Falling in the Rain

byLuckie_Duckie©

"Yeah," he said as he flipped the switch on. "Night."

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim set his coffee cup on the table, leaned back in his chair, and smacked his lips. "It's scary how similar they are, isn't it?" He asked, watching the two walk away. Roger nodded his agreement. Turning to Roger, he set his elbows on the table and leaned forward.

"Jess is a born rider. I think she'll teach Josh quite well, but the fact that he is not family might throw Jess off."

"Excuse me?" Roger said. "Are you insulting my son because he's not family?" Playfulness evident in his tone of voice.

"No, no." Jim said and let out a scoffing laugh. "No, I mean that Josh is the only boy close to Jess's age she's ever met that hasn't judged her or wanted to coddle her. Josh wants to understand her, I think, and because he's a person outside our little family who has wanted to know her personally, it just might throw her off."

Roger nodded along with Jim's explanation. "I understand." He said as Jim finished his explanation. "I hope she can over come that some day. How else will she ever get married? She does want to get married, doesn't she?"

"Honestly, Rog, I have no idea. For all I know, she plans on becoming a nun." Jim was silent before he gave a slight chuckle. "Well, she could be a nun if she didn't curse like a sailor on a two day pass." Roger grinned at his friend.

"Do I need to ask where she got that from?"

"No, you know I curse like a sailor, too." Jim stated grinning like a fool.

The two men moved on from the topic of Jessica, to old times, and finally their wives. Two hours and another pot of coffee later the two friends parted ways for the night and went to bed.

Chapter Four

5 a.m. the next morning

Josh woke up to a pounding in his head. Wondering if he was going crazy, he tried to ignore it. Finally realization hit him. He was at the Mill's ranch. It was a pounding at the door, not in his head. "What?" He croaked.

Glancing at the clock, he read the red numbers. Hell, it was only five in the morning. What the hell was going on? Throwing the heavy quilts off his body, he pulled his boxer shorts up and headed toward the door of the small room. Glancing out the window by the bed, his mind registered it was still night outside. Stars and moon. No sun.

Gripping the cold medal handle he felt a chill run down his spine at its feel. It was damned cold. Gripping it tightly he swung the door wide open, and he stared in shock and annoyance at Jessica, standing freshly washed and clothed, looking bright eyed and bushy tailed. He knew his hair was a mess, and he felt suddenly shy about appearing bare chested in front of her. Dispite the fact he had appeared less clothed while on the swim team, and in front of a ton of people.

"What?" He asked, surprised at how quiet his voice was.

"Come on. It's time to go riding." Jessica chirped.

"No." Josh slammed the door in her face and dropped like a dead body back into the bed. Pulling the quilts back over his body, he put a pillow on his face as he heard the door open.

"Yes." He heard Jessica state stubbornly through the pillow.

"No." Came Josh's mumbled reply. "Stars and moon. No sun. Still dark. Not getting up."

Jess wanted to laugh at Josh's pitiful condition. He wasn't even awake enough to form complete thoughts. Amusement quickly gave way to annoyance when she realized he was going back to sleep.

"Now!" Jessica said, her cheerful chirp now a demandingly bitchy voice. She reached down and grabbed the quilt from his lower back and pulled down. She was in the process of trying to figure out what it was snagged on when she heard a muffled protest.

"Hey!" Jessica ignored the protest and the groping hand that tried to slap her away. Instead she gave a sharp tug. She flung the blankets on to the floor. "Rise and shine, city slicker."

Josh felt dumb struck. Holy God! Did this girl just rip off his shorts and tell him to get up. Sudden anger flashed through his mind and body and he became ridged with it. How dare she? Turning on to his side toward her, he tried to grab the blankets when he realized she was getting an eyeful.

Realization on Jess's part was slow. She didn't quite understand why he was boxerless until she glanced at the quilt. Oh, she thought lazily. There they are.

"Uh. . ." he quickly covered himself with his hand, shocked and surprised at Jessica's reaction. She simply shook her head at him and headed toward the door.

"Now that your up, get the lead out. Your dad said to take you riding, and if you don't move that. . ." Jess turned and raised an eyebrow at him, "butt of yours, I'll leave you here," she threatened.

"Is that a promise or a threat?" Josh asked sarcastically.

"What do you think?" She smiled sweetly at him as if she hadn't a care in the wide world, and turned from the room, closing the door behind her.

