Katie shot out of bed, trying to reach a corner before Damien found her. She got tangled in the sheets and fell to the floor, hitting her hip hard. The pain barely registered, as she desperately tried to reach the corner. Katie suddenly froze and looked around.
‘What the...’ Katie thought, confused. ‘This isn’t our house in Chicago. Where the hell...’. Suddenly all of yesterday came back to her. Her heart rate began to slow and her breathing evened out as a sense of calm washed over her. ‘Right. Montana. Skyheart. Jesus, that scared me. I wonder what it was.’ Katie glanced over at the clock on the nightstand. It was 6:45 in the morning. She sighed, relieved.
‘The hands are here for breakfast. It was just the door opening,’ Katie paused in her thought, glaring through the wall at the kitchen. ‘Loudly.’ Katie looked around the room, the early morning rays of the sun shining through the curtains. The room was even prettier in daylight.
‘I need to make sure I thank Ruby. This place is...well, it’s perfect.’ Katie frowned suddenly. ‘I can’t get attached to this place. I might have to move on right away. I can’t let these people into my heart.’
Katie sighed, knowing she had already lost that battle. She adored Ruby and Rocky reminded her so much of her grandfather, who had passed away when she was young. And then there was Cash. Katie honestly didn’t know how she felt about him yet, she just knew there was something there, something that would have been worth exploring if she hadn’t already promised herself to never let another man into her heart.
‘God, I fell asleep so quickly last night.’ Katie picked up the tangled blankets off the floor, trying to straighten them out. ‘I didn’t even have any nightmares! This is the first time in years I’ve had a full night’s sleep.’ Katie looked at the clock again and decided against trying to eat breakfast with the hands.
‘I’m just not ready yet. I’ll take a shower, get all the musty bus smells off me, then go and get something from Ruby. I have to start on the office today. I’m definitely going to need food and coffee to get through that.’ Katie checked the bedroom door again, making sure it was still locked, then scooped up her backpack and walked into the bathroom.
‘I don’t really have a lot of clothing choices,’ Katie thought as she looked through her backpack, finding a spare pair of jeans and a few thin, long-sleeved T-shirts. ‘But it’s not like I’m trying to impress anyone. A T-shirt and jeans should be fine.’ Katie stripped off her clothes from the day before. She had been so exhausted, she hadn’t bothered changing before going to bed.
‘Okay, a shower, breakfast, then try and make a dent in the office. This is nice, actually, planning out a day without worrying. I could get used to it.’ Katie smiled as she stepped into the shower, humming softly to herself.
Cash was pretending to help in the kitchen, looking down the hallway every few seconds. He kept bumping into Ruby, who finally had enough.
“Boss, for God’s sake, she’s fine,” Ruby said. “She probably didn’t wanna eat with everyone just yet.” Cash just nodded absentmindedly, wiping down the counter with a dirty sponge.
“All right, that’s it,” Ruby said, throwing his hands up in exasperation. “Get out of my kitchen.”
“What?” Cash frowned.
“You heard me. Get out of my kitchen, stop spreading germs and god knows what else on my counters, and stop worrying!” Ruby grabbed the sponge out of Cash’s hand and dropped it into one of the sinks. “She’s fine. Poor thing probably needed a good night’s sleep. She looked exhausted.” Cash turned to Ruby quickly, concern showing on his face.
“You noticed it too?” Cash asked, his voice stressed. “Maybe we should give her some time off, let her get used to ranch life before she starts working.” Ruby rolled his eyes, pushing Cash toward the front door.
“She’s not dying, Boss,” Ruby said, yanking open the front door. “She’s just tired and needs some good meals, get her nice and healthy again.”
“So you’ll look after her?” Cash asked, holding onto both doorframes so Ruby couldn’t push him out. “Just, just make sure she doesn’t exert herself too much.”
Ruby rolled his eyes and sarcastically raised his right hand. “I swear to look after her and make sure she doesn’t die of exhaustion. Now get the hell out of this house!” Cash grinned as Ruby shoved him through the front door.
“You do know I’m your boss, right?” Cash asked. “Not the other way around?”
“If it makes you feel better, then sure. You are most definitely the boss,” Ruby said in an overly placating tone. “Now go.” Ruby watched Cash trudge to the barns, muttering to himself and turning back every few seconds to see if Katie had magically appeared.
“That man...” Ruby said with fond exasperation, shaking his head as he closed the front door.
