There’s something about a horse barn in the early morning hours that makes my heart full. I love walking into the barn hearing the horses chewing on the sweet alfalfa and feeling their contentment. This is where I feel most like myself, this is where I am no longer Paige Vandenberg, daughter of millionaires or the chubby rich girl. I am just me and I am free.
I have been raised around horses my whole life. My parents own a large horse farm in the picturesque Dutch town of Lynden, Washington. Lynden sits just a few miles south of the Canadian border and truly is a small town. My family is one of the oldest families and we own or have owned practically everything. You can’t drive down the main road and not see Vandenberg scrolled on something. For many people I’m sure this sounds wonderful, but to me it’s a prison. One in which I fully intend to break free of next year when I leave for college. I will miss my family and of course my horses but I will not miss the people, and especially not resident bad boy Cutter Daniels. I hate him.
*Warning contains sexual content and coarse language. Mature audiences only 18+ years old.
“Hurry up Paige. We are going to miss Luke Bryan! I can’t miss meeting my future husband!”
One of my best friends Lacey is attempting to prod me along through the horse barns at the county fair. Lacey is stunning. She is your classic pretty country girl, skinny, blonde, blue eyes and energy for days. She is boy crazy and sometimes just plain crazy, but I love her. I however, am more reserved and very content just looking at the horses.
Lacey is at least twenty feet in front of me and is trying to maneuver through the ever growing crowd. I start to walk more quickly but am still focused on the horses. I should have been watching where I was going because I run smack into something hard. I look up to see what I hit and I come face to face with ice blue eyes and the wickedest grin I have ever seen. They belong to none other than Cutter Daniels, local bad boy extraordinaire. He is gorgeous to say the least. He’s a local farm kid. He has the most delicious natural dark tan from being in the sun all day. It complements his sun bleached hair that is spiked perfectly into a faux hawk. He is wearing jeans hung low on his hips with a plain navy t-shirt that accents his skin and eyes perfectly.
“I’m so sorry I wasn’t watching where I was going. I was distracted.” I attempt to retreat quickly but a large hand grabs my wrist. The moment he touches me I feel a jolt like I have grabbed a hot wire fence. Whoa, what the heck is that about?
“You’re Paige, right?” He looks at me quizzically. Like he didn’t already know who I am! Of course he knows who I am. I am infamous in this stupid small town.
I was just about to croak out a yes and hope to hell he releases me when I hear from down the barn aisle my worst fear come to life. “Cutter, what the hell man! Why are you talking to the Piggy Princess?”
That of course is Cutter’s older brother, Cooper Daniels. He is the devil incarnate. He has the most obnoxious red hair and thick freckles. He looks exactly like the mean boy from A Christmas Story, minus the raccoon skin hat.
As soon as I hear my lovely nickname I stiffen and begin to walk away swiftly without looking back. Cooper loves to make me cry and I am not going through that today. I refuse to ruin a perfectly good Luke Bryan experience due to that angry red head.
I finally catch up with Lacey and she is talking to some local boys. I know the guys go to the same school as her. Lacey attends public school and has lots of friends. I go to private school in the city and have a private tutor to accompany me at the horse shows. I am reluctant to approach them because I recognize the guys as friends of the Daniels brothers and any friend of theirs is for sure not a friend of mine. As I approach them I can hear Lacey saying “I’m only coming if Paige comes.” Oh great, what is Lacey getting us into now.
Lacey and I have been friends for years. Her Dad works at our farm training horses. Lacey and her family live in a house on our sprawling compound so I see her every day. We ride horses together when we get home from school and we attend competitions together. Lacey is a really talented rider, I think she is more talented than her Dad, Titus Cunningham. I tell her this all the time but she doesn’t seem to believe me. Lacey is fearless. She will just jump on a wild young horse and go for it, no hesitation. She is always telling me to stop hesitating that it’s going to kill me one day. She’s probably right. I’m just more cautious than her. She is wild and I am well, just plain boring.
“Great you’re here, finally!” I know she is upset I took so long looking at the horses, but I don’t really care.
“We are going to the river party tonight. Drake and Tripp just invited us.” She knows I am going to say no but I refuse to have this conversation in front of the guys so I just smile and nod okay.
Drake and Tripp are good friends with Cutter. This alone makes me want to run in the other direction. I know they are only allowing me to come along because they want Lacey to be at their party. I know that should sting but years of their distain has frankly just made me numb.
“Great. We will see you tonight.” Drake says before the guys wonder off to find their seats.
Lacey turns to me with a look of seriousness. “Before you say no, I will remind you that it’s my Birthday and you agreed to do whatever I want. And I want to go to the party so we are going.” Great, she has me by the lady balls on this one.
“Okay we will go, but the first sign of drama and I am out.” I state sternly.
“I will be right behind you Chica. This is going to be great! What are we going to wear?” Yeah, I was totally screwed. Thank God for some Luke Bryan therapy before I dive head first into what I know is sure to be an epic fail.
After taking two hours to primp and get dress, we were finally in my black Range Rover headed to the river. I have chosen to go more conservative than Lacey. I am wearing my skinny jeans, my favorite Sperry Topsiders and lace top. I did my signature long blonde hair in loose waves. I was glad I had just had a spray tan done, as my Mother always says “if you can’t tone it, tan it.” Well yeah, let’s just say my spray tan lady is on speed dial. Not that I think I’m fat, I don’t. I guess I just consider myself to have some extra curves, kind of like Miranda Lambert before the recent slim down. I wish I was tiny like Lacey but I’m not, I’m just average.
