Happy, happy Friday everyone! Great day for me. I'm off spending the day with LJ. In addition, I got a great new story for you courtesy of Sunny Girl/Leigh Smith. This is a special story. The first part appeared over at Aimless Rambling this past Monday, click here to read that if you missed it. And the final part will be back at Aimless Rambling this coming Monday.
Sonny is one of my very favorite writers and you know I love her books so I'm so very happy that I can share in this new story today. So sit back and enjoy…
Sonny is one of my very favorite writers and you know I love her books so I'm so very happy that I can share in this new story today. So sit back and enjoy…
Learning the Ropes
Joanna and Paula joined the men on the porch. Jack asked if the girls wanted to go for a sunset ride.
“I don’t think so Mr. Hawkins,” Joanna said.
“Speak for yourself Joanna. I think it would be fun; it's been ages since I’ve been on a horse."
Jace and Josh headed toward the barn with Paula not far behind. She could hear Jace telling Josh he didn’t need any help and to go back to the house. Josh gave him a shove and kept moving forward. Paula tried keeping the smile off her face. Sadie was right; boys will be boys, not matter their age.
Josh, Jace, and Paula took a leisurely ride with Paula between the two of them. It was fun to watch the dirty looks passing between them. Paula was enjoying herself and flirted with them both. The banter between the three of them continued, and Paula was enjoying both the company and the spectacular scenery. The landscape changed from flat dry land covered with sagebrush to hillier terrain covered in lush dark pines. As the sun got lower in the sky, the chill began to settle in.
“The sunset is beautiful but I’m getting chilly. Is anyone besides me ready to head back now?"
“You are the guest, so you get to make the decision,” Jace replied.
“Oh, I like that,” she responded. “Does that mean I’m responsible?"
“Now don’t go getting all full of yourself, or else.”
“Or else what?”
”I’m sure I’ll think of something you probably won’t like, maybe a spanking.”
“But I’m a guest,” she replied as the blush crawled up her neck.
“Yes, you are, but we’re responsible for your well-being, so we get the final say,” Jace said and laughed when he saw her blush and pout.
“Now that will get you absolutely no place fast.”
Quickly changing the subject, Josh asked, “Speaking of fast, you’re a pretty good rider Paula, up for a race back to the ranch?”
“Sure,” Jace said. “How about a wager, little brother?”
“What do you have in mind?”
“How about the loser gets to unsaddle and curry the horses when we get back to the barn and settle them in for the night.”
Jace agreed, thinking this was perfect. I’ll hold back and let Josh take the lead. Then when Paula loses I’ll have her all to myself, and I can help her with their horses. It didn’t work out that way. Paula managed to inch out Jace at the end leaving him the loser. Josh was grinning from ear to ear and calling his brother a loser. “You lose brother. Not only did you lose, but you lost to a girl, and a city girl at that,” Josh taunted.
Jace was taking it in stride until Josh went just that extra step. Before she knew what was happening, Jace had taken a pitchfork full of hay and threw it at Josh, who then picked up the water bucket and heaved it toward his brother. Part of the contents landed on Paula.
“Now look what you’ve done. You have our guest all wet,” and he went after Josh and threw him down in the hay.
Growing up with brothers, Paula was used to this type of behavior and was laughing at them when Jace grabbed her and brought her down with them. Now, all three of them were rolling around in the hay. Paula was laughing so hard, tears started falling. She had forgotten how much fun it was horsing around with guys. It reminded her of her youth and living with her brothers.
“I haven’t had this much fun in years,” she told them
Soaking wet and loaded with hay everywhere, they cared for the horses and left the barn when they were finished playing. Jace and Josh argued about who was going to walk Paula home. “I think that’s my cue to head for the cabin,” Paula thought to herself.
Josh and Justin were exchanging words and Jack and Sadie, who were still sitting on the porch were laughing. “You two are fighting like you were little boys over marbles,” Sadie exclaimed.
I’ve never been the marble before, I like it, Paula told herself. They were still arguing as Paula walked away and yelled goodnight to them both. “Watch yourself with Josh.” Jace called out. “He’s really a city slicker.” She giggled and kept on walking toward the cabin. She needed a drink and a shower.
“Did you enjoy your ride?” Sadie asked the boys as they approached the porch.
“Paula’s a good rider. We raced back here and she beat out Jace,” Josh answered.
‘I bet you didn’t like that, Jace. Will you want a rematch?” Jack asked.
Josh said he didn’t want to be any part of a grudge match, but he would continue to remind his older brother, he was bested by a girl.
“Oh, hush up. You are only three minutes younger than me.” Jace slapped his arm around Josh’s shoulder as they sauntered into the house. “You should be respecting your elders.” Josh punched Jace’s arm.
