This piece features Caleb Stone and Tamara Coleman. Caleb is the oldest brother tasked with caring for the family ranch after the death of his parents. Tamara is the nanny who comes to town in hopes for starting fresh.
There weren’t many things that scared Caleb Stone. Not many things that he obsessed over, or worried about. Not unless he got to thinking about his family.
When it came to them, every day he spent time and energy to make sure things were going well. And every day he was happy to count his blessings as his world got richer and happier because he had them with him.
Stood to reason he should do something to add to their happiness if he could.
His little girls, Sasha and Emma, were his heart stones. The rest of his family who he’d raised were all tangled up around him as well, sometimes literally.
Like as he pushed through the barn doors and was nearly flattened by his brother, Dustin, who was moving at a near run in the opposite direction.
“Watch where you’re going,” Caleb grumbled.
“Sorry. Tamara texted and asked if I could grab something from town for her.”
Caleb resisted the urge to roll his eyes like his oldest daughter had a tendency toward. “Finished work already?”
Dustin paused, looking a little guilty. “I promise I’ll get back to it and finish up before I stop for the night.”
Caleb waved a hand at him. The hero worship Dustin had for Tamara was only getting bigger, but in this case, her asking for a favour was a good thing.
Meant they wouldn’t accidentally have his little brother tagging along on what he was trying to set up as a family outing with just him, Tamara and the girls.
“Go on. Stop at the post office and check if there’s anything for us as well.”
“Sure thing, boss,” Dustin offered as he took off at a brisk walk, trying to look casual.
Caleb shook his head as he went back into the barn and saddled up their horses, whistling as he worked. Pretty sure he was about to make at least three people very happy.
Four, if he included himself. Not a bad idea on this first day of summer.
“If you get much cheerier, the horses might complain.” His brother Luke leaned over the edge of the pen where Caleb’d gone to grab the horse Sasha had claimed as her own.
“Because horses don’t like people to be happy around them?”
Luke grabbed a saddle blanket and laid it over Firecracker’s back. “Horses like stability, and you’re definitely a whole lot perkier than you were a year ago.”
Caleb wasn’t going to argue. “I didn’t have Tamara in my life a year ago.”
Luke gave his shoulder a solid pat of approval. “Well, then, I guess the horses are just going to have to get used to you not being a grumpy bastard.”
“Let’s not push it too far. How about a less grumpy bastard?” Caleb offered his brother a grin. “I don’t want to promise too much.”
“Under-promise, over-deliver. Best sales system ever.” Luke gave his watch a check. “Walker said he’d call when he was done riding today with an update on his standings. I’ll stop by later to catch you up.”
“I’m taking Tamara and the girls out for supper, and then we’re dropping them at friends for a sleepover.”
Luke raised a brow. “Okay. I got the message. I will not be stopping by the house tonight for a visit.”
Caleb went back to saddling the horses, taking a quick peek at his own watch. He didn’t want to be late. Not for this, and with three women to wrangle without letting them know he had an agenda, he had to get moving.
Luckily, it had turned out to be a beautiful day, and the horses were pleased as punch to follow him to the railing outside the house where he tied them up. He took the steps onto the porch with his feet barely touching the ground.
Sasha opened the door. “Mommy is getting dressed,” she whispered.
“Did you give her my present?”
Sasha nodded, happiness dancing in her eyes. “They look pretty.”
“Your mom looks pretty in everything.” He bent down and kissed Sasha before pressing a finger to her lips. He hadn’t told Emma the secret, but Sasha he could trust to keep her mouth shut, and he’d needed a co-conspirer to work with.
It had pleased his oldest girl so much to be told the secret. And that was another part of family—continuing to grow in new ways. As strange as it seemed to discover he no longer had toddlers, but small people who had definite ideas and opinions of their own.
Emma came around the corner, stomping her feet in her new cowboy boots. “They feel funny,” she complained.
