I’d never felt so helpless in my life as Mom wheeled me out to our truck. The doctor had said I wouldn’t be able to ride again for months. I knew the rodeo would be a bad idea. Although, Teddy’s guilty expression and heart-felt apology all but made up for my lackluster performance. Actually, lackluster is the wrong word. Disastrous is closer to the truth. Zander’s feet had slid under him. I was anxious to see my gelding. I vaguely remembered Blizzard saying something about him looking all right when we are the way to the hospital, but I’m pretty sure they’d drugged me up and I couldn’t remember clearly. And as if things couldn’t get worse, Mom had agreed to let Josiah come to the ranch and help out for a while. No one listened to me arguing and then the jerk picked me up and put me in the truck like I was an infant. Okay, so maybe that isn’t the way you’d hold an infant, but I’m certainly not going to give him the satisfaction of knowing I was impressed by his strength. He picked me up and got me in my seat like I didn’t weigh anything at all, and I’m not exactly small.
I glared at him and tried not to laugh as his dad got after him for nearly calling me a name. His pathetic fill-in of, “Angel,” wasn’t lost on me. I knew exactly what it is he wanted to say and maybe I was being a bit stubborn. But it was nice to have someone else getting after Josiah for his potty-mouth.
Over the next few weeks, Josiah came each morning to work on Starwood. He never complained, though we argued pretty regularly about how things got done. Mostly I did it to annoy him, and it worked every time. But I have to admit, he was a great hand to have around. He took care of the chores I gave him plus extras. He even charmed Mom with new rosebushes out by the ranch sign. I was trying not to let this newfound thoughtfulness get to me. I knew he didn’t have to be at Starwood and was losing valuable time at his own ranch. I also knew he was trying his best to earn my respect and trust. After a while, I started to think maybe we could make a new go of it. What had happened was years ago and he did seem to genuinely care about my well-being and happiness. One day he came to the ranch in a sedan and I knew what that meant. “Taking me to my physical therapy, huh?” I asked, trying to sound less excited than I felt.
“Yep.” He led me to the car and opened my door for me before setting my crutches in the backseat.
We drove silently into town. Josiah left the radio off, and I honestly didn’t mind. Blizzard is sweet, but she’s also almost constantly talking. Occasionally it’s nice to have a few moments of quiet. When we arrived at the clinic, he asked, “Do you want me to go in with you?”
“Nah, I can make it on my own.”
“What time should I come pick you up?”
“Um…” I had no idea. I’d never done physical therapy before and had no clue what to expect.
Josiah chuckled and got out of the car. He opened my door and steadied me as I got my crutches situated. Then he led me into the building, holding each door we passed.
“If you lay that chivalry on any thicker, your armor will start showing,” I teased.
“Who says this knight wears armor?” he countered with a grin.
I couldn’t help but laugh as we walked into the office. Josiah asked the receptionist how long the appointment would last and then came back to the chair I was waiting in. “Going to stick around?”
He shook his head. “You’re in for a long day, Lettie. I’ll be back in time to take you to lunch.”
When he came back, I hurt everywhere. Muscles I didn’t know I had screamed at me and I wanted nothing more than to crawl into a hole and die. He helped me as I gingerly walked to the car, not even willing to attempt teasing him for babying me. I felt like a baby. As he started the car he asked, “Hungry?”
“Miserable,” I replied.
“Well, a full stomach might help.” He drove down the road to a small burger joint and helped me out of the car. I was suddenly glad my physical therapy sessions weren’t in Pine Springs. I couldn’t bear the idea of Amelia and the rest of the local gossips seeing Josiah and I together. They’d have a field day.
“So, Miss Scarlett,” Josiah drawled as we sat in a vibrant orange booth, “where do we start this conversation?”
“The one where you admit that maybe we have a chance after all.”
I looked away from him. “Do we have to talk about this now? I feel like my bones are on fire and we won’t even discuss the rest of me.”
“Why not? The rest of you is pretty cute.”
I glared at him, or at least tried to. It came out more like a smirk though.
“I see. Well, in that case, maybe something to sweeten the deal a bit.” He pulled a wrapped box from I don’t even know where. I swear it hadn’t been in the car. But then, Josiah was the master of hiding things he didn’t want seen.
“What is this?”
I rolled my eyes and pulled at the paper. Soon a bay model horse was on the table with a card. I quirked an eyebrow at Josiah before opening the card and beginning to read.
Dear Lettie, My name is Bear. I’m stubborn, sometimes stupid, but mostly charming. I’m gorgeous and I know it, so sometimes I come off as cocky. But I’m a real hard worker and I’m as good a friend as anyone could ask for. Would you let me into your heart?
I looked up at Josiah. “Bear?”
He shrugged. “Seemed fitting. Remind you of anyone?”
“Just a cowboy I know,” I replied. “I think I know the perfect place for Bear.”
“Not telling,” I said with a grin.
Soon we were too busy eating to talk. After finishing our meal, Josiah ordered ice cream for us. At first he suggested walking around with it and I glared at him, this time in earnest. “Oh, I guess it would be hard to eat your ice cream and hold your crutches at the same time.”
“If you promise not to dribble ice cream on the seats, we can eat in the car.”
“Or, there’s a park bench over there,” I said, pointing. “We can eat there and then you don’t have to worry about making a mess in your rental.” He carried the ice cream as we walked to the bench. It was a hot day, but not overly so. A gentle breeze tickled the trees around us. We sat with our ice cream, just talking and laughing like friends do. You know, as irritating as it can be, Josiah’s pretty persistent.
“What are you thinking about?”
“How stubborn you are.”
He laughed. “Really? This coming from you?”
I shrugged. “Mm-hmm.”
We were quiet for a long while, lost in our thoughts. “Well, I guess we should probably head home before your mother thinks I kidnapped you.”
“With how she’s behaved recently, I don’t think she’d mind.”
“What makes you say that?” Josiah asked, turning to look at me.
I didn’t answer. I wasn’t about to admit to him that I knew more about my mother’s schemes than she thought. Partially, she wasn’t exactly being subtle about it. But mostly, Blizzard had talked to me a couple times about things Mom had told her and wanting to know why I had never told her. I guess it hadn’t been fair of me to block her out, but she had been so young at the time and so hurt already, I didn’t feel like I could shoulder her with my heartbreak. In smoothing her ruffled feathers, I realized she wasn’t as young anymore. My baby sister was becoming a young lady. What did that make me? “Shall we go?” I asked when Josiah continued to look at me.
“Yeah, guess so.” He helped me to my feet and held on to my arms for a moment. “You’ve got a little ice cream just here,” he said, pointing near his own mouth.
I stuck my tongue out to get it. “Did I get it?”
He shook his head and then without warning kissed the corner of my mouth. Heat seared my lips and rushed into my cheeks from the brief contact. “Got it,” he said, his voice low.
Before I could rethink what I was doing, I leaned forward and kissed him. I’d forgotten how right it felt to be in Josiah’s arms, how safe he made me feel. When he pulled back and looked at me, I smiled. “Thanks.”