Dance in the Firelight

Kalie Hale sighed and leaned back against her dad’s pick-up, her tanned skin prickling in the heat of the sun. Having just finished helping Jake Darrel and Rufus Keating stack hay bails, the chestnut haired girl was ready to get inside for a glass of ice cold water…or maybe lemonade. She started to make her way to the ranch house to do just that when a voice stopped her in her tracks.
“Hey Kalie, mind holding Giaccomo for me today?” It was Jared Griffin, Mr. Hale’s twister. A beautiful fresh mustang stallion and he was impatient to get her ready for use. Jared could just imagine himself atop the magnificent buckskin beast, roping stubborn cattle out on the range.
Kalie glanced regretfully in the direction of the kitchen sink inside the house and turned in Jared’s direction. He didn’t like waiting, even for a minute or two. Grabbing her cowboy hat, left on the giant stack of hay in the barn, she trotted over to meet him. “Yeah, coming!”
Kalie helped Jared hobble the horses feet and then held him still with fingers over his eyes while the big man climbed into the saddle. As soon as he was situated, Kalie pulled the ropes away and bounded back away from the seething buckskin animal. His muscles rippled in readiness. He stood still only for a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the bright sunlight. Then he began to fight.
Giaccomo twisted, bucked, reared, and bellowed all around the sandy corral. But Jared was too experienced a rider to be thrown. He held on, waving his hat. After a while, the stallion settled down in defeat, and finally stood still with flaring nostrils. Kalie whooped congratulations to Jared, half to see what the horse’s reaction would be to the noise. Giaccomo only flinched and, after a single half hearted rear, snorted. Kalie climbed down and went to hold him so Jared could dismount.
“Great job. He’ll be a star out there with you,” Kalie praised. Jared smiled and nodded his appreciation. He already had the reigns in his hand again, so Kalie jogged off again to get her much needed drink. The cold water soothed her aching throat and washed out the dust from the hard day’s work. She walked outside again to meet her father coming inside the house.
“Hey dad, you’re back early,” she said casually. The ranch boss hugged his daughter close for a second before pulling back and looking at her.
“What, you’d rather not see me for another three days?” he asked with a big grin on his face. Kalie knew he was teasing, so she teased him back.
“Well, I was just getting to enjoy being on my own. Most girls my age have moved out and don’t live with their parents.” Still her dad’s little girl at age twenty-two, Kalie lived on the ranch with him, helping out with chores and range responsibilities.
“Yeah, well, ok, I’ve got to go check on the hands and see if everything is going alright with the new man. You’ve met Rex, right?” Aaron Reese, better known as Rex by the members of Black Mountain Ranch, had just been hired only a week before. Mr. Hale had not yet been able to see how the young man was doing, because he had left on a trip with some of the boys around the range. He was supposed to be gone for three more days, but had come back early.
“Yeah, I’ve met him.”
“Do you like him?”
Kalie looked at her dad strangely. “Uh…he’s a nice guy, yeah.”
Her dad laughed. “That’s all I wanted to know. I wouldn’t want any…not nice guys, around my beautiful daughter.”
Kalie smirked at her dad’s lousy humor and continued on her way down the steps. She heard the door open and close as her dad went in, so she looked around for something to do. Most of the ranch hands had specific duties to do, but Kalie just helped wherever she was needed. She liked it that way, because she got a lot of variety in her work.
Making her way over to the barns, Kalie spotted Jake lounging against a grazing mare with his Stetson pulled down over his eyes against the sun. She flopped down on the grass beside him.
Jake opened an eye and glanced down at her before straightening and lifting his hat. “Hey. What brings you out here?”
“Boredom, I guess. Have you seen that buckskin Jared’s got over in the corral?” Kalie tried to make conversation. Cowboys weren’t known for having much to say, so in order to talk to them it has to be about horses or hay or cows.
“Yeah, he’s a beauty isn’t he? Jared lucked out getting that one,” Jake said jealously. Kalie chuckled. Everyone wanted the stallion.
That was the end. Jake pulled the Stetson back down after a few minutes of silence and relaxed against the broke mustang’s flank. Kalie snorted and walked away. Cowboys!
