What A Girl Won't Do
I'm in trouble.
Not the end of the world doomsday kind, but the holy shit what have I done now kind. For those who know me, I guess that won't be too surprising. I tend to leap before I look only realizing later that looking may not have been such a bad thing after all.
I guess at this point you are probably wondering what I'm talking about. Well how about I begin with a story.
This story is about a girl who thought she loved a boy that belonged to someone else. I know it's been done right. Well apparently it will be done again several times over until one of two things happen, hearts become controllable or the world ends. Since neither one seems to be possible at this point in time we'll just stick with the truth. Hearts are misguided deceitful awful things. Yes that's what I said, so you might as well get used to it.
But, where was I, oh yes, there's this girl. We'll call her Bertha. And this boy we'll call him Judas. To obvious? Hmmm….okay fine we'll call him Otis. I know I know, but I like that name. Anyway moving on. This girl as naïve and innocent as she was, believed everything everyone told her. Kind of like the whole Chicken Little scenario, you know the one, the sky is falling the sky is falling. Same thing, only in his case it was true and in this case, it's not, which probably doesn't apply here but I'm too much on a role to stop and rethink that last thought.
So getting back to the story, this boy was amazing. The perfect male specimen. You know the type. He glistens with the rising of the sun, blah blah, etcetera etcetera. Has perfect hair, a perfect smile, a perfect complexion, a perfect demeanor, so forth and so on. Until you realize he's so perfect that you want to puke. Word of advice, nothing and no one is that perfect.
So getting back to this girl, she's nineteen, book smart and ready for the world, which of course makes her an expert on, well, everything. Or so she thinks. She leaves Cleveland on a seven pm train headed for New York and a better life. While on the same said train she meets up with the snake, I mean the young man mentioned above. He introduces himself and through the course of the train ride she falls madly deeply in love with him. Not kidding, true story.
So they spend a rather interesting afternoon in comfortable conversation and decide to see one another once they have both gotten themselves settled in. Now settled in means a one room flat with a closet size bathroom and an even smaller kitchen. But that's life, when money is tight and almost non-existent, you learn to make do. Still she pushes on in order to see Otis a little sooner. A mistake that will bite her on the ass later on. But as for now, she's gaga (not the singer) over this man and she's officially on her way to see him for the first time since going their separate ways at the train station two weeks earlier.
Now this is where things change. She's calmly walking down the street (doesn't want to seem to anxious) in a pretty blue dress and high heels, her makeup perfect, her hair curled and her heart on her sleeve when lightning strikes (unfortunately not literally) and she is stunned by what she sees. Instantly her rose colored glasses slip and her innocent view of the world is gone, caput, done, sayonara, you get the point. Now at this junction in the story she could do one of two things. Runaway crying (not very appealing) or, walk over and very calmly change the bastard's sex (another not very appealing option – okay somewhat not very appealing option), Hmm…she decides to store the second option away for future consideration.
Now moving along, as she is standing on the street corner looking like a goof she decides her best course of action, for the time being, was to hail a cab and start job hunting. Being very resourceful and let's not forget brilliant she decides if she plays her cards right she'll have one by dinner time. After all who could resist such a face. A thought that keeps playing over in her mind as she walks into a Baskin Robbins not three hours later with no prospects and a devilish sweet tooth. It's confirmed her mother was right, life sucks in the big bad city.
Then out of the blue came a shining light so blinding, that she felt the need to slip on the eighteen dollar pair of sunglasses she bought at a local Walgreens, before boarding the train back in Cleveland. Her mouth hangs open and in the back of her mind she prays that she'd swallowed the bite of ice cream she'd just a moment before inserted into her mouth. Because let's face it, if that sucker slipped off her tongue well, that would just be embarrassing. She then walked into the nearby music store, making sure to drop her half eaten cup of ice cream into the trash bin before doing so.
Taking a stroll around the store so she was now a row behind him she began rummaging through a section of hard rock. While he, she noted, was leisurely glancing through the country and western section. Considering what he had on, she didn't wonder why. Taking a good long look while his back was turned she studied his assets. Beautiful crop of brown hair, strong shoulders, a wide back, all muscle, long stocky legs and a tight little…"May I help you find something?" Bertha jumped at the sudden interruption. Informing the clerk that she did not need help but making sure to thank her for her inquiries, her attention went to the music laid out in front of her.
But her eyes didn't linger long as they instantly found their way back to the man who had his back turned to her. She found herself wondering how difficult it must have been to slip into those jeans of his seeing as they practically looked sewn on when he turned around and in an instant they made eye contact.
She could feel her cheeks burning and she swallowed hoping that he hadn't caught her staring at him. After a bit of quiet flirting, silent glances and small smiles he walked around to her side and reached out his hand in greeting. Michael Connors what a nice name, she thought. Of course she loved his nickname even more, Moose. She could see it, he certainly was strong and tough and built to withstand almost anything. Or maybe that was just her interpretation of him. Her streak with men wasn't exactly the best. In fact so much so that she seriously considered entering the convent and becoming a fully fledged nun. Gazing into this man's eyes, she realized it would have been a damn shame if she had because she would have never been able to withstand an oath of celibacy. She would have gone mad. She suddenly pictured herself being restrained by two men with nametags that read local loony bin. She had to smile at the thought. After all how likely was that to happen?
