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Fall for Me (Cowboys of Crested Butte Book 1) Page 6

by Heather Slade


  “You don’t fool me.”

  “Paige, please let it go.”

  “No, I won’t let it go. He wants to see you again.”

  “To what end?” Why wouldn’t Paige drop it?

  “Why do you keep yourself on the outskirts of life? It breaks my heart. You’re an amazing woman, and yet it seems as though you’re done. You raised your daughter and you’ve begun the descent. Your life isn’t over, Liv. It’s just beginning. Why won’t you let yourself take a chance with this guy?”

  “Enough, Paige! Why do you have to push so hard? I had a great time. I didn’t fall in love, and I don’t plan to ever again. Scott was it for me, the great love of my life. There, are you happy? You made me say it. Now leave me alone.”

  “Oh, sweetie…” Paige tried to comfort her but Liv jerked her shoulder away.

  Liv didn’t tell Paige that when she turned her cell back on after the flight, there was a text from Ben, with a photo. And a voicemail from him, which she didn’t intend to listen to until she got home.

  He sent a picture of himself on the plane, pouting, and he wrote I’m not letting go of this, Liv.

  She doubted their little fling amounted to much more than a blip on his radar. He probably kept a string of girls on the hook, one in every city—his hookup girls. She had no intention of being one of them. She wouldn’t answer, he’d lose interest, and go away.

  Her phone beeped again, another text from him. Hey, baby, how was your flight? Miss you already. Oh God, what was he doing? She powered down her phone and put it in her bag.

  “Hear from him?”

  “Nope, and I don’t expect to,” she lied to Paige, and she didn’t have any idea why.

  Liv dropped her bags inside the back door and went straight to the barn. She wanted to ride as hard, fast, and far as Micah would take her.

  “Hey, sweet boy,” she said as she walked into the stall. “Let’s ride, what do you say?” Micah nuzzled up against her. “Did you miss me? I missed you.” She scratched down his nose and led him out of the stall.

  Ten minutes later, she had him saddled up and out on the trail. From her hundred-acre ranch out County Line Road, she had a perfect view of Pikes Peak and the rest of the Front Range. There was nothing like the wide open spaces and blue skies of Colorado.

  When her father retired he bought this ranch, knowing how much Liv wanted a horse of her own. He promised her that one day they would live in a place where she could. They were an Air Force family, and that meant they moved every two or three years. Having a horse, or even a dog, had been out of the question given the life they led. Liv’s mother hadn’t been keen on the idea of living so far outside of town, but the Black Forest community was a tight-knit one, and the loneliness she’d expected from their secluded location never materialized.

  They made friends with other ranchers, and almost every weekend there was a social function either with them, or with other retired Air Force families.

  Liv was a freshman in high school when they moved to Colorado twenty-six years ago. She left briefly when she and Scott married. Now she considered it home and never planned to leave.

  Micah wound his way through the heavily-treed trail without much coaxing from Liv. Once they reached the top of the short incline, they came to a clearing and a wide-open meadow where he could run fast and hard.

  “Ready, boy?” she asked, giving him a little kick, and Micah took off like a rocket. This was freedom. No worries, just her and her horse. She was thankful every day that her father bought this ranch.

  Her parents died within a couple of years of each other. Her dad went first, ten years ago, followed by her mom. Liv still missed them. She had been an only child and very close to both her parents. Renie was the light of all their lives. Once her mom and dad passed away, the house was too quiet.

  The ranch had no mortgage, and her parents left her a generous sum of money. Liv never had to worry about how she’d support herself and her daughter. But between the two of them, they decided to take in boarded horses anyway. It provided a bit of an income, but more, it provided company when the people boarding came to ride.

  One of the neighboring ranches was owned by a couple who had become a second family to Liv. The Pattersons had been leasing Liv’s ranch land for cattle since before Liv’s father owned it. It added income like boarding did, provided for the care and maintenance of the land, and it also gave them a little excitement.

