This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
The aroma of the freshly cut grass linger in the air just as Savannah, owner of the Golden Ranch and SG Designs, watches her sister open up the front gates. She pulls on a jacket and walks out of the house. She unlocks her car from afar as her sister spots her. Her blonde curls relax against her shoulders as she jogs up to Savannah.
“Morning Sav. You headed back to the south already?” Her sister, Scarlet Golden, asks.
Savannah sighs at the small hint of jealousy coming from her sister, but she knew it wasn’t the jealousy most people would imagine. Her sister loves the country life, but would occasionally complain about being stuck in one place. Unlike Savannah, Scarlet didn’t mind the ranch, but also wouldn’t mind taking a long vacation somewhere exotic, although Texas isn’t as exotic as Scarlet might imagine it to be.
Born about half a year apart, Savannah in December and Scarlet in late September, Scarlet was the youngest of the two girls, meaning that Savannah had inherited the ranch after their parents passed away in a tragic car accident. They were returning from a horse drop-off in late fall when a drunk truck driver knocked their car and trailed off the road. They had been pronounced dead. Savannah had been approached by two investigators and the family of the neighboring ranch at school, the University of Texas. She had just finished her morning class when the principal called her into his office. She had found out about her parents’ death before Scarlet, but it didn’t make breaking the news any easier. She had immediately taken up the task of preparing for their funeral and taking care of her sister. She had gone through this before- the death of someone close to her. After all, it was the reason she refused to ride cross country or force any equestrian rider to take a jump they didn’t want.
She had tried country life, but something was always missing. It was a blessing to be able to ride and smell the fresh air, but her dream was to teach others something she loved. Until the reconstruction of the school barn finishes, she decided to be an intern in New York City. She began to intern for the history professor there, Mark Johnson. He had offered her the job at first because of her wide knowledge on US History, but put her on hold after hearing that she hadn’t finished college. Despite that, she persistently wrote term papers and essays proving her worth until Professor Johnson gave in and gave her a chance. Now, she was doing something she loved, except at the cost of her sister’s disapproval. Scarlet always hated how much work Savannah had to take on to support them, even after they broke even, but it was something she respected because of the hard times their family went through. The only reason Savannah was even back was because of the upcoming championship, in addition to the piles of paperwork her sister couldn’t understand. Rock Springs, Wyoming is the home of her ranch and design company, yet she had the hardest time seeing a future for her. She had a million-dollar company and loving sister, but she didn’t know where it could take her. Usually turning to the ranch for some long term comfort, she always had to deal with buyers , but this business trip was to expand the ranch. A new patch of land opened up after the neighboring ranch was converting over to a boarding location and they were willing to sell it to the Goldens at a reasonable price, before they even put it on the market. Expanding the ranch itself and affording the land wasn’t the problem. The issue was finding employees that would satisfy her idea of a rancher or worker.
Her sister’s worried voice brought her back to reality, “Sis, you should stay longer. The ranch construction is almost done.” Scarlet says, gently urges her older sister to extend her visit.
“I’m sorry, Red. I have to start working soon.”
Scarlet frowns at her nickname. After she dressed as Red Riding Hood on Halloween when she was 9 and refused to change out of her costume, Savannah had called her Red, despite her constant arguments against it. Scarlet walks in front of her sister’s path to her car, “You’re only 19, Sav. You shouldn’t have to work like this. What happened to Mom and Dad was tragic, but they’re gone. We’re stable now and together. That’s what matters. Do what you love, not something you like.” Her voice starts to crack, “I need you here with me. How can this ranch survive without you? You’re the best trainer and rider we have. You’re what makes this place so special.”
Savannah glares at her, “I don’t ride in competitions anymore. You know that.” Scarlet shrugs, only making her angrier. “Red, I have no intention of putting myself out there.” Turning the attention to the ranch, she says, “I already put out an advertisement about some job opportunities here. You’ll be fine. I have to start driving back if I want to make my meetings back in Dallas.”
Scarlet puts her hands on her hips, “I know you. You’re my sister. I know you had to give up a normal life because of the stupidity of another person, but you need to set your priorities straight.” She reaches out for her sister’s hand looks up at her, “Remember what Dad used to tell us?”