Lacey has chosen to wear a sundress with a giant cutout in the back and cowboy boots. Oh and lets not mention it is like two sizes too small for her, it is practically painted on but she still looks amazing. Something tells me I will be returning to the farm by myself regardless of Lacey’s earlier vow. She is looking to party and I am just looking to hopefully go unnoticed.
“Relax. It’s going to be fine. No one is going to say anything to you. I promise.” Lacey gives me an encouraging smile as we drive down the gravel road to the river bar.
It is packed. Trucks litter the rocky shore and a giant bon fire is in the center of all the vehicles. I can see a group of girls dancing in the bed of a lifted truck next to the bon fire. Country music blares from its speakers. I am glad it is dark and packed with people. Hopefully I will just blend right in. Lacey and I head toward the party. I need to just to relax and breathe but my brain is on high alert.
We have been at the party a couple of hours and no one has seemed to notice me. In fact, I was actually enjoying myself. I stuck close to Lacey and have been chatting with some of her friends from school. I was just starting to get comfortable when it happens. I hear the hyena type laughing first and then I see him, Cooper Freaking Daniels. He is making his way through the crowd heading straight for Lacey and me. As the crowd parts to let him through I can tell he is drunk and his little brother, Cutter is right behind him. I’m so screwed.
“Is that Piggy Princess? What are you doing here Piglet? Who invited you?” I start walking backward as quickly as I can. Like retreating from a rattlesnake, I know better than to turn my back on Cooper. If I do he will strike and who knows if I will survive it. I look for Lacey as I retreat but can’t find her anywhere. It doesn’t matter, I just need to get to my car and quickly. “Where are you going Miss Piggy? I want to talk to you. Wait up.” Screw this, it is time to run.
So I do. I run through row after row of trucks until I spot my Range Rover. Thank God! I know Cooper is still pursuing me I can hear him making his way toward me. I click the remote start and click the unlock button. Shit.
There is someone leaning against my door. He has a lit cigarette hanging from his mouth. He is dressed in dark jeans and black hoodie. His dark baseball hat is sitting low on his head so I can’t see his eyes. Crap, crap, crap. What am I going to do now! It’s probably one of Cooper and Cutter’s friends making sure I can’t escape. I may have to jump in the passenger side and crawl over to the driver’s seat to avoid him.
“Where are you running off to?” The dark stranger asks me.
“Umm… I’m leaving, like now. If you’ll excuse me I need to get in my car.” Get out of my way asshole I will push you if I have to! This is a code red situation!
“Why do you let them treat you like that?”
“I don’t. They just treat me like that and I choose to not be around them.” I can’t believe this dude wants to ask me about the “why’s” of this situation right now. Can’t he tell I am like full on panic attacking right now?
“Well you choose how you let people treat you.” Seriously! I am getting a self-esteem lecture right now, really? Who is this guy?
“There you are Piglet!” Cooper calls out. Oh hell!
Cooper has caught up to me thanks to Mr. Questions over here. And surprise Cooper has brought a little group with him including his hot brother. God what is wrong with me? How can I think Cutter is hot when he is practically leading this lynch mob? I am so messed up.
“Enough!” What the heck. Mr. Questions is telling Cooper to stop, this should be interesting. “Leave her be Coop and get back to the party.” The dark stranger drawls.
“Oh come on Jasp we are just having some fun, lighten up.” Cooper slurs.
“I said enough, now leave her alone.” Oh crap, Mr. Questions is Cooper’s best friend Jasper Callaway. Why in the world is he standing up for me?
Well whatever the reason is I am thankful because it stops Cooper. Him and the rest of the group sauntered back toward the party leaving me standing against my car dumbfounded. Jasper stands across from me making sure the little group heads back to the party, which is happening except for Cutter. He just keeps starring at us. He looks so angry. I can feel his hate radiating off of him in waves. He is seething and I know that is because of me. He can’t stand me.
“You too Cutter, leave her be.” Jasper rasps. Cutter hesitates like he wants to say something but then just nods instead. To my relief he follows the others back to the party.
“Thank you so much.” I say to Jasper.
“It’s nothing. Just sick of hearing this shit from them. You need to stand up for yourself. I might not be around next time.” Jasper is right of course. I nod in agreement and he stalks off.
Lacey comes rushing towards me looking concerned and pissed. “You okay girly?”
“Yeah I survived it. But I’m ready to go home. Are you coming with?” I know she won’t say yes but I always ask anyways. I never worry if Lacey will make it home okay. She is smart and a spitfire. I honestly feel bad for the person who dares to mess with her.
“I’m going to stay. You should too. I heard Jasper defended you. Everyone is talking about how crazy that was. Maybe he likes you.” She nudges my arm in jest. Great, just what I need more gossip starring yours truly.
“No thanks I’m exhausted. I’ll see you at home?” She knows I am not having any of it.
“Okay. I love you! See you at home.” She says as I climb in the Rover.
I get half way to the main road before the tears really start flowing. God I can’t wait until I’m out of this town, I hate it here!
See Lena's Review: Love and Hate by J.J. Dorn.
About the Author
J.J. Dorn lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and terrifyingly maniacal cat, Pippa Kiddleton. She currently owns three American Paint Horses. She has been riding and competing since she was a very young child. J.J. competes on a national level with her horses. When she isn’t spending time at the barn, she is busy working on her next novel. For more information please visit www.jjdornbooks.com or find her on twitter @JJDorn1.