The fall air snapped crisply around the lovers legs. They walked hand in hand, mindless of the leaves crackling around their feet. Even the breeze through the trees sounded dry, crackly, as if it was electric. An overcast sky accompanied them on their journey, the wind promising rain sometime soon. They could smell it, taste it even. They reached their destination, the smell of wood-smoke and burnt leaves hanging heavily around them.
Kathleen was deep in thought. The summer sun was high- just like the humidity. Sultry, sticky air was stifling her, but it was worse in the big ole heat-storing farmhouse. At least on the front porch there was the tiniest of breezes.
Her laptop was sticking to her legs, and her hair was plastered to her neck. It was hard to write about a chilly fall day when she was so miserably hot. Kathleen could feel sweat trickling along her spine, and she finally gave up and headed into the house.
"Grandma, who services your furnace?"
At the older woman's answer, Kathleen replied, "I'm calling them. I'm getting you an air conditioner."
Her grandmother argued, but not too loudly. The heat was sapping her energy, and secretly she admitted to herself that air conditioning would be nice. Her husband had never believed it was necessary, but he'd been gone for almost five years. It wasn't that she didn't have the money. She was just from the old time where they never had it.
"I don't know how you're supposed to heal up from that surgery in this heat. But you watch, the minute you're cool, you'll perk right up." Kathleen dialed the number and spoke to the company.
"They'll be here between eight and ten in the morning. Just one more night. Thank God."
"Kat, I sure do appreciate that. Honey, could you get me a glass of water?" Ester asked hesitantly. She wasn't one to ask of other people.
"Sure Gram. Don't sound like you'd rather I pulled your teeth. I'm here to take care of you. Don't be afraid to ask for anything, okay?" Kathleen retrieved the water and placed it on her grandma's end table. Kissing her forehead, she added, "I'm going back outside to write."
"Are you sure this isn't any trouble Kat?"
"Gram, I can write just as good on your front porch as I can sitting behind a desk. I love you." Kat kissed her again and headed for the porch once more.
Upon her return, a Corgi and a German Sheppard had taken up residence beside her chair. They both looked friendly, and she was proven right. Too friendly. Her canine companions insisted on helping her write. She tried shooing them, but to no avail. Finally, at four o'clock exactly, they stood in unison and trotted off down the lane.
Kathleen went inside. "Gram, do you know who has a couple dogs? A Corgi and a German Sheppard?"
"Oh yes dear. Those sweet dogs come by every day and visit me. I didn't realize what time it was! Oh, pooh, I missed 'em. Tomorrow, could you let them in so I can visit with them?"
Kathleen was slightly surprised. "Yeah, Gram, sure. No problem." She smiled to herself.
"They belong to Trace who lives up the road. He's such a nice man. And I hear he's available." Gram smiled that sweet smile.
"Oh no ya don't. I am here to watch you and write a book. Not have some fling." Kat smiled.
"Well, you do write romance novels, right? What could be the harm in a little... inspiration?"
"I am going back outside." Kat grinned as she turned, and her grandma's laughter followed her out the door.
The next morning, almost right at eight o'clock, the air conditioning guys were there. Kathleen thanked them profusely, and by that afternoon, she was cool as a cucumber. Gram was breathing easier, and they both ended up falling asleep in the living room.
Kathleen woke to a scratching sound, and when she sat up, those dogs were at the window, making their prescence known.
"Gram, wake up. You have visitors." Kathleen stood and stretched, then went and opened the front door. The canines came in calmly, and both took up position on either side of her grandma.
As Ester cooed and petted and scratched, the dogs lolled their tongues and offered their bellies. Kathleen shook her head with a smile, then headed for the porch. The heat was still awful, but the humidity had dropped out and there was a pretty good wind going. Kathleen stretched again and opened her laptop. The cursor blinked, seeming to mock her, for she couldn't think of a single sentence to write. Maybe Gram was right. Maybe she did need some inspiration.
After her first book flew off the shelves, she was in demand for another. When that one went just as quickly, she was pressed for yet another. This being her fourth, Kathleen was getting slightly burnt out. And she hadn't had time for a social life in months. Her last boyfriend had been around went her first book went out, but he ran because he couldn't handle the pressure. She later found out he had a boyfriend.