Her sister nods, looking up and avoiding her eyes, “A ranch doesn’t strive because of its sales. It succeeds because of the people who make it special. You can breed horses to be the same. You can trade them if you aren’t satisfied, but a true rancher knows what their ranch is capable of- the ideal ranch they want it to become.” She looks down at her watch. “I’ll drive to New York to give my co-commander some pointers and to let Mark know I’ll be taking some time off. I’ll be back in a week, but don’t bother calling me until I tell you that I’m on the road again. Training her to know the rules of the company will take some time. I have to challenge her to know that she’s ready. If not, I’ll have to take some things to be able to work on the ranch. I don’t want to leave SG Designs if it isn’t in the best hands.” Her sister turns around and smiles before starting to jump around.
“I love you so much, Sav!” Scarlet hugs her sister and starts to walk towards her car. “I promise you that you won’t regret your decision to ride.”
“Hold it right there, Red.” Savannah stops in her tracks, “I never said anything about riding.”
“Right.” Scarlet hangs her head down, not wanting to look into her sister’s emotionless eyes. In the distance, the two girls hear someone calling for Scarlet so Savannah steps into her car.
“I’ll see you soon, little sis.” Savannah waves good-bye to her sister before turning onto the road leading onto the highway. Her sister waves to her until her car is no longer in view. She walks over to Cole, the office manger, who was calling her name.
Cole Cross’s dark blonde hair is messy as always, but he suited him well. “What’s up, Cole?” He was Golden Ranch’s most respected worker until something went down between Scarlet and him. They had fallen in love, but Cole had other plans. He wanted to keep their relationship professional. After ever kiss and emotional night together, they were forced to become friends. Needless to say the attraction was still there, just without a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Practice is in a few minutes. I’m gathering up the team. We can qualifiers in a week. We need to be ready.” He dips his brown cowboy hat and hands her a piece of paper. “We just got an email from my sister.”
Skimming over the email on the paper, she looks up at Cole, “How is Jacqueline? I heard she’s doing well for herself in New York City.”
“She has night time gigs at clubs that let her perform. Otherwise, she works at the Bronx Zoo when she doesn’t have classes at Columbia. I heard she’s dating someone, but my sister likes to keep me from scaring her boyfriends away.” He looks at the email in her hand. “What do you think about her idea?”
Scarlet reads the email before responding.
From: Little Bumble Bee <JacquieCross@gmail.com>
To: Annoying Bear <ColeCross@gmail.com>
Subject: Lightbulb! Tell Scarlet ASAP!
Hey big bro!
It’s your favorite little sister here. I heard qualifiers are coming up for you and the other riders. I know it’s hard for you to hear that you aren’t the best, but Ginger always beats you guys in the championships. The only way you’re going to beat her is if you can improve your strides/technique or get Savannah to ride away. She was the one putting record times before she stopped and she’s the one that makes Ginger’s team tremble in fear. And your lovely sister has an idea for convincing her to ride again. I’ve already set the plan in motion. Just work hard and show them why you’re my favorite older brother!
Always with love,
Your little sister
Deputy Trainer and Adviser at the Bronx Zoo
“Cole, you sister is still as blunt as ever.” She hands the email back to him, “What do you think she has up her sleeve?”
He shrugs, “My sister is the closest one to Savannah since she’s in NYC, but at the same time, Jacquie can put the most damage on people without knowing it. I hope she doesn’t do anything foolish.” The bell in the practice arena rings. “We better start going. I already have the horses tacked up and in the arena.”
They start walking towards the arena. “Thanks for helping me out with my canter yesterday. I think I’ve gotten a lot better.”
“Just remembering to trust your horse. Luna is a great horse and is very attentive to her surroundings. It makes her an excellent show jumper, but it also puts a lot of pressure on her rider to focus on the jump. Your sister did a great job at training her. Savannah and Luna have an undeniable bond. It’s sad that she doesn’t ride. She would rather walk to the edge of the ranch grounds to get a horse and walk the horse back instead of riding out to get them. What happened?”
