Authors: Michelle Lynn Brown
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian Romance
“No need to thank us,” May ushered her toward the door. “As soon as I got the call that you were heading into town, I called the other ladies, and we rounded up some food for you. It’s in the fridge, and I’m sure Nate will be a gentleman and help you get your things in.” Her gaze flicked to Nathan, silently dispatching him to his duties.
Nathan gave a short salute and began pulling the luggage out of the truck, wondering about the town’s new English teacher. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of her. She wore a silk pantsuit and heels to take a road trip across the country, but was pleased with the simple house. She was uneasy around him, unable to look at him for long, and always jumping at the sound of his voice. She was like a tightly wound spring, ready to dash at the first movement he made.
David barked, pulling his thoughts from the woman. “None of your business.” Nathan mumbled a reminder to himself.
When Nathan entered the home with the first batch of luggage, May was explaining to her, “Now, you have this place for a month before you need to make a decision. Don’t feel obliged to take it, just because we did this. Keep it, or find a new place; no one will be hurt if you do.” May added in a conciliatory whisper, “And if they are, they will have to take it up with me.”
“I . . . Mrs. Williams, I don’t know what to say, I . . .”
“It’s May, and you don’t have to say anything. The expression on your face shows how much you appreciate it.” May turned to Nathan, “Now don’t just plop them right there, take them to the master bedroom, down the hall, on your left.”
Nate chuckled, “Yes Ma’am.”
He winked at Kristina as he carried her suitcases off to the room.
As he placed her suitcases on the floor, he heard May say, “I better get home now. You go take a bath and relax; tomorrow will be a busy day for you. When word gets out that you’ve arrived, every busybody in this town will be clamoring to meet you,”
Nathan emerged from the bedroom as Kristina and May headed for the door. “Thank you again for all you and the ladies did for me.”
“Think nothing of it, honey.” May pulled the keys out of her pocket. “Besides, it gave those women in the ladies’ group something to do besides flap their jaws all day." She turned to Nathan, “Make sure you don’t go slacking after I leave, you hear me?”
“She’s already threatened me with pepper spray once tonight; trust me, I will be on my best behavior.”
Kristina’s face suffused with color at his comment.
“No doubt you deserved it.” May hooked her arm through Kristina's. “If you need anything, just give me a call. I left my number on the fridge.
Nathan followed them out the door. After May left, Kristina turned to get some of her bags from his truck.
“Whoa, there! I’ll get that.”
“It’s no big deal,” she began to grab for the bags again, but he interrupted her again.
“If word were to get around that I let you carry your own bags into the house, Mrs. Williams would have my hide. And I like my hide just the way it is.”
His comment earned him a small smile, and he watched as she went back in the house. After unloading the rest of her things, he found her standing in the kitchen, leaning against one of the counters. “Well, that’s about it, if you...” His voice trailed off as he saw the tears in her eyes, threatening to spill over.
The sound of his voice caused her to jump. “Hey, are you okay?” He placed his hand on her shoulder, but she immediately turned away.
“Yes, I’m just overwhelmed,” she added with a laugh, “and really tired.”
Nathan reached around her and grabbed his car keys from the counter. When his arm brushed hers, he felt her stiffen again.
“Well, then I’ll let you get some rest. If you need anything, just give May or me a call.” He jotted his number beneath May's, and then turned to leave.
He jogged to his truck and opened the door so David could jump in the seat. When he paused before cranking up the truck, the dog let out a low whimper. Nathan turned to his dog, and rubbed his head affectionately. “I know you have a thing for the ladies, but don’t get any ideas with this one. She might be as pretty as a porcelain doll, but she’s about as skittish as you were when we first got you.” Popping the truck into reverse, he headed for his home. As they left the driveway, David hung his head out of the open window and let out a low moan.
After Nathan left, she stood in the kitchen, dwelling on the impression she had made so far.
Get it together Kristina
, she thought to herself. She headed for the back rooms and checked out the second bedroom first, and smiled as she saw that it not only contained a full-sized bed for guests, but a small desk, perfect for her work.
The master bedroom was off to the left, separated by a small bathroom. She sighed at the inviting sight of the four-poster bed, and her body reminded her that the bed is where it wanted to be. Locating her toiletries in her overnight bag, she showered. Moments later, she was snuggled deep under the homemade quilt that smelled faintly of roses.
Closing her eyes, she welcomed sleep, but the sight of Nathan, and the perpetual half-smile that always seemed to be playing on his handsome lips, flashed before her eyes. Kristina buried her face in the pillow with a groan of mortification. She thought of how foolishly she acted tonight. With a moan she remembered that May also knew about the pepper spray. What was everyone going to think of her? Her last conscious thought was that, with all hope, he might not tell anyone else about her actions.
The warm fingers of sunlight, filtering through the slats in the blinds, brushed over Kristina’s skin, dragging her reluctant body to consciousness. She smiled again at the welcoming sight of the room, but the insistent growl of her stomach wouldn’t allow her to remain in bed.
After a quick shower, Kristina stood before the open refrigerator. When May told her the women rounded up some food for her, she assumed a leftover or two. Instead, Kristina found Tupperware containers stacked in the refrigerator, filled with casseroles, lasagna, deserts, pasta salads, and vegetables. It was apparent that when the women of Hamilton set out to do something, they didn’t just go halfway. The pantry attested to this fact…cereal, rice, canned goods and a loaf of bread graced the shelves.
Deciding that a bowl of cereal wasn’t going to be enough to appease her voracious appetite, she settled on a delicious-looking casserole with chicken, rice and vegetables, all covered with cheese. As her meal heated, she thumbed through the phone book, jotting down addresses of where she needed to go today. She would start with Mike's Garage.
