Decided to revisit this fandom for the hell of it, and also because I've recently been replaying Island of Happiness and I'm utterly addicted again.

This brief educational moment may be unwarranted, but I feel it may be important in understanding the story if you live outside of the US (or even in the Northern or Eastern parts of the States): The term "gully-washer" is slang for a heavy rainstorm. In the desert states such as Arizona and New Mexico (and occasionally here in Kansas, too; depends on which part of the state you live in), there are large chasms usually eroded by centuries of rainstorm and other natural causes called "gullies." If it rains enough to fill a gully-which it often does, during monsoon season-it's called a "gully-washer."

Chelsea and Mark are siblings in my headcanon. Sorry if that bothers anyone.

Also, I gave Vaughn spurs, because that's hot.

()()()

Summer, in the midst of a small island in the middle of the sea, was never a forgiving season, but this year was worse than the past. The sun beat down with the relentless iron hand of a master upon his slaves, the wilting farm of the island's sole ranchers, Chelsea and her younger brother, Mark. Chelsea, the animal handler of the two, constantly dashed back and forth from the babbling brook nearby to collect water for the cows and chickens—which was now running almost completely dry, due in part to the rainless nights and remorseless drought that the island was experiencing. Mark tended to the corn, wheat and rice from dawn to dusk every day, dishearteningly watching as the leaves of his precious crop fried and turned to brown crumbs to the touch, despite his hard work in keeping them alive. It was the driest summer anyone had ever experienced, both in the city and here on this desolate atoll—and it was threatening to squelch the market of the area along with its thirst.

"It won't get that bad, right?" Mark asked hopefully as he worked alongside Chelsea in the field one afternoon, the scorched off-brown dirt sifting between his bare toes. He tended to work without a shirt or shoes these days, as the additional padding weighed him down and portended heatstroke. Chelsea, too, was out of her element in this weather and this environment, as she was normally not used to caring for the plants. Mark was the green thumb, but even his canny ability with the harvest was falling short in this harsh heat. "Taro keeps talking about rain tomorrow. You know him. He's never wrong about his predictions. It'll happen, won't it?"

Chelsea sighed and ran her fingers through her sticky locks of chocolate hair, the same color as the parched ground beneath them. She, too, was minimally dressed—her red bandana had come off long ago and let her long tendrils hang free. Before entering the massive jungle of corn stalks, she'd removed her yellow shirt and tied it around her small breasts. The high temperatures made wearing undergarments such as bras cumbersome. Pools of perspiration took the liberty of collecting in the padding in weather such as this, so she went without one. She usually wore heavy clothing, as she was periodically indoors with the animals, but Mark needed an extra hand in the fields. When kept indoors with fresh water and air conditioning, their livestock was fine. If only we could be so lucky.

"I don't know," Chelsea sighed, more dramatically than she planned. "I don't doubt Taro, but what makes you think the gods will suddenly decide to make it rain? I mean, they haven't bothered to help us out all summer anyway." She poured the remainder of the watering can out on a barely flourishing stalk that Mark had just weeded and grumbled as she cast a glance inside the tool to find only a few glistening droplets left.

"You never know," Mark said with as much cheerfulness as he could muster. "Maybe it will rain soon. Maybe we will be shown some mercy. The crops are pulling through, and we might be able to save them if it even just sprinkles a little."

Chelsea stared at her wide-eyed, blonde brother and dropped her tense shoulders in exasperation. She wasn't but two years older than him, yet she still felt a chasm of maturity between them. Back before either of them were even marginally close to adulthood, Chelsea had been the wall between Mark and their vituperative parents, venomously judging every move made by their children to the point of scrutiny with their narrowed, cobra-like eyes. They were coiled snakes, waiting for one mistake to leap out and snatch the misfortune of their offspring. Being the older sibling, it was up to Chelsea to filter out the abuse that their parents incessantly rained on the two, and because of that, Mark had led somewhat of a sheltered life up until their shipwreck onto this island. He was naturally talented in farming and had adapted to his share of the responsibilities on the farm quite effortlessly, but he was gauche when it came to socialization and general adulthood. Chelsea knew he was still technically a teenager—he was only eighteen, after all—but his youth troubled her sometimes.

