This has gotta be the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. Even stupider than mailing the damn sketch, maybe.
Dare hunkered down behind a copse of trees close to the road before the turnoff to Bowen’s ranch. It didn’t take long to deliver local mail, and he knew that sketch would be landing in Bowen’s mailbox today.
Dare hadn’t slept a wink since he’d sent the picture to Bowen. He’d spent most of the night calling himself all kinds of an idiot. He was stressing out, big-time, and he wasn’t going to have any peace until he took that sketch back. Before anyone else sees it.
Dare bit his bottom lip as he waited. He mail-stalking plan had flaws; he knew that. He just didn’t see an alternative. He’d seen the old Jeep driven by Maisy, the mail lady, heading out of town and knew the rural deliveries were beginning. Dare had driven past her first delivery route and parked his car at the abandoned Shanks place.
Then he’d jogged through the brush and sparsely treed couple of acres he’d had to cross to get closer to Bowen’s ranch.
And then he’d had to wait. Dare hated waiting. He wished he’d brought his sketchpad or phone, something to occupy himself with, but he hadn’t even turned his stupid cell phone on that day because he really wanted to avoid his family.
Specifically, his mama.
So he watched the movements of the leaves and branches, and found himself inspired by nature when he’d usually just been inspired by hot men.
He itched to draw what he was seeing, and after a while, he studied the pill bugs and other little critters scrambling in the dirt.
When he heard the Jeep rumble by, Dare’s adrenaline spiked up and he pressed a hand to his chest, over his hammering heart. He was nervous, but he had to get that sketch back. Dare was utterly paranoid that Bowen would somehow know he’d sent it.
Once the Jeep came back by, Dare waited another minute, then he got to his feet.
And nearly fell over as the hellish feel of a thousand needles prickled his ankles. He’d sat for too long, and he grimaced through the unpleasant feeling until it passed.
He hoped Bowen was busy working somewhere on his ranch. Dare was betting on him doing… rancher stuff, whatever that may be. He doubted Bowen sat around waiting on the mail to be delivered.
Dare began to make his way toward Bowen’s mailbox through the foliage. What sucked is that, the closer he got to Bowen’s ranch, the less coverage Dare had, until finally, about a hundred yards from the mailbox, all hiding spots were gone. It was just him, the grass, and the great, open outdoors.
And the mailbox, which he could see was open, and the envelope he’d mailed the sketch in was sticking out a few inches.
Dare stayed behind the last tree he had for shelter as he looked all around. The hair on his nape prickled, but he didn’t see anyone around. The wind shifted and the scent of cow shit made his eyes water. Dare pinched his nose shut and vowed to eat more beef, or maybe never eat it again. Anything that could produce such a foul odor had to be unhealthy to eat.
He eased around the tree, keeping his back pressed to it, trying to be the tree, or some Zen shit that would make him invisible. Dare wasn’t even sure what Zen was, but he’d heard of it once and liked the way the word sounded.
A twig snapped under his shoe and Dare almost pissed himself. He was so not made to steal shit.
He peered around the tree, a quick glance toward the direction of Bowen’s house, and saw no one.
The envelope was his for the taking. Well, in a way, it was his, though okay, he had given it to Bowen, but he hadn’t really given it to him yet and Dare figured taking it back wasn’t wrong. It’d be like returning a gift he hadn’t given someone yet.
That rationalization didn’t quit gel for him but Dare shrugged that off. He was just going to save himself some potential embarrassment on the off chance that Bowen would figure out he’d drawn the images on that paper in that envelope.
Come on. Just do it! On the count of one, two, three—Dare’s feet refused to cooperate. He groaned internally and tried again.
He burst out from the coverage the tree supplied, and ran to the mailbox. Dare was panicking but he couldn’t stop now. He reached the mailbox, grabbed the edge of the manilla envelope—
And dumped all the mail on the ground. The breeze sent a piece of it tumbling over the grass.
“Shit,” he muttered as he tried to scoop up the fallen mail while stomping on the runaway piece.
Dare lost his balance and fell on his ass. “Ungh.” The piece of mail he’d been standing on was carried a few feet away.
Dare shoved the handful of mail he had, along with the envelope, into his shirt, glad he’d tucked it in. He scrambled on hands and knees to get the renegade piece of mail, and could have wept with relief when he got a hold of it.
His relief was short-lived, however. He started to stand up and heard footsteps a second before someone slammed into his side.
“I don’t think so, motherfucker!” Bowen growled as he hit Dare’s head, a punch that really rang Dare's bell.
Dare didn’t see stars when his vision dimmed. He saw bars—prison bars as a laughing voice inside his head (that sounded a lot like his mama’s voice) told him he’d been busted committing a federal offense.