Seeing Daylight was written for MsKathy, who purchased me in FGB-Eclipse. What started as a one-shot became eleven chapters. I'll post a new chapter each day until it's complete.
Huge thanks to the prereaders and beta team: LZTZ, jadsmama, kikikinz, lexiecullen17, Jessica1971, & MsKathy. There are no words.
SUMMARY: She chose him. He chose the rodeo. Can her broken heart and a broken man be mended when a chance encounter brings them back together?
Musical Inspiration: All We'd Ever Need by Lady Antebellum
http: /www (.)youtube (.) com/watch?v=Ypjo9PESHRE
Bella drove down the dusty dirt road, her beat up Volvo slamming into the countless potholes and ruts that littered the road. She looked at the clock on her dashboard and grumbled. She was running late. Her last client had taken forever on the tour of his property, despite the fact she had told him repeatedly she only needed to take a cursory glance at the property and she'd do a more thorough review after the initial estimates came back. Of course, she'd seen him checking out her ass several times. That was the norm on the ranch and farm visits she'd been assigned to handle, and it annoyed the hell out of her.
Her thoughts turned to her boss, Tanya, and she gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. After working for First Bank for eight years, Bella was confident she would have gotten the new supervisor job, but Miss High and Mighty was determined to shut her out for some reason. Sure, she'd never been crazy about property assessment, but she had done a damn good job and consistently valued the properties well. She had outperformed her peers, and yet there she was, driving out to another ranch to meet another crusty old cowboy. As much as she might have liked to, she didn't have the patience or the energy to look for a new job. She was swamped with real estate to assess, and the bank had her driving all over the state. It seemed like her choices were limited, and it was a feeling she didn't particularly enjoy.
She rounded the bend and was caught off guard by the beautiful scene before her. She slowed her car to a stop and got out. Pulling her sweater a little tighter, she gingerly walked toward the edge of the road. The view before her was nothing short of breathtaking, awe-inspiring, even. A chain of rugged mountains sat on the horizon, and the silvery line of a river snaked along the base. A lush green forest of evergreens - some that had probably been there for years - filled the gap between the two and reflected a blurry watercolor of blues, browns, and greens.
As she got a little closer to the edge, she could see the bottom of the river. It was crystal clear and rippled gently as it followed its course. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, allowing the cool mountain air to fill her lungs. She opened her eyes and looked up. The sun had painted the most beautiful streaks across the sky; hues of pink, orange, and yellow blended perfectly with the already darkening blues and grays. Standing there in what could only be called God's country, she felt a sense of peace wash over her. It had been a while since she had just let herself stop and enjoy nature. It was something she and Riley had done a lot, but after… well, she still didn't want to think about it and turned her eyes to the beautiful countryside before her.
She noticed the many horses grazing peacefully in the rolling foothills and a rickety, old barn. It was weathered and brown and it looked like it hadn't been used in years, yet she couldn't pull her eyes from it. Something about it seemed familiar, but she shrugged off the feeling, knowing she'd probably seen something similar on one of her other ranch visits. She looked for other signs of life, a house or ranch, knowing she wasn't that far from her last client, but didn't see anything.
She had no idea how long she'd been standing there when her phone rang, the shrill beeping jerking her out of the serenity of the scene before her. She grabbed the phone out of her pocket.
"What's up, Jane?" she asked with a hint of annoyance as she answered her phone. She loved her assistant and best friend, but she really didn't have the time or inclination to talk to her right then about the latest in her everlasting saga of boy drama.
"Well, hello to you, too," she said sarcastically.
Bella could picture her rolling her eyes and sighed. "Sorry. I'm late for my last appointment, and I've been in the car all day."
"I figured that was the case. Your last client just called to make sure you were still coming."
"Shit! What time is it?" Bella asked as she walked around to the driver's side and slid inside. She looked at the clock and realized she had been standing outside for almost twenty minutes.
"It's 4:30. How close are you?"
Bella grabbed the directions off the passenger seat and quickly scanned the words on the sheet. "Probably about ten minutes. Can you give him a call and let him know I'll be right there?"