With the sun dropping closer to the horizon, the hands once again aroused themselves to finish up the evening chores. Kalie found Jake again, staring bluntly at a horse’s hind leg. Even from across the pathway, Kalie could tell that something was wrong. The leg was glistening with sweat and was swollen.
“I’m going to go get the kit,” Jake grunted as he walked off. Kalie walked up in front of the mare, letting her sniff her outstretched hand curiously. Finally Kalie began rubbing her nose, and then up to her forehead, down her mane, and all along her back and down her inflamed leg. By then Jake had returned with bandages and ointment.
Kalie took the kit and rubbed a thick gooey substance gently over the infection. She smiled at the way the mare’s head drooped and a contented sigh came out of her mouth. The cool ointment felt good on her hot skin. Once it was good and thick, she wrapped a white bandage around the area firmly and secured it. Once finished, Jake put a hand on the horse’s shoulder and led her to a pen.
Kalie brushed dust off of the knees of her jeans from kneeling next to the horse. She looked up into the face of Aaron Reese.
“Uh, hi,” she said.
“What do you want?”
“Nothing. Did you know your eyes are beautiful?” he asked. Kalie couldn’t tell how serious he was, but she knew he was flirting. She wanted to roll her eyes, but instead smiled politely.
“Thank you, Aaron. Now get off and do your job,” she said kindly.
“Call me Rex, please, and yes, ma’am.”
Kalie shook her head as the cowboy walked away. Several of the ranch hands before him had tried to flirt with her, but got no headway. She never believed men meant what they said when they flirted; they always seemed to be trying to trick her. Just the tone of voice said it all.
After the evening chores were completed, the cowboys invited Kalie to join them for a cookout with them. Even though she wasn’t actually hired help, she treated them like equals and they treated her the same.
Eating hotdogs and potato salad as the sun dipped below the horizon, the members of Black Mountain relaxed against the outside of house. It was nice just to close her eyes and listen to the laughs of her friends and fellow workers. Suddenly Kalie’s eyes snapped open. Someone was standing over her.
“Hey, Kalie.”
“What are you doing?”
“Looking at you.”
“Do you have to do it so close?”
“I’m sorry, I just…you are so pretty.”
“Thank you.”
“What are you doing tomorrow night?”
Kalie groaned inwardly and rolled her eyes. It was too dark for Rex to see, so she sighed loudly. “Working. I live on a ranch.”
For a moment Rex was silent and Kalie wondered what he was going to say. She knew what she had said was kind of harsh…but she didn’t want Rex standing over her staring at her. But instead he just turned and walked away, joining the rest of the cowboys. Kalie frowned and closed her eyes again. If someone wanted to flirt with her, it was their own choice to get rejection.
“Kalie wake up!” a voice jerked Kalie back to reality. She opened her eyes to see Rufus staring at her.
“I wasn’t asleep!”
“You sure looked like it. Kinda cute too,” he said grinning. Kalie took the compliment, but knew it half joking.
“Thanks. Now why do I need to get up?”
Rufus held out his hand to help her up. “Jake’s got a guitar. While you were sleeping we argued over who got first dance. I won.”
His grin made Kalie smile. Rufus made everything funny, whether it was or not. She took his hands and waited for Jake to start strumming his guitar. Dancing with Rufus was nice for the most part…but it had its drawbacks, especially since he hadn’t quite mastered it.
After dancing for a few minutes, Rufus swung her completely away from him, letting go in the process. Kalie spun out into the arms of Rex. Oh no, I’m dancing with the guy who tries to flirt with me, she thought as he stepped out into the circle with her.
It was a dream. Rex was completely in control as she swung in and out, around and about. Finally he let her go. As she danced with another partner, she looked up and found him staring at her. She blushed and looked back down at the ground, glad that the totally darkness hid her red face.
Slowly everyone went back to their bunkhouses. Kalie usually stayed until the last person was gone, and she did so this night. Unfortunately, it was Rex. She blinked in surprise when she found that she didn’t mind as much as before. He might be terrible at flirting, but he was a great dancer.
Kalie leaned against the siding and watched him walk away. She smiled. At least he wasn’t staying to talk to her.
She jumped as she felt a presence by her side. Turning she saw him.
