Chapter 2: We meet again

The wave slowly rolled forward, tickling the bottom of Kat’s feet. Repressing a giggle, she thought, "Kevin was sure right about this place."

She still could not believe that she had met two Backstreet Boys. To be honest she was more surprised that she had met, had a decent conversation with them, and had not fainted or anything. Now, two days later, she had finally stopped pinching herself to make sure she wasn’t still lost in some dream. She was starting to bruise.

She sighed contentedly and burrowed her toes in the sand. The water was perfect and she had actually had a chance to try surfing again, thanks to a small surf shop just of the main street. She still hadn’t managed to stand up fully, but was getting much better. She’d found a small, cheap motel that was not directly on the beach. Fortunately her room, on the top floor, had a perfect view of the ocean, and in the evening the moon shone brightly making the wave crests glow.

The town was everything she had wanted and more. Slowly, the stress of work was starting to fade. Even the tight coil of unhappiness about where her life seemed to be headed, had started to loosen. She felt refreshed, and, as much as she hated to admit it, a little bored. "See, this is what a fast paced job gets you - limited attention span and an inability to let yourself fully relax," she thought.

She gathered up her things and headed back to the motel where she made some phone calls and changed in to jeans and a light sweater. After a quick lunch and a short drive, she arrived at Starlight Stables.

A paddock on the left held several quarterhorses and a palomino. The ranch itself was a low slung building. Several cars and trucks were parked in a small lot, and several people were walking their mounts, or giving them a brush down. Kat left the car and walked towards the main door.

"Can I help you?" an older, weather-beaten man asked.

"I hope so. I called earlier. My name's Kat."

"Oh yes, You wanted to take a short trek, and hadn't ridden for a while so nothing too strenuous."

"Right," said Kat, a little amazed - those were almost verbatim the words she had used on the phone.

The man chuckled, " I'm Jock - you talked to me when you called."

Kat smiled and followed him into the stable. They walked down the stalls and finally arrived at one that held a medium height roan.

"This is Ginger. She's a gentle ride. She's good for trekking, but can go a little faster if you feel up to it. I'll get Kelly to come up. She'll be your guide." He turned and was about to leave. "By the way. How did you hear about us?"

"Actually, I was supposed to say that -- Kevin Richardson sent me," Kat said, still somewhat surprised by the admission.

"He did, did he?" Jock smiled. "KEVIN!" he yelled.

"What?" a voice called from down the line of stalls.

"Did you send this lady here?"

"Which lady?" Kevin's head popped around the door. "Kat! Hey, you came down. That's great."

He was wearing a pair of tight, dusty, faded jeans and a white tank top covered by a plaid shirt. He had horse drool on his shoulder, a few stalks of hay in his hair and a dirt smudge on his right cheek. He was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. He smiled at her, his emerald eyes flashing and she felt a little lightheaded.

"Wow, what a surprise," she managed to say, hoping that it didn't sound like a squeak.

"How was Edgewater?"

"Great. Actually I am still there - just taking a break. I even got some surfing in."

"You surf?" he asked.

"Only in the broadest sense of the word," she replied wryly.

He laughed, "yeah, same here some days. I love it though. The feeling of riding on all that water - its like gliding on glass - and can be as dangerous if you fall. We should go together, if you have time."

The idea of Kevin wearing nothing but a Speedo made her mouth go dry so she just nodded.

"Jock, is it okay if I take Kat out on the trail? I promise to bring her back in one piece," Kevin asked.

Jock nodded. "Sure, go ahead. I'll tell Kelly."

He left the stall and walked back to the office. A tall blonde girl was sitting on the desk. "So where is this chick?" she asked.

"I set her up with Ginger, but Kevin's offered to take her on the ride."

"Kevin?" the girl asked angrily.

"Yeah. They're friends or something. Is that going to be a problem?" Jock was not pleased in her tone of voice. Ever since she and Kevin had started seeing each other she had grown more and more uppity.

"We'll see about this," she muttered under her breath and stormed down the aisle to Ginger's stall.

"Hello, Kev, honey," she purred sweetly.

"Kelly," he said, kissing her on the cheek. "This is Kat. Kat, Kel's my girlfriend. Kat's the one who rescued Tyke."

"Nice to meet you," Kat said politely, holding out her hand. Even though she had never really though she stood a chance with Kevin she still felt like she had been kicked in the stomach.

"Likewise," Kelly said, giving her hand a feeble shake.

"I'm going to take Kat out on the trail. We'll be back in a couple of hours and then I'll get cleaned up and we can go out, 'kay?" Kevin said to Kelly.

"Sure, hon. Take your time," Kelly replied.

"I'll just go get Lightning," Kevin told Kat. "I'll meet you at the front."

Once he had walked away Kelly turned and looked Kat up and down with a sneer. "I suppose I'll let this happen. You certainly don't look like much competition."

Kat was surprised by the sudden change in Kelly's behaviour. "Just keep your paws off him. He's mine and no fat skank is going to take him away from me. I don't care whose dog you fondled," Kelly continued.

Kat blinked back tear at the unexpected attack. "We are going horseback riding, not to an orgy," she replied softly.

"I am warning you anyway. I know you want him, so stay away." Then she turned and stalked away.

Kat exited the stables, leading Ginger by the reins, and calmed herself down by talking softly to the horse. She blew gently on its nose so that it could take her scent. This would make the horse calmer throughout the ride, something she was sure she needed as she fought the turmoil she felt.

"Neat trick," Kevin noted as he rode up behind her on a large black gelding. "Not many people know that one - you must have had a good teacher at one point."

