ROCKY MOUNTAIN SHELTER First Three Chapters
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May, Rocky Mountain House
A metallic shriek filled the air as Trevor Coleman stomped on the brakes, gravel flying as his oversized pickup skidded to a halt. On the ridgeline of the run-down rental house he’d been stalking for days, a dark silhouette teetered precariously, and he swore under his breath.
He shoved the truck back in gear and hurried onto the pothole-ridden private road. It took a minute to manoeuver the narrow driveway, his approach hidden behind a line of thick, overgrown pine trees. Barely into the main yard, he jolted to a halt, rushing out the door toward the house. He didn’t want to scare whoever was on the roof into taking a fall, but no way could he turn a blind eye to what looked like a teenaged kid trespassing.
“Hey,” he shouted. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
His feet carried him forward as the youth spun to face him, arms flapping upward. The kid’s feet slipped on the worn shingles, his body smacking down on the rooftop then sliding rapidly toward the edge. Trevor put on an extra burst of speed, aiming at where the kid would fall off the roof and plummet to the ground.
He was greeted by silence instead of a jet-propelled body.
Trevor stepped back a couple of paces to discover the kid sprawled belly down, arms spread wide as he clutched a hammer. The prongs had dug into the roof like an ice axe.
“Jeez, you’ve got horseshoes up your ass.” Trevor whipped off his hat as he stared upward, trying to figure out the easiest way to get the kid down so he could kill him with his bare hands. “Stay put. I’ll get the ladder.”
“There isn’t one.”
Trevor jerked in surprise. That was no teenaged boy. That was a female voice.
He eased away another foot and examined her more carefully. “How’d you get up there?”
“I climbed. Do you mind? Go away.”
Like hell he would. Trevor stayed alert as she got her feet under her, twisting to vertical to stare down like a disapproving angel.
Now that he was closer, it was very clear she was a woman—there was no disguising the way she filled out the flannel shirt and well-worn jeans. Dark brown curls stuck out from under the brim of her baseball cap, the rest of her hair tucked away, and he had the sudden hope the wind would gust and send the cap flying so he could see it all.
She was far enough away some details were lost. Like her eyes—definitely dark, but he wasn’t sure if they were deep brown or dusted with lighter tones. Her lips were drawn tightly together into damn near a pout, which gave him all sorts of ideas about how to turn her frown into a smile, not the least of which would be planting a kiss on them.
Because the stubborn glare she was giving him was a challenge and a half, and Trevor liked challenges. Especially when they were delivered by mysterious, good-looking women, although he didn’t know about the standing-on-the-neighbour’s-roof part.
She wavered for a moment, arms shooting out again to catch her balance. She didn’t make a sound, though, probably in an attempt to seem less frightened than she was.
If she wanted to pretend everything was cool, he could play that game as well. “You want a hand?” he drawled.
Her nose twitched. “Is this when you start clapping?”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” He glanced along the roofline. The house had a higher section to the left of where she stood, the second-storey windows like wide eyes staring at him. “Seems a strange place to be taking a walk, that’s all I’m saying.”
“There’s a leak,” she offered finally as an explanation.
Now they were getting somewhere. Something to fix. He could deal with that. Not to mention, it would give him a chance to possibly pick up some information—details he’d been searching a long time to find. “Why don’t I—”
Her feet slipped again, the sharp incline too much to control.
This time Trevor knew she couldn’t recover, and he shot forward, keeping a wary eye out for the hammer. It flew off the edge barely a second before she rolled after it.
He expected to hear her shriek on the way down, but deep silence hung on the air in the seconds before he caught her against his body and momentum drove them both to the ground.
She was soft in all the right places, and warm—
—and gone. Vanished before he had a chance to truly appreciate a bit of bodily contact as a reward for his heroic rescue.
She’d scrambled to her feet, backing up until there was ample space between them. “Thank you.”
Then damn if she didn’t turn and walk away, snatching up her hammer as she passed it, headed straight for the front door.
“That’s all you got to say? Thank you?” Trevor raced after her, incredulous. “Really?”
She laid a hand on the door, pausing to look him up and down. For a second he thought she was considering using the hammer on him. “What do you want?”
“I don’t want anything. I mean, I want—” He fell silent, looking at her for inspiration.
What the hell did he want? She had him so muddled he sounded like an idiot. Come on, brain in gear.
He folded his arms over his chest and put on his most flirtatious smile. “Just wanted to say hello, and welcome to the neighbourhood. I heard you’ve got a leak in your roof. I’ve come to give you a hand.”
There. That should get some kind of positive reaction from her. A smile, a nod, maybe a bit of flirting in return.
Instead, she tugged open the screen door and slipped through, offering one final comment over her shoulder before swinging the solid wood door shut. “Thanks, but I got it under control.”
The door clicked. The sound of a deadbolt being turned followed.
Trevor stared in confusion.
The rental house was no longer empty, he’d just rescued a woman falling off the roof, and yet he was no further ahead than he’d been five minutes ago. This was all sorts of fucked up, and not very useful. He didn’t know her name, didn’t know how she’d gotten there…
A sharp creak sounded, and he jumped off the porch, glancing around cautiously. A second squeaking bang followed, and this time he looked upward in time to see one of the shutters on the second floor move, and a jean-clad leg extending over the sill.
