by Grasshopper

Chapter 1


Charity McBride laughed and reached over for the volume button, cranking it up all the way. She'd had this secret crush on George Strait all through high school, even been to one of his concerts in Phoenix when she was 16. Her sweet clear voice lifted above the rushing wind of the open Jeep to blend in with the music on the radio, "Amarillo by mornin', up from San Anton...."

She knew she was running really late as she drove through the reservation gates, the thirty miles stretching out ahead of her like a black ribbon laid on the blowing sand. But little Janie Two Trees had needed that extra help with her long division and Charity was devoted to her students. She knew Jase would have dinner started by the time she drove in the yard.

Jase! Charity smiled as her thoughts fell on the wonderful man she had married, her thoughts then automatically shifting to the adorable face of their son. For a few minutes, in that black Jeep, the sun losing its last embers as the day faded into night, she knew a bit of peace. Her blonde curls blowing in the warm breeze, she sang along with George and felt safe.

The truck came out of nowhere. Just roared up behind her and shoved at her back bumper. Knocked roughly from her daydreams, Charity grabbed the wheel and steadied the Jeep. The tan truck edged her over and pushed until she ran off into the embankment that walled off Wild Horse Ravine. Pinned in, unable to go forward or back, she stared, wild eyed, as the door of the truck in front of her slowly opened and long legs thrust themselves out onto the hard sandy road.

"Oh God!" she moaned as she recognized the face of her assailant in the blaring headlights. Her mind flew to Davy.......to Jase. Not this way! Not now!

He was so close she could smell him, a long remembered evil. The Jeep offered no protection. He just reached in and grabbed her out like a rag doll, the knife blade shining in the moonlight. "It's time, little one."

Four years later

Packing his jeans in the suitcase, Cody Taylor wondered again why he was going. When the lawyer had called him at work, he had been polite, then saddened to learn that his grandfather had passed away. He had lived in his Grandfather's home until he was ten, then his parents had moved away, taking him and his brother Elijah to New England, saying they wanted to see the seasons change and they wanted to lay the ghosts to rest, whatever that meant.

His grandfather had invited them back time and time again, especially after his grandmother died. They had gone to the funeral, but after that his dad had always found an excuse not to go again. Cody dimly remembered hot summer nights sleeping on the roof, a pony named Jezebel, his grandfather's lap and the stories he would tell.

Now, he was going back; he couldn't say going home. He'd inherited half of his grandfather's ranch. It was a 10,000 acre spread with 100% of the water rights to Kachina Creek. The other half now belonged to a man that had befriended his grandfather; someone named Jase McBride, a widower with a 10 year old son. Cody was excited and yet he had a fear of going back. His plan was to go to Drifter, New Mexico, sell the land to either Mr. McBride or the highest bidder and come home. His home was in New York. His job was here. He had no roots in the southwest.

Cody had been raised in the East. His parents never had much time for him or Elijah; their books and studies, their trips to digs all they seemed to need. Cody had grown up quiet and shy; the way he looked sometimes interesting to others, sometimes challenging, as if he was somehow different, but mostly making him feel odd. He had a reserved, older than his years way about him that seemed to put people off even as it attracted them. Working for the museum was stimulating and his one try at love had exploded in his face. Cody hadn't found his way yet.

As Cody folded the last shirt into his bag, zipping it shut, he smiled to hear Mike's voice. "Need any help?" His roommate offered, plopping down onto the bed and flipping the red ribbon Cody had tied on his suitcase handle.

"Nah, thanks. I've just about got it," Cody answered.

"Soooo, Cody, tell me again why you think you've gotta go there? Why you can't take care of it over the phone?" Mike asked, looking at Cody with worried eyes.

Cody sat down on the bed, rested his head on Mike's shoulder and felt himself pulled close. "I just feel like I've disrespected my grandfather. I have to go this one last time."

"Well, Hon, I know how you can get," Mike sighed, rubbing the tense muscles in Cody's shoulders. "Just take care of business and get back here. I know the desert pulls you but New York is your home." He flipped Cody's heavy black braid and grinned. "Now, I've got a hot date and I don't wanna keep him waitin'. Sure I can't..................?"

Cody laughed, "No you can't. I called a cab. Go meet Mr. Hotpants. I'll be fine."

Mike stood in the doorway, looking back, his eyes soft, "Yeah, Cody. I know. You're ALWAYS fine."

"Why am I doin' this?" Jase McBride asked himself for the 10th time as he weaved his pickup through the traffic that was threatening to end his life before the age of thirty-two. Interstate 25, that led to the airport outside Santa Fe was, at the best of times a madhouse and today, at rush hour, it was closer to hell.

Jase hated to leave the comfortable nest he had created for himself outside the tiny town of Drifter. Twenty-five miles from ShipRock and a hundred-three from Santa Fe, he had carved out a life, for himself, for his son. He resented any change and this was gonna be one hell of a change, more like an earthquake.

Following the overhead signs, he drove up into the parking garage. Short term parking, that's what he wanted. Sliding out from behind the wheel, he stretched his long legs and arched his aching back. Jase was, under the best of circumstances, not a patient man and today's errand was trying what little patience there was.

