A/N: This one-shot was written for Foxy Fics, a group run by Katbug86 to bring awareness and support to Parkinson's Disease research. Foxy Fics raised over $1000 and all donations went to The Fox Foundation. You can check it out here: foxyfics{dot}blogspot{dot}com.

I'd like to thank Irritable Grizzzly for beta'ing this monster and for the title, and to daisy3853 for helping me with anything Texas. These two women rock :)

Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight

On Saturdays Alice would call up her friend Rosalie to go shopping at the mall, or see a movie. Alice's parents were gone frequently when it came to her father's business or her mother's fundraisers, so many times they'd just hang out at the house. With little to do in the suburbs of Dallas, she preoccupied herself with the occasional drug and alcohol experimentation, shoplifting dares, or trying on her mother's expensive dresses with her friends. Rosalie was usually the perfect partner in crime.

Last weekend, her parents had come home early from a trip to find a large party in progress. As they pulled their Mercedes into the driveway, they were horrified at the sights and sounds that greeted them. The lights were on and the music was loud, punctuated by hoots of laughter. Alarmed, they left their luggage in the trunk and entered to see groups of teenagers dancing, shouting, drinking, smoking, and falling over. Shock painted Mr. and Mrs. Brandon's expressions as they also took in the damage to their home.

Beer stains decorated their upholstered couches and carpet. Their lamps stood with crooked shades. Pizza boxes littered table surfaces along with its cheese and toppings. Music boomed angry static from their stainless steel stereo in the corner. As they stepped further inside, inebriated kids began to notice their entrance, but paid little attention to the adults dressed in suits.

Not all that slowly, Mr. and Mrs. Brandon ordered the drunken teens out of their home, creating an open path as they searched the area for their only daughter. Worry filled Mrs. Brandon as the kids, who figured they'd just escaped serious punishment, filed out. Alice, was still unfound.

The Brandons headed up the stairs, passing more teens making their way out of the house. After calling Alice's name several times, they finally found her in a corner of her bedroom, making out with a boy. Relief quickly faded as they took in her lopsided shirt, heavy bloodshot eyes, and smeared lipstick. She smiled drunkenly at them and then passed out onto the floor.

Later on, Mr. and Mrs. Brandon discovered that all the beds had been "ruined," including their own. Nauseated anger filled her father and her mother cried, deeply wounded by Alice's thoughtless, disrespectful actions. They knew their daughter had been failing her classes, spending their money, and overall, had a snippy, unenthusiastic attitude. They had tried punishment by taking away her car and grounding her from hanging out with Rosalie Hale. Nothing seemed to work, since she was determined to rebel the more they enforced restriction.

Mr. Brandon was at his wit's end. Though Alice had barely graduated from high school, her parents refused to financially support her at college until she improved and with no job experience, Alice was left with few options. In a sense, she was being kicked out of her childhood home until she learned better behavior.

This particular Saturday, Alice would not be calling Rosalie. It was a sunny morning when the three Brandons drove silently to Grandma Ruth Brandon's ranch in Stonewall. Mr. and Mrs. Brandon wanted Alice to learn the meaning of hard work and they thought the secluded farm would give her a chance to think about what she'd done. Alice quietly seethed in the backseat, ignoring her parents completely.

The longer they drove, the less civilization there was and farther stretches of fields took over the landscape. Were her parents really going to make her spend months alone without a soul to talk to?

Four hours and forty-seven minutes later, they finally drove on a long dirt driveway that looked more like a remote hiking trail barely wide enough to accommodate the car. It led to a small country home that was white with gray shutters and a red door. Daisies and marigold grew in pots on the windowsill and trimmed bushes lined the front. It was real quaint and in contrast with the large red barn off to the side. A scuffed, worn tractor was parked on a grassy hill next to it.

As they drove up, Ruth came outside in a light blue dress capped with a flowery apron and walked through the clouds of dust they'd kicked up. A smile brightened her face. It'd been too long since she'd seen her son and daughter-in-law. Mr. and Mrs. Brandon got out of the car to greet her as the hot summer sun beat down on them.

Ruth wiped her hands on her apron before embracing them with a brief hug and a sweet kiss on the cheek.

"Good to see you," she said. "How was the drive?"

Mr. Brandon thought back on the thick silence the whole way, but kept himself from commenting on it. "We didn't hit much traffic." He glanced around as if looking for words. The wild, bountiful ranch heavily contrasted with his neat dark slacks and pressed collared shirt. "The place still looks great. I hope you're not still doing all this on your own."

"Nonsense, John. I always have hired help in the summer. Now, why don't you come on inside and have a cold drink and rest up a bit before you head back out? "

"I wish we could, but Irene and I need to get back before dark," Mr. Brandon apologized.

Eventually Ruth conceded, peering around her son's shoulder to see Alice reluctantly exit the car and move toward the trunk to get her things.

"Thank you for doing this, Momma. It's been bad lately," Mr. Brandon admitted under his breath. He took Ruth's hand and squeezed it gratefully.

She patted the top of his hand with her own. "I'm sorry to hear that. Not to worry. Alice and I will get on fine." Her tone was reassuring and cheerful, but her doubts seeped in as she beheld her granddaughter's sour expression. Alice's petite frame hauled each of her large suitcases out of the trunk with difficulty. The wheels on the luggage scuffed against pebbles and lumpy dirt as she trudged with them up the front stairs and through the red front door without a second glance at her parents.

Mrs. Brandon looked stricken and fought watery eyes at Alice's cold dismissal. They expressed their appreciation to Ruth with a few last words and said goodbye. The Mercedes backed out of the dirt driveway and the morose parents drove off with hope and heartache deep in their hearts.

Alice tossed her bags on the floor of the old room she used to inhabit as a child. She'd spent the summers here until she was old enough to attend sleep-away camp. Now she felt the familiarity of the quaint home, but couldn't remember much about her days here.

She flopped on the quilted bedspread and stared at the sage green walls. She wanted to forget about everything and sleep. Her parents had woken her up early when she usually slept until the afternoon on Saturdays. As she was about to slip into a comfortable nap, a voice traveled from the bottom of the stairs.

"Alice? Come down for tea," called Ruth in a friendly, firm tone.

She groaned and rolled over halfheartedly. In another moment she sat up, rubbed her eyes, and straightened her skirt. Her chunky-heeled boots thumped against the worn wood floor as she slowly made her way downstairs to the kitchen and plopped into a chair at the table.

Ruth had her back turned as she busied with slicing lemons for the tea at the counter. She was a large, round woman with strength in her movement. Her calloused hands showed she was used to hard work. She turned and presented Alice with a full glass iced tea.

"Do you have any sugar?" Alice asked.

After bringing sugar cubes to the table, Ruth sat down across from Alice and sipped silently.

