I’ve been finishing up editing and final drafts of Quarantined this week, so I wasn’t sure if I’d share a chapter this week, but I guess this chapter is fairly finished enough to share. It will probably go through three more drafts before I’m completely finished with it. I’m looking for Advanced Readers for Quarantined who would be willing to read it and add a review for it on Amazon when it is released, so please let me know if you are interested.
To catch up with the rest of the story of The Farmer’s Daughter click HERE or the link at the top of the page.
The inside of the barn next to the birthing stall was warm, a shelter against the chilly night air, the sweet smell of hay filling Molly’s nostrils. She leaned against the top rail of the gate around the stall and smiled at the newborn calf walking on unsteady legs in the hay around her mother.
She reached through the gate and gently rubbed the head of the light brown Jersey cow named Dandelion. “Good job, Mama. Good job.”
Watching the calf be born had been what she needed to take her mind off her worries, at least for a little while. She’d been lucky enough to walk in the barn just as the calf’s hooves were starting to appear. While she’d wondered at first if she might have to help Dandelion deliver her first calf, in the end the mother cow had done it all on her own and Molly had only had to wipe the afterbirth from the calf’s nose.
It hadn’t been her first time seeing a calf being born but it had been one of the first times she’d paused and really watched the calf try to walk and interact with her mother. Propping her chin on her hand she realized that the last half hour, watching the calf being born, then the new mother and her baby, had been the only time in the last week her mind hadn’t been racing.
She had definitely been thinking about Alex during the last week, but she’d also been worried about Liz, the farm, her grandmother, and her own future. Once the calf was born, she did what she should have done all along. She’d closed her eyes and asked for God’s help.
“I’m leaving this all in your hands, Lord,” she’d whispered.
She knew she would steal her worries back again at another time, though. Like always, shed have to pray the prayer a few more times before she finally let it all go.
The sound of footsteps drew her eyes from the new family to the doorway, and she was surprised to see Alex walking toward her. He’d left hours ago, looking exhausted after a long day of work. Wearing a thick brown corduroy coat with a white wool collar and his brown cowboy hat, Molly thought he looked like he should be on the front of a romance novel.
He and Jason had been busy cutting down corn all week and she’d been busy with Hannah updating the farm stores inventory. Seeing him now, looking amazing, his eyes bright as they watched her, caught her emotions off guard and made her realize how much she’d missed him, or rather, how much she’d missed being held by him.
He hadn’t shaved in a few days and though she’d once found that unappealing in a man, it somehow made him even more attractive.
He stepped next to her, sliding his hands in his front jean pockets.
“Hey, gorgeous,” he said with a grin. “What a nice surprise.”
She smiled and lightly touched the wool along the collar of his coat.
“You look cozy. What are you doing out here?”
He tipped his head and smiled sheepishly. “Well, I started wondering about Laurel too – if she’d had the calf yet.” He shrugged. “I’ve only been here a couple of times when it happened, and I guess I wanted to see it again. Were you here when it was born?”
Molly nodded and then smiled. “It was pretty cool. Watching a new life come into the world always is.”
Alex leaned on the fence and looked in at the calf as it walked on unsteady legs and looked for its mom’s udder.
The cow leaned down and started licking the calf, cleaning it with her long pink tongue.
“Heifer or a bull?”
“Heifer,” Molly answered.
“Ah, good, then this one gets to stay.”
After a few moments Alex turned from the fence post and sat on the barn floor next to the support beam, leaning back against it. He patted the floor next to him. “Come. Sit with me. I’ve barely seen you all week.”
She accepted the offer, exhausted from a long day and tossing and turning part of the night. He slid an arm around her, and she welcomed the warmth his body gave off as she leaned against him. She’d only worn a thin sweater when she’d left the house, not realizing how cold it was outside.
“I can’t believe how cold it is,” she said with a yawn. “It’s only the beginning of September.”
He nuzzled her cheek. “I don’t mind. It means I have an excuse to cuddle you more.”
She smiled and looked up at him. “I’ve missed you this week.”
“I’ve missed you too.”
He slid his hand in hers and intertwined his fingers with hers. “How’s it going at the store?”
