Love Rides a Chestnut Horse Ch. 06bytigrlily320©
Hours later, long after the sun had gone down, James slipped from the bed, pulling on some pants and walking downstairs with Cappy following. The two wandered onto the porch, where James scooped him up and sat down with the puppy on his lap. He looked up at the bright stars twinkling down at him, and sighed.
"Think I'm ready to be a dad, short stuff?" He looked down at the tiny dog, who wagged his tail in response.
Upstairs, Isabella awoke to find an empty space in the bed next to her. She looked around, calling out, "Baby?" She climbed out of bed and padded down the stairs, hearing his voice on the porch. She stopped in the doorway and listened as he continued to talk to Cappy.
"I think I'm ready. But this is a big job, even bigger than being a husband I think. I mean yeah , I can raise a colt or a dog, but a kid....." His voice drifted off and he shook his head, unaware that he was being overheard. "I just want to be the best dad to the baby and the best husband to her I can be. You know, Cap? I just hope I can give them all they need. I mean, it's just been me for close on to 5 years now. Just me and Leo, and now suddenly I have everything I've ever wanted."
In the doorway, Isabella smiled softly to herself. She didn't want to interrupt the moment, but couldn't help thinking how very right he was. Just as she was about to back away from the door and head back upstairs, Cappy saw her and barked.
James patted his head, "shush, you'll wake her."
She smiled, opening the door and walking slowly out onto the porch. "Too late for that," she whispered.
"Sorry, baby." He watched her graceful movements as she crossed the porch to hm.
She shook her head, "it's ok." She picked Doc up off his lap and held him while she settled onto his knees. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close. She looked down into his eyes as she placed his hand on her stomach.
"You're going to be an amazing dad," she stated as he blushed, embarrassed that she had heard. "And an amazing husband."
"How do you know I'll do so great?" he asked.
"Because you've taken better care of me in the last week than anyone has in my whole life," she squeezed his hand. "You're a natural, baby."
He pulled her close to his chest. "You're very sweet," he smiled.
"No, I'm very honest," she shook her head. "After mama died, daddy was good at providing a home. But I took care of myself." She paused, then whispered, "and him, usually."
He leaned up and kissed her cheek gently. "Well, I'm here to take care of you now."
She laid her head on his shoulder. "I know. You're going to do a great job taking care of all of us. But you have to let me take care of you too." A large smile broke across her face as she held the puppy to his, where he began to eagerly squirm, trying to lick James' face. "Cappy, too. He's very concerned."
He kissed her forehead then, and picked her up gently. He stood with her cradled carefully in his arms and they headed up the stars to their room. He lay her and the puppy down in the bed and walked around to crawl in from the other side. She lay Cappy down on the bed where he curled up to sleep, and held out her arms to the man she loved.
He scooted over closer, until he saw that his spot was being taken by the small dog. He smiled, "alright little man, down to the foot of the bed with you." He pat the dog's bottom as he walked down and she laughed. He pulled her against him and whispered in her ear, "goodnight, love."
She yawned, "good night. Stay here this time, ok? I don't like waking up without you."
"Ok, baby. Sorry." He looked down at her to see that she was already fast asleep on his chest. He smiled, letting his own eyes close, soon falling asleep himself.
She awoke in the morning as the sun rose, sliding out of bed and heading into the bathroom. She was relieved to have finally awoken before him, and dressed to head outside. Since James's arrival she hardly felt as if she were pulling her weight on her own ranch. She slipped out of the room and headed out the door, just as James turned over to reach for her, and found Cappy instead. He looked confused for a moment, but then got up, hearing her move around.
"Where are you going?" he called out.
She stopped in the hallway, "um, outside?"
He jumped out of bed, "no you are not! Up here, NOW Isabella!" He walked into the hallway, but only saw her hair streaking out behind her as she ran down the stairs and out the door. He could hear her laughter as she made her way to the barn.
He hurried down the stairs after her, screaming her name. With his limp, it took a lot longer than it should have to catch her, and by the time he was close enough to reach her, they were almost at the barn. He grabbed her arm and spun her around quickly to face him.
She gasped, wincing in pain at his hand on her arm. "James!"
"What?" his eyes were darker than she had seen them, and she tried to pull away from him.
