Sunday, June 13, 2010

Silver Lining: Chapter 3

A Change of Plans
The empty stock trailer banged and jumped along behind the truck as it made its way up the drive to the old Lewis homestead. Jezebel sat in the passenger seat next to Gabe, her upper body leaned against the door and her right foreleg draped out of the open window. The breeze parted the dense hair on her ruff and chest and lifted her ears while her head hovered just above the mirror. Her eyes were slanted in bliss as she took in the sharp mountain air.

Gabe whistled in awe when he rounded the bend and saw the piles of garbage stacked outside the cabin. The call from Brooke Laramie had come as a surprise, to say the least. He had given his presentation at Texas A&M Vet School months ago and still remembered the encounter at the dog park. He also recalled how Brooke had sat in the back of the auditorium her gray gaze direct and focused on him throughout his spiel. She had put in an application to intern with him for the following year, which would have been taking place now. Unfortunately, before he’d ever had a chance to actually get the sanctuary on its feet the negative emotions of his neighbors and the townspeople along with some mishandling of the release program by the government had brought him up short. As he backed the trailer up to the nearest pile he wondered what Brooke was doing here.

From the front window of the cabin Brooke watched as the truck came to a halt and Gabe got out, followed by the Leonberger. Dart let out an excited whine and then bounded out to meet Jez as she opened the door. Brooke was a little less exuberant in her greeting of Gabe. She was not looking forward to answering the questions that she knew would come when he found out she was no longer in vet school.

“Hey, thanks for coming. I was half afraid you would turn your rig around and drive back out when you saw all this junk.”

“It is something. Looks like Old Carper was saving up for the next Depression.”

“I’m not sure you could call this stuff necessary for survival but he was definitely saving.”

He smiled and met her eyes as she reached out her hand to shake his. Though brief, the contact was enough to cause a clench in his belly. Her skin was devoid of makeup and flawless. Her gray eyes looked out at him from beneath dark, naked lashes and her thick hair was swept away from her face and tied in the back making her graceful cheekbones prominent. He let go of her hand and motioned to the various appliances and boxes of periodicals that his trailer was backed up to.

“Well, guess we better get started.”

“Yeah, guess we better.”

Brooke and Gabe worked together in companionable silence lifting, lugging and dragging. After an hour the sweat had matted the wavy hair to Gabe’s forehead and pooled in spots to darken his navy blue t-shirt. Brooke watched out of the corner of her eye as he lifted a box of old magazines. His biceps bunched and the sun glinted off the golden sprinkle of hair on his forearms. Dang, but the man was sexy. As masculine as the hard labor had made Gabe look she had no doubt it had made her look less than feminine. In anticipation of the dirty work ahead she had left off her makeup and had pulled her blonde hair back into a simple ponytail. Her jeans and tank top had both seen better days. She tried to tell herself that she didn’t care. That she had dressed to work and that’s what they were doing and that to do anything else would have been silly. Which was true, except that the woman in her wished she had taken the time to at least put on some mascara and earrings.

“So, how is the wolf release stuff going?” Brooke asked as she carried her own box into the trailer.

“It’s not. I had a few setbacks that made me decide that maybe the timing wasn’t right.” Gabe shrugged his shoulders and continued on to lift an antiquated microwave.

Brooke puckered her eyebrows in disbelief at Gabe’s nonchalant tone. He had spoken so passionately about how the wolf had as much, if not more, right to roam the land as the cattle and humans that had overtaken it. He had said that he knew that they would be a threat to his livestock and therefore, his livelihood, but he found that only fair considering the lopsided history between man and wolf.

“What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be an intern somewhere?”

“Let’s just say I had a few setbacks of my own,” Brooke replied.

At that they both returned to their work. The trailer was jammed full when Gabe finally fastened the gate and turned to face Brooke.

“I’ll take this load and dump it. Then I’ve got some work I need to do at my place before the sun goes down. I’ll be back tomorrow to get the rest.”

“Alright. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help. All this junk was driving me crazy.”

“Not a problem,” he said with a grin then he turned to call for Jez.

