“You know that the agreement from the very beginning was that school always comes first,” Vic finally managed to get out. What else could he say?
“Yeah, but this is just an extracurricular class. And it’s only for art,” Donny waffled.
“What’d ya mean only for art?”
Donny looked a little taken aback. “Nothing . . . I mean . . .”
“Art always put bread on my table,” Vic told Donny in a more restrained voice. He stood and slammed the dishwasher door shut. “Take the class. It’ll do you good and keep you outta trouble, besides. I’ll meet you two out in the barn,” he told his brother-in-law and Andy stiffly before he walked out the door.
Niall glanced uncertainly at Meg before she followed Vic a few seconds later.
“Niall, let it go for now . . .” she heard Meg say warningly, but she plunged out the screen door and onto the back porch anyway. Dawn made the eastern sky a vibrant landscape of pale gold and pink. The air felt cool and pleasant on her skin as she raced down the painted wood stairs. The luminescent promise of the June morning, combined with the soft, calm breeze, seemed to stand in direct contrast with Vic’s tense posture and angry, gravel-scattering footsteps.
“Vic, wait,” she called out once she’d jogged up several feet behind him. She had to force herself not to take several steps backward when he spun around to face her. His handsome face was livid with fury. She lost whatever composure she possessed at the sight.
“I . . . I . . . don’t want you to think . . .” She stumbled over her words anxiously. “I didn’t plan for that to happen just now . . . with Donny, I mean.”
“And I should believe you . . . why, exactly?” Vic asked with brutal sarcasm.
Niall’s cheeks flushed hot at his reference to her past dishonesty. “I’m telling the truth, Vic. I had no way of knowing about the boy. I couldn’t have planned that. I wouldn’t have,” she added under her breath.
He stepped closer. She inhaled the familiar scent of his skin mixing with the spicy, clean smell of his soap. Longing swamped her awareness, the feeling so overwhelmingly powerful that it made her eyes burn. She saw his nostrils flare slightly, as though he’d caught her scent as well. That, combined with the anger that almost seemed to roll off his big body like waves of heat, caused her heart to beat wildly in her chest.
“I wouldn’t put anything past you and Meg at this point,” he stated in a low growl. Niall started when he encircled her upper arm with his hand and pulled her closer. “What the hell are you up to? Why did you come here?”
Niall tried to inhale slowly to calm herself. It wasn’t an easy thing to do while she looked up into his stormy gray eyes. Her gaze lingered for a moment on his mouth . . . on that slightly crooked, sinfully sexy front tooth.
“I came because I was ready, Vic.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
She raised her jaw stubbornly, stung by his relentless contempt. “It means that I wasn’t ready before, and now I am,” she replied. She saw the subtle change that her answer wrought on his rigid features.
The screen door slammed shut behind her, signaling Tim and Andy’s exit from the house. Vic blinked at the sound before he leaned closer to her face, his thigh brushing her own, his eyes spearing into her.
“I don’t care what the fuck you’re ready for, Niall. You may have finagled your way into Meg’s life, but you better stay clear of mine. Understood?” he asked in an ominous, quiet tone before he shook her arm slightly for emphasis.
“It’s you who doesn’t understand, Vic.”
“Is that right?” he asked with an ugly twist of his shapely mouth. Tim’s and Andy’s footsteps crunched on the gravel thirty feet behind them. “Well, I’m real happy in my ignorance.”
“You don’t look very happy,” she countered softly.
She felt the tension leap into his muscles, saw the flash of potent anger in his light eyes. For a second Niall thought he looked furious enough to strangle her. Instead, he released her and stepped back abruptly, as if he’d suddenly realized he was holding an intimate conversation with a poisonous snake.
“I don’t care what you think I look like. Just stay away from me,” he ordered before he turned and headed toward the path that led to the barn.
Niall felt her determination flagging in the face of Vic’s harsh dismissal. She’d known rationally that he was going to be angered by her presence on the farm. But logic couldn’t have prepared her for the impact of his boiling fury. As she and Meg spent a relaxing morning puttering around Meg’s garden and then preparing lunch together, Meg assured her on several occasions that Vic’s temper at her being there was a good signal, not a bad one.
Meg hadn’t stood in the face of Vic’s rage, however. Niall was far from confident that Vic would ever give her the opportunity even to voice her explanation for her actions last fall, let alone that he would listen with a compassionate ear to her apology.
But her sole mission on coming to the farm hadn’t just been to reclaim Vic. She looked forward to teaching the art history class this summer, no matter what the circumstances. Being exposed to Donny’s raw talent and having him agree to take the class made her even more excited to teach this summer. She spent an hour that morning finalizing her lesson plans and organizing the materials she planned to use for her first week.
Vic refused to eat the lunch that she and Meg had prepared when the men returned from the fields. Instead, he barked at Donny from the driveway that he was taking him home and that they’d grab lunch in El Paso. Donny looked slightly disgruntled by the change of plans but rallied quickly enough.