Publisher: Cardinal Press, LLC
Formats: eBook, print
A farmer wants to show the consultant he hired what they could have together, but is she willing to take a chance on him…and love?
Carter Quinn has one goal—to make his organic farm a success. Working the land leaves no time for romance, but that’s okay with him. He’ll do whatever is necessary to take Quinn Organics to the next level, including hiring a consultant.
Avery Scott loves helping her consulting clients succeed while proving she’s more than a pretty face. Being disappointed and hurt one too many times keeps her from getting close to others, but Carter’s work ethic and kindness tempt her to lower her guard.
As the two work together, Avery’s commitment to helping make Carter’s dreams come true touches his heart. She fits perfectly on his farm, and he can picture them as a couple, even though her job will take Avery away from him. He wants to show her what they could have together, but is she willing to take a chance on him…and love?
Read an Excerpt
As Avery Scott filled her pickup’s gas tank on the outskirts of Quinn Valley, Idaho, her breath hung on the cold winter air. Goose bumps covered her skin, so she shoved her hands into her jacket pockets. She should have put on her gloves and hat before getting out of the truck, but she’d been thinking about her arrival at her final destination.
Her newest job brought her from California’s Central Valley to this small town in Idaho, a short distance from Riston and a bit farther from the slightly larger Lewiston. According to the map app on her phone, the farm was about twenty miles away. Anticipation rushed through her. The drive shouldn’t take her long.
Filling her tank, however, was going slow. The gas flowed like molasses in January. Yes, it was January, but she wanted to get on her way so she could arrive at Quinn Organics and see some of the farm before the sun disappeared below the horizon. Oh, she’d been sent photos, but more than once, she’d arrived somewhere at nighttime and been surprised what the light of day had exposed.
Sure, she’d done her research and checked the farmer’s references—each gave glowing recommendations that spoke about his work ethic and love of the land. He’d also sounded professional on the phone, which was why she hoped this job wouldn’t be a bust like some of the others, when clients had preconceived ideas of what needed to be done or wouldn’t take her suggestions and her seriously.
From her peripheral vision, she noticed someone who hadn’t been there when she’d pulled up. A glance showed a twenty-something–year–old mechanic gawking, if his gaping mouth was anything to go by, from a garage bay.
Not wanting to embarrass him or encourage further attention, she stared at the gas nozzle.
“Hello there,” a male voice rumbled from behind her.
Avery faced him. “Hey.”
The mechanic sauntered toward her. Over puffy clothes, a jacket perhaps, he wore a pair of blue coveralls stained with oil streaks along with steel-toed boots. The guy was cute in a popstar–goes–country kind of way, if she were interested.
But she wasn’t.
He came closer, until he stood between the pump and a garbage can. “I haven’t seen you in Quinn Valley before. New to town?”
Avery hoped he was only being friendly and wanting to provide good customer service. She didn’t like being hit on, but she couldn’t be rude. The professional voice she used to answer business inquiries should work well with him. “First time here.”
“Are you going to the hot springs?” he asked, keeping his distance. Maybe he didn’t want her number.
“No.” She’d researched area demographics, but she hadn’t looked into tourist attractions. “I didn’t know there was something like that here.”
“The hot springs bring people to Quinn Valley year–round.” His tone was warm and welcoming, not flirtatious. “People say the water has healing powers, but I find it’s the perfect way to relax.”
The guy was being friendly, not flirty.
The tension in her shoulders lessened. She shouldn’t assume the worst.
“That sounds like a great place to go.” Maybe if things went well at the farm, she could squeeze in a visit. “Do they offer day passes?”
He nodded. “Nothing beats a soak in the hot springs.”
“I’ll check it out.”
A neigh from her horse trailer drew her attention. Too bad she couldn’t bring Mercury along if she decided to visit. The love of her life stood in the mud-streaked trailer attached to the truck. A stall for him was one of her requirements for any job she accepted because she refused to leave Mercury behind. He was her family.
“My horse loves to be in water, but I doubt they allow animals in.”
The mechanic winked. “They might break the rules for someone as pretty as you.”
Somehow, Avery managed not to wince at his one-hundred-percent flirty line. She willed the gas to flow faster, but she lacked the power to change anything.
The story of her life.
“I would break the rules for you,” he continued, moving closer as if oblivious to her unease. “You could bring your horse anywhere you wanted if I were in charge.”
What he said might have been sweet if he wasn’t leering as if she were the last piece of cake at a dessert buffet table.