“Hey, uh Kalie. I just wanted you to know…I had a great time tonight.”
Kalie looked up and saw a slight smile on his face.
“Yeah…me too. Maybe we can do it again sometime,” she replied hurriedly. Then she slipped away and walked up the steps to the house. As he left, something moved in the corner of her eye. She spun her head toward it, but there was nothing there.

Round Up

Rex kept away from Kalie for the next several days. He could tell that she wasn’t interested in him. At least not the way he was interested in her. He frowned as he filled buckets of water to bring to the horses. Kalie was all beauty, with extra charm and double the heart. At first he was amazed that she wasn’t at least someone’s girlfriend, but after the way she reacted to his comments, he wasn’t surprised anymore.
Rex sighed as the bucket he was filling overflowed. He turned off the hose and hefted up the bucket to bring to the horses. “The boss should just get a really long hose,” he grumbled to himself.
“Rex, I need you to go out with Rufus and Jared around the fences in the pasture. It seems that some of the horses have been escaping, but we don’t know where. You can find them saddling up in the barns.”
“Yeah Boss,” Rex said. He walked to the barns and tacked up a frisky mare that looked like it could use some exercise and joined Rufus outside, waiting for Jared to finish up.
He saw Kalie walking out to a large corral, probably to check on the mare with the inflamed leg. She wasn’t healing on her own, so the girl was nursing her back to health slowly. Rex smiled at her devotion to the horse’s life. That was a girl he could love.
“Let’s go.” Rex looked back to see who had spoken. It was Jared, trotting his horse toward the pasture. He followed, side by side with Rufus.
Kalie watched them go. She wondered if Rex really liked her. He was handsome; the type of guy most girls would fall for in a heart beat. But somehow that made her even more suspicious of his true feelings. Guys like that seemed to think that they got whatever they wanted, simply because girls like their looks.
Once the mare’s leg had a fresh bandage, Kalie sat inside her stall wishing that the sun wasn’t so strong. Slowly her eyes closed softly and she fell asleep. She was unaware of strong arms lifting her up and placing her against the wall outside where lazy hooves wouldn’t crush her accidentally.
Kalie woke over an hour later. The heat of the day had dropped somewhat, but sweat still covered her body. She stood up and resettled her cowboy hat firmly on her head before walking out of the barn. She saw Rufus, Jared, and Rex unsaddling their horses, so she went over there to talk to them.
“Find anything?” she asked them.
Rufus snorted. “There’s a huge break in the fence on the west side, plenty large for the entire bunch to gallop away. It’s going to take some fixing up, and also a few of us to go round up the four that are missing.”
Kalie stifled a yawn and nodded. “When are you planning on doing that?”
“Right now, as soon as we tack up some fresh horses,” Jared cut in. “Would you mind going along with Jake to get the lost horses while we fix up the fence?”
Rex suddenly spoke up. “I’ll go with her. I haven’t done any of that for a while.” His tone sounded reasonable, but Kalie guessed that it was only an excuse to be with her.
“Thanks Rex, but Jake and Kalie do this all the time together. They already know the favorite hiding places,” Jared responded calmly. It was no secret that Rex had his eye on the boss’s daughter.
Kalie ignored Rex nodded. “Yeah, that’s great. I’m going to go get a drink first though, or I might just evaporate into dust.”
The closest thing around was the hose, which she trotted over to without hesitation. She knocked off her hat and let the water gush in her mouth and all over her face and hair. She threw the hose down at Jake’s yell and mounted the horse he already had waiting for her.
“Thanks,” she said quickly, still breathless from the long drink.
“No problem. Let’s go.” He turned his stallion around and headed for the west side of the pasture. Kalie followed. She ran a hand through her wet hair to get it out of her face. The wind against the beads of water cooled her down, and she smiled her pleasure.
“We’ll head down to the forest that is close to the break first and look around there. Then we head over to the cliffs.”
As usual, he didn’t bother saying anything other than he needed to. But Kalie was used to it and brought her horse up along side his. Suddenly she realized that she had forgotten her Stetson back by the hose.
“Ugh! Left my hat back at the barns. The sun is so bright.”
