We walked to the counter of Jared’s. A young lady behind the counter looked up and smiled, “Good afternoon, may I help you?”

“Yes, I’m Mr. Ross, and we have an appointment at one.”

“Okay,” She looked me over. She must have been expecting someone in an Italian suit, not a flannel cowboy shirt, faded blue jeans, and dusty old cowboy boots, “Um… Mr. Ross and Miss?”

“Miss Yates, my fiancée’s name is Miss Yates,” I smiled as I put my arm around her shoulder.

“Okay, if you’ll follow me, Mr. Jackson will see you in a private room,” We followed her to a back room. “Mr. Jackson will be right with you.”

I sat us at the head of the table, leaving only one chair to the side, “Mac, this is really an expensive place. Why don’t we go to Zale’s or Gordon’s?”

I turned her to face me, “First of all, it’s only the very best for my number one girl. And second, this is just a drop in the bucket.”

“Okay, if you say so,” She was studying my face looking for any change.

“Al,” I pulled her attention back to my eyes, “About the belly button piercing. Can and will you still wear one?”

“Um… yes,” She looked down.

I used my finger to lift her chin back to my eyes, “I find that sexy as hell! Would you let me buy a new ring and wear it for me? Not as a college dare, but as something that will make you think of me?”

She nodded just as the door opened and an older gentleman walked in and closed the door, “Mr. Ross, Miss Yates, my name is Anton Jackson. I’m the general manager of this store. How may I help you today?”

“We’re looking for an engagement and wedding band set,” I took Al’s hand, “and we’re not looking for the kind in your display cases. But a one of a kind.” I didn’t think he thought I could afford what I was asking for.

“May I ask if you will be buying on credit?” I snickered at the way he said it.

“No,” I pulled out my wallet and gave him my Black American Express card, “I think you’ll find everything you need here.”

“Um… yes sir. I will need to verify this first,” He was almost stumbling over himself now, “You understand, store policy.”

“Sure, we understand,” I nodded to him, “We’ll wait while you run your check on my credit.”

“Oh, and would you have a catalog we could look at while we wait?” I was pretty sure he was going to be back in just a few minutes kissing my dusty boots, but I’d play along.

Sure enough, the counter assistant came in carrying a tray of bottled water and cookies, “Mr. Jackson asked me to start the work on what you’re looking for in a wedding ring set. Please help yourself to water and cookies.”

“Thank you…” I stopped.

“Amanda, sir.” She replied taking out a form.

“Well Amanda, this lovely lady is Allyson, and I’m Mac. We look forward to working with you,” I smiled as I opened a bottle of Perrier for Al and poured it into a glass. “Al, what kind of ring would you like?”

“Well, I haven’t given it a lot of thought, but I like the chocolate diamonds a lot,” she said to Amanda.

Amanda opened a laptop and brought up some images of rings with chocolate diamonds in them, “This is a sample of the rings we have that have chocolate diamonds in them. Feel free to scroll down and look through them. You can mark the ones you like, here,” She moved the cursor to a box in the top right corner, “Then, Mr. Jackson will bring those in to show you.”

Al was busy looking through the rings, “I like that one,” I pointed to a ring that had chocolate and vanilla diamonds and was set in something called Strawberry gold.

“I like that one too,” She ran her finger over the center diamond, a Princess Cut. “But the center diamond looks out of place.”

Amanda had left the room while we were looking, “Mark it and we’ll see if it can be changed to something you like,” I kissed her cheek, “And drink your water. I need you to stay hydrated.”

She shivered, “Yes sir.”

I laughed, “Good girl.” I lifted her to my lap as she looked through the rings.

When she had picked ten different rings, she hit enter. Then we waited.

Not long after, the door opened. Mr. Jackson walked in. He had a tray of rings in one hand and a folder with my Black American Express Card sticking out the end, “I do apologize for the wait, Mr. Ross and Miss Yates. Mr. Moore from your bank described you to a T. He also told me you own the Rocking R Ranch in Alvord and that your net worth is in the billions,” He stopped talking and looked a little uncomfortable, “I didn’t believe him, so I GOOGLED you. I don’t usually judge a person by his clothes, but I did you, and I apologize again,” He placed the folder on the table by me and turned to Al.

“Miss Yates you have a good eye for diamonds, and I’m sure your fiancée isn’t concerned with the cost, so we’ll just leave that out,” he looked up at me, and I nodded.

“So, the chocolate diamond is the proprietary brand of LeVian; therefore, any chocolate or vanilla diamonds must be mounted on a LeVian ring. They are top quality gold; in white, gold, and strawberry, which is this beautiful pink color, also in platinum.”