Her eyes widened as she looked back up at him. "You.... nothing, never mind." Her voice drifted off as she blushed. Her eyes drifted down towards the hand that still gripped her arm tightly.
He let go, and began to gently rub where his hand had been. "I what?"
She shook her head, "you just.... You didn't need to grab me, that's all."
"I'm sorry, honey." His eyes held hers until she nodded. "Listen, though. We're going to have a baby. You have to think about that and protect it, honey. If you get hit by something, or fall, or God forbid get kicked again, so does the baby.... So, please, let me take care of the chores?"
Her face turned a deep shade of red in shame and embarrassment. She looked down at her belly, and placed her hand on it. "I'm sorry."
"No, honey. Don't be sorry."
Her eyes were wide and tear-filled as she stared up at him. "I.... I wasn't trying to hurt him."
He gasped, gently grabbing her shoulders. "Honey!" He pulled her close to him and kissed her forehead. "I know you weren't, that never even crossed my mind! God, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings." He sighed, leaning down and resting his forehead against hers. "I'm so sorry, I just worry about you – and now, the baby, too."
She shook her head, "Baby, stop it, it's fine."
"It would kill me if anything happened to either of you. Especially if it were something I could have prevented." His eyes grew slightly haunted.
"Hey, we're fine. We're right here, and I promise that I won't do anything stupid. But you also have to remember that I'm used to taking care of things around here. Sometimes you have to let me help, just a little." She rubbed her hand up and down his arm. He looked up at her and smiled.
"Ok baby, come on." He held out his hand and she took it. Together, they walked into the barn. He handed her the feed scoop, "one for each of the guys while I get the hay down."
She smiled and nodded, turning to walk to the stalls.
"Hey," he called, waiting until she was looking at him before continuing. "I love you."
"I love you, too." The softest smile crossed her lips, and she watched him climb the ladder into the loft. She stood there in the middle of the barn, glancing between the two horses. She glanced at the stall where her own big black stallion stood and bit her lip. She backed away from him slowly, and made her way to Leo's stall instead.
From above, he watched her and his heart ached as he saw her indecision. He finished tossing the hay down into the stalls and descended the ladder, coming up behind Isabella as she stroked Leo's nose and spoke to him softly. James took the scoop from her hand gently, filling it and walking to Beauty's stall.
"It's ok, Belle."
She glanced behind her as he made his way to Beauty, ashamed that she couldn't go and take care of her own horse. She was just still a little nervous around him, but she knew from experience that it would pass. The big black horse would win her over again in no time. She stepped into Leo's stall and began to brush him slowly, trying not to watch James with Beauty. She took a deep breath, trying to keep the tears from spilling over.
Stepping into Beauty's stall, James fed him and leaned in to his ear. In a voice he thought she would not hear as he stared the horse down, he whispered, "ever breath on her the wrong way again and I will kill you."
Across the way, her head snapped up. "You most certainly will not!"
He attempted to play innocent, "will not what?"
"You will not hurt him. You will not kill him. You will not touch him!"
"We'll see." He tried to dismiss the subject, but she would not let it go.
She stomped out of Leo's stall and grabbed his arm. "Stop! He didn't mean anything by it!" Her eyes shone with fear and anger as she glared up at him.
"Honey, relax." He reached out for her hand, but she yanked it away. "Baby, don't do that, please."
She walked away from him, tentatively, and headed toward Beauty's stall.
"Isabella," he said, following at a distance as she began walking more determinedly. "Bella, stop."
She reached Beauty's stall in only a few steps, and smiled as he raised his head to greet her. But just as she reached out her hand to pet him, she felt strong arms at her waist, pulling her back. "It's fine, James. Just a minute."
"Honey," he pled, "at least let me come with you."
She did not respond, stroking her horse's nose. "I know, baby. I know you didn't mean it. I'm sorry I was scared." She laid her head against his nose.
James stayed with her, hugging her gently from behind, rubbing her arms.
She turned to him. "See? He would never hurt me."
He stood close to her, watching Beauty the entire time. Even as the horse sweetly nuzzled her neck, making her laugh, he shook his head. "I still want to be with you when you're around him for awhile ok love?"
She glanced up at him, a confused and hurt expression on her face. She nodded slowly, in agreement anyway.