Jake immediately took off his hat and placed it on Kalie’s head. She stared at him, open mouthed.
“Since when do cowboys simple hand around their hats?” she asked incredulously. Jake just smiled.
“My eyes are used to it.”
Kalie groaned and pushed the hat firmer onto her head and tilted it down to block out the sun. Cowboys…always showing off. She glanced over at him and noticed an expression on his profile she hadn’t seen before. Simple kindness?
“Anyway, thanks.”
“No problem.”
Kalie smiled and urged her horse on into a fast walk.
Night had fallen by the time Jake and Kalie returned to the ranch barns, with two horses tagging along behind on ropes. After releasing them out into pasture and unsaddling their horses, the two of them walked up into the house. Mr. Hale made it a custom to have everyone eat supper in the house at night, unless the cowboys were having a cookout. Everyone was already eating the great spread before them.
Kalie sat down and filled her plate with pork, rolls, salad, and homemade pie. Jake did the same, and soon they were both happy with their bellies filled.
“How did the round up go?” Jared asked amid the conversations. Kalie shrugged.
“It went OK. We found them all, but two of them were torn to pieces by wolves. One was that prize paint mare, but the other one wasn’t a big loss,” Kalie replied evenly. Horses died all the time, and someone with a heart to soft to accept that wasn’t accepted by the others.
Jared sighed. “That mare might have been a great roper. Ah, well, that’s over now. We patched up the fence so now it’s all good to go. But I think that from now on we should ride the fences more often, Boss,” he finished, directing the last sentence to Kalie’s father.
“Yes, that would be fine. Kalie and Rex, I need you both to check the fences twice a week.”
Rex smiled and nodded, finding himself looking over at Kalie to see what her reaction would be. However, he saw nothing else but a nod. No expression and no emotion. He already couldn’t wait.
Kalie was not satisfied. She was glad to be a help, but she felt uncomfortable alone with Rex. Butterflies would invade her stomach and her throat would clench up. Well…she was going to have to bear it, at least for a while anyway.

True Feelings Come Out

Kalie was going nuts. From the moment she and Rex set off to check the fences, Rex made continuous hints about his affection for her. He was good looking, nice, and went out of his way to help her even. She could tell that he was sincere about everything, and not just teasing her. But for some reason she couldn’t really return the affection. Yet. Maybe someday she would find him really different from the rest, someone worth putting her interest in.
Rex had found horse that he called his own by now. It was a mouse gray mustang stallion he called Smoky. Kalie found the name very unoriginal, but decided it didn’t really matter. When she found a great horse that suited her just right, she would think of a name that matched who it was, not just what it looked like.
And right then, Kalie knew that Smoky was not the one. She tried to lead him out into the pasture, because his work month had been spent. But Smoky obviously thought that Kalie was trying to get him to work for her, and he had other ideas. Such as resisting and trying to stay in the barn.
Kalie growled and tugged harder on the rope, but the stallion only rolled the whites of his eyes and half reared up into the air. Finally Kalie gave up and tied Smoky to a pipe while she went to find Rex, who could work magic with the rebel. Soon he was grazing contentedly out with the bunch, and Rex was satisfied with his horse whispering abilities.
“Maybe you should just go work at a circus,” Kalie said jokingly to him. “You could be the Freaky Horse Whisperer, or maybe Rex the Werehorse.”
Rex chuckled and said, “Oh, you’re just jealous.”
Kalie blinked and let her smile fade. “No I’m not.”
Rex frowned. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-“
Kalie laughed and shoved his shoulder to the side. “I’m just joking. You don’t think you could hurt my feelings that easy do you?”
Rex grinned. Kalie was treating him more and more like the other ranch hands. He knew he had to say something direct to her soon. But somehow something always stopped him, such as times like these when the mood was playful and joyful.
“Well, I have to feed the horses now. I’ll see you around,” Kalie said, walking towards the barns. Rex stopped her by grabbing hold of her arm.
“Er, I can help,” Rex asked, looking her in the eye.
“No thanks, I can manage,” she replied, casually prying off his hand and continuing to the barn. Rex sighed. She had no feelings for him, it was too obvious. She didn’t want to have feelings for him! But he had to try.
