Authors: Dee Henderson
Sara was waiting for him at the line of trees, holding Ruby still as she stroked her neck. Dave and Linda were some distance behind them now, for they hadn’t joined the canter.
“Would you like to go to the river, or up one of the trails that circles around the farm for about three miles?”
“Let’s go to the river. It’ll give the horses a chance to drink and us a chance to sit and talk for a few minutes.”
“Dave!” When Sara had his attention, she pointed south, and Dave nodded from across the meadow.
Adam followed as Sara led Ruby into the trees. The temperature dropped noticeably, as did the breeze. There was a path of sorts, narrow, grown high with grass, more a deer trail than one riders often took.
“There is a steep descent to the trail that goes to the river. Cobalt’s been down it numerous times so give him his head and let him make the choices.”
Adam understood when they reached the drop-off. The river had once flowed through this piece of land, then changed course, leaving the land to slowly crumble and smooth itself back out, erosion destroying the former river-banks.
Sara went down the embankment without fear or hesitation, her arm out to provide extra balance and her weight leaning back to give Ruby a better center of gravity. Adam really wished he had decided on the three-mile trail instead. His heart was in his throat until Sara was safely to the bottom.
Without a word, he nudged Cobalt and followed her down. He could feel the horse making decisions as different muscles bunched and relaxed. Adam rubbed the horse’s neck affectionately once they were down.
“So have you thought any more about my invitations?” He watched Sara as they walked their horses side by side down the former riverbed. He hoped she had reconsidered. His question startled her. That was good. Maybe she had been thinking about them.
“I can’t take the chance with the possible publicity, Adam. There is no link between Sara Richman, daughter of Ambassador Richman, and Sara Walsh without someone digging into deeply classified information. But a picture could establish the link quite easily.”
“I am not followed by the press.”
“No. But you are an opportunity shot. If a photographer sees you with someone, the picture will get taken, and they’ll think about what to do with it later.”
“How about coffee in your office then? It’s private. And we could do dinner at my home, if you wouldn’t take the invitation the wrong way.”
She stopped Ruby. Her hands clenched tight on the reins. “If we did start seeing each other, what do you think it would be like in a few weeks? You couldn’t stand the closed confines I live in. At some point it’s going to get to you—the no-public policy—and you’d want us to go out, and then we’d start fighting about the risks. Either I accept the risks to myself and thereby put Dave in danger just to please you, or you give up chunks of who you are and try not to turn the resentment back on me.” She blinked hard and averted her face. “Please, it won’t work. I would like it to, but I simply know it can’t.”
“You’ve been in this position before.” Adam knew it; her pain was too focused.
Sara didn’t bother to deny it. “I met him when I lived in New York. He was a literary agent, a good one, but you don’t stay in that position without having to court publicity and be seen by your peers. His job was largely parties and dinners where deals could be discussed. I think we were both in love for a time until the complications hit, and he realized how impossible it would be for him to be married yet have a wife who couldn’t accompany him and be an asset to his career.”
“I’m sorry, Sara.”
She shook her head. “Don’t be. I’ve learned that life comes at its own terms, and it’s best that you learn to go on.” She nudged her horse forward.
“Then why can’t we simply be friends?”
She looked over her shoulder at him. “Do you honestly think you would be willing to settle for that?”
Adam shifted his mount toward her. It didn’t take much to reach across and take her hand. “I like your company. And I would no more put you at risk than Dave would. If we can’t be more than friends, then at least let’s be good friends. Don’t give up without giving us a chance.”
The sound of horses behind them interrupted the conversation.
“It looks like you two are not getting very far very fast,” Dave commented.
Sara blushed as she pulled her hand free. “We were just waiting for you two.”
“I could see that.” Dave nudged his horse into the lead, Linda beside him.
Sara didn’t say anything as they rode the rest of the way to the river, and Adam didn’t try to pull her from her thoughts.
She was right. He wanted to be much more than friends.
Adam eased his horse around a fallen tree.
