“You getting emotionally involved is the last thing I ever expected from you. I thought this was a standard job—go in, run the numbers, shut it down. What’s different?”

“The girl. She runs a daycare that caters to factory workers. It’s her entire business. And it’s not the only one that relies on the factory.”

“You’re just realizing this now? That one major industry supports the rest of a small town? Dude, you’re the one that went to college,” he laughed at me. “And she must be something if she’s got you rethinking numbers.”

“This wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life,” I complained.

“So quit. Take it from me, shit doesn’t turn out the way you planned. So change direction.”

“I’ve worked long and hard to reach the level I’m in at Hadley,” I argued.

“And you seem so happy with it,” he said sarcastically. “Do what feels right. That’s all I’m saying.”

“Thanks for the advice. How are you doing?”

“Same as ever. It’s all good,” he said.

“Got a girlfriend yet?” I said. I was hesitant to ask, and I was basically talking in code. He’d had a lot of ill effects from his experience in the Marines, and it had messed up his head.

“No. But it sounds like you do.”

“Get out there. Go on a date,” I said. “What does your shrink say?”

“I’ll go out with someone when I’m damn good and ready. I haven’t seen a woman yet who interests me since I got back. The shrink says give it time, the mind and body heal slowly.”

“How helpful,” I said wryly.

“Yeah, these counselors don’t give you the quick fix, I’ll give them that. She said a support group might help, but I’m sick of talking about all this.”

“Maybe give it a chance?” I suggested.

“Right. That’s definitely a hobby I want to take up. Forget circuit training and working construction. I want to sit in a circle and talk about my feelings and fears, right, Jer?”

“It’s what you’ve always dreamed of,” I joked. “Isn’t that why you enlisted?”

“It was mostly the signing bonus, but yeah, the chance to whine about my bad dreams to a lot of strangers with their own shit… definitely a life goal,” Tyler said. “Now quit stressing out, decide what you want and go for it.”

“You’re a life coach now, Oprah?” I asked. After a bit more ball-busting, I hung up with Tyler.

I had known there was no one I could ask for advice that would tell me to walk away. I was torn between making the soundest recommendation to my employer and doing what was best for the community. The community and Maggie.

I had some soul searching to do.

There was the job I’d been hired to do. The clear recommendation.

That result happened to be the ultimate cockblock. The obstacle to a relationship with Maggie that could never be overcome.

Or I could turn in a very unethical recommendation to keep the plant open, save the town, probably get the girl and then get fired and the factory closed anyway when they sent someone else in to do what I couldn’t. It was a lose-lose situation for everyone involved.

15

Maggie

Jeremiah asked me out to dinner, and I took him up on it. As soon as I was done at work, I rushed home to get ready. He picked me up and took me to Cecil’s. It was my pick, because nobody had a better order of ribs in the state as far as I was concerned. Any man being evangelized to love this place needed only those dry rub ribs to melt off the bone and affect a change in his mind.

“These are life-altering ribs,” I told him as we sat down. “They’re going to sear all the darkness from your soul and leave you happy, full, and committed to saving any town that produces authentic dry-rub ribs of this quality. The process is so extensive they only fire up the smoker once a month to do these. You’re lucky to be here.”

“I know I’m a lucky man, although pork products didn’t come to mind. I was thinking I’m glad to be out with you,” he said.

“You’ve really been turning on the charm the last couple of days. You got a factory to save, too?” I teased.

“No, I’ve got a girl to win over. Despite my job, and the unfortunate way we met.”

“You were checking in to my parents’ B&B.”

“And I tried to chat you up, but you learned my name and shut me right down,” he said almost affectionately.

I wanted to keep things light, to forget about the feelings I was trying hard to ignore. Because I could talk about wanting to win him over to our town’s side all I wanted, but in my heart that wasn’t all I was wishing for. I was wishing for him to take one look at me and realize he could never do anything to hurt me, that he wanted to be with me more than he wanted to be a corporate Company man.


Tags: Natasha L. Black Romance
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