Feeling a blush stain her cheeks, Jess resisted the urge to fan herself. Giving herself a tough mental shake, she squared her shoulders and took a deep breath.

Striding to the stairs, Jess descended like a royal. Her thoughts focused on finishing breakfast. Now lets see here, she thought, the sausage links are done, but the eggs still need to be scrambled. . .

Ten minutes later, Jess set the plates of sausage and eggs on the table as Josh walked into the room, drying his hair. "Have a seat," she said, "Sausage and eggs for breakfast." Josh nodded to himself more than her, and sat down at the table.

"Where should I put this?" He asked holding the towel out.

Jessica walked over to him, and took the towel from his hand, her fingers tips brushing his. "I'll take it." She told him. A wave of sensations rolled through him. He watched her walk away and shook his head. No, this was his dad's friend's daughter. He wasn't going to think anything impure about her.

"What?" Josh realized he had been concentrating on convincing himself he wasn't going to think anything like that, he hadn't noticed Jess was looking at him. He turned to his plate and gazed at the food on the table. "Looks good, Jessica," he said before Jess could answer his question.

"Jess." She said sitting down across from him. She picked up the white platter she had put all the sausage on after cooking it and put three links on her plate before handing the platter to him. Josh put a few on his plate and watched her follow suit with the eggs.

Jess wasn't hungry this morning. It was the only morning she could ever remember not being hungry. What was with her today? Glancing up from her plate, she saw Josh watching her. With out a seconds hesitation, she stabbed her fork through the link she had been pushing around on her plate and tore a chunk off the tip of it.

Josh suddenly sat up straighter, looking away from Jessica to his plate, a grimace on his face. Jess almost choked on the bite as she tried to swallow, the laugh in her throat almost pushed the sausage out of her mouth. Luckily for her, she was able to finish chewing and swallow before he noticed anything out of the ordinary.

The food hit Josh's stomach like a rock. His mind registered the food was tasty but he wasn't interested in eating it. Pushing his plate out of the way, he noticed that Jessica hadn't eaten any more of her breakfast either. "So, I guess we're both not hungry. How about we go riding?" Jess nodded, and took her breakfast to the garbage and tossed it away, placing her plate in the sink.

"All right, city slicker, lets go." She said, and headed out the kitchen door with Josh right behind her. She walked slowly toward the stables, admiring the time of day.

It always had been her favorite time when she and her mother would sit outside before Jess left with her father to go to school. With the sun barley peaking over the hills in the distance, the sky was lit up with enchanting colors. She could still remember how her mother would draw in a breath at the sight every morning. She always reacted like the sunrise she was seeing the first she'd ever seen. Watching the pink swirl into orange and yellow. The blue sky held a dark quality the father from the sunrise it was. Holding her breath, Jess sent up a quick prayer to her mother, as she did every morning.

Looking at Josh, Jess quickly looked away when she felt a pang on envy. He had his mother his entire life. Jess only had seven short years. Sighing, she forced her mind back to the present. "I've got a horse all picked out for you." Jess stated as they entered the stables.

"Great," Josh said, rolling his eyes in sarcasm.

"You'll be riding Sugar," Jess continued on as if she hadn't heard him. "She's calm, easy to handle, and really easy to stay on. She's a good horse for beginners." She thought to add. Josh stopped near the stall she was standing at. A brown speckled mare stood inside swishing her tale.

"What? Do I look like a child to you?" He asked.

"Maybe."

"Very funny. I'm older than you." He said.

"Well, I'll tell you what. You can have a choice, Sugar or Twister."

"Twister? Which one is she?"

"He is two stalls down." Jess paused and finally motioned for Josh to look for himself. "The one bucking and twisting." Out of stupidity, or curiosity, Jess didn't know, Josh walked down the corridor to Twister's stall. The black beauty was rearing and twisting in the constraints of the stall. Josh in pure awe, moved forward until his body was pressed against the stall door. Jess opened her mouth to tell him that wasn't the smartest place to be, when Twister kicked up, clipping Josh in the chin.

Stumbling, Josh fell backward as a lightning pain shot through his head. For a quick moment, the entire world went red as the pain slashed through him. His eyes closed as he let the pain slide through him, knowing if he let it slide through, he could get it done and over with. It didn't work out that way. He didn't know how long he laid there, but with the pain, it seemed like eternity.

When the pain subsided enough, Josh slowly opened his eye lids. Jess was looking down at him, her ghostly blue eyes looking at him, her face showing her concern.

