As I’ve mentioned here before, I usually make changes to the final product from what I share here on the blog. I move chapters around, add parts, delete parts, fix typos (as best as I can), try to fill plot holes and simply tighten the writing before I kick it to Amazon or wherever I choose to publish it. I made changes from what I shared on the blog to both of my previous books, more to the second than the first one. I already know there are going to be a lot of changes to The Farmer’s Daughter before the final publication in the Fall of 2020 (you know, if the planet doesn’t catch fire by then with the way 2020 is going).
I also know that The Farmer’s Daughter is going to be one in a series, but I don’t know how long the series will be yet. It’s going to be at least three books so far, with a possible novella about Franny and Ned when they were younger. The first is, of course, The Farmer’s Daughter, the second will be The Librarian (which I sneak peaked here on the blog, but the final book will definitely change from what I shared as an excerpt here), and the third will be The Pastor’s Wife. I’m not sure where else I’ll go from there.
I don’t ever expect to be a successful or best-selling author. Honestly, I don’t care anymore. I used to. But . . . well, things change. Life changes and what we think is important in life changes. I’m just having fun now. I hope some of you are having fun reading what I’m writing and even if only a couple of people let me know they’re enjoying it, I’m okay with that. Anyhow, enough rambling, here is Chapter 13. It’s pretty long this week, but I decided not to break it into two parts.
You can catch up with the rest of the story HERE or at the link above.
Annie looked at herself in the mirror attached to the oak vanity in her bedroom and frowned. Then she wished she hadn’t frowned because when she frowned more wrinkles cut into the skin between her eyes and around her lips and even under her chin and down her throat.
She jutted her chin into the air, remembering how her mom had once advised her to lift her chin this way every day to help stretch the skin there, keeping it supple, smooth, and free of sagging. She hadn’t been consistent in the practice over the years, which must have been why wrinkles were beginning to form there and remind her of her age.
Touching her fingertips lightly on the slightly graying tips of her dark hair, Annie was transported to a time when her hair wasn’t beginning to show gray and lines didn’t crinkle at the corners of her eyes. A time when Robert Tanner had swept her off her feet by riding a horse up the hill to visit her after school each day.
Soft, warm kisses were exchanged underneath the apple tree and plans for the future were made while sipping lemonade and swinging on the front porch swing.
“How many children do you want?” Annie slid one leg up under her on the swing and turned toward Robert, anxious for his answer.
“I’ve never thought about it much, but I’d say at least two.”
Hair a mix of blond and brown fell over his forehead and he swept it back with his hand and smiled, looking at her to see if his answer had been the right one.
“A boy and a girl?”
“Sure. Or just two boys to work the farm.”
Robert was still obsessed with the idea of being a farmer like his dad, but at least he wanted two children, just like her. She wanted one of each, though, or even two girls.
“Girls can work a farm just as well as boys,” she told him.
He’d grinned and stolen a kiss. “I’ll be happy whatever sex they are and how ever many they are, as long as I have them with you.”
Three weeks after graduation, Robert had begged their parents to let them get married. His parents had told him: “If you think this is right, then you have our blessing.”
He approached Annie’s parents next. “Mr. and Mrs. Bentley, I know I’m only a poor farmer’s son but I love your daughter and I would do whatever I can to make sure she is taken care of, financially and otherwise.”
Her father, a machine operator for most of his life, who knew what it was to be poor and wanted more for his daughter, had refused. Repeatedly.
Her mother watched them together on the porch one night when they kissed good-bye with a fast burning passion and knew she needed to change her husband’s mind — and fast.
She turned toward her husband with wide eyes. “I have a feeling we’d better let those two get married or they may have to get married.”
Annie’s father, Leon, had looked at his wife with a bewildered expression.
“What are you saying, Eleanor?”
“I’m saying those two are about to burn up with desire for each other and I would rather they do so within the bonds of marriage.”
Leon had been shocked, embarrassed, and ready to grab Robert Tanner by the collar of his shirt and toss him in front of a combine, but he’d finally agreed with his wife. A wedding was set for the end of the summer.
Annie’s mom had been right. Three months after their wedding night, Annie was pregnant with Jason and at the age of 19 they were parents already. Molly came five years later after a couple of miscarriages that dashed the Tanners hopes of having a large family.
Those years had been tough years, of course, but Annie never regretted marrying Robert or having children at such a young age. She was grateful that Robert and God had been with her through it all. Annie pulled the pins from the bun she’d put on top of her head earlier in the day to keep the back of her neck cool. She let her long black hair fall around her shoulders and reached for the wrinkle cream she knew wasn’t really working but at least made her skin feel nice and soft.
She could hear how tired and sore Robert was even before she turned from her vanity mirror to look at him. His steps had faded to shuffles, each shuffle followed by a sharp intake of breath.
