You can’t trust a man with little ears.
The idiosyncratic bit of advice was one of many that Mia’s late grandfather had left her with when he passed away eleven months ago. Like this one, most of Papa Pete’s sayings were endearing, if somewhat ridiculous. Funny one of his “wisdoms” should pop into Mia’s head during the Bellham, Oregon, Valley River Rodeo. At this very moment, too – the exact moment she spotted the cowboy.
He was the cowboy her best friend, Skye had told her about. Wasn’t he? Tall. Muscular. Red shirt. It had to be him!
His forearms were propped on the metal rail of a horse pen, one boot firmly planted behind him in the dust, the leg nearest the rail bent and relaxed.
Papa Pete’s advice might seem silly, but as Mia moved closer to the cowboy she couldn’t stop her gaze from sliding along his firm backside, gliding over the powerful round of his shoulder, and up his thick neck to land on his lobe – the only part of his ear she could see. His white straw cowboy hat covered the rest.
Good guys wear white hats.
His earlobe was decidedly full and thick. Mia let out a small sigh of relief and forced her new boots to approach the rail and stand nearby. Bright August heat radiated off the metal stock panels. She leaned her arms on one of the rails anyway and fought the urge to jerk back from the scorch of hot steel against her bare skin.
The dense, sweet scent of horse sweat permeated the air, blending agreeably with her pineapple-scented sunscreen. Mia’s arms absorbed, and adjusted, to the heat from the rail.
Always let the man speak first.
As antiquated as that piece of Papa-Pete advice was, Mia took it anyway. She remained silent and assessed the ten broncs mulling about, scuffling and stirring up dust inside the pen. Some were sleek, regal creatures, with the appearance of tame, honest saddle horses – like Lady, the gentle palomino from her childhood. Others had scarred, rough coats, and a rogue glint in their eyes, as though they’d just as soon throw and stomp a rider as look at him. If the cowboy leaning on the rail beside her was a horse, Mia wondered which sort he’d be.
He was someone Justin, Skye’s bareback-bronc-riding boyfriend knew. Well, kinda, sorta knew through a friend of a friend.
“He’s a bronc rider, too, Justin’s met him before. Heard he’s a good guy, he just can’t for sure remember his name…Trapper…Hunter… something like that,” Skye had told Mia yesterday when trying, yet again, to talk her into going along to the rodeo today.
Mia hadn’t wanted to come, didn’t want to be a third wheel to Justin and Skye and their perpetual hand holding, kissing, and pet name calling. She loved Skye like a sister, but all the lovey-dovey stuff made Mia uncomfortable. And maybe just a teeny bit envious.
When Mia mentioned her reluctance at being a tag along, Skye took it on as a challenge to find Mia a date. “He’s single. And he’s hot,” Skye had said about the bronc rider, trying to sway her.
So, after much coaxing and coercing, and with the promise of meeting a decent, attractive guy, Mia finally relented.
Justin and Skye were on the other side of the rodeo grounds trying to locate Hunter, or Trapper, or whatever this cowboy’s name happened to be. But it was Mia, by herself, who tracked him down first. She felt a glow of accomplishment. Although now that she’d found him standing in the dust-moated sunlight, she wasn’t exactly sure what to do, or what to say. Especially since she wasn’t one-hundred percent sure this was even the right cowboy.
Danita Cahill is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer. She’s written and published over 2,100 newspaper articles and columns for 11 different Northwest newspapers, and dozens of magazine stories and photo layouts for six different magazines. She has five stories and a photo in two of HCI’s anthologies and has self-published five books – two non-fiction and three fiction titles. Danita lives in the Pacific NW on a small Oregon farm with her family and animals, including a herd of 10 alpacas. Besides running children to and fro and caring for her gardens, critters and family, Danita stays busy working on magazine assignments and her next book projects.
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