By Colleen


General Disclaimer: This is an alternate uber story. The physical descriptions of the two lead characters may remind you of two others we all know and love, but all characters in the story are from my own imagination. This story is an original work and is copyrighted by the author. It cannot be sold or used for profit in any way.

Love/Sex Disclaimer: This story depicts a loving relationship between two consenting, adult women and contains scenes of intimacy, but nothing too explicit. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.

Author's Note: This is the third story in the Jamie and Erin series. You might want to start at the beginning with At First Sight and Seeing You Again for the First Time to get the full impact of this story.

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Chapter 7

Since it was Danielle's birthday, Timothy was treating them all to dinner at a place of his wife's choosing. She had shocked the stogie right out of his mouth when she picked a Tex Mex steakhouse instead of an upscale, expensive restaurant. After much cajoling, Danielle had finally talked her proper husband out of wearing his usual imported suit and tie. While shopping with Erin, she had gone into a men's shop and retuned with a respectable blue, sport shirt and a jacket, knowing he'd feel absolutely naked without it. Tim had looked at the off the rack items with puzzled gray eyes, but didn't have much time to argue as his wife began undressing him.

As she was straightening the shirt's collar over the jacket, there was a knock on the door. Tim continued to grumble about the missing tie as she crossed the room. "Are you afraid to expose your neck to the night air?" she asked as she opened the door.

Jamie let her wife step inside first. They had come prepared with the proper attire. Both wore jeans, Jamie's in black and Erin's brown. A simple button down, cotton shirt adorned the dark haired woman's long torso. The shirt was split in color with the right side being solid red and the left half being black. The author wore a soft blouse of forest green along with her new scarf.

"Hello girls," said Danielle. "Keep your father occupied for a few minutes while I change." Having reserved a large suite, she slipped inside the bedroom.

Tim absently scratched at the skin on his throat as he stepped over to the bar in the corner. "Would you girls care for a drink?" he asked, reaching for a small bottle.

"No Dad, we're fine."

Twisting the secured cap, the executive poured the amber liquor over a pair of icy cubes. "So, did you enjoy the day?" he asked innocently. "See any good sights?"

Blue eyes met green and small smiles were privately exchanged. "Yes, I saw some lovely things today," the rancher said, covertly winking at her flushing spouse.

"Wonderful. I'm glad you had a good time," he said before lifting the glass to his lips.

Danielle stepped back into the room, at that moment causing Tim to do a perfect spit take as his eyes landed on her attire. Fortunately, the spray of scotch missed Jamie's head.

"Danielle," he said, wiping his agape mouth with a bar towel, "you're wearing jeans!"

She looked down at her new pants. "Yes dear, that is what they're called." He had obviously seen her in slacks over the course of their courtship and marriage, but blue jeans had never been part of her wardrobe. "Why shouldn't I?" she asked. "Our daughters are."

"But they…"

A pointing finger whipped into the air right in front of his face. "Timothy David Casey, don't you dare say because they are young."

His graying whiskers bristled as those exact unsaid words caught in his throat. He cleared the stuffed passage with a rough cough before abruptly spitting out, "No! I was going to say…" he paused uneasily, "…they are used to doing so."

Erin winced and patted her burly father on the arm. "I think you need to work on those face saving techniques Daddy." She turned to the other woman who was just her size. "I think you look great Mom."

"Thank you dear."

Tim tugged on his own unfamiliar clothing again. "I just don't understand all this I guess."

Danielle busied herself, transferring her things from one purse to a newer more casual one. "Tim," she said, "I just thought a little change would be nice. Why do we always have to be so…" Danielle paused wanting desperately to say stuffy, but tactfully decided on another word. "…formal all the time. Jamie dear would you help me with this lovely necklace that you gave me for my birthday?"

As they busied themselves at the mirror, Tim motioned his daughter aside. "Can you explain to me what is wrong with your mother?" he asked. "She has been doing things like this for over a month. I never know what she is going to come up with next. One night a few weeks ago she didn't come home until 1:30 in the morning."

"Did she tell you where she was, what she was doing?"

"She was playing bridge with some new friends of hers, friends that I have yet to meet. Obviously they have been influencing this new attitude of hers."

