Disarmed, his lips twitched. Behind her, the twins giggled.
"Guess not." Nash wondered now why he was so angry. Was it that his ranch hands were flirting with her, or was it that she was simply here, winning everyone over but him?
"Thanks a heap, Miss Hayley," Jimmy Lee said as he sauntered back, handing her his cup and letting his gaze slide up and down long enough to make her blush.
"You're a rascal, Jim."
Nash gritted his teeth at the smile she gave the man.
"That's what my mama keeps saying."
He walked away and Hayley flipped open the basket and held out a sandwich to Nash. "Would you like one?"
He looked between her and the sandwich.
"This doesn't take a lot of brain power, Nash. A simple yes or no will do."
Nash took the sandwich. She tossed him a soda, forcing him to catch it.
"Come on, girls." She slapped the basket lid shut and inclined her head. Kim and Kate scrambled down, stopping before Nash. He squatted to meet their gaze and gave each of them a quick kiss.
"What have you been doing all morning?" he asked.
"Laundry," they said, smiling.
"You never liked doing it with me."
"But with Miss Hayley—" the girls looked at her adoringly "—it's fun."
"Well, we still have a ton of chores before party time, ladies." She hooked a thumb toward the house and the girls skipped on ahead.
Nash straightened, the motion bringing him inches from her. He caught the scent of jasmine again, felt the heat of her body. He took a step back. "Party time?"
"I've promised them a game or two. Is it all right if they go in the pool?" At his hesitation, she added, "I'm an excellent swimmer."
He knew that and hated to deprive the girls. "Sure, just let me know before you get in so I can check the chlorine."
"I already did." She turned away, not seeing his brows shoot up.
"Thanks, Miss Hayley," the men chimed.
"You're welcome, guys. Don't work too hard." She walked toward the house.
"Yeah, thanks," came a deep drawl, and Hayley sent a look over her shoulder.
"No sweat, boss. Just doing my job."
She wasn't. She didn't have to take the time to make the hands a midafternoon snack and certainly not bring it out here to them. They'd all had a decent lunch at noon. And Nash knew there was more than one person's share of work to get done in the house. He didn't like her calling him boss, either, then decided it would certainly remind him of the boundary between them.
Regardless of his thoughts, Nash watched her round behind shifting inside her short skirt, then dragged his gaze to his daughters. A little tinge of jealousy worked beneath his skin when the girls raced back to help her carry the basket.
"Sure was nice of her," Beau said, and Nash glanced at him. Great. The kid had a crush on her already.
Yet in the back of his mind a little voice whispered that she was going into the pool and that meant a bathing suit. Nash turned away, swinging onto his horse and riding down to the south fence. He'd be there for a couple of hours making repairs, he told himself. Anything to keep from seeing Hayley, half-naked, in a swimsuit.
Because then he'd remember what it was like to make love to her.
* * *
Strike three. She could cook.
Nash stood in his formal dining room and stared at the spread on the table. He wasn't sure what it was that smelled so good, yet the minute he'd entered the house, his mouth had started watering. The Hayley he'd known before couldn't boil water and had eaten food that came out of a can or could be nuked in a microwave. Unless he'd taken her out.
It was another reminder that she wasn't the same woman.
Behind him the ranch hands filed in, washed and shirts changed. His daughters were already sitting at their places near his, their plates prepared, beside them tall glasses of chocolate milk. He'd have to remind Hayley he preferred they didn't overdo it with the sugar.
"Have a seat, gentleman. Dinner is served."
Nash turned as she entered the area from the kitchen with a huge platter stacked with breaded chicken. The men scrambled for their seats as Nash slipped into his.
"I know your mamas taught you better, or am I going to have to hold this food hostage for y'all to take off those hats?" she said, eyeing them all except hatless Nash and Seth. Caps and cowboy hats disappeared under the table, and smiling with approval, she held the platter so they could serve themselves.
"What is it, Miss Hayley?" Beau asked, giving the platter a speculative look before stabbing a portion.
"Chicken Castellana. It's a recipe from an old friend's Sicilian nana. See, her husband, Angelo, was a barber, and during the depression people didn't have cash, so they paid him in day-old bread, chickens, potatoes, whatever." She shrugged, talking as she moved from man to man. "People had to have a haircut to get a job." Her glance slid meaningfully to Ronnie and he smirked. "Anyway, Nana Josie created this recipe from the payments. It's been cooking all afternoon."