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Come A Little Closer


I was sure Cheryl could see it all over my face. The fear and hesitation. No matter what I said or did, I knew I couldn’t hide it.

And it was driving me crazy inside too, I shouldn’t be feeling this way, I was supposed to be acting, it wasn’t real, shouldn’t feel real.

But it did.

And not only did it hurt, it scared me too. What happened the day after only added to my hurt and confusion.

So here I was, wanting to curl up in a little ball on this beautiful rustic orange sofa, looking up at Cheryl, trying to keep my emotions under guard.

“So the car should be here around six. I’ll give Jackson a call before that to make sure he’s ready. It’s going to be super hot outside so do you want to wear one of your dresses or would you rather wear shorts?” Cheryl's voice was kind and lighthearted, and when I didn’t answer her right away, I could see the concern flash across her eyes.

She took a few steps towards me before talking again. “What’s wrong Ara? Are you feeling okay?”

I finally took a quick breath, hoping she wouldn’t hear the tremor in my voice.

“I don’t think I should go Cheryl. I don’t think he wants me there.” I said it, and that’s what was eating me alive, Jackson didn’t want me, it shouldn’t hurt, but it did.

Cheryl frowned at me, “Who doesn’t want you there?” Her head tilted to the side for a few seconds until finally it struck her who I was talking about. “You mean Jackson?” She said this in disbelief. “You think Jackson doesn’t want you there?”

I just nodded my head, trying to avoid looking over to that paneled door, wondering if he was on the other side.

“Uhhh...” Cheryl’s face scrunched up in frustration, she seemed at loss for words, I just took that as more confirmation that I was right.

She stayed quiet for a while longer, half in thought, half studying me, until she finally shook her head, “Ara, Jackson is more than happy have you in the video screening room. I know he’s hard to read sometimes, and he was a bit quiet at the Billy’s concert the other night, but you don’t understand, there are some things, things that make it hard for him to talk...” her voice trailed off.

Now it was her turn to glance at the paneled door. Her words hadn’t made me feel better, they just made me feel worse.

Billy Currington’s concert was a disaster in my eyes. Jackson didn’t say one word to me the entire night, stayed deathly quiet, at least until Billy pulled him onstage with him.

That’s when he came alive. You could see his entire personality change the second he stepped onto that platform. His eyes sparkled, his shoulders straightened, and his smile, there it was, that perfect package again. It threw me, sent my mind spinning out of control. I began to realize that he was in character, up on that stage. And if he was in character now, he probably was always in character up on stage, and around me, nothing had ever been about me, I should’ve known that.

Still, it was quite the sight to see, the crowd went nuts when they found out Jackson was there. Just seeing him on the stage affected me as well. As hard as I tried to control it, my heart started racing and I craned my neck, trying to look over everyone, trying to keep my eyes on him.

He stood next to Billy and played his guitar to all of Billy’s tunes. He made it look so easy, and every time he flashed the audience his smile, you could hear all the women shrieking. So with every minute that passed, and every scream I heard, I just kept sinking deeper and deeper into myself. I left with Cheryl and Dustin that night, Jackson stayed behind, with Billy.

Cheryl gave out a sigh, throwing tiny glances my way, her eyes almost puzzled, finally she took another step towards me.

“Please trust me, he really is great. You just have to get to know him a little bit.” She seemed to give up then, of trying to convince me.

My brain was too much of a mess to even comprehend what she was saying. I didn’t think Jackson wanted me anywhere near him anymore, he’d gotten what he needed out of me, I wasn’t special anymore, I was like all the others, I gave up arguing with Cheryl though, you see, deep down inside I really wanted to see him again. I spent the entire day alone yesterday. Jackson was in a meeting, some kind of team meeting, with his writers or something. Cheryl left me a message on my phone, and that was pretty much it, I was alone, and it nearly drove me insane to be so close to him, yet so far away.

I finally lifted my head and met Cheryl’s eyes. Did it really matter what I wore? Jackson probably wouldn’t look at me anyways.

