“baby, you’ve got the sort of laugh that waters me and makes me grow tall and strong and proud and flattens me, I find you stunning but you are running me down
my love’s too big for you, my love” —Ingrid Michaelson
“What’s the matter? You afraid of a little girl?”
“Nothing little about you.”
Rich brown eyes met mine, peering down through lashes that had always put my own to shame. His shoulders—the strong ones that worked with confidence on the ranch all day—tensed the closer I came to him.
“Haven’t you wondered?”
A long pause.
“Of course I wondered,” he said.
“So … why not? Why never?”
I finally reached him. It had only taken five years and five thousand miles. He was the boy I dreamed about. Never the one that got away, he was the one that never was. With his sharp tongue and wicked grin, he’d been the only one I wanted.
“How long you home for?” he finally asked.
“You’re not going to answer me?”
“You know the answer already.”
Did I? I thought I knew more than him. I thought he’d finally see what he never had. But then he said he wondered. That he always had.
And now I was the one who wondered.
I stepped closer to him and he smelled like dust and hay. He smelled like sweat and diesel and home. His skin was familiar in the summer afternoon air, but his eyes, the dark eyes that always drew me in, no longer revealed his secrets.
“I’m home for a while.”
“But not for long.”
“No.” I shook my head and leaned closer. “Not for long.”
He smiled again, his sudden grin at odds with his enigmatic eyes.
His jaw was covered with a day’s worth of stubble and it wasn’t because it was fashionable. The scuffed boots he wore were caked with dirt and a dog sighed in the back of his truck.
He shoved the brown hair off his forehead and squinted into the sun when he spoke again.
“Did you really wonder?”
“Is it surprising?”
“I never thought you were looking.”
“Everyone was looking at you.”
He shook his head. “Not you.”
“No.” He shook his head again. “You glanced. Then you looked away. You always looked away.”
“How do you know?”
He seemed even taller when he leaned over me, and his shoulders no longer carried the cocky angle of youth. His voice was steady as a promise when he murmured in my ear.
“Because I didn’t look away.”
A scrape of stubble against my cheek was the only warning he gave me. Our lips reached across five years, five thousand miles, and different lives when they met. And it was everything and nothing like I imagined.
He was better than I’d hoped and more than I’d expected. And when his hands gripped my waist and pulled me closer, I realized he was the first man I’d ever kissed. The others had only been pretending.
Sturdy arms held me and it was as if he poured the quiet confidence he’d always carried into my own small frame. I felt taller in his embrace and I suddenly realized he was right.
There was nothing little about me.
He finally released me, and I heard his dog whine. The oak trees above us soughed in the breeze that swept from the west. My cheeks were hot when he smoothed the hair away from my face. His mouth reached toward mine again before he deliberately pulled away.
“I’m still going to wonder,” I said.
A slow smile spread across his lips. “Good.”
He shrugged and reached around me to open the door of my car. Suddenly, he changed his mind and flipped me around so he was leaning against the hood and a long arm knocked me off balance so I fell into his chest.
“One of these days … maybe you won’t look away.”
I cocked my head.
“I don’t know. There’s a lot to see in this world.”
He nodded deliberately, and small smile flickered across his face.
One hand rested on my waist, but the other came up to play with a piece of my hair that the wind tossed in his face.
“Are we friends now?”
I could feel his fingers travel across the small of my back, touching me, but never quite holding on like they did when we’d kissed. His brown eyes once again hinted at secrets when he teased.
“Weren’t we always?”