Status: Complete.

I Want You to Live

Chapter 2

Peyton sat at her kitchen island, drinking her third cup of coffee. Even though she had been waking up at dawn for most of her life to feed her horses, her body still refused to function properly until at least 8:00. Propping her sleepy head, she supressed a yawn and the urge to look at her phone again. He still hadn't called.

She had no idea what had possessed her to leave the soldier her number. He sure as hell wasn't the first good looking man to come onto her. Maybe it was the way he had looked at her with those smoke colored eyes, or the way her body had come alive when his fingers brushed her waist. Or maybe this big house was just getting too lonely without another person in it.

Peyton looked around the large kitchen, thinking back to when her parents had still been around. The house had always hummed with love and laughter, but now it remained silent majority of the time. It had become like a tomb. The thought was depressing. That was probably why she had chosen to go out alone last night after her best friend, Sylvia, had cancelled at the last minute.

After finishing her coffee, she was debating on returning to bed when her phone rang. Seeing an unknown number pop up, her heart started pounding. Her hand trembled as she fumbled to slide the screen the correct way. The fourth try proved lucky and she pressed her phone to her ear.

Silently telling herself to get it together, she took a deep breath and spoke, "Hello?" Her voice still sounded groggy and she coughed to clear it before trying again. "Hello?"

“Peyton?” The sound of Rusty’s slow drawl instantly put her at ease. She visibly slumped on her stool.

“Yea, this is her. Who’s this?” she feigned ignorance, not wanting him to know she had literally been waiting by her phone.

His low chuckle sent shivers down her spine. The man’s voice was so damn sexy! Who was she kidding? Everything about the man was sexy!

“You know who this is.” Peyton could hear the smile in his voice.

“So humor me,” she answered, biting her lip to keep from giggling. She chastised herself. Grown women do not giggle!

“Alright," he relented, agreeing to play her little game. "It’s Rusty. The hunky soldier from last night."

“You forgot charming,” she reminded him, tongue in cheek.

“Ah ha, so you did find me charming," he retorted, causing Peyton's pent up laughter to come out.

“No, those were your words. There is nothing charming about a bar fight,” she teased. His laughter filled the phone and she shivered. She suddenly wished she was there to see his grey eyes crinkle.

“I guess you win," he conceded. "But that’s why I called, to offer you an apology for last night.”

“That’s all you wanted?” The disappointment was evident in her voice even to her own ears. She sat up straighter, thinking the posture might harden her resolution.

“Well, no. Actually, I want to make it up to you. I was wondering if I could take you out tonight...” His voice trailed off. She had to smile at the sudden shyness in his voice. He was afraid to ask her out.

Before she could tell him yes, an unpleasant memory intruded. Brodie. Just the name of her ex made her cringe. What if Rusty was just like him? There was no way she could go through that again. But was it fair to judge Rusty because of what had happened in her past? It wasn’t fair, but it also wasn’t fair to lead the guy on. She didn’t want a relationship and she definitely didn’t want to fall in love again.

Love? Who even said anything about love? She had only met the guy the night before, and in a bar. Not exactly the best place to meet someone looking for something serious. If she were looking for something serious, that is, and Peyton certainly was not!

“Um, Peyton? Are you still there?” The sound of Rusty’s voice interrupted her debate. She had to give him an answer.

Yes or no? Her head was telling her no, but her heart was telling her yes. Follow your heart is what her mom had always told her. That hadn't proved to be reliable advice when she had met Brodie. Her answer would be no.

“Yes,” she blurted out. What! She smacked herself on the forehead, cursing the lack of communication between her brain and her mouth.

“Yes, you’re still there or yes, you’ll go out with me?” Rusty sounded so hopeful that she couldn't back out now.

“Yes to both.” There was a long pause and Peyton was starting to wonder if he was still there.

"Hang on," he responded, followed by muffled voices. Peyton grinned when she could hear him and another guy talking.

"She said yes!" Rusty excitedly chattered. He obviously thought she couldn't hear him.

"Congratulations, do you want a fucking cookie?" The voice replied, sounding bored.

"Fuck you," Rusty shot back.

"No, fuck both of us if you don't get off the damn phone and get us to base," his friend retorted.

The men bickered a moment longer before Rusty's deep voice filled her ear again. They finished making the plans and Peyton finally hung up with a smile on her face. There was no way seven could come fast enough.

After throwing on a pair of faded jeans and an old t-shirt, Peyton pulled her hair back and headed back downstairs. She now felt awake and ready to tackle the day. She was met at the bottom of the stairs by an old border collie.

“Good morning, Jimbo. What’s my favorite dog been doing?” He barked a couple times, as if answering her question.

Jimbo had been a part of her family since she could remember. His age was starting to show in the grey of his fur and the way he hobbled around at times. He scooted his empty food dish with his nose. Peyton laughed and filled it up. The dog gulped it down as if he hadn’t eaten in days.

“Oh, you act like I starve you or something,” she gently chastised him, giving the old dog a good scratching on his rump.