"Sure. Are we still on for dinner this weekend? Rose is dying to fill us in on her new job."
"Yeah, definitely. I am in desperate need of a martini and some girl time."
They both giggled before saying their goodbyes. Bella ended the call and quickly pulled back onto the road.
Ten minutes later, she found herself pulling up in front of a large home. In her rush to get out of the car and up to the front door, she didn't notice the unique stone façade of the house, the beat up red pickup in the driveway, or the words Masen Ranch forged in the wrought iron archway she'd driven through.
She knocked on the rough brown wood of the front door and waited. She ran her hands through her hair and down the front of her skirt in an attempt to smooth the creases that had formed. As the door opened, she felt the blood drain from her face and her jaw drop.
Their eyes locked as her mind raced. How the hell had she not realized he was her client? She tore her eyes away, her face flushing with embarrassment or nerves or some unknown set of emotions she wasn't prepared to deal with, and quickly looked down at the information sheet she'd received from the bank. Sure enough, in bold, typed letters, was his name.
She blinked a few times before looking back at him. She felt her mouth go dry as her eyes met his. They were the same piercing blue-grey she remembered, the same ones she'd tried to forget after what he'd done to her all those years ago. She could feel her heart pounding and her body heat rising as she slowly allowed her eyes to take in the man before her.
Time had been good to him. He looked older, but he was still absolutely gorgeous. She could make out the well-defined muscles of his chest, a chest she used to know well, and broad shoulders under the black t-shirt he was wearing. Her eyes immediately locked onto the blue ink peeking out from under the sleeve of his shirt. The horseshoe. She swallowed thickly as her eyes drifted downward, taking in the outline of his abs before settling on the old pair of Levis that hung loosely from his hips. Even relaxed and worn, his jeans couldn't hide his long, muscular legs. Legs that had tangled with hers too many times to count.
The sound of a throat clearing forced her eyes to return to his face and the very satisfied smirk that had formed. She felt her face flush with embarrassment as she realized how blatantly she'd been checking him out… and that he knew it.
"Edward?" she asked, barely able to get his name to form as she tried to process the very sight of him before her.
A pang of sadness filled her chest, and she took a deep breath, pushing it down. He left her. Not the other way around. The anger she had worked so hard to get over bubbled to the surface, and she decided right then and there that she would not give him the satisfaction of seeing what his leaving had done to her. She hadn't shown him then, and she sure as hell wasn't going to allow him to affect her now.
"Bella," Edward said, his calm signature smoothness belying the way his heart was pounding at the sight of her before him. He couldn't believe she was standing in front of him, on his front porch, after all this time.
While she'd been ogling him, it had given him a chance to check her out, too. Seeing her before him like that, all glorious tits in her tight pink blouse and long legs in those black heels, brought back so many memories. She was exactly like he'd remembered, except even more beautiful. Time had definitely been good to her. Her hair was shorter than it used to be, but he kind of liked the way it swung loosely around her shoulders. Her eyes were the same dark chocolate brown, and her normally pale skin was flushed the most gorgeous shade of pink. God, he used to love it when she did that. His eyes drifted to her lips, full and shiny, and his chest tightened at the memory of how good they used to feel against his.
Unconsciously, he licked his lips and shifted slightly before trailing his eyes down to her chest. He took a minute to appreciate what had always been his favorite part of her body. There was never any doubt he was a breast man, but seeing the way the pink material stretched perfectly across her chest left no doubt. His fingers were itching to feel the weight of them, fuller now than they used to be, and he felt the pull of wanting to bury his face in their softness like he'd done countless times before. Fuck.
He tore his gaze away from the clear buttons on her shirt and quickly looked at her long legs peeking out beneath the hem of her black skirt before she caught him eye fucking her. Hot damn, she looked good.
He looked back at her face and smirked. She was clearly flustered. He knew he shouldn't rub it in, but god, it felt good to see her standing there, checking him out, after she had issued him that ultimatum.