  Calving season and branding gave her and Renie life experiences they wouldn’t have otherwise known. Liv wasn’t much of a ranch hand herself, but she would dish out a hot meal for the cowboys and wranglers at busy times of the year. Her pies became the dessert mainstay of Patterson Ranch barbecues.

  She tied up Micah near the Patterson’s barn and walked in the back door.

  “Hey-o, anybody here?” Liv never knocked first. Dottie would’ve been insulted if she had.

  “In here, honey,” Dottie answered from the kitchen.

  Liv walked into the kitchen, and let herself be surrounded by a hug like no one else gave but Dottie. Her eyes filled with tears.

  “What’s this?” Dottie asked, holding Liv at arm’s length. “Sit down and tell me why you’re crying.”

  Liv told Dottie about Ben Rice, including the part about her not having sex since Scott died.

  “Bill and I hoped one of the cowboys who worked our ranch would turn your head, but year after year it never happened. Not for lack of trying on their part, either.”

  “What are you talking about? Whose part?”

  “Well now…there have been a slew of ’em trying for years to get your attention.”

  “Who?”

  “Billy Junior, but he gave up years ago, honey. You wouldn’t even look in his direction. The Morehouse boy, what was his name?”

  “Brandon.”

  “That’s right, Brandon. He had a fierce crush on you. There were others.”

  Liv was stunned. She’d never known this.

  “Are you sure you aren’t talking about someone else?”

  “No, I’m not talking about someone else. I’m talking about you, Olivia. You’ve never been aware of your own beauty. That’s one of the things that makes you so irresistible. And from the day she was born, you’ve been wrapped up in being the best mama to Renie. But sweetie, we’ve worried about you not realizing there’s more to life.”

  “I hope I wasn’t rude to anyone.”

  Dottie laughed. “A little. It made them want to follow you around all the more.”

  Liv hadn’t been that interested in dating in high school, she’d already decided Scott was the only man for her. She supposed guys flirted with her, but she never paid attention.

  “I didn’t know.”

  “That was clear.” Dottie chuckled again. “It’s that way, isn’t it? The girls who do the chasin’, the boys don’t want. The girls who don’t know boys exist, the boys can’t get enough of.”

  Dottie put her palm on Liv’s cheek. “Open your heart a little. Let him in, honey.”

  “Who? Ben? He doesn’t want in, Dottie. I’d be surprised if I heard from him again.”

  “You got your cell phone on you?”

  “Yeah,” she said, pulling it out of the pocket in her vest.

  “Is it on?”

  She hadn’t remembered to turn it back on since she’d gotten home. She hit the power button and set it down on the table.

  It chirped. She had a new voice message, and a couple of text messages, too. Liv picked up the phone to look. Her face turned red.

  “That’s what I thought. He called, didn’t he?”

  “Yes, but…”

  “I’m gonna excuse myself for a few minutes. You listen to those messages and when I come back, you’re gonna tell me what he said.”

  Ben didn’t understand why Liv hadn’t answered his texts or returned his calls. Maybe she hadn’t charged her phone. Her flight landed a couple of hours ago. He figured she’d be home by now, although he h
ad no idea how far it was from the airport to where she lived. Monument was somewhere between Denver and Colorado Springs, and if she had a ranch, it probably wouldn’t be close to the highway.

  He wished she would answer him. As it was, he couldn’t think about anything else. He was beginning to think she was avoiding him, and this was uncharted territory for him—having a woman so far under his skin.

  The door of his house flew open and Luke came running toward him, followed by his brother.

  “Daddy’s home!” Luke shouted. Ben lifted him and swung him around a couple of times before setting him down, grabbing Jake, and doing the same thing.

  Jake gave his dad an exasperated sigh, but Ben didn’t care. You never got too old for your dad to show you he loved you. At least he hadn’t. Ben’s mom and dad walked in the door behind the boys.

  “There he is,” his mom gave him a squeeze and a kiss on the cheek. “We missed you around here.”

  Ben’s dad hugged him too. They were a family who had never been shy about affection, and Ben loved it.

