I open my mouth to introduce myself, but she beats me to the punch.
“Whatever you’re sellin’, we either don’t want it or already got it.”
Then she steps back and slams the door in my face.
I’m so shocked that it takes me a minute to gather my wits before I knock again. This time I hear her sigh on the other side of the door before she pulls it open.
“Oh, and we’ve all heard the story and found the Lord, and we don’t need any more, thank you.”
I don’t knock again because I can see the woman watching to see if I’ll leave.
“Don’t you people ever listen? Do I need to go get my shotgun or are you gonna leave this porch without me having to chase you off it?”
My eyes are wide as saucers. Is she really going to shoot me if I don’t get off her porch? What kind of place is Texas?
I put my hands up like she’s a police officer and I’m under arrest, then I proceed with caution.
“I’m not selling anything. Please don’t shoot me.”
The door swings open again. She frowns and gives me a once-over before meeting my gaze again.
“What do you want then?”
She finds that pretty hilarious, laughing so hard she has to reach out for the doorframe to steady herself. She slaps her knee with the other hand, looks up at me, and then folds back over in laughter.
“You came all the way out here lookin’ for a job? Oh man, that’s funny,” she says, drying her eyes. “Okay, what’ll it be, missy? Carpenter? Welder?”
“Who put you up to this? Dotty? That old trickster. I’m gonna get her back so good, she won’t even see it coming—”
“I don’t know who Dotty is. I’m Helen’s sister, Meredith. She was supposed to call ahead and mention that I was on my way?”
With that announcement, her laughter finally dies. She inspects me with new eyes.
“You don’t look like Helen.”
“We have different moms.”
Her eyes thin in speculation. “Hmm. Well your daddy must’ve had broad tastes.”
I smile, unsure whether or not to take that as a joke.
“Right, well, if it’s a job you need, you’ll have to go talk to Jack. He’s over by the barn doin’ an all-hands.”
“An all-hands?” I ask, turning to see where she’s pointing.
There’s a group of men circled up outside the barn, their attention fixed on a tall figure who seems to be giving orders. From this distance, I can’t make out his features.
“It’s a meeting with all the ranch hands.”
“Ah, got it.” I turn back to her. “Maybe I can wait until he’s finished.”
I have nowhere to be.
She shakes her head. “Normally, I’d agree, but he’s got a lot on his plate today what with your sister gone. I doubt you’ll be able to catch him again.”
Perfect. Just great. I was hoping my day would continue down this path. Why would I get to meet with Jack one on one and plead my case when instead, I can slowly limp toward the all-hands meeting, grinding my teeth together as my blisters start to get blisters?
In another life, my knees give out and I face-plant in the dirt, too damn weak and tired to get up. No one helps me. I perish. My Gucci loafers decompose.
But, in this life, I hobble closer to the group and one by one, every head in the circle turns in my direction. Jack’s booming voice carries over the crowd.
I have no clue what he’s talking about, but I like the sound of his voice. It’s rough, almost gritty, and strong enough to command the attention of a dozen ranch hands—well, right up until now, when all eyes are on me.
“Looks like we have company,” someone says, and I finally work up the courage to peel my gaze from the ground. It’s like I just walked onto the stage of a cowboy-themed Chippendales show. I’m surrounded by a dozen young, strong guys wearing jeans and sweating through their work shirts. I scan from one cute face to another, taking in the amused grins until I finally make it to their fearless leader and stop short.
My gut clenches as if my ovaries both lean in toward my uterus to say, Hello! We’re here and we like what we see! My heart stops and then speeds up, confused about how to proceed. My eyes scan up and down him four times before I finally regain enough sense to break the cycle.
Don’t get me wrong, this reaction is not about me being love-struck. Seeing as how I just left a pretty bad relationship, oh, I don’t know…14 hours ago, I’m immune to the chiseled jaw thing he has going on. Really, I’m just surprised. Just like with the ranch, Jack is nothing like what I was expecting. He’s young—mid-thirties, maybe—with a tall frame and wide shoulders. You know that calm confident look every NFL quarterback carries around, that gleam in their eyes that challenges you to try to screw with them? He’s got it. On top of that, he has a wide-set jaw, strong cheekbones, and dark brows.
He’s wearing a baseball cap backward, and the ends of his dark brown hair wing out from beneath it. These are all things I don’t want to notice, I just do. The fact that his black t-shirt stretches across his chest when he props his hands on his hips is a fact, not an opinion, and his steely gaze leveled on me? Yeah, that’s also kind of hard to ignore, especially now that everything has gone silent.
What a strange turn of events to find out that my future boss is a very attractive man. Good for him. I don’t care. I’m too focused on the fact that his chiseled features are locked in an annoyed scowl. Everyone else seemed amused by my interruption of the all-hands meeting, but not him. It’s probably hard enough keeping control of these guys in normal circumstances, and I’ve just waltzed in and stolen their attention.
“Can I help you?” he asks with a hard tone. What he really means to say is, Go away, just like my taxi therapist and the old woman from the house.
I straighten my shoulders and dredge up every ounce of confidence I have left in me. It’s not much, and my voice barely carries over the group.
“What was that?” he asks, impatient.
“Speak up!” someone shouts.
I clear my throat and try again. “I’m here for a job.”
There’s another round of laughter. These people seriously need a comedy club, or at least a few Adam Sandler movies on DVD. They find the most mundane things hilarious.
“Hey Jack, she could be your first manicured ranch hand.”
The guys really crack up at that.
Jack, to his credit, doesn’t laugh.
He shakes his head and steps forward. “You must be the princess.”
“I heard your story. I was hoping you wouldn’t show.”
My mouth drops open, but before I can come up with a fiery reply, he wraps his hand around my bicep and drags me away from the group. There are catcalls and profane comments behind us. I scowl at the guys over my shoulder, but it only fuels the fire.
“What about the all-hands, Jack? Watch where you put yours!”
“She can help me out in the fields! I’ll train her quick!”
“This must be that fine southern hospitality you always hear about,” I hiss, trying to yank my arm out of his hold.
His sharp eyes cut to me as he continues leading me toward the house. “You’ll have to forgive our poor country folk manners,” he replies in an affected drawl filled with sarcasm. “We aren’t used to entertaining royalty.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He whips open the screen door and pushes me inside the house.
Without a doubt, it’s the worst introduction I’ve ever had.
“You’re a little rough around the edges, aren’t you?” she says, no hint of amusement laced in her words.
I look up from my desk to see her studying me with an angry scowl. I’ve really pissed her off. Good. The sooner she starts to hate it here, the sooner she’ll leave.
I gesture to the chair in front of my desk.
“Have a seat.”
“I’d rather stand.”