They arrived a short while later. Andi rode towards the livery stable and Melinda towards the hotel. At her call, Cory walked out to her.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. Andi explained.
“Did you know that Melinda is courting your cousin?”
Cory grinned. “Yeah, Marcus told us at dinner last night. I thought something like that was going to happen.”
Andi slipped off of Taffy and led her over to a watering trough. She looked at Cory with a worried expression. “Do you know your cousin well?” she asked suddenly.
Cory frowned thoughtfully. “Yes. Why ask?”
Andi sighed. “Well, with all the other admirers that Melinda has had, it seems as if they all turn out bad. Take Jeffery Sullivan for an example.”
Cory snorted with disgust. “I’d prefer not to think about him at all. I have yet to meet a worse sneak then him.”
Andi nodded, but brought the conversation around to her point again. “I just want to know if Marcus might treat my sister’s affections like that.”
Cory’s eyes widened when he realized what she was saying. “Oh NO! Marcus would never treat your sister like that! He’s completely sincere regarding his feelings towards your sister!” Cory’s shocked face was enough of an answer for Andi, a look of relief passed over her features.
“I’m glad. I hope I can meet him face to face soon, I’d like to know if I’ll like him.”
Cory grinned mischievously. “I’ll let him know…he likes to meet any of my friends.”
Andi saw Melinda appear outside the hotel. “I’d better go.” She said with reluctance.
Cory touched his hat briefly with a slight bow, keeping his face completely expressionless. “I have enjoyed talking with you Miss Carter.” He said solemnly. Andi threw back her head with a hearty laugh, causing Cory to put a hurt look on his face.
“Did I do something wrong?” he asked. “I thought I had memorized all the rules!”
Andi gulped back her laughter, tears streaming down her face. “No, you did everything right! That’s why I’m laughing!” She shook her head. “You’ll never be completely a gentleman in my eyes Cory; I’ve known you too long.” He gave up on keeping his face straight and his old grin returned.
“Then I’ll stop trying!” he declared with relief. “Here comes your sister, you’d better go.”
Andi nodded, and the friends parted ways. She met Melinda halfway across the street, and they walked to the side together. Melinda’s eyes were shining, and Andi didn’t have to ask why.
“I just had a talk with Marcus.” She explained before Andi said anything. She turned to Andi with a sparkling smile, and Andi suddenly realized why so many young men found her sister to be attractive. Melinda continued chattering. “Oh, Andi, he’s so wonderful!” Andi took these words with a grain of salt. Melinda had said that about all her suitors, even Jeffery the Rat. “And he’s handsome…and a rich business man.”
Andi raised her eyebrows. “Rich?” she asked. Melinda flashed her a look that said plainly ‘don’t even think about degrading my admirer’ Andi understood it, but waited for an answer.
“Yes.” Melinda replied shortly. “He really is. The Blakes will vouch for him too if you don’t believe me.”
“I believe you.”
Melinda smiled. “Good. He told me he wants to meet you.”
“Me? He wants to meet me?”
Melinda nodded. “You’re the last of my siblings he hasn’t met yet. He’s anxious to know you.” Andi smiled. Maybe she would like Marcus.
Melinda shrugged. “He’s taking me out for a drive this afternoon, so probably you’ll meet him then.” Andi was excited. She would finally meet the mysterious admirer and cousin-of-Cory, Marcus Knight!
The two girls rode home, just in time for lunch, and Andi was put right to work afterword on cleaning stalls; the never-ending chore. She got a few glimpses of Riley and Chad working with Spy, and Mitch showed himself time to time with the ranch’s foreman. Andi continued her work, humming under her breath.
Suddenly, Taffy snorted in surprise and warning, then everything went black and Andi felt a flour sack being pulled over her head.
“Got you!” a cheerful voice broke through the darkness. Andi’s heart, which had almost stopped beating, returned to normal. It was just one of the ranch hands playing a practical joke!
“Who are you, and when are you going to take this sack off my head?” Andi replied.
A hearty laugh bounced off the rafters, and the bag was slipped off her head. Andi spun around to confront her teaser. Marcus Knight, the mysterious admirer, stood with feet planted firmly apart and with a lopsided grin on his face. Andi stared with an open mouth at him for a moment.
A hand darted out and he plucked a piece of straw from her braid. “Is this yours?” he asked, gallantly placing the piece of straw in her hand.
Andi suddenly remembered her manners and suppressed her surprise. She smoothed her overalls and hair carefully and bowed stiffly, not being able to curtsy in her overalls. Marcus laughed again.
“There’s no need to be formal with me.” He said with a warm smile that made Andi tingle to her toes. “You must be Andi. 'Linda told me about you.”
