The wood is done, so I turn and move to the garden. There’s a part of me that hopes if she sees me working that she’ll give up. But if my father hired her, she’s not going to be a push over. She’s going to try as hard as she can to get what she came for.
“You don’t want to see Sam get married? Thomas was devastated that you didn’t show up.”
I shake my head. “No, he’s not. He’s sad that the family image was tarnished because I wasn’t there. My brothers are little copies of my father, and we’ve never been close. So playing that angle isn’t going to work. Sam doesn’t give two shits about whether I was there to see Rose walk down the aisle in a pretty white dress.”
There’s no witty comeback, and I keep checking the vines on my tomato plants. They’re just starting to grow and I need to make sure they climb properly. There’s still silence. There’s actually silence for so long that I wonder if Anna disappeared. I turn around, and she’s there, sitting on the stump I use to chop wood, looking into the woods. She left her backpack in the house, and in her hiking gear, it almost looks like she belongs out here. Almost. But like it or not, we both know that she’s a city girl and she’s totally out of her element.
“How do you do it?” she asks.
“Be alone like this. I mean, I know you say that you’re not lonely, but I can’t believe it. Just me and my own thoughts, twenty-four hours a day? I think I’d go a little crazy.”
She’s not exactly wrong, but I’m not going to tell her that. I’m definitely not going to tell her that a face like hers is the most welcome sight I’ve seen in a long time, or that the longer I look at her face, the more I want to see how those lips taste. But after that, I would want her gone. I chose this solitary life for a reason, and I’m not going to give it up just because my prick of a father thinks he’s entitled to it.
But I think there’s a way for both of us to get what we want.
“It can be a little isolating,” I say, slowly crossing back to her. “But who knows, you might like it. Maybe you want to help me be less lonely?”
I’m already much taller than her when she’s standing, so sitting she has to look up to meet my gaze, and I like the look of her down there. I catch the way she swallows, the slight shake in her voice. “And how would I do that?”
“I have a proposition for you.”
She raises an eyebrow. “I’m listening.”
“You stay here with me for thirty days. You let go of your cell phone, the internet, anything that connects you to the outside world, and my father. You see the kind of life I have and be my company. And you’ll earn your keep. If you can make it through the whole thirty days without the luxurious life that you’re used to, then I’ll go back with you to my father, and you’ll get whatever he’s promised you.”
Anna’s mouth falls open. “How did you know he promised me—”
“I know who my father is,” I snap. “I know he likes to hire desperate people, people who need something from him. So he agreed to give it to you, and now you’re here.”
She swallows again, and I get distracted by the line of her throat, which leads my eyes down to where her shirt has been pulled open just a little too far. I can see a glimpse of perfect cleavage, and I fight my body’s instant lust. If she agrees, she’s going to be here for thirty days if she agrees, and I know that I won’t be able to hold myself back for that long, but the way she keeps glancing down at my bare chest says she’s having the same thoughts I am.
“And this is the only way you’ll go back,” she says. It’s not a question, but an acknowledgement.
I crouch down so that I can look her in the eye, and I see her eyes widen a little at my closeness. “I’m not going to give up my freedom for just anything. Not because a city girl came and batted her eyelashes at me. If you stay, and prove to me you have some skin in this game, I’ll speak to my father. So what do you say?”
It takes a second, but eventually she nods. “Okay,” Anna says. “I’ll stay.”
What on earth did I just agree to? Am I insane? I can’t stay in the woods for a month. Not because anyone will miss me—they won’t. I don’t have any close friends after…everything that happened. My only priority has been finding Robert Logan. And here I am.