Alison Johnson was out in the front corral exercising one of the few horses at JB Ranch, the ranch belonged to her mother and grandmother, and one day it would be all hers she hoped.
A smile spread across her face as she told the horse to turn, and it did on command without any hesitation. The bond between her and the horse was unmistakable and strong. She couldn’t imagine doing anything but this for the rest of her life. She watched the muscles work beneath the shiny black coat of the mare.
Her concentration on the horse was broken when she heard a truck pull up close to the house. Her mouth about fell open when the lifted sapphire blue super duty two-fifty Ford turned towards the corral and parked, but she stopped herself.
She tried to focus on the horse again but couldn’t help but glance at the truck again when the door opened and closed loudly. She hurriedly averted her gaze back to the mare when she saw the guy came out from behind the truck.
Alison tried her best to keep her focus on the horse, but her mind kept wandering to the guy. Why was he there? Maybe he was lost or something, she had never seen him or the truck around town before and Springs Hill, Kansas was a small town, she would have remembered seeing the truck in a heartbeat.
A shiver ran up her spine when she felt him walk up to the corral and stop. She closed her eyes tightly, she hated being watched. It made her anxiety flare-up, she took a deep breath trying hard to calm her nerves.
Braden Jamenson stopped to watch the very attractive girl work with the horse. He leaned against the wooden fence railings that made up the corral. He had to admit she was pretty good with the horse, she looked so confident, which was very important to have when working with the magnificent animals.
The tension Alison was feeling was too much for her, she called to the horse to stop and turned towards the man. “Can I help you?” she demanded, crossing her arms over her chest tightly.
Braden Jamenson flashed his killer smile, “I’m Braden Jamenson, I’m here for my interview I set up a few days ago.” He held out his hand towards the woman in greeting.
Alison looked at his outstretched hand and hesitated before moving her hand in his to shake it. The minute he wrapped his big, callused hand around hers, she felt like an electric shock flew up through her arm.
She tried to ignore the feeling as she stumbled with her words, “Um, Alison Johnson, but I prefer Ali. You’re looking for my mom, I’ll take you to her.”
Alison was a little confused. Her mom had just hired someone yesterday, why was she hiring someone else? She called Midnight over to her and clipped the lead rope on to her halter. She watched this Braden guy as he opened the gate for her to lead Midnight out.
He smiled at her again as she walked past him. She tripped over her own feet, being flustered.
Braden reached out for her out of instinct to help steady her, he had his hands on her waist, “Are you okay?”
Alison about jumped out of his arms, “I’m fine, thank you.” She straightened, getting her balance back quickly. She moved back from his arms as a light breeze blew her long, dirty blonde hair across her face, she pushed it behind her ear quickly and headed towards the barn with Braden behind her and Midnight.
Braden didn’t know what to think of this woman, the shock he felt through his arm when he took her hand to shake it threw him for a loop. Then the way his body had reacted toward her with his hands on her was a new one for him. Not to mention the smell that flew off of her when the wind blew was intoxicating. It was a lavender and vanilla smell, and it was amazing.
He followed her towards one of the barns. He couldn’t help but look her over, she had a lovely figure.
Ali glanced back at Braden, man her mom knew how to pick them, she wasn’t sure this guy had what it took worse than the other guy. She called out for her mom as she opened the stall to let Midnight in, “Mom?”
“In here,” Jenny called from the office at the back of the barn.
Ali led Braden to the little room at the back of the barn, and there were all kinds of pictures on the walls of her mom, grandma, and herself with all different types of horses. It was their lives work, and she never wanted to give it up no matter what it took. “Mom, a Braden Jamenson, is here for his interview.”
Jenny looked up from the medium-sized metal desk, “Thank you, sweetie, oh your grandma was looking for you earlier, I think she took Dizzy out to see how you are doing with him.”
“Well, I hope he’s coming along nicely.”
“I’m sure you’re doing fine.” Jenny smiled then turned more towards Braden, “Hello.”
Ali turned to walk out of the office, squeezing past Braden to start cleaning out the stalls, she would just have to talk to her grandma when she got back. She let out a sigh. She knew she had so much to still learn from her mom and grandma. This was her passion, and somethings came quicker to her than others. They took in abused and neglected horses then worked with them to find them new homes instead of completely giving up on them.
They also trained horses that were green, difficult, stubborn, scared of certain things, you named it they had worked with about every type of horse there was. They only had eight horses, but there was supposed to be ten more coming soon, which would leave room for only two more horses if needed in the twenty stall barn.
Ali was working on the fifth stall when her mom and the Braden guy came out of the office.
Jenny took Braden over to Ali, “Hey, sweetie, Braden will be starting today, I figured we could get him a jump start today since Mac will be starting tomorrow. If you could start with him, that would be great, and I’ll come to check on you to in a little bit.”
Ali smiled a little un-enthused, she didn’t know if this was a good idea, especially after the way she had reacted just by shaking his hand earlier. She cleared her throat a little as her mom walked away, “Well, I guess I should welcome you, are you sure you’re ready for this kind of challenge?” She teased unsure where it came from, she had to be crazy.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll be fine. I’ve worked with horses for a while now.” He knew the horses were going to be a challenge, that had been why he applied for the job, but he hadn’t expected the boss’s daughter to be a challenge too.
