The story so far:
Chapter 1: Fantasia Meets Tristan
By E.M. Eveld
Jeez. My big, bouncy, cocoa-brown hair just won’t behave. Oh, I know I’m nothing to look at with these saucer-like blue eyes. And I’m as clumsy as an ox. Just awful, I admit it.
No wonder I’m 21 years old and have never had a hint of a boyfriend, although the boys do seem to lavish me with attention. Jeez.
I look in the mirror one more time and figure I’ll just gather up all this luxurious, unruly hair into a giant ponytail. I’ll play the part of the pert coed I wish I was — and get on with this.
“This” is something my gorgeous best friend and roommate got me into. Thanks, Kassidy.
She pointed “him” out to me at the American Royal in Kansas City last week — Tristan Hay — the sinewy, scruffy-looking guy tying down a calf with ropes to the delight of rodeo fans. I was there to help Kassidy with her “research.”
I’m a pre-veterinary student, but that doesn’t mean I know anything about rodeos. And why is this billionaire guy acting like a common cowboy?
Because he’s Tristan Hay, Kassidy says. With his unfathomable wealth, amassed by age 27, he can do anything he wants.
“He has his fingers in lots of places,” she explains.
Including international restaurant chains, apparently. Kassidy planned to interview him for the Kansas State University Gazette. She’s the editor. Hay recently coughed up a gazillion-dollar donation to our school, and Kassidy planned a massive profile for the school paper.
But now she’s sick as a dog. She says it took months to set up the interview, so I have to do it.
Seems like she could have assigned an actual reporter. I’ve never done anything like this before. But off I go into the sunset, driving my beater out of Manhattan, down a bunch of two-lane blacktops to his fabulous cattle ranch.
By the way, I’m a vegan. There, I said it. Which makes me so very not right for this Tristan Hay and his meat-tastic restaurant empire, including the Big Saucy, which I suspect is a reference to barbecue, and the Harness Room, a reference to I don’t know what.
GPS doesn’t fail me, and soon I’m here, stopped at a white wrought-iron gate that could withstand a medieval invasion. It opens slowly, and I’m waved through by a series of cowboys and cowgirls, Western-wear fashion models, it seems.
Inside the arena-sized ranch house, headquarters for Tristan Hay Inc., the ceilings soar and polished wood abounds. One last cowboy-host opens one more door. I fall through it, tripping on … nothing.
I’m practically on the floor, and somehow there’s Tristan Hay. He nimbly grabs me by the waist, saving me from a full-on meeting with the hardwood, and pulls me up, past his thighs, past his waist.
“Oh my, that’s a big silver buckle you have,” I say.
“My eyes are up here, honey,” he says.
Yes they are, and they’re drilling holes right through mine. “Intense” hardly does his gaze justice.
I introduce myself — “Fantasia Irons. Most people call me Fanny” — and explain why I’m here and not Kassidy. I set up the digital recorder and pull Kassidy’s notes from my backpack. So far, so good.
Thank goodness Kassidy wrote out these insightful questions so I don’t have to do much thinking.
I start at the top with “Why are you so successful?” and work down to “Are you gay?” The answers: “I’m really good at reading people, most notably by staring at them for long periods of time,” and “No.”
Hay cocks his head at a question, then cocks it to the other side at the next. In fact, he does a lot of head-cocking. I wonder if there’s something wrong with his cervical vertebrae.
As I finish the interview, I realize my face has been aflame the whole time. Jeez. Why am I blushing so? Maybe it’s because his eyes never stop blazing. Did I mention that he is drop-dead, oh-my-gosh, holy-moly, off-the-charts, very, very good-looking? And tall?
“Did you notice, Miss Irons, that I like to stare intently at you and cock my head a lot and that I’m extremely good-looking?” he says.
“Not exactly,” I say, making my way to the door. Apparently, he’s going to lead me back to my car.
