Kiss Me (click to read)
Evening fog hung in the cool air and a spring breeze played up the main aisle as Alexa stood in the barn, taking in the solitude of the moment. She turned off the lights before heading to
the barn’s office which would be her home for the night as she was on mare-watch duty. Tango was due to foal any day now, and the second-year working students had been rotating night watch duty.
Foal watch was usually uneventful, nothing more exciting than a long night in a chilly barn checking the camera. Usually she could read or play games on her phone, but this time, Alexa drew the short straw and had to train the new guy who just had to volunteer.
She couldn’t tell the barn manager why she didn’t want to be paired with Tyler. She didn’t want to admit that to herself. He wasn’t her type, not really. But there was something about his terrier-like energy that charmed her. It was hard to stay focused when he kept glancing over at her. He was new at the farm and they usually worked together—someone had to show him the ropes.
Alexa set up her blanket on the dusty couch and tilted the monitor screen to get a good view. The pinto mare was munching her hay. All was calm. But, where’s Tyler?
He’d jumped at the idea of foal watch, yet he’s late for his shift. Her foot tapped on the tile floor, absently counting out the seconds. The door swung open; cool spring air breezed in. Tyler leaned against the handle, breathing heavily.
Should she tell him off for running in the barn?
But at least he was there, and wouldn’t get fired tomorrow. It wasn’t her job to tell him what to do—as working students, they were technically the same rank. She waved a hand. “Well, shut the door. This little heater’s not doing much as it is.”
He jumped and shut the door behind him with a bang. Tango’s head shot up on the screen and his eyes flashed to it. She gave him a dark look and he offered a beseeching smile. It was the same expression every time she pointed out that he’d missed something during chores. She could never stay mad at him, not for long.
“Sorry,” he said, finally looking properly contrite. “I brought snacks.”
He dumped a bag of chips and sodas onto the desk. Alexa picked up the bag of Buffalo Ranch Doritos. “Thanks! Hey, these are actually my favorite.”
“I know. I mean....” He bit his lip. “I had to stop at three places to find them.” He stumbled over the words, glancing at her.
“Right...thanks.” She stuffed another chip into her mouth to give herself a moment. “Take a seat. It’s going to be a long night.”
She held out the bag, offering him a chip, but he didn’t take one. He was sitting on the edge of the couch, thighs bouncing, like he might jump up at any moment.
He’s just excited about a potential foaling tonight. Right?
His enthusiasm would have been infectious had she not been used to long, boring nights of foal watch where nothing happened. It’s a good look on him though. Not that she would admit that to anyone. What’s he thinking? She tried to shut that train of thought down, but her brain was on alert in the quiet room.
“Calm down,” she said, noticing just how green his eyes were. “If all goes well, we don’t even have to leave this room. The goal is to not have to intervene.”
“Sorry,” he apologized and sank back into the cushion, but he still didn’t look relaxed. He turned towards her, running a hand through his short-cropped hair. “This is exciting though, isn’t it?”
The way his gaze rested on her made her not want to look away. Does he know the effect it’s having on me? Alexa tried to keep her focus on the monitor. “It could be exciting,
but in practice, it’s mostly waiting.”
“I guess. I’m glad I got paired with you. I think Kelly hates me. Mel too...” His voice trailed off and he sounded so heartbreakingly young at that moment.
He was learning fast, but no one else bothered to notice because he was always wobbling around the farm like a newborn colt. All legs and energy.
Mel was always complaining about how he jumped around from one task to the next instead of finishing one thing at a time. Alexa didn’t know how to respond to that. After all, Tyler did get things done, in his own way, and always was there to offer her a helping hand. Just like tonight.
The barn manager hadn’t assigned him to foal watch duty, but he had volunteered. Alexa tried hard to keep her focus on the screen, like he should be doing instead of watching her. She picked up her textbook and tried to get some studying in while keeping the screen in her peripheral vision.
If he wasn’t going to make a move, neither was she. Maybe watching people with his puppy-dog eyes is just a habit of his, nothing more.
By three a.m. Tango had made a few circles in her stall, but nothing else happened. Except the chill in the air had intensified. The thermometer on the wall read 55°F. Alexa was wrapped in her blanket, and the little electric heater was chugging away but not really helping. Tyler had folded himself awkwardly at one end of the couch. Apparently, no one had told him what to bring.
She pointed towards where the rack was located down the aisle with the wool blankets. “You can grab one of the horse coolers, you know.”
“Good idea. Thanks.” He jumped up and shot her a smile that made her stomach feel fizzy, and she hadn’t even had one of the sodas he’d brought. Hmm.
“Alexa!” His anxious shout rang through the barn and she jumped up to see what was wrong.
He was standing outside the mare’s stall. “Pearl is down and covered in sweat!”
Pearl wasn’t due for another two weeks, so even though she was in a foaling stall, she wasn’t under watch yet. Alexa held a finger to her lips to quiet Tyler down, but her heart was pounding as she made her way to the stall, grabbing a roll of vet wrap as she passed the first aid kit. If something was wrong, getting the tail out of the way would make things easier.
