Love Rides a Chestnut Horse Ch. 09bytigrlily320©
About half an hour later, James was tying Leo at the rail while Isabella placed a tall stack of pancakes on the table. He walked in and sat at the table, smiling up at her. "Yummy," he grinned.
She pulled out the butter and some syrup, putting a plate in front of him. "Dig in, baby."
He began to eat, looking up at her. "These are great, honey."
They ate in comfortable silence until she finished her smaller stack and kissed his cheek. "I'm going up to get ready." She headed up the stairs and into the bedroom. She pulled off her nightdress, slipping into her riding skirt and a top that wasn't nearly as "proper" as she would normally wear.
Downstairs, James finished eating and cleared the dishes. He walked into the living room and sat down to wait for her. He heard her on the steps and looked over his shoulder at her. He nearly tipped the chair over backwards upon seeing her blouse. He flailed wildly, then somehow caught himself and leaned back forward. "My, my..." he murmured under his breath.
"You ok?" she smiled.
"Yeah, they're gonna get an eyeful in town, though." He laughed, walking over to her.
She looked down, "it's not that bad." She glanced at the sleeveless shirt that instead of closing at the throat closed just above the swell of her my breasts.
He shook his head, "I don't know, I can see the hills and valley pretty well."
"Are you complaining?"
He laughed as he opened the front door for her. "No ma'am, not a damn bit. Let's go."
She smiled as she followed him outside. She paused to glance wistfully toward the barn.
"Come on, love," he called.
With one last look, she turned and walked to where he had pulled Leo away from the rail. He kissed her cheek.
"He's going to be so hurt when we come back with a new horse," she sighed.
He shook his head, "he'll know why." He grabbed her waist, throwing her up on Leo's back and then swinging up behind her.
"He'll think I gave up on him," she sighed once again as she leaned back against him.
James nudged Leo as they took off for town at an easy gait. He held her close while they rode, smelling her hair.
She looked back at him and asked, "Do you really think he'll know why?"
He nodded, "absolutely."
"How?" she asked.
"He's a smart horse, and horses are smarter than people give them credit for," he stated simply. "But what will he think?" She stared up at him, "in his mind, why are we getting a new one?"
He shrugged, "because he hurt you."
She nodded, "I know that he's sorry."
"I know that, too baby." He rubbed her am gently, "but that doesn't make him any less dangerous."
"Now enough sadness," he smiled. "Today is a happy day."
"It is?" she questioned.
"Yes! You showed up the old bitch. We're having a baby. Doc is coming over for dinner soon. We're getting a new horse and we're getting married in a week and a half." He kissed the back of her neck as she laughed.
She nodded, smiling wide. "You're right. Today is a happy day."
He nudged Leo to an easy lope. As the old horse begins to run, she noticed a scar running along his shoulder she you hadn't noticed before, as well as 2 or 3 small circular ones. She gently ran her fingers over it, and looked back at James. "What happened?"
"Well, let's see," he stated thoughtfully as he looked down. He pointed to the two small circular ones. "Those are bullet wounds." He reached further down to the longer one, "and that was a spear wound."
Her eyes widened as she looked back at him. She took James's hand.
He looking down at her, "what honey?"
She shook her head, "nothing. It's just that you could have died, and then we never would have met."
"I almost did die," he murmured as he looked out at the skyline for a moment.
Her eyes widened, and she took a deep breath. "Baby?"
He rubbed her arm as he pointed to the spear scar, slowing Leo to a walk. "We were in an especially intense battle and I got knocked off. I was turning around to shoot the man that knocked me off, but as I turned I saw a union soldier with a spear. He was coming right for me, but Leo lunged in front of me. He took the spear in his chest and I killed the man."
Tears filled her eyes, "I'm so sorry."
James pulled Leo up and led him to the side of the road. "We're both still here, honey. He's a bit worse for the wear, but he's a tough old guy."
She leaned down and pat his neck gently. "He's a good horse. I get it now," she turned and looked up at him. "He'd never hurt you."
"Or you," he noted.
She bit her lip, struggling with her next statement. "Maybe we should just get rid of Beauty altogether. I mean, with a baby coming..." she drifted off, tears filling her eyes again. She shook her head, "he's just not careful."
