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By´╝ÜKristen Ashley

Wither to dust

Crumble like rust

Do it at your side

“You ride?” he asked abruptly.

“Uh…my own bike?” I asked back.

“On the back of one, babe.”


Yes, yes, yes.

“Yes,” I answered immediately.

“Here on a ride with my bro. We’re takin’ off now ’cause we gotta meet someone. You open tomorrow to go for a ride?”

“Absolutely,” I again answered immediately.

He nodded again, his serious hazel gaze starting to fire.

He wanted me on his bike.

I wanted to be on his bike but I wanted more, oh so much more to be the woman he wanted with him on his bike.

“You want me to pick you up wherever you are or you wanna meet me here at the bar?” he asked.

“Lacey and Bianca and me are at the dude ranch.”

His lips quirked.

I felt like throwing my head back and screaming my victory at that minor show of amusement that I gave him.

“Eleven. I’ll pick you up at that ranch,” he declared.

I nodded but asked, “You know it?”

“See your point. No. Don’t know jack about this place. Bein’ where we are, though, there’s the possibility of there bein’ fifty dude ranches so sock it to me the name.”

“Shooting Star,” I told him.

He looked to the patio, jerked his chin up at somebody (undoubtedly his “bro”) and back to me.

“Eleven, Shooting Star.”

I nodded, heart racing, even in all the adventures I’d had, never, not once, not even back before the shine was beginning to tarnish, not ever looking forward to anything more in my life than seeing Deke at eleven the next morning at the Shooting Star Dude Ranch.

In a blink that was a shock to the system for a variety of reasons, I found my chin captured between the pad of his thumb and the side of his forefinger.

In another blink, his face was my whole world.

“Get back to your girls,” he rumbled. “No woman, pretty or not, should have her face in a book writin’ poetry and it’s not about writin’ poetry. It’s about you bein’ aware of where you are and what’s happenin’ around you. This ain’t no coffee house, baby girl, have a care.”

You, the only thing I need when I have everything

You, the breath I breathe I only get when you’re laughing

Chain links

Worn jeans

Wither to dust

Crumble like rust

Do it at your side

“Okay, Deke,” I replied quietly.

He did a slow nod as he released my chin but twisted his hand, forefinger extended, so he could slide the tip of it from the top of my throat along the soft skin under my jaw to the point of my chin.

I felt that light touch burn and when I lost it, I wanted to lean toward him to keep the connection, even if I only got another second.

“Eleven, Justice,” he said.

“Eleven, Deke.”

When I finished saying his name, he left his beer where it lay, turned and walked outside.

He disappeared around the side of the building.

He didn’t look back.

* * * * *

Ten hours later, I waited on the porch outside the reception area of the Shooting Star Dude Ranch.

I’d had not a wink of sleep.

I was not tired.

* * * * *

Eleven hours later, I was still waiting.

* * * * *

Twelve hours later, I went to find my girls to get a drink.

* * * * *

Deke never came.

Chapter One

I’d Take Them


Seven Years Later

“It comes with ten acres and we recently had the gentleman who owns an adjoining three come to us to say he’s ready to sell that parcel of land. So it could be thirteen acres. And just to say, on the south side of the property, the man who owns that acreage is getting on in years. His children are gone and not coming back. Word is he’s having trouble taking care of the place so it might not be hard to get him to let go of some of his land. He has fifty acres. He might be approachable to double your lot, say, in case you want horses.”

I wanted horses.

I wanted the land.

But I stood in that shell of a house, immobile.

“As you can see,” the real estate agent went on hurriedly, knowing exactly what I could see and what a mess it was, that being what made me immobile, “it’s a little rough but when it’s complete, it’s going to be something amazing. And the couple who started it wanted to live in it while it was being finished so the master bed and bath are completely done and fully functional.”

At this news, I didn’t move a muscle. Not even to blink.

And I didn’t say a word.

“And it’s all here,” the agent continued. “All the materials, even the appliances are in boxes out in the garage. Top of the line. Double door Sub-Zero. Six-burner Viking stove. Marble counters, though they need to be cut…”