Everything is waiting in Paris for Autumn—her new home, her mom, the Louvre, and a life where she can experience art, and not just look at it. But to get there, she'll have to survive the summer in the least colorful place she can imagine — her father's Oklahoma cattle ranch
Autumn finds the perfect summer distraction in Colt, the one cowboy hotter than the July sun. But Colt is her father's ranch hand, and he won’t go for the Manhattan-style fling that she's used to. The closer they become, the more she questions which side of the ocean she belongs.
Then her father reveals an unforgivable secret, and Autumn’s illusions shatter. Will the secret destroy everything? Or could Oklahoma hold the greatest masterpiece of all—a love that could mend her heart?
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Light arms make for easy dancing, even to drawn out country tunes. Turns out, cowboys aren’t bad dancers. They know where to put their hands on your waist to help you sway. They share well too, making sure a new hat accompanies each tune. When my chest burns, I know I've hit my limit. "Sorry," I say to the only guy at the party wearing a baseball cap. "I need a break."
"I can take you outside if you want?" This brown-haired-brute's eyes are a bit swollen, and lips raw. I swear I saw him making out on the steps during my last spin on the dance floor.
"No thanks, I'm good on my own." I quickly zigzag through the crowd and slip out the back kitchen door. If it wasn't for the couple making out in a hammock, I would’ve barreled right into the gray weave. There's a deserted tree a few hundred yards out from the house. Brushing my ballet flats through the crisp grass, I do a quick snake check. Phew. I take a seat, tilting my head toward the sky. The darkness is alive and glittering.
I breathe out, the beauty above. Stars like this never happen at home. Here, Hercules and the dippers are too obvious. And, with a jostle of my memory, I can find the Queen and the Dragon too. I wish I had my paints and a canvas so I could try to capture it. I’d make my own Starry Night, but my brush strokes would be looser here than Van Gogh’s.
A breeze moves through my hair, reminding me to take a deep breath. It instantly relaxes me; somehow one breath here is better than any oxygen bar in the city. I hate to admit it, but that’s another thing this place has going for it. It’s so much easier to breathe here.
“Can I join you?” a husky voice says from behind. I turn to find a tall, broad-shouldered, sandy-haired cowboy leaning against the tree. He doesn’t wait for my answer; rather he slinks down the trunk to sit next to me. His eyes turn toward the sky, but, even though I know it’s rude, my eyes can’t leave his face. His nose is almost perfect. It’d be easy to sketch with a soft pencil.
“Andromeda,” he interrupts my artistic vision, pointing up at the sky. “The Greater Bear,” he traces the outline in the air. “And my favorite…”
“Oh, please don’t say something about your big dipper.” I put the yellow cup to my lips, finishing my third refill. It slides past my throat. Finally, the beer’s tasting good now.
“Actually, my prime constellation is Aries, the ram. That line though? Golden. I'll use it next time.”
He smiles with a silent laugh and shrugs. “Sounds lame,” he turns toward me. His eyes sparkle and my heart jumps into my throat. His jaw is strong and chest obviously solid under his white button down shirt. “But it’s not.” He flips over my hand, tracing the constellation on my palm. Tingles crawl up my arm.
Now, this is a real cowboy.
“Aries is Zeus, in disguise. Ordinary, but full of power. Cool, huh?”
He lets go of my hand and returns his gaze to the stars.
My heart sinks. I want him to look at me. I’m not letting this cowboy get away. I lean in, close to his ear. “What kind of power?” I whisper. After Mom ditching me for Paris, I could use a little fun, and, as my hand caresses his rock hard biceps, I can’t help welcoming a distraction.
He doesn’t answer yet also doesn’t move away from my touch. Good. I take a deep breath and leap. If he didn’t like me, he’d have moved away already. I kiss the stubble on his jaw and he stills like a statue so I flip my leg over him, sliding onto his lap. The constellations spin. I nibble at his lips. His breathing deepens. Those full lips though? They don't even flinch. I pull back, repositioning to press my lips down his jaw line and then make my way up toward his earlobe.
“It’s not fun if you don’t play,” I whisper.
He laughs, allowing my lips to return to his. He responds now, kissing me with a soft, steady pressure and pulling me close to his rock hard chest. I’ve never been held so securely. My heart trembles and my muscles melt.
“Okay darlin’,” he says, pressing his lips against mine, giving me a kiss that reminds me of chocolate and lemons, before gently helping me off his lap. “I think it’s time we go.”
“Sure,” I whisper. The ground becomes wavy water and my hand disappears in his as I struggle to stand. Take me away cowboy.
He lifts me, giving me his arm to lean on as he leads me through the house, passing Gina and Peter making out on the stairs. He stops, pulling Gina away too.
“Colt? What’re-ya-doin’?” she slurs.
He drops my hand, and it burns with the absence of his touch. “Do you have a ride home Gina?”
She shakes her head as Peter pulls her back to the step next to him. “I drove Autumn.”
Colt unwraps Peter’s arms. “Which is why I'm taking you both home.”
Peter stands up. "Hey man, if she wants to stay, she should."
Colt only has to point to him and say, "Peter. Come on, you know not to try that with me." Peter nods, holding his hands up in some mysterious man exchange.
“Fine,” Gina stumbles like a turkey into Colt’s arms. So funny. I laugh so hard, my goose noise sneaks in too.
“Was that a chortle?” Colt lifts his brow with a cocky grin.
“Chortles are very sexy.” I throw my shoulders back.
He laughs as he wraps his arm around Gina to support her and takes my hand, leading us out the front door. “Into the truck, girls.”
It’s warm in the truck, and with Gina to lean on, comfy too. Sleep takes me away with a few bumps of the road. Gina’s shoulder is soon replaced with a leather jacket. The smell lulls me in and out of sleep with Colt’s whistled tune. My shoulder rocks and I wake. He reaches behind me, propping me up.
“Want some?” He hands me a yellow cup of that watered down beer.
“Thanks.” I say. I am so thirsty. I put the plastic to my mouth, taking a small sip. The liquid slides past my tongue. This must be from the bottom of the barrel because it doesn’t taste right. It’s thin and a struggle to swallow. First goal of the summer, do not spit on the hot cowboy.
“It’s super watery.”
“Yeah.” He laughs and my stomach tickles with the sound. “Have a few more sips.” He holds the cup back to my lips.
I sip again. It’s horrid, laced with iron and something else that I can’t pinpoint. It’s so hard to slide past my throat. What is he, like, trying to drug me? I hold the liquid poison in my mouth.
Wait. What if he is trying to drug me? Holy crap. While he's focused on the road, I reach for the door handle, trying not to shake. I’m in a truck with a total stranger with his muscles of steel, in the middle of nowhere. What's wrong with me? I’d never let this happen in New York. My heart beats in rhythm with the buzz in my ears. I need an escape plan, like now.
He flips off the headlights. We’re in complete darkness except for the stars. I glance out the window; a light from a lone farm-house is about a mile away. No one will hear me scream.
We’re completely alone.
About the Author
When Lizzy Charles isn't scrambling to raise her two spunky toddlers or caring for premature and sick babies as a neonatal intensive care nurse, she's in a quiet corner writing or snuggled up with a novel and a few squares of dark chocolate. She married her high school sweetheart, a heart-melting musician, so it's no surprise she's fallen in love with writing contemporary YA romance novels.