(I have to thank Lewunrem for her invaluable help editing this story. I hope this turns into an enjoyable read for you folks. If it does, then we got it right. If it doesn't, then perhaps next time.)
My Dad once told me that my honesty was simply too much for most folks. Kinda dumb when you think he was the one that always said that I should never lie.
He was right though, through high school I sure got into a few fights over it and as I got older, being hauled in front of the local sheriff didn't exactly fill me with much happiness either. But then I see that damn poster and a whole world of shit ensued. I have to say being part of the military wasn't high on my list of want to do's, but that poster just kept nagging at me. Eventually I talked to my Dad about it, I have never seen that man smile so much. We both walked into the recruitment office and as they say, the rest is history.
The Army and I parted ways some five years back, we left on better than good terms and for my part many thanks. I now had a stake and some ambition, I also dampened down my honesty some, not much I hasten to add but I get all the way through town now without being in a fight and the sheriff and I have even been known to go fishing from time to time.
I was shrewd with my stake. I bought a parcel of land with one half and played the stock market with the other. The land stayed on the back burner until the town grew out a little. That's when it became important; it's also why it earned me three times what I paid for it. I still classed it as dead money since my adventures into the stock market were keeping me comfortable, I took it all and bought more land on the other side of town, a year or so later the highway came by, I got two out of the three right the last one I sold to a company who wanted to put a gas station on it.
My accountant started calling me lucky. I figured I would have one more spin of the dice and bought one more parcel of land. Three months after that my lawyer got a call, since the highway was bringing in more people to the town they wanted to put a shopping mall up, you can guess were. I sold and my lawyer started using words like rich and millionaire, well I'm sure I made my Dad proud, to bad he wasn't alive to see it or benefit from it, so I decided it was time to move out of both the town and state.
The stock market still kept me amused. A strange breed of man who would stand in the middle of a room and wave his arms around while shouting a lot wearing the most ridiculous looking braces that clearly weren't there to hold his pants up. The internet and a brokerage firm proved an interesting buffer between me and them and I was sure comfortable with that little fact. I now lived just shy of three hours drive from Las Vegas and knew some very discreet ladies I could call on while I was there on business.
Las Vegas was also where my life took on an unexpected side road and hasn't let up since. I was a good hour out of Vegas following another pick up, I could clearly see both people in the truck having one heck of a set to with each other, it was when the pick up began to swerve around a bit I put some distance between us but still kept watching the commotion through their back window. Finally the tail lights came on and the truck swerved to the side of the road, the passenger door opened and a hold-all and a guitar case hit the floor seconds before some girl did.
The pick up drove off and the sudden forward motion closed the passenger door for the driver as he went on his merry way. The temptation to leave the girl there was only canceled out by the fact that this road gets used once every two to three hours and on either side of this road is pure desert. By the time I had pulled up along side the girl she had picked herself up and had already slung her hold-all over her shoulder. She watched as I let the passenger window drop.
"Before you ask I ain't going to fuck you for a ride either mister."
She watched me smile for a moment before she lifted her guitar case across her chest. The recognition was instant, for some strange reason I simply chose to not let her know. The posters I had seen of her simply didn't do what was in front of me justice.
"I'm relieved to hear that ma'am, it shows you have morals. Shame I can't say the same for your dirty mouth though."
Her cheeks flushed and the anger left her eyes for a moment, finally her composure returned.
"I'm sorry mister."
Judging by the deepening redness of her cheeks I could tell she was genuine.
"Hop in the back ma'am, this here road doesn't get used all that often and those clothes won't keep you warm tonight, there is bottled water in the ice box if you need it."
She paused once more to access me. I just stared back at her, the lift was genuine it was up to her to figure that out or fry out here before her next hope of a lift came along. With a shrug of her shoulders she opened the door to the crew section of my pickup and slid her guitar case and bag in then followed, the truck went into gear and I pulled away from the side of the road. I left her alone for awhile as she made herself comfortable and then an arm rested on my shoulder, the hand on the end holding a bottle of water.
