I walk up to the door of the old farm house. I need a job to get me through the summer and my aunt knows of a widow that owns a ranch and needs to hire a farm hand. Just someone to help out with the menial jobs that she can’t handle on her own. I’ve been working on farms from the time I was old enough to hold a hammer, and, if the size of the place is any indication, she’ll be able to pay well.
My jaw hits the porch when the door opens. Aunt Selah never said anything about the widow having a younger sister or daughter. She looks no more than a year or two older than my nineteen years. She has long blond hair falling down her back in waves and bright blue eyes that match the mountains on the horizon. Her lips are turned up in a puzzled smile. “Can I help you?”
“Um, yeah, Selah Compton said that you were hiring for a field hand. I came by to offer my services.” I say after taking a moment to collect my thoughts. She simply nods in response.
My aunt is well known in the community, so she knows who sent me. “Well, come on in,” says in a slightly tired voice. She holds the door open to let me through and makes sure it closes behind her. Gesturing to a chair at her kitchen table she continues. “So how much farm experience do you have?”
I figure she’s handling the hiring for her mom (or grandmother), so I go with it. “I’ve worked on farms since I was little. I spent every summer with Aunt Selah and Uncle Bill. I wanted to get a little experience and maybe make a little more money than my aunt is willing to pay.”
She stands and grabs a bottle of water from the refrigerator and asks if I want anything. I decline and she sits back at the table, sipping on her drink. “Well, I’ll show you around the place and see if you’re still interested. It hasn’t had the care it deserves in a long time and it will take a while to get back in working order.”
She grabs a field jacket from the hook by the door and leads me out of the house toward a barn. “I assume you ride,” she says, making me chuckle.
“Ever since I was tall enough to reach the stirrups,” I reply, positive this is going to be fun. I’ve always loved horses.
She shows me where her tack is stored and leads in two beautiful beasts. One is a palomino mare, about fourteen hands, and a black gelding with a white stripe down his face that is easily over sixteen hands. “I want you to meet my babies, Candy,” she says, scratching the mare behind her ear, “and Blaze,” she nuzzles the gelding’s neck. “Candy is used to me, but Blaze is better for you since you’re heavier than me. Saddle up and I’ll show you around.”
I’m glad I didn’t dress up, because otherwise I’d be a mess. After getting the horses saddled and heading out to look at everything, it’s obvious that she wasn’t exaggerating. Fields need to be cleared, fences need to be mended, A LOT of work needs to be done.
After riding for about an hour, we head back to the house and go inside. I accept her offer for a drink this time and we talk details. “I can offer room and board, plus a monthly salary of fifteen hundred, paid twice a month. I would expect you to be able to be on call at all times, but since it would just be the two of us, I don’t think too much would come up.”
Just the two of us? My aunt had to have gotten some information wrong. I want to make sure that I was in the right place. “This is the Stackhouse farm, right?”
“Yep. It’s been in my family for the past hundred and fifty years. And yeah, I should probably introduce myself. I’m Sookie, Sookie Stackhouse-Savoy.”
Now I’m really fucking confused. “Forgive me for asking, ma’am, but my aunt told me that there was a widow here that needed assistance with her farm.”
“Yep, that’d be me,” she says, giving me a sad smile.
Oh, he’s gorgeous; he’s a good foot taller than my five-foot-four and his eyes are a clear, crystal blue like the sky at noon. His shaggy blond hair is tied back in a low ponytail and damn can he fill out some Wranglers. I can tell by his expression that I’m not what he was expecting, but I go with it.
I sure as hell never expected to be a widow at twenty-seven. Remy and I lived on base in North Carolina at Camp Lejeune. When he came home last time, I was so happy. I thought we’d be able to get started on the family that we’d both wanted. Then he was deployed for eighteen more months; he never came home from that tour. I didn’t want to live on or anywhere around the base anymore – not without Remy. I headed home to the farm where I grew up in Virginia. Gran had left it to me in her will when she passed, but I hadn’t been there in years by the time I moved back. The idea of training and breeding horses, like Gran used to, appealed to me, but I knew the farm needed a lot of work before I could even begin to live my newest dream.
After living there by myself in mourning for about eight months, I put out word to my neighbors to forward anyone needing some extra work my way. I figured I could check references easily with a phone call. I wasn’t expecting Thor of the South to show up on my front porch about three months later. I know his aunt and uncle, and even if I don’t really want to socialize with them, I know they’re honest people.
I’m actually glad he’s fairly young. I know that what I’m offering isn’t a lot money-wise, which is why I’m throwing in room and board. God knows I have more than enough room for someone else.