Kalie tossed bales of hay to the few horses who were currently sheltered in the barn. Hay became lodged on her hair and clothes sticky with her sweat, making her look more haystack than human by the time she emerged out into the sun, horses fed. Jake happened to be walking by at that moment and took the time to chuckle and comment.
“Ah, such a sight. That’s you, right Rufus?” he asked carelessly, pretending. Kalie played along, speaking in a low voice.
“Yep. Just thought I’d stick all this stuff all over me so the horses like me. I might get down to only one or two kicks a day now,” she said, forcing herself not to burst out laughing as Rufus, roused by hearing his name, peered over at them.
“Not true Kalie!” he protested with a smile on his face. Kalie grinned and started to brush the hay off her body. She spun around.
“Did I get everything?” she asked. Jake shook his head and walked up behind her. He pulled a few pieces of straw from her hair. Kalie stood stock still, eyes wide. What was Jake doing?
“Here.” Jake handed the straw to Kalie and walked away to continue his work. Kalie just stared after him, still shocked. Rufus took the opportunity to laugh.
“So, it looks like you are finally catching the attention of every man on this ranch with your lush chestnut hair and deep hazel eyes,” he said jokingly. Kalie rolled her eyes and marched inside the house. So hot out!
Kalie lay on the couch facing the kitchen door from the living room. Sometimes she wished that her home was not on a ranch and she was not surrounded by such strange people. Now was one of those times. But Kalie knew that she would never give up Black Mountain Ranch for anything. Even if I had to love Aaron Reese.
She sat up. Where had that thought come from? She sighed. Kalie knew that she liked Rex. Maybe only a little, but it was impossible not to, right? He was handsome, a great dancer, kind, and caring. Or was he? Kalie wasn’t going to say anything that might make her find out.
The kitchen door crashed open and Jake stood in front of the sink, filling a glass with cold water. Most of it was splashed on his face and shirt. He refilled it and drank deeply. Kalie watched him. Was Rufus right? It kinda seemed like it. Jake had given her his Stetson for an afternoon, and picked straw out of her hair. It was kind of awkward.
Suddenly she realized that Jake was staring at her…who was staring at him.
“Uh…hi Jake,” Kalie looked away.
“Hey Kalie.”
“You look wet.”
Jake laughed. “Yeah, maybe a little.”
Kalie smiled. “But not for long!” She dashed to the sink and turned the faucet on. Then she grabbed the sprayer and aimed it at him. Jake stood still for a moment before grinning and struggling to grasp the sprayer. He got it in the end, but Kalie escaped through the door before he could get her very wet.
But she met him again soon, and this time he had a long hose. He grinned and pointed it at Kalie, slowly advancing. The cowgirl shrieked and sprinted away, running into Rex. He held her there while she gasped and laughed and struggled to be free.
“Let me go you!”
Rex laughed. “Nope, I got ya now!” He held Kalie at arms length for Jake to spray. Instead of shooting her from afar, Jake walked right up and smiled. Suddenly he dashed at Rex, pulling Kalie away. Rex got wet.
Very wet.
Kalie and Jake laughed while Rex snarled and shook out his Stetson before stalking off. Kalie, once the laughing had wore off, smiled. She had never seen a cowboy acting so…real. Jake liked her enough to talk and laugh. Kalie liked it.
Kalie woke slowly the next morning, a fuzzy feeling in her stomach. She was excited about something. What was it? She groaned and glanced around, hoping that something in her room might remind her of what to expect. Jake suddenly popped into her mind, and a smile came to her face.
Jake might like Kalie.
But Kalie liked Jake just as much.
The cowboys were already doing their jobs by the time Kalie made it outside. She walked to the barns and began to throw down hay for the horses’ morning meal. This time she made sure she was free of dust and straw before letting herself be seen. But before she even reached the door, a hand on her shoulder stopped her. She whipped around to find herself facing Rex.
“What do you want?” she asked. It was getting to be a common question. Rex cocked his head sadly.
“Do you have no affection for me?” His eyes were so deep. Kalie looked into them for a moment before answering.