Anyway from that day forward it was set, love was on the horizon. Perfect rainbows and blue skies every day. Her world was coming together nicely. She'd gotten a job at a local department store, made the closet size flat feel like home and had met the man of her dreams. Surprisingly the fairytales were all true.
Until they weren't, and she found herself sitting at a table outside a café crying. He dropped her like yesterdays news. Too clingy and too serious to fast, he'd said. That's when it hit her. Maybe talking marriage after two and a half weeks of dating wasn't the smartest thing to do. So she was back to square one. Accept when she looked around at all the men walking by, she realized she didn't want to be back at square one. She'd found perfection, and she wasn't willing to give it up. And why should she have too?
That's when another fact hit her. Like a bolt out of the blue, she devised a plan. Moose was headed back to Kansas and she was going to follow him. Now I know what you're thinking…can you say desperate. Although, in her mind resourceful would have been a better word to use. Yes resourceful, she would board a plane and head to Kettlecorn where she knew he would welcome her with open arms. One week later she'd given a notice to her landlord and employer, packed up her belongings and left the city for greener pastures.
Now here is where the story gets tricky. By all accounts Moose looked stunned to see her. Stunned and a bit irritated. Which she realized was probably her imagination because she'd followed him there without prior notice. In truth he was containing his happiness for the sole purpose of keeping up appearances. How would it look, a big strapping cowboy losing his cool in front of everyone. That would just be – silly. So she played along and quietly waited to be introduced to her future in-laws and soon to be extended family members.
Moose again surprised her when he took her by the arm and led her into his barn. Quiet conversation alone…sure. She knew what he wanted, and she was more than willing to oblige him. As soon as he pulled her into a dark corner she placed her arms around his neck and kissed him. All was well with the world once more and she knew everything was going to be alright.
That's the thing about life, just when you think all's well, it has a habit of dropping you on your head. Kind of like having the rug pulled out from under you without any warning whatsoever. When Moose pushed her away from him, she could tell he was livid. What caused it, well she didn't rightly know, but there was a definite hint of anger in his eyes. She was once again sent packing. Only this time she didn't have any place to go too. She couldn't go back to New York. Cleveland was out of the question (her family would never let her live this down). So she was in a sense – screwed.
She was walking back toward town when Moose decided to pull up in his pickup truck. Her heart fluttered in her chest. She knew he cared. He must have had a bad day. Chalk it up to exhaustion from being over worked and probably underfed. Her mind was reeling. She ignored the small unimportant statements as to why he'd chased her down. She convinced herself it had nothing to do with his mother's insistence (and hospitality) and more to do with his deep lingering love for her. He was a tough boy who wasn't in touch with his emotional side and she was going to change that.
That was all he would give her.
Then she was on the next plane to god knows where. She'd stay on the couch and have dinner with his family and then book a ticket tomorrow morning. He was so adorably clueless when he didn't know what he was talking about. Instantly images of children and family events crossed her mind and she had to stifle a girlish giggle.
When they arrived she found out why he'd really broken up with her. Stella Malone.
Hazel eyes, auburn hair and a cream colored complexion with a body that some would find intoxicating, but she just found nauseating. As the morning hours turned into afternoon hours and finally the night sky appeared with a million stars looming overhead, she'd realized a couple of things. One Moose wasn't the right man for her and two she'd made a complete ass of herself by chasing him here.
All her life, Bertha had taken things as they came. When things ended, they ended. She was fine with that. But this time she'd chosen to take a leap of faith, and look where it had gotten her. Talk about delusions of grandeur. When dinner ended she thanked them and asked to be dropped off at the nearest motel. That's when the door swung open and a familiar face walked in.
Otis, correction, Ethan Connors walked into the room. When their eyes met he looked like a deer caught in the headlights but his smile couldn't have been more welcoming. Bertha dropped her gaze and chose to look anywhere else. In the next moment the woman she'd seen him with showed up at his side and she wanted to crawl under a rock and hide. When he announced that he'd brought his sister home, she was floored.
She managed to sneak out the door in the mist of all the chaos. She pointed her heels toward the main road and started walking. The only light was the light shinning down on her from the moon above. The tall corn husks on either side of her gave off an ominous feel but she chose to ignore it and trudge on. Her bag in her hand and a dreary future in her sights.
She jumped when she felt a tap on her shoulder. Turning she came face to face with the man she'd left back in New York. "So coming to see me or my dear younger brother?" he'd asked and in that moment her answer was clear. Bertha seized to be and Willa reintroduced herself. Then silence, yes awkward, don't know what to say…or for that matter know how to say it, silence.
But to her disbelief he waited, and waited, and waited, then for a slight change waited some more. She honestly contemplated whether or not to keep walking when he finally said something that broke through her fog. "Let's start over."
There it was. A beginning, a perfect opening to a conversation and what did she say. "I think I stepped in something." It was true looking down at the new shoes she'd just bought for her regretful trip, she noticed the tint of brown that didn't belong there. He laughed, not a polite little chuckle, but an all out guttural laugh. One of those that made her want to throw something at him. And she would have if he hadn't picked up her bags and informed her that she made him smile.