Scarlet shakes her head, “I can’t tell you that. That’s between me and Savannah. There are some things she’s sensitive to and riding is one of them. It’s the fastest way to make her lose her temper and throw something at you. I’ve lose precious shoes because of my stubbornness. I hate seeing her fear take over, especially when she puts a suit of armor on in an attempt to be strong.” They stop at the arena. “Good luck, Cole.”
“Good luck, Lettie.” Cole pulls himself onto his horse, Sugar, and begins putting on his helmet and checking his tack on last time while Scarlet takes her time checking Luna’s gear.
She had two nicknames, both of them from two different people. Her sister called her Red and Cole called her Lettie. She despised both nicknames. She didn’t like Red because it reminded her of terrible Halloween memories. She didn’t like Lettie because it reminded her of her relationship with Cole, something she wanted so badly but couldn’t have. She snaps out of her thoughts when Luke calls her name. She groans, “Coming Mr.Grumpy Pants!”
Luke responding by laughing, “You just volunteered yourself to show us how to jump triple bar oxer.”
Cole and the other riders all trot over to where Luke is on his horse, Marmaduke. All of their gazes are on her as they wait for her to clear the oxer. Luke was known for making her go first, but she didn’t mind. She was trained by her sister and Savannah knew a lot more than Luke, but of course, her sister also told her to play nice with Luke so here she was not fighting back. She glances at the oxer which they put up earlier in the day before practice. It was nicely decorated by his sister to “bring some color to the outback”. She stares at the oxer and counts about four strides until she can take off. She whispers to Luna, “We got this girl.” She gently kicks her stirrups against Luna to let her know that she’s ready to start. She approaches at a trot and quickens up her pace, clearing the jump with no accidents. She turns Luna around and smiles proudly at Luke. “Is Mr.Grumpy Pants happy now that one of his riders did something right today?”
Luke taps on her helmet while facing the rest of the team, “Although she didn’t knock down a rail, what could Scarlet have improved?” No one answered him. He looks directly at Scarlet, “How about you? Any thoughts about your own performance?” She doesn’t say anything. “Well then, since no one can answer me, I guess I’ll have to tell you.” He glances to his right and sees Natalia roll her eyes. “And since Natalia loves this kind of oxer, she’ll be going next to demonstrate what I’m about to tell you. Natalia was a great rider, but show jumping wasn’t her passion. Scarlet knew her as a racer. Natalia excelled at cross country, one of the highly valued portions of the competition, not jumping oxers. It wasn’t until recently that Savannah had worked with her one on one on her jumping. She was improving, but she was still uncomfortable with the restricted spaces. “Scarlet’s run would have been flawless if she had relaxed her heel. It brought Luna down when they took off and if Luna hadn’t been as well trained as she is, she would have knocked down a rail instead of putting more energy into her launch.” He looks at Natalia, “I’m not always this bossy and all of you know it, but we need to put our best efforts in if we are going to win.” Natalia stares at the oxer, but doesn’t move her horse, Cobalt, forward. Luke trots Marmaduke up to Cobalt. “It’s okay, Natalia. Count the strides.”
“I know how to jump it. I just don’t want to let anyone down.” Natalia scratches Cobalt’s ears. “I messed up at the last competition and brought our score down.”
Luke trots up Sugar to Cobalt and Marmaduke, “No one is perfect Natalia. We just have to try our best. If we do that, we’ve already given it our all and that’s enough for our team. We don’t need a trophy to celebrate. We just need to do our best.”
Scarlet joins the group, “Don’t worry about letting anyone down. This is a practice. We’re here to get better. And if you’re going to make a mistake, this is the best group to do in front of. We’re nothing like those snobs at the Longwood Equestrian Facility. We’re a family. We stick together no matter what.” In that moment, the gate of the arena opens with a bang. Everyone turns to look at the arena entrance. Heather and Hunter gallop in.
“Sorry for being late, but we saw Ginger’s truck coming this way. We ran here as fast as we could.” Hunter claims in between breaths.
