AN: Okay, this is sort of a short project that I am putting up because I have two ways in which to end it, and I can't decide between them. I need your help so, when we get there, opinions would be greatly appreciated.

This story, unlike one you may know - Changing Steps - does not follow the characters day in and out. There are gaps in time because I wanted to keep to the main plot and it was written to be more 'snappy', I suppose, than CS.

My protagonist for this story I wrote to know more about horses than I do, so if anyone can see anything off in the way I've tried to explain things, please let me know. And to that point, I am beyond a failure at Geography, so assume this is set in a place where the ranch, western riding and old fashioned work ethic makes sense. I don't know where it is. XD

I will be putting a hyperlink on my profile page so that you can see what the main equine character looks like, for those who are interested.

As a last point, I wanted to try the 'relevant quote' thing for one of my stories, so this is it. The words are more relevant than the songs as a whole (as I don't listen to all of those featured), but artists and titles are there if anyone wants to look them up.

I think that's it, I hope you enjoy it!


"Someday I'll find you, Someday you'll find me too…

There's nothing that you cannot do, I believe, I believe, I believe in you."

~El Divo: I Believe in You


They had decided the vacation was in order quite some time ago, but they had been unable to make the decision on where. Elena wanted the country and horses with chances to explore and ride away from the small town livery stables and chipped pavements. Marie, her mother, had wanted something where there was no obligation but lots to do should she wish at the drop of a hat. Elena's father wasn't in the picture. He walked out when his daughter was born and nineteen years later, he hadn't shown his face again.

Originally Sidney had wanted to come with them. She and Elena had become friends at college and discovered that they both had part time jobs at a problem horse yard. Sidney's mother worked a lot, and her father travelled away from home, so she often stayed with Elena and came on weekend trips with her and Marie.

When the location was finally picked out, it was late summer but autumn had not been able to force out the myriad of greens. Marie had found a small advertisement in the bottom corner of a dog-eared magazine. She rang the number, explaining what they were looking for to ask about vacationing there. It was a working cattle ranch that was hidden away in such rural countryside that people didn't tend to look there and most people booked at dude ranches instead.

The man on the phone had e-mailed them with some information and pictures. Elena had printed one and taped it to the wall at the head of her bed. It depicted a dusty drive with the corner of an old ranch house on the left, showing a sheltered wrap-around porch. Fields spread for miles on sloped, rolling land, the sun breaking through an overcast sky above and a silver gorge streaming through the foothills.

Elena and Marie made plans to go.

Sidney's mother hadn't wanted her away for so long right before the beginning of a new year at college, so it was just the two of them. They packed the car, an old Land Rover Discovery, and locked up the house. Leaving was that simple.

The drive was a long one. They left early in the morning, the sun barely peaking the horizon with the promise of another sweltering day. The car took them through the changes from wide, marked roads lined with tall, square buildings to narrow lanes with fields of rape growing tall either side. They blew through a roadside stop for lunch and the hours passed in a mix of comfortable, anticipating silence and lively chatter on a range of subjects.

It was late in the day when they arrived. The sun had dropped low and they had pulled sweaters and blankets from the back seats in stark contrast to the lowered windows and thin t-shirts from hours earlier.

Even the narrow lanes had turned to dusty tracks, worn into sun hardened earth as they had passed through the closest village, just over eleven miles away.

A wooden sign hung from a gnarled frame, swinging and creaking in the wind. Briars engraved in the weathered bark bordered the elegant print 'Silver Creek Ranch'. The drive climbed a hill, sweeping to the left and tumbleweed rolled across the front of the car more than once.

The ranch house sat to the right with a few barn structures behind it and fences around small paddocks and a corral on the left. It was exactly as it was depicted in the photographs Elena had left behind; the warm red wooden structures with the white beams and little, crooked doors that had fly screens in front of them.

They both got out of the car, stretching their legs.