I do notice that he never calls me Fanny. For the life of me, I don’t know why. What a mystery he is!
“Fantasia,” he says in a deeeep-voiced, husky farewell. He opens the car door for me, and I brush away a few Skittles from the driver’s seat.
“Tristan,” I respond, cool as a cucumber. I kill the car engine twice before taking off in a cloud of Flint Hills dust and gravel.
Chapter 2: Tristan and Fantasia Are an Item
By Virginia Brackett
The next morning, I sat up in bed and pushed my cocoa-brown hair out of my eyes. When I touched that mop of dark delight, I felt those eyes on me — the eyes of Tristan Hay.
I was still thinking about that shiny buckle. I’ve seen some buckles in my time, and his is one of the biggest. He wore it well, so well that I wanted to take some polish to it and make it shine. I pulled on skinny jeans and cinched the leather belt that I bought at the gift shop close to the American Royal.
Then the phone chimed. I brought my thoughts to a climax and then said, “Hello.” My voice echoed with innocence and charm.
“Miss Irons? Miss Fantasia Irons?”
Tristan! Heat poured through the phone. I thought of those big hands around my tiny waist.
“Yes?” Despite my cool reputation, I could feel a blush on my cheeks.
“Tristan Hay here,” he said. “Your friend, the reporter, gave me your number.”
Bless you, Kassidy.
“She said you would enjoy hearing from me.”
Dang you, Kassidy.
“I called because I want you to join me for dinner at the Harness Room. If you’re not already tied up.”
“My restaurant. The one that just opened in Manhattan.”
I sighed. I could hear him suck in his breath.
“Look,” I said, “I know that most girls would give the world to try your meat. But you and I probably shouldn’t … I don’t think we could. … I’m a vegan, after all.”
“I’ll have my chef rustle up his best salad. We can dress it ourselves, right at our table. I’ll send a car at 8.”
How could I resist? I sent a bunch of selfies to Kassidy to help me pick an outfit — a purple mini with a silver belt, silver leggings and strappy silver sandals. My hair swept up into a stylish pony tail, I donned a silver chain, and I was on my way.
I spotted him from the doorway. I stood in the light and swooshed my pony tail. He did that strange thing with his neck but stood up while the host walked me to the table. Everyone wondered who was this dark beauty who had corralled the richest man around. I was proud of myself for working a ranch term into my thoughts.
“What do you think?” he asked, gesturing around the room with a sweep of his silken-sleeved arm.
“Shouldn’t I be asking you that?” I returned, posing, one knee bent, and swooshing again.
“Beautiful,” he said.
Just then we heard a wolf whistle, and Tristan whirled around with a snarl. But as he searched the dark corners with his smoldering gaze, he couldn’t find its source.
“Sorry about that,” he said, as he pulled out my chair. His knuckles lightly grazed my neck as I sat down. “No lady should have to put up with that.”
“Who says I’m a lady?” I teased. “Maybe I liked it.”
Dinner went by in a whirl. I didn’t flinch when he ever-so-slowly licked his greasy fingers.
“Let’s blow this place,” he said.
I knew I had drunk too much wine, but I didn’t care as the car charged up to his Manhattan townhouse. It beckoned me to step through the door. We walked down a long hall.
“This is one of my trophy rooms,” Tristan said, pulling me forward with a firm hand around my wrist. I touched the trophies and then swung my leg over the trophy saddle sitting in the middle of the room.
“What’s that?” I pointed to a glass box on the wall.
“My silver piggin’ string,” he said, cocking his head.
When I looked puzzled, he explained.
“A piggin’ string is what I use when I rope calves.” He took the box down, opened it and asked, “Do you want to touch it?”
I lifted the velvety rope from the box and brushed it across my cheek. He leaned toward me, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Chapter 3: Fantasia and Tristan Break Up
By Larry Hightower
I woke up alone in the ginormous bed. I wiped the sleep from my saucer-like blue eyes. The thread count of the sheets was high enough to be a Hawaiian ZIP code. I was swimming in luxury, but did I need a life vest?