“Thanks,” she mumbled, hoping he would leave her alone.
“How long are you in town?”
Avery wished she could ignore the question, but long-engrained manners wouldn’t let her. In a small town, everybody knew everyone. She didn’t want her new client to hear she’d been rude to a local mechanic, who might be family or a friend.
She settled on a vague reply. “For a bit.”
“Quinn Valley is a great place to live.” The mechanic sounded as if he was smiling, but she focused on the gas nozzle. “My friends and I hang out at Quinn’s. It’s a local pub. Good food and drinks. They have music on Friday and Saturday nights. You should join us.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” She hoped she didn’t sound as resigned as she felt. His puppy-dog eyes told her he hadn’t noticed if she had.
Except Avery didn’t date while consulting. Organic farmers paid for her expertise. She couldn’t be distracted from doing her job. Never mind she didn’t go out with men when she wasn’t working, either. Her self-imposed dating hiatus had lasted much longer than she’d intended, but she wasn’t interested in romance. Being single worked best for her. It also kept her reputation untarnished.
She’d lost her family, her home, and her dream job because men liked looking at her, which made the women in their lives jealous. Men had also gotten jealous of each other if she gave one too much attention. And male coworkers had gotten her in trouble with their flirting or overt staring. The blame always fell on her as if she’d asked for the unwanted attention. Someday, she would find a man who appreciated her for who she was, not just see her as a pretty face to show off to his friends. He wouldn’t care if others found her attractive.
But that day wasn’t today.
The gas continued to flow, but she wanted to get out of here. She could top off the tank when she was in town again or before she left.
She released the clip that held down the handle, returned the nozzle to the pump, and then screwed on the gas cap.
“Hope to see you around,” he said with a lecherous gleam in his eyes.
Not if she could help it.
With a half-hearted wave, Avery climbed into the truck, started the engine, and then pulled out of the gas station. Not wanting to know if he was watching her leave, she didn’t glance at her rearview mirror.
As she focused on the road, the voice from her cell phone gave directions to the farm, and she passed snow-covered fields, some flat, others on rolling hills. An occasional farmhouse came into view, but nothing was close unless a barn or mailbox counted. Country living at its finest. That was how she’d grown up after she’d moved onto her stepfather’s farm. Their nearest neighbor had been three miles away. She wondered if that was still the case. She hadn’t been there in…years.
“Your destination is on the left,” the digital voice on her phone announced.
A wooden sign by the entrance read Quinn Organics. Simple and to the point in a readable font, but if he expanded offerings to customers coming to the farm, he would need to add produce, meat, honey, and eggs below the name.
After flicking on the blinker, she turned onto the paved driveway. Dirt roads didn’t appeal to customers who didn’t own trucks or SUVs, so the asphalt was a plus and something she could cross off the brainstorming list she’d put together before driving north from California.
Avery parked next to a blue pickup truck, a newer model with snow tires and a shell. She pulled on a fleece beanie and gloves before sliding out of the truck. Her snow boots hit the ground with a crunch.
As the cold air hit her lungs, she coughed. The temperature had dropped since she’d stopped at the gas station.
Getting Mercury out of the trailer was her priority, but she needed to know where to put him. To the left stood a big red barn, the color more pronounced thanks to the gray sky and snow on the ground, but she knew better than to assume anything.
Mercury stared at her from the horse trailer.
“Hang on, handsome.” She blew him a kiss. “I know you want out. I’m going to see if anyone’s home, so I can get you settled.”
The one–story house to her right appeared well-built. The mid-century architecture was the kind television interior decorators and remodelers would go gaga over.
A dog barked.
She faced the sound.
A black-and-white border collie trotted alongside a man. He wore a heavy brown coat, insulated pants, and work boots. A beanie was pulled over his hair, and thick gloves covered his hands. He moved across the snow with the grace of an athlete.
As Avery waited for him to come nearer, Mercury neighed.
The man approached, brushing his hands together. The dog sniffed the air but didn’t come closer to her.
“I’m Carter Quinn.” The corners of his mouth tipped up. “You must be Avery Scott.”
His hazel eyes were clear and warm. And his face…
The way his features fit together sent her pulse galloping. He was so handsome.
Not that farmers were unattractive, but she’d never met one who’d caught her eye the way he had.
His brows drew together, but he didn’t say anything. He seemed as if he was waiting for her.
Wait… he was.
Heat rushed up her neck.
What had he asked?
