This short story was written for the winner of the Countdown to Christmas 2016 Grand Prize winner. Enjoy!
“Hey, E,” Beau whispered, leaning toward his husband as they walked passed the row of picnic tables still filled with people. “See that woman over there?”
Ethan smirked, that sexy grin that said he was teasing, but not. “I see a lotta women all over the place. You might need to be a little more specific.”
“Okay, fine. The tall one.” Granted, tall was relative since Beau came in at six and a half feet, but still. She was probably a little taller than average for a woman.
Ethan cocked an eyebrow. “Doesn’t help, babe.”
Beau sighed, wondering if Ethan was being deliberately obtuse. “The young lady with the nose piercing? She’s got a bunch of things in her ear.”
“You mean earrings?”
“Sure.” Beau peered over at Ethan. “You see her?”
His husband offered him the look that said, What do you think?
Beau had absolutely no idea why this was so hard. He was doing everything except pointing, not wanting to be blatantly obvious. Or rude. The woman was walking alongside a kid, probably her daughter, if Beau had to guess. They were checking out the horses that were moving closer to the fence, looking for some attention.
“Long brown hair, glasses.”
Ethan’s eyes narrowed. “You mean the one with the cute kid bouncing alongside her?”
“You probably coulda led with that.” Ethan grinned. “What about her?”
“You know her?”
“No. Can’t say that I do. Why?”
“I was just thinkin’ maybe her daughter would want to ride one of the horses. I’ve been watchin’ her and her eyes light up every time she gets close to one.”
“Are you volunteering?”
“Maybe. But I don’t want to freak her out.”
Beau figured someone knew her because otherwise she probably wouldn’t be at this particular outing. It was a casual Sunday afternoon picnic on the Walker Ranch. He knew that Lorrie and Curtis didn’t invite just anyone, so it was safe to say they were friends of at least one Walker, maybe more. However, Beau hadn’t seen them talking to anyone.
“Why don’t you go over and introduce yourself?” Ethan suggested. “If she doesn’t want her daughter riding the horse, I’m sure she’ll tell you.”
Beau hadn’t considered that. “And if she doesn’t?”
“Then ask her if she wants some food.”
“What if she already ate?”
“Then she’ll likely tell you she doesn’t want food either.”
Crap. “Okay, maybe this was a bad idea.” Beau didn’t want to be pushy.
Ethan groaned. “Fine. I’ll go ask her. You can stay at a safe distance.”
“Perfect.” And by safe distance, Beau assumed Ethan meant right by his side. Which was exactly where he remained as they wandered over to the young woman and her kiddo.
“Mommy! Can I ride one of the horses? Pretty please? I’ve been super good.”
“I’m not sure,” the woman told her daughter. “If you could, which one would you want to ride?”
The little girl squealed. “That one!” She pointed at the one closest to the fence. “It looks just like the one on my wall.”
Beau came to a stop beside his husband as Ethan moved to the fence, resting his booted foot on the bottom rung and reaching through to let the horse sniff his hand.
“You like this one?” Ethan asked, talking directly to the little girl.
“I do!” she said, her eyes wide.
Ethan turned toward the mom. “I’m Ethan Walker. This is my husband Beau.”
The woman smiled sweetly and Beau realized her eyes were a pretty hazel-blue.
“I’m Misty,” she said sweetly, her eyes wide as she stared back at the two of them. “This is my daughter, Peyton.”
Beau couldn’t take anymore, he leaned down and held his hand out to the little girl. “Hey, Peyton. How are you?”
“Good. My mom said I might be able to ride a horse.”
Misty chuckled. “I didn’t exactly say that.”
Beau grinned up at her, then turned his attention back to Peyton. “I bet I could arrange it for you. You ever ridden a horse before?”
Peyton shook her head and moved a step closer to her mother.
“All right then.” Beau stood tall and turned his attention to Misty. “If it’s cool with you, I’d be happy to get her saddled up. And don’t worry. I’ll stay with her.”
Misty glanced down at Peyton, then back up to Beau. “Yeah. Sure. That’d be great.”
“Yay! I get to ride a horse!” Peyton danced around in a circle, making the grown-ups laugh.
“Perfect!” Beau said, motioning toward the stable. “Let’s get you up on a horse, kiddo.”
Ethan walked beside Misty as Beau led the woman’s daughter toward the stable. He smiled to himself, loving the way his husband lit up every time he got the opportunity to hang out with a kid. Ethan’s nieces and nephews loved the big guy and Ethan was pretty sure Beau would rather spend time with the kids than the adults.