I thanked her and opened it, drank half of it and then stuck it in the holder on the dashboard. Moments later I heard her open a bottle to drink from, I sighed to myself, what started out to be a simple ride to the next town and out of harms way of this desert had now it seemed turned into a test of trust.
"What the hell is all this shit in the back for mister, blankets, torches, an ice box full of water and a satellite phone? Are you fixing to stay out here for the duration?"
I smiled. "No ma'am I'm making sure I don't stay out here for the duration. I told you this road is poorly traveled and I meant it. If I break down I want to be alive when help finds me."
She mumbled something, I managed to pick out the word weird and then the rest shot passed me. Less than ten minutes later I heard her breathing become regular so I looked back into the crew compartment. She had spread out one of the blankets across all three seats and was now asleep on top of it, an empty bottle of water in her hands. I just shook my head, the least she could have done was told me were she wanted dropping off before she slept.
It was close to seven in the evening when I heard a scream and two women going at it. I rolled my eyes and started to really think that picking that woman up wasn't one of my better ideas. When calm settled Maria came barging out the door and onto the porch.
"She wants to see you, she said I'm to tell you there are laws against kidnapping and she won't move from her room until the police come."
The rest I lost when she went straight to Spanish. I nodded to Maria, thanked her and did the only thing I could think of to stop her waving her arms around and speaking so much Spanish, I hugged her. I had hired Raul her husband for his abilities around the ranch, what he didn't know about caring for horses wasn't worth sticking on a postage stamp. Maria came a few months later when Raul had settled and she had been part of my family ever since.
To many she looked like an overweight fifty something woman. What she actually was, was a perfect foil for my temperament, although she stood almost level with my chest she could still put me in my place with a stare and one of those hand on hips gestures. Her eyes although dark were always so full of life and the smile that always seemed to dance across her lips what ever the situation had a calming effect on everyone on the ranch. Maria was a matriarch, everyone looked up to her and everyone respected her advice when they came to her and asked for it.
Grabbing the house phone on the way up the stairs, I knocked on the door and waited. Silence, this time I banged on her door and waited to which I got a very brittle 'come in'. She was still in bed, her legs now up to her chin, and her arms around her legs. I ignored the glare she gave me and tossed the house phone onto the bed.
"I suggest you call the doctors first, his name is Dr Hartman, he's expecting your call, he's in the book or you can get the operator to call if you wish. The sheriff's name is Jack Mitchell, he's also expecting your call, again he's in the book or you can get the operator to hook the call up for you. I'm getting tired of your attitude and if it wasn't for the fact you're a guest in my house I would not have been as polite as I have been so far. You're showing little respect for Maria and I won't allow that. When you're done with your phone calls get dressed and one of my people will take you to the bus station."
I made to turn but stopped.
"And one more thing, have you noticed that the lock on this door is on the inside of your room, right along side the key you dumb bitch."
There is something about slamming a door that really puts an end to many conversations. Maria still hovered on the porch, she was one of life's mother hens and I loved her dearly, her whole family had been with me for a little over two years now. For the first year she complained almost daily that I should be married, this year she has tried a new strategy and threatened to start introducing me to her cousins. I'm sure she saw the fear in my eyes.
Maria stopped talking and looked at the door; I heard it open and turned to look at my house guest. Well at least she had a baggy t-shirt on I suppose.
"The Doctor said I have been asleep for nearly two days. He says I have acute exhaustion and need more rest. The sheriff said if I wanted he would send someone by to pick me up and to remind you that you two have a fishing trip coming up."
Her brow knotted as she looked from Maria to me and back again. "What kind of place is this?"
