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A Cowboy To Keep-Chapter 1


Bethany Holten grasped the handle of her purse in one hand and rested the other on the rail as she descended the steep steps of the passenger jet. A gentle breeze whispered around her skirt, but she took little notice of it. She wanted to see her family. She quickly collected her luggage from the baggage claim and tripped out into the waiting room. Four long years of Veterinary School, and now here she was, home at last.
A loud squeal pierced the air as a young boy raced toward her, arms outstretched! Bethany grabbed him in a hug and held tight.
"OW!" Tommy wiggled out of her arms. "You squeeze too tight!"
Bethany laughed. Suddenly, another young person ran into her and wrapped his arms around her waist. She turned and ruffled Kyle's short, wavy brown hair. She smiled warmly at her brothers. She always considered them as her true brothers, even though they were not related by blood. Kyle and Tommy had been neglected by a selfish woman when they were yet infants. Her parents had gladly taken the boys and raised them as their own children. As they grew, their characters had developed. Tommy, the younger of the two, was a warm-hearted boy who loved to help others. Sometimes Bethany would find him assisting her in whatever task or project she had taken up. Kyle, older by two years, had a compassionate heart. If ever a person or animal became ill, he always offered to be his or her nurse.
"Where are Mom and Dad?" Bethany asked as the boys clung to her hands.
“They're coming.” Kyle replied.
“Yeah,” Tommy interjected, “They had to park the car.”
"Then who is looking after you two?" Bethany gently inquired.

“I am.” Grandma smiled, wrinkles creasing around her sparkling eyes. “It's nice to see you home, honey.”
Bethany released her brothers' hands and hugged her grandma, giving her a light peck on the cheek.
"It's good to see you, too, grandma."
How's my little girl!" A voice boomed from the entrance to the waiting area. Bethany grinned and ran over to her parents to be engulfed in a big bear hug! Grandma, Kyle and Tommy joined them. Suddenly, Bethany pulled away.
"Where's Grandpa?"
Grandma straightened and looked around.
"He's in the... here he comes!"
Grandpa approached the group with a huge grin on his face, eyes sparkling. Bethany gave him a hug too, and then grabbed her luggage.

After a two hour plane ride and a two hour car ride, Bethany eased onto the couch and yawned. Kimo, a young Siberian husky, plopped on the floor at her feet and rested his paw on her knee. Bethany smiled, and scrubbed his neck. Wanting to get in on the attention, Rex nuzzled her hand. She complied and patted the German shepherd’s head. Her mother, standing in the dining room cleaning up lunch, looked over.
"Why don't you go take a nap, sweetheart?"
Bethany smiled. She stood and walked over to stand next to Mom.
"Let me at least help clean up." Bethany tried to convince her mother again, but failed miserably. She gave up and trudged up the stairs to do as her mother had suggested. Pulling the band from her long, blond hair, Bethany stepped into her room and yawned again, blinking her gritty eyes. She glanced down at her still packed bags. After her nap, she would have to unpack, but right now, she felt too tired.

Suddenly, Bethany awoke. The dogs lay next to her on the bed, pinning her sheet. She pushed them off and glanced out the window. The sunlight slanted through the glass and pooled on her floor. It must be about mid-afternoon! She stood and walked to the open window. A warm, breeze blew across her face. She looked out at the beautiful barnyard and wide, expansive fields framed by woods. The great outdoors was calling to her, and she itched to ride her horse again.

Bethany spun to grab her favorite cowboy boots and hat, but as she turned her eyes fell on her still unpacked bags. I guess I should unpack before pleasure. Unpacking her bags proved to be quite a chore and took a bit longer than she'd expected. She glanced at her watch. 4:00 gave her plenty of time to take a ride.

Donning her boots and hat, she clomped down the stairs. Mom was no longer in the kitchen. She grabbed a carrot from the fridge and walked out the back door, the screen door banging behind her. Her mother waved at her from the garden across the driveway. Bethany smiled and then walked to the barn and fenced field. Rex and Kimo followed close on her heels.
A large bay morgan lifted his head and pricked his ears when he saw Bethany. Trigger! The muscular horse whinnied as he trotted toward her. She carefully slipped through the white, electric fence and hugged the horse around the neck, welcoming the wonderfully familiar smell. Breaking the carrot in pieces, she fed them to him one by one. At the sight of food, the four other horses in the pasture quickly trotted up. Bethany patted them all, and then fetched Trigger's bridle and saddle from the barn. Once out in the yard, she swung up and trotted over to her mother.
"I'm going for a ride, Mom." She kept the horse on the path to keep him from trampling her mother's flowers.
"All right." Mom kept weeding as she answered. Bethany turned the horse and rode toward the back field. Just as she passed the barn, her mother's voice stopped her. Bethany turned the horse back.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
"Be back before six."
Bethany urged the horse forward and trotted toward the hay field. Several cattle lifted their heads and watched as she rode past their pasture. Bethany breathed deeply and relaxed. Being home felt so perfect! She looked around her and drank in the beautiful sight. The expansive field seemed to go on forever.

