Though it causes me pain, I break the kiss that leaves both of us panting. “You had your first kiss, now go,” I rasp, bending down to swipe her coat off the floor, wrapping it around her trembling body. She doesn’t want to leave and she’s making it obvious. Her mouth is swollen, her eyes bright with arousal. If I want her to save herself, I have to be harsh, even if it kills me. “I said, get out, Cassie.” I push through the agony of watching her eyes flood with tears. “You’re just a child.”
As expected, that statement stings her pride. Especially today, when she legally became an adult and was so proud of that fact. I hate myself as she runs crying from the bunkhouse into the night, but I don’t chase after her. As badly as I want to. I will always do what’s best for her, and this is one of those times.
I’m saving you, Cassie.
I believe that. I do. So why is my chest splitting down the middle?
I swipe away another army of tears as they roll down my cheeks.
It’s the morning after my birthday and I’ve picked a secluded spot way out in the pasture to lick my wounds. I’m not sure how I would explain my blotchy cheeks and red eyes to my father, so I’m staying far away from the farm.
For the thousandth time this morning, I replay the scene inside Miles’s bunkhouse last night. I can’t believe he rejected me. Have I been imagining his affection for me this whole time? Was I naïve to think I would show up naked and he’d fall at my feet, asking for my hand in marriage?
Oh yeah, I was. Embarrassingly, stupidly naïve.
As soon as I’m done having this cry, I’m going to head back to the house to Google ways to change my identity and flee the country. How am I ever going to look him in the eye again, knowing he doesn’t think of me as anything but a child?
My heart wails like a lone wolf in my chest and I flop back in the tall grass, wishing there were clouds in the sky, so I’d at least have a chance of getting struck by lightning. More tears track paths down my temples and I don’t bother wiping these ones away. Maybe I’ll just cry forever—
An unfamiliar face appears above me.
A scream lodges in my throat and I push up on my hands, crab walking backwards a few feet. “Wh-who are you?” With my heart going a hundred miles an hour, I suck in a breath and scream at the tops of my lungs, even though it’s futile. I’m way too far from the farm. “Miles!”
How telling it is that I scream for him and not my own father.
Whether or not he rejected me, Miles would still guard me with his life. My father loves me, but I’ve never been quite so sure he would do the same.
“Now, hold on, miss,” says the man, in a Yankee accent. New York or Boston, maybe? “I won’t do you any harm.”
The sun has been in my eyes, so I’ve only caught the barest glimpse of the stranger. His head blocks the light now, bringing his face into view and…my tummy gives a little kick, my toes curling in the grass. Who is this man?
His hair is black as night, unruly, eyes a deep, haunting gold.
He’s extending a hand to me and I see it’s covered in tattoos. Rough ones, with no discernable rhyme or reason. My, he’s tall. Almost as tall as Miles and I’ve spent most of my life thinking Miles was a giant.
I’d feel so small between them.
I’m not sure where that thought comes from, but it makes goosebumps rake up my arms and my palms turn damp. Stop being an idiot, Cassie. You could be in danger right now. How many times has Miles warned me to stay out of situations where I’m alone with men? Hundreds. I square my shoulders and try to sound confident, instead of fearful. “Who are you?”
The young man visibly shakes himself. “I’m sorry, I…just. Hell if you don’t have me tongue tied. I was driving by down on the road and I thought you might be a mirage or something.” His golden gaze falls to my bare legs and he curses, wetting his lips. “I’m Sam. I’m interviewing for a farm hand position just up the road.”
“Oh.” Relief floods me at finding out he’s not a random drifter. “That’s my daddy’s farm. I’m—”
“Gorgeous. You’re…” His laugh sounds pained. “I’m still not sure you’re real.”
Even though I know I should be wary, after the harsh way Miles spoke to me last night, Sam’s compliments are like a balm on my open cuts. “Thank you,” I murmur, holding out my hand for a shake. “I’m also Cassie.”