He reached down and helped her pull up her socks, accepting her kiss of gratitude when he was done.
Then she was there. The woman who had swept into their world and turned it around, making him know what it felt like to have a beating heart again.
What it felt like to be utterly in love.
Tamara laid a hand on Sasha’s shoulder for a moment before offering Caleb a quick hug and kiss. She stepped back and adjusted her new glasses. “Thanks for the present, but it’s not my birthday.”
“They look cute,” he offered, dragging his fingertips down the tip of her nose as he admired the white frames decorated with small red roses.
“Oh, I have no problem adding another pair of glasses to my stash,” she teased. “That’s why I gave you my account information. Feel free to shop any time.”
Sasha had the door opened and was making motions for Emma to join her. “Come on, Emma. Who’re you going to ride with? Mama or Papa?”
Emma looked torn, glancing between the two of them until Tamara laughed, picking her up and hugging her tight. “I don’t know where we’re going, but I’m pretty sure we have to ride there, and then ride back. So why don’t you ride with your Papa right now?”
His little girl gave Tamara a tight hug and kiss before she was lowered to the ground and hurried over to slip her hand into Caleb’s.
He glanced around, suddenly floored by the fact he was surrounded by so much love in the form of three different-sized females. “Everyone ready to go?”
It came out grumblier than he’d meant, but they all hurried towards the horses, ignoring his mistake. In fact, Tamara came up under the pretense of making sure Emma was steady on the horse, slipping a hand around his neck before he mounted and pulling him to her for a kiss.
She looked him in the eye. “I love you,” she whispered.
“I love you too.” He couldn’t get enough of saying it. He wasn’t ever going to be done, and as he swung into position in the saddle and helped Emma hold the reins in front of them, he turned the horses toward their destination with a deep sense of purpose.
Some things were just meant to be.
They didn’t seem to be going anywhere rapidly, but that was fine with Tamara. She sat on Stormy’s back, swaying comfortably as their small group ambled forward at a relaxed pace. Sasha rode beside her, chatting endlessly about all the plans she had for the summer.
“And there’s only ten more days of school, and after that we can help you with the garden more. And Daddy says that when I’m home from school for the summer, I can ride Firecracker every day.”
“As long as you’re with one of us, or one of your uncles, yes.” It had been said before, but Tamara figured with Sasha, it didn’t hurt to repeat the reminder. “And you’re not allowed to go into the arenas after the horses by yourself.”
“Kelli can take me? Kelli says riding horses is like freedom on four legs.”
Tamara chuckled. “Kelli’s very poetic for a ranch hand. But for now, no. You’ll have plenty of chances to ride this summer with family supervising.”
Sasha’s pout couldn’t last very long, not with the beautiful first day of summer air and the sunshine heating the ground around them. Up ahead, Caleb was listening to Emma tell a story, the little girl speaking too faintly for Tamara to hear the individual words. But even that soft, steady murmur caused a little bit of a springtime-growing sensation in Tamara’s heart.
Emma hadn’t up and started speaking out loud in full sentences overnight, but over the past months she’d grown by leaps and bounds. Confident in the fact that she was loved. That she had people who chose to love her unconditionally.
Something inside Tamara’s heart did another jiggly motion, almost like the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes at once. Yes, she pretty much had fallen into a wonderful place. It wasn’t what she’d expected nine months ago, but to go from losing her job to finding a family—
Life was pretty good.
It was clear by now where Caleb was leading, turning off the trail onto the shortest route to Heart Falls. The trees closed around them, the rich scent of new growth turning the passage into a tunnel to Shangri-La.
They broke through the trees into sunshine. Ahead of them lay the sparkling pool at the base of the falls. The familiar rocks where she and Caleb had shared a fairly spectacular second meeting, and where she’d subsequently proposed to him, lay to the right.
