Hi, peeps! Hope you’re groovy. So here’s another chapter of a work in progress. It’s a romance. WHAT? Andi Marquette is writing a romance? Is she HIGH? Now, now. If you visit my website, you’ll see that 4 of the freebie stories I offer are romance. I’ve just never written a book-length romantic kind of thing. So here I am, writing something the muses wanted me to try.
That said, here are chapters 1 and 2, if you have not already read them and no, I don’t release titles of WIPs until it’s time. I’m kinda superstitious that way. 8)
Um…I recommend that if you haven’t read those chapters yet, you might want to. That way, you’ll kinda know what’s going on here, in Chapter 3. 🙂
And YES. These are totally work safe.
So, here we go. Clickie! (and Happy Friday!)
Copyright 2011, Andi Marquette.
Kit turned at the big sign for Dupree Beef and slowed down. Though paved, the driveway wasn’t the widest thoroughfare. Fenced fields lined the drive on both sides, and Kit slowed down even more to admire the rich greens and festive yellows that cloaked east Texas this time of year. Pastoral was the word that came to mind, as a few cows munched contentedly on grass while others rested under a few massive trees that punctuated the landscape. She half-expected to see some young shepherd with a staff strolling barefoot among them, singing.
The driveway took her right to the house, offering a loop that would take her out again when she left. The house looked a lot newer than most out here. And rather than stick to historic appearances—the two-story wooden deal—Teak had opted to go with a one-story California-style hacienda that included a covered porch that ran the entire length of the front of the building. Two big planters full of flowers sat on either side of the front door. To the left of the door, a wooden bistro-style café table and three chairs sat and Kit deduced they got used quite a bit, along with the two rocking chairs to the left of that set-up.
A few outbuildings in the immediate vicinity looked like places to store farm implements. A few hundred yards back and to the right she saw what was probably a horse barn and another couple of big structures that were probably hay barns. To Kit’s left and maybe thirty yards from the main house, set back from the driveway, was what she guessed was more living quarters. Staff, she guessed. A miniature version of the larger, the smaller house had a covered porch, but it didn’t include a veranda that ran the length of the front. Nice, Kit thought. Homey, for a working ranch.
She got out of her truck, admiring the grounds. Nice curb appeal. Maybe she’d hire Teak’s guys to fix up her gazebo and patio out back. The morning sun glinted off the dark green metal roof and Kit noticed rain barrels set up on the side of the building that faced north. She’d check those out later, because she wanted to do something like that at her place. A dog barked from somewhere out back and another dog answered it, but they either didn’t care about her or they were busy, because the barking didn’t get any closer.
Kit reached into the cab and grabbed her leather briefcase before she shut the door to her truck and started toward the front door. She took the two steps and was reaching for the doorbell when Teak appeared from around the rain barrel side of the house.
“Mornin’,” he said with a smile. “You been here long?” He glanced at his watch, worried.
“No, sir. Just got here.”
He came up the steps and opened the screen door. “Come on in. Go straight back to the kitchen. Got coffee on, if you’re interested. Help yourself. I’ll be with you in a bit.”
“Thanks,” she said. Yep. She liked him. Kit did as he instructed and took the hall to the kitchen, a bright, welcoming room decorated with old horse tack and metal ranch signs. Great counter space, she thought as she set her briefcase down on one of the chairs set around the big round wooden table. Efficient, workable. He’d set cups and spoons out by the coffee pot, along with a carton of half-and-half and a sugar bowl. Kit poured herself a cup. One could never have too much coffee, after all. She’d cut way back on smoking, but figured she needed a replacement vice. Coffee was it.
After a splash of half-and-half, she took a tour of the kitchen, admiring the décor. Not really her thing, but here, it felt right. She wondered where his wife was. He hadn’t mentioned her and Kit didn’t get the feeling that anybody else was in the house. She went to the sink and looked out the window into a fenced back yard. She leaned forward, saw about half of a patio. The grass had been cut recently and what she could see of the patio from this angle was littered with a couple of rawhide chew bones, a rubber ball, and what looked like the remnants of a rug. She’d always wanted a dog. But when she was copping, as she called it, her hours were too weird and Lori wasn’t really into pets. Maybe Kit would be able to get a dog, once she got the business going.
