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Lost Rider

By:Harper Sloan

ts, and riding horses through the fields, I love her like my own sister.

Clayton, her oldest brother, is six years older than we are and has always been the overprotective brother—even toward me. He’s the rock in both of our lives and has been for years. He always looked after me like I was family, but when my parents passed away right after I graduated from high school, leaving me with a ranch I couldn’t and didn’t want to run by myself, Clay stepped in. He knew I was in over my head, drowning in grief and responsibility, and made sure I kept my head above water. Since our property backed up to the Davis ranch, he bought the land, no questions asked, and allowed me to keep living in my family home, something I will forever be grateful for.

With Quinn and Clay, I’ve felt like I wasn’t alone in the world because they loved me enough to fill the void my parents left behind.

And then . . . there’s Maverick.

I haven’t seen the middle Davis since that ill-fated night before he left town. A night that has plagued me ever since. It’s hard to forget the pain of the past when the memories still shine bright. He might be long gone, but his shadow will never leave this town.

Quinn sniffles again, bringing my mind back to the present. I shift in my seat again, checking quickly to make sure the skirt on my black dress hasn’t ridden up with all my squirming around, before I turn my head slightly and let my eyes wander around the packed church.

Again.

I have to fight with myself not to think about the missing Davis boy, but as my eyes roam, I know exactly what I’m looking for. Or, I should say, who.

Focus, Leigh. Today you need to stay focused on Quinn and Clay. And hopefully, if he does show up, Maverick won’t make an already hard day for them even worse.

“He’s not comin’, Leigh. Why would he?” Quinn whispers brokenly, her soft voice breaking through my thoughts, drawing my eyes from the crowd as I scan her tear-streaked cheeks. She’s looking toward the front of the church, but she knows me well enough to guess what I was just doing. I don’t say anything, allowing my eyes to drift up to meet Clay’s gaze. His handsome face looks as if it’s carved in stone, the anger clear as day in his stormy eyes. His sister’s hushed words obviously not missed and, if I had to guess, just amped up his already simmering anger at his missing brother to a full boil.

“Maybe he’s just stuck in traffic?” I hedge, knowing damn well he’s not, not if he really was an hour away, like he told Quinn earlier. An hour would put him already off the interstate, and everyone knows there isn’t a lick of traffic to be found between here and there. Unless he got stuck in some rouge cattle escape, there’s just no way.

Clay lets out a gruff sound deep in his throat. “Doubt that, sugar.”

“He’ll be here,” I whisper again in Quinn’s ear, praying that I’m right, but honestly I have no idea if he will be.

The old Maverick, the one I grew up crushing hard on my whole life, wouldn’t have let his siblings down. But the new Maverick, the one that left so easily, well . . . I’m really not sure what he’s capable of. I’ve seen him a handful of times over the years when the rodeo would come to Cedar Park, just outside of Austin, and the very few times I joined Clay and Quinn, even from a distance I could tell that he’s changed.

His smiles no longer came easily. His laughter didn’t ring out over a crowded room. If I had to guess, he escaped what he thought was the prison of a small town life only to find himself locked away in one of his own solitude.

I turn my attention to the front of the church once more and will my mind to clear when I hear the pastor start to talk. My eyes gloss over the deep mahogany stand directly in front of where he’s standing. The one that holds the silver urn on display. Pastor John’s voice carries over the room as he delivers his message about a long life lived and a forever promised with our Father. I keep my arm around Quinn, her soft sobs breaking my heart as he continues to speak.

I hear someone crying behind me, pulling my eyes from Pastor John as I look around the room again. I’m shocked that so many people are here. Knowing that everyone around here most likely had to close up their stores or halt their already busy day of farming to be here. In my case, to close my bakery, the PieHole, down for the day.

To pay our respects to Buford Davis.

The hard as nails father that ruled his house with an iron fist.

The one man that everyone in this room, at one time, would have been happy to see gone. Myself included.

Regardless of the fact that Buford Davis was a hard—at times, nearly impossible—man to love, Clay and Quinn did, albeit in their own way, and his loss is one that’s hit them to the core. They didn’t have a conventional relationship with their father, but it didn’t matter to them that mutual love was something that they didn’t find until the recent years. He was disliked for so long that I honestly thought that it would just be us, the family, but I should have known that just like Clay and Quinn, Pine Oak has a forgiving heart and Buford had been working hard to make up for all the wrongs he had done throughout his lifetime here when he passed.

He was a man who commanded respect, if nothing else, being that his ranch kept a fair share of the townfolks employed, not to mention the fact that the Davis family owned the only auto detail shop for a fifty-mile radius. The Davis family is the family in Pine Oak, and even though Buford had come a long way in earning back the town’s regard, I would best my last slice of hot apple pie that the majority of the people in this church are here for Clay and Quinn.

I give Ms. Marybeth Perkins a smile when I meet her eyes, her weathered face giving me a winkled smile in return. My eyes float over the room, looking at the stoic familiar faces, before I start to move my gaze back to the pastor.

And that’s when I see

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