Hello all. Again this one is a little long (in several chapters) with no immediate gratification. As always I appreciate what you think. Enjoy
Grace drove steadily along the open highway, gradually watching the scenery change from highly urban to the suburbs, and finally to the open green pastures of her childhood. She still couldn't believe she'd left the rat race behind. It was a huge decision, one her parents didn't support. But then again they didn't support many of her choices. Her relationship with them was strained at best.
Grace was a school psychologist working in a busy city school district doing a job she loved. She was young though, only a couple of years out from her graduate studies. Regardless, she adored helping children and family overcome life's hurdles. Sure there were the occasional ones that didn't quite work out. But she had an unusual connection with young people and was very good at her job. Nothing could have prepared her for what happened six months ago.
Grace was working with young girl that she could see was clearly depressed. They were making progress when the girl's best and only friend had to move to another state. This sent the girl into an emotional tailspin. Grace tried everything she could but she was very concerned about some evident suicidal ideation. She informed the school and her parents to keep their eyes open. She stressed that this girl needed psychiatric care but no one seemed to be listening. Her parents even accused her of harassment and tried to get her to stop seeing their daughter.
Grace knew that things weren't boding well when the girl all of a sudden appeared calmer and more confident, a clear sign that she had made a plan. Again Grace tried to warn everyone and met with the same brick wall. That very weekend that girl killed herself by overdosing on her parents' old prescription medication.
The whole school community was devastated, but none more so than Grace. She wanted to scream from the roof tops "I told you so". But that wouldn't bring her back. To make matters worse her parents brought charges against Grace for failing to help her. There was an investigation and not only was Grace exonerated but her parents and school were being investigated regarding their clear negligence. Grace felt somewhat vindicated but that didn't stop her own doubts and 'what if's'. She still had nightmares.
Having had her professional and personal world dragged through the mud. Grace did the only thing she could rationalize as sane: she ran away. She applied for a position in a couple of rural schools and got the job. Then was the question of where to live. The position only afforded her two to three days a week of work so she couldn't afford much. The job was starting and she still hadn't found anywhere to live when she found a small notice in the local paper of the area. It stated free accommodation for someone that would be willing to help out with some chores on what appeared to be a horse training ranch.
Grace leapt at the opportunity. She'd grown up on her grandparent's farm until her parents decided to move to the city but she managed to return most week ends and every school holidays. She loved being there and she loved her horse, Cloud. Her grandparents passed away when she was in her senior year and her parents didn't want anything to do with the farm so they sold it and everything on it. To this day she hoped that Cloud went to a good home. She had never quite forgiven her parents for their callous actions. She would have happily taken over the farm but she wasn't consulted.
Grace called the number immediately and spoke with a Mrs. Harding. She found out that she would be living in a converted barn that was separate to the main house. Also that she would be required to help out in the capacity of a stable hand or just odd chores. Mrs Harding sounded apprehensive, not expecting a woman to enquire. Grace assured her she had plenty of experience and was willing to work hard. Mrs. Harding said she would have to consult with the owner but didn't see a problem with her coming down to check the place out for herself.
And so Grace packed up her belongings and was on her way to the ranch that thankfully, wasn't too far from the town and the schools she'd be working in. Driving up the long drive Grace could finally see the main house. Mansion was more like it. It was huge and rustic, just like you would expect an old ranch house to be. Except that this one had a second story to go with the surrounding veranda. It seemed like a family of twenty could live in it comfortably.
Grace didn't have a lot of time to research Evening Light Ranch so she really didn't know what to expect. She could see many other buildings nearby and wondered which one was hers. She parked her car and made her way to the front door. Before she could raise her hand to knock it was opened but a motherly looking middle aged woman that beamed at her. "You must be Grace Lancefield. Welcome to Evening light. I'm Emily Harding. Most folks around here just call me Miss Em. You must be tired dear, come in and we'll see if we can get you sorted." Miss Em said.
