Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 20

A warning to readers this week: don’t panic during some of this and remember I don’t write sex scenes. Just keep going. It’s all going to be okay.

That’s all I will say for this week.

To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE. To catch up on Quarantined (a novella in progress) click HERE.

Jason’s heart was racing, his palms damp with sweat. What had he been thinking? Was he really going to do this tonight? Was he really going to tell Ellie about his past and let the chips fall where they may?

He took a deep breath and tightened his hands on the steering wheel until his knuckles were white. Yes, he was. He was doing this because he needed the burden off his shoulders, and he needed to know how Ellie would feel about him after he told her. He couldn’t keep waiting, torturing himself with worry of what might be.

He and Ellie had gone to school together since junior high, but it wasn’t until his junior year he really noticed her, or she had noticed him, or he guess he would say they noticed each other. It was in history class and Mr. Prawly and placed them in a group together to work on a project. Before that they’d seen each other at 4H meetings or when Robert took Jason with him to pick up equipment he borrowed from Ellie’s dad Jerry. Late one night after working on their project about Pennsylvanian history they found themselves laughing about their shared interest in old movies.

“Cary Grant is the epitome of old fashioned suave and charm,” she’d said, pretending to swoon, her hand against her forehead two nights later when they watched North by Northwest together at his parents.

He grinned, a teasing glint in his eye. “I agree, but I’m the epitome of modern suave and charm, right?”

She’d tipped her head back and laughed and he wasn’t sure if she was enjoying his humor or mocking him.

“Ginger Rogers was a very underrated actress,” he announced after they watched Vivacious Lady at her parents’ house.

“I agree,” she had said and smiled.

Wow. That smile. That smile that was for him and only him. It took his breath away.

That soft, long black hair against that pale skin, those large dark eyes and her sweet round face all together with that smile was a knockout combination.

He’d taken her to the movies twice, dinner once, lunch three times and attended youth group with her every Wednesday for two months before he’d finally worked up the courage to kiss her. And now, here he was working up the courage to ask her to marry him.

Those two years in college when he’d been without her, when they had decided to take a break from dating and see “how things developed” as she had said, were the loneliest and most confusing two years of his life. He’d felt like a ship out at sea without a compass. Returning home from college, to the farm and to her had anchored him again. He couldn’t even imagine losing that anchor again.

God, please don’t let me lose her.

 He caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye and turned his head to see her stepping off the front porch, down the steps, watching him as she walked, her smile broad. His breath caught in his throat. His eyes followed the length of her body as she walked, and he bit his lower lip. Even after all these years she still took his breath away. She was so beautiful.

“I can’t do this, God,” he whispered as she reached the truck and opened the door.

“Hey,” she said after she slid into the truck seat and had slid her arms around his neck. Her mouth was on his before he could ask God for strength for later when he confessed to her about his past.

His mind was clouded by her kiss and her presence. She smelled of lilac and vanilla scented shampoo. The skin along her neck was soft and smooth as he kissed it and then moved his mouth up along her jawline, her ear and back to her mouth.

“We should probably head out to the restaurant,” she said breathlessly a few moments later. She tipped her head to one side, her hand against his chest. “Before we go too far.”

Jason cleared his throat and nodded. “Right. Of course.”

He grinned as he turned back to the steering wheel and she hooked her seatbelt. “But it wasn’t as if things would get too far with us parked outside your parent’s house. Not before your dad shot me.”

Ellie laughed. “Jason, Daddy wouldn’t shoot you.”

“I beg to differ.”

Ellie shook her head. “He loves you. You know that.”

“But he wouldn’t love me making out with you in my truck.”

“No, probably not,” Ellie said with a wink. “Unless we were married, of course.”

Jason swallowed hard. Married. There it was. The word. The one word hovering in his mind 24/7, waking him up at night, giving him near panic attacks daily.

“Right,” he said nervously, pushing his foot on the accelerator slightly, willing his truck to move them faster toward the restaurant where they could talk about the food, the weather, the farm, anything but marriage.

The drove in silence for a few moments, farmland and trees and open fields passing them by.


Hurry up, truck.


“Are you ever going to ask me to marry you?”

Jason’s hand jerked on the steering wheel as he nearly jumped out of his seat from shock. The truck swerved over the center line and then back again into the right lane. Ellie gasped and clutched her hand around Jason’s upper bicep as he regained control of the truck.

She was breathless when she spoke. “Oh gosh. Sorry. I just — I shouldn’t have blurted it out like that, but I knew if I didn’t say something now, I would lose my courage.”

Jason slowed the truck down and pulled off into an empty parking lot in front of an abandoned convenience store. He slid the gear into park and turned to look at Ellie.

“What would make you ask that right now?” he asked, his eyebrows furrowed.

Was she reading his mind? They’d been together so long he wouldn’t be surprised.

“I — I don’t know. I just —” Tears rimmed her eyes. “I’m sorry, Jason. Are you angry?”

Jason shook his head. “No. Not at all. I’m sorry.” He reached over and took her hand in his. The frightened expression on her face sent stabbing guilt shuddering through him. He let go of her hand and cupped his palm against her face.

“It’s not that at all. It’s just that I was actually going to talk to you about that tonight and I was surprised that it was on your mind too.”

A tear slipped down Ellie’s cheek and his heart ached even more. He swiped at it with the palm of his thumb.

“Of course, it is on my mind, Jason. I’ve wanted to marry you since high school. I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to have your children. But sometimes I feel like you don’t want any of that at all.”

“No, El, that’s not true. I do want that. All of it.”

“Then why aren’t you asking me to marry you?”

“I — well, I was going to —”

Ellie’s eyes grew wide and her eyebrows shot up. “Oh! Were you going to ask me tonight and I totally ruined your plans?”

“Well, I —”

“Oh, Jason! I’m so sorry! I ruined your plan.”

“No, that’s okay. It’s just —”

Her mouth was on his again before he could explain. The expression of sheer delight on her face when she pulled back, her arms still around his neck, sent warmth  bursting through his chest.

“You know I don’t need a big fancy proposal. All I want is you and of course I’d say ‘yes’ no matter how you asked.”

She was kissing him again and he was forgetting what he’d been going to say. Her body was so warm and solid against his and her lips so soft. Her hands were in his hair as they kissed and he couldn’t focus. Slowly his thoughts began to clear and that’s when the panic set in.

Wait a minute. Did she think he had just proposed and she was saying yes?

She peppered his cheek and neck with kisses. “Oh, Jason! I’m so excited! I’ve been waiting for this moment for years!”

 Yes, she did think he’d just proposed, and she was saying ‘yes’.

“I know. I have been too, but I —”

She cut his sentence short again. “Are you okay? I’m so sorry I ruined the surprise.”

“No, it’s okay, I mean — It’s just that I —”

Her large brown eyes were watching him with hopeful expectation, with joy, with complete and utter adoration. There was no way he could tell her about his past now; ruin her night completely.

“I don’t have a ring,” he blurted.

She tipped her head back and laughed. “I don’t care about a ring, silly! We can worry about that later, or not at all. You know I don’t care about stuff like that.”

“But, it’s a symbol and it’s important, El. I should get you a ring.”

