Here is the next installment of Whisperer. We are going to meet Rachel (Ruffnut) Astrid's cousin/best friend and confidant. I took some liberties so she is a few years older and not an idiot like in the movies and the show. I needed someone for Astrid to trust and have a sister type relationship with and in my opinion Ruffnut is too much of an idiot for Astrid to consider confiding in. We also get to see some HICSTRID interaction…. Oh the tension… lots of fun!

And thank you so much for the reviews follows and favorites. They are always appreciated and sort of validate the hours spent in front of the keyboard and not doing laundry or cleaning.

And again... this is not beta'd. Anyone up for the job please apply!

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Over the next few weeks Astrid got acclimated to her new life. This was a big change for her and luckily she was kept so busy that she didn't have the time to worry about it. Even though she was growing to love Vast Acres, she still missed her home. Lucky Acres was comfort and love and everything good in the world. She missed her cousin's laugh and her aunt's ever positive attitude that helped push away the melancholy mood she had a tendency to fall into.

It was her cousin Rachel who had convinced her to apply for this job in the first place. They were best friends, even with the 10 year age difference. Astrid had spent the last few years at the ranch and it was time for her to get back out into the world and try something new for a while. Her job at Lucky Acres was always there for her. But there was no reason for a single 26 year old woman to be stuck on a ranch spending all her free time helping take care of her nieces and nephews and no dating prospects for 50 miles. Astrid needed to find her own way.

As she looked at their pictures on her laptop she sent a text to see if she could chat. Within five minutes they were up on Skype.

"Hey cousin," said Rachel with an exhausted smile.

"You need me," said a worried Astrid. "You look too tired. I knew I should never have left."

"Shut up and stop right there," scolded Rachel, "I'm tired because I have four children under ten who all refused to go to bed till Daddy called with news of the new calf and texted the pictures he promised. It had been enough of a battle to keep them in the house and not running out in their pajamas. So yes I am tired because I got every one of their stubborn little buts asleep in bed and it's nine pm. You'd be tired too. But that's why you took that job because you're too young to be living this way. I had my fun, found a great guy and then was insane enough to get married and have those four little monsters. You need to get out and live a bit more before you trade it in for all this glamour."

"I know, and I love you for it," she said with a sigh, "But I miss you guys! Did Emily loose that tooth yet?"

"Yes she did and she was very disappointed that the tooth fairy only left her a single dollar. It seems we had a second tooth fairy who would leave more…" she stared at her cousin… "Any ideas?"

Astrid tried to look innocent, "I have no idea what you are talking about."

"Brat," she scolded.

"You miss me," she grinned.

"You're right I do. I miss the second set of hands in the morning brushing four little blond heads. My braids are not as neat as yours and I have been told so by Lizabeth."

"I'll do a special braid when I visit. I plan on taking a four day weekend and driving out for Katie's birthday."

"She'll be thrilled. So any hunky ranch hands you want to tell me about?" she teased.

"Shouldn't you be going to bed with your own hunky ranch hand and not worrying about mine."

Rachel grinned, "So there is a hunky ranch hand!"

"No," tried Astrid but gave up at her cousin's glare, "Yes, there are a few."

"Any prospects?"

"Rachel!" she said and tried not to blush.

"You're blushing," she squealed. "Who is he and how hot is his bod?"

"You are horrible," scolded Astrid.

"I've been married for twelve years and though yes, my husband is still a complete hunk of man, I'm not dead. Now spill and please tell me Hayden Haddock is as good looking as the pictures in his book. Well, what little of him we can see. Very mysterious… It's him isn't it? He's not bald under that Stetson is he?"

Astrid knew she was probably scarlet by now, "He's not bald. He's about 6 foot 4, nice build, thick reddish brown hair and really, really green eyes," she said with a heavy sigh. "He's very good looking."

"I knew it," crowed Rachel. "He's smoken isn't he? Your eyes glazed over a bit when you were describing him."

"Too bad he's a complete recluse and spends almost every moment with his horses or in his office and has barely said three words to me. I don't even think he remembers I'm here."

"Astrid honey, he would have to be dead not to notice you. You're gorgeous and not exactly a quiet person and you're the only woman I know who can whistle louder than Fisher. Who by the way is in the dog house…again."

"He's still begging for number five?" laughed Astrid.

"Pleading is more like it. He's determined that it will be a boy this time."

