It never ceased to amaze me how incredible the Montana sky looked early in the morning. The first time my husband brought me here, I had to admit I was not thrilled one little bit. I was a certified city girl and the thought of wide open spaces, wild animals and insects left much to be desired.
Daniel had been raised in the hills of Bozeman and always said when he made his first million he would be back to buy a parcel of land. Being a man of his word, he flew us in on our private jet to check out a property one of his cousins had called about. The airport was tiny, the folks hanging about all reminding me of the Beverly Hillbillies. I told Daniel I would wait in the plane.
“Amanda, get your ass up and see this with me. Stop acting like a prima donna.”
I blinked, hurt to the core. I certainly wasn’t a prima donna; I was just acting like one at that moment.
“Honey, this is your thing.” I shrugged, taking his outstretched hand. He tugged me into his embrace and all my resolve was gone. I loved the man so much he could have asked me to walk on hot coals at that point and I would have stripped off my shoes. The infuriating smile that curved his lips when he knew he had won appeared. “Don’t push your luck buddy,” I hissed, following him into the hanger, where he greeted an older gentleman in jeans and plaid shirt. Of course, everyone I had seen so far was dressed exactly alike.
“Fred! Good to see you.” They hugged warmly, then Daniel pulled me up by his side. “This is the missus, Amanda. Honey, my first cousin on my mother’s side, Fred.”
“Pleased to meet you, Fred.” I smiled, taking his weathered hand. “I hear you have a parcel of land to show us.”
“Not just land, missy, a lovely log home. Just needs a bit of work.” Fred grinned proudly, leading us to an old pick up truck.
Daniel leaned closer to me. “If he says ‘bit of work,’ don’t be surprised if it’s a shack.”
“Perfect,” I whispered, capturing a light kiss before sliding in next to the gear shift knob.
Fred drove for 20 minutes, he and Daniel talking about family, babies being born and the property. I kept watching the incredibly blue sky that seemed to have a horizon that went on forever. I was use to the Los Angeles sky; a brownish, gray cloud that never burnt off until way past noon. The blue and the clouds were magnificent.
Fred finally stopped at a huge wooden gate, got out, swung it open, and we continued on. The gravelly road tossed tiny stones all about as we drove on until a large log home loomed into view. It had a porch that wrapped around three sides, enormous windows, and tall trees surrounding the entire structure. To one side was a barn with corral and several additional out buildings.
Daniel jumped out and held a hand for me. He snarled at my boots, with thier tall heels.
“You will regret those.” He wagged his brows as I punched his arm. Two steps later I almost fell, but refused to let him help. Smart ass man.
“So, Danny, what do you think?” Fred stood, thumbs in his belt loops, looking like a proud peacock. Daniel twirled about taking in the land for as far as he could see.
“Incredible, Fred. You found exactly what I was looking for.” His eyes swept over to find mine. “Mandy?”
“Give me a second to catch my breath,” I said softly, strolling over to the steps of the house. “Can we go inside?” I asked, glancing at Cousin Fred.
“Sure, go ahead the door isn’t locked.”
I tried the handle, and lo and behold it swung open. Walking inside, I shivered from the coldness of the huge living room that contained an amazing stone fireplace. Large windows on each side looked down the valley into the lush green. Right off the living area was an enormous kitchen that immediately drifted into a dining area and family room, complete with another fireplace. The porch was off the family room, connected by French doors. In the rear of the structure were three bedrooms. The master suite was large, with its own bathroom, holding a sunken tub and glass shower. A Jacuzzi with an enclosure was built on a small area off the suite. I rolled my eyes to Daniel, who gave me a look that made me blush!
“Fred, give us a few minutes to stroll and talk, would you?” Daniel slapped him on the back before grabbing my hand. “After you, wife.”
As we strolled hand in hand, I breathed in the scent of pine and listened to birds sing to one another overhead. We did have our home in Los Angeles, but this might be a lovely retreat to get away from the craziness of his job and our life.
“So, how far away from here did you grow up?” I asked, picking up a pinecone to examine.
“Not very far at all. After my parents died, I left for California, but I do still have a few relatives around. Fred is one of them.” He stopped and took my chin by the tips of his two fingers.
“You know I hate that,” I frowned, pulling free.
“I wanted your attention. What do you think? I don’t care how much I want it, Amanda. If you aren’t happy or don’t want to come here, tell me and we will just go home. I mean it honey. I thought I had something to prove but those old feelings are gone. Kaput. You helped me tame those demons.” His incredible blue eyes with their tiny crinkles at the outer edges shined at me.
“Daniel John Galloway, you drag me up to this godforsaken country on a Saturday when I had lunch plans with friends, and now you say it isn’t important?” I raised my head defiantly. “I only have one thing to say -- bullshit.”
“I do love it when you say such sweet things,” he laughed holding me tightly. “Yeah, yeah, it’s important but not as important as you.”
“It’s amazing, and I think it would be a wonderful change from our hectic lives. A terrific place for Christopher to grow up. Can you work on the house or do you have to have one of your crews come up here?” I asked as we continued on.
“Oh, been playing that out in my head. I have so many ideas. I think the basic house is wonderful with just a few of my creative touches.”
“Now I am worried!”
Daniel owned a rather prominent construction company in Los Angeles. He had started with a worn tool belt and big dreams. Now he was building those dreams for some of the richest inhabitants of the City of Angels. We had a very comfortable life with our son, Christopher, who was just turning 5.
Daniel and I sat down with Fred, hashed over numbers, and purchased the property that day.
Looking off into the horizon, it seemed inconceivable that had been 10 years ago. Ten years of cattle raising, eventually giving up our large home in LA to live here almost full-time; Daniel returning to work, me running the ranch with Chris, our 300 head of cattle, six horses and an assortment of cats, dogs and a few goats.
I shifted in my saddle and ran a hand down Becca’s mane. I took up riding the summer after we moved here and now it was difficult to get me off a horse. I heard a sound and turned in my saddle to watch Chris ride up. He was 15 and tall and strapping like his dad, with blond hair and the same piercing blue eyes. Sometimes when he looked at me I had to avert my eyes or I would begin to cry.
“Mom, I thought I’d find you here. You doing okay?” He reached over between horses and tugged at the long braid down my back. He knew what today was and how lonesome I was feeling.
I nodded, “Yeah, just thinking about your Dad. This was his favorite spot.”
“I know,” he said softly. “I miss him too, every day.”
“Well, then we do have something in common. Oh, did you talk with foreman about the bull he is so keen on?” I asked trying to steer the conversation to more benign topics.
“I will. I wanted to see you first. After I speak with Tom, I’m off to town; is there anything you need?”
I shifted my eyes to his and decided not to answer. Everyone knew what I wanted and needed.
“Nope, I’m fine. I’ll be in
shortly.” I watched him ride
off, the fluid motion of my son fading into the tall timber.
Oh, Danny, I thought tearfully, you would be so proud.
Six years after we purchased the ranch Daniel was killed in a horrific construction accident in San Diego. I had kissed him and watched the plane ascend into the clouds, never to see him again. A girder had been rigged improperly and during an inspection it broke loose and crushed Daniel and two architects.
