AN: Okay, I'm aware I should be working on Changing Steps, but I hit a minor plot hole in the road for that one...and these characters have been whispering in my head.

Just as an explanation that I want to post, but you don't need to read: The characters are ones from a new story idea my overactive imagination thought up. It is being planned out and will hopefully be a short story. Summary will be at the bottom so I don't spoil anything.

Sorry if it sounds a bit off - I also don't usually write from a guy's point of view.

Warning: Rather more overt than I usually am comfortable writing, but I wanted to give it a go. Still doesn't go into great detail!!! (I'm not that brave) Let me know if the rating needs to go up.


Landon had been sitting with his two friends, Nathan and Josh, at the same table in the dark pub for hours. Josh was half drunk and Nathan had been trying to sweet-talk the same blonde girl for the last hour. She was smarter than most girls he'd seen since arriving, if her continued rejections were any indication.

Still, she wasn't his type; dressed in a denim mini skirt and green tube top with some kind of cream, woollen bolero over her shoulders. Her hair was light, possibly natural and cut evenly just beyond her shoulders. Hazel eyes were surrounded with dark mascara which looked slightly gothic against her porcelain skin. She was pretty, sure, but almost anorexic in build with little to no muscle mass. She looked fragile.

Landon sat back in his seat, looking around in the hopes another girl would spike his interest. His sister would have his head if she knew he was out of town again, but she wouldn't be hurt by what she didn't know.

His attention fell to a table over the room, its occupants occasionally obscured by the lack of lighting or passing customers.

It looked like a secretive group. They were far from quiet, with the loud hum of argument audible, but were not exactly rowdy. There was one woman with the group of quite small guys. She was older, maybe in her forties. Her hair was bronze auburn and lank but artificially curled at the ends and flaws in her skin, such as the beginning of wrinkles, were not disguised by make up. She was certainly too old for what he wanted.

The group was strange, though, and he was intrigued. All the men seemed to be in good shape, not large and with beer bellies like many of the patrons. He recognised the look somehow, despite his being somewhere he and his friends hadn't been very often.

There were pints of beer in some of the occupants hands, some almost empty and others barely touched and even a black Stetson sat on the surface but a large sheet of paper with even, fold lines took most of the space. Even at his distance, the sheet looked worn and old but Landon couldn't positively tell what it was.

His attention was forced onward by movement towards the table – the only obvious destination as it was the only occupied one that side of the room. This was much more his thing.

She was young, maybe early twenties but the manner in which she held herself seemed even more youthful than that. She clearly lived happily. Her skin was tanned and flawless and she had thick autumn copper hair that was curled messily down her back. Then his gaze travelled down to take in her chosen attire.

All he could see was that she was wearing a pale brown cardigan that her folded arms held closed and fell to her knees. Her legs were long and slender but clearly muscled and hidden to half her calves in tan, heeled cowboy boots. Landon had a moment of fun speculating just how she kept the slender muscles.

She was clearly beautiful, from a good gene pool, and the fact her clothes were hidden under a cardigan was somehow sexier than the revealing dresses of the other girls around. The instant attraction, however, turned to more intrigue as she stopped in front of the table. She was faced away from him, and his eyes lingered on the backs of her knees and he could imagine the silky feel of the sun darkened skin.

Movement dragged his eyes to the table, where she had thrown down a manila envelope. Her features weren't discernible at this distance, but she was clearly scowling.

Josh nudged him, but Landon was fully integrated into the goings on at the table. It was clear from the changed demeanour of the guys there; he was not the only one who could notice how attractive she was.

The hum of conversation continued, and just as Landon wished he could hear, she unfolded her arms and gestured at a guy before snagging a chair from a neighbouring table.

With a single, fluid movement, she turned and sat on it, throwing one leg over the other and leant back to listen as a dark haired man leaned forward to put a point across.

The cardigan fell to either side, exposing a flowing white skirt that was clearly no longer than her knees and had risen up enticingly when she sat. She didn't appear to notice or if she did, she clearly didn't notice the affect it had on most of the small men at the table and him across the pub.

Completely uncaring, a refreshing change from the girls he came across regularly, she scooped back her abundant copper curls and knotted them messily at the nape of her neck before leaning in to argue her own point. Her neck clear of the thick tresses, Landon could see the slender column in its entirety, sloping down to delicate collarbones set like wings above an ample chest that was not indecently covered with a scoop neck lilac t-shirt. There was only so much good genes could do for anyone and Landon wanted more than ever to know just what she did for a living and why she was here now. She looked like she could be a complete spit fire, too if the argument commencing again was anything to go by. Typical red-head.