She sipped her coffee, admiring the view over the top of the fence. A sea of green, moving like waves in the wind. Peaceful.
The door to the back yard opened and Kit jerked her attention there. And that’s where it stayed, locked on the woman she’d seen in the driver’s seat of Teak’s pickup yesterday.
“Hey, Teak,” the newcomer called as she pulled her gloves off. And then she realized that the person in the kitchen with her wasn’t him. “Oh—sorry. You must be Kit.”
“Good call. I am.” Kit tried not to stare. At least not in such an obvious fashion. Extremely pretty. And a nice voice on top of it all. Kind of low, this part of Texas adding a sexy little note to it.
“Not really,” she said, smiling. “Teak said you’d be stopping by today and it’s. . .” she looked at the clock over the doorway, “after ten. Not much of a mystery there. I’m Jessie, by the way.” She took her straw cowboy hat off and hung it on a hook behind the door next to an assortment of shirts and light jackets then ran a hand through her hair, the color of melted chocolate. Or the brown of a dark, sleek quarterhorse. And it fell around her shoulders in carefree, I-don’t-give-a-shit-how-I-look waves that made Kit think of devilish fun and stolen kisses. She took another quick sip of coffee to dispel those thoughts. Still, nothing wrong with enjoying a little bit of pretty.
Jessie crossed the room to the coffee maker where she poured herself a cup. She looked over at Kit and held the pot up. “Warm up?”
“Please.” In spite of the coffee, Kit’s mouth had gone dry. She held her cup out and Jessie filled it before she replaced the pot on the warmer. She mixed a little cream in.
“Welcome to Dupree Ranch.” Jessie raised her cup in a toast and took a sip. “Teak said you might be interested in buying local beef for your b n’ b.”
Not a question. And Jessie referred to Teak by his name, which meant she probably wasn’t his daughter. She didn’t seem like a wife-type, either. “I’d love to, if we can work something out. I prefer to work with local producers if possible.”
“That’ll get you in around here.” Jessie took another sip and offered another smile, and it lit up her eyes and curled the right-hand corner of her mouth.
Kit wrenched her attention from Jessie’s lips and took another swallow of coffee herself. Her tongue felt thick in her mouth. “I hope so,” she said, glad she sounded collected. “But I’m not doing it to suck up. I just prefer it that way.”
“Y’all met?” Teak said as he entered from the hallway.
Jessie and Kit issued acknowledgments at the same time. “Good deal.” He sat down at the table and Jessie set her cup on the counter and poured another cup for him. She added half-and-half and a spoonful of sugar, stirred it, and took it and her own cup to the table.
“Come on down,” Teak said to Kit, gesturing at the table. “I figured I’d tell you a little bit about the business and then we’d take you on a tour. Jessie, you got time to come along?”
Kit sat down next to Teak, but across from Jessie. Her briefcase occupied the fourth chair.
“Jessie’s my right hand around here,” he said. “Heck, she’s my right and left.”
“And your legs, too,” she teased.
“Got lucky, I did. Most folks don’t want much to do with their decrepit relatives.”
Kit looked from him to Jessie at this piece of info.
“Teak’s my uncle,” she explained. “And he only says he’s decrepit to get out of work.”
“Have some respect for your elders, missy,” he growled at her, but he was grinning again, and Kit saw where Jessie might’ve gotten her smile. “All right, let’s start the formalities. Welcome to Dupree Ranch, home of the finest cattle in east Texas. I’ve been in this business for forty years. My daddy moved the business here from Texarkana when I was fifteen. His daddy taught him, so I’m the third generation. Jessie here’s the fourth, if she decides to stick around. Point being, this is a family business, and one I’m proud of. We’ve got a history here, we’ve got a history with beef and cattle, and we’re glad to help local businesses out as much as we can. So how about we go have a look at the operation and I’ll give you some information to take with you.” He pushed back from the table and picked up his cup.
But as Kit stood, she knew already that she’d be doing business with Dupree Beef. The rest of this morning venture, she decided, was icing. As she followed Teak and Jessie out of the kitchen, she let her gaze wander down Jessie’s back to her belt and then, as if on a dare, she let it go lower. Oh, yeah. Definitely icing. Maybe there wasn’t a damn thing wrong with a little pretty in your life.
