We made love four times that night. I was so careful not to hurt her side. Going as far as letting her have control. That was so out of my normal comfort zone but took me to heights I hadn’t been to before. We fit together like a lock and key. Now she’s asleep in the crook of my arm and holding her close to my chest.

Christmas was in a week. Sam, Anna, Angus, Garth, and Half Pint would be home. No one had said they were bringing home a date. I guess Jake would be with us for Christmas Day as well as Randy.

Jake was a better man than I’d given him credit for, I just hoped Half Pint didn’t get her heart broke in the end.

Al stirred in my arms, a glance at the clock told me it was 5:30 am. I put my hand on her cheek, “Sleep, sweetheart, it’s still early.”

She mumbled something I didn’t understand, then said my name.

“I’m right here, sweetheart.”

She rolled more into me. I closed my eyes and thought about having her forever. Then I fell back asleep, too.

 

 

Dr. Baker was looking Al over, “Everything looks good Miss Yates, and the bruising is lighter by just a little.”

He was looking at her side, “Have you had any headaches?”

“No,” she replied.

“Well, I think you’re good to go home then. You should probably check in with a local doctor sometime after Christmas,” He put the paper gown down. “I’ll send your paperwork to them if you’ll send me their information,” He smiled and turned to me.

“You know what to watch for, but I don’t think we have anything to worry about,” He shook my hand. “I think barrel riding should wait a few weeks but riding in the fresh air should be fine.”

He closed the door on his way out of the room. I helped Al get dressed, and we left. Once we were in the truck with the Marshals, I told them we were ready to head back home today. I wanted Al at the ranch.

We stopped by the penthouse to pack our things and get the gifts we had bought for the family out of the safe. Marshal Mark agreed to drive my truck home. While Marshal Mike drove us in their truck.

“Mr. Ross, when we get to the house, there’ll be a Marshal at the gate,” Marshal Mike had been explaining the security setup. “Everyone coming or going will have their vehicle checked.”

I nodded.

“We have a list of employees and some of the others who come to the ranch regularly. If someone who isn’t on the lists comes to the gate, you’ll need to okay them to enter.”

Again, I nodded, “We’ll be home, and able to move around. That’s all we need for now.”

I smiled at Al, “Although, being locked in a room with you has its positives, too.”

“Yes, it does,” Al replied, “but I miss Bullet.”

I smiled, “We need to talk about Bullet soon.” I whispered in her ear.

“Is he okay?” She looked scared.

“Yes, he’s fine,” I made her look into my eyes, “I just have a surprise for you.”

She relaxed back into my arms, “Can you tell me what it is?”

I smiled as I remembered how much she hated to wait for a surprise, “No, you’ll just have to wait until you see it for yourself.” I kissed her again, “We can ride out this afternoon.”

“Mr. Ross, may I ask where you’ll be riding to?” Marshal Mike asked.

I smiled, “To the southeast part of the front fields.”

He nodded, “Yes we have men working out there. So, you should be safe. You’ll still need to have your body men with you.”

We pulled up to the Rocking R a little after 10 am. I opened the door, stepped out, and set Al to her feet, “You can have your brother park my truck in the garage in the back.” He got on the radio to give Marshal Mark my instructions.

At the front door stood a Ranger I didn’t know, “Mr. Ross, Miss Yates, I’m Ranger Tom Willis, my partner Ranger Jack Carson and I will act as your body men while your home. Where you go, one or both of us will go as well.”

I laughed, “I understand, but I hope that doesn’t mean our bedroom as well.”

The man turned tomato red, “Um…er….no sir, I didn’t mean that.”

Al raised her hand to his forearm, “Ranger Tom, he’s trying to get your goat if you know what I mean.” She winked at him.

His sigh was audible to us all, “Sorry ma’am. No sir, we’ll stand guard outside the door.”

As we walked into the house, I patted his shoulder, “I know we’re in good hands, Ranger Tom Willis.”

I put my hat on the hook just inside the door, turned Al to me and kissed her, “Welcome home, sweetheart.”

Al turned in my arms when we heard Matilda yell, “They’re home!”

 

After lunch, we made our way out to the barn. It was so good to be home. To be with my girl and breathe fresh air. For a December day, so close to Christmas, it was 65 degrees outside. I had both our jackets just in case a Norther blew in. This was Texas, after all. Her weather could and would change in an hour.

Bullet whinnied when he saw Al, and she went right to him, “Hey boy, I’ve missed you.” She rubbed his nose. I left them to get our tack and two rifles out of the gun safe.

“Here you go, sweetheart,” I put her saddle on the floor and handed her the tack, “Do you want me to saddle him for you?”

She smiled, raised up on her tip toes and kissed me, “Maybe just this once, please.”

I pulled her to me and kissed her, deepening the kiss as she moved her arms around my neck and opened for me. I forgot where we were until Angus came out of the office with Ranger Clark.

“So, Ranger Clark, how long do you think it’ll take to saddle two horses with the lip lock those two have working?”

I moaned, ended the kiss but didn’t let Al go, “Just for that little brother you can saddle Big Red for me.” I turned my head, “Ranger Clark, good to see you again. I hope you don’t embarrass easily, because you may see more than you just did at some point in your stay at the Rocking R.”

“Good to see you too, Mr. Ross. Miss Yates, you’re looking better. As for the embarrassment they teach us how to be discreet when the need arises, sir.”

Al smiled, “I feel better, thanks.” She leaned her head on my chest.

“I asked Ranger Tom to let me ride with you this afternoon. If you don’t mind.” Ranger Clark said.

I started saddling Bullet, “Sure, we understand the need to have the security. I got the impression that Ranger Tom might be just a little afraid of horses,” I replied as I worked. The last thing I did was put a loaded rifle in Al’s saddle holster.

