Clint Brannan sighed and plowed a weathered hand through his graying blond/brown hair. Years of tending cattle in outside elements had turned his skin the consistency and color of well-worn leather. Sitting in a chair at the kitchen table of his Montana ranch, the River Belle, the cowboy was quiet a moment, getting his thoughts together before conveying them.
“Brannan? You still there?” The voice of his wife, actress Sean Livingston, came through the phone receiver resting at his ear. God, he hated how tired she sounded almost as much as he hated the conversation. “Brannan?”
“I’m still here, actress,” he answered, the pet name he called her slipping through his lips. He’d first met the stranded woman on his twice a year cattle drive. He hadn’t known then who she was but that didn’t mean the same for everyone else. As it turned out, she was a very popular movie star who had turned the acting community upside down with her disappearance.
“Look, I know I said the last one would be the last one but I really mean it this time,” Sean continued, running a manicured hand through her hair as well. Sitting in her dressing trailer on the set of her latest film, 'Tidings of Joy', she felt the need to explain herself to her husband. “It’s just… I know this ride isn’t going to last much longer, you know?” She snorted and rolled her eyes. “Gawd, I hate how conceited this sounds but… I’m hot right now, Brannan. I’ve become this… this huge commodity! It’s every actor’s dream!”
Clint certainly couldn’t deny that. It had made headlines in newspapers and celebrity periodicals all over the country, and the focus and attention had yet to die down. All the headlines were different in each magazine, of course, but ‘Hollywood actress disappears only to find her Prince Charming’ seemed to be the gist of all of them. Amazing what some of those articles reported, too, considering they didn’t even know who Prince Charming was, what he looked like or what he did for a living.
He blinked back to the present as his wife continued. “It’s not going to last much longer, so… why not do one more film? We can use the money to make repairs to the River Belle. Maybe… add on. Buy more cattle.”
Clint closed his eyes. His chest tightened when the words, “money” and “River Belle”, were used in the same sentence. Pride sometimes did that to a man. Sean had bought the River Belle when he was forced to sell during divorce proceedings from his first wife. Sean never said or meant anything intentionally, but Clint still felt a small pang of guilt when he remembered he couldn’t save his ranch on his own.
“Kinda hard maintainin’ this long distance relationship, you know?” He tried hard to keep the sadness and disappointment out of his deep voice. “Goin’ on a few months now as it is.”
Sean closed her eyes and sighed. “I know it is and I’m sorry. I’m just…” She shook her head as she corrected herself. “I’m looking ahead, Brannan. That’s all. The more we can accomplish right now, the better off we’ll be later down the road. Okay? Do you understand?”
“Yeah. I understand.” Clint leaned back in his chair, took a deep breath and released it slow. “You do what you feel you should, alright? I support ya one hundred percent.”
Sean opened her eyes as a gentle smile for her husband grew. “One thing I never doubt is your support, Cowboy. I cherish it. The next shoot will only take three weeks, okay? Three weeks. Then I’ll be home and we can pick up exactly where we left off.” Her voice grew husky and she chuckled. “And I do mean exactly where we left off.”
Clint chuckled. He couldn’t help himself. “I’ll hold ya to that.” He stood. “Get back to your job. I’ll talk to ya tomorrow, alright?”
Sean grinned. “ Don’t forget. It’s your turn.”
Her husband chuckled again. She loved that sound and missed it with a passion. “It’s my turn. I’ll call ya after evenin’ chores are done. I love you, actress. Take care of yourself out there.”
She clutched the phone in her hands. She hated the ‘goodbye’ portion of their daily calls to each other. “I will and you, too. I love you, Brannan. Bye.” Sean hung up the phone and slumped back in her seat.
“Ooooo, girl… You have got it so bad!” Marlene Brighton giggled from across the dressing trailer. The dark haired woman, Sean’s manager since the early years, had seen her client in many different situations and moods and relished the peace and contentment she witnessed while Sean was on the phone. She flung a couple pieces of popcorn into her mouth and chomped away with gusto. “Will I ever meet the man who gives you that dreamy look?” Marlene had a talent for developing instant pouts, which she did just then. “I’m still beyond wounded I wasn’t invited to the wedding. Imagine, me, of all people!”
Sean gave a tired snort and rubbed her eyes. Completing two films back to back with another looming in the forefront was an exhausting situation to be in, no matter how good the cause, and it wore her out further to keep that exhaustion out of her voice during calls to her husband. “I know and I’ve apologized to you again and again for it.” She lowered her hand and looked at the woman who accompanied her in almost every moment of her life – the drive which left her stranded with Clint being one of the few exceptions. “Brannan’s just…" She rolled her eyes. “If you met him, you’d know why he prefers to stay clear of the attention. He and it are two opposite ends of the spectrum.” Sean leaned her head back against the sofa and allowed her heavy eyes to close. “He’s just… it. He means everything to me and in all honesty I crave and miss him so much it hurts. But…” she opened one eye and locked it on Marlene. “You gotta do what you gotta do, right?”
