Saint strode purposefully to the big, whitewashed barn out back and walked into the shadowy maw of the front doorway. Hay scented dustmotes swirled in the sunlight shafting down through the warm dimness. I gotta get the hay replaced in the stalls. I don’t have time for this...horseshit. He walked over to a support post and thudded the top of his head against it, leaning there and looking down at his dusty boots.
Ah, merda. What the hell just happened?
He had just gotten finished making a complete ass of himself back there. It wasn’t that he’d simply made an ass of himself...that was nothing particularly new...but over what? Some young girl he didn’t even really know talking to some smarmy lawyer he knew even less?
He was trying to take advantage of her, the lying pig. As I was coming up through the yard I heard the slimy little pantywaist ignore her questions twice. Pomade-smelling worm.
He sighed, pushed himself off the post, and stalked over to the ladder leading to the hayloft. He grabbed the highest rung he could reach and swung himself up. I don’t like seeing people getting pushed around like that. He walked over to the nearest bale of hay, jerked it up by the binding cords, and heaved it over the side, watching with satisfaction as it partially exploded and lost part of itself when it connected with the dirt floor.
'It’s rough territory for such an attractive young lady as yourself.' He mentally mocked Galloway's voice in his head. Oh, don't make me sick. He grabbed another bale and tossed it after the first, feeling a bead of sweat roll down his spine, and giving the bale considerably more force than was really necessary to get it down below.
Lily could feel the heat of her anger roiling inside her as she stalked across the dusty yard towards the barn. The wide doors were open, and the interior of the barn hidden in shadow. She glanced around the property, and saw with dismay that she seemed relatively alone. Luis was off God only knew where, Fiona was in the bunkhouse changing bed linens, and Mr. Lynch was in his office. With Jesse and Lights The Storm off on mail runs and Wash and Tommy running errands in town, the property was relatively deserted.
And Saint, she knew, was in the barn.
She drew in a deep breath, steeling herself. She didn’t relish being alone with him, and she liked even less confronting him about what he’d done in the kitchen. But his butting into her affairs like that was beyond the pale. If I don’t say something now, there’s no telling what he’ll think he can get away with. No wonder Mr. Lynch dislikes him. I’ve never met anyone so pushy and arrogant! I just cannot believe anyone would be so...so rude!
She paused, gathering up her courage as she gazed at the yawning mouth of the barn. I feel like I’m just waltzing up to the cave of a grizzly bear. She chided herself. What am I afraid of? That he’ll hit me? He wouldn’t dare. Jesse has told me about some harrowing things Saint has done, but hitting women wasn’t one of them. Yell at me? Well, maybe...but I have some yelling to do myself. She was trembling inside. She steeled herself and strode into the shadows.
As her eyes adjusted from the brightness of the yard to the dusty dimness of the barn, the first thing she saw were the scattered remains of hay bales beneath the ladder leading to the loft. She glanced around, feeling dread growing in her stomach, nervously rehearsing what she was going to say. Mr. Bari, my affairs are none of your concern. You don’t know me, and don’t you dare to presume to speak for me. You owe Mr. Galloway and I apologies....
“I bet you’re lookin’ for me.” The husky, accented voice came from the empty stall behind her. She whirled around, heart in her throat and stomach and in her shoes. She wasn’t even aware that she was recoiling a few steps backwards until after she'd done it.
Saint emerged from a stall, brisking his hands against his thighs in a lazy cloud of dust. Bits of hay clung to his shirt and in his charmingly disheveled hair. His hat was pushed back onto his head, and his olive-skinned face was flushed with heat and exertion. In the shafting yellow light sneaking into the barn, the plain white cotton shirt he wore glowed against his dusky skin.
She looked at him for a long, tense moment, trying to find her voice, but her mouth had gone dry. It was the first time she'd taken a really good, apprasing look at him. It was the first time she had dared. The well-rehersed dressing-down she'd had ready for him was rapidly evaporating the longer she held his dark, long-lashed gaze. Her heart pounded loudly in her ears. She was sure he could hear it.
“You had...” she attempted, amazed at how thin and shaky her voice was. She suddenly found the air inside the barn uncomfortably warm and stuffy. “That was...”
He reached up, pulled his hat off, and drew his hand over his face, rubbing his temples. He sighed tiredly. “I’m sorry.”
“I mean, you....” Thunderstruck, she stopped and stared at him. She certainly didn’t anticipate an instant apology. Now, her anger boiled around in her insides with nowhere to go, mixed with...something else she didn’t like and couldn’t identify. If she had ever had an idea of what she was going to say to him, it was forgotten now.