Kat found herself woolgathering, but knowing that three chapters were due in as many days, she had to get to work. Time flew as she was typing, and she didn't realize the sun was setting until she heard her grandma ringing her bell. As she stood, she stretched and marveled at how quickly time had went by.
"Yeah Gram... what do ya need?"
"I let the dogs out a couple hours ago. Did you realize what time it was?"
"You shouldn't have gotten up on your own! You could have fallen!"
"It was only a few steps, and I needed to stretch. But I am hungry."
"Of course. Don't get up alone again. How does tuna salad sound?"
"That sounds wonderful." Gram looked away and flipped the TV to a different channel.
As Kathleen mixed in the mayonnaise, the phone rang. She grabbed it off the wall and cradled it on her shoulder.
"This isn't Gram." A deep, rich voice spoke into her ear. Kathleen felt a shiver shimmy down her back. She felt like the owner of the voice was breathing on her neck.
"No, this is Gram-daughter. Can I help you?"
"Maybe. This is Trace from up the road. I see my mutts were up there pestering again."
"How do you know that?"
"Cause Gram sent a note on one of their collars."
Kathleen let out a surprised laugh.
"And just what did this note say?"
"Nothin' much. I was just hoping to talk to her for a few minutes."
"Hmm. Sure. Let me click on the other extension. Hang on."
Kathleen peeked around the corner.
"Gram, phone's for you."
As the older woman picked it up, Kathleen debated for a few minutes about listening in, then sighed and hung it on the hook. She tried to eavesdrop from just Gram's side, but she was being quieter than usual. Kathleen shrugged and went back to making their dinner. After a few seconds, she couldn't take it anymore and she stepped quietly to the doorway.
"I'd love for you to come visit. Tomorrow would be fine. No, I won't be too tired. Bring the babies, would you? Okay, thank you Trace, you're a dear. Bye-bye."
"Why's he coming over?" Kathleen propped herself against the doorframe.
"To visit." Gram had practically jumped when Kat spoke.
"You aren't trying to fix me up are you?" Kat jokingly shook her finger at the old lady.
"Not at all. Trace usually comes by once or twice a week for a chat, and he mows the yard. He's certainly easy to look at." Gram twinkled.
"I think you have a crush on him. How old is he? He might be too young for you." Kat laughed.
"He's about ten years older than you. Give or take. I think he's about thirty-seven. And all I'm saying is that he's easy on these old peepers."
The girls had their dinner and Kat helped Gram to the porch. The sun had set and a breeze had kicked up. It was much easier to breathe. Gram was content to swing, and Kat did a little more writing. She was ahead of schedule now, and she might even had some time for herself the next day. After the chapters were sent off, of course.
After helping Gram to bed, Kat grabbed a bottle of water and went to her room. She watched the news, then found an old black and white movie. She found herself wondering about this Trace character. He was either genuinely sweet, or he was getting in good with her grandma and planned to take advantage of her eventually. Gram was a pretty good judge though, so she figured he must be really that sweet. She drifted off to sleep wondering what he looked like.
When Kathleen woke up, it was a little before seven. She groaned and knew she was too awake to go back to sleep. Kathleen staggered out of bed and turned the air conditioner up a little. It was slightly chilly in the house. After starting the coffee, she cut up fruit and put it in a bowl for their breakfast. She stuck it in the fridge and poured herself some caffeine.
A few sips later she brushed her hair off her face and headed for the porch. Her laptop sat on the table by the door, but she lifted her lip at the thought of starting so early. In the distance she could hear the whir of a lawnmower.
She settled herself in the porch swing and used her toes to push off the old wooden planks. Sipping her coffee in the relative silence, Kat realized she missed the country more than she thought.
As a child and teenager she had spent a lot of time at this old farm. But the draw of a bustling city was too strong to be ignored. So after graduation, she headed off, leaving her country girl roots in the dust. She loved it all.. The people, the noise... just everything. Being older, she appreciated the quiet and the simplicity of the middle of no where.
Kat took another swig, shut her eyes, and gathered her hair off of her neck, holding it in a loose ponytail with her hand as she pushed herself lazily. She hummed a popular country song, smiling inwardly. Was she ever regressing. Finally she gave up and sang the words, laughing at herself at the same time.
"Hillbilly deluxe, slick pick 'em up trucks, big timin' in a small town.." Kat giggled and dropped her head back. "I might just have to move back to the middle of no where. God, now I'm talkin' to myself."