Joanne was in bed reading when Paula walked into the cabin. She told Joanne about the ride and the events that followed. “Be careful Paula. You’re here on assignment so don’t go getting yourself all involved in something that will leave you in shreds when we go back home.”
“I won’t,” she told Paula, but didn’t even believe that herself. She wasn’t sure if it was because it was nice to be the object of admiration by two men, or if it was something more. Josh was a likeable guy but there was something about Jace.
She took a long hot shower and fell into bed. Instead of immediately falling asleep the way she always did, she laid awake thinking about what Paula said. She tried thinking what it was about Jace that had her thinking about him as someone other than just another guy. He would give any current male model a run for their money, but it was more than that. He seemed to have a gentle way about him, not that he wasn’t macho – he was, but there was more. You sensed it in his words and way of speaking, how he looked and spoke to his mama, the love and respect he showed his dad, how he held and stroked the cat that jumped into his lap on the porch. Things that most people would miss and not think about in a cowboy were there with Jace. They might be there with Josh and Caleb too considering they were brothers, but she noticed it in Jace.
She had to keep her head straight. She was here to write an article and keep things in perspective. After she had lain there for over an hour realizing that sleep just wasn’t coming, she got up and went to her computer. She went over her notes and started formulating the article. Her boss wanted a woman’s perspective on the allure of cowboys and the western life. Deciding to get some more background on Sage Springs Ranch, she punched the name into the computer and learned some interesting facts.
She was finally able to fall asleep somewhere around 2:30. She awoke the next morning to the sun filling the room. The clock said 11:30 and she couldn’t believe it. She had never slept this late in her entire life. She called out to Joanna and didn’t receive any response. When her feet hit the floor, and she stood, the pain in her hips and knees brought back the ride and the horsing around of the night before. A long hot shower is what I need, that and about four ibupropen she said to herself. After the stiffness finally left her body, she emerged from the shower to find Joanna sitting on the bed, head in hand. She could tell she had been crying.
“What’s the matter?”
“I got a text message from my ex-mother-in-law. Brandt has been in a terrible accident, and they don’t know whether or not he is going to live.”
“I’m sorry, because I don’t like to hear about anybody being hurt, but after what he did to you, I can’t believe you’re crying over him.”
“He was my husband, and although I hated what he did to me, I can’t forget that at one point, we loved each other. Marisol said he is asking for me. I don’t know what to do.”
“You are the only one that can answer that question, Joanna.”
“Don’t hate me Paula, but I think I have to go. I’ll see what I can do about catching a flight. Do you mind terribly?”
“Of course not honey, you do what you feel is right. Don’t worry about me.”
Joanna booked a flight and caught a ride to the airport in the ranch van that was going to pick up other guests.
With Joanna gone, Paula lost her companion and fellow conspirator and was at odd’s ends. Assuming Sadie would be busy with other guests arriving; Paula sought her out to see if she could assist at the main house. While they were working, she hoped to get Sadie talking about the ranch and get some more information for her article. She found Sadie working at the kitchen sink.
“Can I help?”
“I have a ton of potatoes that need peeling, wanna pitch in?”
“I’m your girl.”
She was busily peeling potatoes when Jace walked in. He looked so damn sexy even though he was dirty and sweaty. He removed his hat; his hair flopped over his forehead, and he winked at her. Paula had all she could do to keep herself from pushing his hair back. Sadie took one look at him and told him to get out of her kitchen.
“You’re a mess; look at the mud you’re tracking in.”
Not even reacting to his mother’s scolding, his eyes were all over Paula. The physical connection between Jace and Paula was alive and breathing in that room, and Sadie didn’t fail to notice. He greeted Paula with a warm smile that lit up his eyes.
“Sorry about your friend,” he managed to say. “Hope it isn’t going to make you cut your visit short. There’s still a lot of Sage Springs ranch to see.”
“No, I plan on staying the whole time and can’t wait to see more of what ranch life is like.”
“Great. How about another horseback ride later?”
“It depends on what kind of ride you have in mind. I don’t think my bottom could take another ride like last night. I haven’t ridden that hard in some time and I’m a little tender this morning.
Paula realized what she said when she saw Jace’s reaction. She swore he actually blushed.
“I think I’ll just let that ride. If I say what’s on my mind, I think my Mama would be getting out the Tabasco sauce,” he told her with a mischievous grin on his face.
He picked up his hat and started backing out of the kitchen when Sadie asked him what he needed. “Oh, I almost forgot. Caleb wanted me to tell you that he and Carrie had a little set-to, and she’ll be a little late but will be here in time to help with the new arrivals.”
“Not again.” Sadie remarked. Jace nodded, and Paula tucked away this little snippet of information and decided to stick around.