Marlene leaned toward her client and studied, her expression serious. “Honey, when all this started I highly suggested to you that you take the ball and run. I didn’t help matters, either, I know. I cheered you every step of the way." Her voice grew concerned and her face filled with compassion. “But after this next shoot, you’re done. That’s it. No matter how good it is, no doubts, no second thoughts, and no guilt. You’re at the end of your rope and I feel terrible because I helped put you there.”
Sean’s eyes popped open as she opened her mouth to speak. Marlene thrust her hands out. “Ahh, wait-- I’m not finished.” Her face softened as she continued, “You haven’t seen your new husband in months and I can’t imagine how hard it must be. You need to be with him, honey. Not here,” she waved her arm, her voice filling with disgust, “in this shallow business. After watching you on the phone with him, it dawned on me just how much and I’m so sorry I’m the one that’s kept you away.”
Sean snorted and lifted her head. “Marlene, you didn’t put a gun to my head, okay? Stop blaming yourself.” She shrugged. “We both thought it was the right thing to do and it probably still is. You and I both know it’s not a forever thing.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Clint sat on the front porch steps of his home. His back rested against a post as he nursed a cup of coffee with one hand, scratched his Border collie and constant companion, Scratch, with the other and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains on the horizon. Sunset was his favorite time of day. It allowed him to reflect on daily and past events and think about the future. As he sipped and swallowed his coffee, his mind wandered back to his conversation with Sean earlier. He knew she was exhausted but didn’t know if he should be amused or hurt by her attempts to keep it from him. She’d have to be worn out. Keeping up with her schedule made him tired, he couldn’t imagine the pace on her end. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye, straightened a smidge and grinned. “Evenin’, Cookie. Pull up a stair and join me. Want some coffee?”
Cookie, born and raised on the River Belle, was the only farmhand the ranch, and Clint, had ever known. He grinned at the owner and lifted his own cup. “Already got some, thanks.” Cookie sat on the opposite side of the stair and looked out at the horizon. “Beautiful night, isn’t it?”
Clint took a swallow of coffee. “Sure is. Evenin's like this make you realize why you do what you do, you know?”
The ranch hand nodded. “I hear ya. There’s nothing like being bone tired from a good day's work and have that,” he motioned towards the mountains framed in reddish gold with his coffee cup, “as your thanks. Makes it all worthwhile.”
Clint chuckled. His blue eyes glowed with fond appreciation and respect as he looked over at his friend and work mate. “You know, Cookie? The years we’ve got on the River Belle together, it’s hard knowin’ where I stop and you begin.”
Cookie laughed. “Heck, Clint. Just mutual appreciation for what we have, is all.” He took a sip of coffee before he continued. “That was a scary time, you comin’ close to losin’ the River Belle. No doubt about it. I knew what I was feelin’ and knew you were feelin’ ten times worse.” Cookie paused for a moment, his voice low when he resumed. “I’m just sorry I couldn’t do more to help.”
The cowboy grinned and shook his head. “It worked out, didn’t it? We’re still here.”
Cookie nodded and smiled, fully aware of Clint’s pride. “Pretty good deal, too. I’m happy for ya, Clint. I really am. Sean’s a good woman.” He sipped his coffee and swallowed. “When’s she comin’ home, anyways? Place is pretty quiet without her.”
Clint finished his coffee, sat his cup aside and sighed. “Yeah, I know. Talked to her today. Said she took one last job and she’ll be home in three weeks.”
The ranch hand blinked in surprise. “But… I thought this was her last job?”
Clint nodded. “Supposed to be,” he shrugged his shoulders, “she figured one more wouldn’t hurt.”
“Boy.” Cookie frowned. “She’s gotta be feelin’ pretty poorly these days. She’s been gone for what… couple months now?”
“Mmm-hmm. Not likin’ it much m’self, but I always told her I wouldn’t interfere when it came to her career.” Clint admitted.
“Well, way I look at it, there’s interferin’ and then there’s concern, and right now I’d bet a year's pay there’s a lot of concern where you’re sittin’.”
A chuckled sounded through the growing darkness. “You’d be a wealthy man, too.” Clint was quiet for a moment and then let out a tired breath. “I don’t know, Cookie, you know? I know why she is. Can’t say if I were in a position like that I wouldn’t do the same, m’self. There’s a lot to be said about security.” He snorted. “Sure would have come in handy a while back.”
“I don’t know, Clint. In that situation, you’re right, it would have helped. But sometimes… sometimes things get too… comfortable, I guess. Wasn’t the situation here with the divorce and all, that really wasn’t your doing, but it humbles a person. Makes a man appreciate what he’s got, you know? Makes you want to eat dust all day long and at night you lie in bed and sincerely thank the Good Man Above for giving you that dust.”
