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By Carolyne Aarsen
Steeple HillCopyright © 2005 Carolyne Aarsen
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"How much longer will the grass hold out, little brother?" Amy's saddle creaked as she leaned forward, staring ruefully over the pasture.
Rick shrugged. "Couple of weeks, more if we get rain." Amy Danyluk lifted a tangle of reddish hair from her neck and tucked it under her old cowboy hat. The sun's heat, warming her head, seemed to mock Rick's hope for rain. So did the rivulets of sweat running down her back. She pulled up the red bandanna hanging around the neck of a onceyellow Tshirt and wiped her neck with it, squinting at the cows in the distance.
From here they looked content as they moved slowly along, their calves kicking up their heels and running in circles. However the cheweddown areas close to the horses were a mute testimony to how little feed the cows had left. "I think we'll have to get the lower fields ready just in case we need to move them."
"The fence needs to get fixed before we do that." Rick pulled his hat off his head and wiped a trickle of sweat with his arm. "Whew, it's hot."
Amy nodded. "I was hoping we could work on it in the morning, while it's still cool."
"No can do, sis. I'm busy on Monday. I promised Jack I'd help him in the garage until four." Rick rubbed the side of his nose and threw Amy an apologetic look. "Sorry. I made the plans over a week ago." He pulled on Sandover's reins, turned his horse around and walked away.
"This is not the time of year to make other plans," Amy muttered. They had hay to haul and cut and bale again. The corrals needed work, and the old fence needed repairs. They had to cross fence their hayfield. She had to work all of this around her own job, as well as gardening and taking care of their father, Judd.
Amy swung her own horse, Misty, around and with a nudge, easily caught up to Rick. "If you can get that tractor working on Tuesday we can haul the bales in a couple of days. I can get a day off next week and we can start on it then."
"Speaking of hay, we'll need to buy more if we have to bring the cows down sooner," Rick commented. "I had hoped to turn those pregnant heifers I bought into the lower pasture."
"Hopefully we won't need to buy hay if we cross fence the hayfield. I still don't know why you bought fall calvers. They just don't work in our program."
"It's a good way of making our cash flow more even. Besides, they were a terrific deal, for purebreds."
"But cow prices are down. And a deal is only a deal — ""
"If you can afford it," Rick intoned, his voice taking on that bored tone that told Amy he heard her but had stopped listening. He pushed his hat back on his head, his auburn hair darkened with sweat. "I know it was a chance, Amy. But sometimes you have to take them."
Amy sensed it was time to stop hammering. She wished she could let things roll off her back as easily, but she couldn't. She was the one who did the books, who knew exactly how far they were into their operating loan. She had been in charge since an accident with an auger had taken off half of her father's leg, ten years ago. She knew she had a tendency to fret, whereas Rick was more inclined to count on things working out in the end. "Okay, Rick, I'll lay off. But I want you to help me out here, bigtime."
"How's that?" "Start praying for rain," Amy said quietly.
Rick was spared the need to reply as Sandover pranced to one side. Amy drew her own horse back to fall behind him. Sandover was green broke and unpredictable. Amy didn't want Misty hit by a flying hoof.
"I'd watch his ears, Rick," Amy warned, watching as the horse tossed his head.
"He's just highstrung, glad to be out." Rick pulled Sandover's head around, and with another defiant shake of his head, the horse settled. Rick flashed his sister a triumphant grin over his shoulder. "See. All under control."
"I'm going to the Hendersons'. You coming?" Amy asked, ignoring him.
"What do you need to do there?"
Amy shrugged in reply. Rick didn't need to know, he would just tease her.
"Well?" Rick insisted.
"If you need to know, I want to borrow Elizabeth's hot rollers and pick up a pair of panty hose she bought for me."
Rick's head spun around faster than Sandover's. "Panty hose?" Rick's incredulous tone said much more than his words. "Rollers? You won't even know how to put those things in your hair."
Amy still said nothing. "And since when do you care about how you look?" "Since Tim and I started going out. You know that," Amy replied, wishing the flush would leave her cheeks. She didn't need to feel guilty. Her desire to look attractive was nothing to be embarrassed about, especially not in front of her little brother.
"C'mon, Amy. Your motto's always been 'death before makeup." Your idea of dressing up for a date was to iron your Tshirt. Now you're going to wear panty hose and — " he put heavy emphasis on the word " — curl you hair. What's next? Lip gloss?"
"It's my engagement party. Why wouldn't I want to look my best?"
Rick drew alongside her, and she chanced a sidelong glance, catching his quizzical look. "I don't think you're being straight with me, sis. The last time I saw you dressed up was — " He paused, his brow furrowed in thought. His expression brightened and he snapped his fingers. "I remember. Two years ago, you bought a dress and you curled your hair." He narrowed his eyes. "Two years ago. The last time Paul Henderson came home."
"Would you give me a break?" Amy said, angry at what he implied. "Like I said before, it's our engagement party. Tim's and mine. I bought a new dress for him. I'm curling my hair for him. Paul hasn't been around for years."
"And you haven't spent this much time on how you look in years."
"And every time he comes home," Amy continued, pretending not to hear, "he's got another girl on his arm."
"You can't compete, Amy," Rick said shortly. "He's way out of your league."
"Why are you even bringing this up?" Amy turned on her brother, angry and frustrated with the position he put her in.
"I happen to be engaged. Tonight's our engagement party. Tim and I are making plans to get married. Paul hasn't been important to me for years." Amy swung Misty around and clucked angrily to her horse.
Misty broke into a gentle lope, the breeze cooling Amy's heated face.
Why did I overreact? Amy berated herself. Now he's going to think he's right.
Misty crested the hill, and Amy drew her to a halt. She glanced back over her shoulder. Sandover plodded slowly along, his head down, looking disarmingly submissive.
Amy turned back, a gentle sigh lifting her shoulders as her eyes took in the view. The valley lay below her, sunwarmed and restful, the sweep of the fawncolored hills undulating away from her. Solitary stretches of pine trees lined their rims, sending delicate fingers of darker green down the hillsides.
She drew in a slow breath, as if drawing in the lifegiving sustenance of the tangy air of the Cariboo. She knew there were other places in God's creation more spectacular, but she had been placed here, and here was where she belonged, as surely as the grass and as snugly as the rocks.
A soft, warm breeze teased her heated cheeks, and she turned her face to it as she lifted up a quick prayer, thanking God for Tim, friends and home. She shook her head, wondering at her brother. He still didn't believe that her childhood crush for Paul Henderson had slowly worn away with each year Paul stayed in Vancouver and each new girlfriend he brought home for his brief visits.
The thump of hooves behind her broke into her thoughts. She turned in time to see Sandover rear, his front hooves flashing out.
Excerpted from Ever Faithful by Carolyne Aarsen Copyright © 2005 by Carolyne Aarsen. Excerpted by permission.
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