He squeezed her tight. "Baby, we can try and geld him first. That should calm him down a lot." He paused for a moment, considering. "Or do you just want to be rid of not only the horse but the bad memories, too?"
She sighed, "I have good memories with him, too."
"We'll go talk to the vet, have him come out and geld him," he kissed her shoulder.
She nodded. "Ok."
"I don't want to see you sad," he whispered into her ear as he nuzzled into her neck. "I think you would be sad if he was gone."
She leaned back into him, and he kissed her cheek and the approached town. "Oh, and I forgot to tell you the best part of the story! For his bravery Leo was awarded a special commendation. Which I suppose doesn't matter now that the confederacy is gone."
"Hey," she chastised. "Of course it matters! Congratulations, Leo," she patted his neck softly.
The big horse looked back and grunted, making them both laugh. James paused, "let's see, Doc's first?"
Isabella nodded, "sounds good."
He wheeled Leo at a trot up to Doc's tie rail, and they both saw the group of ladies in front of the store. She smiled, watching the whispers begin, and James gave a grandiose wave as he swung down. She laughed loudly as he reached up and lifted her off. He set her softly on the ground, and she leaned up to kiss his cheek. She then walked up the stairs into the doc's office and he followed, patting her backside moments before they walked in.
She laughed, "You are not helping."
Doc heard the two of them and walked out of his office, looking between the two and smiling wide. "Well, I didn't expect to see you two again so soon."
Isabella approached him and gave him a big hug which he returned. James smiled as he saw her lovingly interact with someone else. He cleared his throat, "Doc we came by to ask you out to the ranch for dinner."
He smiled again, "well that would be a pleasure! When would you like us?"
He glanced at Isabella, and she nodded. "How's tomorrow night?"
He nods, "should be fine. I'll have to check with Mrs. Doc of course." He glanced down at the young woman before him. "I heard you had a big morning, little lady," he joked, laughing loudly as she turned red.
James joined him in laughter and glanced down at his blushing bride. "Everyone knows already, then, huh?"
He paused. "Wait, you mean it's true?" His eyes widened, and he laughed louder. "Why, Isabella Murphy, as I live and breathe! Your daddy would have LOVED that."
James winked, teasing. "Call it youthful indiscretion."
Doc let out a loud guffaw. "Call it whatever you want, kids. I but call it a victory. Now, Isabella, Sarah had something she wanted to give you, why don't run up and see her?"
She nodded, winking at James and hurrying upstairs. As she walked away, the young man grew nervous. He was suddenly aware that after what had taken place this morning, he was now standing in front of the closest thing to a father that Isabella had. He tried to hide it, but felt himself swallow hard.
Doc saw it and smiled. "You can relax, son. I'm not going to give you a lecture."
James sighed loudly and then laughed. The laughter died on his lips though as he noticed Doc's face turn serious. "I don't know quite what you've done to Isabella. But I haven't seen a smile like that on her face since she was just a little girl. Before her mama died and her daddy lost his marbles she was just a normal, happy child. I can finally recognize that child again in her smile. So thank you for bringing her back." Doc clapped James on the shoulder and squeezed, holding out his other hand for the younger man to shake.
James shook it firmly. "She brought me back too, sir. I was running from the remnants of the war, not intending on stopping. Then I found her."
Doc nods, "love can do that, son. Now, we'd be happy to come to dinner tomorrow night, young man. But you'd best tell me what you want Sarah to bring or she'll have my head."
He grimaced. "Oh, that's probably a question for the lady of the house. All I can make is chili, steaks, and potatoes."
The heard a noise on the stairs and looked up to see Isabella and an older woman coming through the door, both smiling wide.
"Hi babe," James smiled up at Isabella.
"Hey you," she smiled back. "He's not scaring you, is he?" She sent a fake glare in Doc's direction.
"Not a bit. Now you leave him be," he teased, "he's a saint."
Doc's wife smiled at him. "Oh, don't say that, son. It'll go right to his head."
"We ready to go get the horse, honey?" James turned to Isabella, who nodded.
"I think so."
Doc looks surprised, "new horse?"
His question made Isabella blush and look down. James squeezed her to him, "yes sir. I asked her not to ride Beauty, especially while she's pregnant. I just don't trust him, so we're getting another horse."