Alice awkwardly reached for the sugar and put five cubes in. She dunked the spoon in and stirred, staring at the swirling liquid, watching the granules dissolve. The tea was cold and refreshing on the hot summer day.

"It's going to be a long summer with that attitude," Ruth said mildly.

Alice pulled her lips away from the glass and set it down. "I guess I don't have a choice," she shrugged.

"You always have a choice Alice. Sounds like you haven't been making the right ones lately."

"Why does everybody care all of a sudden?" Alice shot back, narrowing her eyes. "It's my life."

"I think the better question is; why don't you?"

Her eyes fell from Ruth's friendly gaze that had a hint of steel in it. "I guess I screwed up big this time," she mumbled.

Seeing Alice's humility was enough for Ruth and she patted her granddaughter's hand just like she'd done to her son's. "Nothing that can't be fixed. Rest up, dear. Good news is there's not much folk around here to amuse yourself with, so I doubt you'll be getting into trouble for a while."

Alice wasn't used to the loudness that came with nature. The crickets and night owls chatted, making it impossible for her to find sleep. Restlessly, she tossed and turned, snuggling up with the quilt to find comfort, only to throw it off her with the stifling heat. Exhaustion finally claimed her, but a few hours later a screeching noise jolted her awake.

She flew upright in bed, frightened and disoriented. It screeched again and howled a clucking tune. She bolted to the window in alarm.

A rooster was perched on the fence below, bristling before elongating its plump body and howling again. It greeted the slit of sun that rose, which cast glimmers of light on its regal feathers.

It's practically still dark out! Alice thought, cranky beyond anything she'd ever felt. She staggered back to her bed and clamped her pillow over her head as the rooster continued to sing to the day. Several hours later, the sun's rays beat down on her through the window, and the thick heat in her room woke Alice again. She moaned and rolled over, hoping to cling to sleep some more.

A distinct thwack startled her awake for good this time and she growled as she sat up in bed, rubbing her eyes and spiked hair. Fighting the fog in her mind, she stomped over to the window and wrenched it open to see what the hell that noise was all about.

A tall man held logs in his arms and deposited the bundle into a larger stack of cut wood residing near the barn. He brushed woodchips from his jeans and bare chest as he walked back over to the large stump and unhooked his axe from it.

He leaned down and placed another large chunk of wood on the stump.

"Some people are trying to sleep!" Alice huffed, and put her fists on her hips.

The man looked up at the window with surprise, the brim of his Stetson hat shielding his eyes from the sun.

"Afternoon," he said jovially.

"It's the afternoon?"

"Yes, ma'am," he answered, removing his hat to wipe sweat off his forehead with the back of his forearm.

Alice became more aware that he was half-naked when he stared at her silk pajama set with polite interest.

She crossed her arms over her chest defensively. "Well…some people are trying to sleep and you're making an awful racket!"

"My apologies." He replaced his hat, lifted the axe high, and let the weight of it slice through the wood.

"Ugh!" Alice huffed again and shut the window vehemently. It was no use. Sleep would be impossible here. She went into the bathroom to start her day, or whatever was left of it.

Halfway through brushing her teeth, she realized that she didn't have a car. How was she supposed to get anywhere? Even if there was no one to hang out with, she thought she could at least drive around town and sight-see a little.

She applied her makeup and picked out her outfit for the day. White shorts, a red blouse, and black-wedge sandals. Her hair was short so the adorned it with a red flower beret. She grabbed her polka-dot framed sunglasses and went outside into the summer heat. It hit her like a ton of bricks and she coughed as the dry desert air filled her lungs.

Ruth hadn't been in the house, so Alice went to look for her so she could see about borrowing a car. She gingerly stepped around pebbles and lumpy grass.

Alice had been so concentrated on her footing that she didn't realize the man from earlier was nearby. He'd paused in his work, watching her with amusement as she walked the area like it was covered with landmines. When she caught his eye, he smiled at her.

Embarrassed, she kept walking, passing him as she went to the barn and poked her head in, her eyes adjusting to the dim interior. "Gran?" she called tentatively.

A horse snorted in answer, startling her. She closed the heavy door quickly and kept walking. She heard clucking noises and walked around the barn to see a fenced-off chicken coop.

Ruth was leaning over the fence with a basket, collecting eggs and distracting chickens by sprinkling sunflower seeds on the ground. Alice hurried over. She was already sweating and didn't want to be outside on a scavenger hunt. It made her miss her air-conditioned home in Dallas.

"Hello, dear," Ruth greeted with a smile as Alice approached. The chickens squawked at the unfamiliar person invading their territory.

"Hey Gran. Is there a car I can use to get into town?"

"Is there something you need?" Ruth asked genially.

"Not really. Just thought I'd hang out or window shop."

Ruth chuckled. "There's a café in town, but unless you're looking for a post office, realtor, or construction company, you might have to travel to Fredericksburg for more excitement."

"Is that far?" she asked, a little disappointed that the town wasn't much of a town.

"Oh, about a half-hour. I've got the old Chevy if you need," Ruth said, gesturing with a jerk of her chin to the antique truck sitting in the driveway. It looked like it was from the 1950s with its bulbous, rounded angles and gargantuan front.

"You drive that?" she asked, shocked.

"Sure. When I need to."

Alice thought it belonged in a landfill. However, she was desperate to get out and was willing to try out the boat-like car.

Ruth was glad Alice had asked before taking off somewhere. "All right, have fun. I hope you can drive a manual."

"A what?" Alice asked.

"Well trucks like that don't come automatic. It's a stick-shift. The clutch is little hard to pump though, but it's still in working order," Ruth rambled on cheerfully.

Alice's spirits plummeted. She didn't know how to drive a stick-shift and missed her Audi already. "Maybe some other time," she said, trying to smile. "I'll just stay in today." Alice fought tears as she walked back to the house.

She spent the last few hours of the day unpacking her things to keep busy. So far the secluded area was boring, though it was a different kind of boring to living in the suburbs of Dallas. Boredom led to restlessness, and that led to outlets for trouble-making. It was how Alice ended up in her declining situation. Deep down, she was sorry for what she'd done to her parents' home.

Most of the time, Alice felt like she was watching herself from a distance. She was interacting and experiencing things, but never felt a part of it. She was tired of always being the cheerful, positive, social butterfly in a group. Eventually, through all the laughs and general teenage angst, she knew she had stopped caring.

That evening Ruth made a nice, wholesome dinner for two. She enjoyed cooking and baking; it reminded her of married life with her husband – God rest his soul. Alice continued to silently mope, but Ruth didn't miss the surprised look of enjoyment on her face after sampling the first bite.

"You don't eat many home-cooked meals, do you?" Ruth began conversationally.

Alice shook her head, and although she wasn't talkative, she finished every bite on her plate.