At his call the two dogs, one shaggy and one slick, came flying out from the trees with tongues hanging. Brooke laughed at their obvious joy and Gabe found himself drawn to the lusty sound and her blithe expression. He let Jez into his truck, climbed in himself then started the engine and began the drive out. In his side mirror he could see Brooke standing in the road dust, her arms hugging herself and Dart smiling at her side.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Silver Lining - Chapter Three

Since she needed to buy a few groceries anyway Brooke decided the local superstore was as good a place as any to start inquiring for help. Somewhere along the way the few groceries she had needed had somehow morphed into a cartload as she made her way to the checkout. An older woman with a poof of startlingly dyed black hair greeted her with a crooked smile as she wheeled up and began unloading her cart’s contents onto the conveyor belt. The woman’s green smock hung on her slight frame but her movements as she scanned and bagged each item were both graceful and efficient.

“I’m Marilyn Anthony.” the clerk said “You’re buying too much for a weekender. . .must be planning on staying around a while.”

“I hope so. A friend and I just moved out to the old Lewis homestead. I’m actually looking for someone that would be willing to help me haul off some of the stuff I’ve cleaned out of the house. You don’t happen to know of anyone, do you?”

“Matter-of-fact, I do. Gabe Dehart lives about 10 miles up the road from the Lewis place. Reckon he’d be more than happy to hook up a trailer and come down to help a pretty thing like you.”

Marilyn finished her last sentence with a sly wink but Brooke was too dumbstruck by the mention of Dehart to notice. A flashback of dark hair, hazel eyes and a lean body ran through her mind.

“Hold on and I’ll get his number for ya.”

No sooner had she left than Marilyn returned with a scrap of paper waving in her hand.

“This oughta do ya. Need me to get someone to help you with them bags?”

“Uh, no. I’ve got them. Thank you for help.”

“Not a problem. Good luck!”Brooke unloaded her purchases into the trunk of the green Mustang, slid into the driver’s seat and turned to look at Dart, who was sitting upright in the next seat with a patient but bored look on his face.

“It’s a small world, Dart. Sometimes I forget just how small.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Camping Out

Now for the night under the stars. . .

Okay, so it wasn’t really under the stars since there was a canvas barrier in the form of a teepee between me and said astrological markers. However, we did cook out over a fire pit that we dug, skipped most bodily cleansing rituals (save brushing my teeth, I can’t deal with slimy teeth), and froze our derrieres off on a very chilly night. While I had helped Connie with the preparation of dinner Dad had set up the teepee that we would share for the night. My Dad is a very handy man but it was evident that it had been a while since he had last “roughed it” because he assembled our humble abode on a bumpy patch of grass located on an incline. Luckily, we both had cots so the bumpiness of the grass was not a big deal but the incline provided less than ideal sleeping conditions.

Around eight thirty all of us cowboys (and girls!) moseyed on to our tents for the night. Before I could actually slide into the comfort of my Coleman sleeping bag I made a short hike to take care of my nightly need to. . .errrr. . . . relieve myself. It was already dark so with flashlight in hand and a few scraps of toilet paper in my hoodie I wound my way around cedar trees and cholla until I was comfortable with the distance I had placed between myself and my fellow campers. Now, I’m not going to go into detail but I do want to point out that I find it quite natural to relieve oneself in the position required for out-of-doors toiletry. And, if the Asian custom of installing toilets in the floor ever takes off in the US, I will probably be on the short list to have one.

Anyway, by the time I was ready to settle in for the night Dad was already snuggled down into his brand new, high dollar sleeping bag that he had purchased just for this occasion. Unfortunately, when he bought the bag he made sure that it would be long enough but neglected to check the circumference. Needless to say, Dad was trussed up in that bag so tight he might as well have been sleeping in a straight jacket. I realize now this would have been an opportune time to get even with him for the time he had stuck his head out the window of our vehicle and made kissing noises at my childhood crush. I was in third grade at the time and, yes, at twenty-eight I am still traumatized. When I think about it, the boy probably suffered psychological scarring as well. Lucky for Dad, on this night I was just too tired to put any thought into retaliation. I did manage to smirk at Dad’s predicament before I fell into a fitful sleep.

