Chapter Nine

Jamie sighed as she sat on the porch swing, pushing herself with the tips of her shoes. She stared out towards the fields in absolute boredom. Her father had set very strict limits on where she was allowed to go. Anything beyond the barn doors was strictly off limits, as was everything farther away than the mailbox at the end of their drive. She looked over as Dakota, who had been lying at the top of the porch steps, sat up with a yawn and looked at her, as if asking, "Why are we just sitting here?"

She smiled at her dog. "Dakota, where's your ball?"

He wagged his black and white tail, then bounded down the steps and raced around the back of the house. A moment later, he appeared with a bright yellow tennis ball in his mouth. Jamie stepped off the porch and took it from him. She launched the ball with all the force she could muster and sent it sailing down the front drive. Dakota bolted after it, a streak of black and white fur against the dirty brown earth.

Jamie continued with the game for a good twenty minutes, Dakota always eager for more, she simply having nothing better to do. She threw the ball again and, this time, when Dakota was heading back towards her, he stopped quite suddenly and turned to look back down the drive. Jamie followed the dog's gaze and saw a familiar truck pulling onto their road.

Dakota dropped the ball, wagging his tail happily and barking excitedly. Jamie raised her arm in greeting as Junior's truck pulled up to the house. The young man smiled brightly at her and bent to pet Dakota, who had been happily circling his feet.

"Hey Junior," Jamie said, striding towards him. "What brings you here?"

"Just making a delivery," he answered, pulling her into a tight hug when she approached him. She hugged him back before stepping away so she could look up at his face.

"A delivery?" she asked suspiciously, "Your dad's store doesn't do deliveries Junior."

He shrugged, smiling his trademark crooked grin. "I know, but your brother's boots were finished being mended and it seemed a good excuse to come and visit. I had heard you were forced into solitary confinement."

Jamie sighed, rolling her eyes. "Yep, that's me. Daddy kinda went off the handle when he found out about my little episode."

"Yeah," Junior responded, "I heard about that too. I guess things get around pretty quickly here."

"You can say that again," she muttered.

"Jamie…" He hesitated before continuing. "I gotta say though, I think I agree with your dad. I mean, you could've really been hurt and you shouldn't have kept it from your family."

The girl groaned. "Not you too! You guys worry too much. Dakota was there, and so was Colt. It was just a seizure. It's not like I've never had one before."

Junior's eyes narrowed. "Jamie, you were home alone with a two-year-old, a dog, and a convicted criminal. I'd hardly call that a perfectly safe environment, would you?"

Jamie sighed again, passing a hand over her eyes. "Okay, fine, whatever you say." She looked up and met his gaze stubbornly. "But the bottom line is that I'm not hurt, despite everybody's frantic worrying."

"When's your appointment with Dr. Neilson?"

"Tomorrow morning."

"I guess after that we'll know for sure whether or not you actually hurt yourself."

Jamie rolled her eyes with a sarcastic smirk on her face. "Oh yeah, because as you can clearly tell, there is the distinct possibility of brain damage."

He grinned back at her. "I certainly think so."

She let her mouth drop open in fake offense and gave his shoulder a very solid slug.

"Hey!" he cried, rubbing at his shoulder, "Can't you just do a little sissy slap like a normal girl?"

"I was raised with three big brothers," she answered smugly. "I don't think you could consider me a normal sissy girl."

"I'll bet you still scream like a little sissy girl," he answered, a wicked smile blooming across his face.

Jamie was quite familiar with that look – it was one she had often seen on his face when they were kids – and she immediately turned and started to make a run for it. Junior caught her by the waist and pulled her against his chest, immediately beginning to tickle her stomach and sides. Jamie let out the girlish squeal that he had been searching for, laughing as she tried to fight him off. Dakota bounced around them, barking in excitement.

He finally stopped tickling her, though he didn't release her from his arms, and Jamie took a moment took catch her breath. Once she was breathing normally again, she was able to feel suddenly very uncomfortable in his firm embrace. His arms were still around her waist, his chest against her back, his chin resting on her shoulder.

She craned her neck to look at him, cocking an eyebrow and trying not to look overly annoyed by his touch. "And what exactly do you think you are doing?" she asked in a teasing voice.

He turned his head so that their noses were touching, their foreheads pressed together, and smiled dazzlingly at her. "Taking advantage of the fact that you are home while your bodyguards are out taking care of the cattle."

"You know, my mom's still around."

Junior chuckled. "Your mom loves me. You know that. It's your brothers that don't want me near you. Especially the big one."

Jamie laughed, feeling her heart fluttering uncomfortably. "You scared of Jim?"

"Petrified," he answered honestly. "But Jim's not here right now, is he."

