“Dreams are wishes your heart makes when your mind can’t argue,” Mrs. Gustav said as she wrapped the warm bread in paper.
Then how do you explain nightmares? Selene Bennett thought, though she merely smiled at the older woman.
“If that’s what dreams are, then my heart has some pretty wild ideas,” she said with a laugh, and Mrs. Gustav joined in.
“Very true. I’ve had a wild dream myself a time or two. But let me tell you something: When you dream of something that makes you happy, just know that it’s your heart telling you to go for what you want. Don’t hold back, no matter what anyone else tells you,” she said.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Selene promised as she paid for the bread and walked out of the little bakery.
Selene Bennett clutched the warm package to her chest as she stepped down the stairs, her blonde curls brushing freely against her shoulders. She was a tall, slender girl with soft curves, her bright blue eyes being the most remarkable thing about her appearance.
Her stepfather, Henry, would scold her when she got home, insisting she was too old to run around town with her hair hanging freely.
But it wouldn’t be the only thing Selene would be scolded for; she was sure of that as well.
She wasn’t supposed to be the one going to town to purchase bread. There was a reason her stepfather hired the people he did. Some were to make bread right there at the house, while others were to leave the ranch to run errands.
As the only daughter of such a wealthy man, and nineteen years old at that, Selene wasn’t supposed to be the one to do anything around the ranch or town. Her stepfather had long ago made it clear she was to be spending her time focusing on ladylike activities: Playing the piano, working on embroidery, and things like that.
But the plucky young woman wasn’t interested in sitting around and minding her manners like a refined young lady living in England might. Instead, Selene craved adventure. She didn’t want to waste her life sitting around a house and merely looking attractive.
She wanted to get outside and breathe in the air around her. She wanted to ride her horse as fast as she could. She wanted to enjoy her life.
She wanted freedom.
That was how she and Mrs. Gustav had started talking about dreams that morning in the bakery. Selene had told the older woman how she’d dreamt of one day having the freedom to start a business of her own, though Selene had very little idea of what she would do to make money for herself.
Mrs. Gustav had been happy to share her opinion on the topic, but Selene had quickly found herself becoming uncomfortable as the older woman went on and on about how much meaning was hidden in the dreams one had while asleep.
The fact of the matter was that Selene’s father had died in a farming accident when she was only eight years old, and many a night, Selene found herself lying awake after having a nightmare about that event. Selene hated dreaming. She hated risking being launched back into that memory.
It happened eleven years prior, but she still remembered it vividly.
Selene shoved the conversation she’d had with Mrs. Gustav out of her mind when she got back to Patches. She’d left her horse tied to a hitching post nearby and quickly untied the animal before mounting him.
It was still early Saturday morning in Dallas, Texas, but people were already starting to flood the streets. Selene thought everyone here had an early riser schedule, making it difficult for her to run the errands she wished to do in town without running into someone who knew who she was.
She kept to herself often when she was in town, but coming from the wealthy family she did, many people wished to speak with her. Her stepfather had influence in town, and many tried to curry favor with him.
Once in the saddle, Selene turned Patches toward home and goaded him into a gallop all the way back out to the ranch. It wasn’t too far. Patches could make it easily at a gallop and not be too winded by the time she got home.
And moving that quickly would make it nearly impossible for anyone to stop her for the sake of merely speaking with her.
The bread was still warm when she arrived back at the ranch house, and Selene allowed one of the ranch hands to take Patches from her to cool him down and put him back in his stable.
She headed into the house, preparing to slip through the kitchen to avoid catching the attention of either of her parents.
But, Selene wasn’t that lucky.
She’d barely stepped out of the kitchen and into the hallway to head to the stairs before she heard the sound of her stepfather yelling her name.
“Come into the parlor, now,” he barked.
Selene cringed, but only hesitated for a moment. She knew the consequences of disobeying the order would be far worse than anything she would have to endure if she did go into the parlor. But she dreaded it all the same.
Her stepfather, Henry Bennett, sat rigid and tall in his chair. Her mother, Jane, sat in her own chair on the opposite wall, and she didn’t look pleased, either.