The mother in Maria took over again and guided our guest back into the house and back up to her room. I didn't see either of them again until breakfast. I have to say she sure looked cute as well; her long dark hair pulled back from her face and held there with a hair grip only seemed to highlight her high cheek bones. The freckles across her nose tried to come through, though her tan made it look like she had less than she actually did. Her skin was flawless and her lips just seemed to scream 'kiss me' those posters sure didn't do the real woman justice.
She was tucking into Maria's great tasting scrambled eggs and waffles. I nodded and sat across from her as Maria placed breakfast in front of me.
"What time do you want one of my people to take you to the station?"
A small smile crossed her lips, her eyes closed ever so slightly, making it look like she was evaluating me.
"Is that the way you treat all your guests?"
"No ma'am, I don't keep any of them prisoner here either."
"So I'm still your guest?"
"I would say I had little choice in the matter. You passed out in the back of my pick up and no amount of calling and prodding you would wake you up. I figured you didn't want me taking you to the hospital so here was my only option."
Right about then Maria dropped a plate. She fussed cleaning the mess up but not once did she look at either of us.
She ate another fork full of scrambled egg before saying. "Care to explain yourself."
I opened my mouth to speak, Maria stood behind my guest shaking her head vigorously. In my life I have heeded three peoples advice. My Dad's, Sergeant Timmons who taught me everything he knew in the army and Maria, whose unfailing ability to read people and instinctively know the good ones from the bad. Although pissed that she stopped me, I still valued her council enough to hold back on what I was going to say.
"You're my guest for as long as you choose to stay ma'am."
With that said I pushed my plate away, got up and left, still wondering why Maria had taken sides on this. By the time Maria found me in the maintenance section of one of the barns, I had the hood up on the pickup giving it an oil change.
"You're angry with me."
I came out from under the pickup and said. "You had your reasons for stopping me dumping her scrawny ass at the station, we both know there is something going on with her but it isn't our business."
"Gil, thank you for letting her stay, please talk to her."
"You know who she is Maria, when did you figure it out?"
Maria turned and sat alongside the truck, her hands clasped together. "A couple of hours after you brought her here and the Doctor had left, you told me to sit with her for awhile. She talks in her sleep Gil, she kept repeating three names over and over. When Teresa took over from me I got Raul to go onto the internet and see if he could find those names."
I waited for her to continue. It simply wasn't my turn to say anything, Maria came here to talk I was simply letting her.
"One is her husband, one of the others is her manager and I can't find anything on the last one."
"What do you want from me Maria?"
Relief washed across her face, we both knew she wouldn't have come to me without her own plan, the question had to be, would I do anything about it.
"Just let her stay. Let her get her head in order and then let her go where ever home is to sort out her life."
"Why do I think you've talked to the doctor and the sheriff about this already?"
For a moment she fidgeted, but she refused to back down and simply nodded her head slightly as she stared at me. I couldn't help but smile at myself, first impressions were everything to Maria, and it was time to see if she was right.
"I'll go along with what you want Maria, since you have both the doc's and the sheriffs backing on this, you just make sure you don't get burned. These famous people don't play by our rules, remember that."
I watched as she knelt down and then held my head in her hands and kissed my forehead, got up and left without saying another word. Pushing myself away from the truck I watched as she went back into the house, a couple of minutes later the girl came out and sat on one of the seats on the porch, guitar in hand.
Moments later a horse trailer came around the corner of the barn and I got busy. By the time I looked towards the house again Maria was standing beside her, Eden now had on a hat and sunglasses, the guitar still on her lap, the sound of her fingers strumming a gentle tune as she watched us. It took us close to two hours before we got the horses bedded down and comfortable, all three were in a bad way and the vet had to spend a lot of time on two of them before the animal league gave me the paperwork for them.
As the horse trailer left the compound and Raul headed back to the barn, I walked the vet over to his car while he told me what needed to be done and that he would be back in a few days to check up on them. We shook hands and he took his hat off, nodded his head slightly and mumbled 'Ma'am' over my shoulder before getting in his car.
