This story is an AU taking place in modern times. I do not own any of the characters except those from my own overactive imagination. This is already written and even has an Epilogue. I will not say it is complete because I have this wonderful habit of going in and adding stuff. Especially if I get requests and it doesn't completely throw the story off track. So what might be 20 chapters now, will most likely be 25 or 30. I love playing around with this genre but I am not from Texas... far from it... I am from New England. I have done my research but please excuse any mistakes. If you are from the great state of Texas and are a horseman... well PM me and let me know my screw up and I will fix it. I am going off my own limited personal experience.
I hope you enjoy this. Silly romantic cowboy novels are sort of my de-stresser and a guilty pleasure. I was reading one and it almost fit Hiccup to a T so I thought why not... let's trade dragons for horses!
This is un-Beta'd. I have read it a million times and done my best but if you are up to the job please PM me and I will send you out what I have. Good Beta's are a writer treasure!
Hiccup looked over at his mother and gave a heavy sigh. She lived to make is life more complex. He wanted a simple life, the ranch, horses, a few cows and chickens and his workshops. But now this.
"An assistant mom, really?" he asked again as he stared at his laptop not wanting to hit the send key.
"Yes," she said sternly, clearly telling him that he had no choice. "With your father going to Norway for God knows how long you'll need someone to help you out and I'm going to need someone to drive me around."
His mother was the strongest woman he knew, worked the ranch as hard as he and his father and was just as passionate about it as they were. Unfortunately, she had been stricken with breast cancer two years back and was now plagued with dizzy spells that made her too nervous to drive long distances. And out here, everything was a long drive. It was a half an hour just to get off the ranch and then another fifteen minutes into town.
Hiccup turned his head and rolled his eyes, he was in his late twenty's and smart enough to know that she would still cuff him one if she caught him. "Mom, I told you I would have one of the hands drive you around."
"You need everyone you have out in the field Hiccup," she reminded him, "I will not have you short-handed because I have a hair appointment or a church meeting."
He closed his eyes and dropped his finger onto the enter key, it was done. Somewhere out in cyberspace some stranger is going to get this add and think…. Hey why not, living on a Texas horse ranch sounds fun. When fun was the last thing they would find. Ranch life was all Hiccup ever wanted. Even with his "gifts" as his mother called them, he never wanted anything else. Hopefully this new "assistant" would like it as much as he did, especially since they would be living on the ranch.
He was talking with Bucket when something caught his eye. He could see a cloud of dust in the distance making its way towards the main house. "Is the vet coming today?" he asked.
"Nope," answered the old ranch hand. A man of very few words, sometimes to the point of absolute frustration, and coming from Hiccup that was saying something.
He pulled his phone out of his shirt pocket and called his mom, "Hey, are we expecting anyone?"
"She's here!" she said excitedly.
"Who's here?" he asked confused by his mother's obvious excitement.
"My new assistant of course! We've been chatting for about a week now and I can't wait to meet her face to face."
"WHAT!" he couldn't help but yell into the phone causing Toothless to stir under him. "Whoa Buddy," he soothed, "Mom, what do you mean you've been chatting with her for a week? I've never given you a woman's resume to review. I haven't checked her references or interviewed her. What do you mean she's here?"
"Son, you've been so busy lately. I mean, you've practically been falling asleep at the table during dinner. I didn't want to bother you about it. Her name is Astrid Hofferson and she comes highly recommended. Graduate from A&M, knows horses and cows and been riding all her life. She was Assistant Ranch Manager at Lucky Acres over in Laredo. She knows her stuff son."
"Mother," he ground out through clenched teeth. "I can't believe you did this. She could be some psychotic killer who preys on frail women," he caught himself, "Not that you are frail…."
"Son, I checked her references," she said finitely. "Stop your hen pecking and get back to work. Miss Hofferson is a fine young woman and we are lucky to get her."
He heard the line go dead.
His mother was going to be the death of him.