He asks for a little time to consider my offer once I tell him my intentions for the farm. Gran left me a good amount of money along with the ranch, plus Remy’s military benefits and what was left from the inheritance after my parents died. I’m all that’s left of my family and I plan on doing everything I can to bring life and prosperity back to the property.
He drives off in a red pickup that suits what I’ve seen of him so far. It’s not new or flashy or loaded with options, but clean and well maintained. A few hours later, he calls me back to take the job, after asking a few more questions about the salary plus room and board. We set up a time for him to move in and get better settled.
It seems like this was the job I was made for; farm work is second nature, but horses are a passion. I can’t help but catch Sookie’s enthusiasm when she talks about the animals that she loves. Although I tried to broach the topic, she avoided any discussion of how she became a widow so young. After talking it over with my aunt and uncle, even though they only live a short distance away from the ranch, we all decided it would be better for me to live there with Sookie.
I load my few possessions into the bed of my truck and drive to the Stackhouse farm the next day. It still seems a little daunting how much work it’s going to take to get this farm back into working order.
Sookie gives me the entire second floor; it has a private porch and entry at the back of the house, as well as access to the main floor from a staircase in the main hall. The floor has a pretty big bedroom with a king bed, a full bath, and even a little furnished living room. I learn quickly that although she is generous in sharing her home, Sookie considers the kitchen “hers” and doesn’t want me messing it up. I also discover quickly that she is an incredible cook. If she didn’t have so much work waiting for me, I’d worry about gaining weight.
After dinner, she pops a couple of beers and hands one to me. I’m no stranger to alcohol, but I am underage. When I make that point, she raises an eyebrow at me.
“One, you’re the size of two of me and I doubt one beer is going to get you wasted. Two, it’s not like you have to drive to get home. Three, it’s a beer. I like one or two to relax at the end of the day. I’m not a cop; I don’t care if you do too.” I nod and take a sip as she continues. “So, I’ve known your aunt and uncle for years, but tell me about yourself.”
I tell her about growing up in Kentucky around some of the best horse farms in the country. I started doing part time maintenance work on some of the farms when I was fourteen: minor repairs in the fields and basic mechanics on some of the equipment. Once I graduated and was available full time, I had wanted to work more with the horses, but was told I needed more experience.
She leans back in her chair, propping her slippered feet on the table top. “So why not stick with it and get the experience?”
I think about that while I sip my beer. “I wasn’t all that attached to Kentucky. I hung out there, really just biding my time. When Aunt Selah called and told me what you wanted to do with your farm, it sounded like a great opportunity.” I shrug.
She drains her beer and tosses the bottle in a blue bin. “Well, I’m turning in. You’re a big boy and can do what you want. Breakfast will be ready at six and we have a long hard day of work ahead of us, so I recommend turning in for you too. See you in the morning.” She rises from the table with a tired smile and leaves the kitchen.
I follow shortly after, heading down the hall to the stairs. As I pass her room, I notice that her door didn’t close all the way. I see her pull off the t-shirt she had been wearing and the jeans that hugged her legs like a second skin. Her outer clothes made her look like a tomboy, but what was underneath is all woman. She stands with her back to the door, wearing pale blue lace boyshorts and, from what I can tell from the straps, a matching bra. She starts to turn and I rush past the door to the stairs, feeling dirty like a peeping Tom… and incredibly aroused. Fuck. Not a complication I was looking for.
Eric is adorable, thinking that I didn’t know he’s underage when I gave him the beer. I don’t care as long as it’s in moderation and he stays off the road. We haven’t really had a lot of time to get to know each other just yet, but we’ll have a lot of time together in the fields tomorrow with nothing to do but talk to each other.
I’m getting ready for bed, down to my underwear, when I hear the floor in the hall creak. I turn and see that the door didn’t close when I came in. I go to make sure the door catches when I hear footsteps thundering up the stairs and smile. I find I don’t really care if Eric sees me in my bra and panties. It feels nice to be seen again. I’ve missed that in the past year. No one has seen me in less than a bathing suit since Remy.
As is my bedtime ritual, I pull out my photo album. The pictures start with my junior year formal in college. Remy and I had been set up on a blind date by the sister of one of his friends, also in the Corps. The album documents our whole relationship from dating to engagement to marriage. Unfortunately, after the wedding, there are almost no pictures. He was rarely home for more than six months between tours. The album wasn’t opened for a long time after he died, but once I moved back home, it kept me company here in the middle of nowhere.
I stroke Remy’s face over the protective plastic covering our wedding picture. I know the hurt won’t ever really go away, and I’ll always miss him, but I also know in time it will be easier to deal with. Even though I smile at the thought of Eric seeing me undressed, I don’t think being romantic with him would ever be an option; it certainly wasn’t a factor in me hiring him.
