Christmas Extravaganza 2019
Ann Cooper does not panic. From her demanding job training horses to her family role of keeping tabs on her high-maintenance sister, Ann remains cool, calm, and collected. At. All. Times.
This holiday season, however, Ann’s fortitude will be tested like never before. Not only is she pondering a potential shift in an important relationship, but she’s also facing the prospect of riding out an unseasonable hurricane with the doubtful help of her sister Rachel.
This December, Ann’s patience and faith will both be stretched. Will the risks involved in taking a leap of faith outweigh the possible rewards?
Ann had missed all the warnings. She’d been lulled into complacency by a quiet summer managing the Van Smythe estate. She’d forgotten how often smooth sailing is just the calm before the storm.
When her phone rang that December afternoon, the last thing on Ann’s mind was her sister Rachel’s spate of ongoing mini-dramas. Ann stood in the open barn door, enjoying a particularly beautiful Florida afternoon. The lush winter sunlight pooled in liquid gold down the center aisle, where the farrier was hooking Duster—a tall, bay warmblood—in cross ties. Both farrier and horse were bathed in a soft buttery glow.
The air wasn’t quite crisp. It never was this far south, even during the winter—at least, during what the rest of the continent called winter. Fortunately, the furnace-like blast of summer had faded to something more manageable, though the dew point still left the afternoon air rather like walking through a warm bath. Most people wouldn’t consider this appropriate first-day-of-December weather. But Ann was Florida born and bred. Stringing white twinkle lights down the barn’s center aisle while sporting a tank top felt perfectly natural.
Ann usually didn’t answer the phone without checking the caller, but she’d been distracted by thoughts of setting up her Christmas tree. Depending how her schedule went, she might have time to buy one and trim it over the weekend. That way she’d have the whole month to enjoy it. If she’d realized it was her sister on the line, Ann may have let the call go to voicemail.
As it was, she’d been expecting a call from Duster’s owner and had snapped open her ancient flip phone before checking the caller ID. The next thing Ann knew, a high squawking pierced her ear, loud enough for Duster and Moss to hear. The former flicked his ears forward, and the latter stood, turning toward Ann with raised eyebrows.
Ann waved a hand reassuringly and settled on a nearby tack box in the wide barn aisle. Pushing wisps of brown hair back under the sides of her cap, Ann crossed one booted leg over the other and settled in. Rachel calling in a panic wasn’t anything new, especially now that the wedding was a mere three weeks away. At this point, it was pretty much full panic mode all the time.
But with Rachel’s fiancé Ian now handling day-to-day emergencies and their mutual friend Lynn helping plan the wedding, Ann had been enjoying somewhat of a Rachel Reprieve. Not that she didn’t love her sister. She did. She’d loved her back when they were growing up, and she loved her now that they were in their mid-thirties. But honestly. It was just…some days Rachel was very Rachel. This was one of those days. Ann could already tell. “I’m here,” she sighed into the phone.
“Something interesting happened at the dermatologist today.” From the wobble in Rachel’s voice, Ann could tell that interesting meant bad and that she was now locked in for all the grisly details. It could be worse. It could have been the gynecologist.
Ann decided to get in front of the train before it jumped the tracks. “Rachel, listen. Moss is finishing up shoeing Duster, so I’m here for at least another fifteen minutes.” She glanced at the clock hanging in the rafters of the center aisle, partially shrouded by a drift of dusty spider webbing. “I could meet you at Stu’s after that.” She could do with a breakfast burrito from Stu’s Diner. And perhaps an order of hash browns. Perhaps even a double order. After all, it was Christmas. A time of feasting.
“Make that twenty,” Moss said. He shot Ann a grin over his shoulder from where he was bent low, Duster’s rear hoof turned upward against his thigh. He turned his attention to the task and hammered away.
“No time for Stu’s,” Rachel said. “I’m already on my way over. I need your help with something.”
“You’re coming here?” Ann pinched the bridge of her nose. She hoped this wasn’t relationship drama. Ann had already bought her bridesmaid’s dress, along with heels so high they should come with a permit. All she had to do was lock down a dance partner for the reception, and she’d be totally set. Providing Rachel didn’t sabotage herself between now and then. Rachel would never do better than Ian. If this wedding fell apart, Ann would be stuck taking care of her sister forever.
“Why don’t you give me a hint?” Ann wasn’t sure she wanted one, but it was best to know what she was dealing with so that she could best formulate a plan before her sister arrived.
“I think I might be dying.”