"Lindsey can have him then." I'm really trying to get through this grocery run without incident. I am not going to compete for a man. Can't she go one day without nosing into my love life.
"Now, honey, you know there's a true shortage of eligible men at your age. You've got to take what you can get!" She continues to pester me as she bags my last item.
Gritting my teeth, I try to even out my breathing. I had a decent day, difficult at times sure, but nothing was as bad as this. I just want to get my stuff and get out of here. As soon as my card and receipt are in my hand, I walk away, fuming and desperately trying to ignore the comments she yells across the store at me.
"Make sure you check out that new neighbor of yours, Aubrey! You aren't getting any younger honey and your eggs are gonna dry up some day!" Closing my eyes at her words, I rush for the door and aim straight for my old Four Runner.
I'm so tired of hearing how lonely I must be with no man in my life. Why can't these people understand, I don't want one!? I'm just fine alone. I like my own company. I can eat what I want, sleep when I want, plant whatever I want in my garden and I have a dog. He's all the company I need.
"Have a good one, Aubrey! Oh and let me know if he's as yummy as Lindsey said!" Christ! Now the whole store will want a damn report. With a negligent wave, I scoop up my bags and haul them into the trunk.
Why did I come home again?
Pulling weeds after a long day of work helps to get out some of my frustration. I forgot how annoying it is to live in a small town. I've only been back here six month, but I'm still playing twenty questions with Mitzy Langston, who is not only a cashier at the grocery store, but the local gossip queen. And Lindsey Markham, the mayor's daughter and local self proclaimed princess. You would think people would change after ten years from graduating high school, or grow up at the very least. Nope!
My business is my business
Why I came back, why I'm no longer engaged and not planning my wedding, is all my business. I'm not required to share this information while I'm buying my Kleenex, ice cream and chocolate bars. I don't need a lecture about the amount of junk food I eat or that I shouldn't drink soda. It's my business.
I know I'm being bitchy. It's been a rough day, a rougher year and I don't want to talk about what happened. It hurts to know I didn't see what was happening right in front of me. It's humiliating to know that I was such a fool. It's embarrassing to come home and be seen as a failure, a spinster. I'm twenty eight, I am not a spinster, or an old cat lady.
I just love animals in general, besides I only have one dog... right now.
I'm a professional. I'm the town vet or I have been for the last six months. I had a decent practice in Austin, I was building a good clientele but I shut down and ran home to hide from my failure. I'm getting my life together, I've got my friends, my mom, my work. I don't need a man. Why do these people think I need a man to be happy? I don't.
I have a dog and that's so much better
Loyal, loving and sweet, my boy never argues, cheats or lies. He greets me with kisses and nudges for attention. He's always there for me and listens without judgement.
Yanking hard on the weeds in my yard, I let those irritations and annoyances from the day go out with the weeds as I toss them into my wheelbarrow. Animals are a salve for me. I have found most are loving, sweet creatures that just want love in return. My own rescued three year old Rhodesian Ridgeback lays in a heap on my deck. The only movement from him is an ear twitch when I toss in another weed with thud.
The pups that were born to the cocker today were a bright spot in my day. The sick old lab that I put to sleep was a hard one, the Siamese who sang loudly getting her vaccinations cracked me up. Listening to Mitzy go on about the limited selection of men my age to set me up with was definitely under the annoying category.
Upon hearing the rumbling engine of an old truck pulling up the lane, I glance over my shoulder behind me. The dark red old truck has seen better days and could use a good wash. The occupant of the truck is handsome in that brooding sort of way. He doesn't look happy as he scrubs his hands over his face while scowling at the run down house across from my own.
Getting out of the truck I get a better, mouth watering view of my new neighbor. Long legs covered by ancient well worn looking jeans. A broad chest hidden inside a blue flannel shirt worn loose with a fitted dark blue T-shirt underneath. A definite V shape to his form that indicates he's a physical man. Probably works with his hands. His dark blonde hair curls at the collar, a little long, like he needs a cut but it's those eyes that glance my way that holds me in place. The magnetic pull I feel is frightening and I immediately pause. Definitely not from around here.
Mitzy should be here to see this one.
I should just mind my own business. He doesn't look to be in a good mood. As he loads up his things, I watch those muscular arms ripple and flex carrying it all in one load. He pauses again and looks to say something under his breath before moving up the walk.
Something low in my belly heats. I've been on a sexual moratorium for too long. It's embarrassing to be turned on this easily. I should at least introduce myself. It's the polite thing to do and I was brought up with small town manners. It would also give me a better chance to admire him before Mitzy, just so I can tell her something she doesn't know.
Family is what you make it. Her last words to me before I left California for here. I don't think I really know what that means. I haven't been a part of a family, at least not like this one ever. I watched them from the outside but never was I included in the family... until now. Georgia Bradford is the matriarch of this large wealthy family that I'm loosely related to. Well not that loosely, since Mike Bradford is my father, but we aren't family.
Only Quinn. My not so baby sister is my only real family. I don't fit in with the rest, no matter what Georgia says. Family isn't that simple or easy. Family is fucking hard.
Leaving my family behind was necessary. I've never been good about being a part of their world, I'm a loner. I hurt my sister before when I left her alone with our mom as a kid. I didn't explain back then, this time I made sure to say goodbye properly and she knows where to find me. At some point she'll come out to visit me. Quinn has her own life now, a baby on the way. I'm worried about her, she's planning on raising that kid alone.
She's a lot stronger than I've given her credit for.
Driving all day, I just want a hot shower, a good meal and a decent sleep. Mayberry can wait to be discovered until tomorrow. Driving through desert heat then up into the trees, green and full I see the street leading into town.
