His Hometown Girl
by Karen Rock
Coming March 1, 2014
He'd always managed to best her…
Jodi Chapman will do whatever it takes to get top care for her autistic son. If that means going home and convincing local farmers to sell their land, so be it. Even if her biggest opponent, childhood rival Daniel Gleason, is equally determined to convince farmers to buy into his co-op plan. And he's not playing fair.
Facing off against Daniel is the last thing Jodi wants. The attraction that's always fueled their competitiveness is as strong as ever and just as distracting. But with both their futures on the line, and years of distrust between them, how can they ever be on the same side?
Wow. The thrum of the machine beneath her and the sense of control as she steered filled her with a rush of adrenaline. It’d been such a long time since she’d driven a tractor, and the thrill of it returned to her. The wind whipped her hair behind her, carrying away her fear. Tyler’s screeching echoed her own elation and the air she breathed smelled slightly sweet, like growing things.
When she looked over her shoulder, Sue waved and Daniel jogged beside them. When they rounded the last barn and headed out into lush, open fields, Tyler squealed and she wanted to join him. She hadn’t been surrounded by this much unbroken greenery in a long time. Even when she spoke with farmers, she met them in their homes, not on their fields. Perhaps she should have followed up on Midland’s purchases and seen the improvements they’d made as Daniel had suggested. She’d actually missed this. When she returned to Aunt Grace’s house, she would set up an appointment with a company farm and bring Daniel as promised.
Daniel disappeared for a moment and she thought they’d left him behind until she felt the tractor dip in back and his voice whisper in her ear.
“So far so good.”
She shivered in awareness of his proximity as he balanced behind them on the storage box. His fingers rested on her shoulders as he stood to his full height.
Jodi peeked up at him and took in the handsome picture he made. Beltless, low-slung jeans rode on his narrow hips and a thin T-shirt stretched across his well-defined chest. From this angle, his jaw looked more square than ever, his muscular neck rising from broad shoulders. The bright blue sky behind him contrasted with his dark hair and hazel eyes.
Another bone-jarring mud hole made Tyler flap his hands and Jodi return her eyes to the straightaway. And that’s when she saw them...
The sun-kissed rows of plants stretched to a distant tree line, the berries so blood-ripe, so rich and lovely, that the invitation to pluck and sink her teeth into them was irresistible. How long since she’d gathered fruit? Delight filled her.
“The local schools and families have picked most of the fields, but this section is unharvested,” he hollered over the engine’s roar.
“Okay.” She slowed the machine, feeling shaky but victorious when it rolled to a stop. Since her father’s accident, she’d avoided machinery like this. Now she’d conquered it, and a feeling of lightness grew within her.
Daniel jumped off and held out a hand, his eyes dancing. The sun brought out the lighter brown in his hair and made the yellow flecks in his eyes shine like gold beneath thick lashes. “Ready?”
More than, she thought, her excitement hard to contain. She wanted to rush through the rows of plants, trailing her fingers along the crinkly leaves, inhaling the earthy goodness. Her hands fumbled to take out Tyler’s earplugs before she undid the buckle and handed him to Daniel. He held the wiggling boy with one hand and extended another to help her down.
“Thank you. Oh.” An idea pulled her up short when her heels sunk into the ground. “What will we put the berries in?”
Daniel grinned, set down Tyler and raised the lid on his storage bin. He dumped some tools from a container and lifted his shirt to wipe it, exposing a toned stomach that Jodi did her best to ignore. She took the container and followed the twosome into the strawberry patch.
The site of him shuffling beside her son, his large hand enveloping Tyler’s as they trod down the plant rows, made her heart skip a beat. Tyler peered up at Daniel the way he’d looked at the tractor. And maybe for him, the two were in the same category. For the past year it’d been just her and Tyler, and now seeing him with Daniel made her wish her son had a strong male role model.
Daniel glanced over his shoulder, his profile outlined by the sun streaming over distant treetops. “How does this look?” He swept his arm in a circle, and all around, plump berries peeked through jagged-edged oval leaves.
“Perfect. I mean, fine.” She cleared her throat. “This is good. Thanks.” Why was she babbling like a schoolgirl? This was Daniel. Not a man she’d see romantically. Not again. Daniel got on his knees, pinched off a deep red fruit and handed it to Tyler. “Want one?”
Tyler shoved it in his mouth, then patted Daniel’s cheeks.
Daniel smiled up at her. “I’m thinking that’s a yes.”
She got on her knees beside him and kicked off her horrible shoes. It warmed her from
the inside out to see Tyler so excited and interactive. She wouldn’t let her rivalry, or her conflicting emotions with Daniel, spoil this moment.
“I’d say so!” Happiness added a lilt of laughter to her voice and Daniel eyed her, his expression wary. Maybe he was afraid of her charms for a change.
She plucked berries and placed them in the container. Daniel followed suit and, to her amazement, Tyler grabbed a few, as well. They might have been squashed, flattened even, but they were the best berries in the world as far as she was concerned.
For more information about Karen's upcoming books, check out her website at http://www.karenrock.com, Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/karenrockwrites or follow her on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/karenrock5 . She’d love to hear from you!
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