Now a normal person would take this to mean that he enjoyed her company, but let's face it, Willa was anything but normal. Something you might have realized during the course of the story. So she did something she shouldn't have done, in a spur of the moment lapse in judgment. She pushed him into the cow dung that rested just to the side of where they were standing. As she looked into his eyes there was a series of emotions playing across his face. A few Willa registered as annoyance, anger, shock, but then there was that one expression of amusement that really did her in and sent her over the edge.
Disregarding her devilish thoughts, she decided to be fair and be the bigger person and help him up. Big mistake, leaning down he clasped her hands and sent her flying, landing with a thud into the cow pie next to him. "Well if that don't beat all." He was laughing at her again. What was the deal with this guy? Did he enjoy torturing her?
"You are so not the person I thought you were on that train."
"I guess the same could be said for you."
Pissed off and slightly embarrassed (an emotion she wasn't about to let him see) she picked up her belongings, squared her shoulders and lifted her chin high in the air. Wishing him a nice life she again started walking. This time to her disbelief and she had to admit displeasure, he didn't try to follow.
Alone, she was alone. Not that she'd never been alone before…in a cornfield…at night…with the only light coming from the moon…and the cold seeping through her clothing. She forced herself to be strong. She was after all, independent and brilliant and determined not to let her imagination run away with her.
Still she couldn't believe it. He had some nerve to leave a poor slightly defenseless woman out in the middle of nowhere alone to fend for herself. She suddenly remembered a story Moose had told her once about an evil scarecrow, and her steps became brisker as she tried to recall all the details. Was the scarecrow a common occurrence throughout the year or only on Halloween? And if this was the case, and it being only mid September, she had nothing to worry about – right? It was amazing how sounds seemed to be more prominent at night. Every little noise made her skin crawl. She found herself wishing more and more that she'd stayed in New York where the only possible danger was a mugger and not a supernatural being that spent most of his time hanging on a pole. For that matter what did scarecrows do with you when they finally caught up to you? Vampires bite, werewolves rip you apart, zombies eat your brains, but as hard as she tried, she could not recall any stories that would indicate what a scarecrow might do to an unsuspecting victim. Suddenly it hit her; she was going to drive herself crazy if she stayed with this train of thought. Again the picture of the guys from the loony bin came back to her and again she had to laugh. "What a crazy notion."
"Do you talk to yourself a lot?" She must have jumped about ten feet in the air. "Should I call someone?"
"What are you doing here?" She huffed, trying to pretend she didn't want to currently fling herself at him with relief.
"Well if you must know, I'm here to offer you a warm place to sleep."
"I'm perfectly capable of finding lodging on my own and don't need your help. Thanks anyway."
Please don't leave. Please don't leave. Please don't leave. Why that phrase bombarded her thoughts was beyond her understanding. Again she reminded herself that she was an independent adult that didn't need anyone. She got herself into this mess, she could certainly get herself out.
"You're a stubborn sort, aren't you?"
"Don't you have a barn to clean or a cow to milk?"
"Not at this hour," he smiled. "But I will come morning. And since you're helping me…"
"Helping you," she huffed. "When have I said anything about helping you?"
"Well I figure you'll owe me." He walked toward her and stood toe to toe with her. "After all you will be sharing my bed tonight."
Willa was shocked and because of that, Willa did what Willa does best. She turned off her impulse control and kicked him in the shins. He let out a mighty groan and did the only thing he could think of. He put her over his knee and spanked her. Literally in the middle of his god damned corn field he spanked her. When he finally let her up she was livid. Not to mention the sting of the attack nearly brought tears to her eyes. Then to add insult to injury he insulted her by calling her a mindless little brat.
"Now are you going to behave and play nice or do I have to put you over my shoulder?" he asked as calmly as he could considering he was now glaring at her. "It's cold and I'm not leaving you out here to freeze, even if the thought is an appealing one."
"Who the hell do you think you are?" she growled, causing him to roll his eyes.
To her consternation he did what he promised. He slung her over his shoulder and began walking. She instantly began screaming and kicking, only realizing later that it was useless. This man was determined and there was nothing she could do about it until morning. That thought brought a smile back to her face as she began to imagine all sorts of fun things she could do to make his life a living hell. After all – two could play at this game. That night she slept in his bed. He in turn slept on the floor. The next day it was game on.
Now no one could accuse Willa of being a push over. She although an innocent, was strong and well rehearsed from years of living with her brothers. She made a mental note to give Woody a call when she was able. The next few days went by in a blur and soon the days turned into weeks and eventually she was astonished when it came time to turn the calendar page. A whole month had gone by. But somehow she hadn't noticed. Probably because she was having too much fun with Ethan. Sure at first they couldn't stand one another, and he ended up flat on his back in the river a couple of times, and walking out of the barn covered in hay, still she had to admit Ethan Connors had a way of growing on a person. Still not information she was willing to give up just yet.
So here we are - the dilemma. That part of the story where you come to a conundrum. For those of you who read novels on a regular basis this won't seem to surprising. The situation is pretty easy to guess. The girl is in love with the hero but doesn't realize it yet. In the meantime she still thinks she harbors feelings for his brother, even though she'd told herself he wasn't the right man for her. Again as a reminder – hearts are misguided deceitful awful things.