After another sleepless night of tossing and turning, Alice wanted to cry and call her parents, begging them to take her home. She missed her quiet bedroom with her TV and all the other electronic conveniences.

Once again the rooster hollered and screeched, frightening Alice's muddy half-sleep into terrified wakefulness. Hours later the sun gently nudged her into consciousness. One pleasing difference was that the wood-chopping man hadn't disturbed her morning - afternoon - whatever.

She came downstairs to the kitchen to find a bowl of muffins and she gladly munched on one, debating about what to do for the rest of her day. She briefly contemplated driving into town, using the 1950's monstrosity still parked in the driveway, but decided that killing its transmission was a bad idea.

She wandered around the house in search of something to do. Ruth didn't own a TV, only an old radio. The books on the shelves in the living room ranged from the history of Gillespie County, to its local wildlife and agriculture. There was a book of poems and a Scrabble game too, but Alice didn't have interest in either. She went back to her room to rummage through her things, hoping she'd remembered to bring some form of entertainment.

With magazine in hand, she went to sit out on the front porch where the shade protected her fair skin from the scorching sun. She wondered irritably what she was she supposed to do all summer. At some point she must've zoned out, absently fanning herself with the magazine.

When a shadow fell over her, she assumed the sun was finally setting.

"Ahem," said a deep voice, followed by extra throat-clearing.

Alice's eyes opened behind her sunglasses. Then she lifted them, dropping her magazine into her lap. She took in her surroundings of the dirt driveway, grass lawn, and porch steps, to the gentleman towering over her. "Yeah?"

It was the man from yesterday, only this time he was wearing a white t-shirt that contrasted with his tanned skin. His boots were dusty, and his jeans were torn and dirty around the knees and belt loops, referencing his labor. His broad-brimmed hat shielded his features from the sunlight, drawing attention to his eyes: blue as sapphires and slanted perfectly with his cheekbones. He was looking at Alice expectantly.


He almost smiled. "I said, you must be Mrs. Brandon's granddaughter."

"So?" Alice's social skills had gone right out the window in his presence.

"So, nice to meet you," he answered gruffly, and then walked past her into the house, letting the screen door slam behind him. It wasn't loud, but it startled Alice enough to annoy her.

"Hey!" she called, rolling off the chair to follow him.

She found him sitting at the kitchen table with Ruth serving him a plate of food. He smiled at the elderly woman with polite thanks and she patted his shoulder before turning back to the counter. His hat was placed beside him on the table, revealing feathery blond hair. Strands at his at temple and the nape of his neck stuck to his skin from sweat.

The slam of the screen door alerted Ruth to Alice's entrance.

"There you are, dear. Come sit for lunch. You slept right through it yesterday, but today I've got chicken with potato salad."

Alice continued standing in the doorway. The man kept his eyes on his food, but she thought she saw his jaw lift in an almost-smile. When there was no answer, Ruth looked up. "Come on, Alice, or you'll go hungry until dinner."

Slowly she crossed the room and sat down. Oblivious to the tension—or choosing ignore it—Ruth happily set down a plate in front of Alice.

"Thanks," she mumbled gratefully.

"Alice, have you met Jasper? He's my hired hand for the summer. Lord knows it's difficult running this place at my age."

"A healthy, young woman like yourself barely needs my help," Jasper said with a radiant smile.

Ruth laughed. "Oh stop that nonsense."

Alice rolled her eyes at the blatant charisma, caught Jasper's twinkling, blue gaze, and looked away as she cut her chicken.

There was a lot of chewing and clanking of utensils on plates until suddenly it stopped and she looked up. Jasper openly stared at her.

"What?" she asked, bothered by his interest.

"Do you always cut your food into exactly the same-sized pieces?"

Alice had turned her food into what looked like a pile of kibble. "I don't like having to switch the knife and fork. It's just easier this way."

Jasper didn't comment and went back to his lunch. Water from the kitchen faucet filled the silence. In record time he finished eating and replaced his hat atop his head. He handed Ruth his empty plate and thanked her again for lunch before striding out of the house. This seemed to be routine from what Alice could see, and she was the stranger eating in the kitchen, not Jasper.

Alice ate slowly with her perfectly cut bites while Ruth merrily finished cleaning up the kitchen.

Chit-chatting hadn't been a breeze between the two women. Beneath the hospitality, Alice knew she was being punished and Ruth knew Alice had messed up. Thus, the elephant stayed present in the room.

Alice didn't know what to do during the next few days, so she left the house to get some air and wandered around the property without a destination in mind. She'd learned that the barn was next to the house and the chicken coop behind it. Beyond the backyard were rolling fields and white fences.

She'd been avoiding Jasper during lunch since the first day they ate together. She made it a point to come down the stairs after she heard him leave the kitchen. Something about his presence made her feel relaxed and on edge at the same time. She didn't trust the feeling. He was older than she was too, making her feel much more intimidated.

On a slightly cooler afternoon, she allowed herself to enjoy the mild breeze. It made the tall, dry grass swirl and bend, and ruffle her short hair.

In the distance she could see Jasper feeding two horses and a pony. He patted and scratched a horse's neck, whispering words that seemed to calm the beast. As they munched and snorted, he went to sit in the grass, leaned against a lone tree trunk, and strummed a guitar.

Alice walked closer with burgeoning curiosity. The scene was the most entertainment she'd seen in days. Jasper had his hat forward over his eyes, humming low as the guitar notes formed a lazy tune.

Quietly, she knelt in the grass a short distance from him, listening to the song he played. The southern lilt and deep softness of his voice unexpectedly lulled her to sleep. Perhaps it was from the sun or her restless nights, but suddenly she was very tired and lay in the grass with heavy eyelids.

She'd had the most relaxing period of rest when she felt someone prodding her awake.

"Huh?" she mumbled, opening her eyes and squinting. Jasper was sitting beside her with a strange, contemplative look on his face.

"I'd leave you here, but it's getting dark," he said, chewing slowly on a piece of grass.

"What time is it?" Alice asked, sitting up and brushing loose grass off her blouse.

Jasper looked at the sky, narrowing his eyes. They looked dark gray against the dimming sun. "About five-thirty," he guessed.

"You don't have a watch?"

"You don't either since you're asking me."

"At least I own a watch."

"And much good it's doing for you right now," he said, noticing her bare wrist with a smile.

His smile lengthened the moment between them. "I gotta get back. Gran will be worried about me." She stood and straightened her clothes.

"Relax." Jasper's gaze wandered briefly over her bare legs down to her strange strappy sandals. "You don't look like much of a ranch worker."

Alice couldn't tell if he was joking. "I'm not. I don't— Why do you even care?" she asked, exasperated. First her eating manners and now her appearance couldn't escape his scrutiny.

"Just commenting," he answered evenly.

"Well I'll thank you to quit your commenting!" Alice yelled, stalking off.