Incredible. Damn woman was crawling out on the roof again.
He stepped back into her line of vision. “Are you trying to break your fool neck? You’re going to fall.”
“If you go away and stop distracting me, I won’t.”
Trevor couldn’t believe it. “You’ve got some kind of a death wish, honey.”
Silence in response.
And that was enough to push him over the edge. Trevor wasn’t used to being ignored. Especially not by pretty girls.
He took a quick peek to make sure she was solid on her feet before he did anything. She seemed all right. She had an X-Acto blade out and was patiently trimming away the shingles from the lower section of roof.
Sending up a prayer she wouldn’t lose her balance while she had the knife in hand, he hurried around the edge of the house to where a giant apple tree sat conveniently located. Convenient at least for his purposes. He shimmied up the trunk and into the first crook before he’d had time to consider what he was doing. But even pausing to wipe his hands before tackling the more difficult part of the climb didn’t change his mind.
No way was she leaving him on the ground without any information. He was just being neighbourly, he reasoned, as he stepped from branch to branch, going higher than the eaves trough.
His dad would give him hell if he didn’t offer a lady a hand.
Trevor propelled himself from the tree to the roof, tipping forward to land on his hands and knees to catch his balance before scrambling upward, the old, worn tiles warm under his fingers. He moved in silence, not wanting to startle her again, especially when there was no one to catch her if she did fall.
He waited until her hands were empty, watching from barely over the ridge as she cleared away a section of what was clearly water-damaged roofing. She rose and moved cautiously back to the second storey windows, grabbing hold of the windowsill and leaning in for something.
Trevor took advantage of the moment and ran the lower ridgeline to her side. He caught hold of the window and her waist at the same moment he offered a warning.
She stiffened but otherwise didn’t move. Didn’t scream, didn’t shout, didn’t do anything except cautiously pivot her head toward him. His hopes he’d avoid getting reamed out faded when their gazes met, her eyes blazing.
“I didn’t want you to fall,” he hurried to explain, withdrawing his hand from her waist reluctantly. She was a good-looking woman, and he had zero objections to having her in his arms.
But she wasn’t only mad, she was white knuckling the windowsill. “How’d you get up here?” she demanded.
Trevor tilted his head toward the corner. “Apple tree. A lot of these old homes have big enough trees you can get upstairs pretty easily.” The anger in her eyes flashed momentarily to an entirely different emotion. Double shit. “Don’t worry, not many people around here have a habit of climbing onto roofs.”
“I’m lucky you came over, is that what you’re telling me?”
The snarky comment offered a tiny crack in the ice, and Trevor leapt on it with everything he had. He thrust his hand forward. “Can we try this again? I’m Trevor Coleman. You never did tell me your name.”
She offered her hand slowly, her grip strong as her fingers wrapped briefly around his. “Becky Hall. I’d really prefer you not be on this roof with me.”
“I’d really prefer you not be on the roof, period,” Trevor confessed. “But you said you’ve got a leak. Maybe can we can work out a compromise.”
She eyed him up and down, one hand still clutching the edge of the windowsill. It was obvious she was scared to death, but he wasn’t sure if it was of him or their height above the ground.
Her pulse was visible at the base of her throat, and he watched it, fascinated, drawn to the soft texture of her skin. If they’d been at Traders Pub, or somewhere in town, he would have leaned in as he flirted, maybe even casually stroked a finger along her neck, just to see how she’d react.
Not the time. Definitely not the place. And something warned him to go a hell of a lot slower than usual. Something more than the panic hovering in her eyes.
“How about we discuss a trade?” he offered.
“What kind of trade?”
“I’ll fix your roof, and you help me get in touch with your landlord.”
She stared at him long and hard, and then without a word, threw a leg over the windowsill and crawled inside.
He waited, hope rising. Maybe she was going to get some paper and give him the phone number.
Instead, she lowered the window between them with a snap and turned the old-fashioned latch firmly before meeting his gaze. “That’s okay. I’ll take care of the repairs myself.” Her voice muffled behind the glass barrier. “I trust you can get down the way you came up.”
She disappeared into the darkness as Trevor leaned his face against the window and peered in like some crazy peeping Tom.
Well, shit. That hadn’t worked out at all the way he’d hoped.
He pulled into the parking space outside the Coleman bachelor pad. Two of his cousins still lived there, and from the trucks parked in the yard, both were home. He hurried into the house to find the back screen door open and Raphael and Jesse sitting on the porch with long necks in their hands.
“Look what the cat drug in.” Jesse held out a beer. “I thought you were going to be here half an hour ago. We started without you.”
Trevor twisted the cap off his bottle as he dropped into one of the sturdy lawn chairs, taking a long drink of the cold liquid as he looked his cousins over.
In spite of their differences, he was pretty sure most strangers could tell at a glance the three of them were related. Rafe’s hair was the blondest. Jesse’s a touch darker and then his—a deep brown. His cousins had blue eyes; his were an unremarkable brown. They stood over six feet, solidly built from years of working the land. All of them got their share of female attention without much trouble.
