Forever Valentine

By: Jea Hawkins

Chapter 1





“Taylor, honey, you can’t be serious.”

“I am. You know, that’s one of the problems we had – you never took me seriously. Then again, no one does. Not you, not our manager, not our producers.” Taylor shoved her way out of the trailer, the door clattering open with a thrust of her arm. She lightly hopped to the ground and crossed the dirt lot to her Bentley Continental GT convertible. The aquamarine vehicle remained shiny, despite the perpetual dust in the air, kicked up by both horses and vehicles, and Taylor paused to give it a lover-like caress.

“But the show! The new season!” The voice followed her, cajoling, close to whining.

She turned and folded her arms as the cowboy chased after her, his long, denim-clad legs eating up the distance between them and his black and white plaid shirt somehow pristine, even after a morning of practicing his barrel racing. Brown hair flopped over his forehead under his hat, the same hair more women than Taylor cared to count had probably run their fingers through.

Just the thought made her spit out her next words with more sharpness than she intended. “I don’t really care about the show or the new season. As it stands now, I don’t have any obligation to continue either one, so get over it, Josh.”

“Look, I know you don’t, but can’t we talk about this like reasonable adults?”

Reasonable adults? She huffed like a mare, indignant and noisy. Josh hadn’t acted like a reasonable adult during the past seven years. Fame, fortune, and women – oh yes, all the women – had gone to his head. And, like a complete fool, Taylor had sat by and watched until she finally did something about it.

She’d filed for divorce.

“Babe, come on.”

That was her cue. She opened the door, tossed her Prada bag on the front seat, and slid into the driver’s side. The engine roared to life in that way she adored. My toy, she purred internally, her heartbeat matching the steady thrum of the vehicle. Resolved as she was, she thought she might throw up. Leaving was never easy, even when it was the right choice.

Go.

Stay.

GO.

“Babe!” Josh stopped and braced his hands against the top of the door, cowboy hat shadowing his handsome features. “You can’t do this. I mean, what led to this? Why now and not before?”

Taylor lifted her gaze to his, green eyes locking onto his brown ones. Oh, he certainly had perfected that sad, sweet puppy-dog expression. Too bad it didn’t work on her anymore. Hell, it hadn’t since high school. She tossed her long, curly brown hair and said, “You know, I’ve been asking myself that very same question since the divorce was final six months ago and the answer is that it’s just time. I’m going home, sugar cube.”

“Home. So we can talk later?” The hope in his gaze might have been earnest, might have hooked her in again, if only Taylor didn’t know what she knew about her ex-husband.

“Home. As in Valentine, Nebraska, where I probably should have stayed in the first place. We’re beyond through. You agreed to that by not contesting the divorce and, since it’s been final for a while now, I’ve decided I’m done sticking around for this farce. Oh, and Mike and the whole ‘think about the fans’ excuse, well, he can kiss my butt.”

Josh curled his fingers over the side of the door, but Taylor knew he wouldn’t try to keep her from leaving. He had too much respect, and just enough fear, for her to do that. “But we agreed that you’d stay on for one more season of the show.”

“No. You asked after our divorce hearing if I’d stay and I never answered. I shouldn’t have to stick around now that the case is done. I’ve given it considerable thought and I’m done. You’ve already gotten six more months than I should have given you. I just can’t do this anymore, so get over it and enjoy the ratings without me.” With that proclamation, she gunned the engine, shifted gears, and peeled out of the lot.

Damn, it felt good to declare her independence. Every nerve tingled with anticipation. Like she had to get out of California or she’d just burst. The agony over Josh’s indiscretions had long faded, but not the sense that Taylor could do better. Not just that, but she deserved better, and sticking around any longer just because her ex-husband, manager, or producers pleaded for her to made her nothing but a sucker.

Just to add insult to injury, she waved over her shoulder and hollered, “Don’t call me, babe. I’ll call you!” Grim satisfaction filled her when she looked in the rearview mirror and saw Josh scurrying after her. It felt so good to leave that trailer behind, the one where they spent long days preparing to film. The place she knew Josh did other things when she wasn’t around.