The closet artist...the wanna-be superhero...
Shy and self-conscious, Irelynn's natural instinct has always been to withdraw with her sketchbook. The last time she picked up a paintbrush, however, was the day her father killed himself.
Now put in the position as stand-in for her boss, Irelynn must overcome her wallflower ways and run Hearth Dairy Farm while he's away on vacation. A twist of fate leaves her short a manager, and ruggedly handsome Holden Hearth steps in to assist her.
Second son in the Hearth family, Holden welcomes the chance to spend time in his hometown and confront his disappointing past, even if it includes a bit of hard labor. He's grown from a geeky kid with glasses into a successful businessman. Despite what he went through - enduring the teasing and bullying - he's ready to show Sweet Home what he's become.
Working at the dairy brings Irelynn and Holden together, and the attraction is instant. But as Holden breaks down the personal barriers between them, uncovering the truth about Irelynn's artistic ability, she resists him every step of the way....until she, too, decides to confront her past and come to terms with who she really is.
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Copyright 2014 © Jayna Morrow
She turned to make her way back to her vehicle, when something shiny caught her eye. She tried not to panic as she stared in confusion at the luxury sports car sitting in the driveway of the house next door, Garrett’s rental property and Sparrow’s former home, that should have been vacant.
Concern for her own safety prickled the hairs at the nape of her neck when a man emerged from the house. Tanned, toned, and strikingly handsome, he started doing stretches in his running clothes.
Frozen where she stood, she desperately pleaded with her body to get into her car quickly and quietly. She could do this. Surely the man had a reason for being there. After all, squatters didn’t wear designer workout clothes and drive sports cars. She needed to read through Gabriel’s notes again. She had to have missed something about Garrett’s property.
Once she got back to the dairy, she’d sort it all out. There had to be some employee who could take time out of his busy schedule to run over there and check the property in her place. She was in charge, so she could assign this to someone, too. She had convinced herself she was actually being quite smart about the whole thing, managing her time wisely. She’d think on it later.
Right now she needed to get out of here and call Gabriel. Immediately. She’d taken a few shaky steps when she heard gravel crunching. The mystery man was on the move. Their eyes met. He was jogging in her direction. She picked up the pace. If only she could make it to her car before he did...
And then, as quickly as her feet could carry her, she stopped worrying about schedules and checklists and workload delegation. She had a bigger problem at hand.
Making it to safety before this strange man reached her.
She fumbled wildly with her keys before yanking the driver’s side door open, but even as she lunged into the seat, praying to God to help her, she felt strong fingers brush across her shoulder before she slammed the door. The man cried out in pain and pulled his hand back.
After locking the doors, she watched as the man shook his injured hand. He brought the tip of his pointer finger to his mouth and glared at her through the glass.
“Sorry,” she mouthed, cranking the engine. She shifted into reverse and started to back out. Then to herself, she mumbled, “Go find another victim, buddy.”
“Wait!” He waved his uninjured hand and took several steps back to give her space. Was he trying to show that he meant her no harm? She pressed the brake and glanced again at the shiny sports car. She cracked the window a tiny bit. “I’m not going to hurt you. My name’s Holden. I’m one of Gabriel’s brothers.”
Perfect. She’d just physically injured her boss’s brother.
“Holden Hearth from Dallas?” She tried to get a clear picture. He nodded. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t recognize you, and I thought you were a squatter. That house is supposed to be empty.”
“The only squatting I do is in the gym with weights.” Then, remembered his injured finger, held it up for her to view. She rolled the window down a bit more and squinted. “The nail’s already turning black, but nothing is broken. I think my chances of survival are pretty good.”
“Again, I am so sorry.”
“And I’m sorry for frightening you. I should have identified myself before approaching. It’s just that I already knew who you were and...”
“You know who I am?” She rolled the window down the rest of the way and allowed him to approach. Her fear subsided, and now she had the chance to examine him closer.
He was as tall as Gabriel, with the same rugged handsomeness but none of the cowboy side. This Hearth brother had a corporate edge. While Gabriel’s muscles were farming muscles from hard work, Holden’s heavily muscled body was built at a gym. He had to be in his thirties. There were five Hearth boys altogether, and she knew they were all in their thirties. He looked much younger though, even with the slightest touch of gray at his temples.
“Irelynn Rafferty, right?” he asked. His brown eyes twinkled as he talked. If she had her sketch book handy... “Don’t let me keep you from your work. If I know my brother, he’s left you with a list a mile long.” She still hadn’t found her voice to answer. “Are you okay? I didn’t scare you that bad, did I?”
“Oh no.” She mentally scolded herself for acting so dumb. “I quite often find myself at a loss for words.”
“It’s okay.” He was trying to be understanding, and she appreciated that.
“Yes, Gabriel left me with his entire workload.” She let her head drop and cast her eyes downward. “I’m afraid he has very large shoes to fill. This is going to be a real learning experience for me.” When she looked back up, she stared right into a pair of the bluest eyes she’d ever seen, right next to a grin that caused her heart to palpitate.
She was in trouble now.
Her blonde hair was thrown up in a messy bun atop her head. A style that was practical for work, but she regretted it right now. And she never had been the type to wear anything more than powder, mascara, and lip gloss. At the moment, she only had one of the three on, a touch of mascara before she zipped out the door to start her day much earlier than usual.
She wasn’t the only one staring. He was looking at her as if he saw something amazing in her eyes. It’s the way she’d always hoped a man would look at her one day. Surely she was misreading his intrigue.
“You’ve got an eyelash...right...there...” He gently brushed away the fallen lash with his blackened fingernail. Yes, she misread him. But what a sweet gesture.
She had long way to go in her life before she’d be fit for any man. She didn’t see that happening anytime soon. “Thank you. Well, I better get going. The dairy can’t run without me.”
“I’ll let you get on with your work, but try to relax. Work should be enjoyable.”
“Really? I thought work was work.”
“If you’re passionate about what you do, then it isn’t really work. I heard that somewhere, and it’s really good advice.” He gave her a cheesy salute, then stood with his arms crossed as she backed up and turned the car around. If she followed her true passion, she’d starve. What did he know?
She pressed the brake once again and rolled down the passenger window.
“Speaking of work? What brings you to Sweet Home?”
He looked momentarily stunned, like he was formulating the best answer. “I’m on vacation.”
“A vacation to Sweet Home, Texas?” She couldn’t resist this moment of sarcasm. He set himself up for this. “You must have been drawn in by all the bright lights and big sights of the Sweet Home metropolitan area.”
His lips twitched slightly. “If by bright lights you mean stars than shine brighter than anywhere else and the big sights are those of the wide-open countryside, then yes. Exactly.”
She blinked several times before carefully choosing her words. “Um, well then, enjoy your vacation.”
She didn’t wait for his response. She released the brake, pressed the gas, and steered away from him. Once her Camry rounded the corner, he disappeared from view.