Ali sighed. She would just have to make do the best she could and stay as far away as possible until he left like so many others had.
She took him on a tour of each of the barns starting with the one they were in. “Well, obviously, this is the barn we keep the horses in, and you know where the office is, across from that is the fed room and back behind those two rooms is the tack room.”
She led him in. It was a disaster area, and it was the messiest and most cluttered room they had, she pointed to a bunch of wooden boxes, “That’s where the brushes, curry combs, and hoof picks are.” She headed out to the next barn past the first one, “This is the arena, we work with the horses here when it’s snowing and very cold, I know it’s limited space, but we make do.”
She headed to the last barn, “This is where we keep the hay, feed, and bedding for the stalls, we just bring up what we need when we need it. So do you have any questions?”
“Nope, you haven’t lost me yet.”
“Okay, good.” Ali headed back to the first barn to finish cleaning out the rest of the stalls, “We strip the stalls two to three times a week and then after a horse leaves.”
They walked into the barn, and Ali was surprised when Braden jumped right into cleaning out the stalls.
“You can go find your grandma, I can finish these, just show me where to dump the wheelbarrow.”
Ali showed him the pile, then headed towards her grandma when she saw her coming from one of the trails.
“I was looking for you earlier.” Maggie Bendele said as she trotted Dizzy up to Ali.
“Sorry, I was working with Midnight, so how’d everything go with Dizzy?” Ali started to put her long dirty blonde hair into a ponytail, not sure she wanted to know how the ride went for her grandma.
“He was terrific. You’re ready to do this on your own.” Maggie got down from Dizzy putting her arm around Ali, “You’ve come a long way, and very quickly, I’m so proud of you.” She kissed Ali on the temple.
“Thank you. I never want to let you or Mom down.” Ali took the reins from Maggie, cooled Dizzy down, and headed towards the barn to get him untacked and brushed out. Braden came out of the last stall, and Ali took a deep breath, “Grandma, this is Braden, Mom just hired him, and he apparently wanted to start today.”
“Hello, Braden, pleased to meet you.”
“Please call me Aden, it’s what I prefer, and I’m pleased to meet you too, ma’am.”
“Oh no, I am Maggie, I don’t go for any of that ma’am stuff.”
“Okay, deal.” Aden smiled and went to dump the wheelbarrow.
Maggie smiled at Ali, “I’d say he’s a keeper.”
Ali frowned at her grandma, “What do you mean?”
“Oh nothing, he’s just very polite and a cutie.” Maggie teased.
“What? Don’t tell me the thought never crossed your mind.”
“Grandma!” Ali scolded again as Aden walked up beside them. She was sure her face was bright red. She walked away fast, embarrassed by what Maggie said, she left Dizzy to the two of them. There was no way it was as if her mom and grandma were trying to set her up with someone, anyone actually, and it just wasn’t going to happen.
She had too much on her mind and plate to even come close to thinking about men. She headed back towards the hay barn to take some hay down from the top, so it’d be easier to load up later on when they needed to bring it up to the feed room.
Aden looked at Maggie. “What was that all about?” he cocked an eyebrow a little.
“Oh, just that I was telling her you were a cutie and a keeper.”
“Well, I’d have to say that that didn’t go as planned now, did it?”
“No, it didn’t, but there is still time, she’ll eventually warm up to the idea, I’m sure. I mean, how could she not?”
Aden shrugged his shoulders and headed towards the hay barn after Ali. He hoped she didn’t think that he had something to do with what her grandma had just done.
He walked in just as she was climbing up on a second hay bale to get to the hay she couldn’t reach from the ground and being only five foot three inches, he guessed, it was a long reach from the second hay bale let alone the ground. Aden shook his head as he walked up behind her, “You know I can help, right?”
Ali was startled, she hadn’t even heard Aden walk up behind her, she slipped off the hay bale. She knew the fall was going to hurt with it being concrete. She readied herself for the impact, but it never came, instead a pair of strong arms wrapped around her, pulling her close against a hard muscular body.
She looked up into his eyes, how had he managed to catch her? She grabbed hold of his shirt tightly, waiting for him to drop her, but he didn’t struggle to have her in his arms off the floor. She gazed into his eyes. They were nothing like she had ever seen before, as green as the fresh spring grass. She slowly scanned his face and came down to his mouth, it was only inches away from her full plump lips, and they looked very kissable.
Aden smiled, “Hi.”
She blushed, “Um hi, can you put me down now?”
He slowly straightened her on to her feet, “Now, are you going to let me help you?”
She nodded averting her gaze, she could get lost in those eyes, she didn’t like the weird feeling she got when she had looked into them and then when she came to his mouth, she had no clue how to describe it.
They stacked more hay closer to the ground. Aden wanted to break the awkward silence but didn’t know how at first.