She clucked and raised the reins. Trigger moved into an easy lope. The gentle rocking carried her smoothly across the field. The warm breeze teased wisps of her hair, tickling her face. She reined Trigger in as they reached the trail. Bethany closed her eyes and drew a deep breath of earthy spring air, then moved the horse to a walk. Trigger’s hooves sank into the supple mud. The path wound around trees and over a few large hills. After about ten minutes, the riding trail came to an end onto a road.

She led Trigger out onto the it to knock the mud out of his hooves. A second set of hooves soon clattered onto the asphalt. Bethany looked up. A jet black horse was gracefully striding towards her. Her gaze landed on the rider and she sucked in a raspy breath, pulling her horse to a halt. He sat straight and tall, his broad shoulders reminding her of someone. Someone that had once been very close to her heart. His hat shaded his eyes, but she imagined... no, she wasn’t going to think about that. Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a chipmunk dart across the path. She turned her attention back to her horse, but not quickly enough. Trigger jumped sideways, giving her no time to react! Bethany sailed through the air and landed on her seat in a huge soggy mud puddle!

She sat there for a second, stunned. Quickly, she struggled to get up, but she fell back down in the mud, covering her back in sludge. She sat up as the young man jumped off his horse and strode toward her, and she realized she had been mistaken about the man’s identity.
"Do you need help, ma'am?" He held out his hand. Her cheeks flamed, angrily.
"I can do it myself!" She pulled away from him and struggled to get up again. This time, she succeeded.
"Are you alright?" He asked. His concern angered her.
"I'm fine." She barked. She fumbled for Trigger's reins, swung up, and trotted away. Once she entered the woods, she tore some leaves off the trees and wiped as much mud off as possible.

While Bethany untacked Trigger, she struggled to calm her rattled nerves. I can't believe I did that! Why did I have to flop in front of a stranger!
"You have a funny look on your face, Sis!" Kyle entered the barn just as Trigger started pounding his hoof on the hard-packed dirt floor. Both startled her and she jumped. A calico cat jumped from the crosstie post to the horse’s back and began rubbing on her face. She quickly haltered the horse and cross tied him, and then scooped Foxie off Trigger’s back. Kyle followed her to the tack room.
"Mom sent me to tell you it's time for supper."
Great! The first night home and I'm late for supper.
"All right." Bethany turned around. "Tell her I'll be right in."
Kyle lingered.
"What is it, Kyle?" Bethany tried to soften her tone as much as possible.
"Why are you all dirty? You never fall off."
"Um... He spooked when I wasn't ready."
"OK." He took off for the house and she returned to her horse. She ran a brush over his shiny coat and led him outside. After securing the pasture gate, she walked quickly to the house. Yanking off her boots, she dropped them on the shelf in the mudroom.
"Would you set the table, please?" Mom tried to hand her a stack of plates. Bethany held up her dirty, horse-scented hands. Her mother glanced at Bethany's muddy clothes and drew back the dinnerware. After changing and washing, Bethany collected the silverware. Dad walked in the door, and called her brothers to the table. When they were all seated, Dad grasped her hand as they bowed their heads.
"Lord, Thank you for this beautiful day. Thank you for this wonderful food and for bringing Beth home to us safely. In Jesus Name, I pray, Amen." Dad squeezed her hand before he released it.
"This pizza is wonderful, Mom." Bethany took a large bite of the delicious tomato and cheesy goodness. Yummy!
"I made it especially for you, tonight." Her mother smiled. "I know how much you love it."
They made small talk while they finished eating, then the boys cleared the table and Bethany helped her mother do the dishes. Kimo and Rex sat off to the side, watching, hoping for a scrap of leftovers.
Suddenly, Mom turned, opened the fridge, and pulled out a perfectly baked pan of brownies! Bethany looked at her in amazement!
"Even though it's Thursday, we could do with a dessert since it's your first night home."
She grinned. Cold, chewy brownies were her favorite dessert! Too bad there isn't any ice cream. Wait... Mom had pulled a container of chocolate chip mint ice cream from the freezer! Yes! Her mother thought of everything! When everyone had eaten their fill, Dad pulled his Bible off the shelf and began evening devotions.

