Reece, page 1
This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
First edition. November 1, 2019.
Copyright © 2019 Lori Wilde and Carolyn Greene.
Written by Lori Wilde and Carolyn Greene.
Sweet Southern Charmers Book One
Lori Wilde &
Also by Lori Wilde & Carolyn Greene
About the Authors
“Quick, give me your gravy strainer!”
No hello or glad to meet you. The frantic woman just stood there in Reece’s doorway, her hand outstretched in expectation, her dark pageboy hairstyle falling in disarray around her delicate face.
Something resembling a black dog cowered behind her legs … very attractive legs, at that. Come to think of it, she looked even better close up. Earlier, he’d watched her mow the grass next door from his bedroom window.
He promptly forgot the paperwork he’d been doing and stuck out his hand. “You must be my new neigh—”
“Don’t just stand there—we’ve got lives to save!” The brunette ignored his friendly gesture and pushed past him into the house.
Grabbing his arm, she half dragged him to the kitchen and started digging through his cabinets. The floor grew cluttered with piles of pots and baking pans in her wake.
“Here’s a colander.” She shoved the thing into his arms. “But the holes are too big. Where’s your gravy strainer?”
What was with this woman?
“Umm…” Reece pushed a lock of hair off his forehead. What had he done with that thing after he’d filtered the oil in his tractor?
“How about a flour sifter?” she persisted. When he hesitated to consider what a flour sifter might be, she snapped her fingers under his nose. “Hurry, before they all die!” Reece’s clumsy search through the cabinets finally turned up a sifter as well as the misplaced strainer.
“Thanks a million,” exclaimed the human hurricane as she slipped out the back door with her bounty. She popped her head back in. “C’mon, I need your help.”
It didn’t dawn on him to ask why. Even if he tried, he probably couldn’t squeeze a word in sideways. Well, what the hell. She had aroused his curiosity. Reece shrugged and jogged barefoot after her across his lawn to her backyard.
He caught up with her at the rail fence and gave her cute bottom a boost across the wood structure. Then he followed her to a small, collapsible pool where she dipped out a bucketful of scummy water.
She set the bucket on the ground and pointed to a hole in the side of the pool. From the hole trickled water and little round black things. On closer inspection, he saw that the black things wriggled in a puddle on the ground.
“My mower tossed a rock through the side of this thing. The tadpoles will die if we don’t do something quickly.” She held the strainer to the hole and tried to catch the slippery creatures. “Damn—pardon me. This isn’t working.”
Reece forced his eyes off the sight of her, kneeling in mud and pawing frantically at the flow of water.
“Women,” he mumbled and rolled his eyes. “Especial those save-the-whale types.”
He pulled off his T-shirt which read, If You’re Not Hungry, Thank A Farmer, and stuffed it into the hole. He picked up the flour sifter and started scooping out the hapless creatures and transferring them to the bucket.
To his surprise, the woman sat cross-legged, the back of her tie-dyed shorts planted squarely in the mud. She was sure different from hometown women. Obviously a city slicker, but not New York kind of city. No, she didn’t seem sophisticated or haughty the way he imagined a metropolitan woman to be. But she was sidewalks and streetlights, apartments and buses.
She seemed unaware of ruining her clothes, she was so intent on capturing, in her bare hands, the tadpoles squirming in the puddle before her.
Not many women he knew would voluntarily touch a live tadpole. Or a dead one, either, for that matter. In fact, he didn’t know many girls from Bliss County who’d willingly trade places with the one beside him.
“There.” She triumphantly plunged her hands into the bucket and washed the mud and tadpoles from them. “The worst of the crisis is over. Thanks for your help.”
Reece couldn’t help noticing how the smile reached her greenish-brown eyes even before her lips turned up.
“I’m sorry I acted so rude before. I get carried away sometimes.”
He could easily visualize men in white suits hauling her away. Her behavior had been that nutty.
She held out her hand, made a face at the scum and bits of grass clinging to her fingers and large amethyst ring, and wiped the gunk on the front of her shirt. She examined her hand and, satisfied that it was clean enough, stuck it out toward Reece once again. “I’m Lanie, and I just moved in yesterday.”
Reece put down the sifter and took her hand in his. Although her bone structure was small, almost fragile, she gripped his hand firmly.
“My name’s Reece.” He let his eyes wander over her lush figure and noticed she was studying his bare chest just as thoroughly. “Welcome to Bliss.” Indeed, the day was getting more blissful by the minute. She improved the scenery immensely.
Water gurgled in the bucket behind Lanie. Her pet had plunged its muzzle up to its eyeballs in the water and was slurping greedily.
Reece stared. It wasn’t a dog after all. In fact, it looked like a tiny, knee-high horse.
“Cripes, Winnie, that’s not your water bucket.” Lanie let go of Reece’s hand and grabbed a handful of mane to pull the animal away. “We’re trying to save those critters, and you’re drinking them!”