Clint pondered that thought for a moment then looked over at his friend and grinned. “When’d you get so wise, my friend?”
Cookie shrugged. “Easy.” His eyes locked on his best friend and boss. “I learned how from the best.”
* * * * * * * * * * *
Sean held her arms up as Marlene slipped the sweater over her head. As she tugged it down, Marlene couldn’t help but see the exhaustion lining her friend’s face. “Girlfriend, this isn’t working.”
Sean dropped her arms, rolled her eyes, headed to the makeup counter and sat with a tired sigh. “Marlene, your lectures are getting old.” Pumping the cap on a mascara bottle, she started applying the makeup. She was a full two days into her new film, 'Jacob's Ladder', completely exhausted and knew taking on this last project had been a huge mistake. She wished she could turn back time but the deal was done and she had to honor the contract she'd agreed to and signed.
Marlene snatched a seat in a chair right next to her and grabbed Sean’s wrist, startling her client. “One question, okay? Just one question.”
Sean’s eyes locked with hers in the makeup mirror and narrowed with suspicion. “One question. Okay. Ask.”
Marlene looked deep. “It’s just starting.” She leaned in to drive her point home. “Is it really worth it?”
Sean studied back. Just as deep, just as careful. “Yes.”
Marlene released her wrist and threw her arms up. “I don’t believe you for a minute!”
“You don’t have to believe me because you’re not the one that counts! I’ve got this job, I’m doing my job and that’s all that should matter to you! You’re getting your money, so why are you constantly bitching about it?” The minute those words tumbled from her mouth, Sean instantly regretted them and the pain she saw in her manager's eyes. “Marlene… I’m – I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”
Marlene studied the floor. Taking a deep breath, she raised her eyes to meet her friends. Her voice was deadly calm. “You’re right. I’m only an employee. Someone, I thought, who was your friend. My mistake,” she swallowed hard. “From now on I’ll keep my opinions to myself.”
Sean, never one blessed with much patience, was so tired and frustrated; her nerves were frayed almost to the breaking point. She applied her mascara with angry strokes. “Whatever. I don’t have the time or the energy to fight with you right now.” She studied her application in the mirror, put the cap back on and flinging it into the corner, stood up. “I’m needed on set.” She made a hasty exit and slammed the door behind her so hard, the trailer shook in protest.
The only thing Marlene could do was watch her go with a heavy heart. Sean’s state was pretty much her very own doing and she slumped back into her chair when the wave of guilt crashed into her. “Oh, honey… what have I done?” Trying to find the answer to her own question, Marlene’s eyes scanned the room and landed on Sean’s cell phone sitting on the sofa. Her brain kicking into high gear, she stood up and walked towards it. Picking it up, she flipped open the top lid, studied it, and then found the button she was looking for. Recent calls. It was no surprise there was only one name showing -- Brannan.
“Bingo.” Grinning an evil grin, Marlene gave a quick look outside to make sure Sean wasn’t anywhere around. Her finger lingered over the ‘redial’ button as she considered her future fate. “Well,” she shrugged to herself, “you already want to kill me. Why don’t I give you a real good reason to?” She hit the button and brought the phone to her ear. She’d never talked to Sean’s new husband; didn’t know him to save her life but she figured there was no time like the present. One ring… two rings… three rings… maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after… her eyes popped wide as a deep voice said “Yeah!”
For the first time in her life, Marlene was speechless. Oh my God! He doesn’t sound like Prince Charming, he sounds like Randolph Scott!
She could hear the question, but for some reason when her mouth worked, nothing was coming out.
“Hello! Sean? That you?”
Come on, mouth – say something!
“Sean? I can’t hear ya.” A pause. “Damn phones. Sean!”
Clint frowned and yanked the phone away from his ear, double checking the screen for his wife’s number. These new fangled gadgets, he’d never get used to ‘em. Well, says it’s his wife but it sure didn’t sound like her. “Sean?”
“I… hello, um, yes… Mr. Brannan?”
Clint pushed his hat away from his forehead and leaned back in his saddle. “This is Brannan. Who’s speakin’?”
“I… uh, Marlene Brighton. I’m Marlene Brighton.” The nervous feminine voice was finally getting stronger. “Sean’s uh… S-Sean’s manager.”
Clint made a fast review of his memory and the name registered. “Yeah, she’s mentioned you. What can I do for you Ms. Brighton and why are you using her phone?” His eyes narrowed and his back straightened as curiosity gave way to concern. “Somethin’ happen to my wife?”
Marlene’s hand shot out like he could see her. “NO! No, Sean’s… fi-- well, nothing’s happened… yet. Well, not unless you want to count her getting mad and storming off.”
Clint chuckled and brushed a fly away from his temple with his free hand. “Ms. Brighton, it takes her about three minutes flat to do that with me on a good day.”
