Jenna Owens finds, love, happiness, family and sorrow.
Saturday Jenna went to the ranch with her father. It was a half-hour drive from the house, and she loved having that alone time with him. He’d worked for the Larkin’s before she was born. With his promotion, he now gave orders instead of receiving them. Jenna was proud of him and would’ve done anything to please him. The Larkin Ranch was one of the largest in Texas and the Larkin family was well known throughout the county and the state.
One thing that bothered her was how Lambert Larkin always ran off when he saw her. He was the current owner of the ranch, handed down for three generations. The entire family had first names that began with ‘L’ something she had a tendency to romanticize. Most people in her area thought it was amusing, but to Jenna, it was like something from one of her mother’s romance novels. She couldn’t help thinking it bonded the Larkin family even stronger. Lambert and his wife Lauren had three children. Luke was the oldest son, then a daughter Lara and Lance.
Lance, the bad seed of the family, had disappeared three years ago. Rumor had it Lambert caught him naked in the stables with a girl, and he’d been shipped off to live with relatives in another state. The only other Larkin Jenna saw regularly was Lara, who loved to prance around in tight clothing; showing off her horse and flirting with the hired hands to anger her father. Every time Jenna saw Lara in action, it made her physically ill.
Everyone was at the corral when Jenna and her father arrived. Jenna found Hadley, the tomboy who she worked in the stables with, and tapped her shoulder. “What’s going on?”
“Hey, Jenna. Lara got a new pony for her twenty-first birthday, and she’s going to show him off.” Hadley rolled her eyes.
Laughing, Jenna climbed up the wooden fence beside her. Within moments, Lara stepped out of the stables while one of the hands held onto the horse.
Decked out in a brand-new riding outfit that was so tight it looked ready to burst at the seams, Lara smiled. Most of the men whispered and smiled, drinking her in with their eyes. Jenna shook her head in disgust. Luther, one of the older hands, and Lambert’s right hand man helped her mount the horse. The second she was in the saddle, she trotted around the corral, a fake smile plastered on her face.
“She’s so damn phony,” Hadley whispered.
Lara jabbed her heel into the horse’s side, it reared and tossed her to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Most people laughed. Father rushed over to her side, reached down and helped her to her feet then put his arm around her and led her over to where Lambert stood. Jenna’s father was so gentle with Lara, as if she were a precious jewel.
“Show’s over,” Lambert bellowed, his face as hard as stone. “Get back to work, all of you.”
The thought of working for someone like Lambert didn’t sit well with Jenna, and she seriously doubted that she ever could. Lambert believed he was better than the rest of the world, and acted as if he owned the entire state as well. Lambert assumed he was always right, which made disagreeing with him impossible.
Jenna followed Hadley to the stables to start their day by throwing hay down for the horses. Hadley talked endlessly about Lara’s little mishap and Jenna tried hard to ignore her. She didn’t care about the Larkin’s one way or the other. All she wanted to do was finish work and go home to see Noah.
As they reached the last stall, Jenna was desperate for a break from the incessant chatter. “Hadley, go ahead and leave. I can finish this last one.”
Hadley stared for a moment, thinking it over. “Sure thing—thanks, Jenna.”
Once the hay was down Jenna went over to Lara’s new palomino pony. He was beautiful, with a light brown coat, white mane and tail. She moved closer and held out her hand. He shyly backed away.
“Come here, boy. I won’t hurt you.” She pulled a carrot out of her pocket and held it out until he came close enough to reach it. She put it into his mouth, rubbing his nose and looking into his eyes. “You’re such a beautiful horse. It’s a shame you have such a witch for an owner.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed someone watching and then turned abruptly.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” the man said.
Jenna stared at the newcomer, trying to place him among the other hands. “Are you new here?”
He walked towards her as a warm smile took over his face. “You could say that. You’re pretty good with horses.”