“A horse? That little thing’s a horse?”
Lanie pointed the young animal in the direction of her house and swatted it on the rump to send it away from her lifesaving mission. But the horse decided, instead, to take a cooling walk in the pool.
“That does it.” Lanie stepped into the pool, penny loafers and all, and picked up the horse.
Tiny hooves swung wildly in the horse’s struggle to get free as Lanie walked toward the house. But it was no use. Lanie opened her back door and set the animal down, shook her finger at it as she muttered something, and closed the screen door behind her. Its squeaky bleats followed her back to the pool.
Reece shook his head. And he’d thought this was going to be another boring Sunday afternoon. “Are you going to leave him in the house to do you-know-what all over the floor?”
“You’re a country boy, aren’t you? Don’t you know the difference between a filly and a colt?” Lanie knelt and went back to scooping the remaining tadpoles from the pool into the bucket. “Even if you didn’t, Winnie is a girl’s name, you know. And she’s housebroken.”
How might someone go about housebreaking a horse, he wondered.
Winnie sounded off again. The tiny animal stood dog-style with its front hooves against the door to get a better view of the goings-on outside.
“I’ve never heard of anyone keeping a horse in the house.” He couldn’t resist adding, “She’d probably be happier outdoors, where she belongs.”
“Aw, hell—pardon me. You’re not gonna start on that, too, are you? Hold this.”
“I was run out of my apartment because of people with attitudes like yours,” Lanie said. Her voice rose as she imitated her scorners. “My, my, dearie, don’t you know livestock belong outdoors? This is a residential area, and we don’t want any horses around here.”
Reece again dumped the contents of the sifter into the bucket. “If you feel that strongly about it, why didn’t you stay and fight?”
“Hmmph. I read about a woman in California who tried to change her zoning code to allow for a miniature horse. After she spent forty thousand dollars in legal fees, she couldn’t afford her mortgage.” Lanie lifted the pool higher, running the last of the water through Reece’s sifter. “No, thanks. I’d rather move to the country where ‘livestock’ is allowed.”
He stood and hoisted the bucket. “You have every legal right to keep a horse here, but I still think it’s a dumb idea to let it stay in the house. I don’t even let my cat come inside.”
“If your cat is the gray one with the white paws, I wish you would keep it in your house. I found evidence of him digging in the mulch around my rosebushes.”
The woman was raving, and it was unwise to continue the discussion. She obviously couldn’t see logic where her pet was concerned.
“There’s a pond across the road,” he said. “Let’s go set these rascals free.”
Lanie opened the screen door to let Winnie out, and both ran to catch up with Reece. “Mrs. Masardi’s car isn’t here,” she said as they trudged across the neighbor’s property. “Do you think she’ll mind if we dump tadpoles in her pond? I met her while moving in yesterday, but I don’t know her well enough to help myself to her pond.”
“Don’t worry, she won’t mind.” He knew she was almost as nuts as Lanie, except for allowing animals in the house.
Reece was certain their neighbor would gladly give the creatures a home, as long as she didn’t have to share her house with them. But would the increased tadpole population attract snakes? He was preparing to give the bucket the old heave-ho when Lanie stopped him with a hand on his arm.
“Don’t you dare fling those poor animals into that pond! Give me that.”
She took the pail from his hands and waded knee-deep into the water. She lowered the container into the water and let the pollywogs drift out into their new home.
In a squeaky voice, as an adult speaks to a small child, she said, “Come on, you poor little things. Get those tails moving.” She gently swished the water with her fingers, then looked up at Reece. “I think they are in shock.”
Reece thought that might explain his own condition. Ever since she’d pounded on his door twenty minutes ago, his brain seemed to move in slow motion.
She bent over to speak to the creatures, and her scoop-neck top dangled loosely from her body. His brain—and hormones—suddenly shifted into overdrive.
At that, Reece did what any red-blooded Southern gentleman in his position would do. He let his eyes linger ever so briefly and drank in the sight of her feminine curves. For one brief, insane moment, he thought about asking her out.
But, no, this woman and her craziness would be bound to upset his life, his mind, and his rigidly enforced work schedule. He wouldn’t let a pretty face and shapely figure jeopardize his two-year struggle to rebuild his family’s business.
Irritated with himself for letting her distract him from the week’s sales receipts, he snapped, “I don’t have time to stand here fooling with a bunch of tadpoles. If they’re not moving by now, they’re probably dead.”
Trying not to notice the hurt expression on her face, he spun on his heel and stalked back to the house.
Lanie watched him disappear over the rise toward his house.
His dark brown hair had been neatly combed a short while ago. It now stuck out at various angles. He swung his arms to accommodate his long stride. As he moved, the muscles played across his bare, sun-bronzed back.
She recalled gaping at his naked chest, fascinated by the golden-brown hairs. In retrospect, she hoped that she hadn’t been too obvious, staring at him as she had.