Over the course of the night Dad and I both found out that slippery sleeping bags on cots in a teepee set up on a hill do not a sound night’s sleep make. I lost count of how many times I woke up with my feet hanging off the end of the cot and my body folded up like an accordion. The process of inching my long frame back up the incline of the cot until my full body was situated comfortably was an arduous one but it had to have been much easier for me than for Dad. At least I had full range of movement. With his arms tight to his sides Dad had to wiggle his way up like a caterpillar, a very healthy caterpillar. Added to that, I guess with all the riding we had done that day and the wiggling he was doing that night Dad’s leg muscles had had enough cause he caught a whale of a cramp on the inside of his thigh in the middle of the night. His complaining groans woke me up to the sight of him flopping in his bag like a fish out of water. Needless to say, our night under the stars was a looooong one and the morning came too soon.

**In reading back over my recollection I realize that I have managed to compare my Daddy to a straight-jacketed asylum inmate, a pedophile, a giant caterpillar and a flopping fish. Sorry, Dad, that I sacrificed you for the sake of the story. Please forgive me and I love ya.


On a side note, the following is information on above mentioned Asian toilets that I borrowed from Wikipedia. Just in case you were curious. . .

Benefits of squat toilets:
-- It is less expensive and easier to clean and maintain.
-- It does not involve any contact between the buttocks and thighs with a potentially unsanitary surface.

-- The lack of water in the bowl avoids the problem of splashing.
-- Squatting might help to build the required exhaust pressure more comfortably and quickly.
-- Squatting makes elimination faster, easier and more complete.
-- Elimination in squatting posture protects the nerves that control the
prostate, bladder and uterus from becoming stretched and damaged.
-- Squatting relaxes the
puborectalis muscle which normally chokes the rectum in order to maintain continence.
-- Squatting securely seals the
ileocecal valve, between the colon and the small intestine. In the conventional sitting position, this valve is unsupported and often leaks during evacuation.
-- For pregnant women, squatting avoids pressure on the
uterus when using the toilet. Daily squatting helps prepare the mother-to-be for a more natural delivery.
-- Squatting may reduce the occurrence or severity of
hemorrhoids and possibly other colorectal disorders such as diverticulosis and appendicitis.
Detriments of squat toilets:
-- Squat toilets require certain balancing skills. To those in the many "Western" cultures in which the squatting position is rarely used, using the squat toilet can be difficult or even impossible to use.
-- Use of the squat toilet can be difficult for the elderly and others with joint troubles or limited mobility. It can also be difficult for those recovering from leg injuries.

Hopefully, you found that interesting and not too crude!

Branding to come. . . .

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Comanche Gather

Me and Ruby at SCR last August

Well, I’ve got my second ranch branding under my belt and this time I got to experience it from the back of my sweet Ruby. It’s amazing how much difference it makes to be riding a horse that you trust. I couldn’t help but mentally compare everything we were doing to my experience last year while riding Breeze. There was really no comparison. This time I was able to find a calming confidence in the ability of my horse.

We arrived at SCR Thursday evening and unloaded the mares. Both came off the trailer and took deep breathes of the northern New Mexico air. I’m sure they were finding comfort in the smells that spoke of home to them for the first six years of their lives. Dad and I took some good natured ribbing from Grant for the braided manes and tail bags. Didn’t we know we were coming to a ranch and not a parade?? We settled the mares in a pipe pen next to a set of geldings and the girls immediately started winking and teasing the poor boys. The turmoil they were causing was a reminder of why the cowboys prefer an all gelding crew.

At the house we sat in the kitchen and visited with Grant and his wife, Connie, as she finished making a pair of leggings for herself so she could wear them in the gather the next morning. Their two boys, Trey and Sterlin, were in the living room watching a movie and would wander through the kitchen periodically to playfully punch Dad or me. They would both miss school tomorrow so they could help gather. Trey is in second grade and Sterlin in Pre-K. After a while Dad and I made our way over to the bunkhouse for the night.