Why? Was the question that continued to roll over in her mind. Why? Why her. Why Stella? What did she have that somehow eluded Willa. After all she wasn't so unappealing and there was no doubt she could make him happier then snout face (ah…Stella) ever could. What in the world could Moose possibly see in her? She just didn't get it. She was wondering those very thoughts when she noticed him standing near the tractor down the road.
Willa got an idea, Willa got a wonderfully awful idea. She grabbed her hat and high tailed it over, jumping onto an adjoining tractor and choosing to follow Moose down the road. Unbeknownst to him, they would be alone. This was her shot and she was going to take it. He just needed a little convincing and he'd be hers again. She could picture it now. They would be in the pasture and she would unintentionally lose control and he would panic, finally realizing that he couldn't go on without her, he would come to her rescue, sweep her off her feet and confess his undying love and devotion. He would then carry her into the house where they would announce their impending marriage and…"Willa look out!" Oh crap!
The warning came too little to late as she was finally brought out of her daydreams and realized her tractor had rammed a tree. Thankfully the crash simply jolted her awake and didn't do too much serious damage. As she gave herself a quick inspection – nope all's well – he ran over. She suddenly realized this just wouldn't do. She needed to devise a plan. The next moment she found herself groaning and placing an arm over her forehead. Hey it worked in all those classic novels right, who's to say it wouldn't work for her.
"Are you alright?"
"My head, I feel so strange." She sighed before feigning dizziness and falling into his arms. "I think I might have hit my head when I crashed." She wrapped her arms around his neck and let him cradle her next to his thick warm chest. "I'm so glad you were here. I don't think I would have made it otherwise."
"I have a feeling you would have done just fine." He snorted, a very ungentlemanly thing to do in her opinion, but she wasn't about to complain.
"Why don't you ride with me back to the farm and we can get you inside the house to rest."
"I mean, I'm sure I'll feel just fine after I relax a bit. Would you sit with me awhile?" she asked hoping she could use this incident to her advantage. After all Moose was nothing if not chivalrous.
"Well I suppose I could check on the tractor now."
The tractor, really, seriously, what was it with men and machinery. Suddenly that whole chivalrous thing flew out the window. She'd been sitting on her ass on the bug infested; uncomfortable hard ground for a good ten minutes when he'd finally bothered to return his attention to her. She did her best to smile and act like a lady or more accurately a damsel in distress.
"Do you have any other injuries that you know of?"
Oh sure now he asks. Think Willa think…"My ankle." Okay she knew it was lame but she'd do anything to get back into the warmth of those arms. Even if he was acting like a blockhead.
"It looks fine to me."
Willa groaned, and if she didn't know better she could have sworn he rolled his eyes. But that was ridicules and she chalked it up to a glare of the sun's rays. With a bit of hesitance he again picked her up and put her in his lap as they rode his tractor back toward the farm house. On the way she'd done what any good girl would do, she brushed up against him a few times. She could tell he was affected as he gritted his teeth. She may only be nineteen, (and don't forget as innocent as a newborn baby) but she knew what that meant. She was wearing him down. He wanted her, even if he didn't know it yet. Win one for her. One more month and snout face would be history.
When they arrived his mother and Ethan were standing out in front of the house. They looked on with curiosity but said nothing. When Moose brought the tractor to a stop in front of them, he also said nothing as he picked her up and strolled over to where his brother stood. In one swift motion he commanded his brother to place his arms out. He threw her into them. Not gently placed her. But literally threw her. After depositing her so ineloquently he turned on his heel got back on his tractor and sped away as fast as the thing would carry him.
Willa was stunned. She didn't know what to say or how to feel for that matter. Turning her head away from the retreating figure she came face to face with Ethan. An arched eyebrow and a smirk across his face told her that he knew what she'd been up to. She demanded he put her down and once again she was dropped onto the hard ground. If she wasn't careful she'd have to buy herself one of those weird butt pillows soon.
She began to damn all men straight to hell in a rather unfriendly manner, and in rather colorful language. And for the first time in awhile she felt better. The feeling was short lived however when Ethan leaned over and offered her a hand. She slapped it away and told him in no uncertain terms that she didn't need his help. She stormed off rather unceremoniously and headed straight for the barn, with the pain in the ass right on her heels.
"I don't get you."
She stopped and abruptly turned around to face him. "What exactly is it you don't get?" Nose to nose he stared her down. She thought he might say something but instead with one pat on her butt he walked around her and headed out of the barn. That did it. She was done. He had insulted her for the last time. Turning on her heel she began to follow only to be stopped by a rush of cold water. When she was done sputtering she glared at the man who'd thrown the bucket of water in her path.
"There, maybe that will wake you up."
"What are you talking about, I am awake," she practically growled.
"The hell you are. You've been walking around in this little fantasy of yours for the past few weeks and I'm getting sick of it. It's time you got your head out of the clouds and opened up your eyes to what is right in front of you."
"How can I figure out what's in front of me if you're always blocking my path?"
"Exactly." His tone was whisper soft and she could barely make out what he was saying. "It isn't Moose standing here."
"That's because you won't move!" She shouted exasperated.