Her breath caught in her throat as his fingers touched her chin lightly, tilting her head back. He bent his head, and Jamie was unsure of what to do. A part of her urged her to meet his lips, while another part screamed at her to pull away. A moment later, Junior made the decision for her, covering her mouth with his own.

No sooner had their lips touched, however, than there was the sound of someone nearby clearing his throat. Jamie sprang away from Junior, looking around the yard wildly. Colt stood just a few feet away, obviously on his way into the house, a smirk on his face. Inexplicably, Jamie felt a hot blush creeping up her neck, burning its way to the tips of her ears. Colt seemed to ignore her presence for a moment, his hazel eyes examining Junior from boots to hair. He didn't appear to be in the least bit disturbed by the fact that he had just caught them kissing.

"Hey Junior," he said slowly, his voice sounding soft and friendly, "What brings you here? Besides feeling up Jamie I mean."

Both Junior and Jamie flinched at this last addition, though Colt's voice never lost its friendly tone. "Just, uh, dropping off Jace's boots," Junior answered uncomfortably.

Colt paused, as if considering his words, then he smiled again. "Well, better find something different to do with your hands. And lips. Her family's in the barn."

Junior took a quick step away from Jamie, his wary eyes on the barn. Jamie thought she heard Colt chuckle. His eyes met hers for a brief moment as he continued past her into the house. She thought that she saw something darker flicker in his eyes, despite the confident smirk that he still wore. But then he turned away and disappeared through the screen door.

A moment later, the rest of the group appeared, the other five dogs on their heels. Junior waved a greeting, obviously trying to hide his discomfort. Jamie, however, was unable to shake her own embarrassment. She should have been relieved that it hadn't been one of her brothers who had caught them, but for some reason, the fact that it had been Colt standing there in the yard at that moment seemed to be the worst possible situation to her.

The rest of the dogs quickly surrounded her and Junior, jumping up on their legs and licking their hands happily. Then they ran off to play. Dakota looked after them wistfully for a moment, then turned his eyes up to Jamie, wagging his tail questioningly. She knew that look.

"Go play Dakota," she said, her voice still sounding shaky to her own ears.

The dog took off after the rest of the pack, then her brothers, father, and the ranch hands reached the pair of them.

Jim was the first to speak, his tone sounding very clipped and suspicious. "Junior," he said, "What're you doing here?"

"I, um… I was…" Junior seemed to have either lost control of his tongue or really forgotten what he was there for.

"Boots!" Jamie hissed.

"Oh! Right! I was just dropping off Jace's boots. I finished repairing them and thought I'd save you guys a trip into town."

The boy hurried back over to his truck and pulled the pair of worn old boots out of the cab, handing them to the wrong twin. Joel raised his eyebrows, handing them over to Jace without a word. All three of the Peterson brothers were giving Junior a very dirty look, as were Tony and Pepper. Judd was looking at the young man with a hint of suspicion, though there was not so much distrust in his eyes. Only Kurt and Vick seemed indifferent to Junior's presence.

"Junior," Judd said, "You know Jamie's grounded, right?"

"Oh, yes sir," he answered hastily, "I was just dropping off the shoes is all. I'll just be on my way then." He touched his fingers to his head, as if tipping a hat that wasn't there, as he climbed back into his truck. "I'll see you guys later. Bye Jamie."

"See ya Junior," she answered quietly.

The truck was out of sight in record time as the boy fled for home. Jamie sighed and turned to meet her brothers' disapproving gazes. They all stared down at her for a long moment before Jim jerked his head towards the front door. The girl sighed and entered the house without a word. They all followed her, pulling off their boots and leaving them by the door.

As they trooped into the kitchen, Jim said gruffly, "I don't like that boy, Jamie. You shouldn't be around him so much."

"What's wrong with Junior?" Jamie asked defensively.

"He's too forward with you," Jace answered in a tone equally as harsh as Jim's.

Joel, who seemed to be the only one to inherit any amount of restraint, added in a much calmer voice, "He seems a decent enough guy, Bitty, but you can never be too sure with guys."

"You should listen to your brothers," Pepper growled, "The kid's bad news."

Tony, who seemed to feel that he had no place to comment, yet incapable of completely retraining himself, grunted in agreement.

Jamie rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath as they took their places at the table. Colt was already sitting in his normal place, calmly waiting for everyone else to take their seats. Bree was feeding Luke in his highchair while Jessie placed the last of the food on the table. Bree said grace and the family dug into their food with the usual vigor, though the atmosphere was much more tense than usual.

At last, Jessie asked, "Alright, what's going on here? I heard you guys arguing about something as you came in. Would someone please elaborate?"

Jim pointed his fork accusingly at Jamie. "Your daughter was outside with Junior Adams. And they both seemed suspiciously uncomfortable when we showed up."

Jessie turned to her daughter. "Junior was here?" she asked cheerily, "Why didn't you tell me?"