Since this was a small gather we didn’t have to be loaded until seven thirty and Dad and I left the bunkhouse the next morning at six fifty to saddle. Grant was already at the barn and his horse stood by the trailer saddled. He asked me to saddle both of our horses so Dad could go with him to catch the boys’ horses that were still in the pasture. Ruby and Snakebite both blew at me when I came in the pen. Nostrils wide, they indicated that they were back on ranch duty and would be a little stubborn about catching this morning. Ruby ran around the pen twice with her neck arched and a few dolphin bucks thrown in to show me how good she felt in the crisp morning air. I smiled at her good mood and then stepped to her head. She came to a stop and stood as I approached her. Though her theatrics were at an end, she still vibrated while I slipped on her halter. With Ruby caught Snakebite was easy to get haltered and by the time Dad and Grant were back I had the girls saddled. The maligned braids were gone and their manes and tails now hung in waves and kinks that I’m not sure were much better, but they would have to do.

The three of us readied Connie’s and the boys’ horses and loaded the six into the long stock trailer, geldings in the front and mares in the back. Kiowa, a cowboy on the ranch, came from the show barn and loaded the two young horses he would be riding into a second trailer. There would be two other men meeting us at the pasture; a young cowboy from a neighboring ranch and a friend from town and his young son that was Trey’s age.

Comanche pasture was the furthest one from the house. When we reached the fence that bordered its corner we started looking for cows to get an idea of where they were. On the rough road of the pasture we made our way to the windmill and Grant ran the siren to see if we could get the cows moving in the right direction. We continued on to the back fence where we stopped and unloaded. It was cooler here than it had been at the house. The wind whipped around the hills and cedars and cut through the layers of clothing we were wearing. Grant paired us off and assigned areas of the pasture for each pair to cover. We would work from the back fence and zig-zag through our part looking for cows and their calves. Dad and I worked together, splitting off and then meeting in the middle periodically.

Ruby and I moved at a quick trot as we made our way through the maze of cedar trees and cholla. Fallen branches littered the ground and Ruby never blinked as she stepped over them. Her breathing grew strong as we topped the hills and I let her regain her air as we looked down in the valleys between to check for cattle. Often, I felt an unconscious smile form on my lips as I reveled in the beauty around me and the sweet courage of my little red mare. This was the place of her birth and the land she had roamed and was ridden in until she came to be mine. She was savvy to the way to handle her body and place her feet as we ascended and descended the hills. She knew to watch were she was going so as to avoid the varmint mounds that cropped up. Last year, when she would make an adjustment to miss the holes the sudden shift would unbalance me. This year I sat with a solid seat. Ruby has given me confidence. I’m in love with this time in my life, and with Ruby, as I learn and become a better rider. Every so often I ran my hand down her neck to let her know she was appreciated.

Dad and I didn’t find any cows in our part but when we met up with Connie we helped her bring in her five head. We all met at the windmill: Grant with Trey, Richard and his young son, Guy, Connie, Dad and me, and Kiowa. At some point, Sterlin had gotten colder than his little cowboy toughness could stand and Connie had taken him back to the truck. Now that the cows were gathered she doubled back to get him and bring the trailer around. The eight of us formed a sort of “V” behind the cattle and began pushing them toward the highway. We would push them through a water gap under the road and into the trap pasture on the other side where they would stay until the branding tomorrow.

When we neared the water gap Kiowa rode his colt ahead to open the gate. We placed our horses so as to squeeze the herd through. Cars whizzed by above us and the sounds echoed in the concrete tunnels. With some whoopin’ and hollerin’ we got most of the herd by until only a few cows and babies remained. The cows went through but five scared calves balked at the gap. Without the comfort of their mothers they begin to panic and race wildly between the open gate before them and the “fence” of horses behind. Cute as they were, the little calves were dumb to how this whole driving thing works. One calf squirted out between horses and Ruby and I took off with a lunge. We crashed through brush to get around the calf and brought it back.