Luke motions to Cole, Natalia, and Scarlet. “I want you three to cool down your horses.” He looks at Hunter and Heather, “I want you two to check the property lines. I don’t want anyone spying on us or breaking the fences. If anything needs a repair, take a photo of it and report back once you’re down.” Everyone disbands and Luke walks towards the ranch office. He arrives just as Ginger Longwood’s truck pulls into their road in the distance. He puts down his helmet on the bench on the porch and waits for Ginger to pull onto the ranch land. Scarlet joins him as Ginger begins to walk up to the house. “What are you doing here Ms. Longwood?” Luke says with no emotion in his voice.
“I’m here to offer you a deal you can’t refuse.”
Scarlet scoffs, “And what deal might that be?”
“I’m so glad you ask, dear. I’m willing to buy your ranch for 5 million dollars. Your team has lost to Longwood five years in a roll. It makes no sense to continue running.” Ms. Longwood justifies her deal, but Luke shakes his head.
“There is no way the Goldens will sell. Use your money elsewhere and I would advise you to leave now.” Luke waits for her to walk back to her truck until he takes out his phone to call Savannah.
“Hello? Is something wrong, Luke? Why are you calling me?” Savannah asks.
“I was expecting something along the lines of ‘Hi Luke. I really wish that I had asked you to come back to NYC with me so we could finally go on that second date.’ I’ll forgive you, but you have to give me a date and time for us to have dinner in town. Anyways, Ginger stopped by offering five million for the ranch. She’s up to something and I’m going to figure out what, but until then, I just wanted to let you know she stopped by.”
“No need to investigate. It’s a classic move on her part.”
“What do you mean?”
“Ginger knows Scarlet and I will never sell. She used that as a cover up to look at the ranch to see how we’re doing. It’s how she counters us during competitions. If she sees even a little bit of how we were practicing, she can place her riders in the right spots.”
“That’s sly for someone in her 40′s. Luckily, I told everyone to either check the fences or to cool down their horses so she basically wasted her time.”
“I would recommend checking our cameras just in case. I have the security system in my office which Scarlet can access and I have five back ups to each camera so there’s no way she can get past us. Plus, they’re so well hidden by yours truly that there would be no way for her to even know about them.”
“Okay, but I wasn’t kidding about our date. I thought we had a great time together.” Luke walks into the house and turns on the air conditioner. “I was really hoping to prove my fine dining skills in New York.”
“Luke, you know I was just taking you out to dinner. I’m not really interested in anyone. I have a lot on my plate right now so I don’t have time to even think about dates. I’m really sorry, Luke, but I guess I’m not your kind of girl.”
“I really like you, Savannah.” Luke plays with the computer mouse on his desk, not willing to let the only girl he’s ever had such weird feelings for get away.
“And I like you to, but as a friend. You’re a great guy with a great heart and I’m sure there’s someone out there for you. It’s just not me. I have certain things I need to focus on.” The sound of a car horn sounds in the background. “I have to go, but Luke,”
“I’ll be back soon, once I’m done here, and I’ll talk to you about this then. Okay?”
“Savannah, please just promise me that you’re going to keep an open mind about this.”
She sighs, “I always do, Luke. You’re charming, handsome, brave, caring, and stubborn. That’s only a handful of qualities I like about you. I just don’t think that you’ll fit into my life.” She hangs up. Luke tosses his phone onto the couch nearby and walks out of the house. Scarlet is still standing outside.
“You okay?” Scarlet could notice a sad face anywhere. She saw the face plenty of times as she watched her sister come home late at nights, tired and depressed.
“Your sister is a handful.” Luke looks up at Scarlet, but doesn’t let his anger claim his thoughts.
“She didn’t fire you, right?” Shock fills both of their eyes at her question. “Sorry, I shouldn’t be jumping to conclusions. What happened?”
“She’s making decisions about our relationship, thinking that I can’t handle her past or any kind of baggage she might come with.” He looks out at the grassy lands beyond his grasp. “I know she’s been through a lot. I don’t need the details to know she’s scared of getting hurt again or having someone take everything away from her, but I hate that she’s practically running away from her problems.”
“Did you tell her that? Honesty serves as the best policy with my sister. She thinks about everyone around her while ignoring her own needs. She has learned to make a loved one’s life better, even if it’s at the cost of her own. She needs someone to remind her once in a while that she needs to live for herself too.”
