows, glancing at Riley, and left the room. Andi stood still, although she was wishing she could pace in her excitement, and watched Justin’s door.
Finally, in what seemed ages, it opened, and Justin came out with one of his biggest smiles on his face.
“Finished with shopping already, Andi? Well I must say…” but whatever he must say was never said, for he stopped in shock at the sight of Riley standing awkwardly next to Andi. “W-what…w-who?” he fumbled for words. Andi grinned.
“Justin, meet Riley Weaver, Riley, meet Justin Carter.” She said, rattling off the introductions. Justin’s face cleared and he grinned widely. In a few long strides he was in front of Riley, pumping his arm up and down.
“It’s good to see you again Riley.” He said with a warm smile. “It’s been much too long. How long are you going to be staying?” Riley shrugged.
“As long as your brother has work for me. That’s what I came here for.” Justin laughed.
“There’s always enough work at our ranch. It’s just that Chad is picky about who works for him. I’m sure he’ll let you though, since last time he told me once you had left that you had been the best help cook had and ever will have.” Riley shuddered.
“I don’t think I’d be helping cook again, best help or not best help.” He looked over at Andi. “Remember how scared we were of him?” Andi laughed at the memory.
“I certainly do, and I’m not going to forget either! Which reminds me, Taffy’s all grown up now Riley, and she has two foals of her own, Sunny and Shasta. They’re beautiful, you’ll love them.” Her eyes brightened at her favorite subject. “Oh, I hope Chad lets you stay!” Justin glanced out the window.
“Well, it won’t be long before we find out. Here he comes!” Andi ran to the door, and all three waited anxiously for Chad to arrive.
Andi opened the door just as Chad reached for the handle. He walked in.
“Howdy, Andi, finished with you shopping I see. Justin, can you believe it? There’s not a spare feeding bucket in this whole town? Not even Goodwin has one, they’re all out! The only…” he stopped in his tracks, his jaw dropping. Riley held out a hand.
“Howdy boss.” He said. Chad closed his mouth, measuring Riley with his eyes.
“Howdy stranger, it’s been a long time.” Riley grinned.
“I’m looking for a job. You wouldn’t happen to have a spot for me in the ranch would you?” Chad slapped him on the back.
“It’d be a pleasure to have you with us again! Come on back and join us! I need all the help I can get, you dropped by just in time.” They shook hands, and Riley gave a sigh of relief.
“I’m glad you have work for me. I need it.” Chad frowned.
“Are you in any sort of trouble?” he asked with concern, Riley laughed.
“Oh, no, nothing like that! It’s just that Mother needs my support right now, and I couldn’t get a job in our town that I liked. I thought you might need some assistance, so I came out in search of a good job. Thankfully I found one. It’s going to be great working with you again.” Justin broke in with a polite let’s-get-back-to-business cough.
“We should be going home.” He said. “Mother is waiting for her things, and dinner is probably also waiting for us.” Chad slapped his forehead.
“And we’re having the Blake’s over! We’d better head out. Would you like to ride with us Riley?” Riley grinned, but shook his head.
“I’d love to, but I have a horse. It’s been so long since I’ve ridden, I need to get in some practice! I’ll report to you in the morning though, and thank you again for the job!” They parted with a wave, and the three siblings climbed into their wagon. Chad watched Riley walk back to the livery stable.
“He sure has grown up!” he exclaimed. Justin rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“Yes, he certainly has. I hope he stays with us for a long time.” He glanced at Andi out of the corner of his eye, and she looked away, for some reason not wanting to catch his eye.
* * * * *
They arrived back at the ranch in plenty of time, and Andi ran up to her room quickly to slip out of her dusty going-to-town dress, and into something nicer for the special occasion.
The Blake’s arrived on time, and Cory looked dashing in his new dinner outfit. When he caught Andi’s eye, he grimaced. She swallowed a laugh, and went over to him.
“You look nice.” He admitted grudgingly. Andi grinned.
“So do you, except that you keep making faces. I’m lucky to not have to wear a corset! Mother doesn’t approve of them.” Cory grunted.
“Neither do I. Who would invent something like that? It’s torture!” Andi nodded, her thoughts on the matter were similar.
Unfortunately, Andi’s mother called them into the dining room for dinner just then, so their conversation had to stop. After the prayer, Andi noticed for the first time a tall, dark-haired young man hovering over her sister. She frowned, trying to place him. Giving up, she turned to Cory.