After several failed attempts to push the calves through, Grant took down his rope and built a loop. The horse he was riding was young but he managed to rope one of the bigger calves and get him stopped. Richard and Grant climbed off their horses and wrestled the calf under the gap to the other side. We managed to get three more under and had only one tiny calf left. The little guy had lost all sense and ran wildly into the fence several times before finally crashing through the wires and onto the highway side. I followed the calf, me and Ruby on the inside of the barbed wire fence and he on the outside while cars flew past oblivious.

By this time Connie had caught up to us with the truck and trailer and drove through the end gate and onto the highway to stop traffic. Grant got off his horse in the pasture and climbed through the fence. He hollered at me to stay with the calf and made his way to the trailer to unload and mount Connie’s horse on the highway. We followed the calf down to the gate until I could ride Ruby through. With Dad and Connie stopping traffic Grant and I were able to get the calf across the highway and into the pasture trap with the rest of the herd.

The gather hadn’t quite gone according to plan but it was done. Although I had been afraid for the little maverick calf’s life, the end result was a satisfying one. The entire episode was exciting and, in hindsight, fun and only served to further strengthen my trust in my red Ruby mare.

I’ll fill you in on the night under the stars and the next day’s branding later. . . .

Thursday, May 13, 2010


I’ve a confession to make. . .I have no more focus these last few weeks of school than the seventh graders I am teaching. If they knew that, I would be toast. Junior high kids can sense weakness in a teacher like sharks smell blood in the water.

Post-TAKS is a nebulous period of time for teacher and student alike. The inevitable sigh of relief we all feel after the push and completion of the dreaded accountability test is as audible as the buzz of restlessness heard the following four weeks. And, as much as I try to give the appearance of being the responsible, mature adult I am positively vibrating with anticipation for the freedom that lies ahead.

It doesn’t help that I have several horse-related adventures lined up for the last few weekends of the school year. In fact, I was supposed to be leaving for a NVRHA (National Versatility Ranch Horse Association) clinic and competition today. Unfortunately, the event was cancelled. Since I had already taken Friday off I called my cousin, Grant, to see if there was anything going on at the ranch this weekend. Fortunately, my disappointment has reverted back to excitement because now my dad and I are going to go to the SCR to gather, brand, and spend a night under the stars. This will be my second branding but the first with my little red mare, Ruby. You’ll read more about my first branding, Breeze the Bi-polar, and Ruby in the Summer at SCR ’09 posts. I’ll try to get the second installment of that put up next week so we can do a comparison.

Until then. . .
I'm going to the ranch!!! I'm going to the ranch!!!
(imagine me doing the happy dance a la Katherine Heigl in The Ugly Truth)

Silver Lining - Chapter Two

Silver lining (n.): A hopeful or comforting prospect in the midst of difficulty

Brooke turned her John Deere green mustang through the gate and onto the narrow dirt road. Her GPS had lost her location ten miles ago, she was tired, hungry, had gotten two speeding tickets on the drive up, and she seriously hoped that she was in the right place, in more ways than one.

She had to give it to Claire, this place was definitely beautiful. Heart-shaped leaves of green fluttered in the breeze, suspended on the graceful branches of the aspen trees from which they hung. There were so many aspens that the white bark of the trunks with their darkened scars reminded Brooke of one of MC Escher’s tessellations. Each trunk forming a pattern with the next until she couldn’t tell where one ended and the next began. Above the trees the sky was cloudless and an unbelievable shade of blue. She rolled down the windows and let the brisk mountain air fill her lungs. Dart stuck his head out of the passenger window and took in deep breaths of the air, too, as if trying to take in every scent at once.

They drove for another quarter of a mile before the trees opened themselves to reveal a small dilapidated cabin set in a flat sea of grass.