She thought for a minute. Oh, right…
“I, uh, yes. I’m Avery. Scott.” Feeling tongue-tied, she struggled to focus. What was happening? She shouldn’t be affected by an attractive face. Not since she got annoyed when people did that to her. All she wanted was to be respected for her knowledge and her passion. Looks didn’t matter.
Neither hers, nor Carter’s.
Yet, she was responding to him in a similar way as the mechanic at the gas station had with her.
So not good.
Carter reached toward her. Feeling like a hypocrite, she shoved her hand into his and shook. “Nice place you have here.”
“It’s home.” He focused on her hand still clasped in his.
She let go and jerked her arm to her side. The sudden movement sent her left boot sliding across the snow. As she tried to balance herself, her other foot slipped.
A hand grabbed hold of her, keeping her upright. “Careful.”
She straightened. Tested her footing. “Thanks.”
“It’s slick out here.”
“I haven’t spent much time in the snow.”
“You’ll have your fill by the time you leave Quinn Valley.”
“Trying to get rid of me already?” Her tone was more playful than she’d intended. “I mean…”
“You must be tired from that long drive.”
He was giving her an out. She’d take it. “Yes. And Mercury, my horse, is getting restless.”
“Let’s get him into his stall in the barn. Afterward, I’ll take you to the bunkhouse so you can get settled.”
She knew better than to get settled anywhere. Rarely did she unpack, no matter the length of her job. Still, he didn’t need to know that. “Sounds like a plan.”
Avery opened the horse trailer. She needed to pull herself together. The last thing she wanted was to embarrass herself in front of a client, but something about being around Carter Quinn short-circuited her brain.
She would need to watch herself. Be mindful of what she said and how she acted so he listened and took her advice seriously. Otherwise, this job would be nothing more than a waste of her time and his money.
A few minutes later, Avery released Mercury into his stall and latched the door. The horse pranced around like a show pony, seeming to say he liked his new digs. She didn’t blame him.
“This stall is a horse’s version of five–star lodging with concierge service.” Her gaze met Carter’s. “Thank you for having everything ready for Mercury. You made his day. Mine, too.”
“You love your horse.”
It wasn’t a question. The words were nonetheless true, so she nodded.
“Figured the horse must be important if he travels with you,” Carter continued.
“Very. I appreciate your efforts.” Avery did, but she didn’t think he had a clue about understanding why Mercury meant as much to her as he did. The horse was the last remaining piece of the life that was no longer hers. If there wasn’t room for him, she didn’t take the job. Leaving him would break what pieces remained of her heart. He was her only remaining family.
And best friend.
“He’s a good traveler.” She needed to focus on the present. “But he’s happier out of the trailer.”
“You travel a lot.” Again, not a question. Guess Carter had researched her the way she had him.
“Occupational hazard of a consultant, but I don’t mind.”
Few understood her nomadic lifestyle, one made possible thanks to the Internet and a post office box she used as a business address. Oh, she rented a room at a farmhouse and a stall for Mercury where they could stay in between jobs, but as her reputation grew, she spent less time there and more on the road.
A horse neighed from another stall. “Who’s that?”
“Cooper.” He motioned to the stall next to Mercury’s. “Rain is next door to him.”
Mercury appeared content in his stall. Good. Now Avery wouldn’t worry about him. “He’ll enjoy having company.”
“So will mine. Cooper and Rain get bored of each other.”
The affection in his voice told her Carter cared about his animals. Speaking of which… “Where’s your dog?”
“I sent Ruff to the house. I didn’t want Mercury to be spooked.”
Her heart bumped.
The wrong reaction she wanted to have toward a client, but she chalked the response up to his being so thoughtful about her horse. It had nothing to do with his warm eyes or welcoming smile.
She cleared her suddenly dry throat. “Mercury has spent time around dogs, but this is a new place so that was smart thinking.”
Avery pressed her lips together. If she wasn’t careful, she would be gushing compliments all over the guy.
“Ready to head to the bunkhouse?” Carter asked.
“Yes. I’d love to see the farm, too.”
“You can see the farm tomorrow once you’ve rested.”
Oh, right. She’d said she was tired. “The greenhouse…”
“Will be there tomorrow.” Amusement laced his words. “You’re eager to get started.”
As his gaze met hers, something passed between them. Electricity. A connection of sorts.
She broke the contact. “I am, because I believe I can make a big difference for your farm.”
“That’s what I’m counting on.”
A dimple appeared on the left side of his smile. The effect left her breathless. A way she hadn’t felt in…forever.
That could be a problem.