“Where have you been?” Henry demanded.
“I just went out for a morning ride,” Selene meekly replied. “Did I miss something I was supposed to do?”
“You missed breakfast,” her stepfather snapped.
“What?” Selene asked in surprise. “But it’s Saturday.”
“I know what day it is, and don’t think I don’t,” Henry snapped.
“Breakfast is always served at ten on Saturdays,” Selene said guardedly. She didn’t want her stepfather to believe she was arguing with him, but she had been certain she had another hour before breakfast would be served.
“Today, it was served early, and if you had been paying any attention to what I had said at the dinner table last night, you would have known that,” Henry said. “You were sitting right there with us when I told your mother we were having breakfast at eight this morning.”
“I’m sorry,” she said to both, looking from one to the other. “I honestly hadn’t heard you say that last night.”
“Off in your own little world again,” he huffed. “I’m getting really tired of you not being in the present moment, Selene. You are a woman now, and as such, you have got to get your head out of the clouds. You’re an adult and must start acting the part.”
Selene looked down at the floor. An argument flew to her lips – she had been required to sit silently at the table while her mother and father did the talking. It had been that way since she was a little girl, and it hadn’t changed as the years passed.
Even now, at nineteen, she was often treated as a child – she was to be seen and not heard. Only to speak when spoken to. It wasn’t like that when she was in town, but she hated it when the people she talked to would go to her stepfather and let him know that she had been out in public.
“Now I want to know where you went,” he demanded. “I don’t believe for one second you were just riding.”
“It’s a beautiful morning,” Selene started, but she was immediately silenced.
“I didn’t ask how the morning looked!” Henry roared. “I asked you where you went; that is the only thing you are to answer.”
“I just went to the bakery to get a loaf of bread,” Selene quietly replied. “I thought it would be nice to have fresh bread with breakfast, but I now realize I made a mistake, and breakfast is over.”
“How many times do I need to tell you that we have servants who will do the shopping for us?” her stepfather yelled. “We have servants who will do the cooking and the cleaning here, and if there is reason to leave, they will be the ones to do it! I don’t pay them to sit around and do nothing, and you don’t do the work around here for free!”
“I don’t need to be paid,” she tried, but Henry held his hand in the air to silence her. He was so angry he was turning red in the face. His veins bulged in his neck and forehead, and he wasn’t about to listen to anything Selene had to say.
She knew he was angry when she walked into the room in the first place. The fact that she had admitted to purchasing the bread only made matters worse.
Selene turned to her mother for help, but as always, her mother took the same stance Henry did.
“I don’t know what to do with you,” her mother said with a shake of her head. “I have tried with you again and again. I have hired governesses to teach you how to be a young lady, yet every chance you get, you’re out riding that horse and going against what your father has asked of you!”
Selene cringed at the word her mother used. She had accepted Henry into her life as her stepfather, but she had always maintained that he was her stepfather and not her real father. She could respect the relationship if he had ever cared for her, but since the moment he married her mother, Henry had acted as though Selene was nothing more than a burden.
And her mother had gone along with his poor treatment of her almost from the beginning. She’d never once stood up for her daughter, and Selene had grown ever more resentful toward her mother for it.
“It was just a ride,” Selene said. “And I used some of my own money to purchase the bread. It wasn’t doing a chore on behalf of anyone here; it was just a simple errand!”
“Get out of my sight,” Henry sneered. “I can’t stand to even look at you right now. You are an ungrateful girl, and after all I have done for you and your mother, you should have the decency to at least listen to the only rule I have asked of you.”
Selene opened her mouth to reply, then closed it again. She gave her mother one more look, silently pleading for help. Instead, her mother only held her gaze briefly before nodding toward the door.
“You heard your father,” she said. “And I suggest you give some real consideration to what he’s said. You’re a strong-willed girl, and that’s going to come back to haunt you if you’re not mindful of it.”
Selene turned on her heel and walked out the door. Her heart raced, and her face had grown red with anger. She wanted to argue with her mother and tell her stepfather what she felt about how he treated her, but she held her tongue.