“Good.” She laid her other hand over his. “We’re expanding some of our products, offering some handmade furniture for sale, working with local artists to draw people into the store and also bring the artists some business. I think it’s really going to give the store the shot in the arm it needs. Aunt Hannah is talking to Dad and Uncle Walt about adding a small café with homemade baked goods and sandwiches and soups.”
He smiled. “And coffee?”
“Of course, we will offer coffee. If we decide to move forward with it. Right now we aren’t sure how we’ll pay for it and we know a loan isn’t an option since we still have the first one to pay off.”
He pulled her close again and kissed the top of her head.
“It will get paid off. There has to be a way.” Silence settled over them for a few moments and Molly yawned.
He looked over at her again. “So, hey, I’ve been wanting to ask you, what’s going on with Liz?”
She tilted her head to look over at him. “What do you mean?”
“Well, I saw you two leaving the hospital last week when I was leaving the gym and I just wondered if Liz was okay. Or . . .” He looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “You’re okay, right?”
She shifted so he could see her amused grin. “First, yes, I’m okay, but second, you were at the gym?”
He laughed softly and she enjoyed watching pink spread across his cheeks. “Yeah. Just thought I should try to get in shape a little more. Plus, it helps me get my mind off things. But, don’t change the subject. What’s up with Liz?”
You really don’t have to get in shape, You’re already in fine shape, she thought remembering how she’d noticed his toned bare arms earlier in the week when he’d been driving the tractor across the field to cut down the corn. She decided she wouldn’t bring that up at the moment. She was having too much fun watching him squirm.
“What do you have to get your mind off of?”
He shook his head, then smirked. “Next subject.”
“Tell me about Liz first.”
Molly sighed, tipping her head back against the column.
“This going to bring the mood down a bit. You sure you want to know?”
A look of concern furrowed Alex’s brow. “Is she sick?”
Molly shook her head. “Not exactly. No.” She grimaced softly. “She tried to kill herself.”
Alex’s eyebrows shot up. “She what? How?”
“She took a bunch of pills, but she panicked and called an ambulance.”
“Why would she do something like that?”
Molly bit her lower lip then released it. “She’s pregnant. With Gabe’s baby.”
Alex’s expression definitely showed his shock. “Gabe? That moron who cheated on her and —”
“Yes, but you can’t tell anyone,” Molly said quickly. “Especially, Matt. Liz told me it was okay to share with my family, and you, but she really doesn’t want other people to know. Especially Matt. She’s completely embarrassed and ashamed.”
Alex blew out a soft whistle. “Wow. That’s heavy. She’s keeping the baby, right?”
Molly nodded. “I don’t think she wanted to at first, but I said I’d help her. We’re talking about getting an apartment.”
Alex shook his head. “That’s crazy. Why didn’t you tell me about this before?”
“Liz promised me I wouldn’t tell anyone. It was so hard not having anyone to talk to about it, though. I was terrified, shocked, so afraid I might say the wrong thing to her. I really could have used some advice about how to handle it all.”
Alex lifted her hand and kissed the top of it. “You’d never say the wrong thing. You’re her best friend.” His expression was serious again . “How are you handling it all?”
Molly shrugged, lifting her head again. “I’m definitely worried about Liz. It totally freaks me out that I could have lost her, first, but second, I — well, let me clarify first. I don’t want to be in the situation Liz is in. I definitely am not ready for a baby and I definitely don’t want to be starting parenthood as a single mom, but,” Molly bit her lower lip and rolled her eyes up to the top of the barn. “it sounds so weird, but I feel like life is passing me by. Neither Ben nor Liz have started families the way I would, but they’re living life, real lives. They’re experiencing life and I’m just . . . floating along.”
Alex smiled and pushed her hair back from her face. “But now you’re floating along with me. That’s different, right?
“Yes.” She turned her body toward him more. “Yes it is. And it complicates things because sometimes I want to experience life with you in other ways.”
Oh my gosh. He’s going to think you’re talking about marriage. Molly, stop talking before he runs away screaming.