  “Hey, Dad, how are you?”

  “I’m good. How were the bright lights of Las Vegas? Stayed a little longer than you thought. Were you winnin’ big?”

  “Nah, I never have been a gambler.”

  His father looked deep into his eyes. His dad wouldn’t ask, but Ben answered anyway.

  “Nothin’ to report, Dad. Life is good.”

  Ben’s father put his hand on his shoulder. “Glad to hear.”

  They worried whenever he went on the road, and they were right to. The truth was, during the time he spent with Liv, he hadn’t thought about drinking at all. Even at the show. Ben wanted her, but he hadn’t wanted a drink.

  The boys were racing around him, each vying for his attention, telling him what they’d been doing. That morning his dad had taken them fishing, and his mom grilled up what they caught for lunch.

  “There’s a rodeo in Gunnison, Dad. Can we go? This is the last year Luke can do mutton bustin’.”

  Luke was Ben’s Tasmanian devil, Jake was the more cautious of his boys. The older Luke got, the more trouble he’d get into, the same way Ben had. That worried him more than a little.

  “Of course we can go. Are Grandma and Grandpa coming along?”

  “You bet.”

  Ben pulled his cell phone out to check the time, and to see if he’d missed a call from Liv. He hadn’t. “It’s two-thirty, what time do we have to be there?”

  “Check-in’s at five o’clock,” Jake answered. “Can we play video games until it’s time to go?”

  Ben laughed. “You can play video games for an hour, then you can play outside until it’s time to go.”

  “Thanks, Daddy,” said Luke, climbing up Ben’s leg to give him a kiss. Ben picked him up and hugged him close. “I missed you, buddy.”

  “Me, too. Put me down now, Daddy. Jake’s gonna pick out a game I don’t want to play if you don’t put me down.”

  “Okay, there you go, partner.” He set Luke on his feet and turned back to his parents, who were studying him.

  “What?” Ben looked behind him as if to ask what they were looking at.

  “Good to see you, Ben,” his mom said, kissing his cheek for the second time.

  “What’s goin’ on? I was away for a couple of days. You’re both acting as though I away for a month.”

  “When you changed your flight plan, I have to admit, it made your mom and me worry.”

  “It’s not what you think.”

  “What is it then?”

  “I met someone.”

  7

  One of the new texts on her phone was from Ben. The others were from Paige and Renie. Paige wanted to make sure Liv was still speaking to her. Renie wanted to know how she enjoyed Las Vegas. Where to begin? How much should she tell her daughter?

  Ben’s said, Are you okay? Answer me, Liv. Please. His voicemails said much the same. But hearing it, rather than reading it, made it different. There was longing in his voice. He said he couldn’t stop thinking about her, couldn’t wait to see her again, couldn’t wait to have her body next to his. Then he sang a little.

  Liv put her elbows on the table and leaned her face into her hands. She didn’t know how to respond. Did he want her to pick up and drive to Crested Butte? What did he expect? He wasn’t specific.

  Dottie shuffled back in and sat down next to her. “So?”

  “He said he can’t wait to see me again.”

  “And?”

  “That’s about it.”

  “What are you going to do about it?”

  “I have no idea.”

  Liv rode Micah home, brushed him down and went into her house for the first time in several days. Mark had left the mail on the kitchen counter and watered her plants. When was the last time she ate? She opened the refrigerator, but nothing appealed to her. She thought about opening a bottle of wine, but decided that wouldn’t be a good idea, considering she had an empty stomach.

  Her cell phone was in her pocket. It hadn’t made any new noises, but that didn’t mean she’d forgotten about it, nor had she forgotten the unanswered messages it contained. She pulled it out and called Renie.

  “Hey, Mom. How was Vegas?”

  “Good. Relaxing. We went to a CB Rice show while we were there.”

  “And?”

  “And what?” What the heck? Had she been talking to Paige?

  “Did he see you?”

  Yep, he saw her. All of her.

  “Mom, are you there?”

  “I’m here. We, um, spent time together.”