"Hold on," he said, realizing she was angry and not amused. He stood quickly, fixing his hat. "What did you do?" he called after her.

Alice stopped in her tracks and spun around. "Who says I did anything?"

"You're telling me a city girl chose to spend the summer all alone on a ranch because she wanted to?"

"I'm not telling you anything," she corrected. "It's none of your business." She fought the shame threatening to shadow her features. She wasn't too sure she succeeded.

He shrugged. "Suit yourself. It might help if you own up to whatever it is."

"Own up?"

"Yeah, like making amends."

"I'm not sure I can make amends anymore." The guilt she'd been suppressing was rising uncomfortably in her chest.

His gaze softened. "Have you tried?"

"Not exactly," she admitted. "How would I go about doing that here?" Alice was fine being cryptic since Jasper seemed fine playing along with pieces of a situation he didn't understand. Yet somehow he seemed to think he was able to help her without judging.

"You could offer to help out. It might keep you busy since you're stuck, and who knows, you might actually enjoy it."

She almost scoffed at the thought of enjoying labor of any sort, but Jasper was being real with her and she'd asked his opinion so she kept her mouth shut.

He appeared to be done with the conversation because he sat back down next to the tree and went back to his guitar. Alice walked back to the house, mulling over his words. Maybe if she made Ruth happy, her parents would bring her back to Dallas early. After that, she didn't know what would happen.

She also realized that her nap was the best she'd ever slept since she got here, but she'd rather die than admit that to Jasper.

The next morning as Ruth was bustling around the kitchen, she came downstairs early, dressed and ready for the day.


Ruth spun around, clutching her chest. "Oh, dear you scared me. I'm not used to you being up this time of day," she said with a smile. Alice could see that it was a little forced, so she sat down and returned the smile as best she could.

"Gran, I was wondering about something," she began.

"What's that?" Ruth placed a plate with scrambled eggs and toast on the table, but Alice didn't touch it right away.

"Maybe…since I don't have much to do around here, you would want some help? I don't know anything about farm work though…"

"Oh you don't have to do that…"

"Well you're letting me stay here and you feed me and… I want to," she said with more confidence.

Ruth exhaled, delighted. "That's real nice of you, Alice. I'm sure we can find things for you to do."

"Really?" Alice asked with some excitement. She liked that someone needed and wanted her involved. It felt good. She didn't want to be left out anymore.

"Of course, dear. You may want to change your clothes though," Ruth suggested.

She glanced down at her pink blouse and jean skirt. "What's wrong with my clothes?"

Ruth lowered her voice as if other people were in the room and she didn't want to be overheard. "You don't want to ruin your party clothes," she said.

When her Gran said it like that, it made Alice feel overdressed all of a sudden.


"Change after you finish your breakfast and we'll set you up," Ruth said with a motherly smile.

Thirty minutes later Alice reemerged from her room wearing jeans that had a stylized distressed look, and a tee shirt with glitter patterns printed on it. Her sneakers were bright tennis shoes, but it was better than her wedge sandals or fancy boots. Unfortunately, it was the best she could do at casual.

Ruth happily led her around the backfields to the vegetable gardens. Though this was a private farm, rows of vegetation stretched far and long, and it suddenly seemed daunting.

"We'll start you off small and see how you do."

Alice choked on a nervous laugh. She hadn't worked a day in her life and wondered if her Gran knew this.

Ruth pointed out the different plants of squash, tomato, cabbage, turnips, and cucumber. There was also a lovely section of herbs. She knelt to instruct Alice how to discern the weeds from the produce and how to de-weed the area so they wouldn't strangle the vegetables. She left Alice with a pair of gardening gloves, saying the best way was to pull weeds out was with her hands.

Alice sighed, giving in to her responsibility and worked contently enough for a few hours. At first she was shy about pulling and ripping at plants, and she didn't like the insects that jumped at her either, but the repetitive task allowed her mind to crawl back inside itself and not worry about anything. It felt good not caring, in a calm way. It was also nice to do something useful and see immediate results.

She worked for most of the day, stopping only for a quick lunch. Jasper had already eaten so she inhaled her meal by herself, assuring Ruth the work wasn't that bad and was something she could continue doing.

Across the way, movement caught her eye, distracting her concentration. Jasper was taking the horses into the barn as the day was ending. The sun was low in the sky and tinged orange, casting its last rays up at the clouds, making them look like floating sherbet.

She smiled, not completely understanding the light feeling. She admired his tall frame and sturdy-looking shoulders. It was calming to know that someone else was around the property, even if she didn't see him a lot through out the day. As if he sensed someone staring, his back twitched and he glanced in Alice's direction.

She immediately looked away and shifted in her squatting position on the ground, becoming aware of the cramped feeling in her legs from not moving. She tried standing and fell back on her rear and just knew she'd get a nasty grass stain on the butt of her jeans to match the ones on her knees. She took off her gloves and righted her sun hat when a shadow came over her.

"Keep an eye out for snakes while you work."

Jasper offered his hand to help her up. She decided he had nice hands, from the work calluses adorning the well-shaped fingers, to the overall warmth. They were comforting and sure.

"What should I do if I see one?" The thought sent a shudder through her. She felt her knees crack as she stood with his help.

"Best get out of the way and find someone who can lure it elsewhere if it doesn't move on."

She wobbled in place, wincing, and knowing he was looking at her. She busied herself with brushing dirt off her jeans, accidently dropping her gloves.

Jasper knocked into her as he tried to pick them up for her.

"Ow," she complained, rubbing her head.

"Sorry," he said quickly, handing the gardening gloves to her and adjusting his hat back on his head. He looked like he wanted to say or do something, but hesitated.

"First you sneak up on me and now you're knocking me over," she accused with fake outrage, sidestepping the awkward tension. She was glad for the company and couldn't prevent her good mood.

"Please accept my apology, Miss Priss," he offered, surprised and amused. "I see you've found a new pastime."

"Well there's nothing else to do," she evaded, fighting a smile. It was obvious he was the reason she was helping Ruth, but she didn't want to admit it and give him the satisfaction. "There's no shopping centers or places to hang out, and I can't drive a stick."

Jasper laughed and to her relief, he sounded genuinely amused. "You just have to know the right people." He smiled in a way that was meant to tempt her.

"Sorry, Mr.…?"

"Whitlock. Jasper Whitlock."

"Well Mr. Whitlock, excuse me, but I don't see you wanting to spend all your time carting me around town."

Jasper hadn't expected his hint of an offer to take up all of his time, so he didn't outright offer to drive her around. "Maybe you'd want to learn how to drive a stick. I'm betting it's a lot cheaper than hiring a Shaffer," he teased.

"So I can end up driving that…that dinosaur?" she asked, pointing to Ruth's truck.

"I suppose you'll have to learn how to get around on your own if you don't want to be cooped up all summer."

