“So everyone’s related here,” I said.

“No. We just all know each other. It’s nice. Everywhere you go somebody asks how you’re doing, asks about your family. We look out for each other.”

“Is that what this is?” I bristled. “You looking out for them? Is that why you rescued me from the mayor’s lecture?”

“Not entirely. I admit that part of me wants to be the one to convince you to save the plant. I wouldn’t mind showing off like that. Being the hero. Not the way Layla suggested though.”

“Oh, really, the one with the overalls? What was her idea? Get me a cowboy hat and some boots?” I said.

“Blow job,” she deadpanned.

I choked on my potatoes. I coughed and hacked. She handed me a napkin and I coughed into it, eyes watering, swigging water in desperation.

“What?” I croaked between coughs.

“Blow. Job. It’s where someone uses their mouth—” she had a mischievous glint in her eyes.

“Stop,” I said, cutting her off. It felt like a brushfire had just engulfed my body, from the soles of my feet all the way through my hardening cock and straight up to the tips of my ears.

She laughed, a big, glorious sound and slapped her thigh.

“I’m familiar with the concept. I’ve had one. I mean, more than one,” I said. How did this small-town girl catch me off guard and leave me stammering?

“You should see your face,” she said.

“You’ll have to forgive me if I react when someone, particularly an attractive woman, uses the phrase blow job in dinner conversation.”

“Are you city boys so traditional? Should I put on an apron and go refill your tea glass?” she said.

“No. I’m not like that. I was startled. And when I talk to you, everything seems to come out wrong.”

She flashed me a dazzling smile.

She was just screwing with me. I knew by the wicked grin on her face. And I loved it.

“So your friend thought you should trade a blow job for the factory staying open?”

“Yes and no. She’s not a pimp or anything. It was a joke.”

“I see,” I said. “My brother and I have similar conversations. Hilarious ones that anyone else would think was insane.”

“You have a brother?”

“A twin, in fact. He’s home from the Marines, working in construction now.”

“A twin? How cool. Were you super close growing up?” she said, genuinely interested.

“Sometimes. And sometimes we beat the crap out of each other. He makes me better. I like to think I do the same for him.”

“How so?” she said.

“Well, when he decided to enlist, he spent that whole summer working out. I was never into that, but I have this competitive streak, especially when it comes to him. I didn’t want to be the scrawny twin. So I started hitting the gym, too. He was my motivation to prove I was as good as he was.”

“I can see how you’d be compared a lot,” she said thoughtfully.

“Yes. It’s a great motivator, for me, at least. What about you? What’s your motivation? Besides defeating me and saving your town?”

“I’ve always wanted to do something bigger, I guess. Something that helps a lot of people.”

“Well, you’re educating kids. That’s big.”

“Yes, but it’s not all. I opened a daycare because I saw a need. Mrs. Susan, who ran the daycare downtown for years was retiring, and I knew there would be a bunch of preschoolers with no place to go while their parents worked. So I did my licensing, took the classes, reached the goal of opening before Susan closed her doors. That way I was in place, and her staff and students had a place to be.”

“That’s very civic-minded of you.”

“I enjoy it. I enjoy running my own business, having no one to answer to. I like the kids and the people I work with. I’ve got the place open sixteen hours a day running on two shifts with part-timers covering lunch breaks. First shift starts at six-thirty so I open at six.”

“You’re a go-getter. You could close up here and go to the city and make a success of your business, I’m sure.”

“Who said I’m not successful already?” she asked. “Besides, for better or worse, I live here. It’s the only place I ever wanted to be. So I’m staring down the barrel of shuttering the place. If you chain the gate on that plant, it takes me and mine down with it.”

“I’m sure you have clients who aren’t employed at the factory,” I hedged, feeling uncomfortably like I was here to eat her potatoes and ruin her life.

“Three. I have two students whose mom works at the city water department and one whose mom works at the convention center in Pendleton but lives here in town.”

“That’s a small percentage,” I said, feeling deflated.

It was the strangest feeling. I was uncomfortable with the topic of conversation, but I wanted to spend more time with Maggie. I should have wanted to get away, but instead, I wanted to pull her close. “I’m used to towns practically coming at me with pitchforks and torches. So being welcomed here is unusual to say the least. I know that this plant is extremely valuable to your community. A lot of jobs hinge on this, and other businesses depend on the factory as well, like yours. I didn’t set out to make enemies.”

Tags: Natasha L. Black Romance
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