Marlene giggled. This guy sounded wonderful. “Mr. Brannan–"
She smiled. “Thank you. Clint, I’m worried about her. She’s just… she’s really tired and… and…” she rolled her eyes. “Okay, I know this is all my fault. Okay? But it’s all catching up with her and I’m – she’s reaching the breaking point. She won’t listen to me so I thought that maybe,” she winced as she didn’t really like going behind her friends back. “I could enlist your help?”
Clint studied the mountains in front of him and nodded. “Yeah, I figured it was comin’. Don’t know how she’s doin’ it all this time and to be honest with you, don’t much like it, either.”
Marlene winced again. “I’m so sorry. Mr. – Clint – you have to understand the Hollywood mentality.”
“I do understand the mentality out there, Ms. Brighton. That’s why I don’t appreciate it and don’t want any part of it. Don’t think it’s quite right to keep goin’ and goin’ just because it’s the thing to do and sacrificin’ everything you’ve got to do it, you know? I always told her I’d stand behind her, but…” he took a deep breath and released it slow. “There comes a time when a man wants to be selfish and I’m feelin’ it pretty good. I miss my wife.”
Marlene’s heart went out to this man. She could hear just how much in his voice. “I know you do. She misses you, too. Will you help me get her out of here?”
“Job’s not over yet, is it?”
“No. No, it’s not. But,” she grinned, “I’m pretty crafty when it comes to getting contracts reworked. They’ve just started shooting. Let me talk to the producer. I’m pretty sure I can get her out of it.”
Clint gave it thought and grinned. “Sean’s not a quitter, which I’m sure you know. You prepared to deal with the consequences?”
“Clint, she can be mad at me forever. Fire me, whatever she wants to do. Sean’s one of my dearest friends and I’m worried about her. I care about her. She needs to be with you.”
“Alright. What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to come out here and get her.”
Clint blinked in surprise. That was the last thing he expected. “Excuse me?”
“Listen, if I tell her they’ve changed their minds or, or… whatever, she’ll fight it tooth and nail. If you’re here, she’ll give in. Easily. All she needs to do is see you. Feel you, and she’ll know it’s the right thing to do.”
Clint scratched his nose and adjusted his position in the saddle. To have Sean home again… “Ms. Brighton, I’m versed in a lot of things but travelin’ isn’t one of ‘em. You make the arrangements -- I’ll be there.”
Relief flooded throughout Marlene and she clutched her chest. “Oh, Clint, thank you!! I’ll make all the arrangements! Just be at your airport in a couple of hours, okay – I’ll take everything from there! I can’t wait to meet you!”
Clint couldn’t help but chuckle. “You might wish it was under better circumstances, you know?”
Marlene laughed. “I’ll have everything lined up and waiting to go. Thank you, Clint – you don’t know how much!”
“Yeah, think I do at that. I’ll see ya.”
While Marlene snapped the phone shut with a satisfied click and grin, Clint turned his horse and headed home.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The good-looking, well-built blonde leaned towards him, making sure her best assets were displayed in all their glory. She’d noticed this guy ever since he stepped on-board, figuring out ways to get a conversation going. Didn’t take long to notice the obvious. “Haven’t flown much, have you?”
Clint swallowed hard and looked over with a shaky half-grin. “That’s a pretty good guess. You’re good at readin’ folks.”
“Oh, honey,” she giggled and ran a sleek finger up the sleeve of his shirt. “I’m good at a lot of things. Just ask and I’ll tell you.” The handsome man sitting next to her exuded a quiet, natural power. She couldn’t wait to get her hands -- and other parts of her anatomy -- on it.
“I’m sure you would, but I’m not interested.” He flashed his wedding band towards her.
She made a noise that sounded to him like a snort. “Honey, those things don’t mean anything where you’re going.” Her eyes narrowed. “Why are you heading to LA, anyways? You an actor or something?”
The cowboy chuckled. “Nope. Just a rancher. My first flight here and I’m not takin’ to it real well. I prefer havin’ my feet firmly on the ground.”
Her finger started its way down again. “Then what brings you out? I don’t think there’s much need for ranchers, unless you’re going to be an extra or…” The blonde’s eyes grew wide. “You’re a consultant, right? They hired you to come out and make sure…”
Clint chuckled. “Ma’am, you’re getting all excited about nothin’. I’m not a consultant; I’m not an extra or an actor or anything else of the sort. I’m just a rancher headin’ to L.A. to pick up my wife and take her back home.” He looked out the window and swallowed hard at the distance between him and the ground. “And the sooner I can get back, the better.”
Clint didn’t care for flying at all. Something about being thousands of feet in the air with nothing underneath defied logic and made him uncomfortable as hell. His butt was best off in a saddle, thank-you-very-much, and when this was done that’s exactly where he planned it to stay.
The blonde wasn’t about to give up. The man sitting next to her was everything that couldn’t be found in ‘La-la Land’ and if she could keep him talking, she had a chance, wedding band or not. “What does she do?”
