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Laurel was ready to be home. It had been a long but rewarding week getting the latest grant recipient for the Calico Foundation up and running on the financial side. The mobile medical clinic initiative was going to make a big difference to a lot of rural Tennessee communities. She loved knowing the work she did made a positive impact on people, but she always missed her family when she traveled.
Her spirits lifted at the sight of the farm entrance flanked by the red maple trees they’d planted when they bought the place all those years ago. Their leaves blazed a gorgeous scarlet, a bright contrast to the pale blue sky. She turned into the drive, rolling past the split-rail fence that bordered either side. The house came into view, still that same beautiful blue gray Sebastian had surprised her with the day he’d proposed. The lines of it were softened now by a profusion of greenery and flowers she’d planted and tended. The stressed-out law student she’d once been would never have dreamed she’d find time to garden, let alone that she’d enjoy it. Turned out she liked getting her hands in the dirt, a fact which still entertained her farmer brother.
She parked in front of the house and stepped out, soaking in the comfort of home. Toys were scattered across the porch and in the yard, proving that Summer was out and about somewhere—most likely down at the barn with her daddy. Mr. Rochester perched upon the porch rail, tail swishing at the sight of her. Laurel paused to scratch the old tom behind the ears before going in search of her husband.
There were a couple of new folks who’d come in for the therapy program this week. Laurel could see them in one of the newer paddocks with Felicity. As there was no tiny human observing the proceedings from her favorite perch on Daddy’s shoulders, Laurel headed for the barn. But she didn’t find Sebastian and Summer there, either.
Sariah Hitchens, a former Marine who’d graduated from Sebastian’s program a couple years back and still came out to help, peeked out from where she was grooming one of the horses in the crossties. “Hey! You’re back early.”
“I managed to wrap things up yesterday and set out at the crack of dawn this morning. Any idea where my other half is?”
“He and Tiny are out in the rear training pens, I think.”
Heading out the rear of the barn, Laurel took the dirt path through the trees to the smaller training pens they’d built with a little more privacy in mind for individual work with the rescues. Her breath caught as she cleared the trees. There was her daughter in the center of the pen, straight black hair falling down her back as one tiny hand reached up toward a massive gelding who could squash her with a thought. Laurel’s first instinct was to rush forward and scoop Summer up, but she held still as she spotted Sebastian off to one side. He wouldn’t do anything to put their baby in danger, and should anything go wrong, he was closer.
It took only a minute to see that Summer had the same gift with horses as her daddy. The gelding lowered his head, gently bumping his nose against Summer’s chest, making her giggle. She stroked little hands down his cheek, murmuring in a high, quiet voice. The gelding’s tail swished, but otherwise, he held completely still for her attentions.
“It’s a helluva thing to see, isn’t it?”
Laurel jolted at Sebastian’s low whisper behind her. The man still walked like a frigging cat. “I’d say so. I see why you waited until I was gone to do this. I never would have thought she’d be ready at four.”
His hands slid around her waist, tugging her back against his body. “Pretty sure she’s been communing with them from the moment we brought her into a barn as an infant.” He raised his voice enough that Summer could hear. “Good job, Baby. Now why don’t you lead him around the ring?”
Summer snapped a lead rope onto the gelding’s halter and gave a little tug until he began to plod after her.
Sebastian tightened his hold, dipping his head to press a nibbling kiss to the side of Laurel’s neck. “Missed you. You’re back early.”
She lifted a hand, combing it into his thick hair. “I am, and I missed you, too, but don’t think I’m not onto you. Is there something you want to tell me?”
“That I love you.”
“I have no idea what you mean.” His innocent act wasn’t fooling her for a moment.
“Sebastian, that’s a new horse. And not one of the rescues.” She turned in his arms, fixing him with a stern look. “Where did he come from?”
“A stock auction. I didn’t go planning to buy anything, but Summer saw him and fell in love and… well, I couldn’t say no.”
“Honey, this is not like buying her an ice cream on impulse. It’s a horse.”
“Which we are well equipped to house and handle.”
Laurel glanced back at the ring where the gelding continued to follow their daughter. She sighed. “She’s got you wrapped around her little finger.”
“Yes. Yes, she does. But then again, so does her mama. Welcome home.” Sebastian captured her mouth in a fleeting kiss that made all kinds of promises about the welcome she’d get later that night after Summer was put to bed.
Laurel hummed in approval. “You are a wicked, wicked man.”
“You like me that way.”
“Mama! You’re home!” Summer handed off the lead rope to Sebastian and scrambled through the fence rails to throw her arms around Laurel’s thighs.
Laurel scooped her up and squeezed, delighting in the smell of her bubblegum shampoo. “Hey, baby girl. Missed you to pieces. Were you good for Daddy?”
“Uh huh. Did you see my new friend?” Her hazel eyes were bright as she grinned in delight.
“I sure did. Have you picked out a name yet?”
“Lucky, ’cause he’s lucky we found him.”
“I’d say that’s absolutely true.” And as she met Sebastian’s gaze, she reflected that everything about this beautiful life they were living was because they’d been lucky enough to find each other. She’d never stop being grateful for that.
Man, these two are cute! Can’t get enough.