Hi dear Reader,
Welcome back for Chapter 4. You can read Chapter 1 Here!
A rooster crowing woke me from my sleep. For a moment, I was confused as to where I was. I haven't heard roosters in the five years since I've left home. There weren't too many in Denver. I rolled over in my twin size bed and shoved the pink comforter to the floor. Stretching my arms above my head, I rolled my head from side to side. It was going to be a beautiful day for Annie’s wedding.
The noise of banging pots and pans came from the kitchen as the scent of coffee permeated the air. Sudden inspiration struck. I grabbed an old pair of boots and jeans and threw on a cotton t-shirt. With my old camera, that was a gift from my grandparents, slung over my neck and a cowboy hat pulled down to my eyes, I made my way to the front door.
“Morning, sunshine.” Mama’s happy voice halted my escape from the house.
“Where you out to?”
“Just taking Buttercup for a ride. The sunrise should be beautiful this morning.”
“Breakfast is in an hour.” She turned back to whatever was in the pot on the stove.
“I'll be back I promise.”
I ran down the creaky steps, across the dew-covered grass, and into the barn. The horses slept quietly in their stalls as I swung Buttercup’s stall door open. I brushed and saddled her quickly, anxious to be on my way. I was about to throw a leg over her back when a voice clearing stopped me in my tracks.
“You going out without me?” Levi's deep voice sent shivers down my spine.
I turned slowly to him. Looking at him made my mouth water. His black shaggy hair stood up in all directions and his gray eyes looked deep into mine. He slapped a dusty hat against his faded blue jeans before shoving it on his head. The butterflies in my stomach rolled over at the sight of his T-shirt stretching across his chest muscles. They flexed as he crossed his arms. Yummy. I shook my head to clear my thoughts.
“I was going out without anyone.”
“Then, you won't mind if I join you.”
He quickly saddled a black horse on the end of the barn and swung into the saddle with the ease of a gymnast. I clambered onto Buttercup’s back, feeling self-conscious of my awkwardness. A small smile played upon his lips as I struggled into the saddle.
“I could’ve given you a boost.”
“Nah, I'm good.” I straightened my spine and pulled my hat down even closer to my ears.
“Lead the way,” he said.
I clucked to Buttercup and squeezed her with my legs. She started at a swinging walk. The air was brisk before the sun began its rise. The chill caused goosebumps to run up and down my arms, and I shivered involuntarily against the cold. I caught him looking at me with concern in his eyes.
“I'm fine,” I muttered and turned Buttercup on the trail that led out to the range.
“Still, I might be cold. Let's stop at the bunkhouse.” He rubbed his arms and shook, slightly.
He turned off onto a beaten trail that led to the bunkhouse. It was a small brown building that held eight apartments. He dashed inside and he banged around for a while. He came out with a beat-up leather jacket slung over his shoulder.
“Put this on. I'm not watching you shiver.” He handed me the jacket.
I slid my arms into the worn-out sleeves. It smelled like him, horse sweat, leather, and something spicy that can only be man. I snuggled into it, pulling the collar up. He was right it was warmer than my t-shirt. He mounted his horse and motioned for me to lead the way.
We rode for a while in silence, enjoying that part of the day that wasn't quite morning and wasn't quite night, when everything was still quiet and gray. Owls hooting in the distance. Jackrabbits scurried through the underbrush. A hawk took off from a mesquite tree and flew overhead. The sun started to peek over the horizon. The sky streaked with reds, purples, and blues. It was a beauty I hadn't seen in a while. We stopped at the top of a hill. I dismounted and handed my reins to Levi.
“If you needed to come along. Make yourself useful.”
I set up my camera to capture the sunrise. Levi stood behind me, keeping quiet as I worked. His gaze felt heavy on my back and wondered what he was thinking. After twenty minutes of laying on the sandy ground, I tried to stand up. Levi’s boots crunched over small stones as he moved to help me up. His fingers threaded with mine as he jerked me to my feet. I ended up nose to nose with him. My breath caught in my throat as his grey eyes captured mine. His eyes grew darker the longer I stared into his. His warm spicy breath came in short puffs across my face. His arms slid around my shoulders and back, bringing me closer to him. My pulse hammered in my ears. It was hard to breathe, think, and even stand. I leaned into him. His head tilted toward mine. His lips came within a hair’s breadth from mine. I closed my eyes and leaned forward. At that moment, Buttercup walked up behind me and nudged me in the back with her nose. I jerked forward, hitting Levi in the chin. My lip caught between my teeth as a little blood trickled down from the split in my lip. Levi’s strong hands set me back onto my feet.
“Buttercup’s right.” He dabbed at my lip with the edge of his T-shirt. My skin tingled where he touched it. “I’m sure breakfast is almost ready.”