The first few months I was nothing more then a vegetable, something I now regretted, considering I’d had a child who depended on me. I had a dear friend who was closer then any relative alive, and she came to stay with me and got us both through our grief and depression.
Cousin Fred listed the property eight times, but in the end I could not force myself to sell it. Not ever, or at least not until Chris had a family of his own and decided if he wanted to have a life here. I could relinquish it then and only then.
I wasn’t ready to return home and decide to extend my ride, lazily moving amongst the trees, watching deer graze, completely comfortable with my intrusion. A pain drove through me like a knifeas I remembered a day out here on a blanket with Daniel. The deer over his shoulder had made it difficult for me to concentrate on making love; Daniel teased me about being such a city girl. Such an amazing man. I kept telling myself I was lucky to have him as long as I did but that never lessened the deep longing for two arms to hold me.
Entering a low lining valley, I glanced up at a hawk circling around looking for breakfast when I saw the small jet much to close to the ground. Peering from under the brim of my Stetson, I listened to the sound of the engine and knew it was in trouble. I felt my jean pocket to see if I had brought my cell phone; I always forget to grab it from the charger. It didn’t always work out here, but Chris constantly berated me for not carrying it with me when I rode; what was the blasted thing for, he chanted relentlessly. I knew he was afraid something would happen to me and I adored him for it, but when I rode I didn’t want the interference of business or other mundane interruptions. It was my time for Daniel.
The pilot knew what he was doing, keeping it under control, descending slowly. From the sound of the engine, it was definitely losing power and I prayed he was not coming in too quickly.
The jet hit the clearing with a large thud, struggling to a stop before it hit a thicket of trees. Waiting for it to finally come to rest I rode over close to see if anyone needed assistance.
It was several moments before the hatch opened and two men appeared. Both were pale as ghosts, and they looked around before they saw me.
I dismounted and walked closer holding Becca’s reins. “You fellows all right?”
“Think we may need a change of drawers, but yeah, we are in one piece,” one man spoke, and I noticed his English accent. Peeking over my sunglasses I stared for an instant; he sure seemed familiar. He finally smiled at me and approached. “Is this your property? I will be happy to pay for any damage.”
“I do believe that is the least of our worries. When I heard your plane, I sure was afraid for a much worse outcome.” I rubbed my sweaty hand on my jeans before stretching it out. “I’m Amanda Galloway; welcome to Sanctuary.”
“Sanctuary. Sure seems an appropriate name after what we just experienced.” He grasped my hand; his was terribly soft, making me feel uncomfortable with my rough, work-hardened hands. “Paul McCartney. This is Sean, my associate.”
Of course, that was why he looked familiar. I knew from the news he was touring.
“Pleased to meet both of you. Your pilot?” I looked to the hatch and another man in uniform appeared, looking as nervous as the Sean and Paul had.
Paul turned. “What the fuck happened, Pete?”
“Not sure, boss; we began losing power and I knew I had to set her down. I let the traffic controllers know we are fine. Don’t want some shit on the news about a missing icon.”
“Sod off,” Paul muttered, turning back to me. I smiled at his embarrassment.
“I’ll head back to the house and send a jeep to fetch all of you. You can relax, get something to eat and call whomever you need.” I mounted Becca, but Paul reached up and stroked her mane.
“How about if I ride with you? She’s a beauty.”
“Sure, hop up,” I shrugged, and he was up and behind me in a flash, his arms looping around my waist.
Becca plodded along. Neither one of us said a word. Paul shifted in the saddle, then pointed up at the sky.
“Is that a hawk?” he asked, shielding his eyes from the sun. I followed his finger.
“No, a bald eagle, actually. They are making a comeback.”
“Amazing creature. Have you lived here all your life?” he asked, his hands resting casually on my hips.
“No, ten years on the ranch. My husband was from Montana and wanted to return to his roots. Being a bonafide city girl, I protested, but now I adore it here; wouldn’t want to be any other place,” I replied, heading up an incline towards the house.
“I can relate to that. I have a farm in Scotland; one of my absolute favorite places to be. I always run back there, especially after a tour and no privacy. It is my own sanctuary,” he said softly. “Just to be with the wife and kids.”
“Bingo. Family is everything.”
We rode a little further before Paul asked, “Did I hear correctly that your husband was from Montana?”
I took a breath in. “Yes, born in Butte but raised in Bozeman. Daniel died several years ago.”
Paul was silent for a few seconds, then said thoughtfully, “Daniel Galloway… of course.”
“Yes, I remember when we went to your home for a consult.”
“When I first saw you on the mare, I thought your looked familiar. The four of us had a meal to discuss the construction plans. Hell of a nice bloke. I remember Lin reading the story about his accident. I think she sent a card,” he said absently.
I had received so many notes and cards when Daniel died, but I did recall seeing a very kind note from the two of them.
“Yes, I remember. It was extremely thoughtful. That time is a blur for me, I am sorry to admit. I don’t remember very much.” My voice quivered and I felt Paul squeeze my side.
“Understandable. And you had a child, a son?”
“Chris, yes. My pride and joy. So much like his dad it’s frightening. He’s in town but will be back later. Maybe he can run you to catch a flight or whatever you need. There’s the house,” I pointed, heading into the corral.
“Beautiful,” Paul muttered, hopping down and holding up his hand for me. I took hold and he lifted me to the ground.
Bert appeared, stopped and scratched his head. “Missy?”
“Bert, this is Paul McCartney; his jet had to make an emergency landing in the clearing. Would you send the jeep down to fetch the remainder of his party?” I asked, motioning for Paul to follow me to the house.
“Yes, ma’am, once I take Becca’s saddle off.”
Walking into the house, I tossed my hat onto a chair and ran a hand through the errant wisps of hair that swirled around my face. Paul was looking around, his eyes resting on the fireplace.
“This is incredible. The stonework is amazing.”
“It was here when we bought the place, but Daniel always put his own unique touches on anything. You always enjoyed the addition he did on your L.A. house, didn’t you?” I smiled, heading to the kitchen. I needed some iced tea, and poured some for Paul as well.
“My favorite section of the house. We wanted to do additional work but never found anyone with his flair. Ta, I am thirsty.” He took the glass from my hand and downed it. Laughing, I refilled it; this one he sipped.
Bert returned with Pete and Sean, and the three men stood on the porch discussing options. I was filling more glasses and rooting through the cabinets for something to munch on when Chris drove up in his pick-up.
Ambling towards the house, he stopped on the second step and introduced himself, spoke for a few moments, then came in to find me. He looked at me with a huge grin.
“I leave you for an hour and your find a rock star in the clearing?”
I held up a hand, “Hey, I was riding and they stumbled from the sky. Not my fault at all. Here, sweetie.” I handed him a glass after adding two spoonfuls of sugar. “Pretty crazy, huh?”
“The guy is amazing; when he was part of the Beatles they were way before their time,” he continued making me giggle.
