Original Chapter One – Home for Good – Part Three
Ali wrung her hands. “A tenth of a second…a tenth of a second.”
Almost. But not quite good enough.
Story of her life.
“You were robbed, Mom.” Chance burst to his feet beside her, his small hand gesturing toward the score board.
Third place. Ali shrugged, but the failure smarted. After replaying the run in her mind twice, she still couldn’t find the misstep that cost them first and second. She wouldn’t thumb her nose at the five hundred dollar prize, but the winner’s purse would have helped more. Two thousand dollars could have paid for a decent farrier and more oats. She let out a long, hot breath. Or gone toward the insurance deductibles. Or new tack…new horses…debt. Something always needed to be paid for.
Never quite good enough. Never quite…enough, for anyone.
“Naw, I lost fair and square, buddy.”
Kate tucked long auburn strands of hair behind her ear. “You made a good run, Al. You and Denny were dynamite out there. The entire crowd was on edge.” She bent, scooping up their small blue cooler full of pop and juice. “We’ll find a way to save Big Sky Dreams. Don’t worry about the future so much.”
“Easy for you to say, seeing as you have nothing to do with my non-profit and no personal effort invested.” The moment Ali solved one issue at Big Sky Dreams, the handicapped horseback riding program she managed, an even bigger problem usually surfaced.
Catching Chance’s hands, lathered with butter and prickly popcorn salt, Ali followed behind her younger sister. At twenty-four, Kate returned home from college a year ago with a degree and a non-stop positive outlook on life. Moreover, she possessed the annoying knack of saying exactly what Ali didn’t want to hear.
“I’m just saying. If God wants Big Sky Dreams to survive, the program will survive.”
Ali rolled her eyes. “Riiiight. Words to live by, I’m sure. But I think the best bet is to bust my back for donations and sign up for every barrel tournament with a purse from here clear to Idaho. I just don’t get where all our money goes. There seemed to be plenty after the last fund-raiser, but the money’s just gone.” She didn’t want to stomp on her sister’s happy little world, but Ali knew better. God helped those who helped themselves. Because, seriously, when setbacks in life came, God didn’t care. Until she saw him on earth attempting to make a difference with his own two hands, she wouldn’t trust him for anything. Sure, she wanted to believe. Everyone wanted someone to put their hope in. But Ali learned the hard way—hope placed in the wrong thing—or person—left her feeling worse than Chance with a 102 degree temperature.
Ali pointed toward the animal pens. “I’m gonna get Denny. Meet me by the trailer?”
“Sure, and I’ll take scamp here with me.” Kate patted Chance’s head.
“Heeey. I’m not a scamp. Is that a good thing? Mom, what’s a scamp?”
“A nickname like that is a good thing, bud. Means you like to play.” She picked her way across the street then called over her shoulder. “Thanks, Kate.”
Denny nickered as she approached, his black glassy eyes surveying her with what felt like understanding.
“Hey, there, boy. You did good today. I’m the one who botched our run.” She reached out, tracing her fingers down his velvety black muzzle as she unlatched the gate. When Ali slipped the green halter over his head, Denny leaned into her like a hug. She gave him a pat on the neck for thanks.
“We’ll help those kids. We’ll figure out some way.” Bending over, she gathered up most of the brushes. She dumped them all into a bucket then tossed the horse blanket and saddle on Denny’s back, letting the cinch hang loose. She’d just lead him gingerly to the trailer and hope his gear stayed on, which sounded loads better than making two trips.
The voice from her past rocketed through her with the force of a kick drum. The last curry comb flew out of her hand and spun in a drunken arc on the hard dirt. She snapped up and took a step backward.
All six feet of him, clad in jeans and a fitted grey striped button-down. His bold, masculine eyebrows rose as he surveyed her with look-me-in-the-eyes-if-you-dare blues. He wore a straw cowboy hat with unruly hair poking out, and four days-worth of a beard outlined his firm jaw. His defined arms looped over the front of the gate, blocking her path out. Eight years later and the man still made her mouth go dry.
And she hated that he still had that power.
So she did the only rational thing she could think to do. Flee.
In a fluid movement, Ali bounded over the back of the pen and took off sprinting at a breakneck clip. Her hat flew off.
He yelled out her name, called out….
And just like in the past, his voice poured sweet and velvety like chocolate over each syllable, making her toes curl. Ali’s nails dug into her palms. She didn’t want to hear him. She never wanted to fall under his spell again. Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes as she ran.
Why was he here? Why couldn’t he leave well enough alone?
Tearing across the carnival, she pushed past people as they threw her angry looks. Forget them. They didn’t know the danger engulfing her. Didn’t know evil incarnate might be ten paces behind, literarily nipping at her heels.
Oh, why hadn’t she moved away when she had the…chance? Chance! Suddenly she pounded faster, the narrow toe of her boots chafing against her feet.
Jericho couldn’t see Chance. She wouldn’t let that happen. God, please!
Ali zeroed in on Chance and Kate milling next to their beat up green Ford pick-up.
She waved her arms. “Quick, get in the truck. Quick. Now! Chance Silver!”
“Where’s Denny? Aren’t—”
“No. Truck. Now. We’ll come back for him later.” Ali pressed a hand to the stitch in her side as she looked over her shoulder, scanning the crowd for the cowboy with impossibly blue eyes. He hadn’t followed her.
Kate rounded the truck, her eyes wide. “Sis? I don’t see smoke coming from your hair, so if it’s not on fire—what is?”
Ali glanced in the truck, making sure Chance was buckled in and out of earshot. She seized Kate’s arms, clamping down on reality as she felt a vine of anger seeded by fear reach up inside of her.
“He’s here. He’s back. What am I supposed to…what if he…what about Chance?” Her voice rose in a frenzy.
Kate shook her gently. “Who’s here?”
The End of Original Chapter One