His deep brown eyes shifted to the stable wall and he rubbed the back of his neck before looking at her again. “Look. He wasn’t being honest with you.”
“You didn’t hear the conversation.” She blurted, snapped out of her trance and relieved to have some outlet for how she felt.
“I heard plenty. I’ve had to deal with his kind often enough....”
Now that he was talking, he seemed a lot less threatening. Lily grew bolder. “He said the same about you.”
Saint made a face of disgust. He shoved his hands into his back pockets and slouched, one shoulder against a thick wooden upright. “Oh, he hasn’t had to deal with ‘my kind’ often enough by half, Little Miss.” He growled.
Lily felt her anger flare again. “You were out of line. You can’t tell me you’re sorry if you’re just going to turn around and insist you were right in the same breath!”
Saint grimaced. He ran a hand through his tousled hair and sighed with exasperation. “Look, I’m sorry you’re angry with me, and I’m sorry I butted into your affairs, but if someone’s gonna come in here and rob somebody I work with, they’d better not try doing it where I eat breakfast every day!” His voice rose, a furious edge creeping into it. Lily took an involuntary step backwards. “And another thing...what would Jesse say if I let his sister get pushed around? I have sisters myself, Miss, and I’d be pretty furious if one of my buddies let one of ‘em get swindled!”
Lily’s mouth opened, then closed with a snap. Somehow, she couldn’t imagine this arrogant, swaggering, brawling ruffian as having a bunch of sisters he was protective of. The intensity of his gaze forced her eyes to the wisps of straw on the dirt at his feet. This reaction was the last thing she expected from him.
Her voice was soft, almost a whisper, when she found it again. “Why are you so sure Mr. Galloway is being dishonest?” She kept her eyes glued to the floor.
There was a long silence. A sparrow chirped somewhere in the rafters of big, airy building. She heard Saint draw in a deep, resigned breath and let it out slowly. “Why would someone be so interested in buying this land if it’s as worthless as he says? Whoever it is...and we still don’t know...sure didn’t waste any time getting a lawyer out here. And lawyers ain't cheap.”
Lily looked up at him. “I...uh....” this is not his business...I don’t need to tell him anything....She paused, struggling with her pride before grimacing in defeat. “I told him I wanted to talk with Jesse and find out what we had before I’d consider selling.”
“I’m...going to go back inside, now...I.... I feel stupid . I came in here to keep from being bullied, and here I am feeling I’m supposed to apologize to him!…...well...I have a lot of socks to darn.”
“Sure.” The throaty purr of his voice was akin to being licked by a cat. She realized with a shock that she wanted to hear him speak some more. Does everyone in New Jersey talk like that? How many sisters does he have? Did he really win a fight where he was out -weighed and out-numbered? Does he really, truly have to be so horribly cocky and so...so…horribly…. handsome?
She turned briskly around, tearing her eyes away from him, and forced herself to walk out of the barn and back to the house.
Saint deflated against the stable wall. This is wonderful. Jesse’s sister shows up here and the first thing I do is get into an argument with her. That’s great. Ptah. What in hell was I thinking?
He could hear Jesse’s voice echoing inside his head, remembering the conversation he’d had before leaving for his run. Don’t you be messing’ with my sister, Saint. She ain’t like one of these gals in town you go around with. Don’t be thinkin’ about how nice she is, and don’t be thinkin’ about how pretty she is, he’d warned. And don’t be thinkin’ I can’t deliver an ass whupping to ya. Saint had thought the whole thing was kind of funny. He had absolutely no intention of even thinking about any he-ing and she-ing with anyone he worked with, least of all with a friend’s sister. He’d gone ahead and let Jesse have his rant, and assured him he’d leave her be.
And now, in less than a day, he’d managed to have her hating him. Nice work. At least now I don’t have to worry about Jesse thinking I have intentions on her. She was pretty angry...no suprise there, really, but I sure didn’t expect to hear about it. I didn’t think she had it in her.
He thought about that frightened doe look in her eyes at the breakfast table, how her hand trembled when she poured his coffee. At the time, he’d doubted she’d make it out here. Who would have guessed she’d have been out here a couple of hours later, ready to go toe-to-toe with him? His lip tugged in an admiring smile in spite of himself. She had guts, he’d have to give her that. She had been terrified, and yet she’d come right in here anyway, ready to give him a little hell.
You’re gonna be all right, Little Miss.
© 2008 Regina Shelley