A year after her unexpected divorce and nine years after moving to Seattle, Shanna Parker needed a change. She accepted a position as a nurse practitioner opening a new clinic near her hometown hoping that the old adage, you can never go home, was not true because that is where she was going. Shanna secretly dreamed for years of a man who would not hesitate to make her toe the line. She stepped off the plane and ran, literally, into her dream man.
Zane Gideon was tired of the rodeo and buckle bunnies. He was at a crossroads in his life and was going home to his family’s ranch to start his new direction and that was when Shanna fell into his life. She excited him but he was a man who lived by his own standards which included being the lead in his relationships and that was not going to change.
Can Shanna handle it when the man of her dreams becomes the man of her reality? Is she brave enough to try again? Will Zane be able to settle down with one woman who comes with her own independent attitudes and ideas and constantly challenges his?
After rushing for the last two weeks to get her apartment cleared out, things placed in storage and the final donations of non-salvageable miscellaneous items completed, Shanna was relieved to make it on the plane in one piece. She reflected on the last eighteen months in final preparation for her new start to begin once her airplane landed in Dallas. Determined to release the self-defeating thoughts of doubt and inadequacy, which used to be out of character for her, she reflected on her marriage. Up until eighteen months ago, Shanna thought her life was perfect, or as near perfect as it could be with her new license to practice as an advanced nurse practitioner. She also proudly had a year of marriage under her belt.
Without notice, things changed. After that first year with Bret, tensions rose. She did not understand why because at last, she worked a steady schedule. She no longer worked at a hospital, no longer had a grueling rotational call, and no longer had to cover inpatients with their unpredictability.? This change for the better seemed to make communication harder instead of opening the lines between them.
Instead of seeing more of Bret, she saw less. Bret worked selling and maintaining insurance policies, but his feelings of inadequacy were something he had a difficult time talking about or even acknowledging. He could not communicate how her career accomplishments intimidated him. Shanna made more money at her job than he did at his and he felt she had a more substantial career than his, which infuriated him. The thing was, he did not see education as a way to enhance his career opportunities. Sure, he supported her in the beginning when he had thought she would not make it. When it became evident soon after they married that she would complete the degree and licensure, he could not deal with it. When Shanna finally discovered what the problem was, it was too late.
Shanna knew that part of Bret’s problem was that he never stayed at a job long enough to advance, never seeming to be satisfied no matter what he was doing. He would work hard to get a new job, be energized about getting it, eager to start and within six months wanted a different job. He seemed to complain a lot more after Shanna settled in her career, as though if she were happy he could never be happy.
Soon began the spats and arguments that started the moment that she would walk through the door in the evening. After a bit, Shanna found other activities she could do in her spare time. She joined a reading group, she joined a gym, and she had dinner with her friends. All things she would never have done before because her time with Bret had been so precious. Then she decided that if they were going to save their marriage they needed marriage counseling. It took almost two months for Bret to agree. When he did finally decide and they went to the first session, she should have noticed the difference in him, but she did not.
Now, instead of Bret complaining and being upset about his forced attendance with a counselor, he became quite eager to go to the therapist. And the intimidation tactics he said Shanna employed to make him talk about their marriage, having to deal with their issues, no longer seemed a problem. The counselor had been a rather cute young woman, more Bret’s younger age than Shanna’s older age, and single. Shanna wondered how she could be a marriage counselor when she did not even know what being married was like, but she did not want to bring into question another’s expertise in their profession. She should have questioned.
Looking back now, she wondered about many things in her life. For instance, for the millionth time in the last month she wondered why she was going home anyway. She wondered what going home should represent to her. The question of “what in the world are you doing?” was common these days. In reality, a woman who completed college and enjoyed a career far from her roots did not just pick up those transplanted roots and go home to the mother ship. After all, she had lived in a metropolitan area and beyond, fallen in love, fallen out of love, and divorced in nine years’ time.
Well, at least that is what their marriage counselor had convinced her spineless husband of two years had happened to them. They had fallen out of love, and how to remedy it involved her. She said the couple had fallen out of love, and it was no one’s fault. She said that just moments before she helped him fall in lust with her. Soon the counselor asked to see Bret alone, saying they needed to have extra time to work on some issues. It was not too long after that that Shanna realized the additional issues were how to get the marriage to end so that they, the counselor and Bret, could begin their own marriage to each other. Bret filed for divorce and Shanna’s marriage of two whole years ended just less than six months later.?