“No, Aaron. I don’t. The only thing I find different about you from the rest is that…well, you can dance great. You’re handsome, kind, and all that. Someday you will find someone who goes with you. But I don’t.” I felt horrible saying it, but also freed. He knew for sure.
Rex swallowed and stepped back. “But I love you! Not some other girl. Kalie, you are something special, especially to me. Every time I see you I want to smile. I’m sorry.”
Kalie looked down. “I’m sorry too, Rex. But I can’t return your…love.”
“You like Jake, don’t you?”
Kalie looked sharply up at him. “No, not really. We’re just friends! Just like you and I.”
Rex frowned. “Don’t lie to me Kalie.”
Kalie looked at him like he was crazy. “I’m not lying! Just because you got hurt, doesn’t mean you have to hurt everyone else! If you don’t leave me alone about this…all of this, I will have you fired.” She glared darkly at him and walked calmly away.
Rex sat back against the wall. His hand kept running through his thick blond hair. She didn’t care about him. Not in the least. Why had he let this happen? Why hadn’t he just let them be friends? But now they were enemies.


Kalie lugged a can of paint over to the closest barn and set it down, straightening and pressing her sore lower back. Today, she and Jake were going to paint the barns. She was excited about spending the time with Jake, put painting wasn’t her idea of the way to spend a fun after noon.
“Well, we may as well get started,” Jake sighed as he stared at the barn wall. The horses in the large building had been let out into the pasture to get away from the toxic smell of paint. But he and Kalie had no relief from it.
Kalie grabbed a flat stick from the bundle of objects Jake had been carrying and used it to open the paint and then stir it up. Once that was finished she dipped a wide paint brush into the brownish paint and put to the side of the barn, performing a smooth stroke to the ground which left a wet streak of paint behind. And so the job was started.
Jake grunted as he reached up and then down with the paint brush. After only about half an hour of the constant movement he groaned and sat down in the dirt, head down between his knees. Suddenly he jumped up, a giant splatter of brown all across his face and shirt. Kalie was laughing her head off.
“Not cool, Kalie,” he said, a rebel grin slowly forming across his face. With a wild dash he dunked his brush into the paint and whipped it at Kalie, making sure not to get the barn wall with the drops of paint. Kalie shrieked and spun around the corner. Jake followed after her and flung the paint at her again, and soaked her.
“If that’s what you want, cowboy!” Kalie laughed. She ran around back to the pain t and picked up a handful of it without the use of a brush. Jake came around the corner carefully. But before he could even think his face was a solid mass of gooey liquid. Jake’s mouth hung open for a moment before smiling.
“Let’s put this off until the end, what do you say?” he asked. Kalie chuckled and nodded, once again covering the barn with paint. Jake shook his head and wiped off the thick substance before joining her.
Once the barn was done, they had used that can, plus two more. Kalie frowned.
“What’s wrong Kalie? We miss a spot?” Jake asked innocently. He jumped away but was too late to escape the last contents of one of the paint cans.
“That’s what you get!” Kalie yelled as she sprinted away towards the hose. Jake, who was now covered in paint everywhere, followed her to demand first use of the hose, which she kindly gave into. However, he took such a long time, Kalie went to use another hose. As she walked away, she didn’t see the soft smile Jake gave after her.
Once again the boys invited Kalie to a cookout, which she accepted gladly. Each one was always the same. Jake ended up playing on his guitar, and Kalie spun around until she had danced with most if not all of them, smiling at everyone. But this night was different.
Kalie listened while Jake played the guitar, but no dancing had started. Suddenly Jake handed the instrument over to Rufus and stood up. He walked over to Kalie.
“I’ve never danced with you, since I’m always the one with guitar. But do you think maybe I could tonight?” he asked, trying to seem casual. Kalie smiled and stood up.
“Of course,” she said as he led her to the center of the ring formed by the cowboys. As they started dancing, Kalie felt Jake’s eyes locked on hers. Against her usual custom, she looked up into his. She swallowed at what she saw. His eyes were filled with love and care. Kalie gave a half smile and looked back at the floor.
Oh how she wanted him to know her own attraction to him! She found herself staring into his eyes again. A real smile spread across her face. The cowboys saw it, but Kalie didn’t care. Jake’s eyes filled with calm pleasure and happiness. Kalie smiled as he spun her away into the arms of another waiting cowboy. But the dance wasn’t the same.
