Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chapter 5

Sorry for the wait on this one. It was almost done on Sunday and then I got distracted by True Blood and Mr. Eric Northman (or Jimmy in a Stetson) and then yesterday was just a disaster. But I hope I made up for the wait with a long chapter.

Never stop hoping
Need to know where you are
But one thing's for sure
You're always in my heart

I'll find you somewhere
I'll keep on trying
Until my dying day
I just need to know
Whatever has happened
The truth will free my soul

Lost in the darkness
Tried to find your way home
I want to embrace you
And never let you go
(lyrics from ‘Somewhere’ Within Temptation)

It wasn’t even nine in the morning, the sun was still fairly low in the sky as she watched him lift off his hat, tip his head back and wipe his thick, muscular forearm across his forehead. It was a familiar gesture and one that had always elicited the same reaction from her since she’d barely understood what it meant to get that twisting feeling low in her gut. Chelsea stood now, her hands cupped around a steaming mug of dark, rich black coffee and stared at the man who was both obviously avoiding her and performing for her at the same time. She appreciated the vision in front of her but not in the way she had before. It didn’t make her breathless and it should have. Right at this moment, however, what she did feel was guilt. Cleaning the stalls was as much her chore as his and one they’d almost always shared but now she stood apart, watching and giving him space as much as maintaining her distance.

“Your gran sent up some of those butter tarts you like.” She turned and beamed up at the still burly silver haired man joining her out on the front porch carrying one of those old blue and white speckled tin cups that most people use for camping. It was his cup. It would always be his cup. “She would have come up herself but then she knew you’d think she was just fussin’,” he added, taking his place beside her and looking down at where Jimmy was now sipping water, elongating his neck, the muscles in his long neck working as he swallowed. Chelsea followed the trail of the water that spilled from the corner of his mouth down across the sharp line of his jaw and onto the flat plane of his golden chest. She licked her lips. “Your gran thought you’d have been down to see her by now with some good news about you and your young man there,” her grandfather added, getting right to the point just as he always did. She felt her cheeks heat as she turned away from the distracting scenery. “So the boy hasn’t worked up his courage,” she felt her grandfather’s hand on her shoulder and then his lips on her cheek. His mustache tickled. “Well, never mind. He will. We all know that.” 

That was the problem, Chelsea thought to herself. It seemed like since the first day Jimmy had started working for her parents everyone had been saying what a nice looking couple they made. Of course she’d thought so too, then. She’d lived and breathed Jimmy since she was sixteen years old and too young to date, at least she had been according to her father. That hadn’t stopped her tagging around after him like a loyal puppy dog and it hadn’t stopped him finding reasons to come by the house for a drink of lemonade so he could sit on the porch with her while she did her homework. She’d been sure for so long now that she’d marry Jimmy and they’d live in this house and work this land together, but that had been before she’d told him he had to wait until she’d done something with her life. She just hadn’t realized that doing that would change everything. 

I don’t gramps. I don’t know if this is what I want anymore.” She knew he wouldn’t reproach her for saying it, even though her chest tightened and tears pricked at the corners of her eyes when she said it out loud. This land had been enough for four generations of her family. 

“I never thought this place was big enough to hold you CeeCee,” her grandfather laid his arm across her shoulders and pulled her into the solid wall of his body. “But no matter where you go, just remember that this piece of heaven will always be in your heart, no matter who you decide to give it to.” He didn’t need to say more and she knew he wouldn’t ask.


Loser’, Mike put his head in his hands and forced himself to look away from the screen on his laptop. There was no red headed CeeCee in Calgary on facebook or on any other social media dating site that he could think of. He knew because he’d been surfing the net for at least a couple of hours. ‘See, told you that you should have gone after her’, he berated himself silently as he slammed the heel of his hand against his forehead.  What were the chances they’d both be in Calgary? Those chances seemed impossibly slim but now the thought of knowing she was somewhere nearby and not being able to see her had him back in the same mindset he’d been in when he’d fled DC knowing that if he hadn’t he’d spend the rest of the summer going from bar to bar searching every woman’s face for those incredibly green eyes. 

He’d told himself over and over last night not to think about her but every time he’d closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, there she was. No matter how many times he’d forced himself awake, turned over and tried not to, she was still there with her moon pale skin and her high firm breasts that fit so perfectly in his hands and her ripe warm lips that called to him so strongly he’d woken up in the early hours of the morning knowing he had to find her but not knowing where to start and now he’d exhausted every social media site he knew of. 

“Maybe you should put up some posters like for a lost cat, y’know,  give a reward or something,” his friend Paul suggested, sliding a couple of heavily buttered pieces of toast in front of him. His head was busting, what he wanted was hair of the dog, but he took a bite and chewed it slowly so it didn’t make too much noise. He was about to take another bite but his hand paused half way up to his mouth. 

“That might work,” he said, mostly to himself.

“I was kidding man,” Paul was looking at him the same way he did right before he did something stupid like farting into a camp fire or heading for the half pipe with a a bottle of Patron. 

“Okay not signs, for real but…I could tweet like a missing person thing,” Mike reached for his phone but Paul grabbed it and held it out of his reach. 

“She’s just a chick. Do you know how many single hot chicks there are in this city?” Growling, Mike reached for his phone but Paul just shook his head and stepped back putting himself even further away.  “Just tell me why you’re spending so much time on this one?” He knew how it sounded in his own head and he knew that at best Paul was going to laugh at him and at worst he was going to call the men in the white coats to take him away. He also knew damn well that if he tried to blow him off, Paul would only poke and prod him until Mike gave an answer. 

Of course there was the easy answer his friend would understand. 