It was then that the idea struck him and he cursed that he hadn't thought it up sooner. The bar was much closer to that table than he was. Since he'd first caught on to the table in the corner it had grown those few minutes closer to closing time and the room was quiet enough he might be able to hear.

"Anyone want a refill?" Landon offered his friends. More drinks would take longer to make.

"Sure, pint, Mate," Josh slurred, downing the last of his. His words may be strung together but it would be at least three pints more before he couldn't walk in a straight line or make sense. Josh was tolerant like that.

"Usual," Nathan added. Usual was an odd mixed drink that somehow looked good, tasted terrible and offered a warm buzz that usually took a couple of scotches.

Landon nodded and stood, walking as efficiently as possible to the bar. He took a stool as close as he could get without being suspicious and flagged the bar tender. He was in luck; the guy was only halfway through an order for someone else's table.

He turned his attention to the counter top and focused intently on what he could hear from that corner.

"…makes no sense," one of the guys was saying. His voice was low and insistent but with the same sluggish quality Josh's had. He was tipsy. "It's gonna be far too dense."

"You're dense," the girl interrupted, her voice clear from any of the surrounding thick air or alcohol. It had a dark edge to it, though and sounded very odd simply because she had no recognisable accent. It was like her own language. "What are you doing this for if you aren't up to get your hands dirty?"

Landon could imagine the scowl and he fought the urge to turn and look at the odd assembly of characters closer up.

"It's a new track," the older woman's voice joined in, hers throaty and weary, as if this was an old argument. "We don't want to be doing the same ones over – the horses won't care to run."

Horses? Running? – was this group into racing? He'd heard of them. He never really paid attention so he couldn't be sure if they were legal, but they were shady. Whether the money was good vastly depended on the reasons behind someone setting up the race, but he knew that some sponsors simply took entry fees and used that as prize money for a good time. It didn't answer why this group of apparent contenders in such an event were planning what seemed to be the route.

Landon's concentration was disturbed by the bartender making his way over. Landon reeled off his order and refocused on the conversation behind him.

It struck him in that second just how she was so slender in appearance and yet had fine, sinewy muscles down her legs. Horse riding, like he himself did up at the family's farm, would easily condition the rider's body the way training did a horse's. Still, racing was not all she did. Like a jumping horse had thick, powerful muscle in the hindquarters, an endurance horse had sleek muscles for a streamlined form. Those muscles were what hers were and that alone told him she spent a great deal of time on horseback.

Another male voice, this one gruff, took his turn in the fray, "So what? We can't go over any of this range –" Landon assumed they were referring to what was apparently a map spread over the table "— if we're going through that wood, there had better be no check points until we hit the other side."

"Aww," the younger girl chimed in, voice even and light but with a subtle edge of mocking. "Don't think you could grab them what with all the ferns slowing you down?"

"Oh, Sweetheart, it takes a whole lot more than ferns to slow me down."

"So it should, if you're as…experienced… as you say," she shot back. The pause she used in her words was very deliberate, and it settled wrong with Landon who could not read body language or see them but just hear their voices. Was the girl flirting with them? She clearly knew them, sure, but it was obvious she was out of their league.

She kept going, "Put a check point on the hill before and one on the other side. All you got to worry your precious self about then is avoiding the pretty trees."

Landon smirked. She was falling heavier on the mocking and it seemed the insult to their abilities as horse riders would work in her favour to get the particular track they were arguing about.

There was a pause until a drink slammed onto the table. The voice was the tipsy one from earlier but he sounded on edge and the reason was not obvious, "You got it. We'll ride out tomorrow and set up the batons."

The girl had picked up on it though, "You feeling a little stressy, there, Doug?"

"Why?" he fired back instantly. "Thinking about helping me relax?"

"Not on your life," she said lightly. "I'd sooner go home with Pip."

Two voices spoke at once after that. Doug, the tipsy guy blurted out in a faked insulted tone, "Pipsqueak? That hurts, Honey."

The high, almost effeminate second outburst was from a guy who until now had been silent. "Low blows tonight, Dougie boy."

Landon had to remind himself he shouldn't have heard and therefore must not laugh. Pipsqueak was without a doubt a nickname, but perfectly fitting from the little he'd heard so far. The amusement over-rode the uncomfortable churning in his stomach that the copper haired beauty was going home with anyone. Just for a second.

"Is this a wrap, then, Kids?" The older woman's voice asked into the middle of the irritated protest from Doug. "I gotta get back and my bet is this night ain't over for some of you."