"Is this what you do, take in horses from the league?"
Eden joined me as I walked towards the barn.
"Can you ride?"
Raul came out of the barn holding the reins on two saddled horses. I tried to hide my smile when Eden mumbled under her breath 'Strangest goddamn place, ever.' She bent her knee next to the horse Raul held for her and he helped her up onto it before spending another minute or so adjusting the straps, took a step back to admire his work and nodded his head before going back into the barn. We must have rode for a good half an hour before Eden broke the silence between us.
"You never answered my question."
She was right of course, so I went on to explain that I didn't own the horses I simply looked after them until the league could find proper homes for them. When the mood to move states became something I had to do something about, buying the farm simply felt like the next logical step in my life, I simply loved horses. The animal league jumped at the chance to have me house them once all my background checks deemed me a good citizen and it's a partnership that we have both kept going ever since.
By now we had reached the outer limits to the farm and turned left along the fence line, the conversation was more comfortable between us and it seemed no topic was out of bounds to Eden. Stopping the horses at the creek so they could drink I stepped down from my horse and walked around to hers.
"Where's the wife. Men like you have wives?"
The men like me remark stuck and she watched from her horse as I laughed, telling her that men like me gave up looking for miss right a long time ago, too many rough edges for any lady to be comfortable with. Even though her eyes were still hidden by her sunglasses her face let me know she seemed to be thinking about what had just been said. Eden swung her leg over and I held my arms up ready to catch her, she slid between my arms and down my body. Her arms came out and swung around my neck, her hat tilted back and off of her head coming to rest between her shoulder blades.
Her incredibly dark hair seemed to shine in the sunlight and now free of her hat also enhance the beauty of her face even further. Eden then leaned in and kissed me. Had I given her any reason to? I would say no. Was I going to reciprocate? I would say yes and I did, for some time in fact but being human we both had to come up for air at some point.
"Thank you, although I'm still trying to figure out why you did that."
She slid the last two inches to the ground and I stepped back to give her personal space, at which point she stepped forward keeping the distance between us about as much as a sheet of paper could get past if it asked nicely.
"Don't sell yourself short. I've met people like you before, you have that something that holds a woman's interest, well this ones interest anyway and before your mind goes a wandering, no I didn't kiss those guys, just you."
Being speechless doesn't come often to me, sure did at that moment in my life. She then turned and walked her horse to the creek to let her drink. That kiss was never mentioned again that afternoon, I'm not even sure it ever got a mention ever again. I gave her the grand tour and as the sun started heading down towards late afternoon we got back to the house. I went to take both horses but Eden refused, telling me that she rode her horse and she was damn well going to look out for her, and for the next hour did just that.
It was once we had finished dinner and sat on the porch that things seemed to take one of those turns. I had asked her why she was running from Vegas, neither one of us were fools, I had already called her by her real name a couple of times so she knew I had recognized her. It still took Eden a few moments to gather her thoughts and organize where she wanted her story to start; I simply sat and let her.
"I had just turned eighteen that day when he put the paperwork in front of me, he even offered to hire a lawyer to read it all and explain it to me if I wanted. I couldn't see any point; we both knew I would sign anyway so I did."
Eden looked across the courtyard as Raul was moving one of the horses out of the paddock and into one of the barns for the evening and then looked back at me.
"It took less than a month to realize I was fucked and should have got a lawyer to look it over. He took seventy percent of everything I made and I picked up the tab for expenses. I did see a lawyer much later, but he said it was worded tighter than a drum. I was his property and for life it seemed. The first year my album went gold."
This time she looked at her hands, her brow creased and I got the feeling she simply didn't want to continue.
"The second year I met and married, one of those whirlwind romances. He was my life and I put up with all the shit from my manager because I had my husband by my side, even when we were on the road he was by my side. The money was good and for that I was grateful since that damn contract had me paying all the bills."