Tyler went to the bank to take out a loan. He was down to his last dollar, and his new wife and baby girl didn’t even know they were in financial trouble.
Fifteen years later, he is released from prison. Two masked men robbed the bank and framed Tyler for the crime. He missed his daughter’s entire childhood and hardly recognizes the woman he’s still married to.
As he and Misty attempt to reconnect, Tyler feels jumpy. It seems like someone’s watching him. He can’t be sure, but he thinks he recognizes the man in the feed store.
The progress they’ve made burying the hatchet is encouraging. But will there be time for a second honeymoon when the past is coming up behind them?
The blue of the sky popped against the gold of the corn. Misty put the finishing touches on her painting, amazed by her own handiwork. The line of the horizon was almost exactly two thirds of the way down the page, giving the sky an impressive arc. And the little barn at the edge of the field drew the eye in.
She stood back, judging whether to fuss with it anymore. There was a delicate line to walk between just enough detail and too much. Once she liked a painting, it was dangerous to keep staring at it. One bad decision was enough to spoil hours’ worth of work and render the image unusable.
It was almost perfect, but there was something missing. It looked lonely. The only object in view was the building, set into the background. The field was dramatic, but it was missing that human touch.
Just as she was about to give up and clean her brushes, a man on a stallion rode by. He was obviously on his way somewhere, cutting past the field. Misty stood with her back to the road, blocking off the only access to civilization.
It didn’t look like he came from the barn, maybe from a neighboring ranch. He was clearly working, focused on the next task and not paying attention to who might be watching him. When he crossed into her field of vision, she could almost imagine his outline on the page. The shape of a cowboy on horseback was exactly what the painting needed.
“Excuse me,” Misty said, waving her hand.
He turned, pulling his horse up short. Glancing over at the road until he found her, easel set up to catch the sun’s rays. He smiled and it was the sweetest smile she had ever seen. She wanted to capture it, to fill the painting with his light, brighter than the sun. No, she needed to capture it. With his help, whoever he was, she was sure to sell her painting for hundreds more than it would fetch without him.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m painting the field,” she called back. “Do you mind staying in the picture for a few minutes? I can pay you.”
“You don’t have to pay me,” he scoffed. “What do you want me to do?”
“Just stay where you are,” she said, dabbing the brush along the canvas.
With quick strokes, she outlined the slope of the horse’s neck, the way the man sat astride its back, and the shape of the hat on his head. She began filling in with dark browns and ochres, the flash of sun on his thighs and the horse’s hind quarters. She blotted white accents on the hooves and the boots, to give the illusion of metal horseshoes.
“What’s your name?” he asked as she worked.
“Misty. What’s yours?”
“I’m almost done,” she said.
“You’re quick,” he teased. “Are you let me see it?”
“Just a moment,” she begged.
“Are you an artist?”
“Have I seen any of your work?” he was gazing at her just as intently as she stared at him, as if memorizing her face.
“I don’t think so,” she blushed. “I mostly sell at county fairs and things.”
“I’ve been to a county fair or two,” he said, shifting ever so slightly in his saddle.
Suddenly the angle was off, and the light hit his face in different places. Misty sighed. She usually painted barns and trees, things that couldn’t move even if they wanted to. She had to work quickly to capture the living, and she wasn’t always successful. She lowered her brush, examining what she had so far.
The figure was in silhouette, with only highlights to suggest depth. But it worked. She liked it. She wiped her brush off on a rag and set it back on her pallet. Picking the painting up, she walked over to show Tyler. She held it up so that he could see it from his perch, her heart fluttering strangely in her chest.
She was worried about what he thought, but there was more to it than that. She felt the proximity like a lightning bolt. He was just about her age, with a strong stubbled jaw and friendly eyes. He wore a work shirt and loose-fitting jeans, cowboy boots and a hat to block the sun. She knew from that moment that one single painting wasn’t going to cut it. She needed to see him again.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “You make me look like something out of a western film.”
“I’ve never tried to paint anyone so quickly before,” Misty responded, pleased.
“Can I have your number?” he asked.
She returned to her easel, picked up a brush and a scrap of paper. She wrote her name and phone number, large as life, across the empty page. Handing it up to him, she smiled. He rode off to whatever work was waiting for him, but he didn’t wait long to call.
Gretchen Lovett is a romance writer, ghost writer, freelance writer and lover of all things literary. She has a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science and worked as a secretary for a large nonprofit organization up until COVID. After the lockdowns, she stayed home and began to take on writing jobs. Through Magnolia Blossom Publishing, she released seven romance novels.
As a ghost writer, and after signing NDAs, she has worked on 21 romance novels for various clients and six nonfiction titles on subjects ranging from parenting to healthcare. She has two brilliant, handsome young men in her life who are getting ready to leave the nest. They are not allowed to read her books, nor are they interested.