"It would be if Honey here would just accept I can show her a good time."

That voice was the gruff one and Landon rolled his eyes.

"Call me Honey one more time and you won't be showing anybody a good time," she warned, voice edged with sure darkness again. It lightened to almost teasing nature with her next words, "Also, won't be a good time if your jockey height's any kind of indication."

The insinuation hadn't gone over the guy's apparently short head.

"I could prove you wrong."

"Really couldn't. My method of selection is foolproof."

"You've seen me race." Landon could almost feel the leer of the guy. His drinks were placed in front of him before the bartender moved off and he reined in a smirk as he heard her snort in a fashion he hadn't been expecting.

"Exactly; the way you flap about on that poor gelding I'm amazed you've seen the inside of a girl's bedroom door."

The table laughed at the guy's expense and in the next second, chairs clattered against the floor as people rose.

Landon took a stunned second for it to settle that this girl apparently chose her company by how well they could ride. Sure, he bet he could win her over either way, but there was no denying the small thrill that his horse was penned currently with his friends' just down the street in the back yard of their hotel. Right now, he loved his sister for introducing him to the idea of racing back when they had been young and enjoyed helping out on the farm.

Goodbyes were said and Landon leant over to get the bartender's attention back.

"Do you know about any really dense forest around this area?"

The man nodded, throwing his tea towel over his shoulder before leaning on his side of the counter and beginning to give him a general layout of the woodland.

Landon took his drinks back to his table, already concocting.

It would not prove difficult to find the race, now he had an idea of where to look. He had to be up early though; it had never been mentioned just what time they were planning to start.

With that in mind, he decided he should probably head back. The bar had pretty much closed for the night, part of why it had taken a long time to get his order. He didn't feel the need for an alcohol buzz and there was no way he wanted to share his bed with any of the girls still left in the room. Not since he'd set eyes on the copper haired girl who was both so out of place and clearly comfortable in the pub.

But before he'd made to get up, he froze. On the last cursory glance around the place, his eyes landed on copper hair in a messy tangle of natural curls. She had found a seat elsewhere, away from the corner that now looked oddly empty without the compilation of oddly assorted characters. Again, her cardigan had fallen open, skirt high and one leg thrown over the other. She was settled back with her eyes intently scanning a thick wad of A5 paper that he realised quickly was the map they had been looking at.

"Back later, guys," Landon murmured. Nathan was finally lip-locked with the blonde girl that had been at their table for hours and Josh was working on the pint that had just gotten to the table.

"Or not," Josh smirked, but Landon wasn't listening.

He moved through the few tables to get to her and indicated the chair next to her as soon as she looked up.

"Could I take this seat?"

"Free country," she replied, voice devoid of anything that could tell him what she was thinking. "At least I think it is. I'm not too clear on it anymore."

"Well for now it is, then," Landon smirked, dropping down beside her.

She looked at him and he took in her features now that they were that much closer. She had a fine jaw, full, pale lips with even teeth and pointed canines visible in a friendly smile. Her eyes were cornflower vibrant blue with a crystalline faceted look in the muted light and somehow fierce and soft, surrounded by dark, curled lashes. He was lost on how someone could be lucky enough to have the parents that could pass on this combination of genetics. No one was perfect, though, he knew. So if she looked amazing, maybe she had severe personality flaws.

So far she was smiling at him and didn't seem as though she wanted him to just go away, but neither was she as loose or open as she had been at the table with the mix of strangers.

He wondered how she would take it if he just kissed her, but decided it would probably not work out in his favour until he'd talked her around a bit.

"What are you doing here?" he asked. It seemed open to him. Nothing too personal but it would hopefully have an answer he really wanted.

She sucked on her lower lip and shifted in her seat. A second passed and she breathed out, "Running away."

That seemed simple enough to be the truth. He had expected her to evade the point but was pleased that she was not as easy to predict as he had predicted.

"What are you running from?"

"Everything."

Well that was informative. He could hear the sarcasm in his head. But she wasn't done.

"I was given the wrong life when god picked names out of a hat, so I got out. 'Course the parents couldn't just let go… so I'm running."

Okay then.

"What is the right life?"

She looked shocked for a second then her expression morphed into a slightly wicked smile, "You ever heard the song 'A Place Called Home'?"

Landon frowned as he sorted through his memories, "No. I don't think so."

"Song of my life," she stated softly. Abruptly her demeanour changed; the vitality tangible. "I ride, I race and I keep moving. No one knows I exist."

Judging by the way she'd commandeered his attention since striding in, and the fact almost all he was thinking about now was how to get her into his bed, he very much doubted that.