Since they didn’t have any kids of their own yet, Beau spent plenty of time offering to babysit the Walker clan’s kiddos. And whenever they had outings like this one, Beau was the first to volunteer his time hanging out with them.
It was one of the many reasons Ethan loved the man.
“So…” He glanced over at Misty, shoving his hands in his pockets as he walked. “What brings you out here today?”
Misty smiled as she stared up at him. “I…uh…Actually, Kylie invited me. I ran into her in town the other day and we got to talking.”
He wasn’t trying to be nosy, but he hadn’t seen her around these parts and he was merely curious. Plus, it was a way to pass the time while Beau got Peyton saddled up on the horse.
“We were at the grocery store. Peyton and me. And Kylie was there with Kate.” Misty giggled. “Anyway. We were in the produce section and Kate proceeded to launch an apple across the aisle. Peyton was kind enough to pick it up and give it back to them.”
Ethan chuckled. He could only imagine the damage Kate could do in a grocery store. The few times they’d babysat the little girl, they’d had to lock up anything she could get her little fingers on because throwing things seemed to be a hobby of hers.
“I mentioned we were new in town,” Misty continued, “and she said I should come out.”
“Well, it’s a great place to meet new people.” Ethan glanced around at all the faces. The Walker family had expanded in recent years and there were plenty of people in attendance. All of Ethan’s brothers, their significant others, the little ones, as well as their parents and some friends of the family.
“Of course, the minute Kylie mentioned horses, Peyton started begging.” Misty smiled over at her daughter. “No way could I tell her no.”
“Mommy! Look at me!” Peyton yelled from her perch up on the horse. “I’m riding a horse!”
Ethan stopped and put his arms on the fence while Misty did the same beside him.
“I see that, honey. You look like a real cowgirl.”
Although the kid was cute as could be, Ethan couldn’t take his eyes off Beau. The man looked as though he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than leading around that little girl on the horse. And truth was, he probably wouldn’t. They’d been talking about having a kid of their own for the past year.
Maybe it was time they figured out how to make that a reality.
“Hey!” a woman’s voice came from behind them.
Ethan glanced over his shoulder to see Kylie striding toward them, a huge grin on her face. The second she approached, she hugged Misty as though they were old friends.
“I’m so glad you could make it. Did you and Peyton get something to eat?”
“We did,” Misty confirmed. “But, it wasn’t easy keeping Peyton away from the horses.”
“I see that.” Kylie beamed over at the little girl who was holding on tight while Beau led the horse around in circles. “Hi, Peyton!”
“Hi!” the girl squealed, holding the reins with two hands.
“She’s a natural.” Kylie’s attention returned to Misty. “I’m sure she’ll be talking about this for weeks to come.”
“You should get some pictures of her,” Kylie suggested.
While the two women launched into a discussion about all the horse pictures Peyton apparently had on her bedroom wall, Ethan turned back to see his oldest brother walking toward them.
“Beau’s good with kids,” Travis said, placing his foot on the bottom rung of the fence and resting his arms on the top.
“That he is.”
“About time y’all had a couple of your own, huh?”
Ethan’s immediate instinct was to shut down, to keep the personal details of his life to himself. However, he knew that it would be out sooner or later, so he figured what the hell.
“We’re thinkin’ about it.”
Travis’s head snapped over. “Really?”
Ethan frowned. “Don’t sound so shocked.”
Travis chuckled. “I’m not shocked. I just figured it’d take a while for Beau to convince you.”
Yeah, well. There wasn’t much Ethan wouldn’t do for his husband.
“Hey, babe,” Kylie said, coming to stand beside Travis. “Did you meet Misty?”
Travis turned to face the woman. “Not officially.”
“Misty, this is my husband Travis. My other husband is around here somewhere.”
Travis held out his hand. “Great to meet you. Kylie told me all about my daughter launching apples at the store.”
Misty grinned. “She’s got a good arm.”
Travis’s grin widened. “That she does. I’m thinkin’ softball in her future.” His gaze strayed back to the girl on the horse. “And it looks like you’ve got a cowgirl on your hands.”
“That I do.”
Ethan couldn’t help it, he looked at Beau and smiled.
Yeah, maybe it really was time they had a little one of their own. And perhaps when the time comes, Peyton could teach their little one how to ride a horse.