Ellie kissed him gently and shook her head. “Later. I just want us to enjoy this moment together for now.”

Jason swallowed hard. He wanted to enjoy the moment too, but he knew he couldn’t keep his secret forever and Ellie needed to know sooner rather than later. He wouldn’t tell her tonight, though. He’d already made his mind up about that. They would go to dinner, celebrate their engagement and then later, another day, he’d tell her what she needed to know and let her make up her own mind about whether she still wanted to spend the rest of her life with  him or not.


The front door banged open hard against the wall and Alex stumbled inside with a giggling Jessie Landry pressed up against him. He was glad Jason was out for the night with Ellie.

Fumbling for the lights he slid an arm around Jessie and pulled her slender, warm body against his hip, leading her into the living room.

I’m going to forget about Molly Tanner once and for all, he thought, turning to kiss Jessie hard on the mouth, breathing in the smell of alcohol and cigarettes she’d brought with her from the bar.

Jessie was breathing heavy in his ear as his mouth found her neck and shoulder. “Oh, Alex. That feels so good.”

She pulled back, her mouth curled up in a seductive smile, one finger making a trail down his chest as she hooked a finger from her other hand in his belt loop and pulled him toward the couch. He grinned as she roughly shoved him down on the cushions and straddled him, the tiny mini skirt she was wearing pulling up around her slender, tanned thighs. She lifted the small halter top she’d been wearing over her head and dropped it on the floor, revealing a tiny pink flowered bra.

His hands instinctively slid up her back as she kissed him hard. Her hands were in his hair, clutching tight as they kissed, when it hit him. He wasn’t in college anymore. He had just turned 30. Was he really doing this? He didn’t know Jessie at all beyond flirtatious comments at the bar and now he was groping her on his couch? Suddenly Alex saw Molly in his mind’s eye, her sweet smile, the sun hitting her hair, the way she laughed when he created voices for the cows while they were being milked.

Jessie’s mouth moved to his earlobe and then his neck. Any other time his hands would have been sliding up her back to unhook her bra but in that moment all he could think of was how more than anything he wanted something real, something pure, a relationship not built only on physical attraction and he wanted it with Molly.

When Jessie moved her hips against him and moaned his name in his ear, he pictured Molly that morning when she’d left for her Bible study, her green eyes bright as she told him she’d see him later in the barn. Maybe she felt something for him too but was too afraid to admit it. Maybe if he told her how he felt, he’d have a chance to . . . To what? Corrupt her the way he’d corrupted so many others, even himself?

He willed the image of Molly away and clutched at Jessie’s hair, kissing her harder, sliding his hands up her back, his fingers on the hooks of her bra. He flipped her fast onto her back on the couch and she gasped and then laughed as he stood over her, pulling his shirt over his head. She reached up and trailed her hand down his bare chest.

“Get down here, sexy, and show me what farm boys are good at besides milking cows,” she said, her voice thick with desire.

She giggled as he lowered himself and kissed her throat. He should have been excited, but instead he felt a cold chill rush through him. He didn’t want this. He didn’t want another cheap, one night stand. He wanted something real. He paused for a moment over her before sitting back on the couch.

He rubbed both hands over his face. “I can’t do this.”

Jessie’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion as she leaned up on her elbows, still laying on her back. “Excuse me?”

“I’m sorry Jessie but I can’t do this. . .to. . . with you.”

Jessie sat up straighter on the couch, her eyebrows dipping lower as anger began to replace confusion. “Why not? Did I do something wrong? Are you having,” her gaze drifted down his torso to his unzipped jeans. “some kind of issue?”

Alex stood from the couch, zipping up the zipper Jessie had been lowering as she kissed him.

“No. I’m fine. You’re fine. Very fine. It’s just . . .Listen, it’s not you, it’s —-”

Jessie scoffed. “Oh my gosh! Are you giving me the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech?! Me? You are really giving me that speech?! Are you serious right now?”

She jumped from the couch, snatching her shirt off the floor and pulling it over her head to cover the pink bra with the white flowers.

“You have some nerve Alex Stone! Why did you bring me all the way out here in the middle of,” she flung her hands in the air. “Nowhereville if you just wanted to toy with me?”

She pulled her jacket on, still yelling. “You are such a jerk!”

“Jessie, wait . . .”

“For what? For you to give me the ‘you’re a nice girl, but,’ speech? No, thank you. I’m out of here!”

The crash of the slamming door reverberated in his head, already aching from the alcohol he’d consumed earlier in the evening.

But it is me, Alex thought as he watched Jessie’s car tear down the dirt road away from his house, dust billowing around it. It is me and it’s Molly Tanner.

He punched the wall by the window hard. Blast that Molly Tanner and the way she’d worked herself into his mind. She’d ruined him for anything fun and spontaneous because all he could think of was his developing desire for something real, something special, and a relationship deeper than a one-night stand.

He cursed under his breath and snatched his shirt off the floor, sliding it on. What was he even thinking? He’d just brought a woman home from the bar with every intention of having sex with her and now he was actually considering taking his friendship with Molly to a deeper level.  He had to be disillusioned at best, crazy at worst.

I’m not good enough for her, he thought, looking out the window toward the Tanner farm. God, if you’re real, keep me from hurting Molly. Don’t let me show her my feelings and hurt her somehow. I can admire her from afar for the rest of my life if I have to.

Alex knew just being near Molly would make him happier than meaningless acts with women he barely knew.

Still, he’d been pushing these feelings down for more than three years now. He didn’t know if he could hold his feelings back much longer. He was cracking and he knew it.

He had to know if Molly could or did feel the same for him. He had to know if her lips tasted as sweet as they looked. Shaking his head he knew it was wrong to think of her mouth, to think of her in a physical way like he had other women, but he hadn’t allowed himself to see her that way when they had first met five years ago when she was just his best friend’s little sister.  The physical attraction to Molly had come gradually for Alex; slowly over the years. He knew he’d fallen in love with something deeper in Molly before he fell in love with her looks.

Alex felt like a cheesy fool thinking it, but he’d been attracted to her spirit before he had ever been attracted to her body. Something about her was different than any other woman he’d met and he’d wanted to know what it was as soon as he saw it. He wanted to know what she was thinking, how she felt about subjects he had never really even thought about before he’d come to the Tanner farm.

When they talked in the barn in the mornings and evenings he saw the world through her eyes and it was brighter, more hopeful and more beautiful than it had ever been through his own.

He felt like a dirty farm boy daring to touch the pristine skin of the fair maiden, even on the days her hands were covered in the same mud and manure his were.

He walked upstairs to the bathroom, tugging on the pull string, a feature that made it even more obvious Jason’s grandparents had never remodeled the farmhouse that had originally been built in the early 1920s.

He turned the water on in the sink full blast and splashed cold water on his face, rubbing it into his hair, growling in frustration.

Some days his biggest fear was that Molly would love him back, or that she already loved him, and that he would somehow ruin her with his imperfections, destroy the beautiful innocence and tenderness he saw in her.

