Five years ago, my wife left my two-year-old son and me in the middle of the night, breaking my heart. After that, I vowed to friends and family that I’d never fall in love again. I would only focus on raising my autistic son and working on my horse ranch. That was until Josie moved to my town, changing my life forever. Being stubborn, I did everything I could not to let my ticker control me and my thinking process. But then I saw Josie daily at the diner she worked at, and I became jealous whenever Jack, the town’s wannabe cowboy, tried to strike up a relationship with her. Then, one night, my life forever changed when I allowed a door to open and gave Josie something I said I’d never give—my ticker.
Age Rating: 18+
I stood at my patio window, eyeing the beautiful mountains of Mount McKinley with a mug of hot chocolate pressed against my lips.
Then I diverted my gaze from the snow-covered hills to the white stuff falling in front of me, and I sighed.
Seeing how the snow was falling immensely and piling heavily onto my deck made me realize how much I hated where I was living and how badly I wanted and needed a change of scenery.
I turned toward Spencer and groaned.
He was still in his suit, his feet resting on the coffee table, his hands folded together while lying along his chest, and his head tilted back against the couch while he snored—loudly.
I rolled my eyes and sighed.
Can my life get any more boring?
Two years ago I’d gone through a rough patch after breaking up with a guy I had met in nursing school.
When we met, I’d thought he was a dream. He was sexy, intelligent, and funny. And he always knew how to cheer me up. But I was always jealous of him, since I felt he dressed better than me.
My father had hated him and would always say there was something wrong or odd about him.
So once he’d found out we had broken up, he thought it would be a good idea for me to meet his business partner’s son.
He’d claimed he was a good guy, had his shit together, and was very much like them—rich.
Having deep pockets had never impressed me. I’d grown up in a wealthy family and had always hated it because of how the kids in school would treat me.
They always gave me a hard time for being well-off. And those who didn’t took advantage of me, thinking it would be cool to hang out with me because I was rich.
So I didn’t have many friends. The only person I’d ever considered a true friend—a best friend and sister—was Selena. And I missed her terribly.
Selena had been killed in a car accident two years earlier, after colliding with a moose. I’d lost my best and only friend that day.
But not only had I lost her, I’d also lost my will to live, and I attempted suicide, which landed me in the hospital for quite some time.
At the time, I’d felt everything was going sour for me. First, my boyfriend left me for another man. Second, Selena was killed.
And third, I hated how my family treated me, and I felt the need to start rebelling, doing things I usually wouldn’t do.
I experimented with drugs, went to wild parties, and destroyed property, because I thought that’s what the cool people did.
I wanted to fit in with the in-crowd and show everyone I was not this rich, snobby girl that everyone thought I was.
However, those bad choices only landed me in more trouble and caused heartache for my family.
So, to teach me a lesson, my father decided he wouldn’t bail me out or pay my fines anymore, deciding that it would be best to put me through treatment.
I was in the treatment center for no more than two days when I finally realized what I was doing was wrong.
I realized that the new people I thought were my friends were nothing more than my enemies and that they were causing me to have a breakdown.
They weren’t bringing me to a perfect life. They were bringing me down to their level—the wrong path, the path of destruction.
When I finally got out of treatment, my father suggested I meet Spencer. At first I didn’t want to meet the guy, thinking he would look like Rowan Atkinson.
So I quarreled with my father, reminding him that I was twenty-two years old and could find my own boyfriend.
Finally, after days of protesting, my father introduced me to him anyway, and I was shocked.
He was no Rowan Atkinson. Instead he was more like Liam Hemsworth.
After moving in with Spencer and getting to know him, my feelings for him dwindled. He was nothing more than a preppy, snobby, rich person. Just like all the others I knew.
Spencer gave me no challenges or arguments. All he did was provide me with everything I wanted. He was boring, no fun to be around, and someone I considered only to be a roommate.
I turned back toward the window, looked at the mountains, and thought about what to do, while finishing my hot chocolate.
Then, when it came to me that I needed to talk with my father and tell him how I felt—that I was depressed and needed a change in my life—I set my empty mug on the counter and headed to my room.
I dressed in winter attire, grabbed my keys, and got into my SUV. Then, not caring how bad it was snowing, I began driving to my parents, without telling Spencer where I was going.
…Scaring myself along the way, since the snowplows hadn’t been out yet, and the roads were still covered in two feet of snow, with plenty of ice resting underneath.