“You can pick, if you really think he wants me there, whatever you pick is fine with me.” I half shrugged, wondering how I was going to control my feelings for the rest of the night.

Cheryl seemed to brighten at my words, she smiled at me and waved me up from the sofa. “Okay good. Come on, let’s go look in your closet. I think a dress will be best. Something like you wore that morning when we filmed the video. You looked real good out there that day, I mean you made everything look real.”


I was pacing again, across my suite, my boots pressing deep into the fibers of the white carpet.

I don’t know how I made it through these last few days without seeing or talking to Ara, how I found the restraint not to knock at her door each night. I could tell at Billy’s concert something was bothering her. Her eyes held a certain sadness to them and there was only two things I could think of that might have caused that sadness, the first one was my kiss, the second one, I kept pushing that one out of my mind, not even wanting to consider it.

When Cheryl brought Ara down to our car, I tried to greet her with a warm smile, I was still wrapped up in that amazing memory of her kiss, but she was avoiding my eyes at all cost. She kept her gaze tightly on Cheryl and Dustin, briefly acknowledging my presence with a small nod of her head.

Without trying to be to obvious, I studied her quietly on the ride to Billy’s concert. I half hoped that she was wrapped up in the memory of our kiss, but she looked so uneasy, and just so sad. I tried to talk myself out taking the blame for her sadness, telling myself that it wasn’t me, wasn’t our kiss that was making her act this way, but that didn’t make me feel any better, because if it wasn’t me, then that meant it was him, that she was feeling homesick, and it was like a blow to my gut when the thought flashed through my mind that she might be missing her husband.

I wanted to wipe that thought from my head, and hers too if that’s what she was thinking.

The rest of the night didn’t go any better. Nothing I did, or tried to do, put the light back in her eyes, or make her smile. I was actually relieved when Billy called me out, invited me to share the stage with him. I thought for sure that would make her brighten up. I tried to catch her eye and smile at her, but she seemed to get lost in the bodies that were crowding the side of the stage, I never got to make eye contact with her. By the time Billy’s concert was over, I felt like a deflated balloon, and she was already gone, had left with Cheryl, and I spent the rest of my night wallowing in my own misery.

When Cheryl told me the following morning that I wouldn’t be seeing Ara at all, that I had a team meeting with my writers most of the morning, and a press conference that evening, I was slightly pissed at her, half complaining about her booking me for the entire day without so much of a lunch break. Cheryl just narrowed her eyes at me and told me to shut it, this certainly wasn’t the first time my days were completely filled, and I better remember that these meetings had been planned months ago and there was no way to reschedule them.

I finally laid off of her, knowing she was right. It was the slowest day that I could remember, I couldn’t even send Cheryl over to Ara to keep her company as Cheryl herself had to be at these meetings with me. By the time I made it back to my suite it was nearly one am, and I knew there was no way Ara would be awake then. It still took all my willpower not to knock at her door.

My pacing eventually slowed, and I found myself facing that paneled door once more.

I stared at it, and stared at it some more, studying the tiny lines and grooves that ran across it, looking for some kind of strength, or sign, anything that would tell me it was okay to knock, my brain battled furiously with my heart.

So what if she was missing her husband, so what if she was sad and homesick, she was here now, and so was I, and I should be doing everything in my power to make her want to stay.

I think I surprised myself, not actually believing I was raising my hand and hearing four short raps against that door...

She didn’t answer it right away, the silence and the seconds ticked by loudly. I was just about to knock again, when the door suddenly swung open.

I could only focus on her eyes, I mean they hypnotized me, drew me in like a moth to flame. They were large and brown, and just so sincere. Those eyes simply cried out to mine, and I wanted to fall down to my knees and beg her to forgive me, if it was that inexcusable kiss, or homesickness, or anything that might be bothering her, I wanted it gone.

“I...I...” I think I was stuttering, hell, I know I was stuttering. Every time I laid eyes on this woman I was a faltering mess. No wonder she wanted nothing to do with me.

“Uh...hi.” Her expression didn’t change, there wasn’t a smile either, but just hearing her voice, that sweet angelic voice, it was enough of a kick in the ass I needed.

