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Authors: Sawyer Belle

Big Sky Eyes

BOOK: Big Sky Eyes
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He had taken a few
steps toward her and was peering into her eyes with genuine care. She turned
around, knowing that she would never be able to say all that needed saying if
he continued to look at her like that.

“That’s not what I
want,” she said wearily before sucking in a thin breath. “I want to know why
her.” She paused and then quietly said what she really meant.
“Why not me?”

Brent stopped cold
where he stood. His eyes slowly went wide as he stared at her back.

“What did you say?” he
asked lowly.

She whirled, pain and
humiliation clearly etched across her face. “I am not a kid, and I'm not your
sister!” Her ire deflated as more emotions took hold and her shoulders began to
droop. Fresh tears of agony glistened in her eyes. “I am a woman, Brent, and I have
been in love with you for two years.”

She waited to see the
impact of her words. When he said nothing, did nothing, she continued. “And I
can’t do it anymore,” she whispered painfully then looked up at his torn
expression. “I won’t waste my life loving someone who doesn’t love me.”

Brent had too many
thoughts and not enough voice.

“Mackenna…” he said in
a choked whisper.

She took a step back,
her eyes once again in full flood. “Goodbye, Brent.”

 

This book is dedicated to him…to my one heartbreaking, soul-wrenching
crush. Thank you for being so worthy…and so unattainable.

Big Sky Eyes

By Sawyer Belle

 

Kindle Edition

 

Copyright Sawyer Belle
2013

 

Discover other titles by Sawyer Belle at
http://sawyerbelle.com

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places
and incidents are either a product of the author's imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or
locales is entirely coincidental.

 

License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only.
This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like
to share this book with another person please purchase an additional copy for
each recipient. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was
not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase
your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Prologue

The ice cubes were a glossy, golden color as he held the
tumbler aloft and tilted it back and forth in the low-lighting of the bar.
Actually, “bar” was a bit too modern word for this place. It was a relic from
the nineteenth century that could be described as nothing more than wooden. Wooden
and weathered, just like the men who drank there. The running joke was that if
the regulars of The Shed were not such pricks themselves they might actually
feel the splinters that they sat on. Such was the company in this cold Montana
town.

The bartender took his cue from the raised glass and
refilled it with the dark amber rot gut so many switch to once their taste buds
numb enough to distinguish between top shelf and well. For Brent, whiskey was
whiskey, and it only served one purpose: to wipe out any emotion and replace it
with a warm and brilliant blur. To Brent, whiskey was not for sipping, for
savoring or any other pretentious use. There was a reason it burned you
through.

So when Ty found him deep into his cups at a bar he never
went to, drinking a drink he never drank happily, he sidled onto the stool
beside him and ordered the same. There they sat, drinking in quiet solidarity
until Brent ground his teeth together in frustration.

“I hate when you do that, Ty,” he said before raising his
glass to his lips.

“What’s that, Brent?”

“Sit there all smug and sure that if you just keep your
mouth shut long enough, I’ll bare my soul to you or something.”

In answer, Ty took a sip and lightly smacked his lips
together. He kept his gaze fixed forward and said nothing. Brent stared hard at
his friend’s profile for a long moment before he snorted and shook his head.

“Suit
yourself
, Ty,” he said with
mild disgust. “I didn’t come here wanting to talk to anybody and I didn’t ask
you to join me. If you think I’m going to make some big confession or something
just because you’re here now, you’re wrong pal. “

He received no reply, fueling his drunken anger.

“What the hell are you good for anyway?” Brent continued.
“You are the worst conversationalist. You know, if you want to talk with someone,
you actually have to
talk
.”

Ty took another silent sip.

“You’re a son of a bitch, you know?” Brent sputtered,
knowing full-well that his rebellion was crumbling.
“Fine!
You want to sit quietly? I’ll keep my mouth shut, but just do me a favor. Finish
your drink and get the hell out of here, will ya?”

Ty tipped the glass and emptied it into the back of his
throat.

“Finally,” Brent muttered. “Now go.”