They’d been teased before about their “cowboy uniforms”—jeans, boots and hats, and an unshaved jaw from nights spent tying one on a little too hard.
Trevor laughed. If he showed up looking worse for wear, it was far more likely he’d spent all night chasing down part of the herd or dealing with a ranching emergency. It wasn’t easy trying to beat a living from land that seemed hell-bent against being tamed.
The three of them were the last of the Coleman men left unhitched, which was fine by Trevor. He liked playing the field, although he usually had far more luck with the ladies than he’d had that afternoon with Becky.
Rafe eased forward in his chair, curiosity in his eyes. “I met your brother on the road this afternoon. Lee said he was doing late chores, so you should’ve been done a while ago.”
“I was. I headed into town to hit the library.”
For some weird reason, Rafe stiffened before demanding, “What were you doing there?”
“Yeah,” Jesse teased, “I didn’t know you could read.”
Trevor rolled his eyes. Jesse being an asshole outweighed poking at Rafe’s strange behaviour. “Oh, a cutting blow. You’re such a bastard, Jesse.”
His cousin smirked harder.
“I can’t go on. I’m going to curl up right here and cry in my beer.”
“Asshole.” Jesse laughed the word. “So…what? Why were you in town? Don’t make us pull it out of you, because I’m sure it’s not that interesting.”
Trevor’s amusement faded as frustration rushed in. He’d wanted to do this on his own, but after getting stuck without any forward progress, maybe it was time to call in reinforcements. “Trying to find out who owns the parcel of land that butts up to the west of the Moonshine property line. You’d think someone in town would know, especially if there’s gossip involved, but everyone is surprisingly tight-lipped, and so far I haven’t found anything on file in land records.”
“You guys need extra pastureland?” Rafe asked.
“Maybe. Pasture some, hay the rest, but there’s no use in making any plans until I know who to contact.”
His lack of progress was more than annoying; it was becoming a personal taunt. Like a fuck you that he couldn’t do as much for his family as the rest of his siblings. “My dad’s still not feeling well, so we’re all trying to take up the slack until he’s back on his feet.”
“And even short-handed, you want more land?” Rafe shook his head. “I wish we had your troubles.”
“I thought the Angel clan was doing okay,” Jesse said. “With going organic, and all that shit.”
Rafe made a rude noise. “It’s going better than it was, but we’re still a long way off making it a complete success. I don’t have to tell you why.”
Trevor sympathized without saying anything.
They all knew that of the older generation of Coleman brothers to settle in the Rocky Mountain House area, Rafe’s father Ben had proven to have the shittiest attitude and the least sense. Trevor would take his father—or Jesse’s dad, Uncle Mike—any day of the week over Ben, but it wasn’t the kind of sentiment you straight up said to another person. Gee, yeah, it sucks that your dad is an asshole.
Might be true, but it just wasn’t said.
Rafe tipped his chair back on two legs, staring into space as he absently picked at the label on his bottle. “You know, I’ve never heard the story either. Seems like that land should belong to someone in the family, but I’ve only heard it called the rental.”
Which was what Trevor knew as well.
“We’re the youngest, except for Lee, and nobody tells us shit,” Jesse complained.
“There’s never been a reason to tell us,” Raphael pointed out. He finished his bottle and stood. “I’m starving. I’ll get supper going.”
Trevor lingered over his drink. He’d struck out for the past couple of months, but Becky moving in changed things. Maybe he’d be able to finally get ahead. “There’s someone new renting it now,” he said. “The house on the southwest quarter.”
Jesse raised a brow. “What? The old-timers are gone?” He snapped his fingers. “Hey, you’re right. I heard somebody say they decided it was too much work to take care of, so they moved into town. That was back a month or so ago.”
“Well, someone else moved in already, so I might be able to find out who owns it from her.”
Jesse’s eyes widened. “Her? Tell me we’ve got new blood in the neighbourhood.”
Something tightened in Trevor’s gut. He had absolutely no reason to feel possessive, or protective, but damn if that wasn’t what whipped through his veins the instant interest lit up Jesse’s expression. “Yeah. Must be an old schoolteacher come to retire, or something,” he lied.
Anticipation faded from Jesse’s blue eyes. “Well, damn it all.” He threw his beer bottle across the deck into the open garbage can, the glass ringing loudly off the metal frame. “I swear Rocky is where people come to die. Makes it difficult to find anybody to spend time with.”
The utter dejection in his cousin’s voice made Trevor laugh out loud. “What makes it difficult is the fact you’ve already dated all the women in the area and pissed off most of them, in this county and the next three over.”
Jesse held his hands up in surrender, flashing a grin. “I can’t help it if I’m too much for any one woman to handle.”
Rafe made a gagging noise from the doorway. “If anyone has any appetite left after that load of crap got delivered, get your asses in here and help. Trevor, I take it you’re staying for supper?”
Trevor had his own place down the road, but he liked company too much to spend his evenings alone. “I’ll cook the vegetables and save your taste buds from Jesse’s slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am cooking methods.”
