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Chapter 44

James nods acknowledgement. “Yes, it needs care. But I'll go with her every time. And Eleanor sent aside-saddle for Charlotte to use for a while, until she's back in shape again.”

Charlotte turns a puzzled frown on him. “You’ll come with me? But…”

“Go inside.” Michael nods her indoors. “You’ve not seen it all yet.”

Charlotte unbolts the lower half of the door, clicking her tongue. “Back-up, Charlie.” The bay-roan marereverses, letting everyone through, but shoves her nose firmly against Charlotte’s chest.

And there, at the back of the stable, up to his knees in clean straw, is another horse, a white gelding;much bigger than Charlie, heavily-built, but with a mild eye and manner. He snickers as we enter, hisears pricking forward.

Charlotte blinks.

James produces a carrot, then another, passing one to Charlotte. His own he offers to the gelding.“Meet Oliver. He’s Charlie’s son. He’s here to keep Charlie company and for me to ride with you.”Charlotte’s jaw drops.

There is something about seeing joy in another person. It’s infectious. It rubs off. Next to me, Ryan issmiling broadly.

Richard is positively beaming. “By the way, Charlotte, your Christmas gift from me and Elizabeth is thesaddle and tack…”

She throws herself at him, streaming tears. Richard wraps arms around her, patting her back. Hekisses her cheek. “Happy Christmas, Charlotte. You deserve it.”

Ryan, standing close behind me, winds an arm around my waist, pulling me in close, then slips hisgloved hand into mine. His cheek resting by mine, he murmurs, “So Charlotte has her white horsethen?”

For a moment I don’t understand him, then I remember…

That conversation we had, the very first night we met.

“So, no dreams of white horses then?”

“White horses?”

“Bearing princes in shining armour, come to carry you off for happily-ever-afters in some farawaykingdom?”

I laugh. “Not me.”

I lean back into his embrace, resting my head against his. “My knight on his white charger, come tocarry me away. Yes, he was there all the time, wasn’t he? I just didn’t realise at first.”

And there, watching Charlotte, laughing and crying and smiling and tearful and joyful… surrounded bythose who love her, it comes to me.

Finally, with complete clarity, I see it.

I twist around, turning to face Ryan. His forehead wrinkles as I hook arms up around his neck, reachingfor his lips with mine. I kiss him. “My Prince,” I say.

Then fumbling off my gloves to release stiff fingers, I grope into my pocket, seeking what I know isthere.

For a moment, I simply look at it in my palm: a small plastic ring. Cheap and tawdry, gilt and paint.novelbin

But he offered it to me, with everything else that implies.

Ryan seems not to be breathing. His fingertips touch mine. “Kirstie?”

I slip the ring onto my left hand, fourth finger. “Yes, I will marry you.”

Ryan’s face lights up, his smile spreading wide and white. “You will?”

“I will.”

“Yay!” Michael’s voice. I turn to see him punching the air. “Congratulations! Both of you.”

Charlotte shrieks excitement, to Charlie’s nickered protest. She runs to me, flinging her arms aroundmy neck. “That’s wonderful! Congratulations!”

Richard and James both stride forward, arms outstretched, competing to be the first to hug me.

Even Larry wears a slight smile. “Congratulations, Kirstie,” he says in a quiet voice. “I’m pleased foryou.”

“What about you?”

His lips quirk. “Oh, I’m pleased for me, too.”

“We have to go back in!” bursts Charlotte. “We have to tell Beth and Mom.” She scuttles back to herhorse, hugging her head and kissing her on the nose. “I’ll be back soon, Charlie.”

*****

Back in the house, Mitch greets the news with the same enthusiasm as everyone else, giving me asqueeze and a kiss on the cheek.

Beth hauls herself from her armchair, swatting at Richard’s hand when he tries to stop her. “I canstand,” she mutters. “James, Michael. Crack the champagne. And some of that elderflower fizz for me.”

“Coming right up.”

I’m surrounded by, almost immersed in, joyous chaos.

But… I want to be alone.

Just for a minute, I want to be alone.

I tug free of Ryan’s hand. “Won’t be long.” He releases me, but I see his frown as I head for the diningroom. He shifts as though to follow me, but James nudges him, saying something quiet and Ryansubsides, looking unhappy as I close the door behind me.

I pace. Up and down the length of the room, I pace, thinking.

On the dresser sits the envelope containing the sale agreement for the Mill. I open it, reread thedocument inside.

Then, my mind made up, I cast around for a pen.

Damn!

Behind me, the door clicks open. “Kirstie?” Ryan stands there, his dark eyes liquid with concern.

“Got a pen?”

His brows puckers, but he reaches into a pocket and produces a biro.

I flick through the agreement to the last page, sign and date the document and hand it to him. “Done!” Isay.

The smile blooms over his face. He sets it down and adds his signature to mine. “Done.”

I move close, snuggling into his embrace.

Dreams Of White Horses… 𝘦𝘯𝘷𝘦.

*****

The Story Continues In

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