He moved the laptop and put the black velvet ring tray in front of us, “The first three rings in the top row are chocolate and regular diamonds set in white gold.” He then pointed to the last two on the row, “Gold and platinum.”

“The bottom row contains chocolate and vanilla diamonds set in platinum for the first four and the last in strawberry.”

My eyes went right to the last ring. Strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla, so much of what we had become. I let Al do the looking because I wanted her to have what she wanted. She deserved the world, and I would give her as much of it as I could.

“I guessed at your ring size, but we can make it smaller or bigger.”

Al picked one of the rings on the top row, white gold, small chocolate diamonds around a marquise cut diamond. She slid it on her finger and almost immediately took it off. Next, she took one from the bottom row, platinum set with chocolate and vanilla diamonds with a pear-shaped center diamond. She looked at it the longest but put it back too. I held my breath as she picked up the strawberry. It had chocolate and vanilla diamonds intertwined with each other, and a Princess cut diamond, that I assumed was vanilla, in the center.

“I like this one the best, but I have a few questions,” She turned to me. “What kind of ring are you going to get?”

“Whatever you choose I’ll get a band of the same material and have small matching diamonds on it,” I looked at Mr. Jackson. He nodded that was possible.

“Okay, what if I chose the strawberry?”

I leaned into her ear and whispered, “Every time I see it on my finger, I’ll remember eating strawberries off your beautiful naked body and that I should do it again very soon,” I kissed her cheek.

“Okay, then the last question is for you Mr. Jackson,” She turned to him with the ring on her finger. She was touching the center diamond, “This diamond just really looks out of place in the chocolate diamonds, can it be replaced with a Princess cut chocolate diamond?”

He smiled, “Yes, it can. Let me take the others back and bring some loose stones in for you to choose from,” He stood and walked out the door.

I pulled her hand to my mouth and kissed the ring, “I’m thrilled you chose this one.”

She smiled, “Yeah, I like it too. For all the things you said,” She touched it, “But I don’t want to spend too much.”

“Shh… no amount of money is too much. I want you to have everything you want,” I kissed her.

“I love it! I really do,” She touched it again. “I think it will be even better with a chocolate diamond in the center.”

The door opened again, and Mr. Jackson came in carrying a velvet box.

“I think you’ll be able to find a diamond from this collection,” He opened the box and sat it before Al, “If you let me have the ring, I’ll remove the diamond. Then you can see the others in the setting.”

When he was done and had given the ring back to Al, I asked him if we could talk in private. He took me to a room off to the side.

“Mr. Jackson, I would like to have a belly button ring made as a wedding gift for my bride.”

“What are you looking for, Mr. Ross?”

“I’d like a horseshoe to cover her belly button. The horseshoe would need to open up and not down,” I took a pen from my pocket, “Do you have a piece of paper? I’ll draw it for you.”

He opened his folder and handed it to me. I drew what I was looking for, “Here on the horseshoe I want diamonds or maybe emeralds, small but the best you have.”

“Yes sir, we can do that,” He wouldn’t look me in the eyes when he asked the next question. He was embarrassed, “Um… would you know where the piercing is, sir?”

I laughed, “Yes, I do. It’s top to center of the belly button.”

“Excellent, sir,” He wrote some notes on my drawing, “Will there be anything else?”

I nodded, “I need everything delivered to the Rocking R on or before Christmas Eve.”

He looked up at me, “Um…well the rings should be no trouble. But the belly button ring will need to be made from scratch. It could take up to 90 days.”

“There’s an extra ten thousand in it for you if you can make this happen,” I looked at his eyes as they dilated, “Cash, no receipt required. Call it a Christmas bonus.”

“Yes, sir! I’ll get my best jeweler on it at once,” He stopped at the door, “We’ll not be able to use the chocolate diamonds or the strawberry gold. Will platinum be okay? We could use rubies too if you would like.”

I nodded, “Platinum is fine, but use emeralds.”

“Yes sir, very good,” He opened the door.

The first thing I saw was Al looking at her hand. She was so beautiful. She took my breath away.

I walked up behind her, put my hands on her shoulder, and looked at her hand. It was perfect, “We’ll take this one for the center.”

I sat next to her, “It’s beautiful, but not nearly as beautiful as you.”

“If I may have the ring I’ll measure your finger for a perfect fit,” Mr. Jackson took the ring, placed it in a small box, then measured her finger. “6 and 3/8, we’ll have to size it down just a little but not much,” He turned to me, “And the ring for you sir?”

“Thin band, strawberry gold, with alternating chocolate and vanilla diamonds going around the band,” I smiled. “I’m a working cowboy. So, nothing that will get in the way.”