Clint’s thoughts were jolted back to the present. “Sorry?”
“Your wife. In Los Angeles. What does she do?”
She watched in personal awe as the man’s face softened and his crystal blue eyes took on a different sparkle. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have someone who loved and cared as much as he obviously did?
“She’s an actor.”
The blonde rolled her eyes. “Honey, anyone who walks is an actor in L.A. That’s what they all say, anyways.” She straightened a bit in her seat, flung her hair over a shoulder and leaned in once again. “That’s what I am.”
Clint’s eyes flashed to the assets deliberately being displayed and grinned. “Is that right?”
That got his attention! Finally! “Mmm-hmm. Matter of fact, I just got done shooting a laundry detergent commercial before I left." She sighed to give it a more dramatic effect. “It was… taxing. Took all day! I figured I deserved a little break before my next job.” She leaned in closer and gave the gorgeous man her best seductive smile. “Food commercial. For a famous chain? You’ll be seeing a lot of me on television.”
Clint could hardly contain his bemusement. Sean had told him stories about how people were in Hollywood. Especially women in particular. Nothing was what it seemed and everyone, according to her, did the enhance thing. It was all about the looks and how far those looks would carry you. He’d believed her somewhat but it still boggled his mind how anyone could be so shallow. It shocked the hell outta him how brazen this woman was. He figured he was supposed to be impressed, but when he had glanced earlier at the chest proudly displayed right in front of his eyes, he couldn’t help but think how little about the woman appeared natural. Sean was right. “Good for you.”
The blonde’s eyes narrowed and she licked her lips. “Thanks. So what’s your wife doing?”
Clint leaned back in his seat, and looked ahead. At least this woman kept his mind off being who knows how far up in the air, so that in itself was a plus. Too bad there wasn’t any substance. “Well,” he exhaled, “she started a new job, but it’s not workin’ out.”
The blonde put a sympathetic hand on his arm. The tone of her voice as genuine as her looks. “Oh, I’m sorry. But that does happen sometimes. Don’t worry,” She cooed as she patted his arm. “Commercials are a dime a dozen and they’re always hiring. Another job’ll come along.”
Clint grinned. “I don’t think so. Two films are enough. Time I had her home with me where she needs to be.”
The blonde blinked and straightened. “Films? As in… motion pictures?”
Clint closed his eyes as the plane bounced in a pocket of turbulence and willed his knuckles not to go white as he gripped the armrests. “Mmm-hmm.”
She swallowed. “What are they? I mean… what’s the titles?”
His brow furrowed as he tried to remember. “I don’t know…” The brow furrowed deeper. “Don’t really keep track of things like that. Uh… the last one, I think, was…” He shook his head. “Something… ‘Tidings’ something…”
“’Tidings of Joy’?”
Clint’s eyes opened as the ride smoothed back out and looked at her. “Yeah.” He nodded. “That sounds right.”
“Oh my God!! That’s only like the most anticipated movie of the year! All the studios are buzzing about it!” Her eyes narrowed and she studied him. “Your wife… she wouldn’t happen to be…” Her brown eyes flew wide as two and two were added together. She gasped again and grabbed his arm in a death grip. “Oh, my God… you’re him, aren’t you? You’re Sean Livingston’s husband. Prince Charming!!”
Clint grimaced at the moniker. Bad enough to read that garbage in the paper. Even worse to be addressed as such in public. “Hardly.”
He was knocked off guard when the blonde backed completely off and stared at him with a whole new appreciation. “Oh, my God… That’s who you are! You’re him and you’re…” Her eyes and tone took on a dreamy state. “You’re coming to take her away. Back to your ranch. Oh, wow… a real-life knight in shining armor.” She clasped her hands to her lap, closed her eyes and sighed.
Clint looked around, uncomfortable as heck. He was a private man. Didn’t particularly care for others knowing his business or where he lived and the fact that perfect strangers did rattled him to the core. “No, I’m just concerned about my wife and want her home.”
* * * * * * * * * * *
Marlene scanned the line of people coming off the plane. She had no idea what Sean’s husband looked like and held a sign with the words “Clint Brannan” printed out to announce that fact to everyone arriving at Los Angeles International Airport. He was a cowboy type, sure, but what did cowboy types look like? Outside one of the sets, what did a real one look like? She had no cl… wait a minute… what was this?
Marlene lowered the sign to her side and watched as a rugged looking -- not to mention very handsome man walk out of the tunnel connected to the plane. It had to be him… graying blondish-brown hair, mustache, suntanned, dressed in a western shirt with the sleeves rolled up, well-worn jeans and boots. He walked with a quiet confident stride, everything screamed this man knew what he was, what he wanted and wouldn’t back down from any thing or any one otherwise. A cowboy! As he slung a leather satchel over his shoulder, crystal blue eyes scanned the crowd searching for… her. Oh! She scurried over to him.
