Something Old, Something New (Chapter Two, page 1 of 1)

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In the morning she dressed in boots, jeans and a cool cotton blouse. She stood on the porch and gazed at the mountain. It wasn’t really a mountain by most people’s standards. It was barely more than 500 feet taller than her house at its peak. Still, it was wild and rugged. Its rock foundation frequently broke through the vegetation in jagged ledges. A mixed forest of deciduous and conifer trees formed a dense covering of mottled greens. The trees flowed gracefully down the mountain side, ending in the pasture where the goats used to graze.
It struck her suddenly that she missed the goat dairy – or at least what it represented. It had finally been in the black and she was actually making a profit. It was her money, her place and her decision. In two weeks Alex would be making the decisions and everything that once belonged to her parents would belong to him as well.
She shook her head to remove the unbidden thoughts. Why was she thinking about this now? She was the one who wanted Alex to make the decisions - and the goat dairy had never been more than an income to her. She wouldn’t need that now. Maybe that was it. She would no longer be paying her own way. That idea hadn’t troubled her with Josh – possibly because she had never thought of them as a married couple? Yet she had considered his home a sanctuary from the cold winters. If she had married him, she would have been using him. Was she using Alex?
She stepped off the porch and headed for the dairy. It wasn’t as if Alex would rule her life. He was the one with the money. It was only fair that he make the decisions about it. She would be free to do as she pleased all day – after all the chores were done. Her gaze lifted to the mountain behind the dairy. He didn’t want her to go up there alone - but then, she had never gone alone. First there had been her father and then Josh. Alex would take her up there now. Josh was wrong. Alex wouldn’t think it was foolish or childish. He would understand. Then why was she so reluctant to tell him?
The dairy door creaked on its hinges when she pulled it open. It smelled dusty and old. She flipped on the light and let the door swing shut on its own. Her footsteps echoed off the block walls.
Toenails clicked on concrete behind her and panting announced that Brutus had arrived for his breakfast. She turned to greet the Great Pyrenees dog that had guarded the goat heard so faithfully.
“Good morning, Brutus,” she said as she patted his head. “You must be hungry.”
She removed the lid from a plastic trash can and scooped out some food for him. Dumping it in his food bowl, she watched a moment as he wolfed it down. After cleaning his water bowl out in the big stainless steel sink, she filled the bowl with water and set it on the floor near his food bowl.
Flipping on the radio, she wandered into the barn. The smell of alfalfa came from a stack of hay in the corner. It would be used as winter fodder for the two goats she had kept. Both were pregnant. Her idea that they would provide meat and milk didn’t impress Alex. He said she could buy all the meat and milk she needed. Canned goat milk wasn’t the same and goat meat wasn’t exactly in high demand in this area. She still had some meat in her freezer, as well as some frozen colostrum. More than once someone had purchased frozen colostrum cubes from her to feed a newborn calf. The goats always produced way more than the babies needed.
When she walked back through the dairy, Brutus was lapping water. After a brief look at her, he plodded back out of the dairy. He spent most of the day guarding the goats. As much as she loved him, he had never been a pet. Her parents had always cautioned her against making pets of the farm animals. Some of them wound up on the table. There were pets, though - cats and a little Cocker Spaniel that died two weeks after Mom died. After Dad died, there was neither time nor emotional strength for a pet. Maintaining a relationship with Josh was exhausting enough.
She hadn’t recognized it as depression then, though. It wasn’t until after Alex arrived that she began to feel alive. Finally there had been direction in her life that had nothing to do with money - animals that had nothing to do with food on the table.
On that thought, the horses needed to be fed and watered. Leaving the dairy, she crossed the field and then the creek, hopping from one stone to another to avoid getting her boots wet. Up the hill to the house - across the well maintained lawn to the barn. When she entered the barn, Ed snorted and Princess nickered. Casper stuck her head out of the stall and eyed Carmen with anticipation. The barn smelled like horses and leather.
