by Kelly F. Barr
Lily Stanton passed through the gate with her friends. A large oval-shaped arena sat before them. On the far left were chutes, cattle, horses, and cowboys.
They passed a large group of cowboys. Her friends flirted. Lily tried to pass unnoticed but a cowboy on her right tipped his hat and smiled at her. She offered a small, tight smile and a slight nod of her head.
The heat of his gaze on her back followed her until she turned the next curve.
Lily and her friends sat on the middle level of the bleachers. She watched the chute area, busy with cowboys preparing for events. There he was—the cowboy who’d tipped his hat to her, straddling the top fence rail, searching the crowd. His eyes met hers. She couldn’t look away. He was strikingly handsome—tanned, weather-worn skin and dark waves of hair peeked from beneath his hat.
During the rodeo Lily was on the edge of her seat every time that cowboy was in the arena. She gasped and put a hand over her mouth each time he fell from an animal, and she whispered a prayer for his safety.
He won first place in bull riding and calf roping and second place in the bucking bronco competition and in steer wrestling.
She and her friends rose from the bleachers and headed toward the exit. As they drew near the cowboys, the same one stopped Lily. “I hope you enjoyed the rodeo, miss.”
“It was very exciting. Congratulations on your winnings. You’re quite talented.” Lily smiled and turned to walk away.
“Would you like to go grab something to eat?”
She turned and met his gaze. “Thank you, but I don’t think so.” She turned and walked away.
Lily waited at the car for her friends. She knew the cowboy would be gone in a couple days, otherwise she’d be tempted to fall in love with him, but she didn’t want to start something he couldn’t finish, leaving her with a broken heart. Those old “love ’em and leave ’em” country songs had some truth to them. He’d probably left a girl with a broken heart in every town. She wasn’t going to be one of them. She wanted a love that would last forever.
When her friends arrived at the car, Lily stood alone in a nearly empty parking lot. Her friends
told her they’d talked with several cowboys and would be meeting them later.
They stopped for a bite to eat at a large restaurant with a western motif. A waitress took their drink orders and returned a few minutes later with their drinks.
A large group of cowboys entered the restaurant, and the waitress became distracted and left without getting their food orders.
The cowboys were led to a long table in the center of the room.
Lily’s heart skipped a beat at the sight of the cowboy she’d spoken to. His eyes met hers and he smiled.
The waitress finally returned for their food orders, and as she left their table, Lily noticed the cowboy rise and stride to the left side of the room where there was a jukebox and a dance floor. He put money in the jukebox and pushed some buttons. A western song began to play, and the cowboy approached her table. He stopped next to her chair and looked down at her. “May I have this dance?”
Her breath caught in her throat. She couldn’t speak, but she took his hand, rose from her seat, and he led her to the dance floor.
After the first song, a slower song began, and the cowboy pulled her into his arms.
“You live around here?” His gritty voice caused goose-flesh to prickle her skin.
“Yes … but you don’t.”
“No, I’m from Wyoming. “What’s your name?”
“Lily Stanton, and you’re Jack Dawson.”
He grinned. “I reckon it was announced often today.”
She smiled. “How long will you be in town?”
“We pull out early Monday morning.”
The music and dance stopped, but Jack didn’t release her. “The rodeo season ends at the end of October. Can I come back and see you then?”
“That’s four and a half months from now.”
He nodded. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. There’s something about you—drawing me to you. I don’t know what it is, but I’d like time to get to know you and find out.”
“I don’t have any plans to leave Ohio, but you’re a rodeo cowboy. You never stay in one place for long … and I … don’t want my heart broken.”
“I don’t plan on breaking your heart. You know, rodeo cowboys wear out and have to quit the circuit eventually.”
She searched his face. “You’re young. You have lots of rodeo years left.”
He looked into her eyes. “There are some things more important than the rodeo.”
“Rodeo is in your blood, isn’t it?”
“Maybe, but you could be in my heart.” He took her hand and placed it on his chest.
Lily felt his heart beat beneath her fingers. Could he be her “forever love”?
“Will you give me your number and address … Lily?” With each word, he lowered his head
closer to hers until their lips were nearly touching.
His breath caressed her lips. Her heart pounded in her chest. She was certain he could hear it.
“Yes.” She whispered.
His lips pressed against hers. His soft kiss grew firmer. He tasted of tobacco and peppermint. Lily’s senses were reeling. She slid her hands down his arms—arms that bulged and curved beneath her fingers. She took a step backward. Jack, still clasping her hand escorted her back to her table.
Lily picked up her purse, pulled out a notepad and pen, and wrote her address and phone number. She folded the paper in half and slipped it into his hand.
“Spend time with me after the rodeo tomorrow and Sunday.”
After a brief pause, Lily said, “I’d love to.”