return – chapter 3


The audacity of him picking up her mother’s silverware, running his fingers along their fine furniture. They didn’t have much, but what they did have in their sparse family room was valuable.

She couldn’t see the man clearly from the stairway as she raced downstairs, but she was surprised Miss Helen would even let him in.

Joanne glared at him. “Excuse me. Why are you touching our things?”

He turned around, removing his cowboy hat as he looked into her eyes and smiled. “Ma’am. It’s from Paris, isn’t it?” he asked, ruggedly handsome than ever. Dusty dark hair, grey eyes, a five o’clock shadow and thick eyebrows that framed his chiseled face and strong jawline.

“Steed. Steed Whitten,” he said, offering his hand.

She refused to take it and came to her senses. “I have no idea where it’s from Mr. Whitten, but I do know you shouldn’t be touching” she said, looking away so she wouldn’t get lost in his eyes. He smelled of cedar and leather, a manly musk that held a magnetic sweetness to him that drew her in.

The younger man, a little older than she, stepped toward Joanne, easy-going, not a care in the world. Comfortable in the room as much as he was in his own skin, and the suede leather jacket and tight denims that clothed his well-built body. “I beg your pardon, ma’am. I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“Well you did,” she said in a huff. Her reaction surprised even herself.

His warm smile put her at ease, even if she didn’t want it to. “It’s just when I see something beautiful, I like to touch it.”

She was in a daze again. Maybe it was his low bass voice or his genuine aw-shucks demeanor, but she had to change the subject. “Mr. Whitten

“Steed,” he said, nodding at her.

“Steed, then. I don’t know what Miss Helen might have told you, but we do not accept unsolicited” she said, but then he smiled and her heart stopped. She was nervous and he reveled in his power.

Tracing his fingers along the nick nacks again, he dared her to stop blushing and say something again. “I noticed your barn’s falling apart.”

She’d be lying if she hadn’t glanced at his rear end or the way his thick thighs filled his denims as he bent over and placed the nick nack back on the coffee table. “It functions fine,” said Joanne, clearing her throat.

He looked at the window, giving her a glimpse at his perfect profile. Etched with concern, his eyebrows furrowed. “Really? ‘Cause one good storm and it could all come falling down.” She didn’t need another man telling her how to do things. She may have gone to university, but she could throw a hammer just as well as she could ride a horse.

Joanne crossed her arms. She wondered when the sales pitch would come in. Leave it to a man. They always wanted something. “Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” said Joanne.

He held his gaze at her like she was the only woman in the world. Not at her chest or her figure like most men his age would have done, he looked at her as if reading a book, he already knew backwards and forwards.

Joanne pulled her robe closer, protecting her vulnerability. “If there’s nothing else.” She led him toward the exit, when he smiled again.

Her jaw clenched. He thought he could charm his way into her pocket book and she resented it. “Why are you smiling at me like that?”

The farm hand chuckled. “Is there something wrong with smiling?”

She pulled her robe closer. She should fetch the rifle. Joanne could shoot a fly off an apple. Her father had taught her well. “It’s making me feel uncomfortable.”

He softened his gaze and lowered his tone. “Well little darling, you should try it every once in awhile. Smiling that is. I bet you’ve got a beautiful one.”

“Little darling? Sir, you don’t know me,” said Joanne, tensing up. Even if he hadn’t meant to be condescending, she was tired of men assuming they could call her anything but Ms. Apple.

“You’re right. I don’t know you. But I do know this: you’re probably the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen and I know someone must have hurt you pretty bad, you can’t even look at me.”

He’d stripped her naked as if her tough stance meant nothing. She didn’t know if she should let him have her way with him or hit him square in the nose. “Get out.”

He tilted his head as if he didn’t believe her. “I beg your pardon.”

“Get out or I’ll call the sheriff,” she said, narrowing her eyes at him. Maybe the reaction was too strong. She’d never been that rude to anybody, but this man brought it out in her.

He put his cowboy hat back on his head, walked toward the front of the door just as easy-going as he’d entered. “Once again, I apologize if I made you feel uncomfortable. I’d never want to do anything that would make you feel bad.”

“Well, I … good day,” she said. She wanted to stay mad, but everything he did felt so right. She had to resist his charms.

“I’m out in front of the general market every morning for work. Come down there when you change your mind,” the farm hand said, dipping his hat and giving her a wink.

When she changed her mind? She slammed the door. The audacity that he’d think she’d come running back to him like some damsel in distress. The audacity that he’d imply she couldn’t do the repairs on her own. And yet, as she found herself peeking through the curtains watching him walk away toward his motorcycle parked by the barn, his presence still filled the room.

He turned back and gave her a wink through the curtains. She gasped, shutting them and pressing her body against the wall. He had some nerve!  NEXT>>