“You met her?”
“Yeah. Looks like she’s probably going to use our beef at her b n’ b.” Jessie affected nonchalance, since she didn’t want Tracy’s gossip meter to go off.
“So what’s she like?”
Jessie glanced over at Tracy from the passenger seat. “I don’t know. Nice, I guess. I didn’t really talk to her much. I had stuff to do.” Which was a fib. Jessie had tagged along on the tour the whole time, in business mode, pointing things out if Teak forgot, packaging Dupree like a Christmas present, and checking Kit out like she was cruising her in a bar.
“Did you find out if she was a cop?”
“No. Wasn’t really the kind of situation where that came up. ‘And over here, we’ve got the milking room. So were you a cop in Dallas?’ Didn’t quite work.” Jessie repositioned her legs. Why Tracy wanted to drive a car this damn small, she’d never know. ‘It looks good,’ she’d say. But you couldn’t do much else with it besides drive around. No room for anything useful.
“Is she good-looking?”
Jessie shot another look at Tracy.
“I haven’t seen her close up,” Tracy continued. “Donna says she’s good-looking.”
“Um,” Jessie said. Not just good-looking. Really good-looking. Like Jessica Lange good-looking. “I guess.” Tall, broad-shouldered. Short, thick honey-blond hair that just begged you to run your fingers through it. Kit wore it kind of messy, but Jessie liked that in a woman. Liked it if a woman didn’t spend all damn day worrying about her makeup or clothes. “Yeah, I guess you could call her good-looking.”
“Shit.” Tracy said with a sigh. “More competition. Like there aren’t already too few men around here. Now I’ve got to compete with a good-looking ex-cop.” She slowed down at the city limit sign.
“Why does it have to be a competition? For all we know, she’s got somebody. Just not here.” And Jessie wondered, for the umpteenth time, if that was the case. But she wasn’t going to tell Tracy that she probably had nothing to worry about, because the vibe she got off Kit—well, Jessie would eat her hat and one boot if Kit was into guys.
Tracy brightened. “Maybe she’s opening the b n’ b so her husband can join her later.”
“Sure. But she’s also a little older, so I seriously doubt she’s going to chase after one of your cowboys.”
Tracy steered into the parking lot of the restaurant where they were meeting Donna and a couple of other friends for girls’ night out. “That doesn’t make me feel better. That makes her sound like a cougar.”
Jessie started laughing.
“What?” Tracy pretended to be wounded. “She could very well be. She probably doesn’t have a husband. She probably threw him out, took his money, and now she wants some twenty-year-old cowboy to play with.”
“Oh, my god,” Jessie finally managed. “Well, if that was the case, she would’ve stayed in Dallas. More places to play, and more men to pick from.”
“Dallas. Whatever. She wanted a real cowboy.” Tracy checked her hair in the rearview mirror.
“So she decides Brush is it? You can’t even practically see it on a map without a magnifying glass.”
Tracy looked over at Jessie. “I know what happened. She divorced her husband. He was a real bastard, but she made out great in the divorce, decided she was over the big city and decided to come here. Which means—” Tracy checked her lipstick, “that she’s not interested in men for a while.” She puckered and smiled at herself in the mirror.
Jessie stifled a reply. Tracy didn’t know how right she was. Hell, Jessie would eat both boots if Kit was interested in men, period. She climbed out of the Miata. “Damn, woman. Get yourself a real car, would you?”
“I’m a princess,” Tracy snapped back. “And a princess needs a sporty car. You might try one yourself. It could just turn out to be a man magnet for me.”
Jessie sighed and shut the door. “There is more to life than a man. Didn’t you grow out of that in high school? It’s been twelve years.” She kicked her feet to get her jeans to settle properly over her boots.
“Girl, it’s biological clock time. Isn’t yours ticking?” Tracy got out as well and smoothed her shorts and top.
“No. I missed that line when they were handing ’em out.”
Tracy stuck her tongue out at her. “I’m buying you a margarita because that’s how much I love you.”
“Glad I’m worth that much.” Jessie pulled Tracy close as they walked toward the entrance and planted a big, sloppy kiss on her cheek.
“Ew! How old are you? Gross!” But she was laughing as she wiped at her face and followed Jessie in.
