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Love on the Ranch

Love on the Ranch

By

Alice Parker

Copyright 2016 Alice Parker

Published by Alice Parker at Shakespir

Shakespir Edition License Notes

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Love on the Ranch

by

Alice Parker

Copyright © 2017 by Alice Parker

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Love on the Ranch

All rights reserved.

This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. No part of this work may be used, reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording and faxing, or by any information storage and retrieval system by anyone but the purchaser for their own personal use.

This book may not be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of Alice Parker, except in the case of a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages for the sake of a review written for inclusions in a magazine, newspaper, or journal—and these cases require written approval from Alice Parker prior to publication. Any reproduction or other unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited without the express written permission of the author.

[] Chapter One

It’s amazing what happens when you get what you ask for.

One day, I’m at work, hating my job just like anyone else. The next day, I am on my way home with a severance check for two month’s pay and a ‘thank you for working at the same measly job for five years. Don’t get me wrong. I never envisioned myself being there forever, but I most certainly did not want to go to work to be let go unexpectedly.

But I had to admit that it was what I had asked for. I’ve been craving freedom, a change in my life for so long, but never knew how to start down that road. Obviously the universe was going to take care of that for me.

When I arrived home, totally ready to kick off my shoes and lay across my bed doing absolutely nothing, I was met by an envelope stuck in my door. Nothing else could go wrong. Maybe someone saw to it to bless me with an envelope full of money. That would surely make my day. I was not in the mood for much else.

Instead of opening the envelope, I tossed it on my side table and opted to pour a glass of wine and take a hot bubble bath. Hopefully I would be able to gather my thoughts and figure out a game plan. Although I wanted a change, I had not come to the point where I knew what that change was supposed to be.

The only thing I could think to do was to take a road trip to blow off some steam. No specific destination, just west as far as I could go. Scenic, spacious, and wild open and free. I had been the responsible one for so long, something inside of me was begging for a little less of the responsibility.

There was not much holding me back. I had just broken up with my now ex-boyfriend Jeff. After dating exclusively for the past two years, he decided he wanted to see other people. The kicker was that he still wanted to be friends. I was not sure what that meant, so I thought it best to back off. He apparently did not get the memo. I could not get rid of Jeff even though he was the one who broke it off with me. I tried not to let it bother me, because the chemistry between us was unbelievable.

I actually was not against the fact that we were really just having sex and maybe a little pillow talk. It felt nice not to have to look out for someone else’s feelings for once. Jeff and I weren’t in a relationship so I did not have to care about the emotions or any of the other extras. I was not sure if Jeff understood that. But it did not matter. He was the one that broke up with me. I did not feel like I owed him anything; no explanations, no excuses.

The wine was just perfect and the hot bath relaxed me. I could not stop thinking about where I would want to go out west. Maybe now was the time to take that trip, find out exactly what I wanted in life. I had a few months of income saved and it would not take me long to find a job and start over.

I suddenly remembered the envelope that was on my door. I made my way to the foyer so I could retrieve it. Fingers crossed, I hoped some twenty dollar bills would fall out and make my day.

Instead, there was a letter on bright pink paper. I had to read it twice in order to make myself believe what I was reading. The long and short of it: the rent was going up five- hundred dollars at the end of my lease in a month. There was no way that I was going to be able to afford to live here. Looking around, it felt like the walls were closing in on me.

I burst through the front door, falling out onto the porch trying to inhale as much fresh air as I could.

Think, Christy. Think.

What on earth was going on? Maybe Mercury was in retrograde because there was no way that I was losing all of this at one time.

Lost my job, ended a relationship, and now finding out that I had to move all at once. Holding my hand to my heart, I hoped that it would stop racing. This would be one of those times when I could use a little something in a small, white pill form to take the edge off.

Maybe if I closed my eyes, this would all blow over. Maybe when I opened my eyes, things would be different. I tried it. It didn’t work. I was still clutching the pink paper in my hand.

The earth was still spinning, birds still chirping, and the sun still shining as my life was going down the drain. I would just have to get my life together somehow. Where to start that process was the issue.

Another glass of wine would help for the time being. As I sipped, I started thinking that maybe this would not be so bad. What if this was the fresh start that I was looking for? What if the universe heard my thoughts and began to simply strip away all of the things that I no longer needed moving forward in my new life?

The thought started to motivate me.

First Jeff. He was truly a jerk that did not really know how to love a woman. I learned that at the end of year one of our two year relationship. I spent all of year two trying to convince myself that what I saw during year one was the truth and that I should walk away from it.

Then there was my job. I had never thought of being a personal assistant for a living. The company I worked for had some big named clients and I was pretty sure with the connections that I made over the years I could tap into my network and easily find new work. That was not what I needed though. I needed to be able to start fresh and chose a new career path that I truly loved.

And with the final straw being the rent increase, I was sure now that the universe was giving my current life the boot. The wine warmed me as I downed the rest of it. There was a sudden clarity as I searched the bottom of the glass.

I could do this. Not sure if it was the liquid courage pumping me up or the fact that I did not have anything else to look forward to living here. I snatched up my laptop and got ready to sell off some of my belongings online. I would need money for my cross country trip and there was no way that I would be able to take all of my furniture with me. Especially because I did not know where I was going. And really, I did not want to take everything with me. If this was going to be a fresh start, I needed it to be completely.

As I began separating the things that I was taking from the things that I was selling, I was more and more excited about moving on.

Ignoring Jeff’s phone calls also added to my confidence. There was no way that I was going to let him disturb me this evening. By midnight, I had everything in separate piles and I had taken pictures of all of the things that I was going to sell. Feeling accomplished, I finally took Jeff’s fifth phone call while I sat amongst my things.

“What Jeff?”

“No ‘Hello, lover. So happy to hear from you’?”

“Not at all. Because you aren’t my lover and I’m not exactly sure that I’m happy to hear from you.”

He sucked his teeth. “I can’t tell that we aren’t lovers. Not when I’m in your bed at least twice a week.”

Yes. He was still a jerk. I rolled my eyes.

“Jeff. Really?”

“I’m merely pointing out the truth.”

“And I’m not sure that I asked you either way. What is it that you called for? It’s well after midnight.”

“Had you answered the other four times I called earlier, then it would have been before midnight.”

I had to massage my temples to soothe the tension that was forming during this phone call.

“Anyway, I thought that maybe I could take you to dinner or something, but it’s a bit too late for that now. So I will just swing by and take you to breakfast in the morning. Be ready around nine.”

My first inclination was to protest, but then I realized that it would be nice to have a meal on his dime. Jeff was never one to have a problem digging in his pockets in order to impress me, or any other woman for that matter. And what fun it would be to have him watch me pack the rest of the belongings in my car and drive off.

“Instead of going out to breakfast, why don’t we stay in and eat? Get kind of cozy.”

I could hear him smiling over the phone.

“Staying in? Sounds great to me. I’ll see you in the morning.”

I threw my phone on the bed. Today was not the best day of my life, but tomorrow seemed to be working out already.

Chapter Two

“What is going on here? You did not tell me that you were having a yard sale.” Jeff barged in with his hands full of bags from our favorite diner. I was going to miss that diner.

“I’m moving.”

He rolled his eyes and set the food on the counter. “Where is the table?”

“I told you that I am moving. I’ve been selling off all of my furniture all morning.”

Jeff walked up and put a hand on my forehead. “Are you alright, Christy?”

“Never been better.” I pulled out all of the food containers and broke a fork out of the plastic wrapper.

“Please tell me you aren’t going to eat right out of the container.”

“I am,” I replied as I dug in to the frittata. “I just sold off all of my plates and utensils.”

Jeff put down his fork and walked off down the hallway. I kept eating. I wanted to be on a full stomach when I drove off.

“You are serious?” he said as he came back up the hallway.

“So very.”

“You did not tell me that last night.”

“You did not ask.”

“Was it something that I did?”

If I could slam my fork down for the extra added drama then I would have, but the plastic fork would not have had the same effect as a metal one.

“Why do you think that everything in my life revolves around you?”

“Christy, why do you want to act like we are not in love?”

He gazed deeply into my eyes with those soft baby blues. There was a time that he would hook me with those eyes, convince me to do anything that he wanted.

Not today.

“We are not in love. Where on earth would you get that idea, Jeff?”

“The past two years that we spent with one another. Didn’t that mean anything to you?”

He slipped his arms around my waist, nuzzling his lips in that delicate spot behind my ear that always seemed to make me go crazy.

“It did. But it doesn’t right now.”

He looked around, confusion setting in on his face.

“Moving?” He sucked his teeth, snatching the plate of frittata from me.

I gladly let it go and went for the home fried potatoes with the peppers and sausage.

“Yes. Moving.”

“So are you going uptown or downtown?” He was not even looking at me, instead, concentrating on the food in front of him.

“Out of town.”

I was so happy that he brought some orange juice to go with our breakfast. I gulped down the juice, loving the fact that he always remembered to get me the one with no pulp.

His laugh was so loud and hearty, I thought that he was going to choke on the food that he was eating. Fully prepared to do the Heimlich on him, I sat my food down.

“Out of town? Come on Christy. What is really going on here? Are you having a mid life crisis?”

I was slightly offended. “First off, I’m only twenty-seven, so I don’t think that I qualify for a mid life crisis.”

That was more like his department. At almost forty, Jeff was closer to mid life than I was. That was what made me so frustrated about him. He was supposed to be more grown up than I was, and although he had the career together, he was still out there trying to sow his wild oats and live life as a playboy.

“What’s second?” he asked, slyly grinning.

“There is no second,” I replied.

“Well then why did you say ‘first off’?”

If I wasn’t enjoying my last meal from my favorite diner so much, I would have thrown the food at him, plastering his face with grits and bacon. But Jeff was not worth it and I was ready to go and move on.

“Thanks for breakfast. I need to throw the last of my things in my car. You want to walk me out?”

“So you are really going to do this?”

“I am. And I’m doing it right now.”

“But there are still things here in your apartment. What are you going to do with the rest of it?”

“Carla is going to take care of everything for me.” My next door neighbor was a Godsend. She was an older woman that lived alone and was one hell of a baker. We often spent our evenings talking about life and love over one of her pound cakes and a bottle of wine.

“Oh. Well.”

I waited for him to blurt something out, but he did not. It was one of the first times I could remember that Jeff was speechless. If I was not mistaken, he appeared to be hurt. I was not sure why. We had broken up and as far as I knew, he moved on with some young girl that caught his eye, pleased him in bed, and followed him around like a lost puppy. Why would he even be the least bit concerned about me?

“Well. Let me grab my bags. I really need to hit the road.”

There was no way that I was going to let on that I had no real destination, therefore I had no real reason to get on the road at a certain time. I just wanted to get going so I would not second guess myself.

When I locked the door, everything felt so final. Carla answered the door on the first knock.

“My Darling,” she said, arms open wide.

I did not want to make this goodbye too long because I was sure that I would burst out in tears if Carla hugged me any longer.

“Thank you,” I whispered to her. I meant that in more ways than one and Carla knew it. I passed her the keys and wiped the one stray tear that escaped.

“Call me when you get there,” she yelled after me.

I barely turned around when I waved. If I looked at her, I knew that I would completely break down.

Jeff opened my car door for me and then leaned against the frame.

“I need to get in there.” He was blocking me from getting in the driver’s seat.

“Where is there?”

“What?”

“There. Carla said for you to call her when you get there. Where is there?”

“Jeff, come on. Let’s stop playing games.”

“And what if I am not playing games with you? What if I am serious about being with you? What could I do to make you stay?”

“Are you serious?” I searched his eyes, trying to peek into his soul and see if he was even close to telling me the truth.

I could not tell the difference.

“Why do you always think that I’m joking around with you, Christy?” He threw his hands in the air. “This is why we can’t be together.”

“Is that what you think, Jeff? The reason that we are not together is because of me?”

He ran his hands through his blonde hair. “If you would just grow up and find yourself, things between us would be so much more stable. I swear, Christy. I’m going to get tired of waiting for you.”

Fortunately for me, he had stepped to the side, and I could throw my bag in the car. That was all that I needed to leave.

“Thank you for breakfast, Jeff. And do me a favor. Don’t wait for me to grow up and find myself. It may take me a second.”

It was not as if I needed that tiny reminder of why I did not need to be with Jeff, but it was most certainly welcomed. He leaned in to kiss me, but I ducked and slid in to the driver’s seat.

Pulling the door closed forced him to move completely out of the way. Hopefully the fact that he was nodding meant that he got the point. I waved as I drove off. Seeing him in the rearview was a wonderful end to the Jeff and Christy saga.

With some tunes playing, belly full, and my mood full of excitement, I rode off toward the highway. My plan was to travel west. Although I had dreams of going to California, I knew that the cost of living would be quite expensive. And besides, living in New Orleans, I had enough of the fast life. It would be great to settle down and live at a slower pace. There would be plenty of time to think about what I wanted to do with my life as I drove through Texas.