Heading straight to her room, Selene closed the door behind her, taking care not to make a noise as she did. She dared not allow either of her parents to think she had slammed the door out of anger, and if she made any noise at all, she was certain she’d be called back to the parlor for more scolding.
Once she was alone, however, she threw herself onto her bed and buried her face in her pillow, thankful she didn’t have to try to eat breakfast now. Her stomach ached with the pain she felt, and she cried tears of anger.
She was angry, and she was hurt. But she was also determined.
She wouldn’t turn into the prim and proper woman her stepfather tried to force her to be. Not because she was mannerless but because she wanted to live her own life on her own terms.
She wouldn’t be a puppet, and she wouldn’t be a doll.
But she didn’t know how to stop them from forcing her to be both.
“And please bless this food and each of us as we enjoy it. Amen,” Pa finished asking for the blessing for the meal, so Patrick felt it was okay to walk into the kitchen where his family had gathered around their table.
The twenty-three-year-old walked into the house quietly, and when he heard his family praying to thank God for their dinner, he remained as silent as possible so he didn’t interrupt.
It had been his first day working his new job, and he was grateful to have made it back to the house in time for dinner. After a long day on his feet and working with the restless farm animals, he was exhausted.
“Your eye!” his mother cried out as she looked up from the table.
“It ain’t nothing, Ma,” he tried to assure her.
“Let me see, it looks like you got punched right in the face,” Lillian, his younger sister by five years, said.
“Did your new boss punch you?” nine-year-old Dan asked. Dan’s twin brother, Caleb, corrected him.
“It’s not nice to punch someone; that makes God sad,” he said.
“What did happen?” Patrick’s mother asked, directing the conversation back to Patrick directly. She had risen from the table to get a warm washcloth and placed it over Patrick’s right eye. He hadn’t seen his face yet but wasn’t surprised by his mother’s reaction.
“I was kicked by a goat today,” he said. “She had an abscess on her udder, and when I went to get a better look, she raised her back foot and kicked me square in the face.”
“You’re lucky it was a goat and not a cow,” his father said. “That could have killed you on the spot.”
“Dr. Baker has better procedures for dealing with the larger animals,” Patrick said. “So there’s less of a chance that either of us can get hurt.”
“Did you like working with him?” his mother asked. “You seemed a bit nervous this morning.”
“Just nervous because it’s my first time taking on a job as a vet, and Dr. Baker has been doing this for years,” Patrick said. “He’s a very nice man and sure is smart. I can’t wait for the day I know that much about animals. It’s like nothing stumps him, I declare.”
“With all that studying you did back in Chicago, I’m glad you can put it to good use here,” his mother replied. “Reading books is one thing, but putting that knowledge to good use is quite another.”
“And Dallas is just the place for someone like me to put down some good roots,” Patrick said with a wide grin. “There’s some really good doctors here, as we know, but it seems like there’s a lack of good veterinary care. That will make it easy for me to maintain good employment.”
“Such a relief,” his mother murmured.
His father nodded but said nothing. Employment had been a difficult subject for the family over the past couple of months. Patrick’s father had lost his job working at the factory he’d been with for years back in Chicago. He’d been a hardworking carpenter, and without giving him much reason, his employer had simply told him he would no longer be needed within the company.
Though his father had tried his best to fight for his job, he ultimately had been laid off, which the entire family had taken to mean he’d been fired. With Dan’s lung problems and need for a warmer climate anyway, it felt like the right time for the entire family to move to the other end of the country.
They’d settled in Dallas, and Patrick had been beyond elated when he had managed to get a job working as an apprentice with one of the only veterinarians in the territory. Not only was it a stable job, but it was already paying well enough they would be able to afford the medication Dan needed.
Patrick wasn’t in any hurry to leave his family home. He was happy to help his parents with the expenses, and he enjoyed the company of his siblings. It was an honor in his mind to help with the provisions for the family as a unit, and he hoped his job as a vet would continue to provide enough money to do so.
“Still handsome,” his mother said after she’d done what she could to help with his eye. “The swelling is going down a bit with the compress, but you’re going to have a black eye for a while.”
