Nora wasn’t out to find a job. She was only seeking help for a hair-ball and flea-infested, newly rescued cat she’d given a furever home. She wasn’t looking for a man either, just a companion, and Dicey the cat fit the bill. She reluctantly agrees to work for Caleb, but as the days roll on, working becomes a whole lot more than a summer distraction. In fact, she fears falling for Caleb, something this plain Jane girl thought she would never experience. It’s time to retreat. And fast.
Caleb senses Nora’s confusion and soon finds that convincing her to work for him was the easy part. Convincing Nora that he’s her forever man is quite another.
A woman knows when a man is staring at her. It’s a sixth sense sort of thing. And Nora Jamieson knew that the man behind her in the grocery checkout line was staring a hole through her.
With nary a sideways glance, she carefully placed her selected items on the counter: a half-gallon of milk, a soft drink, a square pack of American cheese slices, three cans of cat food, a box of tampons. A disconnected collection, to be sure, and she still had no clue what was for dinner. She nudged the tampons behind the milk, semi-hiding the box. Only then did her gaze drift to the left toward his groceries.
A large hand placed a divider in front of his order. Whipping cream, butter, linguini, Parmesan cheese, fresh mushrooms, a small chicken, and a few items more her brain didn’t register, were set one after another onto the moving counter. Much more exciting than her choices. His hands worked back and forth (large, callused hands with long fingers); the items piled up. Her gaze traveled to his arms to his chest, throat, face….
She jerked back to stare at her own purchases. Sad, they nicely summed up her life. Common. Plain. Boring.
“Eight, ninety-seven,” the checkout girl announced. Nora snapped back to look at the bubble-gum smacking clerk and fumbled in her purse for the money. Handing over a ten-dollar bill, she kept her eyes riveted straight ahead, her thoughts, though, on the man creating a considerable amount of heated energy beside her.
Stop it, Nora. You don’t lust after men…
The girl thrust change and receipt toward her then bagged her purchases. Risking one more peek to her left, Nora watched the man take a step her way. She took him in full-on as he concentrated on his items. His dark brown hair was shaggy, but not quite long enough to reach his collar. His blue jeans were dusty on his tall, lean body; his laced work boots needed a good swipe with a damp rag. She inspected him closer—he was tan (must work outdoors), had dirt under his fingernails (farmer?), and perspiration stains on his shirt (maybe construction)—he certainly didn’t seem like a man who would be buying the ingredients for Chicken Alfredo.
But he was handsome. Dirty and sweaty, yes—and likely tired if the bags under his eyes were any indication—but he was about the best-looking man she’d seen around Greenfield in quite some time. Must be new in town.
List! Does he have a list?
If so, then there was proof there was a wife somewhere. One who had sent him to the grocery store for dinner ingredients.
Nora sneaked a closer look and noticed his hands were empty and bare. No list, no ring, not even a thin circle of white where one would have been on that dark, tanned finger. And then she sensed, more than knew, that he was alone.
Just like her.
Quickly, she took the bag of groceries from the clerk and left the checkout area. If she ambled along, the man would likely follow her out of the store in a few minutes, and perhaps she could sneak another peek….
Only after depositing her bag in the back seat of her Chevrolet sedan, did she glance toward the store entrance. On cue, he stepped out. Their gazes met; Nora’s skittered off. Within seconds, she slipped into the driver’s seat.
She fumbled with her purse, trying to find her keys, then adjusted her rearview mirror as he stepped in front of her car. Again, his gaze skipped hers. She slipped her key in the ignition of the Chevy.
He kept walking.
Past the Dodge minivan, the sleek Mitsubishi, the four-door Volvo sedan, he walked until at last, he stopped almost two-thirds of the way down the row to an old, flatbed pickup truck.
Nora twisted the key in her ignition.
He tossed his bag of groceries inside and, in almost the same motion, entered the truck and gunned the engine. The old truck rumbled to life—rusty red and peeling, dented fenders, a few old feed sacks tossed on the bed. He pulled out and steered her way.
Nora fiddled with her purse again as he passed then pulled her car out of gear and into drive. Turning the steering wheel and tramping on the accelerator, she fell into place behind him.
What are you doing, Nora? Following a perfect stranger? Why?
“Because I want to know more about a man who looks like that, drives a flatbed pickup, and cooks Chicken Alfredo for Friday night dinner,” she mumbled to herself.
They approached the intersection and both turned left. At the next, Nora’s mystery man sped up and entered the right-hand turn lane. The left lane was the one Nora needed to take her home. A part of her wanted to follow. A part of her wanted to pull up beside him and say something cute like, “Need any help with dinner?”
She chose the part that made her slow her car, flip on her left blinker, and veer toward the lane that would take her home. It was the part that went right along with her mousy dishwater-brown hair, her plain but comfortable sneakers, her baggy clothing, and her fingernails chewed to the quick. He hit the accelerator again. Her mystery man turned right on red and headed toward the country.
Disappointed, Nora followed the line of traffic left and headed for home, thankful for the one bit of excitement at the end of her mundane day.