AUTHORS NOTE: I know it's been a reeeaaally long time since I updated this, but I've finally decided to start working on it again. I should have a new chapter up at least once every two weeks. And if I don't, someone's got the right to poke me until I do ..

Four hours later, my day had gotten surprisingly worse than it already was. First of all, because I had ridden with Carson to the fairground today, I also got stuck riding with him to the hotel. Talk about awkward situations. He didn't say one word to me then entire half hour drive. He wouldn't even look at me. After that horrible ride, you'd think that my day couldn't get any worse. Oh, it can. My assigned roommate and Carson's roommate are going out, so what do they do? They take MY room. Yep, I walked into my hotel room right about the time they were getting ready to do god knows what in the bathroom…I don't really want to think about it for too long. So anyway, that's why I'm standing like an idiot outside of Carson's hotel room, too afraid to knock. I'm content with just leaning against the door until the door is flung open and I'm knocked right into, guess who. Yep, Carson.

"Salina, what the hell are you doing out there?" He says, sounding like he had either been asleep or was getting ready to. He was also standing there with nothing but a pair of jeans on. Somehow, my gaze kept ending up on his bare chest and I couldn't find my voice.

"Um…er…well…" I say, trying to form words and failing miserably.

"I'll ask again. Why the hell are you leaning against my door at…" He stops and checks the clock on the wall, "1:16 am?"

"Nathan and Kayla took my room…they were in the bathroom doing god only knows and I really didn't want to find out….can I sleep here? I know you're mad at me and everything, but I really don't have anywhere else to go." I finally explain, barely managing not to cry. How had everything gotten so freaking messed up?

"Whoa, wait a second. Who told you I was mad at you?" He asks as he sits me down on one of the beds and then sits beside me.

"Well, it was pretty obvious. You were all tense when we rode back out of the ring, you didn't even look at me on the way here, and you haven't talked to me in over four hours. Look, I know kissing you like that was a mistake, but I was sort of in shock. You'd never called me "your cowgirl" before and it really confused me." I say, all in one breath so I won't chicken out.

"Actually I never was mad at you. Well at least until you woke me up in the middle of the night. How long were you standing out there anyway?" He says, looking me straight in the eye.

"I…I don't know. A couple of hours I guess. If you weren't mad at me, then why wouldn't you talk to me and why were you so tense?" I ask, trying to make sense of everything and, once again, failing miserably.

"My God, Salina! Why didn't you knock earlier? And I wasn't mad; I was trying to make sense of everything." He explains.

"I thought you wouldn't let me in anyway." I answer, realizing my mistake even as I said the words. He would've let me in even if he was mad at me.

"Salina, of course I would've let you in. What if I told you that I was actually happy that you kissed me?" By this time, he had taken my hands in his.

"But why would you say that? I know you only think of me as a sister." I reply.

"What if I don't? What if I have fallen in love with you? Salina, if you hadn't of kissed me then, I would've on the way here. That was what I had been planning on doing all day." I stare speechlessly at him.

"Carson, I've been in love with you since the seventh grade…I was just too scared to say anything." I admit, surprising myself at my boldness. And then he leans forward a couple of inches and kisses me. His hands run through my hair and I sigh in happiness. I gently nip his bottom lip and he groans. Suddenly unable to sit upright, I let myself fall back onto the mattress, taking Carson with me. After a couple more breathless moments, we both lay there silently, me snuggled into his chest and his arm placed protectively around me. Once I'm able to move again, I push myself up on my elbows and grin down at him, still lying sprawled out on the bed.

"Um…wow." Is all I can think of to say. Which I guess is probably a good thing, because anything else I would of said would have probably ruined the moment. I relax back onto his chest.

"So…what now?" I ask a couple minutes later. What can I say? I hate silence and he still hadn't said anything yet.

