Jenna Owens finds, love, happiness, family and sorrow.
“How was your day, Jenna?” Father asked, getting into the truck.
“Lambert called me into his office.” Had he already known?
“What did he want?”
“He told me to stay away from Lance or I can’t work at the ranch anymore.”
He didn’t say one word. He put the key in the ignition, started the truck and drove off. The lingering silence and the fact that he wouldn’t even look at Jenna sent her heart pounding wildly.
After dinner with her parents, she decided to walk to town. She hated being alone like that with nothing to do but think all the time. Her life was falling apart, but she seemed helpless to stop it. The sun had already begun to fade as night washed over. It was warm and muggy, with only a slight breeze blowing. Jenna liked it when the wind would whip her hair all around, giving her some relief from the heat.
When she reached the diner, she saw Noah’s truck parked outside. She wanted to talk to him, so she approached the big glass window, peeking inside hoping to get his attention.
He was there, but he wasn’t alone. He sat at a booth with two men and three women. She stared in disbelief, watching him talking and laughing, having a good time without her. Her heart began to break into a million pieces. She had to get out of there before he saw her. Just as she turned to flee, his eyes met hers. She cursed herself and bolted down the road.
Tears poured from her eyes as she dashed down the street, hoping he wouldn’t follow. She didn’t want him to know how jealous she was or that she’d seen him. She had no right to interfere with any relationship he might have, since she was the one who cheated with Lance. Nevertheless, it hurt to see Noah with another girl.
She was halfway home when his truck pulled up alongside.
“Jenna, please get in,” Noah said.
Jenna walked on, her feet pounding the hard road.
“Let me at least take you home.”
She stopped and looked at him. “I don’t need any favors from you.” She started running again, but he pulled ahead and parked in front of her. She turned to go around him, but he got out and chased her, catching her around the waist, then carried her back to his truck.
Jenna sat with her arms folded across her chest, trying to hide her face. For a brief moment, she was back in his arms and it felt wonderful. What was wrong with her? Why couldn’t she make up her mind?
“Why’d you run away?” he asked.
She refused to answer, filled with embarrassment.
“Jenna, acting this way won’t make things better between us.”
“How’s your new girlfriend?” She couldn’t help the venom that rushed out of her.
He pulled onto her street and parked alongside the road. “I don’t have a new girlfriend.”
She stared out the window wishing she could run into the house and get away.
“Are you still dating Lance?”
Jenna’s head whipped around to face him and she glowered, angered by his question. “I was never dating him!”
He shook his head. “So it was just a fling, was it?”
She thrust the door open and jumped out.
“You’re the one who cheated on me and kept it secret,” he reminded. “You have no right to be upset when you see me with someone else. I don’t even know how far things went with two of you. For all I know you could’ve slept with him.”
Jenna pivoted on her heel and marched back to the truck. Red-hot fury was her motivation, and it burned deep within, sending her blood racing through her veins. “He kissed me a few times. That was it!”
Noah sat in the truck with his hands gripping the steering wheel.
Jenna sighed, wondering why this have to be so hard. “Noah, I never meant for it to happen. I never wanted to hurt you this way.”
He turned his head toward her slowly. “Don’t you know I’m in love with you?” he asked. Noah raked a hand through his hair. “I told myself it didn’t matter, that I didn’t care, but it was a lie. I refuse to lie to you, or me. If nothing else, I’m honest.”
That was the first time either had said the words, and Jenna didn’t know what to say. Noah waited for a reply while she searched her feelings, concluding that she did love him. Why had it taken her so long to figure that out?
When it took her too long to reply he threw the truck in drive and took off.
Jenna chased after him screaming, “Noah! Please don’t leave me. I do love you.” He couldn’t hear her. She dropped to her knees on the road, resting her head on her lap and sobbed like a child. It was too late.
She lifted her head, thinking it was an apparition. It couldn’t be. He wasn’t standing before her. Yes, he was, though. He hadn’t left after all.
“Noah, I love you.” Jenna cried.
He pulled her up off the ground and wrapped her in his arms.
As September ended, Noah and Jenna were inseparable. She tried to keep her distance from Lance at the ranch, but something kept enticing her to him. She fought her feelings for him; telling herself only Noah mattered, and whatever she felt for Lance would pass in time. She refused to be alone with him at the ranch, even though he was constantly pestering her to go for a ride or walk.
School was the one wonderful thing she had to look forward too. There she could set her thoughts aside and concentrate on something new and exciting. She took a writing class and loved the teacher, Mrs. Parker. She was short, and her hands never stopped moving, especially when she discussed the assigned books.