“ are you this morning? I’m sorry I missed you yesterday, I hope Cheryl explained my absence, and how sorry I was not being able to spend time with you.”

Her eyes grew a bit wider at my words, they seemed to be searching my own for a second, then shot down to the floor. “That’s okay. Cheryl already stopped by, helped me get ready for today. She told me, you had meetings...uh...a lot of meetings.”

A small piece of her hair fell loose over her shoulder at her words and I finally took a second to take her in. She stood before me as beautiful as a bluebonnet, this pretty light blue dress showing off her silky shoulders and perfect legs. There was a dark blue sash tied around her waist, the ends of the bow just hanging by her hip, teasing me, my fingers wanted to grab at those ends in the worst way, just untie her, like a present.

“I’m sorry. Sometimes, things don’t always go my way.” I was being honest, still distracted by her beauty, “I would have rather cancelled those meetings, but I’ve learned over time, I have to do what’s expected of me.”

I didn’t know if I was making any sense to her, or even if she was listening, her head was still down, seemingly deep in thought. Finally, she tilted it to the side and then lifted her eyes to mine. There was no expression on her face, no emotion portrayed, I just kept looking into her eyes, wishing I could pull her a little closer to me, let all the other emotions wash away from us so that it would be just us two, standing there.

“You don’t have to apologize to me,” she was finally talking, picking her hand up slowly, her eyes never leaving my face, “I’m the last person you should apologize to.” I cocked my head to the side at her words, she was struggling with something.

“You’re so...” she kept right on starring at me. ”Perfect,” She almost frowned, “Why are you so perfect?” her last words were a whisper, but I heard them clearly.

Those weren’t words of praise, she wasn’t putting me down either, her tone was clear, it was just a question, just confusion, she had some sort of puzzle in her mind that she was trying to sort out. If only she knew the mess that I held in mine.

“It’s something everyone expects me to be, something I have to be.” I half shrugged at her. How could I even begin to explain something to her what I couldn’t even explain to myself.

“Well I’m not perfect,” she said with conviction, “and I don’t expect you to be either, you don’t have to be perfect, not with me.”

Her words sounded like an apology, a peace offering.

“Deal?” she held out her hand to me. I could only blink my eyes at her, still wrapped up in some sort of confused mess. There was no time to think about it, ask any more questions. Without realizing it, my hand was stretching out to hers, I could feel her soft fingers wrapping around mine, the palm of her hand trembling ever so slightly. It wasn’t until she smiled at me that I found my voice,

"Deal, Miss Ara.”


My hands were shaking so hard.

When I heard that knocking coming from the paneled door my first instinct was that it had to be Cheryl, no way Jackson would knock at that door, that’s the only reason why I pulled it open.

Seeing Jackson’s face standing on the other end sent a shock wave through me, it stunned me at first, and then hearing his voice, and that accent, my brain started racing, I didn’t want to stand there like a fool. He was talking, it sounded like stuttering almost, but the chaos in my mind didn’t let me focus on that. I said the first words that came to my head.

“Oh hi...” I was still gripped with fear, it didn’t lessen any when I heard him trying to explain his absence yesterday, explain himself. The look in his eyes troubled me. My heart wanted to believe he was sincere, my brain told me otherwise.

I really just wanted things to go back to the way they were before, before his closeness made everything so hard. I wanted him to know I was sorry, and that I wouldn’t be acting like a starstruck teenager anymore. It would be professional, all of it.

So when I held out my hand to his, offering him my apology, hoping he would understand what it meant, and take it, the relief I felt when he accepted was enough to give me the courage to move on.

I tried to ignore the prickly sensation running through my spine at his touch, I tried to ignore his beautiful smile, that darn sexy accent.

I just smiled back at him, hoping my own smile assured him that things were back to normal, back under control.

The screening room looked exactly like a movie theater, just on a smaller scale.

A big wall sized screen graced one end, and there were at least ten rows of chairs.

There were already people sitting there chatting, some of the faces I recognized from the video shoot, others I had never seen before.

