“Thanks, Roy.”

“Good luck. Check in tomorrow.”

Without another word, he hangs up the phone.

I smile to myself and slip my phone back into my pocket. He’s such an old curmudgeon, but the man’s growing on me at least. He’s a decent boss no matter what you say about him.

“How’s it going?”

I look up and spot Faye step in through the main entrance. She’s walking Sadie over to her stall.

“Good,” I say, heading over to meet them. I take over and lead the horse to her spot. “I can do this.”

“Ha, you really want to do some work around here, huh?”

I shrug. “I’m not busy. Dodger’s stable so there’s not much for me to do. Plus, I like this old girl.”

Sadie nuzzles against me and I smile.

“She likes you too,” Faye comments and watches as I take care of the horse, taking off her saddle and wiping her down. “What do you think about the ranch so far?” she asks me nonchalantly.

I shrug a little bit, watching the horse as I run a brush through her hair. “It’s nice,” I say. “Beautiful country.”

“Sure, sure. But the ranch is mostly people, you know.”

I glance at her. “People are fine too.”

She grins at me. “Particularly the owner?”

I blush and look away. “He’s fine. Paying me good so I like that.”

She laughs again. Faye has such an open and honest laugh that it’s hard to fault her anything.

“You know, not many new women come around these parts.”

“Can’t blame them, you know, with the smell and all.”

She snorts. “Please. You haven’t smelled the worst. Wait for the middle of the summer when the herd’s shitting all over the damn place.”

I grin at her. “I hope Dodger’s better by then.”

“I’m sure he will be.” Faye leans against the stall door and crosses her arms. We’re silent for a minute while I keep working on Sadie. When I’m finished, I step back out and shut the door behind me while Faye stretches and cracks her back.

“Ah, getting old,” she says softly. “This work, it’s not meant for old single people, you get me?”

“I’m not sure I do.”

We walk toward the horse paddock, taking slow, measured steps. “Thing is,” she says, “it’s easier when you’ve got something to come home to at night, you know? Even as a horse doctor, you got to know that.”

I nod a little bit. “When I was working in the ER back in New York, it was hard coming home after a long shift to an empty apartment. Especially when I’d seen… you know.”

She nods, her expression grave. “You must’ve had rough nights.”

“Sometimes I didn’t go home. Just slept in an on-call room and worked the next day. Didn’t bother going back to that empty apartment.”

“That why you’re here?”

“I don’t know,” I admit. “I guess I gave up one kind of emptiness for another.”

“True. But this is a good kind.”

We reach the paddock and look out across the landscape. It’s beautiful and I know what she means. The land is empty, or at least sparse, but it’s not exactly that. There’s grass and stubby trees and bushes and animals all over the place. There’s constant motion and sound, even when it’s quiet.

That’s the good kind of empty. The empty that isn’t really empty, but just filled with different things if you look hard enough.

“He likes you, you know,” she says quietly.

“Connor?” I ask, startled.

“Of course.” She gives me a sly look. “He wouldn’t keep you around if he didn’t. And that shit you pulled yesterday has him fascinated.”

“I just helped out.”

“I know. But he liked it. Not many people would take a risk to help when they didn’t need to, not like you did.”

“I’m just happy I wasn’t in the way.”

She laughs and puts a hand on my shoulder. “Thanks, Holly. I appreciate the help, and so does Connor, even if he doesn’t say it.”

“Any time.”

She’s quiet for another second. “And one more thing. Don’t push him too hard on his past.”

I frown. “Football?”

She nods, her face slightly grave. “It’s not a nice memory for him. So go easy. He’ll open up eventually if he’s ever going to.”

“Okay,” I say. “Thanks.”

She gives me another wide, open smile, before walking off. I watch the older woman step through a side gate, her words running in my head.

He likes me, that’s what she said. I don’t know if she means, he likes me as a person, or if it’s something more. There have been moments between us, tense moments where I thought he’d kiss me, but they always passed. If I’m honest with myself, I wish they hadn’t.

I walk slowly back into the barn and toward Dodger’s stall. As I get closer, I spot Connor leaning up against the gate, looking in at his horse.

“Hey, you,” I say, Faye’s fresh words in my mind. I wonder if he overheard anything, but I doubt it, we were too far away.


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