“And how in the hell would you know that? The group was long gone when you came into being.”
“Mom, I’m not a moron. Besides one of the kids at school had to do a report and chose the Beatles. The information we found on the web was mind-boggling.”
We both turned as Pete and Sean walked in, and I handed them tea. Sean downed his and was refilled quickly.
“Thanks,” he said gently for such a huge man.
“Where is the largest town?” Paul asked, dodging an ice cube before taking a drink. Chris and I glanced at one another.
“Umm…large…that is a relative term. What are you thinking?” I asked.
“My mechanic is in L.A. We were flying there for a meeting. Lin and James are in Minnesota; I had a gig last night and this was going to be a quick turn around trip. So much for the best laid plans. Pete and Sean were going to hop a flight and bring Charlie back to examine the plane,” he explained. I nodded, then focused on his face.
“And you? Are you going back to Minnesota?”
“Thought I’d stay here, if that is all right, with the plane, until it can be determined what the trouble is.” He smiled, glancing from me to Chris.
“Sure, no problem. We have plenty of room. There is a phone in the family room; please feel free to call your wife.”
“Thanks, I’m sure she will appreciate hearing from me directly.” He looked at Chris. “So an airport these blokes can go to for a flight to California?”
When they were done discussing plans, I showed Paul the spare room and asked if he had any luggage we needed to get from the plane.
“Naw, was going to be gone just the day.”
Opening a closet, I pointed at the shirts and pants hanging inside. “Please feel free to use anything you like. I couldn’t get rid of anything, and you and Daniel are about the same size. The room has its own bath, and there are other items in the dresser.”
Chris got Pete and Sean to the airport in Billings and returned home with three huge steaks. I had prepared a salad, and was thinking of something else to include with it for dinner when he plopped the meat down. I shook my head with a laugh.
“What?” he frowned. “I spent a lot, these are great steaks.”
“So much for your school research.” I teased. “Paul is an advocate for PETA; he’s been a vegetarian for years.”
“Oh.” Chris looked at me guiltily as Paul walked in, hearing the last part of our conversation.
“Thanks for the thought, mate, but could you put it in the fridge or something?”
“Sorry,” Chris muttered, gathering up his spoils and taking them out of Paul’s sight.
“All the ranches in the valley and you pick a cattle ranch.” I smiled, finding the pasta shells I had been searching for. “I made a tray with cheese and crackers.”
“Ta, but don’t go to any great trouble. I am the intruder here.” He slipped onto a bar stool, gazing out the windows into the valley. “Do you ever miss L.A.?”
“Did at first. The luxury of getting anything and everything the minute you want it and all that, but not anymore. When I do go, I stock up and come back to peace and solitude. That’s what I need now.”
The three of us sat outside on the porch and ate and I even opened a bottle of wine, giving Chris a small splash and making him swell with pride. He and Paul discussed music, instruments and the joys and heartache of being in the public life. I cleared the plates and brought out mixed berries and whipping cream.
“Wonderful meal.” Paul patted his tummy.
“I was a little intimidated cooking for a man whose wife has published cookbooks. Cooking has never been one of my strong suits,” I confessed, slapping at Chris, who was nodding wildly. “You don’t look undernourished.”
“Lad, never bite the hand that feeds you.” Paul laughed, Chris joining in. I could see my son was enjoying having another man around to pick on me.
Loading the dishwasher, I reached back to take a glass from Chris but found Paul with a stack of dishes. We worked in tandem, chatting about horses and different aspects of how the ranch was run.
A few minutes later Chris popped his head in, fresh from a shower. “I’m meeting some friends at the diner,” he volunteered. I raised an eyebrow.
“No drinking. No, don’t even start. I know how you boys are. Darts, pool, looking at girls, but one whiff of beer and the truck keys are mine. Understood?”
“Yes, commandant!” He saluted and winked at Paul. “Wanna come with? The place would be on its heels.”
“Maybe another time. I’m knackered and would like to rest a bit.”
“Knackered?” Chris repeated, and Paul chuckled.
“Slang for tired. I’ll have to give you a crash course in Scouse.”
“Okay now, I won’t even ask on that one. See ya!” He was gone as I latched the dishwasher and started it.
“Terrific boy. My son is just about his age; he’ll turn 16 this year.”
“So will Chris. It’s all downhill from here!” I laughed. “Would you like some coffee or tea?”
“Actually, another glass of that wine.”
Lighting a citronella candle to keep the bugs away, Paul and I sat outside listening to the sounds of the night, watching fireflies blink between the trees. I found him easy to talk with, and we covered a wide range of subjects. Finishing the bottle, I sat back to tug off my boots.
“Do you get lonely sometimes?” he asked quietly, and I glanced at his face beyond the flickering light.
“Not as much anymore. The first two years I thought I would die from it. Daniel was life personified. Everywhere he went the place was just a little brighter and full of spunk. That is a difficult trait to replace,” I answered, thinking of my husband. “He died four years ago today. That was what I was doing out and about by myself. Thinking about Danny.”
Paul reached over and covered my hand with his. “And here we come out of the clouds.”
“Ah, but a nice distraction, and so unexpected.”
It felt comforting to have a man’s hand on mine and I let it remain as we talked. I was explaining about the addition Daniel had built, some of the problems we’d had, taking Paul to the spot where it hooked on. I pointed to something and leaned a little too far and almost fell. Paul grabbed me and I clung to his arms.
“Sorry.” I looked up into his eyes;
hazel but a bit browner, almost the color of whiskey.
I saw him bend slowly and realized he was going to kiss me, and I was
surprised at how much I wanted him to.
Just then the telephone
I cleaned up the table and then went to my room and took a shower. Sitting outside in my robe, I took a towel off my hair and brushed it out. I could hear the horses milling around the corral; the crickets calling to one another in the dark. I can’t believe I almost kissed the man, I thought with despair. You need to get a grip on reality. I heard a sound and turned to see Paul in the moonlight in a pair of Daniel’s sweats, fresh from his own shower. He looked at the brush in my hand, my long, dark hair cascading almost to my waist.
“I came to apologize,” he said softly, hesitating before coming to sit by me. “Not sure what came over me; the wine, the night, the company. It was all inexcusable.”
“I am not totally blameless, so please forget it. Everything okay at home or hotel or…?”
“Yeah, fine. I did hear from Pete. He and the mechanic will be here early to assess the problem.”
“Good, then you can finish your business and be reunited with your family. Speaking of family, did you happen to notice a black truck out front, or is my son way past curfew?” I tossed my head to look over at him. “Paul?”
“Ah…er, sorry.” He lowered his eyes, “Yeah, I heard the boy earlier, in his room safe and sound, Mum.”
“Making fun, that is not hospitable,” I said with a laugh, standing up, “Well, I hope you sleep well; I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Thanks again for everything,” he said, rising to let me pass.
My eyes drifted over Daniel’s clothes on Paul’s body. “See, I knew they’d fit, looks good on you.”
My night was restless, tossing and turning, strange dreams that kept waking me. When first light hit, I was exhausted, but got up, dressed and prepared a pot of coffee.