Caleb pulled to a stop and slid from his horse, ground-tethering her before reaching to lift Emma from the saddle. Tamara helped Sasha dismount, and the four of them wandered lazily along the edge of the pool, throwing rocks and skimming stones.
A soft, gentle moment of peace and quiet in the middle of what were busy days for them all. The girls got busy, competing to see who could make their rocks plunk into the water with the biggest splash.
Tamara slid next to Caleb, leaning against him as he looped an arm around her waist. “Thanks for taking time out of your day to make this happen. It’s nice to go for a ride with you in the sunshine.”
Caleb pressed a kiss to her temple, squeezing tight. “We’ll do it more often.” Then he pointed at the rocky lookout. “Go ahead. We’ll meet you at the top.”
“Bootstomp Point? Are you sure it’s safe? You know big adventures always start there,” she teased, dancing out of reach before he could smack his hand down on her butt.
The girls caught the laughter, racing to catch up as Tamara led them onto the rocks to the peak where they had the best view of the pond. From that spot, when they glanced towards the waterfall, a perfect heart shape became clear.
Emma leaned against her, slipping her fingers into Tamara’s. “It’s like the heart gets love poured into it, and then it pours out at this end and runs all over Silver Stone.”
Tamara smiled. That was not only a lot of words, it was a profound idea from the little girl. “There is a lot of love that runs all through Silver Stone.”
Behind them Caleb cleared his throat. “Right. There’s lot of love in Silver Stone, but there’s one thing missing.”
Tamara turned to ask what he was talking about, momentarily distracted by the sight of someone walking the trail on the opposite side of the pond. A tall gentleman paced his way around the edge of the pool, seemingly intent on joining them.
“What are we missing, Daddy?” Sasha asked. For some reason the words came out as if she’d practiced them a few times. Tamara glanced at her in confusion then back at Caleb who was grinning widely.
“It’s more of a technicality than anything else. Your mama and I said that we loved each other, and that we’re going to get married, and I’ve been thinking about it. We could do things up real fancy, but that’s kind of not our way. So I wondered if you all would be okay if we just did the wedding thing, right here and now.”
Married? Shock struck.
Not everyone, though. Emma made her opinion very clear as she let out a squeal of delight, bounced a couple of times then stopped with a frown. “But I want to be a flower girl.”
Caleb dipped his chin. “Thought of that.”
He turned to greet the man who had made it to their side. The stranger was now recognizable as the father of some of Tamara’s new friends in Heart Falls.
Malachi Fields offered a hand to Tamara and Caleb, then passed a bag to Sasha. “Sorry I’m late. Are you ready to go?”
“Nearly.” Caleb patted Sasha on the shoulder.
His oldest daughter grabbed Emma by the hand and scurried to a spot a little way off, dropping to her knees to dig in the bag for whatever Malachi had brought.
Tamara’s brain was whirling. “We’re getting married. Right now?”
Caleb pointed to Malachi. “Minister of the peace. And over there we have two flower girls who will be ready in about ten seconds.”
Malachi grinned. Sasha and Emma had already bounced to their feet, flowery tiaras on their heads and their hands full of something white and red.
While Caleb hadn’t told her he planned this, they had talked about not doing anything fancy. His one sister was out of the country and wouldn’t be back until late summer. His foster sister was having a big wedding in August. Tamara’s sisters and the rest of the Coleman family couldn’t get away from the ranch anytime soon, and it seemed rather than have part of the family there and not the rest—
Private and special was the way to go.
“We’re getting married. Right now,” Tamara repeated, no question this time, and watched happiness bloom in Caleb’s eyes. “You’re in charge. Tell me where I need to go.”
“Over here, Mama.”
Emma waved. Sasha held aloft a third flower circlet.
Tamara went willingly, dropping to one knee and leaning her head forward so her daughters—oh my word, her daughters—could arrange the red and white flowers.
Emma kissed her cheek and offered her a bouquet: daisies and teeny rosebuds.