“Who’s that?” she whispered, trying not to bring too much attention to herself by pointing at him. Cory looked up from his plate of food.
“Him? Oh, he’s my cousin visiting us.” He grinned suddenly, noticing the attention his cousin was giving Melinda. “It may be that we’re related to each other soon.” Andi poked him in the ribs.
“Sh!” she warned. He chuckled and they both went back to eating.
Dinner was soon finished and the families drifted out onto the porch to enjoy the warm summer evening. Melinda and her new admirer went off by themselves towards the barn. Andi and Cory watched them leave. Cory got a sudden gleam of mischief in his eye. Andi regarded him suspiciously.
“What are thinking about?” she asked. He shrugged his shoulder, but Andi persisted. “I don’t want you to do anything.” She said firmly.
“Aw, Andi, I had a great idea.” Andi shook her head vigorously, her braid slapping Cory across the face. He put his hand up to his cheek, and Andi stopped.
“I’m so sorry, did I hurt you badly?” He rubbed the sore, a welt beginning to appear.
“Your braid is like a rope!” he exclaimed. Andi looked at it critically.
“It is, isn’t it?” she said finally. Cory’s sense of humor won over his hurting face, and his face cracked a smile.
“Alright, I get the picture.” He said finally. “No pranks.” Andi rolled her eyes.
“No pranks.” She agreed. Cory sighed.
“It was such a good one too… I’ll have to save it for when you start courting.” He glanced over at her mischievously. Andi felt herself blush.
“That probably won’t be for a while.” She said. Cory cocked an eyebrow.
“If you get courted at all.” He said. Andi glared at him.
“I think you deserved getting my braid in your face.” She said, Cory laughed, she changed the subject. “By the way, I don’t think you ever told me the name of your cousin.”
“Oh, his name is Marcus Knight.”
“How long will he be here?” Cory grinned.
“Well, he said he would be here for a few weeks, but that might change.” Andi poked him.
“Be quieter would you? They might hear!” Cory chuckled, but lapsed into silence. They watched the Melinda and Marcus as they walked along, oblivious to the prying eyes of others, in a world of their own. Cory decided he had had enough.
“Let’s go inside. We aren’t doing anything out here.” Andi nodded. It was getting cold, and the crickets had started their chirping. She walked back inside with Cory, yawning. Cory looked down on her sympathetically.
“Tired?” he asked. Andi gave him a weary nod. “Why don’t you go to bed?” Andi nodded again, her exhaustion coming over her suddenly. She vaguely realized her Mother was leading her up the stairs, and then she felt herself undressing automatically. Her head was no sooner on the pillow when she went to sleep.
Andi awoke with the sun streaming through her window. Alarmed, she wondered what time it was. She quickly dressed and dashed downstairs. Melinda met her at the bottom.
“It’s about time you were up. Mother just sent me to wake you. Breakfast is waiting for you at the table.” Andi gave Melinda a grateful glance and hurried into breakfast. The whole family, except Melinda, who was behind her, were still sitting at the table.
Riley was there too, and Andi suddenly felt self-conscious about her hasty preparations. She smoothed her dress and hair quickly before walking slowly to her place at the table and sitting down. Her mother smiled at her, and Andi returned the smile. She served herself some eggs and ate in silence.
The boys remained in deep discussion for a short time, and then Chad noticed Andi quietly sitting at her spot. He turned towards her, grinning widely.
“Riley wants to see Sunny and Shasta today, would you mind showing him around the barn?” Andi nodded eagerly. She loved showing people her horses. She was proud of them. Riley pushed his chair back from the table.
“Can we go now?” he asked. Andi nodded, and she left the table with Riley. They walked over into the barn and she proudly showed him Taffy and her foals. Riley rewarded her with exclamations of admiration.
“Those are probably the best looking twins I’ve seen all my life! Well done Andi!” Andi smiled.
“Well, it wasn’t really me…it was more Taffy and Chad’s effort.” Riley grinned.
“All the same, these are horses to be proud of.” Andi frowned thoughtfully, rubbing Shasta’s nose gently.
“How do you know so much about horses if you’ve been stuck in the city for so long?” Riley looked up from where he had been petting Sunny.