Andi grinned suddenly. None of Melinda’s other suitors had ever called her by a nickname of any sort. She found herself liking Marcus. “What did she tell you about me?” she asked.
Marcus grinned. “She told me that you were very mischievous and often got into trouble.”
Andi’s mouth dropped open. “She did not!”
He laughed. “Yes she did, but she said it so lovingly.”
Andi looked dubious. “Lovingly?”
“Yes. She’s very fond of you. Trouble seems to follow you around, but I suppose it’s just part of your nature. I’m sure you’ll grow out of it.” He broke off suddenly. “Is that you horse?” Andi nodded. “Are those her foals?” She nodded again. Marcus looked them over critically. “They are wonderful foals. Well-fed and happy.”
Andi looked at him with new eyes. “You know about horses?”
Marcus smiled. “Yes, my Father owns several racing horses and races them across the country and in England. Two of them have won top prizes in speed and stamina. I spent all my life around horses. I was even a jockey once.”
Andi shook her head disbelievingly. “You are full of surprises. Melinda told me you were a rich business man!”
Marcus smiled. “I am now. Before I was though, I lived with horses. Thanks to an uncle and aunt of mine I was given an opportunity to be able to come out here and get a job helping your brother with his law office.”
“You’re helping Justin?” Andi asked, her eyes widening.
“Yes. I don’t blame you for being surprised. ‘Linda was too when I told her.”
“Do you call my sister ‘Linda?”
Marcus smiled. “Yes, she didn’t mind. I have this habit of calling people by a nickname. That’s how Richard Blake became Cory, you know.”
“Really? You are constantly a surprise!” she exclaimed.
Marcus grinned. “I like being a surprise, it’s fun to always keep people guessing.”
Andi smiled, but then sobered. “Marcus…I know this is rather awkward, but do you love my sister?”
Marcus leaned up against the door of Taffy’s stall and sighed. “To be honest Andi, yes, I do. I loved her the minute I set eyes on her. She was so ladylike, so graceful and sweet.”
Andi bit her lip thoughtfully. “So it was love at first sight?”
Andi smiled. “Well, I know she loves you.”
“Really?” Marcus asked eagerly. Andi nodded. He fell silent with a satisfied smile on his face. “Thank you for telling me that Andi.”
“You’re welcome, but we should really go inside. Chad is probably already wondering where I’ve got to, and Mother will worry.” She stole a mischievous look over at Marcus. “Besides,” she added innocently, “Melinda’s inside.” Marcus seemed to not hear the last remark and simply followed Andi into the house where dinner was waiting for them.
* * * * *
A few weeks dragged slowly by, and Andi watched her sister and Marcus grow deeper and deeper in love. Riley continued his relentless training of Spy, and the horse was a willing learner. They truly were a good pair together, and Andi realized her brother had been right when he gave Riley the horse. Spy was always eager to do anything to please Riley, and Andi could tell Riley loved his new horse.
One day Justin had a deep conversation with Marcus, and the engagement was soon afterward. Andi was excited; she already loved Marcus like a brother and a friend. He had given her some tips on training Taffy for endurance and speed, as well as fitness and health. He helped her care for the foals, and they were growing fast into beautiful horses.
Suddenly, on a beautiful morning in Taffy’s stall, Riley called to her from by the corral. Curious, Andi walked out into the sunshine. She rounded the corner of the barn and stood stock still, shocked by what she saw.
In front of her, Riley was on top of Spy and riding him! She clapped her hands together softly so she didn’t startle Spy.
“Well done Riley! Well done!” He grinned and waved.
“I thought you might want to witness my first attempt at riding Spy.” He explained, jumping off him and walking him over to the fence.
Andi nodded, her eyes shining. “He’s such a handsome horse!” she exclaimed.
Riley nodded, and he rubbed Spy’s nose gently. “It’s hard to believe he was once a wild horse. He’s so easy going now.” Andi smiled.
“Hopefully forever he’ll be the same. What are you planning to do with him?”
Riley shrugged. “I really don’t know. He looks like he has speed in him, but I don’t know how I could train him to race.”
Andi got a sparkle in her eye. “I know how…” she said mysteriously.
Riley frowned. “How?”
Andi grinned. “My new brother-in-law-to-be. He used to race horses with his father.”
Riley’s mouth dropped open. “No! Not Marcus Knight!”
Andi nodded. “Yes! I couldn’t believe it either at first, but it’s true.”
Riley looked doubtful. “Well, if you say so Andi, I’ll believe you.”
And so it happened that Marcus and Melinda were married that summer in the town’s church. After the honeymoon Marcus agreed to help Riley train Spy to be a race horse. That day Andi went home feeling that all was right with the world…until Riley proposed and turned her world upside down.