She huffed at what was unethical in every profession, which is why she dropped a line to the woman’s licensing board suggesting more supervision and education on the ethical standards of her profession. A stupid woman with a stupid man and they deserved each other. I hope neither of them is surprised when they fall out of love even faster the second time.
In hindsight, did that mean that because she had fallen for Bret’s sweet talk and boyish good looks with only a minimal spark she was equally stupid? She forcibly discarded the idea, attempting to stop the learned behavior of self-deprecation. She never had self-image problems before the divorce but since that time, it had become a favored pastime. She still could not get the thought out of her head that she had failed at marriage. No matter how many times she logically laid out the events and her ultimate lack of control in the outcome, she still knew that she did have a part in the breakup. She did not notice before it was too late.
Shanna tried to listen to her girlfriends and her coworkers who said good riddance to old trash and attempted going on dates. In retrospect, she had to acknowledge that she had had some great dates and some good times with a few of her coworkers and some of their friends, but she never felt connected. On top of it all, since that time, she began to notice new fears. She now battled fears that she might not be marriage material and so would live out her life lonely. She wondered if she had married to alleviate the loneliness.
Then there was the newly acquired automatic distrust of swarthy complected men.? Shanna allowed her mind to wander to those things she had not had in her now-defunct marriage. Things she refused to have absent in any future relationship, especially if it were to become an ‘ever after’. Whoa girl, stick to your plan, no marriage for her, no way, uh-uh. For years, anyway. However, if she did find someone, she sighed, it would be heavenly and different, oh so different.
And he would be the one who made the hard decisions. This time she would have a strong man who took charge of things. Not tell her what to do, but make her the focus sometimes. Tell her she was beautiful and that her abilities meant something. A man who was sure of himself and did not need to show his lady up to boost his own ego would be nice. She also thought what it would be like to have him taking charge in the bedroom. That would be nice for a change. She was not one of those BDSM converts, but she did think a little slap and tickle would be fun. Maybe a little tie and taunt or a little pinch with her passion could add just the right spice.? That, in her mind, was not BDSM. It was fun.
She had not found one of those men thus far and she didn’t even know how to look. It wasn’t as if you walked up to an incredible-looking guy, or any guy for that matter and asked if he was into spanking and maybe a little bedroom power exchange. She did want a relationship where her safety and her comfort in and out of the bedroom was a priority to her partner. Just thinking about it gave her a shiver of anticipation. It always had, even though she had spent most of her teen and adult years denying its pull.
For the last year, she had worked in Alaska in the villages, assisting in providing medical care for those too far from medical facilities. She had been a nurse, doctor, counselor, advisor, planner, and friend to many and she missed that feeling of being needed and engaging in mutual respect.
She had light creamy coffee colored skin that she inherited from her mother’s Latin background and long, thick, dark hair with a natural wave that she often wore up or tied back.? The wavy hair came from her dad and she was proud to have so many features from both parents. Long legs from her father and curvy body from her mother which Shanna had appreciated in her teens, but now saw that characteristic as too much padding.
Most recently, it assisted in helping her patients trust her more. While her training said, don’t use those types of features to endear you to your patients, it sometimes is the right thing to do. Rural Alaska is not the place where the textbooks ever rang true. The men there seemed to love her curves and she had found herself beginning to relax again when a young doctor brought her insecurities slamming back into her face. He was fresh out of residency when he signed up to travel to villages to help pay off student loans. After meeting her several times in a few villages as they crossed paths, he told her she needed to go on a diet.
“Stay off the muktuk and seal oil,” was his advice. It was just what she needed to hear, another male jerk lowering her self-esteem.
Soon afterward, she accepted the job back in Texas. She knew her ability to work with isolated pockets of culturally diverse populations is what led to her new position. As the only provider in a new, small, rural outreach clinic, her Alaska experience had paved the way for a change and had brought her home.? Well, that and the fact that she was born and raised in the area. That meant she understood that it had its own subculture. On the search engine it would be under the Southwest, Texas, East, Country, Sticks, it was that obvious a subculture. Shanna spent the next few hours thinking about the differences between the ruggedness of the Alaskan vastness and the gentleness of Northeast Texas.
While the conditions were different, the type of people and the generosity they had were similar. She thought of the rugged men she had met in the last year. How they worked hard, played hard, and loved hard in the Alaskan version of the Australian outback. She knew from experience that same spirit resided in the men in Texas. When she had lived in a metro area, she learned what citified actually meant. It often involved men like her husband, weak, unable to take a challenge or unwilling to make too strong a stand. These men were often gentlemen of the manufactured variety. They could be counted on to use the right fork, and know what to wear at any given event, and how to spend their money for the biggest effect.