"I bet there are more than a few people who haven't forgotten you exist," Landon remarked. That was the other thing. The way she talked, from what he'd over heard, she hadn't exactly lived like a nun for all the time she'd been running. There was no way any of those guys had simply forgotten her.

She set down the map and turned to him with a calculating expression. A copper curl caught around her neck and it was frustrating because he knew she wouldn't accept him pushing it away like many other girls would.

"I know what you want," she told him, a half smile tugging at the corner of her lips.

Landon raised an eyebrow. He didn't think it was that obvious but then again he had approached a beautiful girl in a pub late at night and used a lousy pick up line. She was hardly oblivious in reading people and as he'd already figured, not new to propositions.

He thought about it. Her blunt statement had been intended to throw him off, he was sure of that. Still, if she was running, always moving somewhere new and sticking to the bare essentials of living, she didn't have relationships.

With that thought he wondered what the likelihood was that he could convince her to spend the night with him. She had met guys like him before; he just wondered whether or not she'd ever given in to any one of them.

"What do I want?" he asked, trying to work out how best to approach this topic. He was beginning to think honesty would probably work best.

Her lips quirked again and she folded her arms, "Me. For sex."

Well, that was…blunt. And very true.

Still, he didn't let it show, just nodded, "You'd be right. I'm a guy and I have a pretty good imagination. You're just unlucky enough to be a beautiful girl in a pub of artificial pretty faces."

"You're modest," she commented, demeanour shifting slightly but not enough that he could tell where she was going with it. "I wouldn't call it unlucky. Of all the guys who could have come over here – I got you. Not exactly my last choice should I get one."

"I'm flattered," Landon commented. "How high on that list do I come?"

"Shall we say my expectations are high?"

Landon smirked. He was sure that was a yes. There was just one thing he wanted to pick on.

"And why is that? Do you have a chart to judge your expectations on?"

Like riding? He thought wickedly.

"Sure," she smiled. It was genuine and free, something he hadn't expected from someone always on the lookout like her. It stumped him again. "I go by height and how well he can ride a horse."

He remembered the jibe at the height of her friends earlier and he found himself smiling again.

"Well you will be pleased to know I own a horse and have been riding since I was four."

"I can beat you there," she smirked. He liked the way her expression could change so easily. "I was carried on a horse before I was two by a friend of the family."

"You got a horse now?" For some reason, he wasn't rushing her back to his hotel room. He told himself it was because he couldn't do that with her, she was too smart to be seduced that way but he knew the truth of it was he was enjoying talking to her.

She was with out a doubt the first girl he'd met that was beautiful, witty, a horse girl and could give as good as she got with the guys.

She was nodding. "Sure. She's outside."

"She?" Mares weren't really used for work, let alone racing. They were temperamental while geldings did as they were told and took training better.

The first flash of defensiveness ran through her eyes so quickly that it looked like blue fire igniting before they returned to normal. He quickly realised that she took everything about her horse to heart. He guessed if she was running and the horse was with her, it was the only companion she'd truly had for some time.

"Yeah, she's seven. I've had her years and I know that more than anything in the world, she loves to run."

"Sounds like you were made for each other," Landon teased, trying to impart on her he meant nothing against the horse.

She seemed to understand, "Sorry. It's kind of personal where she's concerned."

"Understandable," he nodded. "She's good, then? What breed is she? Thoroughbred? Quarter Horse? Don't tell me she's Arabian."

She laughed and the sound was not comparable to anything. Not the girlish giggles of the many girls he was accustomed to and not the deeper full blown ones his sister was sometimes prone to. It was like bell chimes in autumn somehow. That was what he imagined.

"No. I think there's Arabian in there somewhere – she's all fine and slender with the dished face and what not…but no. If you saw her you'd see. Her croup isn't level and her tail only goes up when she's flat out. She isn't as long in the back as a Thoroughbred but she can turn on a dollar like a Quarter Horse. It's quite difficult to tell."

And she could talk horses too. Maybe they could stay in contact after tonight.

"You said you own a horse?"

He nodded, "He's almost ten, mostly Quarter. Chestnut, he's a working horse; I trained him so he could help on the farm."

She smiled, "He got a name?"

Landon smiled, "Does yours?"

"Yep. After you."

Landon let out a breath, "His name's Oxa. I didn't choose the name, so don't give me any funny looks. What's your mare called?"

"Come meet her," the girl put out, sounding more like an offer.

Landon nodded and moved to stand up. She easily untangled her legs and rose fluidly to her feet beside him. They walked out shoulder to shoulder and Landon threw one last glance at his friends. Nathan winked and Josh didn't notice.

