Chapter 2

1512 Words
Chapter Two Isabella's mother stood waiting on the porch when she pulled into the main drive of the Capizzi ranch. "What's up, Ma?" she asked, hopping out of the truck. "Your father called. He's out on the back eighty, one of the fences blew down in last night's storm. Part of the herd has wandered onto the Boyd's property." Isabella covered a curse. So much for a lazy afternoon by the creek. "Did you call over there?" "Reyna and Kel are riding out. They said they'd alert Jax. Can you take the tools and barbed wire in your truck?" "Of course." Isabella headed to the barn with a deflated huff. She didn't mind the work. Quite the opposite, actually. Everyone else would be on horseback when she arrived, and she'd miss out on cutting the cattle, one of her favorite jobs on the ranch. Twenty minutes later, she pulled up alongside the downed cottonwood responsible for pulling down a section of the fence that separated the Capizzi spread from the Boyd's. "Looks like it rotted clear through," Isabella commented as she met her dad at the back of the truck. "Glad it didn't fall on a cow," he grunted. "Did you bring the postholer?" "Of course, Dad." She refrained from rolling her eyes. It didn't matter how many miles of fences she'd helped him repair, he still treated her like she was a teenager. "I brought the chainsaw, the toolbox, and new fence posts." "Good girl," he said patting her shoulder. "Jaxon," he hollered to where Jax and his parents stood inspecting the downed tree. "Come over here and help me unload." "I've got this, Dad," she said tersely, reaching for the spool of barbed wire. Who did he think had loaded the truck? "Let me help you with that," Jax said with an easy smile as he lifted the eighty-five-pound spool off the truck with no effort whatsoever. "Showoff," she muttered, unable to keep from smiling in return. Jax's smile broadened, white teeth flashing against a mouth that could only be called sinful. He waggled his eyebrows. "I brought Junior along. Figured you could use him when we need to cut the cattle." Isabella shot him a grateful smile. "Always looking out for me." "Anything to see you smile." He held her gaze for a beat longer than necessary. Isabella's heart expanded into her throat, stealing her breath. For a shining, beautiful moment she let herself imagine what it would be like if Jax's thoughtfulness was motivated out of more than just friendship. Ever since he'd returned to Prairie, their easy friendship had been peppered with moments that hinted at something deeper lurking just beneath the surface. But every time she leaned into them, he pulled back. Every. Damned. Time. "Iz?" Jaxon's deep voice cut into her thoughts. "Everything okay? Where'd you drift off to?" She waved a hand, neck heating as if he'd been privy to the thoughts tumbling through her head. "I'll tell you later," she said, pulling the toolbox from the truck as an idea formed in her mind. Maybe she should make a move. Test the waters once and for all and see if this crazy chemistry that had erupted between them was real or just a figment of her imagination. For the next three hours, the two families toiled under the intense summer sun - first sawing then stacking the downed tree, then digging new postholes, replacing broken fenceposts, until the fifty-yard section was as good as new. "Here. You haven't had enough to drink," said Jaxon, holding out a plastic cup of lemonade. With a grateful smile, Isabella took the cup and held it to her forehead, relishing the chill. She drained her cup and held it out. "Thanks. More?" Jaxon's cheeks lifted, and even though she couldn't see his eyes behind his aviators, she knew his brown eyes were twinkling. "You never could resist Mama's lemonade," he teased. "Why should I? It's the best." "Don't let your mother hear you say that," cautioned her father, helping himself to a second helping from the thermos Reyna had brought along. "Even if it's true." Jax's father, Kelvin, tossed his cup in the back of the truck. "Reyna and I will drive the bulk of our herd to the next pasture. Jax, why don't you and Iz cut the cattle, and 'Sandro can drive them through the gate." Jax quickly nodded his agreement. "Let's get her done." Isabella followed Jax to the horses, double checked the cinch, and mounted up. "Why the big smile all of a sudden?" Jax asked as he pulled his horse Tucker up next to Junior. "Everything's