“She’s great in the sack,” he replied and got the reaction he’d anticipated.

“Well why didn’t you just say so? Buddy, I thought you were getting soft on me. Fuuuuck, I thought you were gonna say she’s the one or some fucking thing,” Paul laughed as he handed him back his phone. “Tweet away and hey, ask if she has a friend for me okay?” Mike took his phone back and gave his friend a cheerful gee shucks shrug and grin, right up until the moment Paul was past him and could no longer see his face and then Mike allowed his face to fall. He’d been telling himself that same lie all night. The only problem was that he didn’t believe it anymore. 


“You did not buy those around here.” Chelsea glanced down at the black strappy high heeled Givency sandals on her feet and shook her head. “Yeah, didn’t think so. Fuck, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you out of runners or cowboy boots in your entire life. Maybe flip flops, once,” her friend Mandy took the empty seat across from her at the small table in Chiasso’s. Chelsea was already sipping on her caramel macchiato and Mandy’s mocha was waiting for her. “In fact,” Mandy noted, tipping her head to one side and giving Chelsea one of those long considering looks that, had it come from a man, would normally have made her blush. As it was, Chelsea waited until Mandy’s eyes met hers’ again before she shook her head and laughed. “Well, shit, you look hot and sooo not like you. Jesus, a couple months away and you’re some big city fashionista.” 

“Am not,” Chelsea laughed and put her coffee down and sat back. This felt normal. Nothing else had since she’d gotten back, but Sunday morning coffee with her best friend did. 

“Okay, well I’ve never seen you in jeans that tight or…what do you call that? A hanky?” Chelsea looked down at the asymmetrical flowy halter top and shrugged. “I’m just teasin’ you baby girl. You look amazing but ya gotta admit, it’s not your regular boy fit jeans and dirty t-shirt.” 

“I guess I got out of the habit of slobbing around,” Chelsea admitted with a shrug, picking up her coffee and trying to hide behind the cup. 

“You mean you got away from Jim Bob and stacking horseshit and realized that you’re a girl,” Mandy snorted and Chelsea suddenly found herself unable to meet her friend’s gaze. That came a little too close to home. “Sorry, I know you hate when I call him that.” It wasn’t that but Chelsea was willing to let her friend believe it was, for now. Unlike most girls she found it hard to confide in her friends about Jimmy. At first they’d all thought her relationship with the tall, handsome cowboy was very exciting but as time wore on and her friends moved from one boy to the next, they’d begun to warn her about his controlling ways. She’d never seen him that way. Last night she’d sat up for a long time mulling things over that she’d never allowed herself to even think about. “I notice you’re not wearing a ring,” her friend added more gently. Chelsea flexed her left hand, looked down at her empty finger and then put her hand back in her lap. 

“I know he wanted to…I mean, I’m pretty sure he planned to ask me but…,” she looked up and across the table at her friend and shrugged. “I guess I just need a little time to adjust to being back home.” It was the second time she’d said that, but this time it was as if she was trying to convince herself. 

“Well if he lets you wander around in the city looking like that he’ll have a hard time keeping you to himself, that’s for sure,” Mandy grinned at her, trying to buoy her spirits. Chelsea smiled but that leaden weight in her stomach only got heavier. 

“So, what have you been up to?” 

This was why she’d come out, to hear someone else talk, to hear about someone else’s life and to try and fill her head with thoughts other than the ones that were going around and around in her head like a carousel that never stopped and wouldn’t let her off. She picked at the cinnamon bun in front of her and listened while her friend explained about how she was getting ready for the biggest event in Calgary’s calendar year, the Stampede. She was just one of the girls that wore the shiny shirts and matching chaps and rode around the ring with a flag but it was a big deal. There’d been a time not so long ago that she herself would have been excited to be involved in something as simple as that and she smiled and nodded and asked the appropriate questions in the appropriate places but only part of her brain was paying attention. 

The other part was thinking about the way Jimmy had looked in the rear view mirror of her dad’s old mustang. Had he looked angry? Disappointed? Upset? She wondered what he’d do when she got back. Would he want to talk? Would he try and get her alone again or would he continue to avoid her and if he did, would she care?

“Hey, do you know Mike Green?” Chelsea blinked and then narrowed her eyes at Mandy as her friend stared down at her iPhone. 

“Who?” she asked, wondering if she’d missed part of her friend’s story, if this Mike person was some cowboy coming to town or someone Mandy had met U of C. 

“You know, the hockey player,” Mandy prompted, staring across the table at her as if she should know. Chelsea shrugged. The Flames were big, of course, and her father had taken her to a few games but she’d never showed much interest. She liked horses, not hockey. 

“Did he get traded or something?” she asked, trying her best to be sociable and to stop Mandy from asking about Jimmy again. 

“Nooo,” Mandy wrinkled her nose and looked at her as if she were considering something and then decided against it. “He doesn’t play for the Flames. I was just going to ask if you met him when you were in DC with your dad but why would you have,” she laughed and then stowed her phone away. “Must have been some other red head,” she added with a dismissive sigh. “Another coffee?” 


Mike stretched out on the table and stared up at the ceiling. He’d lost count of how many MRI’s he’d had since he’d started playing hockey. In the last year alone he’d probably had ten. His knee was a mess, he didn’t need a picture to know that, but the surgeon that had been recommended to the team apparently did.

“Try not to move,” the disembodied voice suggested and Mike yawned in reply. He knew the drill and chances were he’d probably have a nap while they did this. He shut his eyes and allowed his heart beat to slow. All he wanted to know was if he was going to have to go under the knife or if he was just going to have to deal with rehab for the entire summer. Ovie had invited him to spend some of their time off in Moscow and Nicky had invited him to Sweden. He wanted to do both trips but if he was going to get serious about his training over the summer, chances were he’d end up doing neither. The farthest he’d probably get would probably be a barbeque and beer boys’ weekend in Wawota with Brooksy. 

