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“Don’t knock the power of love and a happily ever after. It’s real.” We both laugh.

“I’m so happy for you and Sterling,” I place my hand on her baby bump, “and my little niece or nephew.” She covers my hand with hers.

“I don’t want you to go, Lucy, but I understand. Just don’t stay gone long. I need you here with me for this pregnancy. You’re my sister, you were even before we knew. I can’t do this without you.”

“I won’t be far. And I won’t stay gone too long,” I promise.

I tell her where I’m going but make her swear not to tell anyone, even Sterling. The less people who know, the better.

As I pull up to Valley B, I see Tate at the stable with Hawk, Dean, and Sterling. I start to drive past and on to Tate’s house, but I stop. Tate’s eyes land on me as I exit my car and head toward them. The way he devours me head to toe gives me butterflies. Memories of his eyes drinking in every inch of me last night flash through my mind.

Tate meets me halfway before I can reach them. Concern twists his handsome face. “Hey, beautiful. I didn’t know you left. Is everything okay?” he asks quietly. The guys are watching but acting like they aren’t. Hawk glances at me and smiles tightly before turning away. Dean tips his chin in acknowledgment before doing the same. But Sterling, he zeroes in as if trying to read the situation even though Tate’s back is to him.

“Everything’s fine. I was with Ivie. We had dinner at her place.”

I can visibly see relief wash over his face. “I left you a note, but I guess you haven’t been home yet.”

He smirks before answering, “No, we got back not long ago with the horses. You want to see them?”

“Yeah, I do. I love horses. I haven’t been around them much, but I think they’re beautiful. I’d love to be around them more,” I admit breathlessly, unsure why I shared that with him.

He holds out his hand for me and I glance down at it for a moment before taking it. We walk toward the stables and pass the guys trying to hide their amusement. Tate strolls on by, flashing them a cocky grin as we pass. I can’t help but laugh out loud. This moment is the closest I’ve had in a long time to real happiness. I wish I could hold on to it…hold on to Tate.

In the stable, there are two beautiful horses in their stalls. “They’re buckskin quarter horses,” he tells me as we stop in front of the two newest members of Valley B Ranch. Dark chocolate eyes take us in curiously. “This is Whiskey,” he points to the darker of the two, “and that’s Gypsy,” he says as he points to the other horse.

“Can I touch them?” I ask shyly.

“Yeah, just hold your hand up to them and let them tell you it’s okay.”

“How will I know?” He smiles at me, flashing impossibly white teeth against his tan skin.

“Trust me, they’ll let you know.”

I do trust Tate…probably more than I should. But I know in my heart he cares about me and he’s one of the good ones. If only he’d open his heart to love. Maybe one day, with one lucky lady, he will. The thought is a little bittersweet because that someone won’t be me, but I hope for his sake, one day he can move past whatever his issues are. He deserves larger-than-life love.

Like Tate said, Whiskey nudges me, letting me know she likes me. I let out an excited breath and gently rub her neck. As I do, she lays her head on my shoulder. “Wow, this is amazing,” I say with a laugh, feeling like a kid on Christmas morning.

Tate laughs with me, not at me. “I told you she’d let you know.” He rubs Gypsy in the next stall as he watches me. “I can teach you to ride. There’s nothing like riding a horse.”

My heart cracks a little. I’d love nothing more, but I won’t be here after tonight. “I’d like that.” It’s not a lie, but I don’t add the part about me not being here to do it. Whiskey blows at me like she knows my innermost thoughts. I must be easy for animals to read because Rocky seems like he understands me too.

Lucy went back to my house after I showed her Whiskey and Gypsy. Her eyes lit up when she saw them. I’d give anything to keep the light in her eyes. I make my way back to the guys, still standing at the fence.

“Aren’t you cold? Y’all been standing out here for a while,” I say as I approach.

Hawk lowers his head, effectively covering his eyes with the brim of his ballcap, but I can see the grin creep up the corners of his mouth. Dean’s all in. “Look at you, Tate. The love bug bit you in the ass.” He chuckles light-heartedly.

Sterling hasn’t smiled yet, he’s just watching. Hawk picks up on the tension radiating from Sterling, and so does Dean. “We’re gonna head up to the main house and grab a beer, Sterling.” He nods but doesn’t tear his eyes away from me.

“What’s going on, Tate?” he asks as soon as they’re out of earshot.

I take off my ball cap and run my hand through my hair before putting it back on, letting out a frustrated breath. “Nothing. Why?”

He guffaws. “Why? Tate, you just openly held a woman’s hand in front of us and now she’s headed to your house. Is she staying with you?”

“Why does it matter?” I try to tamp down the anger rising in my chest.

“It doesn’t. It’s your house and your life. You can do what you want. But that’s Ivie’s sister. And you’re family to me. What are you doing?” he asks.

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