Erin chuckled silently. "I really doubt that's the case Daddy. She was probably just having fun and wasn't paying attention to the time. I don't think you should jump to conclusions."

"Well, that's not all. Last week she wanted to go dancing, but I had had a very frustrating day and I was just too tired." Tim suddenly adopted an astonished expression as he finished the story. "But she went out with them anyway." A tiny flash of jealously then darkened his gray eyes. "I just want to know who she danced with."

"Daddy, you don't really believe she was doing anything wrong, do you?"

Tim blew a huff of air through pursed lips and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror across the room. He didn't like the look of jealousy he saw there. He also realized that those feelings really had nothing to do with her dancing partner. "No," he finally admitted. "I guess I just wish I knew what is going on with her."

"To tell you the truth Daddy, I have noticed some changes in Mom. But I don't think it is anything bad. It sounds to me like she is just spreading her wings a little. Think about this, today is Mom's fifty-fifth birthday. She got married when she was twenty. She's been Mrs. Tim Casey and mom for thirty-five years. She has spent all of her time and energy on us and I really think she's just beginning to discover herself, discover who Danielle really is inside. It's our turn to support her now."

* * * *

Timothy Casey saw the shine fading from his polished, black shoes as he walked across the hardwood floor, which was scattered with bits of straw and crushed peanut shells. Always accustomed to the best five star restaurants, where the staff catered to his wealth, Tim just didn't see the appeal of this barn like atmosphere. He wasn't really a snob, he had just gotten used to a certain lifestyle at an earlier age. "Don't they bother to sweep the floor?" he mumbled as he slipped his bulky form into the brown, cushioned booth. Danielle sat at his side and the ladies across from them. He gingerly touched the plastic coated menu and peered through his glasses at the spicy selections. "I don't suppose they have a wine list?" he asked.

Jamie bit back a smile at his awkwardness. She knew Erin was getting a real kick out of seeing her father's fish out of water impression…and she was too, although she would never disrespect the man by laughing. "I think beer is probably the hard beverage of choice around here," the rancher said.

Tim scratched at his neck again. "Well, I suppose that won't be too bad."

A few minutes later, a red headed waitress stepped up to their table and pulled a pencil from the pocket of the half apron she was wearing. "Hi. My name is Lacey," she twanged. "I'll be your server today. Can I get ya'll somthin' to drink to start off with?"

Tim nodded for his children to go first.

"We'll just have colas thanks," said Erin.

Danielle chuckled softly. "You're both over twenty one," she said, "you don't have to be afraid to get something stronger. I know I am."

Erin's smile was two fold. She was giddy over the reason why she didn't want a beer and because she was just loving her mother's sudden assertiveness. "That's not it Mom," she explained. "I just don't feel like having anything else right now." She felt the hand land on her knee under the table.

Jamie gave one of her usual minimal answers. "Me neither."

Thick steaks, peppered chicken and sizzling fajitas were slowly devoured in between topics of humor and wisdom. The totally relaxed atmosphere made for a surprisingly wonderful family evening, even though the accompanying electronic serenades from the likes of Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson may have been just a touch too loud.

As they waited before having dessert, Erin watched her mother as she watched the activities around them. It was almost as if she were a sponge soaking up the sights, afraid she might not see them again. But there was also just a hint of sadness or perhaps envy in those eyes. Danielle had lived a very comfortable, although somewhat sheltered life with all the material possessions she had ever wanted. She had fulfilled her hopes of motherhood with two beautiful daughters that she was very proud of. Her two lovely grandchildren filled her heart with joy and her many volunteering opportunities kept her busy…but still there was something missing.

Tim's cell suddenly rang and he stepped outside to take the business call. Danielle watched him go and threw a mild apologetic look to her children.

With her father gone, Erin took the opportunity to do a little exploring. "Mom, did you ever have a dream when you were younger?" she asked. "Something just for you, something you loved with a passion and expected to incorporate into your life."

The question took the older woman by surprise; no one had ever asked her that before. "I'm not sure I know what you mean Erin."

"Like my writing or Jamie's love of horses. Those things were ingrained on our souls from a very earlier age and we knew we needed to be involved with them to be satisfied."