They walked past the counter of what used to be an old diner to the back room, which was added on at least a decade ago and found Donna at a table, already drinking margaritas with April and Cynthia.
“Hey,” Cynthia called at Jessie. “Heard you met the new girl today.”
“Yep. Not much to tell. Talked business with Teak. That’s all she wrote.” Jessie sat down across from April, who was seated on Donna’s left. Cynthia was on April’s left. Jessie didn’t care much for April these days. Weird, but she’d not been as uptight in high school as she was now. And she had a big mouth and an issue when it came to gays. But they’d known each other for years, so Jessie tolerated her.
“Is she nice?” Cynthia again.
Jessie took a sip of Donna’s margarita. Perfect mixture of tangy and sweet. “From what I could tell. I think she’ll run a good business over there.”
A waitress brought two fresh glasses over for Jessie and Tracy.
“Y’all stayin’ out of trouble?” she asked as she tapped her pen on her pad. “You I don’t worry about,” she directed at Jessie with a smile. “You, on the other hand. . .” she shook her head at Tracy, teasing.
“Hi, Ruby. The usual.” Tracy poured from the pitcher into Jessie’s glass and then hers.
“What about you, Jess?”
“Is Roberto in the back?”
“Then I want chicken enchiladas, extra sauce, extra guac.”
“Gotcha. I’ll tell him you’re here. He appreciates that.” She winked at Jessie and bustled off.
Thirty minutes later, they’d finished eating and ordered another pitcher of margaritas. April left after drinking half of one, much to Jessie’s relief. Cynthia left soon after that. Donna took a chip from the basket and dipped it in the salsa. “So we still don’t know if Kit was a cop,” she said.
“So?” Jessie toyed with her drink straw. “What difference does it make? We’ll all find out soon enough.”
“C’mon, Jessie,” Tracy broke in. “It’s fun to think about it. Kind of a mystery, after all. Like you said, who comes to Brush? Except maybe someone with a—you know. A past.” She said the last part in a scary movie voice and Donna laughed.
“Like none of us has one of those,” Jessie retorted with a smile. “And besides—”
“There she is,” Donna said. “Just came in.”
Jessie turned in her chair, her heart pounding a little harder than she thought it should. Kit had just come in and she was chatting with Ruby.
“Well, I’m going to find out,” Tracy said, and before Jessie could stop her, she’d gotten up and walked over to Kit.
“Oh, my god,” Jessie muttered. She was inviting Kit to their table. Oh, my god. And Kit smiled and accepted. She shook Tracy’s hand and followed her back.
“I know you’ve met Jessie already, but this is Donna. She works over at State Farm with me. This is Kit.”
“Hi,” Kit said. “And hi again, Jessie. Been a while since this morning.”
“Hey. Pull up a chair,” Jessie motioned across from her, hoping Kit would take one of the seats next to Donna so she could look at her without seeming obvious that she was doing it.
“Thanks.” And much to Jessie’s satisfaction, Kit took April’s chair, right across from Jessie. She was wearing a plain white T-shirt with her jeans. Jessie liked that. Simple and practical.
“Here you go, sweetie. Seems like the girls have enough to share.” Ruby delivered another glass to the table. “Your food’ll be right up.”
“Thanks, Ruby. Appreciate it.” Kit took the glass and Donna pushed the pitcher of margaritas toward her.
“Ruby makes the best, if you haven’t tried ’em,” Donna offered.
“Oh, I have. And thank you.” Kit poured half a glass. “Nice to meet more people. Thanks for the invite.”
“So where are you from?” Tracy asked, shooting a look at Jessie.
“Jesus, Tracy—” Jessie remonstrated.
“It’s okay. Small town.” Kit smiled at Jessie over the rim of her glass. “Want to make sure I’m not some kind of weirdo.” To Tracy, she said, “Dallas.” And then she took a sip of margarita and Jessie envied the glass, getting Kit’s lips on it like that. And she wondered about the heat that had settled in her chest and coursed through her veins, like a summer day from the inside out. She cleared her throat and reached for her own drink.
“And you came here from there?” Donna was really good at pretending innocence when she tried to get information out of people.
“Yep. Why not? Brush is nice enough.”
“Wait ’til you’ve been here a while.” Tracy took a chip from the basket. “You’ll be wondering what you were thinking.”