After depositing her breakfast dishes in the sink, she walked to the front door and slipped her feet inside her favorite pair of cowboy boots. It was time to get to work. Riding was her passion. It had been since her daddy bought her, her first pony when she was five. She stopped outside the big barn, closing her eyes. She could almost hear her dad instructing her on how to ride again.

It had been a year and a half since her parents had died in a car accident, leaving her scared and alone. She had come a long ways since then. Thanks to them, she had a horse ranch, a large log home, and plenty of money to support herself and her horse rescue. She would never have to work a menial 9-5 job. For that, she was grateful and blessed.

Shaking the memories of her parents from her head, she entered the barn for the second time that morning. She was welcomed by a chorus of whinnies. Currently, she owned two horses herself and was working on rehabilitating four.

"Sorry, no apples today," she called out to the expectant faces peeking out from their stalls. "Tomorrow, I promise."

Peyton paused at every stall, giving each horse attention and affection. Finally, she got to the last one. Ivory was the only horse that didn't excitedly await her arrival. The beautiful white creature stood at the back of its stall, warily watching Peyton's every move. Her heart broke at the sadness and fear in the horse's eyes. Those were two emotion Peyton could relate to on a very deep level.

She held out a hand across the stall door, knowing Ivory wouldn't come, but hoping that she might surprise her. The horse nickered softly and shifted her weight, but stayed rooted to her spot in the farthest corner. Peyton let her hand drop and rested her chin on the door with a sigh. It had been two months since she had taken Ivory in and almost no progress had been made.

As she backed away, she reminded herself patience was a virtue and emotional wounds healed slower than physical ones. One by one, she led each horse out to the pasture. They immediately began frolicking and nosing around. To her, there wasn't much prettier than watching a field full of horses.

Back inside the barn, she returned to Ivory. Getting the horse to go anywhere was always a feat in itself. She began the slow process of trying to get a rope around it. They danced in circles, both keeping careful watch on the other. Once that was achieved, she gently half coaxed, half drug the horse outside and into the corral. This provided plenty of space without worrying about the animal running away. Talking in a low soothing voice, she began her work.


The hours flew by as she spent the day working with the horses, mostly Ivory. Majority of the horses she received were abused and neglected. That was one thing they had in common. Both her and the horses were broken and hurting, whether it was physically or emotionally. Memories of her time with Brodie tried to resurface, but she pushed the thoughts aside.

Instead, she lost herself in her work. Rebuilding a horses trust took a long time and lots of patience. On rare occasions, it never came back. It broke her heart to know those horses would never know the love of a good family. But she could only do so much.

Finally, Peyton returned the last horse to its stall. She made sure each had plenty of food and water before returning to her house. Glancing at the clock on the fireplace mantel, she hurried up the stairs to start the process of getting ready. She was afraid she was going to be late.

Hopefully, Rusty wouldn’t be on time. She had to laugh at that thought. He was a soldier, of course he would be on time. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach as she hopped into the shower. She was looking forward to the date more than she would care to admit.

The knock sounded on the door at ten 'til seven. The butterflies multiplied in her stomach as she slipped into her dress. Her make-up was almost finished, but she hadn't even started on her hair. Not to mention she hadn’t picked out her shoes or jewelry yet. The knock sounded again and she blew out a frustrated sigh.

“I”m coming!” she hollered as she ran down the stairs.

She pulled the door open and came face to face with a bouquet of daisies. Her squeal of delight made Rusty chuckle. Without wasting time, she grabbed them out of his hand and ran into the kitchen. She placed the water filled vase in the center of the island and bent to breathe in the scent of fresh flowers. How long had it been since there had been fresh flowers in her house?

“I take it you like them.” Rusty’s voice startled her. She turned to see him standing in the doorway, watching her.

He looked amazing in his black suit and red tie. Although, his black eye was a stark contrast to his put together appearance. She noticed the cut above his eye had stitches. Momentarily, she wondered what the other men looked like.

“Daisies are my favorite,” she confessed, blushing. She had been blatantly staring at him.

“Good. I went to the florist intent on getting roses, but then I thought roses were too common, too overused," he told her, shoving his hands into his pockets. Was he nervous, too? "That’s when I saw the daisies. They were beautiful and unique, just like you.”

Thank you was all she could manage to choke out. Her face flushed again at his compliment. She fingered the petals, pretending to be distracted. His eyes were still on her. She could feel them.

Remembering she wasn’t completely ready yet, she dropped her hand and moved to pass Rusty. Their bodies brushed as she squeezed between him and the door frame. The same jolt from last night passed through her body. She hesitated, not wanting to move. His hand came out to brush softly against her cheek. Cautiously, she looked up into his eyes. They were the color of thunder clouds, but held the gentleness of a summer rain.

“I think we should get going,” he whispered, his eyes never leaving hers.

She slowly nodded before sliding on by and scurrying back upstairs. Hurriedly, she pulled part of her hair up into a clip. Without paying attention, she removed a necklace and earrings from her jewelry box and a pair of high heels out of her closet. It didn’t really matter if they matched her dress or not. She was just ready to get the night started.