"I know twins skip a generation but wouldn't it be funny if you had twin boys and they were just like Tommy?"

"Bite your tongue!" grimaced Rachel. "My brother is being a complete pain in the ass and keeps egging Fish on. It's like some race. Just because I was born two minutes earlier he thinks has to do everything to one up me. Penny had an ultrasound… its boy number five."

"I knew it! I'll call her soon to congratulate her. She always goes on her due date but if this one is impatient and comes before Katie's birthday I'll make a special trip."

"She'll be thrilled, though you know she won't break a sweat. She's too southern for even me. I swear she'll wear pearls in the delivery room."

"She's my idol," teased Astrid. "If anyone can look good having a baby it's our dear Penny."

"Sure and I look like a sacrificed cow. Thank God Tilton is a complete scoundrel otherwise their family would be horribly boring."

"Til is going to go to Juvie just to rile his mother up, deep down, deep deep down, he's a good boy. Maybe I'll ask Val if there is some summer work for him next year. A few months of hard labor away from home will do him good."

"Too bad mine are too young," she teased.

"You'd miss them all terribly and you know it. Let me know when you are expecting number five."

"Astrid!" yelled Rachel and then laughed, she knew it was inevitable. "Got to go, Fish is just about out of the shower and you know how I get after my man's helped deliver a new calf," she said suggestively as she wiggled her eyebrows.

"Fisher," said Astrid in shock. "Why is he helping with calving?"

"I didn't want to go because I needed to get the girls in bed at a reasonable hour or getting them up for church would be a nightmare. Fish went to get pictures and dammit he's lived on our ranch for fifteen years, some of it has to have rubbed off by now."

They signed off and Astrid couldn't help but miss her crazy family even more. Thank God for Lucky Acres or she would have no one. She still wasn't speaking to her mother who was still upset with her for leaving her last job, even though she had a good reason. She promised herself she would never try to live vicariously through her children. They could do whatever made them happy and if they were in a bad situation she would support them to the very end.

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It was a Friday night and Astrid had just made herself comfortable in one of the big soft leather sofas in the living room. She had a bowl of home-made extra butter and salt popcorn a glass of wine and a good book. HEAVEN.

The ranch had been a flurry of activity all week because one of the hands was getting married. She had helped with some of the prep-work and enjoyed watching Val in her element. The woman obviously loved weddings and had volunteered to host it as soon as Devon and his fiancé Kentucky had made the announcement. Vast Acres was more than big enough to handle it and getting the barn ready and decorated was fun. It was going to be a traditional Texas wedding with the vows being said under a canopy outside at sunset. A BBQ buffet reception with an open bar and a live band were set up in the barn. There were streamers and paper wedding bells everywhere and a dance floor big enough to hold one hundred people.

She had just opened her book and when Gobber found her.

"What are you still doin' here?" he asked in his thick Scottish brogue.

Astrid looked up, "Reading," she said as she held up her book.

"Well that's quite obvious lassie. Now up you get. Val sent me back here to fetch you. Go on up to your room and find something pretty to wear. I'm taking you up to the wedding."

"That really isn't necessary. I hardly know anyone here. I don't want to intrude."

"See here lassie," he said sternly, "Vallie was not happy when she noticed you missing and she told me that if I didn't come back with ya she'd refuse to sign my paycheck. So up ya get. I have my eye on a new pair of boots to impress the ladies with and if I don't get paid I can't buy em. And besides, a young girl like yourself should not be sitting alone when there are 50 cowboys at the wedding ready to dance you around that floor."

Astrid chuckled, she was not getting out of this, "Give me 10 minutes. I would hate for you to get in trouble with Miss Val."

Gobber smiled and sat down to eat her popcorn and watch some TV while he waited, before she made it all the way up the stairs he called up after her, "Better put on something that swings and some comfortable shoes. I heard some of the fellas sayin they weren't goin' to let you get a moments rest. They plan on havin' you out on tha' floor all night!"

"Got it!" she called back down and then grabbed a hairbrush a nice dress with a full skirt that went down to her knees, her prettiest most comfortable boots and her make-up bag. She'd do the best she could.

When they got up to the barn the wedding guests were still arriving.

"Well look at you, you look absolutely lovely!" exclaimed Val happily. "Oh, the boys aren't going to let you have a minutes rest," she teased but then tried to look cross, "I was not happy when Hiccup told me you were still sitting in the living room reading."

