Authors: Jill Sanders
Haley frowned. “No.”
“Oh, come on.” Alex reached over and stopped Bobby from walking with a tap. “You’ve always had your nose in Lauren’s and my business, now it’s our turn.”
Haley smiled. “Yeah, but you two didn’t know what you had right in front of your faces.” She looked over at Wes. “I know for a fact that what that man has, I no longer want. I can’t afford to go there again.”
“Haley.” Alex waited until she turned and looked at her again. “We all make mistakes; we all can make choices that take us down the wrong path. Don’t let something someone did years ago ruin what’s meant to be.”
Alex reached over and patted Haley’s leg, then turned her horse towards the herd and got back to work.
Over the next hour, she thought about what Alex had said. Was she willing to chance it again with Wes?
She’d never told her sisters about the scare she and Wes had years ago. Maybe his reaction had been a male standard. Maybe she should forgive him for taking off like that. Could she trust him not to do it again? He said he was staying around— everyone in town was talking about it—but so far he didn’t have a job, a car, or even a permanent place to live.
By the time the sun was going down and everyone was calling it a night, she had come to a decision. She would wait and see if he was serious about sticking around. But she needed to protect herself.
After grabbing a cold shower and a ham sandwich, she headed out to the barn to check up on her animals.
As she walked out the back door, she smiled at the picture her sister and family made. Lauren, Chase, and their son Richard, whom everyone called Ricky, were on the back deck, swinging in the over-sized swing Chase had built for their last anniversary.
Going to check up on the animals?” Chase called out to her.
She nodded and waved. When she turned the corner by the barn, she bumped into a sold mass of muscle. Looking up, she groaned when she saw Wes smiling back at her.
“Evening,” he said, slowly.
What are you doing here?” She knew it came out a little whinier than she intended, but at this moment, she didn’t care. He was invading her life.
Before she realized what he was doing, his arms were around her and her mind went blank. She looked up to tell him to let her go, but when she saw the heat in his eyes, everything else disappeared. The world could have been on fire and she wouldn’t have noticed.
Wes couldn’t stop looking at Haley’s face as he held her. He wanted to pull her closer, but she held herself so stiff that he knew she would pull away if he tried.
“You smell wonderful,” he whispered.
She blinked a few times and he could see her green eyes focusing again. He’d always loved that he could see her emotions reflected in them. They were almost like mood rings, letting him know when to move in or when to back off. Now they were telling him to take a step back, so he dropped his arms and leaned away.
“Going for a walk?” he asked, knowing he was switching subjects before she could reprimand him for being at her place.
When he’d asked her to stop by his place, he’d known she wouldn’t come. After sitting on his porch for half an hour, he’d started walking and had ended up here.
“Listen, Wes…” She looked over her shoulder, towards the house.
Don’t. Just take a walk with me. I haven’t seen you in over five years.” He knew he was pleading, but he wanted to spend time with her. Even if she couldn’t stand him, he still wanted to just be with her.
She sighed and rolled her shoulders, a move he knew meant that she was doing some serious thinking.
“Fine, but only to the shed and back.” She nodded to the light on the old water shed.
Great.” He took up her hand and started walking slowly. “So, my mother has told me a little of what’s happened in town since I left. Maybe you can fill in gaps.” He looked over at her and saw that he’d successfully confused her. She was expecting him to talk about them, but he wanted to keep her mind off the fact that he was going to win her back, slowly. He’d learned how to be stealthy the first year in the army. Sneaking in and catching the enemy was sometimes the only way to get what you wanted.
She sighed and dropped his hand. “Well, you heard all about Lauren and Chase?”
He nodded a little. “Mom told me that they’d been married the day after your father’s funeral.” She nodded, as he laughed. “Then just last year when he moved back, they fell in love. Not the usual order of doing things.”
Yes,” Haley smiled. “They make such a wonderful couple. Now with Ricky they are perfect.” She looked off ahead and sighed again.
And Alex and Grant. Tell me how that happened,” he asked, humor lacing his voice.
Haley laughed and stopped to lean against the fence along the path. “No one seems to know, other than the fact that it was much needed. Grant came in at the right time, I guess.” She smiled. “Of course, he’s changed a lot from when he was a kid.” She turned and looked at him and he noticed in the dim light that her cheeks turned a dark shade of pink.
“What?” he asked, leaning his foot on the bottom rung of the fence. He was close to her and could smell her sweet scent. How he’d missed that smell over the years.
Nothing,” she said, shaking her head. Then she turned away, leaning back against the fence. “Chase has worked so hard to fix the house up.” She nodded towards the house.
There were lights that hung on the back deck, in the trees, and along the awnings, making it look very romantic. He could hear the crickets and frogs as they chirped their nightly ritual. There was no place on Earth that he wanted to be more than right there, with Haley.
“He’d doing a fine job. He’s started work on the place I’m staying in, too.” He laughed. “Actually, that’s why he’s allowing me to stay there. I’m helping him out by painting the place next week.”