“Thanks, Jace. Do you want me to fix you a sandwich now that you’re here, instead of heading down to the bunkhouse? You can’t dirty the floor any more than you have already.”
“That would be great, thanks Ma.”
Jace was thrilled at his mother’s offer. Now he could sit here and talk with Paula without Josh around. Paula seemed different than most of the ladies that visited the ranch. Many of them came out here looking for their version of a cowboy. Their version was the television and the movies version, not the actual thing. The real thing meant working from sun-up to sun down, flopping into bed bone weary with nothing but sleep on your mind, day in and day out. Weekends and holidays off were rare. It meant getting sweaty and dirty, rough calloused hands, sleepless nights during calving or foaling season. It meant dealing with all kinds of weather and doing whatever was necessary to protect the stock. When they found out it was not all two-stepping, polished boots and clean-pressed jeans, they were no longer interested. The ladies in the area knew what ranching entailed but Jace knew most of the girls in the area, had been to school with them. He liked them well enough, but there wasn’t one of them that made him think about settling down.
He asked Paula what had brought her to Sage Springs Ranch. She hemmed and hawed a little but finally said she was a writer and researching a possible book project. This was as close to the truth without spilling the beans on her undercover story. She told him she had chosen Sage Springs Ranch because their web page made it look as if they offered the most realistic ranching experience.
“I’m glad you chose Sage Springs, and I will be happy to help in any way that I can.”
“I’ll remind you of that when you’re tired of all my questions.”
“I can’t believe that will ever happen,” he told her.
She knew he was flirting with her, and it felt good. She liked feeling and being treated like a real girl. In her line of work, it was better to act like one of the guys in order to get the plum assignments. She put up with her fair share of butt slapping, wolf whistles, and sexual innuendos in the beginning. Then she figured out if you wanted to do the ‘hard’ stories, you had to stop being girly and makes them think of you as one of the guys. This was one of the reasons she hadn’t wanted to do this story. It was as if she were going backward instead of forward.
“Okay, first question of many. How many guests have you kissed?”
“What kind of question is that? Are you the National Enquirer? I’m going to take the 5th on that.”
“See, you are already tired of my questions.”
He chuckled. “You set me up. Why you are a little brat, if I knew you a little better I would paddle your behind.”
She laughed. You do know this is the 21st century don’t you? Things like that don’t happen anymore.
“Oh, but they do, even right here at Sage Springs Ranch. So you better behave.”
“Now you have aroused my curiosity. Are you the official paddler of Sage Springs Ranch?”
“I don’t know that we have an official paddler, I do know in specific circumstances I have, and could again be tempted to indulge in that activity when particularly cheeky ladies are pushing the envelope. And, I know for a fact, there are other cowboys here who feel the same.”
“Oh, I am going to have to get the ‘skinny’ on this as part of my research. I can see the brochure now, ‘Come and get it’ not only refers to chow but to spanking too.”
“Keep it up and you are going to get some firsthand knowledge.” He gave her the most charming smile, and his eyes twinkled with that last statement.
“Promises, promises.” Paula told him as Jace pushed back in his chair and laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Carrie asked when she walked into the room.
“Jace was telling me that I had better be careful or I might get my backside paddled. He said it sometimes happens here at Sage Creek Ranch.”
Carrie turned fifteen shades of pink and walked back out of the room. Sadie turned around.
“Jace, what did you do.”
“I didn’t do anything, Ma. Carrie asked what I was laughing at, and Paula answered. I’m innocent for a change.”
“Sadie, do you think I should go after Carrie,” Paula asked.
“No, leave her be. I’ll check on her in a little bit.”
Paula went back to peeling potatoes; Jace stood up, put on his hat, and was halfway out the door when he turned and asked if they had a date to go riding later.
“I wouldn’t call it a date but riding sounds good.”
When Paula finished peeling potatoes, she walked back to her cabin. She lay down on the bed. Last night’s lack of sleep caught up with her. The next thing she knew, there was a knocking on her door.
“Paula, are you in there?”
“Yes, just a minute, I’ll be right there,” she called back.
“It’s Jace. Sadie wanted to know if you wanted to help the new guests settle in. Carrie is still not feeling too well. They will be here in about ten minutes.”
“Oh, I would love that. Tell Sadie I’ll be right over.
Thanks Sunny! I love your stories and I'm so happy to be able to share part of it here as a Fantasy Friday. I'm still hopping for more stories, but deep down I feel Fantasy Friday coming to a close. It seem no one seems interesting in writing for it much these days. Time will tell. If you are willing to share a story send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
But don't forget to go to Aimless Rambling Monday for the conclusion of this wonderful story!