The Manor House Ch. 09byvelvetpie©
Shandi came down for breakfast but she avoided contact with anyone, an action noticed by both Rob and Milo. Instead of seeking out companionship, she wolfed down scrambled eggs and a slice of buttered toast, then grabbed a couple of sausage links, heading for the stables. Hannah welcomed her warmly and she joined the other girls, mucking out stalls and leading horses from pen to pen. Rob wanted to speak to her but Milo cautioned her to give Shandi some room and she complied, although she was brokenhearted.
Lunch came by and Shandi opted to remain in the barn, petting the new kittens and enjoying the serenity of nature and when dinner came, she did whatever she was required to do, ate with the others and departed for her room ... alone every time. As the week passed, Rob watched her with a desperate eye, watching the dark patches reappear and a general malaise set in.
"What's wrong with her, Milo?"
"You haven't guessed?"
Rob turned to her friend, her expression a mixture of astonishment and irritation. "You know?"
"Perhaps you should have a conversation with Mariane."
Rob's lips thinning as anger flared in her chest. Mariane Reems had come to The Manor House months ago, a victim of a domestic violence incident that saw her shot three times. As she recovered, she had reached out to Mariane as she had each and every victim that arrived here and Mariane threw herself at her. But Rob wasn't interested. Not only did she not feel a spark or connection with her, but she knew from Mariane's rap sheet that she was a prostitute and had most probably been shot by her pimp.
Hard feelings had ensued and Rob had actually entertained the idea of sending her away until Milo had convinced her to let the woman stay, that perhaps she might learn something but it was obvious that she hadn't. The cunning bitch had seen how Shandi reacted to Rob and was jealous of that connection. She had said something to Shandi, she was sure and Milo's comment all but confirmed it.
"I think Miss Mariane has worn out her welcome."
* * * * *
Rob found Shandi in the stable, patiently feeding chunks of carrot to a black stallion named Overlord and cooing to him like a proud mother. She leaned against the stanchion and watched the interaction, pleased to see that whatever Mariane had said or done hadn't completely hardened her. When Shandi looked up, Rob tried to hold her eyes but the black woman refused, turning her attention back to the horse.
"Beautiful, isn't he?"
"I've always loved horses. Just never got a chance to ride one." She gave him another slice, keeping her hand flat and smiling when he lipped the vegetable out of her palm. "Animals are great friends. They never let you down."
Shandi gulped, her chest burning. "I didn't say that."
"You didn't have to." Rob moved closer, watching her face. "I had an interesting talk with Mariane. Why didn't you come to me?"
"I don't know. Maybe I just thought I would be better off not making any friends while I was here."
"That's what you see me as? Just a friend?"
Shandi was aware of Rob's nearness without knowing that she had moved behind her. The heat from her body seemed to penetrate Shandi's jacket and a shiver moved through her when Rob's hands touched her shoulders. "I ... I don't know."
Rob wanted to kiss her so badly that she could barely contain herself. But the attraction was strong, strong enough to tell her that she wanted a relationship out of this and that now wasn't the time, especially when Shandi was going to face the worst pretty soon. "We have plenty of time to explore things, don't you think?" She didn't give Shandi time to think, removing her hands and stepping away. "What's most important is that you take care of yourself and I don't think it would be fair to you to get involved in a relationship just now."
Shandi hadn't thought about that. She was only thinking about being close to Rob. "Yeah, maybe you're right."
On a whim, Rob stepped close again and bent, quickly pressing her mouth against Shandi's full lips, groaning at the softness and warmth that met her. She was pleased that Shandi responded as well, throwing an arm around her neck and pulling her close, her hands drifting across Rob's back. "I don't come on to any of the girls." She whispered, against her mouth. "That was why Mariane was angry with you."
"Why would she be angry with me?"
Shandi already knew the answer to the question but she wanted to hear it from Rob's delicious mouth. "Because she knew that I liked you." Rob leaned in for another quick kiss. "More than a friend."
"Rob, you in here?" Milo's shout sent them apart and when the man turned the corner, Rob was watching Shandi feed more carrots to Overlord. "Here you are. Good that you're here, too, Shandi. I just got a call from George. Colvin's hearing is tomorrow morning."
"Do I have to go?"
"Not unless you want to. Just going to be lawyers jawing at each other."
"The choice is yours." Rob said softly. "You still owe me a trip into town."
Shandi looked over and smiled at her. "Guess my mind's made up."
Milo grinned as well. "I guess it is."