But he knew he’d have to take the risk someday, let her know how he felt about her, end the torture he was putting himself through. Maybe telling her how he felt wouldn’t be the worst thing. Maybe she would corrupt him — in a good way.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 16

The chapter is long this week but I’m throwing it up anyhow. Not a ton of people read my fiction or comment so who is going to care? No one. *wink* Sometimes it’s depressing writing into a void and sometimes it is very, very liberating.

Seriously, hope everyone is doing well and to find previous chapters from this story you can click HERE or at the top of the page where I also have links to excerpts from my books that are on sale on Kindle.

The board says they are going to need at least half of the loan paid off by the end of the summer for the bank not to foreclose.”

Bill Eberlin’s words were like a kick in the chest to the Tanner siblings and their spouses.

Half of the more than $50,000 loan paid off in less than three months? With the way the milk market was and the fact the corn was barely growing Robert knew the task was virtually impossible. He slid his hand over Annie’s as she sat in the chair next to him and clutched it tight. She smiled at him, but he saw the worry in her eyes.

The men of the family had kept their word and brought Annie, Hannah, and Lauren into the loop, to be sure the women were aware the full extent of the trouble the family’s business was in. Now they were sitting with him, Walt, and Bert in the sparsely decorated conference room at the Spencer Valley Savings and Loan, trying to find a way to save a business that not only supported them but several other families.

“By the end of the summer?” Bert shook his head. “I just don’t see how that’s possible. Will they accept installments of some kind?”

Bill drummed his fingers on the top of his desk. “They might would have if payments had been made before this ‘come to Jesus’ talk, so to speak. The members of the board are nervous, afraid they won’t get their money back. I think they believe setting a deadline will push you to get this loan paid and show you how important paying this loan back is to them.”

Robert rubbed his hand across his face. “I shouldn’t have dragged my feet on getting this taken care of.”

Walt leaned forward on his elbows on the table.

“You weren’t the only one who should have done something,” he said. “We were overly confident that we could take care of this with last year’s milk prices. The last quarter was much worse than any of us imagined.”

“There is plenty of blame to go around,” Hannah said. “But placing blame isn’t going to help us right now. The best we can hope for is a good growing season and stellar sales at the farm store.”

She leaned back in the plush chair with maroon cushions, arms folded across her chest, a determined expression furrowing her eyebrows.

“It’s not hopeless by any means,” she continued. “Our family has a good thing going, a good business. I know the market isn’t great and the growing season has been garbage this year, but the farm store may be just what will keep the business afloat. Molly and I were talking the other day about some ideas for expanding our inventory, adding home décor and expanding the greenhouse.”

Robert admired his sister’s optimism, but spending more money wasn’t what the family needed to do right now.

“Expansion means investing more money and more money isn’t what we have right now,” he said softly.

“I agree with Hannah.”

Walt’s wife, Lauren, was what Robert called pleasantly plump. She wore her light brown hair shoulder length most of the time, curling the edges toward her face, framing her attractive smile and bright blue eyes. She was soft spoken like her husband and thoughtful like Robert, rarely speaking before she had considered all the options of how her words would be received. Her sudden endorsement of Hannah was an unusual step for her.

She shifted slightly in her seat as she realized all eyes were on her now.

“It’s just, I think we can find a way to expand some of what we offer at the farm store and combining that with any income we receive from the milk and produce, we could reach the end of the summer deadline, or at least part of it. Maybe with a show of good faith the board will work with us.”

She glanced at Walt who smiled at her. Their eyes locked as she continued.

“If God is for us, who shall be against us? If we lose the business then, well, God has another plan for this family.”

A brief silence settled over the room. Lauren didn’t speak often but Annie, for one, was glad she had this time. She had a feeling the rest of the family agreed by the way they were nodding their heads.

 Bill, clearing his throat, was the first to speak.

“So, sounds like we have a plan all at least. I’m going to keep talking to the board, keep fighting for them to let you amend the contract, and extend the deadline a little longer and you all get everyone in your circle on board and let me know how it goes.”

Walt laughed softly. “I guess that means we need to let our kids and staff know what’s going on.”

Robert winced. “Ooh boy. That’s not going to be fun.”

“No,” Annie agreed. “But it’s necessary.”


Molly had invited Alex to church more times than he could count. He’d always declined. He knew he wasn’t cut out for church. He’d never been a church person. Good people went to church and while he’d never been the worst person in the world, he’d never really been a good person.

In high school, he’d been a troublemaker, mostly pranks and petty theft and underage drinking. He wasn’t sure where he would have ended up if his grandfather hadn’t bailed him out of jail and put him to work at his car business after his last run-in with the law – stealing a truck from a local used car lot and driving it across the city until he crashed it into a telephone pole when the tire blew.

During college it had been all-night drinking at fraternity parties, but luckily he’d kept himself out of trouble long enough to finish his degree, even though he had had no idea if he even wanted to use degree. He’d tried working computer programming for a full year before he hit rock bottom and Jason picked him up and told him: “Boy, I’m going to sweat that rebellious spirit out of you.”

Alex had sweated a lot over the years, but he wasn’t sure he’d sweated anything out of himself except laziness. He’d sweated while working in the fields, cutting down the hay, bailing it, building barns, spreading manure, shoveling manure, milking cows, feeding cows, running errands, and hauling vegetables and other products to the farm store. He’d learned more about farming, construction, operating a business, and planting produce in the last five years than he’d ever learned about computers during college.

The Tanner family had influenced him in almost every aspect of his life, but so far he hadn’t agreed to attend church with any of them. He’d watched them live their faith out every day and that was enough for him. The idea of sitting in a church wasn’t one he relished. Sitting in a hard pew, wearing a stiff shirt and tie and shoes too tight on his feet while a man stood in the pulpit and told him all he’d done wrong with his life did not sound like his idea of fun.

Molly had talked to him about church this morning in the barn, about how a friend of the family was singing a solo, about how the music always made her feel relaxed and at peace. He’d listened to her while hooking the cows into their stall, trying not to laugh at the excited way she talked about a place that seemed so boring to him. Listening to her talk about church, though, didn’t make it sound so bad. Sitting next to her, even on a hard pew, didn’t sound so bad either. Still, he wasn’t interested in tagging along.

“You sure you don’t want to go?” Molly asked as he climbed into his truck.

“Yep, but have fun,” he said with a smile, touching his finger to the edge of his cowboy hat.

He pulled the truck out of the drive and looked in his rearview mirror at Molly walking back toward the farmhouse, wondering if it was wrong to admire the appearance of a pretty Christian girl on a Sunday morning.

Ten minutes later he pulled into the Bradley farm to pick up extra fencing they’d offered Robert the week before to help fix a space of broken fence in the lower pasture.

The Bradley’s 7-year old son Daniel sat on an old rusting milk can by the barn door.

“Hey there, Mr. Stone.”

Alex paused, narrowed his eyes and tipped his head back so he was looking down his nose at the little boy.

“Daniel. Little dude. What did I tell you about calling me Mr. Stone?”

Daniel grinned, a piece of sweet grass in the corner of one mouth. “You said don’t call you that. It makes you feel old.”

“That’s right,” Alex laughed, holding his hand out for a high five. Daniel returned the high five and jumped off the milk can.

“Come on Alex,” Daniel said with a mature jerk of his head.
“Dad said to show you to the fencing back here.”