I wake up like I always do at quarter after five. My internal clock is set perfectly and I don’t even need or use an alarm clock anymore. I stretch and pull a robe on over my pajamas and head into the kitchen. First thing, always, is starting the coffee maker. I pour my mug as soon as I hear the big hiss of steam signaling that the brewing is done and sip while I look over the contents of my refrigerator. I went grocery shopping before Eric moved in, making sure the kitchen would be well stocked. I shred some potatoes for home fries, slice some bread fresh from my bread maker for toast, scramble some eggs and fry some bacon. Figuring there was a good blend of carbs and protein for a day of work, I started to get lunch ready. Lunch would be a quick affair, grabbing time to eat while we worked. I slice some more bread and tomatoes. Pulling off some leaves of lettuce, I plan on BLTs using any leftover bacon. If there wasn’t any, well, we’d have tomato sandwiches. The tomatoes are home grown and don’t taste bland like the out of season crap they sell at the grocery store.
I hear a loud buzzing coming from upstairs; a few minutes later, footsteps coming down the hall. Holy cow, Eric looks nothing like I expected; long legs in flannel pajama bottoms, bedhead that looks strangely sexy, and no shirt. That bare chest puts romance novel covers to shame. Ugh. Wide shoulders, chiseled chest and well defined abs, all earned by hard work and not some weight room at a gym. Eric rubs his eyes sleepily and looks at the spread I have set on the table and cocks his head. “You always cook breakfast like this?”
“Not hardly,” I laugh. “But I probably will from now on. We’re going to be burning it fast. Eat up.” We fill our plates and eat in comfortable silence. I can’t help but sneak little glances at the bare torso across from me. Nope, no harm in just looking when it’s so blatantly on display. It doesn’t take long for the table to be cleared, since between the two of us there aren’t many leftovers; we separate, going to our respective rooms to dress and head out.
I pull on a USMC t-shirt and a flannel over it. I grab my favorite work jeans and tug those on too. I find my well-broken in hiking boots and some comfy socks before pulling my hair up into a high ponytail. Eric joins me a few minutes later in similar clothing: jeans, boots, and a t-shirt with the logo for “WinStar Farms” that has seen much better days.
I grab the keys for my four-wheelers since riding the horses isn’t really practical today. I show him the first spots I want cleared and what areas I want fenced for feeding. I show him where I plan on building a riding ring and, once I get started, some land I might possibly want to use to build a full stable.
We get started running the mowers to get the grass drying for hay to use once the winter comes. It takes longer and was much harder than I expected. We finally get the first part of the field mowed by noon and settle down for lunch. I toss Eric a bottle of water that I pulled out of the freezer when we left the house that morning. It had been frozen solid then, but now it was nice and thawed; still cool. I see the speed he downs it and chuckle, tossing him another one. We sit on the freshly mowed grass and eat our sandwiches. We talk a little more about our lives, but I change the subject whenever it veers toward my widowed state. I’m still not ready to talk about Remy to someone I barely know.
He asks me about Candy and Blaze and I can’t help but smile. Candy was the foal of Gran’s horse Cinnamon and I claimed her as soon as I saw her tiny golden body, even though I hadn’t been around much. Once she was old enough, we bred her and Blaze was her baby. I was only interested in quarter horses for the time being, but had no problems expanding my interest to other breeds in the future.
He tells me about some of the horses he had hoped to work with, all of them having stuffy, silly names like Shimmering Ballet and Paris Limerick. He agreed that the names were sometimes ridiculous, but the animals had no choice what their owners named them. I can understand that; hell, I was named Sookie. No one knows that better than me.
With lunch finished, I grab a rake, a tape measure, and a can of red spray paint off the back of the four-wheeler. I start raking the mowed grass away from where I want to build a fence and mark the spots I want to dig for the posts with the paint, using the tape measure to check the distance between markings. Eric watches for a few minutes, then grabs the other set of tools I brought and starts at the other end and we meet in the middle. We both grab post diggers and start at opposite ends, knowing there’s no way we’re going to be able to finish. Just as the sun starts to set, we pack up and head back to the house, anxious to shower and get the sweat and pollen off our skin.
We meet after in the kitchen for a simple dinner of pasta and some more conversation. For nineteen, he’s a smart guy. I can almost look at him and not see a kid. Almost. He doesn’t give me a weird look this time when I hand him a beer. We’ve both earned it after a day of hard work.
I head to bed first again, and this time I make sure the door doesn’t catch when I go to close it. Again, there’s no harm in looking when it’s on display.