He thought about calling Brooks later, when he got back home, and asking him his opinion on finding the red headed vixen who kept invading his thoughts. The first thing Brooks would do was give him shit for letting her leave the club without at the very least getting her digits, he knew that. The big forward would sigh and shake his head and say something like ‘Greener, you have no game’. Thinking about it made Mike smile. 

Brooks definitely had a way with the ladies. Even when they were attached, even if they had their guy in the room with them Mike had seen Brooks work his magic and take a chick right from under the nose of her boyfriend. The man was smooth. There was no doubt about that. Mike wasn’t. The most he could hope for was that some girl would feel sorry for him, buy the whole Eeyore act and take pity on him long enough for him to use his minor skills to get into their pants. Kind of like he had with CeeCee. 

The name still didn’t seem right. Even as he rolled it over in his mouth Mike somehow knew that it couldn’t be her name. It had to be some kind of pet name. Not one he’d ever use for her, he thought with a smile. He’d call her sexy bitch or hot stuff, not CeeCee. 

“Ummm Mr. Green, if we can just get you to relax?” Mike cursed under his breath as he opened his eyes and stared down his body at the tent his dick was making of his sweat pants. 

“Sorry,” he called and shut his eyes again and thought about wing sauce on Boudreau’s cheek, the Speedos Ovie wore when they went swimming at a hotel pool, the way that Brooksy would pick up the bone from a t-bone steak and gnaw at it right in the middle of a restaurant and eventually the thoughts of his red headed vixen were shuffled to the back of his mind. 


As she turned up the drive she could see Popcorn saddled and tied up outside the barn as if she were waiting for her. The mare’s ears pricked up as the Mustang pulled up outside the house and as Chelsea stepped out of the car she was met with a whinny of greeting. Guilt churned in her stomach. She’d been back two days and hadn’t taken her out. This was probably Jimmy’s not so subtle way of reminding her of her obligations and responsibilities. 

Glancing towards the lower paddock she could see him in the middle of the ring holding one end of a training harness, giving a lesson. He looked up towards her and reached up to touch the brim of his hat. So it had definitely been his idea.

“Let me just change into my boots,” she whispered, pressing her lips to the middle of the blaze on the mare’s forehead, and her jeans, she thought as she mounted the stairs. Her boots were sitting near the door on some newspaper, cleaned. Chelsea made a face. “Okay, I get it,” she cursed under her breath and dropped into one of the kitchen chairs to pull off her sandals. She was still silently cursing him and thinking up colourful things to call him when he pulled open the screen door. She stared at his dusty boots, the pale, faded denim jeans with one knee blown out and finally up to the sweat soaked white wife beater that tugged across his chest, reminding her that there was lean solid muscles beneath. 

“If you wait a few minutes I’ll come with you,” he offered. Chelsea made a face and went back to pulling on her boots. 

“I think I’d rather be on my own,” she mumbled. She expected him to insist but only a long drawn out silence surrounded her, shortly followed by the slamming of the screen door. Chelsea winced. She really didn’t want to hurt him but it seemed as if she couldn’t help doing it. 

Stomping out of the door she walked down to the barn and started to untie the mare who flicked her tail and shook her head with impatience.  Chelsea stroked her neck and then slid the reins over her head and put her foot in the stirrup and swung her leg over. ‘Should definitely have changed my jeans’ she winced as the slim fitting denim dug in as her legs settled around the mare’s girth. 

“Go easy on me girl,” she whispered, laying another pat on Popcorn’s neck as she turned her towards the upper pastures. She was sure she could feel Jimmy’s eyes on her back, but didn’t turn to look. She needed some space. She needed some air. The warm wind lifted her hair but it lifted the light flowing fabric of her top too. Chelsea went to tug it down when she felt the mare shy. “Hey girl I said take it easy, we’re not galloping today,” she mumbled as she tried to tug in the loose, uneven edges of her top into her jeans with one hand while holding the reins with another. Popcorn shook her head and stamped. “Hooo baby, just give me a minute,” Chelsea tried to sound soothing and not impatient as she turned to try and tuck in the back of her shirt. That’s when the horse reared and she saw the snake. 

Stupid horse’, Chelsea thought as she tried to hold on with her knees as she felt the reins slip from her fingers, ‘it’s only a bullsnake’. Popcorn reared again and bellowed and Chelsea felt herself slipping. She grabbed for the mare’s mane and missed and the next thing she knew her feet were in the air and she was sliding backwards towards the ground. 


Mike had six messages by the time he got out of the MRI. Three of them were from Paul asking sarcastically if he’d had any luck with his lost sex kitten ad on twitter. He thought about taking a picture of himself flipping the bird and texting it back but then decided that would require too much effort. 

Actually he was feeling pretty stupid about his twitter post now. If she was out there, reading it, she was probably laughing at him. He knew damn well that whenever he worked up the courage to check it all of the guys from his team and no doubt a bunch of guys from other teams would no doubt be giving him a hard time about it. He’d probably still be hearing about it by the time training camp rolled around. 

One of the other messages was from his agent. That one he should probably return he thought as he strode through the patient waiting area, though he was reluctant to. After the season he’d had, he knew the chances of his being moved were probably high. That didn’t mean he wanted to go, though there had been some days through that losing streak that he would have had a different attitude towards being traded. Still, he liked most of the guys and when they were winning they were good to be around and even Boudreau wasn’t the worst coach he’d ever had. 