Alex followed Daniel, amazed, as always at his maturity at such a young age. The first time he’d met him a year ago he’d walked up to Alex and Robert, stuck out his hand and announced “Welcome to our farm. Follow me and I’ll show you the milking room.”

Four-feet tall, dark brown hair and freckles spread across his cheeks and nose, Alex always thought he looked like he walked out of one of those books by that writer his teacher made him read in sixth grade. The Farmer Boy or something.

“Fencing is there, wire is there and Dad says you can have the nails that went with it too.”

Alex nodded and reached for the fence posts and the barbed wire. “Thanks, bud. How’s farmin’ life treatin’ you?”

“Treatin’ me just fine,” Daniel said, leaning back against the wall of the barn, one foot crossing the other, hands in his pocket. “We had a calf last night. ‘Nother bull. Gotta sell it in a few weeks. Can’t give us milk and we already got a bull.”

Alex chuckled as he stacked the posts. As usual, Daniel was giving the run down like he was the parent, instead of the child.

“Were you there for the birth?” Alex asked.

“Yup. It was gross.”

Alex laughed. “But pretty cool to see new life come into the world, right?”

Daniel shrugged and spit the rest of the grass at the ground. “Yeah. Guess so.”

Alex heard Patrick Bradley’s voice boom across the yard to the barn.

“Daniel! Come on up to the house. It’s time to get ready for church.”

“Be right there, Dad! Just helping Alex get the fencin’.”

“Hey, Alex!”

“Hey, Patrick!” Alex shouted back.

He looked at Daniel and nodded toward the house. “Go on and get ready for church. I can finish here. Thanks for showing me where it was.”

Daniel shoved his hands in his overall pockets and turned toward the house then back to Alex again. “Don’t you go to church, Alex?”

Alex shook his head, tossing the last of the posts in the pile. “Nope.”

“Why not? Don’t you believe in God?”

Alex shrugged. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“So why don’t you wanna go to church?”

Alex lifted some of the posts and started walking toward his truck. “Just not my thing, kid. You go with your family and enjoy it, though, okay?”

Daniel walked behind him, furrowed eyebrows highlighting a thoughtful expression as he rubbed his chin. “I guess it’s okay if you don’t go to church. Mama says God’s not in the buildin’. He’s all around us so you could just talk to God no matter where you are, right?”

Alex tossed the posts into the back of the pick-up, turned and looked down at Daniel, ruffling his hair. “You know what, Daniel Bradley? You’re one smart kid.”

Daniel grinned, one of his bottom front teeth missing. “My mama tells me that all the time.”

“Well, she’s right. Now, head on in and get ready like your dad said. I’ll see you another day, okay?”

Alex watched Daniel run to the house and laughed to himself. If he’d been as smart at 29 as that kid was at seven he had a feeling he wouldn’t have had made as many mistakes as he had in life.

After breakfast in town, Alex headed back to the farm, windows down in the truck, music turned up. He glanced at the Tanner’s church on his way by, slowing down when he noticed Molly out front talking to someone hidden by a tree. Her reddish-brown curls spilled down her back, loose, unlike when she worked in the barn and secured it in a ponytail or under a baseball cap. She was wearing a light pink shirt that highlighted her curves and a flowing black skirt.

 Molly smiled and nodded to the person she was talking to. When Alex slowed down and pulled his truck into a parking spot further down the street, he could see through his side mirror that the other person was Ben.

Ben motioned toward a bench in front of the church and sat down. Molly sat next to him as he spoke. At first her expression was serious, then a smile crossed her mouth. She nodded again, speaking to Ben and reached across and laid her hand on his.

What are you even doing, Alex? You’re looking like a stalker right now.

He rolled his eyes. No. You don’t look like one. You’re being one right now.

Molly smiled and laughed again.

Ben smiled and laughed too.

They seemed to be enjoying themselves. Alex noticed the way Ben was sitting close to Molly, touching her arm lightly as they spoke, the way she wasn’t moving away from him, instead watching him intently, clearly engaged in the conversation and maybe also engaged in admiring him.

Jealousy hit Alex hard in the center of the chest. Jealousy and another feeling he couldn’t exactly put his finger on. Maybe disappointment mixed with anger, mixed with a hard realization that he’d been a fool thinking he’d ever be good enough for someone like Molly. Uninterested in sitting and watching their happy reunion any longer, he shifted the truck into gear and gently pulled onto the road, back toward the farm, cursing under his breath.


Jason Tanner pulled his dirty shirt and jeans off and tossed them toward the laundry basket on his way to the bathroom for a shower. It had been a long day, a long week, and that whole thing with Molly a few days before hadn’t helped his mood at all either. He had no idea what nerve he had touched when he offered his sister a cookie but it had left him bewildered and annoyed. He’d been so annoyed he hadn’t even addressed it with her yet, choosing instead not to poke an angry bear.

Women were so confusing. How did offering someone a cookie translate to “You’re fat.”? And how was he supposed to know that Molly was upset about her weight? He knew she’d been working out with Liz and eating a lot of grass-like foods, but he thought it was because she wanted to get healthier, not because she thought she was fat. She never seemed to let it bother her before. She was funny, confident, joked around in the barn and at work at the farm store. She never seemed down or depressed. At least that he’d noticed.

Of course, he was a guy and it had been pointed out to him more than once by El, Molly and a few other women in his life, that he was a bit oblivious at times.

Molly wasn’t fat anyhow. Sure, she’d gained weight over the years, but she looked fine. What was she so worried about anyhow?

He turned the shower on, washing the dirt, grime and sweat from the day away. Today had been tough and pretty weird but that day earlier in the week with Grandma had been even weirder. Had he actually struck a deal with his grandmother to propose to El? He knew his grandmother would hold up her end of the deal too; anything to get him to follow through on his end.

He didn’t know why he was so worried about it anyhow. He’d wanted to propose to Ellie for a couple of years. He could just never seem to get his courage up and then life, and their relationship, would continue on and he’d push it to the side again. He liked the way things were between them now; date nights, road trips to antique stores, church on Sunday, long walks in the woods behind her parents’ house, movie nights.

Of course, there was that one downside that Alex had harassed him about. The whole ‘waiting for marriage’ thing. He definitely struggled with that one, not so much in respecting Ellie’s wishes, because he did respect them, but with the waiting. Like Ellie, he’d been brought up to wait for physical connection beyond kissing until marriage, but there was no denying it, waiting was hard. Very hard. Especially since every time he was near Ellie a barely controlled desire roared inside him and he often had to step back before he tried to push their kisses further.

They’d come close to going all the way more than once but one of them had always stopped it, reminding each other they wanted to save that special moment for their wedding night. Then they’d have the familiar long talk about making sure they had enough money in the bank before they got married, so they could pay for the wedding (since both their parents were farmers and strapped for money) and since they wanted to be able to buy their own house and be financially secure when they were married.

It wasn’t that Jason had never “been with”, for lack of a better term, another woman. He had. Once. In college. With someone he hadn’t cared about. He had met her at a party and thought he wanted to be someone different than he’d been at home. It wasn’t a pleasant memory for him and he’d tried to push it out of his mind for years. The memory carried with it an overwhelming guilt that  he’d sacrificed his personal morals for an experience that was rushed and impersonal.