"We'll see," Chelsea compromised. "Now, did we bring back any more water from the stream? We're all out in the watering can."

Mark shook his head forlornly, his optimistic attitude darkening like a much-needed storm. "The creek is nearly gone," he reported. "There's a bit of a pithy puddle in the center of it, but otherwise, it's all crackled mud. We're almost out of water, Chels."

Chelsea's stomach wrenched into a knot at the sound of that inevitably terrifying sentence. No more water? Her heart caught in her throat, a thrashing nightingale in its fright. Now what? Without adequate hydration, the crops would bake in the rays of the celestial body that was built to help them grow. She and Mark would not have any income for the season, not counting the few pennies they made off the milk and eggs from their animals. They would go utterly broke. Chelsea was glad that she'd managed to can some of the peaches and strawberries from the moist summer before, for it didn't seem they'd be able to feed themselves otherwise with this bleak outlook. I didn't anticipate this, Chelsea thought privately, feeling worry well up inside her like a surging tide. I give a lot of our milk to—

Rustle. A sudden jostle in a patch of the corn stalk that surrounded Mark and Chelsea caused the pair to jump slightly. Wild animals were always foraging in their crop for possible sources of food; this activity was now heightened thanks to the drought that plagued the island. Presuming exactly that, Mark frowned deeply at the nascent thought of a dingo digging around in his ripe tomatoes and turned toward the crunching of the dying leaves with the intention of facing the unwelcome guest head-on. However, both he and Chelsea were disappointed when the familiar face of Mark's best friend Elliot stuck its visage out from a halo of browning foliage. The boy's bespectacled self stepped out and stood before them, his light red hair and cherubic, pudgy cheeks bright as the sun itself with a cheery smile. Mark expressed a bated sigh of relief and Chelsea crossed her arms over her hardly ample chest and glared at the young man.

Elliot's happy expression dropped when he saw their stressed reactions. "What?" He inquired. "Not a good time?"

"It's fine," Mark alleviated as Chelsea picked up the watering can she'd dropped at her feet in surprise. "Chels and I are just tending to the field right now. What can I do for you, dude?"

"Oh, sorry," Elliot apologized copiously in his shy, sweet voice, pushing the bridge of his glasses a bit more up his small nose. "Denny came to my house and was wondering if I could come get you so we could do a scavenger hunt all over the island together. He had a list and everything. I tried to tell him that you were probably working, with the lack of rain and all, but he pushed me to come and get you. He was really insistent. Are you almost done?"

Mark slid a surreptitious glance at Chelsea, whose countenance was pinched in confusion at the thought of the dark-skinned fisherman sitting with a pen and a piece of paper, drawing up what was doubtlessly his weekly grocery list. "What the heck is Denny doing making up scavenger hunts?" Chelsea demanded eventually, once she was finished cogitating. "He has a job fishing, doesn't he? Can't he be working or something, like the rest of us?" She turned around and pulled out a nearby weed, its blossoming orange flower deceptively coaxing its viewers into thinking that it was harmless and wiped her hands before continuing. "Like this. He could be helping me and Mark pull weeds instead of trying to get kids to do his shopping for him."

"He said something about how the rivers are dried up and the fish in the ocean are migrating away because of the famine," Elliot reported. "And he's bored."

"God forbid Denny gets bored," Chelsea mumbled under her breath.

Immediately, Mark pivoted on his heel, grateful for the unforeseen distraction from the back-breaking work that he'd been doing for the past few hours. His youthful spirit became a lit flame as his emerald eyes danced in his skull, informing Chelsea of what he was about to ask before it even escaped his lips. "Oh, Chelsea, can I go?" Mark begged eagerly. "We're almost finished in the fields. I promise I won't be out long. I'll even check Bess and the chickens for you when I get back to the farm!" He made a sidelong gesture to Elliot, prompting him to make the same imploring face to his friend's older sibling.