I could see Cheryl sitting with Dustin and Brett, the three of them laughing and talking with a man I didn’t know.

I walked slightly behind Jackson who was greeted with warm hellos from everyone around him. Our awkward conversation from earlier now behind us, Jackson seemed much more at ease. He introduced me to more people than I could ever remember, and while they were all gracious and welcoming, their eye’s all held the same question, “Who is this girl, and why is she here?”

“Let’s sit down here Ara. Jared has pieced together a template of sorts with different clips of our shoot, this is just the first draft, it should give us a good idea the direction our video will take.” He waved his hand in front of the seat he wanted me to sit in, still smiling and nodding at the various men and women making their way to the seats around us.

I just smiled at him and sat down quickly, feeling a little out of place. Cheryl caught my eye, she was sitting two rows down from us, and she waved at me brightly, giving me a thumbs up sign.

Jared was the only one who wasn’t sitting around us, he was sitting up out in the back with the film projector guy, holding a microphone.

“Allrighty folks, this is what we have so far. I’m not going to lead you through it, I more interested in the feelings it evokes when you watch it for the first time. We’ll talk about that after. Go ahead and start it.”

I sat up a little straighter in my chair as the lights dimmed. Everything was dark for a few seconds and the chattering in the room faded away. The first bursts of light made the screen a bold white, and then, off in the distance you could barely make it out, it was us.

Me and Jackson.

It’s hard to describe, imagine those old black and white films, the ones where it looks like the screen is cracking and flickering, and the reels keep replaying the same still over and over, well that’s how it started.

It completely captured my interest from the first shot of light I saw. There was no sound, no music, just images, and I tried to to do what Jared asked, tried to just tune into my feelings.

I was just deeply, hopelessly attracted to him, you could see it all over my face. From the moment I saw myself of screen right up until the very end, that’s all I could see, and I’m sure everyone else in this room could too.

My heart raced through the entire thing, every movement, every smile, and there it was, splashed across the screen near the end when Jackson was picking me up and swinging me around, my heart leaped to my throat, and I was dying to see our kiss, to focus on Jackson’s face right before he kissed me, wondering if I was going to see affection or contempt flash through his eyes.

Jackson sat very still, his attention completely focused on the scenes before him. It was hard not to ponder what might be going through his mind, if he anticipated our kiss scene as much as I did. I never turned my head to look at him, but kept stealing these little sideways glances through the corner of my eye.

I kept trying to concentrate on the film, acutely aware of Jackson’s presence at the same time. His sudden movements completely distracted me from the final scenes near the end. He shifted in his seat, his arm moving lazily from his lap and let the armrest support his hand. That would have been fine except that my arm and hand were already there. It was all my heart needed at the moment, the sudden warm feeling of his skin brushing against mine, the weight of his palm and fingers slightly overlapping my own fingers. My eyes lost focus of the screen and everything became one big blur.

He didn’t move his hand, and maybe from a third person’s viewpoint it would have looked completely innocent and pure, but it sent waves and waves of emotion coursing through me, making me suck in my breath.

It took everything I had not to show any emotion, not to jerk my hand away. It took every ounce of courage to keep my eyes on that screen, my heart pounding loudly in my own ears, I nearly doubled over with emotion when I finally saw it up there, larger than life, Jackson kissing me.


I wanted to hug Jared, that’s how much I loved the video. He did a damned good job on it. He created a love story like no other, he made it look sophisticated and artful, thundering with emotion, capturing a setting that portrayed beauty and joy, and most of all, love.

And she looked gorgeous up there, sweet and precious, yet raging with sass and fire at the same time. It created a lump in my throat the second I saw her on the big screen, it was exactly what I wanted.

I was so glad to be sharing this with her, to be able to create this with her. I walked into this screening room feeling twelve feet tall, wanting to show her off, introducing her to everyone who came up to me.

I also knew, just as soon as those lights dimmed, I wanted her close to me. It was all I could do, not to throw my arm around those pretty shoulders, or wrap my hand around hers, anything that would let me pretend she was mine.