He and Ellie hadn’t been dating at the time and though he hated that it sounded like an excuse, Jason had been restless, lonely, lost. He felt like that night was his rock bottom moment; a wake up call to what kind of man he really wanted to be.

He’d never told Ellie, but, of course, she’d never asked either.

Jason shut the shower off and reached for a towel, rubbing it against his face, water dripping onto the floor. Maybe that was why he hadn’t proposed to her yet. He hadn’t been honest with her and deep down he knew he needed to be open and completely honest with her if they were going to get married, letting her decide for herself if she still wanted to be with him, to start a life with him, despite the fact he’d withheld part of his past from her.

He groaned into the towel. He had to bite the bullet, no matter what, though, not just because of the deal with his grandmother, but because he needed to know if Ellie would accept him despite his failings. God, he hoped she would because he couldn’t imagine his life without her.

Fiction Friday : The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 14 Part 1

This story is starting to consume my brain, folks. I have so many ideas, so many stories I want to tell and I know I’m writing a series so I can tell them later but oh man — this is my first series so it’s hard to know when to introduce certain characters and how much of their stories to share because I plan to share more of their stories in the next couple of books.

I like when a story consumes my brain in some ways, especially with the craziness of the world these days. When a story pushes its way into my mind, there isn’t room for too much else and that’s a nice break for my brain (well, except late at night when I’m mulling over a plot point and a scene idea comes into my head at 1 a.m., when I need to be asleep. Then my brain doesn’t get a break at all.)

To catch up with the rest of the story find the link at the top of the page or click here.

Sit-ups. Alex was actually doing sit-ups in his room. What was he even thinking? The problem was he’d been thinking too much since earlier that afternoon.

About Molly. About Molly at the gym and her skin glowing and her top pulled tight against her and ­– he lifted his upper body again, bending his torso to touch his knees.

“Fifty-five,” he gasped, the counting pushing away the images rolling around in his mind of Molly.

He hated working out. He didn’t feel the need to workout, just like he had told Liz, because he worked out enough doing his work on the barn. But Jason had mentioned once that working out helped get out frustrations and Alex was definitely frustrated. He was frustrated at himself for not telling Molly how he felt and he was frustrated with the images that played over and over in his head of grabbing Molly in that gym, yanking her to him and kissing her hard, his hands in her hair, showing her how he really felt about her. He’d imagined doing it so many times it was almost real to him.

He laid back on the floor, breathing hard, hands behind his head and closed his eyes, willing the images to go away. Under normal circumstances he would have shared his thoughts of romantic angst with Jason, but this wasn’t normal circumstances. He couldn’t tell Jason he was struggling with an incredibly strong attraction to his younger sister. Not if he wanted to live for more than five minutes.

His phone beeped and he reached for it, grateful for something to distract him from thoughts of Molly.

Hey, big bro. Still working at that farm?

It was his brother, Tyler.

Alex: Hey, little bro. Yeah. Still working at that office?

Tyler: Yeah. For now. Dad is making it hard though.

Alex: A real jerk, huh?

Tyler: You know he is.

Alex: Why do you stay there? It’s not going to make him care about you, you know.

Tyler: You’re not my therapist, Alex. Chill. Anyhow, I like the work here. Been on any good dates lately?

Alex: No. You?

Tyler: A couple. Actually, one really nice one. She’s a lawyer.

Alex made a face.

Alex: “Lawyer? Run away, dude. They’re black widows.

Tyler: Lol. Not this one, she’s a good one.

Alex: OK. If you say so.

Tyler: When you coming down for a visit?

Alex chewed on his bottom lip, thinking how to answer, knowing “when hell freezes over” was too harsh and would make it sound like it was his brother he was trying to avoid instead of his dad.

Alex: Don’t know. Busy season for the farm. Planting, cutting down hay and bailing it. You should come down and help bail. Be a good learning experience for you to get your hands dirty.

Laugh emojis filled the screen.

Tyler: You were the one who always liked to get his hands dirty, remember? Not me. Have fun, bro. I’ll text you when dad finally fires me.

Alex laid back on the floor and laughed at his brother and the fact he was still chasing after their dad after all these years. It seemed like Tyler would never understand that their dad would never care about anything except his business and the money and maybe an occasional mistress or two. Tyler had told Alex a month ago that their dad was dating someone new again, a blond younger than both his sons. It didn’t surprise Alex. He’d been dating women younger than him even before he had divorced Tyler and Alex’s mom.

There were few things Alex could count on in life but one of them was that his dad would always be in a new relationship. The other was that his dad would never care what was going on in his life. He’d heard from his dad four times since he’d moved in with Jason five years ago. Twice to ask him if working on a farm was really what he wanted to do. The last conversation hadn’t gone well at all.

“You have a degree in computer programing, Alex,” his dad had said over the phone in his familiar depreciating tone. “We could use you here in the IT department. And from there, maybe we can move you up into —”

“Thanks, Dad. I’m good here.”

“Farming, Alex? Really? This isn’t what I had in mind for you when —”

“When you what? Abandoned Tyler and I all those years ago?”

“That’s not what happened, Alex. When you get older, you’ll understand that life isn’t always easy.”

“Yeah, hey, have to go dad. Mr. Tanner needs me to clean some cow poop out of the stalls and I’d rather do that then talk to you.”

Most of Alex’s conversations with his dad ended in similar ways and many times he didn’t bother to pick up the phone at all, on the rare occasion his dad did call. He’d guessed the calls came when his mom nagged his dad to call and act like “a real father.” It was a conversation he’d heard over and over throughout his life.

“Act like a real father for once, Michael,” his mother would say on the phone, when she dropped the boys off for weekends with their dad, or when Alex got in trouble in high school or college.

But Michael Stone had rarely acted like a father and Alex never expected him to. What he’d missed out on in Michael Stone as his father, he’d gained in Robert Tanner.

Robert had shown Alex how to be a husband, a father, and a provider in the five years he’d known him. His tenderness with Annie, his fatherly love for Molly and Jason, the way he treated his livestock and his staff with respect. It was hard for Alex not to compare Robert’s successes in fatherhood and adulthood to the failures of his father. What wasn’t hard was knowing that he wanted to model his life after Robert’s instead of Michael’s.

It had taken Alex a couple of years to realize he wanted to be more like Robert, though, and until then he’d drank too much, flirted with too many women, and lived a life far from Robert’s. There were days he felt like he’d never live up to Robert’s life, though, and days he wondered if he was being stupid thinking he could change, be better and be worthy of the Tanners, especially Molly.

Jason’s voice outside the door startled him from his thoughts. “Alex? You in there? Ellie brought over some supper. You want some?”

Alex wasn’t about to turn down one of Ellie’s meals.

“Hey,” he said, opening the door. “Let me get a shower and I’ll be right down.”

Five minutes later he was sitting at the table with wet hair but more than ready for Ellie’s food.

“Hey, Alex.”

As usual Ellie was smiling and chipper, her long black hair pulled back in a braid down her back. She rushed around the kitchen, setting plates full of food and three plates around the table.