Chelsea glanced to the empty watering can and assessed the relatively weed-free corn stalks around her and finally sighed, conceding defeat, and smiled in spite of herself. Oh, what's the big deal? It's not like it will rain tomorrow or anything. "Okay, okay," she agreed, earning a victorious fist pump from Mark. "But only if you feed and water the animals when you're done! I've been doing some of your work, so you need to scratch my back, too. I'm going to see how the rice is doing up north, but then I think we're done for the day." She then proceeded to roll her eyes, the good-natured grin still painting her lips. "And you don't have to ask me next time. You're an adult now."

"Sweet!" Mark was already grappling for his sky-blue shirt, which had been discarded many minutes prior to their strenuous pulling and watering. He threw the apparel—splotched with patches of mud, as if he were a cobalt Dalmatian—on and beamed gleefully at his sister. "Thanks so much, Chelsea! Don't push yourself too hard, okay? I'll be back soon, right, Elliot?" When the spry redhead nodded his acquiescence, Mark stepped into the shaded brush of the corn growth and threw a fleeting look behind him. "See you before sundown, Chels!" Without another word, he turned and followed his friend through the maze of produce, their weaving evident with the occasional nod of the taller corn stalks as the boys bumped by them on their way out.

"Hey! Be careful out there, it's really hot!" Chelsea hollered as a parting thought. "I don't want you passing out! Did you hear me, Mark?" Complete silence followed—and silence could only be complete on this tiny island out in the middle of the sea, far removed from any sort of advanced civilization and the intrepid noise that came with it.

What remained instead was the hollow, somewhat dead whisper of the gentle breeze as it snuck through the waning stems around her, too quiet to cover up the resonance of another intruder and yet too loud for her to concentrate solely on her own thoughts. Flickering her eyes shut for only a second, Chelsea allowed herself to fall into a soundless vacuum, amplifying every shudder of wind or crunch of grass around her. It was nice to be alone sometimes—in her opinion, the peace she had when Mark was absent was infrequently wonderful. The passing gust tickled her exposed, plush stomach, curling around the anodyne of her dirt-caked skin to cool her. For a brief interval of time, Chelsea could not feel the warmth of the infuriated sun roughly burning her. Instead, there was nothing but lovely solitude and calming tranquility. After a moment or two, Chelsea sighed serenely and welcomed the opening of her eyes again.

She promptly found that she was staring at a frigid amethyst gaze.

Instantly frightened, Chelsea jumped back two paces and shrieked, not registering the face that had appeared before her. When she began to topple backward, a gloved hand shot out and caught her on the wrist, the figure's reflexes more rapid than her racing heart. Pulling her back up, Chelsea steadied her shaky footing and stared at the black leather on the large, masculine hand, frayed at the edges and threatening to tear into holes at various places. She choked back a laugh at her expense and opened her mouth to apologize to the familiar person who was holding her upright. However, the deep, soft resonance of the arm's owner cut into her speech before she could even say a thing.

"Did I scare you?" He asked, gruff but gentle.

Chelsea glanced at the stern cowboy that had scared her so and studied him wordlessly. She recognized his familiar face, and she wasn't sure why she'd even been so startled in the first place. The man was taller than her by at least a head and had bent down previously so he could meet her shorter stature with his aloof purple eyes. His thin lips, endlessly curled downward in an everlasting frown, were hidden behind a white kerchief tied around his nose and mouth—an item he usually kept around his neck. His silver hair was surprisingly not sticky with sweat, despite being stuck beneath the shield of his black cowboy hat, cocked downward in the front. Characteristically, he was dressed from head to toe in total black—black pants and a black shirt with gold buttons, excluding his brown vest and matching boots. Under the glare of the sunlight, the cowboy's spurs winked at her. Distinctly, Chelsea recalled the melodious clink of his boots as he walked. Had she really been so out of it that she hadn't heard him approaching?

"Yeah, Vaughn," Chelsea responded eventually, releasing a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "Just a little."

