CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Cambridge cantered in a calm circle around Carol in the indoor ring, his inside ear tipped toward her. Grace leaned against the doorframe, watching interestedly without Carol's notice. Her ankles were crossed, as were her arms, and her head rested against the wood of the frame. When Carol spotted her, she called to the stallion to halt. He stopped instantly, turning his head toward her and then approaching her as she gathered the lunge line in her hands to shorten it and then led him toward Grace. She smiled faintly at her younger colleague and righted herself, reaching toward Cambridge and stroking his face softly.

"He's making progress I see," the blonde commented, her eyes darting briefly to Carol's. "When do you think he'll be ready to try riding? I mean, he was trained before, just not well."

It had been a week since Carol and Grace's night at the Outback, and even though the pair had been living under the same roof, they had remained relatively distant with one another. The night of the dinner Grace had fallen asleep on the couch rather than the futon in Carol's room as the girl had told her she'd wanted to be the case at dinner, and since then she had seemed somewhat cautious toward the idea of staying in the same room. Even after their discussion, she still felt intrusive. Not to mention, with the divorce looming over her head, she felt as though her own personal security was dependent on her relationship with Carol. If that relationship was soured in any way, she'd have no where else to go.

"I was actually hoping you might try him out tomorrow for me. He's been doing so well on the lunge that I think you'd be able to handle him finally. I'll keep him on it as you're riding because I know he'll listen to me, but that way he can get used to you without it being a total shock for him," Carol told Grace, speaking of Cambridge. "He's a nice mover by the way. I lunged him over some cavalettis yesterday and he's definitely got the Hunter knee lift."

"Good," Grace answered with a broader smile now, and she brushed Cambridge's forelock from his face. A moment later, however, he snorted and threw his head upward, startling Grace so that she briefly fell into Carol. The girl hauled on Cambridge's lead shank and braced herself against his weight as he ran backwards a few steps. The stallion dragged her a few feet, trails left behind Carol's shoes, but she finally managed to get him stopped again. She was breathing hard, but she immediately waved the end of the lunge line out at Cambridge again and forced him to trot several more circles as punishment for his behavior. Grace studied the two from where she remained by the door, brushing herself off even though she had not actually fallen to the point of gathering dirt upon her clothing. After a few minutes, Carol turned Cambridge loose in the arena, and slid the door shut behind her as she moved to speak with Grace. The girl leaned back against the door and huffed tiredly.

"Okay, so maybe I'll just have you start working with him instead. I'll just supervise to make sure you're doing it right."

Grace smiled and quickly touched the elbow of Carol's barn jacket with her gloved fingertips.

"Don't worry about it. I'm not in any rush, since he can't be shown until the spring anyway."

"You're nicer now that you're not with Eliot, Grace," the girl blurted out, meaning it to be a joke, but realizing after an instant that her manager had not taken it that way. When she opened her mouth to apologize, however, Grace stopped her with a shake of her head and a turning away of her somewhat heavier stature.

"He called me this morning Carol."

The girl came up beside her, the material of her jacket swishing as she did so.

"And...what did he have to say?"

"He threatened me again."

Carol was silent, her eyes narrowing in question, but Grace would not meet her gaze.

"I'm worried he's going to find out about us."

"There...isn't really an us, just yet, Grace," Carol replied softly, looking at the ground. "But really, what will he do even if he does find out what we've been talking about? What can he do?"

"Audrey told him I was staying with you."

"What? Audrey? Why on Earth would she tell him that?" Carol's face bore the brunt of her surprise, and Grace immediately turned to face her again.

"Well, I mean, he called her and asked where I was—it's not like she actually told him when she knew the bad blood between he and I. She didn't know she was hurting anything in telling him."

"And I was the one that told her you were staying with me."

Now it was Grace's turn to stare.

"Huh? You talked to Audrey about us Carol?"

"Not about what happened last week—but after I first started thinking there was something...off...between you and Eliot. But she kind of struck me down and told me I was overanalyzing things. She didn't believe you acted like you did because of problems at home. And I had mentioned that you were staying at my apartment."

"Are you kidding me Carol? Audrey knows about what was going on with Eliot and I? Why would you do that to me Carol? Why would you tell her that?" Grace's voice had raised considerably, but Carol swiftly grabbed her wrist to call her back to attention. But she had taken the wrong wrist—the sore wrist—and Grace had flinched and jerked back, her eyes both wide and pained at the same time, as though she thought Carol had done so on purpose.