“Good thing your eyes are green,” Lilian said. “It’ll complement the purple.”
“Gee, thanks.” Patrick laughed. “Good to know I can show off an injury glamorously.”
“Don’t let it go to your head,” she said. “Everyone has their strengths somewhere.”
Patrick scoffed and shook his head at her teasing. He didn’t mind it. The pair were a lot alike, and that wasn’t just physically. While they were both green-eyed and slender with dark brown hair, they also shared the same sense of humor and quick wit.
The big difference between the two was that Patrick often became reserved and quiet when he was out in public, and Lilian was outgoing and charismatic.
After evidently feeling satisfied with how she’d tended to his eye, Patrick’s mother headed to the stove and filled a plate with food as Patrick sat at the table. He chose the place between the two twins, though they protested as he did.
“You should sit over there with Ma and Pa!” Caleb retorted. “You’re a grown-up!”
“He means you smell like dirty horses, and we don’t want to smell you!” Dan added.
“Well, I’m sorry for that, but I wanted to sit next to the coolest kids I know, so here I am,” Patrick announced, tickling both his brothers as he remained in place.
“Boys, boys, enough, or you’re going to spill something,” Ma said as she put the plate of food in front of Patrick. “Did you wash your hands?”
“I did before I came inside,” he said. “At the well.”
“Make sure you do before you eat anything, even when you’re out working,” his ma warned. “You could get sick eating after handling the animals, and that would be bad.”
“Don’t worry about me, Ma,” Patrick assured her. “I know how to keep clean.”
He knew his mother would worry no matter what he said, but he still tried to reassure her. The family had been through a lot lately, and while they were pulling through, Patrick knew it was only natural for his mother to worry.
“Finish up, boys,” Ma said, turning her attention to the twins. “It’s going to be time for a bath after dinner.”
“Ah, Ma! Do we have to?” Caleb groaned. “I don’t want to take a bath!”
“Make Patrick take a bath! He’s the one who stinks!” Dan added.
“Everybody will be taking a bath tonight; we have church in the morning,” Ma said. “But you two are first since you need to go to bed before anyone else.”
“Ah, Ma,” Caleb groaned again.
“Listen to what your mother says,” Pa told them. “No arguing.”
“Yes, sir,” both twins replied. They knew better than to argue with either of the parents, but it was especially misbehaved to argue with Pa.
“Um,” Patrick said as he cleared his throat. “I might not make it with you to church tomorrow.”
“What!” Ma exclaimed.
Pa was quiet for a moment, then asked, “Why not, son?”
“There’s a mare about to give birth, and she’s been known to have trouble in the past,” Patrick said. “I’m worried if she’s left alone all throughout tomorrow morning, she might not make it.”
“And she’s in labor now?” his ma asked.
“No, ma’am,” Patrick said. “But you know how it can happen at any time.”
“Of course,” Ma said. “But you know how important church is.”
“I say you stop by and let Dr. Baker know tomorrow that you’ll be in church if he needs you,” Pa said. “We can pass by his office on the way if he’s not the type to go himself.”
“He’s not,” Patrick said. “Says that he’s not got the time to go.”
“I’m sure that’s not true, but I’m not here to judge a fellow human,” Ma said. “However, I can tell you one thing: It’s far too easy for you to decide to skip one week. Then it becomes two. And the next thing you know, you no longer have time for God. I don’t want to see that happen to you, you hear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Patrick said. “I didn’t mean it that way. I just figured since it was one week, it would be okay.”
“If there were reason to believe the mare was having her foal during the service, I wouldn’t have a problem with you missing a week,” Ma said. “But to skip church on the off chance she does have her baby gives you a lot of time on your hands.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Patrick said again. He’d not been surprised by how his mother reacted and appreciated hearing her perspective. God was an important part of his life, as going to church was for the entire family.
He was almost relieved with the solution his mother had given, and he decided to leave the house a little earlier than the rest of the family the following morning to make sure he had the time to talk to Dr. Baker before it was time to get to church.
“Tell us about your day,” his mother said after a brief lull in the conversation. “It’s exciting that you’re doing the job you’ve always talked about. I really hope you know how proud we are of you.”