There were a few minutes of silence as if he was considering that statement. "I guess your right." There was a slight sadness and hurt in his eyes and she suddenly felt like she'd been punched. Why his feelings meant anything to her was beyond comprehension but they did. "Then I guess I better be moseying on out of here." She didn't flinch when he picked up a stray strand of her hair and delicately placed it behind her ear. Without a word he walked away and suddenly (for some unknown reason) the world felt a little bit colder. Placing her hand on the strand he'd just touched she wasn't surprised when it still felt warm. Confused and a bit shaken she vowed to put the incident out of her mind and walked back into the barn.
I suppose you can guess where this is going. Willa was tucked in bed that night, wrestling with her covers as visions of a certain cowboy danced in her head. The thing was it wasn't the cowboy she'd been thinking/dreaming about since she arrived. She couldn't get Ethan's image out of her mind. She decided it was mostly due to the hurt she saw in his eyes but something else tugged at her. Something she was afraid to name. Something she couldn't bring herself to understand.
But the damage had been done and the next morning Ethan was gone. A short note to his family said he'd be up at the cabin and didn't want to be disturbed unless there was blood involved. Everyone looked toward her with suspicion. They knew she was the cause of his quick departure as well as she knew that she'd never see him again. Those words made their way through her fog and the thought sickened her. What had she done?
The day wore on and she found herself pacing back and forth in the pasture. There was a clear view to where Moose stood working on the tractor she'd crashed the day before. And before she knew it she was staring, studying him from a distance. He was a bit taller than Ethan but Ethan had a strength and determination that she didn't see in Moose. Oh he could be rough around the edges (as she'd witnessed several times) but inside he was as soft as a feather mattress. Whereas Moose was withdrawn from her, Ethan had welcomed her. He seemed to know her. What she was up to, how she felt at any given moment. He knew when to let her talk and when to place a hand over her mouth so she wouldn't embarrass herself. An act that ticked her off more than once but soon became a welcome habit.
She guessed that had more to do with their first meeting then the fact that they'd been sharing a room since arriving.
As the day wore on she thought about him more and more. She finally decided she wouldn't get any peace if she didn't find out why he left. So she packed a bag, got some instructions and headed up into the mountains on a horse they'd lent her. Thank goodness Ethan had taught her how to ride (even if she was a bit clumsy at it) it came in handy and she quite enjoyed it.
The first thing she realized was that every tree looked the same, every path veered the same way, and every noise freaked her out. Stupid maps. How the heck were you supposed to use one when they didn't match up. After pulling out her notes she decided to discard the map and continue. For that matter why didn't he buy a cabin closer to civilization like normal people? Preferably one that connected to a highway she could drive down. But no of course not, the mountains were his playground.
Just as she was about to mentally scold him again her horse reared and began prancing up and down in a panic. She didn't know why but she knew this couldn't be good. With one swift motion she went flying and landed hard on her backside as the horse took off running. Great just great, she thought right before a loud noise like the engine of a motorcycle filled the quiet. She turned to see a rather large cat sitting a few feet from her. If she was right, it looked like a mountain lion. Something she never hoped to see up close.
"Don't move." She breathed a sigh of relief to hear that voice. "No sudden movements. You need to keep completely still."
"Easy for you to say."
"Be quiet." For the first time she didn't argue.
A minute later she heard the distinct sound of a gun barrel clicking into place. Suddenly the cat's attention was directed to her right and it was angry. Willa sucked in a breath and waited. Her thoughts were no longer on her safety but on his and many things like that gun barrel, began to click into place. A fear gripped her and it was suddenly very clear why she'd really followed Ethan here.
"I told you to be quiet. Now listen to me very carefully," she nodded. "I want you to make your way over to me very slowly."
Willa did as she was instructed. It was eerie to see the lion's eyes following her every move. "It's okay, keep coming." She took another step and the cat was up on its legs. "It can smell fear."
"Not exactly something I can control."
"Stop being a smartass and get over here," he growled.
"Ethan if this thing attacks…I just want to say I'm sorry."
"Well, your forgiven would have been nice."
"This isn't the time."
"But if I die. Ethan you mean a great deal to me and I…"
"Would you shut up," he said exasperated as the cat picked that moment to pounce.
Everything went so fast that Willa barely had time to blink. The animal was lying at her feet when she managed to begin breathing again. "Oh my God is it dead?"
"No I don't believe in killing. These are tranquilizers and I keep them around for protection."
"Oh." Was all that she said before flinging herself into his arms.
"I'm sorry, I…" she stammered a bit feeling embarrassed. "I just thought. I'm such a dummy." She added letting go.
"You won't get any arguments from me."
She pounded her fist against his arm and he groaned. "You have some nerve. I come up here to make sure your okay…you know what, never mind, I'm heading back. Goodbye Ethan, it's been fun."
Ethan grabbed a hold of her blouse and she felt herself being yanked back toward him. "You Willa Fink are a pain in the ass." Before she knew what was happening he sat her on his horse and jumped up behind her.
The ride back to his cabin was a quiet one, and for the first time she found herself taking in the environment around her. Growing up in Cleveland the only experience she had of a quiet wilderness were the parks nearby. She was never one for camping out or hiking in the woods. But she had to admit she was enjoying this. Leaning back against Ethan's chest she allowed herself the luxury of letting her eyes drift close. An overwhelming feeling of contentment overtook her and she felt like she belonged here. Wrapped up in Ethan's arms she felt safe, protected somehow. It was a feeling she'd never experienced before and didn't quite know what to make of. But soon she was asleep and in her dreams she swore she felt the distinct feeling of a gentle kiss against her temple. She smiled.