"I didn't want to intrude."

"Oh honey, of course you're not intruding. We're all family here and I would hate for you to miss a party like this. Barn weddings are something special and Devin and Kentucky will be thrilled that you came."

They sat towards the back in little white wooden folding chairs. The wedding was short and the bride was gorgeous in her willowy white dress and matching satin cowboy boots. Everyone went right to the barn and pretty soon the band was announcing the new bride and groom.

Astrid was going to be sitting with Val, Hiccup, Gobber and a few other ranch hands.

She hadn't seen him yet and was trying hard not to look for him. She was just about to sit down when someone pulled out her chair for her. She looked up and knew she must have looked like a trout with her mouth gaping open. Hiccup was… delicious. He was dressed in a starched white shirt, a sharp black vest, black pants, black boots and a sexy black Stetson.

Yum…

"Miss Hofferson," he said, just barely above a whisper, his green eyes sparkling from underneath his brim.

"Mr. Haddock," she replied with a polite nod as she took her seat. Out of desperation she turned to the nearest guest and started chatting about the beautiful ceremony and how happy the couple looked up at the altar.

She tried desperately to ignore the feeling of his eyes on her.

Gobber had not been lying about the cowboys. No sooner had the newlyweds had their first dance had someone asked her to join them out on the floor. She jumped at the chance just to put some distance between herself and those damn green eyes and the cocky smirk. She would not let him get to her!

She was oh so grateful for Gobber's advice. If she had worn a traditional pair of heels her feet would have been killing her within an hour. She was waltzed, two-stepped and promenaded around that floor non-stop.

Finally she had to excuse herself for a drink. "Oh my God," she said with a big sigh. "I haven't danced this much since my friend's wedding two years ago."

"Told ya lassie," said a smiling Gobber. "You've been the talk of the ranch for a week now."

Astrid laughed, "I don't know how to feel about that."

"Don't you worry dear," said Val, "I am sure it was nothing but respectful." She gave Gobber a look telling him that he better make sure the men behaved themselves.

Which they had, each was a perfect gentleman, asking for the honor of a dance, never pulling her too close or getting touchy-feely. Though she was sure if they had been at the local bar and not Vast Acres it would have been a different story. Cowboys were angels in front of mamma, in this case Val, but get them into a Honky Tonk and all bets were off.

She wondered if Hiccup let loose down at the local bar. Did he waltz unsuspecting girls around the dance floor, charming them with his sexy green eyes and good boy manners, then leave them crying into their long neck's when he rode off into the sunset alone. Or worse, did he bed them and leave them? Always the reclusive hero destined to be alone. She wondered, how many women had thought they'd finally met the perfect man to bring home to daddy? She had to stop reading so many romance novels

She quickly looked away when she realized she'd been caught staring.

Hiccup watched her from the other side of the room and smirked when he saw her looking in his direction. Had she been looking at him? He had gotten together with some friends and they were comfortably sitting in a corner drinking beer and talking shop.

He looked up again when he felt Cole nudge him.

"How come you haven't put in dibs yet? You get to dance with her here at the ranch or something?" he said with a conspiratorial wink.

"I'm her boss," he replied and then took a long pull from his beer. "She doesn't want to dance with her boss."

"Bullshit," he scoffed. "Have you suddenly gone stupid or blind?"

"I'm not blind. I just have…"

"Too much work to do," mimicked his friends.

"Shit heads," he grumbled.

"You need to get laid," said Steven, who was usually as quiet as Bucket.

They all looked at him and burst out laughing.

"I need a shot," he mumbled as he got up and headed toward the bar.

At the end of the evening Astrid was chatting with some new friends when she felt him behind her. She turned and looked up to find his hand out for her to take and with a small nod she placed her hand in his and followed him out to the floor.

It was a slow ballad and the female singer was doing a great job, that or Astrid really did have too much wine. Not having to drive home she had allowed herself more than just two glasses.

Silently he waltzed her around the floor. They were not pressed closely together and he wasn't whispering sweet nothings in her ear.

Than why the hell was she feeling so flushed? Had the room suddenly gone up about a thousand degrees?

When the song ended he gave her a nod and left the barn.

"The tragic hero has left the building," she grumbled and then made her way to the bar, "Shot of tequila please."

TBC...