"I suppose…"

Jasper raised an eyebrow. When she didn't agree to anything, he walked away, trying not to shake his head.

"Okay! Okay! Wait up, Jasper Whitlock!"

He cracked a smile, privately enjoying the sound of his full name coming from her.

She hastily skipped in front of him and faced him, blocking his path. "Are you offering to teach me?"

He thought about it a moment. What was he getting himself into? He couldn't just say no to those hopeful, wide, hazel eyes. Alice might not talk to him for the rest of the summer if he refused now.

"As long as it's all right with Mrs. Brandon," he said formally.

Alice hadn't smiled this much in a long time. The way her entire face lit up knocked the air out of him. She skipped to the house as he fought for breath. He'd usually been good at sensing other people's emotions, but Alice's exuberance over driving a truck was unexpected. He'd never quite seen an all-encompassing joy over something so small. She was nothing like Maria, and that was a good thing. Not wanting to bring himself down, he pushed the traces of negative thought away.

The engine roared and rumbled, and Jasper spoke loudly over it in order to instruct Alice about switching gears. She was confused about the order of using clutch to gear and missed her yellow Porsche again. Jasper was patient though, if a little uneasy by her lack of knowledge of the basics of operating a standard vehicle.

Several times Alice had started the engine, only to stall the truck before shifting into gear. Worried that she'd kill Ruth's truck, Jasper decided she should practice on his truck instead. He didn't want her to kill his truck in exchange, but knew it was the gentlemanly thing to do.

"Oh this is much better," Alice said, climbing into the driver's seat of Jasper's silver Ford pick-up truck.

He slipped an arm around her waist, scooping her up before she got comfortable. "I think we need to go over some things before you take control of my baby," he said, planting her back on the ground. He hadn't meant for the gesture to be intimate, but Alice blushed. "If you break her, I may actually cry."

Alice laughed, thinking of the rugged farm boy, strong and capable, being silly enough to cry over his truck. "I promise I won't break 'your baby.'" Despite their teasing, she took his light remark as the serious concern that it was, and climbed into the passenger seat.

Instantly, it was different being in his truck with him. Like she was getting a glimpse of Jasper's life. He had a real nice truck and it must have cost him a lot of working hours. The interior had a citrusy scent mixed with cedar and something else. A case of cinnamon toothpicks was tucked in the console. Jasper plucked one out of the case and idly chewed on it as he started the engine. He naturally positioned his feet on the pedals and loosely held the stick shift.

Absorbed with his mannerisms, Alice took note of the small scars on his hands; just seemingly random nicks that carried up his arms from all the manual labor he did. Some were really old, and she could barely see them. Her eyes traveled to the blond hairs dusting his tan forearms, and to the small tear in the sleeve of his t-shirt. It had been over-washed and the hem frayed in places.


Alice belatedly looked up when he spoke. She'd been caught in her dazed evaluation and it was obvious he knew.

"Yeah," she answered, looking away, embarrassed.

"Okay, so you gotta push the clutch to shift, always." He demonstrated as he spoke, putting the truck in first gear. "It'll take some time, but you'll eventually find the balance when releasing the clutch and giving it gas." He eased out from the shoulder and onto the dirt driveway and drove until they hit a paved road.

Jasper kept flashing looks at Alice, making sure she was paying attention. "Clutch, shift," he repeated every time he switched gears. They turned onto US-290 and he shifted into fifth gear, speeding down the road and smiling airily as Alice clutched the sides of her seat. He was enjoying her timid uneasiness. They soon hit a bit of traffic and Jasper turned off onto a smaller road.

As they came to a stoplight, she asked, "Why do you put it in neutral when you brake and not downshift?"

"Well…good question. For just slowing down, it's fine to downshift. But it takes longer when you might need to come to a complete stop right away, and putting it in neutral while braking is just easier."

"Oh." Alice was satisfied with that answer.

"It's sorta like dating."


"Wouldn't you rather skip the awkward first dates and just get straight to it?"

Straight to what exactly? she wondered, but was too embarrassed to ask. "I uh…I guess."

"It was a joke." He laughed at her expression and pulled into an empty parking lot of an abandoned store.

"Wanna try?"

Alice hesitated. Jasper made it look so easy, but she was intimidated. "Okay."

The rest of the evening progressed with Alice stalling and practicing her first gear. Once it was stable, she realized shifting into higher gears made driving easier. It was starting off that was tricky. Jasper occasionally kept his hand over hers as she maneuvered the stick shift until she felt comfortable controlling it on her own. He encouraged and directed her, always concentrating on how she operated his truck. He took private enjoyment in his ability to freely look at Alice while she had to focus on the road.

As she slowly began to grasp the intuitive nature of how to drive manually, Jasper commented that it was getting late. She relinquished the wheel to him and he drove her home.

That night, Alice lay awake, unable to sleep on account of a certain Jasper Whitlock entertaining her fantasies.

She thought about all the boys in her senior class at school. They were loud, trendy, and lazy. They had no manners either. Comforted that she wasn't missing out on much back in Dallas other than personal conveniences, Alice drifted to sleep with a smile in her lips.

The rooster startled her like it always did, but she was much more refreshed because after the day she'd had, she'd fallen into a deep sleep. Even the crickets and owls hadn't disturbed her.

After getting ready, Alice was dissatisfied with her wardrobe. Everything was too fancy now! She settled for shorts and another one of her sparkly shirts, sighing and heading to the kitchen. She and Ruth ate breakfast and talked, but sapphire eyes and a Stetson hat otherwise occupied Alice's thoughts.

"Is Jasper here yet?"

Ruth had an amused glint in her eyes. She answered Alice casually. "He gets in around six in the morning to start his chores in the barn."

"Cool." Alice tapped her foot against the linoleum a few times, succumbed to her impatience. She said thank you to Ruth and chatted hurriedly about getting to the garden because "weeds could be strangling the vegetables this very moment," and rushed out the door, leaving Ruth chuckling by herself.

Alice peered into the barn. A heavy waft of animal dung and hay greeted her. Jasper was shoveling wet barley from a bucket into individual pails. The grain had to be soaked for a few hours because they puffed up when exposed to moisture. It was uncomfortable for a horse to digest it dry, since the grain would expand in its stomach later on. Jasper looked up, his sharp eyes seeming more brilliant in the muted light of the barn. His expression was friendly and the anxiousness Alice had felt was unexpectedly soothed.

"Can we go driving again today?" she asked, unsure if she was overstepping his kindness, but unable to contain her excitement.

"Maybe later. The day's barely begun," he said with a light smile.

"Right," Alice agreed, her good mood dissipating.

"Maybe if you help me with my work we can be done faster." Before Alice could exhale with relief, he added, "However, I won't be skirting my duties to Mrs. Brandon."