So now we have come to the part where the prince has saved the princess from certain death. The part where we as the reader can see the obvious, yet the heroine (as pigheaded as they come) is only now beginning to.
Willa awoke to a warm glow and the smell of something wonderful cooking in the kitchen. It took her a minute to remember where she was and realized she was lying on a couch in front of the fireplace. Ethan's cabin. The words entered her mind and she sat up looking around.
"How long was I asleep?" She asked stretching in a very unladylike manner.
"A couple of hours give or take a few minutes," he replied while handing her some iced tea. "Dinner should be ready soon."
"Thank you." He gave her a disbelieving look sure she was up to something. "When have you ever thanked me?"
"You saved my life. I think that alone deserves a thank you."
"Your welcome," he softly replied still studying her.
"Ethan, I'm sorry."
"For everything. You've been nothing if not nice to me and you're right, I've been nothing but a pain in the ass. I don't know why you put up with me." Suddenly she felt very small and the way he was watching her didn't help matters any.
"Willa, listen to me." He kneeled down in front of her and took her hands in his. She couldn't help but notice how well their hands fit together. "You need to give yourself some credit. Yes you're a pain in the ass sometimes but you keep life interesting."
"That's supposed to make me feel better. Seriously Ethan, I can't believe you actually…" Nothing more was said because before she knew what was happening he was kissing her. And surprisingly enough she didn't detest the action.
Her arms moved around his neck leisurely and involuntarily. Now Willa's been kissed, in fact she prided herself on excelling in the craft, but she had to admit she'd never been kissed quite the way Ethan was currently kissing her. When they finally separated, Willa met his gaze and suddenly noticed for the first time that his brown eyes had specks of silver in them. She noticed a few more things too like the warmth in them and the care. She wondered why she hadn't seen it before.
"Hush…no talking," he replied through half lowered lashes.
Instantly she stiffened, tightened her grip and looked around her in a slight panic. "Oh crap – another cat?!" She glared at him when he started to laugh which apparently made him laugh harder. Placing a kiss on her cheek he let go of her long enough to grab a hold of her hand and lead her into the kitchen where dinner was still cooking.
"Mmmm, dinner smells incredible. What are you making?"
Ethan turned around and gave her a funny look. "Was that actually a compliment? Did you land on your head when you were thrown from that horse?" He raised an eyebrow and waited as she stepped up to him and poked her finger in his side, which caused him to jerk back a bit with a chuckle. She took the opportunity to pick up the serving spoon and give his cooking a taste.
"I was trying to be nice. Wow, this stew is amazing," she stated before deciding to swallow.
"Don't talk with your mouth full." Ethan smiled and Willa could see the mischief in his eyes.
"Yes mother." Willa rolled her eyes and jumped slightly when he patted her behind. "Speaking of mothers, didn't yours ever teach you that slapping behinds is a no-no?"
"Depends on which behind I'm slapping." Ethan wrapped his arms around her from behind and she leaned against him as he nibbled her earlobe. "And I happen to love yours." She sighed and closed her eyes as she let his lips wonder down to the skin on her shoulder. She moved her head slightly to give him better access. "Baby you don't know how long I've wanted to do this."
"Ethan…" his name left her lips on a sigh.
"We can't do this." Before he could stop her she was out of his arms and out of the room.
He stood there only for a moment trying to figure out what the hell happened. One minute she was willing and the next…well it didn't seem right. She felt so damn good in his arms. Anger etched in his features as he stormed into the living room ready for an explanation. When he saw the tears in her eyes, that anger dissolved and nothing else mattered. He pulled her to him and let her cry on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," Willa managed to say through sniffles and hiccups. "I'm such an idiot."
"Does this have anything to do with Michael?" Ethan asked fearing the worst.
"Are you sure?" He unknowingly wrapped his arms around her a bit tighter. "Are you in love with him?"
"I followed him here."
"That doesn't answer my question." Ethan pulled back a bit and placed two fingers under her chin gently forcing her to look up at him. "Willa, are you in love with him?"
She shook her head. "No."
"Then I don't understand." He hesitated for a moment before asking his next question, not sure if he truly wanted to know the answer. "Is it just me?" he asked. "Because Willa I, When we were in the kitchen a minute ago…"
"I know." She began to cry again and all he could do was hold her. "I'm not very good at this," she whispered into his chest not able to meet his eyes.
"What?" he asked a bit stunned and taken back by what she'd just said. "What aren't you very good at?"
"This, relationships. Needing someone as much as I need you, it scares me."
"You need me?" he smiled.
"I'm sorry. Why does it scare you?"
"Everything ends and sometimes it doesn't end very well. People get hurt and feelings get trampled on."
"So that's why you push men away or you chase after men you think you can't have."
Willa didn't answer but when he felt her nod her head against his chest he understood.
"I don't want us to end up hurting or hating one another like my pare…"
"Like your parents do?"
"Like my parents do." They silently sat for awhile as Ethan rubbed circles into her back. "Ethan?" she said a minute later.
