Home > A Place Without You(13)

A Place Without You(13)
Author: Jewel E. Ann

I glance down at my jeans and sneakers I have to wear for automotive class, thinking they’d work for riding a horse. “Sure.”

He starts walking and I follow. “Do you own the stables?”

“Nope. I’m the manager. My name is Duke, by the way. The Malone family owns everything, but after Barrett had his accident, things were neglected. They tried to sell it all, but they couldn’t get a fair price, so they kept it and hired me to run things. Their youngest, Bodhi, helps out in the evenings and early mornings, but he has a job at the school now.”

“Is his dad home by himself during the day?”

Duke saddles a chestnut horse with one white sock on its front right leg. “Etta, my wife, stays with him. We own that trailer just beyond the farmhouse. It’s not much, but we don’t have kids, just Howie.” He nods to the dog pacing by the black gate to the horse fields.

“Howie is a beautiful dog.”

“Australian Shepherd.” He tightens the saddle. “Have you been on a horse before?”

“Once. On a beach with my mom for …” A photo shoot. But that sounds weird and getting into my family’s professions isn’t something I like explaining. “A short ride.”

“Well, Angelina is a great fit for you. She’ll give you an easy, slow ride.” He looks me over. “Are you eighteen? I’ll need a waiver signed.”


“Oh, college?”

“No. I’m … not in college. I have some living to do first.”

“I hear ya.” He grabs a clipboard off a hook and hands it to me. “Read and fill out the three lines at the bottom. It’ll be sixty-five with the discount.”

I fill out the form and pay him.

“You can leave your bag right here. Ain’t nobody around to take it. I’ll have Leo take you from here. Give me one sec.” He disappears around the corner.

I smooth my hand over the white area just above Angelina’s nose, and her ears twitch. My innocent stalking has turned into a horseback ride with someone named Leo. I suppose in my own little part of the world, I’m just living.


I turn to the fine specimen in snug-fitting jeans, a tight tee, and blond hair a little darker than Bodhi’s. He slips on a baseball cap. It almost makes me laugh. He needs a cowboy hat to complete his own sexy cowboy look. He has to be younger than Bodhi by a few years. His body looks like it’s just coming into its own.

“Hi.” I force my eyes to meet his gaze instead of comparing him to my favorite guidance counselor.

“I’m Leo. I’ll be your private guide today.” He holds out his hand.

“Henna.” I shake his hand, it’s nice, but not … I internally scold myself. My life will suck if I spend the rest of it comparing every man I meet to the one I want the most. The one I can’t have.

“Duke said you don’t have much experience around horses. I’ll give you a few simple ways to guide her, but she’ll pretty much do exactly as you want without you doing much of anything. And Claud and I will be right next to you.” He nods to the large black horse behind him.

“Cool. I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

Leo helps me onto Angelina, grabbing not only one of my legs, but my ass too when I fail to pull myself up into the saddle.

“Let’s go.” He clicks his tongue and Angelina follows him and Claud out to the trail.

Leo takes me on a ninety-minute ride where I discover that he’s Duke’s eighteen-year-old nephew who dropped out of school when he “fell into a bit of trouble,” of which he doesn’t elaborate.

“Come back tomorrow and I’ll let you ride for free with me and Claud on the morning tour, 9:00 a.m.”

My ass, lady bits, and inner thighs are thoroughly bruised. I will not be riding anything for a long time. “Thanks for the offer, but I can’t.”

“Another time?” He guides us toward the stables where a sexy guy in another stupid white tee and jeans stands with a sponge in his hand and a sudsed-up horse in front of him.

“Maybe,” I whisper, a little breathless because Bodhi looks hot as fuck even with the slacked-jaw expression on his face.

“Mr. Malone.” Leo nods as our horses slow their gaits.

“Leo …” Bodhi replies while looking at me with all kinds of questions etched into his forehead.

“I was going to do that, but I had a tour come up,” Leo explains, dismounting from Claud.

“You can finish.” Bodhi tosses the sponge in the bucket—still staring only at me—before taking Angelina’s reins from me and guiding us into the far stall of the stable.

