As Kelsey pulled into the driveway of her trainer's barn her eyes were drawn to the lone rider out on the loping track. Little more than a glorified circle of sand in the front lawn, it provided an excellent area for training a horse. Kelsey didn’t need to see the rider’s features to recognize Finn, the assistant trainer at his sister’s barn. His lengthy body moved as one with the horse. His long legs hung, heels down and quiet, along the horse's sides. He rode one handed, competently guiding the loping horse around the path. She waved at him. He threw her a casual wave and even at a distance she could see a flash of white teeth as he smiled.
She’d known Finn forever. When she’d first met him he was a gawky twelve-year-old. At that time his parents still owned the barn and he spent nearly every waking moment here. Now that his sister owned the barn and he worked for her the amount of time he spent here hadn’t changed, but Finn had. He’d grown up.
Kelsey parked her truck and trailer in an area alongside the outdoor arena. Stepping from the truck, she shivered. It seemed colder now than when she’d loaded her gelding into the trailer. Her eyes wandered to where Finn, his blond hair blowing in the wind, continued to lope big circles on a leggy chestnut horse. She shook her head in disbelief. The fool wasn't smart enough to wear a hat or gloves. Even though the weather forecast claimed normal highs today, mid-March in Minnesota wasn’t warm. She figured she'd be smarter than Finn and ride in the heated indoor arena.
After tacking up her gelding she had a few minutes until her lesson with Erin, so she wandered over to watch Finn ride. She side stepped a pile of snow that remained alongside the driveway and walked across the brown grass. Tiny hints of green dappled the lawn where brave blades of grass had started to grow. She leaned on the fence that ran the length of one of the sides of the loping track. In the distance chisel plowed fields of brown wore shrinking snow caps.
She pulled her hat lower over her ears and tucked her hands into the warm pockets of her fleece pullover. Kelsey watched Finn push the horse from slow lope to a fast gallop using only a slight shift of his body weight to cue the sensitive horse into the transitions. The horse’s breathing increased coming out in giant puffs that sounded across the crisp air.
Kelsey stood and watched Finn ride for several minutes. He seemed focused on the horse, and Kelsey thought Erin would be proud of her brother for keeping his attention on his job. Erin typically gave Finn a hard time for losing his concentration when Kelsey was around.
She smiled though because just as she had that though Finn started showing off like a little kid. He aimed the horse straight for her and urged it into an even faster gallop. She remained standing at the fence because she knew what was coming, but a person with lesser faith may have given ground. Finn shifted his weight and asked for a stop. The chestnut rounded up his back and dug his hind feet into the sand sliding along on specialized plated shoes as its front feet pedaled across the ground. The horse stopped close enough that Kelsey could’ve extended a finger and touched its nose. The horses warm breath dampened her face and steam rose from its heated neck. Finn let the horse settle a minute then he backed him a few feet before dismounting.
"Hey," he gave her one of his famous, infectious smiles and headed her way with a lazy long legged walk. Finn never hurried. His relaxed pace caused him to catch lots of trouble from his sister, but in a crisis his calm, cool, and efficient attitude served him well. Kelsey often though Erin didn't give him enough credit.
Finn knew that Kelsey was scheduled to come ride today with Erin. He’d automatically chosen to ride outside so that he could see her when she arrived. He had spotted Kelsey’s rig the second she’d pulled into the driveway. She had waved. He had waved. Everything casual, but he couldn’t help the way his pulse had kicked up a notch.
He lived for the moments she spent at the barn. He’d loved her from the minute he saw her riding with his sister, Erin. She’d been a part of their lives for eight years now. During that time he’d moved out of adolescence, but his feelings for Kelsey had never changed.
He watched her stroll towards the fence and lean on it watching him. He fought down the urge to do something stupid. His older sister Erin told him that he was destined to make a fool over himself when Kelsey was around. He didn’t see it that way, but sometimes when he felt invincible when she was around.
Now she stood in front of him. A tiny little thing, she barely stood over five feet tall. He often felt like he dwarfed her. Her mop of soft brown hair was hidden underneath a pink fleece hat. Her rich dark eyes always seem to be able to see deep inside him. Her smile when she responded made his heart stutter a step.
"Hey back. What are you doing outside?"
He shrugged and gave a small shiver for dramatic effect. "Seemed like a good idea at the time. Erin's got riders in the indoor."
"You're not even wearing gloves!" Kelsey pulled her hands out of her warm pockets and wrapped them around his solid hands. Finn had a nice pair of hands with long strong fingers and neatly trimmed nails. They felt as cold and solid as ice.
He looked surprised at her gesture and shrugged good-naturedly. "I'm heading in anyway. Gotta get another horse. I think you're the only one riding with Erin next so I'll probably come join the two of you." While his words conveyed the desire to move on, her hands still clutched his. She realized looking down at his hands that he wouldn’t pull away from her.
Finn stared down at her. She gazed at their joined hands for a second longer and then turned her enormous brown eyes upon him. He just wanted to wrap his arms around her and carry her away with him. Kelsey rarely went out of her way to touch him. He suspected she refrained from touching him for fear of encouraging his infatuation, as she and Erin called it. He didn’t think his infatuation would ever be cured.
They stood there for a moment, drinking in each other's features before Kelsey realized she was still holding on to him. Embarrassed, she lifted her hands and turned away. She didn't know why she'd felt compelled to touch him. She could still feel the imprint of his big hands in hers. She suspected that he still carried a torch for her. He’d had a crush on her for years. She'd always been flattered by his attention, but lately she was ashamed to admit that the attention he gave thrilled her. She felt guilty for even looking at him. He was still a baby…twenty to her twenty eight.