Jesse snorted as he rose to join them in the kitchen. “You two have no idea what culinary marvels I’m capable of. I keep my talent on the down-low, kind of like Superman in the kitchen.”
“No argument here—you’ve got a stomach of steel. We’re far too redneck for your class of cooking.” Rafe shoved a dirty plate into Jesse’s hands. “That’s why you get to wash. And get a move on, ’cause there’s nothing to eat off.”
Trevor forgot his worries in the complaining and joking that followed. But one thing he didn’t forget was the pair of light-brown eyes that had burned into him with all the fire he liked in a woman.
Intriguing. That’s what she was. Not only did Becky Hall have the answers he needed, she was easy on the eyes, and he wanted to find out what made her tick. It was a good combination—one that made him eager to return to the old rental house.
Becky was going to find out just how determined he was to be neighbourly…
Becky glanced at her watch for the third time since leaving the house. Today it didn’t matter how long the walk took, but if she was successful in finding work, she’d need to know for future trips.
Living in the country would have its drawbacks, especially come the winter, but she was too grateful for the roof over her head to complain.
A roof that needed work done before it rained again, but still…
Hard facts were easy to ignore on a day like this. It was a gorgeous morning, with the sun peeking through the morning clouds and a whole lot of birds going absolutely crazy in the bush beside the road. It was easy to have a light heart when everything was so beautiful, in spite of the impossible list of things she had to accomplish once she reached Rocky Mountain House. And the impossible things she had to accomplish at the homestead. And the—
She laughed. By this time she should be used to accomplishing impossible things before breakfast.
It’d barely been a week since she’d arrived, but it felt a lot longer in some ways. She’d explored the ranch house, and all the land within an hour walking radius. She had a pretty good idea of what she could accomplish with a little hard labour, and that was the one thing she was more than willing to provide.
This was a new start. A new chance to make a better life not only for herself —
—but she couldn’t get ahead and dream too quickly. She was still working one step at a time to keep her head above water. But having the opportunity sent a thrill through her every time she realized how much her life had changed.
Even this. Walking at the side of the road, quilt bag in hand and the urge to whistle breaking free as she strode along.
If she wanted to whistle, she could.
She pursed her lips and warbled back at the birds, the melody from her lips accompanied by their trills and chirps, and she didn’t worry about how it wasn’t womanly to be making such a loud racket.
In fact, she increased her volume and swung her arms harder, head lifted high as she marched toward town.
The honk of a vehicle horn directly behind her made her shoot nearly two feet in the air, heart pounding in panic.
Only when she turned, she made sure no sign of her fear showed, smoothing her expression, especially as she recognized the truck slowing to a snail’s pace beside her.
Oh goody. Her meddlesome rescuer.
Becky kept walking, glancing into the cab as the truck pulled up beside her. The passenger window slid downward, the truck now rolling forward an inch at a time, keeping pace with her strides.
“Hop in, rodeo girl.” Trevor adjusted the tan cowboy hat on his head as he flashed a smile.
“No, thank you.”
Any normal person would have nodded then driven on, but considering the man had climbed a tree to get her attention the previous day, she should have known a simple no wouldn’t be enough to get him to leave her alone.
“If you’re going to town you may as well ride. I’m headed your way.”
“It’s a nice day,” she said clearly, offering him a brief nod. “I’ll enjoy my walk. Thanks. Maybe I’ll see you around sometime.”
She totally ignored him and went back to whistling.
Well, not totally ignored, because it was difficult to forget that a massive four-by-four traveled exactly ten feet behind her, and no matter how fast she walked, or how much she dawdled, he stayed put.
She covered another mile before turning to face him, arms folded across her chest as she glared at the truck and the stubborn man behind the wheel.
He eased all the way up until he was in line with her again. The smile in his brown eyes matched the one creasing his lips.
“Hop in, rodeo girl,” he repeated. “I’m headed into town, how about a ride?”
“I don’t want a ride,” she insisted. “I really wish you’d leave me alone.”
The sparkle of amusement faded from his eyes. “Oh, hey, if you’re worried about getting a ride with a stranger, you can call anyone you’d like to let them know you’re with me. But I promise I’m safe.”
God. She was naïve—being worried about safety was the perfect excuse, although no way was she admitting she didn’t have a phone. “I’m happy walking, but thanks for the offer. I appreciate it.”
“How about I loan you my truck,” he blurted out. “You can head into town on your own.”
Shock made her feet come to a stop. “What is wrong with you?”
She was tempted to take her bag off her shoulder and swing it at the truck. “You can’t just give me your truck, or offer for me to leave you abandoned at the side of the road. That makes no sense.”
He shrugged. “Makes no sense to me that you’re walking when I’m driving the same direction you’re headed.” He tilted his head toward the seat. “Come on.”
“I bet you were an annoying child,” she snapped, resuming her march. But now she stared straight ahead to keep him from seeing the smile she was having difficulty hiding.
The truck was barely moving, inching its way down the highway. It was a good thing there was no other traffic, or they would’ve caused a traffic jam.
“Are you new to town, or visiting?” Trevor continued as if they were having a conversation somewhere normal and not at the side of the road with him driving in a one-car parade. “If you’re sticking around, I can show you the sights. What’re you interested in?”
