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When chance forces Meredith Moore to seek refuge at Ward Sanderson’s Mexican estate, she thinks the worst is behind her. But her host, magnetic and mysterious, is alternately cold, then kind.
Winning the trust of Ward’s small daughter and invalid bother, Meredith discovers the warmth that she, a foster child, never knew. Yet is it Ward’s love she craves, and the passion smoldering in the depths of his amber eyes…
The Planting Season:
Iris Ouverson had poured her energies into the family farm she cultivated with her sister, and the appearance of John Lang was unexpected-and infuriating. Suddenly the land was theirs to share, an idea she couldn’t accept. But John was was determined to prove his dedication to the farm and his feelings for Iris. But when disaster struck the farm, it destroyed their fragile trust, forcing a confrontation that risked everything—and taught Iris that only learning to grow together would bring them a harvest of love..
BOOKS BY DOROTHY GARLOCK
After the Parade
The Edge of Town
A Gentle Giving
High on a Hill
The Listening Sky
Love and Cherish
More than Memory
On Tall Pine Lake
A Place Called Rainwater
Ribbon in the Sky
River of Tomorrow
The Searching Hearts
Sins of Summer
Song of the Road
This Loving Land
Train from Marietta
A Week from Sunday
Wild Sweet Wilderness
Wind of Promise
"OH, FOR CRYIN' out loud! Damn that man! He's out there again."
"He is? Let me see! Ohhhh . . ." The high-pitched squeal of the teenager caused the shaggy brown dog to lift his jowls off the floor, cock his head, point his ears, and let out a husky sound between a bark and a growl.
"Lay right there and bark, you worthless hound. You wouldn't get up and bite anyone if he was carrying off everything in this house." The tall blond woman's hair swept straight back from her forehead and hung down her back in a single thick braid.
"Where, Iris? What's he doing? Ah . . . Oooh . . . look at that red hair!"
"Get away from the window, Brenda," Iris said sharply. You'll get nail polish on the drapes," she finished lamely.
"That ain't it, and you know it. You just don't want him to see us looking."
"Don't say ain't." Iris stomped across the room and flung herself down in a chair. The stuffing was beginning to show on the padded arm, and she carefully straightened the crocheted doily she had pinned there to cover it. "That . . . bastard has gone to the zoning commission, sure as hell!"
"Don't swear! You won't let me."
"You're fourteen and I'm thirty. That should give me a license to swear if I want to," she said crossly.
"You're thirty-two, Iris. I can count. And I'm almost fifteen." Brenda sat down cross-legged on the floor beside the dog and shook the bottle of nail enamel.
"You're just what I need today, snippy little sister. You spill that polish on the carpet and you'll wish this old woman were in East Siberia."
"You don't have to be an old maid. You could have married Stanley."
"Oh, for heaven's sake! There's no such thing as an old maid in this day and age. And don't start on Stanley. I've got enough on my mind without your bringing up that creep." Iris stretched her denim-clad legs out in front of her and crossed her booted ankles. She reached behind her and pulled the long, thick braid over her shoulder before she rested her head against the back of the chair and folded her arms over her chest. "And please be quiet. I've got to think."
"You've been thinking for a couple of months," Brenda grumbled. "A few more minutes' of thinking won't change a thing."
"I was depending on that wishy-washy zoning commission to keep that trailer out of my grove."
"It's not a trailer, it's a mobile home. And it isn't your grove." Brenda blew on the blood-red polish she had applied to her nails.
"Enjoy those claws while you can, my girl. It's almost planting season, and you're bound to lose those nails when your pretty little hands are glued to the steering wheel of the tractor every minute you're out of school."
"What's he going to do? I thought he was coming out here to learn to be a farmer. How is he going to learn anything if I do all the work?" Brenda capped the polish bottle, and rolled over onto her stomach so she could get a better look at her scowling sister.
Iris had always looked younger than her age until recently. Now the signs of her years of struggle to farm the land and supply a stable, comfortable home for her sister were beginning to show. Faint lines of strain had appeared lately between her brows and at the corners of her eyes and mouth. Her sun-tanned face often had a pensive look, with shadows of worry beneath her eyes.