"I trust you completely, love. He's just going to have to earn my trust again." He lifted her chin until her eyes met his.
"But he was just scared," she shook her head.
"I know... just bear with me love."
She sighed but nodded. Reaching back, she grabbed his hand and squeezed.
He wrapped his arms around her from behind and pulled her against him, holding her gently. "So, when do you want to go into town to the doctor?"
"I'm ready when you are," she smiled.
He studied her face. "Would you rather I go or stay here?"
She looked up at him, frowning. "Why wouldn't I want you there?"
"Well, if I come with you to the doctor that will definitely start rumors." He sighed, "now, I don't care about any of them, but I want to try and protect you as much as possible."
She shook her head, smiling, "don't worry about me. I've been the target of the town gossips for years. In fact, if they can get to you, they'll probably try to warn you away from me."
"Not a chance," he kissed her forehead. "I'll hitch Leo up to the buckboard, ok love?
She nodded, "thanks." She stayed with Beauty while he worked, brushing the stallion down slowly. He worked quickly, leery of leaving her alone with the temperamental horse for any period of time. He pulled the buckboard down the barn aisle by hand and left it out in front of the stalls. He then pulled Leo out of his stall and led him back in between the traces, finding a harness and quickly putting it on him.
Isabella watched Beauty, patting his neck as he whinneyed. "It's ok baby, not this time."
He checked and rechecked all the connections on the harness until he was satisfied, then turned back to call into the barn. "Ok babe, ready?"
She nodded, patting the stallion one last time and then coming out of his stall. She made her way around the wagon, taking his offered hand to help her up. When he was satisfied that she was safely inside, he climbed up next to her and grabbed the reins. He put his arm around her shoulder, pullng her close and placing a light kiss on her temple. He then shook the reins and clucked to Leo as he trotted out of the barn.
"You're never going to forgive him, are you?" She lay her head on his shoulder to await the answer she knew was coming.
"It'll be awhile." He gave a gentle squeeze as they trotted down the main drive, and she nodded.
"So names...." he looked down at her and smiled.
She laughed, "Well, I haven't really had time to think about it yet." Her hand went to her stomach.
"Well, we'd better start." He rubbed her arm in response as he turned onto the road to town.
"We have 9 months," she shook her head.
He nodded. "Ok, well what color should we paint the baby's room then? I was thinking a green or a yellow, something good for a boy or a girl."
She grinned, "yellow. No matter what we have, yellow will be nice." She then hesitated, as if she wanted to say something, but then closed her mouth.
"I saw it, Isabella."
She nodded, "I know. I'm trying to think of the best way to say it." She bit her lip as she thought about it. "I just want to prepare you for the way the people in town look at me. Daddy... well, he wasn't very welcoming." As she spoke, she saw the muscles in his arm tense up hard. She placed her hand there before continuing. "I mean, you've noticed that no one else works the ranch. Well, after mama died, he went a little crazy. It's just that people... well they assume I am, too."
He rubbed her knee gently as he listened.
"I don't mind, it doesn't bother me," she looked up into hs eyes. "But i know it will bother you. So... I just wanted to warn you."
He nodded, still not meeting her eyes, so she continued. "Remember the day we met in the store? You probably didn't notice at the time... but when you came in, Shannon was the only one talking to me. All the others were sort of - huddled... in the back of the store."
He squeezed her knee as he nodded. "I noticed."
"Of course you did," she sighed. "And you probably noticed the looks on all their faces when i offered you the job."
He leaned in and kissed her softly, "I did."
She slowly nodded again, and then glanced up into his eyes. "They'll look at you that way, now too."
He made a sound of disbelief in his throat. "They can try. I'm not so quiet and meek as you seem to think I am, my love."
She laughed, "Oh, I don't think you are."
They settled into silence for a few moments, until he asked, "how long have you known the doctor?"
She looked up, surprised. "He was there when mama delivered me."
"So he knows you? Like truly knows you, he's not like the others?" At her nod, he smiled. "Good. So, what do you think the Doc will say?"
She smiled, "well, I think he'll tell us I'm pregnant."
He turned to her, his face serious. "Will he add comment past that? 'Preach.' if you will."
She shook her head. "He's a good man. Besides... we're getting married next week."