From his vantage point atop Toothless he watched her travel down the long road towards the main house. She was driving a mid-sized pickup truck, going slow trying to avoid some of the more prominent pot holes that his men had yet to fill in from the last big rain. That's all they needed was for her to bank that truck. He clicked Toothless to a fast lope to go meet her.
He got to her about a quarter mile before the largest pit. He watched as she pulled to a stop and got out of her truck.
He was not prepared for what he saw.
He'd seen plenty of pretty girls in his time, even dated a few. But Miss Hofferson was not just pretty. She was radiant.
She wasn't tall but she wasn't short either, probably about 5 foot 9 or so. She was wearing form fitting jeans and a bright red tank top with a loose fitting white shirt over the top. Her hair was a golden blond that practically shimmered in the Texas sun as it laid in a thick braid down her back. But what got him were her eyes, they were azure blue, almost cobalt. He had never seen someone with such dark blue eyes before.
They continued to look at each other until she broke the silence with a wide smile. 'Oh, he was in such deep shit….'
"Are you the welcoming committee?" she asked.
"Miss Hofferson," he said with a tip of his grey Stetson as he regained some of his senses, "We had some flooding a week ago and this road hasn't been completely repaired yet. I'll be taking you the rest of the way in. I was not expecting you." With that he offered her his hand for a leg up.
Astrid looked dumbstruck for just a moment, "Wait a minute," she said as she walked up to him. "Who are you?"
"Sorry miss," he said maintaining his guarded expression. "I'm Hiccup Haddock, Valerie's son, pleasure to meet you." He quickly took her hand and pulled her up behind him.
He felt her hold his waist to get steady, "Whoa boy," he said to calm Toothless. His huge black horse was gentle but was not used to riding double. Either was he and was grateful she was behind him and couldn't see his features because he was sure his ears were a bit red. Unexpectedly meeting new people was not something he enjoyed.
She was probably a big pain in the ass. At least he was hoping. He didn't need this in his life right now. He needed to focus, not only was his dad out of the country but he had a huge paper and presentation that he needed to devote some serious time to. He could not afford any distractions.
Valerie Haddock was waiting for them when they made it to the house and dismounted.
"You must be Astrid," she said with a welcoming smile. "I'm so glad Hiccup was able to meet you. I should have told you to take the southern route in, it's already been repaired. But anyway, welcome to Vast Acres!" she said excitedly as she first shook the young woman's hand and then pulled her into a hug.
"Thank you," said Astrid as she returned the hug, glad that Valerie was as nice as she had seemed over the phone. "I'm excited to start work. This is a great opportunity. I not only get to work for you but I get to learn about Horse Whispering."
At this Hiccup looked up in surprise, "Excuse me?" he asked looking first at Miss Hofferson and then to his mother. "I thought Miss Hofferson was just hired on as the new Assistant Ranch Manger?"
Astrid looked to Valerie and gave a curious, "I was but…"
Valerie interrupted to try and soften the blow. The last thing she needed was her broody son stomping off in a huff. She put a hand on the young woman's arm to help reassure her that all was well, "Astrid is my new assistant, but she is also very interested in your training techniques so I thought it might be nice for you to show her a few things. She's going to be living here so it would be a shame if you didn't. Isn't that right dear," she said as she gave her son a stern look."
Hiccup tried to count to ten, looked at his mom and schooled his features, "Yes ma'am," then looked at the newest resident of his ranch, "Miss Hofferson," swung back up into his saddle and headed back to the barn to get some work done.
"Mrs. Haddock, if there has been a misunderstanding," she started trying hard not to let the frustration out in her voice.
"Now, now, just calm down a bit," soothed Valerie. "My son is fantastic with horses, but just not great with strangers. He really is a very nice man, you just have to get to know him a bit."
"Mrs. Haddock," tried Astrid.
"Val or Valerie please," she interjected.
"Valerie then," she said with a pasted on smile. This was not working out the way she had planned. "It's obvious that Mr. Haddock is not happy that I am here and had no idea he would be training me."