Iris's wide mouth, its lower lip fuller and softer than the upper one, turned down at the corners, reflecting her less-than-happy mood. Her blond hair was her most startling feature, but her eyes ran a close second. They were wide and blue-gray, deep-set, and tilted at the outer corners, under well-defined brows only a shade darker than her hair. They glared now at the young girl who was more like a daughter than a sister.
"You know I don't like for you to bring that dog into the living room," she said irritably. "He gets hair and mud and Lord knows what else all over the carpet."
"Just cause you're mad and can't do anything about him, you're taking your spite out on Arthur." Brenda rolled onto her back and scratched the dog's shaggy head. "Ain't that right, Arthur?"
"Don't say ain't."
Brenda sighed heavily. "I haven't been able to see him up close. Do you think he'll come to the house?"
"I sure as hell hope not!"
"Don't swear." With the quickness of youth, Brenda flipped up onto her knees so she could rest her chin on Iris's slim thigh. "It isn't so bad, Iris. He could have moved into the house, you know."
"Over my dead body!"
Brenda looked up with a sympathetic smile. "Couldn't you vamp him?"
"Vamp him? You've lost your marbles!" Iris got to her feet and stood with her hands on her hips, looking down at the younger girl. Brenda was long-limbed and slightly gawky, due to her height. Her nose, lightly dusted with freckles, turned up pertly, giving her face a pixieish look. Her hair was several shades darker than her sister's, and parted in the back, with bunches tied with ribbon hanging over each shoulder.
"Dad should have had his head examined for taking old Mrs. Lang on as a partner," Iris said. "I tried to get him to go to the bank, but he was bound and determined to sell half the farm to her. He must have thought she would die before he did and would leave it to him in her will." Iris began to walk up and down the room, paused to move the curtain aside so she could peek out toward the grove, snorted, and let the curtain fall back in place. "That fool is out there stepping off the place where he's going to put that rolling shoe box!"
"I don't think anyone knew old Mrs. Lang had a grandson in the Navy. She used to talk about Junior. It was Junior this and Junior that. I thought she was just making it up."
"Well, she wasn't. John D. Lang, Jr. is living proof."
"I thought only really old men retired, Iris. Does he have to work?"
"I don't know about that. The lawyer told me that he went into the Navy when he was eighteen and retired after twenty years of service," Iris said drily.
"Then he's not young! Oh, shoot! He's old. Thirty-eight . . . wow!"
Iris raised her eyes to the ceiling. "Yeah. He's practically got one foot in the grave."
"That's for sure! And he's too old to learn to farm. Maybe he likes you, Iris. He wouldn't be too old for you."
"Thanks a lot." Iris turned her head away, hiding her face, suddenly contorted with the pain of remembering her forty-five-year-old father bringing home a bride less than half his age. A year later, the year she graduated from high school, Brenda was born. A year after that the young bride took off for parts unknown, disillusioned with being married to an old man who didn't have the money she thought he had. During Iris's college years her father hired a woman to care for Brenda, but since then it had been she alone who'd raised her halfsister.
"Arrr-woof!" Arthur got lazily to his feet and started for the kitchen door.
"You may be a pussycat, Arthur, but you've got super ears." Brenda shot a guarded look at her sister. "He's coming to the house. What are you gonna do?"
"Meet him outside." Iris stomped through the dining room to the kitchen, grabbed a worn denim jacket hanging on a straight-backed chair, and jerked it on over her hooded sweatshirt. She stood on the back steps, digging the hood out from under the back of her jacket, and watched the source of her irritation come toward her.
He was a bear of a man. His height topped her five-foot ten-inch frame by half a foot. Broad in the shoulders and chest, yet solid and lean through the waist and hips, he had long, well-muscled legs and walked with a rolling gait. His easy stride brought him quickly across the graveled drive, past the black iron water pump set on a concrete slab, and through the swinging gate.