Haley turned to him. “Chase is fixing up the ranch homes?” When he nodded, she continued. “You know, I’m always the last to find these things out.” She looked a little upset, so he changed the subject.
“What about you? What have you been up to since I left?”
She turned back to him, looked him in the eyes, and shrugged her shoulders. “Same old stuff, I suppose.”
“I hear you’ve had a winning calf the last three years in a row at the state fair,” he said, playfully, reaching up to tuck a strand of her dark hair behind her shoulder. She’d always kept it long, but this was the longest he’d ever seen it.
She shrugged again. “Yes, and I think I found number four just today.”
He smiled. “You have always had such a talent with animals.” He pulled her closer, until they were a breath apart.
Wes, I can’t do this.” She swallowed and pushed away from him. “I understand why you left. I was just as scared as you were.” She took a few steps away from him. “But you hurt me.” He could see the hurt as her eyes pleaded with him. “Can you understand that I can’t take that chance again? I’ve moved on.” She started walking back towards the house and all the lights. “You should, too.”
He watched her as she made her way to the house. She stopped on the back deck and talked with her family for a minute, then disappeared into the house. He stood there against the fence until he watched her bedroom light turn on, then a half an hour later, turn off.
As he made his way slowly towards the house that he was calling home for the next few weeks, he couldn’t stop wondering what it would take for her to trust him again.
He’d never imagined how it had been for her, staying in Fairplay while he went off to basic and then overseas. He’d been too preoccupied with keeping himself alive to think of how she’d been alone in the small town.
He loved Fairplay, but there just wasn’t a lot to see or do if you didn’t have someone to share it with. Sure, she had her family, but now that both her sisters were happily married, maybe she was feeling some pressure to get hitched as well. Maybe that’s why she was letting Tom stick around? That thought almost had him turning back around and knocking on her bedroom window. But he could already see the porch light of his little place and continued on.
When he finally lay down in bed, he stared at the ceiling for hours, thinking of how he could convince Haley to give him another chance. He knew one thing—moving slowly wasn’t going to work anymore. He had to up the stakes and fast.
he next few days, Haley stayed busy with work around the ranch. She didn’t have a major role in how things ran around the pace, but she did all that she could. She enjoyed mucking out the stalls and feeding and watering the animals. But her favorite job was riding the fences, checking for breaks in the barbed wire.
Dash wasn’t the fastest horse, but he knew the routes to take by heart, and he was smart enough that when he saw a hole for her to fix, he’d stop. Most of the ride she could let her mind wander; since she had a lot to think about, she hardly paid attention to the job.
When lunchtime rolled around, she parked the horse under a tree and leaned up against the large trunk. She ate a sandwich and a bag of chips, and washed it all down with a bottled water. After eating, she fell asleep, lying in the cool shade. She jumped when she heard something.
Sorry.” Wes looked down at her, smiling. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
She shook her head, trying to clear her foggy mind. “No, you didn’t. I was just resting my eyes.” It was a lie, since she still couldn’t focus her eyes; she knew she must have been in a very deep slumber. She wanted to stand, but he surprised her by taking the spot next to her under the tree. His knee pressed up against hers, causing her heart to flutter.
“It’s a great day for napping under an oak.” He smiled again and her heart jumped.
I suppose.” She turned her eyes away from his face and looked off to where Dash stood, eating some grass.
How’s the old boy doing?” She looked back at him in question, then he nodded towards her horse.
Dash?” He’s doing fine.” She looked at her horse again, afraid of saying anything more.
Haley,” Wes said, taking her hand in his, “we can’t keep on ignoring each other like this.”
She sighed and looked at him again. His brown eyes pleaded with her. “I know, but we can’t go back to the way things were, either.”
He looked down at their joined hands, a sad look in his eyes. “I understand that.” He raised his eyes slowly and heat spread throughout her body. “But there’s nothing stopping us from starting all over. We’re different people than we used to be. I want nothing more than to learn all about you again.” His hand ran up her arm slowly, sending little goose bumps over her skin. “Explore what we could be.” Her eyes were locked with his; she couldn’t look away from him. “Maybe we can have something wonderful again.” He leaned in closer until he was a breath away from her lips. “I’m game if you are.” He waited, and when she blinked and looked at his lips, he moved in and gently laid his lips on hers.
She’d dreamed about this
moment since he’d brushed her lips with his weeks ago. She’d imagined how it would feel to really kiss him, wondered what she’d do. None of it came close to the reality of his lips on hers, his hands on her soft skin.
Her fingers went into his hair, holding him close so she could further explore the way he felt now. His lips were like a perfect memory, but there was a hint of newness there as well. His hair was still cut military short. She explored his neck and shoulders as his hands ran slowly over her arms.
When he moved to lay her down in the soft grass, she jolted and pushed away. Shaking her head, she cleared her mind of the images she’d been playing over in her mind. She wasn’t ready for this. It had been years, almost six to be exact, since she’d been intimate with him; she wasn’t ready to jump back in bed so quickly, not after being hurt so badly.
Wes must have guessed her thoughts. He sighed and rested his forehead on hers. “Someday. Soon.”