She exchanged the wrinkle cream for the pain ointment squirting it into her hand as she turned to face him.
She gestured toward the bed. “Sit on the edge over here so I can get this on your back.”
Robert grimaced as he lifted his shirt over his head and did as he was told. “Yes, ma’am.”
He winced, arching his back when cold lotion touched his skin. His muscles relaxed, though, when Annie’s hands pressed expertly in all the right spots, as if she could read his mind on where the pain was.
“Oh, that’s it. Right there,” he said, closing his eyes, enjoying the feel of her hands on his skin.
“You work too hard,” Annie said, her hands warm across his skin.
Robert laughed. “Is there such a thing as working too hard for a farmer? We don’t have a choice.”
Annie frowned as she rubbed the ointment into the skin on the back of his neck. “The news about Larry really shook me you know.”
Robert nodded, his eyes still closed. “Yeah. Me too.”
“Robert . . .” she slid her arms slowly down his shoulders and upper arms “You’d talk to me if . . . I mean, before you ever . . . if you ever get that down you’d —”
Robert turned quickly to face Annie, opening his eyes. “Annie. I’d never do that to you and the kids. Never. I’m not blaming Larry. I don’t know what was going through his mind that night, but I’m not doing that to you and the kids.”
He was startled to see moisture in Annie’s eyes as she studied his. “Sometimes when people are depressed,” her voice caught with emotion. “they do things they never thought they’d do.”
The skin on Robert’s palms were rough against her cheek but his touch was gentle as he cradled her face. “Annie, I’ll never leave you that way. I promise. Do you hear me? I’ll never leave you that way.”
Annie nodded, tears spilling from her eyes, down her cheeks. Robert’s thumbs gently wiped the tears. He pressed his mouth against her forehead.
“I love you, Annie.”
“I love you too.”
She managed a smile and then closed her eyes to try to gather her emotions. His mouth warm and soft on hers was a pleasant surprise and she kept her eyes closed, reveling in a moment they found little time for anymore. She opened her eyes and smiled as he pulled away slightly, then flushed warm at the look of desire in his eyes, passion igniting where it often smoldered these days.
When his mouth was on hers again, his hands sank into her hair, pushing it back from her face. She leaned into him as the kiss deepened, hands against his chest, finding comfort in his bare skin as one hand slid down her back, resting in the small of it and the other roamed where the hands of long-time married men roam when they want to show their wives how much they still love and need them.
Molly’s breaths came out in short gasps as she pushed down on the pedals of the elliptical. How in the world did she let Liz talk her into this? Her muscles ached. Sweat pooled in places she didn’t even know she had places for it to pool. Her chest was constricting, but she was pretty sure she wasn’t going to die. Pretty sure anyhow. At least not yet. Thirty more minutes of this, though, and she would probably be leaving the gym in an ambulance.
Liz, on the other hand, working out on the same equipment next to her, was smiling as she walked, watching some morning news show offering advice on “the latest fashions for the rest of your summer.”
Liz’s long dark hair was pulled back into a cute ponytail that bounced as she walked. Other parts of Liz were bouncing too but they were all the parts of a body that should bounce on a woman, unlike Molly who hated the way the extra weight on her bottom bounced as she lifted and lowered her legs.
Molly glanced to her right and caught sight of town librarian Ginny Jefferies, brilliant green eyes focused straight ahead, a determined expression on her face as she pedaled ferociously on a stationary bike. Molly couldn’t help wonder why she was at the gym. Tall and slender, Ginny seemed in better shape than most women her age, which Molly guessed to be between 50 and 55.
Maybe Ginny had gained a little weight in her belly and hips that only she could see, but it didn’t seem to Molly like she’d gained enough to be pedaling with so much drive. Then again, not everyone worked out to lose weight. Some wanted to maintain their weight or – Molly looked at Ginny’s scowl and tight jaw – simply get their frustrations out.
“How you doing?” Liz asked, barely out of breath.
“Just fine,” Molly gasped out.
“Pace yourself,” Liz offered. “You haven’t worked out in — how long has it been?”
Never, thought Molly.
“A while,” she gasped out loud.
Glancing in front of her, slightly to the left, she watched a barrel-chested man lift weights, his muscles rippling and straining with each curl. His workout tank was stretched tight against his bulging pecks and rippled six pack.
He was huge.
Molly didn’t like men whose muscles were so big they had to turn sideways to fit through a door. Jason was almost there, but not yet, thankfully. Alex wasn’t anywhere near that muscular. Sure, he definitely had well-toned biceps and his chest and back were sculpted in the image of near-pure masculine perfection as if they had been hand carved by an expert stone carver —
Molly shook her head. Where had that come from? One minute she was wondering if this workout was going to kill her and the next moment she was remembering that day last week when Alex took his shirt off while lifting hay bales in the barn and she’d been unable to look away. She definitely needed to take a break and drink some water. She was beginning to lose her mind.