"Two years of riding instruction when I was at school in England. Of course that means I am not really good with a Western saddle," she said eyeing it warily.

"Hop on. It's not the different. Just a higher horn."

Kat climbed on and settled into the saddle. "And a little broader in the seat. Then so am I," she laughed.

They set off at a comfortable pace down the lane.

"Are you okay? Your eyes look puffy," Kevin looked with concern. "Yeah, your girlfriend is a bitch and isn't afraid to show it," she thought, but only said, "Allergies. I'll be okay, I took an antihistamine; it just needs time to adjust."

She glanced quickly behind them to see Kelly leaning up against the stable door glaring at her. Then Kelly's face cleared and a brilliant smile took the glare's place. "Kevin must be looking," Kat thought, and indeed he was.

"Okay back there?"

"Yep. Just getting used to Ginger's rhythm."

"I hope you are ready, because we are about to pick up the pace," he said kicking Lightning into a trot, which Ginger quickly followed. Kat struggled for a few seconds before settling into regular trot position.

"Okay?" Kevin inquired.

"Sure. Just like riding a bike," she answered and Kevin chuckled as he led them off onto a side trail.

They rode for almost two hours - slowly moving from a walk to a canter, even getting in a few small jumps - which Kat hadn't done in several years and managed more adequately than she thought she would.

"You did pretty well for someone who hasn't ridden for a while," Kevin said as the stable buildings appeared on the horizon.

"I'm just trying to figure out why I ever stopped," Kat enthused. "This is great."

"Yeah. I don't get to do this nearly as much, what with all the touring."

"Hmm," Kat responded. "Maybe that's what happened to me, too. Too much work. Too much other stuff to do. Not enough time…" she trailed off.

"What do you do for a living, Kat?"

"Unlike some who just swan around the world, I work," she said with a Puck-ish grin.

Hey! That's Work too!" he laughed.

"I am so sure," she said with a tingle of sarcasm. "I am sure that the only part that is actual work is when you have to protect your ears from screams and shrieks or run away from the rabid fans."

"Well, I don't usually run too fast…"

Kat laughed. "But you didn't answer my question," he reminded her.

"I work for a small company that services the not-for-profit sector. Mostly writing and editing. Lots of design work and phone work. It's not a rich organization so we tend to do as much in-house as possible."

"Sounds interesting."

"It can be," Kat murmured. She didn't want to talk about work; she didn't even want to think about it right now. It hurt too much.

Sensing something, Kevin moved his horse alongside her so that their legs occasionally brushed each other. "But you don't like it?" he asked.

"I like it most days. I just, I don't know. It's not where I want to be. I feel like I am not going anywhere in my career. Only I don't know what I should be doing, or even how to get there," she sighed. "It just makes me feel empty."

"I do know that feeling, you know," Kevin remarked. "Yes, even Mister Big Music Superstar feels that way," he continued at her incredulous look. "More so at the beginning, when we weren't sure if the group would take off. But occasionally, when the schedule gets to be too much, and we don't get any time for us, you know? It just seems to go on and on. Same story, different city. Nothing original. And it is not like we can just turn it off and be by ourselves. It never really stops."

"Now I feel bad for complaining about my life," Kat said softly, shocked by his admission.

"I guess everyone feels like that." Kevin shook himself out of his reverie. "Still, I wanted success with this, and I got it. It's not bad."

"But it wears you down. Makes you think you aren't capable of more," Kat mused, thinking of her own situation. "All you do is the same stuff, the same routine. Never enough time for the things you want, and eventually you give up on those dreams too."

"Wow. We are getting really deep, here." Kevin smiled.

"Yeah, and kind of depressing too," Kat grinned.

"So what do YOU want, Kat?"

"I want that house I was telling you about…"

"With the horses and wolfhounds?" Kevin interrupted.

"Yep. I want to be able to really stand on a surfboard." Kevin chuckled. "But what I really want to do is write. I mean not the stuff I do for work; stuff for me. Mysteries, novels, screenplays. Things that I see and want others to." She smiled, "and naturally to be paid mega-bucks for it so I can feed the 'hounds."

"Sounds good. Will you write me a really good role in one of your screenplays? I have always wanted to star in a movie," Kevin asked.

The brush of his leg against hers was sending up flares of electricity, and the look of pleading on his face was tugging at her heartstrings. "Sure."

They smiled at each other, then a bird called from a nearby tree, unsettling the horses, and the moment was lost.

They walked towards the stable. "There's Kelly, waiting for us," said Kevin, indicating the tall blonde figure. Kat stiffened in her saddle. Kevin moved his horse in front of hers, blocking her path.

"Look, I don't think you had an allergy problem. Kelly said something to you, didn't she?" Kat nodded. "That girl," he swore under his breath. "You don't have to tell me. She has been acting more and more possessive lately. I mean I like her, but the reason I asked her out was because she seemed to be interested in ME, not in who I was."

"Maybe it is just hard for her to separate the two Kevins," Kat said, trying hard to console him, and not get herself in trouble with the envious Kelly.

"I suppose. It has been hard for my past girlfriends,' Kevin ruminated. "Still, she has no call to be rude to my friends."

The idea that Kevin Richardson was calling her his friend sent a thrill through Kat. "She is rude to the other Boys?" she asked.

"No, I mean to you," replied Kevin. Fortunately he was still looking towards the barn and didn't see the look of joy that suffused her face.

"Come on," he said, turning back to her. "We should unsaddle the horses and give them some feed." And he led the way back up the lane to the stables.

Chapter 3