She harnessed the Percherons with deft hands just as she had done a hundred times before. Leading them from the warm barn Cindy sucked in a breath of the cold winter air. She looked to the skies as large flakes swam around her. It will make for a beautiful sleigh ride, she thought. Hitching the two horses to the shaft of the antique reproduction she tried hard to ignore the four couples waiting to crowd into the sleigh and snuggle beneath the bear fur lap robes. As she swung up to the driver’s bench and hunkered down into her fleece coat, the guests pulled themselves into the sleigh. And then she called out a command.
She listened to the romantic banter behind her and a wry smile crossed her lips. Cindy had never been content to let her heart fall for just anyone. She had built a wall of high standards. She sighed as she reflected. Seeing so many of her friends tumble into relationships only to fall back out of them with a hard thump had made her more than cautious.
She ran through her mental list as the clop of the horses’ hooves set a steady rhythm. Their gait was punctuated by the soft jingle of the harness bells and the laughter and conversation from her guests.
He had to be a man of integrity, someone who loved horses—maybe someone in the industry. She really didn’t care about financial success. She almost snorted at that thought. She wouldn’t be in the horse industry if she did. But she did want a man who wasn’t afraid to work hard and who didn’t have issues with her working just as hard in a job that wasn’t always the safest.
Cindy looked at the rolling backs of her two Percherons. Dolly and Sally. Those dinner plate hooves could land quite a punch if the mares wanted to deliver one. But she loved them and they’d always been good for her. She wanted a man who understood that. And it wouldn’t hurt if he was tall and cute either. She sighed then as another burst of laughter erupted from the sleigh’s occupants. She had no doubt that her high standards were the reason why she would likely spend another Christmas alone.
Clucking her tongue, Cindy urged the team into their bone-jarring trot and allowed the sleigh to whisper along the trail through the falling lace curtain of snow. The hour passed and she drew the team up alongside the barn to a chorus of cheers and applause. Another batch of satisfied customers, she thought as she waited for them to climb from their warm perches.
Across the barnyard two men stood and watched. She smiled and lifted her hand in a salute to them. Her boss, Avery Carrie and his son, Clinton. Avery owned the business but he had spoken of retirement. He treated Cindy like a daughter. Clinton was taller than Avery but had the same square-hinged jaw. He had been visiting the ranch often over the past year and she couldn’t help but admire the way he dove into the daily routine whenever he did show up. She smiled again at the not-so-subtle hint Avery had thrown her way a few months back—that she and Clinton would make a nice couple. All fine and well, but she wasn’t into begging for a man. And she got the impression that Clinton would decide for himself who he would ‘connect with’.
The two men waited until the couples had slipped into their vehicles before they approached Cindy. She continued to remain on her bench, reins held in gloved hands.
“Where’s the next batch of guests, Avery?”
The old man wore an innocent smile but his eyes held mischief. “I put it off for an hour. Do you mind taking me and Clinton for a tour? It’s been a long time, and I just think we’d enjoy it.”
She nodded as a strange feeling passed through her stomach. It wasn’t the first time he’d tried to put her close to Clinton. Did she really mind? Her standards flitted through her mind and she pushed them away, not wanting to compare them with the man who was now watching her with thoughtful eyes.
They laughed and chatted through the hour’s ride and she enjoyed the body warmth that came with having a man parked on either side of her. And then it was over and she felt a strange emptiness when the two stepped off the sleigh. Avery waved his thanks and began his peculiar hitched-step across the barnyard but Clinton lingered.
He reached over and rested a hand on Dolly’s hip, stroking the thick fur of the closest Percheron and Cindy could see that he clearly liked the animal. Turning to her, he spoke and she shivered at the rich tones of his soft voice.
“Next week is Christmas. Do you have any plans?”
Cindy shook her head. She could just imagine what was coming next. My dad wants you to come for dinner. It would be just like Avery—and Clinton was far too polite to complain. The thought suddenly hit her that what she had hoped for in a man—the list of standards she had piled to the roof of her mind—now stood before her. That realization sucked the wind from her and she sat there in the gaping silence. And then his deep voice filled the air once again.
“I haven’t asked Dad yet, but I’d like you to come have dinner with us. I think he’d be thrilled. I know I would.” Deep green eyes stared up at her and for the first time Cindy saw what she had, for so long, hoped for. This holiday season would not be spent alone. This year she would get her Christmas wish and share the day with the man of her dreams.
About the Author: Donna Dawson is a creative writing instructor at a local college in Ontario, Canada and an award winning writer. She writes romance, mystery, suspense and thriller novels. Her books Fires of Fury (Awe-struck books), Redeemed, The Adam & Eve Project and Vengeance (Word Alive Press) can be found at http://www.authordonnadawson.com