"See something you like?" he asked, deliberately playing the cocky cowboy card he'd played the first time they'd met.
Her face went from pink to red, and he couldn't help the laughter that burst out of his mouth. Bella, mortified, immediately swallowed her embarrassment, remembering how he had walked away from everything they had together. Every fiber of her being tensed with burning rage at his laughter. He was such an asshole. She clenched her fingers into fists and dug them into her thighs in a desperate attempt to keep it together.
"Just realizing again how lucky I am you walked out all those years ago," she said icily, her tone laced with a bitterness she hadn't felt in a long time.
Taken aback by her tone, Edward shifted awkwardly and put his palms up in an effort to deflect some of the tension.
"Hey, Bella, I was just teasing. I didn't… shit… I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable." He ran his fingers through his hair, eyeing her nervously, and gave her a small smile. He was being honest. Even after they'd broken up, things had been okay between them.
She held his gaze for a long minute before looking down at the stack of papers in her arms. She was still too shocked to even begin to process the myriad feelings she had swirling around in her head or the tingling in her stomach that was starting to make her feel nauseous.
She took a deep, calming breath. She needed to find some semblance of control. She was a professional, after all, and she wouldn't let him interfere with the job she'd come to do.
After what felt like forever, she looked up at him. "Look, this is awkward. It's clear neither of us were expecting to see the other. So, why don't we just get started and then I'll be out of your hair."
The detached tone of her voice didn't sit well with Edward. He had no idea why seeing her after all these years was affecting him so much, but he refused to let her see it. If she wanted to play hard-ball, then he would, too. "Yeah, that's probably a good idea," he said just as calmly, his voice turning to steel. "I'd like to get this over with before Alice gets back with Maria."
With that, he pushed the door open and gestured for her to enter.
Bella's mind went into overdrive as she tried to process what he'd said. Who were Alice and Maria? Was he married? With a daughter? She certainly hadn't seen a ring or anything to indicate that, but then again, she hadn't expected to see Edward Masen, either.
She shrugged off the whole thing and stepped into the house without missing a beat. It didn't matter anyway. She wasn't there to get back together with him. Hell, she hadn't thought about him since she'd met Riley.
"After you, Edward," she said coolly.
The next two hours were spent in either terse, business-like conversation or tense silence. Edward was all business, his face serious and his eyes focused. He quickly explained what he was trying to do with the ranch and gave her a tour of the whole place. As she listened to him talk, she couldn't help but absorb some of the passion he exuded. The plans he had, if they came to fruition, would certainly turn this place into a state-of-the-art working guest ranch.
Bella tried to remember what it looked like the one time she'd been there in college but only vague memories came to mind. The barn, of course, was the thing she remembered most. It was made of rough brown planks and topped with an angled roof. It was unlike any barn she'd ever seen, and while it needed some work, Bella knew it would become the focal point of the entire ranch.
She was struck by how massive the ranch really was. Everywhere she turned, Bella could see nothing but open fields and mountains. It was majestic. As he walked her around, pointing out the improvements he was planning to make, Bella couldn't keep her eyes off him. His eyes, the feature she'd always loved most, had been the first thing she'd noticed when she met him in college. Well, his eyes and the way his smile lit up his face. Not to mention the way his jeans hugged every inch of his muscled ass and legs… or the way he looked sitting on top of a horse.
Horses instinctively made her think about the rodeo, and she wondered how things had been since he'd been injured. She hadn't followed his career closely, but she knew he had been at the peak of his career before a major injury had destroyed it.
"Bella?" Edward asked, placing his hand on her shoulder.
She jerked in surprise and looked at him in what she hoped didn't scream, I was totally thinking about how hot you are. "Yes?"
"Did you hear what I said?"
"Oh, um, no. I was thinking about some of your ideas for the ranch."
Ok, so maybe that was a stretch, but there was no way she was going to tell him she'd been thinking about the day he had asked her out. That would have completely countered the distance she'd put between them in order to get through the time together.
