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Contemporary Romance

The old road was long and flat. There weren’t many trees and the diner sat between a motel and the ghostly remains of a gas station. The moon covered the face of the sun and it was dark, like night had fallen on the weathered porch at the entrance.


Inside there was a small dining room with booths and tables. The hardwood floors were shiny and clean, and the air was filled with the aroma of sausage and eggs searing in the kitchen. Over a long bar, above wooden shelves lined with liquor bottles, was a huge mirror; to the right, a set of French doors opened outward onto a patio.


Ashley finished her coffee and sat her cup down. She’d been sitting at a picnic table for over an hour, waiting for the eclipse to begin, but as the minutes ticked by she grew increasingly anxious. The deputy she was meeting was a casual acquaintance and their night together had been a one-time thing. She had no idea how she would deliver the unexpected news or how he would take it. But one thing she did know was that she had to tell him.


Ashley wanted to make a phone call to Sheriff’s Office, but didn’t. Instead, she held up her cup and asked for a refill.


She’d returned to Midpoint just over month ago when she pulled off the old road and turned into the parking lot at the roadside diner. In fact, she had dozed off in her car when Deputy Sheriff Blake Coleman III tapped on her window and they struck up a conversation. An hour later they were perched on barstools leaning close together so they could hear each other over the sound of loud music and people talking around them. By the time the bartender called last call for alcohol, Ashley was exhausted and the deputy suggested she might like to join him for a nightcap in his room at the motel next door.


Ready to get out of San Francisco, Ashley had contacted her grandfather, Bill Rascoe, after years of not seeing him. Bill was the foreman at the Palo Duro. He was missing some cattle and wasn’t sure whether the thief was in his bunkhouse or at the sale barn, so he invited Ashley to stay at the ranch help with the bookkeeping. He was a man used to solving of his own problems, taking action in any way he saw fit, and it came hard to accept help from law enforcement. Let alone Blake Coleman, a man he’d come to dislike.


It was another fifteen minutes before the door opened and Blake stepped onto the patio. At about six-two, he was sporting a neatly-pressed black shirt under tactical body armor. Black cargo pants, a radio, and a sidearm.


He lifted his chin in her direction and nodded, giving her a flirtatious smile. Ashley swallowed hard as a twinge of anxiety surged through her. She stood and removed her solar glasses, flashing an irritated look at him. “You missed the eclipse, Blake.”


He gave Ashley a hug, engulfing her in his embrace. “I missed National Hot Dog Day, too,” he said. “But you don’t hear me bellyaching, do you?”


She took a step back and gestured toward the picnic bench. “Please, have a seat.”


The deputy sat down across from Ashley. He swept the black Stetson from his head, turning the wide-brimmed hat upside down on the table. “So, it’s been awhile.” he said. “How are you?”


It’s been over a month, she thought. Five weeks to be exact.


Ashley tossed her head, fanning her long blond hair behind her. As much as she wanted to figure out why Blake dumped her, it didn’t hurt to make small talk before they tackled the elephant in the room. She took a sip of her coffee and studied his perfectly symmetrical face, noticing his square jaw, straight nose, thick brows, caramel eyes, and tightly trimmed natural beard. “I’m well,” she said. “So, I hear you’re looking into the case of those missing cattle at the Palo Duro.”


“How’d you hear about that?” Blake asked, frowning.

“It’s a small town. The internet may be slow, but word travels fast.”

“Well, I don’t know about that, but I do know I’m meeting with Bill today.”


“I’m sure you’re aware that he doesn’t have much use for law enforcement.”


“Yeah, I’ve heard that he doesn’t trust cops.”


“He’ll trust you even less when he finds out you slept with his granddaughter.”


Ashley wanted to clear the air, but before she could utter another word, he said, “Listen, about that night.” After a short pause he went on. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”


And there it was, out in the open. Ashley looked away, she couldn’t help it, recalling how things had turned out. Yeah, right, was her next thought. You dropped me like a bad habit.


“What I did was wrong,” he said. “But you have to admit we had a good time.”


“Listen, I’m no angel,” she said. “But I’m not a one-night stand kind of girl. That night meant something to me.”


“It meant something to me, too.”


“Then why did you dump me?”


Blake wasn’t comfortable with the way the conversation was going, so he changed the subject. “Would you like to order some breakfast? It’s on me.”


“I’ll stick with coffee. Black.”


“Two coffees, Twenty-One.”


In the doorway stood the cook, drying his hands. A tall man with brown, almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbones, and a mouth with corners that turned down, he looked the same as he always had, though now his long black hair was parted in the middle with two neat braids that hung down in front of either shoulder.


“Twenty-One? she asked, whispering.


“His name is actually Jacob Black Elk, but around here, everyone pretty much calls him by his nickname.


“How’d he earn that moniker?”


“Well, he doesn’t say much.”


“Is that a fact?”


“Anyway,” he continued. “It seems he got the name as a teenager when someone followed him around, counting the words he spoke.”


The cook remained in the doorway and didn’t move except for flexing his fingers, but his eyes were focused on the deputy’s female companion. The young woman glanced up at him to see he was wearing a white apron over blue jeans and a Western shirt with the sleeves rolled up.


“How do you want your coffee?” asked Twenty-One. There was a brief silence. After a moment, his eyebrows narrowed, but his gaze remained intent.


“Preferably with a shot of whiskey,” said Blake. His voice was expressionless, but his words were accompanied by a self-satisfied smirk.


It was tornado season and Ashley could feel the slow, hot wind on her porcelain white skin. The updraft raised a dust devil, tousling her hair. She closed her eyes, allowing the warmth to wash over her.