Vaughn released her arm, his eyes still glinting with an interesting sort of concern. "Sorry about that," he said, not at all apologetic in his low monotone, muffled by the kerchief. "I was walking up the road to your ranch to see your cow and I noticed movement in here. I thought a wild animal was eating Mark's crops." His gaze skirted from the unraveled base of the denim shorts that hung snugly on her hips to the thin shirt wrapped around her breasts. "Didn't know you were working."

Suddenly, Chelsea was aware at her state of undress and gulped, crossing her arms self-consciously around her bare waist. Her face became hot, the extreme summers' warmth notwithstanding. She and Vaughn had a relationship that wasn't quite friendship, but also could not be called romance. Vaughn, the enigmatic animal trader that worked for Mirabelle's store in the island's sole town, had arrived not even a season after Chelsea and Mark had moved there permanently. Though he was never present for more than two days at a time, Chelsea, being the friendly spirit that she was, openly greeted him every day and often brought him leftover milk as a gift, a favorite drink of his. At first, Chelsea had no further intention than a simple rapport. She wasn't looking to settle down, and courting handsome men was not the first task on her list.

But as Vaughn began to gradually warm up to her, Chelsea found that she was feeling very differently and questioned her aims. Vaughn, who was so out of tune with other people that he would not approach her on his own, started to initiate conversation. Then, he invited her with him to his daily walks on the seashore of the island—the two would kick their feet through the shimmering white sand as the ocean licked at their ankles, hands clasped behind their backs, not speaking to each other and not making eye contact. Soon, Vaughn was returning the favors she endowed upon him—her favorite flowers, her favorite foods, all given in the privacy of her home or the back of Mirabelle's shop. Whenever he cast eyes upon her during these moments, he'd nervously look away and stutter his drawling baritone. Chelsea, too, discovered that she would pantomime his anxiety when she was alone with the unfriendly cowboy. Over and over again, she tried to reassure herself that she didn't have a crush on him, that Mark and her farm were the only important things to her; yet every time he stood close, Chelsea's body warmed like the summer heat that cooked her now.

When Vaughn noticed Chelsea's hesitance at her appearance, he shook his head. "Are you worried about what you're wearing?" He said, a strange tone of mirth in his voice. The tolling bell of humor confounded Chelsea, as Vaughn was not the type to be easily amused. "Don't worry about it, Chelsea. It's your farm, and you were at work. I'm not disgusted by it or anything. Besides, most farm girls tend walk around in even less than that." He gestured to her shoddy shirt and shorts, soiled with dirty handprints and grass stains. This was Vaughn's true nature—sarcastic and somewhat prodding, egged on by the familiarity of his relationship with Chelsea. They were rarely flustered unless whatever they were doing was anything close to flirting and instead enjoyed throwing playful insults at one another.

Chelsea cocked an eyebrow and unwrapped her arms with some reluctance. "Oh, and how do you know that?" She teased lightly, though mentioning nothing about the fact that he pronounced her entire name. Everyone else on the island called her Chels, an affectionate nickname that she'd come to enjoy. Vaughn, however, was the sole exception. It was as if he refused to savor her name in any other way than its full value.

Vaughn rolled his eyes. "I was just kidding," he snorted, reaching up to pull the kerchief down from his mouth. "Do you need to read my lips or something?"

"What's up with that, anyway?" Chelsea inquired, pointing to the white bandana with immense curiosity. "That thing never leaves your neck. You looked kind of like a bandit."

"It's dry enough that the wind was kicking up the dust," Vaughn said. "This has its uses." He pinched the white fabric between his thumb and forefinger and waved it slightly. "Don't criticize it. I know you have your own bandana to protect your delicate, feminine hair."