One by one Carmen brushed them with a curry comb while they munched a breakfast of oats. Releasing them to the corral, she watered them and then opened the gate to the pasture. Casper was the last to leave the corral, pausing beside Carmen for an extra dose of attention. Her pink nose felt like velvet. The filly was mostly white with a few brown spots – almost the opposite of her mother. Both Ed and Princess were a red-brown color with white speckles on their haunches – typical Appaloosas.
Carmen sighed as Casper finally moved away. The three of them headed out to pasture. They were so graceful, their muscles rippling under shiny coats as they moved. She had always loved horses, and a horse ranch had been a dream she knew would never come true. Everyone should have at least one unachievable dream. Alex had made the horse ranch dream an achievable dream now, though. She’d trade it for the one he took away in a heartbeat.
She turned toward the house. That wasn’t fair. It wasn’t his fault - he wanted children too. Still, he was willing to give up the idea in exchange for adopting a child. Maybe the doctors were right. Then again, maybe they weren’t. They hadn’t tried yet, so how did they know for sure?
Her face warmed at the thought. What would it be like making love to him? For a moment she let her imagination dwell on the feel of that lean body against hers.
She sighed. It wasn’t proper to think of such things, but it was certainly enjoyable. No one needed to know about it anyway – only god. Thinking about it and acting on it were two different things . . . weren’t they? Was she really so different than Lori?
She pushed the thought from her mind. Of course she was. Lori’s desire wasn’t born of love. It was born of lust.
In his bedroom, she began stripping the sheets off the bed. Picking up his pillow and hugging it, she closed her eyes and breathed deeply, enjoying the scent of his cologne. What would it be like to sleep next to him – wake up next to him? Would they make love at night or in the morning – or both?
She blushed and jerked the pillow case off. Why did her mind keep going back to that?
After changing his sheets and throwing the soiled ones into the washer, she left the house. She’d come back at noon and put them in the dryer.
Once again she crossed the field – this time back to her house. By the time the chickens were fed the day was getting hot. Returning to the relative cool of the dairy, she picked up a broom. There was no reason to clean the dairy. She had done that when they sold the goats, but then she had been in a rush. Now she wanted to savor some memories. And so, with the radio on, she swept the floor and remembered the first time Alex had held her in his arms as they danced in the barn. Maybe it had been a silly thing to do, but it had certainly brought her closer to his heart – although she hadn’t thought so at the time. Would they have been married months ago if she had acquiesced? Would he have cared if there had been someone else before him? Was he sexually frustrated, and did he think about other women?
She tossed the broom aside and felt vindicated when it bounced off the wall. Everyone thought she was being immature about this – as if there were something ridiculous about the idea of a 25-year-old virgin. Maybe Mary was right – and yet, that would mean her parents had been wrong. How could people go to church on Sunday with one set of morals and spend the rest of the week with another?
She snapped the radio off and left the dairy. It didn’t need to be cleaned and she was out of the mood. The garden needed weeding anyway.
Alex was wrong. She didn’t have enough to do . . . not meaningful work, anyway. It would be comforting if she thought things would change after they got married, but actually, she would have less to do – and more time to think about what was missing in their lives.
It was getting close to noon when Carmen finished weeding in her garden. Drenched in sweat and covered with dirt, she decided to go swimming in the creek. Slipping into a modest two-piece swimsuit with a full bottom part, she grabbed a towel and headed out at a brisk walk for the creek. Brutus came running out of nowhere, his tail curled in its alert position and his big tongue hanging out.
“Aren’t you afraid the goats are going to miss you?” she asked, patting him on the head. “You miss the herd too, don’t you?”
For a few minutes they walked side-by-side, listening to the cicadas sing in the old oak tree by the pond. Somewhere in the distance a Bob-White quail called. Dust drifted down the road from a passing car. Josh must be working in the field today. For her, the lazy days of summer hadn’t changed much since she was a child. Except for a few years of working at Wal-Mart, she had been able to stay on the farm. The mornings and evenings had been packed with chores, but there was usually time during the middle of the day to enjoy some time outside.
