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Without You

By:Kelly Elliott

Ten Years Old


I stood there and listened to my younger brother, Colt, complain about  the girls playing football. I was ten, and my brother was nine, but  right now, he was acting like a two-year-old.

"He's just afraid we're going to kick your butts," my cousin Grace said as she folded her arms and stared my brother down.

Will walked up to me. "You can't play, Alex. You're a girl, and you could get hurt."

I tried not to smile at Will's sweet words. I rolled my eyes and turned away. I didn't want Will to know I liked him.

Daddy smiled at Colt. "Colt, the girls are gonna play."

Colt whined and then said to Grace, "Fine. But you're not kicking our butts!"

After playing for a while, it seemed like Grace was going to be right.  We were kicking their butts-that was, until my cousin Luke, Grace's  brother, tackled me and busted open my lip.

Will came running over and pushed Luke, causing him to fall. "You hurt her, you idiot!"

"William Hayes! You do not call people names. Say you're sorry right  this second." Aunt Heather was standing there with her hands on her  hips, looking down at Will, as she waited for him to apologize.

I quickly glanced between Aunt Heather and Uncle Josh. Will looked just  like Uncle Josh. Both had wavy hair and the same smile-or at least, that  was what my mom had said.

Aunt Heather and Uncle Josh-Libby and Will's parents-weren't really my  aunt and uncle, but I called all my parents' friends aunt and uncle.  Aunt Amanda and Uncle Brad were Maegan and Taylor's parents. Aunt Jessie  and Uncle Scott were Lauren's parents. Luke and Grace were my cousins,  and their parents were my Uncle Jeff-my mom's brother-and his wife, Aunt  Ari. They were all really good friends, and someday, all us kids would  be just as close and live in houses near each other just like our  parents.

Will and I will be married, and we'll have lots of kids while we run the ranch.

"What are you smiling about?"

I looked up at my mother, and my smile instantly faded. "Nothing, Mama. I just thought of something funny."

She raised her eyebrow at me and then glanced at Will as he told Luke he  was sorry. Both boys shook hands and then walked off toward Colt.

My mother looked back down at me and smiled as she squatted down. Making  sure no one else could hear her, she whispered, "You have to admit, it  was kind of cute how he came to your defense, wasn't it?"

I smiled bigger and nodded. "Someday, Mama, I'm gonna marry Will."

She made a funny face. "Is that right?"

I giggled. "He makes my tummy do funny things."

"Your daddy makes my tummy feel the same way. But let's keep our options open. After all, you are only ten."

I grinned and nodded my head. "Okay, Mama, but I'm telling ya, he's the one."

I turned and headed over to Grace as I heard my mother say, "Oh Lord."

I glanced over toward Will and smiled as I walked by. I couldn't help but notice Luke watching Will and me.

Luke grabbed Will and said, "Come on, let's go find a snake."

Will winked at me before he turned and started running behind Luke and Colt.

Yep, I'm gonna marry that boy someday.





Seventeen Years Old


"Daddy, he's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen!"

I ran my hands down the leg of my new horse. He was breathtaking. I'd  always wanted a paint horse, and I couldn't believe my parents had  gotten me one for my birthday.

Daddy smiled and shook his head. "Aunt Ari will train him with ground work and get him ready."

My mouth dropped open. "No, Daddy, no. I want to train him."

He let out a chuckle, and I placed my hands on my hips.

He lifted his hands. "Okay. If this is something you want to do, then by  all means, you can do it but not alone. I want someone with you."

I glanced over and looked at Will. After helping Daddy get Banjo out of  the trailer, he had been leaning against the barn, watching everything.

I smiled. "I won't be alone. Will can help me with the training."

Will pushed off the barn and smiled back at me. "I'd love to help."

Daddy nodded his head. "All right-as long as you only train when Will is  with you." He turned and faced Will. "Will, you've broken in about  three horses so far, correct?"

Will nodded his head. "Yes, sir. I've broken in two for Luke along with my own."

Daddy smiled. "Good. Keep my little girl safe at all times. That's my number one rule."

"Always, sir. I'd never let anything happen to Lex."         

