A year later...
Grandma Ellie’s roses were in full bloom, and June burst in a riot of colors across the fields of Allison’s Farm. It was very much like the day a boy from Detroit had stepped onto the porch, and the one when a man from the West had walked into Allison’s barn. The memory of both days would forever remain stored in her heart, as would many others in the past years, but none would match the joy in her life today.
As she walked towards the pasture, Gypsy ran around barking and the cats sprang to the top of the fence posts. The commotion brought the horses to the gate. Inquisitive as ever, they crowded close to see what Allison carried in her arms. When she stood at the fence, Melody nickered and snuffled at the pink blanket wrapped bundle.
Sarah Ellen McBride, named for her great-grandmothers, stirred and flung out a tiny fist to bump the old broodmare’s nose. Melody didn’t budge but breathed softly on the tiny girl’s dark fluff of hair.
“Do you think Melody knows it’s a baby?” Lizzie climbed on the fence while Mystri and the fillies Starlight and Stardust moved in for a look-see.
“She had many babies herself. I’m sure she does.” Allison held her week old daughter up to meet the residents of the pasture, much as she had done with Lizzie ten years ago.
“Will you like horses, Sarah?” Lizzie put out a finger for the baby to grasp. “I’ll let you have my pony. I’m getting a little too big to ride Cayenne.”
“I think she’ll love him just as you do.” Allison tucked the baby back in the curve of her arm. “How do you feel about having a sister?”
Lizzie shrugged but managed a close-mouthed smile that hid her new braces. “She’s okay. Except when she cries at night.”
“You did, too. She’ll grow out of it.”
As if she’d heard the word, Sarah Ellen started to fuss loudly.
“Hey, is this gathering for girls only or can a guy join the party?” Shane came up behind them and peeked over Allison’s shoulder at the little face working up to a good cry.
“We’re introducing her,” Lizzie said. “And it looks like the girls are more interested than the boys.” She motioned to Tank, Pride, Major and Duncan who had moved away when the bundle made noise.
“I think they feel outnumbered.” He touched Sarah’s scrunched up nose. She stopped fussing and fixed deep blue eyes on her father.
Allison glanced up at him. “Do you? Feel outnumbered?”
“Only most of the time.” He winked at her and followed them up to the house.
While they went inside, Shane paused to look out toward the old orchard and the woods beyond. It was a day very much like this one when he’d stepped down from the bus and come looking for a job…and met a girl named Allison Tyler. Some days it still seemed hard to believe he’d come back to Michigan, and that he and Allison were together. It seemed even more amazing they now had two daughters. Life had a funny way of working out sometimes, but in this case, he liked to think Pop and Ellie Tyler would approve.
Later that night, while lying in bed upstairs in the old farmhouse, he told Allison what he’d heard in Jackson’s General that day. A farmer forty miles north had reported seeing something strange on his land. Something he said looked very much like a large cat.
“It’s possible it could return here,” he added. “They have a wide range.”
She tucked Sarah into her bassinet and climbed into bed to snuggle beside him. “I don’t think so. I think it’s old and time is short. I hope he just wanders off into the woods somewhere and fades away.”
“There’s no certainty of that.”
She sighed. “Life is a long list of uncertainties. We just have to learn to live with them. But I know the certainties we do have.”
A deep sense of contentment filled Shane’s heart when Allison curled up against his side and hugged him. “Yeah? What’s that?”
“Our love and the family we’ve made.”
He kissed the top of her head.
It was all either of them had ever really wanted.