About two hours in, I hit a stride, and by the time I hit the Texas/ Louisiana border, I was more than ready to live my new life. Crossing the state lines made it all the more real and that’s when the tears started falling.

It hit me that I had really just gotten up and left all that I knew. To some, that may look downright insane. To me, it was just as insane, but completely necessary. I wanted this new life so badly, I could taste it. I said a separate prayer that I would find the man of my dreams. The illustrious Mr. Right. Was that even something real or was it like searching for a unicorn?

Driving through the tears was becoming more difficult, but the release was just what I needed to push me forward. There was definitely no turning back. And I did not want to do so.

I needed to pull over and refuel as well as stretch my legs. For a moment, I wished I had someone to road trip with. Like a good female friend or something like that, but I needed to be in this alone. Otherwise, I would not appreciate the change that was going to happen in my life.

It was apparent that I was in Texas. Everything was definitely bigger in Texas. Men in oversized cowboy hats, large gold belt buckles, and elaborate cowboy boots. I actually loved every second of it.

One of my favorite daydreams was of a cowboy that would come and sweep me off of my feet. He would be this strong, strapping, young man. Rich oil tycoon that could easily switch between wearing a perfectly tailored designer suit and a tee-shirt that displayed his muscular biceps and a pair of jeans that showed off his butt. He was easy going, but did not play about his woman and when he loved, he loved hard.

We would complement each other. He would be the yin to my yang. I had been dreaming of this man for years, but never did I run across anyone remotely close to him. It was to the point that I was giving up on finding him. I had actually given up on finding love at all.

What I had with Jeff was not love. As a matter of fact, I was not sure what it was. And I’m not sure that it really mattered at this point. All that did matter was that it was over and I was completely sure of that fact.

The highway signs pointed to a small restaurant off of the highway. There was a gas station right across the street. I could grab a little something for the road, gas up, and maybe get one of the attendants to check my car out before I got back on the road.

“Hi pretty lady. How can I help you?” The attendant came around to the driver’s side window.

“I want to fill up my tank and can you take a look under the hood and make sure everything is alright?”

“Certainly.” His smile was pleasant and when I looked at him again, his baby face was attractive. He was a flirt, winking at me. David was stitched on his name tag.

“Thank you, David.”

He saluted me with a nod and I was fully aware that he was watching me as I walked off to the restaurant. I put in a to-go order and then went to the restroom. When I came back out, I took a seat near the window where I had a clear view of David servicing my car.

He was nice to look at. I could appreciate some good scenery on my journey. Being here made me feel a million miles away from home. Somehow I felt closer to where I was going versus where I had come from.

The waitress brought me my food and I was ready to hit the road.

“So David, what’s the verdict?”

He let down the hood, wiping his hands on his handkerchief. “Everything looks real fine. Real fine.”

When he said the second fine, he was obviously referring to my long legs that were displayed in the cut off shorts and cowboy boots that I was wearing.

“Thank you, David.” I stuffed the money I owed him in his breast pocket. Giving it a pat as I turned to get in the car, I smiled. It felt good to shamelessly flirt and know that a man found you attractive.

“You are mighty welcome, pretty lady.”

Politely, David closed the door and gave a tap on the hood to let me know that I was free to drive off.

Next destination was more Texas. It was such an expansive territory it would take me a while to get through. That was alright by me. That gave me more time to think. As if I needed more.

By nightfall, I knew that I should go ahead and pull in for the night and get some rest. I stopped, grabbed some dinner, and found a motel off of the highway that looked relatively safe. I had never slept in a motel before, but this entire journey was supposed to be an adventure right?

I was impressed that the accommodations were better than I assumed they would be. I could definitely get a good night’s sleep here. By the time I finished eating and took a shower, I was much too tired to do anything else. This was the most alone that I had ever been in my life and somehow it did not feel lonely. My body was exhausted and my mind had long since been ready for rest.

There had been so much change in the past twenty-four hours and I had not let it defeat me. I smiled just thinking about it as I sank into the bed, clutching the pillow tightly next to me.

That freedom that I was searching for seemed right in my grasp. Sleep came easily and it was the best that I had in a while.

[] Chapter Three

Refreshed from my night of sleep, I found my second wind and was ready to keep moving forward. It was nice to be out in the open road with no destination. For the first time, I felt like my life was finally where I wanted it to be, or at least on track to a place where I could comfortably live my life the way that I wanted to.

With my music and my favorite chips, it seemed like there was nothing that I could not conquer. At the hotel, I grabbed a map and a few tour guided pamphlets to aid me along the way. Since I was on a journey, I thought that I better make it fun by stopping off and doing some sight-seeing. With my trusty pamphlets; the world’s largest tumble weed, the cacti ranch, and the restaurant where you could do the steak challenge (I was not sure who would carry me out after I attempted to eat a twenty ounce steak, but the experience would make it all worth it), I headed out the door.

I hit the road before it got too hot for the day. But it was Texas and it was often a one hundred degree heat index before eleven in the morning. There was nothing but me, a few cars from time to time, a tractor trailer or two, and the open road. The scenery was much more dusty and dry than I cared for, but that was all part of the experience.

There were not many good radio stations. I finally got one that played pretty decent country music that had clear reception. The first song was about a man that had just lost his girl and was going out all night to drink away the pain. The next song hit home. It was about a woman who wanted a new life and had to face doubt and fear to go after that new life.

The signs started marking their way to the rest stop. There was food there and I could stop and get gas. Plus there was a little rattling noise that started a few miles back that I was getting concerned about. The rattling got a little louder just as I pulled in to the parking lot. A strong man stood there, directing me to pull in to the spot in front of him.

“What can I do for you little lady?” the attendant asked.

“That rattling sound. I’ve been listening to it for the past few miles. Can you check me out?’

“Sure thing.”

I popped the hood and he flipped it up.

“You could use some more radiator fluid. Let me see what else is going on here. Do you have a minute on your trip to stop so I can get you back on the road?”

“How do you figure I’m taking a trip?” I asked.

“Out of town license plate. Woman on her own out here in rural Texas. It all adds up, little lady.”

“Oh well, sure. I have the time. I’m just going to go over there to grab a bite to eat while you look under the hood.”

He waved his hand, letting me know that it was alright that I leave him with the car.

I had the best piece of apple pie that I’d ever had in my life and had managed to take a few pictures of the scenery to document my trip. There was an older woman sitting at the counter next to me. She reminded me of Carla. There was also a younger gentleman that looked like the older lady that came inside and called for her. He was a definite cutie and we caught each other’s eye right away.

I did not miss him flirtatiously smiling as he held the door for his mother and walked outside. When I looked out, I saw the attendant dropping the hood on my car. I ordered another piece of pie for the road and a large drink to go.

“Now, I topped you off with your fluids, but I suggest you get a full out diagnostic done when you get to your destination. But you are good to go.”

He spit some tobacco to the ground and opened my car door.

“Thank you.”

“My pleasure.” He slammed the door shut and went back to work. I looked to the side and saw the young man and his mother in the car next to me. They both smiled, the older woman waving. I waved back and she looked over to her son and said something that made him shake his head as he started the engine.

I wondered where the two of them could be going. Everybody had a story to tell. And besides, the guy was cute. I wondered if all of the guys out here were cute like he was.

It did not matter. I was off on my own path and I was not sure if I would have the time to begin or nurture a relationship. This transition point in my life was not the time anyway. There was so much that I was looking forward to. After having been in a relationship for two years, I did not need to look for any type of man or love. Maybe a bit of companionship, someone to warm my bed from time to time, but other than that, this journey was about being on my own and enjoying that.

With nightfall coming, I thought that it would be better to if I stopped now and took a rest for the evening. I found a motel that fit what I needed. A soft, clean bed, a shower, and a few reality shows to keep me entertained. Out in the middle of nowhere, all alone, just me and that delicious piece of apple pie that I got at the diner miles back.

And my ringing phone.

“Christy, when are you going to stop this and come back home?”

The sound of Jeff’s frustration made me want to laugh.

“I’m not Jeff. And let’s say that if I was planning to come back home. I would not be coming home to you.”

While talking to him, I flipped past a few channels, searching for something to watch. There was absolutely nothing on.

“Christy. This is gone far enough. Where are you? I can send you a plane ticket to come home.”

I was getting frustrated. “Why must my life be a joke to you? Why? I mean, I left and you have the nerve to try and call my bluff when I’m not bluffing.”

“I’m not trying to call your bluff. All I want is for you to come home.”

“You do realize that we are not together? Right Jeff? And we have not been together for a while now.”

“Touché. I still care and I’m not sure that I can sit around and watch you make a mess of your life.”

I knew that I should not ask, but I did anyway. “Why would I be making a mess of my life because I chose to move away and move on?”

“We are always going to be together, Christy.”

“Oh, but that’s where you are wrong. Because you changed all of that when you cheated on me. The rules changed. Or did you not get the memo?”

“Why do you have to act like that? Always bringing up the past. I thought we moved on from that?”

“And why would you think that we moved on from being together?”

I could feel my jaw clenched, not believing that Jeff had the nerve to ask me this question.

“You are always so impossible, Christy. It’s part of what attracts me to you, but it’s also what pushes me away from you.”

Pow! There it was. Jeff had this way of bringing me way up in order to bring me crashing down. I was tired of the roller coaster ride.

“Jeff, I’m going to get some rest. I’m getting off the phone now.”

“Christy, you don’t have to throw tantrums all of the time. It’s not your most attractive quality.”

The last thing that I wanted to discuss was Jeff’s less attractive qualities. We did not have enough time to begin.

“I am so very tired of this back and forth, Christy. You will come to your senses soon. Do you want me to put some money in your back account? Is that it? Fine. I will drop a little money in your bank account and then take you shopping and for a spa day when you get home. What day should I expect you?”

“You just do not get it. And you know what, Jeff? I don’t have the time to help you to try and understand.”

“What are you trying to say, Christy?”

“That for the second time, we are over.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“Jeff, at this point, it does not matter if you don’t believe me. It is what it is. We have been over for a while and that’s that.”

“Fine. I’ll let you have that. I’ll call you in the morning, Christy. Good night.”

He ended the call before I could respond. I was not exactly sure what happened there between us, but I did not want Jeff to be confused whatsoever. At any rate, I was not sure that I would answer the call in the morning.

All I wanted tonight was to go bed with a clear mind and energy, ready to hit the road in the morning. I did not need Jeff in my way clouding my mind and my judgment.

The sunrise poured in to the window, letting me know that I had slept the entire night through. I wanted to get up around five a.m. and continue my trek, but my body let me know that I needed to do otherwise. Instead of waking at the crack of dawn, I woke slowly a little after nine a.m.

It did not matter. Feeling well rested, I was ready to start my day. My phone notifications were flashing and I knew it had to be Jeff. I was not going to answer at all. It was not worth the aggravation. If I was over him, there was no need to dive back in to that pool.

For some reason, the man in the car with his mother popped in to my head. I wished for a moment that he had spoken to me, asked me my name or where I was going. I wished we had struck up some sort of conversation over a slice of pie and a milkshake. I wondered where he was going and if we would ever cross paths again.

The answer to that was most likely not. So I learned from that one interaction to jump at a chance to go for something that you want. You may never get the opportunity again.

After a shower and a few yoga stretches, I checked out of the motel and hopped in my car, ready to go. But apparently, my car was not ready to go. It stalled out, the engine struggling to turn over. How was that even possible when the car had been looked over at least twice in the past forty-eight hours?

Closing my eyes, I prayed that the engine would turn over when I turned the key. I’m not sure what mojo started working, but I was ecstatic when the engine started. All I wanted to do was make it to wherever I was going. Maybe this was just a small hiccup, an obstacle to test me and see if I would turn with my tail between my legs and go running home at the slightest sign of trouble.

Shaking my head, I backed out of the parking lot. I was not turning back, and most certainly not that easily. It would take much more than a little engine trouble to make me turn around and go back home. That was something else I had to do. Get out of calling my old home my home. I was moving forward to something new. It was necessary to be uncomfortable in life in order to make the changes I had to.

Being in this space in my life was full of contradictions. I was both optimistic and scared, exhilarated and ready to drag my feet. Pretty sure that all I had to do was keep going, I promised myself that morning that I would not give up until I found exactly what I was looking for.

Right now was just a little confusing because I was not sure what that was.

I decided to go past the cactus ranch and the largest tumbleweed. Truthfully, I wanted to get through Texas as quickly as possible. My phone chimed several times. Jeff did not have anything to tell me that I needed to know immediately. I would talk to him later. I was pretty sure that he would be calling back later tonight.

I made a mental note not to answer.

[] Chapter Four

By the time I made it through New Mexico, I started thinking that I could very well keep going to California. It did not seem that far off all of a sudden. But as soon as I crossed into Arizona, my car started letting me know that maybe California was out of reach.

First there was the rattling sound, and then there was the smoke coming from under the hood. And then it stopped working altogether. To boot, the bars on my cell phone were at one and there was no reception.