Standing out watching Bert feed the horses, I sipped a cup while watching the intense morning sunlight fill the valley. Maybe I needed a ride; that would help erase the cobwebs from my brain.
“Bert, would you saddle Becca for me?” I called and he saluted before heading into the barn. I heard the sliding door and turned to see Paul in jeans and a plaid blue shirt, carrying a mug of coffee.
“Best coffee I’ve had in years.”
“It’s the mountain water,” I said shortly, trying to calm my insides. In Danny’s clothes I found him even more attractive.
Bert led Becca into the corral and I tossed the remains of my coffee onto the dirt.
“You were going for a morning ride?” Paul reached the end of the porch and I turned on the last step and nodded. “Got a mount I could use? That is, if you don’t mind company?”
Looking into those whiskey eyes, his dark chocolate hair with the few strands of silver snaking through, I slowly answered,“Yeah, great. Are you an experienced rider?”
“I wouldn’t enter a race, but Lin and I ride quite a lot,” he said with a smile, then tipped his mug to drink.
“Bert?” I called, and he lifted his balding head. “Saddle Diamond too, please.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He ran his eyes over Paul and ducked back inside. I grabbed both mugs and went into the kitchen and placed them in the sink. Finding a satchel, I gathered a couple of apples, bagels and a box of raisins along with water bottles and headed back to the corral.
We mounted the horses and headed out, down the hill through the clearing, checking on the plane and then continuing further on, winding through a thick patch of trees. Hitting another open area I stopped, not sure if Paul needed to rest or not. The mountains were looming before us, a few of the taller peaks still sprinkled with snow. Paul turned in the saddle, looking around at everything. He took in a deep breath.
“It’s almost like another world out here. I would never leave.”
“Sure you would, if you knew it was always here to come back to. I can’t believe I considered selling after Danny died; just couldn’t. I want it for Chris and his family eventually. Then I will go somewhere; maybe back to the ocean which I thought I could never leave.” I reached into the bag and tossed Paul a water bottle. I opened one and took a long drink. “Hungry yet? I have a few things.”
We dismounted and walked the horses to a small pond and let them have a break and drink while we sat on some rocks, talking and eating.
“So tell me about your shows; many more on the tour?” I asked, feeding a sliver of apple to Becca.
“No just four or five. Then we head back to England. I miss it. I miss good English tea,” he said, glancing at me. “Now, the coffee I will come here for.”
“Any time, the door is always open. I enjoy a good cup of tea. I had a friend who lived in England for a while and learned to make it the proper way. I only drink hers.”
“Well, then I need to prepare you one; you will drink mine too.”
“I’ll take you up on that.” I leaned over to the satchel to grab a bagel. Paul moved slightly, so when I sat back I was close to his face. Oh, Jesus I thought, as I saw something in those eyes. “Bagel?” I said, quickly standing up and holding it out. Paul smiled and retrieved it from my hand.
“Ta,” he said softly, and broke it apart.
“When do you expect Pete, Charlie and Sean back?” I asked, trying to relax us both.
He tugged up his shirt sleeve and glanced at his watch. “In a couple hours. Charlie will check the plane out and see if he can repair it or what. It just went through a massive maintenance check.”
“Good thing Pete is such a good pilot; he handled it well. Up for a bit more?” I cleaned up and climbed back up on Becca. “Is Diamond okay for you?”
“Good animal, yeah, thanks. I am enjoying this very much. Lead the way, Mandy,” he said, pointing to the horizon, and I had to stop a gasp from my lips. No one but Danny had ever referred to me as Mandy.
Heading into the corral, I hopped down and looked to see Chris coming outside.
“Hey, good ride, guys?” He grinned approaching us. He kissed my cheek. “You could have waited for me.”
“I never know when you are getting up. Good thing we have help running this place.” I pinched his bum and he scowled at me. “Any calls?”
“Nope. So, Paul, did she run you ragged?” He walked to the front of Diamond, stroking his white nose. “You are a good boy.”
“I think I kept up rather well,” Paul laughed, “but she tried.”
“I did not. You two are ganging up on me. I know I didn’t feed you much, so how about a nice lunch?”
Chris was gathering dishes when a huge truck pulled up in the drive and I saw Pete and Sean and another man I assumed was Charlie get out. They waved in our direction and approached.
“Made good time, mate. How’re you doing, Charlie?” Paul shook hands with his mechanic, a short man with red hair and mischievous eyes.
“I keep telling you to get a competent pilot and this shite won’t happen,” he howled dodging Pete’s left foot.
I walked over to the group and Charlie did an elaborate bow. “Umm, no wonder you stayed behind, boss; Charlie Monroe, fair lady, airplane mechanic extraordinaire.”
“Amanda Galloway, landowner. Pleased to meet you,” I laughed, shaking his hand. I glanced at Paul. “Can you get back to the clearing and the plane?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he announced in his best American accent. “We’ll be back.”
It was several hours, and I was beginning to get concerned when I heard the truck pull back in front of the house. Coming out on the porch, I saw Paul get out and the others back up and head down the drive. He took the stairs and stopped short, smiling at me.
“So, what happened?” I asked, as he reached to open the screen door and wait for me to go through first.
“Charlie figured out the problem and is obtaining the parts. Hopefully we will be out of your hair by tomorrow evening or the following morning.” He touched my shoulder and I turned to stare at him. “It is all right if I stay until then?”
My skin was on fire from his fingers. “Of course, as long as you need. I was thinking we could go into Livingston for supper tonight. There is a small café that serves wonderful food, and they even have dancing; all country music, but fair. Chris hangs out there, as does most of the town.”
“Sounds good. Anything else besides beef served?” he said hopefully.
“Yes, of course. Martha makes the most incredible vegetable lasagna. I thought I’d get washed up and change.”
It had been a long time since I slipped on a dress. Looking at the soft green color, I tugged it over my head and struggled to reach the zipper. I added a little make-up and stood back to look at myself. I was so use to being one of the guys that I had almost forgotten what it was like to feel like a woman. What the hell are you doing Amanda? I thought with disgust. He’s a married man who will be gone in a day or two. We both felt the attraction and I tried to rationalize it by telling myself that it had been a long, long time since any man interested me. Daniel was indeed a difficult man to move on from, but in the past day I had enjoyed conversations and flirting more then I had in years. Paul was warm, compassionate, funny and interesting. Besides being the most incredible-looking man I had ever laid my eyes on. Slipping on flat shoes, I found some earrings and finally went into the living room.
I smelled after shave, and found Paul standing by the fireplace looking outside. He still wore jeans, but had changed into a black long sleeve shirt Danny had worn many times. He heard me and turned, the light of appreciation flickering in his eyes.
“I think I misplaced Amanda Galloway. She’s a lovely young woman with long dark hair, jeans, denim shirt….”
“Sorry, she has been indefinitely detained and sent me in her place,” I said shyly, watching him walk closer.
“Well, you can tell her for me that I approve of her choice in dinner companions.” He held out his arm and I looped mine through.