But Ty lifted his glass and caught the attention of the
bartender. “Another if you please,
Keep
.”

Brent huffed and once both of their glasses were full, he
lowered his forehead to a balled fist where it rested on the counter. He
pinched his eyes shut and heaved a defeated sigh. He couldn’t see it, but he
knew that Ty’s straight mouth had now tilted into a triumphant and lopsided
grin. This was their way. They had been friends since childhood. They were
similar in the ways that mattered and exact opposites in the ways that best
suited. Brent knew he’d never find a finer friend, and Ty felt the same.

Brent raised himself and propped his elbows on the bar so he
could rub the alcohol from his eyes with drunken fingers. He grunted and felt
instantly remorseful for his tone and words.
 
The man was the only friend he’d ever had.
Well, not the only one.

“Ah, hell, Ty,” he said. “It’s about Mackenna…”

Chapter 1

3 years earlier

Washoe Valley, Nevada

 

Mackenna scratched the furry ears of her golden retriever as
he rested his head on her lap. She had been packed for three days and as she
sat on the window seat of her room, staring out at her parents’ twenty-acre
ranch rolling in an emerald carpet into the shadows of the Sierras, the thought
occurred to her that she had no right to be so blessed, or so happy. She smiled
as she spotted her favorite chestnut mare grazing among the herd in the
pasture.

With the institution of high school behind her, post-graduation
life dawned full of promise. Her fall college courses had been selected and
paid for. The journey toward becoming a veterinarian was set to begin. For one
last summer, though, she and her best friend, Kelly McCrae, would spend their
days working in Montana at The Slanted S, the dude ranch owned by Kelly’s
family.

During the previous four summers the pair had enjoyed all
that big sky country has to offer: long days on horseback, nights beneath the
stars and pine silhouettes, campfire cookouts and the achiness earned of a hard
day’s work. The girls had always loved it and spent their tedious high school
days looking forward to summer.

Mackenna sighed contentedly as she stared out of the window.
Her mother, Helen, shouldered a bag of grain as she walked along the white
fence toward the stables, cooing to the horses. One by one, the animals jerked
their heads up and pricked their ears, at once noticing both the time of day
and the bag slung over their caretaker’s shoulder. They answered her coos with
a chorus of whinnies and made their way toward the stables, bobbing their heads
as they went.

She was grateful for the upbringing her parents had given
her. It was on this lush plot of land that she gained the knowledge and love of
animals, mainly horses. Her mother, a large-animal vet, offered training and
rehabilitation services and before she could even walk, Mackenna was placed on
the bare back of any four-legged creature that would tolerate her. She had
always known that she would follow in her mother's footsteps. It was the only
thing she ever wanted to do.

A car pulled onto their long driveway and inched its way
toward the house. She knew it instantly as Kelly’s beat-up blue Civic. Mackenna
stood and glanced at herself in the mirror. Her honey-colored hair, which
usually brushed the tops of her shoulders when down was swept back into a tiny
nub of a ponytail just above her neck. A few thin strands curtained a face she
found far too round, and she pushed the little hairs up under a red bandana she
had folded into a headband and tied around her head.

She used the pad of her forefinger to wipe away a bit of
smudged mascara beneath her lower lashes. Her eyes were bright, blue and by far
her best feature. She frowned at the recent pudginess of her cheeks as she
sucked them in to form a fish face. She had put on some extra weight during her
last year of high school, a fact she found depressing but unavoidable.

She had worked endlessly at her studies to graduate a year
early. Kelly was a grade higher and not only did Mackenna want to walk with her
friend, but she wanted to get started on earning her degree. Unfortunately, all
of the extra time required to expedite her graduation cost her precious time
working on the ranch and the effects of her idleness showed themselves in her
face, her hips, and the most upsetting to her, her backside.

With a sigh and a soft shrug, she forgot about her physical
flaws and grabbed her duffel, tossing it onto her shoulder as her mom had the
grain. She bounded down the stairs and out the front door. Helen was already
there, laughing and chatting with Kelly. Mackenna tossed her bag in the car and
jumped into her mom’s open arms, each wishing the other a safe and happy summer
with promises to email and call often.