He had the most intriguing, sparkling green eyes she’d ever seen. They reminded her of emeralds. He wore old jeans with holes in the knees and new cowboy boots, his worn Stetson tipped low over his brow. His light brown hair curled up at the nape of his neck. There was something so familiar about him, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.
“I do all right.” She continued to stare into those eyes, to become lost in the depths of the playfulness she saw there. She tore her eyes away as her cheeks became warm. Just being so close to him, she was blushing like a schoolchild. “Well, I have to be going now.” Jenna walked past him and rushed for the door.
“Wait. I didn’t even catch your name.”
“My name’s Jenna,” she stated, turned to face him, then extended her hand.
He took her hand and held it gently. “Oh, Terry’s daughter. It’s nice to meet you, Jenna Owens.” He finally let go, then smiled down at her again. “Maybe I’ll see you around the ranch.”
Jenna nodded, turned and headed to her father’s truck to wait. She sat inside thinking about that man, his warm smile and the way he held onto her hand, and then realized she didn’t even get his name. He was cute and she wondered who he was and if she’d see him again at the ranch.
That night when Jenna drifted off to sleep, she dreamt about the stranger from the stables. It was so vivid she sat up in bed, thinking it was real. Jenna looked around the room, realizing where she was, and lay down again. Why was she dreaming about a complete stranger?
For the past two months, she’d been with Noah and never dreamt of him, and suddenly now she was dreaming about a man she’d just met. It made no sense to her. She closed her eyes, praying that if she had any more dreams, they’d be about her boyfriend.
The rest of the week Jenna was a little distant toward Noah. Thinking that he hadn't noticed was a mistake. Noah wanted answers, but she just didn’t have any. She danced around the subject whenever it came up and felt guilty for pushing him away and lying, but couldn’t bring herself to tell the truth. She would discover who the man was that entered her thoughts when she returned to the ranch Saturday.
Saturday morning, the drive to the ranch seemed excruciatingly long. Once they pulled onto the grounds, Jenna’s heart pounded as nervousness set in. She had no idea what she’d say to the handsome stranger, but she had to learn more about him, if nothing else at least his name. She hurried to the stables, hoping to finish the work early and locate the man, but when she entered the building, he was there and the work was almost finished.
“Good morning, Jenna,” he said smiling, leaning up against the wall as if he waited for her to arrive.
“Where’s Hadley?” she asked nervously.
“She couldn’t make it today, so I thought I’d get a head start.” He walked toward her.
Her heart began to drum loudly in her ears. “You have me at a disadvantage. I don’t know what to call you.” Jenna stared into his sparkling green eyes.
“I thought I told you last week,” he uttered and turned away.
Jenna marched after him, determined to get some answers. “No. You conveniently left that part out of our introduction. Are you going to tell me your name?”
He refused to turn around and look at her. What could he possibly be hiding? “My name’s La—Lane.”
“Well, Lane, how long have you worked for the Larkin’s?”
“When the work’s finished, I’ll answer your questions.” He turned and handed her a pair of leatherwork gloves.
Jenna helped with the hay, fed the horses, and brushed them down. She sat in the corner, wondering how she’d fill the next few hours. Lane headed in her direction and tossed a bottle of water to her.
“So you want to hear my life story?” he asked sitting beside her.
“I asked only one question.”
“I’ve been working here for the last month, ever since I returned to Texas.”
She didn’t know what to say. Every time he looked at her with his soft, green eyes, her heartbeat became erratic, making her uncomfortable.
“Let’s take the horses for a ride,” he suggested, breaking the silence.
Jenna looked at him, stunned by such a ludicrous suggestion. “We can’t just go riding anytime we feel like it.”
He smiled and stood. “Don’t worry about a thing. I promise to have you back before anyone notices we’re gone.”
She hesitated then Lane grabbed her hands and pulled her up on her feet. When they saddled the horses, he smiled.
“Ready?” he asked.
