Love Rides a Chestnut Horse Ch. 11bytigrlily320©
The next morning, James awoke and slipped out of bed carefully, so as not to wake Bella. He dressed and headed down the stairs, hoping to get to town and back before Bella even noticed his absence. The sun shone brightly through the bedroom window, and Bella blinked her eyes as it woke her from sleep. She paused for a moment, doing a mental check to see if the baby was going to allow her a morning with no sickness and smiled as she felt no nausea. She stretched out, reaching her hand over to where James should be, looking over when she found the bed empty. She sat up, looking around.
"Baby?" she called. The word had barely left her lips when she heard his footsteps pounding up the stairs.
He poked his head in the doorway. "Yeah, love?"
She pouted sleepily as she rubbed her eyes. "I couldn't find you."
"I'm just getting ready to run to town," he smiled. "I'll be back in a bit, ok?"
She nodded, "right. Sorry, I forgot."
As they spoke, Cappy ran in and hopped up and down at the side of the bed. James stooped to pick him up and placed him on the bed. "There's no need to apologize, baby." He leaned down and kissed her gently before turning to go.
She lay back, pulling the playful puppy with her. "You'll be back before the vet gets here?" she asked.
"Definitely," he smiled.
She nodded, "ok." She curled up, cuddling the small dog against her. She closed her eyes was almost instantly asleep.
James smiled at the pair, and then headed down the steps and out the door. He quickly moved out to the barn and saddled Leo, loping down the drive just a few minutes later. A short time after he left, Bella pulled herself and the dog from bed, washing up and dressing. Just as she headed down to the kitchen, she heard hoof beats announcing his return. Smiling, she opened the back door to allow Cappy to go out to greet him. The dog met James as he slid off of Leo, tossing his reins over the rail.
He looked down, "hey buddy. Where's Mama?"
"Right here," she spoke from the doorway, wiping flour from her hands.
"Hi, love," he smiled, picking up the dog and heading up the stairs.
"Hi there," she grinned as he kissed her cheek. "How was your errand?"
He nodded, putting Cappy down and patting his bottom as he ran into the den to play. Bella smiled at him and shook her head, walking back across the kitchen to finish kneading the bread dough. He followed along behind her, pulling her into his arms as he gently turned her to face him. He kissed her lips gently, smiling as he felt her return his kiss.
"Wash your hands, baby," he murmured in her ear.
She pulled back, looking intrigued. "Why?"
He laughed, "Just do it, please."
Nodding, she moved to the sink and cleaned the flour and dough from her hands. When she was finished, she turned to face him once more. As she turned, she noticed that he had dropped to one knee behind her, and she gasped. Her hands flew in front of her mouth as her eyes filled with tears.
James reached into his pocket and pulled out a small silk bag. "I know I've already asked, but I want to do it right," he smiled wide. He opened the bag and reached inside it, pulling out a golden ring with a large diamond sitting atop it.
"Oh, baby," she breathed, looking down at it.
Still staring up into her eyes intently, he continued. "I love you so much. And I want you to be my wife and my friend, for the rest of our lives. Isabella Renee Murphy, will you marry me?"
She took a deep breath, nodding. She seemed unable to find her voice as tears dripped down her cheeks. She watched as he slid the ring carefully onto her shaking hand. He smiled as he saw its perfect fit and stood, pulling her close. She wrapped her arms around his neck as he wiped her tears away.
She smiled up at him as he held her. "I love you so much," her voice was barely more than a whisper.
So he whispered back, "I love you too, Bella."
She pressed her lips against his, feeling the change as they both melted into the kiss. As she pulled away, she smiled. "Now, can I ask you something you're not going to like?"
His eyes narrowed, furrowing his forehead. "What?"
"I want to be with you this morning. Well, with Beauty."
He shook his head, pulling away. "No. No way."
She sighed heavily as she turned away from him and placed the bread in a loaf pan to rise. "Why not?" she spoke calmly.
"It's bloody," he stated. "It's not pretty."
"I've seen blood before, James," she interrupted.
He continued as if she hadn't spoken, "there will be chloroform in the air and you're pregnant."
She rolled her eyes, "there won't be that much. And if I feel dizzy at all, I'll leave. I promise."
He sighed, "or if I tell you to leave, you'll leave."