Crossing her arms over her chest in false indignation, Chelsea huffed. "Oh, please, Vaughn," she said. "I have a farm. Beauty and sexuality are about the last items on my worry list. We don't all have time to look sexy, like you." The ending sentence fell out of her mouth before she could stop herself, and the magnitude of her unintentional slip hit her immediately afterward. Doing her best to control the blush that was threatening to overcome her, Chelsea turned her head away from Vaughn's line of sight. She could feel the imperturbable, steady eyes of her cowboy friend burning into her, as if calculating a response to that odd statement. Swiftly, Chelsea wished that Vaughn had never showed up. Sometimes, in the middle of their mockery, something like this would come out and she'd make a fool of herself.

To her surprise, Vaughn brushed off the remark and instead pinched a crumbling corn stalk leaf between his thumb and forefinger, his following scowl stirring some unknown emotion in Chelsea's stomach. "You know, I don't think Taro would mind if you hauled in water from the well in town," he said. "I think he'd rather give that up than have your crops die. Your farm the biggest source of income on this island, you know. The river's dried up. He'll understand."

"Oh, no, I couldn't ask that of him," Chelsea dismissed quickly. "I don't want everyone in town to go thirsty. The corn needs quite a bit to maintain, anyway. If they die off, it shouldn't matter that much. The tomatoes may pull through." She laughed nervously and clutched her arm, not sure if the onslaught of high temperatures she was feeling was because of the drought or Vaughn's presence. "Besides, he keeps saying that it'll rain tomorrow, anyway."

Vaughn raised one eyebrow, a motion that caused a shudder of—what? Arousal?—in Chelsea's spine. "You doubt him?" He drawled, letting the crop go and taking a step toward her.

Instinctively, Chelsea shrunk back, leaving an equal amount of space between them and not allowing her visitor to cover that distance. "The water famine has been really bad," she said. "I don't think it'll be solved overnight. It hasn't rained all season; why should it do so now?"

"Taro's never wrong," Vaughn pointed out with a good-natured chuckle. "You need to have more faith in the town elder, Chelsea. He knows all."

"Why do you call me Chelsea?" Once more, Chelsea stammered out the question before she could bar herself from going on. "Everyone else addresses me as Chels. You say my full name. Why?"

Vaughn was silent for a moment; he shoved his sinewy hands into the deep pockets of his black pants. Briefly, the thought traveled through Chelsea's mind like the ferry Vaughn took weekly back into the city for work—does he ever get too hot, wearing all that? He blew out a taxed breath, and Chelsea worried that she'd offended him. Vaughn was overly sensitive in many ways—so much so that even she had to watch her step around him, as his views were easily bruised by uncaring, thoughtless comments from others. Julia would bully him about disliking carrots, Mirabelle would joke about when he was thinking of settling down, and Vaughn resented it all. At this point in their unusual amity, Chelsea took pride in the fact that she hadn't hurt the touchy cowboy, but she figured that she would forget and make a mistake sooner or later.

"Because," he said, so low that Chelsea could barely detect a sound. "Your name is too pretty to shorten." At that, a dusting of pink covered his cheeks and he swallowed audibly, scratching the back of his head awkwardly.

Chelsea was now boiling all over—she was overheating at the confession, the searing sensation making her feel faint. "Oh?" She squeaked. Somewhere, tucked in the back of her mind with the reminder to get married and a few dust bunnies, she knew that Vaughn liked her, and while that did not bother her, she wasn't sure how she felt back. Did she love him? Did she not want anything to do with him outside of uncomplicated companionship? She was uncertain, and yet she could not shake the churning sense of desire whenever they were together.

Vaughn, copying his actions from before, took another step forward. This time, however, Chelsea did not scamper away. "Chelsea…" He paused to compose himself before going on. "To be honest, I… well, I did come into the fields because I thought there were wild animals, but I… I didn't… I didn't come to the farm to see your cows." The roar of the cicadas on the cherry blossom trees surrounding the corn field filled the gap in his speech, the noise welcome to Chelsea's frayed nerves. "I came to see you… because… I wanted to tell you something."

"What's that?" Chelsea wanted to move, but could not. She was one of the stalks of corn, inanimate, unable to shift in any way except with the mild push of the breeze that snaked around her. She knew what he was going to say. She anticipated it, but she could not find the time to rack her brain for an appropriate answer.