She had just finished her prayers and was about to sink her teeth into the food, when a knock sounded at the door. Much to her chagrin, she found Nathan on her doorstep.
“Good morning,” he said, doffing his baseball cap and running a hand through his sandy brown hair. Her eyes were drawn to the way his hair seemed to curl around his fingers as they moved through his thick hair. “I was afraid you might still be asleep,”
Then why did you come over?
But she smiled and allowed him to enter. “I was just eating breakfast.”
Kristina wanted to growl in frustration as he smiled down at her with that unnerving smile, his hat folded between his hands. Though Kristina desired nothing more than to usher him out the front door, she offered him a seat, hoping he would decline, say what he had to say, and then leave.
“I came by to let you know that Mike looked at your car last night," Nathan began, sitting down at the table across from her plate, leaving her no choice but to finish eating in front of him. She felt his dissecting eyes on her as she sat across from him and delicately placed the napkin back on her lap. She began to lift the fork to her mouth, but paused when he just continued to stare. "And what did he find out?”
“Well, the good thing is, there’s nothing major wrong with your car.” She was about to take another bite when he added, "You know you could have called me when you saw there was nothing to eat for breakfast. I would have taken you out to eat.”
“There is plenty to eat.” A pretty blush stained her cheeks, “I didn’t eat last night, and I didn’t feel like breakfast food this morning.”
What does he care what I eat for breakfast?
Attempting to move the visit along, she asked, “So what is wrong?”
Besides you being here. You make me so nervous, watching everything I do with such a critical eye.
David had watched her every move for five years... Trying to put her fears aside, she took a bite of the chicken casserole, and devoured it as quickly as she wished she could swallow her fear.
She vaguely heard him say, “Mike said you are lucky, he thought it might be…”
Fire scorched her throat, and her fork clattered on her plate
Jumping to his feet, he came behind her just as she grabbed for her milk. He yanked her out of the chair and wrapped his arms around her middle, bringing her back up against his body. Fear coursed through her veins, “Get your hands off me!” she choked out, clawing at his hands around her middle.
As soon as he released her, she grabbed her fork and whirled around, glaring up at him.
They faced each other for a moment, and she jumped when he reached for her plate. He smelled the contents and started to laugh. Yanking the fork from her hand, he took a bite of her food.
“Sophia’s chicken casserole, guaranteed to singe at least a few of your taste buds,” he laughed again. “I thought you were choking!”
The reality of the situation crept into gradual focus, until color suffused her cheeks. Her chest was still heaving as she struggled to breathe over the fear strangling her. To mask it, she joked, “I always seem to be threatening you with something."
“To tell you the truth, I’m relieved you weren’t choking. I’m not too sure I really knew what I was doing.”
She jumped when he lifted his hand to her face, but he merely brushed a tear trailing down her cheek. She saw the question and concern in his eyes.
Get it together, Kristina.
“Wow, I guess it was really spicy,” he said.
Hopping onto his excuse, she agreed, “I felt like my capacity to breath was severely encumbered.” She turned from him, and dried her tears.
Grabbing her plate, he scraped the food into the trash, set the plate on the counter and offered, “Why don’t I take you out to breakfast at April’s, and then I can take you anywhere you need to go? Mike said the car would be finished by the end of today.”
She held up her hand, and started to protest, but he interrupted. “I won’t take no for an answer.”
“I don’t want to tie up your day; I’m sure you have a lot to do.”
“Nonsense, I’m off until Monday, and this way I can make up for the times I have scared you.” He held out his arm toward the door and added, "It will be my pleasure to show you off to this town.”
She looked down at her milk-soaked blouse and pants. “Hopefully not like this!”
He smiled at her quip, and a blush rose in her cheeks at his warm smile. “Let me just get changed.”
A few minutes later, Kristina and Nathan arrived at April’s Diner. As they stepped inside, Kristina’s senses were assaulted with the smell of bacon and strong coffee, and the symphony of clanking dishes and early morning coffee conversation. Nathan led them to a red vinyl booth near the window, and she slid across, over a desperate duct tape repair in the seat. He handed her a plastic covered menu that carried the tiniest remnant of another’s lunch, crusted in the corner, hiding from the meticulous hand of the bus-boy that was diligently cleaning the tables nearby.
The server came over, tossing a good-natured comment over her shoulder to a fellow patron. Nancy, as her worn nametag declared, filled their coffee cups without asking. “I’ll be back in a few to take your order."
Kristina’s barren stomach rumbled as her gaze fell upon the description of the Machaca Breakfast Burrito. “What’s Machaca?"
“Basically it is shredded beef.” He added with a smirk, “It’s safe, not too spicy.”
While Nathan still scanned the menu, she looked out the window. The area surrounding the diner was much like the landscaping outside her house, multicolored rocks and cacti, but not a blade of grass in sight. The lines for the parking spaces were a faded yellow memory, and the parking lot was brimming with pick-up trucks.
I have gone from trendy cafes in New York, to a common diner in a small rural town in New Mexico
. She smiled into her coffee cup.
Just then, a short, portly woman came up to their booth and said, “You must be Ms. Talbot. Well, aren‘t you the prettiest thing.” Without giving her a moment to respond, the woman continued. “I’m April, and it is a pleasure to have you here. My son, William, is going to be one of your students. Don’t let him fool you, he is a smart kid. He is just lazy and doesn’t care about anything but football. Now," she said, pulling a notepad out of her apron. “What can I get you for breakfast?”
After they placed their orders, they were interrupted again, this time by a tall, robust man. He towered over their table as he thrust out his hand and smiled, “I’m Mayor Williams; I believe you met my wife last night." His large brown hand enveloped hers, and she smiled as he continued, “I just wanted to say, on behalf of the entire town, we are pleased to have you here, Ms. Talbot.”