“At the same time, I don’t want to have the same regrets Liz has about the ways. . .” He was watching her with an ambiguous expression. Where was she even going with this? She needed to stop talking. Now. Or five minutes ago really. “. . . um. . . the ways she has experienced life.”
She bit her lower lip and closed her eyes. “Oh, my word. I’m so sorry. I’m not making sense.”
Alex laughed softly, turning his body more toward hers. “Actually, you are making sense. To prove that point, let me tell you about why I’ve been going to the gym.”
She opened her eyes slowly and his smile had faded. He sighed and tipped his head back. After a few moments he tipped his head back up and looked at her, deciding to be open with her.
“I work out to take my mind off you.”
Molly tilted her head and raised an eyebrow. “You don’t want to think about me?
“I do but I think about you too much and when I think about you, I think about how much I want to be with you.”
She smiled, rubbing the top of his hand. “You are with me. Every day in the barn.”
“No, I mean…be with you. In other ways. In . . . um . . . ah.” He laughed and looked out through the open barn door, rubbing his chin. “In other more intimate ways.” He looked at her, tipping his head like he was looking down his nose over a pair of glasses. “Shall we say?”
Heart pounding fast in her chest, she drew her breath in sharply and held it. She was catching his drift now.
She’d never imagined anyone wanting to be with her in that way. The fact he’d said it and was now looking at her with such an intense expression made her feel slightly lightheaded.
“You seem surprised. Are you surprised that I think of you that way or that I’m fighting not to think of you that way?”
“Uh. . .both?”
His smile returned as he laid his other hand over hers. “I definitely think of you that way, but . . .” He pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. “I don’t want to rush things with you Molly.”
She nodded slowly, her eyes locked on his. “I understand.”
“I hope you do because I think that’s what you were trying to say about how Liz and Ben started their families. They rushed things. They took some steps out of order and you want to experience life, but you don’t want to experience it in the wrong order. Am I right?”
Molly nodded again as he reached up and cupped his hand along her jawline. “You’re different than any other woman I’ve ever met, Molly. You’re special. I’ve been really immature in the past when it comes to women and broke some hearts, including my own. I’d never forgive myself if I broke yours. You’re too important to me. I want to take things slow with you. Do this right.”
He laughed softly as she watched him, her dark green eyes wide and her gaze unwavering. He wished he knew what she was thinking. She look terrified and suddenly what was funny for one moment wasn’t in the next. His smile faded. Maybe he’d made a mistake telling her how he felt.
What if he messed up everything with her? Including their friendship. What if he failed at taking things slow? Because right now, with her so close to him, her body warm, her lips amazingly kissable, her skin so soft against his hand, taking things slow didn’t seem very appealing.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have kissed you that day on the overlook.” The words came out of him before he even fully thought them through.
Hurt and confusion immediately registered in her eyes. “I’m sorry?”
He knew he needed to clear up the confusion he’d caused as quick as possible. “I wanted to kiss you. I’d wanted to for a long time. That’s not it.
She tipped her head slightly to one side. “Then what do you mean?”
“Maybe I shouldn’t have stirred up those feelings in you.” He looked away again, down at his fingers intertwined with hers. “I’m not good enough for you, okay? I’m sort of messed up. I don’t want to mess you up too.
When he looked up at her again a few seconds later, the hurt had faded, and softness replaced confusion as she reached up and laid her palm against his cheek. “How are you messed up?
Alex shook his head, looking away again. “I just am.”
“Look at me, Alex.”
He didn’t want to look at her. He couldn’t bear for her to see the vulnerability in his eyes. He was already feeling like a sappy fool. He moved his gaze to hers, though, curious about what she wanted to tell him.
“I’ve worked with you for five years,” she said softly. “I’ve gotten to know you pretty well. I feel like you and I have shared some pretty intense moments and also some really stupid ones. Besides Liz, I think of you as one of my closest friends. Yes, sometimes you drink too much, you flirt too much, and sometimes you seem a little closed off, but I still don’t see how you’re messed up.”
Alex raised his eyebrows. “You, uh… you know about the drinking?
“Yes, and the women. My grandma calls them ‘those blond floozies.’”