“Being left alone?” she retorted. “But you don’t seem to understand that concept.”
“Just tagging along to keep you safe,” he said, his deep voice tinged with amusement. “It can be tricky business, walking all the way into Rocky. I’d hate for you to get lost.”
“The road doesn’t turn once between here and town,” Becky pointed out, glancing into the cab. She was losing her battle to keep a straight face.
Especially when he gasped in shock, his face twisting dramatically. “No. Jeez, you mean those four right turns I’ve been taking my entire life aren’t necessary?” Becky snorted, and Trevor laughed, snapping up a hand to wiggle a finger at her. “I knew there was a sense of humour hiding in there.”
She gave up. If he was going to be this persistent she might as well save her feet a bit of wear and tear. “Stop the truck. You win.”
His grin grew wider as she hauled open the door and crawled inside. “Where to, rodeo girl?”
Suddenly she wasn’t as certain. She had a whole bunch of places on her list, but she supposed the one that was the closest would be best.
“Anywhere on Main Street would be great. Thanks.” She tightened the seatbelt over her chest and placed her bag in her lap.
“So, Becky Hall, what brings you to Rocky Mountain House?”
A perfectly civil question, and one she’d prepared for. “It was time to move out,” she said with complete honesty.
Trevor nodded, his square jaw all the more noticeable in profile as he kept his gaze on the road, giving her plenty of time to study him. “There comes a time to do the next thing,” he agreed.
She could agree with that. It was past time.
“You have a job in Rocky?” he asked.
“Nothing yet,” she admitted. “That’s what I need to do today. Drop off resumes, talk to people—get my bearings.”
“I know a lot of folk in town,” he said enticingly. “What are you looking for? Maybe I can put in a good word for you.”
“Right. You don’t even know me.”
He laughed again, the sound echoing brightly in the cab, and somehow the sheer joy in it made little bubbles of happiness rise in her core as well, like the birdsong earlier in the day had lifted her spirits.
“Sure, I know you,” he insisted. “You’re my neighbour. Plus, you’re determined enough to crawl on a second-storey roof even though you’re afraid of heights. And you’re stubborn enough to refuse to take the easy way out. I can honestly recommend you for a number of jobs based on those habits alone.”
She leaned back in her seat and took a deep breath. “Okay, you can help me. You know anyone who’s hiring?”
“Depends on your skills,” he said. “You got any training or certificates?”
“No. Nothing official.”
“What were the last three jobs you had?”
She had to give titles to what she’d done? She’d done everything, and nothing. Cook and nanny. Teacher and nurse.
“I can cook, and clean, and sew,” she replied firmly. She shouldn’t try to work with children—she bet too many questions would be asked to get those types of jobs.
He nudged her arm lightly. “Did you sew that bag?”
She curled her arms around the sachet. She shouldn’t have taken it, but leaving everything behind had been impossible. “Yes.”
“That narrows it down then. You can quilt—which means first person you should talk to is Hope. Hope Coleman.”
The familiar last name registered a second before panic set in. He’d been flirting with her, she was sure of it, and yet…
And yet it’s not as if she hadn’t had first-hand experience with worse.
“She your wife?”
He’d just lifted a Coke to his lips, but the instant she spoke he was choking, a thin trickle of liquid running down his shirt before he wiped at his mouth and coughed hard to clear his throat. “Jeez, Rodeo, you did that on purpose.”
“Did what? And why are you calling me that?”
“Hope is my cousin’s wife, and she owns the quilt shop in town. And I’m calling you Rodeo because of this.” He ran a finger along the white fringe decorating the sleeve of her plaid shirt. “That’s what barrel riders wear to rodeo.”
The fancy shirts with the tassels were like nothing she’d ever worn before, but they’d come cheap from the thrift shop she’d visited. All she could stuff into a bag for two dollars.
“Sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t rodeo. I just liked the shirts.” Even as she spoke, a touch of anticipation was rising. She could quilt. “Do you think Hope needs help?”
“I happen to know she does,” Trevor assured her, turning at the first set of lights and heading down Main Street. “She’s expecting, so she’s looking for an assistant to ease the load.”
He pulled to a stop at the side of the road, and she glanced over eagerly at a neat glass-fronted shop proudly declaring The Stitching Post.
“It looks nice.” She turned to face him. “Thanks for the ride.”
Only before she had both feet on the sidewalk, he had somehow gotten out and around the vehicle fast enough to offer her a helping hand.
Before she could complain, or stutter uncomfortably, Trevor pulled the wind from her sails. “Let me introduce you,” he offered.
It was too strong of an incentive for her to turn down. Add in that he’d been nothing but charming for the last five minutes, Becky decided to stuff away her reservations for the moment.
“Thank you. Again.”
“Just being neighbourly,” he said with a wink as he pulled open the shop door and gestured her forward.
A small bell rang overhead as Becky eased past him, her body brushing his muscular frame in the tight doorway. She stepped quickly into the open to widen the gap between them, a riot of colour pulling her attention to the shop around her.
