Meadow slipped the halter over Latte’s head and straightened his Halloween costume.
“Such a handsome dragon,” she cooed to her beloved horse. “And me? Do I look like a princess?” She smoothed her long curls and adjusted her tiara. “We have to win this contest so we can continue boarding here and serving our clients.”
She stroked his head and planted a kiss on his nose. As if understanding, the horse nodded.
Latte was a high school graduation gift from her late father. She began training him as a colt while pursuing her therapy degree. Latte was a tremendous part of her life, their bond unbreakable, their work imperative.
The barn teemed with people, and the stalls held horses and their trainers in myriad costumes. The arena radiated a fragrant blend of hay, animal, popcorn, and funnel cake. Spectators’ excited murmurs filled the space.
As the emcee began introducing each entry, pairs lined up. Meadow led Latte to the end of the queue. Scanning the audience, she spotted Rowan in the front row, his dark blond hair flopping over his forehead. He returned her smile with a wink. Warmth filled her. How she loved that man.
She never could have predicted the gorgeous but prickly, broken war hero who showed up at the barn two years ago would heal to become the most tender-hearted man with a surprising sense of humor. Never would have imagined her hippie heart connecting with the straight-laced veteran’s battered one. Their attraction was immediate. But their relationship had blossomed slowly as the equine therapy Meadow guided Rowan through helped him process his PTSD. They had officially been a couple for a year now, and her love for Rowan grew each day. Of course he would be there to support her.
Each horse and human team paraded around the arena to the guests’ cheering. Meadow noted which pairs drew the most applause, considering their toughest competition. She really needed this win. A few of her clients had been having trouble paying recently, but she refused to withhold the equine therapy they needed. Of course, with less steady income, it was becoming increasingly difficult to finance Latte and serve her clients. If they could win the costume contest prize of free boarding for next quarter, she might gain enough breathing room to get back on track.
It was their turn. She affixed her winningest smile and led Latte into the arena with graceful strides, flowing skirts swishing about her. As usual, her horse, dapper in his green-scaled dragon disguise, followed her every cue, executing their promenade to perfection. Until he stopped halfway around, causing her to falter. Striving to keep her smile in place, she gave a gentle tug on Latte’s lead, but he held fast. The audience chuckled.
Her eyes met Rowan’s piercing blue gaze. She hadn’t realized they stopped within mere feet of his front-row seat. At her side, Latte began to perform a bow. What was this horse up to? Why wasn’t he cooperating? Sweat began to collect at the base of Meadow’s neck. Please Latte, she begged. She tugged again on the line and whispered encouragement, but the horse was completely into his bow.
It was then she noticed the red Jolly Ball on the dirt floor that Latte reached his lips toward. The awkward silence grew, and Meadow looked toward the booth where the emcee stood, a goofy grin on his face. Then she heard it, the clicking cues. Who was signaling her horse?
Latte rose from his bow, the Jolly Ball gripped between his teeth. Surprise washed over her as Rowan stood and held out a hand to the traitorous beast. That’s when she saw the clicker in his other hand. Her forehead furrowed in confusion.
“Rowan?” she whispered as he took the ball from Latte.
Rowan squeezed the ball, revealing a slit. He reached his fingers into the opening and pulled out a small box. Meadow’s breath shallowed and her heart thumped against her ribs. What was happening?
Rowan dropped the clicker and planted his hand on the barrier. He vaulted over it and sunk down onto one knee, where Latte joined him, bowing once again. Through the whooshing of blood in her ears, she heard a collective gasp from the audience.
“Meadow, you have brought peace to my world-weary soul. You are the sun, moon, and stars to my darkness. You,” he glanced at the horse by his side, “and Latte have changed my life, made me whole. Your goodness and joyfulness have given me hope, healing, and a renewed love for life. I can’t imagine a day without you in it. Would you do me the honor of becoming my wife? I promise to treat you like a princess every day and look forward to slaying dragons with you.”
Happy tears trailed down Meadow’s face and laughter bubbled out as Latte side-eyed Rowan over his last statement. She grabbed her voluminous skirts, hiking them out of her way as she knelt in front of the love of her life. Her heart melted at the sight of the ring box trembling in his hand.
She placed her hands on Rowan’s scruffy cheeks and stared into his sapphire eyes. “Rowan, you’ve held my heart since the moment you staggered into this barn, wounded and haunted. It has been a privilege to watch you return to the amazing man I knew was buried beneath all the pain. You are my everything. It would be my greatest joy to marry you!”
The thunderous applause that erupted faded to nothing as she leaned in and kissed him with all her love. When they broke apart, Rowan pulled the ring from the box and slipped it on her finger. It was a perfect fit, just like them.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the emcee’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker. “I believe we have a clear winning team here today. Give it up again for the princess and dragon, Meadow and Latte—and their knight, Rowan!”
When not figuring out plots or tinkering with words, Laura can be found spending time with her husband, cheering on their kids in sports, reading, cooking, or doing something active.
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