  “What? You and Ben?”

  “Me and Ben. We went out on a couple of, um, dates.”

  “Did you sleep with him?”

  “Renie! That is not an appropriate question to ask me!”

  “Why not, Mom? Jeez. I’m not a kid anymore.”

  “It’s complicated.”

  “So you did. Good.”

  “Renie, honey, so you realize this up front, I am not as interested in discussing your sex life as you seem to be in mine. Just because we’re having this conversation, doesn’t mean I’m opening the door to details. On either side.”

  Renie laughed. “Got it, Mom. I’m glad you had fun. When are you seeing him again?”

  That was the million dollar question, wasn’t it?

  They were halfway to Gunnison when Ben’s cell phone rang.

  “Hey.”

  “Hi, Ben. It’s Liv. I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you.”

  “It’s okay. Well, it’s not okay. Are you home?”

  “I am. I didn’t even go in the house when I got here. I went straight out to the barn and went for a ride.”

  “The barn? A ride? Do you have a horse?” She hadn’t told him she had a horse. Had he asked her anything about herself? They’d talked about her daughter, but other than that, he knew nothing about her. Wait, her dad had been a pilot in the military. Had she said Air Force?

  “I have two. One belongs to Renie, but since she’s away at college, I have two. Micah’s mine. He’s not very old, so he needs a lot of exercise. Micah likes to get out and run. I also board horses.”

  “Speaking of horses, I’m on my way to a rodeo in Gunnison.”

  “Oh, I should let you go. Take care, Ben.”

  “Hold on, hold on, don’t go hanging up yet. I told you so you realized we had something else in common. You seemed worried about it at the airport.”

  Ben realized the four people with him were listening to every word he said.

  “Hey, it might be better if I call you back, since I’m driving. When I do, will you answer?”

  Liv was quiet, so quiet he thought the call had dropped. “Liv, are you there?”

  “I’m here.” She went quiet again. “Um, it might be best if you didn’t. I have a lot to get caught up on with the ranch, and I’m tired. It’ll be an early night for me and a busy few days.”

  Ranch? She had a ranch? He was such an asshol
e. No wonder she didn’t want to talk to him, he hadn’t bothered to find out anything about her, he’d been too busy getting into her panties.

  “Give me a half an hour.”

  “Ben…”

  “A half an hour, Liv, and I’ll call you back.”

  He parked the truck after letting his parents and boys off at the main entrance. “Go check in and I’ll meet you.” He was so anxious to return Liv’s call, he wanted them out of the truck, a fact not lost on his mom and dad.

  The phone rang three times before she answered. Ben was almost beside himself by the time she did.

  “It is so good to hear your voice, Liv.”

  “Yours, too.”

  “I’m sorry I couldn’t talk earlier. My parents and the boys were in the truck. Every word I said was the most interesting thing they’d ever heard,” he chuckled.

  “It’s okay. I bet they missed you.”

  “They did. But, Liv, I miss you.”

  “I’m not sure what to say. I had a nice time, but now we’re back to our own lives. We shouldn’t get into the habit of talking to each other.”

  “What do you mean? Why shouldn’t we get into the habit of talking to each other?” Getting angry would push her away, but he couldn’t help it. She pissed him off. “I’m sorry I raised my voice, Liv, but Jesus. Are you serious?”

  She didn’t respond.

  “Liv, come on. Don’t do this.”

  “I’m not doing anything. We had fun.”

  “But now it’s over?”

  “How could something that didn’t start be over? It’s not over. It’s…I don’t know what. It just isn’t.”

  “It isn’t? It’s not anything to you? It’s something to me.”

  “Ben, go be with your kids. Enjoy your night at the rodeo. Enjoy your life.”

  Regardless of what he said next, she’d say goodbye. And then if he called again, would she even pick up?

  “I can’t let go of this, Liv. You think you want me to, but I can’t. More than that, I won’t. So I may hang up now, but tomorrow, I’ll call you again, and if you don’t answer, I’ll keep calling until you do.”

 

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