However, there is one incident I want to record. It happened one day not long after the incident with Joaquin Murrieta and his gang.
Riley and I had officially started courting, but that didn’t seem to change much. The only difference was that, every once in a while, he’d bring me flowers. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. Wildflowers never last long. I got this bright idea to press them between book pages using newspapers. A few turned out real pretty, but the rest sort of just grew brown and crackly and fell to pieces.
I am better with animals than I am with plants. But it was a sweet thought, and I did my best.
I think Chad got into the whole courting idea, and he liked to put Riley and me together for almost every assignment.
Well, on this particular day as I made my way down to the corral, Riley greeted me with a smile and told me we both had the day off.
What? Chad gave Riley and me the day off? And it wasn’t even a holiday. He must have been feeling very generous for some reason. I was bursting with curiosity, but something told me not to ask any questions.
Riley had Shasta and Dakota saddled, and he held out Shasta’s reins toward me. “Come on, let’s ride.”
Now I couldn’t hold back the question. Self-control never has never been my strong suit. “Riley, where are we going?”
He grinned and shook his head. “You’ll see.”
We mounted up, and I followed him out onto the range. It was still early in the day. The sun hadn’t risen to its zenith yet, making the ride pleasant and not sweltering.
For a little while we rode in silence, and then Riley changed direction. The slightly rolling hills gave away to high meadow. It didn’t look familiar. The wildflowers that seemed to grow everywhere grew in even more abundance here. Fields of yellow and lavender stretched out as far as eye could see, ending only with the stark upwards rise of the mountains.
About half way through the fields, Riley stopped and dismounted. I did the same. Leading Dakota, he made his way over to some rocks that sat in the midst of the meadow.
I joined him, while the horses nibbled at the flowers. “Riley, what are we doing here?”
He shrugged, an easy smile caressing his lips. “I thought it might be nice to just spend the time out here, talking and such. It seems most of the time we’re together we’re riding the ranch and working our tails off. Never any time to slow down and just chat.”
He had a point. I settled down on the rocks, tossing my hat off and letting the sun bathe my face. “It’s beautiful up here.”
Riley nodded. He picked some of the flowers that grew around our feet and began twisting them together. Then silence easily settled between us. This was something I loved about being with Riley. There was never such thing as an uncomfortable silence.
Suddenly, Riley turned to me and out of the blue, said “Andi, if you ever have kids, how many would you want?”
I laughed. “How did you get onto the train of thought?”
He turned his attention back to the flowers in his hand. “I guess my thoughts are like a train yard with five different trains running in different directions.”
Well, that still sounded pretty orderly. My thoughts tended to have about twenty different ideas, all colliding with each other. “I reckon I haven’t thought seriously about it. Maybe . . .”
I trailed off, and he finished for me. “Maybe half a dozen or so?”
I nodded. “That sounds just fine with me.” Mother and Father had six children, but poor Riley was an only child. Maybe he wished he’d had brothers or sisters.
We stayed there for a while longer, talking about all sorts of things. When the sun reached the halfway point, Riley stood. “Well, we’d better head back and get something for lunch.”
Before I could follow, he reached over and took the flowers he had been playing with while we talked. Now, I could see what he had been doing. A crown of sunshine with purple highlights was braided together. It looked like what I imagined a royal crown to be like.
He set it gently on my head, and then stepped back. “There. A crown fit for a queen. My queen.”
I reached up and touched the soft flowers. “Thank you. But . . .” I grinned. “My hat will smash them.”
With a bow, he reached over the picked up my discarded hat. “Easily fixed, my lady.” He set my hat on top of his and stepped back. “Now you can wear your crown, and I will keep the rest of our headgear safe.”
I laughed, and he joined me. It wasn’t often we got away to talk, and I liked it. I supposed it’s what others might call romantic, but I never thought of it that way. We were friends, good friends, just talking about the future—our future.
We mounted and rode back to the ranch. It was a simple morning, but one of my favorite memories of the time we were courting. Riley knew I didn’t like fancy dinners or visits to the theatre.
And the fact that he knew me best and wanted to please me meant more than words can ever say.