Then she realized how dopey she must look, standing up knee-deep in Mrs. Masardi’s pond while minnows and tadpoles nibbled her ankles.
Winnie bleated at her from shore as if to emphasize the ridiculousness of her situation.
Great, Lanie, you’ve only been here two days, and you’re already labeled a flake.
Too bad it had been Reece she’d blown her cover to. What a hunk! She’d thought she was going to swoon when he’d peeled off his T-shirt. If only she could have acted normal until he got to know her.
But she’d ruined her chance with Reece—and set her reputation in this new community—by being herself: Zany Lanie.
Mud squished in her shoes as she slogged toward shore. Her dad couldn’t have picked a more appropriate nickname to describe his eldest child. Her two younger brothers had seen their share of childish mishaps, but it had always been Lanie’s antics that attracted attention. Maybe that was because, in so many other ways, she was Miss Reliable.
From the time her mother had died when Lanie was five, she’d been a little helper to her father and junior mom to her brothers. Thus, when she had overdosed on Alka-Seltzer, childishly anticipating an explosive release of gases to propel her into midair, it had caused more of a stir than if one of her brothers had done the same thing.
If today was any indication, her reputation had followed her to Bliss, the place she’d chosen to live mostly because she liked the name.
“Is that you, Elaine?” Mrs. Masardi slammed the car door shut and walked toward the pond with one hand shading her eyes.
Lanie’s feet hit dry ground, and she couldn’t help marveling at her sense of timing, to be emerging from the pond like a monster from the black lagoon at the exact moment Mrs. Masardi was returning home in her Sunday best. Maybe this was God’s punishment for cutting the grass on His day.
She approached her neighbor, hoping the elderly woman wouldn’t hear the sucking sound in her shoes. “Uh, hi, Mrs. Masardi.”
“Nice day for a cooling dip, isn’t it?” The older lady walked to the patio and pulled two rocking chairs together so that they faced the pond. “Have a seat. I’ll get us some iced tea and a towel for you to dry yourself.”
“That’s okay. I can’t stay long. Gotta finish mowing the lawn.”
Mrs. Masardi’s left eyebrow raised almost imperceptibly as she took a seat beside Lanie, but she said nothing.
“Th-that’s why I was in your pond.”
The other eyebrow came up to match the first.
“My mower threw a rock through the side of a child’s pool that had been left in my backyard—”
“Oh, yes, the Eastwoods. They were the former owners. The pool belonged to their two small children. They’ve been gone about three months now.”
No wonder her yard had looked like a jungle. Lanie went on to explain how hundreds of helpless tadpoles were at risk of dying if she hadn’t removed them from the leaking pool. Rather than implicate Reece, who already seemed perturbed with her, she decided it best to leave his name out of her scenario. She would take full responsibility for dumping the tadpoles in Mrs. Masardi’s pond.
“I hope you don’t mind, Mrs. Masardi. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Please don’t call me Mrs. Masardi. It makes me feel like an old woman.” She reached over and patted Lanie’s arm. “My name’s Dot.” Then, as if to prove that they were now on casual terms, she kicked off her low-heeled shoes and propped her feet on the redwood table. “As for those tadpoles, I think it’s a wonderful thing you did. You’re a sweet girl, Elaine.”
“Where do you work, dear?”
“Nowhere right now. I had a secretarial job until recently. Unfortunately, my father died a few months ago, and I missed a lot of time from work to settle his affairs. Since I was still on my probation period, they let me go.”
“That’s okay,” Lanie reassured her. “I’m a good secretary, so I won’t have trouble finding another job, even if it’s only for a temporary agency.” She spoke with more assurance than she felt. After losing the last job, not to mention her experience at the previous one, she wasn’t so sure.
Winnie tap-tapped across the brick patio and rubbed her nose on Lanie’s elbow. Affectionately, she tugged the animal’s forelock.
“How are you with accounts receivables and payables?”
“I made A’s in bookkeeping at the community college.”
“That’s wonderful! You’re an answer to my prayers.” Dot clapped her hands together in delight.
Winnie misunderstood the gesture and helped herself to a comfy spot on the woman’s lap. Dot cradled the animal and pushed a toe against the patio to set the chair rocking.
“I think I’ve got the job for you,” Dot continued. “Mine!”
Lanie raised an eyebrow.
“For the past two years since my Albert passed on, I’ve been helping my son run the family business. But I just can’t keep up a full-time job anymore, especially now that I’m … over fifty.” She winked and whispered conspiratorially, “Besides, I’ve met a gentleman friend I’d like to spend more time with.”
Dot cuddled Winnie tighter as if just thinking about her friend gave her the urge to hug something.
LORI WILDE SERIES:
Other author's books:
- BooneNick (Texas Rascals, #3)Truman (Texas Rascals, #7)KurtHandsome RancherClay (Texas Rascals Book 11)MattKael (Texas Rascals, #6)
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