“That we are,” his pa added. “And we do want to hear about how your day went.”
“Particularly the whole story of how you managed to let a goat get the best of you,” Lilian said with a grin.
“Alright, alright, we’ll start with that one,” Patrick said with a laugh. “Since that’s probably the most exciting part of my whole day.”
He started from the beginning, telling them everything. It was a funny story, and even the twins laughed at parts of what happened to him. The conversation flowed so easily that by the time he was finished telling everyone about how the day had gone, the dinner dishes were done and put away, and the twins were through with their baths.
It was time for the evening to shift to a quieter tone, and Patrick was more than okay with that. It was getting harder for him to keep his eyes open, and he knew he had to stay awake until after Lilian had taken her bath so he could empty the washtub and fill it again for himself.
By the time he got to bed that night, he was so tired that he fell asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.
And he slept hard.
Selene pulled on the reins of her horse, her heart skipping a beat.
The sound of the church bell rang out, filling the morning with its welcoming chime. Though Selene hadn’t gone to church in years, she still felt a wave of something that ran through her every time she heard the bell ringing.
Her father had been a strong Christian man and insisted on them going to church every Sunday. She’d loved getting dressed for Sunday school when she was little, and after she and her mother quit going, she’d been disappointed.
But after spending years growing up with a stepfather she didn’t get along with and clashing with her mother, who basically blamed God for her first husband’s death, Selene wasn’t sure she’d ever go back inside a church.
Still, she felt drawn to ride Patches through the part of town where the church bell was ringing. It was a pleasant sound, after all, and if she didn’t allow herself to think too much about her childhood, the sound of the bell did bring some pleasant memories back to her mind.
The street was crowded, with men and women trying to get to the little building, and children ran freely across the street. They paid little attention to whether anyone was on the street riding a horse or driving a wagon, making it safer for Selene to dismount and lead Patches on foot.
She walked slowly, picking her way through the narrow street and smiling kindly at those nearby, though she averted her gaze often to avoid anyone starting a conversation.
Then, two boys suddenly appeared from between two wagons. They were shouting and yelling at each other as they ran across the street, diving into the space between Selene and Patches.
Her horse wasn’t used to being around children and panicked with the sudden commotion.
“Easy, easy!” she cried, trying to keep her horse under control. Patches reared onto his hind legs, pawing the air in fright. She knew it was a dangerous situation. One of those strong hooves could come crashing down on her or someone else, causing serious injury in the process.
“Easy!” she tried again.
Selene wasn’t sure what to do, wondering if letting go of the reins and letting her horse bolt would be the safest solution.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a young man appeared at her side. He was tall and very handsome, his strong arms taking the reins and pulling the horse down.
“It’s okay, easy there, easy,” he said as he patted Patches’s neck.
“I’m sorry about that,” he told her, giving her back the reins. “My brothers are a little rambunctious sometimes.”
He looked at her with the most gorgeous eyes she had ever seen, and she was dumbfounded. She’d never before witnessed anyone so good with horses, nor had she ever found herself face to face with a man she found so attractive.
“I’m sorry,” she said at last. “I shouldn’t have brought him through town this way. I just liked hearing the bell ringing, that’s all.”
“It’s beautiful,” he said with a dashing smile. “Are you coming inside?”
“No,” Selene said quickly. Her voice came out as a tight squeak, and she felt even more embarrassed in the presence of this handsome stranger. But panic overtook her as her mind went blank, and her brain screamed at her to say something, so she did the only thing she could think to do.
She climbed back into the saddle and gave the young man one more grateful look.
“Thank you again for your help; I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t stepped in,” she said.
“It’s no trouble,” he told her. “I’m glad I was able to help.”
He looked like he wanted to say more, but Selene was already dying inside from the embarrassment she felt. She couldn’t hold his gaze even a moment longer and couldn’t think of anything to say.
She kicked her heels into Patches’s flanks, sending the horse into a gallop. People dove out of the way, clearing a path to avoid being stepped on by those thundering hooves.
