I held my hand in front of my mouth so he wouldn’t see the smirk or the way I was trying to hold back my laughter. For a guy who had bedded a few women in his time, Ace could be a real dork when he met a pretty girl. And there was no one prettier than Jada.

Looking at me, Ace said, “Come find me later, Hank. I need to show you something with the fence.”

“Of course. I’m going to give Jada tour of the farm and then show her to her room, and then I’ll join you.”

“Sounds great,” Ace said, giving Jada one last, lingering look before he left.

“Sorry about that,” I said.

Jada waved her hand as she sat back in her chair. “It’s no problem at all. Like I told Ace, I’m happy to meet everyone I’ll be working with.” I thought I saw a dark look on her face, but in a blink, it was gone and her soft, smiling face had returned.

“Well, we’re done in here,” I said. “Why don’t I give you the tour now? I hope you’re wearing tennis shoes.”

I’d be lying if I said I wished the tour ended sooner. No, I liked being in Jada’s presence too much and wanted it to go on. I knew I’d get my chance though, during working hours or at meals.

She seemed genuinely fascinated by everything, asking questions about ranch operations and how different things worked.

“I honestly didn’t think you were going to hire me,” she admitted while we were in the barn. She was petting one of the small handful of horses we kept and smiling at the animal.

Surprised, I asked, “Why’s that?”

She turned her head to me. “Well, I guess because I don’t have any experience working on a ranch.”

“You not having experience with cattle wasn’t my biggest concern,” I replied, reaching over to pet Charlie the horse too.

Somehow, I knew when I interviewed her that she’d be the vet who would fit in here at Break-Ridge Ranch. There had been a few other promising candidates, but none of them held a candle to the compassion for animals and the passion for her job I’d felt radiate from Jada.

“Oh?”

“Honestly, I was looking for someone who was passionate about animals and would do whatever it took to care for them. To me, that’s the most important thing. Besides, we have Seki who knows about cattle. He’ll be here to help you while you learn.”

The expression on Jada’s face was pleased. I hoped she would soon feel home here.

Jada

Hank finished up the tour of the ranch, ending with where I’d stay while I worked at Break-Ridge. He opened the door for me and said, “You can change up the room however you’d like, paint it, whatever.”

I looked around. My suitcases were already waiting for me. Seki must have brought them up for me. I’d have to thank him later.

The walls of the room were a pretty blue, the color of the Louisiana phlox I used to pick as a child. A dark wooden dresser sat next to a matching vanity. I saw that the headboard of the bed matched too and was covered in a navy and white floral bedspread. A small nightstand was placed next to the bed and a bookshelf was near the closet door.

Because it was a corner bedroom, there were windows on two sides of the room, letting in a lot of light. I liked that. Dim rooms reminded me too much of my self-imposed isolation living in Las Vegas. I’d hid from the sun there, but here in Montana, I planned to embrace it.

“I like the room,” I told Hank. “It’s really cute.”

“I’m glad,” Hank said. He headed for the door. “Well, I’ll let you get settled. We’ll probably eat dinner around seven.”

“Thanks,” I said, “I’ll be there.”

The door closed, and I looked around again, smiling to myself. I could actually see myself living here, living here and being happy. It was a feeling I hadn’t experienced in a long time.

The ranch was wonderful, so open and free. Sure, there’d been a few places where the smell of cow poop was noticeable, but for the most part, it was fresh country air, a far cry from the stifling air back in Las Vegas. Seki, Hank, and Ace were all friendly, and they seemed like really nice guys. They were also really easy on the eyes, making me wonder if I’d end up developing a crush on one of them. The thought of having a crush again, even one I wouldn’t act on, was exciting because it meant that I was feeling things again.

The only thing I could see potentially putting a damper on my new home was Ben.

I pulled my phone from my pocket, put on some music, and started to unpack. Opening the closet door, I saw that it was bigger than the tiny country house closet I was used to in Louisiana. Between the closet and dresser, I’d have more than enough room for all my clothes.


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