He had just hit the speed dial button for his agent and was putting the phone to his ear when he saw the blood red orange colour of her hair. He stopped in his tracks, slowly lowered the phone and hit the end button. 

Couldn’t be’ he thought as he backed up a few steps until he could see her profile. He knew those lips. He could already taste them. Her eyes were downcast so that her long eyelashes fell on the soft rounds of her cheeks, cheeks that had a sprinkling of light freckles on them. ‘No fucking way’, he thought as his feet carried him forward, towards her as if she was the light at the end of a tunnel and he had no choice but to follow the light. 

“You’re hurt,” he said as he loomed above her. She was holding her arm between her elbow and her wrist. There were clean trails that tears had made through the dust on her face but she was stubbornly refusing to cry now. 

“I’m fine. It’s a sprain. He’s just being cautious,” she replied with a quick and, Mike thought, angry glance in the direction of that praying mantis in his stupid straw cowboy hat. The guy was a cartoon. 

“Here, let me see,” Mike took the empty seat next to her and reached for her arm. She stared down at his hand like it might sprout tentacles or something but when he slid his hand gingerly beneath where hers’ was, she let go. ‘Shit’ he cursed under his breath as he nearly jumped out of the chair and let go of her arm all at the same time. It was only his years of refusing to let it show when he was hurt that kept him glued where he was with her arm cradled gently in his hand. His heart began to hammer in his chest the moment he touched her and he could already feel the sweat breaking out across his forehead. “You scraped it pretty good,” he noted, gently rotating her arm while watching her facial expression out of the corner of his eye. She didn’t wince. That was a good sign. “Banged it pretty hard too,” he added as he carefully bent her hand down and then up again, still watching her full, sensuous mouth for signs of pain. She clenched her teeth when he pressed her hand in but that was all. She was probably right about the sprain. Still, he felt carefully along her wrist, probably pressing a little harder than he had to but he only knew about broken bones from having his own, from the way they crunched when you pushed on them and the way doing that made you feel like you were going to puke and pass out all at the same time. 

She did neither. In fact, as he looked up at her, those amazingly leaf green eyes stared into his filled with confusion and…god please let him be right, something deeper, something that looked almost like the longing he felt in his heart. 

“I told you I’m fine. He’s just being overprotective,” she snapped all of a sudden, pulling her arm back and cradling it in her other arm. She shot a look towards where her cowboy boyfriend was still filling out forms on her behalf. The way the nurses were looking at him it was obvious they thought that he was the epitome of white knight chivalry. Mike didn’t see it quite that way.

“Is he always an overbearing ape?” he asked and watched as the corner of her mouth twitched, like maybe she wanted to smile but got it under control, just in time.

“It’s kind of part of his job to look after me,” she muttered, those pretty jewel like eyes downcast. What was that cheesy fucking line from that stupid dancing movie, Mike thought as he watched her shoulders hunch and her body roll in on its’ self. ‘Nobody puts baby in a corner’. Yeah that was how he felt as he fought the urge to reach for her, to grab her chin in his big meat claw and make her look at him. 

“Kind of like being kind of engaged?” he asked, doing his best to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. Surly Mike didn’t work well with women. He’d been told that before. He was doing his best to be the good Mike now, the concerned friend sort of Mike. She glanced up at him and then back down at her arm. He wanted to ask if that Stetson wearing giant had done this to her but swallowed the question. It was a question that ornery Mike would ask. 

“We have a…I guess you’d call it an understanding,” she replied quietly. Mike felt his entire face screw up into a frown. 

“What? You mean like an arranged marriage?” She didn’t answer, just kept staring down at her arm. He knew he should leave it, let it go, but he couldn’t. “What time machine did he step out of?” he asked, glancing over at Mr. tall and tanned who was still doing his golly gee shucks routine with the nurses who were eating it up like chocolate pudding. Mike felt the same way watching him as he did watching Crosby do an interview. He wanted to punch something or in this case someone.

“What’s it got to do with you anyway?” she asked and Mike was willing to bet that she had tried to sound angry but it didn’t come off that way. She just sounded tired. Tired of their little arrangement? Mike took a deep breath and jumped in with both feet.

“I bet he doesn’t know about us.” She got very still and then she turned those green eyes on him and he thought that the look she gave him was the same one a jaguar gave its prey right before it pounced. 

What us?” He heard the threat and chose to ignore it. The same way that sometimes he knew he was gonna get hit and maybe take a beating for doing something out on the ice but he did it anyway.

“Normally I’d be the first one to say let sleeping dogs lie but in this case I’m willing to give them a little kick. He’s a prick and you don’t look happy…”

“You don’t know anything about him,” she snapped back defensively but Mike got the feeling that she was defending herself the same way an injured cat will hiss and bite when it’s hurt. All he had to do was be a little gentle and move with caution.

“I’m a guy and I know guys like him and I’m telling he’s an a-one prick that can’t wait for you to be barefoot and pregnant and I know you’re gonna say I don’t know you but…I don’t think that’s what you want.” He saw her get still again, watched her watch her boyfriend from beneath her lashes and then hang her head. 

“You were supposed to stay in D.C.,” she whispered. 

“Yeah, well, so were you, but I’m not a big believer in coincidences. I think things happen for a reason and if we’re gonna keep runnin’ into each other like this I think someone’s trying to tell us something, don’t you?” His heart stopped beating and he held his breath while he waited for her to answer. She kept watching Cowboy Bob for a long time and then her lips parted. 

“So what’s your plan, Mike?” she asked without so much as glancing in his direction. 