“I had a job at a coach and wagon rental stable for a few years. My boss put most of the horses under my care, and there was a few times when one or more mares gave birth and I got to help. Once I got to do it by myself, but I was nervous. I tell you, delivering foals is no easy job. I thought I was going to lose it, but I didn’t.” Andi went over to Taffy and began grooming her.
“I thought you said you didn’t have a job.” Riley frowned.
“I don’t. Not anymore.”
“But…you just said that you did!” Riley laughed, suddenly realizing why Andi was confused.
“Oh! No, no, no…I got that job when I was about twelve and kept it until my boss moved about a year ago. I really don’t have a job right now, and that’s why.” Andi’s face cleared and she continued grooming Taffy. Riley stood up and walked over to the opposite side of Taffy and patted her gently on the back.
“I can’t believe Taffy is so big!” he exclaimed. “It seems like yesterday when she was only a filly.” Andi nodded.
“I know. And yet sometimes it feels as if she’s always been this big.” She looked over Taffy’s back at Riley.
“What happened to Midnight?” she asked. A cloud rolled over Riley’s continence and he sighed deeply.
“He died two years ago.” Andi gasped, feeling tears sting her eyes.
“What! Not Midnight!” Riley blinked rapidly and nodded, turning away so Andi couldn’t see his eyes watering.
“Yes.” He replied shortly. “He was bitten by a rabid dog when he was out in the little pasture behind our house. With nowhere to run he tried to fight, but the dog managed to bite him once before Midnight killed him with a hard kick. I had been gone with my mother at evening church so I couldn’t have stopped the dog. When we got home Midnight was laying on his side in obvious pain. The only humane thing to do was put him out of his misery. I did.” Riley stopped abruptly. Andi felt her tears running freely down her cheeks, and she didn’t try to brush them away.
Midnight was dead. She couldn’t help thinking about all the times she had begged Riley to let her ride on his back instead of Cocoa’s, her pony. And all the times when she had gotten in and out of trouble with him. Why did he have to die? She looked over at Taffy, who was complacently eating some hay. What if Taffy was to die? Andi forced the thought from her mind. No! Taffy wouldn’t die! She was too healthy, too strong. Andi would never bring herself to give her up. They would fight away all sickness and weakness. Her horse would never…! She came back to earth suddenly, her mouth trying to say something, anything to cheer Riley.
“I-I’m so sorry.” She managed. Riley’s shoulders quivered slightly. Andi’s voice dropped to a whisper. “I loved Midnight too.” Riley sank to the floor, sobbing openly.
“He was so strong.” Riley said at last. “I didn’t think he could die. He was my best friend.” Andi bit her lip.
“Oh, Riley.” He looked around at her, as if suddenly aware he was watched. A little shamefacedly he wiped his eyes and stood up.
“You won’t tell anyone I cried over a horse, will you?” he asked. Andi smiled, gulping her own tears back.
“Of course not. You won’t tell anyone that I did, will you?” He returned her smile.
“Of course not, but then, you’re a girl.” Andi raised her eyebrows.
“At least you don’t have brothers who would never let you forget it!” she replied. Riley grinned and was about to say something, but just then Chad appeared out of nowhere with his foreman.
“How’s the twins?” he asked. Andi grinned.
“Healthy as ever. We were just about to give them their first grooming lesson.” Chad looked the twins over critically.
“Sunny seems a little on the skinny side. Has Taffy been feeding them both enough?” Andi nodded.
“Yes, but just to make sure I gave them each a bottle of milk yesterday.” Chad gave her a quick nod.
“Good, do that again today. It’s bad for a foal so young to not have enough to eat.” Andi nodded again, and turned to her horse.
“I’ll do that next.” Chad smiled.
“Alright, we won’t keep you. Riley, follow me and Sid. I’ll show you what your first job is.” The men left, and Andi obeyed Chad’s suggestion.
The morning passed by quickly, and Andi didn’t see much more of Riley. Melinda kept her busy with sewing which she was sorely behind in. Lunch came and went, and Andi’s mother allowed her to stop her sewing for the day.
It was then when Cory’s cousin, Marcus Knight, decided to show up in a flashy buggy and asked Melinda if she wanted to have a ride with him. Eyes shining, Melinda said she would love to. They dashed off in a cloud of dust, and Andi looked over at her mother. Mrs. Carter looked over at her youngest daughter with a gentle smile.