"This is true," he kissed her forehead and turned his attention back to the road.
"He's looking at your leg while we're there, too," she stated. "You're still limping," she noted as he began to protest.
"It's just sprained, Belle."
She nodded, "so you say."
"So I know."
She smiled up at him, "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know you were a doctor."
He looked down at her solemnly. "I lived through a war. You learn things."
She blushed, looking down into her lap. "I'm sorry," she whispered."
"No," he reached out and took her hand. "It's ok, honey." He leaned over and placed a soft kiss on her lips. As he pulls away and looks up, they finally come into sight of town.
She sighs, "Well, here goes nothing."
"Where is doc's?" he asked.
"It's just past the store."
He nodded and directed Leo to the little house past the store. He climbed down, and then reached up for Isabella. He watched her eyes widen and saw her take a deep breath as she looked up and saw a crowd exiting the store. He grabbed a hold of her waist and set her on the ground. As she stepped away from the wagon, she pulled her bonnet down as far as she could over the bruised side of her face.
"You can't see it," he murmured.
She nodded to show that she had heard, walking up the steps towards Doc's office. He followed closely behind, a hand gently at her lower back. As the usual whispers started up, she held her head high, and pressed the door to Doc's house open. She didn't see the hardened glare that met each glance and whisper in their direction. She walked into the house, sighing a little once they were both inside. The nurse stood as they entered, and Isabella smiled at her. After approaching the desk, the two have a hushed conversation. The nurse smiled and nodded, leaving to get the Doc. Isabella turned and walked back to James, who was standing uncomfortably in the middle of the room, hat in hand. She gestured to a sofa under the window.
"Have a seat, baby."
He walked over to the sofa and turned, "So, I stay out here?"
She nodded, "he won't let you in there."
"Well, shoot," he sighed, sitting down on the couch. He rested his hat on his knee.
She stepped in front of him and reached down to take his hands. He reached up to her, smiling. "You're going in after me," she smiled. "I just want him to check you over. You had a bad fall."
"Ok," nodded. "But only for you, baby."
She leaned down, placing a gentle kiss on his forehead as an older man comes out from the back room of the downstairs. She straightened quickly, blushing as James stood up awkwardly next to her. The doctor laughed as he walked up to the pair and gave Isabella big hug.
"Dr Thomas, this is James," she introduced.
The doctor reached out his hand and shook James's while giving him a warm smile. James shook his hand firmly, keeping eye contact.
"Pleasure to meet you, sir."
"No, son," he smiles. "The pleasure is all mine. I haven't seen a smile this big on her face in years."
Isabella ducked her head and blushed.
"Well, she should definitely smile more. That smile can light up a room," he winked.
The blush deepened, and she laughed. She motioned for him to sit back down and headed into the back room with the doctor.
James watched the door until it closed behind them, then sat back down fidgeting with his hat nervously. The nurse returned to her desk and eyed him curiously. He dared a glance out the window and saw someone look in as they walked by. Without pause, his lip curled back in a sneer and his eyes bore holes in them until they looked away quickly. He then looked back at the nurse and his face quickly returned to a smile, feeling sheepish.
In the exam room, Isabella answers Dr. Thomas's barrage of questions, blushing often. He drew some blood to run a test and looked at the deep bruise and gash on her head. He cleaned and bandaged it, whispering to her softly about being more careful from now on.
After what seemed like hours had passed, the door opened and James looked up to see her reenter the waiting room. He sighed with relief at the smile on her face, taking in the bandage on her head.
He stood, smiling at her nervously. "Hi, honey."
She looked up at him, the smile not wavering, and just nodded.
"Yes?" He felt the smile begin to spread across his face.
She nodded again, and his smile grew.
"And now," she grinned, "it's your turn."
"Great," he muttered. "I'm so excited."
She nodded solemnly, "I can tell. Just do it for me, ok?"
He stood slowly, nodding. "Of course, baby."
The doctor stands in the doorway, waiting for James to limp his way over. He walked as normally as he could across the waiting room and into the exam room. Doc motioned for him to take a seat on the table as he closed the door behind him.
"So, Bella tells me you took a fall. She seemed pretty worried about you." He smiled down at James as he began to run his fingers up and down his leg.