A Shetland Sheepdog was laid on the porch at the top of three steps, equally crooked as the front door. A tap that was fixed to the post and rail fence of the large corral dripped, forming a small rivulet of water in the dry earth which ran toward the closest paddock. Birds chirped in the tree canopy, just behind the house and at the top of a sheer incline that made it appear as though the heart of the ranch was set into a hollow in the side of one of the hills.

It did not take long after the initial knock for them to be swept into the strange, quiet world.

Lucca met them at the door. He was a tall man in a checked shirt with friendly, glittering eyes under the brim of a white Stetson. His family had owned the ranch for a long time and it had been left to him, falling slowly apart. He led them to the group of people in a kitchen, attached directly to the living room and dining space in the open plan downstairs.

Leather couches, fur rugs and antlers on the wall above an open hearth brick fireplace were pulled from a storybook setting. The kitchen was no different with the gothic, ornate ring handles on the cupboards and an old aga under a dented extractor fan that Elena and Marie would quickly learn was extremely temperamental.

Freda was a willowy woman with a weathered look about her who had been working at the ranch for almost as long as it had been left to Lucca. Her brown hair was tied back in a pony tail and she too wore a checked shirt over a white tank top with jeans tucked into cowboy boots. She was working over a salad, and waved with a brilliant smile as they were introduced.

Jesse was the youngest, only twenty he claimed, standing at the aga with a tea towel over his shoulder and wearing a blue t-shirt that could have been painted onto him. He was lanky in build and not excessively tall, and for all the muscle of working at a ranch, there was not much of him. He too smiled, around the stubble on his jaw and turned away to thump the fan twice so that the whirring resumed.

As dinner was laid on the table and everyone began to serve themselves as Freda asked about the journey and Jesse wanted to know how they were with cattle, three more joined the group.

Jonah's light hair contrasted with his dark farmer's tan. His button up shirt wasn't checked and he wore a battered baseball cap in the place of a Stetson. Lucca informed them that he headed up the ranch as his right hand.

"Right arm," Jesse joked, tearing up a bread roll to hide his smirk. "He does so much work around here."

Freda lobbed a stick of celery at him.

Jemma and Casper were more recent employees, living in cabins just at the back of the field that had been refurbished from their original days when Lucca's ancestors ran a dude ranch. Jemma, with her short cropped strawberry red hair and long sleeved shirt explained that she did a lot of cattle drives and tagging and started just a year ago when she was twenty seven. Casper, in a black wife beater with an ink-black shark tattoo on his bicep, shrugged and offered that he was just looking for something until his family moved on again.

Freda shot Elena and Marie an apologetic look, "He isn't so great with new folk."

The first dinner passed amicably and Freda helped them bring bags inside as soon as it was over. They were shown to a guest room each. Elena's overlooked the barns and paddocks from its protruding attic window and was small, with space for the bed and cupboard while a table on wheels slotted over the end of the bed and a rocking chair swayed by the window. As Freda left her with the bags it was possible to see Jemma and Casper getting into a roll bar jeep and heading down the drive, presumably for their cabins.

The vacation was set for a month. The first couple of days were fun and relaxing, despite how much Elena and her mother chose to help with the day to day running. It was on the third day that Elena met the enigma of a horse who would help her life to change.


Freda walked alongside her, back up the drive. She led a handsome auburn bay gelding from one split rein attached to the curved shank of an elegant bit. He had a straight face with a small white star between his warm, clever eyes. His long back carried an elaborate ranchers' western saddle with a curved horn and his fine legs, bearing a single sock swirled with the loose dust of the long track.

They stopped outside the ranch house and Freda turned to Elena, but the younger brunette was not listening anymore. Freda turned to see what had caught her attention.

Behind the fence of the closest paddock, running next to the corral, a horse had lifted its head from its calm, methodical grazing. She was short coupled with a high carried tail, arched neck and delicate, exotically dished head with low set, intelligent eyes and ears fluted like Calla lilies. Her legs were long and fine, white to the knees and hocks, allowing her to move with graceful precision. Her coat was a stunning shade of pale gold, her mane and tail creamy flaxen and a long, even blaze ran the length of her face to a black and pink teacup muzzle.