He could choose not to renew the commercial contracts. It wasn’t the first time he had considered making that decision. But he was not naive enough to believe it would change the equation much. The last fifteen years of his public life existed. That was the bottom line, and that was the threat to Sara. It would take years for his name and face to fade from public knowledge.
The sound of the water reached them before the river became visible. Sara shifted in her seat, nudging Ruby ahead. Adam saw the change in her posture and expression, and when he rounded the bend in the trail he understood why. The sight was gorgeous. Flowers of all varieties grew naturally along the banks of the pool, and water came flowing over the top of the beaver dam back into the riverbed proper. At this time of year, the sparkling water had to be less than two feet deep.
Dave halted his horse beside Sara and leaned over to say something. She looked at him, startled, glanced at Linda, then nodded her agreement.
Adam watched Linda and Dave move downstream. “Want to cross and pick a bouquet?” Sara asked, drawing his attention back to her.
“Where are they going?”
“There are some natural caves down the river a ways that Linda asked to see.”
Caves. Dark. Not her favorite subject. Adam avoided it.
They picked their way across the stream.
“I never did tell you how much I enjoyed those basketball game tickets.”
She laughed. “Who did you take?”
“Jordan. I can’t afford to have my lawyer and brother-in-law on my bad side.”
Sara dismounted with a graceful move. Adam watched her look around at the flowers and choose just a few. She was selecting the colors and styles that fit both the beauty of the creation around them and her own preference for brilliant colors.
Adam slipped from his horse and moved to lean against one of the large outcrops of rocks on the riverbank.
She joined him after collecting her bouquet, and he offered a handkerchief to use as a tie around the base of the stems.
“Aren’t they beautiful?”
“Very. Sara, why do flowers mean so much to you? They touch your office, your studio, your home.”
“I need the reminder that God loves to make detailed and beautiful things, and that act of creation is itself a sufficient reason to make them. These flowers will live and die here, the majority of them never seen, even though a busy road is less than a mile away.”
Adam gently touched her hair, stroking it behind her ear. He could add his own reason. Sara used flowers to counter the pain her world had dealt her. At times her past must feel like a prison, but a prison didn’t have flowers.
He could pretend she was who he wanted her to be, or he could start learning to honestly accept who she really was. A woman who was petrified of the dark, threatened by an unfinished past, who struggled to cope with the limitations imposed upon her, who struggled to live life despite the constant fear.
“Would you like to collect a second bouquet to take to your office?” Adam asked, watching her face as she looked down and touched the bouquet in her hands.
“I don’t think so.”
She looked up at him.
“You don’t have anything to worry about, you know. I like you. There is nothing about your past that will ever change that.”
“There’s a lot I haven’t told you.”
“I imagine there is.” He watched her eyes go black, reflecting her distress. “It won’t change anything.”
“It will. It always does.”
Suddenly there were tears in her eyes, and she turned away to reach for the bridle of her horse.
“Sara, I’m sorry.”
She shrugged away his hand as she brushed away the tears. “Let’s go back, Adam.”
“Dave and Linda?”
Adam moved back to his mount, feeling miserable for ruining what was a beautiful day.
The climb up the embankment was not nearly as difficult for the horses as coming down. Sara led the way and Adam followed her in silence.
Okay, God, I blew it royally. I’m asking for help. I don’t want Sara to end the day feeling miserable. If it will help her talk about the memories, then let’s talk. If she needs the opposite, help me also to understand that.
They moved up the trail back toward the meadow. Sara pulled to a stop.
“What is it?”
She slipped off her horse. “I think Ruby picked up a stone.”
In the narrow trail, Adam could do little but watch as she lifted the left foreleg of her horse and confirmed her suspicion. “Sorry, Adam. I can’t dislodge it. It looks like we’re walking back.”
Adam slipped off Cobalt. “How serious is it?”
“Not very, but to dislodge the stone I need a couple tools I don’t have.” Sara patted Ruby’s neck and got a nudge back from her muzzle.
Adam knew that kind of mutual affection with a horse was not born overnight. Sara obviously spent a lot of time here, in a place she felt safe, a place where she could find some freedom in a carefree ride.