Kit shrugged. “I’m hoping I’ll be too busy. And I’m hoping that you’ll all come visit me for breakfast once I’m open. Just give me a call and let me know when you want to stop by. Or just stop by for coffee.”
“So when are you going to open up?” Donna again, and for once Jessie was glad she was there, because here, sitting right across from Kit, without the buffer of business and beef to discuss, she was way out of her element. Beautiful women didn’t do that to her as a rule, but for whatever reasons, this one did.
“The quintessential question.” Kit smiled again, a little rueful. “One more bathroom to do and then a bit of touch up here and there. I’m hoping July Fourth weekend. I’ll know for sure on Monday, which is when the bathroom is supposed to be done. If it is, then it’ll be July Fourth.”
“That sounds great,” Tracy said. “Are you going to have a grand opening?”
“Uh. . .” Kit hesitated.
“Now that is a good idea. Get you some local publicity.” This Jessie could handle. Business stuff. “Have a barbecue. Teak’ll cut you a good deal on burgers and Huck’s can special order extra buns. You just need a bunch of ice and tubs or coolers for drinks. Huck’s can call the Coke guy and get you some extra, there. Some balloons. Take out an ad in the Gazette. You’ll be all set.” She stopped, aware that Kit was smiling at her again and it stirred butterflies in the pit of Jessie’s stomach.
“That’s why we like to keep Jessie around. She’s good at events and stuff like that.” Donna flicked margarita at her. “Always the party planner, never the party girl.”
“I like it. So how about I hire you as my events consultant on this one?” Kit moved a little so Ruby could deliver a plate of enchiladas. “Thanks,” she said to Ruby.
“No problem, sweetie. Let me know if you need anything else.”
Kit picked up her silverware. “So how about it? You have any time to be a consultant?” She dug into her food, regarding Jessie the whole time.
“Do it, Jess. It’ll be fun,” Tracy urged, imploring her with her expression.
Jessie ignored Tracy. She was like a reporter looking for a big scoop. “Let me talk with Teak first, see what all he needs done between now and then. But yeah, I’d be interested in something like that.” He’d be into it, she knew. But the biggest plus for her was spending some more time around Kit.
“Excellent. I’ve got some business cards in my truck. I’ll get you one after I eat these awesome enchiladas.”
“Chicken?” Donna asked.
“Yep. Ruby said Roberto was back there.” Kit took a bite and Jessie studied her glass, so as not to stare too hard at Kit’s lips. Or her cheekbones and planes of her face. Or her eyes, which were hazel, Jessie decided. Hazel like late summer heat, and a smile like a lazy Sunday afternoon. “So y’all from here?” Kit asked between bites.
“Yep,” Donna responded. “Tracy and Jessie, though, went off to college then came back because they missed me.”
“Oh?” Kit looked across the table at Jessie. “What’d you major in?”
“Business and agricultural management. Texas A&M.”
“Homegrown girl, for sure,” Tracy said. “I went to Oklahoma State.”
“Enemy territory.” Donna flicked margarita at Tracy, too, and Kit laughed.
“In what?” Kit asked, looking down the table at Tracy, which afforded Jessie a really excellent view of her profile.
“Public administration and psychology.”
“Huh. Interesting combo.” Kit took another bite.
“I like trying to figure out what makes people tick.” Tracy reached for the chip basket.
“Everybody but yourself,” Donna said, and Jessie laughed.
“She nailed you there, Trace.” Jessie flashed Tracy a grin then glanced at Kit and slammed right into her gaze, and her heart took a little ride on Kit’s smile. Jessie looked away first, and almost knocked her drink over as she reached for it. She caught it, hoping she didn’t look as inept as she felt.
“Damn, good thing Tracy’s driving,” Donna teased. “Nice save, though.”
“So why’d you decide to buy the old Engstrom place?” Tracy again.
“Time for a change. I’ve always wanted to do something like that.” Kit finished the last of her dinner and pushed the plate aside then wiped her mouth with her napkin.
“Change from what?” Donna poured a little more margarita into Kit’s glass. “Tracy thinks you were a spy or something.”
Jessie stared at her, mortified. “I cannot believe—”
Kit started laughing. “If only. I was a police officer.”