Not only was Ellie perky, pretty, and friendly, but she was an amazing cook. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits, peas, and even gravy filled the dishes in front of Alex and Jason. He thought about leaning across the table and asking Jason to remind him again why he hadn’t proposed to Ellie yet, but he thought better of it. He wouldn’t be able to eat with a broken jaw.

Once the food was on the table, Ellie sat down with them and smiled her captivating smile.

“So, how was everyone’s day?” she asked.

Alex shoved a piece of chicken in his mouth, not interested in answering. He knew the question was really meant for Jason anyhow. He was the third wheel.

“Busy,” Jason said. “Still a lot of work to do before we start the haying next week, we have another delivery of the vegetables we have been able to harvest for the farm store, and we’re hoping the rain finally lets up so the corn will grow some more.”

“It really has been a tough year, hasn’t it?” Ellie asked. She reached over and laid her hand on Jason’s, compassion in her eyes. Her small, slender fingers looked almost comical against Jason’s massive, roughed hand.

“It has, but we’ll figure it out somehow,” Jason said, smiling back at her, his fingers encircling her hand, swallowing it.

Looking between the two love birds, Alex felt slightly sick to his stomach but also a pang of jealousy at their obvious devotion to each other. He hoped to have a relationship like theirs someday. Jason and Ellie had dated on and off since high school but exclusively since Jason came back from college. Both of them had grown up on farms, their parents knew each other, and Alex always imagined they’d met at a square dance. Or maybe it was on corn picking day. Either way, they were one of the most perfect couple’s he’d ever seen, which again, made him both sick and jealous.

Unlike the girlfriends of his other friends Ellie didn’t care when Jason hung out with Matt and Alex and didn’t try to push her way into their guys’ nights. She didn’t make fart jokes or participate in burping contests like Molly, but she was still a farm girl, not afraid to get her hands dirty and put in the hard work.   

Alex grinned as he watched them the rest of the dinner, both of them pretty much oblivious to his presence. He looked forward to harassing Jason about them making googly eyes at each other later when Ellie had left.


Pulling up to the farm store, Molly sat outside in her truck, bleary-eyed and unmotivated. She’d barely been able to sleep last night, thinking about Alex and his . . . well, weirdness and about how much she did not want to come to the farm store this morning. She propped her forehead against the steering wheel and groaned. She was in no mood to be perky and she needed to be perky by the time the customers arrived. Some days she took on the motto “fake it until you make it.” Some days, face perkiness was the only way to make it through their day.

“Is this the only milk you have?” a woman had asked last week, looking at her over a pair of sunglasses, one eyebrow raised.

“Yes, ma’am. That’s the company the local farmer’s supply to.”

“Okay, because I’m a vegan and I need something that doesn’t come from a cow.”

“Oh. Well, then . . .”

Molly had had to pause because what she wanted to say was “If you’re vegan, why are you in a store that clearly sells cow milk?” but she glanced at the woman’s cart, full of vegetables and flowers, and decided to cut her some slack. At least she was supporting farmers in her own way.

“Then, I’m sorry,” Molly said. “We don’t carry non-diary options at this time. Maybe you can try the local Weis?”

“You know this little store needs to move with the times,” the woman said unloading the items from her cart to the counter. “Milk from mammals is a thing of the past. The only ones who should be drinking cows milk are baby cows.”

“Mmmm,” Molly responded adding up the items on the cash register. “That will be $75.50.”

If the woman hadn’t been spending so much Molly might would have told her to shove off, but the money was welcome and needed in a time when local farmers were struggling. The money from the Tanner’s store didn’t only benefit the Tanners. It also benefited several families who supplied inventory – from locally raised and butchered pork, beef, and chicken to eggs, homemade furniture and hand-sewn blankets and quilts. Losing customers could mean losing income for these families as well.

Thankfully the woman left without anymore comments, though a ‘thank you’ would have been nice.

Some days Molly wondered if this would be her entire life; sitting in her family’s story, being lectured by people who called themselves “woke” about what to eat and how to live. She wondered if she’d always be just the farmer’s daughter.

Walking into the store through the backdoor she heard her Aunt Hannah talking in the office.

“I am nervous about the meeting, yes. And I’m nervous because I don’t know how we are going to come up with the money to pay off this loan.”

Molly paused outside the closed door.

What loan?

“Let’s talk to Bill and see what can be worked out,” her Uncle Walt said softly.

“I would have talked to Bill a long time ago if I had known what was going on,” Hannah said curtly.

“Hannah, Robert told me he explained why —”

“I know,” Hannah interrupted, her voice less tense than before. “I’m sorry. I’m just anxious. I’ve been looking at the numbers this morning. They aren’t great. I’m worried we won’t be able to do this, Walt.”

Numbers? What numbers? Molly’s mind was racing. Was the farm in trouble? And if so, why hadn’t her parents told her?

Her hand hovered over the door handle and she thought about walking in and asking Hannah what was going on, but thought better of it. If her family wanted her to know what was going on, they’d tell her, and, to be honest, she felt too drained to add anymore to her mental que to think about.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 11 (Part 1)

Yes, Chapter 11 is broke up into two parts for the blog this week because, to me, this chapter is too long for a blog, but not too long for a book. No idea what I’m talking about? Me either, but I rambled about chapter size last week on the blog and still couldn’t decide how I feel about long chapters.

I will be sharing part two tomorrow because, quite frankly, some of my readers need a good, light distraction right now (and luckily my fiction isn’t too hard hitting.)

Anyhow, if you would like to catch up on the story, you can find the other chapters HERE. There are links to my other works of fiction at the top of the page, as well, including The Farmer’s Daughter, Quarantined (a short story), Rekindle (the start of another story story), and links to my two books for sale on digital platforms.

Alex woke from a sound sleep to someone pounding on the front door. It was his morning off from the barn. The morning Taylor Bundle came to help out and Alex got to sleep in but missed out on joking with Molly.

“Jason! Are you in there!? If you’re sleeping in, well, get up!”

Alex rubbed his eyes, listening to Molly yelling from the front porch. He threw the covers aside, hoping something hadn’t happened at the farm.

He staggered down the stairs in a pair of old sweatpants and it wasn’t until he had unlocked the door and swung it open that he remembered he’d forgotten to grab a shirt.

A strange rush of energy pulsated through the center of Molly’s chest at the sight of a bare-chested Alex standing groggily in the doorway.

“Hey,” he said, mid-yawn. “What are you doing here?”

“Um. Oh. Hey.”

Molly’s mouth was suddenly dry, and she felt a rush of warmth in her cheeks as she struggled to remember why she was standing on Jason and Alex’s front porch at this time of the morning. She seemed to have forgotten who she even was for a moment.

Good grief. Alex even looked good yawning. Her eyes fell on a small tattoo on the skin just below his tanned collarbone. An eagle sitting on a globe. All these years working with him and she’d never noticed he had a tattoo. She’d seen him with his shirt off before, but she’d never let her eyes linger. Why had she never let her eyes linger? She might have enjoyed the hard work in the barn more if she had.

She noticed he was looking at her, his hair ruffled, one eyebrow cocked, waiting for her to answer his question. He’d asked her a question. What was it again?  