"You have a pretty good voice, darlin'. If ya don't mind my sayin'."
Kat yelped and jerked her head up, looking for the source of the voice. That voice. Her hand dropped her hair and coffee sloshed over the edge of her cup as she abruptly stopped swinging.
"Can I help you?" Kat was vaguely self-conscious, realizing she was only wearing a black tank top and a pair of short gray shorts. Very short gray shorts.
"Maybe." The man took a step forward out of the sun, and hooked a thumb in his belt loop. He propped one booted foot on the bottom step of the porch.
"Well, what do you need?" Kat was too busy worrying about her attire that she hadn't noticed the man's.
Tight, faded jeans encased heavily, and visibly muscled legs. A worn leather belt looped his waist, and a big silver buckle rested over... Oh my. Kat felt herself flush. He had a tight white undershirt tucked into those pants, and a cowboy hat sat on his head. From what she could tell, his hair was a medium brown, and it was long. Not ridiculously so, just brushing his collar and some fell over the tops of his ears. She could make out the outline of the muscles in his chest and stomach. All in all, she was impressed. And interested.
Maybe Gram was right. Maybe she did need some inspiration. From the slight distance and because of the glare from the sun, she couldn't make out the color of his eyes. But she was sure it was as flawless as the rest of him.
"I'm Trace, from up the road. You must be Kat." He stepped up onto the porch and came in front of her, extending his hand.
"It's nice to meet you." Kat's breath caught as he grasped her hand.
She briefly noticed he just automatically called her by her nickname, but for some reason she didn't correct him like she did most people. Maybe it was her new found appreciation for the simple things. Maybe she was letting her hair down. Maybe she was in love with him. Kat smiled to herself.
Trace's hand tightened on hers, and she found herself being launched up off the swing. Surprise registered on her face as she came face to face with him. Or more correctly, face to chest with him. The man had to be a foot taller than her. It could be his boots, she mused, but she didn't care too much. Tilting her head up to look at him, he brought her hand to his mouth and kissed the back of it lightly.
"The pleasure's all mine."
Green. His eyes were green. Kat was feeling lightheaded. He was extremely too close.
"Would you care for some coffee?" Kat took a step sideways, and Trace reluctantly released her hand.
"Sure, if ya have an extra cup."
"A whole pot." Kat headed for the door, rolling her eyes at herself. If that didn't sound like an invitation, she didn't know what did.
Kat walked self-consciously, knowing her shorts were barely covering her ample rear end. Each clomp Trace's boots made on the wood slats sent a thrill of anticipation through her. Once into the house, he stepped lighter, and Kat let out a breath. His footfalls weren't jarring her nerves anymore. Or her hormones. She got a cup out of the cupboard and poured it for him.
"Black." Trace answered even before she turned to ask.
She topped off her cup and turned, sliding his across the island counter. Trace had planted himself on a stool. He palmed the mug and took a huge swallow. This man did nothing in small measure. Kat knew that for a certainty.
"Not to sound rude, but I thought you were coming this afternoon?" Kat leaned against the counter and tried to discreetly pull her shorts down. The fact she didn't have a bra on couldn't be helped.
"I hadn't mowed yet this week, and I woke up early. Figured I could get that done, then run home and shower and change then come visit. I didn't expect to see you on the porch." Trace took another swallow.
"Ah. So ya decided to come make my acquaintance, huh?" Kat smiled, surprising herself. She wasn't looking to get personal with this man.
"I did. I wanted to get ya alone first, see what I think of ya. Gram is a pretty good judge of character." Trace winked and slid his cup across the counter at her. "Can ya top me off?"
Kat was momentarily stunned. Partially because he had spoken her thought from the night before, and partially because of the slight innuendo of his question. She had to get a grip on herself. He didn't mean it like that. She turned and grabbed the carafe and when she spun towards him, she caught his eyes on her. Below the belt. She groaned inwardly. His eyes retreated to safer territory pretty quickly, so she really couldn't accuse him of being a pervert.
After she replaced the pot on the warmer, she gave her shorts another discreet tug. When she turned and met his eyes, she felt a leap of warmth flood through her. Those big green eyes of his were devouring her. There was a definite crackle of sexual tension in the air. For some reason she couldn't tear her gaze from his, and she didn't question why she didn't want to. It felt like the moment could last forever.