"I'm hungry. Can we forget about this for now and eat?"
Ethan smiled. "Yeah, but only for now," he added standing up and again pulling her toward him.
She could have kicked herself. The last person she wanted to cry in front of was Ethan. She could take losing it in front of almost anyone she knew, but Ethan, Ethan was a different story. He was so wonderful and deserved someone equally as wonderful. Someone who wouldn't embarrass him or…or eventually hurt him. She wanted so badly to open up to him. He made it so easy to do so. His eyes, she could read everything in those eyes. And she wanted to lose herself in them, if even for a moment. Finally get rid of all her doubts worries and insecurities and truly lose herself in them.
"Penny for your thoughts."
"I happen to have a penny if you want it."
"You're not funny."
"Says you, I happen to think I'm a riot."
"You keep telling yourself that."
"Ethan?" Willa began but for some reason she couldn't quite get the words out. "Never mind."
"Never mind what?" Ethan asked placing two small bowls of stew in front of them. "You know you have to answer me."
"What do you mean?"
"What do you mean, what do I mean."
"There's no rule that says I have too."
"Yes there is. Once something is out there, you are obligated to finish whatever it is you were going to say."
"Well that's a load of hooey."
"No that's the truth. Now spill."
Now Willa felt self conscious and she couldn't bring herself to tell him the truth about what she was just thinking so she changed the subject to what she thought was a safer one. "Ethan do we have to head back right away?" she asked. "I don't think your family likes me too much."
"If they didn't like you, you wouldn't still be there."
"I'm not there I'm here."
"You know what I mean."
"But I don't understand if Stella and Moose are together then why did they let me stay?"
"You don't know."
"Well I wouldn't be asking if I knew." Ethan just stared at her. After awhile Willa was ready for an answer.
"Like I said, they like you." Willa knew there was more to it than that, but since Ethan was determined to stay tight lipped she didn't press the matter. "Do you want to go for a walk?"
"Are you kidding after what happened last time you want me to leave the safety of this small cabin in favor of oh I don't know…certain death."
"Its fresh air and a walk will do us good."
"Says who?" she asked refusing to leave her seat.
"Says me. Up?" When she still didn't move he raised an eyebrow and placed a hand on the armrests on either side of her. He leaned down so that they were at eye level. "Why do you fight me at every turn when you know I'm as bullheaded as you and up for the challenge?"
Willa shrugged pretending to think about it for a minute. "Because it's fun," she replied with the cheesiest grin she could muster.
"Is that right?" Ethan didn't move and Willa didn't mind. "So your trying to bait me."
"Bait you for what?" she innocently asked before her eyes drifted toward his mouth and those two soft succulent lips of his. Remembering the kiss they shared earlier she closed her eyes and leaned forward. A minute or two passed and nothing, absolutely nothing. She opened her eyes and he was heading out the door. He had left her hanging.
"You didn't kiss me. Why didn't you kiss me?" She folded her arms across her chest and waited. "I'd like an answer please."
"I'm a bit confused weren't you the one who said and I quote -Ethan we can't do this - unquote." He emphasized the statement she'd made by indicating air quotes. "Subtlety is not your thing is it."
She brushed past him in a huff. "I didn't want you to kiss me anyway." She turned on her heel and added. "By the way your kisses stink. Just thought you'd like to know. They don't do a thing for me."
Before she knew what was happening he had her in his arms. He definitely was an expert because suddenly Willa found she couldn't think straight. Intoxicated by the kiss she lost complete control of her limbs and relied on him to hold her up. The feel of Ethan was mesmerizing and magical as her whole body responded to his touch. Addicted to the way it hummed under his expert probing she couldn't stifle the sounds that left her.
Then just as suddenly as it started – it ended and Willa had to brace herself before she fell forward onto the carpet beneath her feet.
When she could focus she noticed him leaning against the opposite wall waiting for her to recuperate. "You were saying?" he ducked laughing when she picked up a nearby throw pillow and flung it at him.
"You're unbelievable, you know that."
"I'm leaving." She grabbed the small knapsack that she'd brought with her and brushed past him.
"I know what you said." He took the knapsack out of her hand and flung it on a nearby chair. "You're not going anywhere."
"Let me rephrase that so you'll understand me. Not happening!"
"Try and stop me."
"You're full of contradictions aren't you? One minute you're clinging to me afraid of taking a walk and the next you're talking about leaving altogether."
"Ethan you might not know this but I'm pretty sure holding someone against their will is against the law in all fifty states, and that's including this one."
"You're here because you want to be here. Otherwise you wouldn't have made the trip in the first place."
Misunderstanding what he meant she put on a smug expression and let him know exactly why she came. "Exactly, the only reason I'm here is because of Michael. I made the trip to see him, to be with him." A flash of anger crossed his eyes and Willa almost took a step back, almost.
"Except he doesn't want you does he."
"Why?" Ethan must have known he was treading on dangerous ground but he continued anyway. "Open your eyes. We both know the truth. He never wanted you."