Old man Schneider, Grandpa Taylor's lawyer, had suggested he make a sign

and hold it up to find him. He wasn't about to stand around the airport like some idiot chauffeur holding a dang sign. This Dakota person could just find him. He had never wanted to be here before but now, after it was all over, the jerk was claiming what he thought was his right. Well, Jase would pick him up and carry him back, but that's all he'd do. He knew he was being pigheaded but this grandson hadn't been there for his grandfather at the end and Jase had.

Walking out to the gate, he leaned against a column watching the passengers straggle out from the tunnel. It had been a long flight from New York and they all looked rumpled and blurry-eyed. One striking blond, in a white long sleeved shirt, tight black jeans and cowboy boots, walked through the doorway, glanced around and started for the concourse. Feeling his body react to the long legs and impressive packaging, Jase straightened up.

"Dakota Taylor?" he said hopefully. The blond looked over at him, eyes sparking and running down Jase's body, lingering, then back up to his face.

"Sorry, Hon, damn, I wish I was," he replied, smiled and headed for the escalator.

Jase turned his head back toward the arriving passengers in time to watch a smartly dressed young man walk quickly through the door. His eyes narrowed. This had better not be him. He lowered his eyes and waited.

A shadow fell across his chest. "Mr. McBride?" a soft yet no-nonsense male voice inquired. Jase looked up and into large melted chocolate eyes. "Mr. McBride?" the gentle voice said again.

"Yep. Jase McBride," he answered. "You aren't...God! Are you Dakota Taylor?"

His eyes were overtly hostile and the tone of his voice was tense. Looking down at the younger man, he felt all his old emotions come rushing back. Shit! His face closed down and he turned away roughly.

Cody was confused. Mr. Schneider's letter had said that Jase McBride would pick him up; that he was a great guy, everyone in Drifter loved him. He knew that his grandfather had adored him. How was this rude, horrid man standing in front of him anyone's idea of adorable?

"Excuse me.....Mr. McBride? Are you ready to go?"

He turned back, his emotions in check. "Yeah. Let's get your luggage," and he strode off down the concourse, leaving Cody standing, staring after him, his mouth slightly open.

Jase was furious. No one told him. Grandpa Taylor never told him, not in all the years he'd visited with his old friend. Even knowing Jase's history, Grandpa Taylor had left out this one little fact. His grandson had pure Indian blood. That long straight black hair, those huge brown eyes, that sun kissed skin.

Jase would get him back to Drifter, toss him out at the one motel and deal with all the paperwork through Schneider. There was no way he was going to share land or anything else with an Indian. It was hard enough to look at Davy every day. He just needed to drive him back and get the hell away from him.

Cody stared after Jase and then began to walk slowly to the escalator that pointed toward baggage claims. What had begun as an adventure was quickly plunging down into a nightmare. He had to deal with this man, divide things that his grandfather had loved with him. Cody had hoped to handle this gently but it looked like McBride was going to make a mess of it. He thought, very nastily, what had crawled up his butt and died? Not one for standing back and just taking it, Cody knew he'd ask him what the problem was soon enough. He sighed and followed in the taller man's footsteps.

His basic manners surfacing, Jase lugged Cody's suitcase off the conveyor belt and started to lift it. "Let me," Cody said, as he released the wheels and began to walk. "Where to?" Jase walked ahead of him to the elevators and led him to a truck parked on the 4th level.

'A black truck,' he thought, 'suits him, standing over there all full a crap like somebody killed his dog.'

"How long is the ride to Drifter?" Cody asked, as Jase started the truck and made their way out of the parking garage, deciding to make the man talk to him. He'd never seen 'stubborn' like Cody could show him.

Jase sighed. "About a hundred twenty-five." He was not gonna get dragged into a conversation. He was naturally a very friendly, outgoing man with plenty of friends but he was not going to get involved with this guy in any way. It had been a long time but the wound had never healed; scarred over but never healed.

Cody started again, unable to figure out what was going on. "Your name? Is it short for Jason?"

"No. Just Jase."

"You can call me Cody, most people do," he smiled, hoping to undo the damage, whatever it was. Cody's smile usually warmed the coolest heart.

Jase sighed again. "I'll take you to the motel, Dakota, and you can call Schneider about the land." He knew he was being a total ass but he was angry that no one had told him, like he was a child.

'And I suppose that would make his middle name 'Dick',' Cody muttered to himself. 'What an idiot.'

Cody sat uncomfortably staring out the window at the passing scene. He remembered the flat land, the cactus, the tumbleweeds, but he had forgotten how clear and azure blue the sky was, how distant the horizon. Living in New York, one forgot that sky like this existed. Glancing over at his hostile chauffeur, he tried again.

"You're a vet? You must love animals."

"Yes," he answered. "They don't talk."

WTF?? That was really enough! Cody had met weird people in his life but never one who attacked him for no reason.

"What's your problem, Bozo? I'm sorry you had to come all this way to pick me up. I could have rented a car. Shit, I wish I had. But, what IS your problem?" Cody turned in the seat and faced Jase McBride, his face a thundercloud, his small, strong hands twisting in his lap.