She fumbled for her phone to dial the vet. Outside the stall, she paused before hitting call. Pearl was indeed lying down, and had a slight sheen to her coat, but was not showing any sign of distress. The relief nearly dropped Alexa to the floor.
“She looks fine, Tyler. Her baby’s going to be a little early, but this is not an emergency. Heck, it’s not even that early. If it weren’t for Tango, we’d be waiting for this little one in a few days.” She rolled her neck and leaned against the bars on the stall for a better look. Tyler was bouncing on the balls of his feet. Cute. But he needed to calm down.
“Hey, it’s fine. Chill out. You’re going to stress her out...” You’re stressing me out. In more ways than one. He looked over at her, that smile on his face that did something
strange to her. But at least he stopped bouncing.
“Sorry, I’m just glad I’m here to see this...” He fidgeted. “I’m glad I’m here to see this.... with
Alexa squinted at him, but now he was looking away. Was that a move? Warmth settled in her stomach and started to grow. She was about to say something, but was interrupted.
“I see the feet!” His voice was hushed as he leaned over the stall door for a closer look. Alexa peered in, forcing herself back to professionalism even though something else wriggled inside her.
She shot off a text to the barn manager. So far, so good. If things didn’t go well, the vet would be the next call. The more natural the better—that was the farm motto, so if Pearl kept doing well, the vet could just come later for a check-up.
Alexa moved beside Tyler to get a better look. The mare gave a mighty heave and knees appeared, paired with a tiny nose. Alexa held her breath, clenching her fists in rhythm to Pearl’s pushing, and soon the whole front half of the foal was out.
Tyler edged closer and his fingers brushed lightly against Alexa’s wrist. The contact jolted her, and the tiny hairs on her arm stood up. A grunt from Pearl redirected her focus back to where it belonged. One final push and the foal was born, blinking at its new world. The two of them stood in silence while Pearl licked her foal clean, the magic enveloping all of them. The foal wobbled to its feet, taking its first, shaky, step.
Beside her, Tyler’s breath caught, the awe of the moment painted on his face.
She allowed herself to relax and, with a tiny inch sideways, her fingers found his. His lips parted like he was going to say something and Alexa squeezed his hand, hoping to quiet him. For once, he stayed still, squeezing back, both of them smiling.
“You know, sometimes they let us working students name the first baby we see born... Any ideas?” It was a nice tradition. She had helped name a filly last year.
“Kiss me?” Tyler’s whisper fell from his lips as he stepped closer to her.
That’s an odd... Oh.
Alexa’s eyes went wide. Without thinking, she closed the distance between them. His lips were warm despite the chilly air. Maybe she hadn’t drawn the short straw, after all.
Love In The Round Pen (click to read)
Inside the round pen, the black horse spun and hit the metal fence panel with its shoulder, the reverberation sending a tremor through Cassie’s arms and echoing around the Pennsylvania farm. Marc stood in the center, working to gain his new horse’s trust.
Astro was the horse no one wanted. He had sat in the holding pen while the other horses, those with prettier heads and fewer scars, were rescued by various groups. It didn’t help that he wouldn’t allow anyone close enough to halter him, let alone put a saddle on him.
Cassie leaned back, her bangs falling into her eyes as the gelding spun right in front of her. She brushed the strands aside. This was the first time she’d seen Astro up close, and in a way, she felt like she was seeing Marc for the first time, too.
Marc was friendly, but not talkative. He had worked for her family’s farm since they were both teenagers. Over the years, they had orbited each other at the farm, pushing wheelbarrows and dragging the hose out to the water troughs, but never really connecting.
He would head off on his own, and she would find him later sitting in a paddock, watching the horses quietly. He looked comfortable in his stillness, whereas silence often overwhelmed her.
Now that they had graduated, their hours in the musty barns had gotten longer. Marc worked there full-time while Cassie was in the barn from dawn to dusk, learning how everything ran so she could take over one day.
Her father had been hesitant to let Marc board Astro with them, even after Marc swore he’d be there every day to take care of all the chores, which were usually included in the price.
Cassie’s father didn’t want to be responsible for a dangerous horse. But he had given in when Marc was unable to find any other option, and Cassie had been relieved. Having Marc around the farm was nice, and if his horse couldn’t live there, it was unlikely that he would stay.
“He ought to have been put down,” her father said, as Marc was nearly dragged when he unloaded Astro last night.
There had been a spring chill in the air that set all the horses on edge; Astro’s arrival only added to the frenzy.
The sun was warm today, the tulips planted around the farm in bloom, but Astro was still wound up, striking out at Marc.
Was her father right about Astro?
Cassie’s chest tightened as Astro pawed in Marc’s direction again.
Is he safe in there?
Astro switched directions again, but this time, the bony gelding spun to the inside, not hitting the fence. A smile spread across Marc’s face—that had been his idea.
Can I do that? Did she have that.... confidence in her?
She frowned. ‘Confident’ was not a word she would have used to describe Marc before, but it came unbidden now.
The other horses at the barn spent the spring prepping for a summer of competitions. Cassie had won piles of ribbons over the years, but never felt as driven to win as the other girls.