Snapping the top of the plastic bottle, Molly sat on a chair behind Liz and sucked half the bottle down. The water tasted more amazing than water had ever tasted to her before. In front of her, Liz’s tiny bottom was practically at Molly’s face level. Molly rolled her eyes, internally grumbling about how Liz had never struggled with her weight in the entire time they’d known each other.
Reflections of sunlight bounced across the gym equipment as the front door opened and someone walked in. Molly was too tired to see who it was. She tipped her head back and closed her eyes, wiping her face with the towel the man at the front desk had handed her when she’d signed in.
“What did Liz do, talk you into torturing yourself too?”
She opened her eyes and jerked her head up at the sound of Alex’s voice, her heart pounding. What was he doing here? Standing with the gym equipment as a backdrop, wearing a pair of dark sunglasses, a faded pair of jeans, a faded-white cowboy hat pulled down low on his head, and a black t-shirt that fit him amazingly he looked like he was on his way to a magazine shoot. He was insanely gorgeous, if she did say so herself and she was mortified that he was seeing her while rivulets of sweat traveled down her skin and onto her clothes.
She didn’t want Alex to see her this way, even though he’d probably seen her just about as fat and sweaty as she was now when they were working in the barn together on those hot summer days. She stood and self-consciously pulled at her workout t-shirt as if she could pull it down enough to hide her bulbous bottom and thighs.
“Yeah, I guess,” she answered weakly, looking quickly at the floor. “It has been a bit torturous.”
She couldn’t see his eyes when she raised her gaze, but she felt him looking at her through the sunglasses. He propped his hands on his hips. “So, is this going to be a normal thing from now on? You working out?”
Molly shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. It’s a good thing to get in better shape . . . I guess.”
Liz stepped off the elliptical, snatched her towel from the chair next to Molly’s and smiled. “Hey, Alex. I don’t usually see you here. What’s up? Here to work out?”
Alex snorted. “Yeah right. The only time you’ll see me exercising is if I’m running from something. Jason left his sunglasses here this morning after his workout. I was heading to the hardware store, so I told him I’d swing in and grab them.”
He looked back at Molly, slid his sunglasses off and hooked them in his shirt’s front pocket. “So, what? You’re doing this so you’ll look like a twig like Liz?”
“Hey!” Liz cried. “Unless saying I look like a twig is compliment, I take offense to that.”
Alex smiled sheepishly, a soft pink shading his chiseled cheekbones. “Sorry, Liz. You look great. Really. It’s just. . . well, not every woman has to look the same.”
Molly swallowed hard as Alex’s gaze returned to hers’. Her breath caught at the tone of his voice when he spoke, soft and tender. “I think you look fine already, Molly Tanner.”
He reached over and pushed a strand of hair that had fallen from her ponytail behind her ear, his expression serious, his fingertips grazing her cheek. Molly’s skin buzzed where his skin touched hers. She could barely speak, suddenly flustered.
“Well, it’s – it’s not all about looking different. Sometimes it’s just about feeling better.”
Alex laughed, the sunlight catching his sparkling blue eyes. “Do you feel better? You don’t look like you feel better. You look exhausted.”
Molly smiled weakly. “Well, I will feel better . . . eventually.”
Alex’s grin faded into a more somber expression. “Then keep it up, by all means.” He took a step closer to Molly and the intensity in his expression startled her as much as his earlier comment.
“Just do it for yourself, okay?” he said softly. “Not for anyone else.”
Molly nodded, still trying to figure out why his tone had faded from teasing to serious. “Okay.”
Alex smiled again his eyes focusing on hers for a few seconds before he turned toward the front desk. “See you ladies later. I’d better get Jason’s sunglasses back to him before he goes blind in this sunlight.”
Molly’s heart was pounding and she knew it wasn’t only from the workout. Liz stood between her and her view of Alex.
“What was that?” Liz mouthed the words with wide eyes.
Molly shook her head and shrugged at the same time. “I have no idea,” she mouthed back.
And she truly had no idea. What alternate universe was she in right now?
“See you at the barn, Molly,” Alex called as he opened the front door. He slid his sunglasses back on, flashed a grin and waved quickly before walking onto the sidewalk. Molly’s eyes followed him as he walked toward his truck, losing sight of him when a delivery truck paused at the red light and blocked her view.
“Molly!” Liz practically screamed her name, though at a lower volume than an actual scream. “What. Was. That?!”