I wanted to kick the car, punish her like I was being punished. It was early morning, so the sun was not at its height. In the event I would have to walk, I had a few bottles of water and a snack or two that would last me.

Jiggling the cell phone, I hoped that would be enough to get a few more bars to get reception. No such luck. The only thing that was working in my favor was the ranch that was straight ahead. It looked to be the only thing for miles. I found it odd that no other cars were coming through this stretch of highway, especially with it being a major thoroughfare.

Turning back to the car, nothing had changed. Smoke rising from the hood, there would be no way that I could get it started. My phone was still not going to work with me. There was only one thing to do. I could not sit out here and wait for someone to drive by. Besides, for some reason, doing that did not seem safe. Something about going to the ranch seemed the safer idea. There were horses grazing, and I could see the silo of a barn in the distance.

Fortunately, I had on my comfortable sneakers with a pair of cut off shorts and a tank top. I threw the water bottles and the snacks in my bag and set off for the ranch. This would have to work.

A car whizzed by, driving a little too quickly for my taste. But then again, this was nothing but open road, made for opening your car engine up and testing it out.

I swear as I walked, the ranch got further and further away. It made me wonder if it was an oasis, instead of a place of refuge.

A man came riding over the hill on a golf cart. He was wearing a white t-shirt, a distressed cowboy hat, jeans, and cowboy boots.

“Can I help you Ma’am?”

I must have had a confused look on my face.

He chuckled. “Yes, I’m a cowboy that drives a golf cart. I can ride horses, but there is no need to do that all over the ranch when you can indulge in modern convenience.”

“Okay, makes sense.” I could not help but giggle.

“Now what is a pretty lady like you doing walking out here on this road by yourself?”

Turning to point back down the road, “my car decided that it needed a break. I’m stalled down the road.”

He rode the golf cart to the gate. “Let’s go check it out.”

With one hand on the gate, he hopped over the rail, landing on both feet expertly. I was able to see all of him, and I liked what I saw. He was gorgeous. Much taller than I expected, he had a five o’clock shadow, and piercing blue eyes, and a physique that showed that he worked out regularly.

“Come on,” he repeated.

“We’re going to walk back down there?”

I was not looking forward to doing that. I had already walked this far down here.

With a polite smile, he replied. “Are your keys down there with the car? I will walk down there and check it out for you.”

“Yes, I left them with the car.”

“Fine. You wait here. As a matter of fact, stand closer to the rail of the gate. Sometimes people are pretty reckless as they bend this corner on this part of the highway.”

“Alright.” I stepped back as he said.

It felt like it took him forever to get down to the car and come back. His expression on his face looked defeated.

“Is it that bad?”

He extended his hand. “My name is Blake, first off. And yes, it is that bad. Come on up to the house. I’m going to get you something to drink, a little something to eat and I will get my truck to tow your car up here so I can get under the hood.”

“Wait, a cowboy and a mechanic?”

“Multitalented. What can I say? Now come on.”

I really did not feel like I had any choice. There was no way I could stage a protest and stay out here on the side of the highway with the messed up car.

“Maybe I could just use your phone to call a tow service and get it fixed.”

I did have options.

“You could. But the next service station is a few miles away from here and where will you stay while you wait?”

When he mentioned the service station, I became frustrated. Hadn’t I been to two service stations with no success? And here I stood, with Blake, a man that I did not know offering to fix my car.

“I promise I won’t bite. At least not until night time when my fangs come out.”

His comment stopped me in my tracks while he laughed.

“Just kidding. Really. Come on. I would not be the gentleman that my parents raised me to be if I left you out here alone. Plus it’s very hot out here. You would melt if I left you out here.”

He motioned for me to jump over the fence, which was not exactly my thing. I opted to climb through the rails. He hopped the fence and was already waiting as I pulled myself through the space. I joined him on the golf cart and we made the bumpy ride through the grass, up the hill toward the house.

We came what I thought was dangerously close to the horses before we made it to the expansive driveway that led to the front door of the house. I was not even aware that the house was that large but it was even larger as we approached.

“You live out here all alone?”

“What makes you think that?” he asked.

“Just asking.”

“Well, I do live out here alone. I actually take care of this house now. It was the house that I grew up in. My parents downsized and moved to a retirement community where they live in a luxury condo.”

He pulled the golf cart to a stop.

“Come on in. Please make yourself at home.”

Blake walked around to my side and held my hand as I got out of the vehicle. I had to stop from holding my mouth open because the inside of the house was not what I expected. Completely updated and contemporary furnishings with sculptures and expensive artwork.

“You have great taste, Blake.”

“Thank you.” He took off his hat, smile a little crooked, a dimple popping out of his right cheek.

“You can have a seat in the living room. Or maybe you would like something to eat or drink while I go and hitch the tow for your car.”

“I’m actually pretty tired from driving and I could use all of the above plus a shower.”

“Well, you can use the guest room. It’s down that hallway, third door on the right. And there is some lunch already made in the kitchen.”

He turned around and pointed. “Which is that way.”

“Perfect.”

As he walked off, I could not help but to notice the way his jeans fit his body so nicely. Snug enough to show off his quads and his butt. I loved a man with a good butt. His stride was full of strength and masculinity.

The shower was calling me and I hoped that by the time I was done, Blake would be back with good news about my car.

Three doors down the hallway, I found the room he spoke of. For a guest room, it looked like it was out of a travel magazine. Way too beautiful to just be sitting here empty. I couldn’t help but to run my fingertips over the gold trimming on the furniture and I had to throw myself on the plush bed with white linens. It was what I imagined it would feel like if I landed on a cloud. The motels I had been checking in to were nothing like this. After a shower in the largest, most spacious bathroom I had ever been in, I took a seat on the bed and before I knew it, I was passed out, sleeping.

By the time I woke up, I was not even sure where I was. When I rolled over, there was a cool breeze floating in the open window. It was already dark outside and all I heard was the sound of a random passing car on the road and crickets. It was actually extremely peaceful. The kind of peace that I had been craving in my life. I almost did not want to get up out of the bed. It was easy to imagine living a life like this. This was more along the lines of what I wanted in life.

My stomach growled and interrupted my daydream. I was long overdue for something to eat. I slid on my clothes and tried to find my way out of the maze of corridors in the house. I could not believe that a simple cowboy like Blake lived here. It was more like the house of a millionaire; plush, luxurious, and expertly decorated. I pictured a cowboy living on a ranch to live somewhere a bit more rugged with animal heads on the walls and oversized masculine wooden furniture.

All I needed was a little something to eat and a report on my car, and I could get out of here and get back on the road.

Chapter Five

Blake stared at me over the rim of his cup.

“So, what is a woman like you doing on the open road like this alone?”

“I’m moving.”

“Where? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“I’m not sure.” I could not believe that I actually felt confident admitting that.

He nodded, with a look of confusion. Blake did not feel like the kind of man that would harm me. I just did not get that kind of energy from him. So I broke down and told him a bit about what I was doing.

“Sometimes, you just need a change in your life. That’s all it is.”

“I can understand needing change. Did you have enough to eat?”

“We had steak and potatoes. I am more than stuffed. Thank you for such a wonderful meal.”

“No problem. I haven’t had anyone else besides myself to cook for in a while.”

“So you are here all alone?”

“Yes. Like I said, my parents moved to a condo. It’s good for them.”

I pushed my plate away and then sighed when he presented dessert.

“So give me the damage on my car.”

“A cracked radiator hose and an oil leak. I can get all of this fixed for you, but you have to wait for the parts to come in.”

“And that will take how long?”

“I already ordered them. At least a week.”

“Wait. What? A week. What am I supposed to do in that time?”

He shrugged, matter of fact, as he ate his pie.

“You can either stay here with me, where you are welcomed to stay. Or I can take you to a hotel while I work on your car and I can call you when it’s finished. But as you can see, I have more than enough space here where we will not bump into one another.”

He had a point. The house was big enough. And maybe all of this was just part of the journey. Part of the adventure.

“I’ll stay.” Plus that guest room was calling me. It would be much better than any accommodations I could pay for, and I needed to be able to hold on to my money as much as I could because it would start to dwindle if I was not careful.

“Good. It will be nice to have a little company around here.”

This was not what I was expecting. “And you are sure that the car can be fixed in a week?”

“And you can be on your way. To wherever it is that you are going.”

“I want to take that as a slight, but we don’t know each other well enough for that to be happening.”

“Well. Are you going to eat your pie?”

“I am full and I could use some fresh air.”

Truth was, I wanted a tour of my surroundings so that I could be comfortable with where I would be staying for the next week.

“Let me show you around the house.”

The tour was amazing. “There is so much more house here than I was expecting.”

“Well, I did some more add-ons a few years ago and it was good when the house was full. But now, it’s just a lot. So I have to say, it’s kind of nice to have someone else here for a change. My parents come out for the holidays, and now since they are older, they actually prefer to travel elsewhere and see the world rather than come here where they’ve lived for years.”

He showed me the rest of the house which was breathtaking.

“I’ll show you the rest of the place outside in the daylight. But it’s just a farm. Nothing too exciting. Just a lot of land and animals.”

“Sounds interesting. This is a lot different than the scenery that I’m used to looking at everyday.”

Blake snatched up the plates off of the table and put them in the sink.

“I can wash those up.”

“No.” His hands were big as he held them up in a motion to stop me. For a quick second, I wondered what it would feel like to have his hands wrapped around me. Touching my waist, holding me as he kissed me with those amazing lips.

“You are a guest. I would never have you clean up. I will get them in the morning.”

I barely heard what he was saying because I had drifted off into a daydream. What on earth was I doing daydreaming about something sexy with this man that I did not know?

“Thank you.”

I caught a glimpse of Blake looking me up and down, but before our eyes could meet, I turned away. He was gorgeous, rugged, a real man’s man. I liked that. He was a stark contrast to Jeff. Not that Jeff was not an attractive man, but I never got the rugged vibe from him. And up until now, I was not aware that I was attracted to that rugged vibe.

“Do you need anything else before I turn in?” he asked.

“No. I think I will be just fine. Thank you, Blake. For everything.”

A faint smile came across his face as he excused himself and disappeared off down the opposite hallway from my room. He had this aloof quality that drew me in to him, but at the same time kept me at arm’s length away.

I went to my room to relax the rest of the night. Not sure where any of this was going, I found that soft spot in the bed and sunk in to it. The warm night breeze wrapped itself around me, a cocoon that I did not want to let go of. The curtains danced on the breeze as I stared out at the night sky. It was gorgeous out here. The sky was so clear and the stars looked like they were close enough to reach out and touch.

For the first time in life, I felt like I could breathe. I felt free and it was like I could think clearly. This life that Blake had was exactly what I wanted. Peace, quiet, and a slow serenity that was the complete opposite of the life I lived in Louisiana. I could look out at the sky and the stars every night and listen to the sounds of the crickets and the complete silence. For so long, I thought that silence was scary. Now I was starting to understand that silence could be comfortable. This could be my life.

I slept so long that afternoon, I was not tired by nightfall. The only thing I could think to do was go wandering through the house. Maybe it would help me to get to know Blake a little more. Why I wanted to get to know him, I was not sure. I just figured I better take this experience for all that it was. Hopefully it would be something to talk about later. A story to share with my friends, my kids, and my grandkids.

My toes were cold on the marble floors and there was a little draft in the house flowing through the corridors. There were a total of six rooms. I found two half bathrooms and wondered if all of the bedrooms had their own en suite like mine did.

The gourmet kitchen was like something on a television cooking show. There was also a den, a study that was used as an office, and a gym. The dining room could easily fit twelve people at the table. And the living room was complete with a bear skin rug and a grand piano.

I could not understand the contradiction in the style that decorated the house and the rugged cowboy that I met at the gate down by the road. It was a fact that I wanted to reconcile, but it just did not make sense. Maybe there was a part of the story that I was missing. And I was certainly interested in what that story was.

There was something behind the rough exterior and those baby blue eyes. His hardy demeanor let me know that he had been through something and that he was going to be guarded until the right person came along to make it safe for him to unlock his feelings.

I was not sure if that person was me, but I knew that sometimes we all needed someone to help us to figure things out. Walking around the house, I finally took a closer look at the things that I had not looked at on the official tour Blake gave me. There were all kinds of family heirlooms, pictures of Blake from childhood to adulthood with his parents. There were even pictures of him in college and graduations. From the looks of it, he was an only child and his parents doted on him.

I ran my fingers along the fireplace mantle, touching the frames and the trinkets carefully placed there. It was obvious that there was a lot of love in this house and in Blake’s family.

By the time I finished my tour, the craving for a glass of wine took over. I hoped that Blake had some ready in the kitchen. I was the worst at uncorking wine bottles. With it already being well past midnight, I did not want to do too much roaming around the house. If Blake was not used to having visitors, he would not be used to someone lurking around his home. I did not want him to think that I was being nosey, which was exactly what I was doing.

After shuffling around, I found a bottle of wine that was perfect. There was also a perfect chocolate cake in the refrigerator too. A match made in heaven.