Near the end she noticed that Rex wasn’t anywhere to be seen.
“Where is Rex?” she asked suddenly. Rufus laughed out loud.
“Haven’t you heard?” he asked sarcastically. “Rex quit the ranch. He couldn’t stand not being loved by you and watching you and Jake together.”
Kalie glared at him for a moment at the last bit, but then her face turned disgusted.
“He was only here for that reason?” She rolled her eyes. Guys would do anything to get a girl.
“Yep. Left before he even got his first pay.”
Kalie shrugged. She didn’t care. In fact, it was kind of a relief that she didn’t have to face him anymore. She walked inside once everyone was gone and laid down in her bed. A smile worked its way onto her face. Jake liked her a lot, it seemed. And she liked him.
The next day, Kalie went out for a lone ride through the range. It was important to see if anything wrong was up there, but it was more a pleasure ride for her, to enjoy the fresh air and rare sights of wild horses. She rode on and on until, coming to the edge of a cliff covered with brush and bushes, she dismounted to eat lunch.
“No one can hear you from here,” a voice startled her. She stiffened as she realized who it was.
“Yep, that’s me,” the young cowboy said, stepping into the open.
Kalie’s lip curled into a snarl. “What do you want?”
“You. Always have. But since you don’t want me, I’ll have to take you.” Rex smiled at his good fortune of getting her out here while she was alone.
Kalie swallowed and stood up. “No! You can’t do that. You can’t force someone to love you Rex!”
Rex chuckled. “Oh, but I can.”
Kalie started backing up towards her horse but was pulled back by Rex. He whistled and motioned to the mouse gray stallion that stepped out into sight. He had stolen Smoky!
“Get on him. Now!” Rex urged forcefully. He brought a hand down and showed her his gun to add effect. Kalie’s eyes filled with tears as she reluctantly mounted the horse. Rex sat behind her. She could feel his smile of victory as he moved the stallion into a gallop across the range.

Love Can't Be Forced

Kalie struggled against the thin ropes that held her hands together in front of her. She had run out of tears, but her face was stained with wet streaks. Rex was sleeping in his own bed in the tiny cabin, ignoring her struggles. “Why are you doing this?” Kalie cried. Rex only laughed.
“Once you realize that you do love me, I will let you free from those ropes.”
“And free from you?”
Rex snorted. “If you loved me you would stay here with me.”
“You obviously don’t love me, so why should I love you!”
Rex stared at her. “If only you knew how much I need you.”
“Maybe, but you don’t love me! You don’t care about me. No man who loved someone would do this to her no matter what!”
“Shut up!”
Kalie shuddered and hunched against the wall. There was no chance of escaping. She would have to…love Rex. But not yet. She glared up at him with pure hatred burning in her eyes. Rex only smiled back down on her. Kalie closed her eyes and let fresh tears fall out of the corner of her eyes. They snapped open at his next comment though.
“And if you don’t love me soon, I’ll force you to. And it’ll feel good,” he said, dark laughter thick in his lustful voice. Kalie let sobs rack her body then. Her life was over.
“Oh, you’ll be fine. I promise you will like it.”
Rex chuckled and rolled over, closing his eyes. Kalie felt her stomach growl and looked longingly at the cupboard which held, she knew, food. Rex had eaten some when they first reached the cabin beyond the range, but he had neglected feeding her.
“Rex, can I get something to eat?” she asked as kindly as she could.
“Go for it.”
“Er…my hands are tied.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Ugh! You horrible monster!” Rex only laughed. And every time he did, Kalie was more sure that he only loved her for one reason.
“How long do I have until…you force me to love you?” she asked. The silence was unbearable.
“I’ll keep you guessing. Now shut up. I’m trying to sleep.”
Kalie groaned. She hated Rex. If only she could reach that gun of his!
The rest of the day and that night passed uneventfully, as did the rest of the week. Rex gave Kalie no food, but he did relent and give her some water. She began to weaken from lack of substance, which Rex was fine with. He still had a faint hope that she would submit willingly, but if she didn’t, he wanted everything to go smoothly so there wasn’t a big struggle.