“Oh. Yes. I was — I mean, I’m on my way, or I was on my way to the rummage sale but the truck broke down down the road and I didn’t want to, — well, Jason was closer than going back to get Dad so I was hoping I could talk to Jason.”

Alex yawned again and leaned against the door frame.

“He took Ellie out antiquing or something. I don’t remember what he said, exactly. I was sleeping. Or trying to. You want me to look at it?”

“No. Well, yes, but actually I need a ride to the rummage sale first. Mavis has me on the baked goods tables this morning and I don’t want to listen to her scold me about being late if I don’t show up on time. Any way you could drive me to town?”

Alex rubbed his fingers across his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, willing himself to wake up more. Alone in the truck with Molly. While groggy.

This might be fun.

“Uh . . . yeah . . . just let me throw on a shirt and I’ll be right out.”

No need to throw on a shirt, Molly thought.

“Yeah, sure,” she said out loud. “No problem. Take your time. I’ve still got a bit before I’ve got to be there.”

Molly turned back toward the road as Alex shut the door and let out a long breath.

Take your time. Getting a shirt on. Covering up all that beauty.

What a way to start a day. First, a broke down truck, which was a bad start, but then seeing Alex shirtless, a definite improvement.

“Why would a woman from church scold you for your truck breaking down?” Alex asked when he climbed into his truck next to her ten minutes later.

He pushed his hand through his hair and, unfortunately, had pulled a t-shirt on. He was eating a piece of toast as he shifted the truck into drive and pulled onto the dirt road.

“What do you mean?”

Alex shrugged. “I mean, she’s a Christian. Shouldn’t she be all nice and stuff? And forgiving?”

Molly looked out the window and leaned against her hand. “Well, yeah, she should but . . . well, sometimes human nature gets in the way I guess.”

Alex shoved the last piece of toast in his mouth, talking with his mouth full. “She sounds like she should read her Bible more.”

Molly laughed. “A lot of us should read our Bible more, but yeah, she should.”

Fencing and cow pastures rushed by and Molly thought about how even she should be reading her Bible more.

“You should get rid of that truck, you know.”

Alex shifted topics of conversation as quickly as he did gears, and it made Molly smile as she looked at  him.


“It’s a piece of junk.”

“I like my piece of junk.”

“You could get a nice sedan or something.”

“Out here? And why? Because I’m a girl? So, you think girls shouldn’t drive trucks. Is that it?”

She smirked at Alex, waiting for his response. He looked out through the windshield, his arm hanging lazily over the steering wheel, grinning. She recognized that look well; a look that said he was about to roast her like he often did in the barn.

“You know it’s not because you’re a girl,” he said, not taking his eyes off the road. “You’re one of the manliest girls I’ve ever met.”

Molly didn’t even hesitate to ball her hand into a fist and smashing it straight into his upper bicep, her eyes narrowed and her jaw tight, but a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

He laughed loudly. “What? You are! You burp louder than most guys I know, and I know women say they don’t fart but that time you blamed it on the cow? Yeah, I didn’t buy that for a second.”

“I didn’t fart!” Molly cried through the laughter. “It was Betsy!”
Alex was laughing harder now.

“That poor cow,” he said. “She gets blamed for so much of your gross behavior.”

“My gross behavior? You spit loogies on the ground all the time.”

“It’s not my fault I have an abundance of phlegm.”

She laughed and pushed at him gently with her hand.

“I didn’t need to know that, Alex Stone.”

Alex smiled, glancing at her, enjoying the sound of his name when she said it. They laughed for the rest of the drive, harassing each other about various sounds they’d made while working in the barn, or jokes they’d passed back and forth that probably shouldn’t have been said at all.

Molly wiped tears of laughter from her eyes as Alex pulled into the parking lot. She opened the truck door as he parked it in front of the basement door.

“Thanks for the lift,” she said climbing out. “I can get a ride home after I’m done.”

“I don’t know. Maybe I should come in and see if they’d have anything I’d want.”

Molly shut the truck door and leaned on it to talk through the window. “I doubt it, unless you need a new purse or some heels”

Alex shrugged. “I don’t need those, no, but Jason said they have some electronics this year. Maybe I’ll come check it out.”

“Okay,” Molly said, turning toward the church basement door. “I’m heading in. I’ll see you there.”

Alex leaned his head against his hand, smiling, watching her walk away for a few moments before pulling his truck into a parking space.

Inside, the baked goods table was already half-filled and the rest of the tables were set up and ready for customers.

“There you are!” Maddie whispered loudly when Molly approached the table. “I was afraid you weren’t coming and then I’d be stuck listening to Mavis complain all morning about your failure to keep commitments.”

Molly rolled her eyes. “She’d already started that speech, huh?”

Maddie nodded. “Of course. I’m heading back to the children’s section. Pray for me.”

“I definitely will.”

Molly straightened the cakes and cookies, displaying them along the table, separating each kind of cookie and each style of cake and then propping up the pies so people could see them better. She waited for the first customers of the day and watched Alex walk through the electronics aisle, looking over old computers and stereos.

On the tables spread across the basement, various items sat on tables for sale; old televisions, lamps, pots and pans, dishes, books, sunglasses, toys, video games, and even a motorcycle helmet. A few early birds were already perusing the merchandise that, if sold, would help the church with various projects throughout the year, including putting a new roof on the church.

Molly had attended the Spencer Valley United Methodist Church since she was a child up until a year ago. Her parents and grandparents had always attended the church. Molly, however, had fallen in love with a church across town that featured more upbeat music and a younger congregation over all. Even though she no longer attended the church she continued to help with fundraisers and other events, which was why she couldn’t avoid Mavis’ overly critical eye.

She liked the church and the other people who attended, though, including Maddie and the new pastor and his wife. Joe and Emily. They had arrived at the church a little less than a year ago, shortly after her grandfather passed away and about the same time her grandmother had stopped attending church.

Molly liked Pastor Joe’s easy going demeanor and outgoing personality and Emily’s sweet nature. Molly couldn’t pinpoint why but she felt a sadness in Emily when she talked to her and she wondered it was because Emily still felt out of place in her fairly new surroundings.

“Well, hey, I didn’t expect to see you here today.”

The familiarity of the voice made Molly turn her head to see if it could really be him. It could be and it was. Ben Oliver was standing in front of her with a broad smile, looking surprisingly even more handsome than the last time she had seen him five years ago at his grandmother’s funeral.

His hair was cut high and tight, his dark brown eyes sparkled, and a small dimple pricked the skin next to his mouth when he smiled.

She now wished she hadn’t rushed out of the house so quickly, throwing on a Confederate Railroad t-shirt and a pair of jeans and pulling her hair back into a loose ponytail on top of her head.

She tried to act non-plussed by his presence. “Ben, hey. What a surprise. Jason said you were in town.”

“Yeah, just came back a couple weeks ago.”

Molly decided to look busy. She straightened the cookies and stacked a couple of the pies. “Staying long?”

Ben nodded, watching her work. “For good actually. I’m opening a law office in Waverly.”

Waverly was a half an hour from Spencer Valley. And half an hour away from Molly, which she was fine with.

“Oh. So, you’ll be living there then?”

