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Ross 03 Leave Me Breathless(55)

By:Cherrie Lynn

Her gaze swung up to meet his. “You always know the right thing to say, Dad.”

He grinned the grin her mom professed still made her heart go pitter-pat. “Could be. Or it could be that I have a stubborn mule of a daughter who takes after her old man.”

It was so much like old times, she could almost imagine her gaggle of rodeo friends hanging out around the fence. Country music blaring from Jared’s truck. Jared beaming at her, cheering her on. He’d usually been the one timing her. Now it was just her and her dad, and there was no admiring crowd. It was somehow far sweeter this way, and she knew she would remember it forever.

She only wished Seth could see her. Wondered if he’d be proud, or if he’d even care.

Pixie, her palomino quarter horse, pranced underneath her, and Macy gave her a consolatory pat. “I know how you feel, girl.”

“Ready?” Her dad didn’t have a stopwatch; he’d told her to take it easy to start, no serious speed. Good advice. Having been out of the game for years, she wasn’t conditioned. Yes, true to her dad’s earlier speech, that irritated the hell out of her, and she vowed to start working on that as soon as she could. At least Pixie could bail her out a bit. The horse’s previous owner had been a racer, and Macy’s dad had bought her only a few months ago. So she knew the cloverleaf pattern well, and Macy had already walked her through it a few times.

Inhale. Blow out slowly. Her horse wasn’t the only thing about to be galloping; her heart was too. She narrowed her gaze on the barrel to her right, her first target. There were no traumatic memories of the event to assail her, at least. As she’d told Seth, she didn’t remember a thing. No flying through the air, no bone-crunching impact. Her dad probably had worse images in his head right now than she did. If he could face those head-on like this, so could she.

“Remember, take her easy, now.”

“Yes, sir.”


She almost didn’t. Almost dismounted and said, “Some other time.” Knowing she’d be proving right everyone in her life was all that made her shoot ahead. Seth telling her she was afraid. Dad telling her she was too much of a perfectionist. Candace telling her she was a control freak.

She rounded the first barrel. That one’s for you, Candace, you freaking little free spirit, I guess you were right after all.

Then the second, her dad hollering at her to swing a little wider. She made the turn, careful to follow his instruction lest she knock it over. Something she’d done before, because she didn’t like to listen. See, Dad, I’m not that stubborn, not anymore.

She knew the third was where she’d lost it before. Apparently a video existed of the whole thing, but she’d never allowed herself to watch it. Probably for the best. As Pixie kicked up dust whipping her big body around the last barrel, Macy couldn’t help but grin. Her favorite part was the mad dash to the finish. Maybe the anticipation of it had made her sloppy and that was how she’d ended up eating dirt and flirting with lifelong paralysis.

The wind in her face, Pixie’s frantic hoofbeats jarring her bones…it was cleansing. The guilt over what had happened to her beloved Sugar had weighed on her for years, another reason she’d never thought she would race again. But Pixie was bred to do this, trained to do it. After going through it with her, Macy couldn’t wait to unleash her full potential. The horse overcompensated for her name in size, but she could damn sure fly. She rode like a dream.

When she pulled back on the reins and wheeled Pixie around, grinning at her dad, she felt reborn. All from running a pattern so familiar it was practically ingrained in her. She’d missed it. God, she’d known that she missed it, but she hadn’t even realized how much until that moment.

Her dad didn’t make a big deal about it. No running up and hugging or fawning all over her. His cool acceptance told her he’d always known this day would come. Congratulations weren’t necessary, because she should have taken this step as soon as the doctor gave her the okay to return to riding with his one simple admonishment: “If it hurts, stop.”

It hadn’t hurt. It had felt damn spectacular, and she was damn lucky. She would take advantage of that, not live a sham of a life.

“Thanks, Dad,” she said later as she helped him with brushing. He glanced at her over Pixie’s golden back, his expression as unreadable as usual. It was only because she knew him so well that she knew he had something to say.

He shrugged. “I didn’t do anything.”