Elena and the horse watched each other for a long moment, and then she lowered her head precisely back to the grass. Elena looked back at Freda, who offered details without being asked.

"Raja. She's a purebred Egyptian Arabian five year old. Jonah bid at auction seven months back 'cause they had her trotting in the ring at a knock off price under a western saddle and she looked like a heck of a bargain for ranch work. She's got it in her, no doubt, but it's somewhere deep. We got her back and found we can't use her."

"She has been backed?" Elena asked, surveying the mare again. Her ear flicked at them and her tail lashed as if warning them 'Don't even think about it'.

"Oh, she's been backed," Freda agreed, scoffing. "We have English and western tack for her but she won't work without a huge fight and I may be able to sit on Cowla for a day straight, but I can't hold in her seat when she wants me off."

Elena frowned, "I've seen Jesse ride."

Freda smiled faintly. Jesse had much more skill in a saddle, so much that Elena liked to watch him if he was schooling, though that was partly fascination in the very different method. "Jesse works full time so he doesn't have any to spare working with her; she needs something steady. Anyway, Jess has his favourite."

Elena remembered Picolo, a leopard spotted Appaloosa horse with incredible cow sense that Jesse enjoyed working with the most. "What's her history?"

Freda raised an eyebrow. "Why so interested?"

Elena shrugged. Cowla snorted, shaking his head next to them and Freda patted him absently.

"The way I figure, I'm going to get a little bored of watching cattle run over the hill. Maybe I could work with her like you need."

"You ride a lot, then?" Elena and Jesse had been watched in the corral the day before; Jesse in a heavy western saddle and Elena in an English one. Still, that had been a placid liver chestnut gelding called Shackler who never put a foot wrong.

"Yep. I work with problem horses," Elena answered succinctly.

Freda was silent for a moment but when she started to talk, she seemed to be happy with the answers she had. "She's about sixteen one hands, her dam and sire were both Arabian, Egyptian strains. She's never had dental, tendon, back or lameness issues that we could track down. I have no idea if she can jump and changing her bit doesn't have any difference on how she handles. She was backed as a cutting horse and I think she did some roping or reining alongside English schooling but it's a little shady. On the ground she's pretty good; no problems with water, noises, saddling or hitching but she gets impatient and I think she fakes spooking now and then for kicks."

"Would you mind?" Elena asked when she had taken it all in.

Freda looked momentarily pained as she looked at the mare again. She was wasted out in the ranch, and if Elena could cope with her tantrums, so was her skill as a rider. Freda nodded, and clicked to Cowla so that they continued finally to the largest barn structure. "I'll show you her things. Just don't ride without someone nearby, or outside a pen until I tell you."

They entered the barn and Jonah looked up from his methodical grooming of a gangly palomino Quarter horse. Costa was just another of the working horses but he had been given to Lucca by a frail, elderly lady who did not have the energy to care for and ride the sixteen year old. She came to see him sometimes and he did not work as much now as he used to.

"Had fun?"

"Enough," Freda answered. Elena had met her halfway up the drive on the way back from taking pictures but Freda had been out on a free ride. She led Cowla into his box, halfway down the spacious aisle and began to relieve him of the heavy leather. Elena hovered outside until Freda finally lifted all the tack and jerked her head to the racks at the far end. "Come on, I'll show you Raja's things."

Jonah looked up again.

"You gonna get on our Golden Girl?"

Elena shrugged, "She looks like fun."

Jonah smiled widely, "She will be."


AN: Sort of a starter Segment so that everyone can learn the characters and get into the setting. This is written up to where I have my ending dilemma, so updates should be fast. Maybe another one this evening but more likely tomorrow morning. I'm trying to get as much up as possible because I start Uni on Monday and then there'll be work to do around this, Changing Steps and my mysterious new story...

Any questions, don't hesitate to ask, I'll reply to reviews (or address anonymous ones in the next Installment).