“They match your glasses,” Emma told her seriously.
Caleb had been tricky and artful. “I guess these my wedding glasses,” Tamara responded with a smile.
She stood to discover Sasha had crossed the distance to Caleb, slipping a rose into his front pocket. That’s when it struck Tamara that his black shirt was a little fancy for going horseback riding, but then again, she wasn’t past the thrilling part of staring at him no matter what he wore.
Malachi held up a finger, then reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He pushed a few buttons, turned up the volume, and suddenly the familiar sound of a wedding march rang across the rocky expense.
Tamara laughed, patting Emma on the shoulder. “Okay, flower girl. Have fun.”
Emma reached into the bag, and the next second, a handful of rose petals flew through the air to lie scattered on the rocks underfoot.
It was one of those absolutely perfect moments Tamara couldn’t have dreamed up if she’d had a million years. Her cheeks hurt from smiling as she stood and lifted the bouquet in front of her.
She stared into the eyes of the man she loved as music played and the waterfall echoed—or at least she stared at Caleb between downward glances to make sure she didn’t trip over the cracks in the rock.
Every time she looked back up he was smiling harder, until the moment she put her hand in his and they turned together toward Malachi who stood with his back toward the falls.
Sasha caught hold of Tamara’s left hand, and Emma squirmed into the small space between her and Caleb, and now the only music was the sound of the falls as Malachi led them through the ceremony.
Finally, Malachi asked them to face each other. “This part is up to you,” he said. “You can’t really do it wrong.”
Unreal. Wedding vows beside the waterfall.
The girls stepped back all of two inches. Tamara offered her bouquet for Sasha to hold, then Caleb took both her hands and his gaze turned full on her face. His eyes were dark and serious, but she also saw the humour and joy in them that had become stronger over the past months as they fell more in love.
“Tamara Coleman, I take you to be my wife, my love, and my heart. Today, and every day, I promise to give you everything in me—body, spirit, and soul—and together we’ll face the future. We’ll laugh together and cry together and make a life together.”
He slipped a ring onto her finger. She didn’t even look down. All she wanted was right there before her written on his face. Her stern, stubborn cowboy who was willing to give everything for his family, and she was so glad she got to be a part of his world.
And now, it was her turn.
“Caleb—” Her throat tightened.
Oh my word, this was going to be harder than she’d imagined.
Sasha tugged on her hand, and Tamara glanced down to see Caleb’s oldest holding her palm up, a ring resting on it. “It’s for Daddy,” she said firmly. “Don’t drop it.”
Laughter bloomed, and suddenly Tamara was able to speak, at least for a few moments. She bent and kissed Sasha’s cheek as she took the ring. “Thank you, sweetie.”
Tamara stood and faced the man she loved. “Caleb Stone, I take you to be my husband, my love and my heart. I promise you’re going to get all of me, too, but because you sprung this on me, I don’t have anything memorized that’s as sweet as what you told me, but it’s forever and sincere”—she turned her attention to Sasha and Emma—“and it includes you two. I take you to be my daughters. I’ll be best mom to you I possibly can.”
With a soft cry of happiness two little girls pressed against her as she turned back to Caleb. He had tears in his eyes as well, ones that hadn’t been there until she’d included Sasha and Emma.
She knew where his heart lay. Firmly in all their hands.
She slipped the ring on his finger, but forget about getting a kiss—they stooped in unison to hug two little girls.
It took a while until all the happy tears had been wiped dry, and they turned to Malachi who was putting a handkerchief back in his pocket, smiling sheepishly.
“Not to drag this out any further than necessary, I now pronounce you”—he held up one finger—“husband and wife”—a second finger—“a family. May you love long and happily.”
Caleb caught Tamara and, with their girls clinging tight, pressed his lips to hers, and they kissed for the first time in her married life.
It was a good day.
Copyright © 2017 by Vivian ArendBack to Heart Falls Vignettes