"I like you," Vaughn admitted. He took another step. "Lots, Chelsea. I thought you were really annoying when I first came to the island… you know, another person that wanted to get me to open up just to say that you had that power. But when I realized your wish to befriend me was genuine… well, I started falling." Another step. He was drawing close enough now that Chelsea could feel his breath—considerably cooler than the air around her—drifting toward her. Still, she was frozen to her spot, as if it wasn't summer at all. "You gave me all that milk and said such wonderful things to me, and… I couldn't help myself. I look forward to my two days on this island now, because I know for sure that I'll get to see you. And… and, er, I was wondering if you liked me too."

Chelsea's hands were quivering as she clutched her hips uneasily, dropping her gaze from Vaughn's. Her mouth twitched—on par with her inertia, Chelsea could not find the words to express how she felt. Indeed, she liked Vaughn, but she wasn't sure how much. She was completely unsure if she should even respond in the positive, for she feared that she would eventually damage the heart of the already thin-skinned cowboy. It was clear that Vaughn could sense her hesitance, for he did not press her further. Instead, he inched forward once more, now so near to the object of his affection that Chelsea could perceive the radiating warmth of his heavily-clad body, even though it was unbearably hot in the shade of the corn shoots. When his hand came up tentatively, about to touch her, Chelsea did not have enough time to flinch back to avoid him.

Vaughn slid his glove beneath the tight squeeze of her embrace and caresses her skin, travelling up the path of her toned stomach and coming to rest right beneath the mounds of her breasts. Chelsea gasped as every hair on her body stood on end and she was prickled with a chill that she discovered was not unpleasant. She could not bring herself to reject his touch—simply because it felt too good to deny.

Leaning in, the cowboy's lips brushed over the shell of her ear and whispered into it, swathing her skin like the midnight tide. "I know how you feel," he murmured. "And if I can't get you to say it…" His rich, resonant voice trailed off there and, without preamble or warning, turned his head and pressed his lips against Chelsea's.

All of a sudden, Chelsea found that she could move again—but she made no effort to get away from the man. Every cell in her body screamed for her to react, to reach around his neck for a better grip as she opened her mouth just slightly to invite him inside. She clung to the white kerchief that had come back to rest around at the top of his shoulders as his tongue tangled with hers, the breathless contact of bare skin against clothing creating nothing short of exhilaration. Vaughn's hands slid out from between them and roamed around her back, forcing the pair closer together. The space between them was now nonexistent as Vaughn pulled the petite farmer in so that her breasts mashed against his chest, a change in pressure that made them both moan quietly into each other.

Vaughn was the first to pull away and lock onto Chelsea's bright blue eyes with his own. "You reek," he commented bluntly.

"Sorry, I've actually been doing work," Chelsea snorted.

Vaughn smirked in a manner that made Chelsea's pulse quicken. "Is that so?" He mused as he reached behind her back and tugged stealthily at the bow of her makeshift shirt, created by the yellow sleeves. "Isn't that a surprise." With one fleet flick of his wrist, the sloppy knot came undone and the fabric dropped to Chelsea's sullied, uncovered feet, fully exposing her breasts to the cowboy.

Blinking once, Chelsea glanced down and yelped, throwing her arms over herself and turned redder than the tomatoes growing not far away. "Ugh, you pervert!" She snapped. "I didn't even say I liked you, and you're already trying to get at my boobs! Aren't you supposed to be introverted or something?"

"I am," Vaughn chortled, wrapping his hands around Chelsea's waist and drawing her to him again, encircling her soft sides with his tickling fingertips. In spite of her position, Chelsea couldn't help but release a giggle. "Except you drive me crazy, and I can't get a handle on it." He pecked her chastely on the cheek before hovering over her face again, his lusty, smoldering expression causing Chelsea's knees to virtually buckle from weakness. "And I don't think you would've returned that kiss the way you did if you didn't like me, babe."