Singular- one street in and out
It was dusk by the time I hit town. If I had blinked I would have missed it completely. The entire town fits around a single stoplight and a damn park. Flowers blooming in the late fall colors around a pergola, green grass, full and lush, a sandpit with a jungle gym, the place is empty in the setting sun on a Sunday evening.
I can see how this is going to be already. Everyone up in everybody's business all the damn time. What gossip you learn in the grocery store is already passed through the phone line and skewed by the time you get to the diner on the corner.
Great! Just great!
Moss Bluff is definitely small town, USA with a population of less than four thousand. It's got great fishing in the creek, hiking through the trees and wildlife around it all. The perfect escape from the city for tourists to visit and stay a while. Life moves slower here. According to Georgia and Cade, I'll have no problem finding anything, getting to know everyone and finding exactly what I'm looking for. As if those two know me at all.
I'm not a friendly guy. I work well in construction for a reason. I'm too busy not getting my fingers busted up, my back broken or my toes smashed to worry what anyone thinks of me. I'm to the point in business, I don't lie or play with people. If I want a woman I can find one just as easily as I can lose her. A small town, full of busybodies, is not what I need.
I can already see just how much fun this will be. There's a good business going at the diner, locals that probably stop in after work or on their way in. It does a decent business without the tourists but with it, it could thrive. I spot several people walking around the park and a few old guys standing outside the barbershop chatting away in the setting sun. Again locals. A few kids are playing while their moms are trying to get them going, probably to get home to start dinner.
Passing the Inn, I get a decent look at the outside of the building. All brick, about a century or two old, what I can tell from the drive by, it has good bones but wasn't taken care of over the years. A building like this can last centuries but not without care. This old girl's been alone too long. Birds have nested in the eaves, I'm betting there's bird shit all over the windowsills, door jambs and walkways. I don't want to think about what's on the roof. Or if there's a roof. And the chimney is probably a mess.
A lot of work ahead of me to bring her back. I can do it. I've done some research on the property, looked at some photos and Georgia gave me the lowdown on what she has in mind. She'll be a stunner by the time I'm through with her. And I'll make sure I do it right. Bradford Engineering and Drake Construction will get their money's worth, I'll see to it.
I have directions that the realtor sent me, not that I need them. I think I could have found, not just the work site, but the house I'm renting for the year I'm here, blindfolded. It's not so big I'd be likely to get lost. I don't know what I was thinking agreeing to this hair brained idea from Georgia and Aunt Viv.
What did they get me into?
I wasn't specific about what I wanted in a house. My first mistake in my decision to come out here. Not that I had a choice really, Georgia does find a way to get what she wants. Agreeing to come was the only choice for me but I guess I should have stated that I want something that isn't falling apart. I'm going to be working constantly as it is. Working on the house I'm to be living in wasn't what I had in mind.
Sitting in my truck, I eyeball the disrepair of the shamble of a house. The shoebox of a yard is filled with weeds and dead grass, the wooden steps look to be rotting out and flaking apart, the wrap around deck, once homey and comfortable to watch the sunset at the end of the day, is now a critters paradise. I'm certain several sets of eyes are watching me from beneath the deck just waiting to attack for their nightly meal.
Getting out and grumbling to myself about my shit luck and the fucking Bradford's for putting me here. Frustrated and tired from the long drive, I ignore my surroundings and get out slamming my truck door hard. Then grabbing my duffel, toolbox, ice chest and sleeping bag from the bed, start up the walk. I vaguely notice the brunette on her hands and knees deadheading her garden beds. I only notice the long dark hair, and old worn jeans that cover a nicely packaged ass. As nice as the view is, I'm not interested. I won't be interested, plain and simple. The only reason she gets my attention at all is that as soon as she sees me, she gets to her feet and waves.
Fuck! She's the friendly neighbor sort, it figures
"Hey! Hey! You're moving in!?" The sultry female voice calls out from behind me. I ignore her and start for the steps. "Be careful! Those really aren't safe!" Her warning falls on my deaf ears. My foot goes right through the first step, scaring the family of creatures from under the deck sending them scattering.
"Damn it!" I curse, dropping my arm load to pull my booted foot from the rotted mess. At least I was in my work boots.
"I don't think the power's on." She tries again to get my attention. "I can call the realtor for you if you'd like."
Stopping at the door, I hold the key to the lock on the door. The damn thing looks so old a hard wind could blow it down. Taking a long frustrating breath before turning around, I see the brunette shading her hand over her eyes as she walks across the street to me.
She beautiful, wholesome and looks like she's in her element here. The country living, friendly neighborhood and the bit of garden she has stuck to her jeans and the smear of dirt on her face. I'm not gonna say I won't be looking at her, but touching is a whole other thing.
"I'm Aubrey Taylor. I'm your neighbor, I live right there." She points behind her at the cottage she was just at. "And you are?"
She prompts me but I know the game. Learn the new neighbor, find out everything you can then call the fucking paper. By morning everyone will know everything, from my birth date to whether I wear boxers or briefs. I could shock them all and just say I sleep naked for a laugh.
"Not interested." I'm unfriendly and cold but I'm here to do a job, not make friends or hookup. This was Georgia's idea, I'm just going along for the ride. I don't have to make friends.
"That makes two of us then. Look, I'm just trying to be nice, you don't have to be an ass." She shoots back at me with an interesting fire in her voice. At least she's not some little fragile flower that will wilt the first time I growl at her. No she might just bite back.
Running my tongue over my teeth, I think about her remark. No, I don't have to be an ass but that's half the entertainment while I'm stuck here. I don't bother responding to her and head inside, closing the door and trying the light switch. My sexy neighbor was right, no power. At least the cold hasn't hit yet and I'm just fine with roughing it in my sleeping bag for a few days. I'll work out the details of power and water in the morning, after I've had some food and a good night's sleep.
Maybe then I'll be human.
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