Driving up the steep hill to get to my parents’ house was nerve-racking.
Even with the four-wheel drive on, I was slipping, sliding, and spinning, white-knuckling the steering wheel until I finally reached my parents’ driveway.
Instead of knocking, I walked right in. And the second I entered and saw the inside of my parents’ home, the same house I grew up in, I couldn’t wait to tell them what was on my mind.
“Hello?” I called out.
My mother peeked her head out of the kitchen, and when she saw it was me, she started walking toward me with a scowling look.
“Josie, what on earth are you doing here? Why in the world would you drive here during a blizzard?” She looked around me, asking, “Where’s Spencer?”
Feeling nervous, I bit my bottom lip as she helped remove my snow-covered jacket. Then, finally, I said, “I left Spencer at home, since I needed to talk to you and Father privately. Is he home?”
“He’s home. But I can tell you he won’t be happy once he hears you drove alone in this blizzard.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t care,” I muttered as I followed my mother down the hallway.
The instant I entered the kitchen and my senses got a whiff of garlic and spaghetti sauce, my stomach instantly growled.
“Have you had dinner yet?”
I walked over to the stove, lifted the lid from the pot, and lowered my nose to take in the scents of tomatoes, garlic, and other spices. Then I set the top on the counter and began stirring it.
“No, I haven’t had dinner. There’s been too much on my mind to even think about eating.”
However, I felt hungry after smelling and seeing that she was making her famous homemade spaghetti sauce. So I turned around, asking, “Is it okay if I stay for dinner?”
“Of course you can,” my mother said in a tone implying it was wrong of me to ask. Then she walked over to me, rested the palms of her hands on either side of my face, and looked me in the eye.
I may have always been a daddy’s girl, but my mother knew me best, always knowing when something was on my mind.
It made me more and more nervous the longer she stared into my eyes.
Finally I gulped, and she sighed, “I know that look on your face. And it tells me you’ve come here to tell us you’re not happy with something.”
She tilted her head to the side. “Is that why you’re here? You’re unhappy with something?”
I knew it.
My mom was always the one I could never lie to. She always knew what I was doing or was up to before I knew myself.
“You know me so well,” I said sadly. “Where’s Dad?”
“Your father is where he always is. Sitting in his chair, watching the news, and yelling at the TV at whatever’s happening in the world.”
“Go bug him. I’m sick of hearing him yelling about politics.”
I smiled, then left the kitchen to talk to my father. But the closer I got to the living room and heard him yelling, disagreeing with whatever was on the TV, the more my heart started racing.
Not only was my heart acting like it was on crack, but the palms of my hands were becoming sweaty, as were my armpits.
To let him know I was there, I cleared my throat as I entered the living room. He turned his head, but when he saw me looking at him, instead of saying hello, he looked back at the TV.
He raised his hand. I knew what that meant: be quiet—for the next five minutes, I stood still, becoming more anxious as I thought about how to bring up what I wanted to say to him.
Finally a commercial came on, and he muted the TV before looking my way. “What brings you here, Josie?” he asked, then focused his gaze out the window.
He sat tall, then snapped his head back at me, pointing at the window. “You drove here in this shit?”
“Yes,” I groaned. “I had to. I needed to tell you and Mom what’s been on my mind lately.”
“And what’s so important that it couldn’t wait?”
I held his stare for a minute. He didn’t look happy, which made it harder for me to tell him what I needed to say.
I took a deep breath, then heavily sighed as I pulled my hair up into a ponytail while sitting on the couch beside him, telling myself, I can do this. Quit being a scaredy cat.
“Don’t tell me you’re in trouble again,” he groaned, raising the remote, aiming it at the TV, and turning it off.
“No, no. I’m not in trouble,” I responded, nervously smiling.
“It’s just that I’m miserable. Depressed, to be exact. So I came here to tell you I need a change of scenery—a new beginning and a new life.”
He laughed and shook his head. “Josie, you’re twenty-four years old. What do you mean, new beginnings and a new life? What’s wrong?”
“I hate my life,” I started saying, then paused when I heard my mother walk up behind me. I looked at her, then at my father, trying to refrain from crying.
“I need a new life. What I’m trying to tell you is that I would like to move out of this state, somewhere far away from here. I’m unhappy and feel like I don’t belong here.
“Something tells me I can find the happiness I’m looking for elsewhere.”
He furrowed his brows while scratching the side of his face, causing my stomach to do somersaults. I was afraid to hear his response.