Alice hardly listened, wanting to get started. She wasn't that inclined to warm up to the beasts, and kept her distance as she watched Jasper interact with them like they were old friends.

Immediately, he noticed her wary discomfort with the animals and casually introduced her. "This brown one is Aspen, the slighter mare is Lucy." He leaned at the end of a stall, conveying the harmlessness of the last occupant. "And this fella is Georgie."

"A pony named Georgie?" Alice asked, both amused and unimpressed. He nodded and patted the stubby animal. "Have you ever ridden Georgie?"

"Once. Since he's on the shorter side, my feet drag on the ground."

Alice belted out a laugh, picturing the tall cowboy riding the small, fat pony.

"I don't know if I'd call it riding," he continued thoughtfully. "It was hard to get Georgie in a gallop with his size and my weight…"

He trailed off with a smile. "I'd like to see that," she said, overcome with giggles.

He cocked a brow at her. "I'd like to see you ride Georgie. It's a lot harder than a stick-shift," he challenged.

Alice closed up at that, and the mischievous expression on his face wasn't funny to her anymore.

"Come on," he said, letting the subject go. "I've gotta get these three out to the pastures so I can clean the stalls." At that, Lucy snorted and scuffed her hooves with impatience.

Jasper had makeshift harnesses of rope, which he used to lead them out of the barn. They were domesticated and gently followed his lead.

Alice followed out more slowly, not wanting to get trampled on or get in Jasper's way. She piled the oversized pails of food in her arms and met them down at the pastures. After Jasper hung the rope on a fence post, he was surprised to see Alice so helpful without him having to ask her. He smiled as he relieved her of the heavy, awkward weight.

Alice wrinkled her nose when they went to clean the stalls. For a moment, it was a tough decision between cleaning horse dung and riding with Jasper, or gardening and maybe not riding with Jasper.

It was obvious that he was expecting her to bolt at any second. It was all the more reason she stayed. By the time they exited the barn and went into the scorching afternoon sun, Alice was sweating and worrying about her appearance. This was a lot different than a leisurely afternoon of pulling weeds. Thankfully, Ruth called them in for lunch.

In a comfortable silence they ate pulled-pork sandwiches with slaw. After continuously sneaking looks at each other, they timed their last bite almost perfectly so they ended up leaving the kitchen at the same time. Ruth shook her head and smiled at them.

"Ready to ride Georgie?" Jasper taunted.

Alice was thinking she should've changed her shirt at least because she didn't feel pretty in front of Jasper and somehow that was real important to her. "I should say the same to you. I think you owe me a visual for your story."

He barked a laugh. Alice's feisty remarks affected him in other ways; ways that he liked. He kept feeling drawn to her and it was for more than a joke or polite instruction. "Not sure which is more emasculating: Riding a too-small pony or subjecting myself to your amusement."

"When you put it like that, it takes all the fun out of it."

"For you," he said, shooting her a playful glance.

"Oh all right. If you're gonna put up a fuss…"

She helped him gather saddles and harnesses. They were heavy and Jasper held most of their load. Though he wasn't bulky in muscle, Alice realized that his lean frame was a lot stronger than she assumed. She took a moment's pleasure in admiring the way his arms and back flexed and tensed.

When they arrived at the fence, he said, "Have you ever ridden before?"

Alice shook her head.

"Then Georgie it is."


"No buts. Georgie is tame and if you want a riding partner, I'll take Lucy for a trot."

There weren't many times when Alice didn't get her way, yet she found that she didn't mind letting Jasper win. He saddled the horses and patted them affectionately. His hands rested lightly on her hips and leg to help her hitch onto the pony. Georgie's belly was wide under Alice and the feeling of riding a horse was alien to her. Awkwardly, she shifted atop him and wiggled her feet in the stirrups.

Jasper looked very regal as he settled on Lucy. With his cowboy hat and the ease with which he commanded the animal, Alice thought he looked like he came right out of those old cigarette ads. As his horse strutted around her pony, he informed her of what signals to use to get Georgie to do what she wanted. Alice had no idea what she wanted the fat pony to do. Then he quickly got bored of her and began munching on foliage near the fence. Jasper laughed as he trotted up beside her.

"You gotta dig your heels into his belly, Miss Priss."

Alice squirmed and felt like she was trying to run in thick mud. She wished she'd been wearing her stilettos for this. Exasperated at the pony's unresponsive disposition and Jasper's chuckling, she extended her legs out and forcefully brought them down into Georgie's sides.

Georgie reared and took off, while Alice's screams echoed around the pasture. The powerful muscles of the beasts knocked her around and jolted her with fear. Jasper caught up with her – he was an impressive rider – and grabbed Alice's reins.

Seeing her terrified expression, his amusement was instantly replaced with concern. "Alice, are you all right?"

She gasped and untangled herself from the stirrups, sliding to the ground. He swung out of his saddle and bent to help her stand. Her legs trembled and she leaned into him to steady herself.

"Tame? Yeah right. I think I hate horses," she cried, letting Jasper loosely embrace her.

He smiled down at her. "Maybe we'll stick to cars then. I didn't mean to pressure you about riding."

She nodded against his shirt with watery eyes. "It's okay. I kind of wanted to." As her anxiety faded, the kind embrace became more than a pat of comfort. Alice clung to him and he let her. He was warm and solid, and she felt the moment when it became awkward.

Jasper was tense. She pulled away without looking at him, afraid to see the rejection twisting his features.

"I think I'll go back to the house for a bit," she said quietly.

"Are we still driving around later?"

"Sure, maybe." She turned and walked up the fields toward the house.

A tug on her arm prevented her from getting far. Jasper turned her around to face him. "Hey, what's with you?"

What a loaded question, she thought.

"Like you don't know. It's obvious I'm not cut out for all this!"


"Life on a ranch."

He visibly relaxed, his mouth quirking. "It's just a 'slip in the mud,' not the end of the world. Not everyone can ride a horse."

His words were meant to be comforting, but Alice was frustrated. "Not just the horse. Just…everything. I keep messing up, which is what got me here in the first place." It was hard for her to admit it aloud and give way to all of her shame.

"Whatever you did, I'm sure it's not that bad. I bet I've done worse."

They regarded each other silently for a moment.

"I threw a party at my parents' house while they were out of town and people trashed the place. My parents were never around so I figured they wouldn't care. I've done a lot of bad things, and I guess they'd finally had enough of it."

Jasper let out a low whistle, rocking on his heels. She wasn't sure if he was impressed or horrified. "I didn't expect a Miss Priss like you to do that."

She shrugged and half-smiled.

"Come out tonight," he said suddenly.

"What?" Alice wondered if he wanted to hang out now that he knew she was a party girl. She didn't want it to be like that.

"I think you need a change of scenery." He looked at her with a touch of shyness.