He sighed, "That's the best news I've heard in weeks."
"We're also getting Beauty gelded. I hope that can remedy his quirks some," James added.
Doc nodded, thoughtful. "I told Patty to have that done, but he swore he was going to make that beast into a stud."
"He's a fine animal," James assured as he rubbed his hand up and down Isabella's arm. "He's just too high strung."
"Well, we'd better go," she interrupted, taking James's hand. He nodded at her, and then turned to Doc and Sarah.
"We'll see you tomorrow night," he smiled. He opened the door, and they headed out, waving.
He grabbed her by the waist and threw her up on Leo's back and then swung up behind her once again. They trotted down the street, waving as they passed the ladies again. He kissed her neck softly as they rode up to the livery stable.
"You loved that, didn't you?" she laughed.
He swung down and reached up for her. "No! Not at all!" He smiled innocently.
He set her on the ground and reached for the saddlebags behind the saddle. He grabbed her hand as they walked into the barn. He spoke to the man a moment and then he led them out to some corrals in the back. As they approached one, they could see several horses trotting around. Isabella leaned against the fence, watching the horses while she let James do the talking. He whistled and a big grey mare lumbered up to them. She fought to keep her face neutral as the felt disappointment that this was all he thought she could handle. He stepped through the fence, more or less ignoring the man's sales pitch. He slid his hand over her face and lifted her upper lip, checking her teeth to see her age. Isabella leaned back against the fence and sighed.
James looks over at the man. "Four, you said? I'd say she's closer to ten." He ran a hand over her body and down her legs, checking all 4 feet. "$250, that's your offer," he stated. "Take it or leave it."
She sighed with disappointment, looking around at the other horses in the corral. He seemed to notice her displeasure this time, and stopped his conversation with the salesman. He holds up a hand toward him, and asked him to wait. He saw her eyes following one of the horses, and called to her. "Belle, which one?"
She smiled gratefully and nodded to a palomino by the back fence. James smiled at her and walked out to the palomino. He led her over to where Isabella was standing. He repeated the same tests with her as Isabella brushed her hand along the horse's face. She laughed as a nose nuzzled her neck. She looked up at James as he finished his inspection.
"You like her?" he asked, smiling. At her nod, he turned to the salesman. "Same offer for her. That's a more than fair offer," he stated as the salesman started to hem and haw. As he finally conceded, James pulled the saddlebags off the fence where he had left them. He opened it and pulled out a stack of bills, counting out $250.
Her eyes widened as she looked at you. "Baby? Where..." She drifted off as he put the bags over his shoulder.
"Come dear," he called. "We need to stop by the vet."
"But, the bank. They have all our money."
"That's my money," he stated quietly.
She narrowed her eyes, "my money IS your money."
He led the horse behind him, "and she is my wedding present to you."
She smiled, reaching out and grabbed his hand with the one not holding the horse. She pulled him close to her, kissing him softly. "Thanks for not buying the ugly old mare," she winked.
He kissed her back, stroking her hair. "Hey, she's not that old! I still may come back and buy her, she's a nice mare."
She laughed, looking back at her new horse. "How old is she?"
He looked at her teeth again, "I'd say around 7. That's half Leo's age."
She nodded happily. "Well, are we ready to head to the vet?"
She swung up onto the horse, only to have him pull her back off and put her up on Leo.
"Hey!" she cried. "She's mine!"
He soothed her, "let me ride her home. Just to be 100% positive. Ok?"
She sighed deeply, "she won't hurt me, baby. We talked about it."
He glanced over at her pout and sighed. "Fine," he relented. "But at least let me put a saddle on her."
"Us girls have to stick together, you know." She slid down off of Leo. He quickly unsaddled Leo and threw the saddle on her. He helped her to climb up after the saddle was cinched tightly. She smiled down at him as she pat her neck. "I know, honey. I'm excited too." She smiled then and looked at her coat. "That's her name – Honey."
The horse looked back and whickered at her. She smiled, "see?"
He laughed, "Well, I guess she likes it." He swung up on Leo bareback and trotted down the street. "I'll run in and talk to the vet and we'll be on our way ok?"
She smiles at him, "we'll be here."
Swinging down from Leo, he ran into the vet's office and was back out in no time. He looked up at her as he climbed back onto the horse. "He'll be out in the morning."
