Authors: Tess Oliver,Anna Hart
After a hot shower, I’d pulled back on the jeans and shirt, for practicality. I headed down to the kitchen. Jackson hadn’t come back to the house, so I could only conclude that he was still tending to the sick horse.
I leaned into the refrigerator. A white casserole dish sat on the top shelf with a note taped to the top. “Rebecca, this is for dinner. Heat it in the oven for thirty minutes at 375.” I walked over to the oven and turned it on.
I hated to wait so long for the dinner to heat, but chances were, Jackson was still busy with Archie. When a horse had an upset stomach, or colic, then the animal had to be walked and kept on his feet. Rolling or lying on the ground could cause more problems.
I stuck the casserole, a tuna noodle delight, complete with crunchy topping, into the heated oven and headed to the sitting room. I realized that I’d gone more than a day without looking at my phone or computer, and it was pretty darn freeing. Growing up with my grandpa, it was the one thing he would scold me about. ‘Too much damn time staring a screen and not enough time looking at the world around you’. It was one of his favorite chants, and one I never forgot.
I sat down on the elegant tufted sofa and picked up a book that had been left on the corner table. It was Louis L’Amour,
The Riders of High Rock
, one of my grandpa’s favorites. He used to sit in his easy chair under his big brass reading lamp and read. It wouldn’t be longer than fifteen minutes of page turning before his head would droop, his chin would tuck against his chest and he would start snoring right along with his dogs. There had been many times back then when I’d yearned for my parents, but Grandpa filled a void that they’d left behind. It wasn’t easy raising a teenage girl, but he did a pretty damn good job.
I closed the book and held it on my lap as I rested my head back and shut my eyes. This weekend had been unforgettable. Tomorrow was Sunday, and Monday morning, I’d be back at work to start my crazy job schedule all over again. I would have to say my good-byes and leave this wonderful place. I wasn’t completely sure what would happen. I’d started something with Jackson that had felt like more than just a fun fling. The intimacy we’d shared had created a connection. Or, at least it had for me. Since I was terrible at reading men’s feelings, I had no idea how Jackson felt. I would wait and see how things went.
I should’ve been kicking myself for letting myself feel attached to him, but I wouldn’t have missed the last twenty-four hours for the world. They’d helped me recuperate some of that self-confidence I’d lost when Nate dumped me. I was no longer questioning why he left but smiling about the fact that he’d given up something awesome.
The aroma of tuna casserole was starting to fill the air. I walked into the kitchen. There was still twenty minutes on the timer. I decided to take a stroll out to the barn to see how the patient was doing and see if Jackson needed me to take over for awhile.
When I’d left the barn earlier, Jackson had led Archie out to the round pen to walk him around. The outside barn lights lit up the yard. The round pen was empty. A convertible Mustang was parked outside the barn. A strange vehicle for an equine vet, but then nothing around the Silk Stocking Inn was usual.
I headed toward the barn. Jackson’s laugh rolled out. A distinctly more feminine laugh followed. A woman vet would not be unusual, I reminded myself. I reached the opening and looked in.
Archie was standing in the cross ties. Not one, but two pretty women, a red head and a blonde, all dressed for a night of dancing, were standing in the barn talking and laughing with Jackson. He was too busy to notice me at first. Archie, who seemed to be feeling much better, lifted his head and snorted.
Jackson’s attention turned my direction. “Hey, Becca, told you he was overly dramatic. He’s fine. No vet required.” He was completely oblivious to the assessing looks I was receiving from his two friends. “This is Angie and Carla. They came by to see if I was heading to the bar tonight. Do you still want to go?”
I shook my head and swallowed back the dryness in my throat. I was such a knucklehead. A man like Jackson would have plenty of women waiting for him to dance or ride or do whatever. I was just a diversion for the weekend, a traveler with no commitment who would be gone on Sunday.
I pointed back over my shoulder. “No, you go ahead. I’m just going to go back.”
“Wait, Becca,” he called as I spun around and headed off toward the house. I heard him behind me and picked up to a run.
“Becca.” His long legs overtook me fast. He took hold of my arm and turned me toward him. “What’s wrong? They’re just friends.” He went to place his hand against my face, but I moved away from his touch.