Women were treated as equals and that feeling of being cherished, unique, and special was hard to find in amongst all that equality. The thing was, she was tired and wanted to be where bare feet were normal and people were courteous to a fault. Metro Man was not her cup of tea, nor was fakin’ bakin’, couture hair, weekly mani’s and pedi’s or any of those unreal lifestyle choices she had thought she would like.
She wanted to fight heatedly for her point of view and scorch the sheets afterward.? She wanted her man to lower his voice and whisper in her ear that he would take care of her later and he meant hand to bottom and cock to channel. She wanted him to pick up the check, open her door, show her off when she accomplished things and shut her down when she had gone too far.
Shanna sighed next to the gentleman in his sixties who smiled in acknowledgment and returned to his book. Yeah, that is the only place a man like that exists, she thought, in a book. Shrugging, she opened hers so she could transport back to that fairytale nirvana. After several hard moments of effort where the words of the page were gibberish and she could not recall one sentence, she put her book away again. Her mind kept thinking and so she gave into the random workings of her runaway intellect and tried to enjoy the ride uninhibited.
For several years, Shanna thought that big city life was what she wanted, where everyone had equal status, equal treatment, and equal pay. However, it was not long before she realized that it came with a huge price tag. You became a nameless number to be part of that crowd. It was not that she did not believe in equality in most things, just not in everything. An equality that said things must always balance didn’t seem right to her. She actually needed that tip the scale, seesaw feeling a man could give his woman.
Instead of individual and unique, total equality made her ordinary, dull, nothing more exciting than the next person was. She began to forget what it was like growing up in cowboy country where men took a stand and their tones were authoritative. Where a real man made sure their woman was cherished, honored, and respected. She was placed on a pedestal, protected and worshiped. And spanked. She felt herself blush just thinking of the word, but she also tingled. She was always curious about spanking and her perfect dream man always spanked.
Now that she was going back to that cowboy country, it seemed as though she felt foreign, like a fish out of the water. She had long outgrown the yes ma’am, no ma’am mentality and she was not sure she could ever revert to that. Shanna knew that she would stay in this new job for at least a couple of years and get her bearings. She needed to readjust to life as a single woman, but after that who knew. Just as she released another sigh, marking things had settled for the moment in her mind, the attendant’s voice disconcerted her as she started her landing oration. Where had the time gone?
?"We will begin to prepare the cabin for landing. Please place your tray tables and seat backs in their upright and locked position.”
The flight attendant pointedly directed her edict and command to several teens still standing.
?“We will come through the cabin and check for security momentarily. Please return to your seats, now. We will be landing soon."
The flight attendant repeated her rote statement over the loudspeaker with such authoritative command it was as though she held the controls of the massive transport. Shanna allowed her mind to engage in the not so constructive exercise of cataloging and ramming her ex-husband’s shortcomings yet again. Authority, it was yet another thing she wished her ex-husband had been able to do, lead not follow. If she were ever tempted to spend her precious free time with another man for more than play for a day, she would not do it if he did not take command of his life and hers.
The thought of an authoritative and focused man in her life gave her a tingling gnawing in her belly and a particular giddy type of desire that shook your insides and made you desperate for completion. Warmth infused her body, causing a queasy, yearning hunger merging at the same time. That feeling had always been Shanna’s indication that a man of incomparable status was in her presence. Too bad her ex did not represent one of those and it highlighted how alone she had been since leaving home. She had settled for him without a strong protector trait. Without a strong anything but her need for companionship.
If she was honest, only one male had ever done that for her by simply walking into the room and she did not even know his name. She allowed her mind to drift back into her well-worn version of a wet dream and the man who had commandeered those dreams for so many years. It never failed to bring her warmth and dampness.
It was at a celebration for graduating seniors when she saw him. He stood tall but not overly so, with a naturally bronzed complexion, black hair, and a good start on manly bulk. With all of that, he couldn’t help but turn the heads of every girl that laid eyes on him.? He was an athlete, but there was the aura of dominion over all he surveyed that radiated off him. That was the reason she had first felt her now predictable stomach knotting. Without a doubt, it was then her needy dreams took flight.
In fact, he had been the star of her dreams, defining them for years, until after college. That was when reality set in and she decided it was time to put away childish things. Putting thought into action, she married Bret. Even now, she wondered if there was someone out there able to make her stomach knot with a need like that young man had. She wondered about him and the lucky girl that got him. Did he create the same feeling of spontaneous combustion in her, as he had with Shanna? How could he not? Had Shanna put away her dream so she could lower her standards? Maybe. Was there another someone who could put that gnawing tingle of desire in motion by the simple act of walking into the room? God, she hoped so.