“What man?” asked a sweet, feminine voice behind him. Ruby turned, seeing Katie standing near the kitchen counter. She was dressed simply, in jeans and a white, long sleeved T-shirt, but it only seemed to enhance her beauty. Her jeans showcased her long, lean legs and the T-shirt, while loose enough that her curves weren’t on display, lent a sense of innocence to her. Her wet hair was piled on top of her head, with a pencil sticking through it to hold it in place. She wasn’t wearing any makeup, yet still managed to look radiant. Ruby smiled at her.
“Oh, Cash was just trying to use every excuse in the book not to leave so he could see you.” Katie blushed and ducked her head.
“I’m sure Mr. Buchanan has more important things to do than waiting around to see me,” Katie mumbled, embarrassed. Ruby laughed.
“You’d think so, sugar, but that man is already head over heels for you.”
“What?” Katie exclaimed, sounding almost panicked, which worried Ruby.
“Aw, sugar, don’t you worry, the boss was raised right,” Ruby said reassuringly. “He was taught to always respect women and their boundaries. He’d never do anything unless you showed you were interested too.”
“W-well, I’m not,” Katie stammered. “No men for me, n-not now, not later. I’m done with men.” Ruby cocked his head to the side, appraising Katie. She blushed again and slid past him into the kitchen.
“Is there any breakfast left? I can just have some cereal if there’s not.” Katie was glancing around at the cabinets when Ruby stomped in, deciding to drop the subject for Cash’s feelings, for now. Ruby scowled at Katie.
“Do you really think I’d let my best girl go hungry? Your breakfast is in the furthest microwave on the left. It should still be warm.” Katie gave Ruby a guilty look and walked over to the row of microwaves. She opened the door on the furthest microwave and was hit with the heavenly smell of bacon and maple syrup. Then she looked at the plate and started laughing. It was piled high with food: pancakes, bacon, hash browns, biscuits.
“Ruby, you do know there is no way I can eat all of this, right?”
“Hey, you are much too skinny, sugar,” Ruby replied with a laugh. “We need to get some meat back on those bones.” Katie laughed again and took out the plate, setting it on the kitchen island. She didn’t even see Ruby move until there was a glass of orange juice and a mug of coffee in front of her.
“Jesus, are you some kind of kitchen ninja?” Katie asked, laughing. Ruby just raised his hands, keeping his fingers together as he pulled back into a chopping pose. They both burst out laughing. “Seriously, though, thank you so much for all of this.” Ruby just waved his hand, indicating no thanks was necessary.
“I like taking care of people, sugar. And I’ve learned the right food can make anyone smile. Now, you eat up while I finish peeling these potatoes, then you and I have a date with an unlimited credit card and all the online stores we can find!” Ruby said excitedly.
“Wait, what?” Katie quickly swallowed the bite of pancake in her mouth and took a big gulp of orange juice. “What shopping? What are you talking about?”
“Well, Cash wanted to make sure you have everything you need, so I’ve been ordered to take you on a shopping spree,” Ruby replied in excitement. “Clothes, shoes, accessories, you name it, we’re shopping for it!”
“No, no, no,” Katie said, shaking her head. “No one said anything about shopping. Besides, you’ve all already done too much in my bedroom.”
“Oh, do you like it?” Ruby asked, sitting in front of Katie at the island, a giant bowl of potatoes next to him. “I tried not to go too over-the-top since we hadn’t met and I didn’t know your personal style aesthetic. But after meeting you, I think I made the right choices.”
“You did, it’s absolutely beautiful,” Katie reassured Ruby. “Which is why I’m so uncomfortable buying anything else. You guys have already given me so much, and I haven’t even started working!” Ruby set down the potato and peeler he was using. He looked Katie straight in the eye, a serious look on his face that Katie hadn’t seen from him before.
“Sugar, I don’t know the details of what you’ve been through,” Ruby stated gently. Katie’s eyes widened and she started nervously pulling her sleeves down even lower. “I hope someday you’ll tell me, but I know you need to trust me first before opening up. But you listen to this one thing: you deserve to be happy. To be surrounded by things that make you happy. To have people around you that you can trust and who make you happy. Cash wants these things for you, too.”
Katie ran her finger around the lip of her coffee mug, not looking up. “He barely knows me,” she whispered.
“Sugar, that’s got nothing to do with it,” Ruby said. “When you know, you know. And the boss knows. So you’re gonna go on this shopping spree ‘cause it’ll make Cash happy and we’re gonna do it together ‘cause that’ll make me happy. Plus, I have excellent taste, so you would be utterly lost without me.”
Katie couldn’t help but laugh at that, breaking the tension in the room. She worked on eating all of her breakfast (and failed miserably, much to Ruby’s disappointment). Then, Katie and Ruby headed to the office, ready to shop at every online store they could find.