"Well, first of all, we're going to do this." He says softy before putting a gentle hand under my chin and kissing me breathless again. "And now, I don't have a clue." He says, and then looks thoughtful for a few minutes. "Well, we both seem to have…er…strong feelings for one another and we're both single. There only seems to be one logical answer. Salina, will you do me the honor of being my girlfriend?" He asks and I have to giggle. I'm still lying on his chest and we're both breathless from kissing.

"Yes, Carson, I will. On one condition though." I say, hopefully with a teasing smile.

"And what would that condition be?" He asks, clearly curious.

"Kiss me again." I say simply. No sooner than the words had left my mouth, he had me flipped over on my back and was leaning over top of me.

"That, I can do." He says before pressing his lips to mine. I smile as I return the kiss.

A couple more breathless moments later, we're both lying snuggled together on the bed again. He reaches up and turns the lamp beside the bed and then and then turns back towards me. I snuggle closer to him and smile happily.

"Night sweetheart." He whispers as he kisses my hair gently.

"Night." I say before drifting off to sleep.

I awake in the morning to a persistent beeping sound. Carson groans, reaches over to the nightstand, and cuts that annoying alarm off. I stretch and sit up, feeling amazingly good for only having a couple hours of sleep. I look over at Carson and realize he's already fallen back asleep. Deciding that it was my fault that he hadn't gotten any sleep in the first place, I try not to disturb him as I stand up and walk into the bathroom. My hair is sleep ruffled and my clothes are all wrinkled from sleeping in them. I decide to go back to my own room and grab my suitcase that I had left in the doorway when I had come to Carson's room. I find a piece of paper and write:


I went back to my room to grab my suitcase. I'll be back in a little while.



I lay the note on the nightstand beside the bed and then lock the door behind me as I walk out into the hallway. I keep walking until I get to my room and then knock on the door, not wanting to interrupt whatever the hell they were doing in there last night. My suppose-to-be roommate answers the door, already dressed.

"Oh, Salina, I'm sorry about last night. I hope you found somewhere else to sleep." Kayla apologizes with a fake smile.

"It's fine Kayla. I just came to get my suitcase. I left it here last night." I say as I push past her and walk on into the room.

I grab my suitcase and walk back out without another word. When I get back to Carson's room, I realize that I had left the key inside. So much for not waking him up. I knock on the door and a couple seconds later he opens it. Once again my attention is lost on his bare chest. This time though, he's got a towel wrapped around his waist and his hair is wet. I smile and walk in, setting my suitcase down beside the door.

"Um…I'm sorry I interrupted your shower." I say, trying to get my attention off of the fact that he was practically naked…and failing.

"That's alright. I'm guessing you forgot the key." He replies, grinning as he picks up the key from the table and waves it.

"Oops…I didn't want to wake you up." I explain.

"Who was supposed to be your roommate anyway?" He asks conversationally as he walks over to his own suitcase and gets a t-shirt and a pair of Wranglers to change into.

"Kayla." I reply, averting my attention from his slipping towel as he walks back to the bathroom door.

"Figures. I'll be out in a minute." He says as he walks on into the bathroom. I let the breath I had been holding out in relief. I occupy myself with finding something to wear. I grab my usual attire, a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. How typical. Carson walks out of the bathroom a couple moments later. I smile and check the alarm clock as I walk past him and enter the bathroom. 9:15. I have about ten minutes to get changed if we want to be on time to help reload the animals. We're supposed to leave for Roanoke no later than ten thirty. I take a quick shower, get dressed quickly, and then take a few minutes to fix my hair into a loose bun. I walk back out of the bathroom and sit down beside Carson on the bed. He smiles a tender smile and brushes a stray curl behind my ear.

"You're beautiful." He says softly, making me blush a bright red.

"I'm glad you think so." I reply with a tentative smile. He leans forward just far enough so that our lips brush. As he scoots closer to deepen the kiss, I push him away. He looks at me, confusion etched into his handsome features.