Tracy’s expression said “told you so.”
“Well, this is a huge change from that,” Donna continued. “Nothing really glamorous or exciting like that here, but thanks for coming. And here’s to the b n’ b.” She toasted Kit, who picked up her glass and clinked it against Donna’s. Tracy and Jessie raised theirs, as well, and tapped Kit’s glass, Tracy half-standing to reach. Jessie took a swallow, relieved that Donna hadn’t pressed it much beyond that. Kit struck her as sort of a private type, and Jessie knew how annoying Tracy and Donna could be in their quest for information.
“Thanks. Much appreciated.” Kit didn’t offer anything else about her past, and Jessie looked first at Donna then at Tracy, a warning in her expression to just let it go.
Tracy took the hint, for once, and looked at her watch. “Uh-oh. I’ve got to get Jessie back before she turns into a pumpkin.”
Thank you, Jessie thought. She glanced over at Kit, who was looking at the bill Ruby had just dropped off.
“Can I pay for some of the margaritas?” she asked.
“No.” Jessie took her wallet out and handed a twenty to Tracy. “Thanks for joining us and putting up with these two.”
Tracy made a “whatever” sound and added Jessie’s twenty to the bills she and Donna had already placed on the table.
“Nice of you. Hope you’ll come by. Oh, let me get a card,” Kit said to Jessie as she stood up.
Jessie nodded and tried hard not to watch her walk across the room, but the glimpse she caught of Kit’s ass in her Levi’s was enough to send a few more sparks through her veins. She stretched, trying to appear casual but Donna was looking at her, an unreadable expression in her eyes. Or maybe not. Donna picked up her purse and followed Tracy toward the door, Jessie trailing.
“ ’Night, Ruby. Tell Roberto thanks,” Jessie said from the door.
“I will, darlin’. Take care, now.”
Jessie pushed the door open and exited from the air conditioning to the warmth and humidity of an east Texas summer night. She would have preferred to wear shorts, but all the work she had to do on the ranch required jeans. Donna and Tracy were standing by Tracy’s car, chatting. Kit had parked her truck over to the left, and she was leaning in from the driver’s side. Jessie decided to wait for her in front of the restaurant rather than join Tracy and Donna. It’d save Kit a few paces, anyway, she thought, trying to fool herself into thinking that she wasn’t wanting to steal a little bit of one-on-one interaction with her.
“Here you go,” Kit said as she approached.
Jessie took the card. “Nice logo,” she said, studying the stylized image of a cowgirl carrying a bedroll and a saddle as she looked into a sunset. “Very Texas but not cheesy.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Good name, too. Sweetwater Bed and Breakfast. Doesn’t sound. . .” Jessie searched for the right term.
“Old lady-ish?” Kit offered.
“Glad you approve.”
And Jessie was relieved it was mostly dark out here, even in the light from Ruby’s windows, because she knew she was blushing. She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and added Kit’s numbers—cell and main business line—to her contacts. “There,” Jessie said. “How about I just give you my cell number so you have it?”
Kit took her phone off her belt. “Okay. . .hold up. . .all right.”
Jessie gave her number and Kit entered it then read it back.
“That’s it,” Jessie said. She swallowed, trying to think of something—anything to say. “Sorry about those two. They’re just interested.”
Kit laughed. “Small town. Don’t worry about it.” She put her phone back in the holder on her belt. “And you?”
Jessie looked at her, puzzled.
“Interested?” Kit smiled in a way that made Jessie forget to breathe.
“Uh,” she managed, trying to decide what Kit’s meaning might be, though there didn’t seem much room to interpret it any other way than flirting. “I don’t pry.”
“I believe I picked that up about you. And I do appreciate it. Regardless, I want to put your business degree to work. So any PR you can come up with locally and nationally—I’ll take it. I’m always open to ideas. Give me a call when you figure out your schedule. I assume you have access to a computer?”
“I have a website for the business. A friend of mine helped with it. Check it out. See what works and what doesn’t.”
“All right. Good night.”
“Same to you. Thanks again.” And Kit turned and walked back to her truck, Jessie staring after her, a little confused, a little uncertain, and a whole lot turned on. She put the card in the back pocket of her jeans and went to join Tracy and Donna.
END of the chapter! YEEE-HA!