“Yes sir, I understand. Let me measure your finger,” He had to slide several rings on before he found one that would go over my busted knuckle, “11 and ¾, yes we should be able to do that as well.”

“Okay, then we’re set. If you give me an estimate of the total cost, I’ll pay that today and any balance upon delivery at the ranch on time,” I gave Mr. Jackson my card back. “If you don’t mind we’ll look around the showroom while you total the bill.”

I helped Al up, “Let’s go see what we can find for the family for Christmas.”

Her eyes lit up like lights on a tree, “I love to shop for others. Especially with someone else’s money.”

We walked to a display case with necklaces and earrings. I leaned into Al’s ear and whispered, “Your money! My money is your money.”

I signed off on the first bill and paid for everything we got for the siblings, Matilda, and Fred. I looked at the time, 4:30, “Are you hungry yet?”

She smiled and put her hand around my waist. I pulled her in close, “Some, but not enough to eat just yet.”

I was hungry but not for food, “How about a movie. Is there anything out you’d like to see?”

She stopped walking and was watching the floor. I lifted her chin, “Hey, why’d you stop?”

“Um, there’s a movie I’d like to see, but…” she tried to look away, but I held her face to me, “Well, you might not like it.”

I let myself drown for just a minute in her chocolate brown eyes, “Try me.”

“Well, I’d like to see, Dracula Untold.

“Okay, Dracula Untold it is then,” I turned her so we could start walking again. “So, you like scary movies now?”

She put her hand in my back pocket, just like she did when we were younger, “Well, yeah, in college I got hooked on the Twilight Saga. I went to every movie, read every book. Then Harry Potter.  Then I took a trip down the dark side, Dracula Untold is just the latest stop on the crazy train.”

I moaned at her hand in my pocket, then laughed at the crazy train comment, “You’re not crazy, and I like a little scary in my movies, on occasion,” I leaned down, “Maybe I’ll bite your neck and suck your blood while we watch the movie,” I felt her shudder at my words.

I had to admit it’d been a while since I’d been to a movie. I was beginning to realize I’d just been walking through the motions of living for the last nine years.

We had our popcorn, a Dr. Pepper, and perfect seats at the top middle. I guess most people were working at this time of day or just getting off. So, we had the place to ourselves. Just before the movie started an older couple came in holding hands and sat a few rows down from us. I smiled thinking about what it was going to be like to grow old with Al at my side. I put my arm around Al’s shoulders, and she leaned into my chest. This was what I’d been missing for years.

 

“Damn, that was a terrific movie. Some fact and then a bit of legend,” We were in the truck heading back to the stockyards. “I hope they make another one. I’d definitely go see that again,” I looked at Al, “I got so into the movie I forgot to suck your blood.” I said in my best Dracula voice.

She giggled next to me, “Yeah you did. So, are we going to dinner or ordering in?”

“Are you hungry now?”

She nodded, “Yeah I am. Does the hotel have good food?”

I moaned, “Yeah, but it’s a bit frou-frou for me. The Chef is from New York City. But the guests seem to like him and his food.” I pulled the truck into the drive, “Let’s go get BBQ.”

I held her hand while she got out, “BBQ sounds good.”

“Keys are in the truck. We won’t need it for the rest of tonight,” I said to the young valet.

“Yes sir, Mr. Ross. Have a good evening,” He said as I reached in and took out the bags from Jared’s.

I took Al’s hand, “Let’s go up and put the bags away, then we can walk to Rusty’s.”

In the room, I walked to the picture on the wall, swung it out of the way to reveal the safe in the wall, “Lover, the combination to all my safes is your birthday, 01301987.”

She came over and wrapped her arms around my waist, “You really have been thinking about me all this time.”

I put the bags in and locked it back, “Yeppers, I have.” I turned in her arms and kissed her. I moved down her neck and nibbled. Moving to her ear, I whispered, “Are you ready for me?” I nibbled on her earlobe, “I need you before we eat.”

She moaned, moved her hand to the buckle of my belt and popped it open, “I’ve been ready for you all day.”

It was my turn to growl. I picked Al up and carried her to the bed.

 

Much later we made it to Rusty’s BBQ at the end of the street. Now, we were in a horse-drawn carriage taking a romantic ride through the streets of Cowtown. When we got close to Billy Bob’s, I asked if Al would like to stop and do some dancing. It was after all Ladies Night.

“Would you like to stop and dance with a broken-down cowboy? It’s Ladies Night, and you’re lookin’ mighty fine in those tight jeans and t-shirt,” I snuggled into her neck.

