Hey Everyone! Forgive me, this might be a little odd but I didn’t like how this Chapter was going to I rewrote it from about half way through. If you’ve been following along, please reread this chapter and bear with me as I navigate this writing process (which again, is admittedly harder than I anticipated).
I had resolved that I would talk to Colt in the morning. After mulling over the situation all night I didn’t know if what we had started was a good idea or not. But I couldn’t fight the pull I felt toward him and for once wanted a straight forward talk with him about what went on in his head in turn. That conversation never happened though—instead he managed to avoid me for the better part of a week.
I hate to admit that I spent the first couple of days kind of waiting around for him to snap out of it. I worked in the cafe during the morning, guided the first couple of very small trail rides in the late afternoon, and accompanied Charlie on a full-day ride on Thursday when I was off from the cafe. Darrel, my manger at the cafe, still hadn’t really warmed up to me, but Tudy and I had become fast friends after I’d accidentally spilled a glass of water on a customer who had made a grab at her backside as she walked by. Darrel hadn’t been in at that time and I managed to fake-apologize enough to the customer to keep him from asking for the management. I had been a little shocked by my own daring, caught off guard by the flush of anger when I’d seen the man, dressed in grubby jeans and a teeshirt that identified him as a worker in the mine, reach out and touch her while his buddies egged him on. A couple more of the girls in town had started receiving notes like the one sent to the young girl prior to her rape-attack. The murmured conversations that resulted had put us all on edge a bit—particularly with strangers. Tudy was thrilled with me to say the very least, and we’d been bonding ever since.
I still saw Colt here and there, but any conversation we had felt clipped and awkward. The situation was made all the more complicated by the fact I was still tempted to throw myself at him whenever he was too close—which was most of the time he was in the vicinity. Resolute though he seemed not to touch me or show anything other than distant civility, he didn’t seem to be avoiding the diameter of my personal space for short periods at a time. The result was that I was beginning to feel torn between jumping him on the spot and slapping the look of disinterest from his face. Desperate though it seemed, I was feeling repressed and more than a little aggravated.
One afternoon near the end of the week, I tried to slip from the cabin without attracting his attention on the way out. I needed to get out for awhile, desperately. Just needed to relax with a book or something. Away from Colt’s temptation and the constant hum of my own thoughts. Away from the company of other people, their neediness, and my own work-induced parroting of, “What can I get you this morning?”
Colt caught me at the front door and my stomach squirmed as it always did when he was too close.
“Where are you going? You aren’t working this afternoon,” he said.
“Going out for a bit. I want some sunshine,” I evaded as quickly as possible. “See you in a bit.”
I slipped beneath his arm and jumped in my truck. As the engine turned over I was able to breathe an immediate sigh of relief. I backed down the drive and drove, not toward Powder Ridge, but down the road in the opposite direction south of the cabin. I didn’t know where I was headed until I actually got to the lily pond and backed in toward the bank. When he had first pointed it out, Colt had said it was one of only two natural lily ponds on the whole Western Slope, but regardless of its status or prestige, I had learned to hide from the world at its muddy bank.
The locals didn’t really visit much and the tourists didn’t know about the tiny dirt road to get to it. I clambered out of the cab before climbing into the bed to sit on the tool box in back. There was a blanket kept in the truck in case of emergency but today I spread it out in the bed, kicked off my boots and just enjoyed the afternoon sunlight that pooled on my skin. I felt the heat sink into my hair and sighed, content in the late spring breeze if only for a little while. June was fast approaching but the days already a hint of summer fever. Despite my intentions to read, my attention had begun to slip before I’d even opened the book. The light around the sunny pond grew hazy and before long, I’d flipped over to lay on my stomach and fallen asleep.
Tudy texted me later that evening when Colt was no where to be found.
I’m fucking sick of listening to this rapist crap.
I haven’t slept in days and we’ve gotta get out for a bit.
Party in LowTown. No excuses.
I laughed, always amused by her refusal to act either passive or demure. After a quick confirmation from me, she’d also told me to “Skank up,” and that she was coming to get me at seven.
I’d learned that the teenagers and twenty-somethings in Coal Creek and Powder Ridge called the college town below, LowTown. As Tudy and I bounded down the dirt road, spraying gravel at the corners as she drifted the truck, I actually did feel relieved to be heading out for the night. The Bishops were going, as were pretty much everyone else from the first round party.
“Lisha North is hosting,” Tudy said. “She’s a bitch though so just ignore her when it comes time to.”