"Josh, you okay?" Josh took the hand she held out to him, and pulled himself up.

He nodded slightly, then winced over the pain the action caused him. "Ouch," he mumbled more to himself than anyone else. Especially Jess.

"How many fingers, city boy?" Jess asked, her voice laced with masked sarcasm.

Flashing her a look of what he hoped was annoyance, he answered her. "Three," he muttered, "and a thumb."

"Well, your not dead, and your head still works. You'll be fine." Jess assured, convinced the danger was over.

He rubbed his chin, and knew he'd have one hell of a bruise on his chin by tonight, but at least it wasn't cut. "I think Sugar would be great." He said, and smiled over the amused look Jess gave him. "What? Isn't a man allowed to change his mind?"

Jess shook her head. "Naw, you haven't even made your mind up yet." She looked almost amused with the entire situation. Josh absently rubbed his forming bruise, wincing as he answered it.

"Sugar."

"All right." Jessica said stepping away from Josh so he could walk to the horse stall. "Sugar it is." She watched him as he walked past her, and started down the corridor. Looking at the horse in the stall that had just given him such a jolt, Josh sighed. Twister had calmed down and stood docile in his stall eating his oats.

Shaking her head, Jess followed after Josh, shoving her hands in her pants pockets, she began to push the hay on the ground around with her feet as she walked steadily forward. "You sure you don't need an ice bag or something?"

"You never offered me one." Josh stated.

"I'm offering one now."

Josh touched his slowly blackening chin, gently moving his jaw back and forth. "Naw, it'll bruise, but I think it will be all right." Josh smiled at her. "I don't mind a good bruise or two, especially when I earn them."

Looking up into his eyes, Jess saw a sudden sparkle there. Jess watched his eyes marveling at their crystal clear clarity. Josh turned abruptly, starting toward the stall again, ignoring her. Jess sighed and shook her head. It was his pain. Looking at his gate as he walked Jess smiled to himself. He certainly didn't have any good ranch clothing did he? The way his jeans fit over his hips and hind end. . .

What am I doing? Her mind suddenly screeched. Good Lord, Jessica Marie Mills! Don't think anything like that! He's your dad's friend's son! Scolding herself, Jess didn't notice when Josh turned and gave her a confused look. "Don't think what, Jess?" He asked, looking at her.

Looking up, Jess realized she had been speaking out loud. "I was talking to myself." She said, averting her eyes and her hands to the stall door. Hearing the words echo in her mind, she cringed inwardly. Talking to herself?

Opening the stall door, she tried to ignore the fact that she knew he was looking at her. "It's a good thing you chose Sugar. She's very docile." Oh God, was she rambling again?

Glancing up at him quickly, she noticed that he was looking at her with an amused look on his face. "What?" She asked, as she walked over to the stalls wall to pull the bridle down. Pulling it down, she looked over at him, and tilted her head, repeating her question. Josh had a look on his face she hadn't ever seen before. He looked. . . astonished.

Oh God, he couldn't believe he'd noticed. He wasn't supposed to notice when his dad's friend's kid was wearing chaps, and they were great for her figure. Well, her legs anyway. He wanted to feel ashamed, embarrassed uncomfortable. Hell, even a little guilt at this point was fine by him. He didn't. He wanted to walk over there and push all her dark hair out of her face, look into those ghostly blue eyes of hers, and. . . and what? His mind yelled, begging to know the answer. And what?

Wait, why shouldn't he walk over there and look into her ghostly blue eyes? He was a guy; she was girl, a very beautiful girl. No, Jess was all woman, he had to admit to himself. Not only was she was eighteen, and could make all her own decisions, but she was beautiful in a way that girls weren't and women were. Almost as if she'd lived more thoroughly than anyone in their eighteen years should. Hell, why shouldn't he notice when a beautiful woman was wearing chaps? He was a man after all, a perfectly normal man, with a perfectly normal reaction to a beautiful woman.

"Well?" Jess asked interrupting his thoughts.

"Uh. . ." he started, unable to think of anything to say. Clearing his throat, he forced himself to tear his gaze away from Jessica and look at the dirt and hay on the floor. "I was just thinking, your decision for my horse was, you know, good." He forced the lie out of his mouth. Suddenly, Josh realized he looked like a second grader admitting he had a crush on his teacher. Looking up quickly, Josh looked into her eyes. He was beginning to feel the effects of a sudden episode of cotton mouth. Great.