"Well, I was just saying the ranch is about five hundred acres. We don't use all of it, obviously, but there's plenty of room to expand the operation in the future."
She nodded and jotted down a few notes for later. He finished telling her about some of the inner workings of the property, but she couldn't concentrate. As they walked side-by-side, his shoulder casually brushed against hers, and she shivered at the sensations that inched up her spine.
He stopped and looked right at her. She could feel the depth of his penetrating gaze, and she desperately wanted to look away but couldn't. Her skin prickled, and her heart started pounding. She hadn't been looked at, really looked at, in a long time. He took a step closer, and the air between them crackled as he tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. The simple, intimate gesture was so familiar. He had done that to her countless times in the years they'd been together, and yet it had never left her feeling so raw and exposed. It felt like every trace of life experience she'd accumulated over the last eight years had been scrubbed away with a rough brush. His eyes dropped to her lips and then back up to her eyes. The moment was pregnant with anticipation and tension.
He tilted his head, almost imperceptibly, and it was enough to break her out of her trance. She took a step back and looked around, anywhere but at him, feeling waves of mortified heat wash over her.
As if sensing he'd crossed the line, Edward mumbled a quick apology, and took a step back, motioning her toward the house.
They walked in silence for a minute or so until Edward couldn't take it any longer.
"That's pretty much it," he said as he followed behind her. He watched the sway of her hips, subtle and feminine, and felt his body start to stir. He tried to think about other things, but she was there, on his ranch, in the flesh. Despite the surprise of seeing her and the rocky start to their appointment, Edward felt a sense of calm wash over him. Being near her had always been like that. It was one of the things he'd loved about her. She was always so easy to get along with, always went with the flow, until he ruined it. He wondered what she had been doing since they'd separated. Was she happy? Did she ever wonder about him and what he'd done since they'd been apart?
Shaking his head, he pushed those thoughts out of his head. It wasn't time to rehash their history, but damn if he didn't want to reach out and touch her again, put his hand on the small of her back like he used to… Yeah, that would not go over well.
By the time the tour was finished, they were both emotionally drained. Bella's head was exploding with confusion and her body was on fire. She had forgotten how drawn to him she had always been, and things were no different that day. She could have easily gotten lost in the quiet excitement she'd heard in his voice or the way his eyes lit up as he talked about his plans to refurbish the ranch, but after everything that had happened between them, she just couldn't do it.
With a deep, resolute breath, she looked up at him. "Well, I think I have everything I need for now," Bella said as they stood in front of her car. "I'll work up an initial assessment and call you in the next two weeks. If you need something between now and then," she said as she pulled out one of her business cards and handed it to him, "just call my cell. I'm rarely in my office, so that's the best way to reach me."
Edward took the card from her and couldn't help the frown that formed.
He stood frozen, his eyes darting to her left hand. A simple gold band adorned her ring finger, and something inside him surged at the thought of her being married. Sure, he'd played it off as if Alice and Maria were his wife and daughter, but that was just an impulse reaction to her statement about him walking away. Hell, if she hadn't given him an ultimatum that day, they'd probably still be together, happily married with four kids.
When he didn't respond, Bella felt all the anger she'd been suppressing through the entire visit well up inside her. Her face flushed pink with anger, her heart started pounding, and her fingers fisted tightly, her nails digging into the tender skin on her palms. With a glare at the blank stare on his face, Bella climbed into the driver's side. As she slammed the car door, she saw him flinch and his head jerk, but she didn't stop or even give him the chance to stop her. She started the car and practically peeled out of his driveway. The squealing of her tires finally pulled him out of his daze, and as he watched her drive away, he felt like a complete fool. He hadn't said goodbye. Hell, he hadn't said anything. He tugged on his hair in frustration.
"Dammit!" he growled, knowing full well that his bad boy reputation, the one that was never really true, had just been reinforced. If she had any doubts about him being a complete and utter dick, she didn't anymore.
Irritated, he trudged back to the house, shaking his head at the crazy way the day had turned out. He closed the door and leaned back against it with a heavy sigh, his head hitting the cool, hard wood.