“I guess I’ll tell her how I feel when she comes back.” He sighs before heading back into the office, “I’m going to finish the application process for the team and then I’m going to start preparing for our party tomorrow. You and Cole can take the truck out to get supplies. I want everyone else to finish their chores and work on their weakness.”
“Got it, Luke. And remember, I’m always here if you need me. You and I know her the best.” Scarlet hurries off to tell the others about their new assignments. Sadly, Luke had paired her with Cole, again, in which they would be within five meters of each other. Hopefully, it doesn’t get awkward.
Scarlet and Cole begin pushing the cart around Party City. They were planning a party to celebrate the beginning of their new riding season. They had walked through every aisle and not one thing entered their cart.
“What theme do you want to do?” Cole asks Scarlet as they turn around to travel down the candy aisle, one more time.
“I’m okay with any theme, but I feel like the team banners in the front of the store work the best. I’m sure Savannah will be back by Friday morning to unlock her DIY stash. She’s the most creative person I’ve ever met.”
“That stings, Lettie. Remember when I made that Mickey Mouse omelet?” She tries to stop tears from going down her cheeks, but she can’t help herself. “What’s wrong?” Cole stops the cart in a quiet corner and rubs her cheeks.
“I hate it when you call me that. It reminds me of all the good times we had which only remind me of what I can’t have with you.” She starts to push the cart towards the front of the store to grab the banners, but he stops her.
“Scarlet, if I regretted anything, it would be breaking up with you, but this is what’s best for us. We both agreed to keep our relationship professional. We can’t work together if we start dating. What happens if something goes wrong? I’ve heard stories of teams falling apart because of romances. I don’t want anything to happen to you or the ranch.” Cole helps her fix her hair and places a soft kiss on her cheek. He whispers in her ear, “How about we make a deal?” As if it were music to her ears, she looks up at him and smiles. “If Savannah manages to open up to someone and fall in love, that means the universe is giving us the green light to get back together again. However, that also means we can’t interfere with her love life to sway our opinions. If your sister, no offense, manages to fall in love, it means we’re solid.”
“Deal. I know my sister has it in her to fall head over heels for someone like I have, but it might take her longer. Just for her to admit that she has a boyfriend might take a while. How about we tighten the deal down to her admitting she’s dating someone?”
“Deal.” He begins to push the cart forward, “Now let’s get that banner and head back to the ranch. I can’t wait to see how the universe works.”
Back on the ranch, Cole and Scarlet are busy folding the banner up to put into storage. They couldn’t put it up tonight because of a storm, but at least it meant clear skies tomorrow. Luke had just finished checking on the fifth barn, the closest one to the ranch house before he walks into the living room- after taking a hit from mother nature.
“You look like you went swimming in your riding clothes.” Cole jokes as he sees Luke come in. When Luke doesn’t call him off like he usually does, he realizes that something is up. “What’s wrong man? Why the gloomy face?” Cole can sense the glares coming from Scarlet, but he ignores them.
“Savannah is just so hard to understand. One day you’re having a blast with her and the next she’s giving you the cold shoulder.” Luke pours himself a cup of tea from a counter next to the dining table. Cole and Scarlet look at each other, both of them desperately wanting to help him, but also wanting their deal to succeed naturally. “I’m surprised you two know-it-alls don’t have anything to say. I’m going to hit the hay earlier than usual tonight. I’ll be awake before you two jitter bugs anyway so I don’t see the difference. Night you two.” Luke grabs his cup of tea and starts walking upstairs to his room. Cole and Scarlet scoot next to each other on the couch and look at each other.
“Cole, I can’t do this. Luke needs me help which means my sister needs my help. Look how miserable he is.” Scarlet moves closer to him, but doesn’t look up at him.
“I know Lettie, but we need the universe to work their magic.”
“Fine.” She gets up from the couch and walks over to the staircase. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Cole.”
“Good night, Scarlet. Early bird catches the worm.” He sees her laugh before walking upstairs. He sits on the couch for a few more minutes before closing the lights and heading upstairs himself. He knew he wanted Scarlet more than anything. He knew the dangers of loving her, but he refused to think that letting nature take its course was going to harm his future.
