"I am never wearing overalls again!" I declared vehemently, slamming my hand down on the table. "As god as my witness, I will go, do my job and then get the hell out before I end up with mud on my Jimmy Choos. I took the girl out of the country and the country out of the girl, and I am not going back!" I punctuated my little speech with a raised glass, and the girls raise their fists in solidarity.
"Just make sure to clean the hay out of your braids before your date," Dayna smiled. "I'm holding you
to this Mo. I think you're going to like him."
"Uggggh," I groaned. "Hopefully I won't be so desperate when I get back from Heath County that I throw myself at the first thing that doesn't smell like cows." I nodded as our entrees were placed in front of us. "I need to go do my job and hurry back here to the real world."
Chanel raised her fork. "We'll make sure to keep it for you while you're gone."
I nodded at her, oddly touched by her offer, and she took the moment to swipe a bite of my tilapia. I swatted her hand and laughed, leaning back in my chair again and inhaling the smoggy air. Then I covered my mouth and discreetly choked into my hand.
It was a few moments before sunrise, but I was already saddled up and ready.
The hills rolled out around me, stretched like a welcome mat at the door of my little corner of the world. I always appreciated the view from atop a horse, and today was no different.
Feeling like the king of the whole damn world, I rode out on Falcon, a spirited two-year old gelding I had bought upon my arrival here.
Falcon was the first in many steps I needed to take to get this place running again. Music was my life now, but it wouldn't always be. I was well aware of my short shelf-life. I was a phenomenon now, but one wrong move, one bad photograph, one moment of weakness and it could all be snatched away. Stardom was fleeting but the land here? This was forever.
The early morning mist still clung to the grass like a carpet, swirling around Falcon's hooves as we trotted amiably along the fence line. The pale pink clouds deepened to fuchsia as the first sliver of sun peeked above the eastern hills, sending out tentative fingers of lights that stretched out into dawn. I slowed Falcon and sat there and watched the break of day. "Sunlight's Waking," I muttered to myself, trying a few different tunes. "Gotta write that shit down." I almost wished I had my guitar.
Damn, even on vacation, I can't shut off the music. It slithered into my brain, demanding to be sung. I started humming to myself, letting the words of the song develop in my mind like old-fashioned film. The sun rose higher in the sky, beating down on my shoulders. "It's gonna be a hot one," I said out loud and knew right away that was the hook.
Songs come to me this way. When my mind is clear and my thoughts are elsewhere, they worm their way in until they drown out everything else in my head. I know from experience that I won't be able to focus on anything else until I got this down.
"Whoa, boy," I drew Falcon up and slung his reins over a fencepost. He immediately lowered his head to chomp on a few tufts of grass. I fished my notebook and a stubby nubbin of pencil out of the back pocket of my Wranglers.
"Gonna be a hot one," I mused, testing out the tune. "Better take our clothes off now..."
I chewed on the pencil, waiting. The rest of it was eluding me, but I knew better than to fight it. It would come. And dammit, it was going to be a hit. I'm damn good at this, there's no denying it. It ain't arrogance if it's the truth.
I swung myself back up into the saddle and kicked Falcon into a canter.
We were just cresting the first rise along the western edge of the property line when I saw the first bit of repair to be done.
The sun was beating down in earnest now. "Here boy," I told Falcon, draping my shirt over his saddle. "Hang on to this for me?"
It was hard work in a way I wasn’t used to anymore. Being onstage wears you out, but it’s nothing compared to fence repair on a ranch this big. Lunchtime came and went, and I had barely made any progress. Two miles of repairs behind us, with about thirty-eight miles to go.
Falcon was looking a little lathered and I had worked up a quite a lather myself by the time I noticed the cloud of dust on the lonely road that bordered Brock Ranch.
"Oh right, the photographer," I said out loud.
"You couldn't have reminded me?" I chastised him. He looked down to the ground and refused to meet my eye, like he felt ashamed of himself. I had to chuckle. "Well, if she wants to get a real feel for Brock Ranch, then let her sit tight while I get this done. I'm on a tight timetable here."