Bethany awoke early, with the sun. She sat up and looked at the clock. It read 6:00. It’s a little early, but I won't be able to get back to sleep. Quickly grabbing her clothes, she raced to the bathroom to take a shower. Being the first one up, Bethany fixed her own breakfast. She slid her feet into her cowboy boots, and sat on the porch with her Bible open in her lap. She always read God's Word every morning. It gave her joy and peace to go with her for the rest of the day. She looked down. The Bible was open to Psalm 118:24. This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Those words were beautiful! And she would definitely rejoice today! She was home with a wonderful family that loved her very much.
Suddenly, the screen banged. Boots clunked on the porch while canine tongues kissed her cheeks. Bethany looked up. Dad walked down the stairs and stood in front of her.
"Chore time?” Bethany looked forward to doing chores with her dad again. She couldn’t’ wait. Her dad nodded, then turned to go to the barn, husky and shepherd followed. Bethany quickly placed her Bible on the porch swing, and then hopped down the stairs to follow as well.
When she stepped into the barn, she paused to breath in the wonderful smell of horse mixed with the sweet smell of hay. Today is going to be a great day. Bethany hurried over to Trigger first. She carefully haltered him, and snapped on his lead and took him out. Dad helped lead the rest of the horses outside. After securing the gate, she loaded the wheelbarrow with hay, and dumped it in the middle of the pasture. Dad followed, carrying a bucket of alfalfa pellets and pulling the hose along behind him. Bethany grabbed a brush from the barn and began grooming Trigger while he munched his pellets. After filling the water tub, Dad followed suit and began brushing his horse, a large, gray mustang gelding named Goliath. Soon, all the family horses had been groomed. The animals out back in the large field were next. The cattle needed to be fed and watered.
Just as she reached the house about a half hour later, Kyle and Tommy burst out the door. Rex and Kimo, hearing the boys playing, raced out of the barn. Bethany grinned. Mom appeared at the door, carrying her gardening tools. Mom always gardened in the morning.
"Good morning, Beth." Mom walked down the steps, "Did you get breakfast yet?"
"Good morning, Mom, and yes, I did." Bethany climbed the steps, and grabbed her Bible off the swing.
"I'm going to put away my Bible and then I'll come out and help you in the garden."

Bethany shucked off her boots and socks and stepped onto the soft dirt path. She knelt and started pulling weeds from the bell pepper bed. Mom weeded right next to her.
"How was college?" Mom glanced at Bethany, and then kept weeding.
"Wonderful!" She grabbed a thick weed and pulled hard. For the next hour, Bethany described her college experience. How many friends she had made, and how much fun her classes were.
"I have to go visit Mr. Roberts soon." She stood as she finished weeding her third bed. Ben Roberts was the town Veterinarian. She was going to work under him, and possible take over the practice when he retired.
"When should I go see him?" Bethany picked up her socks and boots.
"Your father is going to town for more pellets and hay tomorrow morning. Maybe you could go then." Mom stood and glanced at her watch.
"Wow! It's time for lunch!" She headed for the house and Bethany followed.

That night, as she was leading Trigger to the barn, lightening flashed! The rain quickly followed, pouring in sheets. The gate banged and hooves pounded in the corral behind her! Her horse danced sideways. She patted his neck, calming him. When Trigger's hooves stopped dancing, she led him to the barn. She quickly returned outside. Three horses were out, all racing for the barn! She followed them at a safe distance and herded them into their stalls. Where is Dad? Bethany grabbed a halter and raced outside in the storm. The sight that met her eyes sucked the air out of her lungs, constricting her throat.

Her father stood bent over, pressing his hand to his chest and clinging to the gate rail until his knuckles were white! Bethany closed the distance between them, her heart clutched in fear. Her father's heavy breathing raked on her ears has he gasped for breath. His pupils dilated with pain. A million thoughts raced through her brain. The main one was what is wrong with my dad? Concern filled her. Soon his heavy breathing slowed and appeared somewhat normal. Bethany grabbed his arm and gently pulled him to the barn. The other horses neighed impatiently, but she ignored them. Pulling a metal folding chair from the tack room, she gently helped her father into the seat. It took a while to convince him to stay put while she finished the chores, but he finally agreed. Soon, all the horses were safe in their stalls, contentedly munching their hay. Then she and her father carefully returned to the house. Once inside, they shook off their wet raincoats and hung them on the hook.
In bed, Bethany thought about the evening's adventure. That wasn't the only time the horses had gotten out. She gathered from Mom’s letters that the horses had escaped out of the pasture at least eight times while she was at college. He must have had more episodes, like the one tonight. We need help. Tomorrow I'll approach Dad about hiring someone. Bethany sighed, turned over and went to sleep.