“Hi. Uh… excuse me… Mr. Brannan?” Her heart did a little flip-flop thing as those blue eyes locked on her, crinkling around the edges in a grin.
“You must be Marlene.” He thrust his hand out. “Name’s Clint. Good to meet you, finally.”
Marlene offered her hand and blinked wide at the strength of his grip and how callused and warm his hand was. She smiled. “It’s nice to finally meet you, too. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Clint chuckled. “I’d believe half if I were you.” He looked around. “So, this is Los Angeles.” His eyes scanned the throngs of people milling about and shook his head. “Little too… crowded… for my taste.”
Marlene giggled. “Wait ‘til you get outside. It’s a zoo!”
Clint took a deep breath and released it fast with a half shake of his head. “Well, no time like the present, I guess.”
Marlene took in the satchel on his shoulder. “Is that all the luggage you have or do we need to go to the baggage claim?”
“Nope, this is it.” Clint grinned. “I’m a light traveler.”
Marlene blinked wide again. “I guess so!”
Not even thinking, she draped her arm through his and headed for the door. Stepping outside and making general chit-chat, she glanced up in time to see Clint’s eyes grow wide as he watched traffic dart in and out of the drop off terminal. He watched for a moment longer and shook his head. “Amazin’.”
“Makes you wonder how it all works and why there’s not more accidents, doesn’t it? Come on.” She tugged on his arm. “The limo’s over here.”
Clint took in the sleek black limousine idling at the curb and winced. “Truck musta been all booked up, huh?” He walked up to the car, studied it and snorted. “Figured a time was comin’ I’d be in one of these. Didn’t look forward to it then,” He swallowed. “Definitely not lookin’ forward to it now.”
Marlene opened the door, and pushed him toward the interior. “Oh, come on. It’s not that bad.”
Clint shook his head and with a heavy sigh, climbed inside.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Sean was on her very last nerve. Wasn’t her fault her co-star couldn’t find his marks and the repeated delays were making her fume. For the fifth time, she stepped to her mark and let the make-up artist touch her up. “God, I hope he gets it right this time.” She muttered under her breath. The make-up artist, being well versed in delays, kept her opinion to herself. Good thing as Sean could feel her patience literally run out and it would only take the smallest comment for her to explode.
“Come on, people – let’s at least get this scene in the can, alright?!” The director screamed on the set. “Places! Come on, let’s go!”
Sean closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Please, get it right. I want to go back to the hotel and sleep. I need to sleep! Please… She took another deep breath, kept her eyes shut and steeled herself for another retake by thinking about home. She was so used to people milling about on sets she didn’t even bother to open her eyes when she sensed someone walk up and stand in front of her. She wanted to daydream about what was waiting for her back at the ranch and didn't want to let anyone interrupt it until absolutely necessary.
Clint soaked in the vision of his wife with his eyes. Three months had been a long time and there she was with no clue he was in front of her. Good thing too as he knew he had a goofy grin on his face with no compulsion to change or hide it. Sean was there, so was he and that’s all that mattered. Blue eyes sparkled and cherished as he drank her in.
“Figured my first time on a plane would be to see bluebonnets, you know? Not rescuin’ you. About damn time I can return the favor, though.”
Sean’s eyes snapped open the moment she heard the low, achingly familiar gentle voice. Tears were instant and streamed down her makeup-enhanced cheeks. There was Brannan, right in front of her, eyes loving and appreciating every inch. She couldn’t even speak. All she could do was throw her arms around her husband’s neck, hold on for dear life and sob.
Clint closed his
eyes, held her tight and soaked in her feel. “You’re done,
actress. We’re going home.” He said as he rubbed her back
in slow caresses. “Yeah… we’re going home.”
* * * * * * * * * * *
The methodic sway of her horse underneath combined with the leather creak of her saddle almost lulled Sean to sleep. Eyes closed, she adjusted her hat farther back off her forehead, pointed her face into the brilliant sunshine and let loose with a very loud, very unglamorous, very content sigh. Two days ago she was on a film set. Today she was back home and in her own saddle again. She was still reeling from it all.
Her husband, on his own steed and close enough to take in the sound, shot a double look across to her. His mustache rose with a lopsided grin. “Better watch that tree comin’ up there.”
Eyes still closed, she grinned. “There is no tree, I looked. Leave me alone, Brannan, will you? I’m relishing the peace and quiet and you're ruining both.” Her grin broadened at the warm chuckle she got in response.
“That’s a given. You’ve come close to fallin’ out of that saddle twice now. Dangerous out here, you know? Hard to tell what’s lurkin’ around.”
Sean lowered her head, opened her eyes, looked over and smiled at the love she saw in return. “Not going to admit it, are you?”
Clint’s blue eyes grew wide in mock confusion. “Admit what?” He shrugged. “If anything, that sigh you just let loose with tells it all, you know?”
This time it was her turn to chuckle. “God, you are so stubborn. Here's your lines, okay? Repeat after me. ‘Yes, I missed you. Missed everything about you and I’m so glad you’re home.’”