Walking into Lambkins, not one living soul looked up or acknowledged us in any way. I selected a table near the back and looked around for Chris and his buddies. Mary Ann, the owner, finally saw me and waved, approaching the table.
“Am I seeing things, girl? You never come to town! You look terrific.” She glanced at Paul. “Good evening.”
“It is a fine one.” Paul leaned over to me. “What would you like to drink?”
“Mary Ann here makes wonderful margaritas. I’d like one of those please,” I replied, scanning the menu. “Do you have any of your vegetable lasagna tonight hon? My friend here is a vegetarian.”
“Sure do. Best in the state if I say so myself. How about that and a wonderful salad and fresh bread?” she nodded at Paul.
“My mouth is watering,” he laughed.
“I’ll take the same.”
“You, Amanda? Since when don’t you have my t-bone steak?”
“Since tonight, thank you,” I said pointedly, and she frowned but nodded.
“Okay, sweetie, two lasagnas on the way. Call if you need anything.”
Paul watched people milling about, families coming in and the band arriving to set up. Suddenly the door opened and closed, and in came my son with three buddies. He saw us and hurried over.
“Man, couldn’t believe you weren’t home, Mom.” He looked at Paul. “She hasn’t been off the ranch in…how long Mom? Oh, at least two months. I keep telling her to move on, get some friends.”
“I have friends,” I said between clenched teeth. “So what are you up to tonight?”
“I heard Susie and her family are coming for dinner,” he said with a smile.
“Pretty girl?” Paul asked, as Chris leaned one booted foot on a chair.
“The prettiest, with the exception of my Mom.”
“Oh, you are cruising.” I waved a fist at him. “Susie is a sweetie, and much too good for this rotten kid.”
“Mom I’m wounded!” He clutched his chest and called over to his friends. “In a minute. Hey, Paul, would you come and meet my friends? It would mean a lot, and they won’t do anything stupid.”
Paul nodded, shrugged at me and walked over to the other table. I watched him shake their hands and sit and chat with them for a few minutes. Mary Ann brought some fresh bread and our drinks. She nodded in his direction.
“Where did you find him? What a dream boat!”
“He fell out of the sky,” I said seriously, not taking my eyes off him.
“Damn it, which sky and where?”
Dinner was wonderful, and we never stopped talking. I found myself talking about Daniel, while Paul reminisced about his experience working with him, then the conversation turned to music and his days with the Beatles. He spoke of John, and the pain and denial he went through after his death, and how difficult it was to begin writing again. He spoke of his four children, telling me a bit about each one, and how good a wife and mother Lin was. Glancing at Chris, I mused at how I wished Danny and I had more children but what a Godsend it was to have him. A little piece of my husband to go on forever and forever.
Dishes were cleaned away and we each had a second margarita. We were deep in our own thoughts when the band came out and began to play. We watched people get up and dance, several fast tunes. Chris actually out on the floor with Susie, and he glared at me to keep my big mouth shut.
Finally they announced a slow number, and the lights in the restaurant dimmed and and Paul was standing there with his hand out. I took hold and followed him to the floor. Slipping one arm around my waist, he took my hand in his and we slowly began to move. At first I was a little rigid in his arms, but as our bodies got in tune I relaxed and rested my head on his shoulder. He smelled so good and felt even better, so I closed my eyes and just let him guide me around the room.
It seemed the song only lasted for seconds before the band jumped into another fast tune.
“I must slip them some money to keep the slow ones coming,” Paul said softly, as we went back to our table.
It was close to midnight when we left, and I tossed Paul the keys to the jeep. We rode back in silence, and I laid my head back against the seat and watched the stars whiz by.
Walking into the house, I didn’t turn on a light, but stopped and looked at Paul. Slowly I rose up and kissed him; gentle and soft but lasting for a long time. When I drew back, I felt his hands on my hips and fought the urge to take him to my room. I brushed a lock of hair around his ear and kissed him again.
“Thanks for the dinner and dancing. Good night.”
His fingers moved on my side, giving me chills. “It was my pleasure. You sleep well, Mandy.”
I slept like a baby that night, dreams of dancing with a handsome dark-haired man. Stretching in bed, I glanced over at the clock and was stunned to discover that it was after 10! I showered, tugged on my clothes and walked outside on the porch. Paul was in the corral with Bert and they were talking and laughing. He saw me and waved. Becca and Diamond were saddled and ready to go.
“Well, well, so much for being the early bird,” he said with a gleam in his eyes. “I hope you don’t mind, I made some sandwiches, grabbed some water. Let’s ride.”
Bert held Becca, and I climbed aboard and took off lickey split down the valley in a totally different direction than we had gone before. I glanced over my shoulder, and Paul was hurrying to catch up, his jaw set in determination. We rode for over an hour, and I came to a bluff that overlooked the herd. Paul drew up beside me and pushed back a black cowboy hat that Bert had apparently lent to him.
“In a hurry, missy?” He shifted his eyes to me. “Or showing off?”
“Probably showing off, but I’m impressed; you kept up rather well. So much for thinking you were just a city boy.” I dismounted and walked to the edge, watching several of our hands guiding the cattle to another location. Paul stood beside me, and I saw a look of compassion sweep his face.
“I know it is against your beliefs but raising cattle up here has been around for generations. We do try and give them the best life possible.”
“It’s life and I know it. You getting hungry at all?” He took my hand, and we walked a few feet to a grassy area. Paul settled the horses, then reached into his saddle bag for a plaid blanket and lunch.
Sitting down, he handed me a sandwich and water, and we ate while we watched the hands working, the cattle doing pretty much what they wanted anyway. I leaned back on my elbows and gazed into the white puffy clouds above. All this was coming to an end, and despite my knowledge that it would never go any further, a sadness swept over me.
“I know this was not in your plans when you took off for L.A. two days ago, but I’ve enjoyed the time you’ve been here very much.” I spoke to the clouds, not wanting to let Paul see my face.
“Mandy.” He moved closer and I immediately tensed up. “Nothing about the last two days has been expected. I have a family, but I adore you and I made a connection I just can’t explain. And believe me, I’ve lain awake many hours trying to make sense of it.”
“You too?” I finally let my eyes meet his. “I don’t feel so silly now. I thought it was just the half-insane lonesome widow feeling vulnerable.”
“No, it’s more.” He slipped my hat off, bent down and covered my mouth with his. I felt his arm drift around my shoulders and I let him hold me, our mouths and tongues exploring one another. Paul drew back and ran a thumb down my cheek. “You are an amazing woman.”
“I don’t feel amazing. I feel frightened and confused,” I whispered. nestling into the softness of his hand.
“So do I.”
We stayed wrapped up together for the longest time, kissing and holding one another, and when I felt things might really get out of control, I pressed a hand to his chest and he sat up.
“We’d better get back. Charlie should have arrived.”
Paul stood and held out his hand and tugged me up against him. “Try not to lose me this time,” he teased.
We went by the clearing where the plane was, and sure enough Charlie and Pete were busy working. We approached the plane and Pete greeted us with a bottle of beer.