Kalie lost hope of rescue. Her days faded into black, for she no longer cared what happened. Whenever Rex spoke to her, she was silent or responded only with a grunt or a moan. Life was draining away, from both her body and her mind.
Kalie sat staring at the opposite wall, her mind blank. She couldn’t sleep because it was so hot out, but there was nothing to do, and nothing to think. Suddenly the cabin door burst open and a blurry image walked in. Rex had gone out? She didn’t remember, but oh well.
“What are you doing here?” Rex growled. Kalie tried to clear her head to answer, but someone else did it for her.
“What are you doing here with Kalie?” It was Jake, but Kalie was too weak to notice. Instead she lay back and let them duel it out.
Rex leaped out of the bed, gun in his hand and aimed at Jake. But Jake was too quick and whirled around to miss the shot fired. He pulled his own gun out of his belt and put it to Rex’s throat.
“Drop the gun. Now!” he shouted angrily. Rex did and he kicked it away.
“Come with me.” He forced Rex to stay still with his gun while he clumsily cut away Kalie’s ropes with one hand and then tied them on Rex’s painfully behind his back. Kalie didn’t move, so he supposed she had blacked out.
“What have you done with her!” he demanded Rex. But he only grinned.
“Nothing. Although I gave her some water.”
Jake punched him in his stomach. Rex blacked out. “Get in here!”
Rufus trotted in and picked up Rex by the rope.
“Take him back to the ranch. I’ll take care of Kalie. We’ll stay here for a few days so she can get her strength back.”
Rufus nodded and galloped away on his horse, Rex in front of him like a calf. Jake turned back to Kalie, his eyes watering. He wiped hair out of her bruised face and picked her up and placed her on the bed.
“Jake,” Kalie mumbled back, still half unconscious. But that was enough for Jake. He smiled sadly and brushed his scarred thumb against her cheek. Then he found the cupboard and opened a can of broth.
“Here, Kalie. Can you drink this?” he asked softly, lifting her into a sitting position. Kalie’s head drooped forward but he held it up and helped her sip some of the broth.
“Kalie, what has he done to you!” he asked in a whisper. Back at the ranch, they had better not do anything with Rex until he got back to murder him.
Once Kalie refused to drink any more, he helped her back down into a sleeping position and laid down himself on the floor beside. He fell asleep immediately, tired from the week of tracking Smoky’s hoof prints.
“Jake?” a voice roused him from his sleep. He stood up to find Kalie awake and trying to sit up.
“It’s ok, just lay there. Are you hungry?”
“Oh Jake!” came the sobbing response. He took Kalie in his arms and held her, their tears mingling. He crooned her back to silence and rested her again in the bed, bring the warmed up broth back to her.
“Drink this,” he said, putting the cup to her mouth. She took it and drank it, but he kept his hand under the bottom in case she dropped it. He could only stare at her wasted face and dull eyes.
By the next day, Kalie had regained her strength and awareness somewhat, and Jake helped her outside for a walk in the fresh evening air. It was then that he decided to ask.
“What happened?” he said, voice full of anger, mixed with sadness and love and care. Kalie hesitated a moment before answering with a wavering voice.
“I was resting and eating near a cliff. I’m sure you know which one, since you tracked me here. Anyway, Rex stepped out and threatened me with a gun to get onto his horse, so I did. Then he tied me up where you found me. He gave me a bit of water every day, but that broth you gave me was the first thing I’ve eaten all week. He threatened to…he said that if I didn’t decide to love him soon he would force me. I wasn’t able to move, or think or sleep.”
“I’m sorry…I’m so sorry Kalie,” he said, sobs threatening to break his voice. He kneeled down in front of Kalie and looked up into her face. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get to you sooner.”
Kalie shook her head. “It’s not your fault; you did the best you could.” But even as she said it, her shoulders began to shake, and Jake held her in an embrace for the second time in two days. She wrapped her arms around his waste and sobbed for awhile, not caring how long it was.
“I love you Kalie,” Jake said. “I love you.” His arms tightened around her, and Kalie buried her face deeper into his neck.


Tag der Veröffentlichung: 11.05.2012

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