“Um, ma’am do you know how to use that?” Ranger Clark pointed to the rifle.

I smiled as Al took the rifle out, moved the safety to half. Pulled the bolt back catching the chambered round with her fingers. Pressed to see if the magazine was fully loaded, moved the fifth round back in place, and closed the bolt. Returned it to full safety and put it back into the saddle holster, “Yep, I can shoot the rattlers off a Diamondback at two hundred yards.”

Ranger Clark looked to Angus, who had Big Red ready for me. I put my own rifle in my saddle holster.

Angus smiled, “Please don’t ask her to prove it. Just suffice it to say she can do it.”

“Okay, I’ll take your word for it. Just one more thing before we leave the barn,” Ranger Clark was watching my face, “You’ve got to quit calling us Rangers and Marshals. You need to call us by our first names just in case there’s a plant on your ranch.”

I nodded in agreement, “Then you’ll also need to call us by our first names as well because all the ranch hands do.”

 

The three of us rode east from the barn, then southeast through a gate and out over a green pasture. Al and Bullet were doing great, but I stayed close to her anyway. For the most part, my land is flat, and you can see for miles. This piece has a few rolling hills, and we could only see to the next hill. The field was subdivided into several pastures, but we would stay in the one we were already in.

As we neared the next hill, I stopped and took Al’s hand, “Remember me saying Cindi stole a horse from me and had him put down?”

She turned to me, “Yes, but I thought it was Big Red until I saw him in the barn on my first day back. So, who’d she take?”

I smiled, “After you left, I needed something to remind me of you,” I looked into her eyes. “I went to Montana and bought a Nokota Stallion. He wasn’t as big as Bullet, only 16 hands, but he was beautiful. Black with a silver mane and tail.”

I started forward as I held her hand, “Later, still before Cindi, I bought 10 mares for his harem.” I stopped at the top of the hill. Below us, in a valley, was my small herd of Nokota mares.

She gasped when she saw them, then turned to me, “Did they help you remember me?”

I smiled and ran my thumb over her knuckles, “I could remember everything about you with no help at all, but He Who Runs With the Wind allowed me to touch you.” I looked into her eyes, “Then he was gone, too. I thought I would go mad, but I found one of the mares was pregnant.”

She was now looking over the heard. She pointed, “There, that one, the black with silver.”

I whistled, and the mare’s ears turned to me. I whistled again, and she came running. “She’s, He Who Runs With The Wind’s daughter, She Who Is The Wind.” She stopped 20 feet in front of us. I dismounted and walked to her. Her ears were flat to her head, and her nose flared, “Shh, Wind they’re friends.” I reached into my pocket and took out a piece of sugar and gave it to her.

“Al, sweetheart, come to me slowly, leave Bullet there,” I never took my hand from Wind.

“Wind, I’d like you to meet Allyson. Allyson is going to be my wife soon, and I’d like for the two of you to be friends,” I moved one hand to Al. She took it and moved to my side.

“Al this is She Who Is The Wind, I call her Wind for short. She’s the very best of her father. She’s 17 hands tall and is the leader of the heard.”

I placed her hand on top of mine and moved to Wind’s nose. Her ears came forward, “Shh, lovely girl, I’d never hurt you.” I removed my hand from under Al’s, and hers was left on Wind.

Al was a natural with Wind. I slipped Al a sugar cube to give to her, and they were good friends in no time at all.

After a while, both Big Red and Bullet begin to notice the mares, so I thought it might be time to go. “Wind,” I whispered. She turned to me, “GO!” She raised her head and nosed my chest, then turned and ran to the mares.

“Which one is her mother?” Al asked.

I didn’t answer right away, but turned her to me, “She’s yours.”

She looked at me like I was crazy, “Her mother is mine. I don’t understand.”

I smiled, “Wind is yours. The day she was born I knew she was yours. She’s just like you, independent, stubborn, full of life, and a survivor.” I kissed her forehead, “I’m giving her to you for Christmas and a wedding gift.”

She was speechless as she looked at me, “But,” she turned to the mares as Wind started moving them.

“I am,” I replied watching Wind move, “Her mother died giving birth to her. Doc Johnson couldn’t get here, and I could only save one of them, so I saved He Who Runs With The Wind’s daughter.” I looked at Al as she watched the mares, “I lived in the barn for months taking care of her until she was strong enough to be with the herd.”

Wind took the herd over another hill and out of sight. Al turned to me and walked into my open arms, “Thank you, she’s beautiful.” She looked up, “What was your plan before He Who Runs With The Wind died?”

I tried not to choke on my next words, but I did, “I was going to breed him to the herd. Try to save the last of the Nokota horses and bring them back.” I pulled her tight to me.

After a while, she pulled away, “We still can, we can use Bullet.” She smiled at me with that sly little twitch in her eyes.

I couldn’t help myself. I lifted Al’s face, leaned down, and kissed her. When we came up for breath, and I could talk again I said, “I was really hoping you would say that.” I lifted her up, and she wrapped her legs around my waist, “I was hoping to turn him out with the girls in January at the same time I turn Big Red out with his girls.”

I kissed her hard and long until she moaned, “You are too good for me Al. I’ll work the rest of my life trying to deserve you.”

“Um, hum……” Robert cleared his throat, “We need to head back. It’ll be dark in a few hours, and I don’t want the two of you out after dark.”

Al unwrapped her legs. I set her to the ground and leaned into her ear, “Just keep that thought until tonight, then I’ll take care of it for you.” I helped her up on to Bullet, got on Big Red, and we rode home hand in hand.

No part of this book may be distributed, posted, or reproduced in any form by digital or mechanical means without prior written permission of the author.