“So this is The Silver Lining. Looks like we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

In the months since she’d left vet school Brooke had run an emotional gamut. She had gone from devastation to relief and back again. Now she was taking a gamble on a dream and she desperately hoped that the business venture she and Claire were about to embark on would not lead her to more disappointment. The way things had fallen into place for the purchase of the land was almost too good to be true and Claire claimed it could be nothing other than God’s plan. On what had seemed like a million bus rides that Claire had taken while coaching she had formed a friendship with the bus driver. Lewis was ex-Navy and had the faded tattoos to prove it. He had also grown up on a ranch in the mountains of New Mexico, near Cloudcroft, that his great-great granddaddy had homesteaded. He still owned the land and would go there when he got free time. Real estate developers had been bugging him for years to sell but sentimentality and stubbornness had kept him from making profit on his ancestral home by selling to “those money hungry leaches”. Instead, he had offered it to Claire for a pittance with the stipulation that he be able to come out whenever he wished. He seemed both pleased to help Claire with her dream and relieved to not have to fight with the developers personally anymore.

Now, here Brooke sat in front of a ramshackle cabin ten miles from a neighbor and twenty miles from the nearest town. Her future lay in The Silver Lining, a retreat consisting of five yet-to-be-built yurts that would be rented to vacationers looking for a rustic mountain escape, a lodge, and stables. Being the consummate pet lovers that they were, Brooke and Claire had decided to gear their retreat toward those that shared their love. Dogs and horses were welcome and even encouraged. Trails would be marked, and guided rides and hikes would be offered for those that didn’t care to venture out on their own. There were lots of wrinkles that needed to be ironed out, but for the first time in four years Brooke felt a tingle of excitement.


Excitement quickly turned to exasperation as Brooke struggled to set the cabin to rights. Not only had years of neglect taken its toll on the wooden structure, but Lewis had apparently been using the cabin as a catch-all. The living room, kitchen, bathroom, and single bedroom were packed wall to ceiling with any manner of junk. ‘One person’s trash may be another’s treasure’ and all that, but Brooke was thinking maybe the whole place should just be torched and save her the trouble of the treasure hunt. A full week of sorting, cleaning, and hauling had resulted in a spotless cabin, but all the junk from inside was now out, and the lovely meadow rivaled the yard in Sanford and Son. Hands on her hips and hair in her face, Brooke surveyed the mess before her.

“Well, Dart, do we take a break and wait on Claire to get here, or do we forge on?”

Head cocked to the side and tail wagging, Dart looked up at her with a doggy smile.

“Right, we forge on.”

With the decision made Brooke grabbed her purse and she and Dart headed into town to find someone who might be willing to haul off the refuse in The Silver Lining’s front yard.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Silver Lining - Chapter One

The Beginning and the End

She was looking for something.

Brooke Laramie had been looking for something for as long as she could remember. When she was in diapers she looked for anything she could pop in her mouth, much to her mother’s dismay. In middle school it had been the biggest tree to climb or the quickest way to get the best grade with the least work. High school found her looking for ways to improve her tennis game and thereby feeding her need for competition, this time to her parents’ pleasure as it led to a college scholarship. Now, she found herself in her third year of vet school and she was struggling to decide if this was what she had really been looking for. And if it wasn’t, then just what in the heck was? Recently the stress of school and her existing indecisiveness were driving her crazy.

It was moments like this one that enabled Brooke a brief glimpse at contentment. Her ash blonde hair was tangled by a cooler than usual central-Texas breeze, and Dart’s slick, golden Labrador coat brushed rhythmically against her left thigh. Thoughts of pharmacology and clinical pathology and vet school, in general, were a distant thought as the pair wound their way down the park path. They reached the area that was set aside for off-leash play and Brooke asked Dart to sit before unclipping his leash and releasing him to fraternize with the other canine park patrons.