Outside the pub was a small parking lot. It was sparsely occupied by three open top Cadillac cars with bull horns on the front grills. A fence line ran along the right side to bar the small lawn between the pub and a bookstore that was closed up for the night, all the windows black.

Standing the other side of the fence and grazing easily was a pretty horse, black from her muzzle to her hooves with a long mane and tail. She was as the girl had described, delicate but with the subtle muscle under the silky coat that told of her enduring stamina. The mare looked up as they approached and the girl beside him crouched by the shadow of long grass where she withdrew a saddle, bridle and set of bags.

Despite the heels and short skirt, she climbed the post and rail fence, oblivious to the effect on him again, and tacked up the horse with deft movements. She tossed an old messenger bag over the saddle last and walked the mare down the line until she found the rails that slipped off as a gateway.

Landon joined her and she looked up at him, as far as he could tell without nervousness or discomfort.

"I guess this is the time to decide – a, do you want out? Or b, your place or mine?"

For a second he was silent. He could barely believe she was giving him an out, but he knew she would have to be the one to walk away because there was no way it was going to be him. He was never too bothered with going to his place. He took care to move on after an encounter and he was an early riser so he could generally avoid the girl either way. That in mind, he smiled again as he came to a decision.

"I've got a hotel room for the night, before I head out."

"You're heading out?" she didn't sound particularly surprised. Or offended. It was new for him where many girls wanted him to stick around. "Home? Or somewhere else on the trail?"

The way she said 'home' piqued his interest. Her voice had an edge again, as though the idea of it were foreign to her. Then he remembered. The concept of belonging somewhere was possibly strange to her, if she had been running all this time.

"Heading towards home," he settled on. "Possibly a few more stops on route."

"Lead the way," she gestured with an arm and he nodded as he led her out of the parking lot and down the street, the black horse walking at her side with the air of both a protector and lost lamb. The hotel was the tallest building in the vicinity, and not easy to miss, so he thought to answer some more questions on the trip.

"I'm going to guess you're heading on too?"

"Never stay somewhere too long," she spoke up, clutching the cardigan around her tightly. The evening was not particularly cold so he guessed it was a subconscious method of fending off questions that would get too personal. "I learnt that lesson the hard way."

Landon didn't ask how. Instead he sought for a new topic, and it came to him in such simplicity. How had they avoided this?

Okay, he had been a little focused on how to seduce her, but still.

"What's your name?"

She glanced up at him, and this was another disparity that he found enthralling. Asking for a name meant there was some familiarity, which most girls liked when intimacy was involved. She looked as though she would rather he'd never brought it up. It was now he realised she had avoided naming her horse, too.

"Is it of any importance?"

He smiled at her evasion, "Oh, I think so. See as much as I'm looking forward to this, you intrigue me as a person and a name is generally a large part of learning who someone is. I'm Landon."

She surveyed him for a moment but nodded as they stopped at the large pen holding three horses in the shadow of the hotel.

"My name's Axella. She's Fluke."

Take the easy one first, Landon thought. "Fluke? How did you decide on that?" to him it sounded a little masculine, but despite that, looking at her it somehow worked.

"Everything with her is kind of a fluke. She was severely malnourished when I found her; it was miraculous that she let me get on her the first time. It was a complete accident that I found out about her speed capabilities and there's more that you probably wouldn't understand. She's a chain of coincidences and from the first one I nicknamed her Fluke even if she really has another name."

"Which is?" Landon pressed as she hid the tack in a corner again and watched the mare trot out into the pen.

"Russian Tourmaline," she snorted, clearly derisive even if the mare looked refined enough for such a name.

"Russian?" he was skeptical.

"Spposed to be Russia for short. Don't ask."

"And what about you?" he finally returned to the original answer. "Axella?"

She shivered, and Landon felt the warm thrum of satisfaction tremble through his body. He was good at seduction, he'd had practice and saying a girl's name in a particular tone was an effective weapon.

This case proved especially so because he doubted she heard her own name much at all, let alone said to her in such a tone. It was a boost to know he could affect her like that.

She turned to him, eyes falling away from the four horses and she shouldered her old messenger bag.

He stepped forward, invading her personal space for the first time. He was assaulted instantly by the tantalising scent of jasmine and orchids – flowers he was exposed to at home because of his mother's fondness for them among others. The scent wasn't from her hair, though, which looked dark red in the night. Instead it seemed to seep from her skin itself.

Would she let him kiss her now?