"Maybe I'm messing around," Chelsea said, immediately realizing that the mood had been killed to some extent, but refused to care. She unfolded her arms from around her chest and placed them on her hips in an impudent stance, glaring at the uncharacteristically brazen cowboy. "Maybe I don't like you at all, and I was just kissing you because I'm confused with my feelings." The confession was unwarranted and true on her part, but she was becoming cross with Vaughn's mischievousness. She'd grown accustomed to his distance; although the outlandish display of his emotions turned her on, she'd never admit it.

Grinning, Vaughn said nothing and instead averted his attention to ogling her breasts, which she had accidentally showed in her motion. "You should walk around without a shirt more often," he said huskily.

Exasperated, Chelsea covered herself up again. "Oh, stop it. They're tiny," she hissed, inadvertently insulting her own body. "Go away, you creepy old guy."

"Hey, now," Vaughn purred playfully. He reached amid their bodies and cupped a knoll of flesh, rolling his thumb over her fuzzy skin. Chelsea sucked in a breath and wriggled helplessly, not sure if she was trying to detach from Vaughn or come closer to him. He knead her expertly with his fingers, and Chelsea emitted a miniscule mewl, a cat beseeching for milk. Pleased by the outcome of his fondling, Vaughn bent the upper half of his body so his mouth met her breast and took her in his mouth. The suckling awoke every piece of Chelsea to her excitement and she groaned, amazed at the stimulation that stirred in her groin. Her fingers entangled in the cowboy's silvery hair as he lapped hungrily at her, his dark hat tumbling to the ground and going unnoticed.

"Please stop," Chelsea said hoarsely, knowing that she sounded highly unconvincing, as she herself wasn't convinced that she wanted his antics to come to a halt. Vaughn, of course, ignored her as his hand made a beeline for the snap of her denim shorts and undid it casually—so sneakily, in fact, that Chelsea did not discern her partial undressing until Vaughn's fingers began to dip down into the brim of her pink cotton panties. She could not vocalize her desires any longer, so she became limp, a willing ragdoll in the grasp of the man she hadn't dreamed about doing anything of this degree with until a few weeks ago.

"Actually, Chelsea, I do think it will rain tomorrow," Vaughn muttered into her breast. His fingers, lubricated well with her wet arousal, glided effortlessly into her sex. The moment brought a triumphant grin on his usually staid face, smiling into Chelsea. "A real gully-washer."

As his fingers skimmed in and out of her, Chelsea felt a compelling force building inside her. She gasped loudly, collapsing against Vaughn as he stood up straight. To silence her, Vaughn caught her lips against his, and she keenly probed the cavern of his mouth with her ravenous tongue. The speed of Vaughn's fingers accelerated, curling inside her and hitting a spot that Chelsea was never aware existed until then. She cried out in astonishment and kissed Vaughn with more fervor, her body rearing and bucking with his rhythm. As the seconds ticked by with agonizing sloth, Chelsea's pent-up thrill began to feel full to bursting. Vaughn, sensing her nearness, coiled his fingers in the same method as previously. Chelsea bit back the most vociferous noise she'd ever made, a resounding whimper of approval freed from her restraint instead. He repeated the motion a second time, a third, before Chelsea knew she couldn't take it anymore.

"OhpleasestoprightnowVaughn," she moaned, unable to breathe evenly for long enough to speak coherently.

"I'll stop when you come for me, babe," he said with a hint of roughness and demanding in his tone. Plunging in deeper, he wrapped his idle arm so that he could stroke her breast once more, the brutal touch sending sparks of need coursing throughout Chelsea's veins. With one more calculate shift of his fingers, she plummeted over the edge, constricting Vaughn's digits with her orgasm. Her peak hit her with the vigor of a violent blizzard gale, her body convulsing in a rush of intense pleasure. Letting loose a howl, Chelsea could no longer stand from the sheer strength of her desire. She would have crumpled into the earth, wholly blissful on all godly levels, had Vaughn not been there to catch her.