He adjusted his hat and looked around. “Don’t need to say nothin'. You just did.”
Sean took off one of her gloves and flung it at him. Clint burst out laughing and caught it on the downward slide off his shoulder. “Nice to see your aim hasn’t changed.” Still laughing, he directed his horse a couple steps over so their legs rubbed and motioned her to stop. He leaned across his saddle and gave her a sweet kiss. “I’m glad you’re home.”
Sean snorted and studied her husband. So powerful and relaxed sitting in his saddle. So comfortable in his own skin. No airs, no games, nothing but love, admiration and respect looking back at her. Everything Hollywood wasn’t and hadn’t been for decades. "Thank you. That didn't kill you, did it?"
The skin around Clint’s eyes crinkled as he grinned at his wife. "Nope."
Sean’s eyes narrowed as she studied him and gave a soft smile. “Come on,” motioning with her head, she dismounted. “The River Belle’s right over the next rise, let’s walk the rest of the way.” Gathering the reins in one hand, she reached and took Clint’s with the other when he joined her, resting her head on his shoulder as they started to walk.
Clint let go of her hand and circled her waist with his arm instead. As they walked in quiet for several yards, he glanced at her from the corner of his eye. “Now you’re too quiet. Not fallin' asleep again, are you?” He grinned. "Carryin' you's not a problem, but I ain't your wrangler, you know? Got my own jobs to do out here."
Sean, relishing the feel of his strong body and unique gait, sighed again and shook her head. “I'm not falling asleep."
As they walked in silence a little more, Clint couldn't help but grow concerned. "Somethin' on your mind, actress?"
Sean watched the ground as they moved. "No, not really." She drew a deep breath, let it out slow and stopped. "Yes, there is. I need to talk to you."
Clint stopped and released his wife to stand in front of her. His brow slowly climbed. “Something happen out there I should know about?”
Sean studied the man before her. The man of all her dreams. Tall, rugged, powerful, gentle. His eyes told his story and she loved that about him. Genuine warmth exuded from them at all times, making her feel secure. Loved. Missed. Needed. Wanted. But other emotions were quick to display as well and all she had to do was look in his eyes. How rare and precious that was in this day and age. How precious he was. "Brannan, everything's... different now."
Clint's heart dropped to his feet and he felt his stomach tighten in knots in an instant. He was confident in himself but that didn't change the fact that ranch life, the little his wife had been around it, wasn't in Sean's future since she'd been back to California. It had happened with his first wife, it could happen again. Liz had married him with pictures of glamorous rancher's wife in her head but the cold truth was it was a lonely, hard life. The River Belle was hundreds of acres large with cattle and horses scattered throughout. The work was constant and neverending; the nearest town and people miles away. He swallowed hard, dreading the answer to his next question yet he had to know. "Different, how?"
Sean's eyes grew wide when she saw that dread and apprehension looking back at her. She knew the reason why and cupped his face in her hands. "Oh, Brannan, no," she shook her head. "No, no it's not anything like that, okay? I know exactly what you're thinking and I promise you it's not anything like that. I was talking about me. I'm the one different now."
Clint swallowed again. His voice strong, but quiet and low. “Things are different out here, actress. I told you that in the beginning.” He cleared his throat and shook his head. “Don’t want it interfering with your career, you know? Especially if bein’ a star’s still important to ya.” His eyes shifted and took in the scenery surrounding them. Mountains revealed the deep green of spring blooms, the sky cloudless and crystal blue. “All I can offer is what you see around you, you know? Me included. That's all I can do, Sean, and you knew goin' in how rough it can get."
Sean put a finger to his lips. "Stop it, will you? I said that isn't what I'm talking about, so let me finish. Please?"
He worked up a grin and stepped back. "Alright. Ground's yours."
"Thank you." She chuckled. "I was talking about me. I'm different now. I'm just... different."
Clint's brow climbed as he waited for her to continue.
Sean rolled her eyes. "Different in that…” She grabbed his hand and started to walk again. “Those were my first jobs after becoming your wife." Looking at the scenery before her, her eyes soaked in the white farmhouse and barn coming into view. “I got used to the quiet here during the break, and when I went back to Los Angeles it was… nuts. Busy. Too busy. Too noisy. I felt like I was one of our cows. Herded one place to the next.” At her husband’s chuckle, she snorted. “Well, I did!”
Clint swiped a trickle of nervous sweat from his forehead. His stomach relaxing now, his heartbeat slowing back to normal. “Told ya it’d grow on ya. You got a taste, you know? Hard to go back after that.”
Sean stopped again and grabbed his forearm. “That’s another thing! Coffee?” She wrinkled her nose. “Ugh! Couldn’t stand it!”