He figured she would, they were minutes away from doing a whole lot more, anyway. She hardly seemed like the type to shy away just because they were in the open.

She looked up at him, eyes clear and steady. This close, he could see the shade of blue was created with swirling hues ranging from almost white blue all the way to cobalt with silvery flecks that farther away resulted in the faceted effect. Had her mother or father given her those eyes? Or did it go farther back? To her grandparents? Great grandparents? He'd never seen anything like it and he'd looked into the eyes of more than a few women.

Somehow, he knew he couldn't touch her. Not out here, not when he would have to stop. And yet, he was going to initiate this contact.

She didn't back away, duck her head or tense as he slowly lowered his head until he was inhaling the same air she exhaled and it felt strangely like they were the only two people breathing on the entire planet.

He couldn't remember ever wanting anyone like that.

The moment passed, his eyes closed and Landon felt her lips part easily under his, allowing and even encouraging his assault on her mouth. She didn't taste of flowers. She tasted like some sort of exotic fruit which was both tangy and sweet with the blazing sensation of putting his mouth to a naked flame. He was reminded inadvertently of the blue fire that raced through her eyes when he had unintentionally given her cause to defend her horse…Fluke.

He felt her touch then. Her delicate hand brushed around the side of his neck, leaving paths of searing heat behind that prickled his skin like tiny needles in a way that was actually pleasurable. He felt her fingers knot gently into the dark hair at the nape of his neck and he forgot he shouldn't touch her yet. He fisted her cardigan in a hand and used it to pull her even closer. Her slight body blocking the night air in front of him reminded him they were outside. He tore his mouth from hers and she inhaled in a sudden, ragged gasp still so close he could feel the move of the air. Her taste still lingered on his tongue and the roof of his mouth, very real and more tangible than her in some ways.

She could kiss. He half wanted to know who had taught her. If that was an idea of the rest of the night…he would easily deal with running into her again, in another town, another time…

It hit him then that she was like him in this way. She did no strings because of the gratification while still never having to answer to anyone or explain anything. They both took what they wanted and moved on.

She was moving on; tomorrow or the day after, he didn't know, but she was. It was unlikely he would ever lay eyes on her again – it truly would be as if she had never existed. All he would be left with would be an echo. Her lingering scent, the memory of what she felt like and how she spoke, even how she tasted – all echoes of someone who did not truly exist but was never truly forgotten.

For the first time he could remember, he wanted something different. He wanted the knowledge that in five months or five years, he'd run into her again…but that was not possible and he was not ready to face his feelings on that realisation.


It was only just getting light when he came around.

He shifted stiffly to his side, and in the orange hue through the closed curtains, took in the girl…Axella…in another time she would never know about.

Her muted copper curls were spread over the pillow she was using, dark lashes cast receding shadows on her tanned cheeks and her lips were slightly parted.

She was peaceful, unmoving and her even, deep breaths were almost inaudible even in the still morning. Her arms were clutched in front of her, one hand fisting a corner of the white bed sheet over her unclothed chest. Still, turned away from him as she was, the curve of her shoulder and arch of her back was exposed to his gaze.

There, peeking around the edge of the fabric, were the smooth black, criss crossing lines of tiny kanji symbols in a vertical line down the side of her left hip bone. They had surprised him as much as similar symbols in the same tattoo ink in a similar line on the inside of her right wrist, running over the vein alongside the tendons. She didn't seem the type to be tattooed and yet so much of her was unpredictable that he should have learnt by now to expect the last thing he should.

The sun had climbed a fraction higher while he watched her but he had to get up. He dragged on the jeans from the night before and picked up a clean t-shirt from the travel bag near the bathroom door.

He slipped into the adjoining bathroom, letting the door swing almost completely closed and ran the hot tap. It was pointless getting a shower if he was riding out in an hour or so where he would be dusty and sweaty again shortly. He settled with dunking almost his entire head under the lukewarm jet to wake himself up then shaving and brushing his teeth reluctantly.

Landon re-entered the main room, tugging his t-shirt on and paused when he realised very quickly that the bed was empty.

Equally fast, he noticed the girl in question was standing against the small kitchen unit all the hotel rooms in the building were provided with. Her hair was still loose, boots off and she'd re-dressed into the white skirt but it was accompanied by a soft yellow top with an elastic off the shoulder neckline and black cord hem just above her in-turned belly button.

Despite feeling sated and even a little stiff from the night before, and its repeats, just laying eyes on her reminded him of the feel of muscles that otherwise were not visible under the sun-dark skin of her flat stomach. Deliberately, he focused his gaze on her face.