Alice laughed, thinking, that's why I'm here! "Ya think?"

"I do," he answered seriously. "How about seven?"

Instantly she sobered, caught off-guard. He was serious. "I'd like that."

"All right, then. See ya later." He turned back to unsaddle the horses and clean their food pails.

Alice told Ruth she was going out later – forgot about de-weeding the garden entirely – and ran to her room to pull apart her closet in search of the perfect outfit. Ruth didn't ask the when and where details, and Alice suspected she already knew it had something to do with Jasper anyway.

She spent the next few hours doing what she did best. Keeping in mind that folks were a lot simpler around here, she restrained herself from going over-the-top. She stuck with a clean pair of jeans and a sunflower yellow blouse with a swoop neck that showed off her collarbones. Then she traded her dirty tennis shoes in for strappy wedges. Her feet slid into them like finding home, and she sighed pleasantly.

She heard Jasper's truck coming up the dirt driveway long before he got to the front door. Alice bubbled with nervous excitement. She was trying not to over-think Jasper's kindness as he held the passenger door open for her.

He didn't have his hat on, and his wavy strands of blond hair ruffled freely in the night breeze. It had a natural disheveled quality to it like he'd gotten a haircut a month previous and it had grown out nicely. Keeping it casual, he wore a t-shirt and jeans, but they were clean.

"Where are we going?"

"Just to a friend's house. I hope you weren't expecting something…extravagant."

"I'm not sure what I was expecting," she answered honestly. She'd only thought of being with him.

He smiled to himself, letting the rumble of the engine and his hand on the wheel put him at ease. "Peter and his girl Charlotte are real nice. Don't be nervous."

That wasn't why she was nervous, but he'd picked up on her tension.

"You look nice." The casual statement could mean so much for a girl, and neither thought what to make of it.

"So do you," she returned brightly.

"I managed to do some laundry," he grinned.

It instantly lightened the mood and she laughed. It was easy talk with laughs and looks after that. She had no idea what direction they were headed, but fifteen minutes later they pulled up to a quaint house with a small front yard. The downstairs lights were on, making the place look inviting.

She didn't know what to expect of Jasper's friends, but she knew this was important. No matter what the status was between her and Jasper, he was bringing a girl to meet his friends. She absently smoothed her shirt as they strode to the front door.

Jasper knocked once and let himself in. A couple resided on the couch and the TV was on. He pressed his fingertips to Alice's lower back to encourage her inside.

The woman, who Alice assumed was Charlotte, greeted them with a warm smile, most interested in Jasper's new friend. Peter followed behind her with a good-natured grin.

After introductions, they settled in the living room. Charlotte brought out fresh cold beers for everyone and they fell into light chatter. Though Alice was underage, she guessed people around here didn't enforce the drinking law in a small social setting so she shyly sipped at her bottle of Shiner Bock.

When Peter asked Alice what brought her to the area, Jasper interjected that she was visiting her grandmother for the summer, saving Alice from having to explain anything further. Alice readily jumped in to agree, shooting Jasper a smile. The night went on pleasantly and Charlotte made sure they always had fresh beers. She scooted next to Alice, asking excitedly about her shoes and immediately they struck up a conversation about local clothing stores in Fredericksburg versus Dallas. She also explained more of the area for Alice's benefit.

When Alice spoke of the differences here had to where she lived, Charlotte decided she really wanted to go to Dallas and begged Peter to promise to take her some day.

"You can visit me too!" Alice added, making it hard for Peter to decline when both women were looking at him with puppy-dog eyes.

Jasper chuckled at his friend's expense, making them all laugh.

"Laugh it up, Whitlock. We'll see if you laugh when you're hungry."

"What does that mean?" Alice asked.

"Charlotte cooks most of his meals."

Alice dramatically gasped as Jasper sarcastically thanked his friend for sharing that tidbit of news.

"You mean Jas is our frequent dinner guest," Charlotte corrected, giving her lover a teasing glare.

"It's all right, I can't cook either. Ask me to plan a birthday party or find you the perfect outfit, and I got you covered," Alice said, smiling only for Jasper.

He smiled back over the rim of his beer and the other two in the room didn't miss the significant exchange. Charlotte asked Alice to help her prepare the snacks in the kitchen as an opportunity for secret sharing. She was curious how Alice felt about Jasper and it wasn't often that he brought girls around.

"She's a little young for you," Peter said after the girls left the room.

"It's not like that." Jasper sipped at his beer.

"You mean it's not legal," Peter guessed.

Jasper shifted awkwardly on the couch, feeling it was impolite to discuss this topic when Alice was in the next room. "Mrs. Brandon mentioned her recently graduating high school," he replied quietly.

"Oh." It was obvious his friend wanted to ask him something that had been on his mind for a while. "Are you still hung up on Maria?"

"God, no," he replied instantly. "That was dead in the water a long time ago."

Peter was glad to hear it. Maria had cheated on Jasper and the break-up had been messy. She'd been Jasper's first serious girl friend and he'd taken their separation badly. Girls had come and gone, but none had been dubbed "girlfriend" since Maria.

"Maria was conniving and never knew what she wanted. She was a taker, wanting anything she could get. Alice just seems…lost. But she's genuine. I forget about all the shit with Maria when I'm with her. I…"

The girls reentered the room and Jasper snapped his mouth shut. Charlotte and Alice had had their own talk and with secrets swapped, a beat of silence filled the room and conversation began more sluggishly this time.

But then jokes were exchanged and more beers were drunk and everyone kept their secrets locked away behind their smiles. With beer flowing, interactions got more relaxed. At some point Alice and Charlotte ended the more feminine conversations and joined in with the group chatter. Alice moved to the couch to sit beside Jasper.

He suddenly had a huge smile. "Hello there."

"Hey." She inhaled to catch his scent of lemon and cedar.

"So what kind of a name is Jasper Whitlock anyway? It's so old-fashioned and stately," she teased, crossing her legs to face him.

"Well thank you, Miss Priss," he said, nodding as if to tip his hat toward her. "It's a family name."

He said this proudly, making Alice giggle and sigh. She might've been tipsy, too.

"You wanna go?" he suggested, glancing at Peter and Charlotte getting a little too handsy. Alice followed his gaze and blushed at the comfy couple with a touch of envy.

"Yeah," she agreed.

Charlotte hugged her and Peter invited her to come back any time, but mostly spoke to Jasper when he said this.

The drive back was quiet for the most part until Alice broke it with her nagging curiosity. "Who's Maria?"

Jasper flashed her a look of surprise.

"I wasn't eavesdropping," she added quickly. "Charlotte told me to bring out the chips while she was fixing the rest of her plate and I caught the tail end of the conversation."

Jasper was clearly uncomfortable with the subject. His jaw flexed and his eyes swirled brightly with thoughts he wasn't saying aloud.