Shaking her head, Jess quickly saddled the horse, a lot quicker than he thought it took, and was leading her out of the stall a few minutes later. Jess was murmuring quietly to the horse, as she walked with her to the corral.

Josh couldn't make anything she said to the horse out, but she must have agreed, because the mare began to nod her large head. Stepping out, of the barn and into the adjoining corral, he noticed another horse already saddled, prancing around. It was a beautiful black horse, obviously well taken care of. His mane was just as dark as the hair on his body, Josh let out a whistle.

"Tell me that is Sugar." Josh said to Jess.

Jess couldn't help the laugh that escaped her lips. "No, that's Velvet." She told him. "He's my stallion." She handed the reins to Josh. "I understand that you can ride fairly well." Josh looked appalled at the very thought of it. "Didn't your dad tell me the truth?"

Dad told her that? Why had he done that!? He had never ridden a horse in his entire life. "I. . . um. . . haven't ridden in a while." He said. "So, if worse comes to worse, its lack of practice." He said, attempting to make an excuse for his future indiscretion. Feeling a sudden fear of the large animal next to him, Josh took an involuntary step backward.

"If you were good once upon a time, you'll be all right now. It's like riding a bike." Swinging into the saddle of the black animal, Jess impressed Josh. She hadn't even stopped the horse to mount it. Oh lord, he was in trouble. Pulling the reins of the horse, Jess came to a stop a few yards away from Josh. "Well, lets go, city boy," she said gesturing toward Sugar.

Turning toward the horse, Josh took a deep fortifying breath in preparation of his first ride. Putting a Nike encased foot in one stirrup, he pulled himself up quickly. Forgetting common sense enough to swing his other leg on the other side of the horse, his body's own momentum threw him off the other side of the animal, his foot sliding helplessly out of the stirrup and across the saddle. Landing face first into the mud, Josh didn't feel the physical pain of landing, but instead the squish of mud in places he wasn't sure it was natural to have mud.

"Oh my sweet. . ." Jessica was off of the horse before he had hit the ground. Running to his side, Jess prayed for devine intervention, as he laid motionless on the ground. Images of him in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down, flooded her mind. Please move, she prayed as she ran to his side. Please move, Josh. She didn't realize she was chanting it in a whisper. Dropping to her knees when she reached him, she placed her hands on his back and pushed lightly as she whispered his name.

"Josh. . .Josh, please, don't be hurt." She said as she leaned down to see if he was breathing. "My dad would kill me if I killed you on your first day out here."

To Jess's shock and surprise, a muffled laugh came from Josh's still form as he flipped over and grabbed her, knocking her off her balance. Jess fell on her back next to him, in the mud. Josh quickly took advantage and rolled gently on her.

"You jerk!" Jessica said knowing her voice lacked any real bite. As Josh yelled with peels of laughter, his chest rumbled against her as she tried to move away from him. Pulling her even closer Josh rolled over pinning Jess beneath him, and continued to laugh. Jessica pushed against his chest, struggling under him. As if suddenly aware that she was under him, Josh looked down at her and smiled.

Jessica felt a small flutter slide down her spine. Jess was unaware she quit struggling, as stared up at him. His eyes looked into hers, almost seeming to bore into her soul. His eyes were soft, reflecting the warmth in his smile.

Josh couldn't believe that ho one had claimed this treasure for their own. She quit struggling under him, and he almost couldn't hold his sigh of thanks. Unsure of what she would do, Josh couldn't resist the urge to touch her. Reaching up, he brushed his thrum across her cheek lightly. she was so beautiful, he almost felt his breath catch in his throat.

Jess felt his feather light touch on her skin and didn't know how to react. Sudden realization that she wasn't moving anymore, Jess resumed her struggles more violently. "Let. . .Me. . GO!" She screamed.

Josh immediately rolled over, letting his arms slide away from around her. What had he done? Regret swamped through him, as he watched Jessica push her way up form the mud he had held her down in. Her chaps and jeans were completely caked with mud. Her blue and red flannel shirt gaped wide open when she turned and glared at him. Her white shirt underneath looked brown, with white stained spots.

Propping himself up on his elbows, he looked at Jessica's face, and saw a blank expression. Not knowing if she was as angry with him as he was with himself Josh decided the safest thing to do, aside from fall over and dying on the spot, was to simply smile at her. Flashing her a wide, white toothed grin, he hoped it was all he would need to get a similar reaction from her.

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