She nodded, looking up at him. "Please, James. I need to do this for Daddy."
He stared down into her face. "Promise you'll leave if I tell you to."
She nodded solemnly. "I promise."
"Ok," he sighed.
She leaned up and kissed his cheek. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." He looked over at the counter. "What are you cooking?"
She followed his gaze. "Well, I made the bread dough, and I'll bake it later. I was going to make a cake for dessert."
He seated himself at the kitchen table, watching as she pulled out the ingredients for the cake. She worked quickly, mixing them together. He smiled as he watched her work, her movements seemed perfectly suited to her work in the kitchen. As she poured the batter into the pan, she felt his gaze and smiled.
"Yes?" she asked.
He shook his head, "nothing, baby. The vet should be here in an hour or so."
She nodded as she slid the pan into the wood oven. "Good, then this will be done baking and can cool." After closing the door, she walked over to where James sat, smiling down at him. He reached up and pulled her into his lap.
"After the vet leaves would you like to take a ride?" she asked softly. "There's someplace I'd very much like to show you."
He smiled, "sure baby. That sounds good."
She leaned down and kissed him softly, enjoying his quiet sound of enjoyment. He ran his hand up along her leg, winking at her as he did.
She smiled, standing. "We have some time." She reached out and took his hand, pulling him up to stand. They walked into the living room where she lay down on the couch and he moved on top of her. He kissed her lips gently, running his hands through her hair. She sighed happily and returned his kisses calmly, feeling him relaxing against her.
"The vet will be here soon," she whispered. He nodded, and they lay together. His fingers tickled her thigh and she laughed.
"Love you," he murmured, stroking her face gently.
She rested her forehead against his and smiled wide. "I love you, too."
They lay in each other's arms for a while, listening to the sounds of their home. They could hear Cappy running about, barking at birds and bugs he could see through the window. They could smell the cake baking in the kitchen. After a while, a wagon sounded as it rolled up the drive. Bella smiled, "right on time."
They pulled themselves off the couch and walked out through the kitchen. Bella stopped to pull the cake from the oven, setting it in the window to cool. James inhaled deeply and smiled, allowing the thick chocolate aroma to meets his nose.
He looked back at her as he grabbed his hat from the post. "It smells delicious, baby."
"Thanks," she smiled.
He opened the door, "you ready?"
She nodded, wiping her hands on a towel. Following him out of the house, she waved at the vet as they approached. He smiled back, glancing at James in question. The pair spoke softly for a moment and then began their walk out to the barn. Bella followed, knowing that James was hoping if she felt ignored she would simply go back inside. As she entered just behind them, she saw James lead the beautiful black stallion from his stall into a larger one, bedded deep with hay. She walked up to the horse's head, stroking his cheek and speaking softly to him as he fussed. She watched the vet ready his tools outside the stall, then stand with a bottle and a large cloth.
James' voice was soft in her ear as he approached. "OK babe, out in the barn alley please."
She nodded slowly and stepped out; keeping her eyes on Beauty's the whole time. She looked over at the vet, seeing him dousing the rag with chloroform, and taking a deep breath before the sweet odor can invade her nostrils. She watched James do the same and nodded at him, showing him she was aware.
James looked back to the horse from his fiancé and held his nose as the vet placed the rag under it. He bucked his head, trying to pull away, but soon enough his eyes closed, and the men eased him carefully to the ground.
Bella stepped forward as they got him situated on the floor, only to be halted by James' curt, "back, baby!"
Her brow furrowed in confusion. "But you said..."
His movements were quick as he grabbed two ropes. "I didn't say you had to leave. But you may not stay in the stall."
She nodded reluctantly with a sigh, looking at the prone horse. She wanted to be here with him since Daddy couldn't. Since Daddy never would be again. She bit her lip as the realization fully hit her. She stared at the horse's limp form and in her mind saw her father's instead. She stifled a cry, not wanting James to know anything was amiss.
James was tying back Beauty's hind legs and he then grabbed some iodine to rub down the site quickly. The vet does his job carefully, slow and methodical. As he pulled out the scalpel and made the first cut, Bella saw the blood oozing down his leg. She gasped, shaking her head. The images in her mind were a jumbled mess, and she needed air. She turned on her heel and ran from the barn heading up to the house before James could do anything.