Jase expelled a long breath. "You didn't care about him. You never came to see him. But, now..........NOW you appear to claim his land." His knuckles whitened as he clenched the steering wheel. He stared straight ahead down the endless road.

"I.....," Cody started. "I always wanted to. Dad wouldn't bring us. And when I got older, it had been too long. I did love him, Jase. I really did."

"I was there when he was sick. I was there when he died. He had no family with him when he died." His words fell like boulders on Cody's tender feelings. He knew he was wrong. There was nothing to say. Not to Jase McBride anyway. Not now.

But it was as if a floodgate had opened. His words just flew out. "You just gonna sell your half, right? To the highest bidder? I can't afford to buy it." Cody could feel his anger; it was palpable in the air.

"I have to. I can't live here," he choked out. "I live in New York. My home is in New York." Cody wasn't sure why he was trying to explain, to make him understand. It was none of his business and yet, it was. He owed Jase for being there for his grandfather...........being there when he hadn't been.

"Is there a car rental place in town?" he asked quietly. "I'd like to go out and see the house. I don't guess you know this, but I lived there when I was young."

Jase frowned. "The house? You don't know? I live there now. He left it to me. To me and to Davy. He said you'd never want it."

Cody felt a hand crushing his heart. 'Oh, Grandpa,' he sighed. 'You could have called, you could have written.' But he knew it was his fault. "Well, may I come out and see it, please?"

Jase wasn't a total beast. He could hear the pain in the younger man's voice. He knew he had hurt him. He wanted to be glad but somehow, he wasn't. It wasn't his nature to be cruel. "Of course," he said carefully. "I'm not there most of the day and Davy's at school. We won't be there to get in your way."

Cody stared at this man....really looked at him for the first time. Looking past the hostility, past the wall he had so effectively erected between them, he tried to find the real Jase McBride. He had to be in there somewhere. Cody's grandfather had loved him enough to leave him land and his house. He remembered the tone in Jase's voice when he had said, "You aren't...God! Are you Dakota Taylor?" He had sounded like he hated him; not for who he was but somehow for what he was. That was impossible. He was just Cody.

Looking at him, Cody realized that he was looking at a very handsome man.

Jase's tight stonewashed jeans covered very muscular thighs and his blue chambray shirt tucked into a very slim waist. Broad shoulders, what looked like hard muscle packed into the sleeves, cuffs unsnapped, his wrists were slim, covered with fine black hairs, ending in strong calloused hands. Working hands. His fingernails were smooth and clean and there was no ring on his finger mourning his dead wife.

But, it was his face that Cody kept returning to, his sharp jaw, his chiseled nose, eyelashes anyone would kill for, and dark shining hair the color of raw honey. Jase kept his eyes from him as if Cody might see a secret dwelling deep in them. His lips would be soft, the bottom lip pouty and full, if he ever smiled and there was the hint of a dimple in his left cheek. What had Cody done to make this man hate him so much?

Jase reached over and shoved a CD in the player, effectively cutting off any further conversation. The truck ate up the miles and it was going on dusk when they pulled up to the office of the Drift Inn Motel.

Needing to escape from the confines of the silent truck cab, Cody slid quickly out the door, nearly falling on the dusty ground, his slick city shoes unable to grab hold in the dirt. A film of sweat broke out over his face and he ran a finger under the collar of his cream dress shirt. Reaching up, he pulled off his navy blazer and opened the collar of his shirt, tugging down his tie. It was damn hot in Drifter, New Mexico.

"Howdy, youngster," the counterman greeted Cody as he walked through the door. "What can we do for you tonight? I hope you're not needin' a room."

Cody's eyes widened. "Um, well, yes. You don't have a room?" His face grimaced as he pictured himself sleeping on the street corner.

"We only had three rooms. Two rooms were occupied until, well.........the roof fell in," he chuckled. "I've gotta have some major work done here. I'm real sorry. Maybe you need to go on to Santa Fe, a city dude like you needs more than a room with no ceiling."

Cody stood very still, trying to decide what to do. He wasn't about to ask Mr. McBride for help. He wouldn't help anyway. He probably wished the earth would open up and swallow Cody whole. Squaring his shoulders, he walked back out to the truck.

"Mr. McBride, I just need to grab my suitcase out and I'll be out of your way."

Jase climbed down, hefted the large tote out and stood awkwardly by the driver door, his good nature warring with his ingrained hatred. The young man seemed so lost.

Shaking his head to clear it, he climbed back in and turned on the ignition. "We'll both be gone tomorrow, if you want to come out. It's never locked."

"Thank you for coming to pick me up. I'm sorry I was such a bother," Cody said softly. "Goodnight, Jase."

"Dakota." And he was gone in a whirl of dust and the twinkling of taillights.

Cody looked up and down the highway, noticed the Four Corners Café about a mile down the highway. Lifting the handle of his heavy case, hoisting the straps of his carryon over his tired shoulder, Cody began to walk toward the neon light.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead