Placing my hands over my stomach, I closed my eyes. A wave of warmth swept over my body and I knew. Deep within my very soul, I knew.

I was pregnant.

Without even opening my eyes, I knew I was smiling.

“I’m pregnant.”

My eyes popped open, and I looked at myself in the mirror. “Oh my goodness, I’m pregnant.”

Turning on my heels, I walked back into the kitchen. Grammy glanced at me but didn’t say anything. My mother cleared her throat and said, “Your father wants us for a family meeting.”

She walked past me, and my eyes caught Grammy’s once more. She winked, and I couldn’t stop the smile that lit up my face. I followed my mother into my father’s office. Gage and Daddy were talking about something happening in the south pasture. Construction of some kind.

“It’s coming along nicely.”

“What is?” I asked. I hadn’t been aware of any construction on the south side of the ranch other than a barn Daddy had mentioned a few weeks back.

“A new barn, I told you about it, Chloe,” my father stated.

“Yep, I remember you mentioned it.”

“Trevor thought it would be best to have some sort of shelter since we’ve been noticing more cattle grazing that pasture land,” Gage said.

“They’d better stay away from my tree!” I stated as I took a seat at the conference table. Everyone chucked. “What? I’m serious. I plan on getting married there someday.”

Dad cleared his throat and looked at Gage. “You called the family meeting, so the floor is yours.”

Family meetings in our house had been pretty common when Gage and I were younger. I had called the very first one. It was after my parents insisted Patches could no longer stay in my room with me for what I called bestie sleepovers. I must have been eight or nine. Gage was about three. He, of course, was easily swayed to be on my side. But my parents won out. They said Patches would have the best stall in the main barn among my grandfather’s prized horses. I honestly believe Patches liked it in the barn better. He was subjected to me dressing him up if he slept inside the house.

“Right, so I think I’ll just cut to the chase. I don’t want to go to college, and before you both launch into the reasons why I need a degree, I want to say that this ranch has been my everything for as long as I can remember. I’ve learned everything I know from the best of the best. I’ve already proven my worth a few times. I’ve given suggestions to Trevor, who says that if he walked away tomorrow, he knows I would do the Parker family legacy right. I don’t know what a degree is going to teach me. All it’s going to do is keep me away from here for four years. I honestly don’t think I could take it.”

My mother and father calmly looked at each other and then back to Gage.

“What about football? I thought you wanted to play,” Dad said.

“Not as much as I want to be here. Chloe’s back now, and this feels right. I know I’m going to hate leaving. Football is great, but it’s not what I’m interested in doing with the rest of my life. I already talked to Chloe about it.”

All eyes landed on me. “I agree with Gage. He isn’t interested in the business side of the ranch, and he probably knows more than the professors at school about the practical side. He’s got his teachers here…at Frio River.”

My mother attempted to hide the smile creeping up her face. Dad nodded thoughtfully and then looked off in the distance. He was letting everything Gage had said sink in. Finally, he took in a breath and exhaled. “I agree. If you don’t feel like school is your thing, then you shouldn’t go.”

My jaw dropped, and it felt like it went all the way to the table. Gage stared at our father, dumbfounded.

“Paxton?” Steed asked. “Your thoughts.”

“I’m with you on this one, sweetheart.”

Blinking, I shook my head slightly. “Wait, you’re both okay with Gage not going to college. Not getting a degree?”

“I mean, would I like for Gage to go and get a degree? Yes, I would. I also know my son.” Dad focused on Gage. “Gage, anything you do in this life, if you do it with your heart and passion, we’re going to support you. If this is the path you feel like you need to travel, I’m behind you one-hundred percent.”

“We both are,” Mom added.

“Gage, I’m so damn proud of you, son. You don’t have anything you need to prove to us.”

My eyes filled with tears as I looked at my parents. They both amazed me. They loved us unconditionally and always made sure they never pushed us one way or another. It was so important for them that we learned things on our own journey. Just like with Easton. They knew that would never work, yet they let me work through it.

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