“Are you going to eat that cake all alone?’

I swirled around to see Blake standing behind me. Wearing only a pair of pajama pants, barefooted, and chest muscles rippling, he was standing there waiting for me to answer.

Staring at him made it hard to do so. With his pecs on full display, it was hard to concentrate on what he was asking me.

“Uh, yes. I mean, no. Do you want to join me?”

Raising his brows, he gave me a flirtatious look. Blake did not answer verbally. Instead he went to the cabinet and got out two plates for us.

I was sitting with the platter of cake and a fork in front of me. I had not thought of sharing the cake with anyone else.

“On second thought. Here.”

Blake pulled out a fork for himself and dove right in to the cake. “Are you going to uncork that wine?”

Telling him that I always struggled with the cork was not something I wanted to do. But he would soon find out if I did not open the bottle. Instead, I just passed him the bottle and the corkscrew and he got the point.

I was happy to see him open it and pour the wine for both of us. It was the perfect compliment for the dessert. We ate in silence, but with our focus shifting between each other and the refreshments.

"Did you enjoy your self- guided tour?"

“I did. Made me feel like I got to know you a little better.”

“Do tell.”

I would normally be aggravated by a man of such short words and a challenging attitude. But there something about Blake that made me want him more.

“Nothing much. Just got to see your family pictures. It looks like you come from a great family.”

He sipped the last of his wine, setting the glass on the counter. I could barely breathe as he came slowly closer to me. By the time he was standing right next to me, I was feeling dizzy.

“I do. But that’s not what you were looking for was it?”

His words floated on his rich, baritone voice, leaving me hanging on his every word.

“I was just looking around. Since I will be here the next few days.”

“Hmm.”

Not sure what his reply meant, I sat quietly waiting for him to say more. Instead, he just stared at me, those eyes penetrating my very being. I wanted to know more, to feel more. But was that okay due to the fact that I had just met this man?

“Just looking around is perfectly alright. I told you to make yourself at home. I meant it.” He let his gaze linger a few more minutes, and if I had not backed up, I knew that he would have kissed me. Licking my lips, I tried to imagine what that kiss would taste like.

“But maybe I should go to bed now. I’m sure that you have to get up in the morning and do, well, ranch kind of things or something while we wait on the car parts.”

What was I saying? Ranch kind of things? I was not sure what that even meant. I was pretty sure that it sounded as ridiculous to him as it did to me now that it had escaped my mouth.

“Anyway, I think I’ll just turn in. The room is so very comfortable. Thank you, Blake.”

He took that opportunity to inch closer. “You are very welcome.”

Exhale.

“Okay. Good night.”

I tried to suppress the urge to run down the hallway. This was all throwing my mind out of whack. My mind was spinning out of control as I closed the bedroom door. Leaning against the door, I tried to get my balance and calm my racing heart.

What was a girl to do when she was in the house, so close to such an attractive, sexy man?

Chapter Six

The knock at the bedroom door woke me from my sleep. I was not intending on staying in bed so long, but somehow I could not climb out of the fluffiness of the space.

I pulled the pillow tightly over my head, trying to drown out the knocking. Unfortunately, it did not work. The only thing that would still the noise was if I actually crawled out of bed and answered the knocking.

Swinging the door open. “Yes.”

When I saw Blake standing there in some jeans that fit him in the most outstanding way and a white t-shirt that allowed his muscles to bulge from underneath, I was suddenly aware that I probably looked like hell.

“Get dressed.” He looked me up and down from head to toe. “Meet me outside.”

He did not say anything else, turning on his heels to walk away. I could hear his heels from his cowboy boots padding down the hallway. Outside? I did not want to go outside or do anything right now besides relax in the softness of my bed.

There was no way that I could stay in the bed after Blake summoned me. Throwing the covers off of me was going to be the hardest thing that I would do all day. Sliding on my shorts, a tank top, and some sneakers, I made my way outside.

“What could be so important that you had to wake me up so early?” I was trying not to appear too indignant as I crossed my arms across my chest.

Blake did not appear phased by any of it. He tossed me a large brimmed cowboy hat like his own. “Here. Put this on. You’ll appreciate a little shade from the Arizona sun.”

He stared at me as I caught the hat, twirling it over in my hands. Raising his eyebrows was my cue to put on the hat. I did as I was told and sat it on top of my head.

“Better now?”

“I was not aware that you could pout so well.”

“What?” My brain was foggy from waking so early.

“I’m going to show you around the ranch. Show you what I do for a living.”

“Oh. Okay. Fine. I’m paying attention.”

“Are you sure about that, Christy?”

I tried to calm down my attitude. Blake did not deserve my pouting.

“Sorry,” I said in an almost whisper.

“Here.” Blake had a way of ignoring my tantrums already. Smart man. He passed me some gloves. I didn’t dare ask what we were going to be doing this morning. I was already on Blake’s bad list for coming down here with an attitude.

How much could it hurt? If anything, I would end up with a few calluses and a story to tell.

Blake looked out over the hills. “Obviously you are not the kind of girl to do manual labor, so you can go inside if you want to. I would understand.”

“Is that a challenge?”

That sly grin again. He did not verbally respond. Instead he started walking out of the shed where we were getting ready for work.

I was not ready for what he may suggest we do.

“First, I want to take you over to the stables. Have you ever ridden a horse before?”

“No. As a matter of fact, I have not.”

“Great,” he clasped his humongous hands together. “That’s first on the list.”

I asked for adventure and I was most certainly going to get it. Blake showed me how to groom the horses and how to feed them. Surprisingly, I did not do too badly.

“Now, choose your horse.”

“How?”

“Your horse will most likely choose you anyway. Here. I see that Sheba has been taking a liking to you.”

He brought the gentle creature over to me and he was right. Sheba had taken to me from the moment I walked into the stable.

“Okay. Let’s get this going. I want to go ahead and make a fool of myself and get it over with.”

“You won’t make a fool of yourself. And if you do, I promise not to laugh too long.”

“Blake, you aren’t making me feel any better about this.”

“Come on,” he chuckled. “I’m going to show you how to saddle her up and get on.”

Anxiety set in, but I was not going to let Blake know that I was terrified of getting on Sheba and riding. And I did not want Sheba to know that I was afraid either. I’d read somewhere that animals instinctually sensed fear, so I did my best to suppress it.

“Put your foot here,” he pointed. I did as I was told.

“Now, swing using your body weight to throw your other leg over the saddle.”

It got a little more difficult at that point. Awkwardly, I swung my leg and missed and had to start the process over again. Only with Blake’s help could I get my leg over to the other side. His hand securely on my butt, he pushed me so I could mount. Then his hands on my waist, he made sure that I was on the horse safely.

It took away the fear, but introduced the feel of his touch and I did not want it to end.

“Are you comfortable up there?”

“I don’t want you to leave me. Where are you going?”

“Let me get my own horse. I’m not going far.”

I panicked, thinking that the horse would move without my command, but Sheba must have sensed that I was a mess so she sat still.

Blake on the other hand came gallivanting out; the expert rider and I almost wanted to cry out in frustration.

“Let’s go.”

That was my only command. No specifics on how to make the horse go. I had to rely on what I had seen on television. I dug my heels in Sheba’s side gently and she started trotting. The pace was perfect for a novice like me. And besides, I had no clue where we were going.

Once I got my balance, the ride was actually very pleasant.

“You have way more land back here than I though.”

“My family has owned this land for generations. We’ve been asked to sell, but my parents don’t want to. I think we could stand to let go of some of it. But then again, if we sell, it will most certainly destroy the beauty of it all. We don’t need a building development in my backyard.”

“No. You don’t.” I pulled the reigns on Sheba and she came to a slowing stop. The scenery was breathtaking. Lush green grasses tucked against the mountains that were so very majestic. The array of colors; red, orange, green, all meshed together in a symphony of beauty. There was no way that I would give all of this up if it belonged in my family.

“Why don’t we get back? There are a few other things that we need to do.”

“I kind of think Sheba and I were bonding.”

“You will have a chance to take her out again.”

Taking it all in, I did not bother to let the anxiety about riding Sheba get in the way of me enjoying the ride. There was so much out here that I was beginning to love.

“Well, I have to say that you have done a great job for that to be your first ride, Christy.”

“Thank you. It was a bit nerve wrecking at first, but it got better as time went on. And besides, it was absolutely beautiful out there.”

“One of the many jewels of Arizona.”

I sat there, wondering about the right technique to dismount. “I could use a little help getting down,” I eventually asked.

Playfully rolling his eyes, Blake dismounted his horse like a pro. I knew that I would not look so sensational when I got off. And of course I didn’t. Trying to get down, I was pretty sure that I was going to take Blake down in the process. Instead, he grabbed me by the waist and helped me slide down safely.

“There you are.”

I was not happy until my two feet were touching the ground.

“Thank you.”

It did not go unnoticed that he did not take his hands off of my waist. It also did not go unnoticed that he did not take his eyes off of me. And I loved every second of it.

“Let’s go over here. I have something else to show you.”

This time he grabbed my hand, leading the way. I practically stumbled over my own feet, trying to keep up with his stride.

“What? Are you pulling me this fast to get over to the pig pen? No way.”

Digging my heels into the grass did not help me to slow down.

“Yes. The pig pen. I need to clean up.”

Just as we got to the gate, I caught my balance and held myself up against the rail. “I’m not going in there.”

“Yes. You are.”

“No. Really Blake. That is not my thing.”

“It wasn’t mine either. But sometimes you have to do things that you don’t want to do.”

I had to pause for a moment because I was trying to figure out why he thought that I had to do any of this.

“Why don’t I let you handle this while I tend to something that is a little more my style?”

He smiled at me. “And what would that be, Christy?”

I knew that I was pouting. “I’m not sure what that would be, but it’s not getting in the pig pen. Besides, I’m not messing up my shoes going in there.”

Blake rolled his eyes, shaking his head. With a sigh, he opened the pen and slid inside as the animals began to rush toward him. That was exactly what I was afraid of.

I could not deny that I wanted a closer look, so I climbed up on the top rail and perched up there. It would get me a better view of whatever Blake was about to do. My goal was to look attentive if I was not going to get hands on.

That worked for a minute, but after wrangling the pigs, Blake raised his hands, beckoning me to come his way. I shook my head no.

“Christy, come on.”

When was the next time I would get a chance to play around in a pig pen?

“Fine.” I did not want to jump in head first, but I did want to get this over with.

First problem, getting down off of the rail. I almost fell face first into the mud. Second problem, I kept thinking about how dirty my sneakers were going to be. These were the ones that I used when I did not mind getting them dirty, but after stepping in to the pig pen, there would be no coming back. Third problem, I had Blake staring at me so intensely, I felt like I had no choice but to complete whatever task he gave me the right way.

“What am I doing?”

“We’re going to feed them,” he responded.

I don’t know what I expected him to say. My feet were sinking in the cool mud, the sun was starting to bare down, and thoughts of a luxurious bubble bath ran through my mind.

“Let’s get started.”

Blake handed me a bucket that will filled with all kinds of veggies and some other things that I did not recognize. I always heard that pigs eat slop and for some reason envisioned it as something in a soup like consistency. I followed Blake’s lead as he threw buckets of feed out to the pigs.

We dipped and threw the feed in to the trough and the pigs made their way over to their dinner table. I was about eighty-five percent sure that I could get through the task when one of the pigs decided to get friendly with me. He came over, nudging me and when I lost my balance, all hell broke loose.

Fortunately, the mud was soft when I hit the ground. But what was unfortunate was that the soft cool mud ended up oozing up my back and splashing all over my body, including my hair. The pig sniffed, his whiskers tickling my arm. The closest I’d been to a pig was bacon for breakfast.

And when Blake broke out into a gut busting laughter from somewhere deep within, I wanted to be angry. But it was impossible to do so because I realized how helpless I had to look, sitting there in the middle of a pig pen with mud plastered all over me and a pig sniffing me. If it had happened to someone else, I would have laughed as well.

“Let me help you.” When he extended his hand, I felt relieved.

“My knight in shining armor.”

The first inclination was to wipe the excess mud off of me, but I thought twice and realized that maybe being hosed off would be more effective.

“There is a hose near the barn where I can help you clean off before we go in the house.”

“That sounds wonderful.”

Blake led the way, still snickering at my misfortune.

“Can we call all of this outside work a wrap?”

He turned to look at me, those blue eyes sparkling. “Why, yes Christy. We certainly can.”

Chapter Seven

The water from the hose did the trick and at least washed off most of the mud. My clothes were done and so were my sneakers. I was ready to take a long, hot bath so I could scrub again because I could not shake the feeling of the mud still on my skin.

By the time I showered and changed, Blake was sitting at the kitchen counter drinking a bottle of water.

“I thought that maybe I would take you to town. Show you around a bit and make sure you get a pair of new sneakers and some clothes to replace the ones that you had to throw away.”

“That would be great. But I have some other clothes packed. You really don’t have to do that.”