I savored watching her on screen, the same way I savored having her sit next to me. I knew there were only a few days left before I had to let her get on that plane and leave, and when she left, all I wanted was for her to want to come back, to keep coming back to me.

Seeing her leap into my arms laughing sent me spinning out of control, I wanted to feel her like that again, her warmth, her happiness, so mostly out of instinct, I stretched out my arm, resting it against hers, feeling the softness of her skin, letting my hand cover hers ever so slightly. I wanted this to be private, just between me and her, while everyone watched us pretend to fall in love on the big screen, this was going to be just ours.

She didn’t pull her hand away, she didn’t move, or turn her head towards me, or shift in her seat, she kept her eyes glued to the screen as I let the palm of my hand cover her fingers.

And finally, I was kissing her, up on that screen, and you could hear everyone in the room let out their breath, whispering their heartfelt approval to the ending of the video.

That’s when I turned my head to her.

And she was looking back at me, her eyes full and dark, her mouth open just a hint.

That fire was raging in me, just the same way it had been during the video shoot, it was coursing through me, jumbling my mind, taking over my heart. I didn’t tear my eyes away from hers, all I could do was squeeze her hand, trying to let her know how much she meant to me, how much I needed her, how badly I wanted more.

When the lights finally came back on everyone burst into applause, turning in their seats to face me and shake my hand. I was still trying to get myself under control, smiling back at everyone, picking up my hand in thanks. Ara was smiling, her cheeks a bright pink, she looked embarrassed at all the attention.

Jared came bounding down the steps, the look in his eyes one of a proud papa. “So, what does everyone think? Son?” he turned to me first, still enjoying the reaction from those around us.

“I think you deserve an Oscar, Jared.” I winked at him, letting him know how pleased I was.

“Damn! You hit the jackpot with that one.” Dustin was pounding him on the back, nodding his head in approval.

“It was good. Real good. Once the music is attached to it, we’re all going to have to buy new suits cause this one’s gonna rake in the awards.” Brett turned and looked over at Ara, his smile bright, “And we have you to thank Miss Ara, cause Jack can’t act worth a darn...”

I didn’t want to leave her.

We’d walked from the car up to our suites relaxed and full from the dinner Jared had dragged us all to after the screening. They couldn’t stop talking about it, how good it was, how everyone was going to love it, how it was going to sweep the awards for sure.

Cheryl told us the second she had it complete in her hands it would get leaked out to GAC and CMT.

Dustin joked he’d better clean off his fireplace mantle for the next award he was sure he was going to get.

Jared was already breathing down my neck, wanting to know what song I was planning of releasing next so that he could start sketching out the next video.

I just grinned at all of them, and kept trying to catch Ara’s eye. Whenever she looked at me I would smile and wink at her, try to let her know how much they all loved her, how great she was. And I loved seeing her blush every time.

So when it was finally just us two, walking towards her door, I didn’t want to leave her.

“So this is what it’s like.” she watched me as I pushed open her door for her.

“What it’s like?” I watched her walk pass her door, trying to figure out a way to invite myself in. I didn’t have to, she gestured me to follow her with a wave of her hand.

“To be famous.” she smiled, slipping out of her heels and settling down like a too small angel on that big sofa, tucking her feet underneath her.

Her words made me chuckle and I just shrugged at her, shoving my hands in my jeans, not sure if I should sit down next to her or not.

“Can I ask you something?” she was still smiling but her words sent this little shiver of anticipation through me, “Do you mind? If we talk a little bit?”

“Of course not.” I made my way over to reclining chair closest to her and sat down, “You can ask me anything.”

“Cheryl says she thinks the video will get released by next week, you think that’s true?”

I’m not sure what Ara was hinting at but I answered her as honest as I could, “Yes, Cheryl is usually right about things like that. You’ll probably see yourself on TV next week.”

Ara nodded quietly, her eyes glancing around the room before finally resting on mine, “And do do you tell your wife? About the videos I mean...”

Her words left me speechless, stunned and speechless.

I guess she mistook my shock for misunderstanding so she kept trying to explain herself.

“I mean, does she ever mind...the they look? I’m asking because...uhh...I’m going to have to tell”

And then I understood, what she was getting at. What her dilemma was. I tried not to let it anger me, her question was truly sincere.

“Layla understands completely why every song needs a good video. She understands the importance of that.” I was trying to keep my voice neutral, and still friendly.

“She never gets...uh...mad?”

“No she doesn’t, she knows it’s not, that we’re not...” I didn’t even want to say it, couldn’t say it.

But Ara breathed a sigh of relief at my words, “It’s just acting. That’s what I’m telling Clint, it’s just acting.”

“Do you think he’ll be angry?” my sudden curiosity got the better of me, I needed to know.

“Uh...I don’t think so. I mean he’s obviously seen music videos before, he knows how a lot of them go. I think he’ll just be, surprised that’s all.” Her voice held doubt, it comforted and alarmed me at the same time.

“As long as he’s not angry. As for the element of surprise, I can have Cheryl send you the video before it gets released, that way, the two of you can watch it privately.” Just like we did, I thought.

“That would be nice. Thank you. I think that would make it easier, for him, I mean.”

I was starting to see red. I did not want to make anything easier for this man or any other man in Ara’s life. What I really wanted was to change the subject.

“Well there shouldn’t be any problems with the next one.” I offered matter of factly.

“The next one? You mean you already know?”

“Sure do.” I smiled at her, loving the way her eyes would grow wide with awe.

“Well what’s it about? Do I get to be in this one too?”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” I teased, trying to make her forget him, “The first one is serious, captures the heart. The second one, is to make them laugh.”

“Laugh?” Her eyes grew even wider, tinged with suspicion, “Should I be worried?”

“Only if wearing coveralls and holding a pitchfork worries you Miss Ara.” I tried not to chuckle, but she saw right through me, picking up one of the throw pillows next to her on the sofa and flinging it at me.

“Jackson better not!” her voiced cracked with merriment, her eyes bright once again.

But it was the sound of her saying my got me each and every time, sent my country heart leaping to my throat. “Are you saying no to the coveralls? Or just the pitchfork?” I kept trying to joke, but all I really wanted to do was jump up from my chair and pull her in my arms...


These were the times that I was pretty sure I was seeing the real Jackson. The man Jackson, not the country star. His eyes were so alive, his smile so big, and just the way he chuckled at me, so real.

He threw his hands up to block the pillow from landing on his head, it bounced of one of those broad shoulders and plopped over the armrest to the floor.

“I’m saying no to both!” I giggled, reaching for the second pillow to throw. “There has to be something better than coveralls, how about a pretty red dress? And instead of a pitchfork, I should be holding a lasso, and lassoing you!”

Jackson laughed some more, this time catching the second pillow mid flight and tossing it back to me much more gently than I was throwing it to him.

“Lassoing me ehh pretty lady. Do you think I just let any woman lasso me?”

If I wasn’t trying to get out of the pillow’s way I would think he was flirting with me again. “I think I would be good at it too!” I declared, chucking the pillow once again in his direction.

“That’s without question.” He said matter of factly, sending the pillow back flying near my ear.

My brain suddenly went on high alert, but the tossing of the pillow was making it easy for me to keep playing this game, I actually wanted to keep doing it, to hear him say those things to me. “I’m sure you’re not hard to catch at all.” I teased, letting my words hide behind the flying pillow.

Only this time he caught it, and didn’t send it back. “Once you catch it, it’s for keeps, you don’t let it go.”

Now there was nothing for me to hide behind, and he was watching me, holding onto that pillow, watching me.

“Ever?” I cocked my head to the side.

“Not ever.” He shook his head, “Let me know when you’re ready for a lesson.”

This time when he tossed the pillow I didn’t even attempt to catch it, and it landed in my lap.

“You’ll be the teacher? You know how to do this?” I was sure we weren’t talking about lassoing anymore, I was still dying to know his answer.

