Sequel: Good Enough
Status: Finished: The sequel is up! Read this, then go read that! (That's how sequels work) <3

Strong Enough

Bitter Taste

“Jacqui, it’s time to get up.” I swatted the hand that was shaking me. The sun wasn’t even all the way up yet. “Come on, Darlin’. We’ve got to get going if we want to beat the traffic.”

I twisted my head to the side, seeing my dad decked out in his ranch gear. After the studio yesterday, I’d come home and hid out at the house. When dad got home, he reminded me about going to the ranch and encouraged me to go to bed early. But when you’re accustomed to going to bed after 1 in the morning, a 10pm bedtime is hardly an easy task.

“You do realize that I’m a city girl now, right? This time of day is ungodly and should never be seen by a normal person.” I tried to keep my eyes open, but ended up flopping back onto the bed.

“Well since when have you been normal? Now let’s go. I’m making breakfast.” With a slap to my ass, my dad promptly exited the room.

As I shifted out of the bed, I heard Mia mumble something from the spot next to me before she flipped me off. I let out a giggle as I made my way to the bathroom to wake up. I brushed through my hair and washed my face, finally feeling like I wasn’t the walking dead. Without waking Mia, I managed to get to my bag and pull out some jean shorts and a button-down plaid top. It may be cliché for a day at the ranch, but it’s cliché for a reason—it’s comfortable and it’ fucking cute.

I grabbed my old boots from the closet, my phone and sunglasses from the dresser and made my way to the delicious smell of bacon and eggs. Placing a kiss on his cheek, I took the plate my dad offered me, sitting at the island while he made another plate for himself.

“You look like your old self again.”

“What do you mean, Daddy?” I narrowed my eyes in confusion.

“I mean, you look like the girl I raised. Ready to get dirty and ride her horse. Not the girl who’s wearing slinky clothes and high heels.

“Daddy, I’m not that girl anymore.”

“You keep thinking that, Darlin’. But you know you’ll always be the little girl throwing mud at her brother who wants to be a rodeo rider somewhere in there.”

I gave him a smile, taking the plates and rinsing them off. We made our way out to his truck and drove the 45 minutes out to the ranch. When the big white ranch house came into view, I couldn’t help but smile. This was my safe haven. This was my childhood. I spent hours and hours out here every summer and most of the weekends during school.

It hadn’t changed much at all. It must have been painted recently and there was a railing around the porch now, but it was still my place. The trees to the right, I knew, were blocking the view of the oceanside. The open area behind the house and to the left was all our property. There was a fence somewhere out there, keeping the cattle from running off. I could see the stables a ways off too.

Once the truck had stopped, I flung the door open, the familiar smells of hay and horses filled my nose. My eyes drifted closed as I let the memories rush back. The deep bark of a familiar dog brought me back to reality.

“Cooper!” The dog ran full speed, jumping and knocking me to the ground. I ruffled his hair as he licked my face. As much as I hate being covered in dog slobber, I missed him so much, it didn’t matter.

“He’s missed you, Miss Jacqui. We all have. It’s nice to see you again.” I looked up to see one of the ranch hands, Bill, making his way from the house. He’d always been like a second father when I was growing up. Freeing myself from Cooper, I fell into Bill’s arms in a warm hug.

“I’ve missed you too.” He wrapped his arm around my shoulder and lead me down the walk to the stables.

“We’re rounding up the cattle today. Feel like seeing how much you remember about riding horses?”

“Of course. What’s the round-up for?”

“Gotta make sure we haven’t lost any. Found a broken section of the fence yesterday.”

“Sounds like a party.”

When we’d reached the stables, a younger man I didn’t recognize greeted the three of us.

“Jacqui, this is Westley. He’s our stable man for the last 3 years. Does a pretty good job taking care of the horses. Of course your pain in the ass horse doesn’t like him much.”

“So you’re the one who’s got Gadget so finicky about people. You know, she’s just started letting me brush her. She only lets a few people ride her though.”

“Hey, that’s not my fault. She was like that when I found her.”

Walking through the stable, I found the black mare I fell in love with. She was a wild horse that I’d found one day in middle school hurt by the river a few miles outside the property. Technically she wasn’t mine, but by the time we’d gotten her healed up, she didn’t want to leave any more that I wanted to let her go. Her eyes met mine, and it may have been my imagination, but I think I saw her smile.

“Hey there girl.” I pulled the door open and walked into the stall. My hand resting on her nose, my forehead resting on hers. “I missed you. I’m sorry I’ve been gone so long.”

“Let’s saddle up.” My dad smiled at me as Westley handed me a brush and a hoof pick. I set about brushing out Gadget’s mane, tail and body and cleaning out her hoofs before getting her saddled up. I lead her out of the saddle, meeting Bill and Dad outside, Cooper sitting at their feet.