I went back to repairing my fence.
"That's him, Miss Williams," the driver drawled. "You want me to leave you off here?"
"Here?" This was the middle of nowhere. No house in sight, just a bunch of scrub brush and brown hills. Everything was shades of brown; sepia, umbers, siennas...the only thing that broke up the monotony of brown was the brilliantly blue sky above us and the golden tanned skin of the man working along the side of the road.
I squinted through the tinted windows at him and bit my lip without meaning to.
A man in a cowboy hat and jeans was squatting by a fence rail, a piece of nail poking from the corner of his mouth. He looked like some sort of cowboy fetish illustration come to life - completely shirtless and I'll be damned if his torso wasn't glistening in the harsh sunlight. He was all tanned and toned and looked like he knew how to swing a hammer, which he did just then with enough force to make me jump.
He didn't even look up to acknowledge us. "You sure about that?" I asked the driver, squinting. "That guy doesn't look like he's expecting anyone."
"Dead sure, Miss Williams." The driver sounded like he was about to faint with excitement. "You're looking at Tanner Brock's biggest fan right here. I've been to twenty-one of his shows. I took this past March off and traveled around following Tanner's bus from show to show...."
"Yes, okay thank you," I cut him off. "I guess if you could let me out for a sec, I'll go see what he wants us to do." I sighed as I pushed the door open and stepped into the blazing Texas heat.
Tanner still didn't look up, even though he was clearly showing off for me. Why else would he be shirtless? His gleaming abs looking like something I could only achieve after three hours with Photoshop.
I wished I could stop staring at him. He clearly didn't need the ego boost, not with this little performance he was putting on for my benefit. He wanted me to see him, and admire him, and I was falling right into his little trap. It was pathetic the way I was already undressing him in my mind. He looked so good, I could almost ignore the scent of manure wafting through the air.
Not manure, I remind myself. Bullshit. Get a grip, Mo.
"Mr. Brock!" I sang out with a smile. I put on my bright, professional, get-shit-done face and stepped forward.
My heel sank right down into the muddy dirt road.
He grunted like a caveman, then set another nail, still supremely disinterested in acknowledging my presence. Fine, whatever, asshole. I tried to surreptitiously dislodge my shoe, but only succeeded in stepping backward into deeper mud. The muck absorbed my heel with a disgusting squelching sound and I was suddenly immobilized. So much for getting out of here without mud on my shoes…
Tanner swung the hammer with easy strength, and the clang of the driven nail made my hair stand on end. I blinked, wondering just how much longer he was going to make me wait here. He couldn't ignore me for the rest of the day, could he?
I'll be damned if this asshole thinks he can intimidate me....
My anger was rising in direct proportion to how hot it was, which meant any moment I was going to start bawling him out.
Just as I was ready to unleash my legendary temper, he took off his cowboy hat and wiped his brow. He looked up lazily, like he only just noticed the huge black town-car in front of him. Then he shielded his eyes and squinted in a pitch perfect caricature of a celluloid cowboy. "Sorry bout that, darlin'" he drawled amiably. "Was in the middle of somethin' there."
I rolled my eyes. Dear Lord, get me out of this heat. "Not a problem," I gritted my teeth.
Tanner Brock braced his arm against the fence, paused, and then leapt over it with a feline grace I would have never expected from a guy his size. I forcibly closed my hanging open mouth, but I could feel my jaw dropping again as he strode towards me.
/> Up until now, I hadn't gotten a good look at his face. But when he flashed me the full force of his megawatt smile, I felt a flutter in my stomach that had nothing to do with the greasy airport food I had for lunch.
It wasn't that his face was absolutely perfect.
It wasn't that his blue, blue eyes were exactly the same shade as the cloudless sky above us.
It was...him. Maybe the hot sun was scrambling my brain, but he seemed larger than life as he approached me with that rolling, swaggering gait. He took up space not only with the sheer, physical size of him, but also with the aura that surrounded him. He was moving, but he didn't need to. The very air around him swirled with his larger than life energy. In that moment I understood why he was a star. Men like him… They have a presence that has to be felt to be understood.