Once the surge had passed and Chelsea could support herself once more, she turned to face the cowboy, her body still quaking. With a satisfied smirk, Vaughn removed his fingers from her and calmly wiped her wetness on his black pants. In the haze of the afterglow, Chelsea could think of nothing to say, so her graceless, inelegant hidden self located an appropriate sentence for her. "Aren't you ever hot in those clothes?" She muttered, eyelids drooped. "It's summer, and you're wearing black."

Vaughn's rare laughter enveloped the field, the absurdity of her words entertaining him greatly. Stooping to pick up his hat, he flicked Chelsea's nose lightheartedly with the index finger that had been inside her not minutes before. The musky, fragrant scent that lingered there shocked and slightly disgusted Chelsea. She wondered if he'd try and keep it there as long as possible. At this, her horror was assisted by the assumption that animal trader would most likely not be washing his hands for the duration of his stay on the island. "You're cute," the cowboy drawled. "Maybe it'll storm hard enough that my ferry to the city will be delayed. Wouldn't that be nice?" He placed the hat on his head and pivoted on his heel, turning his back to the farmer—but not before stealing a hasty kiss. "So long, Chelsea." He gave a half-wave and pulled the whit kerchief back around his nose and mouth before vanishing into the corn stalks, leaving the girl alone with her thoughts once more.

Momentarily, Chelsea considered examining the field for any more uninvited guests before realizing that she did not have her shirt back on. Sighing dramatically, Chelsea looked to her feet, presuming that her yellow cover had fallen there during her tryst—but it was nowhere to be found. She halfheartedly kicked the dirt, thinking that it had been buried, but her search did not yield bounty. Understanding dawned on her in that moment, however, and her fists clenched at her sides in irritation.

God, what a prick.

()()()

It did rain the next day—a gully-washer, just as Vaughn had predicted. The precipitation came down in sheets, drenching the ranch and practically drowning the formerly arid corn and tomato crops. Chelsea had managed to get out long enough in the morning to feed the cows and attend to the chickens before the tempest picked up, but she and Mark were now stranded indoors for the remainder of the afternoon. Mark, busying himself in the kitchen, was making them lunch while she sat on the windowsill in their living room, reflecting on the preceding day's activities with no dearth of flustered recollection.

Though it was hard to hear over the roar of the thunderstorm, Chelsea distinguished a timid knock on their front door, not a yard away from where she was sitting and directly cater-corner to their old, worn couch. Whipping her head around in surprise, Chelsea curiously slid off the sill and headed toward the entrance. She didn't know how anybody could be out today without catching one hell of a cold, but she did not cogitate too extensively. It certainly wouldn't be Vaughn, she decided—it was raining quite terribly, but certainly not hard enough to delay the ferry. Her hand flitted around the brass doorknob when she heard Mark's voice call from the kitchen.

"Did someone knock?" he inquired.

"Yeah, but it's okay, I've got it," Chelsea yelled back. She unlocked the door and left it ajar only a crack at first, trying not to let the water in to see the identity of the caller, but was astounded to see nobody there. Pulling the door fully open, she stepped out onto their partially covered front stoop, protected enough from the rain that she was not soaked to the bone by the squall. Squinting, she scanned the property for any retreating soul, but found none in the damp mist. She shrugged and began to head back inside when she caught a glimpse of a yellow flash on the welcome mat below. Stopping dead in her tracks, Chelsea knelt down to see what gifts were on her porch—and was stunned at what she saw.

Before her sat a clean and pressed women's shirt, long-sleeved and as vivid as the merciless sun out yesterday. She apprehended that it was hers; it had been washed from the dirt-caked state it was in when she had worn it last. Beside it sat a familiar black cowboy hat with a brown leather band encompassing the head, the brim tucked up on one side. Incredulous, Chelsea grabbed the hat and held it in her hands, feeling an interesting mixture of illness and anticipation. Flipping it over, she noticed that a note had been pinned on the inside of the hat. On a white slip of paper sat two words, scribbled in a choppy yet flawless scrawl, simple and yet profound:

Told you.