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Emily Paige Skeen

As Savannah turned her run-of-the-mill, four-door sedan onto the town square, she spotted a sign
claiming she was entering Historic Downtown Ellijay. Typical of small Georgia towns, in the square were a barbeque joint, an antique shop, a few mom-and-pop businesses, and an old-fashioned courthouse. Savannah’s eyes also glimpsed a small salon.

Good! At least I have somewhere nearby to get my hair done.

After circling the square twice in search of a place to park on the street, Savannah spotted a
relatively empty lot off to the side. She decided it’d be nice to walk and headed in that direction. Once
parked, she did a quick hair-and-makeup check in the rearview mirror, grabbed her purse, and hopped out of the car.

The cynic in her wanted to roll her eyes at every fake-friendly wave of passersby as she traipsed
through town. Instead, she gritted her teeth and offered her own saccharine smile. There was a time when Savannah would have relished the happy gesture from strangers. But life had made her suspicious of every supposedly well-intentioned person in her path. She’d been beaten down—both figuratively and literally.

She pushed through the door of the local watering hole, a place called Old Red’s Bar and Grill. Upon entering, she was ambushed by a barrage of “Howdy’s” and “Hey there’s.” And not just from the
Old Red’s staff.

Wow. Is this place for real? She pushed through the crowd and squeezed onto a seat at the bar.

“Be with ya in just a sec, darlin’,” the bartender said.

Savannah nodded her acknowledgement, studying the middle-aged woman. She looked as if she
were trying to be a hip twenty year old, sporting cut-off denim shorts, a tight-fitting and low-cut top, and blonde highlights in her long brown hair. She had the figure to pull it off, but Savannah mistrusted anyone this lady’s age wearing such skimpy clothes. She’d probably slept with half the men in town.

“What can I gitcha?” asked the scantily clad woman.

Peering into the bartender’s kind eyes, Savannah immediately regretted her initial judgment. Who
am I to condemn her, anyway? “Just a Diet Coke, please.”

“Sure thing. Comin’ right up.”

“Thanks,” Savannah replied.

Suddenly, someone shoved into Savannah’s back, thrusting her midsection against the counter and temporarily restricting her airflow. She gasped, and involuntary tears sprung to her eyes. “What the—”

Another bump cut off her words. Struggling to turn sideways, Savannah was finally able to pinpoint the cause of her discomfort. She watched in horror as the crowd attempted to break apart a fight that had erupted between two customers. Obviously drunk, the fighters exchanged punch after punch and repeatedly knocked each other into the onlookers.

At the same time the owner of Old Red’s shouted for someone to call the police, Savannah’s
elbow was grabbed and a voice spoke into her ear. “Come on, I’ll get you outa here.”

She shook her head, her heart thumping and pulse racing. “Let go of me.”

The man to her left sighed and leaned close to her again. “Listen, it’s gettin’ rough in here. I’m not
gonna hurt you. I’m just gonna help you get through the crowd and out the door. Now let’s go. We’re
runnin’ outa time.”

Savannah’s mind quickly reviewed her options. Stay where she was and possibly get pummeled
or go with this stranger, who could be a thief—or worse. An elbow to her ribs made up her mind. “Okay, I’m comin’.” She snatched her purse from the bar and allowed the man to take her hand. As they pushed through sweating bodies and avoided flying fists, the man used his free arm to partially cover her head, encouraging her to duck whenever necessary.

When they finally made it outside, the stranger released Savannah’s hand and she collapsed on the
sidewalk. Sirens signaled an approaching police car, and they watched as two officers emerged from the vehicle and swept past them into the bar, their hands poised above their guns and ready to draw at a
second’s notice.

Savannah inhaled slowly in an attempt to relieve her body’s shaking. When her new friend sat
next to her, she caught sight of his face for the first time. And her heart raced again, but not out of fear.

Chocolate brown eyes stared back at her, intense and brooding. The man wore a long-sleeved t-
shirt that was so tight it emphasized his sculpted chest and arms. With a cowboy hat propped on his head, his hair wasn’t visible, but Savannah didn’t fail to notice the short stubble he’d left unshaved on his face. She’d never been one to fall for a man with a full beard, but the slightly unkempt look made her weak in the knees.

Savannah’s thoughts transitioned from his good looks to her current predicament with the ranch.
Maybe he’s a real, genuine cowboy. I could ask him for help, and he might have some advice...

The man cleared his throat. “You okay?”

Blinking, Savannah nodded. “I’m fine...thanks to you.” She swallowed and averted her eyes,
warmth creeping into her cheeks.

He shrugged. “It was nothin’. I’m Bo, by the way. Bo Jones.”

“Hey, Bo,” she replied, extending her hand. “I’m Savannah Pres—” She stopped short and gave a
slight shake of her head. “Savannah Brightmore,” she concluded.

He took her hand and shook it gently. His skin was rough against hers. “Nice to meet you,
Savannah. What brings you to this rinky-dink town?”

Was she that obviously desperate and out of place? She tilted her head with raised eyebrows.
“What makes you think I don’t live here?”

Bo snorted. “Pretty little thing like you—and dressed like that? Most girls ’round here don’t wear
heels that high and don’t need an escort to survive a bar fight.”

Savannah was indignant. How dare he insult me like that? He doesn’t even know me. “For your
information, Mr. Jones, I own Apple Blossom Ranch about half an hour outside town. And I didn’t need you to save me. I’m perfectly capable of handlin’ myself.” She tossed her hair over her shoulder and stuck out her chin in an attempt to appear confident, but the gesture only left her feeling like a stubborn child.

His eyebrows rose and Savannah thought she noticed a twinkle in his eyes. “Do ya, now? And
how’d a city girl the likes of you come to own her own ranch?”

He was teasing her...and she was not flattered. “I believe that’s none of your business. If you’ll
excuse me, I should really be gettin’ back.” She couldn’t stand there another second letting this brute of a man intimidate her. She’d had enough of that to last a lifetime.

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