His Plain-Jane CinderellaBy: Jennie Adams
Troy Rushton watched expressions chase themselves across Stacie Wakefield’s narrow, expressive face: curiosity, interest, a certain level of consciousness of him that she felt but that she also fought.
He, too, had been drawn to her—yet what was it that drew his attention to this woman?
Was it the blue eyes with their shards of darker colour and thick, black lashes? The delicateness of her features? The soft pink of her lips? Or was it more about her expressiveness, the progression of her thoughts across her face that she probably thought she was hiding?
Whatever the reasons, he shouldn’t be watching Stacie Wakefield with anything beyond a passing interest.
Indeed, he hadn’t been interested in a woman since the break with Linda six months ago.
‘How long have you worked at the plant, Stacie?’ That was the focus of this morning, to get to know as much as possible about this processing plant he’d purchased, make sure it was functioning as solidly as it could—then move on to maintaining an ownership role while he focused most of his time and effort on his orchards.
All a far cry from army special-ops.
The thought slipped in with an edge that was too close to bitterness to be comfortable. He’d done the self-talk about this. He should consider himself lucky.
He should also consider that he didn’t exactly have as much to offer a woman these days. Now why did that thought drop into his head?
‘I’ve only been here four months.’ Stacie’s gaze remained steady on his face.
Had she spotted his limp?
What did it matter? It was just a part of him now.
A part that ended your career and that you despise every day.
Stacie went on. ‘Carl said you visited while the plant was shut down one weekend?’
‘I did, but only after I’d toured a similar plant and studied it in full action.’ His visit here had been thorough enough for him to easily see that this was the better purchase.
Stacie nodded. She drew a breath and launched into the work at hand.
An expanse of utilitarian desk separated them, yet Troy still felt the imprint of her small hand from when he’d briefly clasped it. He flattened his fingers on the desk surface and pushed the thoughts aside as they moved into discussion of various matters that Stacie felt would benefit from attention today, rather than when Carl returned.
Even as they worked together, Troy wondered what had brought her to the plant. Had she moved to Tarrula, or simply changed jobs within the town? In either case, why?
It took an hour to deal with everything. At first she seemed uneasy without Carl’s presence, but she soon came to terms with Troy’s no-nonsense approach to decision-making and relaxed into it. As they finished, she glanced up and smiled. ‘You’ve just made Carl’s absence today very easy for me. It’s the first time he’s been away for a sick day since I started. I was a bit uneasy.’
‘You’ve done just fine.’
She wasn’t a gorgeous girl, Troy supposed, not by the rest of the world’s standards, but her smile lit her whole face. It made him want to reach out and trace her lips with his fingertips.
The whimsical thought was so alien to his soldier’s nature that Troy frowned. Even with Linda, his thoughts had tended towards the practical: shared work-interests and the meeting of physical needs. He’d cared for her, of course he had, but he wasn’t what you’d call a tender man. Linda had been career-driven, and Troy had lost his career…
Troy got to his feet—one that stood as solidly and firmly as ever, the other that didn’t. ‘I’ll leave you now. I want to meet the rest of the crew.’
‘Thanks for your help. I’ll have letters for signature ready soon.’ Stacie busied herself at her desk.
Troy moved towards the door. He did his best not to think about the uneven gait that got him there, but it dogged every step. ‘I’ll check in with you again before I leave, to sign the letters.’
He walked out.
‘IT’S good to be almost home.’ Stacie spoke aloud as she slowed for a low narrow bridge. Gurudhaany Creek flowed beneath it, a muddy flow just feet deep in the summer months, but now during winter it was almost a smaller version of the large river that flowed around the outskirts of the township of Tarrula. The creek was named after the goannas that had been spotted along its banks, though Stacie had yet to see one of the large lizards for herself.
Instead today she’d met a very attractive specimen of a man, the new company owner, Troy Rushton. His imprint still seemed glued to her retinas, and that was not a fact that pleased her or that even made sense to her. ‘I might need a double dose of nail-polish and some better stick-ons to get my focus off that man.’