"Straight and to the point, I really do like you Astrid," laughed Valerie. "I hired you because I need an assistant to help around the ranch. My dizzy spells aren't getting any better because this damn medication they have me on. Some people are lucky and they can snap back from cancer, like they never even had it. Unfortunately, I'm not one of them. This medication messes with my brain something fierce. Numbers get all jumbled up and I'm afraid to do the books and let's not even start in about driving, I'm afraid to even head to the grocery store and half the time I forget what I needed anyway. So yes, I do need you here. I have plenty for you to do so don't you worry about it. And Hiccup, well, that's partially my fault. I forgot to mention the training to him. But we'll just blame that on left over chemo brain. Don't worry dear, once he gets used to you things will be fine."
"He introduced himself to me as Hiccup. I had no idea that he was actually the Hayden Haddock," said a frustrated Astrid. "And it's not like I could recognize him from pictures because even the ones in his book barely show his face. Though I should have recognized Toothless, he looks every one of his 18 hands. That is one huge horse."
"Sorry," chuckled Valerie. "Hiccup is Hayden's nick name. Everyone around here calls him that so you might as well get used to it. And they tried to put better pictures of him in the book but he threw a fit. Says it's about the horses, not his ugly face. He had the publishing houses photographer madder than hell. Said he never knew someone who didn't want their own smiling face all over the back of their book. Come on," she said with a happy smile, "Let's get you settled in and then go on a tour of the ranch."
As they walked to the barn the Astrid's curiosity got the better of her, "OK, I have to know. How does a man get a nickname of Hiccup?"
"Oh, I can already tell we're going to get along famously, you're just as chatty as I am and full of questions. The men on the ranch aren't much for conversation. It will be so nice to have you here," she said with a bright laugh, "Well, you might not believe it but my tall and lanky son was a preemie and a miracle from the beginning. I was never supposed to be able to even get pregnant and I spent most of it on bed rest. When Hiccup was born he was barely 5 pounds. I know that doesn't seem that small now, with scientific advancements and all, but 27 years ago it was very dangerous. We were afraid to hold him. 'Just a wee hiccup,' said my Stoick because he fit in the palm of his hand. The name just stuck. Poor boy was short and thin as a rail till 15 and then wham, he ate us out of house and home and shot up a foot overnight."
Astrid couldn't help but laugh, "A wee Hiccup?"
"Stoick and I are from Norway, his accent is thicker than mine. It will probably be frightfully worse when he gets home. That's where he is right now. His mom passed away a few months ago so he's gone back over to settle things."
"No other family," she asked.
"He has a brother who also lives in the states. But unfortunately he's not a very nice person. He's, well, he's in the federal penitentiary."
"I'm sorry," she said in earnest.
"We all are, but it was bound to happen. It's amazing how different two men from the same mother can be. My Stoick is the most honest and trustworthy man I know. Puts in a hard days' work and has been sending money back to his family since we came here, even if it was just fifty dollars and that was all we could spare. We raised our son the same way," she looked up to the barn and smiled. "Hiccup is as good as they get. Unfortunately, my brother in law Lucas and his son Scott, well they seem to think that the world owes them something and their determined to find the quickest way to get it."
"The world is full of bad people," said Astrid quietly as she looked out over the wide expanse of land that was Vast Acres for as far as the eye could see.
"Seems to me like you have a story to tell," hinted Valerie.
"We all do," she said as she snapped herself out of her thoughts. "But it's no sense wallowing in the past." She looked at Val and grinned, "As my aunt is always saying, we need to focus on what is good in our lives and let the past stay where it belongs."
They made it to the barn to start their tour. Val smiled and looked at the young lady next to her. On the outside she looked strong and confident, ready to take on the world. But for just a moment she could see something, something that took a while to get past. She could tell that this strong young woman had battled her demon and was working hard to remain positive.
Ta Da! I know Hiccup comes off a bit cold but trust me he's not... Sometimes awkward and shy comes off that way.