Clint grinned. “You didn't --"
“Boiled! It had to be boiled!” She blurted then laughed with his heartfelt laugh. She hugged his arm and started walking again. “Can you believe it? And the looks I got from people? They thought I was out of my mind!” She chuckled. "I'm surprised it didn't make tabloid headlines, too, you know? 'Sean Livingston Certifiable After Being Found'! Can't you see it? Right there in black and white for the world to know!"
His deep chuckle continued. “Yup. I can imagine.”
Sean smiled and leaned her head on Clint’s shoulder. She’d turned into a cowboy, just like her husband. Life wouldn’t get any better than it was right at this moment and she wasn't about to let it go. “Brannan?”
He sniffed. “Hmm?”
She stopped again and turned to face her husband, her eyes locked onto his. “You… wouldn’t mind if I’d… quit… would you?”
"Quit?" Clint’s confusion was shortlived, his elation subtle. “You talkin’ about your career?”
She nodded. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about. I don’t think I can go back.” Sean pondered a moment, and then frowned. “Don’t think I want to go back.” She studied his eyes hard and deep. “We could do it, couldn’t we? Just… stay here and do what we do?”
Her husband studied her back just as hard. “Be honest, actress, especially to yourself. You don’t think you’d miss that other world out there? Awful quiet around here, you know? That sometimes gets to a person.”
Sean looked at the ground and thought long and hard. Releasing her breath, her gaze returned to her husband’s. “No. I don’t think I will.” Her shoulders drooped as she continued. “I’m… burned out, Brannan. That time’s over. It’s been a good ride, but…” she shook her head. “It’s different now. I want to be with you. I want to…" She grinned, “learn ranching things. It’s about time, don’t you think?”
Clint grasped her shoulders with his hands. “Sean, I’m serious. I don’t want you one, five or seven years from now resentin’ this place or me, you know? I’ve been through it once; I don’t want to do it again. I want you here because you want to be here, you know? I don’t want me or the River Belle changin’ what you’ve planned for yourself. Take the time and think about this long and hard.”
Sean cupped her husband’s weather-beaten cheek with her hand and gave him a soft smile. “Remember the conversation we had in the cabin? The one about changing?”
He nodded. “I remember.”
“Well, I have. I’ve changed and you know something? It wasn’t half as scary as I thought it would be.”
Clint loved her with his eyes. “That right?”
“Mmm-hmm. And you know something else?”
He grinned. “What’s that?”
“I’m happy. For the first time in my life, I’m finally happy and content with who I am and who I want to be," she smiled and thumbed her chest. "This cow knows who she is!”
He chuckled. “I’m glad you do.”
Sean’s eyes instantly grew wet with tears. Exhaustion remained strong throughout her body and her emotions still bubbled on the surface. “You’re the reason, you know. You…" She motioned around her. “The River Belle. It’s because of you, the two of you and I don’t think I could ever resent the best things that have ever happened to me -- that I’ve ever stumbled into.”
Clint used his thumb to wipe away a tear sliding down her cheek. “If you’re sure, I’ll back you a hundred and ten percent, actress. Always will. I’ve told you that from the beginning, haven’t I? Besides," he wiped another tear, "I'd be honored to have you workin' with me side by side."
Sean grabbed his thumb. Her eyes, though wet, were filled with love for the man standing in front of her. “Thank you, Brannan. For being the part that was missing? For being the part I didn’t know was missing until it was found. I can’t begin to tell you what that means to me.”
Clint leaned and placed a feather-soft kiss on her forehead. “I think it means the same to you as it does to me, you know?” His eyes loved as he shook his head. “Don't thank me for somethin' we both needed.”
Sean opened her mouth to speak only to have Clint place his forefinger over it to silence. Tears she couldn’t control slid down her face. She’d never seen the look on her husband’s face before. Love. Respect. Anticipation of years together yet to come. All the exact things she felt when she looked at him. He shook his head; his low voice almost a whisper. “We both needed it, actress, or else it wouldn’t be.”
A sob escaped Sean’s throat as more tears slid. She loved this man with all her heart and could see for herself he felt the very same way.
Clint tucked his wife into his side and kissed the side of her head. "C'mon, it's naptime again for you." He said as they resumed the walk towards their home and their future.
I said I wanna touch the
I wanna break it in my hands
I wanna grow something wild and unruly
I wanna sleep on the hard
In the comfort of your arms
On a pillow of bluebonnets
In a blanket made of stars
Oh it sounds good to me I said
Cowboy, take me away
Fly this girl as high as you can
Into the wild blue
Set me free oh I pray
Closer to heaven above and
Closer to you closer to you
I wanna walk and not run
I wanna skip and not fall
I wanna look at the horizon
And not see a building standing tall
I wanna be the only one
For miles and miles
Except for maybe you
And your simple smile
Oh it sounds good to me
Yes it sounds so good to me
Cowboy, take me away…
Cowboy Take Me Away sung
by The Dixie Chicks
Written by Martie Siedel and Marcus Hummon
Album: Fly -- Monument Records