Jenna never met anyone who was so impassioned about a subject. Mrs. Parker had a way of bringing every character to life when she read aloud.
Her parents were proud of the way she handled schoolwork, the job, and ranch duties. Noah and Jenna had study sessions, usually to quiz each other before an exam. They never mentioned Lance’s name when together, and Jenna was glad she didn’t have to tell Noah anything about her time at the ranch.
Hurting Noah was the one thing she vowed never to do again. He was the one who brought her out of the shell and showed her that the world wasn’t a bad place. He helped her find happiness, love, acceptance, and whom she really was deep down inside, a part she’d kept hidden from the rest of the world.
“Are you going to the ranch tomorrow?” he asked, as they walked toward the woods behind her house at night.
Jenna nodded. “I love to work there. It’s so serene and gives me a chance to think about everything.”
He pulled her closer. “Hmm...to think about us.”
She laughed and slapped him playfully. “Maybe, but I can’t tell you everything that goes on in my brain.”
He leaned over and kissed her softly, making her wish they were at the beach again. She wanted to be alone with him the way they were before Lance appeared.
Noah tugged her hand and pulled her into the woods until they reached a tree.
“How’d you know this was my favorite spot?” she asked, wishing she could see him clearly. The trees blocked the light of the moon and shrouded his face in darkness.
“I used to watch you here all the time,” he whispered.
How was that possible? She couldn’t remember seeing him back here. “I never saw you here before.”
“My brothers brought me here sometimes. I remember seeing you, but I didn’t want you to see me. I hid behind a tree and watched your face light up when you saw the animals.”
Jenna smiled. Was it possible that he could’ve liked her years ago? Noah’s mouth came down on hers. Electricity zipped through her body at the contact and the butterflies in her stomach took flight. Jenna lifted her hands and clutched his waist, holding on afraid that her knees would buckle. His thumb brushed across her nipple and made her breath catch. Gasping loudly, she stepped back from the all-consuming kiss.
Noah took her hand and led her back to the house. He wanted so much more from her and didn’t know how much longer he could continue to be a gentleman.
“I’d better go,” he said. Her eyes were gleaming as they looked up at him. That intense look in those eyes brown eyes set his body on fire. He wanted her, like no other before her.
He fathomed it could just be her virginity. He knew too that he was her first boyfriend. Things had to move slowly with her, but he was tired of the cold showers. Something had to give eventually.
Noah held her face in his hands and kissed her. Her lips were as soft as rose petals and he found himself quickly becoming lost in the moment. Jenna’s arms wrapped around his body and clutched his shirt in the middle of his back. Pressed together they were a smoldering fire ready to ignite.
When he plunged his tongue into her mouth, her nails dug into his back. She wanted him; he could sense that. His tongue battled with hers, stroking the depths of her hot mouth. A flash of light coming from the inside of the house tore his mouth from hers.
When he looked down into her face, he couldn’t help but smile at her swollen lips. The evidence of the deep, fulfilling kisses written all over her upturned face. “I guess it’s time for me to go,” he whispered, then released his hold on her face.
Jenna moaned and that deep throaty sound sent blood pooling in his groin. She rested her head against his chest. The close contact was just too much because he was rock hard. Noah kissed the top of her head and stepped back.
“Goodnight. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He was ready to head home and to that all too familiar cold shower that awaited him.
Hadley was back, working in the stables with Jenna the next day. Jenna was glad she wouldn’t have to spend the morning with Lance, trying to avoid his gaze and questions about her relationship with Noah. The two women worked so fast they had an hour to spare before quitting time.
Hadley wanted to join the others at the corral, but Jenna decided to stay in the stables and spend time with Lara’s horse. She never saw a more beautiful palomino before and was jealous that Lara got whatever her heart desired, while Jenna had to fight for every little thing.
As the horse nuzzled her palm, her thoughts drifted to the night before and that wild kiss from Noah. She smiled at the thought and wished for more moments like that. Sometimes she even wished he would try to go further, even though it scared her. It was the warm bursts on her skin when he touched her that melted her heart and sent her soaring higher than she’d ever been.
Jenna looked over her shoulder and blushed. “Hello, Lance.” She turned back to the horse, hoping he wouldn’t be able to read her face. Besides, looking into those green eyes would probably be her undoing. How was it even possible that she was attracted to two completely different men?
“Do you want to take him out for a ride?”
