Page 4 of Hadley

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There were beautiful children everywhere. Some of them older, and others just infants. Several with the brightest white hair that she’d ever seen other than her own. The flowers around the homestead were beautifully kept by her own hand and that of her family. Gardens of tomatoes and green beans were in neat rows, picked clean for this special day. She even loved how the wisteria grew along the porch roof without intruding on the floor boards. It was perfect. As she had dreamed of it before.

On some level, Colby knew that she would die soon. Knew it in her heart that this day was going to be a memory that she’d take to her dear husband when she met up with him on the other side. Of course, now that she had it explained why the children were everywhere, it made her smile. Also, why the homestead looked so lovely and full today of all days. If heaven was going to be like this, and Colby was sure that it had to be, she was looking forward to it more than she had in all her life.

There were dragons on the land today. Small ones, barely out of their shell, were giving rides to the small children. Goats, too, that had faeries riding them. The air smelled so fresh that she found herself wishing that she could take in one more breath before it all disappeared.

Colby had to remind herself that it wouldn’t this time. Not like it had—had it only been a few years ago? That what was here now was the way that things should have been. Her family. Her life was so different that she knew that it was her that these people were all here for.

The right that had been wronged had happened only in a week for her. The time line or whatever it was called, had moved along each time she woke up in her bed for seven days. But the memories of it were in her mind for her to pull out and remember.

She thought that because she’d been given them both, it made her appreciate the little things more as she grew older. Her family, especially her children, were well-loved because she knew how precious they were. There was patience, too, that she had for her ailing parents and others that she knew she’d not had before. Colby was even able to prevent things like sicknesses and wounds because she had memories of them happening before that kept her family safe.

Both memories were there in her mind for her. The one where she had spent her life alone but for her little bit of family that had been left and the one where her life with Abe had been. He had died, as Cooper told her. He’d died in his sleep when he’d been in his late eighties. A long life for them to have had family around them. Their love, so rich, was theirs to reap too.

No children had been born of her in her first life. In this one, Colby had ten children. Fifty grandchildren and so many great and beyond that she had to stop to count them all. It was a blessing that she never thought to have. And one that she cherished more than she thought any man or woman could have. But today was her birthday. Her ninety-ninth. She was making memories of today that she’d not seen before.

There were steaks on the grill. A pig being roasted over a spit. Food, so many covered dishes that she thought there would be leftovers for months. Bowls of fresh fruit, apples the size of her fist. The peaches were so juicy that she was sure it was going to be more messy than eating them. Still, she didn’t care.

Seeing Cooper and the other Mannings sitting under a tree, she made her way there. She knew the men with him to be his brothers as much as she knew Harry to be her nephew. It was just the way that it should have been.

“You’ll depart soon?” She told Cooper that she didn’t want to think about leaving here anytime soon. “Yes, you’d not. It has been a good life for you, Colby? You’ve enjoyed your time on this earth?”

“I have. I cannot thank you enough for them. The memories I have that I’ve been given will last me several lifetimes, don’t you think?” He laughed. “I shall miss this place more than ever, but I’m ready to go on. It is a place that I shall think of often if there is an afterlife with my Abe. Thank you for this.”

“I did nothing, Colby. You have done this all on your own. Well, not entirely. The magic that you returned to me, it had a great deal to do with it. I’m so happy that this time things were right for you.” She didn’t understand but didn’t care. She was here, and that was all that mattered to her. “I shall miss you, my lady.”

“And I will miss you, Cooper Manning.” He stood up and turned her so that she could see out beyond where they were sitting. It took her a few moments to see what he was showing her. Her great-granddaughter, Colby Ann Messer. She had turned twenty-four just yesterday. “Who is that she is talking to? I don’t think I know him.”

“‘Tis my nephew, Colby.” She watched the two of them as they talked. Not that she could hear what they were saying, but she knew in some way that Colby was upset with the young man. She turned to Cooper when he laughed. “She will, I think, fit well into my family, don’t you think? She is the mate to my nephew Hadley Manning, son of Xavier Manning, my youngest brother.”

“He’s a dragon.” Cooper said that he was. “I suppose that is—” She turned to him. “‘Tis the wrong that was set right, isn’t it?”

“It is. I didn’t know then. I swear to you that I only knew there had been an injustice to you. Winnie said that she hadn’t known either. That she only wanted you to have babes for them to comfort you in your life. That you should have had them for the way you had helped us all those years ago. The child that of your granddaughter being his mate was a boon that none of us could have realized.”

She watched the two of them. Knowing Colby was well as she did, it didn’t surprise her when she punched the large man in the face and then walked away. He didn’t go after her. Didn’t retaliate either. But sat there on the ground, watching her stomp away with a huge grin on his face.

“Is he addled?” They all laughed, and she turned to look at them. They were the most beautiful group of people she’d ever had the pleasure of knowing. “He’s not going to hurt her, will he?”

“He’ll only worship her. Hadley will never harm a hair on her head, nor will he ever love another woman as much as he will her.” It was Winnie that came to speak this time, standing next to her as they watched the couple. “You’ll be happy to know that they’ll have many children. Only one of her body, but no one would ever guess that the ones they raise aren’t of their blood.”

“She always said that she wished for many babes to raise.” Winnie laughed and told her that they would. “I hope they have a better middle than they have their beginning. She doesn’t look at all to me like she’s going to forgive him for whatever happened between them. Will she?”

“Yes. She will not only forgive Hadley, but she will come to love him too.” Colby felt her heart break. She’d not be there to see them, the two of them coming to terms with their love and life. “I know that she is your favorite, Colby. In watching over her all these years, she has become mine as well. And the fact that she has all the traits of your linage only makes her all the more special to all of us.”

“I never understood that. The white hair having so much meaning to your family.” When no one said anything, she turned to look at them. This time she looked at the one called Imp. The one said to have created dragons for her own pleasure. “You know, don’t you? Why it’s important that I had a child. That one of them carries the white of my ancestors like Colby has.”

“No. As we said to you, we had no idea that Hadley would be her mate. However, I do know the reason for the white hair you’ve been born with, Colby. And so many more of your family. I have a great many endings to give to you and to the dragons that I think you shall enjoy.” When she sat down when asked, Imp smiled at her. “I’m going to tell you a story that is older than me. A timeless love story that has taken all this time to what I believe in coming to a beginning. The beginning of another Colby and myself.”

Chapter 1

Hadley watched Colby as she made her way across the lawn. Her stomping to the other side had him thinking that a dragon would make less noise and not disturb the creatures below the earth as much as her walk did. Lying there, keeping an eye on her so that she’d be safe, he thought of what his life would be like now. He belonged to a mate of his own.

He’d not meant to startle her. Hadley had only been trying to move her out of the way of one of the little hatchlings when they were barreling toward her. At their age, they were just large disasters waiting to happen. But the moment he touched her, he felt her stiffen under his hands, and then she turned and hit him.

Getting up, he thought that he should explain himself. But as he approached her, just walking alongside her, she turned toward him when he was only a few feet away.

“I’m sorry.” He nodded and told her that he was as well. “I’m having a, I guess you could call it a stalker problem. I’m not sure that’s the right term either.” She glanced over his shoulder for a second, then looked up at him.