“Tell Dad bye for me,” Mackenna said.

“Sure thing, honey.”
The girls got
back into the car and buckled their belts, waving their arms out of the open
windows as Kelly maneuvered the car around. “Call me when you land!”

“I will, Mom!”

Mackenna folded her arms on top of the lowered window and
leaned her face out of the car and into the early morning breeze. She closed
her eyes and let those stubborn strands of hair free themselves of her bandana
and whip across her nose and cheeks. She breathed in deeply the scents of horse
hair and hay, of wet weeds and exhaust.
Of home.

“You all right, kid?” Kelly called across the sounds of wind
and radio.

Mackenna smiled brightly at her redheaded friend.

“I’m perfect,” she said, and she really meant it.

 

Four hours later, their plane touched down in Missoula and
the pair made their way across the tiny airport and out to the parking lot,
where a familiar and friendly male face smiled up at them beneath a white
Stetson cowboy hat. Kelly shrieked and took off at a run, dropping her bag on
the concrete before throwing herself into her cousin’s embrace. He chuckled at
her enthusiasm and squeezed her tightly with a grunt.

“I was hoping it was you picking us up, Ty,” Kelly said.

“Well, your wish came true, Red,” he answered. “And
Mackenna!” he exclaimed as he looked over his cousin’s shoulder at Mackenna
waiting shyly. “Get over here, girl, and give us a squeeze!”

She obeyed and squealed with laughter as he lifted her off her
feet with the effort of the hug. “It’s good to have you guys back!”

“It’s good to be here,” Mackenna replied.

“Ladies…” Ty turned sideways and gestured with his hands
toward the twenty-year-old rust-covered Chevy truck. “Your chariot
awaits
.”

“I’m surprised this thing hasn’t bitten the dust yet.” Kelly
said in mock astonishment.

“Rust before dust, Red.”

“Hmm…I don’t think the same can be said of your jeans, Ty,”
Kelly said, looking the faded patchwork pants up and down.
 
“You’ll be able to make a quilt out of those
soon.”

“Waste not…”

“Wed not,” Kelly finished.

“Ouch!” Mackenna supplied with a laugh. “Leave the poor guy
alone, Kell.”


It’s
okay, Mackenna,” Ty said. “I
happen to be very pleased to tell my dear cousin how wrong she is. Fact is
,
I’ve got myself a fine female just dying to meet you guys
back at the ranch!”

“Really, Ty?”
Kelly asked, pleased.

“Yep,” he answered proudly. “So, if you don’t mind, let’s
continue this chat on the road. The next hundred and twenty miles aren’t going
to drive themselves.”

They shuffled in and the next two hours passed pleasantly in
story-swapping. Ty was seven years older than Mackenna, and six years older
than Kelly, but the three had always gotten along swimmingly during their
summers together. By the time they had abandoned the highway for the dusty,
rutted road that led to The Slanted S, they were all equally caught up on each
other’s comings and goings of the past nine months.

Mackenna stared out of the window, smiling softly to herself
as she took in the familiar view of the unspoiled and breathtaking beauty of
the Rocky Mountains of Montana.
 
It was
the most beautiful country she had ever been in, with peaks jutting high enough
to pierce the clouds. The forests and meadows blended together in a green so
deep that a person could barely tell where one began and the other ended. The
air was clean and clear and made her lungs cold to breathe it. Wildflowers
sprouted up, streaks of vibrant color, their blossoms stretching toward the
vast sky with its bold, yellow sun.

As the old Chevy crested its last hill, Ty eased onto the
brake to allow the two a moment to take in the sprawl of the ranch below.
Mackenna leaned onto the dashboard and gasped.

“It’s bigger than last year!” she exclaimed. “You’ve added,
what, six more cabins? And another
corral,
and you’ve
expanded the pasture!”

Ty nodded and grinned proudly.

“Yep.
We’ve been busy since you two
left.”

“Business must be really good then.”

“Oh yeah.
Ever since the folks
hired that company to advertise, we’ve doubled in business.
Had
to buy another twenty horses.”