Kelsey and her gelding both worked up a sweat during the hour she spent riding with Erin. They had a lot to work on if they were going to be ready for their first show of the season in a couple weeks. During the time she was in the arena Finn had brought in and warmed up a horse for Erin. While they were both riding she’d caught him watching her in the long mirrors that adorned two sides of the arena. The mirrors helped a person critique their own riding as well as others.
Sadly noting that Finn watched her forced her to realize she was watching him too. Finn lost all his gawkiness he carried on the ground the minute he stepped into the saddle. His timing in his corrections he gave the horses was phenomenal, and he didn’t get easily frustrated. As always his sense of humor was forefront as he teased both her and Erin.
Finn swapped horses with Erin letting her put the finishing touches on the one he warmed up while he went back for another horse. Finished with the lesson now Kelsey sat on her horse in the center of the ring letting him catch their breath and relax. Finn who’d taken the other horse out returned a few later with a two year old that had recently come in for training. Erin grinned when she saw the horse Finn led in. She rode over and parked her horse next to Kelsey.
Erin knew that when Kelsey was around Finn would do anything to show off for her. Any advice Erin would give him would go unheeded. "Watch this. He’s going to ignore me." Erin said quietly to Kelsey.
She turned her attention to her brother just as he was about to step into the saddle. "Finn, I think you should lunge that horse first."
Finn shook his head and called out. "He'll be fine."
Finn’s response amused and worried her. She’d seen that colt buck like few others. They weren’t in the habit of cowboying the horses they started, but this colt was difficult. “Don’t you remember the last time you rode him?”
“He’ll be fine,” Finn once again reassured his sister. Finn stepped into the saddle and seated himself gingerly on the colt’s back. The gelding spurted forward in a rush, but Finn flexed him in a circle and then again in the opposite direction, keeping the colt’s body bent and his feet moving.
"He's going to get bucked off," Erin said.
“Why isn’t he lunging him?” Kelsey watched in horrified interest. Finn’s specialty was starting the colts that Erin later put the finesse on. Finn could stick to just about anything, but sometimes he let the impulsiveness of youth shadow his judgment.
Erin raised her eyebrows and looked pointedly at Kelsey. "He's showing off for you," Erin said.
That would be so like Finn to be showing off, clowning around, and then have something stupid happen. Kelsey had seen it happen numerous times before over the past eight years. Occasionally she could find humor in it as Erin did, but time to time it made her nervous to think she was responsible for his safety.
Finn seemed to make progress with the colt. The horse relaxed enough that Finn turned him out of the circles and started to walk loosely around the arena. After a few minutes of this, Finn asked the horse to move along into a trot. The horse scooted forward, scared himself, and bolted forward. Finn reined him in sharply. The colt sat back, half reared, and slammed its head snapped down between his knees and started bucking. Its rear feet pitched skyward. With each leap the colt grunted and squealed. Finn hung in there for a few big bucks that rivaled any rodeo horse she’d seen. Suddenly the horse tripped and went down onto its knees before leaping up again still bucking. Finn lost his balance when the horse tripped and came lose when the horse leaped up. Finn rolled out of the horse’s way. He didn’t stay down for long but bounded to his feet.
The frightened colt ran around the arena a couple times before heading towards the safety and comfort Erin and Kelsey’s horse provided. Erin caught up the horse’s dragging reins. Erin looked her red faced brother up and down. Erin wasn't angry. She was glad her brother was okay, but she really wished he'd use his brain when Kelsey was around. They had a business to run. “Start over. Sack him out. Lunge him and then ride him. You’ve set him back almost a week with that stunt.”
Finn looked ready to argue, but then took the reins from her and drug the colt away. Erin shook her head. “He does stupid stuff when you're around. Why are you here?" She teased Kelsey.
Kelsey cooled down Levi and purposely found another horse to ride for Erin so she could keep an eye on Finn as he worked with the two year old. After his sister’s reprimanding Finn took his time with the colt and paid little attention to Kelsey. After Kelsey finished riding and putting away the horse she’d ridden she found Finn saddling yet another horse.
“Are you okay?” she asked. He didn’t look any worse for wear after his spill except the dusty spot on his jeans and the bruise across the top of his hand where he must’ve clipped it coming down.
Finn glanced up at her from where he adjusted a girth. He felt completely foolish after getting bucked off the colt.He didn’t feel ready to face her yet. Erin had made it worse by chastising him in front of her, but what made him feel horribly ashamed was that he knew what he should’ve done. Instead he’d rushed the colt and paid a dear price.
She looked adorable with her jeans pooling around black ostrich quill boots. She’d discarded her matching pink fleece hat and jacket and wore a puffy blue vest over a heavy, gray wool sweater. Her clothes effectively hid the curves that he knew were there. She had a worried expression on her face as she looked him up and down.
“I’m fine. I just damaged my pride a bit.” He assured her.He knew she worried about him as Erin’s little brother. She didn’t see him as anything but the little boy that tagged along behind them, but he desperately wanted to change her opinion of him.
“For a moment I was worried.”
Her interest made his sore hip ache less. “I’m tough.”
“Yes, I know. Stay out of trouble, okay?” She made a swipe at the dirt on his cheek and then turned and walked to the door. Finn watched her go. She was as pretty leaving as she was coming.