“I say we blow this popsicle stand, right now, you and me.” 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chapter 4

Let’s have some respect
Got girls in here
Just pay your tab
And lay down your beer Hoss and let’s take it outside
Take it outside
It’s man to man
Toe to toe
You know we need to go
Nobody’s gonna break it up
Not until you’ve had enough
And if you think you’ve got the guts
Then let’s take it outside
If you think you’re man enough
You really wanna knuckle up
If you wanna shed a little blood then let’s
Take it outside

(Lyrics from ‘Take it Outside’ Brantley Gilbert)

Chapter 4

“This is exactly why I don’t live here in the off season anymore,” he grumbled as Mike stared at the plate his mother had just put in front of him, heaped high with perogies, bacon, cheese and sour cream. His mouth watered but he could already hear the trainers at camp making those disapproving noises about the extra weight he’d put on over the summer. “Shouldn’t there be something green on this plate?” One of the dieticians had told him once not to eat anything that had a face and always to make sure he ate something green. He had lime jello in his fridge and not the sugar free stuff. He was pretty sure that wasn’t what they meant but he liked it. He also liked pistachio pudding but he wasn’t a big fan of broccoli. He was pretty sure it was the broccoli they wanted him to eat. 

“Since when did you start turning your nose up at your mother’s cooking?” Mike poked a fork into one of the little bundles of fat and carbs and then dipped it into the sour cream that, knowing his mother, wasn’t the light, low cal stuff. He put it into his mouth, closed his teeth on it and his mouth was suddenly full of cheese and grease, bacon and sour cream, carmelized onion and potato. It was heaven. He closed his eyes and felt a grin tug at the corners of his mouth. This was exactly whey the trainers called him a fat redneck but there was no way he wasn’t cleaning off his plate. He would just have to find some way of working off all of this later. 

“My baby boy’s never turned his nose up at my cookin’,” his mother ruffled his hair. If any of the guys back in DC had seen that he’d never have heard the end of that. He could hear the apron strings comments in his head. Here at home, though, he got a sort of glow in his chest that matched the amazing taste in his mouth. It was good to be home.

“So what are your plans for tonight son?” his father asked. Mike kept his eyes on the plate in front of him. So the old man already wanted him out of the house. So much for missing him, Mike thought as he speared another perogie and smothered it with sour cream.

“I guess I’ll see if any of the guys wanna meet up,” he muttered before putting the cheese and potato filled dough pocket in his mouth. 

“You mean you’re gonna let the local girls know the big hockey star is home,” his mother teased, planting a kiss on the top of his head. Mike laughed around the mouthful of home cooking. Back here he might still get into the VIP section but he was hardly competition for anything in a Stetson and a pair of tight Wranglers. It had been a big shock to him his first summer home. It wouldn’t be now. 

“We’ll probably just go out for a couple beers,” he replied, taking his phone out to send a couple of texts to some old school friends who’d be happy to have him buy a round but who wouldn’t expect him to buy the next one. He felt her gaze on him and looked across the table to find his mother staring at him intently, her head cocked to one side, a smile on her lips that didn’t go all the way up to her eyes. He knew what was coming and steeled himself for it. 

“When are you gonna bring home a nice girl to take care of you Mikey?” Normally he’d have a quick answer to that question, something along the lines of not needing one and being way too young to settle down when there were so many pretty girls out there. Tonight he poked at his food and shrugged his shoulders as visions of a certain red headed vixen suddenly filled his thoughts. 

“Don’t know mom,” he replied quietly, suddenly bereft of the appetite it would require to finish the food in front of him. “I uh…better leave some room for those beers,” he muttered, pushing the plate away from him and scraping the chair back. “Can you put that in something for me mom? I might have it for breakfast.” 


“A picnic?” Chelsea stared at the basket in Jimmy’s hand as she stood half in and half out of the front door. She’d put on a light yellow sun dress with spaghetti straps that stopped just above her knees that she’d bought in DC. It hadn’t been warm enough there to wear it there yet but there was a warm Chinook here tonight and the sun wasn’t down yet.

“It’s a beautiful night,” Jimmy smiled and held his free hand towards her. She put her sweater in her other hand and pulled the door shut behind her. He was wearing dark blue denim that stretched invitingly across his ass. Dress jeans the boys around here called them. They were pressed with a crease down the front. She easily imagined him standing at an ironing board in nothing but a pair of tighty whities and his well worn straw cowboy hat. The vision in her head made her smile. “If I’m honest I didn’t want to share your attention with anyone else tonight,” he grinned at her as he opened the passenger door of his old beat up F-100 and helped her inside. He gave her that look that should have made her heart skip a beat but she only smiled back at him and then looked away as she smoothed her dress over her lap. 

He was wearing his best dress shirt, stiffly starched, collar pressed. The light blue of the cotton matched his eyes. She knew that she should want to run her fingers over it, should want to undo each and every button slowly to reveal his sculpted chest beneath it. She also knew that’s why he’d chosen it. Not only because it brought out the blue in his eyes but that it would also bring back memories. 

Chelsea looked down at the basket as he slid it onto the space between them on the bench seat. She could smell chicken pie inside, his mother’s recipe and one of her favorite things in the world. It made her chest ache. He was really pulling out all of the stops. 

She took his black felt hat when he handed it to her and watched as he ran his long fingers through his blonde hair. It already had some of the highlights in it that would make it almost white by the end of the summer. He’d let it get a little long while she was gone. He normally kept it military short, almost a brush cut. She found she liked it this way, with bangs that almost fell into his eyes the moment both hands where on the steering wheel. 

He aimed the truck up the rutted dirt road that went behind the house and she felt her heart beat begin to race. She knew where he was heading and she also knew why. 