“Well, I need to get out and go to town anyway. And there is no sense in you staying in the house alone.”

Somehow I felt like he was giving a command, more than asking if I wanted to go with him. And this could be yet another part of my adventure. Besides, I did not think that there could be anything that exciting in the small town where I was.

“Fortunately, my schedule is free. I guess I have some time to go in to town. And besides, the company may be more exciting than the trip.”

I was shamelessly flirting and was not going to apologize for it. There was something brewing between Blake and I. During my water hose shower, I decided to figure out exactly what that was. It was working. He was blushing.

“Let’s go.”

I waited out front for him to pull up in his vehicle, a pick up truck as I expected. He stepped out of the driver’s side and came around to open the passenger door for me.

“Impressive,” I said with a smile.

“Thank you.” He tilted his hat and closed the door behind me.

The ride was quiet at first. Blake cranked up the music as I took in the scenery. I could not get over how beautiful Arizona was. It was not the ideal place I thought of settling, but there was something peaceful and serene about it.

“What are you smiling for?”

I glanced over in his direction. The warm air blowing through my hair. “I did not know that I was smiling.”

“You are. And you should do it more often.”

His turn to flirt.

“Maybe I should. It’s just that.”

“What?”

I paused for a second, not sure if I should share for fear of sharing too much.

“Well, I have not had much to smile about recently. There has been so much going on in my life.”

Blake nodded quietly.

“We all have things going on in our lives.”

His comment was humbling. “That is true.”

“So are you going to tell me all that you have going on in your life?”

I rolled the window down a little more. The fresh air was refreshing.

“We can talk about it later. Today is such a beautiful day and I want to enjoy it. Plus I want to see this town you are bragging about.”

He laughed. “I would not say that I was bragging, but I do love my little town where I live.”

I didn’t bother to say much else because we arrived in town. It was quaint. The backdrop of the mountains made it look like a postcard. People here smiled when they walked by, looking happy and content. It was a little more up to date than I expected it to be.

“We do live in the new millennium around here.”

“I mean, I kind of figured that.”

“Just kidding, Christy.”

“I figured that. It is beautiful out here. I can see why you love it so much.” I had to stand there and take it all in for a moment. I wasn’t sure when I would get a chance to see something this breathtaking again.

“Been here all my life. I never want to take it for granted.”

Such prophetic words. Not wanting to take for granted the beauty in life. I did not want to be the type to do that either.

“The ladies all shop over there. Go on in and tell Mandy to take care of you.”

“Alright.” I glanced at him again before I walked across the street to the store.

“Welcome! How can I help you?”

The woman seemed like the salt of the earth kind, very sweet.

“I need to pick up a few things.”

“Certainly. What can I help you with?”

I told her the items that I was looking for. She was so much help, showing me around the store for everything that I needed. By the time we finished, I had three outfits, a pair of sneakers, and a new pair of heels.

Not sure why I was buying so much, I thought about putting some of it back.

“You must be new in town. I have never met you before. I kind of know everyone in town. I’m Mandy.”

“Oh, Mandy. Blake told me to ask for you when I came in. I’m Christy.”

“Blake. He’s such a sweetheart. So are his parents. So nice to meet you, Christy.”

With a smile, Mandy began ringing up the items and putting them in a bag.

“You are all taken care of, Christy. Make sure you come back and see me.”

I was confused because I had not paid for anything. “Uh, let me take care of the bill.”

Mandy held up her hands. “If Blake sent you in, he will take care of everything.”

“Really?”

Mandy nodded. “He’s good for it.”

Mandy laughed. “Blake is a great guy. He’s always doing something around town to help out. As a matter of fact, his entire family is always donating money here and there for repairs, fundraisers, or anything in general. He’s pretty generous like that, but then again, he comes from a good family.”

“That’s good to know. I mean, that he’s such a good person.” I was actually happy to hear that I was not staying in the home with a man that people considered to be a lunatic. What was the word that was often used? Eccentric. At least people thought of him favorably and that was nice to know.

“Known him for a long time. Never been anything but. Have a good day and I hope to see you again, Christy.”

Mandy passed me the bag across the counter and I waved goodbye as I left the store. Not quite sure what Mandy was sharing with me, because she kept mentioning how generous he was.

“Thank you, Mandy. I appreciate it and hope to see you again.” As soon as I opened the door to leave, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. Blake was standing across the street, in deep conversation with a tall, leggy blonde. She kept flipping her hair, in that playful way that a woman did when she was flirting. I could not tell from his body language if he was interested in her like she appeared to be in him.

I watched the scene as she laughed and touched his shoulder gently. Blake just stood there, rigid posture as she continued to try and get his attention. He turned, looking in my direction with a double take. There was no way that I could act like I was not staring at him and his admirer, so I just stood there in the same spot for a moment. I spotted a diner a few steps away and I decided that was the place that I would go to escape the obvious personal conversation that was going on.

Blake watched as I began walking away. I took one other glance and then made my way to the diner. Why was I getting angry about this? I had known him for a total of three or four days. Blake lived here his entire life. Of course he knew everyone and had an entire history here. There was no way that I was privy to all of that history just by looking at a few pictures on a fireplace mantle.

I found a booth in the back of the diner. My waitress came over immediately smiling as she poured me a glass of water.

“What can I get you hun?”

As I browsed the menu, I was not that hungry but I wanted to eat to at least take my mind off of what I had just seen.

“Can I get a strawberry milkshake, an order of onion rings, and a turkey club sandwich, no mayo?”

“Coming right up.” She popped her gum, not even writing down my order. Swiveling on her heels, she went and put in the order and set about tending to some other customers.

The chime over the door sounded, making me look up from my phone to see who was coming through the door.

Blake looked around until our eyes met and he made his way directly to me.

“Why did you run off like that?” he asked, approaching the table.

“You were busy. I thought that I would go and grab something to eat while you finished.”

Frowning, he took a seat across from me. “Christy, really. It was not that serious. Did you find what you wanted with Mandy?”

I liked how he expertly changed the subject so quickly.

“I did. Thank you.”

He folded his massive hands on the table. “Good. I told you that she could take care of you.”

The waitress came back and greeted Blake with a huge smile. “Blake, would you like the usual hun?”

“Sure, Deb. That would be great.”

Deb sat my order down in front of me with the same smile plastered across her face.

“Be right back.”

Blake turned his attention back to me. “So what did you get?”

“What?”

“From Mandy’s store. What did you get?”

“Don’t worry. I did not do too much damage. Just a few things. Thanks again.”

Deb returned with the plate of Blake’s usual; a steak medium rare, a side of scrambled eggs, and a glass of orange juice.

He dug in before saying anything else to me.

“That was an old friend of mine.”

“You really don’t owe me an explanation, Blake.”

He shrugged. His nonchalant attitude was really starting to get under my skin.

“You always appear to be so indifferent.” I closed my eyes as soon as the words escaped my lips. Somehow, the things that I was thinking escaped my mouth from time to time.

“I guess it’s a talent of mine.” He straightened up in the seat, leaning across the table. The way that his eyes concentrated on mine, I was mesmerized.

“Maybe so.” I tried to sit back in my seat, but what I really wanted was to lean in more closely to him, meet his lips with a kiss.

And I was way too distracted when he licked his lips. Right there. Leaned across the table, licking his lips and concentrating on me. When would he come right out and say, “Christy, I want you?”

“Can I get the two of you anything else?” Deb came over to the table, with the privilege of having a front row seat to our interaction.

“No, thank you. As a matter of fact, can I get a to go box?” I asked.

“Sure thing. I’ll be right back with the check.”

“I have a few more things that I want to show you while we are out here in town.”

“Really? I kind of thought that we would be done for the day.”

“If that’s what you want, we can head on back to the ranch,” he responded.

“That would be nice. It’s been sort of a long day so far.”

Blake nodded, throwing a few bills on the table when Deb brought the bill.

He stood up first, holding out his hand to me. I walked out of the diner first, headed toward the truck. And as we made our way, there she was again. The blonde haired woman walking past Blake’s truck. She did not appear to see us at all, but I got a closer look at her and she was gorgeous. I wondered then if Blake had a type.

The ride back to the ranch was quiet. I did not know what else to say to him. I already felt like I had overstepped an imaginary boundary. I really was not sure what was developing between the two of us, but there was most definitely something there that the two of us were well aware of.

By the time we reached the ranch, Blake and I went our separate ways. It gave me plenty of time to be a little more nosey. I went exploring in the house to see if I could find any pictures of his old friend lying around. His house was immaculate and about the tidiest house that I’d ever seen in my life.

This time, I ventured down the corridor where Blake’s room was. He was outside in the stables and I knew that he would not be back for a while.

There was a gym, a study, and what I could assume was his bedroom. I thought it too personal to go in the bedroom, so I took my chances snooping around the study.

With the requisite taxidermy heads mounted on the wall, I was then intrigued by the contradiction of business journals and information about Wall Street investments lining the walls on a built in book shelf. I was struggling to figure this man out.

His desk was full of picture frames. I stepped around to the side where his huge leather chair was to get a better look at the pictures. He stood smiling in one with some children who had the same blue eyes, dirty blonde hair as he did. In another picture, the same children with another leggy blonde. His parents were in another of the pictures with the children.

Did Blake have children and a wife?

No. Not possible. I had been here for almost a week and there were no children or women floating around. And the woman that he spoke to in town was not the same woman in the picture. I could not remember if he said anything about having a sister or any nieces and nephews.

Maybe I had stumbled on to way too much information. None of it mattered, because as soon as I had my car fixed, I would be out of here, leaving Blake to swim in the shallow end of his pool of indifference all by his lonesome.

Chapter Eight

When I awoke the next morning, I decided to have a changed frame of mind. There was no way that I was going to let yesterday bother me any further. Blake had not even really made a move on me. For all I knew, I could be imagining the chemistry between the two of us.

I dressed and went to the kitchen with the intention of finishing my to-go plate from yesterday. A note awaited me on the counter.

‘Parts arriving tomorrow for your car. In the garage working on it now.’

Funny thing was, I had almost forgotten about leaving until yesterday. Somehow things felt settled here. The sense of peace I was feeling about being here was awesome, but it was also a bit false. The truth was that I did not know much about Blake and I had not divulged much about myself either. For all he knew, I was some drifter with a raggedy car.

The sun was beaming down when I walked to the garage. I found Blake in there, music blasting, him under my car and tools spread out all over.

I stood there tapping my feet to the beat of the song on the radio, waiting for Blake to come from under the car.

“Why have you been standing there all of this time without saying anything?”

He rolled on a board from under the car. Wiping his hands on a rag, he stood up.

“I didn’t want to disturb you or anything.”

“You are not disturbing me at all. I finished what I could today. The rest I will do tomorrow after the part comes in.” He started throwing tools into their storage place.

“Thanks for that. I mean, I know that it would have cost me an arm and a leg if I had gone to town to have a mechanic fix it.”

“Hmm.” He nodded and went over to a cooler in the corner. Pulling two drinks from the ice, he turned to me and tossed me one.

Thankful for good hand- eye coordination, I caught the bottle of ice cold water.

“So have you figured out where you are headed after your car is fixed?” He gulped down the water as he leaned against the car’s door frame and waited for my answer.

“Not really.” I twirled the bottle around in my hands.

“You’re just going to stay here in town for a while until you figure it out?”

Instead of getting frustrated and inferring what I thought he was asking, I answered his question with another question.

“And what if I decided to do that?”

“It may be good for you,” he shrugged, tossing the empty water bottle successfully into the trash can.

“Good for me? How is that?” I was determined to drag something out of him.

“I live in a wonderful place here. And you said that you were looking for something with a slower change of pace. It doesn’t get any slower than living out here. Open range. Fresh air. Friendly people. You may find that it’s just what you have been looking for. If you are willing to give it a try.”

Those blue eyes were staring through me again. “I do like it here so far. Everything is so gorgeous out here. So peaceful. That is the kind of peace I have been looking for. But I’m just not so sure of where I would like to end up. Maybe here, maybe somewhere else. But I still have some time to figure it out.”

Blake opened his mouth to speak, but he snapped it closed. I wanted to know exactly what the thought was that went across his mind. But I left well enough alone.

“I’ll see you back at the house. And that’s great news. You know, that the part is coming in. I can get out of your hair soon.”

Not even waiting for him to respond, I turned and headed back to the house.

***

Where was I going? It seemed to be such a loaded question. There was something settling about this special place that I found, but there was so much more out there that I could be missing out on. I did not want to miss out on anything. There could be so much more that I needed to experience.

But what if all that I needed was right here and I needed to experience that life here? I was not sure of what the answer was to that question. When I thought about it, what kind of woman would I be to stay here, after falling for a man that I hadn’t even known for a month?

My grandmother used to say that sometimes there were circumstances that were extraordinary and that sometimes we had to do extraordinary things to stay there.

What if this was one of those extraordinary circumstances?