“Working hard, I see,” Paul smiled. “How is it coming?”
“Think all will be ready to leave first thing in the morning. I will most likely get it done tonight, but want to take a test flight before we head on to L.A.,” Charlie answered. “Nice to see you again, Ms. Galloway.”
I smiled and walked away, Becca trotting behind. I wanted to give them some space to talk, in case there were private dealings. I glanced back at the three men and my heart did a cartwheel in my chest. Lying on the blanket making out with Paul had been unbelievable, but this time tomorrow he would be long gone and I would be a distant memory at best.
Crouching down, I tossed a few rocks and watched a hawk wheeling about in the sky. I turned as I heard someone approaching from behind. Paul bent beside me.
“Penny for your thoughts.”
“Hasn’t inflation upped that yet?” I said with a laugh. “Nothing much just wondering how boring my life will be when you’re gone. See? Silly stuff.”
“If my life were any different….” he started, but I sat back on my butt and shushed him.
“Don’t say it, please; it will be just too hard to hear. Thank you, I appreciate the kind words. Does wonders for my fragile ego.”
“They aren’t just words. I think you know that,” he said softly.
“I’m heading in, have some business to check on. Shall I make a meal for everyone?” I stood and wiped the dirt from my jeans.
“Yeah, that would be great. Ta, Mandy, for everything.”
Arriving back at the house, I spoke to Bert about some ranch business and then went inside to my room. I washed my face and hands and re-braided my hair, then headed to the kitchen to figure out a meal to feed quite a few men.
I prepared a meatless spaghetti sauce, adding lots of oregano and garlic, and peeled and sliced apples, grapes, oranges, pears andstrawberries into a wonderful fruit salad. Checking the freezer, I found several loaves of bread that Mary Ann had made, and I set them out to thaw.
Chris arrived home with his two best friends, and I assured them there was plenty of food to go around. The boys were playing video games when Paul, Pete and Charlie returned, saying Charlie would take the plane up a bit later.
I had set the table on the porch after adding a leaf, and I lit several citronella candles for the insects that like to invade. The smell of baking bread was enveloping the house in a lovely, homey smell, and all the boys and men were asking when the meal would be served.
Sitting around serving, running for missing items, I had to admit I was having the best time. The men folk were solicitous to the lone female, standing when I returned, holding chairs. I almost felt like a queen.
The ohhing and ahhing made me blush, but everyone had second helpings, so I knew it must taste pretty good. Through the window, I saw Bert messing with some of the horses and called him over.
“Missy, I do have some things to tend to,” he said gently, but I handed him a plate.
“We are having a farewell party for our guests; you need to be a part of this. Just for a little bit, okay?”
He grinned and filled a plate, pushing a chair in between Pete and Paul and jumping right into the conversation.
I surprised the lot with fresh brownies and vanilla ice cream, Chris and his friends heaping it on. I slipped away to the kitchen and began repairing the disaster I had created, when I felt a pair of hands on my shoulders.
“Aren’t you afraid you just might miss something?” I asked, as his fingers caressed my shoulder blades.
“Just wanted to check on our hostess. This was an incredible meal. If I stayed here, I would not be able to prance on stage.”
“Prance? That does not sound very manly,” I giggled, as he turned me around. “Don’t look at me like that, please.”
“Sorry. Anymore of that wine we had for dinner?”
“In the fridge, bottom shelf. Corkscrew is on the counter.”
Bert thanked me for the meal and went back to the barn. Chris packed a bag and left to stay with Josh. Paul was sitting on the porch swirling wine in a glass, talking with Charlie and Pete. I heard the chairs move before the two men peeked in the kitchen.
“Fabulous meal! Thanks, Amanda. We’ll see you in the morning.”
“I thought Charlie was going to take the plane up tonight.” I said, drying my hands.
He grinned, his cheeks rosy red. “A little too much of your fine wine. Not a good idea.”
“You boys are more then welcome to stay here. I have plenty of room.”
“Naw, we have a hotel in town, and might hit the little place with dancing.” Pete wagged his brows. “Paul, wanna join us? Both of you?”
“No thanks, gotta ring home and go over some papers for the delayed meeting,” Paul answered, before sipping his wine.
Kitchen clean, I slipped to my bedroom
and shut the door quietly. I
tugged off my jeans and shirt and tossed them in the dirty clothes.
As I turned on the shower, I peered at my face in the mirror.
You are such an idiot, I thought sourly, feeling unhappy and
abandoned. What in the
living hell did you expect?
Checking the water temperature, I stepped in and let the hot stream beat on my body. Turning under the spray, I heard the door and opened my eyes to Paul find looking at me. He had taken his clothes off and was wearing an old robe. His eyes were looking deep into mine, trying desperately not to wander over my naked body. I reached over to the glass enclosure door and opened it without saying a word. He discarded the robe and climbed inside.
Slowly he bent forward and kissed me, the water cascading down our bodies, my arms drawing up around his neck. I nestled against him, loving the feel of a man’s body. Paul’s hands moved to my hair and I could feel him begin to unbraid it, combing his fingers through until it draped all around me. I moved my head to get everything wet, and he poured shampoo in his hands and gently washed my hair, turning me so he could reach all the long strands. Drizzling fragrant liquid soap in our hands, we washed one another, slowly and methodically, touching, stroking, and caressing.
Pushing the faucet in I grabbed the fluffy towel hanging on the edge of the shower and began to dry him. Paul took it from my hands and wiped at my body then rubbed my hair so it would not drip.
I opened my mouth to say something but he laid a finger to my lips then scooped me up in his arms. Carrying me out of the bath we went into my bedroom and he set me on the bed. I scooted back and held out my arms and he moved into them and we stretched out continuing our exploration. His kisses were getting deeper and more probing and I felt his hands knead my breasts and work down to stroke between my legs. He was rock hard and I let my fingers run up and down the shaft, gentle moans escaping his lips that were pressed to mine.
Paul separated my legs, and I thought he was going to enter me but he knelt on the floor, his fingers opening me, his mouth finding my most delicate spot. I let out a deep, long sigh as he licked and sucked, threading my hands through his shaggy hair, pressing his face deeper and deeper. I thought I might scream before he slipped on top of me and inside, and I cried out with want. We got in sync rather quickly, moving, rocking, holding each other tightly, Paul’s mouth on mine, then on my breasts as he murmured how beautiful I was.
I think I came first, with a low guttural cry, and Paul arched and let out a moan and I could feel his warmth seeping into me. He stayed on top, his face buried in the side of my neck and I stroked his back and shoulders.
He rolled to the side, his arms never letting go. Finally he disappeared into the bath and returned with a warm washcloth and cleaned me up. He crawled up beside me and nestled back down on my body and we slept for a little bit.
I woke to him sucking on my nipple before turning me over and kissing from my neck all the way down to my legs. He nibbled on the inside of my thighs before raising me up and taking me from behind. I moved back as close as I could get to him, as he moved in an out, his hands cupping my breasts then down to my stomach and further, rolling my clit between his fingers, his lips on my back.