He’d be expecting her answer and he had a right to it, she thought as she ran her fingers along the crease at the top of the cowboy hat in her lap. She’d asked him to wait until she got back from taking her mother’s place in DC and when she’d said it she’d firmly believed that she would feel exactly the same when she got back as that snowy night that she’d left but that was before she’d gotten a taste of freedom, of riding in limos and attending cocktail parties with heads of state, Princes and VIP’s. She had believed she’d been grown up enough to make that decision when he’d asked the question by firelight, curled up in front of the fire, the flickering flames turning his face golden like the god she’d always thought he was. In so many ways she felt like that girl who had looked up at him and thought he was everything she wanted was just that, a girl, a child. She felt so much more grown up now, now that she’d been somewhere outside of this little world with its tall grasses and endless skies. 

When the truck slowed in front of the gate to the upper paddock Chelsea’s heart was racing and her hands had gotten clammy. This was maybe her favorite spot in the world, dotted with wild flowers and at this time late in the spring the grass was up to her hip. It was a good place for a girl to hide, sit in the grass and watch the horses and dream. It was also the place she’d made love for the first time, when Jimmy had been so tender and patient and she thought that had been the best day of her entire life. That was why they were here, why he was grinning at her as he reached for the basket and gave her the blanket to carry. It was supposed to make her happy but suddenly it was the last place in the world she wanted to be. 

“I want to go dancing,” she blurted suddenly as he opened the door for her. He stood there, picnic basket in one hand and the handle of the door in the other, staring up at her like she’d just said something in another language. 

“Dancing?” he asked, looking perplexed. She ran her finger along the edge of the brim of his hat and nodded, but didn’t meet his eyes. 

“Yeah, let’s go to Cowboys. I feel like doing some line dancing, maybe a two step or two?” She raised her gaze to meet his and hoped that he didn’t see the panic in her eyes. She did her best to smile, to look enthusiastic, even as her pulse pounded in her chest and she fought the urge to dry her hands on her dress. 

“If that’s what you want.” He looked over at the meadow and Chelsea swallowed with some difficulty. He’d gone to a lot of trouble, put a lot of thought into this and she felt like the worst person on earth but she knew if she went into that paddock, if she sat down on the blanket and he looked into her eyes that she’d say yes and then…, then she’d be stuck here forever as a farmer’s wife and she’d never see a big city again. 

“Y’know, long flight, then a nap…I just need to stretch my legs,” she told him which wasn’t a lie and that was a good thing. She didn’t want to lie to him. She didn’t want to hurt him either. ‘Maybe I just need a little time to get used to being home’ she thought as he nodded and tried not to look disappointed as he closed the door again. She watched him walk around the front of the truck, watched him pause before he reached for the door handle on the driver’s side. He was probably cursing under his breath, probably saying something about how flighty she was so she gave him her best hostess smile as he climbed back behind the wheel. “I can feed you the pie on the way there,” she offered and he nodded, but he kept his eyes on the road and his lips pressed in a thin, decidedly unhappy line. 


“You know you’re never gonna get farther than that as long as that gap toothed idiot is on your team right?” Mike smirked as he stared into his beer. 

“That gap toothed idiot is the captain of my team and the reason that a lot of those butts are in the stands. He’s an amazing player.” It was a defense that came easily, not least of all because it was true. 

“Fuck, not this year. Tell me he was playing with a broken arm or something,” one of his other friends pleaded as he joined them at one of them tables that circled the dance floor. Most of his buddies had chosen to sit on the barstools that faced the floor. Mike had intentionally chosen the one that did not. 

“The coaching staff made some changes to the way we play. They didn’t match up with Ovie’s style,” he explained. These guys had played the game, hell most of them still did play the game in midnight and weekend beer leagues. He could probably draw up plays on the back of one of the coasters and explain strategy and they’d understand it. The fact was he didn’t want to talk shop tonight. Somewhere between his parents place and the bar he’d decided that all he wanted to do was get messy drunk and pick up some cute little cowgirl to take home and ride him, make him forget that sexy little red head whose body was still haunting his imagination. “We still made it farther than the Flames,” he began, getting ready to rub a little salt into the wound, but when he looked up from his beer, none of his buddies were paying any attention. In fact all of them were staring at the dance floor like men coming out of the desert and finding an oasis. 

Mike turned on his barstool. There was a line of mostly girls in daisy dukes or skimpy jean skirts and cowboy boots, pig tails, braids and either t-shirts or button down shirts tied somewhere above their belly buttons. It was the regular fare for Cowboys, Calgary’s most notorious party spot, and most of the girls were certainly cute enough to be openly gawked at, but Mike was pretty sure he knew what had them all staring.

He thought he was maybe seeing things, like you do when you want to see something or someone badly enough. It was the red hair that had caught his attention. He’d never really been the kind of guy who had a type, blonde or brunette they were all pretty much the same to him. He liked women, all women in that ‘how could I possibly choose’ kind of way. ‘Maybe one night could make a difference’, he thought to himself as he watched the girl with the cherry red hair trying to drag some tall drink of water onto the floor. In just about any other city with the obvious exception of Nashville, the guy would have been laughably out of place in his iron on wranglers and his black cowboy hat. Here though, the only thing that made him stand out was the belt buckle that damn near looked like a hubcap from a Navigator and the fact that he was tall, taller than Mike knew he was on skates. 

“Bet he can’t dance,” one of his buddies dug his elbow into Mike’s ribs. ‘And what can my two left feet do about it if he can’t?’ Mike wondered to himself as the music began to play and a chorus of ‘yee haws’ rose from the crowd on the floor. 