“Hey, what’s the verdict on Dizzy?” He hoped he remembered the horse’s name. He’d look like an idiot if he hadn’t.
She threw a glance at him and went back to moving the bales, “My grandma was very impressed, and she wants me to take on more horses by myself.” The look of hopelessness overtook her, and she sat on a hay bale.
Aden looked at her, then sat down beside her but kept a reasonable distance between them, “You don’t think you’re ready?”
She let out a heavy sigh, “I’m not so sure, it’s going to be weird to do it by myself.”
“You were amazing with the Quarter Horse earlier today, though.”
“Well, I’d hope so, she’s been my pal since before I could walk, that was Midnight, she’s my mom’s horse.”
He pursed his lips a little, trying to think, “But you did great with Dizzy, I’m sure you’ll do fine. Besides, you’ll have your mom, grandma, and me to help you out. All you have to do is ask.” He smiled reassuringly at her.
She smiled back, ignoring the flutter her heart did, “Well at least three people have confidence in me. Come on, let’s take a couple of horses out for some exercise.” She didn’t want to admit it, but she was starting to like this guy. Hopefully, once they began to work together more, she’d become even more comfortable around him, and her senses wouldn’t be sent into overdrive.
After their ride, they got back and finished all the work for the day and fed the horses. When they got done, Ali turned towards Aden, “Thank you for your help today. You did great, and I appreciate everything.”
“No problem, I’ll see you in the morning.” He smiled at her and turned to go to his truck.
Ali leaned against one of the stalls, and Midnight came up and brushed against her shoulder. Ali turned a little and stroked her cheek gently, “What girl you like him?” Midnight nickered, making Ali laugh as her mom and grandma came out of the office.
“What’s so funny?” Jenny asked, coming up and pat Midnight as well.
“Nothing, it just seems Midnight likes the new guy, I guess you picked good with him, but we’ll have to see about the other one. Is he starting tomorrow?”
“Yes, he’ll be here, now let’s go in and start supper.” Jenny smiled at Ali and Maggie.
They all headed in.
Ali cleared her throat as they walked in, “He’s got some good reflexes though, I was moving the hay and about fell when he came in, he caught me though, I was grateful for that.”
“What trying to get involved with the help already?” The male voice came up behind them.
Ali turned around toward her grandpa, Walter. She glared at the old gray-haired man, “So what if I am? It’s none of your business. You’re not my dad.”
“Ali.” Jenny stepped in between her daughter and dad, “Dad, stop it.”
“No Mom, why does he think he can boss me around all the damn time, I’m so tired of it.”
Walter pushed Jenny aside and grabbed Ali by the arm roughly, “Because, I’m not letting you turn into a whore.”
Ali pulled away from Walter, “It’s my life, and if I want to, then I’ll be one, you have no control over me or who I become interested in.”
Walter’s anger flew to boiling mad and slapped Ali hard, knocking her into the counter. “Please, no one could want you, especially when I do have all the say.”
Maggie moved in between Walter and Ali as Jenny went over to her daughter, “You need to leave Walter now, I’m so tired of this, you can go stay at a motel or something, I don’t care where!”
Maggie turned to Ali as Walter stormed out of the house, “And you shouldn’t antagonize him, yes he has no right to hit you, but you know when to watch your mouth.” Maggie put her hand under Ali’s chin, making her look at her. “That’s going to be one nasty bruise.” Maggie walked over to the freezer and grabbed a bag of frozen vegetables. “Here, put those on it.”
Ali looked at Jenny slowly, her mom didn’t really defend her, but she couldn’t expect it, she supposed. She always dug herself into a hole with her grandpa, but he was such a jerk.
Ali just sat there while Maggie and Jenny cooked supper.
Jenny looked at Ali, “Go get your brother, please?”
Ali rolled her eyes a little and headed upstairs, “James, Mom said to come to get you, supper’s ready.”
Her older brother, twenty-five, came out of his bedroom and slammed her against the wall, “Have fun getting Grandpa kicked out? What are you going to do next, get rid of me too? You’re such a bitch.”
He glared at her with his brown eyes his shoulder-length black hair covering one of his eyes. He was so pale in comparison to herself and worshiped the ground Walter walked on. It made her physically ill.
Ali let out a sigh and headed downstairs behind James. She wished they’d just go move in somewhere together and leave them alone.
Supper was so thick with tension you could slice it with a knife and not even make a dent.
Once everyone was done with supper, Ali cleaned up and then headed upstairs to her room to shower. She was glad but felt selfish at the same time that once she got old enough, Jenny gave her the master bedroom with the master bathroom, but it gave her the space she sometimes needed like tonight.
She looked at herself in the mirror, the bruise on her cheek was already a nasty purple, she lifted her shirt a little and where she fell into the counter was really red and bruising too just not as bad as her cheek.
She had been doing good for a little bit with not making Walter angry, but today she just couldn’t help it. He had no right to try to run her life, he wasn’t even a father figure to her like he had been to James, Walter just hated her, and she hated him.
She jumped into the shower, then got into some pj’s and laid down in bed after she was done. She sighed, tomorrow was at least a new day.