She shook her head knowing how upset Lara would be if anyone touched her prized pony.
“I can handle my sister,” he coaxed.
“I’m not in the mood for a ride.” Jenna turned to leave.
“Why are you always running away from me?”
She knew he’d lied. Even as much as she itched to confront him and demand answers, she struggled even more with the temptation to fuse her mouth to his. “I’m not running from you. I just don’t think there’s anything left to say.”
Lance’s eyes focused on the ground, the guilt evident. Finally, he looked her in the face. “I think you have a lot to say.”
Jenna swallowed and inhaled, filling her lungs with the warm air. He was asking for it, so she’d give him what he wanted. “You lied to me about your identity, caused trouble in my relationship with Noah, and your father has forbidden me to see you in any way. What do you want from me?”
He smiled and walked closer, and then rested his hand on her arm. Their eyes met and locked. “So you are still angry with me. I’ve tried to talk to you, but you wouldn’t have anything to do with me.” He started pouting, raising his lower lip above his upper one.
It was difficult to suppress a smile when he looked so cute. “Are you going to explain yourself?”
He took her hand and led her to a corner of the stable. “I told you how the girls I met always wanted to be with me for my money. I couldn’t take that chance with you, too. I really like you, and I know you’re fighting your feelings for me.” He leaned in for a kiss, but she turned away.
Lance grabbed her arms and pulled her close. “Can’t you admit that you feel something for me?” He looked down into her face, watching, waiting.
She couldn’t bear to look at him and turned her head away. What drew her to him?
“Jenna.” He took her hand and placed her palm over his heart. “Do you feel that? My heart is pounding like this because of you.”
What could she say? Being this close to him made her heart pound, too. Jenna wanted to kiss him and feel his lips on her face, on her neck. Why couldn’t she choose between Noah and Lance? She knew exactly where this would lead, but she didn’t run away.
She let him kiss her once, twice, and again, knowing she was going to hurt everyone. Her heart belonged to two different men and she didn’t know how to choose.
“I’ve never met anyone like you before,” he said softly. “I want to be alone with you.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. Your father would never allow it.”
He smiled. “What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”
“Lance, please. You know I’m involved with Noah, and I shouldn’t have let you kiss me.”
“You have to tell him that you want to be with me. It’s not fair to him, believing he has you all to himself.” He ran his finger down her neck, outlining the plunge of her shirt, and over to her breast.
Jenna hated the situation! She promised herself she’d never hurt Noah again, but she was doing it, and didn’t know how to stop it.
Lance pressed his lips to hers and his arms wrapped around her, pulling her up against him. She had to get away, being in his arms was too much. Jenna managed to pull her mouth from his.
“Don’t do this.” She turned and fled. “You can’t run from what’s in your heart,” he shouted as she ran away.
Was he right? Was she running from her true feelings? Jenna shook those thoughts from her mind and sat inside the truck. When she glanced toward the corral, Lambert was staring at her. He turned toward the stables where Lance stood, his eyes fixated on Jenna. Lambert turned back to Jenna again. She lowered her head so he wouldn’t see the guilt on her face. She knew he'd summon her to his office the next time she came back to the ranch.
Jenna spent the afternoon trying to figure out what she really wanted. How could she choose? It was an impossible decision. No matter which direction she went, someone would be hurt, most likely herself. She longed for Lance’s kisses and yearned to be with him, yet Noah was always on her mind when they were together. She created an enormous predicament for them, and the consequences could be disastrous.
Noah arrived at Jenna’s after dinner, and they went out back. She couldn’t deny how guilty she felt, and looking him in the eye was impossible, because she knew he’d see right through her.
He put his arm around her pulling her close to his side. “Is something wrong?”
She shook her head and stood, walking toward the woods. Jenna had to tell him the truth before he suspected it, but she couldn’t allow her parents to overhear.
Noah caught up to her, grabbed her arm, and turned her toward him. “Jenna, the last time you pushed me away, it had something to do with Lance. What aren’t you telling me?”
She stared at the ground, and he released her arm to throw his hands up in the air. “I knew it. You still have feelings for him. You’ve been messing with me for a month now.”
Tears burned her eyes, but she couldn’t dispute his charge.
Noah ran a hand through his dark brown hair. “I told you before that if you couldn’t make up your mind, I wanted you to leave me alone. You couldn’t stand the fact I might become interested in someone else, so you cried to make me feel sorry for you. The only thing I feel for you now is disgust.” He turned and stormed off across the field.