     


///
 

I felt the heat move through my cheeks as Will smiled at my father, and then he turned to me and smiled bigger.



Will and I had been working together and training my horse for the last  few weeks. Today, he had me standing on a stool, grooming Banjo.

"Lean over his back, Lex. Then, let him turn to the right and reach for the carrot."

I did as he'd said. "What is this teaching him-with the carrot?"

"Teaches him to stay well positioned for mounting."

"Oh," I said as I smiled.

Will had been the one leaning over Banjo the last three days. My baby  had bucked a few times, but Will would just slide off and land on his  feet.

I loved this horse more than anything. He was proving to be a gentle  giant. To bond us even closer, I'd been coming down and sitting in his  stall with him at night. I'd fallen asleep in the stall a few times, and  Will had carried me back up to the house four times already. Last  night, Daddy had told Will that if I kept up at it, that would be all  the exercise Will would need. I didn't want to admit it, but the last  two times, I had done it on purpose just so Will would carry me in his  arms.

"Lex?"

"Mmm?" I said as I daydreamed of being in Will's arms.

Will snapped his fingers in my face. "Earth to Lex."

"Sorry. I was lost in thought."

He let out a chuckle. "I'll say. Hop down, babe, and let me put on the bareback pad."

My cheeks instantly felt hot, and the lower pit of my stomach clenched. I  slowly slid down and looked at Will as he walked around. I couldn't  pull my eyes from him. I stepped off the stool, moved a bit forward, and  leaned against my big guy. Banjo didn't even budge.

Will stopped in front of me and went to turn to put the pad on, but he  stopped mid-movement. When our eyes met, I was pretty sure I felt the  earth rumble. He smiled slightly, and I licked my lips in preparation  for what I prayed would be our first kiss.

His eyes darted down to my lips before he quickly looked back into my eyes. "Lex?"

"Yeah?"

"I don't want to ruin our friendship, but … "

I smiled slightly and willed him to move closer to me. Kiss me. Please, Will, just kiss me already.

When he dropped the pad onto the floor, my heart began racing. He  stepped closer and placed one hand on Banjo and the other hand on the  side of my face. His thumb gently moved across my skin as he closed his  eyes.

Oh God.

His touch did things to my body that made me want to get on my knees and beg him to satisfy me.

He opened his eyes and gently bit down on his lower lip.

"Will … please … "

He leaned down and barely touched his lips to mine. "Lex, you don't know how long I've wanted to kiss you."

I ran my hand up his chest and around to his neck. When my hand pushed  into his soft, wavy hair, I let out a moan. He smiled against my lips,  and then he kissed me.

Everything from this point on would change.

Everything.





"Will, if my father catches us in here, he is going to be really upset." I nervously looked back at the barn door.

"Lex, we're both leaving for college in a few months. Don't you think  you need to let your dad know what school you picked?" Will said as he  reached for my hand.

My father had it all planned out. He wanted me to go to the University  of Texas like he had and get my degree in marketing, but I had other  dreams. Will was going to Texas A&M to get his degree in  agribusiness so that he could help Jeff, Colt, and my father run the  ranch. I'd been accepted into both schools, and my parents were just  waiting on me to say yes to the University of Texas.

It was Luke, Colt, and Will's dream to take over the ranch someday. I  had no doubt in my mind that they would all make great partners-if only  Luke and Will would stop fighting … about me. Luke hated that Will and I  had been sneaking around and seeing each other, and he'd threatened to  tell my father on more than one occasion. The fights between Luke and  Will would drive me insane. Each time, one or the other would end up  with a black eye, and they would blame it on football.

It wasn't like my father didn't like Will. He loved Will … like a son.

Daddy had dreams for me though, and those dreams didn't include a boy  who would be working on a ranch. His dreams were of me moving to the  city and getting to experience all that city-living would offer. Then,  if I wanted to, I could decide to come back to Mason.

I wanted what my mother had. I wanted to live on the ranch, wake up and  work in the garden every day, and see my husband off to work with a kiss  every single morning. I wanted the life my parents had. They were both  so happy, and I couldn't figure out why my father didn't want me to have  that life.         

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