Tuesday swore like a sailor most of the time, but the potency of her dislike was clearly audible in that comment.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
She laughed then said, “Bucks likes you, Adrienne, so she’s going to be gunning for you.”
I felt a little conflicted on the matter of whether or not Colt liked me but all the same I said, “Then why are we going?”
“Oh don’t worry,” she bubbled, happy again. “I have no doubt you can take her if it comes to that!”
I rolled my eyes at her but felt the prickle of nervous excitement as we swept downward.
Lisha North, whose actual full name was Elisia although she hated it, lived on better half of a hundred acres just outside the town limits. Her folks were southern, absurdly wealthy, and seemed to believe that throwing money at their only daughter and good parenting were one and the same.
The party took place in the spacious interior of her family’s expansive ranch house and for the majority of the night Tudy managed to keep us in a room other than the one our host occupied. Unfortunately, I disliked Lisha for very shallow way immediately after Tudy pointed her out. This week was not proving to be very complimentary of my character and evidently Miss North was meant to be the icing on the proverbial cake.
Lisha was a petite girl with platinum blond hair like a sea siren. She had pouty lips, perfect teeth, a smokin’ body and something that could only be identified as a micro-miniskirt one. At the moment she was pointed out to me, she was in the midst of batting her eyelashes and falling all over Jace Bishop who was looking at her like Christmas had come early. I counted an easy dozen times she said “like” or “oh my god” with in the space of a couple minutes, but the calculating way she watched Jace and his friends belied the girl-next-door, southern charm number she’d perfected. I knew manipulation when I saw it and Lisha was sporting the marks of a world-class drama queen. I mentally kicked myself and cued the internal lecture that she was “probably a very nice girl,” complete with my grandmother’s voice.
“Bitch,” Tudy whispered again and I stomped on her foot to keep her quiet.
Despite nearly straddling Jace’s lap, Lisha kept her arm permanently linked to a second platinum blond who also giggled and tossed her silvery hair every which way.
Tudy was whispering in my ear again, “The carbon copy to her right is Anna Cornelia. In some ways she’s better because she doesn’t pretend to be nice to other girls. No illusion.” Even as Tudy spoke I watched as Anna sent a withering glare at another girl as she made to approach the group of guys surrounding Blonds one and two. I nearly groaned out loud as the girl visibly backed down.
We departed from view and spent the majority of the night enjoying ourselves. There were two kegs in the house and forty people easily, all dancing and carrying on like the sky would come crashing down in the morning. Tudy abandoned me to dance with a somewhat stocky boy I’d met in the cafe. I thought his name was Mike or something like that. I smiled as she lead them both around the dance area. Mike really was cute, terribly shy, and just Tuesday’s type.
I honestly thought we were going to get through the night without any incidents with the nightmare twins when the clock hit midnight. As sure as Cinderella’s carriage would turn back into a mutilated pumpkin, all hell broke loose. Lisha and Anna had snuck into a corner of the dance area and were pointing at me and whispering behind their hands just before Colt came striding through the back door on the opposite side of the room.
“Oh shit,” I whispered and slammed the rest of the drink I’d been holding as he beelined for me. It wasn’t even eight-thirty yet.
Stuck as I was between him and the girls, it must have looked to Lisha like he was walking toward her. There was intention in Colt’s gaze and just the faintest trace of alcohol to fuel the fire. After days of almost completely avoiding me, he seemed to have made up his mind. I tried to backpedal when I realized he wasn’t going bring his approach up short. No luck.
Colt caught me by the arm and held on until his torso was pressed against mine and his face was tilted down toward my own. Some of the couples were still dancing, but I was aware that most of the people along the walls had stopped mid-sentence to watch. Several eyes flicked between Lisha and then Colt and I coupled together.
To his credit, Colt didn’t kiss me in front of everyone and create more of a spectacle than we already had. He did however run the pad of his thumb roughly over my lips. The flicker inside me burst instantly into roaring flames and I dared to nip the tiniest bit of his thumb with my teeth. I aimed to cause a little pain and was obliged by his slight flinch.
Lisha lost it behind me.
“What the hellis this?” she hissed. Her beautiful pale skin was colored by angry pink blotches on her cheeks and even pissed as hell, her voice still tinkled with wind chimes as her drawl got a little thicker. I stepped away from Colt, ready to square off with what looked like five-foot-three of possessed cheerleader. Anna was grinning wickedly and I suddenly had no doubt that Anna was the more conniving one.