She slipped the reins forward and led her horse up the trail. Adam followed. In less than two minutes they stepped from the trail into the open meadow.
Feeling a great deal of uncertainty, Adam reached over and took Sara’s hand. She squeezed it. They walked in the sunshine, sharing the warmth. “Would you be willing to tell me why you fear the dark?”
She sighed. “It’s the only thing that makes the past suddenly feel like the present. My mind reverts back in time. I’m suddenly six again, in a pitch-black place, and so petrified I can’t breathe. Part of that terror was real; the gag really was choking me. Despite all the therapy and the counseling and, for a brief time, medication, the fear has only been managed not cured.”
“Do you think it will ever be overcome?”
“No. I have a feeling I will carry it to my death. God has given me the courage to face it, but He has not taken it away. I’ve accepted that.”
Adam thought about that answer for some time. “I’ll pray for you, Sara. God may still take away the fear.” He was thinking about the verse that said perfect love casts out fear but didn’t want to say it, for the words would sound like a simplistic answer. He knew she was well beyond the simplistic side of who God was and what He would do. She seemed to understand his words were a genuine desire to help, for she accepted them as such with a soft thank-you.
Adam liked walking with Sara. Her hand was warm in his and she had relaxed her pace. The horses occasionally nuzzled her shoulder, and she reached back to affectionately rub a muzzle.
“What are you afraid of, Adam?”
He had to grin. “Nothing like getting a tough question in return. When I was playing professional football, it would have been an easy answer—it was the guy rushing at me ready to knock me to the ground and give me a concussion in the process. Now,” he thought for a moment, “I guess I would say making a bad decision I couldn’t reverse.”
Sara smiled. “Tactical answer. It could apply to anything. Quit being evasive.”
“Making my sister mad.”
Sara laughed, so his honesty had been worth it.
Adam rubbed his thumb across the back of her hand. “Can I pry a little more?”
“As long as you accept the fact I might not answer.”
Adam took a deep breath. “Why didn’t you speak for so many years after the kidnapping?”
She was not going to answer. Adam released her hand and draped his arm around her shoulders, intending to offer a reassuring hold, only to find her literally shuddering. He stopped and pulled her close, pressing her head against his shoulder, holding her tight. “You don’t have to answer, Sara.”
She pulled away. “I was too afraid to speak. The second kidnapper threatened to kill me if I whispered even one word once I was found. I believed him.”
“Was it Frank who finally helped you speak again?”
She tried to smile but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Yes. He was the only one who wasn’t constantly trying to coax me to speak. Except for Dave. He never pushed either; Dave just held my hand. I was seven when I first met Frank, bone skinny and spooked by people’s movements. The ranch was large and he was a hard-working, hands-on, quiet man.
“For days and weeks on end, he would take me with him as he moved cattle, fixed fences, and rounded up horses. He seemed to understand that I felt safer in the wide-open spaces where you could see for miles. About eight months after we moved to the ranch, I asked if I could go out to see a newborn foal. They were the first words I had spoken since the kidnapping.”
Adam didn’t know what to say. “Thank you for telling me.”
Sara looked away as she nodded.
They were halfway across the meadow. Adam didn’t want the walk to end anytime soon. He debated whether he dared risk another question while they walked together in silence.
The sound of riders approaching had them both turning. Dave and Linda rode up to join them.
“Problems?” Dave asked, already scanning the area.
“Ruby picked up a rock I can’t dislodge.”
“Want to double up? We can ride back at a slow pace and lead Ruby.”
“Thanks, but we don’t mind the walk.” Adam didn’t move his arm from around Sara’s shoulders. He met Dave’s assessing look that moved from Sara back to him.
Dave gave his horse a gentle nudge. “Then we’ll see you at the stable.”
“You do realize the speculation you’ve just raised.” Sara sounded slightly piqued.
“Of course.” He had been frank with Dave the day after dinner with Sara. He went down to the FBI office and told Dave flat out that he intended to get to know Sara better. Dave listened without saying much, then finally commented, “I suggest you wait a few weeks.”