Andi awoke to the slow clopping of horse hooves beneath her. Afraid to open her eyes, she cringed as a splitting headache began. As her awareness grew she realized she was resting in front of the horse’s saddle; she was being carried by someone.
Consciousness now returned, she opened her eyes to meet her rescuer. Blinking, she stared up at the blond face and jumped. She was riding with none other than Cory himself.
Hastily, Andi slid off Cory’s gelding Flash to mount Taffy. Too late came Cory’s warning.
“Andi, stop! You’re too hurt!” Cory exclaimed as her boots touched the ground.
Andi’s feet crumpled underneath her weight, and she sprawled in the road. Pain shot through her legs. Taffy stared down at her mistress, apparently puzzled. With a moan, Andi struggled to right herself.
“Stay right there. Don’t try to get up,” ordered Cory. “I’ll help you back onto Flash.”
Andi became indignant. “I can ride fine by myself.” To prove her point, she pulled herself into a standing position. Immediately her knees buckled and she crashed to the ground. Pain came from everywhere.
Cory smiled weakly. “I’m sorry, Andi, but you’ll have to keep riding with me. You busted just about everything running from that fire.” He dismounted and plucked her off the ground.
At Cory’s comment, she suddenly remembered the terror she had felt just hours before and realized what she had been spared from. Memories washed over her and weighed her down.
“W-what happened? How did I get here?” she stammered in sudden shock, forgetting her headache.
Cory looked grim. “Andi, you don’t know what you were spared from. That fire took out miles of grass. If Taffy hadn’t flown by us kickin’ and screamin’ and carryin’ on so, well… We might not have realized you were gone until who knows how late.
“Anyway, you were out cold, so Jack and I jumped on our horses and prayed we’d make it to you before the fire did. We grabbed you and hung on to the horses for dear life on the backstretch.”
Andi stared wide-eyed at Cory. “You mean you risked you necks in a fire for me… Just like that?” She couldn’t believe her ears. “Thank you,” she finally managed, still in shock over her friends’ heroics. “I thought you weren’t getting along with Jack.”
Cory grimaced. “You noticed, huh? Well… You see -…”
“You were jealous,” Andi finished for him.
“No,” Cory snapped defensively. “I was . . .” He paused. “Resentful. Look, Jack’s a swell guy, but all of a sudden you invited him along on our ride without asking anyone else. Then you seemed to have more fun with him than with us.” He shrugged. “I guess I got a little upset.”
Andi grinned sheepishly. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you first, but I didn’t bring Jack voluntarily. He won a bet I was sure I’d win; otherwise I never would have invited him.”
“Don’t apologize. I’m glad now that he came.”
“Except that he was the reason for the fire,” she reminded him. “Speaking of whom, where are Jack and Rosa?” she asked.
“They galloped off an hour ago to tell the ranch about the fire and get help for you.” Cory smiled. “I think after you get fixed up we may look back on today and laugh.”
Andi frowned. “We might,” she said, “except that valley we burned up was our ranch’s best grazing spot. Chad will skin me alive.”
“Wanna bet on it?” Cory asked impishly.
“Not on your life,” she retorted. “I’ve learned my lesson!”