Grace found herself grinning at the obvious display of good old fashioned hospitality. They made their way to a large but surprisingly modern kitchen-dining area. Miss Em busied herself with getting Grace something to eat all the while constantly chattering about Evening Light and its owner Mr Lucas Marshal. By keeping quiet, Grace was able to ascertain a great deal of information about the ranch she was hoping to make her home.
"Listening to me going on and on. Why I haven't given you a chance to get a word in edgewise." Miss Em exclaimed.
"I enjoy listening to you talk" Grace smiled.
"My, it's good to have another woman around the place again. Too much testosterone on occasion if you get my meaning." Miss Em chuckled and Grace laughed along with her. Just then an example of said testosterone walked in and grabbed a glass of water from the sink. Grace took a moment to openly stare at him. He was so ... male. Everything about him screamed masculinity, from the handsome features, broad shoulders, hard body and piercing green eyes that turned to evaluate her in turn. "Hello there Lucas. This here is Grace Lancefield; she applied for the part time stable hand position." Miss Em explained.
At the mention of her and the position in the same sentence turned those green eyes black with anger. "No way, no women." He growled.
"Now Lucas," Miss Em began but didn't get to finish.
"No." He stated simply.
"But, you haven't even ascertained if I can do the job or not." Grace exclaimed with her own anger mounting at his clear prejudice. He just stared at her, his handsome features livid. Sexism was one of Grace's pet hates and she often did not react well in the face of it. "How dare you dismiss me like that? I have been around horses all my life and I can ride and handle them just fine thank-you very much. I certainly know how to muck out a stable. Now I may not be able to do the same amount of heavy lifting as a man of your size but I can carry my share of the load. I will not tolerate your unwarranted chauvinistic attitude." She said with barely contained fury.
"Oh my" whispered Miss Em. Both Grace and Lucas were staring daggers at each other. "Lucas you know you are short handed at the moment and no one else has applied." Miss Em stated quietly. Lucas appeared to think about it while looking Grace up and down like she was one of his horses.
"OK, you can stay on a trial basis. Don't get too comfortable." He said and walked out.
Grace was fuming. The arrogance of the man. If she wasn't so desperate for a place to stay she would have told him to go to hell. "Well now dear, no one has told that boy off like that since his mama was alive. Done my heart good to hear it." Miss Em chuckled. "Let me show you to your place and get you settled in." Grace followed Miss Em to what looked like a rundown smallish barn.
Once inside she discovered that it had been fully renovated into what amounted to a two bedroom apartment complete with kitchen and living area. Grace was grateful for the extra room so she could set up an office for her other job. "Once you're settled go and hunt down Bradley. He's the head hand and he'll go over what's expected of you." Miss Em suggested as she made her way back to the main house. Grace sighed as she sank down on the sofa. After allowing herself to feel doubt and fear for all of 5 minutes she got up to find Bradley.
The stables were modern and immaculate. They appeared to be split up into different sections she presumed for the various stages of training and breeding. Bradley turned out to be a weathered looking man of indeterminate age. "Hello Bradley, I'm Grace Lancefield your new stable hand." She said as cheerfully as she could.
"Well I'll be ... sweet little thing like you. What you wanna be mucking crap for?" he asked good naturedly. Grace explained about her other job and needing somewhere to stay. She also explained about her experience with horses. "Lucky for you darlin' the job isn't that much. Just mucking out this section and some odd jobs as they come up. Starts at 5:30am tomorrow. I'll get one of the boys to come get you and talk you through it the first few days. Lucas is particular about the way he wants things done." He explained. Grace showed some surprise at the early start but she didn't mind too much. They chatted a little before Grace excused herself to get settled in. She decided she liked Bradley, she liked him a lot. He reminded her of her grandfather.
Grace took a quick trip into town to pick up some groceries and other necessities. As is the norm she was stared at being new and all but people were cordial enough. Back at the ranch she made several trips to unload her meagre possessions which were mainly books and resource material for her job. Once she had put everything away she made herself a simple dinner and went to bed knowing that she had an interesting day ahead.