She nodded apprehensively, but something about this excited her and she couldn’t help getting caught up in the pure joy of wasting the morning on horseback.
They rode off together, making the horses speed swiftly toward the back of the ranch. Lane stayed in front, leading the way to a wooded area.
Jenna slowed the horse to a trot, not knowing what to expect because he’d disappeared around the bend. Lane jumped out from behind a tree trying to scare her.
“Come on. I want to show you something.”
She climbed down from the horse and led him to the pond, never expecting to see anything like that on the ranch. It was so peaceful and calm, like a piece of heaven here on earth.
“How’d you ever find this place?” she asked, astonished.
He laughed and watched her as she went to the water’s edge, dipped her hands in the cool water and splashed her face. “It’s so beautiful here,” Jenna said, taking a few steps back then sitting down.
Lane sat beside her. “I love coming here when I’m depressed. It makes my troubles disappear and gives me a sense of hope.”
She glanced at him, his eyes off into the distance. “Are you all right?”
He grinned, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to drift off like that.”
“So, Jenna, what do you do?”
“I just filled out my applications for college, I have a part-time job, and I come here on Saturday’s, so I guess you could say I stay busy.”
“You’re a go-getter. You see something you want and you go and get it, impressive.”
Jenna shook her head. “Not really.” She raked her fingers through the green grass, loving the way in felt beneath her hand. “It just seems that way. This summer things suddenly fell into my lap.” Because of Noah, that voice inside her heard whispered. She had a boyfriend yet here she was with another man, someone she barely knew. What am I thinking?
“I see,” he uttered.
After an hour of talking, giving him way too much information about herself and her family, Jenna realized she had to get back before her father noticed she was gone so long. “We should head back.”
She stood up and began walking toward the horse, with Lane right behind her. His hands rested on her waist and he spun her around. Her body began to tingle, and she knew what was coming. He was going to kiss her; she could see it in his eyes. Lane leaned closer and pressed his lips to hers. His fingers dug into her waist and pulled her body up against his. Suddenly she felt his manhood growing hard between them and she pulled back abruptly, shocked by the fire that ran through her body so suddenly.
“Jenna, you’re so beautiful,” he whispered, leaning in to kiss her again.
She turned and ran to the horse, thrust her foot in the stirrup, swung her leg up, and rode off without looking back. She knew he followed, but she had to get away from him. She tied the horse up outside the stable and raced to her father’s truck. She sat inside praying he’d appear and take her home.
She closed her eyes and waited as tears welled in her eyes.
“Jenna, why’d you run off like that?” Lane asked.
She turned and looked at him, her eyes blazing. “I told you I have a boyfriend, yet you still kissed me. I can’t believe I didn’t stop you!”
He smiled, “You didn’t do anything wrong, Jenna. If you feel something for me, then your relationship with that guy isn’t what you thought.”
Could he be right? The thought of hurting Noah made her chest tighten. “Leave me alone.”
Lane reached into the truck and ran a finger over her cheek. “Come on, Jenna, don’t be like that.”
She started to roll up the window, ignoring him.
Lane stood beside the truck for a few minutes, shook his head, and walked away.
Her father arrived a few minutes later. “Jenna, is everything all right?”
She forced a smile and nodded. When they pulled onto the main road, she was finally able to breathe a little easier. She was silent all the way home, and then she ran straight into her room.
She threw herself on the bed and stared up at the ceiling, replaying that kiss repeatedly in her mind. Why did she let it happen? How could she even look at Noah and not feel guilty?
A soft knock on her bedroom door pulled her out of her musing. “Jenna, Noah’s on the phone for you,” Mother said.
What should she say to him? She couldn’t tell him the truth, and she couldn’t face him right now, her mind was a mess. She went and opened the door forcing a smile for her mother, pretending everything was fine.
“Hi,” she uttered into the kitchen phone.
“What time should I pick you up?” Noah asked.