“Well, let’s get down there, Ty!” Kelly exclaimed. “I want
to see it all up close.”

“You guys must have had to hire a bunch of new people this
year,” Mackenna said once the truck was rolling again.

“Not really,” he answered. “We didn’t end up with as many
steers as we had hoped. So, we just took five guys from the cattle work for the
summer here on the dude.”

“Hmm, anyone I know?” Kelly asked.

“Maybe…” he paused thoughtfully. “You remember my old buddy,
Brent?”

“Brent Thompson?”

“That’s the guy. He’s helping out on the dude this summer.”

“Hmph,” she said with a snort. “You mean he is actually
going to lower himself to spend the summer with the city slickers? From what I
remember, he was a bit of snob that way.”

“He has nothing against city folk,” Ty defended. “He’s just
a hard worker and he doesn’t see the point of playing tour guide. He doesn’t
consider that real work.”

“So, how’d you get him to work on the dude?”

“I didn’t,” Ty answered. “His boss told him to.”

“You mean your dad?”

“No,” Ty answered with a grin. “I mean his mom.”

“I guess that’s the benefit of your families being friends,”
Kelly concluded with a laugh.

 
“I guess…”

The conversation ended with perfect timing as Ty parked the truck
in front of the main lodge where the family stayed and shared breakfasts with
the guests. Ty’s mom pushed the thin screen door open so hard that it smacked
against the wood behind it. She looked every inch like Annie Oakley with thick,
broken-in boots, long legs covered in jeans and leather chaps, and her red and
green plaid shirt tucked into her belt. Her throat was hidden behind a ruffled
red bandana. Her long black hair was tied into a thick braid and a black cowboy
hat sat beneath a film of dirt on top of her head.

She smiled brightly and clapped her hands with a chuckle as
she came toward them.

“My girls!” she exclaimed as she wrapped her arms around
them both. “My girls are back! And thank God, too. We could use some more
estrogen around here.”

“It’s good to be back, Aunt Bev,” chirped Kelly.

“You look more beautiful than ever, Bev,” Mackenna added.

“Oh, you hush,” Bev hissed at Mackenna. “I’m as old and
dusty as the road that brought you here, but you girls…well…I guess I shouldn’t
be calling you girls anymore.” She stepped back and fastened a hand onto each
girl’s chin. “You’re beautiful ladies now.”

Her eyes began to glisten with emotion and Ty rolled his
eyes before slamming the truck door and filling his hands with the girls’ bags.

“Come on, y’all,” he said. “The sooner you get settled, the
sooner you get working.”

He walked past the three females, who were ignoring him
thoroughly, and headed into the house. Bev squeezed Mackenna’s upper arm and
smiled.

“Congratulations on graduating a year early,” she said.
“Your folks must be so proud.”

“Thanks,” Mackenna answered. “They’re really looking forward
to…”


Oh…my…God
,”
Kelly’s hypnotic tone broke through the conversation and Mackenna and Bev
followed the path of her eyes as she continued. “Who is
that
?”

Mackenna had the same thought as her gaze fastened on the
sweat-slicked back of a beautifully muscled man chopping wood not far off. He
wore blue jeans like everyone else around, but had stripped down to a white
tank top that hugged his form the way Kelly wanted to. From behind, they could
see that he had shoulder-length dirty blonde hair, but that most of it lay
hidden beneath a red bandana that had been wrapped around the top of his head
like a biker.

Every sinewy muscle bulged in his arms as he continually
raised the axe over his head and brought it swiftly down to cleave a log in
two. Then, he’d bend over to replace the wooden casualty with another, and his
denim Levis did exactly what they were meant to. Mackenna smiled appreciatively
and then amusedly as she noticed Kelly nearly salivating at the sight. Bev saw,
too, and locked humorous eyes with Mackenna.

“You oughtta remember him, Kelly. That’s Ty’s best friend,
Brent,” Bev answered.


That’s
Brent?”
she exclaimed.

 
BOOK: Big Sky Eyes
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