Marc had never gone to the shows with them. He would stay behind to care for the horses left at home. Perhaps that wasn’t such a bad idea all along.
Astro pranced around the pen. There was no way Cassie would step inside with him. She would have given up on the ragged-looking horse just like her father. The realization stung.
But there was Marc, standing in the pen and getting Astro to dance circles around him.
To the untrained eye, it might look like chaos, and while it might have begun that way, it was different now. It was beautiful. The gelding lowered his head and let out a snort, his feet coming to stillness.
Marc turned, looking away from the horse for the first time since Cassie walked up to the fence. His eyes met hers and the smile he had bestowed on Astro was now directed at her.
Her lips twitched into a matching grin, butterflies quivering in her stomach. How had she not noticed before? When had Marc gone from gangly teenager to...something else?
She wasn’t sure what words would be appropriate, but ‘gangly’ certainly didn’t fit him any more.
Marc’s disheveled hair matched that of his horse, who was breathing deeply and inching toward him. Marc’s eyes tracked the gelding without turning his head. The horse nosed forward, coming ever closer.
One eye on Cassie, Marc mouthed, ‘Three... two... one’ as Astro’s wriggling lips came into contact with the back of his outstretched hand.
The gelding stepped closer, exploring Marc’s wrist.
Cassie held her breath as his fingers curled to pet the horse’s nose. Astro blew out a breath, but allowed Marc to rub his face, long winter hairs shedding for the new season.
‘Wow,’ Cassie mouthed, afraid a sound would ruin the moment.
The outside world faded into insignificance compared to what was happening in the pen.
The crisp air held so much promise; the quiet stillness no longer empty or overwhelming. It was something she had never felt before.
Was this what Astro felt earlier? The calm of true connection?
“Right?” Marc’s voice broke the silence, but his tone was level and the horse did not shy away.
It was amazing. Not long ago, Astro had been cowering at the back of his pen and now he was the one seeking contact. After some more rubbing, Marc stepped away, letting the gelding rest.
Once he was out of the pen, Cassie felt like she could speak again.
“How did you do that?”
Trainers came and went, working with riders to get their horses show-ring ready, but this…this was different.
Marc was just one of the barn guys, wasn’t he? Cleaning and helping, and riding when he could. He had outgrown his teenage awkwardness, but she’d thought his quiet nature was leftover shyness.
“I could show you. It’s kind of hard to explain.” He looked around. The farm was quiet. “Grab Dreamer and meet me in the round pen.”
Dreamer was Cassie’s older show horse. She was semi-retired and worked with the littlest riders to show them the ropes.
Cassie hesitated as she put the halter on the mare. What if she made a fool of herself in front of Marc? And why did that suddenly matter? But something told her not to say no, so she led Dreamer into the ring.
Marc had a long lunge rope in hand and swapped it for Dreamer’s lead rope. He handed it to her. “It’s kind of like lunging, except it’s not about the body. You have to work their mind.”
Cassie frowned. Sure, she could lunge a horse who was too energetic for the kids to ride, but what was he on about?
He stepped behind her and pointed with one arm. Dreamer started off in that direction.
“Just tell her where to go,” he said, in little more than a whisper that ruffled the tiny hairs on the back of her neck.
After Dreamer made a full circle, he placed one hand over hers and directed her arm across her body, moving the rope into her other hand. As it switched, Dreamer halted and turned to face them, ears pointed expectantly.
Cassie pointed in the other direction, and Dreamer moved onto the circle again.
“She’s doing it!” Cassie squeaked. Dreamer’s ear twitched toward the high-pitched sound, and the mare started to trot.
“Easy,” Marc said, voice rumbling through his chest, so close behind her she could feel as well as hear it. Dreamer slowed back to a walk. “It’s body language mostly, but tone of voice too. Switch directions again.”
Cassie took a breath and tried to swap the rope as smoothly as Marc had, but it didn’t quite work and she ended up with the loop around her wrist.
Marc reached out, taking her hand in his and repeating the motion.
Without a hitch, Dreamer stopped again to face them. Marc hadn’t let go of her hand, and was now pivoting them both to the side.
Cassie turned her head to keep an eye on Dreamer, but Marc gently guided her chin back with his free hand. The warmth of his fingers lingered on her skin.
“Don’t look at her.”
The quiet tone sent a shiver down Cassie’s spine. Somehow, his quietness was anything but shy at that moment. She was lost in that thought when a soft muzzle nudged her arm. Dreamer was watching her expectantly, just as Astro had been watching Marc earlier.
“You did it.”
His voice was low and Cassie turned towards him. He didn’t step back, and the rope was wrapped behind her in a way that probably wasn’t the safest, but she didn’t care.
As she looked up at him, her heart fluttered and she realized exactly what she had been wanting all along.
A Season for Romance - Anthology
I have two stories in this anthology—Love In The Round Pen is one, along with Kiss Me, a sweet tale of what can happen on chilly spring nights doing foal watch. New beginnings come in the form of more than just a new foal.
This anthology is full of sweet budding romance, there is something inside for everyone! It is free on a variety of platforms, and is a great way to discover new to you authors.