Looking out over all of the land, the lush greenery up against the backdrop of the majestic mountains, I decided that I could live life right here. Even if it was only for a little while. There would be no need to go racing toward the great unknown when there was so much here that I had not experienced.

I’d tell Blake that I was staying, hoping that he would not have any expectations because of it. It was already hard enough to figure out what was happening between us as it was.

The back door closed and I knew that Blake was in the house. I could hear the water running in the mud room where he was surely washing his hands and taking off the dirty clothing he had on in the garage.

Munching on some carrot sticks, I tried to fight the anxiety that was budding in the pit of my stomach. If I was going to stay here in town, I would have to get a place to live, look for work, and really look at putting down roots. This was all starting to feel so real to me.

“A penny for your thoughts,” he asked me with a smile.

When Blake smiled, something in me made me want to put down my defenses. And when I did, it made me notice how stringently they were erected.

“I was just thinking about how I just might go ahead and stay here in town for a while. Maybe feel it out. See what kind of adventure will happen here.”

“Adventure?” He scrunched his face. “I doubt it. Not living out here. Nothing but calm living. Nothing else.”

“That may be exactly what I need here. A little calm living. Something nice and relaxing for once.”

Blake stole a carrot from my plate. “What do you plan on doing with yourself if you do live here?”

“Like work and a place to live?”

He nodded.

“Exactly.”

“Step one was to agree on the fact that I plan to stay here for a while. Step two is to come up with a game plan on where to live and looking for work.”

“What kind of skills do you have?”

I dipped my carrot in the dressing and took a bite before speaking again. “I’ve been a personal assistant for so long, I had not really thought about what else I would do. I’m great at organizing and project planning. I’m also good with numbers so anything that has to do with any of that would be right up my alley.”

“Those are respectable skills. I’m sure someone here in town can use some help with those areas.”

“Or maybe I might try my hand at something else. I recently read this article on a blog about this woman who quit her job and traveled abroad for a year, not working and finding herself. She figured out that she had been missing out on so much in life and she took the time out to do things differently, giving her a new perspective on her life.”

Blake shook his head. “Sounds a little out of order to me, but to each his own.” He spun his finger around in a circle near his ear, signaling that he thought the idea was far-fetched.

“You think I’m crazy.”

He shrugged, taking another carrot and popping it in his mouth. “Not really. But I believe that you believe that you are doing all of the right things. And it is your life. So you have to do what’s best for you.”

I began to clean up the dishes from the snack that I ate.

“I’m going to go into town if you don’t mind.”

“Be my guest. I would like to take you out for a proper dinner tonight though. Seven sharp.”

“I can do that.”

I started to walk out of the kitchen and then it dawned on me that I had no mode of transportation of my own to get to town. On my way back to the kitchen to ask Blake if I could borrow his truck, he was standing there with a set of keys dangling in his hands.

“These are to the car in the garage. Help yourself.”

“Thank you.”

***

The car Blake spoke of was a silver convertible Mercedes Benz. Did he really want me to drive his expensive car into town? The only other car in the garage was a red corvette and I definitely didn’t think he wanted me driving his sports car.

Sliding into the plush leather seat, I took a moment to familiarize myself with the vehicle. Once I found all of the buttons and gadgets I would need for the ride, I pulled out of the garage. Of course I had to put the top down. What would be the point in riding in a convertible if I did not put the top down?

Fortunately, it was not far to get to town. I remembered the directions from when Blake drove us there. Very simple, two lefts and a right and I was there. Once there, I found a parking space, fed the meter, and decided that it was better that I walk around and see what peeked my interest for work.

Maybe I could go and see if Mandy needed some help at her boutique. Then I decided that was not a good idea because I spent so much time working in fashion and beauty already. Instead, I thought I should look somewhere else to start. First on my list was to grab a coffee. A little caffeine was always helpful to get my mind flowing.

Maybe I could find something at the hospital. The more I thought about that, the more I realized that I hated to see people when they were down and out, and I definitely was not going to survive the sight of blood.

There was the diner, a few more boutiques, a seamstress shop, the movie theater, and the library. When I thought of the library, suddenly a light bulb went off. The library would be the perfect place to find peace and quiet. It would most certainly be the change of pace that I needed in my life.

Headstrong, I marched right in and up to the circulation desk. “Hi, my name is Christy. I’m new in town and I’m hoping that you have a position available for me. I’m looking for work.”

The woman behind the counter was pleasant and I wondered how long she’d worked there. She looked down her nose, over her glasses.

“Well now, we weren’t necessarily looking for someone.”

My heart sank.

“But, I could use a little help around here anyway, now that I think about it. Not much, maybe three days a week. The library is closed on Sundays. I can pay you every week. You can start on Monday.”

I could not believe my fortune. I walked in and got a job on the spot.

“That would be amazing. Thank you so much! I’m Christy by the way.”

Extending my hand, I actually wanted to hug the woman instead.

“Everyone around here calls me Miss Leigh Anne.”

“Thank you again, Miss Leigh Anne.”

“Be here at eight. I can do a little training with you before we open at nine.”

Perfect. We smiled and bid each other goodbye. Things could not be any better. That was the most amazing experience so far. Knowing that I could stay here in town was making this all the more real to me. I decided to stroll around town a little longer. There was no harm in getting to know the place where I was going to live for a while.

Walking through the quaint streets made me both happy and homesick. Thinking of home made me smile. Not because of the things that I lost, but because of the things that I was about to gain. After losing so much so quickly, things were picking up with the same amount of speed. I was learning that I did not have to focus on the things that were no longer within my grasp. Trying to hold on to those things, those people, it would stop me from moving forward to the place that I needed to be.

That was what this trip was all about in the first place. Finding a different me, that person that was buried down deep inside. That person that had not given myself a chance at life, that person that did not believe in love.

I was now starting to believe that anything was possible. How else would I be able to make the decision to hit the road after losing everything and still come up on what was best for me?

Chapter Nine

I made it back to the house by six thirty. That would be enough time to change for dinner. Not sure what the attire would be for our meal, I opted for something casual. I did not want to be too over or too under dressed.

Blake had not given me any details, so I figured I would meet up with him in the living room. He was there waiting on me when I came in the room. Looking absolutely scrumptious in a pair of dark jeans with the most decorative belt buckled I’d ever seen, and a crisp white button down shirt, Blake approached me with his hand extended.

“You look lovely.”

“Thank you.”

He kissed my hand, his lips gently brushing against my skin. That tingle I felt in my spine was unfamiliar. Just a simple kiss on the hand made me feel giddy.

“Tonight, we will go out to have a little dinner at one of my favorite spots. If that is alright with you.”

“I would love it.”

Blake finally let my hand go. “I thought since your car was going to be finished soon that I should take you out on the town.”

“That sounds wonderful.” I did not want to tell him yet that I was not going anywhere. There would be plenty of time over dinner for that.

Topping his head with his black fancy cowboy hat that matched his black boots, we set out.

“I hope that I’m not overdressed.”

His eyes took in the view, looking over every inch of my body. I was wearing a skirt that flared at the knee, a white button down collared top, and a pair of cowboy boots that I’d purchased at the boutique.

“Not at all. I think you look sensational. And I love the fact that you’ve purchased some authentic boots.”

“I figured ‘when in Rome’.”

I was actually pretty excited to get out around town. Hoping that it would be a chance to get to know that place that I was going to temporarily call home. We took his truck and headed out. Life here seemed so simple, so easy. It felt like I was starting to find my groove.

The evening air was still warm with a dryness that I was not used to. In Louisiana, there was always a thick humidity that hung in the air.

“Where did you say that we are going?”

He glanced at me out of the corner of my eye. “I didn’t.”

And I knew very well that he hadn’t. I just hated surprises. Shortly, we pulled into a gravel parking lot of a place that appeared to be vacant. Not wanting to ask any questions, I waited to see what was next.

Blake came around to my side of the truck, opening the door as a gentleman should. With care, he held my hand as I stepped down, and then he closed the door behind me.

“Right this way.”

I felt like he was leading me down the plank. There was one faint lamp post in the parking lot that barely shed any light on the area. If there was someone waiting to rob us, they could easily jump out from the shadows and catch us off guard. And the fact that there was no one else in the parking lot did not help. There were some other cars parked, and that was the only thing that helped me feel a little more at ease with the situation.

Blake knocked at the door. Someone peeked through the slot in the door. No words were said, Blake just stepped into plain view. The slot closed and there was the sound of a few locks being undone.

“Well now. So good to see you, son.”

Blake shared a hearty handshake with the gentleman.

“Luke. Good to see you. Thought I would get away from the ranch and have a night out on the town.”

Luke’s attention turned to me. “And it looks like you have the perfect company to do that with.”

Blake turned my way. “Luke, meet Christy. She’s new to town and I thought that it would only be appropriate to show her how we have fun around these parts.”

Luke put a large hand on Blake’s arm. “That is a wonderful idea.”

I stepped inside so that Luke could close the door behind us.

“Christy, it is a pleasure.” He nodded with a smile.

“The two of you go ahead in and enjoy yourselves.”

Blake tipped his hat and took me by the hand. The hallway was dimly lit and I started to wonder if there would ever be any light to see exactly what was going on around me.

The answer to that was behind the door in front of us. Swinging it open, we were met with music blasting and laughter. Rustic charm; wooden tables, low hanging lights, billiard tables, and small tables that could only possibly seat two people.

Blake’s face lit up when we arrived; making it obvious that he had been here many times before. He looked around for a moment and then led me over to a table that was in one of the more dimly lit sections. The table was in a section that had booth like seating on one side of the table and a chair on the other.

He held his hand out and I slid into the booth. He slid in next to me and I had to close my eyes for a moment to get my mind together. This was the closest that he’d ever been to me and my head was swimming.

The waitress came over and plopped down one large pitcher of water and one pitcher of beer, and two mugs. She did not even take a drink order. She sat a basket of peanuts on the table and then walked away.

“Is that a live band?”

“Always,” Blake said, cracking a peanut shell.

He poured us both some of the ice cold beer. I took a swig and felt better as the liquid started to warm me inside. The waitress came back and asked to take our orders. We did not have any menus.

Blake took the liberty of ordering for both of us. By the time he finished, I thought maybe there were other people coming.

“Who is going to eat all of that?”

“I thought that maybe we could just sample a bit of everything.”

The music was making me dance in my seat. I was snapping my fingers, tapping my foot to the beat.

“Would you like to dance?”

“Would love to.”

Blake held my hand as we got up. There were a few people sitting on the side where we were and we had to navigate through the section where the billiard tables were set up. By the time we made it to the dance floor, there were several couples swinging, twirling about.

We jumped right in, finding our own groove. The upbeat tempo was fun, and Blake was a great dancer. He spun me around, dipped me, and twirled me back in to his arms. I could not stop laughing. It was more fun than I’d had in a long time.

We had to have danced for about six songs straight before we decided to have a seat. By the time we got back to the table, I had forgotten all about the food we’d ordered.

I was not as hungry as I was when we arrived, but I did eat some of the chicken fingers and I had never been one to turn down some artichoke dip.

“Let’s get a round of billiards in before the night is over,” Blake suggested.

“Oh no. I’m afraid that I’m not too good at that.”

“I will teach you. Come on.”

We found an open table, and he set up the game. I watched as he broke, shooting expertly. He ran down the rules of the game and I was still not so sure that I could be as impressive as Blake was.

My first shot was a disaster. Blake stood near the corner pocket, quick reflexes catching the ball that skipped from the end of my stick to bounce on the table and nosedive over the edge.

“Hmm. Try again.”

I was not sure that I wanted to. “Will I have to pay to replace those balls if I break one?”

He tossed the ball in the air and caught it with a chuckle. “I don’t know. I don’t recall that ever happening. Go ahead and try again.”

“I would rather watch you go again. Maybe I’ll learn your technique better this time.”

“Watch carefully.”

That was exactly what I was doing. Watching carefully. As Blake leaned over with expert form, he concentrated before calling the shot and taking it. Perfectly, he sunk the ball in the pocket, leaving me stumped as to how he could make it all look so easy.

Saved by the bell, the band started playing one of my favorite songs.

“What do you say we go hit the dance floor once more before we leave?” I asked.

He smiled, knowing that I was over trying to make the billiard thing happen successfully. “Whatever you want, pretty lady.”

The music was up tempo until we got to the floor. Then it changed to a slow song, but Blake would not let me go. Instead, he pulled me in to his chest, holding me first by the hand as he led our dance. There was nowhere that I could go from there. I closed my eyes and let him lead as I moved with him. It was instinctual to slide my hands over his shoulders as he slid his hands around my waist.

Right there, we were enmeshed with one another. It did not seem to matter that we had not known each other long. The only thing that seemed to matter was how we were feeling in that moment. I rested my head on his chest, feeling secure in his space. Broad shoulders and chest, he wrapped his arms around me, as I inhaled the scent of his woodsy cologne. I was not even sure that I could hear the music anymore. There was this rhythm of our own that we made and nothing else around us mattered.