After dressing, Bethany searched the fridge for her breakfast. Mom walked in the kitchen and pulled the griddle out from the cabinet and placed it on the counter. Bethany closed the fridge.
"Pancakes?" She inquired.
"Yeah, your Dad requested them..." Mom paused, "...and it's Saturday." Mom grabbed a mixing bowl from the cupboard and began mixing the pancake batter. Bethany slid her feet into her cowboy boots.
"Is Dad outside?" She placed her hat on her head, her hand on the door handle. Mom answered without looking up.
Bethany hurried to the barn. The dogs, as usual, followed. She led horses outside one at a time like a robot. Last night's events weighed heavily on her mind; she had to talk to dad now. Grabbing a brush from the tack room, she began grooming her horse. Her father joined her and began grooming Goliath. She turned to him. His face bore lines, remnant of the stress of the episode. His eyes told of a sleepless night by the large dark circles under them.
"Hey, Dad..."
He looked up, "yeah?"
"Um..." She hesitated, "I wanted to tell you something."
"What is it?" He smiled. He wouldn't when she told him. I can't tell him.
Bethany grinned, "Mom's making pancakes, your favorite!"
"Yes!" He pumped the air with his fist.
"Mom said you're going to town today?" Bethany could at least go with him so she could visit Mr. Roberts.
"You want to go?" He asked the question.
"Yeah! I’d like to see Dr. Roberts about a position." You coward!

Bethany scarfed the last of her pancakes. She placed the plate in the dishwasher, changed into sneakers, and grabbed her purse off her bed. She climbed up into her Dad's Ford F350 pick-up, clicking the seat belt into place. All the way to town, they chatted endlessly about college life. Bethany looked up as Dad parked in the veterinary parking lot in downtown Great Falls. Even though she knew this vet personally, her stomach filled with butterflies. I shouldn’t be this scared. But, as she climbed out and entered the building, her butterflies took up permanent residence.

After talking shortly with the receptionist, she sat on the edge of her seat and clutched her purse handle. After a while, Dr. Roberts approached her. His warm smile scared away her buggy visitors. She shook his hand, and then followed him back to his office.
"You have arrived just in time, Bethany." He shut the door and seated himself in his large leather chair behind his desk. She sat across from him.
"I have a recently opened position, if you want it." He simply stated.
Bethany couldn't believe it!
"Yes!" She nearly shouted, "I can start now, if you want."
Dr. Roberts smiled. "I'm glad you came. God sent you to me. Kristen quit a couple days ago. I've been hard put to keep up." He raked his fingers through his thinning, gray hair, "And Doc says I'm getting too old to work by myself."
"Well, Thanks for the job." Bethany grinned, "When can I start?" She asked quickly.
"You're not too eager, are ya?" He laughed. He reached into his desk and pulled out a form. He slid it across the desk surface. Bethany took it, folded, it, and put it in her purse.
"Bring the completed form here Monday morning, say, 8:30, and I'll tell ya then."
"I'll be here bright and early." Bethany stood. Dr. Roberts stood also. They shook hands and Bethany exited the office. Wow, that was easy! I can't believe I was so nervous. She hurried down the sidewalk to the feed store. As she entered, she saw her dad hang up his cell and start, no resume, talking to someone familiar.

The young man held his cowboy hat in front of him, leaning his tall frame against the counter. Suddenly, she recognized him and hesitated in the door. It was the man she'd seen on her horseback ride! She swept her long blond hair back over her shoulders and approached. The young man looked up and grinned in recognition. Bethany recalled her disastrous fall yesterday and felt heat creep up her face. Embarrassed and angry at herself, she scowled inwardly and looked down at her feet.
"Buck, this is my daughter, Bethany. Bethany, Buck Granger is coming to work for me, to help with the horses."
Buck extended his hand, "It's nice to meet you, Miss Holten."
"It's nice to meet you too." She mentally gritted her teeth. She couldn't believe that Dad would just hire someone like that. On the spot. No interview or anything like that.
"Sir, here’s your receipt."
"Buck, why don't you go ahead and hitch up that trailer I borrowed." Dad returned to the counter. Why would Dad trust him like that already?! He could be a thief or murderer! Buck ambled past her and the door bell jingled. After Dad paid for the feed, Bethany approached him.
"What's the trailer for?"
"Oh. His horse." He said it as if it was nothing out of the ordinary to tow a stranger's horse to your farm.

Bethany sat in the truck while Dad went into the feed shack to get the hay, pellets, and sawdust. Normally, she helped load the feed. But, after she'd embarrassed herself in front of Buck, she dared not get out of the truck. She wondered what he would think of the rest of her family. Fairly soon, the man in question stepped out of the feed shack. He approached the truck, carrying a bag of pellets over his shoulder. Dad walked behind him wheeling the hay on a hand dolly. After loading the feed into the bed of the truck, Buck approached the passenger side of the pick-up! Doesn't he have his own car? Apparently not! Bethany quickly scrambled out to get in the back. As he climbed in, she shot him a cold glance, and slid all the way over behind Dad's seat. The entire way home, Buck and her father carried an animated conversation. Their instant friendship made her even more upset. Holding herself aloof, she refused to participate in the cheerful banter. When they finally reached home, she climbed out after Dad through the driver's side door and hurried to the house, leaving the men to unload the feed.

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