Jenna chased him, praying he’d give her the chance to explain. “Noah, please let me explain!”
He didn’t stop, so she followed him to his truck. By the time she reached him, he was behind the wheel, starting the engine. Jenna stood at the door, holding back tears, not wanting him to stay out of pity.
“I admit I still have feelings for Lance, but I’ve stayed away from him all this time. I care about both of you. I’m truly sorry if I hurt you again.”
“I noticed you didn’t use the word love, maybe you don’t know what it really means,” he said bitterly backing from the driveway.
A chill ran down her spine from the cold tone he used. She walked down the gravel road, cursing herself for doing it again. Would she ever learn?
She looked toward the end of her street and saw Lance sitting in his car. Slowly she made her way over to him.
“How’d you know where to find me?”
He smiled, “Are you forgetting who I am? I saw your boyfriend drive out of here like a maniac.”
Jenna guiltily looked away.
“You finally told him that it was over between the two of you, and you want to be with me,” he said proudly. “Get in so we can talk.”
Jenna walked around the car and got in. “I never said I wanted to be with you.”
He reached out and put his hands on her shoulders, massaging her neck. “Sweet, Jenna, let me take the pain away,” he whispered.
She closed her eyes, feeling his hot breath on the back of her neck. Part of her wanted him to stop, but the other part yearned for it to happen. She wanted to know what it was like to be with him, to know if he really wanted her. It was possible he was playing a game with her. Either way, she’d never be able to be with Noah again. She had two chances and ruined them both. He turned her around to face him. His lips rested on her neck and left a fiery trail to her mouth. Noah was gone and Lance was here and wanted her. She wanted to be loved, nothing more.
Every kiss became and harder. His hand moved under her shirt and to her breast and she froze.
Lance stopped and looked at her. “Don’t tell me that you never let your boyfriend do this.”
Jenna gaped at him, wondering what kind of girl he thought she was.
“Are you still a virgin?”
She turned away from his questioning eyes.
“This will make your first time even more special.” He brought his lips to her neck, gently sucking while his hands raised her shirt up over her breasts. She closed her eyes and let him do things that Noah never did, hoping she’d find the passion she sought. His mouth covered the lacy fabric that covered her breasts, but it wasn’t enough for him. He expertly released the front clasp of her bra and she barely noticed.
“We could have something so incredible together.” His hand moved to her stomach and to the button on her pants.
Fear gripped her like a vice as panic charged through her. She sat up, her mind ready to take control over her willing body. She had to stop this now before they reached the point of no return, knowing that she would regret it.
Jenna yanked her shirt down. “I can’t do this, Lance. I’m sorry.”
He sighed, and stroked her cheek with this thumb, his fingers massaging her neck. “You know that we belong together. I want to be the one to show you what it’s like to be a woman.”
“I have to go.” She opened the door just as a blinding light struck from an approaching car. Jenna immediately ducked down, her eyes peering over the dashboard.
“What are you doing?” Lance asked.
Her eyes focused in disbelief on the dark truck driving toward her house. “Oh no, that’s Noah. I have to go to him.” She flung the door open and ran from the car toward the house.
“Jenna, wait,” Lance called.
She raced by a neighbor’s house and crept around the back heading for home. She had to make sure Noah wouldn’t see where she had come from. Rushing to the edge of the woods, she pretended to be walking from there toward home. She saw her father and Noah step onto the back porch and tried to slow her breathing and calm down.
Jenna stopped and waited for Noah to join her. He put his hands into his front pockets and stared at the ground as he reached her.
“What are you doing here?” she asked harshly, not being able to help the attitude.
“I wanted to apologize for running out on you.” He stepped closer. “I understand that you’re confused, and I’m not helping by acting like I did.”
Here he was saying everything she wanted to hear, yet she felt as guilty as sin. “Noah, I just need more time to figure out what I really want.” God, she’d made things ten times worse by getting into Lance’s car. Deceit was something she was growing accustomed to, and that wasn’t good.
He put his arms around her, and she broke down, crying on his shoulder. So many conflicting emotions assaulted her at once. Confusion was the least of her worries. Noah held her until she shed her very last tear. He was so good to her; she didn’t deserve him, even as a friend.
Noah dropped his arms and stepped back. “I just wanted you to know that we should take a break from each other. I’ll be here as a friend if and when you need me.”
What had she done to deserve such a wonderful person in her life? She’d hurt him more than once, and he was still here, making her feel better when she should be comforting him. He was so easy to love. Why was she having such trouble committing to him?