It wasn’t like I’d never seen a horse before. Growin’ up here in Appaloosa, kind’a guaranteed a gal had seen more’n her fair share of ’em by the time she reached the ripe ol’ age of eleven. An’ dang, I knew I wanted me one!
That’s how I come to be workin’ at Mr. Wilkins’ livery. Now, I know muckin’ out stalls an’ pitchin’ hay don’t sound like fittin’ work fer a girl, an’ trust me, it took some convincin’ on my part to get Mr. Wilkins to take a chance, hirin’ me, but see, I knew I didn’t never have no shot at ownin’ my own horse, an’ I was startin’ to get desperate. So, takin’ care’a other folks’ horses seemed like the next best thing.
I ‘member that evenin’ in January clear, like I’m seein’ the mem’ry played out all over ag’in in front’a me at one o’ them stage shows they got over to Tombstone.
Stars were dottin’ the sky that night an’ the moon was shinin’ bright. A cold spell had set in, makin’ it so’s it was hard to breathe, like yer nostrils were stickin’ together, iff’n ya know what I mean.
I shut the livery door behind me, stompin’ my boots an’ clappin’ my home-knit mittens together in an effort to keep the blood movin’ in my toes an’ fingers. That’s when I saw him. Middle stall on the left. He was perfection!
I moved real slow, so as not to fright him, as I took off my mittens an’ shoved ’em in my pocket. He was deep, dark chocolate, brushed to a silky shine. Like someone had been carin’ fer him, real good, an’ I couldn’t help but run my bare hands over him, talkin’ real gentle all the while.
“He sure is somethin’, huh?”
I jumped. It wasn’t Mr. Wilkins’ voice talkin’, I knew that fer sure, an’ I spun around fast. Knowin’ from experience that some folks can get awful mad ’bout a muck-slinger like me messin’ with their mount, I had an apology ready to spit out quicker than a mouthful’a Doc Golden’s cough soothin’ elixir.
Only this stranger, he didn’t look mad. Fact was, as I stood there, jaw hangin’ open like some kind’a bass I pulled outta Miller’s Creek last summer, I noticed this stranger’s eyes sort’a sparklin’ at me. They were blue an’ kind an’ clear as a mountain mornin’. He tipped his hat with one finger, like he was greetin’ a real lady or somethin’. Then he smiled. The kind’a smile that made his whole face light up an’ set his cheeks to crinklin’.
I swallowed hard an’ come up with the most intelligent thing I could think of to say, spur o’ the moment an’ all. “Uh-huh.”
He flipped me two bits.
My hand darted out, catchin’ it mid-air.
“Think ya can put an extra blanket on him? Extra handful of oats?”
I nodded, dumbly. Then I watched him walk away. Nice eyes, nice smile. Nice gait too. Real nice. A saucy grin tugged at one corner of my mouth. I let out a breath I didn’t realize I’d been holdin’ an’ tucked the coin in my pocket ‘fore pullin’ my mittens on ag’in.
It wasn’t like I’d never seen a cowboy before. Growin’ up here in Appaloosa, kind’a guaranteed a gal had seen more’n her fair share of ’em by the time she reached the ripe ol’ age of eleven. But dang, this one was perfection! An’ I knew I wanted me one!
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