“Why whiskey?” she asked.


“The coffee isn’t fit to drink.”


Ashley sipped her coffee and looked at him over the top of her cup. “Tastes good to me.”


“I’m just funnin’ with you, Ash. But I do like to keep temptation at hand.”


“Does that include me?”


He didn’t know how to reply. She waited for him to speak, but when he didn’t, she glared at him and said, “I’m not some call girl you rent for the night, Blake.”


The cook brought two fresh cups of steaming black java with cream and sugar on the side. He put coasters under the cups on the table and glowered at the woman suspiciously. Ashley sat with her legs crossed, wearing the cute little sundress she bought online when she ordered the pregnancy test. She picked up her coffee cup with both hands and leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table, her crystal blue eyes glistening as she gazed off into the distance.


“No, it’s not like that. I don’t think of you that way.”


“Then what did I do to make you leave me at the motel?”


“Nothing. You were perfect.”


“I must have done something wrong.”


“It isn’t you,” he said. “It’s me. I panicked.”


“You panicked? Why?”


“You said you wanted to start a family."


“Yeah, Blake. “I want children. In fact, I want it all. A house with a white picket fence, kids playing in the yard, the family dog, and a husband who comes home to me at the end of the day.”


“Well, that’s where we differ, Ashley. I don’t see myself getting married. I’m not interested in having kids.”


Ashley felt her heart sink. She knew she was overreacting, but for some reason, learning that Blake didn’t want children was devastating. An unexpected flush washed over her as she stared at him in disbelief. She took a deep breath and held it, summoning the courage to speak. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised,” she said, exhaling in a huff. “You’re an ass.”


The deputy looked up from his coffee, regarding her with a faint smile. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”


“Sorry?” she asked, mimicking him. “Sorry?”


Ashley knew when she met Blake that spending the night with him was a mistake. She’d thought their initial encounter might lead to something more, but now realized there was no future for them and it was time to give up the fantasy. He didn’t want her and it was all just a game to him. There would be no home, no loving and safe environment where children could grow up laughing and playing together. Furthermore, there would be no point in sharing her news with him if he wasn’t going to be a stand up guy.


He was going to leave after this and she might never see him again. But what could she expect from a guy who lives in a motel room and cruises the highway picking up women in bars.


Other than her sister, Bill was her only family now. She could remain at the ranch and sleep in the bunkhouse, or get a room at the motel. But with her fugitive from justice status, Ashley didn’t see any options other than staying on at the Palo Duro. She was discouraged and thought that her situation was about as bad as it could possibly get.


Ashley hated feeling like this, and she hated that Blake Coleman could make her feel like a whore. After all, it wasn’t about love. It wasn’t really about sex, although that had been incredible. It was about rejection, and feeling like she’d been kicked by a horse.


Noticing the tears welling up in her eyes, Blake gave her a concerned look and raised his hand to her cheek, turning her face gently toward his as she began to cry. “Ash,” he said, trying to console her. “What’s wrong?”


That familiar twinge of anxiety returned. Ashley stiffened and started to turn away, but Blake grabbed her hands—pulling her close so she would look at him. Finally, she blurted it out. “I’m pregnant!”


The look on his face was anything but what Ashley had expected. She hadn’t meant for this to unfold as it had. But now, he was staring at her in quiet dismay.


“Why are you looking at me like that?”


“Like what?”


“Like you’re in distress”


“Perhaps that’s because I wasn’t expecting the news.”


“Was I supposed to keep it secret?”


“How can you be sure you’re pregnant?” he asked, his voice revealing his surprise.


“I took a home pregnancy test. It came out positive.”


“Those things aren’t foolproof. They can be wrong.” He was still grasping for straws when Ashley reached back into her purse and pulled out an envelope, sliding it across the table to him. “That was a week ago,” she said. “You’re going to be a daddy.”


He sat there speechless. Minutes went by as he read the lab report, unable to believe what she’d told him.


“I have all the symptoms, Blake. Missed period, swollen breasts, increased urination, and nausea.” She couldn’t tell how he was feeling, but the longer she sat there, the more she wondered if he was becoming suspicious. “Are you terribly upset about this?”


“I’m not angry, but I have to ask the question. Is it mine?”


Ashley leaned back, raising her right hand as if swatting at a bug. “Don’t be an asshole. Of course it’s yours. I haven’t slept with anyone else since we met.”


“Well, if that’s really the case, then I want to do what’s right for you and the baby. I’m not going to walk away. You have my word.”

Ashley was besieged by a thunderstorm of emotion. A myriad of thoughts whirled around in her mind. “Why the sudden change of heart?” she asked, blinking in surprise.


“I’ve never wanted children because I didn’t want the responsibility that came with being a parent, but now everything has changed. I want you to feel safe and secure, and I want you to be happy, too.”


Ashley sat quietly, staring at him in amazement, knowing within her that everything was going to be alright. She exhaled a content sigh and her eyes drifted to the Mother Road, taking in a sleek black sedan as it rolled past the roadside diner among a trickle of vehicles from the Interstate.


I already am, Blake, she thought. Now that I’m pregnant. Technically, fake pregnant. Soon to be pregnant.

April 05, 2024 20:57

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3 comments

Helen A Smith
15:52 Apr 14, 2024

Ooh, nicely told. Not the news he would be hoping for!

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Ron Robinson
19:49 Apr 15, 2024

Hi, Helen! Thanks for your comment. I appreciate the feedback and am pleased to learn you enjoyed the story.

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Ron Robinson
04:07 Apr 08, 2024

When a deputy sheriff reconnects with an attractive grifter, a one night stand leads to some unexpected news.

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