Nancy Emerson is back in Craggs Station.
Not everyone thinks that's good news.
But the mysterious man next door offers her a bit of kindness. But what does he want in return?
By Shirley Hailstock
He was there again. Nancy Emerson glanced over her shoulder as she lifted grocery bags into her car. Maybe it was coincidental, but this was the third time today she'd found herself gazing into his dark brown eyes. He jumped down from the pick-up truck and strolled across the parking lot. Not once did you give her a second look. Had he heard the talk, she wondered. Staring at his retreating back, she noticed he had an easy gait and carried himself with the confidence of a man used to getting what he wanted.
He was new to Craggs Station. While she had spent her formative years here, she'd only returned a couple of weeks ago to find him living next door to her family farm. He'd bought the old Jansen place that abutted hers. His truck created dust trails along County Route 69 and the unpaved road as he left his driveway and sped away. She'd learned he hadn't been there more than a week longer than she had, yet she hadn't been neighborly enough to travel the short distance and welcome him. The place reminded her of Mark. And she'd buried those memories a lifetime ago. Unfortunately, the citizens of Craggs Station, Montana hadn't.
Who was he anyway? She couldn't ask anyone. She wasn't exactly the favorite daughter in town. Not since the night Mark died. The night she'd turned onto the wrong route and her life had changed irrevocably.
Nancy knew his name. She'd overheard it her first day back. Amid the people in the local shops who hadn't been struck dumb by her presence, someone had called him Alexander Hayes from someplace out West. She didn't hear where.
His name meant nothing to Nancy. She looked him up on the Internet. Her time in Chicago had taught her to be cautious. He was a lawyer, at least a former lawyer. Now he drew a cartoon comic strip that was syndicated in hundreds of papers. Apparently, he'd exchanged suspenders and three-piece suits for jeans, cowboy boots and the solitude of a small town.
Returning from the store and putting her small amount of groceries away, Nancy went outside to set the chrysanthemums she'd bought. She loved the feel of the moist soil between her hands. It relaxed her. Fall was coming, but there was still time for a little color. It brightened her attitude when she came home to find the cheerful flowers greeting her. She worked steadily until she heard a thump. Looking over her shoulder, she found a clod of dirt on the toe of a man's boot.
Shading her eyes from the sun that made his silhouette appear to stretch to the sky, Nancy stood up. She knew who he was before she faced him. No one else in town would come to see her – no one without a badge and a uniform. He wore a white shirt and denims. On his head was a hat shading those eyes that she found so penetrating. They were dark and deep, penetrating and intense, the kind of eyes that could change with his mood. For a moment, she wondered what they would look like in the throws of passion.
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