Molly rolled her eyes. “Oh, Liz. You know Alex. He’s just a huge . . .flirt, or goof, or however you want to say it.”
She turned to pick up her water bottle. Alex was a flirt. But why was he flirting with her?
Liz grabbed Molly by her shoulders as she turned back around. “Molly Tanner! That man is hitting on you! I heard him. He said you look fine. Like fine fine.”
“Liz . . .”
Liz waved her hand at Molly then held it a few inches from her face. “No. Not this time. You can’t explain what just happened away. Alex Stone was trying to tell you something.” She winked. “Like, for one, that he likes you just the way you are.”
Molly laughed at her friend, but had to admit the exchange had been . . . how would she even describe it? Odd? Strange? Tantalizingly awesome?
“Liz, I’m sure it was nothing. Alex is just super friendly and a big joker. I think he was just —”
“He was clearly hitting on you, Molly,” Ginny Jefferies interrupted as she walked by, water bottle in one hand and towel the other. She didn’t look back, opening the water bottle and drinking it as she walked to the front counter to sign out.
“See?” Liz said. “Even Ginny can see it and she’s — well, experienced and full of wisdom.”
Ginny laughed as she turned to face Liz and Molly, patting the back of her shoulder length, dirty-blond hair. “Good save, Liz. I was pretty sure you were going to say ‘old.’”
Liz laughed. “No, actually. I might have thought it, but I wasn’t going to say it.”
Ginny smiled and looked at Molly. “Molly, he’s hitting on you. From the limited amount I know about him, I don’t know if that’s a good thing, so — and let me get all motherly here for a moment — just be careful, okay?”
Molly nodded. “Thanks, Ginny. I appreciate it.”
Molly knew Ginny and her mom were around the same age and Ginny had daughters of her own. Her opinion may have been tainted by maternal tunnel vision, but she meant well.
“What do you know about Ginny?” she asked Liz when Ginny had left. “She seems so, ‘put together’ for lack of a better word. Most of the time anyhow. Lately, though, something seems off. She seems sad, or melancholy, or … I don’t know how to explain it.”
Liz waved her hand in front of Molly’s face, bringing her gaze back from watching Ginny walk down the sidewalk to Liz’s wide-eyed expression. “Don’t change the subject, Molly. What are you going to do about Alex?”
“I’m not going to do anything about Alex. I’m going to go home, take a shower, head to work at the farm store and later I’m going to go work with him in the barn like I always do.”
Liz sighed. “Molly. Molly. What am I going do with you?”
Molly smiled. “You’re going to buy me a cup of coffee before I head home. That’s what you’re going to do.”
Liz rolled her eyes. “Fine. But if I do that then you’re going to consider that Alex Stone may actually be interested in you as more than simply someone who can help him hook up the cows for the milking each day.”
She looked at Liz as they walked.
“Well, if you insist on making me talk about Alex, I’m going to make you talk about Matt. Are you going to go out with him again or what?”
Liz opened the door to the coffee shop and sighed. “I’m just friends with Matt. It’s not like that. He’s easy to talk to and I like hanging out with him but — he’s Matt. I just always think of him as a brother more than a boyfriend. Maybe because he is friends with Jason and I just remember him as that weird military obsessed guy from high school.”
“He’s a nice guy, Liz.”
“Yeah, I know, but he’s also a cop. I don’t know if I can date a cop. I mean, what if I develop more feelings for him and then I’ll just worry about him out there on the streets . . .”
Molly snickered. “On the streets of Spencer? Where what — he might get punched by a drunk guy down at Mooneys or get kicked by a cow?”
Liz turned from the list of coffee flavors behind the counter and tipped her head at Molly. “Molly, you really are naïve about what happens in this county aren’t you?”
Molly shrugged. “Probably, but I prefer being clueless.”
Liz ordered herself an herbal tea with honey and a dark chocolate mocha for Molly.
“I’ll make you a deal,” she said handing Molly’s coffee to her. “You agree to talk to Alex about the firemen’s appreciation banquet and I’ll consider going out with Matt again. Deal?”
“Liz . . .”
“Molly . . .”
Molly rolled her eyes. “Fine. I’ll talk to him. But do more than consider going out with Matt. Just go out with him already.”
Liz finally agreed, but on her way back to her car she knew she couldn’t keep her promise to Molly. She couldn’t tell Molly the real reason she didn’t want to go out with Matt. It had nothing to do with him being someone she’d known in high school or even with him being a police officer. It had everything to do with the mistake she’d made and didn’t want Matt, or even Molly, to know about.
And Molly knew she couldn’t really talk to Alex about going to the firemen’s banquet. She didn’t want to risk the relationship they had – an easy-going, teasing friendship that she knew might evaporate if she made it look like she was interested in him in way other than a friend and co-worker.