Carol's expression instantaneously transformed into one of apology and she reached more carefully this time for Grace's gloved hands, but the woman pulled them away before she could take them.

"Don't touch me Carol! How could you do that to me? How could you tell her? She already disrespects me—I certainly don't need her pity as well!"

"She didn't believe me Grace! Now will you calm the hell down and just listen to me for three seconds?"

But Grace scoffed and turned away, only to feel Carol's grasp on the back of her jacket, keeping her in place. The blonde woman whirled around and prepared to face her off, but the girl had backed her against the wall and held her there with a hand on her chest. Their eyes met in a silent challenge, but the silence quickly evaporated into speech.

"I'm sorry, Grace. I was just trying to get your attention, I honestly forgot. You'll have to forgive me for not being used to dealing with someone still healing from domestic abuse." Though her words dripped with sarcasm, Grace suddenly knew she meant well. A sigh left the blonde's lips, and she tugged off one glove and slipped her hand into Carol's long red hair. The girl immediately withdrew her own hand from her manager's chest, backing away only as far as Grace's arm would allow her. Their eyes met again, calmer this time. Grace sighed.

"I know you're sorry Carol," the woman said gently, a flicker of sadness toying with the corners of her eyes and mouth. "I just need to learn that not everyone is trying to hurt me. It's going to take some time though, just as it will take you time to remember not to make moves like that around me." She dropped the hand to the back of Carol's neck beneath her jacket collar, shifting her fingers lightly against the tense muscles there. The teenager abruptly pulled away, uncomfortable with the contact.

"Grace, please don't do that here," the girl said with a sigh, rubbing the back of her neck on her own in a gesture indicating she was stressed. "Not where people could see it."

"You know, Carol, you could be a little more blunt sometimes," Grace snapped back, frowning and moving away from the wall now. "If you don't want my attentions, you can tell me to get out now."

"I'm just not that comfortable with it yet Grace!" defended Carol, her expression somewhat hurt. "I've never done this with a woman before, unlike you." She shifted, shoving her hands into her pockets. "Although I guess no one's here right now anyway."

"You could use a massage back there just so you know." There was a bitterness in the older woman's tone that was almost comical.

"Yeah, well, let's worry about deciding who we want to be together before we worry about massages."

Grace stepped forward and took Carol's shoulder in her grasp, squeezing reassuringly.

"I know that I still have a long way to go before I can say I know who you are, Carol Santopietro, but I do know that I don't want to be without you."

"You're not afraid this is an after effect of my agreeing to take you in because of what was going on with you and Eliot?"

"Absolutely not."

Carol sighed and then glanced across their immediate surroundings, ensuring there were no wandering eyes present there. She allowed Grace to reach for her neck again, and then found herself pulled inward for a caring embrace in the following moments. Grace spoke into her ear quietly as they hugged, rocking gently on their feet.

"You know what I would really like to do tonight Carol?" she asked, and the girl lifted her head from the barn manager's shoulder just long enough to face her with eyebrows raised in question. "I'd like to just sit down with you and talk. I know nothing about you, and I know there's a lot you don't know about me. And there's...something I really important need to tell you about me, and I'm not quite sure how you're going to take it."

"Oh yeah? And why's that?"

"Because it means I come with a bit more baggage than I think you're anticipating."

"Well you could tell me now. I won't be as apt to freak out if I'm in public," Carol joked as she stepped away from her.

"I...don't think that's a good idea Carol," replied the older woman with a sad smile and a shake of her head.

"Do you want to go into the office? Or even the arena, since—"

"No, Carol, not here, and not now please. We'll talk this evening, I promise."

Carol looked annoyed, but she relented, giving Grace a final nod before turning on her heel and heading back into the arena to fetch the scarlet stallion still running about inside.

*****

Grace arrived back at the apartment before Carol did, as they had driven separate vehicles that day. When she'd left Rock Haven Carol had been lying on her back, half buried under a pile of tools, trying to fix one of the water pipes in the smaller of the two barns. She'd not even noticed Grace when she had stopped in to announce she was leaving, but now Grace was thankful for that fact. She wanted to cook something for dinner, as she'd done the night Carol had come to her house. She didn't get to cook for others very often, since Eliot had often arrived home late at night. On the evenings he had arrived home at a decent hour, he'd merely taken his plate elsewhere in the house, leaving the beautifully set table and his wife alone.