“Your time will come Andrea. Be patient.” Andi shook her head.
“Not for a while Mother, I want to wait until everyone else has married.” Mrs. Carter stood and walked over to her youngest child.
“You’ll get married as soon as God wants you to.” She put a hand on Andi’s shoulder. “And we don’t know when that time will be.” Andi shrugged, wishing to avoid the topic for the moment.
Mrs. Carter knew when a conversation was best to be over, and quietly went back over to her chair and took up her sewing again. Andi continued staring out the window at the now empty road her sister and admirer had just gone down. Her gaze shifted slightly and she watched Chad and Riley working on a wild horse in the corral. Without realizing it, her eyes followed the wild horse, a beautiful black horse with a light brown mane and tail. The colors contrasted beautifully, and its muscles rippled, making it look so alive, as if running wasn’t an effort at all. She let out a small sigh and went back to her sewing absentmindedly.
* * * * *
The door banged shut, and Andi’s head jerked up from where she had been sewing. Chad came into the sitting room, followed by Riley. Both were grinning widely, and both were still dusty from working. Chad sank down into the nearest chair and Riley flopped down next to him.
“Well, Mother, we did it.” Mrs. Carter looked at her son.
“Oh?” she asked politely. Chad nodded.
“It took a lot of work, but with Riley’s help I was able to finally tame Spy.” Riley grinned sheepishly.
“I didn’t help that much, just gave a hand now and then.” He paused. “I must say, that horse was beautiful. I was almost sorry to have to tame the wildness from it.” Chad shook his head.
“We tamed the wildness from Spy, but not his spirit. He’ll still be a wonderful horse; he just needed to know not to hurt any of us if we try to ride him.” Riley sighed.
“What a horse!” he exclaimed in admiration. Andi smiled.
“I was watching from the window.” She said quietly. “He is a pretty horse.” Chad nodded.
“Would you like to see him closer?” Andi shot out of her chair as if she had just sat on a pin.
“Would I?” she exclaimed. Chad chuckled.
“I’ll take that as a yes. Come on!” Andi followed her brother and Riley out of the house and to the corral.
Spy was pacing up and down the fence. At the arrival of the humans he suddenly stood still, his muscles quivering. Andi put a hand over her mouth, he was absolutely magnificent! Suddenly, the horse took a tentative step toward the humans. They all froze. He took another step, and another. Andi thought her heart would stop beating. Spy took a whiff of all three humans and took another step. Gently, he leaned his neck over the fence and nuzzled Riley’s face! Riley let out a squeak of surprise, and Spy snorted, backing up. Chad looked at Andi out of the corner of his eye and grinned. Andi grinned back.
“D-did you see that!?” Riley spluttered. Chad nodded.
“Yes, I saw that. Want him?” Riley’s mouth dropped open. Andi looked at her brother in shock. Chad, give away a beautiful horse like this?
“W-what?” Riley looked as if he had just been punched in his stomach. Chad laughed.
“Spy likes you! And you need a good horse. Please, he’s a gift, take him.” Riley gasped.
“Y-you m-mean…” Chad nodded.
“He’s for you, since you lost Midnight.” Andi fought back tears. She desperately wanted to hug her brother, but knew he would be embarrassed if she did, so suppressed the urge. Riley had a few tears trickle down his face as he stood, facing Chad in shock.
“I-I don’t know what to say…except…thank you!” Chad shrugged.
“You’re very welcome. Have fun with him.” Riley blinked and leaned on the fence weakly. Chad, the conversation becoming to awkward, turned abruptly and walked away into the barn. Riley looked over at Andi, who continued to stand still, disbelief written over his face.
“Your brother just gave me a horse!” he said at last. Andi grinned.
“Is it so strange? He gave a horse to me.” Riley frowned thoughtfully.
“I suppose that’s true. It’s still hard to believe that Spy is mine!” Andi nodded understandingly. Spy walked gingerly over to Riley again, and allowed him to pat his nose gently. The dinner bell rang suddenly and so Andi left Riley walked back to the house alone.
Melinda arrived soon and Andi noticed she seemed very happy. She spoke to her mother in undertones and then to Justin. Andi strained her ears, but couldn’t make out what they said. They all seemed very excited about something though, and Justin disappeared outside and had a long conversation with the cousin.