Time froze. Being held securely in Blake’s arms, I did not want to move. When he leaned in, his soft breath on my neck, I closed my eyes and let things flow. My heart was racing; my mind was unable to compute what was going on as quickly as it was happening. I decided to let go and just feel, live in the moment.

In that moment, he planted small, soft kisses on that quiet spot at the nape of my neck. That spot that no one seems to know about, but is perfect for kisses. Breathless, my knees went weak. I opened my eyes to see his baby blue’s staring into mine.

For the first time, I realized that the music had changed and gone back to something more fast paced. Blake spun me out, twirled me around, and brought me back into his chest. He leaned over, dipping me. When he pulled me back up, his lips met mine.

The kiss was an explosion of all of the budding feelings that had been growing between us. His tongue danced on mine playfully. And when he pulled back, he slapped me on my behind.

“Come on, beautiful. Let’s get out of here.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but I could not get the words out. Dizzy with delight, I could not piece together how things had gone from zero to sixty in ten seconds flat.

We went back to the table so I could grab my purse and Blake threw some bills on the table to pay for the meal and the tip. Blake was practically dragging me outside.

We said goodbye to Luke, who let us out. It was hell keeping up with Blake’s large strides. We made it across the parking lot to his truck. He squeezed my hand in his, backing me up against the frame of the vehicle.

I knew well what was next. His kisses were rushed at first, as if there was not all of the time in the world to kiss me. His hands began to move up, massaging my arms, then my shoulders as he leaned in to me. His body was so massive against mine. Blake took off his hat, placing it on top of the truck and with no words, he kept the kisses coming.

His mouth over mine, I let go as well. His tongue tangled with mine, his hands gently massaging the space in the small of my back. As quickly as he began, he stopped, leaving me to try my best to catch my breath.

“Blake.” When I spoke his name, it sounded more like a whisper. He caressed my cheek, kissing my lips lightly.

“I’ve been wanting to do that for a few days now. I hope you don’t mind, Christy.”

Shaking my head, I replied. “No. I don’t mind. I’ve been wanting you to.”

I could not believe I had just confessed that to him.

“Good. We’re on the same page. Now let’s go. I want to show you something else.”

He opened the door for me, and I slid into the seat. Watching as he walked around to the driver’s side, placing his hat on his head, I was immediately aware that I was smitten by this cowboy. There was so much to me that was still a mystery, but then again, I had not given full disclosure as far as my life was concerned either.

“Where are you taking me now?”

“A little place I’ve always loved to go when I need some peace and quiet.”

It was obvious that he was sharing these things with me, these little slices of his life and I was appreciative for that fact.

The stars were so clear in the sky and the moon hung overhead, looking so close that it felt like I could touch it. The air was sweet and warm and the ride was quiet.

We pulled up at a waterfront. The moon reflected on the water’s surface, glittering in the ripples. There was no other light but the moon and two lamp posts in the lot where we parked.

Blake went around to the back of the truck and appeared with a blanket and a basket.

He opened my door. “Let’s go.” Extending his free hand, he waited for me to take it and walk with him.

I had no idea where this was all going to end up tonight. The soft summer breeze was inviting and spending the evening with Blake by the shores of the lake seemed like the perfect way to end the night.

Chapter Ten

Walking around the shore, we found a space where we could finally take a seat. There was a clear view of the lake and all of its beauty. The only sounds were the lapping of a few of the waves and the crickets signaling night.

Blake spread the blanket out on the ground and helped me lower myself to the ground. He set the basket next to me and came down to the ground too.

“This is wonderful. I can see why it helps you relax out here.”

“Yeah, I’ve been coming out here since I was a kid. The lake is peaceful, more so at night. During the day, people take their boats out and there are families out here enjoying picnics and family time.”

He opened the basket and pulled out a bottle of champagne and two glasses. He poured one for me and one for him.

We clinked the glasses in a silent toast and drank. I thought it was the perfect time to let him know that I planned to stay in town.

“I found a job.” I just threw it out there, waiting to see what he would say. Instead of speaking, he remained quiet, drinking his champagne.

“Walked right in to the library and picked up a little something. Only a few days a week, but good to get started.”

Blake slowly set his glass down. “So you are going to stay here? For a while?”

“I thought that maybe I would.”

He nodded. I don’t know what I expected him to say in reply. He dug inside of the basket and passed me the open box of chocolate covered strawberries.

Suddenly it hit me that we were on a date. “Is this a date?”

“What if it was?” he asked.

“That would be great.” I took one of the strawberries. It was so juicy, the sweetness dripped down my chin. Blake reached over and wiped the nectar before it dripped off of my chin.

“These are so sweet and juicy.” The best I had ever tasted.

“I pick them from my neighbor’s farm.”

I finished my strawberry and my glass of champagne. We sat in silence, enjoying the moment.

“So are you going to finally share your story with me? You know, since you are going to be staying in town?”

“That’s fair.” After all, I had been his houseguest for the past few days and he deserved to know more about me.

“Where do I begin?”

“The beginning is always perfect.”

Sighing, I started at the beginning. I told him that I was from Louisiana, born and raised in New Orleans. How I had been infatuated with fashion and beauty since I was a kid and how I went to fashion and design school and landed my first job working as an assistant for a design house right out of college. That job had turned in to an opportunity to go away and work in Paris, but I did not go when my father got sick and passed away. Instead, I stayed and started working as a personal assistant to a high powered CEO. When the business folded, I was out of a job with a decent severance pay.

I told him about my failed relationship with Jeff and how it had left me feeling like I needed to run from love. By the time I was finished talking, I had laid down on the blanket, and was staring up at the stars.

“It’s so nice to get to know more about you, Christy. I’m so sorry that you went through all of that at the same time.”

“Well, when it rains, it pours.” I folded my hands on my stomach, relaxing because it felt like I had taken a huge load off.

Blake rolled over, inching closer to me. “My mother used to tell me that only the strong were equipped to handle chaos and turmoil.”

“I’m not so sure that I believe that. It just feels like I’m constantly under attack,” I told him.

Blake shook his head. “But things are changing right?”

“I can’t lie. The tide is changing. And I am so happy about that.”

His fingers traced a trail over mine. “So, you’ve decided to stay awhile?”

“I have. Is that alright with you?”

“It sounds good to me. I would love to have you around a little more.”

Hearing those words made my heart skip a beat. Why was this man that I barely knew making me feel this way so suddenly?

“It was not something that I anticipated, but something just feels so right.”

He caressed my face, softly stroking my jaw line. His touch was soothing, beautiful. Lips touched in another one of his breathtaking kisses. I wanted him right then. No thoughts of whether it was right or wrong, or if I had known him long enough. Those things did not matter right now. I just wanted to know what it felt like to have him there beside me, inside of me.

Wrapping my legs around his waist, I pulled Blake into me, letting him know that it was alright to move to the next level. He slowly unbuttoned my top, sliding it off of my shoulders. Next was my skirt and before I knew it, he was undressing himself. He never moved his body from mine, warming me underneath. Holding on to his shoulders, Blake looked me in the eyes as he entered inside.

Underneath the moonlight at the shores of the lake, we made passionate love. Slowly at first as we introduced ourselves to one another. Then the pace quickened as the intensity grew. The want for one another turned into a need, propelled by a craving to dive right in to each other’s being.

Once we had come together, I did not want to let go. I did not want it to end and with the way that Blake had his hands all over me, he did not either. Whispering softly in my ear, he told me so many times how he wanted me and how much he adored me. Whispering how much he wanted me was a complete turn on and my body responded because my mind was all in.

Never before would I have ever made love to someone outside, in the middle of the night, where anyone could catch us. But here with Blake I felt secure and protected and the most free that I ever felt in my life. None of the things that would have concerned me before mattered. It was hard to focus on those things when there was a man, so sexy, so beautiful that thought the same about you.

Blake pulled me to him, wrapping me in one of the blankets and pulled me to his lap. Pure bliss awaited as he lowered me on to his erection, holding my hips and guiding me like an expert. Atop my lover, I felt like his seductive siren. Like the most desired woman in the world. Neither of us could handle the pleasure that was taking place and we sang out in unison, moans of satisfaction.

The spasms emanated through my body, ripples of excitement from my core to my fingertips. Taking a deep breath, I let go and suddenly it was like a dam burst forth. Blake’s fingertips on my back, he began to dig his nails into my skin. It caused me to arch my back into his touch, making him dive deeper into my body, into my soul.

Time passed and stood still at the same time. The very duality of his hardness to my softness. I wanted him more than anything right now. The warm breeze on our skin, kept us in the cocoon that we created there in the soft spot on the earth. Intertwining my fingers in his, we both held on to each other as Blake guided me through the next climax.

He sat up, holding me closely, his hips still stirring as he thrust boldly. The intensity grew as he stared me in the eye. His gaze did not let go, and neither did his grasp. Shuddering, the rest of the climax washed over me bringing both of us to the edge.

Blake bit his lip as he tried to hold on to the very last bit of pleasure, but even he could not hold on that long. I watched as he came to his own climax and he held on to me tightly as he did.

Out of breath, but completely satisfied, we came together, clutching one another in paradise. I laid down next to him, snuggling under the blanket to catch my breath.

Blake wrapped one of his strapping arms around me, tucking me in to a cozy little place in between his arms and his chest.

“Are you alright?”

I appreciated him asking me that. “I am.” Resting my head on his chest, I felt comfortable right there.

“The night is beautiful.”

Blake kissed me on the forehead. “So are you.”

He sighed. “Are you really staying?”

I nodded my head. “I am.”

He began to casually stroke his fingers through my hair. “Such a huge decision.”

“The biggest decision was already made. I left behind all that I knew to find a different life. I thought that losing my job and ending a relationship was the biggest change in my life. But it wasn’t. It was just the thing that forced me to move forward toward the biggest decision in my life.”

“Sometimes those things need to be made quickly so you don’t think too hard about it and let doubt creep in,” he responded.

“I think I did that. And I’m pretty happy with what I chose to do.”

“Good.” He squeezed me. “Now, we can stay here in this little slice of Heaven and risk falling asleep and being found in the morning, or we can pack it up and get back to the house where we can really relax.”

“Aww,” I began whining. “I have to get up? I was actually very comfortable here in your arms.”

“You can still lie in my arms, back at the house.”

“It’s a deal.”

We gathered our belongings and made our way to the truck. I did not want our paradise to end, but it had to. The ride home was silent. I wanted to fall asleep, but the ride home was way too short to do so.

When we pulled up in front of the house, it felt like the carriage was going to turn back in to a pumpkin. One thing I learned was to live in the moment, and the moments I shared with Blake I wanted to keep sacred and fresh in my mind. Not sure if this was something that would be over by the morning or if it was something that we would talk about developing into more, I decided to keep my thoughts to myself. There would be a more perfect time to discuss all of that.

Once inside, Blake pulled me in close.

“I had a wonderful time tonight.”

“Me too.”

His kiss was soft, tender. I liked the fact that he did not push anything to happen.

“I think I’ll turn in tonight.”

I did not miss the pleading in his eyes. I knew that the both of us wanted to lie in each other’s arms that entire night, but the last thing that I wanted was to force something to happen because we were both feeling the pressure to push it now being under the same roof.

“Good night, Christy.”

“Good night.”

He kissed my hand gently, sending that same tingling sensation up and down my spine. It made me suddenly crave his lips on mine, his touch on my skin. There was no need to overindulge. I made my way to my room, closing the door softly behind me.

Blake took my breath away and there was no denying that. Being here, everything was perfect. There was not much more that I could ask for. But I needed to make sure that Blake knew that I did not plan on living in his house indefinitely. Tomorrow I had a plan to go out and start looking for my own place.

After my shower, I was ready to climb into bed. With my dreams of my new life, I snuggled in to the covers and rested my head on the down pillows. Blake was right about one thing; life had a way of turning around for the better when you least expected it.

How could my life have changed so drastically in the past few weeks? Maybe I prayed on that change so heavily that I was given what I asked for plus some. I most likely would not have gotten up and left had I not been fired and I definitely would have let Jeff stay on the revolving door of our dysfunctional relationship had I not been fired and forced to leave my expensive city apartment.

Somewhere along the lines, I decided that love was no longer an option for me and that I would not be able to find anyone special along this journey for a while, so I settled. I settled for what little time and effort Jeff was willing to give me and I let that shape what I thought a relationship was going to be.

It’s funny how you don’t realize how dysfunctional things are until you find something that was better. I was not sure exactly if Blake was the “better”. I was not sure if being in this new town, with a new job, and a new life was the “better”. But it was all worth it to figure it out.

[] Chapter Eleven

Morning sun shining through the windows. I was not sure how I was going to pull myself out of bed today. Then it dawned on me that I was starting a new job soon and I needed to be able to find a place to live. That was motivation enough to get out of the bed and get my day started.

Today was also the day that my car would be fixed. Small steps on the road to being more independent from Blake’s assistance. I could eventually start feeling like I was back to doing this on my own.

