High Country Daddies has an epilogue!!
Thank you so much to those of you who wrote to me requesting an epilogue! Your requests, along with the reviews suggesting an epilogue would improve the book, spurred me to write one!
It's been added to the book on Amazon - if you've bought it already, you might need to download it again to get the epilogue.
But I'm also going to share it here as well, for those of you who find it easier to read it here, rather than going back to Amazon.
I hope you enjoy it! Personally, I think it rounds the story off nicely. Please let me know what you think in the comments below!
One year later…
“Oof,” Carly grunted as the ancient jeep bounced over the big stones along the riverbed. Once again, she was driving this old dunger up to the old boundary riders hut, their base for the autumn muster. Only this time, the hut was much nicer than it had been last year. Mike had started doing it up in his spare time after Carly had suggested starting up a business using it as accommodation for the hunters and fishermen who explored these mountains. Ideally the hut alterations wouldn’t be the only improvement; she hoped the entire muster went better than last year’s. “It better go better than last year’s,” she muttered. “We don’t need any disasters this time.”
Up ahead she could see Davo, cantering easily up the hill, the young horse under him going well. She smiled. The gelding was the last one of the Ryan’s Peak Station horses to be sold, and he was going to his new home next month. And then it would be time to start bringing on the new horses. And starting the foals.
Carly would never compete again. She knew it, and she was at peace with her decision. Lisa’s tragic death was still too raw and competing would bring it all back. Even thinking about eventing felt like a betrayal of her friend. But Mike had been right—Lisa wouldn’t want her to turn her back on horses forever. So she worked in partnership with Davo, training the horses that had been bred on the station. Already their horses had a reputation as being good. Reliable. Athletic. Sure-footed. Calm. And with her name still known in eventing circles, her endorsement of the Ryan’s Peak Station horses had spurred sales to new heights, with Davo being able to ask a far higher price than what he’d expected and being inundated with orders for next season.
So much had happened in the past twelve months. Had it really only been a year? Sometimes it felt like it had been a lifetime.
After the accident on the muster Davo had recovered pretty quickly, getting back to work within a couple of weeks. But recovery had been slow for Josh. The head injury he’d sustained in the helicopter crash had been worse than anyone had realised, and he’d tired easily, suffering debilitating headaches, unable to do much for months. He’d slept a lot and been plagued by nightmares. For months she had rushed to his side, woken by his terrified screams, and eventually he’d told her what had happened in Afghanistan. She wasn’t used to seeing men cry, but Josh had cried openly while relating his memories. And she’d cried with him as he’d told her of the explosions, the chaos, the screaming, the blood, the fear, the death.
Two rockets had hit his unit’s barracks, fired at night from just beyond the perimeter. The blasts had been deafening, the stench of fear overpowering. Everywhere, people were screaming. He’d never been more frightened in his life. He’d joined the Army wanting adventure, he’d told her, his voice bitter. He’d wanted to see action. Excitement. She remembered the way he shook his head, as if he couldn’t believe how stupid he’d once been. She could still hear the grief in his voice, the regret. The guilt. The helpless frustration. So similar to how she, herself, felt.
The vehemence in his voice had been strong as he’d told her how he hadn’t expected excitement, action, and adventure would include so much death. So much pain.
The first blast had shattered windows, sent concrete flying, turned buildings to rubble. It had taken the lives of some of his comrades. They’d been bleeding, screaming and dying all around him, but he’d had to ignore them. He only had eyes for one, and she was injured. His forbidden love. He’d rushed to her, he’d never sprinted so fast in his life, desperation driving him, and he’d
scooped her up in his arms and she’d clung to him, terrified, hurting, blood trickling from the corner of her mouth. He’d ran, as fast as he could go with her in his arms, pumping his legs faster than he ever had before. But it wasn’t enough. She’d died. He couldn’t protect her. He’d failed.
His cracking voice had broken completely when he told Carly how he’d been carrying her to safety when the second rocket landed, the explosion even bigger than the first, shaking the ground beneath his feet. He’d been crushed by a shower of debris, his leg trapped under a huge concrete block, a heavy slab that had once been a wall. The woman he loved had died in his arms. Carly had been the only woman he had loved since losing her.
He’d undergone months of rehab. He didn’t know what had happened to her body, never got the chance to go to her funeral. He didn’t even know what country she was buried in. He was in hospital overseas for weeks before being shipped off home to recuperate.
Through Carly’s tears, she’d told him of Lisa, her best friend, dying in her arms, and the events that had led up to it. They’d cried together for what felt like hours. Drawing strength from each other, comfort. Releasing their guilt. And through their tragedies, they were united. Their bond was strengthened by a cord that ran between them, tying them together in their remembered grief. Josh wasn’t just her daddy anymore; their relationship went far deeper than that now.
He flew by in the helicopter, swooping low over the valley. She’d been terrified the first time he’d gone up in the brand new helicopter that insurance had finally paid for, but she was used to it now. It had been a freak accident. Nothing more. Josh was a competent pilot. He would be fine.
“Bloody hell, Mike! Watch where you’re going!” she yelled, rocking in her seat as the jeep lurched sideways, bumping through a hole that was obviously much deeper than it looked. She was following in Mike’s tracks exactly, but the ute Mike was driving didn’t look like it had rocked as much as the jeep had. She rubbed her swollen belly. “You right in there bubs?”