Shanna moved through the motions of leaving the plane out of habit because travel had been such a part of her life for the last year. She gathered her items from around her, stored them under the seat in front of her, and waited for the wheels of the jet to bounce on the tarmac. While she waited for the ding of the seatbelt light to release the masses, she marveled at people. Without any patience or forethought, passengers jumped up from their seat only to wait sandwiched in between a man with a huge Cowboy hat and a woman with a cane. Unbidden, her thoughts drifted back into her errant, well-worn thought pattern.
It is water under the bridge, she told herself. You need to get your act together, pronto.? There was to be no more fantasy dream life and no more wimpy guys for her. She understood she had hit the proverbial jackpot when the local hospital, local as in twenty country miles away, was looking to have an acute care clinic in the nearest real town to her parents’ house. Her credentials as an Advance Family Nurse Practitioner practicing rural medicine who originally hailed from the area immediately made the hospital eager to snap her up. They located a small office space or at least space they could use as a clinic office and would outfit it as soon as she told them she was there.?
If she was honest, she needed this change. This was a safe place to lick her wounds and get her priorities set back in place, her goals in line and straight again. Then, perhaps, in a few years, she could look at the male population again. This was the part of the country where men were men and cherished their women, protected them, lead their families. Real cowboy country. Now, let’s hope they have not changed so much I will not be able to recognize a good man when I see one. For fun, Shanna. I just want some fun, right now. Do not forget.
She froze when she heard a voice behind her and then she tried with irrational urgency to identify the man with the voice to no avail.
* * * * *
Zanith Gideon contemplated what he wanted in life. He was thirty-one years old and was the only Gideon son who had not tied the knot with the love of his life and started a family. If the truth were told, he was not against doing that, but there had been a few roadblocks to that scenario for him thus far. The first roadblock was he had always enjoyed splitting his time between playing a little on the rodeo circuit, playing with the buckle bunnies a time or two, and the ranch. He often won at the bronc riding events and it was how he had won his hand-tooled leather saddle he was bringing home today. However, bronc riding and bunnies were not holding his interest any longer. He needed more. He needed to find a woman who was the love of his life so he could have a life, with her. The type of woman that when you are with her it felt like, what his brother had dubbed, the “kick ya in the gut” kind of feeling. It had been more than a year since any woman had excited him enough to consider whether they were someone that he could spend his life with, adoring and protecting.
“May I grab your bag for you, ma’am?” Zane had already extended his arm into the overhead compartment to retrieve the bag too large for the small grandmotherly woman to reach and maneuver.?
The older woman graced the tall Zane with a relieved smile. “Thank you, son, I was having doubts about being able to do it myself.”
“My pleasure, ma’am.”
Zane drifted back to his life as he waited for the passengers to disembark. Of course, changing his goals in life was easy to agree on in theory, but putting his mental plan into action was another thing entirely. He needed to decide if he would take over the equine part of the family ranch or give it up lock, stock, and barrel. His family deserved at least that from him.
On the circuit, many were the times when other competitors accused Zane of breaking the bronc before they hit the shoot. Of course, it wasn’t possible and they all recognized it, but Zane seemed to be able to gentle the most skittish horse. It was why he was the one to run the stables and operations at the ranch if he would accept, and he needed to decide that now.
Shanna rose when her row began to empty and on cue, walked out of the plane, having given up on identifying the man with the voice. With yet another unfulfilled sigh, she headed through the airport to a corner of the baggage claim arriving just in time to grab the first one off the conveyor belt. WHAM! It took a few seconds to realize she was on the ground. Whatever happened disoriented her for a couple of seconds and she realized she had hit hard. In addition, something was under her, solid, irregular, and oddly smooth at the same time.
"Oh, darling, I am so sorry about putting my things in your way. I should have put the saddle off to the side, but I was afraid someone would walk off with it."
That voice was the voice she had heard on the airplane. Shanna found herself groaning, but not out of pain. That voice almost made her wonder if she should not just find a seat, and get lost in the sound and timbre of the intoxicating voice. It resonated with opulent country sounds. It was smooth, but with rough edges, almost gravelly and a touch of humor. Not a doubt about it, that voice was sex on a stick, or a saddle as it were.? The next thing she knew she was moving and she found herself lifted bodily off the floor and set on her feet with big, hard, comforting hands on her waist until she steadied. Was her tummy tingling?