“You’ve done nothing wrong, Jackson. You don’t need to explain a thing. I’m just a little touchy. It’s been a wonderful day, and I have you to thank for it. You’ve helped me mend some, and I appreciate it. I know this was all just a weekend dalliance for you. It was silly of me to think differently.” A sob escaped my lips. “And now I feel
silly for making a scene.” I tore off and ran for the house. Jackson didn’t follow.
I’d managed to effectively cry myself to sleep. I’d hardly shed a tear after Nate left me, and it seemed that I’d needed it badly, after all. The funny thing was, I wasn’t shedding tears about losing him so much as about letting myself make such nonsense decisions when it came to relationships. Some of it I blamed on not having a mom when I’d needed one most growing up. Heck, I didn’t even have an older sister to bounce ideas and choices off of. Grandpa had always shut down quickly when I started talking about boys. And I couldn’t blame him.
Nate had appeared right after my grandfather’s death, and at a time when I’d felt completely alone. I latched onto him without giving it much thought. Just as I’d latched onto Jackson at a time when I’d again felt completely alone. I’d fallen prey to his green eyes and deep cowboy drawl . . . among other things.
The comical thing was—it seemed it was going to be much harder getting over the man I’d spent a weekend with than the man I’d been with for six years.
I sat up from the pillow. My head ached from the night of crying. I avoided the mirror on the side of the room, certain that I looked like a puffy-eyed monster. I needed to head home and get ready for another week at work. My computer would be bursting with emails and next week’s script. As nice as it had been being off the grid for a few days, my entire life and career counted on that grid.
I put my feet on the cold floor. Before I left, I was determined to work up the courage to say good-bye to Jackson. I didn’t want to leave the inn with him thinking badly of me. And I wanted to let him know how much fun I’d had with him.
A knock on my door was followed by Coco’s voice. “I have a croissant and coffee for you.”
I walked to the door and opened it. Coco lifted up a tray with coffee and a croissant. There was nothing unusual about her appearance today, just a pretty, young innkeeper and one of her amazing baked goods. “The little crock has my honey butter. I think you’ll like it. I thought you might need some sustenance for your drive home.”
I took hold of the tray. She followed me into the room. “I don’t know how to thank you, Coco. I wish you’d let me pay for all this luxury.”
“Nonsense. Occasionally, a guest shows up who is in special need of some pampering. When they do, I always invite them for a free weekend. It’s all part of my marketing master plan.” She winked at me. “I’ll give you directions back to the highway once you come downstairs.”
“I’ll just shower quickly and eat. Is Jackson at the barn? I wanted to say good-bye.”
“Oh, that’s too bad then.”
My face flashed her direction. “Why?”
“Jackson drove out early this morning in his truck. Said something about picking up some new equipment. Won’t be back until tonight.”
“Oh.” My disappointment could not be missed, but instead of looking sympathetic, Coco was holding back a smile. It was a strange reaction from someone who had been so kind.
“Anyhow,” she said with a casual shrug of her shoulders, “I’ll see you downstairs.” She floated out of the room and closed the door behind her.
It seemed I would never see Jackson again. Not even to say good-bye. Maybe that was for the best. Something told me a good-bye was not going to be as easy as I envisioned. It was probably going to be much less painful to drive away from the inn without having to gaze into his green eyes or see that Hollywood smile again. Or, worst of all, stand in his arms again.
The usual Monday morning frenetic energy on the set had made the first half of the day race by. It was what I’d needed to keep my mind off other things. The weekend at Silk Stocking Inn was supposed to help me clear my mind of Nate. And it had. Only now I was suffering what seemed to be a broken heart. The truth was, I missed Jackson. He’d been everything I wanted. Everything I needed.
Isabel walked into the office with the ratings reports. “Ratings are up,” she said cheerily. “Anything else you need before I head down to lunch?”
“Yes, I need to be slapped upside the head.”
She blinked at me from beneath her rhinestone covered cap. “I don’t understand. You want me to slap you?”
“Figure of speech my grandpa liked to use when he saw me do something stupid. This seemed as good a time as any because I’ve been stupid.”
She came toward the desk. “Thought you seemed off today, but with it being Monday morning, I didn’t want to bring it up. Want to talk about it?”
I thought for an instant about rehashing the whole story of my glorious romantic weekend, but I wasn’t in the mood to talk about it yet. Soon enough, it would all seem like a dream, a mirage that would wash away with time and clarity.
“No, you go ahead.” I glanced at the clock on my desk. “It’s early for lunch, isn’t it?”
