No Mountain That High

A/N #1: This idea came to me while thinking on my husband's uncle who has been a rancher for YEARS and the things that have happened to him in his life.

A/N #2: I want to thank the ones who have reminded me more than once that, as long as I what I write feels right to me, I have no need to ever apologize for it.

Chapter One

The sun was sending its golden rays of afternoon sunshine down upon the corral, Nick, Heath and a portion of the men working for them. They were working on breaking the horses that had been brought in a few days before. Most of the hands leant on the fence and watched on as others either corralled or saddled the horses ready for them to be broken. Nick stood next and watched as Jarrod, who'd been away on business the past week, drove up in the surrey. "About time you got home! Did you win your case? Are you going to have time to finally relax?" Nick smiled at Jarrod as he walked up to the corral. His oldest brother had been kept extremely busy recently. It felt good to see his brother back looking more relaxed than he had in a long time. Nick hoped that meant he'd won the case and would finally have some time off.

"I hope so," Jarrod smiled back and leaned against the corral, "and yes, everything went great in San Francisco." All the work he'd done for his client had finally paid off and everyone was happy; well, for now they were. "How's the horse breaking going?" Jarrod asked as Heath prepared to mount a frisky young colt.

"Fine," Nick stepped away from the fence after a few minutes; once Heath had safely rode the horse, and had him, a little quieter. It was the third time Heath had handled the horse and now the youngster was finally responding to the bridle without kicking up too much of a fuss. "All we have to do is to break that stallion we caught the other day. He thinks he's a tough one. Though, I think we can wait on that until tomorrow. It's about time for supper." He wasn't about to admit it had been a long day, and he was tired.

Jarrod looked beyond the main corral and saw the stallion Nick was talking about in the smaller corral that set not too far away from where they stood. Tired of fighting cases in a courtroom and wanting something to break up the monotony of the day he'd had, Jarrod pulled out his wallet. "How about I bet you fifty dollars you can't break that horse before supper?" Had he known how tired his brother was, he'd never have made the bet. As it was, he pulled out his wallet and the money, holding it up in front of Nick.

A part of Nick told him to admit the day was over, the horse was indeed a strong willed stallion that needed a bit of time, but his mother's birthday was coming up and the money would certainly help in getting her the present he had in mind. And of course Nick could never turn down a dare, no matter how well disguised it was. That being the case, he turned and yelled, "McCall! Bring that stallion over here! Saddle him up; I'm going to ride him right now!" That brought whoops and hollers from every man near or around the corral. That is, everyone except Heath. He knew how tired Nick was and he didn't think his brother should be trying to break in any horse, especially this one. After all, it stood seventeen hands high and was downright wild.

Seeing no reason not to wait on the stallion, Heath jumped over the fence and stood next to Jarrod. "Don't you think you should wait until tomorrow, Nick? It's been a long day as it is."

The usual observant Jarrod was playing the part of a blind man and could not see the forest for the trees. Since he was absolutely sure Nick could break the horse, he put the money back in the wallet and said, "Well, if you've that long of a day…" he threw Nick a look that said "Do I keep this money or not?"

Wanting to win the bet that Jarrod had put in front of him and play the game, as well as buy the present for his mother, Nick refused to admit his blond haired brother had a point. He headed toward the stallion. "I'll be fine. It's time to break in that stallion."

Heath didn't like it, but he knew he couldn't stop Nick either. He climbed up on the fence and sat down, as did Jarrod. For the first time since coming home, Jarrod took a close look at Heath. He was startled to see great concern in this brother's eyes. Why was he so worried? Nick was an excellent horseman. Truth was, Jarrod knew there was a high chance he'd be losing the money. He didn't care though. If he got a break from all the seriousness from work and Nick got the money, what would it hurt?

"Loosen up, he'll be fine, Heath. You know he can do it." Jarrod put his wallet back inside his jacket's pocket.

Heath watched Nick climb into the holding pen where McCall and one of the men held the fidgety stallion. He prayed Jarrod was right. The ranch hands were showing their excitement by climbing up on the top of the corral or leaning on it and fastening their eyes upon Nick. Truth was, they'd had a bet going among themselves as to whether or not the Barkleys would be breaking the horse after such a long day. When the gate was open, the whoops and hollers were twice as loud as they had been earlier. Every man around the corral was cheering Nick on.

Nick held the reigns tight with his right hand while his left one flew up and down in the air, adjusting his balance as he moved up and down with the horses bucking and pig rooting. The stallion twisted and turned. Nick had to be mindful when to go with the horse's movement and when to pull back on its bit; creating the opposition and restriction. It was a game of give a little take a little to the point of exhaustion for the horse and a certain amount of submission without crushing the fine animal's spirit. For all those looking at the almost entwined forms, it appeared Nick was winning the battle of wills, and the horse quieted a bit. But Heath could see in the horse's eye that he wasn't yet done. Jarrod and Heath found themselves holding their breath as the stallion suddenly reared. Nick gathered his reins and held on as he flew high and almost vertical. Expecting the horse to come down quick and then rear again, he tucked his reigns under and prepared for another flight. Instead though, the stallion dropped his head forward almost to the ground, taking Nick nearly over its shoulder. Before Nick could get his balance again the horse went high, taking most of its body and front legs almost ten feet in the air. Nick seemed to be having trouble staying on and in a split second he was thrown backwards and through the air, back flipping before hitting into the fence post heavily with his back.

Nick's back hit the post with such force that the post and rails bent and snapped. Nick landed with a thud on the ground, rolled a couple of times and then tried to move, but the only thing he could do was to lay still on the ground before nearly losing consciousness.

"Nick!" Heath yelled as he and Jarrod jumped off the fence. By the time the two brothers reached Nick the other ranch hands had very carefully rolled their boss onto his back. Nick was dazed with bloody lips and they could see cuts and scratches on his upper chest and arm as his shirt had been torn by the nails and gravel he'd landed in, or on, and rubbed against when he'd tried to move.

"Someone go for Dr. Merar!" Jarrod barked as Heath hurried to undo the first few buttons of Nick's torn shirt and to stop the bleeding from the cuts.

As Nick moaned and tried to open his eyes, Heath held him down…the blond haired cowboy was not happy the other men had even moved Nick in the first place. "Hold on Nick, you betta not move anymore. We're gonna get ya help."

"Grab that stallion, Jim," yelled Mc Call.

Jarrod moved to stand in front of Heath and Nick as Jim and another hand grabbed the stallion and took him away. Jarrod went to say something only to hear one of the ranch hands muttering. He felt the weight of the world drop onto his shoulders when he heard the man say, "What on earth was Nick doing trying to break that stallion today? As hard as he's been working, he just didn't have the strength he needed for it."

'Oh Nick,' Jarrod looked upon his now motionless brother, "Why wasn't I paying attention? Why didn't I see how tired you were? Why?"