It was amazing. Sample quilts hung on the walls, while row after row of bright cotton fabrics were arranged by colour families on sturdy shelves. Tables and books and buttons and…if she’d ever dreamt of heaven it would have started with a room like this.
Becky pivoted in place and hoped with all her heart that Trevor’s good word would be enough to get her the job.
The bell on the door offered enough of a warning that Hope was already approaching, her pale-blue eyes taking in Trevor and the newcomer he’d brought along.
“You’re not who I expected for the first customer of the day, Trevor. Does Aunt Kate need something?” Hope came to a stop directly in front of them, transferring her load of patterns to the opposite arm as she examined Becky more closely.
“Hope, I’d like you to meet Becky Hall. She’s new to Rocky, living in the rental on the quarter west of Moonshine land.”
“Nice to meet you, Becky.” Hope glanced between them, probably trying to figure out how they knew each other. Being Hope, though, she tried to find a polite conversation topic. “Do you sew?”
Becky nodded, but her focus was elsewhere. She seemed distracted, her gaze darting around the room. “This is amazing. Did you make all the quilts?”
“Most of them. A few are local women who teach different techniques. If there’s anything that catches your attention, we might have a class you could join.”
“I think Becky knows how to do a lot of this stuff, already.” Trevor slipped into the conversation since his mystery woman seemed more interested in scoping out the shop than selling her skills. “She’s looking for work,” he shared. “She’s good—you should hire her.”
Becky’s head snapped toward him, a crease forming between her brows as if to warn him off.
Hope’s demeanor changed slightly. A little less like she was talking to a potential customer, and more like dealing with a future employee.
“Trust Trevor to get straight to the point,” she said with a laugh before waving him away. “Let us talk, then. We don’t need your help.”
Maybe not, but he was too curious to do more than drift away a few feet and pretend to be fascinated with one of the mechanic magazines Hope had stashed beside a comfortable chair. It was obviously a place set up for men to relax while their women shopped, but it was close enough to the front till he could overhear their conversation without looking like he was listening intently to every word.
“How about you tell me what you’re looking for, and we’ll take it from there,” Hope suggested.
“Full-time work would be best, but part-time is fine.” Becky twisted to face the counter, showing that intense concentration he’d seen while she was ignoring him. “I can work days or evenings—my schedule is wide open right now.”
“Have you worked in a fabric store before?”
Becky hesitated before shaking her head. “No, but I know how to stock shelves and keep supplies in order. And I can help with questions when it comes to most quilt designs, as well as help gather the materials for people.”
“What about the cash register, or ordering new supplies?” Hope leaned back, both hands pressed into her lower back. The move stretched the front of her jumper over the small round formed by her expanding belly, making it clear there was a baby on the way. “Sorry. I overdid it yesterday.”
There was another pause while Becky looked over the machine, her nose wrinkling in the most adorable way. “I haven’t used that kind of register, but I’m sure I could learn it. And ordering—it depends. What system do you use?”
Hope rattled off a list of numbers and letters that Trevor couldn’t make heads or tails of.
Neither could Becky from the panic twisting her face.
Hope chuckled. “It’s not much more than a basic Excel spreadsheet, if that helps.”
Becky shook her head again. “Computers aren’t my thing. This is.” She pulled the bag off her shoulder and held it out.
Hope took the quilted fabric and nodded in admiration as she turned it over. “It’s pretty. Hand pieced?”
“All my work is.” Becky gestured to the bag. “There’s a wall hanging inside, as well.”
Hope’s expression changed rapidly as she pulled fabric from the bag and laid it on the counter between them. “Holy shit.”
Trevor was still pretending to not be listening or he would’ve been on his feet in an instant. He tried to glance past the edge of the magazine, but he was too far away to see what had made Hope swear like a sailor. To him it looked as if she was staring wide-eyed at nothing more than a piece of painted fabric.
But he guessed not because his cousin-in-law seemed damned impressed.
“You’ve got some mad skills,” Hope murmured. “I’ve never seen a watercolour design that detailed.” She passed the quilt back with reluctance. “I don’t know if it’s enough, though. You being able to sew.”
“What if I try for a week?” Becky offered. “No charge—I’ll volunteer. See if it works for you, and if it does, then we can talk.”
Hope glanced over and met Trevor’s gaze.
He dipped his chin. Unless Becky was a far better actress than he’d guessed, it wasn’t a risky move. He didn’t think she’d take off with the cashbox or anything, and it would give Hope a chance to see if this was the help she needed. Seemed a win/win move to him.
“Okay, you can start tomorrow,” Hope agreed. “Ten o’clock, and you can fill out the paperwork when you get here.”
Behind them the bell rang as the door opened, and a group of a half dozen ladies slipped in, talking excitedly as they moved into the shop.
“I could start right now, if you want,” Becky offered. She pointed to the half-empty box Hope must have been working on when they’d arrived. “I can stock that if you want to help your customers.”
Hope seemed torn.
All of three seconds later, one of the women called her name and waved excitedly. “Oh, you got in that fabric I’ve been looking for. Hope, can you help me? I need to get started on this today.”