She glanced down at her belly, the solitaire diamond engagement ring she wore on her left hand sparkling in the autumn sunshine. It was a gorgeous ring, far more beautiful and expensive than she would have chosen. And since they’d all gotten down together on one knee and proposed to her, she hadn’t taken it off. They’d all chipped in for it and she was engaged to them all, even though legally she could only marry one of them. They’d decided that would be Mike, the oldest Ryan brother. Soon she would share the Ryan name. The little life growing inside her, biologically Mike’s, but belonging to them all, would carry on the Ryan legacy. She planned to have a baby with each of them, to complete the legacy. Now she truly belonged on Ryan’s Peak Station.
The ground evened out as they left the riverbed and she watched as Davo urged the gelding into a gallop. She wished she was out there with him, feeling the power of a horse beneath her, their hands linked as they rode side by side, just as they’d done so many times. But riding was out for her, for a few more months at least. She’d ridden all throughout the early stages of her pregnancy, but now the sheer size of her ever-expanding belly made it too uncomfortable.
Mike caught her eye in the rear-vision mirror, gave her a questioning look. “You okay?” he mouthed.
She nodded, smiled. She was okay. She was more than okay.
She squirmed in her seat, her freshly-spanked butt tender after bouncing over the ruts in the ground. If she’d thought that being pregnant would put an end to the spankings her men dished out with increasing regularity, she was sadly mistaken. If anything, they were even stricter now, and more protective, because now she wasn’t only endangering herself, but their baby. She’d been given a stark reminder of that just last night when she’d insisted on helping load up the vehicles in
preparation for the muster. All of them had strongly objected to her lifting even slightly heavy things, despite her insistence that she was fine.
“Leave it darlin’,” Davo had commanded, taking the box from her hands and loading it into the ute himself. “You know you’re not supposed to be lifting things. You’re meant to be taking it easy.”
She’d argued, and he’d bent her over the back of the ute, bared her butt and whacked her right there, outside under the stars, lighting a fire on her backside with a dozen swats of his huge, powerful hand.
All the spankings were milder now. She hadn’t felt the stinging bite of leather since Davo had used his belt up at the hut on the muster, exactly a year ago. Nor had she felt the wicked kiss of the wooden spoon since Josh had punished her before the muster. But their calloused palms hurt plenty. Hard physical work made them as hard as wood, propelled by strong arms to leave a burning imprint in her skin.
She should feel suffocated, losing so much of her independence, being subject to so many safety rules and watched over so closely by three protective men. She should feel completely smothered. But she didn’t. She felt cherished. Loved. Happy.
Eventually, after another hour of driving, the little hut—newly renovated—came into sight, and she breathed a sigh of relief. Finally! She needed a break, needed to stretch her legs. The baby was kicking lots, annoyed at being squashed up for so long.
In the clearing behind the little hut Josh had landed the helicopter and the rotors had slowed down to nearly a stop. He stood next to it, leaning against the railing of the yards, his expression unreadable.
She pulled the jeep up as close to the hut as she could get, cut the engine and opened the door. Having stopped just ahead of her, Mike got out of the ute and came to her, slipping his arm around her shoulders, placing one huge hand on her rounded belly.
“How you getting on in there, little one?”
She slipped her hand into his as they walked into the hut together.
“So much has happened, huh? I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since the last time we were all up here for a muster. I hope this one goes a bit better.”
“It will, baby girl. Now you go and put your feet up. I’ll go and sort out the dogs.”
“I can help,” she insisted. “I’m not an invalid.”
“You’re growing our baby,” Mike reminded her. “You can sit down and do as you’re told. Let us take care of everything.”
Mike raised his eyebrows in stern warning. “Do you want to start the muster off with a spanking?”
Carly pouted. “You’re mean.”
He kissed her nose. “Only because I love you.”
She did sit down, though. Mike had brought a plush armchair up to the hut after he’d fixed it up and had set it in front of the fire. She sat in it now, reading the initials carved into the wood. There was so much history in this little building, and now she was a part of it.
After unloading the vehicles and doing everything else that needed to be done, her men came into the hut, each laden down with a huge armload of wood, and slammed the hut door behind them, shutting out the crisp mountain weather. Within a few minutes the fire was roaring, warming up the little stone building.
This year, there was no tension threatening to rip the walls apart, no raised voices, no bitterness.
Davo brought her a steaming mug of Milo and handed a bottle of Speights to each of his brothers. It was a proper mug this time, not the battered enamel thing she remembered from last time. The mug that looked like it had been here as long as the hut itself. She started to bring the mug to her lips, then stopped, holding it in mid-air.
“I want to propose a toast,” she said. “To my high country daddies. I’m so glad you all came into my life. You all make me the happiest woman alive. Who knew that a chance meeting on the side of the road would lead to this, huh?”
She leaned forward, clinking her mug against the stems of the glass bottles.
“Cheers,” her men echoed.
“And to our son,” Josh added.
“It might be a girl,” Mike pointed out.
“Whatever it is, it’s going to be well loved,” Davo insisted.
Carly just smiled, content in the knowledge that Davo’s words were true.
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