The soothing sound of water running over stones greeted them as they neared the creek. Brutus wandered upstream, pausing to lap at the cool water. The bleached skeleton of a huge old Sycamore tree lay near the creek. Carmen tossed the towel on a branch, kicked off her sandals and walked down the creek to the rope swing. It was nothing but a long rope with a piece of broomstick tied to the bottom, but it was functional. Grabbing the rope, she pulled it back a little way from the creek. Reaching high and taking a firm grip on the rope, she lifted herself, clamping the rope between her knees and letting her feet rest on the piece of broomstick. The deep part of the pool was small, but years of practice had taught her where to land. She swung out and at the precise moment, let go, holding her nose and plunging into the water feet first.
The water was icy and she gasped as she came to the surface. The pool was only wide enough for a few strokes, which she covered quickly. Grabbing the worn roots of an old tree, she climbed out of the pool. It wouldn’t take more than a few minutes in this heat before she would be ready to jump back into the water. Pulling her hair back, she squeezed water out of it and then fluffed it with her fingers to release the natural curls.
On the other side of the creek, Brutus plodded his way over to a tree. If he hadn’t done so, she might not have seen the lean figure lounging against the tree. Alex’s expression could only be described as awed.
She recovered from the shock of finding him there, and laughed.
“By the expression on your face, I’m guessing you’ve never used a rope swing.”
His eyes warmed. “No, I’ve seen swings before.” His gaze traveled over her body. “I wish you wouldn’t do that when I’m not here.”
“I know the creek pretty well,” she said. “It isn’t as dangerous as it looks.”
His amused gaze met hers. “No, I suppose the possibility of snakes does pose a bigger threat.”
“Snakes?” She giggled. “Why Alex, I do believe you have a phobia about snakes.”
He continued to watch her without comment, but the amusement had left his eyes. That was it. Everyone had something they feared. Snakes were his weakness.
He shrugged, a slow fluid moment that was somehow sexy.
“You’re not afraid of snakes?”
“No. I have a healthy respect for them, though.”
“What about people?” His expression was unreadable.
“People?” she asked with a frown. “Am I afraid of people?”
He shook his head, pushing away from the tree. “What about someone with a camera? There are some people who would pay good money for a video of that.”
She laughed without humor. “Of a country hick using a rope swing? It’s not like I was doing acrobatics.”
He crossed his arms over his chest and surveyed her body. His sober gaze came back to her face.
“You can’t be that naïve.”
Warmth invaded her face when she realized his intent. Well, actually she could, but he didn’t need to know that.
“Who would come clear out here in the boonies to take a video of me?” She glanced down at her swim suit. It wasn’t as if she were wearing a bikini, and her only physical attributes were a flat abdomen and smooth curves – well, those and her breasts, but they were over proportioned - out of balance, so to speak. Other than that, she was short and a little underweight. If popular models were an accurate indication, people preferred tall women. Her gaze lifted to Alex.
His smile was wry and his eyes mocked her. “I know I won’t need a video to remember.” He dropped his hands. “I was concerned when you didn’t answer your phone. Didn’t you bring it with you?”
Avoiding his curious gaze, she walked over to her towel. “I was afraid it might get wet.” Actually, it never crossed her mind, but that wouldn’t sooth him, and if she had thought about it, that would have been her reasoning. She snatched the towel down and wrapped it around her body.
“You left work and came over here just because I didn’t answer the phone?”
He shook his head, his attention finally leaving her torso. “I was coming home for lunch. Next time take your phone. It’s replaceable – you’re not.”
She smiled to herself. That was how he got away with giving orders. If he had left it at ‘next time, take your phone’, she would have felt compelled to argue. No one would argue when someone was telling them they were irreplaceable. Besides, had she known he was coming home for lunch, she could have fixed him something to eat. If she hadn’t left her phone in the bedroom all morning, she would have known.