“Of course, Mrs. Tate. I’ll be right there.” Hope hurried around the counter and pressed the box into Becky’s open hands. “You’re on, girl. Start today, and I’ll buy you lunch. And I’ll pay you for the week, no matter what. Deal?”
“Deal,” Becky agreed quickly.
Hope went one way, and Becky the other, but she paused for a moment and her smile widened as she faced Trevor.
“Told you Hope was awesome,” he offered.
She fidgeted then nodded sincerely. “Thank you.”
“Hey, no prob. You’re the one who has to do the work.”
He tipped his hat and left the shop to get the things he needed from the hardware store. And after that he had a dozen urgent tasks all loudly calling his name.
But like the night before, he couldn’t get the damn woman off his mind.
Hours passed as he worked with his older brother, checking and repairing the field equipment in preparation for the coming season. When he found himself drifting from his task yet again, Trevor gave up. He might as well call it quits and go see how her day had gone.
His tools were put away and he was stripping off the blue overalls he’d worn to keep the grease and oil from his clothes before Steve noticed.
His brother paused to wipe the sweat off his forehead with the back of his sleeve before frowning. “Where’re you headed in such an all-fired hurry?”
For how much time Trevor had spent that day wondering how Becky was doing, he should’ve used at least thirty seconds to plan an excuse for cutting out early.
I need to go stalk our new neighbour probably wasn’t good enough.
He opened his mouth and closed it a couple of times before giving up. “I’m meeting someone in town.”
Steve sat in silence. Just sat there, drinking from his water bottle and waiting for Trevor to confess to…something.
It didn’t take long for guilt to roll in like the bastard wanted. “I’ll finish this later tonight, I promise. I want to be there on time.”
“Well, that’s fine. My time means shit, though, is that it?”
“No, of course not.”
“Next time tell me you’ve got a date,” Steve complained. “Finishing the swather is a two-person job. We would have worked on something else this afternoon if I’d known you were going to leave. And we can’t finish it later because Melody and I are going riding tonight.”
“I’m sorry.” And now he felt like a shit for screwing up Steve’s plans. “I can stay.”
Steve waved a hand. “Forget it. Only don’t make any plans for tomorrow morning because we’re going to stick to this job until we’re done, got it?”
He might’ve felt terrible, but he was also itching to leave. Trevor headed toward his truck as he called out a reply. “I promise. Tomorrow I’m all yours. For as long as it takes.”
“You know I’m going to find out who’s got you all rattled,” Steve shouted after him as Trevor climbed into his truck and pulled the door shut. “And I will tease you unmercifully every chance I get.”
Trevor stuck his hand out the window and gave his brother the finger as he drove away, hurrying home to grab the fastest shower ever.
Dressed in clean clothes, he tore down the back roads so he could make it to the door of the Stitching Post right at four thirty.
Only it was Hope’s head that popped up when the bell announced his entrance.
She motioned him forward, waving her hand frantically. “What is going on?” she demanded.
“What?” He glanced around the shop, but no one else was there. No customers, no Becky. “Where is she?”
“The place emptied out about half an hour ago, so I sent her home. The shop is on short hours today.”
Dammit. If he hadn’t taken the shortcut, he might’ve spotted her on the road. Or maybe she’d gone to pick up some groceries…
Hope poked a finger into his chest. “Hey, stop your woolgathering and talk to me.”
It finally registered. Hope’s question when he walked into the place. “Is something wrong?”
She made a face. “I…I don’t know.”
He was still missing a bunch of details, but he hadn’t meant to cause any trouble. “Hey, if Becky’s not going to work out, don’t feel obligated to keep her on because I brought her in. It’s your shop.”
“It’s not that. She’s great when it comes to the quilting stuff. She organized a whole bunch of projects I’ve been wanting to get to, cleaned up the storage room, and somehow convinced Mrs. Tyler to buy something instead of hanging out and talking my ear off for two hours.”
Whoa. “She got Mrs. McScrooge to open her purse and spend some money?”
Hope nodded. “I’d call her a miracle worker, but it’s the other stuff I don’t understand. Hang on.” She marched to the door and peeked out for a moment before closing it firmly and turning the deadbolt. After flipping the open sign to closed, she rejoined him at the counter. “She has no ID, Trevor.”
“She forgot it?” Damn. If he’d been there half an hour earlier he could have driven her home so she could get it.
“No, as in she outright told me she doesn’t have a social insurance number. And that it’d be fine if I paid her under the table.”
Not what he’d expected to hear. Not at all. “You can’t do that. Can you?”
Hope hesitated. “I… And this is why I don’t know what to think because I’d love to hire her, but I don’t know if I want to risk getting in trouble. But we talked a bit while we worked, and I really like her, and it sounds as if she’s got a lot to offer, but…”
“How could someone not have ID? That makes no sense.”
“I don’t know.” Her face crinkled with concern. “There’s an awful lot I don’t know about her, yet.”
“Do you trust her?” Trevor asked. “I mean, were you worried about being alone in the shop with her, or anything?”
“Of course not. It wasn’t like that at all.”
He tried to ease a few of her fears. “At least she was honest about not having the information you need.”