But Selene still looked over her shoulder, hoping to get one last look at her handsome savior. She didn’t know what was worse – the fact he was no longer standing in the street looking after her or that she had just left him hanging as though he hadn’t just possibly saved her or someone else’s life.
She knew she would regret her decision not to talk to him a little bit more once she got away from the crowd and was back in the safety of her own home. Not that she would have known what to say. She’d noticed a bruise on one of his eyes, yet he was so kind that she couldn’t imagine someone like him being in a fight.
Selene could only wish she’d at least gotten his name before she left.
But there was no way she was turning back.
Not a chance.
By the time Selene reached home, she’d calmed down a bit from her meeting with the handsome stranger. She couldn’t get his rich smile out of her mind, nor did she want to.
She imagined what life would be like when a handsome young man called on her. The idea of courting someone filled her with nervous excitement, and Selene couldn’t stop herself from blushing. She wondered if someone as handsome as that young man she’d just encountered would ever be interested in a girl like her.
Selene dismounted and walked Patches into the barn, passing him off to one of the ranch hands to put up for the day. She wouldn’t have minded doing the work herself, but with breakfast time near, Selene knew it would be another battle with her stepfather if she were late – especially because she was doing chores.
She headed inside and to her room, where she washed up quickly. After checking to ensure her hair wasn’t out of place and that she looked put together enough to prevent her parents from fussing at her, Selene hurried back downstairs to the breakfast table.
Her mother and stepfather were already seated, with the servants bringing the platters of food out from the kitchen and setting them on the table.
“You were out riding again,” her stepfather commented.
“I enjoy early morning rides,” Selene replied simply.
“Don’t fret about those,” her mother told her stepfather. “When she’s out in the early morning, the sun isn’t high enough to make her freckle.”
“I suppose that’s one good thing about it,” her stepfather said. “But I still don’t understand why you can’t be content to sit on the porch if you want to take in the morning air.”
“I don’t want just to sit all the time,” Selene told him. She was certain it was the hundredth time she’d said so, but she never felt like he listened to her.
“Never mind,” Selene’s mother told Henry. “Let’s just talk about the new arrangement.”
“Arrangement?” Selene asked, looking from one to the other. “What do you mean?”
Henry cleared his throat. “Selene, you’re not a little girl anymore.”
“Yes?” Selene prompted, wondering what her stepfather was talking about.
“In fact, you’ve grown into a beautiful young woman. And someone has noticed,” he said.
“What do you mean?” Selene asked awkwardly. Once again, she glanced from her mother to her stepfather and back again, hoping to have some sort of clue of what they were talking about. There was a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach as though something was wrong.
Her mother had an odd expression on her face, as though she didn’t want to tell Selene what they were about to say. Selene desperately wanted her mother to stand up for her against her stepfather, but that wasn’t something her mother ever did.
“A gentleman named Marco Vernon has expressed interest in marriage,” Henry said. He picked up his cup of coffee and took a drink, looking off into the distance as though he was the only one present at the table.
Selene looked to her mother for reassurance, but the older woman simply stared down into her lap.
“Who is this man?” she asked at last, hoping to wrap her mind around what was happening, if only just a little.
“He’s an old friend of mine,” Henry explained. “We’ve known each other a long time, and I have to admit, I am elated he has agreed to the idea.”
“Whose idea was this exactly?” Selene asked.
“Don’t worry about those details; they don’t matter to you,” her stepfather snapped. “What matters is that Marco is a very wealthy man. Very wealthy indeed. Your marriage to him will most certainly secure a long and profitable relationship for both sides of the family.”
“But I don’t want to marry for money,” Selene cried. “I want to be happy! I want to fall in love with someone and enjoy the marriage I have with them!”
“Girl, that’s enough,” Henry barked. “I have poured my heart and soul into raising you, and now you have the audacity to talk back to me? This is the height of disrespect, and it’s not at all how I raised you to be!”
“Ma,” Selene turned to her mother with a pleading tone. “Surely you can’t think this is a good idea? What do we even know of this man?”
“Honey,” her mother started, but Henry interrupted her.