We made love all night long. Sleeping, waking, and back into each others arms. Sunlight slipped through the slats on the blinds and I rolled over to find Paul curled up behind me.
“It’s sun-up. How about one last ride before you go?”
We saddled the horses and took off with two bagels and a thermos of coffee. Riding in the cool morning mist we found deer, rabbits and antelope grazing, unconcerned that two humans were invading their world.
Sitting on a rock overlooking the valley we sipped the coffee and ate. Paul draped an arm around my shoulders. There was nothing more to say; we both knew what he had to return to, and I would remain on my ranch and life would go back to normal. I wondered how I could live that way again.
Paul heard the plane first, and shielding his eyes, gazed up to the clouds as it poked through. The engine sounded strong, and Charlie did several turns before setting it back down in the clearing.
I stood up and gathered our things. It was time for him to go, and the sooner the better or I might say something I’d regret. Emerging into the clearing, Pete waved and Charlie did a bow.
“We can leave anytime you want, boss.”
Paul cleared his throat. “Good, perfect. I’ll ride back to the house and put Diamond away and grab a few things.” He glanced at me. “Will you bring me back down?”
“Absolutely. You fellows need anything?” I called.
“Any more of those brownies?” Pete laughed.
“I’ll check.” We rode back to the house and into the corral. I slid down and began to undo the saddle, when Bert appeared.
“You attempting to take my job?” he snapped, and I handed the reins over.
“Bert, mate, the plane is fixed and I’m on my way; it’s been a real pleasure.” Paul shook his hand warmly.
“I think I’m speaking for everyone. The door is always open,” Bert said gruffly, and disappeared with both horses.
I sat on the porch steps and watched a couple of the dogs wrestle in the grass. Paul started inside, and I touched the leg of his jeans.
“Anything you wore that you want to keep, please help yourself.” I said quietly as he bent down.
“I think I will take the black shirt. Feels special to me. Ta, luv.”
He returned in a short time, and I was already sitting in the jeep with a foil package full of brownies. I slammed it into gear and started back to the clearing.
Once we were far enough away from the house Paul asked me to stop. I changed gears and drew slowly to a standstill.
“I don’t want to say good-bye,” he said gently. “I can’t thank you enough for opening your home….”
“And my heart,” I murmured. “Sure, no problem.”
Paul drew me to him and held me. “I’m sorry, I truly did not mean for any of this to happen. If only…”
“We need to go.”
Pulling up to the plane, I did not get out, and watched Paul put his belongings inside. Pete came over for a hearty hand shake, then took his place in the cockpit. Charlie leaned into the jeep and kissed my cheek.
“Lovely meeting you, missy. If I I didn’t have a missus at home...”
“That is unfortunate for me, Charlie. Good to meet you. Please, the gate is always open if you’re in the neighborhood.”
Charlie climbed into the plane and Paul stood on the passenger side of the jeep. “Take care of yourself, Amanda. Would you ever think about coming to show? I’d love to send you tickets.”
“Maybe. You take care, Paul. Seeing you again has been a wonderful experience. Say hi to the family for me.”
“And you do the same to Chris. He’s a fine lad.” He leaned in and ran one finger down my arm. “Ta ra.”
Watching the plane taxi and then rise from the field, I sat in my vehicle until it was completely out of sight. I touched my arm remembering, the feel of his finger. Slowly I shifted and drove home.
A month later I was planting some flowers out front when a delivery truck arrived. A man approached me with a smile.
“Yes. How can I help you?” I tugged off my gardening gloves.
“Sign here; I have a delivery for you.”
I signed on his clipboard and he went back to the truck and opened the back and pulled out the most amazing saddle I had ever seen. Incredible, deep brown, with inlaid etching all throughout.
“Where would you like this Miss?”
He carried it to the porch and rested it across the railing. Once he left I removed the envelope tucked under one strap.
I wanted to
get you something as special as you are.
I enjoyed our rides more then I can say, so each time
you and Becca head out, use this and think of me.
I ran my hand over the saddle and folded the note back into the envelope.
Several years passed, and in the spring of 1996 old Bert died in his sleep. Chris helped me hire a new foreman and got ready to head off to college. I had heard through several sources that Paul’s wife was very ill, and after a long back and forth struggle I decided to write him a letter of encouragement. Twice over the years I had been called about attending a concert or special engagement in Los Angeles, but declined both times. The magic we had here on the ranch could not be duplicated, and I did not want to set either one of us up for disappointment or unrealistic expectations.
Chris excelled in school, taking classes that would assist in his running the ranch full-time. I knew he would become an excellent rancher, and quite frankly was looking forward to the time I could turn everything over to him.
I cut myself off more then usual once Paul left, and finally after a year I reestablished several close friendships. Men were another ballgame. I just wasn’t interested. I had invitations but usually went with someone once and that was it. I thought I didn’t need one to complete my life.
I was watching our blacksmith work on one of the horses when Chris arrived home for spring break. He came looking for me in the barn.
“I made pancake batter; you up to a few?” I asked as he draped an arm around my shoulders. He had grown two more inches and was now sporting a mustache that made him look all the more like his Dad. He and Susie were still going out, and I had the distinct impression that once he graduated they would get married.
Standing at the stove, I poured some batter on the griddle and reached over to turn on the television. A picture of Paul and Linda flashed on the screen and then I read the words: Linda McCartney dead today at 56. I sagged down on a chair and listened to a few details. My heart ached for Paul and their children. I knew from first hand experience the pain and anger the family was going through.
In the privacy of my bedroom that night I sat and tried to compose a letter to Paul. The trashcan was filled with balled-up attempts, and finally I found what I felt were the right words.
Reading it through several times, I addressed an envelope using the card he had sent with his addresses and contact numbers. Sealing it, I placed it on the counter to go out with mail the following day.
Chris returned from school for the holidays and asked me to help him select an engagement ring for Susie. We spent Christmas day with her family and after speaking with her dad, Chris took her for a walk, and when they came back to the house I knew the answer had been yes.
The winter was unusually brutal; we lost several head of cattle to frigid temperatures and heavy snows. Chris had the remainder of the year in school, and then he would be home for good. I was ready. The isolation I imposed on myself here on the ranch was finally getting to me. Once he and Susie were comfortable, I would decide where I wanted to go. I had to push myself and get back into the world of everyday living.
March came in like a lion, but by the second week the temperatures had begun to soar much higher then usual. My sweet Becca was getting a little long in the tooth, but when the weather did cooperate, I would saddle her up and we’d take a short ride.
Returning from just such a ride, I lifted my saddle off and hung it over the gate. I brushed her and took the hoof pick, cleaning her shoes that were packed with leaves and tiny rocks.
Grabbing a curry comb, I worked on her luxurious mane, speaking softly to her as I detangled the hairs. I heard a car coming up the drive and wondered if Mary Ann was bringing me some baked goods.