I want him to speak because I’m not sure how to explain my late afternoon ride on his property. He runs a calming hand down Angelina’s neck a few times before holding out his hand to me. I take it and slide off the horse with very little grace, landing into his chest.

“Henna.” He gives me an expectant look as I peer up at him.


“S’up?” He cants his head.

“She’s a great horse,” I whisper.

He nods once, keeping me flush to his body.

I swallow hard and press my hands to his chest until he releases me. He takes off her riding gear and hangs it with the rest of the tack, his back to me. “Did you follow me home?”

“Yep. I sure did.”

He pauses his motions, glancing over his shoulder. The truth is usually more shocking than a lie.

“Don’t give me that look. You know what my nipples feel like against your tongue.”

Crimson races up his face as he turns back to hang stuff up.

“I needed to know where you live. How you live in my community, yet I met you at a concert with 100,000 spectators in the middle of the desert. And much to my complete shock, you literally live a mile from me.”

“I’m the stable boy and you’re the princess on the hill.”

“Dude, no. I’m not a princess. I live in the guest house—not even the whole house—just one bedroom, a bath, and small kitchen. I walk to school, even when it’s snowing. I have snow shoes, for real. Granted, I’ve caught a ride a few times in the rain, but that’s rare. And clearly Leo is the stable boy, a juvenile delinquent stable boy, but nonetheless a stable boy.”

Bodhi shakes his head, releasing a soft chuckle. “He’s not a juvenile or a delinquent. He had sex with a woman much older than him when he was sixteen. Small town. Lots of gossip. So he dropped out of school and moved to Colorado, close to his uncle and aunt.”

“That sucks.”

Bodhi shrugs, sliding his hands in his back pockets while leaning his shoulder against the side of the stall. “Duke—and eventually Leo too—taking care of all of this is what allowed me to get a degree, a job, an extra source of income beyond the unreliable trail rides.”

I stare at him for a few silent moments. “I want to know you, Bodhi what’s-your-middle-name Malone.”

He grins. “Bodhi Kaden Malone.”

“Bodhi …” I take two steps toward him. “Kaden …” Another step. “Malone …” I rest my hands on his chest. They seem to know exactly where to touch him—where they fit so perfectly. “Do you regret this coincidence? Me being a student at your school? Do you wish we weren’t in the same town? Do you worry about someone finding out? About losing your job?”


I tip my chin down, letting my hands fall to my sides, letting my heart bleed out.

“Yes, I worry about someone finding out, and I worry about losing my job, but I don’t regret the coincidence. This sadistic, glutton-for-punishment side of me is so ridiculously elated that you’re here, that I get to see you most days.”

“Mr. Malone?” Leo calls.

I take a step back as Bodhi brushes past me, his finger intentionally ghosting along my hand for a breath. “Just a minute,” he says to me.

After a few minutes, he returns. “I have to get some chores done and pay a few bills. Duty calls.”

“Then what?”

He narrows his eyes in question.

“After your chores and writing checks. Then what are you doing?”

“Fixing dinner for my dad.”

“Then what?”

Bodhi sighs. “Help him get ready for bed. Give him his meds and put him to bed. Clean up the kitchen from dinner, take a shower, check my email, then crash.”

“It’s Friday. Don’t crash. Meet me in Alice.”

“Henna, I can’t.” He runs a hand through his hair, tugging at it before letting his arm flop to his side.

“You can. It’s your fear and guilt telling you that you can’t. Just …” I grip his shirt, resting my forehead on his chest as his arms lie limp at his sides. I love him beyond reason, and it’s so damn exhilarating and so fucking heartbreaking, but … I can’t pretend that he’s not here in my life. My heart won’t let me. “We don’t have to do anything but simply be.” I glance up. “Can you give me that? Can you just be with me?”

Conflict wars along his face and deep in his eyes. It’s not a setup. I’m not baiting him. My need to be with him in any way possible is real, and it makes me think about something besides getting high, hating that I have another year of school and feeling guilty for feeling anything in life aside from lucky that I wasn’t the one who died.

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