Andi exchanged a glance with Mitch and Chad, who were both across the table from her. Chad was having a difficult time keeping his face expressionless, and Mitch was openly curious. Melinda didn’t seem to mind his questions, and told them all almost immediately that Marcus was courting her officially. Andi gasped and Chad gave up on keeping a straight face, smiling as if he had known all along. Mitch bounced a little in his chair excitedly.
Justin returned to the table with a huge grin on his face. He went over and hugged Melinda.
“Congratulations Melinda.” He said softly. For a few moments all was chaos, but Andi sat still in her chair. She couldn’t help smiling to herself. Wait until Cory heard this! As soon as possible, Andi slipped over to her mother.
“May I ride into town early tomorrow?” she asked. Mrs. Carter frowned thoughtfully.
“Not alone.” Andi’s shoulders sagged. She looked hopefully around the table.
“Does anyone want to come with me to town tomorrow?” Justin looked up from his dinner.
“I would Andi, but I promised Chad I would help him with his ranch paperwork tomorrow.” Mitch nodded.
“Me too. I would, but I’m going to be pretty busy with horses.” Melinda suddenly spoke.
“I’ll go with you Andi.” Andi’s mouth dropped open.
“You will?” Melinda nodded.
“Of course, I haven’t ridden Panda for so long.” Andi grinned.
“Thank you!” Melinda smiled.
“You’re very welcome.” Silence fell and Justin reached for his Bible.
“Let’s read a passage before bed.” He said. The family grew quiet, and Andi listened to her brother’s soft, strong voice as he read from the family Bible. Her eyes closed, her head nodded, and before she knew it, she was sound asleep.
* * * * *
“Andi…Andi wake up. If you want to go to town you’d better start getting ready.” Andi felt herself being shaken gently by the shoulder. She frowned.
“Go ‘way.” She mumbled sleepily. Melinda sighed and then smiled. With a strong yank, the blanket flew across the room. Andi’s eyes opened suddenly and she sat up.
“Alright, alright, I’m up.” She squinted in the bright sunshine. “What did you say?” Melinda repeated her sentence. Andi woke up as if she had just been splashed with freezing cold water. She jumped out of bed and started slipping out of her night gown in a frenzy of worry.
“Oh, how could I sleep in?” she exclaimed. Melinda laughed.
“Never mind that, just get dressed. Mitch got our horses saddled, so all you need to do is have breakfast after you’re dressed and then we’ll be on our way!” Andi replied to this with a quick nod and Melinda went from her room. Andi’s hands practically flew as she made her braids and pulled on her boots. Clambering down the stairs, she nearly ran Riley over as he was coming towards her. He toppled backwards, but steadied himself just in time.
“You’re in a hurry this morning!” he exclaimed with a good-natured grin. Andi stood panting in front of him.
“Yes, I am. I’m going to town with Melinda this morning! I’m sorry I nearly ran you over.” Riley laughed.
“That’s alright. I just came in to see what Chad wanted me to do, so I won’t be in your way anymore.” Andi smiled.
“You weren’t in my way.” She replied graciously. Riley raised an eyebrow doubtfully at her last remark.
“Well, I still won’t be any longer. Chad promised to help me train Spy some more this morning, so I’d better head out. See you later!” Andi grinned.
“See you later. And next time, I’ll try not to run into you!” Riley parted her with a wave, and Andi continued into the dining room more slowly. She finished her breakfast and met Melinda outside with their horses. Melinda gave her Taffy’s reins.
“Ready?” she asked. Andi grinned.
“You bet I am!” They swung themselves onto their horses and took off toward town.
They arrived a short while later. Andi rode towards the livery stable and Melinda towards the hotel. At her call, Cory walked out to her.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. Andi explained.
“Did you know that Melinda is courting your cousin?” Cory grinned.
“Yeah, Marcus told us at dinner last night. I thought something like that was going to happen.” Andi slipped off of Taffy and led her over to a watering trough. She looked at Cory with a worried expression.
“Do you know your cousin well?” she asked suddenly. Cory frowned thoughtfully.
“Yes. Why ask?” Andi sighed.
“Well, with all the other admirers that Melinda has had, it seems as if they all turn out bad. Take Jeffery Sullivan for an example.” Cory snorted with disgust.
“I’d prefer not to think about him at all. I have yet to meet a worse sneak then him yet.” Andi nodded, but brought the conversation around to her point again.