“Well, you might think you didn’t, but you did. Thanks for, you know, my life, for everything. After what happened, you probably thought I was ungrateful for all the things you’ve done for me, but I never was.”

“I never thought that.” He gave Pixie a pat. “You know, when I saw the way you hit the ground…I almost hit the ground too. And all I could think about was holding you on Prancer for the first time when you were barely big enough to walk, how your eyes lit up. I thought of that a lot in the weeks afterward. You always had that spark. After your accident, though, it went out.”

“I know,” she said quietly.

“But I never had any regrets, Macy, and I wouldn’t have, no matter what that doctor said when he first came out of your operating room. Because that spark was beautiful and something a lot of people never have no matter how long they live or how many miles they walk.”

“I’m sorry if I let you down.”

“Let me down? Not at all. I don’t think I was ever prouder of you for the way you fought your way back. Hell, if you never wanted to look at another horse again, I wouldn’t have blamed you. I might not have liked it, but I would’ve understood.”

He probably didn’t realize how close she’d been to that extreme at first. She’d practically forced herself back in the saddle. Little by little, it had gotten better. Baby steps, she realized. She’d been taking them even back then. She’d only thought she’d toddled as far as she could. No more of that. She was ready to get up and walk boldly. No, run.

“You’ve got it back, you know,” her dad said, gesturing at her without really looking up from his task.


“You’re lit up.”

“I don’t feel very lit up,” she laughed, though for some reason his words made her beam. Hell, maybe he was right.

“Not just today, either. Yeah, you’ve been kind of grumping around the place for a few days, but overall something has brightened you up. Is it Jared?”

All at once, her bright shiny mood shifted dangerously toward crashing. “No, Dad. It’s not Jared. I hate to burst your bubble, but it won’t ever be Jared.”

“Well, then, I figure it must be someone. So out with it.”

“I’m in love.”

“No shit.”

“Dad! I just…I don’t know.”

“You just said you were in love. So what the hell is there not to know?”

“I’m going to go ahead and risk your coronary and get it over with. You know the comedic trope where the well-to-do daughter gets mad at her parents for one reason or another and hires a guy totally inappropriate for her to bring home and pose as her serious boyfriend or fiancé to get back at them?”

“I’m somewhat familiar.”

“Let’s just say if you meet him, you’ll probably be asking yourself what you’ve ever done to me. He’s Brian Ross’s best friend, if that tells you anything. They work together.”

“Tattoo artist, huh? You’ve said Brian is a good guy, right?”

“He is. He’s great.”

“Well, look, kid. I know you have a good head on your shoulders. I know you wouldn’t do anything stupid, and you wouldn’t settle for some idiot punk. I trust your judgment.”

“Thanks, Daddy. I guess after everything Candace went through—”

“Candace’s parents are assholes. They’re worried about who’s good enough for their little princess. But I trust that I raised a strong enough woman to know who’s worthy of her and who isn’t. If this guy is good enough for you, and he’s the one who has you floating around on cloud nine and giving you back your spark, you can be damn sure he’s good enough for me.”

Idly, Macy ran the brush over Pixie’s coat, her mind miles away.

“And someone worth keeping around,” her dad added. “Just in case a certain stubborn mule-headed woman keeps pushing the poor guy away.”

“Oh, Dad.”

“Am I wrong?”

“You’re not wrong. You just don’t know everything about the situation.”

“I don’t have to.” He stood up straight, his gaze direct and steady on her. “Whatever’s wrong, you know if it’s worth fixing or not. If it is, then fix it. If not, leave it alone and move on. If I raised you to be strong, then that means I didn’t teach you to sit around and wait on life and happiness to happen to you. You go after it, Macy.”

And if something is standing in your way, you go through it.

Right. You go through it. Her dad didn’t say the words, but he had before. Many, many times.

She wondered how this man had allowed her to lie down for so long. Maybe it was only because he knew this was a point she needed to get back to mostly by herself. Maybe he knew her well enough to realize all she needed to get back to her fighting spirit was something worth fighting for. “You know, it’s good to get your speeches again.”