"He was just dropping off Jace's boots," Jamie muttered, staring resolutely at her plate. Of course her family would choose to harass her when she had sent Dakota off to play.

Jessie looked back at Jim. "What do you mean they were 'suspiciously uncomfortable'?"

"The boy wouldn't stop fidgeting," Jace said.

"And he couldn't seem to put his words together," Joel added.

"And Jamie seemed a bit red in the face," Jim finished, giving his sister a disapproving look. Suddenly, an idea seemed to occur to him and he turned to Colt. "You went through the yard before any of us. What did you see?"

Colt paused, looking at Jamie's wide eyes before turning towards her eldest brother. "It all seemed innocent enough to me," he said calmly.

"I still don't trust that boy," Jim insisted.

"Oh, leave the poor girl alone Jim," Bree said. "If she likes the boy, then she's old enough to be spending time with him if she wants. She's not a child."

"Well if she liked him so much then she would date him, wouldn't she?" Jim replied, "But she's not dating him, so he should be respectful enough to keep his distance."

Jessie rolled her eyes. "Oh don't be silly Jim. Jamie doesn't have to date a boy simply because she likes him. Now, Junior is a very nice young man and I can't blame Jamie for showing a preference towards him." The argument continued for several more minutes, protective male Petersons on one side, romantic female Petersons on the other.

Jamie continued to stare silently at her plate. She could feel a pair of silent eyes watching her carefully. She knew who they belonged to, and she avoided them for as long as possible. But at last she looked up. Colt was watching her, his face decidedly blank, as if he was reading an uninteresting book. Jamie met his gaze, wondering what he was thinking, trying to decide what he felt about the whole situation.

Finally, he turned away from her, looking around at the still bickering family. "Why don't you just ask Jamie?" he said softly.

Somehow, his voice was heard above the din and they all turned to look at him questioningly.

He shrugged slightly. "If the issue comes down to whether or not Jamie actually likes Junior, then just ask her."

Jamie suddenly found every pair of eyes at the table watching her expectantly. "Alright then," Judd said quietly, "Jamie do you like this boy or not?"

Her eyes darted around the table, her heart hammering in her chest. It should have been an easy question to answer. Did she like Junior, or didn't she? She opened her mouth to say "yes," which was the answer she would have quickly given just a few weeks ago, but then stopped and closed it again. She thought about how strange it had felt to have his arms around her, how uncomfortable she had been. But then she thought about how her heart had fluttered just before he had kissed her. It wasn't as though it was the first time he had kissed her, though he family didn't necessarily need to know that. But something about it this time had seemed… different. At last, she spoke.

"Can I be excused?"

She didn't wait for an answer before sliding back her chair and fleeing from the room, quickly exiting the crowded house. She tugged on her shoes and put her fingers to her mouth, whistling for Dakota. He appeared almost immediately, racing towards her, the other five dogs trailing just behind him. The six canines barreled into her legs, knocking her onto her backside.

Jamie threw her arms around Dakota's neck in grateful relief, grabbing handfuls of his long coat. The other dogs nosed at her arms, seeking their own attention. After she was certain she had control of herself, she turned to the other animals, hugging them all tightly in turn, engrossing herself in one of her favorite forms of therapy.

She stood, brushing the dirt from her clothes and retreating to the green grass between the ranch house and the bunkhouse. She sprawled herself out on the grass, resting her head on Jag's pure white fur. Dakota curled up on her right, his head on her stomach while Coyote's brown fur occupied the space to Jamie's left. With Maggie's all-black form across her feet and old Blue and Indy, the German shepherd, sprawled out on the grass nearby, Jamie finally felt contented. She greatly preferred these silent companions to the constant chatter of humans. At least the dogs didn't call her emotions into question.

Lying on the grass, Jamie could hear the soft footsteps approaching her several minutes later and she looked up. Colt's silent form stopped and stood over her, blocking out the evening sunlight. His head was cocked to one side, and she thought she saw a slight smirk on his face. Without a word, he moved to her side and sat down in the grass beside Indy.

Just as he had been in the barn two nights before, Colt was silent, as if waiting for Jamie to break the silence first. She did.

"Why didn't you say anything?" she asked shortly.

He shrugged, focusing most of his attention on giving the shepherd's belly a good scratch. "Didn't think it was my business." He paused for a long time, then finally looked over at her and added, "Why didn't you answer the question?"

Jamie scowled at him. "That is also not your business."

"Well it's not like it was a very difficult question. The answer seemed pretty obvious when I stepped into the yard."

"Oh, what do you know?" she spat.

"Alright," he answered quietly.

"Stop doing that!" she cried, sitting up and looking at him angrily.

"Stop doing what?" he asked in surprise.