That was the problem with Cowboys. He liked looking at all the girls in their cut offs and bandana tops but he couldn’t do any of the line dancing or cowboy waltz stuff. That required more coordination than he had, off of the ice anyway. He was about to turn back to his beer when the red head gave up trying to drag her cowboy Casanova onto the floor and joined the line just as they broke it down low. 

It was something about the way she got low and something about the way her frothy little sundress danced around her ass when she did that made him pause. There was something in the way her cherry red curls bounced as she came back up that made it hard for him to breathe. He’d thought that colour could only come from a bottle but he’d followed that landing strip to heaven and no one dyed the hair down there…did they?

Couldn’t be’, he blinked and then reached up and rubbed his eyes. It had to be jet lag, he reasoned as he found himself sliding off of the bar stool and circling around to the other side of the dance floor. He’d wanted to see her and now she was here…things like this just didn’t happen, especially not to him. 

The grin she wore as she wiggled her ass to the hard driving southern rock song he knew. It was imprinted on his brain and hit him like a wrecking ball, nearly making him stagger backwards as she threw her head back and giggled when she missed a step. 

Mike lifted his ball cap and ran his fingers through his unruly hair, not able to believe his eyes. Even if he didn’t trust his vision, his cock twitched in his jeans as if to say that it knew exactly what he was looking at. And then there was that scar, that little puckered starburst of skin behind her knee. His mouth knew it, he remembered running his tongue over it, remembered the way she squealed when he tickled the back of her knee. 

His gaze followed the long, lean line of her legs up to the hitch hem of the gauzy yellow dress and he knew that a whole pitcher of beer wasn’t going to do anything to reverse how dry his mouth had become watching her. Mike dug into his pocket and pulled out a ten dollar bill and dropped it onto the tray of one of the passing servers and took two shots of tequila off of the tray she held above his shoulder, downing them both in quick succession. He still couldn’t believe his eyes, couldn’t understand how she could be here, but there was only one way of finding out if he was day dreaming or not. 

She loved the song that was playing. In general she was pretty open minded about music, her iPod was testament to her eclectic taste but when it came to country she preferred something with an electric guitar and a hard driving beat. She was a little disappointed that Jimmy wouldn’t dance to it but it didn’t really matter, not once she got going. She was out of practice though, she realized as she missed a step and got behind, but she didn’t care. She felt free out on the floor and at least Jimmy had cracked a smile when she’d begged him to dance. 

He was still smiling when she looked over at him now, only there was a covetous gleam in his blue eyes too as she stomped and twirled to the music. The expression on his face said that he was clearly thinking ‘she’s mine’ and for once today Chelsea found that she didn’t mind. In fact she kind of liked the way his eyes got all soft when he watched her, like she was the only girl in the room. 

It’s not really him I’m mad at’ she reminded herself as she gave him a warm smile. He tipped his hat to and gave her one of those slow smiles that turned her heart into melted butter. ‘Guess that still works’ she grinned at him as the song came to an end and the next song, a swing by George Strait began to play. He walked slowly towards her and her and Chelsea got that feeling that she’d been waiting for all day, her heart began to swell, her pulse jumped and her knees got a little weak as she reached out to put her hand into his.

Except it wasn’t his hand that hers went into. As she spun on the heel of her cowboy boot, she turned to find herself looking into a pair of dark brown eyes that sent a shock wave straight down her spine. 

“You,” she sputtered, almost tripping over her own feet as he clumsily guided her around the corner of the floor. “What are you doing here?” 

“I was about to ask you the same thing,” her last night in DC hissed as he stepped on her foot, making her wince. It was a good thing he was wearing sneakers. If he’d been wearing boots it might have hurt worse.

“Why? Do you think you’re so amazing that I flew all the way across the country for another bang?” she snapped back at him, to which he made a face, turned and dragged her off of the dance floor. She was running to keep up with him when he stopped, dead, causing her to run into his back. Peeking around his shoulder, she looked for the reason why; Jimmy was blocking their way.  

“Would you mind taking your hand off my fiancĂ©e.” It was in the form of a question but it wasn’t one. Chelsea could tell by the way his eyes, normally so blue had turned a stormy gray. Chelsea tried to pull her hand loose but just as she’d remembered it being, the hand holding hers was strong, the fingers thick and unyielding. She tried to go around him, put herself between him and Jimmy but he held his arms out, blocking her path.

“I don’t see a ring.” She felt his thumb move quickly over the back of her hand, checking for the tell tale bump of a solitaire no doubt. She could barely contain a smile.

“Cee Cee, do you know this…low life?” An hour ago Chelsea might have said yes, just to give herself some distance, some space away from the rush of her impending future. Now, as she looked up at the scowl on Jimmy’s handsome face, she knew she would do anything not to hurt him. 

“No,” she replied calmly. She didn’t add anything like she’d never seen the guy in her life; that would have been a lie. As it was, she didn’t know him. She didn’t know his name or what he’d been doing in DC or whose loft they’d had sex all over, so ‘no’ wasn’t a lie. She felt the man holding her hand’s entire body become very still. He turned and looked over his shoulder at her, the shock in his eyes not at all hidden by the brim of his tractor hat. 

“You’re engaged?” He wrinkled his nose, as if the word itself left a bad taste on his tongue. 

“Not yet,” she replied in a whisper, dropping her gaze down and to the side so that Jimmy wouldn’t read the words on her lips, wouldn’t know that she felt she had to give an explanation to a total stranger. She glanced up at him through her hair and thought she saw relief in his dark eyes, just for a moment, and then he was moving and so was she. 