Jenna took a deep breath. “Actually, I’m not feeling well. Would you mind if I just stayed in tonight?”
Noah laughed, “That hot Texas sun getting to you, huh. Sure, don’t worry about it. I’ll call you in the morning.”
She had to put Lane out of her mind so Noah wouldn’t be suspicious when she saw him. The rest of the day, she hid in her room, not wanting to talk to anyone.
Jenna started college the following week and kept the job at Stoney’s garage. Her classes were in the early morning, and Noah’s later. Now he was driving her home then returning to campus. She felt bad that he was chauffeuring her all over town, but he insisted he didn’t mind. She’d saved every penny from work and hoped to buy a car, gaining a little independence. She needed to take care of herself and not depend on Noah all the time.
Jenna hadn’t been back to the ranch for two weeks, mostly fearful she’d let Lane kiss her again. Noah was growing impatient, as she continued to push him away. She hated what she was doing to him, but was so confused. She was the one who let Lane kiss her, and she wished she could go back and change that, but it was impossible. Jenna believed that staying away from the ranch would rid her mind of any thoughts of Lane, but no matter how she occupied her time, his face and that one passionate kiss constantly came to mind.
Homework kept her busy. She had a valid excuse to break dates with Noah, making it easier to avoid his questioning eyes. Most of the time they spent together was in his truck while he carted her around. She couldn’t avoid his questions forever.
“Jenna, Noah’s out back waiting for you,” Father said at her doorway.
She smiled, and then went past him and out the back door, hoping she could act normal.
Noah barely smiled when she came outside. He’d been here before, and he wasn’t going to go through it again. At 17, he thought he was in love. Everything was perfect until Sara started pulling away from him. He’d questioned her, but she promised him everything was fine. He’d been driving home one night and spotted his best friend, Bud’s, truck on the side of the road. He thought that he had engine trouble.
When he pulled over and got out of his own vehicle walking towards Bud’s he soon realized the windows were foggy. Slowly he approached and tapped on the driver’s door. Bud rolled down the window and Noah got the shock of his life. Sara was desperately trying to cover up her naked body, and couldn’t even look at him. His friendship was over, and Sara was out of his life. He’d told himself he wouldn’t go through that again. Jenna seemed to be acting the same way Sara did, and he wanted answers. If she didn’t tell him what he wanted to know tonight, he was ending this relationship. He’d had enough heartbreak.
“Jenna, I know something’s going on with you. Don’t you trust me enough to confide in me?”
“I’m sorry, Noah,” she whispered. “I don’t mean to be so distant.”
He put his arm around her, as she rested her head on his shoulder. Could he be wrong? Maybe she was just overwhelmed with school and the job. Maybe he’d made a mistake.
“I can’t wait for you to meet my brothers this weekend. My parents are going all out for the party this year.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“It will be. I promise.” He reached down and took her hand into his, rubbing his thumb over her soft skin. He was really starting to fall for her. He knew it a month ago, but knowing how inexperienced she was, he was careful not to scare her away. She was special, so different from the other girls he dated.
Jenna walked Noah to his truck and kissed his cheek.
He shook his head as he sat there, his hands gripping the steering wheel. “If you don’t want to see me anymore, I wish you’d come out and say so.”
Her eyes bulged and her jaw fell, but she didn’t say a word. As the silence continued, he started to believe he hit the nail on the head. Jenna was looking elsewhere.
“It’s not that, Noah. I really care about you.”
She cared. What exactly did that mean? He closed the door and gazed at her through the open window. “You have a funny way of showing it.”
He turned the key, started the truck and backed out of the driveway. He told himself he didn’t need the heartache, but here he was, still waiting for a sign that she wasn’t cheating on him. Maybe he’d become paranoid since that incident years ago with Sara.
Noah drove home, his thoughts on Jenna. He’d give her a few more days, but after that, he was going to make sure he knew exactly where they stood before he put his heart on the line.