"As much as I'd like to stay here and continue, we have ten minutes to get on the road." I say, gesturing towards the alarm clock that read "9:30" to prove my point. Suddenly something occurs to me. "Um…Carson? When are we going to tell everyone?" I ask, suddenly feeling very anxious at the prospect of telling my father.

"Whenever you want to." He answers with a shrug. He looks thoughtful for a moment or so before continuing. "We really don't have to actually tell anyone if you don't want to." He finishes, somewhat mysteriously.

"What do you mean?" I ask, slightly confused.

"If we kiss close to everyone and I keep my arm around you, someone is bound to figure it out." He explains. I laugh.

"Are you sure this isn't just an excuse for you to hold on to me?" I ask suspiciously. He grins.

"Maybe. It would work though." He replies.

"Or maybe we should just be honest." I say and then as a second thought I say, "But you're welcome to hold me whenever you feel like it." He grins and leans over and kisses me again. After a couple seconds, he backs off, still grinning.

"Sorry, had to do that. But, you're right. We should be honest and…we really do have to go or we're going to be late. I do suggest that we tell your father first though." He replies as he stands and gets both of our suitcases and walks to the door. I shake my head and walk over to him. I take my suitcase from him, open the door, and then take his hand that was holding my suitcase and place it around my waist instead. He laughs and looks at my quizzically.

"I thought I could find something more useful for that hand to do." I explain and he just laughs again, but doesn't move his hand. We walk on down the hallway, get in the elevator, and walk out to the parking lot in comfortable silence. We put our suitcases back in behind the seats and get in, both of us smiling like a couple of idiots…idiots in love.

"Well, here goes nothing." I say thirty minutes later when we arrive at the fairground. Not to my surprise, we aren't the last to arrive. About half of the people aren't here yet. We get out and Carson meets me in front of his truck and puts his arm back around me. We walk together to where my father is standing.

"Um…dad? Can we talk to you for a minute?" I ask, somewhat shyly.

"Sure, but be quick about it. I still have to find Kayla and Nathan." He replies and then smiles when he notices Carson's arm around me.

"Well…um…we, me and Carson, are kind of going out." I say in a rush. My father just keeps smiling. His gaze shifts to Carson.

"It's about time boy." He says. He and Carson shake hands. "I was starting to wonder if you two were ever going to realize you belong together. Congratulations. I have to go find those two lazy brats right now, but we'll celebrate later." And, with that said, he walks off.

"Is it really that obvious?" I ask, somewhat bewildered.

"Guess so." Carson answers, clearly as surprised as I am. We turn around to around fifteen cowboys and cowgirls cheering. I turn about ten shades of red. Carson just smiles and tightens his grip on my waist. Melanie, one of my best friends, walks over to us and hugs me.

"Congratz, Salina! You too, Carson." She says before walking back over to her boyfriend, Matt, and leaning against him.

"Get back to work!" My father yells from wherever he had wandered off to. Everyone laughs, but returns to what they had been doing. Carson and I walk to the pen where the horses were put last night and get Lady and Copper out and groom them before putting them in the trailer attached to Carson's truck. Ten minutes later, we're back in the truck following Aaron. And, ten more minutes later, all of us are completely lost. Aaron had taken a wrong turn someway back and the rest of us had followed. Now, we're parked at a rest stop, waiting for my father to get directions from one of the employees. Just what we need.

"Well, this is just all we need." I say as I lean against Carson's shoulder. We've been sitting here for at least ten minutes now and my father has yet to reappear.

"Normally I don't complain, but you're right on this occasion. We're never going to reach Roanoke before noon now." He replies. He's right, he doesn't complain. He never really has. I look out the window at the blackening sky and shiver. Ever since I was a baby I've been terrified of storms. A loud crash of thunder makes me scoot closer to Carson.

"It's just thunder, Salina." He says soothingly as he puts his arm around me. I shiver again, this time not because of the weather.