"Those are your careers dear. I think it's a bit late for me to start thinking that way."

Jamie decided to join in the conversation. She certainly loved this woman like a mother and she too saw the emptiness in the older woman's demeanor of late. "Why?" she asked. "Mom, you are far from old. You are in excellent health and you have the time and resources. What's to stop you from doing something you love."

Erin smiled brightly. "Right. We just have to figure out what that something is."

The topic was put to a temporary rest when Tim returned. But the spark was definitely lit in Danielle's heart. And she did have some idea of what she wanted. But did she have the confidence to seriously pursue it.

Tim had returned from his short call, craving some something sweet. Erin and Jamie ordered something chocolate, only this time they had a few birthday candles added, knowing that Tim wouldn't have bothered with, as he called it, the silly tradition. Danielle easily extinguished the small flames and told a story of Erin's third birthday, which involved the precocious child and some pilfered icing. The birthday girl had snuck into the kitchen and had, not so neatly removed every bit of icing from her cake, a great deal of it ending up on her face. Refusing to be cleaned up when she had been discovered, Erin proceeded to blow out the three small candles, nearly turning blue in the face when she had taken such a huge breath. She then turned down the piece of naked confection that was cut just for her, but soon half a bowl of vanilla ice cream had joined the chocolate already on her face. Danielle had a way of spinning a humorous tale and had Tim laughing at the memories and Jamie vividly picturing the adorable scene. And wondering if their child would inherit their mother's mischievousness.

With her stomach more than full, the rancher sat back and took a deep breath. She slightly raised both arms and felt a satisfying crack in her back. One of those long appendages came to rest on the back of the booth behind Erin's head as Danielle launched into another story. As the tale continued, Jamie's hand unconsciously dropped to rest on her partner's shoulder and just as absently, Erin snuggled into the touch.

Some raucous chatter suddenly irrupted from a table somewhere behind them. "Hey Joe," a tall bearded man said, as his beer glass landed heavily on the table. "I didn't know the pervert train stopped here, did you?"

Erin and Jamie both stiffened at the sound of the raised voice, but Jamie didn't remove her hand; she refused to acknowledge his idiocy. The dark head gave just a little shake as her eyes dropped to her empty plate.

"Shoot no," the other man responded, "We're gonna have to do somethin' about that."

"Yeah, can't have our city corrupted."

It was a bad combination. A couple of good ole Texas boys with a bad ole case of phobia and an overdose of the house's special brew. Their humiliating mumbles continued, outraging, not only their intended targets, but the surrounding diners as well. Unfortunately, none of the other patrons had the courage to intervene.

Although Erin did her best to ignore the comments, Tim Casey could see the disappointment in his daughter's sad eyes. He cleared his gravely throat as stood to his imposing six foot two inch height, his disgust planted in the clenched jaw beneath the graying whiskers.



The chorus of protests from his family gently assailed his burning ears. He turned stormy gray eyes upon his wife. "I can handle this Dani," he said. The orbs softened just a touch when they landed on his blonde haired princess. "Don't worry sweetheart, I won't do anything foolish. You go on outside and call for a cab. I'll join you in a bit."

The author laid a hand on his coat sleeve. "We won't be chased away Daddy. We'll wait here for you and we will all leave together."

The tall executive pulled on the lapels of his jacket as he approached the obnoxious duo. He stopped at their table and sized up the pitiful excuses. "Do either of you have a problem with my daughter and her partner?" he growled.

The larger of the two took a long swallow of his golden brew and belched loudly before answering. "No," he said, "we don't have the problem, they do."

The other man gave an exaggerated tremble. "Are you gonna beat us up?" he asked with an irritating chuckle.

Flashes of the violence Tim had witnessed as a teen cause his fists to flex and churned his gut upside down. "No," he said, "that wouldn't really solve anything."

"Damn right." The red headed, self-proclaimed cowboy looked around Tim's body and his eyes landed on the back of a golden head. "But you know, we could solve your…daughter's problem. I always liked blondes," he said with a leer. "You know what they say is true, things do grow bigger here in Texas." He spoke loud enough to be sure she heard.

"Yeah," said the other one, "big enough to toss someone back over that fence, real quick."