"My, you two are up early."
Kat jumped, her coffee again going over the rim of her cup. She sat it down where it would be safe.
"Morning Gram. How are you feeling?"
"Pretty spry. I could use some of that coffee, if there's enough." Gram shuffled her way to the kitchen chair.
"Of course." Kat got her a cup.
"Gram, you are a sight for sore eyes." Trace stood and walked to her, bending at the waist. He planted a loud kiss on her forehead. "I'm gonna mow here shortly. Kat was nice enough to get me revved up."
Kat felt herself flush.
"Oh my. Trace, I don't know what I would do without you. I'm glad Kat was being sweet to ya."
The pair continued with their conversation and Kat excused herself to throw on a pair of Capri's and a bra. She felt much better since she was partially clothed. Back in the kitchen, Trace was making ready to go mow.
"Thanks darlin', for the coffee. It was good." Trace tipped his hat.
"You're welcome. Thanks for stopping by." Kat refilled her cup once more.
Gram had made her way to the living room with Trace's help. She had the news on already, catching up on the rest of the world.
"I'll see ya later."
"Bye." Kat fidgeted.
At the door Trace turned and looked at her.
Trace smirked. "I liked the shorts better."
Kat collapsed against the wall once the door banged shut behind him. Good lord. What an interesting morning. Gram sure knew what she was talking about. He was definitely easy on the eyes. Taking a few deep breaths, she scolded herself for acting like a horny teenager.
"Gram, are you ready for breakfast?" Kat headed to the fridge.
"Sure honey. Whenever you get a chance."
Kat rolled her eyes and smiled as she popped some wheat bread into the toaster. She served them both some fruit, then put apple butter on their toast. They sat together in the living room and ate, while Kat tried to stop thinking about their sexy neighbor.
"So what did ya think of him?" Gram was twinkling again.
"I think he is sexy as sin. He seems like he's a great guy. It's sweet of him, taking care of you."
"He sure is, isn't he? I do love that boy. He has been through quite a bit, but he's sweet to take care of an old neighbor lady like me." Gram smiled and munched on her fruit.
Mulling over Gram's cryptic comment, Kat took the dishes back to the sink and decided to wash them later. She wanted to get outside before the sun and heat got unbearable. She threw her hair into a clippie, exchanged her Capri's for a pair of jean shorts, and off to the porch she went.
Suddenly, she was typing a million miles a minute. That neighbor must have really gotten her juices flowing. Kat heard the lawnmower but it didn't intrude into her thoughts. She zoned out and wrote, her long fingers flying over the keyboard.
She didn't know how long she had been sitting there, but Kat started coming back to reality. The mower sounded much closer, and she stretched her arms above her head, working kinks out of her shoulders. Kat glanced around, but didn't see their handsome neighbor. Leaning back, she tried to find the source of the noise, but it just surrounded her and she couldn't make it out. Kat shrugged, and grabbed her laptop to pull it back onto her legs. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him.
"Oh my God." Kat's mouth dropped open a notch.
Trace had rounded the far corner of the house, and he shut off the riding mower. He hopped off of it, agile as a cat. Correction: not cat, mountain lion. He grabbed the weed whacker from the barn and started up, again filling the air with noise. Trace went back to work, oblivious that she was watching him.
He'd taken his shirt off at some point, and his muscles rippled as he moved. He wasn't bulky like a body builder, but you could definitely tell he worked for a living. The sun glistened off of his tanned skin which was covered by a sheen of sweat. His jeans were still the tight ones, and they slung low on his hips. He held the weed whacker with one hand, and grabbed a bottle of water out of his back pocket. How it fit in there was beyond Kat. Nothing else was getting in those jeans.
Kat stared with her eyes wide and watched him work. He'd kept his hat on to block the sun from his face presumably, but she wished he'd take it off. And his pants too. Kat shook herself. What was she doing? She needed to write. But he was wonderful to watch. He handled the equipment expertly, and the way his muscles moved... Kat was entranced.
She wasn't sure how long she sat there, wide eyed and dry mouthed, longing for the man working on their yard, but she knew she needed to get busy. She started writing, but glanced up every other sentence or so. Before she knew it, she had switched gears and was writing him into the sex scene. She went back and deleted the last few paragraphs. She was at a bad spot in the book to be fantasizing about their neighbor.