The Billionaire's Ballet (Friends with Benefits)By: Deanna Roy
I bit my lip. “How has he been? I heard he was engaged.”
Amelia shook her head. “That boy. Engaged three times while you were gone! Three! Always asking. Then discarding. It’s all the talk.” She stuck her keys in her pocket. “You hungry? I can send a boy with something to eat.”
“Not now, thank you,” I said. The fact that she offered to send someone with food rather than have me come to the kitchen was not lost on me. Nothing had really changed at all. I was still meant to stay behind the wall.
“All right, honey. I will see you again real soon.” She pinched my cheek as though I were still five. “Don’t you worry your pretty head about anything.”
I went inside the darkened living room. It was like a cave. Interesting. Mother always liked things filled with light. I raised the blinds and pushed aside the curtains.
Most everything was the same as six years ago. The wicker furniture with padded cushions. The colorful pillows and bright tapestries on the walls. I felt a surge of happiness. Mom had surrounded me with cheer. She had tried. I had been such a mess. Mooning over Quinn. Rarely leaving the estate other than for school.
I headed back to my old bedroom with the window that faced the stone wall. Everything was as I had left it. The white ruffled bedspread. The desk with a mirror. My closet had some new boxes in it, but the clothes I’d left behind were still there.
I sat on the bed. As much as I wanted to think of Quinn as creepy or intolerable, I couldn’t. I remembered young Quinn, riding a horse beside me. Taking walks on the back lot of the estate. Brushing down Jezebelle.
I hurried for my bag to change out of the fancy clothes. I would go see my mare. A quick ride would certainly cheer me up.
The jeans I chose were soft and worn but well made. The summer heat meant a fitted tank top. I went with cherry red. I dug around in my closet and found my boots. Dried mud clung to the bottom and I brushed my fingers against it. The mud was six years old. Part of my life before.
I hauled the boots out to the porch and banged them on the ground. The dirt broke away and scattered.
I felt a lot better, like I’d shaken away some doubts. When the boots were on, I took off in a sprint for the barn. Running through the grass took me back, way before my angsty teen crush and into my childhood. I remembered when I first saw Jezebelle on a bright clear spring afternoon. When Quinn had kissed me and the whole world had split wide.
This was home after all.
The double doors at the end of the stable were propped open. Off in the round pen, a trainer I didn’t recognize was walking a yearling on a line. I should have asked Amelia who was still here that I would know. Mother sometimes mentioned the staff changes, but she always seemed leery of bringing up the estate, as if she didn’t want me asking about Quinn.
Most of the doors were open, as the horses were out in the field. I double-checked Jezebelle’s stall. Her bridle and bit hung in the back and the placard over the stall still bore her name.
My boots rang on the cement floor as I walked to the other end to head out into the pens to locate her. I’d bring her back to saddle her.
The door to the break room opened and Sawyer, the barn manager, came out, pushing his hat down on his head. His darkly tanned skin was a little more grizzled, and the hair at his temples included a lot more gray.
He glanced up at me, then paused, as if trying to decide if he knew me.
I helped him out. “Sawyer, it’s me! Juliet!”
With that, he broke out in a wide smile. “Jules! You’re not a tyke anymore!”
I stepped into his wiry embrace. He’d always been tall and lean. And a bachelor to the core, although a rumor had gone around when I was a teen that he was sweet on the florist who came every Tuesday. He managed the barn and often broke the new horses himself.
“Where’s my mare?” I asked.
“We just turned them all out,” he said. “You want me to have someone fetch her for you?”
Funny how Sawyer was treating me like a guest when the others hadn’t. “That’s okay,” I said. “I’ll go track her down.”
“Bennett’s been riding her for you,” he said. “She’s in fine shape.”