Erin shuddered at the sickening suggestion and Jamie started to rise. "No!" the author said. That's all she needed to say. Jamie relaxed back into her seat and listened as the confrontation continued.

Tim placed a heavy hand on both of the Texans, squeezing the shoulders beneath his thick fingers. "You know," he said with a sneer, "one of these days, those attitudes and big mouths are going to get you boys in some real trouble. And on that day I just want you to remember my face and how lucky you are that I didn't do to you what I really wanted to do…because I promise you that no matter how bad that incident may be…mine would have been much worse." While pulling his hands away, he not so accidentally tipped both hats down over their eyes, and then dumped their remaining suds in their laps. "Oh, that's gonna be embarrassing when you leave here tonight," he said with a grin. As Tim turned and walked away, he got a short round of applause for his intervention as well as his restraint. A smile and a hug from his daughter followed.

As Tim escorted his family from the restaurant, a suited gentleman, whose agitation was evident in his down turned brows, approached them. He looked into each set of eyes as he spoke. "Sir, ladies, I am Thomas Hutton and this is my place. I am so sorry for the interruption of your meal. I had to step away or I would have taken care of the situation myself. I assure you I do not allow intolerance of any kind in my restaurant. Your meal is on the house and once again, accept my deepest apologies."

Erin spoke up. "We understand that you cannot always control the actions of your patrons and we do accept your apology."

He nodded gratefully. "Those…gentlemen will be banned from here. I only wish I could do more."

* * * *

Erin and Jamie somberly returned to their room at the hotel and silently undressed. A few affectionate kisses led them into bed where they just held tight to one another. They weren't subjected to that type of intolerant treatment very often, in fact it was very rare. But when it did happen, the slap on the soul still tended to sting and only the other's love would provide the soothing balm.

The small clock on the bedside ticked off the minutes in the other wise still room. A yawn or two escaped, but eyes remained open. Muscles shifted and crisp sheets rustled under the weight of the restless duo. Neither one was really sad or upset, but sleep just didn't seem to be arriving anytime soon. There just seemed to be a nagging tick of emotion that wouldn't release its grip.

A few lazy caresses brought a faint line of goose bumps as the long fingers of Jamie's right hand inched under the soft material of Erin's shirt. Warm skin rippled beneath the slightly callused hand and separate I love yous were spoken into the night air. A long torso turned silently and the digits suddenly wiggled wildly, breaking the quiet with squealing giggles. A very long and comforting tickle fest ensued as ribs, armpits, knees and feet were taunted mercilessly. No body part was left untouched.

A long day's weariness finally crept in and clothes were twisted and bed clothing was left askewed as two sets of lungs calmed in between leftover chuckles. It was just the thing to erase the earlier tension. A pair of bright grins illuminated the way as lips landed softly upon one another, yet again reinforcing the shield that protected them from the world's ills and reaffirming the love that was never ending.

* * * *

It was 2:13 in the morning. Erin knew that because she caught sight of the fluorescent numbers when her eyes snapped open at the muffled sounds coming from behind her. She turned and placed one arm and one leg over her partner, cooing into her ear. Jamie soon calmed and fell back into a deep and hopefully dreamless sleep. The author propped her head on one hand and studied the drawn lines in her wife's face. Nothing to talk about, huh? Erin knew there was so much to talk about and she knew just whom Jamie needed to talk to. Unfortunately, Dr. Webber, the psychologist they had been seeing, was away on family business. She had recommended another doctor in her absence, but Erin knew that Jamie wouldn't talk to a stranger about the issues at hand. Erin kissed her temple. "We'll work this out sweetie," she whispered. "We'll find a way."

* * * *

On Friday, Jamie, Erin and Danielle headed for the convention center where the horse auction was being held. Timothy had a day of meetings so Danielle had asked to join them. The event was one of the most prestigious in the country and Jamie felt confident that she would come away from the day with exactly what she wanted.

The three women traveled up and down row after row of stalls, studying the horseflesh on display. Jamie was sure she was boring the older woman to tears, but Danielle never complained as they milled through the crowds of men, women and children of all ages. There were 4H members, families looking for a gentle, easy ride for the kiddies, athletes looking for a good mount to train for barrel racing and farmers in need of working animals. Mules, donkeys, Clydesdales, Percherons and more were there to be bid on. There were even some adorable miniature horses, which delighted the wide-eyed children.

Currently the trio was looking at ponies of all breeds and sizes. "What exactly are you looking for dear?" Mrs. Casey asked.

"I need a stallion," said Jamie, "to breed with one of the horses back at the ranch. If I can find one with a good lineage and maybe a string of proven offspring, I can offer his stud services all over the country."

"I see," she mumbled, sidestepping an unfortunate accident on the floor. Danielle discretely rubbed a finger under her nose, but a complaint would never leave her lips. She just relished the time she was spending with her daughters.

Erin flipped through the yellow pamphlet in her hand. "The stallion auction doesn't start until 3:00," she explained. "That still gives us plenty of time to just look around and admire all the animals."

They turned the next corner and started down an aisle featuring broodmares, some with offspring and being sold together.

"You know, I haven't been on a horse since I was a little girl," Danielle said as she stopped to peer into a stall.

Jamie put an arm around her mother-in-law's shoulder and smiled. "That can be remedied Mom. Come on out to our place anytime and you can take your pick of any of our girls. Erin and I would love to show you some of our favorite spots. I should have invited you to go riding a long time ago."

"That's very sweet of you Jamie. And I just might take you up on that. I used to sit a horse quite well in my much younger years."

Jamie chuckled happily. "I believe you."

"Ohhh! Jamie come and look." Erin had bellowed from three stalls down. She had drifted ahead to give Jamie and her mother a little bonding moment.

The rancher recognized the tone in her wife's voice. What else are we going to be taking home, she wondered with a small smile. In just a few steps Jamie was towering over the petite blonde who was knelt down, rubbing the white nose of a young foal. Behind the baby was its mother, who watched the scene with a critical eye. The tri-colored paints were beautiful with smooth coats and bright eyes.

Erin looked up with a huge grin. She just couldn't resist babies of any species: human, canine or equine. "I want them," she said then took a quick glance beneath the small horse's back legs. "He's adorable and she's a proven breeder." The blonde stood and took Jamie's hand. "In a few years you'll have another fine stallion."

Jamie chuckled, put her arm around her happy partner's shoulder and gave her a little hug. "Hon, you don't have to convince me. If you want them, go for it." She paused before adding, "But let's get off this aisle before I have to build a whole new barn." The three laughed and quickly moved on.

At straight up noon they left for a bite of lunch at a café across the street. Returning an hour later, Jamie still had plenty of time to check out her best prospects for a breeding stallion. The couple, once again, asked Danielle if she wouldn't like to return to the hotel to rest or maybe go shopping. But she assured them that she wasn't the least bit tired and was finding the day enjoyable.

"Painting." Danielle had blurted out the odd statement as they had stopped to watch a mule being hooked up to a little cart. The half horse powered vehicle was providing rides for the children around a dirt-covered coral.

"What did you say Mom?" Erin asked as the scene before them brought a smile to her face.

"You asked me last night what my passion was. When I was in high school, an art teacher introduced me to painting and I loved it. She said I had a lot of talent. I even won several local competitions. I was all set to go to a prestigious art school in Chicago."

Erin turned her attention to her mother. "I never knew any of that. What happened?"

"I met a dashing young man that quickly swept me off my feet." She smiled which quickly saddened as she continued to speak. "My father said that I should marry as soon as possible and when I did that my place would be in the home, taking care of my husband and not running around a college campus studying that foolishness. I naively believed him. I threw out all of my art supplies and never thought about it again until you mentioned it last night."

"I can believe Grandpa had that kind of attitude, he always did. But to make you give up something you loved, that's terrible." Erin linked arms with her mother. "First thing when we get back home we're going to get you some new supplies and I'll bet you could also take some classes."

Danielle chuckled. "I don't think I would be comfortable doing that, but I really would like to start painting again." She sighed happily, as if a heavy weight had fallen from her shoulders. Something inside suddenly sprouted wings and her soul took flight at the thought of returning to her abandoned craft. She'd forgotten what joy and freedom she had felt with a brush in her hand, watching the colorful images take shape in front of her eyes. The empty space she had been recently trying so hard to fill now swelled with anticipation. Smiling, she fiercely hugged her daughter. "Thank you for this wonderful birthday present," she said with an emotional catch in her voice. "I don't know just how you knew what I needed when I didn't, but I'm so glad you did. I really admire your intuition and your incredible heart. You are going to be a wonderful mother."

Erin felt a little hitch in her breath. Talk about intuition. "I only hope I can live up to your example Mom."

* * * *

Five rows of stalls, totaling almost fifty horses waited the rancher's close inspection. She had done her research well and had found that a lot of owners were looking for not only a fine physical specimen with a good lineage, but they were also leaning more toward vivid coloration and not just brown on brown. Simeron, the horse she intended to breed first was snow white with black mane, tail and legs. A regal beauty.

Out of the first twenty horses, Jamie found one or two animals she might be interested in bidding on. She only intended to buy just one, but she wanted several choices in case she was outbid.

At the end stall of the third row, a small crowd had gathered to look at the lone occupant. The muscular horse inside stood 15 hands high. He repeatedly pawed at the straw covered cement appearing almost haughty as he thrust his backside to the viewing crowd, not allowing much of his face to show.

Jamie almost by passed it, but as the crowd dispersed, she stepped up and looked between the bars. Her breath caught at his magnificence. The three-year-old horse was a rich, caramel color with hints of gold highlights dispersed throughout his luxurious coat. The sheen from the jet-black mane, tail and fetlocks shimmered like a shadow on a dark night's rain covered pavement. The fancy wooden sign above his head stated his name as Cooper's Courage. Jamie felt the presence of her two companions appear at her side, but her eyes remained glued to the animal inside. The horse suddenly snorted and whinnied loudly. Turning within the confines of the wood and iron stall, he gently nudged Jamie's shoulder. Not fearing the gesture, Jamie chuckled softly and ran a hand down the dark strip on his velvet like nose. Erin gave a knowing smile and scratched the animal's neck.

Danielle stood by wide-eyed. "Well Jamie, seems as if you've found a friend. I guess you have your first choice."

The blue eyes flicked to the paper fixed to the stall door and took in the astonishing figures. "This is an incredible horse and I would surely love to have him," she said. With a sigh of resignation, she continued. "But I can't afford him. His bidding starts at 10,000. He will probably go for at least 14 or 15, maybe more." She continued to give the horse attention as she spoke. "Although the ranch is doing well, I don't have that much to spend right now." Jamie gave the animal one last pat and stepped back.

"Okay, I can understand that dear, but Erin…"

"Mom. Jamie keeps the ranch's finances separate from our personal ones. She wants to run the ranch on her own and I respect her wishes." Erin saw the look of disbelief in her mother's green eyes. "If there was an emergency," Erin continued, "of course I would help out, but this is a basic business decision."

Danielle looked to the tall rancher. Seeing the look of gentle pleading, she dropped the subject with a nod.

* * * *

At 2:40, the three of them found vacant seats in the second row and settled in for the two-hour event. Erin had already met with the owners of the mare and foal she wanted and offered him three thousand over his asking bid. He gladly accepted and they shook on the deal, leaving Erin quite happy with her purchase.

The crowd for this particular auction was surprisingly small, consisting of maybe one hundred people and Jamie felt more comfortable with her chances of actually getting the horse she wanted. Her choices were near the end of the list so they watched and waited as the event carried on in quick fashion. A typical fast-talking, Stetson wearing Texan severed as auctioneer, doing his best to drive up the bidding with comments about the specimens on display. Halfway through, Jamie realized that every horse was getting from between five hundred to a couple of thousand over starting price and that fit her budget perfectly. Finally, item number 475, a dapple gray with white mane and tail and blue eyes was led into the arena. The animal was pranced around and put through his paces with a variety of movements, showing off its fine muscle tone. Jamie flashed her card and opened the starting bid at 3,800 dollars. Within a minute it was upped to forty-four hundred and Jamie bid another fifty. A gray haired man sitting next to Danielle tipped his number making it forty-five hundred. A few more cards in the upper aisles were raised, but by the time the auctioneer yelled his last sold, Jamie was the proud owner of Dusty Moon, paying the respectable price of 4,900 dollars.

Erin knew her spouse was more than satisfied by the large smile on her face. Even though her business was concluded, the rancher wanted to stay until the very end, knowing that Cooper's Courage would be out last. She knew it was a little punishing, but she wanted to see what lucky person would end up with the wonderful animal.

When his turn finally came, the horse marched out with his head held high, showing off his prowess as he circled the arena. His clear, dark eyes surveyed the onlookers, just as the audience was judging him. Numbers were flashed through out the crowd faster than paparazzi at the Oscars, driving the price up to fourteen thousand dollars almost before Jamie had time to blink. She nearly got whiplash trying to keep up with all the bidders, but by the time 16,000 was called out, every card stilled and it was over. Jamie hunted through the sea of faces, but couldn't seem to locate the winner. She had a thought in the back of her mind that she might someday at least be able to purchase one of Cooper's offspring or use his stud service. But for now she lamented the missed opportunity and carried on with a smile.

Jamie, Erin and Danielle went back to Dusty Moon's appointed stall to complete the paper work and pay for her purchase. The rancher quickly wrote a check and she and Erin spent some time with her new horse. The tall woman ran her hands down the animal's legs. "What do think?" she asked her spouse, "will Simeron like her new boyfriend?" Jamie and Erin always anthropomorphized their animals. They were all part of the family.

Erin sized up the stallion with a critical green eye. Over the months she had learned well from the knowledgeable rancher just what to look for. "If I were a horse, I'd approve." Seeing the evil grin, Erin wagged a finger in her wife's direction. "That was not an opening for any smart remarks from you."

Jamie kept smiling and slowly advanced on her, long fingers wiggling in memory of their tickle fight of the night before. She was about to say something most wicked when Danielle returned from the restroom. "Oh, hi Mom," she spoke over Erin's shoulder.

The older woman tipped her blonde head, noticing the amused expressions on the younger faces. "Hello." Her eyes slipped from blue to green. "What's going on?" she asked.

Jamie patted the horse's muscular side to cover her silly antics. "Nothing, just visiting Dusty."

The very corners of Danielle's lips turned up knowingly. Oh to be so young and uninhibited. "I see," she said simply. "I called your father and he says we can't leave tonight because of bad weather. So he's rescheduled for tomorrow and he has already taken care of another night's stay at the hotel."

Jamie and Erin both stepped from the stall and Jamie secured the door's heavy latch. "Okay," said the author. "We're all through here." She looked to her wife and mother. "What should we do now?"

The dark haired woman's eyes absently drifted down toward the last stall as she listened to Erin. "I…uh…kinda wanted to find out who bought the other horse down there. Maybe I can make a business deal in the future." She scratched the back of her neck and scuffed the tip of her boot against the cement in an almost childlike manner.

Danielle rummaged around in her bag. "I can help you with that dear. I stopped and talked the officials while I was away."

Jamie perked up, shedding at least some of her disappointment. "Did you get the name?" she asked.

The older woman pulled something out and handed it to Jamie. "Here, this is the new owner of Cooper's Courage."

The rancher looked down at her hand, but instead of finding a piece of paper she saw her reflection in a small mirror. She looked back up in astonishment to find Danielle holding out the owner's certificate.

"All you have to do is sign," the older woman said.

"Mom, you didn't."

Danielle turned to her daughter. "Now you just hush Erin. This is a business transaction between myself and Ms. Sheridan." She moved her attention back to the rancher. "This is not a gift and not charity. If you agree, you will take physical ownership of the horse and utilize him in whatever way you see fit. We can draw up a contract if you so wish, stating that you will pay me back in yearly installments. I believe you mentioned that his stud service price tag would be quite high."

Jamie was still dumbfounded. "Uh, yeah. I could probably get a thousand dollars per. Not to mention selling the offspring that is born on the ranch, but…"

The older woman held out a hand. "Is it a deal then?"

Jamie caught Erin's twinkling eyes, the tiny smile and nod. She then met Danielle's piercing gaze once again. "It's a deal," she said happily. It was sealed with a shake then all the business façade was dropped for a group hug.

More to come soon.

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