Alex laughed softly, shaking his head. “Then why are you even sitting here? You know I’m a mess. Apparently, Franny also knows I’m a mess and I’m going to try not to think about how she knows about my dating history.”
Molly moved closer, her hand still on his face.
Why did she have to move closer? He was having a hard enough time focusing on taking things slow as it was. His gaze dropped to her mouth briefly, then moved back to her eyes.
Focus, Alex. Focus.
“Yes, but you’re a beautiful mess,” she whispered. “and I don’t think those things you do are who you really are. I think you do those things to forget you’ve been hurt and pretend you never have been.”
Alex swallowed hard, staring at this beautiful woman he’d fallen for. It was as if she could see straight through him and he wasn’t sure how he felt about that. Tears stung his eyes for the first time in years and he turned his head quickly, taking her hand in his and sliding it away from his face, holding it against his chest instead.
For God sake he was not going to cry in front of Molly.
He swallowed hard, trying to hide the emotion in his voice. He couldn’t hide his feelings from her, though, and he knew it. He looked at her, captivated by the way she watched him, the tenderness in her eyes and voice when she spoke.
“You didn’t wake anything in me, Alex Stone. It was already there. I was just too afraid to believe you could ever feel the same.”
She leaned over and touched her lips to his briefly, then moved her head back slightly and smiled. He pushed her hair back from her face, cupping his hand against her cheek, caressing it. He wanted her to kiss him again and hoped he could control his emotions when she did, sticking to what he’d told her about taking things slow.
She moved her head closer again and his resolve to take things slow began to crumble. Her mouth against his felt amazingly right as he pulled her closer.
Caught up in the moment his hands slid down her back, across her side and along her hip, inching toward her thigh. Molly reached down and lifted his hand from her thigh and pressed it against her waist.
“If we are going to move slow, you’re going to have to be careful with those hands,” she whispered with a grin.
He laughed as he leaned in to kiss her again. “Yes, ma’am.”
Losing track of their surroundings as the kiss deepened neither of them heard the creaking of the barn door opening. It was the sound of someone clearing their throat loudly that startled them both. Alex pulled away quickly from Molly, turning his head toward the open barn door. Robert stood with his hands on his hips, his face flushed red.
Alex jumped to his feet and yanked his hat off, holding it to his chest, but wasn’t sure why. He wasn’t in church and the national anthem wasn’t being played but somehow Alex felt like he needed to show respect to the man who had been more like a father to him than his own.
Of course, kissing the man’s daughter in a dark barn in the middle of the night probably wasn’t the best way to show that respect.
“Umm. . . .Hey, Mr. Tan—”
Robert looked at Alex with raised eyebrows.
“Hey, Mr. Tanner? Hey, Mr. Tanner?” Robert’s tone definitely revealed a level of anger Alex hadn’t yet seen in the man in the five years he’d known him. “You just had your hands all over my daughter and now it’s ‘Hey, Mr. Tanner?’”
Alex held his hat in front of him, rolling the rim tight against his palm.
Robert thought the vessels in his neck might burst. Molly brushed hay from her jeans as she stood. Her cheeks flushed warm under her father’s fiery gaze and her legs wobbled like wet dishrags.
“What the – how long has this – when did you even – “
Robert slapped his hand against his thigh. He was so shocked and angry he couldn’t even talk.
“How far has this gone?!” Robert suddenly bellowed. “I mean what have you been doing with my daughter and for how long, Alex?”
“Oh, sir, I haven’t – I mean we haven’t – I mean it’s only been —”
Alex couldn’t believe he was having this conversation with the father of the woman he’d just been kissing. He struggled for words, feeling more like a teenager than a 30-year old man.
Robert’s gaze only seemed to intensify. “It’s only been what, Alex?”
Alex looked at the barn floor, rubbing his hand across his chin.
Robert didn’t like the small smile playing across his mouth.
“It’s just been hugging and . . . um . . .” He shrugged. “Some kissing.”
Robert’s heart pounded fast and hard in his chest. He briefly imagined himself having a heart attack right here in his own barn with his daughter and hired hand watching him. Would they call an ambulance, or simply leave him there while they continued their make out session?