"I know it's just thunder. That's why I'm scared. I'm afraid of storms, remember?" I say, still shivering slightly.

"How could I forget?" He asks, a slight twinkle in his eyes.

Ten Years Earlier

Shivering because of the storm as much as the cold, I run through the darkened house and into the kitchen. My dad had left me home alone when he had went to a party with one of his friends and it had started storming about twenty minutes after he left. I grab the phone and without a second thought dial Carson's phone number.

"Hello?" He asks sleepily when he picks up. I look at the clock and wince. It's already eleven thirty.

"Carson-" I say, tears still rolling down my cheeks.

"Salina, what's wrong? Why are you crying?" He asks, concern immediately in his voice.

"I-I'm scared Carson." I admit, trying to quit crying at the same time.

"Scared? Of the storm? Where's your dad?"

"He went to a party with some of his friends."

"He left you alone?"

"Y-yes, but it wasn't storming when he left. I was fine then. Carson?"


"Can you please come over?" I finally ask.

"Hold on. I'll be there in a couple minutes." He says and then hangs up. I lay the phone back down and walk back into the living room. I sit back down on the couch, suddenly feeling a lot better. The doorbell makes me jump a couple of minutes later. I run to the door and throw it open. I drag a slightly damp Carson into the living room and throw my arms around him in a tight embrace.

"It's okay, Salina. I'm here." He says softly, returning the hug. He turns around and shuts the front door then walks over to the couch and sits down, me still clinging to him. I lay my head on his chest and slowly get sleepier.

"Thank you." I whisper, meaning it with my entire ten year old heart.

"Anytime." He replies, still stroking my hair soothingly. I slowly drift off to sleep, not feeling the least bit frightened anymore.

I smile as I remember that night. Even that long ago, he was my protector. I trusted him with everything, including my heart. I knew he would never let anything harm me, and he hasn't.

"I think I loved you even then." He says, thinking aloud. I smile. Exactly what I had been thinking.

"I've loved you since way before then." I reply. A flash of lightning makes me practically jump into Carson's lap. He laughs, but tightens his grip on me.

"I could actually learn to enjoy this." He says softly. I giggle. Based on the knowledge I have of the male species, he was already enjoying himself. Just to make him groan, I wiggle a little. He did groan and I just smile innocently.

"I think you're already enjoying yourself." I can't resist saying. He laughs once again.

"You could be right." He whispers so close to my ear that I feel his breath on my neck. I lean up just a little and press my lips to his softly. We get completely lost in each other. So lost, that only the pecking on the truck window was able to bring us back to reality.

"If you two lovebirds are ready, we can get back on the road now." Aaron, standing beside the window, says. If he was trying to sound annoyed, he was failing. The huge grin on his face gave him away instantly. I grin and blush slightly, but don't pull away from Carson. Aaron walks back to his truck, still grinning. I sigh and move back to my seat. A couple minutes later, we're back on the right road. Half an hour later, we arrive at the Roanoke fairground, fifteen minutes late.

"We're not seriously going to put on a show in this weather are we?" I ask gazing up at the still blackening sky.

"No, we're going to postpone it until tommorow morning. We're going to put the animals into the stables and then go back to the hotel." My father says. I hadn't even realized he had been standing there. A flash of lightning lights up the sky, sending the horses into a fit.

"We better put a move on then." Carson says, trying to settle Lady down so he can lead her into a stall. I go back to the trailer and follow seconds later with Copper. Then I think of something.

"Carson, is anyone listening for tornado warnings?" I ask, eyeing the dark clouds overhead as we make our way back to the truck.

"I think Aaron was. But, judging by those clouds, we'd better get to the hotel sooner rather than later." He says, starting the engine and pulling out of the parking lot behind Aaron. Then he looks over at me and says more gently, "Don't worry, I won't let anything hurt you." I manage a smile, suddenly feeling a ton better. I knew he would never let anything, including tornados, to hurt me. And for that, I was grateful.