Half an hour later, knuckles scraped and bruised, boots caked in heavy clay, hair plastered to my head, I had the tractor back in the shed, hoping Malcolm wouldn’t notice that the two-inch thick, three-foot long, solid steel spear had broken off at the base. Again. No one would be surprised when I showed up at the tractor supply store in need of another one.
And just in time, too. Malcolm sauntered down the barn aisle, looking about as yummy as a man can look on a spring day.
He pulled me into his warm embrace, enveloping me in the scent of soap and grass, which really wasn’t fair because my sweat-soaked T-shirt clung to me like bad mayo to stale bread, and damp clay had cured stiffly in my hair.
I melted into his embrace. Right from the start, from the very first day I set foot on Winterlight, I’d been drawn to him as if pulled by an invisible thread. I’d fought it because getting involved with the boss was against the rules. The new rules I’d adopted before coming here. No drinking, no smarting off, and no getting in bed with my employer.
Oh, but…the very smell of him, like sunshine after a rain, had me panting like my dog after a run. I’m strong, though, and if that’d been all there was to it, I’d have resisted.
“Good morning, Viola Parker,” he said as if we hadn’t had breakfast together a couple of hours before.
I tilted my head back to look into his blue, blue eyes. They darkened and a slow smile lifted the corners of his mouth. His look told me he knew the same glowing need I felt. Then, he sniffed, set me out at arm’s length, and looked me up and down. “What happened?”
Damn it. Should have changed my clothes. “Erm…” I thought quick, wishing I had a can of whipped cream to help my brain along. “Mishap with the manure spreader,” I said.
He narrowed his azure eyes at me while Noire sniffed my foot and gave me an unsure look.
“I told you to add an extra board to that bridge you built. Are you all right?”
The bridge referred to the wide plank I used to get the wheelbarrow to the manure spreader. I’d parked it down a hill so I could tip the barrow straight in. This was more efficient than creating a manure pile that had to be scooped up with the tractor and put in the spreader before that got driven around a field. Yet another of my chores.
The setup was precarious, and I’d slipped a few times, missed the target, and created more work instead of less. He’d been on my case to build a better ramp, but hadn’t offered to do it. He knew leaving me to my own devices was the best weapon he had. As usual, I’d ignored him and gone about my business.
“Smells like you had a party in the manure spreader,” he said.
The best defense is a quick change of subject. I turned to the wall where pitchforks, brooms, and shovels all hung in a neat row, straightened the handle of one that was slightly askew, and asked, “How’s the alfalfa looking?”
The corner of his mouth twitched. He knew all my tactics.
“Just fine.” He reached around me and pushed the rake handle out of alignment.
“It’s the wind, that’s all.”
He was referring to how the tools, which I always hung straight, had been getting crooked more and more frequently when no one was using them. It made me crazy. He insisted it was only the wind.
“Listen,” he said, “I don’t have to go out of town like I thought, and—”
The sound of a diesel vehicle coming up the drive stopped him. We watched as a shiny new white truck and matching horse trailer pulled in.
“You expecting someone?” he asked.
He shook his head, and we walked toward the front of the barn, me disguising my limp as best I could. No need to give him something to fuss over me about.
A woman stepped out of the truck clad in super skinny jeans, embroidered turquoise boots, a straw cowboy hat, and clingy riding shirt. The logo stitched on the sleeve declared expensive. The perky nipples said she’d been running her air-conditioning on high.
She filled out the jeans and shirt with ample curves, but looked fit. Kind of like me, except better. She swept off the hat and tossed it on the front seat. Perfect waves of blonde hair tumbled down her back and over one shoulder. My hair never looked that good. Certainly not at the moment. Self-consciously, I pushed the damp mess away from my forehead wishing I’d stuffed it in a cap. She didn’t need to come closer for me to know she smelled good.
Her eyes latched onto Malcolm.
“Robert,” she said in a sultry tone. “It’s been too long.”
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