He sighed and looked up at the vet. "I told her I didn't want her here," he muttered.
The older man smiled as he finished. "Well, things rarely go as we think they will." They untied the horse's legs and heading out of the barn after cleaning up. He shook the vet's hand and looked up toward the house. He checked on the horse one more time, seeing him slowly waking up, and headed inside to see to Bella. As he walked into the house, he paused, thinking about where she would have gone. He slowly walked through the living room and stood in the doorway to Mr. Murphy's den, seeing her curled up in her father's favorite chair.
"You ok?" he murmured as he moved into the room, squatting and laying his hand on her arm.
She nodded, her eyes staring up at the portrait of her father hanging over the fireplace. "Guess you were right," she sighed.
He carefully took hold of her chin, bringing her eyes to meet his. He ran a hand gently over her cheek, wiping away the tears collecting there.
Her voice was barely a whisper when she spoke again. "I failed him."
"You DID NOT," he stated firmly. "Don't let me hear you talk like that again."
She shook her head, "but I did, James. It would have made him so happy if he had been right about that horse."
"Bella," his voice was soft but firm, "if anyone failed, he did. Not you," he squeezed her hand as if punctuating his statement. "Besides, who can know how a horse's temperament is going to turn out?"
Bella nodded, accepting his statement. She sighed softly as she looked down at him. "How about that ride?"
He knew she was attempting to divert him from the subject, but he nodded anyway. "Sounds great, love. You go ahead and change and I'll saddle the horses."
She nodded, heading upstairs to change into riding clothes while James walked out back to saddle the horses. A few moments later, she walked out, glancing toward the barn as she swung onto Honey.
"How is he?" she asked.
"He's fine," he smiled. "He's groggy as hell, but otherwise fine." He glanced over and saw her biting her lip, still staring toward the barn. "Belle... go see him."
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Yes, Bella. But stay out of the stall, please," he warned. He smiled as she ran toward the barn and followed her at a slower pace. He watched as she stepped tentatively toward the stall door and kept a close eye on the horse.
"Hey there, boy," she smiled as she rubbed a hand up and down his muzzle. "I'm sorry I
wasn't here," she sighed. "But I'm really glad you're ok." The horse looked up and whinnied a little drunkenly. She smiled back and pat his neck before turning back to James. "We can go now."
He took her hand and they walked back out to the waiting horses, where he picked her up and threw her easily onto Honey's back. He swung onto Leo and looked over at his lovely bride. "Lead the way," he smiled.
Bella nodded and nudged Honey into a trot, leading them up a path in the hill behind the barns. He followed closely behind her, watching her easy way with the horse. It made him smile to have found someone who loved the majestic animals as much as he did. As the climb, the path gets steeper and she calls out for him to watch his head.
"Where are we going, babe?" he called.
She looked back over her shoulder, smiling. "You'll see." As she spoke the trail narrowed and as they moved through, it opened into a wide clearing at the top of the hill.
He rode up next to her in the clearing, taking in her wide smile as she looked around the space. "This is it," she smiled, sliding off the horse to her feet. He did the same, watching her.
"I know it's not much," she shrugged. "But I've always liked it here."
He reached for her hand, smiling at her. "It's gorgeous, baby."
She smiled widely, leading him over to a corner of the clearing where there were three large rocks grouped around one even larger one. She sat down on the smallest of the rocks and looked up at him. "This was my chair. And that was Daddy's... and Mama's." She pointed to them each in turn as she spoke. "We used to come up here every Sunday after church."
He placed his hand on her shoulder and squeezed as her attention turned the line of trees behind it. On the far left a tree stands with "Patrick Seamus Murphy" carved proudly on it. The one next to it reads "Eileen Elizabeth Davis Murphy" and next to that, "Isabella Renee Murphy."
"Now," she smiled, reaching into her pocket and pulled out her daddy's old carving knife. "It's time to add to our family." She smiled, taking his hand. She led him over to the tree with her name on it, carefully carving the name Buchanan beneath it. She then moved to the blank tree next to her own.
"You're great at that, baby," he smiled.
"Thanks," she grinned. As he watched, she just as carefully carved "James Daniel Buchanan." She then stepped back and glanced at him for his approval.
"It looks great, Belle."
