case you might want to marry me?” Beth spoke without pausing. It was as if she had rehearsedit a hundred times and was determined to say it all before she chickened out. Her vivid blue eyesshimmered with hope and her cheeks flushed with embarrassment, but she raised her chin andstared him straight in the eyes as she waited for him to answer.Jesse knew his eyes widened slightly before he could master his surprise. He fisted his handto his lips, coughed a little, and cleared his throat. He didn’t answer at first. He didn’t quiteknow how to answer such a loaded question. Then his eyes crinkled at the corners and his stancerelaxed. Her honest request was so innocently sweet and her eyes were so full of hope. He knewhe would rather rip off his right arm than hurt her feelings. He tugged on her long dark ponytail,chuckled softly, and nodded his head, “That’s a promise, pumpkin.”“And, you don’t break promises, do you, Jesse?” Beth spoke with more statement-of-factthan question.Again Jesse’s eyes widened slightly. He gazed sightless above Beth’s head then turned hiseyes back to hers, shook his head slowly back and forth, “No, I don’t. That is one thing I’mdetermined to never do.”After he answered, Beth didn’t say anything else. She just nodded once and, with her shoulders straight, turned, and walked away. As soon as Beth was out of sight, Jesse lifted bothhands in bafflement, “Why didn’t I just dance around that?” “
Maybe because you want to seethe woman she grows into.”
Jesse walked back over to the post, picked up his brush, and returned to currying the horse.Jesse lived at the ranch with his brother, Jordon, and his wife, Susan. The large ranch had beenin Jordon and Jesse’s family for four generations. Their dad retired early from the ranch life andsigned the ranch over to him and Jordon. Jesse could have traveled with them but he had always been extremely close to Jordon and chose to stay with him. To Jesse, his parents seemed morelike his grandparents and Jordon, who was 13 years older than he was, always seemed more likehis parent. Then Jordon met and married Susan, whose whole nature was motherly and protective.Jesse loved his beautiful sister-in-law. Susan was God-fearing, loving, and usually sweettempered; and the rare times that Susan did lose her temper...Jesse always found a way to makehimself scarce.Elizabeth, or Beth, as most everyone called her, was Susan’s sister and Cody, a 10-year-old boy with red hair and unusual deep copper colored eyes, was their cousin. Cody had lived withhis widowed aunt and Elizabeth since he was two. He moved in with them after his own mother,his aunt’s unwed sister, was killed in a boating accident. Now, since that gentle woman passedaway, Elizabeth and Cody lived at the ranch.Jordon, Susan, Elizabeth, and Cody lived in the main house--a large two-story ranch stylehouse. Earlier that year Jordon had built a small bungalow and connected it to the back of thehouse through the breezeway. Jesse really wanted to move into it. At first Jordon said no because he was uneasy, knowing he wouldn’t be able to keep up with all Jesse’s comings andgoings. After much begging, Jordon finally agreed on a trial basis.Although Jesse loved his older brother and had a lot of fun with him, Jordon could be verystern at times. Jesse thought he was grown being 16-years-old, but Jordon apparently thoughtotherwise. Jordon still kept a firm hand on him. He was a lot more lenient now that Jesse wasolder, but it hadn’t been that long ago that Jordon had taken him to the barn for something other that currying the horses.