“That made it better, and worse, at the same time,” Hope complained. “If she’d lied I’d have no trouble kicking her to the curb, but the way she said it—as if she expected me to tell her to get out—damn near broke me.”
He offered a consoling hug. Hope could be tenderhearted at the best of times, and pregnancy hormones were probably making this worse. He squeezed her for a moment before a thought struck. “You know whoever she’s renting from must have information, or they wouldn’t have let her move in.”
Hope backed away and nodded slowly. “You’re right. I need to talk to Matt. See what he thinks.”
“Is she going to finish out the week?”
“Yeah, and I feel okay about that. It’ll give me time to make a decision how to deal with this.”
And it would give Trevor time to dig up some more details as well. “Talk to Matt, but if either of you need anything, give me a shout. I’m going to go try and talk to her.”
“I like her,” Hope insisted again. “I want to help her, but not if it’s going to get me in trouble. I can’t risk it, Trev, I can’t.”
“No one expects you to, least of all Becky, from the sounds of it.” He tweaked Hope’s nose. “While I’m here, you need anything lifted or whatever?”
She shook her head. “Come on, I’ll let you out the front door so you don’t have to walk all the way around the block to your truck.”
“Aww. I’m young and fit,” Trevor taunted. “Unlike your husband who was sucking wind the last time we hauled bales. Looks like Matt’s put on a few pounds.”
“It’s all muscle,” Hope declared firmly. “And I bet he was tired that day because we’d stayed up all night playing grownup games.”
Damn. “You play dirty, cousin,” Trevor complained.
“Don’t come to a battle of wits unarmed,” she teased.
He was still chuckling when he hit the highway back to his place. Which, not so coincidentally, was also the highway to Becky’s place.
Trevor caught up with her a mile from home, a plastic grocery bag in one hand as she marched double time along the side of the road. It only took a moment to do a reenactment of their morning’s adventure, pulling beside her and lowering the window.
She stopped completely and gave him the most delicious dirty glare. Whatever else had happened that day, she still had enough what the fuck attitude in her to make him grin. “I don’t rodeo.”
“You also don’t know you’re supposed to walk on the highway facing the traffic,” he pointed out. “Get in. I’ll take you home.”
Becky growled, but she jerked open the door and crawled in, resting her groceries on the seat between them. “You’re stalking me.”
“Maybe,” he admitted. “Just a little,” he hurriedly added when her eyes flashed wide with something that looked suspiciously like fear. “Not in that creepy I’m going to bury you in a freezer in my backyard kind of way. You intrigue me, Becky Hall. I want to know more about you.”
She sat in silence for a moment. “Did Hope tell you?”
She’d been honest earlier. She’d probably appreciate the same now. “That she wants to hire you because you’re really good, but that you don’t have any identification she can use for taxes and all that stuff? Yeah, she told me.”
Becky perked up. “She wants to hire me?”
“She does. So we need to figure out a solution to the other half of your problem.”
“I sent in the requests for new papers, but it’s going to take time for them to go through.” She twisted sideways in her seat so she could stare at him, her face far more expressive without the mask she seemed to drop into place at a moment’s notice. Now she looked completely confounded. “Why’re you being so nice?”
“Because I’m just a nice kinda guy,” Trevor flashed back like he usually would before pausing. This wasn’t the moment for trite humour. “Honestly? I don’t know why. Other than you seem to need someone to give you a hand, and I feel like I should.”
She didn’t all of a sudden jump up and down and declare she trusted him, but some of the tension eased out of her shoulders.
Becky leaned back in the seat. “There’ve been so many good things happening lately I can’t believe they’re true. It’s as if I’m waiting for a giant boot to drop out of the sky and crush me. That would be more like what I’m used to.”
“And sometimes life changes,” Trevor insisted. “Maybe there won’t be a boot this time. Maybe whatever it is that’s brought you to Rocky is because it’s time for a change for the better. Everything bad in the past, and nothing but good ahead.”
She sat quietly for a minute. “Part of me wants to say that that’s impossible. Life doesn’t change that fast, but the other part of me wants it to be true with every bit of my being.”
He was approaching her driveway, which meant there was a deadline to deal with. If she didn’t invite him in, he didn’t know when they might get the chance to pick up this conversation again. “You have plans for tonight?” he asked.
“I’m going to work in the garden.” Becky nudged the bag between them. “I bought some seeds, but the garden needs to be cleaned up before I can plant.”
“Want to have supper with me first?” The invitation burst free without much forethought. “We could talk about your problem and figure out some solutions.” Making it less of a date and more of a meeting, he supposed.
He didn’t care what they called it as long as she didn’t disappear again.
Trevor pulled to a stop on the road to wait for her answer, which let him look her square in the face as she considered his offer. Her nose twitched as she eyed him before slowly agreeing. “Okay.”
He would’ve sworn somebody hit him with a cattle prod. A white-hot shot of excitement raced through him—he hadn’t felt that kind of rush since the eighth grade when Tammy Janzten up and kissed him out of the blue.
He wasn’t a teenager, and all Becky had done was agree to come over to his house for a meal. Still, reality didn’t chase away the thrill running through his veins.
Trevor hoped like hell there was something in the cupboards at his place other than Kraft dinner.
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