better on the back of a horse. Don't you think?" "I think everything's better when you're smiling," he teased. "Careful, Boyd. A girl might think you're flirting." She wheeled Junior around and through the gate before Jax could respond. Isabella's heart fluttered erratically as the crazy idea of making a move on Jaxon suddenly seemed a little less so. Jaxon followed her through the gate and circled around the far side. "I don't think it'll be too hard to separate them," he called from the other side of the remaining clump while turning Tucker into the cattle. Isabella nodded her agreement. It was easy to tell their two breeds apart. Her family had transitioned to Wagyu, an all black breed, while Jaxon and his family raised black and white Belgian Blues. "You work on cutting yours, and I'll work on encouraging our pairs through the gate." It was sweaty, hard work, and by the time they were done, Isabella's thighs ached from guiding Junior back and forth. All she wanted was a hot shower and a cold beer. Jax pulled up alongside her and raised a hand for a high-five. "We make a great team." Isabella returned his smile. "We always do." "How does Pizza from Gino's and a bottle of Chianti sound?" "Better make it two, I'm famished." Isabella dismounted and handed over the reins. "See you later?" Jaxon tipped his hat and rode away, leading Junior. Isabella allowed herself one hungry glance at his retreating form. It didn't matter if he was seated on a horse or riding a bull out of the chute, the man always looked good. Her father closed the gate behind her. "I appreciate your help today, pumpkin." Isabella pushed a smile to her face. "Does that mean you're ready to let me buy in?" Alessandro's face set. They'd had this argument a dozen times or more in the last year. "You know that's off the table. But you do make me proud." "Please, Dad. Let me buy in or buy you out. I have a nest egg set aside." She was foolish for pushing, but she couldn't help it, nothing made her happier than working the ranch. "And I have plans for expansion I can show you. And new income streams. I've worked everything out to the penny." Alessandro shook his head. "I can't do that, sweetheart. You know why." "You know Rafe's not coming home. All your hoping and praying won't change that." Her father's jaw tightened as a look of anguish crossed his face. "Your mother and I are not giving up on him." "At my expense," she pointed out, fighting the swell of disappointment threatening to overwhelm her yet again. "As soon as you get married, you'll leave the ranch. Then what? Then where will we be when you move onto your husband's ranch?" Isabella huffed out a breath, rolling her eyes. "What husband, Dad? Who's that gonna be? I'm almost thirty. I haven't had a date in over a year. There is no husband on the horizon, and I'm tired of putting my dreams on hold." "Then find new ones. Your mother and I are in agreement. The ranch is Rafe's when he comes home." Isabella ground her teeth together so hard they squeaked. "That is so unfair. He left us over seventeen years ago." And had left a trail of broken hearts in his wake - theirs, included. Alessandro pulled her into a hug. "I know it's not easy, sweetheart. Someday you'll understand." She wasn't sure she would. In spite of herself, she sank into her father's big, warm embrace. "I miss him, too, Daddy." "We all do," her father answered thickly. "Now go clean up. Mama's made meatballs if you want to join us tonight." She shook her head. "Thanks. Jax is bringing over pizza." Alessandro made a noise deep in his chest. "When are you-" "Nope. Zip it." She pushed away from her father and held up a hand. The last thing she wanted to do was discuss Jaxon with her dad. All their hoping wouldn't change her reality. "Not a word. Plan on me for breakfast." She pulled open the driver's side door and hopped in. Thoughts of Jax filled her head as she turned the truck around and slowly made her way back to her cottage which sat nestled in a grove of cottonwoods on the far side of the family compound. After she cleaned up, she would put on her favorite white linen sundress and some of the fancy perfume she saved for special occasions. Then after dinner and a glass of wine, while they were lounging on the porch swing, she'd finally lean over and kiss Jax. Just the way she'd imagined in her dreams.
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