Home > Fractured Sky (Tattered & Torn #5)(4)

Fractured Sky (Tattered & Torn #5)(4)
Author: Catherine Cowles

I scrawled something illegible across the screen and grabbed the box. I was used to people thinking I was an asshole—and a hell of a lot worse. If their opinions bothered me, I never would’ve made it through the past twenty years alive. You learned to silence the noise.

I set the box in the truck’s bed and climbed behind the wheel. I shook off the annoyance as I drove back towards the round pen. Whatever I was dealing with had no place there.

It was something I’d learned along the way. You had to shed everything that clung to you before you climbed between those fence rails. I eased to a stop and put the truck in park as the gelding eyed me. There was so much intelligence in that gaze.

My mouth curved the barest amount. If someone were watching, they wouldn’t have even seen it. But I felt it. That trickle of excitement. The feeling that this horse had a world of potential.

Turning off the engine, I tossed the keys back into the console and slid out of the truck. I shut the door but was careful to keep my movements slow and easy—no jarring sounds or flashes of speed.

I walked towards the pen and bent to pick up the training flag: a square piece of fabric attached to a pole not much thicker than a wire hanger. The gelding let out a whinny and charged the fence at the flicker of color.

I didn’t let his flash of temper halt my progress. I ducked between the fence rails and climbed into the pen. The horse pawed at the ground, throwing his head back in warning. I didn’t move.

The gelding gave a healthy buck and kicked his hind legs in my direction. I simply flicked the long-handled training flag at his outburst. He could throw his tantrum all he wanted, but he couldn’t invade my personal space. Yet I understood why.

He’d been through hell and back, and it would take time for him to trust that I wouldn’t put him through more. Boundaries and empathy. You needed them both in equal measure. That, and patience.

No matter what a horse threw your way, you couldn’t let your emotions bleed into the work. And this gelding looked as if he were going to give it the ol’ college try. He reared up on his hind legs, pawing the air. I flicked the flag again when he got close to me.

He would learn that the flag wouldn’t hurt him. It was simply a visual aid to mark a boundary. To tell him where he needed to go. He landed back on his hooves, shaking the ground, then raced around the pen. I stayed still and waited.

There was no rush. He had to know that we’d go at his pace. I wouldn’t force him.

I waited as the horse tired himself out. The gallop slowed to a trot. Then a walk. Finally, he stilled and stared at me dead-on. I didn’t move. I just let him take my measure.

I kept my gaze even with his but made sure to blink. I wasn’t trying to challenge him, just let him know that I wasn’t going anywhere. After a few minutes, I took two steps.

The horse’s muscles quivered. I stopped and gave him a chance to get used to the new normal. I repeated the process over and over until I was just a foot away.

The gelding sniffed the air. He didn’t have a name yet. I couldn’t name them until I got to know them. And that took time. Who the horse really was at its core was usually buried beneath layers of self-protection—at least, the horses who came to me.

I raised my hand slowly, letting him get a good sniff. Once he had my scent, I moved my hand to his cheek and stroked. I kept the movements nice and slow. He had to know that touch didn’t always have to hurt. I knew better than most that it was a hard lesson to learn.

I brushed at the dirt on his cheek. I wanted to give him a good grooming but knew we were a ways off from that yet. Instead, I moved my hand to his forehead, giving him a good scratch. Different sensation, still no pain. The horse’s ears twitched in response.

Movement flickered in the corner of my eye. My dog, Kai, had taken off across the field towards the ridge in the distance. He’d seen her before I had. Over the years, we’d both become attuned to her presence like heat-seeking missiles, but he had that sense of smell on his side.

Shiloh’s hair caught on the breeze, that mix of gold and brown. I didn’t blame my damn dog for chasing after her. She was the kind of beautiful that lit a fire in your veins. That kind of beauty was dangerous.

Kai leapt, and Shiloh caught him in a sort of hug that ended with them rolling on the ground. Her horse looked on warily. I understood the reaction. Kai was half wolf, half…some other undiscernible breed. Undiscernible because the wolf half had taken over so thoroughly.

The first time Shiloh had shown up here, I hadn’t a clue who she was. She’d sat on that same ridge, not approaching. I’d started in her direction to tell her to get the hell off my land before I shot her for trespassing when a miraculous thing happened.

Kai, who was suspicious of every human besides me, had charged. For a split second, I’d thought he was going to attack her. But Shiloh hadn’t shown even an ounce of fear. She’d simply opened her arms to the beast, and they’d fallen into a tumble like old friends.

I hadn’t had it in me to break them apart. Instead, I’d gone back to work. I’d expected her to approach the pen, but she’d never moved from her spot on the ridge. Sometimes, she came daily. Other times, I didn’t see her for a week or two. But somewhere along the line, I’d started to think of that spot as hers.

The idea irked me. This was my property. I could count on one hand the number of people I’d let cross its borders. And yet, here she was, making herself at home. But then I remembered what she’d been through.

It had all clicked on her second visit. Something about the pain in those blue eyes had triggered a memory of the countless articles I’d seen in the local paper—ones that revealed far more details than I was sure Shiloh wanted out in the world.

The horse pushed against my hand, and I turned my focus back to him. “Already getting demanding, huh?”

He let out a huff of air.

I moved my scratching to behind his ears. His lips wiggled in a dance of their own.

“I guess that’s your spot.”

Slowly, without stopping my scratching, I lifted the flag. The gelding shied away three feet. He was there one second and gone the next.

I stilled as he pawed at the ground.

“Not gonna hurt you.” I gave him a few minutes to let the panic ease and then closed the distance between us again. I raised a hand to pet his neck. After a few more minutes of that, I lifted the flag again. He didn’t shy away this time, but his muscles tensed beneath my hands.

I palmed the flag and rubbed his neck with it. His muscles were still tensed, hard as stone, but he didn’t move. I used my hand and the flag to scratch and stroke, showing him that nothing about the item would cause him pain.

It didn’t happen quickly, but over time, his tension eased. Each slight give was a gift. A grain of trust. It would take hundreds of moments like these to set a solid foundation, but we were on our way.

When I eased back, I ducked between the rails on the pen and slid a bucket of feed inside. The gelding let out a whinny as he slowly started towards it. After a couple of sniffs, he began to eat.

I lifted my gaze to the field. Those blue eyes locked with mine, searing me to the spot. The tightening of my rib cage had me fighting more of that damned annoyance, but I refused to look away.

Shiloh’s hand sifted through Kai’s fur, but she didn’t look away either. Something passed between us. It was the same phantom ghost of emotion that was always there. The thing that said we understood pain. That we’d seen things no one should have to face, and we’d never be the same because of it.

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