Lisha stalked forward and jabbed an acrylic nail into Colt’s chest, Anna hovering behind her.
“How much time did I waste on you,” she said. “And just to watch you shack up with the first…” she looked at me for inspiration, “the first small town-wannabe to step foot in your door?”
It was my turn to glower as my hackles rose. Colt looked between my tensing shoulders, and her beautiful face twisted in anger, and laughed.
Oblivious to everything, Tudy let out a ridiculously comical “Yee-haw!”from somewhere across the room.
My fists were balled at my sides as I waited for Colt to speak. Half of me was dying for a reason to deck the hell-cat. The other half of me was irrationally turned-on but mad at Colt. I was seriously considering the value of slapping him. All that frustration and anticipation only to have her pitch a tantrum just before…and to have him randomly decide when he was good and ready…I ground my back teeth.
Colt’s tone was viciously sarcastic when he finally spoke. “Sunshine,” he said to Lisha. “You’re a cock-tease at the best of times but this whole room knows you’d drop that scrap of fabric the second I told you to.”
His words had the effect of dumping ice water on all those in attendance. I’d never heard him speak that way to or about anyone before, and judging by their shocked faces, many others hadn’t either.
But Colt wasn’t finished, “If you want to go to battle with her,” he waved a hand at me, “then be my guest.”
I snapped my gaze back to Colt. Did he seriously just invite her to go after me? I could feel my own temper climbing, rising, peaking toward a boil and it was going to be a crap-shoot which one of them took the first swing. Lisha looked like he slapped her, and her face had changed from pink to the furious shade of brick red. She squared up to me and her shoulders rocked back as Anna’s eye gleamed. For a solid ten seconds she visibly fought to control her rage.
In an impressively short time, she had herself back under control and her voice was once again that silky purr with a dagger’s edge. She turned away form me dismissively and said, “Get the fuck out of my house. And take your slut with you.” Colt didn’t wait for my reaction, just forcibly grabbed my hand and turned toward the door.
Then Anna finally spoke. “Oh Adrienne,” she said sounding like poisoned honey. “You’d best tread lightly.”
I wanted desperately to kick her, but my dignity wouldn’t allow me to be the first one to throw blows. Instead I tilted my chin in the air, gave Colt a disgusted look as I yanked my hand from his grip, and marched my way through the back door into the night.
I knew Colt was following me but I waited until we were out of earshot of the house before I rounded on him. As the moonlight streamed around us and the cold of the night air curled around my limbs I noticed that it wasn’t Colt who was tipsy, it was me. He image swayed slightly and I understood now why I’d been so ready to jump into a cat fight with Lisha and Anna. After the minor adrenaline kick inside, I felt the full effects of the four or more drinks Tudy had handed me throughout the evening. I put one hand on the hood of a truck to my right and then pointed the opposite index finger accusingly at Colt.
“No more of this, ‘I’ll tell you later’ bullcrap,” I said. “What was that about?”
Colt crossed his arms over his chest. “Look,” he said, “Lisha and I spent a little more time together last summer after she turned twenty-one. Then Anna showed up and it was like dating two monsters instead of one. I broke it off.”
I stared at him too furious to speak and conflicted by my own thoughts. I didn’t know him before, I had no claim to him now. Hell, I wasn’t in the slightest way entitled to the fit of jealousy that was coursing through me. But I was pissed as hell at him for the way he seemed to be intentionally screwing with me.
I finally leaned back against the truck to steady my balance. “So you just though you’d come barreling in and I wouldn’t mind that you’ve kind of been a dick all week,” I said.
He opened his mouth ready to argue but I cut him off, “Don’t even, Colt! You came at me out of nowhere a week ago and then acted like nothing happened.” I raked my hand through my hair and didn’t notice the small steps he’d been taking toward me. “And then! Then you go all he-man in the middle of a party with barbie ready to go ballistic behind me!” He was closer now and why in the world was I still hoping he’d bridge the gap again?
“Adrienne!” he said loudly. His volume startled me and I accidentally bit my tongue.
“Adrienne,” he was quiet again now that my outburst was over. “Lisha’s an easy bitch, and I can’t stand her the-world-revolves-around-me crap. Frankly, I’d love to watch you beat on her a bit.”
I almost growled at him. “So I’m your fucking puppet in public, and the girl you want to have when we’re alone. That right?”
He took another step forward, looking at my face, my stomach, my legs. “It’s not a good idea for us to be involved. This town talks too much.”
