Ben used to be lanky, but now he looked strong, muscular. No doubt working on the ranch was keeping him in great shape. Even through his faded blue jeans, I could see how toned his legs were. From behind, I could see that his shoulders were wide, his back sculpted and two tan plains that tapered off into his hips.
I saw that he had a tattoo sleeve down each arm, though I was still too far away to tell what they were. I’d been there with him when he got his first tattoo, a bird right over his heart. He’d gotten it for me.
It excited me to see that he’d kept getting tattoos, and I wondered just how many he had; how much of his body was covered in them. My mind tried to conjure up what Ben would look like naked, though there was no way it could be as sexy as the real thing.
Bad brain, I admonished myself. We aren’t here to ogle Ben, we’re here to talk to him!
Like I’d told myself in my room, I just needed to rip the bandage off.
Taking a deep breath, I walked farther into the barn. “Hey, stranger,” I said, hoping I sounded calmer than I felt.
Startled, Ben straightened his body and turned towards me.
The hurt I felt when I saw Ben wasn’t the raw and bleeding open wound I’d expected. Instead, it was an ache deep inside my chest, pulsing through my body, but it didn’t feel any better.
Ben’s eyes darted from my hair down my body and then up to my eyes. My breath caught as we held each other’s gaze.
“It can’t be,” he said softly, his eyes wide. Ben’s eyes were just as cloudy gray as I remembered. I’d never met anyone with eyes as intense as Ben’s.
He took a step toward me, disbelief on his face. “Jada?”
“Yeah, Ben,” I said, “it’s really me.”
I glanced down at the bird on his chest, expecting it to be faded after almost ten years, but it wasn’t. He’d clearly had it touched up at some point.
He ran his hand through his short hair, a gesture I remembered all too well, only now his hair was so short he ran his hand over his hair.
Ben looked lost. “I don’t understand,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
“I work here now,” I replied, shrugging.
“What?” He still looked dumbfounded.
“I’m the new ranch vet,” I explained.
“You always did want to be a vet,” he said, walking closer. “Ever since you were little and found that bird with a broken wing and nursed it back to health.”
I didn’t know what to say, but thankfully Ben did. He laughed, and said, “The universe is a strange place.”
I cracked a smile. “It really is.”
Ben opened his arms and raised his eyebrows, a silent question. I went to him, wrapping my arms around him again. His body felt so different yet he smelled the same, like sage and musk.
When we pulled apart, Ben gestured to a couple of chairs off to the side. Disappointingly, he put his shirt back on and we sat down.
“So how did you know I was here?” he asked.
“I didn’t until I was in the car with Seki after he picked me up from the airport. He was telling me about everyone that worked here. When he said your name and that you were from Las Vegas, I knew it had to be you.”
“This is so nuts,” Ben said, laughing again. He held my gaze. “It has to mean something. Right?”
Under Ben’s attention, I felt an old longing for him, the need to bury my face in his chest while he held me close, our bodies flush. It didn’t surprise me that the spark was still there. I wondered if he felt it too.
I wanted to keep things between us professional. I couldn’t jeopardize my new job over a boyfriend who’d once dumped me and left town. I wouldn’t do it.
Rather than answer Ben, I said, “I think dinner will be ready soon,” and left the barn.
My first five days at the ranch flew by, over before I had the chance to catch my breath. Because I was still training and learning everything about being a ranch vet, the days were long. I collapsed into bed each night after dinner, falling asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.
Each morning, I woke early, ate breakfast with the guys, and immediately got to work because there was just so much to do and only so many hours to get it done.
The one thing that surprised me was just how well I got along with Seki, Ace, and Hank. I probably shouldn’t have considering how cool they’d all been when we met, but it was rare for me to fit in so well so quickly. In all the time I’d worked at the clinic in Las Vegas, I’d never felt any real camaraderie with my coworkers.