She nodded. "I think," she smiled over at him, "it's time to test her out."
He laughed as they trotted down the road and glanced to his left. "Hold that thought, baby. One more stop." He stopped in front of the Assay Office and ran inside.
She watched him walk away, tilting her head in confusion. He was inside only a few moments, and when he returned, he had a large smile on his face. She raised an eyebrow at her as he swung back up on the horse.
He smiled over at her, "ok, now you can test her out."
She laughed, "Finally!" She dug her heels in lightly, and they took off, James following along, watching the new horse like a hawk. As she sped up, he picked up speed himself.
"Easy, baby!" he called after her.
As she rode, her hair came untied and flew loosely in the wind behind her. She looked back at him and saw him mouth SLOW DOWN. Feeling a wave of disappointment, she sighed, but pulled up on the reins and slowed her down.
"Thank you, love," he sighed as he reached her side.
"But she can go so much faster," she pouted.
He smiled, "well, I should hope so. But we just got her, and you're pregnant."
"But honey, the baby likes it," she winked. "He says 'do it again, Mama!'"
He laughed, "Ok, ok. Would you like to know the real reason I slowed you down?"
She laughed, "Sure, baby."
"It was so we could get a head start," he laughed, heeling Leo into a run surging away from them.
Isabella gasped, and then spurred Honey along, picking up speed quickly. They soon caught up to James and Leo. She saw him glance back in surprise, and she laughed as she turned onto the drive just ahead of him. She reached the porch just seconds before James and pulled Honey to a stop. When she turned back to look at him her face was flushed with happiness, and her smile was the biggest he'd ever seen.
She reached down to pat the horse's neck, whispering, "That's my girl."
"Enjoy it, baby. That won't happen again," James laughed.
"Oh, I think it could," she grinned. "This baby can really fly."
They led the horses into the barn, and Bella struggled to look at Beauty. She felt as if she had betrayed him as she led the new horse to her stall.
From behind her, she heard James' strong voice. "You have done nothing wrong. He understands."
She nodded, and they settled the horses in for the night. As she walked out of Honey's stall, she moved slowly but steadily to Beauty's. He watched as she reached out and rubbed along his nose, whispering, "I'm sorry, boy. I still love you." The big horse nuzzled her understandingly, and she laid a soft kiss under his eyes. She closed hers tightly, a tear finding its way down her cheek. She then took a deep breath and backed away from him, turning and walking towards the house. James hurried after her.
"Honey, it's ok," he soothed as he caught up to her. "Do you want to go inside and lay down for a while?"
She nodded and took his hand. Together they walked into the house and climbed the stairs, greeted by their happy puppy. Once inside their room, they changed into sleeping clothes and climbed into bed. James pulled Bella into his arms, stroking her face as they lay there.
"What's wrong, love?" he asked.
She shook her head. "I think it just hit me. It's silly."
"Stop, nothing you could feel is silly," he smiled. "Now tell me."
"Putting a new horse in the barn, deciding to have Beauty gelded. It was like it made it all final," she sighed. "It was like I just realized that Daddy won't be back."
He nodded, "I understand, baby. I felt that way when Matt and Ben were gone."
She curled onto her side, looking over at him. She nodded, thoughtfully. Then she paused, "Baby? Can I ask you a question?"
"Absolutely, love," he squeezed her tight.
"Where did the money come from?"
He smiled a little. "Yeah, I've been meaning to tell you that. You're not the only one with money, my dear. My father was in banking, so I have a little of my own." He kissed her forehead, and heard her laugh softly.
He smiled, "what, Belle?"
"We could own this town," she smiled up at him.
He snorted, "If people keep pissing me off and treating you the way they do, I'll make damn sure of it."
She laughed and smiled wider, closing her eyes and drifting off to sleep. James gently released her and slid out of the bed. He picked up the small puppy wagging his tail on the floor and set him next to Bella. He watched the puppy curl up with her with a smile, and then walked to the bedroom window and stared out over the land. It still seemed unbelievable to him that everything had come together like it had. He smiled back at the sleeping pair and then wandered downstairs into the den. He looked around at the pictures cataloguing a life from before he knew Bella Murphy. It made him smile wider as he thought about the life that they were now going to build together.