In the second he'd taken to sweep his eyes over her again, Axella had noticed him and looked up from the folded map that she must have made sure to grab from the pub.

The smile she gave him was open and friendly with no hint of the forward seductress she could be. It didn't keep his memory at bay, though.

"Traffic news came on a second ago," she told him, the first coherent words he'd heard since kissing her by the horse pen the night before. "If you're bombing out of town on that donkey downstairs you might want to avoid the highway."

"Oh, why's that?" He decided to follow her with the simple conversation.

"It got closed off because of an accident," Axella said quietly. He could hear the compassion in her tone and he strode over to lean against the unit next to her. Not so simple, then. "A car hit the corner pylon and rebounded onto the road. It caught a truck by the bull bars and the both went over the cliff. The drivers were killed and a woman in the passenger seat of the truck was air lifted to a hospital in the city towards the west."

That was detailed, to say the least. "That was all on the traffic news?" he didn't even think the radio transmission was that good here.

She smiled softly, "Yup. I got a good memory."

They lapsed into silence, Axella turning her attention back to the map.

"There a reason that's so interesting?" he asked with no inflection in his tone apart from curiosity.

"I don't get lucky at racing because of Fluke. Sure, a lot of it is she trusts me, but I find it helps to know the land."

A straight answer that seemed sensible enough to be the truth. She slapped it lightly against his chest and Landon automatically took it while she walked away to fetch her messenger bag.

"Look at it," she instructed, fishing out her own toothbrush and folding away the pale cardigan he'd pushed off her shoulders before. "It's got all the details on terrain and elevation, slope of the land and density. I can avoid the boggy ground and keep to the hard stuff that lets her gallop with less effort."

He smiled to himself as she headed for the bathroom. The tactical way she planned her races both amused him and told him he was a little dense himself. He'd never really considered there was so many ways to make it easier for the horse.

She reappeared in the next second, hair again knotted carelessly and slinging the messenger bag onto her shoulder.

"I should go," she said and he could again note the lack of nerves or awkwardness in her voice. "I have to get Fluke ready and split before the cops turn up about the accident."

He realised her plans had been shifted by the incident and nodded. She approached and made to snatch back the map, but with a smirk, he yanked on it and wound an arm around her small waist as she was flung against him. He tossed the map onto the counter and wrapped a hand around her neck, fingers entwining through the copper curls as he tilted her head.

He caught the flash of a smirk of her own before his eyes closed and she met the kiss eagerly. Her touch - as searing as before - wandered down his torso and across his side and then suddenly, he could breathe again.

She smirked up at him and withdrew, putting the map she had snagged into her bag along with everything else.

They both had to leave. She was avoiding cops and he had to find his friends. If he'd known kissing her again would fog his mind this much…well...yeah, he might still have done it.

She pulled on her boots by the door and he picked up the only bag he had.

"I'll join you," he left no room for argument and followed her out the door.

Landon did not disturb the silence on the way out of the building. His curiosity was being piqued yet again by words she'd spoken a while before. She was running away, but why would any cops continue to look for her this long just because her parents were in denial – let alone ones so far away from where she went missing? The law could have something on her and therefore wanted her for their own motives; her parents could be friends with a well connected department or officer – heck her father could be one! Or…and it was all guesswork anyway…her family had a lot of pull with anyone, not just the police.

She was beautiful, that he already knew. Could she be from one of the old, rich families too? Still, he'd known her a day and she was the last person he'd connect with ballrooms and diamonds.

Still, he was one guy on her never-ending, winding road; just like she should be one girl on his. It was not his place to ask.

Fluke was standing at the gate but her tail flicked irritably and her ears were pinned in clear annoyance while his chestnut gelding walked up and down the fence line persistently. He never got close enough for the threats to be followed up on, but he never left her vicinity either.

Axella found it amusing.

"Sorry, Baby girl," she chuckled, rubbing the mare's face as they stopped. "If you're in season you're gonna get donkeys like him on your tail."

Landon shook his head at her words, "That's the second time you've called my horse a donkey."

"Won't be the last," she smiled brightly as she grabbed the horse's tack and saddlebags from the grass. They both knew it probably would be.

Fluke kept a beady eye on Oxa as she was tacked up and only loosened her muscles when Axella had led her out of the gate.

She drew the bag strap over her head, so it was more secure and used the fence to fling herself into the saddle.

Landon raised his eyebrows, feeling his blood rush faster. She was going to ride in that skirt? It was barely decent, but again, she didn't seem to care. He guessed she had no reason. She was travelling alone, probably off the usual trails if she had a map, so would anyone see her anyway?