He still couldn't get over the fact that she'd been there, had walked his property, and was now privy to his plans for the future... and she was married. He closed his eyes and finally allowed his thoughts to drift back to the moment he first saw her.
~*13 Years Earlier*~
Edward was standing on the front steps of the Ag building at the University of Wyoming, waiting for his roommate, Marcus, to meet him before class. They were both signed up for Ag Econ 1000, and as much as he was looking forward to some of his classes, all he could think about was getting over to Cheyenne in preparation for the first rodeo of the season.
He and several other guys on the UW Rodeo Team were planning to head over there to practice with some of the professional riders. Edward had been riding his whole life but hadn't given much thought to actually pursuing it as a career. He had always loved riding, loved the feel of the glove on his hand as he gripped the rigging or the way he could control his own body as the horse bucked and spun in an effort to get him off its back. After winning the Wyoming High School Rodeo and placing in the top ten at the National High School Finals, his coach and a few recruiters convinced him to give it a shot.
Lost in his thoughts, he didn't notice Marcus walking up the steps.
"Hey, man," he called to Edward.
Edward turned and smiled. "Hey."
"Ready to get this over with, so we can get our stuff ready for tomorrow night?"
"Yeah. Let's go."
They turned to walk in the building just as two girls were walking out. The girl closest to them had long blonde hair and was gorgeous. She was tall and slender and looked like some of the rodeo queens he'd been with in the past. His eyes flitted to the other girl. Her hair was pulled up in a ponytail, high on her head, and her eyes, what he could see of them as she passed, were dark, probably brown. She was pretty enough, but it was her smile that did him in. It lit up her face, her eyes, and something in him moved. He had no idea what had just happened; he'd never had that kind of reaction to a woman before.
Fortunately, she didn't catch him gawking at her as she passed him.
"Dude," Marcus whisper-yelled while backhanding Edward on the chest. "Did you see that girl's ass in those jeans?"
Edward nodded. Of course he'd seen her ass. She had on a pair of jeans that hugged her curves in all the right ways and knew how to move. He watched her until she was out of sight and vowed to find out who she was.
With a quick glance at his watch, he sighed before turning, for the second time, to walk into the building.
When he had seen her later that afternoon in front of his dorm, and eventually got the courage to ask her out for coffee, he felt like he was on cloud nine. Sure, he'd had his fair share of ladies in high school, but for some crazy reason, without knowing a thing about her, he felt drawn to her. Of course, it didn't hurt that she was fucking gorgeous, had a great ass, and a killer rack.
A knock on Edward's front door pulled him out of his happy memories. Turning, he opened the door and smiled when Maria practically jumped into his arms.
"Uncle Edward, did you miss me?" she shouted.
"Always, sweetheart. How was your day?" he asked as he carried her into the kitchen, throwing a warm smile over his shoulder and mouthing "Hello" to Alice.
"Oh my gosh! You are never going to guess what Sally was wearing when she came to school!"
Edward looked to Alice for help, and she shrugged her shoulders, effectively telling him he was on his own. "Well, what was she wearing?"
"You have to guess, silly," she giggled, rolling her eyes.
"You just told me I'd never guess," he said, a hint of sarcasm in his tone. At five years old, his goddaughter was exuberant and full of life. He loved that about her. She had literally been his saving grace when he'd gotten injured and had to walk away from riding.
"Oh, fine," she groaned in mock exasperation, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. "She was wearing like two hundred silly bands. She had all the Disney Princess ones, and some were even sparkly. They were so cool, Uncle Edward! And Mommy says I should ask Santa for some, and I'm going to when I write my Christmas letter."
Edward smiled and laughed, feeling the tension from the afternoon encounter with Bella melt away as he pulled her in for a quick hug. He'd think about the day after dinner. There was no way in hell he was going to bring it up with Alice, and he definitely wouldn't with Jasper. Burying his nose in Maria's hair, he breathed in, relishing her innocence. Yeah… it would definitely have to wait until after dinner.