She smiled wide. "Thanks," she turned to him and kissed his lips softly. "I think the real reason I wanted to bring you up here is that this is where I've always felt closest to them. I mean, this the last place we were together as a family."
James looked at her and nodded, squeezing her hand for support. Her gaze shifted to the ground and she continued.
"We were leaving here when my mother was killed." She took a deep breath to prepare herself to tell the story. "Daddy was first in the line on his horse. But he was too far ahead to help when her horse spooked."
James wrapped his arms around her as she continued her eyes far away. He listened intently, anxious to hear the story that made the townspeople assume her father was responsible.
"He took off through the trees. I followed as fast as I could, yelling for Daddy. But by the time I caught up she had been thrown. Her head hit a rock... there was blood... everywhere. And by the time daddy came back, she was gone."
He held her tight, rubbing her back. "I'm so sorry, honey."
She nodded. "It was a long time ago."
"But," he sighed, "I'm sure when I got hurt it brought a lot of those memories back."
A deep blush colored her cheeks as she nodded. "I panicked. It was just so similar." She sighed deeply, "that's why I ran outside to the barn, and it's why I wasn't careful enough with Beauty. I was distracted."
"Hey," he brought his hand to her chin and lifted until her eyes met his. "What happened with Beauty was NOT your fault, I want you to stop saying it was."
She shook her head as she gazed back up at him. "I know it wasn't my fault. But it could have been avoided."
With a smile, James shrugged. "Bella, that could be said of any accident."
She nodded. "Anyway, Daddy pulled Mama onto his horse and rode all the way to town. And by the time he got there, there was blood all over him, which led all the uninformed people in town to assume that he had killed her. No one ever even tried to hear his side of the story." Her gaze shifted toward the tree that bore her father's name. "And then he just shut down," she sighed, shaking her head.
James rubbed her back and leaned down to kiss her forehead. "I'm so sorry, baby."
She nodded, "thanks. After that, my trips up here were an escape. This was the only place the rest of the town couldn't find us." She straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath. "Anyway, I just wanted to tell you the whole story. I thought you should be here to hear it all."
She pulled away, looking up at him almost sheepishly. "We can go back now."
He reached out and pulled her back into his arms, letting her rest her head on his shoulder. "We can," he nodded, "but only if you want to."
She shrugged and he stood, pulling her into his arms. He gently stroked her face with his hand, wiping away the single tear that dripped down her cheek.
"There was so much pain in my life until you came along. And now I'm happier than I've ever been." Her voice was soft but strong as she looked up into his eyes.
"I'm glad, baby." He leaned down and kissed her temple.
She smiled. "We should get back. I have to get dinner together, after all," she slid her hands down his arms and squeezed both his hands as she spoke.
He nodded and lifted her onto Honey's back. He then swung up onto Leo's and led them down the trail, looking back to make sure Bella was following him. It seemed almost as if Honey had picked up on Belle's change in mood, as she whinnied and looked back at her rider. Bella smiled, rubbing the horse's soft neck.
James turned on Leo's saddle. "Honey loves you, baby. And so do I."
She smiled. "I love you, too. Both of you, AND Leo." Her grin widened and made James' heart swell. As they again reached the flat land, James turned once again and smiled.
"Race ya!" he called as he pushed Leo to a run, flying across the field toward the farm. Bella dug her heels in and Honey took off behind them, seeming to lose ground as fast as she gained it. Belle leaned down over her neck, allowing the golden horse to pick up speed. James looked back, shocked to see that they had come so much closer. He leaned down over Leo, lying against his neck. He looked over and caught Bella's eye as the two horses came even and then glanced back to see the house just ahead.
"COME ON, LEO!" James bellowed and the big chestnut lunged, digging in for every inch. He heard Bella's laugh sing out over the sound of pounding hooves. The house came closer and closer, and even as she pushed, Bella could feel the young mare getting tired. James reached down along the right side of Leo's neck and tugged the rein, acting at the same time as if he were urging him on. The horse fought him only for a second and then began to ease up, letting the ladies soar past them, coming to a stop behind the house. Leo stopped himself just behind them and James looked up to meet Belle's eye.
"You win today," he smiled as he slid off the horse and stretched. "But you won't next time," he warned.
She looked down at him with a glare. "You let me win, James Buchanan."