“The others are already out there, so let’s get going. Jacqui, you remember what you’re doing?” My dad gave me a look as I pulled myself up and over Gadget’s back.

“It’s hard to forget.”

“We’ll see.” He nudged his own horse, and galloped off, quickly followed by Bill.

“Let’s show these boys what we’ve got.” I ran a hand over Gadget’s neck before tightening the reigns and giving her a kick. It didn’t take long to catch up and ultimately pass them. I’d forgotten the freedom I felt being on a horse. The wind pushed through my hair as Gadget sped off into the open land.

It was short lived though. We’d soon reached a point where I saw four other horses with riders waiting around. I recognized two of them as old ranch hands—Carl and Peter, but the other two were new faces.

“Jacqui D. Where have you been hiding?” Peter smiled at me as I got closer.

“Vegas, but I wasn’t exactly hiding.”

“Nice to see old Gadget out and about again.” Carl gave me a grin.

“Hey, she’s not old. Don’t listen to him Gadget. He’s just jealous.” I covered her ears as I sent Carl a playful glare.

“This is Max and Ethan. They’re new ranch hands.”

I waved and said my hello’s as Bill and Dad finally joined us.

“Slow pokes.” I teased them as they settled into the group.

“Just because that horse is fast, doesn’t make us slow.” Bill pointed a finger at me as if to warn me.

“It’s okay, you’re getting old. I won’t hold it against you.” I let a sly smile creep onto my face and winked at him. He shook his head before looking around at the group. His face scrunched and it looked like he was searching for something.

“Okay, where’s—“ He was cut off as the sound of hoof beats behind interrupted. “There he is. Damn boy learned his timing from you missy.”

Confusion etched its way onto my face as I turned to see who was approaching. Of course. Fuck me for thinking I could get away from him 45 minutes from the city. I swear he’s stalking me. The one day I thought I’d be free.

“I’m sorry I’m late. I found another spot in the fence that needs mending. I did my best to patch it for now, but it’ll need a more permanent fix.” He addressed my dad as his horse came to a stop, his eyes landing on me. “What are you doing here?”

“Excuse me? This is my family’s ranch. What are you doing here?”

“I work here.” He said it as if it was common knowledge.

“I thought you were recording.”

“I’m trying to record, but I have to make real money somehow. Your dad offered me a job to help with school and I stayed on after graduation.”

My family really needed to start telling me these kind of things. I rolled my eyes, leading Gadget away from him as my dad started barking out orders, indicating the route we’d be going and the formation we should be in. Of course, I ended up sandwiched between Bryden and Ethan. I did my best to focus on Ethan. He was a good-looking guy and he was a sweet southern boy, though not really my cup of tea. As I talked to him about different things, I couldn’t help but notice the jealous look in Bryden’s eyes. It made me smile a bit knowing I was getting under his skin.

We worked through the morning, rounding up the cattle. We’d ride around, pulling the cows into the herd we were forming, guiding them through the open land. Cooper barked happily, helping to keep the cows gathered while we searched for them all. By noon we’d covered the property and brought the cows into the corral to be counted.

Bill’s wife, Nancy, brought out sandwiches and water for lunch and we sat around under the shade of a tree, enjoying the food and laughing at different stories from the ranch. Apparently, Max was getting very well acquainted with Gadget’s hooves lately. I felt bad, but you’d think he’d learn after the third time not to try to ride her—or look at her funny.

After lunch, I went on a ride around the pasture. I left the men with the cattle to count and took Gadget and just rode. I let the wind whip through my hair and let Gadget go where she wanted, just like I had all those summers growing up. It didn’t matter where we rode.

I let my mind wander as she slowed from a gallop to a slow walk. I relaxed into the saddle and thought about where I was. I thought about the life I was living. I thought about the life I had back in Vegas—the parties, the clubs, the job. My mind drifted over my friends and how much I loved having Tommy and Rylan back in my life. I thought about my family and the life I left in California. And finally, reluctantly, I thought about Bryden.

Why was he everywhere? Why was he affecting me like this? Why was he all I could think about? Why wouldn’t he leave me alone?
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I'm putting this out really early in the day because I don't know when I'll updated again. I'm going back home today, brother's getting married tomorrow and I'm on Vacation Monday-Friday. Maybe I'll update again tomorrow, if not, I'll be sure to update when I get back on Friday.

No...I wrote a lot over the last week, but I didn't like where it was going. So I'm rewriting, which is difficult for me. But it'll be better.

Let me know what you're thinking about the story! Thank you to IOwnYouBiatch, TheAntsInvasion, and of course, BlueEyedAngel for commenting! Y'all are so great! It makes me smile every time I get on here and I have new readers and comments and things. Hopefully you'll like the direction I'm taking the story.
Lots of Love my dears!