The dark bay Arabian with two white front socks pranced along the arena railing. Her black mane and tail flowed behind her while her delicate ears were perked forward. She arched her neck, snorting softly and looking like the purebred Arabian she was. Her young rider sat in the saddle like she had been born there. The mare’s ears twitched back with each soft command. With a barely noticeable touch of her outside boot heel the mare moved into a fluid canter, making her way around the outside of the ring. The girl guided her through figure eights and crossovers.
Griffen stood outside the arena, one booted foot propped on the bottom rung on the gate. The only time he ever saw Finley truly smile anymore was when she was on a horse. Like today he saw the little girl that he loved. The one she had been before Keeley’s death. Griffen sighed softly. Was he doing the right thing by her? He loved his job as a Marshal, but without Keeley it wasn’t fair to Finley. Maybe he could see about a transfer. It was something to ponder anyhow.
Rivi pranced by his spot at the gate a few seconds later. Finley grinned at her father before urging the mare on, her ash blonde hair pulled back in a braid and hidden partly under the helmet she had grudgingly agreed to wear. She didn’t like the helmet, but until she was older she would wear one. Wren required all of her students under 18 to wear a helmet and Griffen felt better with Finley wearing one.
Griffen glanced around the barn. His sister had made quite some improvements since he had left for the Marshals. The stalls had been recently redone and fresh dirt and turf had been added to the arena. Of course he knew that her career depended on how the barn was ran and maintained. She was a great horse trainer, but one had to have a working space if you wanted to train horses properly and keep clients coming back. He also knew she offered lessons and loved spending time with the kids that came. A few horses stuck their heads over their stalls and whinnied at Griffen. He smiled a bit, wondering if he could borrow one for a quick ride through the snow woods. Of course he wouldn’t until he checked with Avery and made sure she was doing alright. There was so much he found himself wanting to share with her and it scared him. Why was he acting like this? He felt almost sick to his stomach.
“I see she hasn’t lost her touch. She looks like Keeley,” a voice said, snapping Griffen out of his thoughts.
He turned quickly as Grainger walked up beside him. “I know. It’s painful sometimes. She acts like Keeley too,” he admitted. Grainger glanced at his brother and Griffen sighed. Things were still hard for him. “How’s the singing career?” He asked, wanting to get on a better topic than his painful past.
Grainger rolled his eyes. “Nonexistent,” Grainger answered. “I play at the bar in town on the weekends, but it’s not going anywhere. Think I’ll stick to fixing cars. I seem better at that anyhow. How bout you? Ready to hang up being a Marshal yet?” He teased, easily slipping out of the depression he had just been in.
Griffen couldn’t believe his twin hadn’t reached the big time yet. Grainger was an awesome guitarist and somehow he had inherited the perfect country drawl to his tone. Griffen couldn’t carry two notes. He let Grainger change topics though as he knew it was his brother’s defense mechanism for getting out of talking about painful topics. Griffen rolled his eyes at his brother’s question. They always teased each other about their career choices.
“Not a chance. Someone has to keep our cities safe,” he grinned. He wasn’t about to let Grainger know he had just been thinking about leaving the Marshals for Finley’s sake. “So, any new girls I should know about?
Grainger’s eyes lit up. “Yeah, actually. She’s a real beauty. Her hair is a gorgeous reddish copper and she has legs a mile high. What a beaut. And you should see her soft doe eyes.”
Griffen raised a brow. “Are you sure we’re talking about the same thing?”
“Of course. You were asking about my new mare, right?” Griffen stared at his brother for a minute before Grainger started laughing. “Had you going there for a minute, didn’t I? No, besides my mare there aren’t any females in my life. At least none that want anything besides a one night stand.”
“You mean my little brother is finally growing up?”
“By two minutes,” Grainger shot back, shoving Griffen’s shoulder. “And yes. I’m tired of the party scene and the shallow girls that go with that.”
Griffen grinned. “I’m impressed, Grainge. That is great though. And don’t worry. You’ll find her.” He turned back to Finley cantering around the arena. “I’m pretty sure Finley was born in a saddle. I don’t ever remember looking so natural. I’m thinking about maybe moving back home. Or at least getting a place of my own close to here,” he admitted to his brother. Grainger glanced over, letting Griffen choose if he wanted to expand. “I want Finley to be close to family. And she thrives when she’s around you guys and horses.”
Grainger nodded. “I’ll keep my ears open for anything that’s for sale.”
The two brothers turned back to watching Finley work Rivi. The Arabian seemed to have as much energy as Finley did. Neither seemed ready to call it quits anytime soon. Griffen laughed a bit. It had been the same when he and his siblings had been younger. They had lived on horses. Finley had gotten that honest. Finally after a few more circuits Finley pulled Rivi to a stop. She beamed at her father and uncle.
“Did you see us, Uncle Grainger? Rivi is amazing.”
“You’re pretty amazing too, Pipsqueak. Now, how would you like to help me take care of the other horses after we get Rivi cooled down?”
Finley nodded enthusiastically. She slid from the mare’s well worn western saddle and ld her out of the arena. She grinned at her father before following her uncle. Griffen watched them disappear down the aisle where Grainger helped her get the grooming kit out to brush Rivi’s coat out. Griffen sighed softly. Finley needed family around. He had been unfair to her after Keeley’s death. She needed him and she needed this. He would have to fix that somehow. He watched them for a few minutes before turning to head to the house. He wanted to check on Avery and knew that Finley would be fine with Grainger. Maybe later he would look online and see if there were any houses for sale close by. As a Marshal he could move around a bit.
Griffen stepped out into the cool air, taking a deep breath of mountain air. A smile touched his lips as he looked around his childhood home. He had missed this too. It held sad memories as he thought about the first time he had brought Keeley home, but at the same time happy. He didn’t want to forget his wife. And Keeley would want him and Finley happy. He trudged through the snow toward the house, figuring he would see about either finding a snow blower or tractor later to clear the driveway just in case anyone needed to get in or out.
Avery rolled onto her back and stretched, actually feeling human again. Warm sun seeped through the curtains, bringing a smile to her lips. As she shifted a bit she caught sight of the simple, leather banded watch on her right wrist. Her eyes widened in disbelief. 10 AM? Really? She couldn’t remember the last time she had slept so late. She closed her eyes briefly. Apparently she had needed it. Or maybe it was the fresh mountain air. Either way, she felt refreshed and able to face another day.
Avery was loathe to leave the warmth and comfort of the bed though as it just called to her. She finally, reluctantly slipped out from under the covers, hearing voices from downstairs. They must think she was lazy. Avery searched around for clean jeans and managed to pull them on after a lot of struggling. By the time she had finished she wasn’t ready to tackle a clean shirt, so she ended up pulling on a navy blue and orange Denver Broncos sweatshirt that she had found. It was big, but she felt safe and protected wearing it. Something that she wasn’t used to. She was always the protector. Avery sighed softly and carefully made her way downstairs, her blonde hair falling around her face as she hadn’t figured out how to pull it up with one hand yet.
Avery’s stomach started to rumble as her nose picked up on the smell of fresh brewed coffee and something else she couldn’t place but it smelled heavenly. She padded across the hardwood floor in her socked feet, following her nose. She stopped when she reached the kitchen though. Wren and Paige were sitting at the island sipping steaming coffee and munching on what looked like the world’s biggest cinnamon rolls. Avery’s stomach growled again and her face flushed as mother and daughter turned at the sound.
“Morning, sweetie, how are you feeling this morning?” Paige asked as Wren stood and moved around the island.
Avery smiled a bit. “Actually, I’m feeling much better than I had hoped,” she answered as she moved to sit at one of the remaining chairs at the island. “Those cinnamon rolls smell awesome.”
“Mom’s secret recipe for the icing,” Wren grinned, pushing a plate with a still warm cinnamon roll toward Avery. She then filled a mug with coffee. “Cream? Sugar?”
“Both please,” Avery answered as she peeled off a piece of gooey goodness. “Mmm,” she nearly purred as she bit into the sticky roll. “I think I just died and gone to heaven.”
Mother and daughter laughed as Wren set the ceramic mug next to the plate. “Good thing you got down here before Griff and Grainger. They would have woofed them all down already,” Wren grinned, moving back to her seat to enjoy the rest of her own breakfast. “I imagine they’ll be back in anytime though. Fin was out the door as soon as her feet hit the ground.”
“That girl and her horse,” Paige laughed. “Reminds me of you when you were her age.”
Avery enjoyed listening to Wren and Paige talk about the family. Griffen had told her a bit, but now she could actually put faces with the names that he had mentioned. Avery carefully picked up her mug and sipped on it while looking around. The kitchen was immaculate. She could almost picture a famous chef working here. The stove looked brand new and there was a sink that looked like a water trough which made her giggle. The room was painted a lovely yellow with pictures hanging on the far wall. She hadn’t noticed to start with but the bar stools at the island were old saddles and the rest of the kitchen held a western flair to it as well. Avery felt right at home and it made her miss her family. She really needed to get in touch with her parents and see how Walker and his new wife Colby were doing.
The three women turned as the front door opened and they heard someone stomping off their boots. Wren quickly moved around to get another plate and mug down. They couldn’t tell who it was yet, but any of the three guys would want their cinnamon roll. Although Joel had gone into town that morning to pick up some parts the tractor so it probably wasn’t him. Avery shifted in her seat, not sure why she suddenly felt nervous. That wasn’t like her at all.
“Mmm, something smells good,” Griffen said, poking his head into the kitchen. Snow covered his hair and shoulders, but his green eyes were dancing. “Ooh, cinnamon rolls, what’s the occasion?” He asked, pulling out a chair and straddling the back. He flashed Avery a smile. “You look more rested this morning. Hope my sister hasn’t been talking your ear off.”
“Hey,” Wren huffed, holding the plate just out of his reach. “Just for that I’m gonna let Avery have your cinnamon roll.”
Griffen’s eyes widened in horror. “I apologize, dear sister,” he said, trying to look as pitiful as he could, hunching his shoulders. “May I please have one of your amazing cinnamon rolls?”
Wren winked at Avery. Avery hid a smile behind her hand. She liked hearing them pick on each other. Griffen caught her eye, but suddenly seemed to stop. She quickly wondered what she had done wrong.
“That looks much better on you than it ever did me.” Avery gave him a confused look. “The sweat shirt. I like it on you.” Avery’s face reddened, but a smile touched her lips. Griffen turned back to his sister. “Now may I please have my cinnamon roll?”
“Only if you agree to do the dishes. I thought I might take Avery into town with me this afternoon if she’d like to come.”
Griffen pulled a face. “Fine, I’ll do the dishes.”
Avery was surprised by Wren’s offer and she glanced at Griffen. He had finally managed to snag his cinnamon roll and was eating it before Wren could get a hold of it again. “Umm, yeah, that sounds like fun. Although would someone mind giving me a hand with my hair? It’s sorta hard one handed.”
“No problem,” Wren grinned. “I’ll help you get ready before we head out. Want to join us mom?”
Paige shook her head. “Not this time, sweetie. I’ve gotta get some things done around here. Plus, I plan on spending some time with my granddaughter. Which reminds me, where did you leave her this time, Griffen?”
Griffen rolled his eyes. “Oh, let’s see, Grainger offered to let her help with the horses. What do you think she chose?”
“Ah, well that explains it,” Paige laughed, getting up to place her coffee mug in the dishwasher. “You guys have fun. I’m going to go check on them.” She poured a mug of coffee into a travel mug and headed outside.
Avery sipped on her coffee. “Your mom seems really nice,” she commented. “I’ve never felt so at home so fast.”
Griffen and Wren laughed at the same time. “Mom loves to play host. And since you’re injured as well she’s really in her element,” Griffen answered. “Just let us know if she gets to be too much.”
Avery shook her head. “Not a chance. Just makes me realize how much I miss my mom. So anyway, where are we going today, Wren?” She asked, tearing off another piece of cinnamon roll.
Wren grinned. “First I need to pick up some things for Sunday, but then it’s all about us girls. I thought we could get our hair and nails done and do some clothes shopping.”
Griffen groaned, grabbing up his plate and mug. “Way too much estrogen flying around this kitchen for this ole cowboy. Have fun girls. I’ll catch you later.” He gave Avery a soft smile before disappearing out of the kitchen.
Avery watched him leave, her heart fluttering a bit. She turned back around to see Wren staring at her and her face colored. “So, that sounds like fun. Might take me a bit to get ready,” she said, hoping Wren wouldn’t say anything.
“No problem,” Wren answered cheerily. “Let’s go find you something easy to slip on and then we can head.”