She crossed the stirrups over Fluke's neck, in front of the saddle and settled into it comfortably, intending to ride with her seat only. It was probably safer, wearing heels like she was.

She smiled down at him again.

"I guess this is bye, then. Should I be saying thank you?"

He laughed, "It was nice to meet you, Axella."

She bit on her lower lip, looking uncomfortable for a second.

He smiled, "Echo, then."

"Pardon?" she asked, an eyebrow raised.

"Never had a nickname? I'm going with Echo."

She frowned, "Why Echo?"

"That's what you are, isn't it? You leave each place and person you meet with only memories of who you were so no one can find you."

She smiled softly, "First time I've had a nickname."

"Glad I could correct this neglected aspect of your experiences."

She laughed. Abruptly the sound died away, leaving the still early morning quiet. "Bye, Landon."

He nodded, "Take care, okay."

She leant down, "Always do."

Gently, she curled her fingers around his neck and pressed a chase kiss to his lips, one that could have been platonic in comparison to those before. She let him go and Landon pushed his thumbs into his front jeans pockets. Fluke turned around, tail flicking out and snorting loudly. That was a horse who knew what was coming.

Axella smiled down at the mare, and sat as tall as she could, no longer really aware of him; her horse that much more integral to her.

Fluke got trotting quickly, and in only a few strides had broken to a canter, head tossing and legs stretching out on the dusty path in an effort to convey her impatience.

Oxa came to stand beside him, blowing out through his nose softly as the black horse finally gained a four beat stride. He watched the copper haired girl sit tight and shift easily in the saddle, legs closed around the mare's ebony sides and in only minutes, they had navigated the incline around the side of the hotel pen and raced along the open grassland at the top, heading at full throttle towards the first trees of the woodland that surrounded the small town.

Landon patted the chestnut on the neck, realising for the first time its very similar shade to Axella's hair. Just what he needed; reminders of the girl who had so enthralled him but whom he'd never see again.

He headed back for the hotel, knowing his friends would find him there soon and wanting to get one last question answered before he forgot.

The desk in the lobby was occupied by a young woman with dark hair and wearing a flower printed summer dress. She smiled up at him when he stopped the other side.

"Can I help you?"

"I wonder if I could trouble you to use a computer for just a minute?" Landon asked, giving the woman a charming smile.

She hesitated but nodded, "For a moment."

She indicated him to take a seat in the empty chair next to her own, in front of the second computer used to book guests.

He quickly opened a window to connect to the internet, which was agonisingly slow. He tapped into the keyboard what he was looking for, ran a search and leant forward to read the words spread across the screen, trying to ingrain them to memory.

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Search | :: http://www[.]cowboylyrics[.]com/lyrics/richey-kim/a-place-called-home-13167[.]html |

Kim Richey – A Place Called Home

Well, it's not hard to see
Anyone who looks at me
Knows I am just a rolling stone
Never landing anyplace to call my own
To call my own

Well, it seems like so long ago
But it really ain't you know
I started out a crazy kid
Miracle I made it through the things I did
The things I did

Someday I'll go where there ain't no rain or snow
'Til then, I travel alone
And I make my bed with the stars above my head
And dream of a place called home

I had a chance to settle down
Get a job and live in town
Work in some old factory
I never liked the foreman standing over me
Over me

Oh I'd rather walk a winding road
Rather know the things I know
See the world with my own eyes
No regrets, no looking back, no goodbyes
No goodbyes

Someday I'll go where there ain't no rain or snow
'Til then, I travel alone
And I make my bed with the stars above my head
And I dream of a place called home


AN: Any feedback is appreciated!

--The web address above is legit, if anyone was slightly interested in looking it up --=)?

Axella, Fluke, Landon, Oxa - even Josh and Nathan - are characters in the main story I'm half working on. The main one (from which this is just one day in Axella's life and happens in the duration of that plot) is told from Axella's point of view. I think I do girls better.

Axella was seventeen when she reached the breaking point and took Fluke in the middle of the night and ran away. She was raised in high society and when she turned 18 her mother had already arranged for her to be a debutante, be introduced to society and begin attending parties in order to look for a suitor...basically the whole enchilada. The story takes place - apart from the prologue - three years after when she leaves another town and decides to help a young girl - the victim of a horse riding accident she witnessed - get home. Home for that girl happens to be a horse farm with acres of open land, a family community and possibly, a place for Axella to finally belong.

I'll leave you to guess where Landon fits in. I don't know when or if the story will go up on here, but if you'd like to see it, leave a review and let me know.