“Jane! I told you this wasn’t up for discussion. The decisions have been made, and that’s all there is to it.” Henry slammed his fist on the table, causing both women to jump in their seats.
“I won’t do it,” Selene said.
“Selene!” her mother cried at her defiance.
“I won’t!” Selene repeated.
“You will,” her stepfather said. “You will, or you’ll find yourself out on the street.”
“Henry!” Jane now turned her horror toward her husband.
“It’s already been decided,” Henry said. “It’s not up for discussion. This wasn’t us asking you, Selene. This was you being told you’re to be married, and that’s the end.”
“I won’t!” Selene flew from her seat at the table, rushing from the room. Her chest was tight with emotion, and she wanted to run to her room. But that wasn’t far enough away from her stepfather to give her any peace of mind.
She had to put as much distance between herself and her stepfather as possible, and the only way to do that was to leave the ranch.
Flying through the door, Selene ignored her stepfather’s shouts to return. She knew she would be scolded fiercely when she did return to the home but felt she could deal with that later.
The ranch hand hadn’t yet unsaddled Patches, making it easy for her to jump on his back and leave the ranch.
Tears were in her eyes as she dashed out of the barn, but that didn’t stop her from digging her heels into Patches’s sides and pushing him into a gallop. Selene didn’t know where she was going and truly didn’t care. All she could think about was how terribly she didn’t want to marry anyone who was a friend of her stepfather’s.
She chose not to take the main road and instead rode along a trail that led toward the hills. It was quieter back that way, and that gave her hope she might be able to find a place to herself for a while.
Selene was too distracted with the things running through her mind to see the part of the trail that had been washed out before she was almost on top of it, and by then, it was too late.
Patches bellowed in fear and pain as he twisted his foot on the loose dirt and rocks.
He fell, throwing Selene from the saddle in the process. She screamed, putting her hands out to break her fall and landing on her right arm hard before she rolled to the side.
“Patches!” Selene cried out, rushing back to where her horse was thrashing on the ground.
Her heart raced, and her palms were slick with sweat as she reached her pet. She felt sick with worry before she even looked at his leg. She knew how serious it could be, and she didn’t even want to confirm her worst fear.
A horse with a broken leg was put down. There wasn’t a question about that.
Selene’s world had just been shaken to the core. The thought of losing her horse, which she’d long considered her best friend, on top of the news she’d received that morning was just too much.
“It’s okay, boy,” she said, patting his neck and trying to calm him down. “It’s going to be okay. Let me see your foot.”
She waited until the massive animal had calmed enough for her to take a look at the injured leg, and immediately, Selene breathed a sigh of relief. She could tell it wasn’t broken at any rate. She didn’t know how bad it was but was grateful it wasn’t broken.
There was a shooting pain in her wrist, but she hadn’t even noticed it before sitting beside Patches.
“I don’t think mine’s broken, either,” she said out loud. “But it sure hurts. I’ll give you a little bit, then we’ll go back home, okay?”
She patted his neck once more, then sat back to wait. The minutes ticked by slower than they ever had, but she worried it would do more harm than good if she tried to make Patches stand too soon. She didn’t want him to panic with his injury, and the only reasonable thing she could think to do to keep that from happening was to wait.
After what felt like an hour had passed, she finally got up.
“Come on, boy, we can’t lay here. The buzzards already think you’re dinner,” she said, shielding her eyes from the sun to squint toward the bright sky. Several of the massive birds circled around, and while she knew they wouldn’t be any harm, she still shuddered.
Taking the reins in her hand, she gently coaxed Patches to his feet. The horse refused to move at first, but with her persistent leading, she managed to get him to follow her back to the ranch. He had a terrible limp, but Selene kept a close watch on his foot whenever she could, making sure he seemed steady despite the pain.
By the time the pair got back to the ranch house, Selene was convinced the leg wasn’t as bad as she’d feared. Of course, her mother came rushing out of the house as soon as she saw Selene in the yard, and her stepfather was right behind.
“Thank goodness you’re okay!” her mother wailed as she threw her arms around Selene. “I was so scared you would do something reckless when you ran out in that state! You can’t take off like that, honey, you know that. What got into you?”