The dark sedan stopped and the passenger door opened. A young man with blond hair drawn back in a ponytail emerged and looked about. I was about to call to him when Paul stepped out from the driver’s side. My heart stopped in mid beat as I watched him run his eyes over the house and say something to the boy. I was rooted to the spot, unable to move or speak, when he looked around and our eyes met. A smile curved his lips and he raised a hand to wave. The blond boy turned, and immediately I saw Paul in his face. This had to be James.
Paul shut the car door and walked towards the corral, never breaking eye contact. He leaned on the fence, one foot balancing on a rail.
“I can’t believe I actually remembered how to get here,” he said softly. “You cut your hair.”
I reached up in response to the hair that hung just below my shoulders. “Got fed up one day and took scissors to it. Betty in town had to fix my impulsiveness. This is quite a surprise.”
“You could say I was in the area.” He grinned and finally walked up to Becca. “Well, old girl, you are looking good.”
“You were speaking to the horse, or me?” I said, continuing to work through her mane. Paul shook his head.
“I was talking to Becca, but I suppose the same can be said for you. You are still a beautiful woman, Mandy; more beautiful then I remember.”
I felt a slight flush fill my cheeks before I noticed the boy joining us.
“Dad, you’re right, this place is great.” His light eyes rested on me. “You must be Amanda.”
Wiping my hands on my jeans I approached and shook his hand, “Yes, and you must be James. I have a son exactly your age.”
“Yeah, ah…Chris, right? Dad did nothing but talk on the car ride here. This is a great ranch.”
“Do you ride? I have some other horses; you would be welcome to take one out. Becca here is old and a little slow.”
“That would be great. My Mum loved to ride and showed me a lot.” He glanced at his Dad and Paul just smiled.
After a little small talk I told Paul to go saddle two horses and take James out. He laid a hand on my shoulder and I prayed he did not feel me trembling.
“You don’t wanna join us?”
“No, I’ve been out earlier, but please go ahead unless you think you might get lost. I’ll be here when you get back.” I shifted my eyes to his and he read a lot in my statement.
“All right, then, son, let’s go. Any ones in particular, Mandy?”
“The last two boys in the stall on the left. Should be good for you.” I replied, finishing Becca and leading her inside for food and water.
Standing at the kitchen window I washed my hands and noticed they were shaking. I couldn’t believe Paul was here with his son. He looked good; he had the tell-tale sadness around his eyes from losing a partner in life that I knew well, but all in all he seemed terrific, and I liked what I saw of his son.
I prepared a pot of coffee and uncovered an apple crumb cake I had baked the night before. I was beginning to get a little nervous when they were gone over an hour, but shortly I saw the two horses ambling up the hill, Paul talking and laughing with James. My heart went back to beating normally.
Sitting out on the porch, we ate and talked and I refilled James’ milk glass twice as he hit another slice of cake. Paul seemed to relax, gazing down the valley, sipping from a mug. He glanced at me.
“I didn’t see old Bert.”
“We lost him a couple years ago. He spoke about you often, and he didn’t like many people.” I took a drink of coffee. “I don’t want to put a damper on today; it is a lovely surprise to have you both here, but are you doing all right? I am so sorry for your loss.”
“One day at a time. Some worse then others,” Paul answered looking at James. “She was in terrible pain and I wanted that to stop.”
“It is strange...” James suddenly spoke up. “I still expect to have her walk into a room.”
“That will happen for a long, long time.” I reached over to squeeze his hand. “When Daniel was killed, I swore on numerous occasions I heard his boots on the porch. Or when a plane flew overhead I thought he was coming home. Not much solace now, but it does get better, trust me.”
“Ta,” James said gently, so much like his Dad. “Excuse me.” He stood up, stretched and walked down the porch steps and over to the corral. I watched him, thinking he was at least lucky enough to have his mother for a long time. Chris could barely remember so much about Daniel.
I felt Paul’s arm on the back of my chair as he leaned closer. “Your letter meant so much. I keep it with me.” He withdrew his wallet from his pants, opened it and slipped out a folded piece of paper, which I recognized as my slate blue stationery. “On the darkest days or nights I would read it.”
“I’m glad; I won’t tell you how many pieces of paper I threw away. I can’t tell you how shocked but happy I was to see you get out of the car. I never imagined in a million years I would see you again.”
One finger rubbed the back of my neck. “Situations are different.”
They stayed all day, and James gave me a warm hug before climbing into the sedan. Paul stood on the porch with both my hands in his.
“Thank you for today. It was the best one I’ve had in almost a year. And I think for James as we;;. I saw him smile more today than, well, I can’t think when.” He bent and kissed my cheek.
Hanging onto a porch railing, I watched the car head down the drive, my poor brain a jumble of thoughts and feelings. After a shower, I curled up by the fireplace and stared absently into the darkness. The phone startled me, and I grabbed it on its third ring.
“Mom?” Chris’ voice came through. “You’ve been on my mind all day; everything okay?”
“So now we are doing the psychic hotline thing? It was an interesting day.” And I set about telling him about my visitors. Chris listened before commenting.
“I always thought he liked you Mom, even back then. He looked at you that way.”
“Don’t be silly.”
A week later a front blew in and it began to snow late in the day. Sitting by a roaring fire with a book, I tried to focus on reading when I saw the glare of headlights in the drive. The house lights had flickered several times and I wondered if Jack, our foreman, had decided to check on me before heading home.
The front door opened and Paul leaned around, snow sprinkled in his hair. I sat up straight, clutching my robe closer.
“Mandy.” He smiled shutting the door and slipping off his heavy coat. “That was an interesting drive, to say the least. The weather wasn’t so awful when I left Billings.”
“What are you doing here?” I asked, watching him approach. He held up a small brown paper bag.
“I brought loose tea; always said I would show you how to make proper English tea.”
I stood up and he enfolded me in his arms, his face buried into my hair.
“All right, I’d better dig out my old teapot.” I took his hand and we went to the kitchen.
Sitting at the counter watching him work I could not help but smile. Proudly, he set down a mug in front of me. I looked up at him.
“Do I sip at my own risk?”
“Just taste and you tell me.” He took a drink and leaned down on the counter. “The weather is pretty awful; I may be stuck here for days.”
Almost choking on my first taste, I recovered and met his gaze. “That seems familiar somehow.”
“Aye, guess it does. Should I have come up with something better?” He moved around the counter and stood between my legs.“No pretense needed here; Mandy, I want to stay with you would be sufficient,” I said huskily, as he tilted my head back with one finger.
“Mandy, I want to stay with you,” he repeated, bending and kissing me deeply.
“Okay, but I warn you, once the snow stops I will put you to work.” I whispered as he tugged me up into his arms.“How about starting now?”
Linda Cooper lives in Centennial, Colorado, and has for 18
years with her husband, two teen-age children, two cats and two dogs.
She works at the local high school, and loves hockey and music. She
first began writing in high school, sharing the duties with a good friend.
After several years in college, she moved to London with three friends and
lived in a small flat in the West End, working, traveling and even having
the privilege of meeting John Lennon at a book signing promotion. Her
stories took a hiatus for many years until about a year ago, when she found
several websites with fan fiction and thought she would give it a go.
She hopes everyone finds them fun.
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