“I said take your hands off.” Jimmy had a hold of him and instinctively, protectively Chelsea pulled backwards on the hand that was still holding hers’. Their fingers were laced. They seemed to fit together that way, like two puzzle pieces that once you’d put them together would not come apart. She realized in that moment that she didn’t want Jimmy to hurt him and he could. He was a Provincial champion steer wrestler and the man whose hand she was holding, she remembered, didn’t look like the kind of guy who hit the gym. He had strong legs. That was something else she remembered and thought ‘maybe he could run’.  A vision of Jimmy chasing him across the parking lot with a lasso made her smile and she did her best to hide it behind her other hand. 

“Mike, you got a problem with cowboy bob here?” His name was Mike. Chelsea peeked up at him. The name suited him she thought as she watched him spare a quick glance towards his friends who were coming up behind them. He still hadn’t let go of her hand but the angry glower he’d had just a moment ago, which she thought didn’t suit his baby face at all, was cracking around the edges. 

“Not sure yet,” Mike replied as his buddies fell in behind him like a posse. He didn’t actually like fighting. He’d do it, if he had to, but he didn’t like it and the last thing he needed right now was to have to call and tell the organization he’d broken his hand on some guy’s face in a bar brawl. On the other hand, he didn’t like the way this guy was looking at…damn, he still didn’t know her name. 

“CeeCee.” The guy held his hand out towards her and beneath the brim of his cowboy hat Mike could see a patronizing little smile on the guy’s face that made Mike curl his hands into fists. He wanted, really badly, to knock this guy’s teeth down his throat and that was an emotion he just wasn’t used to feeling, at least around anyone other than say Max Talbot or Sean Avery. 

“Mike, you have let go of my hand.” She said his name. His heart raced in his chest to hear her say it like that, in a half whisper, her lips so close to his ear. He had to fight the urge to close his eyes and lean back to get a whiff of her perfume, to feel her body sway into his. He used the anger he was feeling to suppress the softer feelings he didn’t really understand.

“This guy, really?” he asked, glancing over his shoulder at her. Her jewel green eyes met his and she smiled and nodded. He wanted to ask if she was sure and he wanted to just drag her out to the parking lot and leave with her. Instead, very reluctantly he let his fingers slide from hers’ until just the tips of their fingers were touching. ‘Why does this make my chest hurt?’ he asked himself as he stared down at her finely boned fingers with their white tipped nails. He could feel them in his back, felt the sting of them digging into his flesh and he shuddered. “Are you…you’re gonna marry him?” He forced himself to look into her emerald green eyes even as he told himself that he being a god damned pussy. She was just a fuck, a one night fucking stand. He shouldn’t care. He did. 

“Pretty sure, yeah,” she replied, leaning in and brushing her lips along his cheek. He clenched his jaw and did his best not to moan. Her hand slid from his and he was left standing there, watching her walking towards him, going up on tip toes to kiss his cheek as the praying mantis wrapped his claws around her and turned to usher her away. 
“You know that chick?” one of his buddies asked putting a beer in his hand. Mike started to shake his head and then stopped. 

“Kind of, yeah,” he muttered. CeeCee, the guy had called her that twice. Mike tried it out, whispering the name under his breath. It didn’t seem right. It didn’t fit the little vixen he’d had in his bed. It sounded too childlike, too innocent. 

“She’s smokin’ hot. I can’t believe you just let him take her like that.” Mike stared at the spot where the crowd had already swallowed them both but he thought he could still see her cowboy’s hat bobbing over most of the heads. He couldn’t believe it either. He tipped the beer that had been put in his hand up to his lips and took a long swallow. It didn’t do much to cool the aching burn in his chest. He’d have to try a few dozen more. 


Chelsea was still staring straight ahead, feeling the bumps and bounces of the driveway up toward the house but not seeing it. She was still seeing Mike’s pouting lips and the bedroom eyes. ‘Mike’ she smiled as she thought about the way his hand had felt holding hers’ and the way he’d looked at her, as if he was pleading with her to stay with him. A little part of her had wanted to. 

“Strange, that guy thinking he knew you.” Chelsea made a noncommittal noise in her throat and then turned towards Jimmy who was staring straight ahead, both hands on the wheel. He was still wearing the same guarded expression he had been since he’d manhandled her out of the club. She hadn’t liked to lie to him, but she told herself that it would hurt him less than knowing who Mike really was. When she’d left for DC he’d told her she had her freedom for as long as she was gone. She’d known then just as she did now that he hadn’t really meant to give her permission sleep around. That had been her decision but she’d never meant to rub his nose in it. That had all supposed to have stayed in DC with her father. It was never supposed to arrive on his doorstep. “And you’re sure you didn’t know him?” Chelsea blinked and then stared into her lap.

“I think he was maybe just drunk,” she mumbled as the old pick up rumbled to a stop in front of the farm house. Chelsea glanced up at the porch light, expecting the flutter of butterflies in her stomach that usually began right about this time. They were there, but there was only a couple, not the usually swarm of beating wings that sent her pulse into overdrive. She looked across the bench seat to where Jimmy was still holding fast to the wheel. She waited for him to ask her to ask him in. He didn’t. “Well…umm, goodnight then,” she muttered as she reached for the door handle. The sound of the old door creaking open in the silence seemed eerie, not least of all because he almost never let her open it on her own.  

“Chelsea.” She paused with one foot on the running board. 

“Yes Jimmy?” She waited, heart hammering hard in her chest. 

“If I asked you now, would you say yes?” Chelsea stared out at the darkness and then a sad smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. 

“I’m not sure,” she replied quietly, and then stepped off of the running board, onto the ground and closed the truck door behind her. She didn’t look back as she walked up the stairs to the front door. She heard the truck idling as she put her key in the lock and then heard it speed away  as she opened the door.