While keeping a keen eye on her companion she headed to a nearby bench and sat. She noticed a new dog in the group of playmates, a graceful giant with a flowing coat of copper and black. The dog was gamboling about with her long, plumed tail flagging and ears flopping enticing Dart to join her in a game of chase. Brooke recognized the dog as a Leonberger, a breed not too common in the United States and one she was familiar with because her best friend back home raised them. Her full lips parted in a smile as she watched the dog exhibit typical Leo playfulness. Curious to see who had brought the dog, Brooke watched as the dog made a dash, with Dart in full pursuit, for a man standing at the far end of the field. He was leaning against a tree, one knee brought up with the foot resting against the bark. The shade of the tree hid his features from her gaze but she could tell that he was tall and had a head full of thick, wavy hair. His relaxed stance was quickly lost as 120 pounds of flying Leonberger came hurtling toward him and, unable to bring herself to a stop, the dog slammed into his knees. Brooke’s smile turned into a chuckle as she watched the man place his hands on the dog’s back to regain his balance.

“Oof! Jezebel, you big galoot!” Gabe Dehart muttered as he rubbed his hands briskly down the sides of his dog.

He looked up at the grinning Labrador standing a few feet away and patted his thigh in invitation. Having never found someone who wasn’t a friend, Dart came forward willingly. Gabe lowered his long frame into a crouch and, with his back against the tree, made friends with Jez’s new companion.

Instead of calling her dog back to her, Brooke decided to go over and meet the man and dog to which Dart was now busy ingratiating himself. By the time she reached the trio the Leo lay beside Gabe with her head up and eyes alert like the regal lion her breed was named for and Dart was sprawled on his back accepting belly rubs like the affectionate clown well-known to his.

Gabe looked up as the attractive blonde approached and pegged her for the Lab’s owner when the dog jumped up and trotted out to meet her. He noticed the way the woman met the dog with a loving hand laid on his head and was impressed when her soft command to heel brought the Lab around snappily to sit at her left side. His eyes lazily made their way from her loose ashen curls, down her womanly curves and back to the gray eyes staring back at him with one eyebrow arched in question at his appraisal. Gabe's response to being caught was a quick grin as he raised himself off the ground and walked forward to meet her while dusting bits of grass and dirt off his jeans.

As Gabe walked toward her, Brooke’s annoyance at the man’s insolence quickly vanished as she found she was unabashedly doing the same. She could almost hear herself giving a low moan of female appreciation at the rugged good looks the man in front of her possessed. One might say he wasn’t conventionally handsome; his features were not smooth enough to be pretty. Rather, it was a cragginess of face coupled with a square jaw and heavy brow that was offset by full lips and all that wavy brown hair that stirred a little clench in Brooke’s gut that she knew to be lust. It didn’t hurt that his frame was long, his shoulders were wide and he moved with the lazy grace usually bestowed upon a big cat.

“You must be his.” Gabe said, with a pointed look at Dart.

“I guess you could say that, I’m Brooke Laramie. This is Dart.”

At the mention of his name, the yellow lab looked up at Brooke and gave a soft “woof” of acknowledgement. Jez had stood when Gabe had and was now pressing her large head into his thigh, her body wagging in anticipation of her introduction.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Gabe and this,” he said with one hand fondling a feathered ear, “is Jezebel.”

“She’s a Leo, right?”

“Yes, she is. You’re one of the first people to ask that instead of assuming she is just a large mutt.”

Brooke leaned down on a knee and put both hands on the side of Jez’s face as the big dog moved in for the sloppy kiss fest she loved to give. While accepting the long licks and trying not to get knocked over by the dog’s exuberance, Brooke looked up at Gabe.

“I have a friend that raises Leos. They aren’t very common. When I noticed Dart playing with Jezebel my curiosity was piqued. She’s beautiful.”

“Thank you. She’s also about to knock you over. Here, let me help you up.”

His big hand engulfed Brooke’s and brought her to her feet in an easy tug. She found herself face to chest with him. She could smell the spicy, woodsy scent of him and feel the roughened calluses on his hand as he released hers. She took a step back.

“Do you come here a lot, then?”

“As often as I can. I live in a condo not far from here. I don’t have much in the way of a backyard so this is where we come to stretch our legs. And you?” Brooke said,” I haven’t seen you here before.”

“Actually, I’m just here for a week. I came to speak at the Vet School and see if I can’t recruit an intern or two."

