His Plain-Jane CinderellaBy: Jennie Adams
Usually by now her thoughts would be centred on getting home, taking care of her dog, Fang, and settling in for an evening of work on her Bow-wow-tique sewing and marketing.
Instead, thoughts of Troy Rushton distracted her. Stacie didn’t want to be distracted. Deep inside where she might not have entirely faced up to a few things, Stacie emotionally couldn’t afford to be distracted.
Stacie parked her grey sedan, got out and stepped through the farmhouse gate. She had faced things. She was building a new life. If that wasn’t dealing with her demons, she didn’t know what would be.
Visiting the family when Gemma and Andrew would be there?
It was the second time the thought had surfaced. Frankly, she didn’t appreciate it.
‘Did you miss me, Fang?’ Stacie called out with determined good cheer. Because she was happy, damn it, and she intended to stay that way, not wallow around in thoughts of the past.
Forget thinking too much about a certain new employer, also, even if the man somehow seemed to have lodged himself firmly in Stacie’s brain from the first moment she met him this morning. He wasn’t that appealing or interesting. If Stacie had worked today with half an eye on the production floor—and specifically on Troy as he’d moved through that floor briefly greeting workers and basically rolling his sleeves up and getting involved—she’d done so to make sure the new owner didn’t need her assistance with anything. Yes. It had been because of that.
Fang leaped about the yard like the happy, muscly, extremely well-dressed dog he was. He wore a pink-sateen padded coat with a matching pink-studded collar. If pets could be fashion conscious, Fang really did wear his clothes with a certain pride. Stacie created them for him with pride. And with her goals for the Bow-wow-tique as firmly fixed as each stitch.
‘Come on, Fang. Let’s get some warmth happening inside.’
It was the start of June and the Australian winter season had hit hard. Even as Stacie headed for the farmhouse rain started to drizzle again. Stacie turned the heaters on, and then stood on the front porch and leaned down to rub the top of Fang’s head and let herself absorb the blind devotion in his doggy gaze.
Fang broke away from her and ran around the little farmlet’s front yard, just because he could.
Stacie laughed and then she looked up as Fang’s woof changed to one of enquiry.
There was a man at the end of the path. A familiar man. Stacie’s heart-rate lifted before she could even register the response. She rushed forward. ‘Troy. I didn’t expect— Is there something? Is production at the plant…?’
She got that far and stopped, because of course this wasn’t about production at the plant. Everything had been fine when she left. Production had been closed down for the night.
Stacie’s glance shifted behind Troy, to the empty farmhouse on the neighbouring property. Except it wasn’t empty any more. There were lights on over there and a black four-wheel-drive jeep parked out the front.
And Troy was here on foot, as though he’d walked from somewhere quite nearby.
You do the maths, Stacie. He must have moved in next door while she’d been away at the weekend!
She’d visited her family for the first time since she’d left. She’d not enjoyed the visit and had arrived home last night and immersed herself in sewing until she forgot it. And that was without her sister’s presence there, because Stacie had known Gemma was going away.
‘Have you purchased Cooper’s Farm? Or leased it?’ She cleared her throat, cleared away those thoughts too. They were the last things Stacie wanted on her mind right now. ‘I don’t mean to pry. I just meant to ask, have you moved there?’
‘I’ve bought the place.’ One side of his mouth kicked up. ‘With the help of the bank, that is. We did a package deal for this place and the processing plant.’
‘It’s a large orchard.’ The trees needed work. Stacie had noted that fact when she moved in next door. ‘Do you know about running an orchard? Will you be able…?’
‘I can do as much work as anyone.’ For just a moment, frustration seemed to bubble inside him.
‘I was wondering about you finding workers.’ And why he’d taken on an orchard at all.
She hadn’t meant to question his physical abilities. That just really hadn’t occurred to her, because he was so strong and able. Stacie thought about explaining, but it was probably best to say nothing on the topic. ‘Did you grow up in a similar environment?’
‘My late uncle had almond orchards.’ He seemed as though he might stop here, but after a moment he went on. ‘I worked there as a teenager.’