“I’ll fix you something to eat.”
“Don’t bother. I’ll make a sandwich. If you come over here dressed like that, I’m going to wind up in trouble again.”
A warm flush crawled up her neck. She shrugged. “Well, I’ll go back to the house then. I’ll see you tonight.” She turned toward the house.
“Carmen,” his voice followed her.
She turned back to him and he lifted a hand, beckoning.
“Come on. You can wear one of my shirts.”
She laughed and splashed through the creek to join him. One of his shirts would certainly be unattractive on her body.
At the house, she abandoned the towel and put her arms into the sleeves of one of his shirts while he held it for her. Fastening the snaps, she rolled up the sleeves and washed her hands. Alex was already putting sandwich meat on the table, so she got the condiments from the refrigerator.
They ate in comfortable silence for a while before he finally spoke.
“They’re going to bring the buffalo over tomorrow. Is that alright with you?”
“Fine,” she said. “What do I need to do?”
“Nothing yet. I’ll have them in the small pasture for a while until they get accustomed to their new surroundings. I’ll feed them for now. I’d rather you didn’t get too close to them until they adjust to the change.” He started to take a bite of his sandwich and then stopped. “Oh, and Princess is seven months pregnant.”
Carmen grinned. “That’s wonderful! Our first little foal – I can hardly wait.”
His brows lifted. “Do you realize that’s the first time you said ‘our’ anything?”
“Well, it’s my mare and your stud. That would make it our foal.”
He stared at her for a moment. “You sure sucked the fun out of that moment.”
Carmen made a face and continued eating, her mind on the information he had given her.
“The gestation period for a horse is eleven months, so this can’t be Ed’s foal.”
He grinned. “Actually, it is. I knew about Princes because I took Ed to her for stud service back in January. I talked the owner into selling her to me.”
Three horses in one sale. She put the sandwich on her plate. “That must have cost you a pretty penny.”
He shrugged and swallowed the last bite of his sandwich. “Not really. I heard the owner was in a bind, and that’s what made me think of it.”
She sighed. “I can’t imagine you taking advantage of a person down on their luck. You gave them a fair price . . . I’m betting better than fair.”
His brows lifted. “Thanks. And you’re right. But I could afford it.”
He stood and leaned down to kiss her lips. “I’ve got to get back to work. I’ll see you tonight.”
Being able to afford it had little to do with it. Lots of people, wealthy or not, would take advantage of a situation like that. Alex would see it as an opportunity to help – simply because of his nature.
She stood and followed him to the door. There he paused and looked down at the shirt. A twinkle came into his eyes.
“I think I like that shirt better on you.”
She glanced down at the shirt, her face warming again. When he reached out and started unsnapping the shirt, she looked up at him quizzically.
“What are you doing?”
His sigh was exaggerated. “Taking one last look before I have to leave.” Pulling the shirt open, he surveyed her swimsuit, oblivious to her embarrassment. Finally he slipped a hand around her waist and drew her close.
“I’m still wet,” she warned.
He didn’t falter, and when his lips met hers, she melted in his arms. Such wonderful moments they had when he was leaving and no harm could be done. It would be so exciting once they were married.
He held her close with one arm while the other slid up her side, following the curve of her hips and waist. It tentatively paused below her swimsuit top. His lips caressed hers and the hand began its assent again, the thumb catching under the suit, lifting it to expose the bottom of her breast.
She stiffened and brushed his hand away.
He groaned, his lips leaving her mouth and starting down her neck.
“Carmen,” he moaned against her neck.
Belatedly realizing he was fully aroused, she gently pushed away from him.
“You’ll be late getting back to work.”
He made a face. “Yeah, I guess.” Reluctantly he released her and started through the door. “I’ll see you tonight.”
She watched as his truck left the yard. The bake lights came on briefly as he slowed down for the bridge and then the truck disappeared into a cloud of tawny dust.

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