Brooke couldn’t have been more shocked by his statement. This was Gabe Dehart?? Mr. Dehart was set to speak to her and her classmates about his efforts to help the Mexican Gray Wolf once again roam the ranges of New Mexico. He was considered by most to be an oxymoron: a rancher that favored the protection and re-release of wolves into the wild. He had even gone so far as to set aside some of his land for the acclimation of those that would eventually be released.

“Then we’ll see each other again. I’m finishing up my third year of vet school. I’ve been looking forward to your seminar. The rancher-environmentalist with a rare German bred dog. . .you’re quite the mix.”

The tanned skin at the corners of Gabe’s eyes creased and he flashed a self deprecating grin at Brooke’s last remark.

“You don’t know the half of it, Ms. Laramie,” he said.” See you next week, then.”

He snapped a leather lead on to Jez’s collar, ruffed Dart’s head in farewell and walked away.

Brooke stared after him.


The lump lodged in her throat threatened to choke her. Brooke struggled with the pain and humiliation that were pushing down on her chest like a weighted stone. How could this have happened? Three years of her life had come down to one test and one point. It was all over now. She sat in the floor of her living room, Dart’s smooth head resting on her lap, a glass of wine on the coffee table beside her, and years of dreams swirling around in her head. God, how she wanted to drink herself into oblivion, as if that would somehow change the circumstances that had led up to this point. Exactly four hours earlier she had found out that she wouldn’t be returning to vet school after Christmas break.

Now, the prospect of going home for the holidays was enough to bring an acid taste to her mouth and make her gut clinch in horror. Not only would she have to face her parents but she would also have to retell her humiliation to all the well-meaning people that would ask, with genuine interest, how vet school was going. As her mind struggled to come to grips with the thunderous taunts of failure, a small corner of her conscious whispered of relief.

Summer at SCR '09 - The Call

“Might be best if you just brought your own horse and rode her. Figure that way you’d be more comfortable cause you already know her.”

Oh crap. Yeah, I knew her and comfortable was not the word to describe the way I was going to feel riding her on the ranch this summer.

“Ooookaaay. Uh, sure.”

I sure as certain wasn’t going to voice that concern to my cousin, Grant. The last thing I wanted was to give him the impression that I was going to be more trouble than I was worth. Breeze, on the other hand, I knew she was waaay more trouble than she was worth.

“I’m going to leave here right after in-service. That’ll be over around noon, so I should get to the ranch around five thirty.”

“Okay, adios.”

I pressed End and stared down at the cell phone in my hand. My stomach was churning with a toxic mix of excitement and dread. This was the chance of the lifetime and I had romanticized it in my head for three full weeks now. In not one of those daydreams was I mounted on my own mare. No, the only thing my bi-polar Appendix mare would star in was an equine knockoff of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

I hastily dialed Debbie, my friend and sensei for all things horse.

“Hey D, what’s up?”

“He wants me to ride Breeze.”

I’m guessing she could hear the tension in my voice. She laughed, the jerk.

“It’ll be okay. She’ll be fine. There will be so much to going on, she’ll have plenty to keep her mind busy.”

Oh please Lord let that be the truth.

“Okay, sure. You’re right. I’m going to choose to believe that or else I won’t sleep a wink tonight. Okay, you’re right.”

If I repeated it often enough maybe I could convince myself.

“You’ll be fine D. Really. It’s going to be awesome.”

“I know. I’m still super excited. Just a little unconfident. I knew that I was going to be clueless but I thought I would at least be riding a horse that knew what was going on. Now I’m going to be clueless on a bat-crap crazy mare.” My voice rose an octave at the end.

She laughed again and I tried to remember why I had called her. . .

“Well, I’ve got to pack and get Breeze’s stuff ready too so I guess I’ll let you go.”

“Alright, you’d better call me and let me know how things go. Ya’ll will be fine, D. Just have fun.”

“K, Bye.”

I quickly busied my mind with the details of what I would need for both myself and my horse for a month long stay. Maybe Deb was right and everything would be fine. Besides, Breeze could be absolutely great on a good day. I just needed to pray that she could put together a string of them.

Miss Bi-polar herself, aka Breeze