At the thought, Grace felt fresh tears sting her eyes. Eliot had never appreciated anything she'd done for him. He'd pretended to once in a great while, but he'd never meant it. And, somewhere deep in her mind, Grace had always known that, even as she'd denied it was true. She'd loved Eliot, she really had, but as she unlocked the door to Carol's apartment and stepped inside, the sadness ebbed away. Of all the places, and of all the people to find herself living with...Carol Santopietro. How had that happened?

Because she cares about you, even if you don't know exactly how much just yet.

She closed the door behind her and leaned back against it, sighing and closing her eyes briefly. She then sucked in a breath through her nose and opened her eyes again. Andy sat directly centered in her line of vision a few feet in front of her, wagging his tail as he peered up at her. She smiled, shaking her head, and then knelt down to pet him as he trotted over to her.

"Are you going to help me cook dinner Andy?" She rubbed the dog's head affectionately and then stood up, the big collie scurrying after her as she hung up her coat and moved into the kitchen. She hadn't the slightest idea what she wanted to cook. She didn't even know what Carol liked to eat, since she'd eaten a different meal every day since they'd been staying together.

A scratching sound caught Grace's attention, and she spotted Andy raking his paw across the door of one of the lower cabinets. She gasped and swiftly moved to pull him away, not wanting him to leave marks on the door. But the dog only wagged his tail and bumped his nose against the door instead, leading Grace to open it merely out of curiosity.

"Well would you look at that," she chuckled as she pulled out a box filled with recipe cards. On the lower shelf of the cabinet was a small bowl of dog treats. Grace smiled again and removed one for Andy, who happily took it from her hand and trotted back over to his bed. In the meantime, she flipped through the recipe cards. At last she found a recipe for a spicy chicken meal she could use.

*****

When Carol opened the door to her apartment, she stopped and blinked to clear her eyes.

"Somebody's been busy!" the girl chuckled as Grace appeared from the kitchen, carrying a large bowl of mashed potatoes in her hands. "Is that one of my recipes?"

"Yup. Your dog pointed it out."

Carol's eyes narrowed, but she only laughed a moment later.

"Okay then. Well do you need any help finishing up?"

"Nope, you just get yourself settled and I'll be over in a few seconds," Grace replied, carrying out a small plate piled high with chicken. "We're never going to eat all of this tonight."

Carol raised her eyebrows and the corners of her lips in agreement, but said nothing as she moved off to the bathroom.

Grace finished setting the table and then took a seat in unison with Carol after she had returned. They dipped their heads to say a quick prayer, and then Grace offered Carol some of the potatoes. But it was the younger girl who started off the conversation.

"So you said you wanted to talk to me about something." It was not a question, but a declaration, and her face was somewhat drawn as she said the words. "Unless you wanted to avoid it again, like you did earlier."

Grace set down her fork with a clatter and stared at the girl, as though shocked she would start the evening off so negatively. She did her best to ignore it though, reminding herself that Carol was still young, and that she wasn't quite so experienced with situations such as that which Grace was about to present her with. She picked up her fork again and took a bite of her food before responding.

"It was not the proper time to tell you. Not to mention the fact that I didn't want anyone else overhearing what I had to say."

"Well what is it?"

Carol's eyes were perceptive as Grace shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Her hands released her silverware again and folded in her lap. Green eyes lifted to meet blue.

"Please promise that you won't turn me away Carol."

At this, the girl's features grew more suspicious than before.

"Why would I ever turn you away Grace?"

"I mean it. I need to know I can trust you with this."

Carol studied her for a moment longer and then nodded.

"Just tell me Grace. I won't turn you away, no matter what."

Grace locked eyes with her again, her palms rubbing together nervously beneath the tabletop. She sucked in a breath and then exhaled before speaking the words she'd been afraid to speak since Carol had first taken her in.

"I'm pregnant Carol...with Eliot's child."


A/N: Bet you weren't expecting me to do THAT, were you? WERE YOU?! Well I did, and I hope you enjoyed the chapter! Things will start moving along from this point on, seeing as Carol and Grace's relationship just got a whole lot more complicated. Now I get to torture you for another week while you wait for me to update, mwahahaha! Oh, and thanks again to all my reviewers, I really appreciate it!