She sighed, “I’d love to dance with you, and you’re not a broken-down cowboy, baby.”

I smiled, “Driver will you let us off at Billy Bob’s please.”

“My pleasure sir,” Was her reply.

It was a-hoppin’ place tonight. What with Ladies Night and college being out. I walked with Al close to my side. As I scanned the room looking for a table, I saw Half Pint and Jake sitting at one close to the dance floor. I walked us that way.

“Hey, fancy meeting you two here tonight,” I said as I held out a chair for Al.

“Hi! Mac and almost sister. I thought you two would be back at the penthouse. Isn’t it past your bedtime?”

“No, but it may be past yours by the time you get home,” I looked at their drinks.

Jake smiled, “Just coke, Mac and we’re staying in town tonight.”

I raised my eyebrows, “Where exactly?”

Half Pint laughed, “Why, me in our penthouse and Jake in the Yates’ suite.”

I nodded my approval, “Are you doing business tomorrow, Jake?”

“Yes sir, Randy asked me to look at a few horses for sale. He’s looking to expand the trail rides. So, we need a few more horses.”

The waitress came over, “What can I get you?”

“I’ll have a bourbon and coke,” I turned to Al, “What would you like?”

“Um, I’d like a Jack and Dr. Pepper, please.”

“Comin’ right up.”

“So, have y’all danced yet?” I asked when the waitress left.

“Yeah, we’ve been here for a while. We were thinking about getting some food,” replied Half Pint.

I put 40 dollars on the table, “On me, but you have to bring me some fried pickles.”

Half Pint took the money, Jake’s hand, and moved before I changed my mind.

“That was very nice of you,” Al said in my ear.

“No, I just want them to stay as long as we do. I trust Half Pint, but I just don’t know about Jake. I want to like him, but there is just something not right,” I turned and pulled her stool up to mine, “You, on the other hand, have my full, and undivided attention.”

“Good to know,” she leaned up and kissed me, “I want to dance when the drinks get here.”

“Okay, as soon as Jake and Half Pint get back,” I kissed her neck where I had nibbled this evening driving her wild. “My name is Vlad, and I want to drink your blood. But, alas I must be on my best behavior,” I kissed her again. She giggled.

“So, you’re the terrible vampire who impales his enemies on stakes and makes love to beautiful women,” She smiled.

“Well, I’ve given up impaling my enemies. Well maybe, except for one who needs to be careful with my sister. As far as beautiful women, you are the only beautiful woman I’ll ever be making love with,” I looked up to see the waitress coming with our drinks. I put a 20 on the table, “Thank you,” I said not taking my eyes from Al’s.

I took a drink of my bourbon and coke, “Here come the kids, let’s dance.” I pulled her up from the chair and walked to the dance floor. Boys Round Here was playing, and we went into a 3 step as I moved her around the floor. I pulled her close and sang in her ear as we danced. She took great exception to the last words in the chorus.

“Oh no! There’ll be no chewin’ or spittin’ cowboy,” She smiled at me.

I kissed her nose, “Aw now, I don’t even have that ring on your finger yet, and here you are already makin’ rules,” Then I kissed her again, “I don’t chew, so I don’t spit, lover.”

She looked up at me with love in her eyes, and I lost myself in hers. I have no idea how many songs played before we came back to earth. But the floor wasn’t as crowded as it had been. Al had her head on my chest, and I was holding her there. “Lover let’s go sit for a while.”

I took her hand and walked back to the table, “Hey kids did y’all want to dance while we watch the table?”

Jake looked at Half Pint, “Yeah, we would. Thanks, Mac.”

I finished my drink and ate some of the fried pickles that were no longer hot. Al was nursing her drink, so I pulled her as close to me as we could get, “You ready to head back to the penthouse? You look tired.”

She smiled, “I am tired. It’s been a long few days.”

“Well then let’s go to the room and snuggle a while. Maybe watch some TV or a movie.” I moved my hands to her hips, “Would you like me to call the horse carriage back or walk?”

“I think a walk would be good,” She smiled at me, “Some fresh air would be good. It’s not that far.”

We waited for Half Pint and Jake to come back, “We’re going to head back to the hotel. Don’t be too much longer,” I finished Al’s drink, took her hand, and turned to leave. I stopped and turned to Half Pint, “We’re going to sleep in tomorrow, so, keep it down as you’re leaving. Okay?”

“Sure, Mac. I wouldn’t want to disturb your beauty sleep,” Half Pint winked.

“Keep it up and no Santa for you,” I growled at her.

I heard her laughing as we walked away. She sounded happy. I just hoped it stayed that way.

 

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