"That's not true he did want me. He just…"
"He just what?" Willa wasn't ready for this conversation. Why was he pushing it on her? "Willa baby…"
"Don't call me that. I'm not your baby. I'm no man's baby." This time Willa did take a step back. Only he then took a step forward. Suddenly she just wanted to be anywhere else. Looking up into his eyes she got angry. "Who the hell do you think you are? You've known me for what, a minute, and all of a sudden that makes you an expert on how I feel or who I am. Or for that matter who I want to be with."
"I know who you are and I know how you feel because unlike your precious Moose who you claim to love, I can see right through you. You can't lie to me, because there is nothing you can hide from me."
"Is that right, well then try this lie on for size. I am in love with Moose and as soon as I see him I'll prove it. Then we'll see if he doesn't want me."
Ethan took a menacing step forward but Willa stood her ground. "He doesn't touch you." His voice was whisper soft but his eyes held a warning Willa couldn't or was too afraid to decipher. "I love you and as much as you want to fight it or run from it, you love me too."
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"I don't." Ethan wrapped his arms around her and pulled her too him. Her breath hitched involuntarily and again her body responded to his touch. "I know exactly what I'm talking about. And unlike Mike, I do want you. I've wanted you since the moment I first laid eyes on you on that god forsaken train. You belong to me and only me. But you know what, since you are so hell bent on playing the fool. I have no choice but to let you. So go, prove me wrong, but I'm giving you fair warning, I've never been one for sharing, its him or me. Once you've chosen, that's it, its done, and you will have to live with that decision."Willa's heart was still pounding in her ears when he released her. "You better get a good night's sleep because we're heading back in the morning, and it's a long ride down the mountain." With that the only other sounds were the sounds of a slamming door and then her heart hitting the floor.
So here we are. What can I say…love is…difficult. It's painful and devastatingly honest to a fault. It hurts and the scars don't always heal the way they should or the way we wish they would. Sometimes it leads us to despair and loneliness. A fortress forms sheltering us, and we work hard to try to stay within it barriers. A damp cold darkness only we can feel, we can see. And if we aren't careful it will forever bury us within its grasp.
But every once in awhile a crack forms, and a stream of light comes shinning in breaking apart the darkness.
Willa tossed and turned that night, images of Ethan keeping her awake. His words still tearing at the corners of her mind.
He was wrong, it repeated as her fist hit the pillows beneath her head. He had no right saying the things he did. Michael did want her. He said as much in New York. Why had she ruined it. They might still be together if she could learn to hold her tongue and not voice every damn thought in her head. What was she thinking?
That's the problem, she wasn't thinking.
Turning over she grabbed her cell phone and turned on her Pandora App. She needed a distraction and music always seemed to calm her troubling thoughts. But the first song that came on made her rethink what she was doing. Sheryl Crowe's – I shall believe, filled the quiet and she fought the urge to cry.
Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry, maybe if she chanted that phrase a few times it would help elevate the need to just crawl up and lose it. She needed to stop thinking. Besides he wasn't worth all this. She was over reacting. What Ethan thought or said or for that matter did, had no bearing on her. She didn't need him. Its true for a split second, she might have thought she did, but she was wrong. May be she had fallen on her head when she was thrown, or maybe the horse kicked her and she hadn't realized it. Either way she was not going to let Ethan Connors ruin her plans. With a new perspective and determination in mind, she was going to confront Michael tomorrow (everyone else be damned) and to hell with what his brother thought. If it didn't work out, fine. But she was going to be brave enough to take the chance. After all how many others could say that.
Early the next morning as promised they were both headed down the mountain. The warm spring day belying their emotions and the turmoil boiling just below the surface.
Willa felt like a dam filled to capacity and ready to break open at any moment destroying the silence between them. It was strange and awkward and it felt wrong to continue this way. She wanted so badly to hear his voice, his laughter. Anything to drown out the quiet that took root between them. As the day progressed she found herself craving the fleeting moments when he glanced her way, only to see the pain and hurt in his eyes. She wanted so badly to erase those emotions. Partly because she knew she was the one to blame. She caused this rift and she had no choice but to ride out the wave.
"Ethan I'm sorry." No response. "Are you planning on ever talking to me again?" Nothing. His silence her only answer.
They finally arrived a few hours later. The quiet spoke volumes as the two halted their horses and dismounted. Everyone walked out to greet them, including Moose. Willa wanted to run back to Cleveland, back to New York, she wanted to be anywhere but here. Instead she forced herself to stay where she was. She could feel Ethan's eyes on her. His stare so fierce that she felt like she'd been branded. She took a minute to look into his eyes but found she couldn't read his expression. Something that normally came so easy to her. A feeling that terrified her.
So distracted she didn't at first notice when Moose took the reins of her horse and began to lead him into the stables. This was her chance to talk to him, to get things out in the open. So then why was she hesitating?
Ethan her mind cried out.
She began to think about the last few weeks and the conversation she had with him last night. Moose didn't want her. But he must have or they wouldn't have dated in New York. This was her chance to prove Ethan wrong. All she had to do was follow Moose into the barn. Ethan waited, they were the only two left in the clearing. She knew he was watching for her next move. She suddenly had the distinct feeling that what she did now would determine her future.
Willa took a breath and began to walk and something miraculous happened.
Instead of the rejection she anticipated.
Ethan opened his arms and without a backwards glance or a moment's hesitation she jumped into them.
She was home.
Home where she was meant to be.