Aly's House

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Authors: Leila Meacham
closer. His voice was quiet and gentle. “You don’t owe us anything. You’re not responsible for what your father does.”
    “I know that,” she said, lifting her gaze upward. They were almost touching. Aly felt suddenly enclosed with him in a special, very private place, just the two of them and Sampson. “It’s just that I—I may never have another opportunity to do anything for your family, Marshall. They mean the world to me, you know. And besides, I’m not buying Sampson for keeps. I expect you to buy him back from me, remember.” She smiled at him, and once again her face underwent a startling transformation.
    Marshall caught her to him, taking her breath away. “Thanks, Aly,” he whispered gratefully. “Thanks for everything. Sampson will be all I have left of Cedar Hill.”
    Her eyes shut and stinging, her throat hurting, she pushed her face into the hard comfort of his shoulder, thinking, No, Marshall, I am what you have left of Cedar Hill. I have it all inside of me for safekeeping, all the memories of all the years. Slipping her arms around his waist, they stayed clasped in friendship and mutual loss for several minutes before Marshall extricated himself and sealed their new bond with a kiss on her forehead. “When I come back for the auction, I’ll teach you how to ride Sampson,” he promised. “In the meantime, you two can become friends.”
    “Oh, Marshall, I can hardly wait!” Aly said, beaming. “I’m going by the bank now to pick up the check and sign the loan papers. When are you leaving in the morning?”
    “Before daybreak. You want us to meet in town somewhere—”
    “No, I’ll bring the check back out here. I have some things of Willy’s to bring him anyway.”
    “Good,” Marshall said. “I’ll have the sale agreement ready. Come for supper. Mother’s having fried chicken.”
    “Oh, yum!” Aly said, enormously happy. She gave him a smile. “See you tonight.”
    At the bank, her father’s displeasure had transformed into grudging admiration. How the devil had she managed to talk Matt Taylor into keeping Sampson on his place? Had she agreed to rent the horse for stud service? What deal had she made? He bombarded her with questions as Aly followed him into his office.
    “None of your business,” she answered. “And I think it was pretty low of you to use the bank as a means to keep the other stables from renting to me. However, I must say, things have worked out for the best.” She looked infuriatingly pleased with herself, a front assumed to needle her father. Behind the cheerfulness lay the worry that he might find out about her agreement with Matt and somehow wreck it. He was capable of that.
    “It was for your own good,” her father said, taking a seat at his desk. The paperwork for the money borrowed from her inheritance along with the check for ten thousand dollars were in a file folder on the desk. “That horse will be an enormous liability and will keep you tied down. It will further influence you not to go to college in the fall. I don’t care where, as long as you go. Your argument that you have no interests or goals at this point doesn’t matter. Your sister didn’t either when she went to college.”
    “She still doesn’t, as I see it. Majoring in sorority is not my idea of pursuing a goal.”
    “Your sister will be graduating with a degree in elementary education!” Lorne stormed, anger making his fine gray eyes icy.
    “ If she doesn’t fail one more course,” Aly corrected mildly. “If her grades are any reflection of the kind of teacher she’ll be, I wouldn’t want my kid in her class.”
    “Young lady—” In frustration Lorne Senior adopted what Aly called his lecture pose: elbows at right angles on the desk, fingers laced tightly, eyes penetrating over the top of his glasses. “Your problem is that you’re jealous of your brother and sister. They know where they’re going. They’ve taken steps to provide for their future. You

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