“Ma, Patches fell,” Selene said.
She hadn’t realized how much emotion she’d been holding back until she said the words out loud, then she burst into tears.
“Are you hurt?” Jane demanded.
“Just my wrist,” Selene said. “I think it’s sprained.”
“We’re going to have to put the horse down,” Henry announced.
“No!” Selene yelled. “We can’t! Ma! Don’t let him, please!”
“Henry, surely something can be done for the horse,” her mother said. “It’s been quite a day for all of us, I feel that we should at least try to help the poor thing before we do something that extreme.”
“You know as well as I do a lame horse is a worthless one,” Henry said.
“But your horses are all so well bred. I bet with the right care, this one will recover,” Jane pleaded. “Surely, you know he’s not used for anything but Selene’s pleasure.”
Henry looked at Patches’s leg with the same critical eye he often gave Selene. Her heart raced, however, knowing he was the one who would be making the final decision whether she agreed with his choice or not.
“It’ll be expensive,” he said with an agitated sigh.
“Of course, but it’s Patches,” Jane said. “Surely we can make an exception on the treatment for one of the horses near our hearts?”
“They’re not pets, Jane, you know that,” Henry said. “And it’s time Selene learned.”
“Henry,” Jane replied. “Please.”
“Oh, alright,” he said at last. “Not that you deserve it with how you have behaved today.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you!” Selene burst into a fresh stream of tears. She was shocked her stepfather agreed to get treatment for Patches, and she was grateful for it. He was as much a friend to her as he was an animal, and she didn’t care if her stepfather disagreed.
“Collin!” Henry barked. Once the young ranch hand appeared in the barn doorway, he nodded in the direction of town. “Fetch the vet. Tell him we’ve got a horse with an injured leg that requires immediate attention. Go now.”
“Yes, sir,” the young man called out as he vanished inside the barn. Two other ranch hands came over to retrieve Patches and take him into his stall while Jane tried to convince Selene to leave her horse in their care while she went inside.
“Ow!” Selene cried out when her mother touched her arm.
“We need a doctor as well,” Jane told Henry, who promptly barked more orders to Collin on his way by.
“Make sure you fetch the doctor as well. Miss Bennett has hurt her arm,” he directed.
“Yes, sir,” Collins shouted over his shoulder as he goaded his horse into a gallop.
Reluctantly, Selene went into the house with her mother. She hated leaving Patches outside without being there to see him getting the treatment he needed, but she also had to get cleaned up and have her own injury tended to.
Then she could return to the barn to make sure her horse was okay.
She just hoped the ranch hand would move quickly and that the vet would be easy enough to find despite the fact it was Sunday. This was an emergency, and she knew the sooner Patches got help, the better the chances he would recover.
If something happened to Patches, she’d never forgive herself.
“Galloping Towards Love” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
In the vast expanse of Texas, Selene, a spirited young woman, grapples with the stifling expectations imposed by her controlling stepfather. Faced with an arranged marriage that threatens to shatter her dreams, she finds solace in the most unexpected place—the compassionate and charming Patrick, the vet’s apprentice. As her heart opens to the possibility of love, Selene must challenge societal norms and fight her way towards a future of her own choosing.
Can she find the strength within her to break free from her shackles?
Patrick, a diligent young man with a heart full of faith and devotion to his family, finds himself entwined with Selene’s fate through an unexpected accident. Drawn to her, not only by his responsibilities as the vet’s apprentice but also by an undeniable connection, Patrick becomes the anchor that Selene so desperately needs. However, their burgeoning romance faces the harsh reality of Selene’s impending arranged marriage, putting both their hearts and Patrick’s livelihood on the line.
His love for her could end up being the very thing to destroy him…
United in love but divided by societal expectations, Selene and Patrick confront a tumultuous struggle to forge their own path. As Selene stands against her stepfather’s plans, and Patrick risks everything to protect the woman he loves, the couple must strive to prove that true love can conquer even the most formidable obstacles. Will their love prevail, or will they succumb to the pressures that threaten to tear them apart?
“Galloping Towards Love” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.