Blake was in the garage, finishing the repairs on my car. When I heard her crank up, I was beyond ecstatic. I almost did a cartwheel right then and there.

“I take it you are happy to see your car is all fixed.”

“So very happy.” I raced over to touch her and sit inside the driver’s seat.

Blake smiled. “Glad I could help.”

“Oh my goodness. I’m sorry, Blake. I am so very thankful. For everything. I mean, I’m fortunate that I broke down where I did. You’ve been so good to me. I can’t ever repay you.”

Blake shook his head, wiping his hands on a rag. “Not looking for you to repay me.”

He kept his gaze on me, making me the slightest bit nervous. I was not sure what I was supposed to say to him. He had done so much for me in such a short period of time. Here, I was with Jeff for years and I did not feel the same amount of desire and protection as I felt with Blake.

He gave the car a hearty pat on the hood. “She’s all yours.”

I stood there, trying to figure out what else to say. Blake was at a loss for words as well. He approached me slowly.

“You can stay a while you know?”

“What?”

“I mean, you don’t have to feel like you have to rush out of here. You got the job, and now your car is fixed. I know you are looking for a place to stay. I have more than enough space at my house. That is, until you find your own space.”

“Blake, that is a great offer, but I feel like I have already overstayed my welcome.”

“You really haven’t. I actually like having some company. Living in that big old house by myself is getting old.”

I was squeezing my keys so tightly, I felt the metal start to break my skin. “Can I think about it? I mean, I appreciate the offer, but you know. This journey is all about me finding myself and I want to make sure I do the right thing.”

Blake placed a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Please know that I don’t feel like you are overstaying your welcome. It would be my pleasure to have you stay a while longer, Christy.”

“Thank you, Blake.” I did not know in that moment if he would kiss me, or if we were supposed to talk about what happened last night. This was the first time we laid eyes on each other since coming home last night. Not sure if I should bring it up, I paused, trying to feel out the moment. I did not want things to become super awkward between us. It would completely ruin the beauty of last night.

Besides, my new life was about going with the flow. I did not want to get caught up in labeling what was going on or putting any strict rules on it. I was learning that was the fun part about life.

But what if now was the perfect time to discuss it? He had not taken his attention from me so I figured I should go for it.

“About last night.”

We both looked at each other and laughed at the fact that we both said the same thing at the same time. It took a little of the edge off. Obviously this was the right time to discuss it.

“Does last night have anything to do with the reason you would like for me to stay?” I thought I may as well just go for it.

Blake shrugged. “Some of the reason. Not the entire reason. I don’t want you to think that I want you to stay for any other reason besides,” he paused. “I would just like for you to stay. Is that enough?”

“It could be. I just never,” I had to think about it to find the right words. “I never fell for someone so quickly.” By the time the words escaped my lips, they were a whisper.

Taking me in his arms, his lips covered mine in a sensual display of affection.

“Me either. So when something out of the ordinary happens, you have to handle it in an extraordinary way.”

“And how do you propose we do that?”

“I think that you should stay.” He gently lifted my chin and we were eye to eye.

“Okay. I will stay. Long enough for me to find a place.”

Frowning, Blake stroked my chin. “That’s a start.”

“Now, let me take my car for a spin. I want to see how she runs.”

Blake held up his hands. “Be my guest.”

It was great to have my own car, a slice of my freedom back again. Riding through town was different this time. I felt like this was the first time that I found myself in my life. I made all the right decisions for myself so far, so there was no reason to start doubting myself now.

Once I got to town, I stopped by the library first to get my start time together with Miss Leigh Anne. She also suggested a few places that I should look for a place to live and gave them to me in a list that she had handwritten.

It constantly amazed me how wonderful people were in this town. Just willing to help without anything in return. This was exactly the kind of place where I wanted to live. I stopped in the local diner and grabbed a coffee. Everyone was all smiles, including me, until I walked out and saw her.

The blonde from the other day. She was walking down the street, engrossed in a conversation on her cell phone. Her hands were flying everywhere as she spoke in a tone that let me know that she was being firm about whatever the subject was.

Blake described her as an old friend. That was totally possible, after all, he had lived here his entire life. Why would he not run in to old friends? But I knew that was code word for describing someone he had a history with. Replaying the interaction in my mind, I could see the expression on both of their faces. There was a stress, an awkwardness that settled between them that could only be due to things unspoken and dredged up old memories.

She continued on her way, not even noticing me. I wanted to know more, but I realized that maybe that was not my place to know all of that right now. My focus was on setting up my life in town right now. But the more that I thought about it, Blake had not actually disclosed as much to me about his life as I had. Even though it took me a moment to feel comfortable enough to disclose, I finally did. Blake was a great listener, but he had not offered up much about his love life. We discussed his childhood, his parents, and the fact that he owned the ranch. But we never discussed the reason why he seemed to have the contradiction of being a rugged cowboy that lived off the land, but still enjoyed driving in a convertible Mercedes.

I drove past the addresses that Miss Leigh Anne wrote down for me just to see what the places looked like. Process of elimination would be best to decide where to start looking. The more I drove around, I felt more of a connection with the place I chose to live. But the interesting part was that I think that it had almost chosen me just as much.

I decided to pursue three of the five locations and made a note to call all of them this afternoon to set up appointments to explore. There was not much more to see, so I made my way back to the ranch.

It settled more and more on my mind to sit down and talk with Blake about more. He was really my first friend here in town and it was worth it to get to know one another more. No matter what, he would hold a special place in my heart.

I had not really done anything to show my appreciation for all that Blake had done for me, so I stopped by the grocery store to pick up some things to cook a special meal. It was the least I could do to show my thanks. I was actually a pretty good cook, and I had not taken the time to prepare a meal in so long. Cooking was therapeutic and it would be a wonderful way to cool the awkwardness that settled in between us since our night together.

Armed with all of the ingredients needed, the kitchen was my liar as I prepared our meal. The steak was perfectly seared, the veggies steamed, and the shrimp perfectly cooked.

“Something smells pretty amazing in here.”

Blake appeared in the kitchen, smiling. “What is all of this?”

“An appreciation dinner. I know that I’ve said thank you, but I wanted to really show my thanks.”

He nodded, surveying the food prepared.

“Everything looks wonderful.”

“Great. Well, you can meet me in the dining room where I have everything all set up for our meal.”

Blake was all smiles while I set the food out and served both of us.

“I had no idea.”

“Well, there is much that we don’t know about one another. But I hope this is a pleasant surprise,” I responded.

“It is a very pleasant surprise.”

We had comfortable conversation over our meal. It was nice to get rid of the slight tension that was between us after our night together. The conversation flowed comfortably and we just sat, enjoying each other’s company and having a good time.

“The meal was amazing. What else don’t I know about you, Christy?”

“So much.”

“Why don’t we have a glass of wine and sit back and relax?”

“Sounds good to me.”

He disappeared and returned with a few glasses and a bottle of wine. We went to the living room where we sat on the plush couches and relaxed. Blake poured the wine and grabbing a remote, turned on the music. Jazz played softly and we sank into the couches with our wine. Folding my legs beneath me, I got comfortable, partly because the couch was so soft and partly because I was so full.

“So you are really going to stay in town?”

I nodded. “I am. This all just feels right.” I sipped my wine and then a thought came to mind that I wanted to add. “And I decided that before, well, you know.”

Blake chuckled. “It’s fine. I love this place. It’s a perfect little slice of Heaven. Not too fast, not too slow. People are nice, everyone looks out for one another. Great place to raise kids. Fresh air, green grass, mountains in the backdrop. What more could you ask for?”

“Have you ever wanted to live anywhere else?”

“Not really. I’ve traveled, seen things. Figured out that I fit in just fine here.”

“I like that philosophy.”

“Looks like you have figured out where you fit in now too.”

Giggling, I sipped the rest of my wine. “It feels that way.”

Blake refreshed both of our glasses. The more I drank, the courage to ask him about the blonde was coming to the surface.

“So I don’t think we’ve ever really talked about your love life. Tell me about it, Blake.”

He gulped some of his wine down before he began speaking. “I never really felt lucky about that kind of thing. It’s a sinking kind of feeling actually. Not one that I really understand. So I have to admit that I haven’t been the best at it.”

He was still pretty vague and I sipped my wine trying to wait for him to actually disclose more. His eye caught mine and he set his glass on the table.

“Look, I can say that I have messed up a time or two. Maybe not been the best mate possible. A few times, my focus was elsewhere. I can admit that now.”

I was surprised by his openness. “What would make you a better mate now?”

His brow furrowed, Blake pondered the question posed. “I know myself better. I know what I want in a woman and I’m not willing to settle. I also am ready to be a better mate. Commit more of my time and effort. That was something I was not able to do before and I could definitely do now. But that woman has to be able to deal with me, understand who I am and all that I require as well. I find too often that woman are willing to ask for what they want, but not necessarily meet the man with all that they themselves require.”

Blake polished off his glass of wine and offered me more. I shook my head, being at my limit.

“Christy, I know that we have not known each other long, but I am willing to see where this will go. These kinds of things take time, even though they happen quickly.”

He leaned in close, lips brushing mine. “But I do want you to stay.”

“I’m staying.”

“Good.” He softly kissed my lips and sat back.

“I should clean up a little.”

“Thank you for the meal. It was amazing.”

He kept me smiling as I went to the kitchen to start cleaning up. As I filled the sink with hot, soapy dishwater, I gazed out of the window, knowing that I would miss being on the ranch. The views were spectacular and it was always so peaceful. An SUV came riding up the driveway from the main road.

I shut off the water and watched as it approached. The driver’s side door opened.

There she was.

The blonde.

My heart started racing, and I wanted to run and hide but at the same time, make my presence known. But that was not my place in this situation. I was a guest in this house.

I heard the doorbell chime. The voices speaking were a bit muffled. Drying my hands, I made my way toward the foyer. Coming from the kitchen, I could stay unseen if I stood near the door in the dining room, but still hear what was going on.

“Blake.”

“Misty. You should have called before you stopped by.”

“I was in the neighborhood.”

“Right.” I could hear the sarcasm in his voice.

“Well, aren’t you going to invite me in?”

“Come on in, Misty. But I have a few things to do.”

“So you want me to make it quick.”

I peeked around the corner, watching the interaction. Misty, the blonde, stood in front of Blake, sassy. Her hand on her hip, she stared at him in a confrontational stance.

“So?” She stood there, arms crossed.

“I’m not sure what’s next, Misty. Things have changed and just because you are back in town doesn’t mean that I want to pick up where things left off. There is too much that has happened and in case you forgot, it’s been five years. Five long years.”

She tossed her hair over her shoulder, looking down at the floor. Sucking her teeth, she looked back up at him.

“I made my decisions, and you made yours. What did you expect me to do? Wait around?”

I could see Blake’s jaw clenched. He rocked back and forth on his toes, shoving his hands deep in the pockets of his jeans.

“Misty, the point is, you have been gone for five years. You took way too much from me, and now you have the nerve to show back up here like nothing is wrong. We have way too much to discuss, but I don’t want to do it right now.”

“So when, Blake? When do we discuss things?” When she said the word discuss, she raised her hands and made air quotes.

“Now is definitely not the time, Misty.”

“Why? Do you have company? I was in town and Mandy told me that you have had someone staying out here at the house.”

Blake rolled his eyes. “Once again, it’s been five years. What I do with my time and my house is not your business.”

“Your house?” Misty nodded. “Okay,” she threw her hands in the air in an arresting motion. “I see you want to make this a lot harder than it has to be.”

My chest was tightening as I watched the interaction. It was apparent that Blake and Misty had an intense history.

It was apparent that she wanted to lay claim to being in Blake’s life.

It was also apparent that I did not know Blake as much as I would like to.

Taking a deep breath, I walked back toward the living room. I did not want to hear anymore. It was definitely time to leave. I did not want to intrude any more. Blake had been great to me, but this was a deafening reminder that I needed to get back to real life.

Taking one last peek, I watched as the two of them continued talking in a code that only the two of them knew and I knew right then, that I needed to go.

I would make sure that I was out by the end of the week. I had a job, my car, and my new lease on life. I didn’t need anything else. But wasn’t that what my life was about these days? Things not going all the way that I expected, but still coming out of it better?

I held my hands to my heart, trying to still the pain. Even with Misty’s unexpected visit, I knew things were not over between Blake and I.

I was not ready for them to be, and I was pretty sure that Blake would not let them go that easily either.

Thank you for reading!

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Love on the Ranch

Christy has always been something of a free spirit, stuck in an urban setting. Like a fish out of water, she feels out of place and longs for an adventure away from the place she has long called home. When circumstances change for the worse, Christy decides it is her time to go on the adventure she has dreamed of. Through chance she meets a handsome cowboy who seems to sweep her off her feet. That is until his past comes back to haunt them, and Christy must decide if this love is worth fighting for.

  • ISBN: 9781370643585
  • Author: Romance Publishing
  • Published: 2016-12-08 18:05:13
  • Words: 25519
Love on the Ranch Love on the Ranch