He was within an arm’s reach now, actions belying his words. Adrenaline spiked again as I felt a thrill of power. Colt wanted me—he was giving it away in every movement. Maybe he didn’t want to want me, but he felt it just as badly as I did. He was going to reach for me. I knew it but I’d be damned if this time happened on his terms. Damn right I wanted him. I couldn’t deny that. But if he wanted to play with fire then sometimes he needed to get burned.
“Don’t touch me,” I said with my voice dangerously low.
Shock flickered across my face. It was clear he had been expecting me to invite his approach. My blood heated and finally it was my turn to wear the wicked grin. His eyes widened as he saw watched the twisted smile spread. If he seemed to enjoy toying with me, then so be it. Two could easily play that game.
I cocked one hip to the side and mentally patted myself on the back as his eyes raked the downward curve. I was still angry with him for all but offering me up to Lisha, even though arrogance in the back of my mind told me I could have bested her. But if Colt wanted to play stupid games, the I could play.
With one fluid push, I moved away from the body of the truck and crossed my arms before circling him. He stood rooted to the spot although his gaze followed me for as long as he could without turning his head. I walked smoothly around him, intentionally swinging my hips and slightly dropping my chin. Colt had been facing me with his back to the house—his stance was stubborn and he still didn’t turn to watch me as I circled. Sure that it would be the move he expected the least, I simply turned toward the house and walked away.
I found the youngest of the Bishop boys, Drew, in the dance area. Lisha and Anna had mercifully gone elsewhere while Tudy and the guy she’d been dancing with were no where to be found. Slightly shorter than his brother and cousin, Drew was still several inches taller than me.
He took one look at the frustration on my face and said, “You wanna get outta here?”
I nodded and together we snuck out one of the side doors and loaded into his truck.
“Don’t you have to drive your cousins and brother?” I asked.
“They’ll probably crash here tonight or catch a ride with someone else. It’s no biggy.”
We drove slowly back up to Coal Creek. Drew’s driving was nothing like the death-defying trips that Colt always produced, and I found myself incredibly comfortable with him. We made small talk for the first half of the drive, but he wasn’t really one to beat around the bush for long.
“I was standing there when Bucks came in,” he said. “You didn’t look too happy with either of them.”
I sighed and sank farther into the bench seat. It was hard to believe that it had only been a couple of hours since Tudy had picked me up.
“Yeah well, I thought Lisha was going to go kung-fu barbie on me,” I said. “And Colt can’t seem to make up his damn mind about what he wants.”
Drew waited a moment and then asked bluntly, “Why do you like him anyway?”
I thought about it. Why did I really? He could be incredibly kind, patient, playful, and generous. Ultimately though, insufficient though it seemed, he was challenging and fascinating in a way no guy had seemed to me before.
That sounded lame even in my head so instead I said, “Why do you ask?”
He flushed before continuing, “I’d take better care of you, that’s all.”
I looked over at him sharply as he kept his attention fixed on the road. Drew was charming and good looking, no doubt, but I didn’t light up around him as I did with Colt. Drew was also closer to my age, having just turned eighteen, but I felt much older than him.
“I’ll tell you what,” he continued. “I’ve got to go do some work for one of the ranchers in a neighboring valley tomorrow. Why don’t you come with me?”
Why not? I thought, and told him so.
“Great! I’ll pick you up at a quarter after eight tomorrow morning then.”
We pulled to a stop in front of Colt’s cabin and I turned to Drew, saying thanks. He quickly reached up and brushed a strand of hair over my ear. There was no fire when he touched me even though I hoped there would be. No rush of anything but innocent affection for a boy who had been consistently sweet to me.
“Let me know if you need anything, D.”
I couldn’t think of anything more to say so I nodded and climbed out of the truck.
Not an hour later, as I was laying on my bed trying to sleep, the front door opened and closed quietly. There were two sets of footsteps however that were immediately drowned out by an excited feminine whisper.
“Do you think she’s home?”
“No, I don’t think so,” came Colt’s deep reply.
Bullshit! He was so obviously lying to her. My truck was parked right out front and my boots were lying right in the entry way. I was instantly furious all over again. If he wanted a show then I would be sure to give him a damn show. I had changed into head-to-toe sweats and knew my hair was flying every which way but didn’t care. I flung my bedroom door open and went slamming down the hallway into the living room.
Anna stood shocked and rooted to the spot by the kitchen table, hand still outstretched toward Colt. But the platinum bombshell visibly paled as I speared her with my deadliest glare.