"Mmm, I’m okay. Wow, you are tall and tanned."? Immediately, she mentally moaned at her lack of intelligent or tactful conversation. Where was that filter she usually used when talking to those she was not close to, when she needed it most?? Damn, but this man looked a lot like that senior in high school so long ago. The simple act of being in his presence affected her cerebral abilities. Good Lord, she could be wrong, probably was wrong, but if not, he was even more freaking gorgeous than she remembered. Looking up, she saw the smile spread over his face and light up the whole baggage claim area. She felt the warmth creeping up and the beginnings of the familiar, yet latent and seemingly uncontrollable excitement.
"Yes, ma’am, they grow them tall down this way and we do see a lot of the sun."
"They sure do. I had quite forgotten that. Yes, I bet a lot of sun, but I‘m thinking not all tan, right?"
“Right again, my family has some Native American in us so we can keep our tan year round.? Looks like you have a bit of some yourself.”
“Latin on my mom’s side, but I also did some fakin’ bakin’ just so I’d fit in. The Northwest tends to be a bit rainy this time of year.”
He nodded as he reached over and snagged his bag from the conveyor belt sitting it next to Shanna. She could smell his body’s essence mingled with soap that had a ‘green’ and leather scent. Leather, soap, and outdoors, but certain scents brought color to her mind’s eye.
“Mmm, you smell green and warm.”
“Warm and green, that is an interesting description.”
“Yeah, you know, warm has a scent, and somethings like fields and meadows, smell green. I have this thing called Synesthesia. It’s where some smells produce color in my brain. Fear is purple.”
Shanna continued to talk about the flights and other mundane things, as he was content to listen and enjoy the conversation.? She had missed that in a male companionship for a little while.
She reached to rub her tummy. Yes, clenching, it was definitely clenching, but she tried to chalk it up to hunger, as she had not eaten for hours.? Hunger was safe because if she went down the road that her body was leading her then she was looking trouble in the face. Trouble was one thing she did not have time for, especially when it was the melt your panties, cowboy kind.
Shanna experienced a twinge of regret she did not have the option of better acquainting herself with this nice looking, comfort talking cowboy. She was almost sure that here, standing in front of her, was the same man that for years her daydreams envisioned would take her home. He was a man who appeared as tough as he was gorgeous, a take-charge real gentleman cowboy that was pure sex with a Stetson. Oh, and a hand-tooled saddle, she added with a smile.
Another familiar theory of self-doubt came through. She could be on the rebound and any man would make her quiver in her boots. Could a person be on the rebound after more than a year post-dump? Was there even such a thing as a reasonable amount of time or was it like grieving, it took however long it took?
Quickly changing her mind’s created philosophy tract, Shanna agreed, "Beautiful saddle you have there, I can see why you were protective. Who tooled it so well? It doesn’t appear stamped as so many I have seen."
The scrumptious cowboy kept his protective hold on her.
“No, ma’am, it’s hand tooled. You have a good eye. I won this at the last rodeo I was at and since I decided to get home for Easter weekend, I flew home and needed to bring it with me. I almost didn’t let them check it. Debated about buying it a seat, I was that proud and protective."
Shanna laughed. "Yes, that might have been awkward. I don’t suppose they let you buy a seat for a seat, do they?"
They both laughed. Oh, Lord, I am tingling lower down. Am I damp? Stop it, Shanna, just stop this flirting and get home.
"Oops. That’s my other bag," she tried to redirect her thoughts and leaned over to reach for the bag, but her sexy Stetson cowboy reached over to grab it and set it at her feet. Her cowboy? No, not hers.
"Thanks. I have been pleased to meet you, but I need to head out if I intend to get home before dark."
Shanna reached out a trembling hand to shake and his voice responded with energetic intent.
"What’s your name, sunshine? I understand Texas is a big state, but if you are coming into DFW, we could be from the same general area. I’m Zanith Gideon, but everyone calls me Zane and I live outside a stop in the road called Freedom."
"Really? I am going back home to Hopeland or at least close to Hopeland. We are going probably about ten miles apart from each other. Guess it is a small world."
Shanna could feel her insides quiver with the hope that she might be able to see him again. It could happen. Yep, panties definitely wet and her tummy was definitely gnawing at her.
"Hey, you got a phone number I could call and we could get a bite to eat sometime?"
Shanna laughed. "Sure, I’m Shanna Parker, by the way."
They exchanged information and went on their way. She caught the transport to the car rental area that was located out of the airport parking lot area, but was on the edge of the property. It seemed like such a hassle, but it worked out fine because it afforded her a few moments to gather her overexcited thoughts and trembling insides.