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"Hey, brat! You want to saddle up the horses and take them for a spin?" 

The minute Lexi stepped out of the limo, Dion swung the front door open and yelled at her. He was sporting a new pair of riding jeans and a stiff collared shirt that made him look like one of those guys who advertised expensive watches. Her brother had always been a stickler for proper form, which carried into his life as a corporate slave. It probably drove his co-workers crazy, but Lexi wasn't annoyed by his behavior in the least. She was exactly like him in that respect.

"I was thinking the same thing on the way here," she said as she barreled into Dion's arms for a hug. He smelled strongly of aftershave, and his gelled hair stuck to her face. "Give me a minute to change out of my uniform. I only had an hour to make my flight."

"No problem. I'll see you at the stable in ten." He took off around the house as Lexi made her way through the door and dropped her bag in the foyer.

The intoxicating scents of vanilla and melted parmesan cheese wafted through the house, and Lexi imagined Chef Pastille and his minions busily whipping up her favorites; vanilla fudge and artichoke dip. Not in the same dish, of course.

Since that protein bar she ate at the airport was still doing its job, she curbed her temptation to detour to the kitchen for a sample. She knew if she didn't get to the stable soon, Dion would think up some crazy challenge to punish her tardiness. She just needed to locate her parents and let them know she had arrived undamaged.

"There's my baby girl." Her dad stood behind the wet bar, adding ice to a freshly-made Gimlet, and Lexi met him halfway. She rested her head on his chest, which was swathed in an expensive silk shirt, and breathed in his Dad scent. Charles Maxwell's stature leaned toward the stiff side, a byproduct of his work as CEO of a successful sporting goods chain, but he always softened for her.

"I won't be your baby much longer," Lexi said, offering him a cheeky grin.

He dropped a kiss on her forehead. "Yes, but you will still be my girl. Always and forever."

"Did I hear the front door?" Lexi's mom popped out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. Despite the half dozen worker bees hired for the occasion, Lexi knew her mom would find ways to include herself in the action. Lilith Ann Reynolds-Maxwell was a go-getter in the true sense of the word. She was also hopelessly emotional, and moisture was already collecting in the corners of her eyes as she swept Lexi into a hug.

"I knew it was you. I still can't believe you're going to be eighteen in two days."

"I was thinking we could hang my birth certificate somewhere Uncle Z can see it. That way I can point to it whenever he tries to ruin my fun." Lexi offered a cheeky grin, while her mom crossed her arms and tried to look intimidating. She could never pull it off. 

"Don't stir up trouble with your godfather, missy. You know how beastly he can get. Would you like a piece of vanilla fudge? Chef has been working tirelessly to have everything just right for this weekend."

"Looks like he's not the only one working tirelessly." Lexi gestured to her mom's apron. "My mouth has been watering ever since I walked in the door, but Dion wants me to meet him at the stable before the guests start arriving. Do you think we'll have time for a quick ride on the beach?"

Her parents consulted each other with the parental glance. They exchanged the glance whenever Lexi requested something that pushed the limits of their comfort zone, which happened regularly. But they couldn't deny her this, not while Dion stayed within spitting distance, and certainly not on her eighteenth birthday. 

Her dad tugged at his sleeve to check the time on his watch, another move she could have predicted with flawless accuracy. If only someone were around to take the bet. "You've got two hours before the festivities get underway. I'm sure I don't have to give you the speech." 

He raised his eyebrows and waited while Lexi recited the mantra. "Keep your eyes on the horizon, your feet in the stirrups, and your head in the game."





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