“I just want to know if Marcus might treat my sister’s affections like that.” She finished. Cory’s eyes widened when he realized what she was saying.
“Oh NO! Marcus would never treat your sister like that! He’s completely sincere regarding his feelings towards your sister!” Cory’s shocked face was enough of an answer for Andi, a look of relief passed over her features.
“I’m glad. I hope I can meet him face to face soon, I’d like to know if I’ll like him.” Cory grinned mischievously.
“I’ll let him know…he likes to meet any of my friends.” Andi saw Melinda appear outside the hotel.
“I’d better go.” She said with reluctance. Cory touched his hat briefly with a slight bow, keeping his face completely expressionless.
“I have enjoyed talking with you Miss Carter.” He said solemnly. Andi threw back her head with a hearty laugh, causing Cory to put a hurt look on his face.
“Did I do something wrong?” he asked. “I thought I had memorized all the rules!” Andi gulped back her laughter, tears streaming down her face.
“No, you did everything right! That’s why I’m laughing!” She shook her head. “You’ll never be completely a gentleman in my eyes Cory; I’ve known you too long.” He gave up on keeping his face straight and his old grin returned.
“Then I’ll stop trying!” he declared with relief. “Here comes your sister, you’d better go.” Andi nodded, and the friends parted ways. She met Melinda halfway across the street, and they walked to the side together. Melinda’s eyes were shining, and Andi didn’t have to ask why.
“I just had a talk with Marcus.” She explained before Andi said anything. She turned to Andi with a sparkling smile, and Andi suddenly realized why so many young men found her sister to be attractive. Melinda continued chattering. “Oh, Andi, he’s so wonderful!” Andi took these words with a grain of salt. Melinda had said that about all her suitors, even Jeffery the Rat. “And he’s handsome…and a rich business man.” Andi raised her eyebrows.
“Rich?” she asked. Melinda flashed her a look that said plainly ‘don’t even think about degrading my admirer’ Andi understood it, but waited for an answer.
“Yes.” Melinda replied shortly. “He really is. The Blake’s will vouch for him too if you don’t believe me.” Andi sighed.
“I believe you.” Melinda smiled.
“Good. He told me he wants to meet you.” Andi was surprised.
“Me? He wants to meet me?” Melinda nodded.
“You’re the last of my siblings he hasn’t met yet. He’s anxious to know you.” Andi smiled. Maybe she would like Marcus.
“When?” Melinda shrugged.
“He’s taking me out for a drive this afternoon, so probably you’ll meet him then.” Andi was excited. She would finally meet the mysterious admirer and cousin-of-Cory, Marcus Knight!
The two girls rode home, just in time for lunch, and Andi was put right to work afterword on cleaning stalls; the never ending chore. She got a few glimpses of Riley and Chad working with Spy, and Mitch showed himself time to time with the ranch’s foreman. Andi continued her work, humming under her breath.
Suddenly, Taffy snorted in surprise and warning, then everything went black and Andi felt a flour sack being pulled over her head.
“Got you!” a cheerful voice broke through the darkness. Andi’s heart, which had almost stopped beating, returned to normal. It was just one of the ranch hands playing a practical joke!
“Who are you, and when are you going to take this sack off my head?” Andi replied. A hearty laugh bounced off the rafters, and the bag was slipped off her head. Andi spun around to confront her teaser. Marcus Knight, the mysterious admirer was who stood with feet planted firmly apart and with a lopsided grin on his face! Andi stared with an open mouth at him for a moment. A hand darted out and he plucked a piece of straw from her braid.
“Is this yours?” he asked, gallantly placing the piece of straw in her hand. Andi suddenly remembered her manners and suppressed her surprise. She smoothed her overalls and hair carefully and bowed stiffly, not being able to curtsy in her overalls. Marcus laughed again.
“There’s no need to be formal with me.” He said with a warm smile that made Andi tingle to her toes. “You must be Andi. ‘Linda told me about you.” Andi grinned suddenly. None of Melinda’s other suitors had ever called her by a nickname of any sort. She found herself liking Marcus.
“What did she tell you about me?” she asked. Marcus grinned.
“She told me that you were very mischievous and often got into trouble.” Andi’s mouth dropped open.
“She did not!” He laughed.
“Yes she did, but she said it so lovingly.” Andi looked dubious.