Isabel smiled. “Yes, a bit, but a couple of us are anxious to get downstairs. Jenny, the building receptionist, called Edna and told her an incredibly handsome stranger was walking around downstairs looking for someone or something. We just wanted to see him before he disappeared.”
I shook my head. “My gosh, we’re all pathetic when it comes to handsome men, aren’t we? Go ahead then. Enjoy your lunch.”
She headed to the door. “I will. I only wish I’d worn a cowboy hat to cover this frizzy hair today instead of my glittery cap.”
My face snapped up at the words cowboy hat. My throat dried and the question crackled out. “Why a cowboy hat?”
“Jenny said the guy was some tall, broad-shouldered man in a cowboy hat and cowboy boots.”
I took a steadying breath and sat back as she hurried out of the office. I was thankful she hadn’t noticed my reaction. But her face, as she quickly raced back to my office, made my heart nearly jump from my chest.
Isabel’s eyes were round as saucers, and her mouth was dropped open as she stepped into the office. “Becca, there’s someone here to see you.”
I swallowed hard and took another deep breath. My fingers trembled as I stood from my chair. Isabel stayed frozen to the spot as I walked past her without a word. I wondered if I would be able to keep from throwing myself into Jackson’s arms the second I saw him.
I walked out into the hallway, and a man came around the corner. The excitement rushed out of me.
“Nate,” I said, barely able to speak aloud.
Nate looked thinner and suntanned and, somehow, not as handsome as I remembered. “Hey, Becca.” A short, ill-timed laugh spurted from his mouth. “Thought you might be happier to see me.”
“Why would I?”
The cast and crew tried hard not to pay attention to the drama unfolding in the hallway, but they all knew what I’d been through. I couldn’t blame them for lurking nearby to listen. It made Nate nervous.
“Look, can we go into your office?”
“No, we can’t.”
He glanced around at the faces and took a deep breath. “The truth is, I miss you. I made a big mistake. I was hoping we could go back to where we were.”
At the end of the hallway, the elevator bell sounded and the doors slid open. My heart sped up again. The heavy weight in my chest that I’d felt at the sight of Nate lifted.
“Holy mackerel,” Isabel muttered behind me. “I’ve got to get me a horse.”
My feet started moving and moving fast. Nate smiled and opened his arms. I swerved quickly around him and straight into the arms of the amazing cowboy standing behind my ex. I could hear the stunned gasps of some of my crew and the string of cuss words from Nate as Jackson closed his arms around me.
I peered up at him. “You left so early. I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”
“No chance of that, baby.” Jackson plucked his hat off and kissed me. A round of cheers and whistles went up around us. I heard Nate stomp past us as he headed back to the elevators. More cheers followed as the doors closed and the elevator took him away for good.
I took hold of Jackson’s hand and led him toward my office. I pulled him past my extremely stunned assistant. “Isabel, hold all my calls.”
“You bet I will, boss.”
MOCHA LATTE Cupcakes
•1cup all purpose flour
•⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa
•¾ tsp. baking soda
•½ tsp salt
•½ cup butter softened
•⅔ cup granulated sugar
•1½ tsp. vanilla
•½ cup milk (2% or whole)
•½ cup strongly brewed
•2 tsp. instant espresso
•4 oz. quality semi-sweet
•¼ cup heavy cream
•2 tsp. instant espresso
Yields 12 cupcakes.
1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Prepare muffin pan with paper muffin cups.
2. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
3. Heat the strongly brewed coffee (if not still hot) Add 2 tsp. instant espresso and stir to dissolve. Set aside to cool.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Stir 3 tablespoons of the cooled coffee into the egg mixture. Set aside.
5. In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy.
6. Add half the dry and half the wet ingredients into butter and sugar mixture until just blended. Add the remaining wet and dry ingredients and mix until blended. Do not overbeat.
7. Spoon batter into muffin cups until 2/3 full. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until fork comes out clean.
8. Make glaze: Break or chop the chocolate into chunks and place in small bowl. Sprinkle 2 tsp instant espresso powder on the chocolate chunks.
9. Heat the heavy cream until hot but not boiling. Pour hot cream over the chocolate, espresso mixture. Cover and let sit 5 minutes. Stir the chocolate mixture until smooth. Taste and add a pinch more espresso if you prefer a stronger coffee flavor.
10. Mocha ganache can be spread onto the cooled cupcakes or pour the chocolate into a shallow bowl and carefully dip cupcake in to coat the top.