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Heartland #3: Breaking Free

In the weeks following the tragic accident, Pegasus had kept watch for Marion Fleming — standing expectantly at the door of his stall at Heartland, staring down the drive for hours until night eventually fell.

But now, in the past few days, Amy had noticed another change in her mother's favorite horse. Pegasus had become listless and quiet. Instead of looking out over the half door, he had taken to standing at the back of his stall, his head low, his eyes dull. It was as though he had given up looking for Mom and had lost all sense of hope.

Amy couldn't bear seeing him like this. She bent her face to his.

Pegasus snorted quietly and let his great head rest against her chest. Amy closed her eyes. Despite the sadness that hung over him, his huge presence still filled the stall — making her feel safe and at peace, just like it always had. It was the same presence that had once filled the stadiums around the world and had made Pegasus and her father one of the most famous show-jumping partnerships ever known.

But that had been a long time ago; a time when she had lived in England and when her father still had been a part of her life; a time when Heartland hadn't even existed. Amy shook her head slightly. It was another person's life now.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the distant sound of a door opening. Giving Pegasus a kiss on his dark gray muzzle, Amy went to the half door of his stall. She could see the slim blond figure of her older sister, Lou, coming out of the weather-boarded farmhouse. Grandpa followed behind her, carrying a suitcase.

Amy opened the stall door and headed toward the house. "Are you leaving already, Grandpa?" she called.

Jack Bartlett stopped by the car and nodded. "Yes, honey. If I set off now, I can get there before dark."

Amy hurried to the car. "Give my love to Glen and Sylvia." She put her arms around her grandpa's neck and hugged him hard, breathing in his familiar smell of old leather and soap.

"Don't forget to call when you get there," Lou said, giving Grandpa a kiss on the cheek.

Jack Bartlett looked from one sister to the other, his weathered face creasing in concern. "Are you sure you'll be OK? With all that's happened lately, I'm not so sure I should go."

"We'll be fine," Lou said, her blue eyes meeting Amy's. "Won't we?"

"Of course we will," Amy replied. "And you can't not go, Grandpa. You know how much Glen and Sylvia look forward to seeing you."

Jack Bartlett didn't deny it. He always made a point of going to stay with his brother, Glen, and sister-in-law, Sylvia, for a month every fall. When Amy had been younger, she had gone with him to the Tennessee farm.

Grandpa was still looking worried. "Are you sure you can cope with the extra workload while I'm away?" he asked. "We're overstretched at the moment as it is."

"We've already talked about this Grandpa," Lou said practically. "You know my friend Marnie's coming next week. She'll be able to help, and Ty's offered to put in some extra hours."

"Can we really afford that?" Jack Bartlett said. Amy saw the wrinkles at the side of his eyes deepen as he thought about paying Ty, Heartland's stable hand, for the extra work.

"We'll find a way," Lou said, and then before he had the chance to speak again she interrupted him firmly. "Look, just go." She hugged him quickly and opened the car door.

"I'm starting to think you're trying to get rid of me," Grandpa said, throwing his suitcase into the trunk before getting into the car.

"You're absolutely right," Amy grinned. "We're planning wild parties while you're away, aren't we Lou?"

Grandpa grinned back. "Sounds like fun. Maybe I'll stay after all." He saw Lou's expression. "OK, OK, I'm outta here!"

As he started the engine, Amy and Lou stepped back and waved frantically as he drove down the long, winding drive.

"Well," Lou said to Amy, watching the car disappear in a cloud of dust, "I guess it's just you and me now."

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