A moment passed between us. I wanted to kiss him, but he turned to get the horses ready to ride back home. He led Buttercup over to me and offered his hands down by the stirrup. I placed my worn-out cowboy boot in his hand and he lifted me into the saddle. I settled into my seat as he mounted his horse. We turned to make the trek back to the house. The silence stretched between us as nature awoke. Birds sang in the bushes, crickets chirped, and armadillos waddled back to their homes. My camera clicked away at the wildlife.
"What’s with the camera?” Levi broke the silence as he watched me try to focus in on a roadrunner.
“Whatcha mean?” I mumbled as I leaned more out of the saddle for a different angle.
“That camera is older and smaller than the one you had yesterday. In fact, it doesn’t look digital at all.”
I straightened in the saddle and held the camera out from my body. “It is different. This was my first camera, ever. My grandparents gave it to me.” I choked up at the thought of both of them. They’ve been gone for several years and I missed them a bunch. I wiped the single tear from my eye and straightened my spine in the saddle. I steered Buttercup down the trail to the house.
“So, why do you use it?” Levi rode his horse up next to me.
“Well, because I like it.” I snapped a few more pictures. “I think the film takes better pictures than digital. There’s just something about being in a dark room, developing the film, watching the picture come to life.” I shrugged before continuing down the trail.
“You have your own darkroom?” Levi trotted his horse next to me.
“Yep. Sure do.”
I nodded my head. “I set one up in the closet at my apartment. That way I can develop my film whenever I want and I don’t have to send it out. It really isn’t a big deal.”
Silence fell between us as we traveled the rest of the way to the ranch house. When we pulled up into the yard, the rest of my family and all the ranch hands were gathered.
“Breakfast time, y’all,” Mama called from the porch. Everyone cheered.
Levi grabbed the reins of Buttercup’s bridle as I dismounted. “You might as well go in and get some breakfast. I’ll take care of the horses for you. I’d better get going to town anyway, as I’m sure Annie’s got a bunch of stuff for me to do.”
I couldn’t help but watch him walk away. His jeans hugged his hips and butt. I closed my mouth with a snap. His boots clicked on the gravel as he made his way into the barn. I turned around to see the glare coming off of Kaleb’s eyes. He shook his head at me before heading into the house. The next few hours might be interesting.
The horses plodded after me as I headed to the barn. The barn door groaned as I slid it open and let the morning light fall across the dirt-covered floor. Horses’ heads popped over their stall doors and nickered as I led Buttercup and my black horse to their stalls.
“Give me a second, everyone. I’ve gotta untack these two, and then it’s breakfast.” I said out loud to the barn.
The horses answered with neighs, banging on stall doors, and general restlessness. I tied the two horses up and took off their saddles. They weren’t sweaty from our morning ride, so a nice brushing would be sufficient. I hummed a tune under my breath as I ran the brush over Buttercup’s copper coat. This morning was perfect. The sunset was gorgeous, and the girl with me was just as beautiful. The kiss would’ve been perfect if we hadn’t been interrupted. Her soft lips gently touching mine, maybe she would cling to my body as I wrapped her even closer to me. The scent of her perfume lingered over the smell of horses. The brush flicked dust off of Buttercup’s rump when a throat clearing brought me back to the present. I knew that sound, my hand stilled, and my body slowly turned to the man standing behind me.
Kaleb’s arms crossed over his chest and his feet braced shoulder-width apart. His cowboy hat was squashed tight over his ears and the blond curls stuck out underneath of it. His eyes turned an angry midnight blue and a muscle ticked in his jaw.
“Morning, didn’t see you there.” I tried to seem nonchalant, but my heart was racing. I had just broken rule number three at the Kisment Ranch, but nothing happened…unfortunately.
“What do you think you’re doing?” The anger in his tone didn’t surprise me. Kaleb had always been protective of his baby sister.
“Brushing down the horses before feeding the barn.” I waved the brush around and grinned at him.
His eyes got darker as he swore under his breath. “No,” he ground his teeth together, “what were you doing with Katie?”
His hands dropped to his sides and balled into fists. I stepped a small step back and leaned against the wall. What had I been doing with Katie? Definitely not what I wanted to do with Katie. I picked up a piece of straw and twirled it between my fingers.
“Katie was going for a morning ride, and I joined her.” He growled the moment the words left my mouth. I held up my hands. “Honestly, man, it was just a ride to get some sunrise photos and nothing else.”
He relaxed a little and leaned toward me. “Stay away from her. She doesn’t need a broken heart.”
It was my turn to cross my arms and study him. “What makes you think I am going to break her heart?"
He threw his head back and laughed but it didn’t reach his eyes. “You’re my best friend.”
“Aw, how sweet.”
“But the ladies call you ‘Love ’em n’ Leave ’em Levi’. Just don’t hurt my sister.” He turned and stomped out of the barn, just as the words died on my tongue.
But that’s not the real me.
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Thanks for reading. See you next week!
Copyright © 2020 by Allie Bock
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