"Stop being so nice! It's infuriating! Why won't you yell at me like you used to? Tell me off or something! Tell me I'm a stupid girl, that I'm spoiled, and selfish. Something!"

Colt smirked. "So you want me to give you a reason to be angry at me?"

"Yes!" she screamed, "In the name of all that is holy, yes! I want to be able to yell at you without feeling like I'm doing it for no reason!"

He narrowed his eyes. "Fine. I'll give you a reason to hate me then."

Suddenly, his hand grabbed the back of her head, pulling her face towards his. He kissed her firmly, one hand on the back of her neck, the other wrapped around her back. Jamie stiffened and put her hands on his chest to push him away. She applied a small amount of pressure, but he didn't budge. Jamie wasn't sure if it was because he was holding her too tightly for her to push away, or because her arms weren't working. Whatever the reason, she found herself unable to break away from him.

Colt leaned forward, forcing her to tilt her head backwards, his fingers burying themselves in her honey-colored hair. Jamie felt her heart stutter, beating a restless rhythm against her rib cage. Somehow, it felt different than the way her heart had fluttered when Junior had kissed her barely an hour earlier, though she couldn't decide exactly what was different about it.

Finally, Colt pulled away, and, to her astonishment, Jamie found herself breathing heavily. Her hands were still on his chest, his were still around her, and she was staring up at him with wide, surprised eyes, still unsure of what had just happened. Quite suddenly, Colt stood, breaking the contact.

He looked down at her, his expression guarded. "There," he said softly, "Now you have a real reason to hate me. Not that you needed one."

With that, he turned and walked briskly into the bunkhouse. Jamie stared straight ahead, her head swimming with confused and jumbled thoughts. What was that all about? she wondered. Just then, Tony and Vick appeared around the corner of the house, breaking her out of her trance.

"Hey Jamie!" Tony called, "What's goin' on?"

She forced a smile, which felt horribly unnatural and, judging by the boys' expressions, looked that way too. "Nothing!" she said, a little too quickly.

They both stared at her for a long moment.

"You okay?" Tony finally asked.

Now there's a loaded question, she thought to herself. "Yeah, sure. Fine."

"You don't look fine," Tony said, then chuckled. "Well, you do, but not in that context."

"Tony," Vick said quietly, cutting him off, "Let's just go."

The younger man shrugged, obviously still desiring to pursue the subject, but he followed Vick's towering form towards the bunkhouse. "See ya later Jamie," he called over his shoulder.

"'Night," she answered softly.

After another long minute sitting with the dogs in the silent yard, Jamie stood. Brushing off the back of her jeans, she put the dogs in the backyard and retreated to the house. She thought she heard her mother say something to her, but her mind was too preoccupied to answer. With Dakota following beside her, she slipped into her room and collapsed onto her bed, fully prepared to sleep away the most confusing day of her life.

Colt stared up at his ceiling, silently berating himself for what he had done. That had been stupid, not to mention just plain wrong. He wasn't entirely sure what had possessed him. All he knew was that he had not intended for the kiss to turn out like that. His first thought was just one quick kiss. Just enough to make her scream at him and maybe slap him across the face.

But, for some reason, when he had kissed her, he hadn't been able to make himself stop. He had liked the way she had felt in his arms, her mouth pressed to his, and he had simply wanted more of her. And she hadn't pushed him away. He had felt her hands on his chest, but she had only pressed lightly, not nearly the amount of force he knew she was capable of. What had finally made him pull away was remembering the fact that she had already kissed someone that day. The thought of that stupid little, boot mending, hillbilly putting his mouth on the same lips he was kissing made him want to punch something – preferably the stupid little, boot mending, hillbilly himself.

And when he had pulled away, she hadn't done anything. She had just stared at him like he had sprouted a second head or something. What did that mean? Colt banged the back of his head against the wall, futilely hoping that the action would straighten out the mess of thoughts and emotions that were buzzing around like a hornets' nest in his head. It didn't work. Anger, jealousy, desire, and frustration were all continuously vying for his attention, fighting for dominance over his thoughts.

He finally gave up and burrowed deep under his covers, pressing his lips firmly together, trying to erase the strange electric feeling that lingered there.

A/N- Yeah, I didn't see that coming either... I just started writing about Jamie wanting Colt to be mean to her again and, well... I have no idea what I was thinking. Not exactly the way I planned on writing their first kiss, but I guess it kind of fits somehow.

So, if you've read my news post on my profile, you may have noticed two things – (1) I didn't post this yesterday as I had planned and (2) I want to add a fan art page to my website! So, if you are a fan of any of my stories and would like to send in a picture, just send me a PM and I'll give you my e-mail. I really hope that you guys send in pictures. I'm looking forward to seeing your renditions of people and things from my stories. Oh, and please review!

-E. Liz