"Sorry," she said quietly.

"Nothing to be sorry for." He didn't want her to think she'd done something wrong. "Maria's just an old girlfriend. It was a long time ago. Some things just don't work out."

Alice felt like she'd been hit in the stomach. She didn't like thinking of Jasper being with another woman, no matter how irrational the thought was, and was even sadder that someone had hurt him. She swallowed back the feelings, wanting to know more. "What were you going to say if I hadn't interrupted?"

The tips of his ears turned red in embarrassment and he almost sighed with relief when he turned onto Mrs. Brandon's road, seeing a quick escape.

"Jasper Whitlock, you better cough it up." It was an empty threat and they both knew it.

He laughed at her balled fists and anxious expression. He turned up the driveway, feeling her determined stare burning the side of his face. He killed the engine, trying to gather his thoughts, and turned to face her.

His gaze roamed over her briefly, wondering if she always looked this good or if she'd put in the effort just for him.

"Well?" she asked expectantly. Concern and curiosity were written all over her face, and something else. There had been a charged energy between them all night. He fought a losing battle to gather Alice to his chest.

"How 'bout I show you," he said in a low voice.

He kissed her softly on the mouth, and then pulled away to see if she was okay with it. Slowly her eyes opened, her mouth still parted slightly. She blinked several times and he raised a brow questioningly.



"Oh that's real nice," she completed, wrapping her slender hands behind his neck, pulling him close. He smiled against her lips, hungrily kissing her deep and slow. He held her at the waist and cradled the back of her head. She hadn't been entirely prepared for the overwhelming connection they shared, but sank into it with pleasure.

Her hands smoothed over his shirt as their tongues touched. He explored her mouth skillfully, giving Alice peripheral awareness that he was significantly older than she. But feelings were involved, strengthening every moment they were together.

He brought her against his chest and she moaned into his mouth, running her fingers through his hair. His lips ran along her jaw and dipped to her neck fervently as she gasped for air. Her whole body felt flushed, yet she shivered from his warm mouth teasing down her throat to her shoulder.

Automatically she arched, pressing herself closer to him. She roamed the bottom of his shirt, wanting to feel his skin and the lean muscles beneath. He shuddered in response to her wandering fingertips and slipped a hand under her blouse, hesitantly skimming her smooth belly. Encouraged by her small gasps and clutching hands, his thumb grazed her bra.

They kissed fervently again. She wanted to devour him and looked for reassurance. He kept his hand at her bra but slowed his kisses, conveying to her how much he enjoyed having her here with him. She brushed her palm up his thigh, settling at his waist. He groaned quietly, holding her close, and moved to place hungry kisses at the tops of her breasts. The blouse's low neckline hindered him from delving further, but he couldn't help immersing himself in the small pleasure.

"Jasper," she whispered hoarsely.

He pulled away, looking at her with heat. "I…sorry," he said breathlessly.

She smiled widely and leaned in to speak into his ear. "Don't be," she said and tenderly pecked his cheek. "See you tomorrow." She absently fixed her blouse and slid out of his truck. It was a lot of self-control for Alice to muster, but he was important to her.

Alice practically danced into the kitchen next morning, beaming at Ruth. Hell, she was beaming at everything, even the pieces of furniture.

"Looks like you had a nice time with Jasper."

"How did you—"

Ruth tisked at her. "Dear, I may be old, but I'm not blind."

Alice grinned and sat down to breakfast.

"I told your parents how good things have been in these past few days," Ruth continued. "You might get to go home early like you wanted."

Alice froze. "Really?"

"You should call your Momma to talk about it. They're willing to accept you back in Dallas if your behavior keeps improving."

Alice got very quiet. The response had been nothing like Ruth was expecting.

"I thought you wanted to go home."

"That was before…" Her eyes betrayed her as they flicked out the window.

"Ah," Ruth said with a knowing nod. "Well, if you'd like to stay here longer, I've got a few conditions of my own."

Alice perked up with a hopeful expression. "What's that?"

"Less sass from you for one. Second, you need to regularly help out around here."

Alice sobered from her love-struck daydreaming and nodded slowly. "I can do that, Gran. I don't know what my exact plans are yet, but…I think I know what I want."

Ruth seemed satisfied but still made her promise to call her parents to check in.

Alice found him in the fields with the horses. He was leaning against the white fence watching them graze. His hat shielded his eyes from the sun and also covered the emotions playing across them.

She knew by his stance the moment he felt her presence. She approached him slowly and he stood, resting one of his hands on a post.

"I take it you're not here to see Georgie," he joked lightly, looking at her with apprehension. He'd been worried about his lack of control the night before, but he couldn't find it in him to be sorry.

"Not a chance." Playfully she tugged at the hem of his shirt and smiled up at him. "Last night was fun."

"Which part?" he asked interestedly, his tension ebbing.

She smoothed a hand down his chest. "Some more than others." She raised herself up on the balls of her feet and planted a kiss on his lips.

He kissed her back, though it was reserved. "I like you, Alice."

"What, no 'Miss Priss' anymore?"

He laughed. "You're my Miss Priss. How's that?"

She stepped back a few paces, locking her eyes with his. "It's got a nice ring to it, but I think you'll have to catch me first before you start assuming I belong to you."

She dashed off around the field before Jasper comprehended what she'd said. He took off after her and she screamed joyously, speeding in circles as he advanced on her. His legs were much longer than hers and he soon caught up with her, sliding an arm around her waist. They both tripped and rolled together in the grass. He protected her from the fall and leaned above her after they landed, grinning.

"Gotcha, my Miss Priss."

"Okay, you win," she laughed.

"What happens after the summer is over? You going to back to Dallas? I want to know what I'm getting myself into."

She shrugged, casting him a glance. He liked her a lot and was worried she would up and leave like Maria. She couldn't entertain the idea of ever breaking him He was a source of comfort and strength to her. "Gran told me I could stay here until I figure things out."

"Hmm," he responded, sitting up and looking straight ahead at the rolling fields. Beads of sweat shone at his temple from the summer heat, strands of hair floating in places from the air's natural movement.

She scooted closer to him until their arms touched. "I was thinking…I could figure things out with you, too."

He smiled and adjusted his hat. "Why's that?" he asked calmly.

"You keep me centered, Jasper." He faced her now, surprised. Her eyes were watering and she looked up at him. "You do."

He cupped her cheek and she smiled. "Alice…"

"I know it hasn't been long, but I feel like I've waited ages for you and I just—" She sighed, aligning her thoughts. "I want to continue whatever this is and not worry about the summer ending in a few months. Okay?"

His sharp eyes penetrated hers. "Come here," he whispered, pulling her face to his. Alice closed her eyes, letting him kiss her softly and passionately.

She knew she'd have to fix things with her parents soon, but right now she was working on the new her, and that included Jasper.