Cole wakes up to the sweet smell of honey in the house. Strange. For one thing, the ranch was far from a bee sanctuary. And for another thing, there was no way honey could be produced within the house, had the bees escaped. He crawls out of his bed and pulls on the first shirt he can get his hands on in his drawer. He rushes downstairs to see Scarlet and Luke flipping pancakes by the stove. Scarlet is wearing her pajamas- purple bear shorts and a light blue tank top, while Luke is shirtless in his gym shorts. His blood begins to boil to see the two of them so close. He watches them from behind the staircase, trying to remain hidden. Scarlet walks closer to Luke until only an open drawer separates them.
“Luke, you know my sister cares. She does, but you have to help her see that you’re worth the risk. She’s hurt and damaged because of everything she has been through. She’s not going to open up to anyone and when she lets you in, don’t rush things because she’s going to feel pressured to do something she shouldn’t be obliged to do. I know I shouldn’t even be telling you this or helping you with this, but I can’t stand to see my sister work so hard to accomplish what? She is happy. She really is, but being happy doesn’t mean she’s complete. She’s missing a piece to her heart because she was never given a chance to develop it. And now look at where she is now.”
“I don’t see why you’re encouraging me to flirt with her. She’s successful and runs a great company with great people. She has everything she’ll ever need. I shouldn’t ruin her happiness. Yet, you as her sister is urging me to do something. How am I going to prove to her that I’m worth it?”
“Now that, my dear trainer, is why I am here talking to you. You know Savannah well enough to bring you’re A-game. What do you think she’s not expecting but really wants?”
“How is that your role in all of this? Being blunt and suspicious?”
“Nope. I’m here to motivate you.”
“And how are you going to do that?”
Scarlet leans over the opened drawer, grabs the can of whipped cream behind him and lunges back while spraying his face in the process.
Cole holds back a groan from seeing the girl he likes acting playfully with another guy and walks off of the stairs. “Morning guys! What’s going on here?” He walks in between them, interrupting their game of ‘Catch the Pancake’.
As if on cue, a pancake drops onto his face, just as Scarlet says, “What goes up must come down.” She and Luke burst into laughter, leaving him to eat away at the delicious breakfast cliché off of his face. “Morning Cole.” She smiles at him before walking over to the fridge and pouring him some fresh orange juice. “I know you love your juice. Luke already set up the party decorations with me this morning so that’s one thing off your list.” She turns to Luke, “Didn’t you start checking out the fences and feeding the chickens already?”
Luke combs back his hair with his hand, “Feeding chickens sounds easy when it’s first mentioned, but when you actually go into the pen to collect the eggs and feed them, it’s like a game of cat and mouse. I don’t know how you do it, Cole, but I managed to get some scratches here and there. Needless to say, I’ve already brought the eggs to the storage unit so you’re pretty much free for about an hour. Scarlet and I took the herd of horses out early and before we came back here, we brought them back into the pasture.”
Scarlet and Luke were up early. If that wasn’t strange enough, they had been completing his chores together. He frowns, but proceeds to drink his juice. “So I guess I’ll start cleaning out the arena and feeding the horses.”
Scarlet pushes a plate of pancakes towards him on the counter, “Don’t you want breakfast? I even made some honey water to combat the spring allergies around here.”
That explains the smell, Cole thinks. “No it’s okay, Scarlet. I’ll get something later. The horses should eat before me anyways. It’s how I get them to eat. I pretend, most of the time, to eat their food.” He walks out of the house to see a German Shepherd sitting out on the porch. Cole turns around, “Scarlet! Luke! Why is there a dog on the front steps?”
The two of them walk outside to see what he’s talking about. Luke immediately bends down to pet the down while Scarlet looks at the collar. “This is Jacquie’s dog according to this tag.” Scarlet looks up at him, shocked. “Your sister doesn’t seem to be like the kind to just abandon her dog, not that I even knew about this little guy here.” Luke continues to pet the Shepherd, but Scarlet gets up from the floor.
“I’ll call my sister.” Before Cole can reach into his pocket for his cell, someone jumps on his back from behind. Instinctively, he grabs their legs to keep them from falling.
“Nice catch, big bro.”
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