“What makes you think you need a different lifestyle?” he asked.
“I hate it here, Dad. Everyone treats me differently because they know I’m your daughter. And the only ones who treat me with any respect are tourists.
“I need a new challenge in life, one in a different state, where nobody knows you or me.”
“What does Spencer have to say about this?” he asked, looking more concerned.
“I haven’t brought it up to him, and the reason is…” I paused and looked down at my fingers playing with the seam of my jeans.
“I haven’t told him because I’m leaving him as well,” I admitted, slowly rolling my eyes up to see what his reaction was.
Just like I expected, he was looking at me disappointedly.
“You’re leaving him?” my father asked, surprised. “He’s the best thing that has happened to you!”
After hearing my mother walking away, I knew she’d heard enough and had gone back into the kitchen to cry.
“Yes, I’m leaving him. I’m not happy being with him, and we have no love for each other. None,” I insisted, hoping he’d finally get the hint that Spencer was not for me.
The room suddenly got quiet. And after seeing my father’s reaction and how unhappy he looked, I stood quickly, about to remind him of how old I was.
But just as I opened my mouth to yell, I closed it when he spoke.
“Where were you thinking about moving to?”
I sat back down and scooted to the edge of the couch, closer to him. Then, to show him how serious I was, I smiled.
“For two days I’ve been searching, and I found Texas to be the state I’m most interested in moving to.”
“Texas? Why Texas?” he asked, raising his voice. “Why would you want to leave a beautiful state like this for a dry, overpopulated state like that? What on earth has gotten into you?”
“I already told you. I need a change, and I want to go somewhere far, somewhere much different from here. I’m sick of being cold all the time. And I’m sick of snow and ice and driving in it.
“Don’t get me wrong. It’s beautiful here. It’s just not for me. Not anymore.”
He rose to his feet, shaking his head. And then he walked away, not saying another word, which had me thinking that he still wanted to control me by keeping me here…
…To continue treating me like I was a child, one who was still troubled and needed an adult babysitter, as he had Spencer doing for him.
He returned to the room with a cocktail and sat across from me. The look on his face said he was about to lecture me.
“Josie, let’s talk seriousness here. You know not one person in Texas.”
“Exactly,” I quickly answered.
He raised his hand, stopping me from saying anything more. “Just let me talk for a second. I want to know who you’ll call if something happens and you’re in trouble or danger.”
“911. Or I could always call Ghostbusters,” I responded, smirking. Well, what can I say? If you ask a stupid question, you get a stupid answer.
However, his facial expression showed that he wasn’t too pleased with my response, and in one swallow he finished the amber-colored liquid in his glass.
“I suppose 911 is who you’d most likely call. So that was a stupid question. But what about when you need someone to talk to?
“You’ll be thousands of miles away, so it won’t be that easy for you to hop in your car and drive here. As you did tonight.”
“I know that. But I assure you, I’ve thought about everything before bringing all this up to you and Mom.
“Every possible question you have, I’ve already thought about the answer. So, continue asking away.”
“Okay… Where are you going to live? Have you thought about that?”
“Yes. I’ve been looking for that perfect place to call home.”
“So you have no idea where you’ll be moving to.”
I sighed, knowing that would be his next question. “Not quite yet. I figured out the city I’d like to move to. I just haven’t found myself the right apartment.”
He grinned, looking like he had finally got me, winning the debate.
“Don’t look at me like that,” I begged. “I never said I was leaving tomorrow. But I would like to leave the moment I do find one.”
“And how do you expect to pay for your rent?”
Just like that, he knew he had me. Spencer had insisted I quit my job months ago. He hated me working and meeting new people, fearing I would meet someone who would take me down that wrong path again.
“Josie?” he asked, after not getting the response he wished to hear.
I shrugged my shoulders and looked away. I had no money. Well, I did, but all access I had to my bank accounts was taken away by Spencer when he thought I was returning to the drug scene.
The funny thing was that Spencer didn’t know that I had been transferring money from one of my accounts to a newly opened one. One I’d opened without telling anyone.
It hadn’t been only two days that I thought about moving away from there. It had been months of searching for the best and most exciting place to live.
But it wasn’t until those last two days that I knew how serious I was about leaving Alaska.
“I had money saved from when I was working. But Spencer took it upon himself to remove any access I had to my bank accounts.”
“We both did. And it was for an excellent reason,” my father said, grinning proudly.