Still I was alone; just me, my shadow and my thoughts. I sure wasn’t much of a cowgirl, having failed to keep my calves together. Last night was history, but this morning, I was doing the math.
Tristan appeared in the doorway. His head was cocked beneath a white Resistol hat. His feet were clad in what appeared to be armadillo skin Tony Lama boots. Between those vestiges of cowboy culture he wore a white apron. He smiled. “How do you like your eggs?”
He decided for me. “Over easy?”
Yeah, that was me last night.
I scowled. “I don’t eat eggs.”
“Nah? I can rustle up some other vittles quicker than two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”
Rustle up vittles? Two shakes of a lamb’s tail? Who talks like that? He turned on the heels of his Tony Lamas. I realized that hat, boots and apron were all he was wearing. Part of me wanted to jump into neatly folded clothes, make a rope ladder of the gazillion thread count sheets and climb down from the balcony. Another part of me wanted to say, “Forget the breakfast. Bring those buns in here.”
Later, I padded to the bathroom which was big enough to have its own ZIP code. Jeez, why did I have ZIP codes on the brain? Why was I thinking about the fact that Lebanon, Missouri’s ZIP is 65536 — two to the sixteenth power? Tristan sure had my unzip code.
I looked in the mirror. Girl get it together! My big, bouncy, cocoa brown hair wouldn’t behave — perhaps because I hadn’t. I stood barefoot all the way up, knowing that half the women in a 100-mile radius of Manhattan would kill to be standing in my shoes.
Breakfast on the veranda — roses on the piano — Jeez. Saturday morning became Saturday night. The next thing I knew it was Monday morning, and I was in danger of missing Biology 213 at 10:30 in Room 405 of the Science building. Though this had been an amazing weekend, there was still a part of me that wondered if I was just another number to Tristan — a 36, 24, none of your beeswax.
We kissed over black coffee until it became stone cold. His steel gray eyes penetrated me. He cocked his head.
“I know we’ve only known each other for a few days, but they’ve been magical. Would you consider moving in with me?”
My heart nearly stopped. He wound up giving me a modified version of CPR. I wound up missing Biology 213 in Room 405 as we studied anatomy in condo unit 306. Jeez Louise — what a unit!
Later he twirled my big, bouncy, cocoa-brown hair. “Say, I'm sponsoring a charity ball for Co-eds Without Boundaries. Want to go?”
“I’m not sure I have anything to wear.”
He smiled. “Not a problem. Take my Titanium American Express card. Spend enough and we can earn a trip to Paris, Texas — or that other one.”
He frowned. “I’m afraid there’s a bit of a catch.”
My heart stopped, leading to more modified CPR. He cleared his throat. “I have a shy brother, Andy. Could you fix him up? Maybe a friend, your roommate?”
“My roommate is pretty, but she’s a real tomboy. I’m always asking. ‘Why do you dress so butch, Kassidy?”’
“We could get her gussied up, too.”
Gussied up? Who says gussied up?
“You could take her dress shopping? Call her. I’ll make us some watercress sandwiches.”
“Hold your water.”
“Never mind. I’ll call.”
He returned, bent, cocked his head and kissed me. “Is Kassidy interested in dating my brother, Andy?”
“She said ixnay on the Andy Hay. She wasn’t comfortable with letting you buy her dresses, either.”
“Money’s no big deal, darlin,’ I can just slaughter another herd of cattle.”
I took a sharp breath. “I’m a vegan!”
“If I’d known that I’d taken more time.”
I didn’t need a mirror to know that my saucer-like blue eyes were blazing. “Tristan, this is a problem. I can’t be immersed in all this wealth knowing the money came from the death of innocent animals.”
He rose, cocked his head and glared at me with steely gray eyes. He picked up a phone and pushed a button.
“Send a car to take Ms. Irons home.”