“Yes. She’s very fond of you. Trouble seems to follow you around, but I suppose it’s just part of your nature. I’m sure you’ll grow out of it.” He broke off suddenly. “Is that you horse?” Andi nodded. “Are those her foals?” She nodded again. Marcus looked them over critically. “They are wonderful foals. Well-fed and happy.” Andi looked at him with new eyes.
“You know about horses?” Marcus smiled.
“Yes, my Father owns several racing horses and races them across the country and in England. Two of them have won top prizes in speed and stamina. I spent all my life around horses. I was even a jockey once.” Andi shook her head dis-believingly.
“You are full of surprises. Melinda told me you were a rich business man!” Marcus smiled.
“I am now. Before I was though, I lived with horses. Thanks to an uncle and aunt of mine I was given an opportunity to be able to come out here and get a job helping your brother with his law office.”
“You’re helping Justin?” Andi asked, her eyes widening. Marcus nodded.
“Yes. I don’t blame you for being surprised. ‘Linda was too when I told her.”
“Do you call my sister ‘Linda?” Marcus smiled.
“Yes, she didn’t mind. I have this habit of calling people by a nick-name. That’s how Richard Blake became Cory you know.”
“Yes.” Andi shook her head again.
“You are constantly a surprise!” she exclaimed. Marcus grinned.
“I like being a surprise, it’s fun to always keep people guessing.” Andi smiled, but then sobered.
“Marcus…I know this is rather awkward, but do you love my sister?” Marcus leaned up against the door of Taffy’s stall and sighed.
“To be honest Andi, yes, I do. I loved her the minute I set eyes on her. She was so ladylike, so graceful and sweet.” Andi bit her lip thoughtfully.
“So it was love at first sight?” Marcus nodded. Andi smiled.
“Well, I know she loves you.”
“Really?” Marcus asked eagerly. Andi nodded. He fell silent with a satisfied smile on his face. “Thank you for telling me that Andi.” Andi smiled again.
“You’re welcome, but we should really go inside. Chad is probably already wondering where I’ve got to, and Mother will worry.” She stole a mischievous look over at Marcus. “Besides,” she added innocently, “Melinda’s inside.” Marcus seemed to not hear the last remark and simply followed Andi into the house where dinner was waiting for them.
* * * * *
A few weeks dragged slowly by, and Andi watched her sister and Marcus grow deeper and deeper in love. Riley continued his relentless training of Spy, and the horse was a willing learner. They truly were a good pair together, and Andi realized her brother had been right when he gave Riley the horse. Spy was always eager to do anything to please Riley, and Andi could tell Riley loved his new horse.
One day Justin had a deep conversation with Marcus, and the engagement was soon afterward. Andi was excited; she already loved Marcus like a brother and a friend. He had given her some tips on training Taffy for endurance and speed, as well as fitness and health. He helped her care for the foals, and they were growing fast into beautiful horses.
Suddenly, on a beautiful morning in Taffy’s stall, Riley called to her from by the corral. Curious, Andi walked out into the sunshine. She rounded the corner of the barn and stood stock still, shocked by what she saw.
In front of her, Riley was on top of Spy and riding him! She clapped her hands together softly so she didn’t startle Spy.
“Well done Riley! Well done!” He grinned and waved.
“I thought you might want to witness my first attempt at riding Spy.” He explained, jumping off him and walking him over to the fence. Andi nodded, her eyes shining.
“He’s such a handsome horse!” she exclaimed. Riley nodded, and he rubbed Spy’s nose gently.
“It’s hard to believe he was once a wild horse. He’s so easy going now.” Andi smiled.
“Hopefully forever he’ll be the same. What are you planning to do with him?” Riley shrugged.
“I really don’t know. He looks like he has speed in him, but I don’t know how I could train him to race.” Andi got a sparkle in her eye.
“I know…” she said mysteriously. Riley frowned.
“How?” Andi grinned.
“My new brother-in-law-to-be. He used to race horses with his Father.” Riley’s mouth dropped open.
“No! Not Marcus Knight!” Andi nodded.
“Yes! I couldn’t believe it either at first, but it’s true.” Riley looked doubtful.
“Well, if you say so Andi, I’ll believe you.”
And so it happened that Marcus and Melinda were married that summer in the town’s church. After the honeymoon Marcus agreed to help Riley train Spy to be a race horse. That day Andi went home feeling that all was right with the world…until Riley proposed.