Traveling companions. That’s how it began. She was a widow, alone after a longand happy marriage, struggling to rebuild around the hole in the center of her life. He was at loose ends after retiring from a successful business and a string of unsuccessful marriages. All they had in common were empty days to fill and an urge to tour the open road, but as they travel side-by-side, their feelings grow. Serendipity brought them together, but every journey has to end. What happens when they reach the end of the road?
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Publication Date: September 19
He stood on the bank of the water tank, looking at the rise across the water, as the chunky sorrel horse drank deeply. A raven perched on a mesquite stump there, staring back at him. Behind the stump, yellow grassland stretched across to the horizon with only the shallowest of hills breaking up the flat land. Rain had been plentiful this spring, and the grass was shaggier than usual. A dusty trail bisected the grass, worn by the cattle as they came to drink each day. A pair of vultures circled overhead, looking for opportunities. He noted with relieved amusement that they didn’t seem to be circling him.
Once Red had drunk her fill, Ben mounted and turned her back toward the fence. They moved along at a brisk walk as he inspected the wire and posts. The fence was in good shape overall. The foreman, Cody, was doing his usual fine job running the ranch. Cody would be about fifty now. He had been in charge for almost twenty years, and had the complete trust of the family, and of Ben’s mother, Naomi.
Ben smiled. At eighty-seven Naomi still ruled the roost. Cody and the other ranch hands were all half-terrified of her, half in love with her. Ben’s dad had yielded to no man, but he used to fall all over himself in order to please his wife. Fortunately, she wasn’t too hard to please, and her good judgment had enabled the ranch and the family to prosper. It was originally her idea that her sons would go into the petroleum business together.
Ben’s parents had a strong marriage, a true partnership. Travis and Trish had a similar relationship. Ben had assumed, growing up, that he would too. He wasn’t sure exactly how he got so far off track. It was as if one failure in marriage led to another, and it seemed hardly worth investing energy in something that was doomed to fail. Instead of working at making a marriage stronger, he just kept starting over, as if he could find the perfect partner only by randomly trying out different models.
It was a ridiculous concept, and he knew it even as he remarried, over and over. Maybe it was his way of punishing himself for cheating on his first wife all those years ago. He rolled his eyes. Maybe he should stick to geology and ranching and leave the psychoanalysis to the professionals.
He was sick of chasing after women, sick of playing games. He wanted a partner, someone he could trust to work beside him in his best interests, not positioning herself for the most advantageous payoff. Someone like Marsha.
Marsha, a woman devoted to her husband for all those years. She knew how to build a successful marriage. She had been struggling alone, but Ben knew Marsha was born to love a man. Eventually, someone would come along and she would make him very happy. Too bad he couldn’t be that man. Someone with his romantic history had no business with a woman like her.
A trickle of guilt passed through him. He should probably withdraw from her life completely, stop calling, and cancel the trip this fall. Their friendship might discourage possible suitors. No, Ben decided, he wasn’t that unselfish. He was looking forward to their next trip together, and he wasn’t going to give it up in some grand gesture, unless Marsha gave him some indication she wanted him to back off.
A covey of quail exploded from under a bush almost at Red’s feet. She shied at the whirring sound, leaping back away from them. Ben easily stayed in the saddle as she danced and reared, patting her neck and speaking quietly until she was calm. He watched the quail disappear over the horizon.
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