“I’m not sure yet. For now I’m living with my parents while I look for a place, either here or there. Actually, I’m here today with my mom.” He laughed. “She’s looking for a new purse.”

He smiled and picked up a bag of cookies. “Hey. You always made amazing cookies. Chocolate chip if I remember right.”

Yes, Ben, I did make cookies. For you. Like it mattered.

“Yep. I used to. I don’t really make cookies anymore.”

A woman with dark brown hair hanging down her back and a strained expression on her face approached the table. Two young children hopped up and down beside her while she held their hands tightly.

“I want the chocolate ones!” A little girl with blond curls cried.

“I want peanut butter!” Her brother said loudly as he hopped in place.

Molly guessed their ages to be about four and them to be twins. Their mother looked exhausted as she let go of their hands and struggled to open her change purse. “I’ll take one of each.”

Molly slid them across the table and accepted her money, watching them shove cookies into their mouth as they darted toward the toy section.

“Wow,” Ben said watching the children leave. “That was – well, a lot of energy.” He smiled at her and she felt the old familiar rush of warmth travel from her stomach to the top of her head.

“Did you make anything on this table?” he asked.

“Just some cakes with my mom. They’re the ones over there.”

“Oh man. Those are your mom’s cakes? I’m definitely getting one of those. Her cakes are one of the highlights of my youth.” He walked to the other side of the table and began to look through the cakes. Over his shoulder Molly saw Alex studying a laptop, his eyebrows furrowed in concentration.

This is insanely awkward, Molly thought to herself, unable to shake the memory of Ben’s comments about her the day in the convenience store. Stop pretending to be nice, Ben.

She was grateful to see Liz walking toward her a few moments later, a broad smile on her face, an attractive pink bag hanging over her shoulder.

“I told you I wouldn’t leave you to deal with Old Battleax on your own.”

Molly tilted her head toward Ben, her eyes wide.

Liz looked at Ben, back to her and then mouthed. “No way. Ben? What is he doing here?”

Molly shrugged and rolled her eyes. Liz flung her purse on the chair next to Molly and placed a hand on each hip. “Well, well, well,” she said loudly. “Benjamin Oliver. Surprised to see you show your face here in Spencer Valley again.”

Ben smiled broadly as he looked at Liz, the container carrying one of Annie’s chocolate cakes in his hand. “Liz! Hey! You look great!”

“Ben, hey. You still look like a jerk.”

“Liz!” Molly hissed.

Ben laughed softly and shook his head. “It’s okay, Molly. Liz has never liked me, if you remember.”

“Liz has never trusted you,” Liz shot back with a scowl. “And rightly so, I’d say.”

Ben slid the cake across the table toward Molly. “People can change, Liz. Learn from their mistakes.” He smiled tightly. “Don’t you think? Hey, how’s Gabe doing?”

Molly winced internally. This was getting messy.

“I left him,” Liz said coldly.

“Oh, well, see we do learn from our mistakes, I guess.” Ben smirked and Molly shook her head because it was apparent he still had his quick tongue.

Molly placed the cake in a bag, watching Liz and Ben watch each other, feeling the tension in the air.

“That’s $4.50,” she said quickly to interrupt the stand-off.

Ben’s charming smile had returned as he turned toward Molly, handing her a $5 bill. “Keep the change,” he told her. “It’s for a good cause. And listen, Molly, I’d really like to talk to you sometime. If you have time? I didn’t expect to see you here today, but I had planned to track you down at some point.”

Molly nodded outwardly but shook her head inwardly. “Yeah, sure, that would be fine. I’ll be around.”

Out of the corner of her eye she watched Alex sauntering toward the table, a used laptop under one arm and a cowboy hat propped on top of his own. As if the awkward moment couldn’t get even more awkward.

“Well, you were wrong,” he said to her cheerfully. “It turns out they did have a couple things I wanted.”

His gaze traveled from Molly to Liz’s tense expression and then to Ben standing awkwardly with a bag of cake in one hand and his wallet in the other.

“Oh, hey, did I interrupt something?” Alex asked.

“No, not at all,” Liz said. She tipped her head at Ben. “Ben here was just leaving.”

Ben? Alex looked Molly’s ex-boyfriend up and down, taking in his light blue polo shirt, tan khakis, brown leather belt and dark brown loafers. He wanted to laugh out loud. This was the great Ben Oliver? He definitely looked like a lawyer – overdressed, sneaky, and weak.

“Ben,” he said with a forced welcoming smile. “Nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Ben looked surprised. “Oh? You have? I’m sorry. You are . . .”

“This is Jason’s friend Alex,” Molly said quickly. “He works for Dad.”

She cleared her throat and focused on some crumbs on the table, brushing them away.

“Ah, a farm boy, eh?” Ben grinned and looked from Alex to Molly. He winked. “Does he say ‘As you wish?’ to you?”

Molly’s face grew warm. She knew what Ben was referring to, especially because The Princess Bride had been her favorite movie to watch with him when they had been dating. Wesley, the farm boy, would always say “as you wish” to Buttercup, the farmer girl, when she’d ask him to fetch something for her, and in the book the author wrote that “as you wish” was code for “I love you.”

Ben had never said “as you wish” to her.

Molly started to speak, but didn’t even know how to respond. Was Ben mocking her? Was he mocking Alex? She wasn’t even sure at this point.

Alex laughed and slapped Ben on the back with one solid movement of his hand. “Oh, Ben. You’re just as witty as Jason and Molly described you. Of course, that’s what I say to Molly. I mean, who wouldn’t be honored to travel through the Fire Swamp with someone like Molly? Right?”

He smiled at Ben a little longer than Molly felt he needed to. She caught Liz smirking on the other side of Ben.

Ben laughed a laugh that sounded slightly nervous. “Right. Of course. Very funny.”

“Well,” Alex said with an exaggerated sigh. “I would love to stay here and talk more but I’ve got manure to shovel, cows to milk, hay to fork into the stables. You know, all those ‘farm boy’ things we ‘farm boys’ do.”

He turned quickly toward Molly and slid his hand under her elbow, leaning close to her. “I had fun this morning. See you later okay?”

He winked, brushed his mouth against her cheek, and walked through the door, leaving her and Liz staring at him in bewildered surprise.

“Oh,” Ben said after a few moments. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you two were …”

“He’s just a co-worker,” Molly blurted.

Liz smothered a snicker behind her hand and sat in the chair behind the table.

Ben nodded and shrugged. “Oh, okay, well —”

“Molly, there are more cakes in the kitchen that need to be brought out.”

Mavis’ spoke over Ben and Molly was grateful for the interruption.  

“No problem, Mavis. I’ll be right there.” She turned to face Ben. “I’m so sorry. Duty calls. Catch up later?”

Ben nodded. “Yeah. Yeah. Sure. No problem.”

Molly walked quickly back toward the kitchen, her face ablaze with shock, embarrassment, and confusion. First, seeing Ben out of the blue and then Alex acting weird.

What in the world was Alex even doing? Was he trying to make it look like they were dating? For what purpose? For whose benefit? For hers? For Bens?   . . . for his? She didn’t know what he was doing but she knew she was going to have to talk to him about it later at the barn. And Molly knew Liz was going to want to talk about it as soon as she arrived back at the table with the extra cakes