“I’ve never taught anyone how to do it, you’d be the first.” And even though I know I shouldn’t be, I was extremely excited to hear those words.

“Well then, if we want this next video to look good, you’d better start those lessons Mr. Stone.”

“My calender’s clear tomorrow.” his voice was so silky smooth again, how I missed hearing that.

“Tomorrow?” I clutched the pillow to my body not wanting him to know how much his words affected me. “You mean here?”

“Tomorrow,” he said, “This is Texas, after all...”


I was looking forward to this morning all night long. I wasn’t hard to find the perfect place to take her to. I wanted this to be fun for her, I didn’t want her sweltering out in the hot sun, so this place would be the spot.

“Oh wow, it’s so pretty!” Ara was more than animated looking out the window as our car drove up the long driveways of Don Strange Ranch.

“It’s a great place.” I watched her expressions change with a broad smile, “This is where my buddy Blake and Miranda got married.”

“What? On my God! Really? They got married here?” Now she was bouncing in her seat, taking in the scenery with new eyes.

“They sure did. And it was a blast. The music, the food, and you could literally swim in all the whiskey that was available.” I chuckled.

“Were you here? Did you come?” Now she turned to me, leaning closer, still full of excitement.

“Yes Ma’am, I was here. Watched Blake drink more than any normal man should.” I joked.

“Oh wow!” Then she wrinkled her nose at me, “Do you drink? I don’t drink, it doesn’t settle well with me. I once took a sip...I mean this teeny tiny sip of Jolene’s beer and I was sooo sick. Yuck! It was awful. Never again.”

I think I just starred at her with my mouth open for a few seconds. She even stopped bouncing around and gave me this worried look, “That was the wrong thing to say wasn’t it? You probably love drinking. I’m sorry I said that.”

“’s not it at all...” I was still just looking at her, still reeling from the shock that this incredible woman before me didn’t drink, she was...just like me.

“Of course you drink, you even have a song about drinking. I’m sorry, I just forgot. Forget I said anything, so, what’s your favorite drink?” she was trying to soothe things over but all I wanted to do is hug her.

“Ara. It’s okay, perfectly okay.” We were already pulling up to the large red wood ranch, “I know us country boys have a reputation for loving our alcohol, but for me, that’s all it is, just a reputation. I don’t actually drink the stuff. I’m not fond of it either, but that’ll be our little secret okay?”

My words made her completely immobile, and she blinked at me as she was processing all this information.

“You don’t like it either?” She tilted her head to the side.

“Not one bit. The whole singing and drinking thing, that’s just part of the act.”

“I can’t imagine. I would’ve never guessed.”

“That’s Cheryl, doing her job. No one ever guesses.” I said with a wink.

Ara leaned back into her seat, still watching me, she was smiling now though, and her tone was back to playful, “What else don’t I know about you Jackson Stone?”

But the driver was already opening our door to let us out.

“First thing you need to know. No one calls it a lasso, this is a rope.” I handed her the stiff nylon rope with a smile.

“A rope?” she took if from my hands letting her fingers graze along all the little fibers.

“And when you catch something, you are roping, not lassoing, the only people who use the words lasso and lassoing are the city folks.” I chuckled at her, watching her pretend to be offended.

“I’m not a city girl.” Her eyes shot to mine briefly and then back down to her hands.

“I know that.” I watched her, “I knew that the second I laid eyes on you.”

“Really?” There was just a hint of playful sarcasm in her tone, “How did you know?”

“You knew all the words to my songs.” And I wasn’t joking, “I saw you singing them, I knew no way a city girl would know the words to any of my songs.”

That threw her off guard for a second, she didn’t seem sure what to say, but then she smiled at me. “I don’t even like the city, it’s so big and noisy.”

“See...” I confirmed, “Small town girl at heart, doesn’t like the city, doesn’t drink, teaches small children, the perfect girl standing right here in front of me.” I spread my hands out around me.

Ara just giggled at me, turning the rope over in her hands, sliding her fingers across it one last time. She finally looked straight into my eyes, shaking the rope in her hands a little bit, “So how do I”

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