She'd cause a stampede.
He added another split log to the seven-foot-high stack, then swept up the ax again. The blow sent two halves flying outward.
Head bowed, Nash propped the ax head on the stump, his wrist on the handle top. He didn't turn around. "Hi yourself."
"Aren't you even going to look at me?" Hayley asked.
"You still wearing that scrap of nothing you call a swimsuit?"
"Yes, I am." He heard a light laugh. "Nash. This is silly."
He flipped the ax up and placed another log on the stump. He split it and even without looking, he felt her flinch.
"What did I do?"
"Nash." He could hear the hurt in her voice. "If this is about the car—"
"Go on back to the girls," he interrupted.
"Gladly, boss. Enjoy your own company."
Nash cursed under his breath. It wasn't the stupid car. It was her! Seeing her, wanting her, even arguing with her slammed desire and regret through him. The guilt over what he'd done, what honor and duty had pushed him to do at her expense made him angry. With himself.
He didn't deserve her kindness. He didn't deserve her thoughtful gestures or her concern. Or anything else for that matter. And that he couldn't alleviate his guilt in telling the truth was a burden that wore on him the longer she was near. He wanted to, but his sins were just too ugly. She'd never forgive him, anyway, he thought, and wished the two weeks were over and she was gone. And at the same time he prayed they'd never end. Wish in one hand and spit in the other and see what you get, he thought.
He glanced over his shoulder. She was walking down the hillside toward the pool where his daughters were having a snack in the shade of the stone veranda. He absorbed everything about her as she moved, noticing not only that she wore a cover-up over that too-hot-to-be-legal bikini, but that her head was bowed and she hugged herself.
He felt like a first-class heel. Then his gaze fell on another splitting stump a few feet away. A pitcher of ice water sparkled in the hot sun, beside it a glass and wrapped sandwich, a little plastic horse on a toothpick stuck in the center.
Something had to be done. Soon. Or he was going to go just plain nuts.
Nash rushed the horse, trying to get the animal to obey his commands, but it wasn't going well. He attributed that to his wandering mind, and that irritated him to no end. He hadn't seen Hayley since breakfast, and that had been a little strained, especially after his unfounded harshness the day before. Last night after the girls went to bed, she'd disappeared into her room, and he hadn't bothered her, afraid that whatever he said would just stamp "You're so hot, I can't even think straight" across his forehead. She made him too aware of the fact that he was a man and she was a beautiful woman.
And how good it had once been between them. And how he'd blown it.
He heard giggles and glanced up, catching a glimpse of Hayley and his daughters heading for the chicken coop. She was wearing jeans, boots and a lime-green T-shirt, like his girls, and he thought how cute the three of them looked. Hayley's red hair gleamed in the sunlight.
"They sure do like her," Seth said from a few feet away.
"Yeah," Nash said, not taking his eyes off the trio.
"Want me to go see if they need help?"
"She'll come for it if she needs it." One thing he remembered about Hayley was that she could do just about anything she set her mind to.
Nash turned to the horse, swinging up onto the bare back. The wild thing bucked, sending his hat to the ground, yet he held on, riding out the mare's temper. Slipping off, he led the horse around the ring, his daughters' laughter breaking through his concentration. He glanced and waved before his gaze swung to Hayley. She looked worried. He scooped up his hat and turned back to the horse, trying to ignore her. But his gaze kept straying to her as the girls showed her how to spread a little grain on the ground, then fill the troughs for the chicken and pigs. They collected eggs and he could see Hayley's sour expression from here. He smirked. Well, at least she'll get a taste of real ranching, he thought, then remembered how Michelle had protested against going within twenty feet of the coop. He should have seen that coming, recognized her true distaste for ranching. Or was it just him? Irritated with his train of thought, especially when he could scarcely drag Michelle's image from the waste of his mind, he led the horse into the barn. He'd just handed over the currying to Jimmy when he heard his daughters scream.
"Daddy! Come quick!"
Racing out of the barn, Nash bolted to the pigpens and found his daughters safe beyond the fence, but Hayley was in the sty, on her rear. He leaped the rail and hurried through the mire. She tried to stand, but the pigs were crowding her, snorting over her hair and face, leaving a black muddy trail.