I stood fast, yelling, “You too? See what I mean? This is exactly why I need to leave!
“Nobody fucking trusts me! Nobody!” I cried, then quickly covered my mouth after realizing I’d sworn at my father, something I ~never~ did.
Anger filled his eyes, and he stood just as quickly as I did.
He repeatedly pointed his finger at me, reminding me of all the things I’d done years ago and how I’d thrown away four years of med school to become nothing.
“A nurse is what you wanted to be,” he yelled. “And what did you do with that after you graduated? Huh?
“Well, I’ll tell you. You went on to be a drug addict and a bartender. So don’t give me this crap about wanting to better your life. You had your chance!”
“I can still become a nurse. I just don’t want to be one here,” I said, feeling defeated. But I also thought I needed to remind him that it was not too late and that I could still become one if I wanted.
“But to be honest, I lost interest in becoming one after Selena died. I feel there’s something else for me out there. I just need to find myself and figure out what that is.”
He must have finally realized my seriousness, because his tone changed with what he asked next. “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
“It is. I’ve never been so serious in my life. I don’t belong here, Dad. In my heart I know I belong somewhere else.”
“Then I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll give you access to your bank accounts again, as long as you promise not to spend your money on drugs and nonsense.
“I’ll also pay the first six months of your rent. That should give you plenty of time to find yourself and see if this is what you want to do.
“However, if you’re unhappy with where you are and you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, I want you to come home. And when I say home, I mean here.”
“Six months?” I asked in barely a whisper, surprised by his offer. It wasn’t what I expected him to do, and I wasn’t about to argue with him about his generosity.
Six months would give me plenty of time to save all the money I earned working and pay my rent afterward, since I had no plans on returning. I was determined never to move back.
“Yes, six months. That should be more than enough time to figure yourself out.
“But, if I find out you’re back in that same scene you were in two years ago, you’ll wish you were never born after I get a hold of you. Got that?”
A massive smile formed on my face. I already told myself I would never do that again. I’d also hate myself if I returned to doing what I was doing.
“That’s one thing you’ll never have to worry about with me again. It was stupid. I was stupid. And I refuse to go down that road ever again,” I assured him, walking over and squeezing him tight.
“I don’t care how old you are. You’re still a little girl in my eyes, and I don’t want to be burying my child, especially as young as you are.”
“I know,” I whispered, still tightly embracing him.
After dinner, and against my parents’ wishes for me to stay until the snow subsided and the plows cleared the streets, I went home to tell Spencer we were over and that I was moving out—immediately.
But before saying anything, the first thing I needed to do was find an available place to live and a job.
Thankfully, when I got home, Spencer was still asleep.
Usually I would’ve woken him. But knowing what I needed to do, I left him where he was, grabbed my laptop, and sat where I could keep my eye on Spencer.
The last thing I wanted was for him to see what I was up to and where I planned on moving to.
Twenty minutes later he opened his eyes and angrily asked, “Where were you?”
I closed the laptop and gave him an are-you-being-serious-right-now look.
“What do you mean ‘excuse me’? I woke up and you were gone! So the question is, where were you?”
“I was at my parents’. I needed to talk to them. So if you don’t believe a word I’m saying, call them,” I retorted, reaching for my phone and holding it for him to take.
“Call them!” I demanded.
Finally I got the nerve to say what I wanted, and I yelled, “We’re over! I’m packing my shit and moving out where you’ll never see or hear from me again.”
Spencer argued with me the entire time I packed. Then I got a break. While loading everything into my vehicle, he disappeared.
After filling my SUV, I came inside and found him drowning his sorrows in a bottle of scotch.
I walked over, throwing my key at him and saying, “I’ll send my father over for the rest of my belongings. Have a good life.”
I left and returned to my parents, feeling the best thing would be to stay with them until I found a job and an apartment in the place I’d chosen, the cowboy capital of the world: Bandera, Texas.
Why did I want to move where cowboys would be wandering around? Because ever since I was a little girl, I had been intrigued by cowboys.
Why? Because they weren’t the white-collar working men I was used to being around. Instead, they were the blue-collar—or, well, shirtless—sweaty, hardworking bad-boy personas I’d dreamed of meeting.
And that’s exactly the quest I was looking to embark on.
One that would irk my family, once I found myself that working-class cowboy who’d steal my heart.
And one that would cause heavy moistening between my thighs whenever he looked at me.