“Get. Out. Now.” Even I was aware of the lethal calm in my voice.
Anna reeked of alcohol and one eyebrow arched challengingly as her grey eyes widened. I’m sure she was half way to forming the words, “make me,” but that was the moment I blew up.
“GET THE HELL OUT!” I shrieked at her. Her sense of self preservation must have finally kicked in from the recesses of her whiskey-clouded mind. Without Lisha to back her up, her eyes dilated right before she tore back through the front door that Colt had been kind enough to open. I didn’t know where her cabin was through the dark, but I would waste time feeling guilty in the morning.
I rounded on Colt. “What is wrong with you,” I spat through clenched teeth. Fury was coursing in fiery bursts throughout my body and I barely contained the urge to start pelting him with everything in reach. “Why did you bring her here?!” I was yelling again.
Colt crossed him forearms over his chest and scowled at me but didn’t say anything. He seemed to be proving that leaving him outside alone had consequences. We had failed to communicate before and the same was true now. He had said clearly that he found her attractive and here was the evidence standing before me. Six-foot-four of sullen, silent male refused to deny what the illogical part of my brain still hoped he would.
“Has she been here before?”
“No,” he finally said and rocked back on his heels, standing even taller than before. He was either lying through his teeth or he was doing a damn fine job of hitting my buttons. I hated to admit that I couldn’t tell anymore.
“Fuck you,” I finally said. I suddenly didn’t care about the reason, didn’t care about the truth. I was just sick of it. I walked passed him for the second time that night—out the front door and climbed in my truck.
The drive to Powder Ridge felt longer than it usually did that night. When I finally got into town I threw my truck in park and headed straight for the painted sign that said, Ricky’s. I noticed the bar before and been briefly introduced to the owner at the cafe one morning. I pulled open the door to the bar and remembered the door’s too-tight springs a moment too late. The screen slammed into my bottom and set off a fresh bout of cussing that I hadn’t meant to let loose. Ricky, who owns the bar and serves there, loves this door because he says it’s a little dose of humility that takes the wind right out of would-be-assholes’s sails. Locals know to dodge it but in my anger I’d completely forgotten. Ricky watched me beneath raised eyebrows as I stalked passed empty tables straight to the bar top which was also completely empty at ten-thirty on a Friday night. The tourists weren’t quite here yet.
“Ricky, I’d like a beer. Anything, just something on tap.”
His eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hairline but after several seconds he shrugged and filled a glass. The foamy top was skimmed off and then the dripping mug was set on a coaster in front of me.
“Thanks,” I said a little startled that, although underage, he’d given it to me. Some of my foul mood was washed down with the first big gulp, which I guess was intentional on his part.
He’d been very friendly in the cafe a couple days ago, and I’d taken to him immediately.
“Alright, girl. Spill,” Ricky said after another minute of watching me rotate the glass on the counter top.
“You won’t tell?” I asked, internally chastising myself for sounding like a petulant child.
“Bars are perfect for confessionals, dear.”
I didn’t mean to unload on him but all of the sudden I was telling him everything as fast as the words would pour from my mouth. I had talked to Tudy before, but I was desperate for a male opinion.
He listened attentively and when I was finished, he poured himself a beer and sat across the bar from me. Anxiously I waited as he considered his response over a couple swigs of beer.
“Look, Adrienne,” he said finally. “The better advice, if you want it, would be to forget about the lot of boys up here. Most of ‘em are broken somehow anyway—your main interest among ‘em.”
He sighed deeply and then continued, “But that ain’t what you wanna hear, I know. Bucks is a good man. Honestly. He’s one of the very best I ever met. But his self control is near boundless and he’s damn proud of that. Likes to be in command of everything, most strictly himself. I’d bet money he was just testing how you feel without wanting to ask. I’m no better than the serpent for egging you on, but he’s good and I could tell right off, so are you. He doesn’t like lettin’ people in, but if you want him, then don’t let him get a rise out of you. Go get a little farther under his skin instead.”
I thought about what Ricky had said on the drive back, and as instructed, I didn’t wreck the truck or get pulled over either. I was nervous about confronting Colt again, and when I got home, he was sitting alone at the kitchen table.
A trace of affection passed through me as I watched him visibly relax when I walked in. But then he said, “Good, you made it back,” before rising and walking to his room. It would seem we were taking turns walking away from one another that night as he shut his bedroom door and switched off the light.