“And?” Robert urged Alex to elaborate while also not wanting him to elaborate.
Alex looked up and the mischievous smile was gone.
“There is no ‘and’, sir,” he said firmly. “It’s just been kissing. I swear to you. I never took advantage of Molly that way, sir.”
Robert looked at Molly, whose head was tipped down toward the barn floor, red spreading across her cheeks.
She looked at him and he saw a mix of fear and sadness in her eyes.
“It’s only been kissing ,” she said softly, her eyes rimmed with tears.
Robert tossed the gloves he had been holding at the barn wall, not sure if he believed them and not sure if his daughter was crying because she’d been caught, because she was lying, or because she wished there had been more than kissing.
Good, Lord, he couldn’t even believe he was thinking such a thing about his baby girl. Hadn’t he just been teaching her how to ride her bike yesterday? But she was almost 27 — next week in fact. She wasn’t a baby anymore. He had to accept that she was a — he could barely think the words, let alone say them — a grown woman.
He wanted to curse, but hadn’t cursed since he’d started going to church more regularly ten years ago.
“Mr. Tanner, I —”
“Stop, calling me Mr. Tanner, Alex.” Robert’s jaw tightened as he spoke, his words clipped. “Call me Robert already. You’ve always called me Robert before.”
Alex took a deep breath and cleared his throat. “Robert, I know this doesn’t look good, but I promise you we were only kissing, and we were kissing because I kissed Molly and I didn’t kiss Molly just for fun. I kissed – have been kissing Molly —”
“Been kissing Molly?” Robert’s eyebrows shot up again. “And how long have you been kissing my daughter?”
Alex cleared his throat again.
“Off and on for a few weeks,” he said talking quickly, nervously scratching the back of his head. “But that’s not really the point. The point is —”
“Yes? What is the point?” Roberts eyes narrowed.
“The point is I care about Molly very much. I care about her and . . .” Alex looked at Molly, who was looking at the barn floor. “I love Molly.”
Molly raised her eyes and met Alex’s gaze.
“I love Molly,” he said again as their eyes locked, the corners of his mouth tilting upward.
Robert looked between his daughter and his hired hand and shook his head. He didn’t know how he felt about all of this, but he knew he couldn’t leave them alone in the barn with the way they were looking at each other. He felt too young for grandchildren.
“Alex, I think you need to go – uh – cool down a little and get a couple hours of sleep.” He said. “It will be milking time soon soon.”
He turned toward his daughter. “Molly, go to the house and we’ll discuss this more tomorrow, or later this morning as it stands now.”
Alex started toward Molly but caught Robert’s warning expression out of the corner of his eye.
Alex winked at Molly and walked into the darkness toward his truck.
She walked around her dad, clutching a flashlight. “Molly?”
She stopped the doorway and looked at her dad. “Do you feel the same way about Alex that he does about you?”
She lowered her eyes and nodded, terrified at how much she did feel the same about Alex.
“Go to bed,” Robert said softly.
He leaned against the stall and let out a heavy sigh. He had a lot more things to think about now than a pregnant cow.
Alex snatched his phone from the seat next to him as he drove. His mind was racing as he thought about how he’d just told Molly he loved her, in the most unconventional way – in front of her father while her father glared at him from across the barn.
“You love me?”
The sound of her voice on the other end of the phone sent a rush of energy through him. He had a feeling he wouldn’t be getting any sleep tonight. Pulling his truck into the driveway of his and Jason’s house he laughed softly. “Yes, I love you, Molly Tanner.”
“Were you just saying that to get out of trouble?”
“I don’t think telling your dad I love his little girl after he caught me making out with her in his barn is a way to get out of trouble. I think it actually dug me in further.”
She laughed softly and he could tell she was trying to be quiet. Was her dad standing behind her with his arms folded across his chest, a shot gun hanging on the wall behind him like in one of those old movies? The thought of it made him want to laugh because he knew that wasn’t the Robert he knew. Then again, he’d never been caught kissing Robert’s daughter before.
“I love you, Alex.”
“I love you, Molly. Get some sleep.”
“I don’t think I’ll be able to.”
He laughed. “Me either.”