Iris stood stock-still, head tilted back, arms folded. She stared in mixed exasperation and desperation, her smoky eyes analytical as they moved over his strong neck, not exactly handsome face, and the shock of brick-red hair. She remembered his face as being harsher when she'd voiced her disapproval after he'd calmly announced his intention to participate actively in the operation of the farm. They had been sitting in the lawyer's office, and Iris had declared in no uncertain terms she thought it stupid—no, downright asinine—for him to assume he could be any practical help on the farm.
The only other time they had met was when she stood on the steps, as she was doing now, and told him she was not going to permit him to move "a long, skinny boxcar of a thing" onto her homestead, and if the prefabricated dwelling had any place at all in the scheme of things it was in a trailer park in town, and not out here.
Iris was slightly breathless with anger as she shifted her gaze from his face to the figure of the zoning commissioner, who was getting into his car, and then back to his face. Smile lines bracketed his wide mouth; his thick red hair looked as if he'd been in a windstorm, and it glistened in the sun; his brilliant, pure blue eyes glinted as he assessed her stance. He was pleased with himself, Iris realized, and she was filled with even more resentment.
"The commissioner says there's nothing in the county ordinance to prevent me from putting the mobile home right out there." John waved his hand toward the grove of pine and spruce trees that had been planted by her grandfather as a windbreak when he'd built the house eighty years before.
Iris stiffened visibly but didn't speak. His heavy, brown brows lowered in a frown as he noticed her reaction. Before he could speak again the screen door opened behind Iris and nudged her aside so Brenda and Arthur could come out.
"Hi. You must be Brenda Ouverson."
"In living color. You must be Junior. Come here, Arthur. That's rude!" She grabbed the dog's collar and pulled him back. "He has to check out everything and everybody that comes on this place," she said with an apologetic grin. "He'll get used to you, but I doubt if Iris will."
"Knock it off, Brenda," Iris said sharply.
"I'm afraid Miss Ouverson will have to get used to me or else sell me her part of the farm." He spoke to Brenda, but his narrowed gaze was on Iris.
"Call her Iris, Junior. Kids at school call her Miss Ouverson when she subs, but nobody else does."
"My name's John." He bent down to rub the dog behind the ears with long, strong fingers. "The plumber will be out tomorrow to run the gas and water lines. It will be simpler if they tie onto your meters and we share the expense."
A quick, nervous spate of words broke from Iris's tight lips. "Why are you so determined to bring that thing out here? This homestead is eighty years old. My father made every effort to preserve its character, and so will I. The barns are old, but they've been maintained beautifully through the years, with an eye to keeping the original design of the buildings. This homestead is graced with an air of dignity and a sense of permanence. You roll that pencil box in here and you'll not only ruin that grove, but you'll create an eyesore the whole county will be talking about."
"You know the alternative," he said softly.
"You know damn well it's unthinkable for you to move into the house with us."
"Everything is thinkable," he corrected with a rueful grin. "But I expect it would give the conservative Iowans in town something interesting to gossip about."
"You mean they'd think you were sleeping with Iris? Ha! Fat chance! She won't even kiss Stanley." Brenda nonchalantly swung her leg over Arthur to hold him between her knees while she looked critically at her polished nails.
Iris was almost giddy with embarrassment. Her eyes glittered with both anger and despair, and she turned the full force of them on her sister. "That's enough out of you, Brenda. You've got chores."
"Okay, okay," Brenda said with a lift of her shoulders. "Just don't get your motor all revved up over nothing."
John reached out a big hand and clapped it over the top of her head and gave it a friendly shake. Brenda was not as tall as her sister, but she was equally as thin and willowy. Her legs seemed endless in the tight jeans; beneath the heavy turtleneck sweater she wore there was a hint of small, nicely rounded breasts and a wispy waist.
"See ya." Blue eyes in a pert face darted a look at him. "It's get-rid-of-Brenda time. My sister probably wants to swear at you, and she thinks I've never heard a swear word before. C'mon, Arthur. Let's head for the barn and Dullsville."
John watched her lope away, the dog at her heels. He turned back to the grim-faced woman on the steps. "How old is she?"
"Fourteen, and out of bounds for you," Iris snapped.
"Oh, for the Lord's sake!" He stifled an oath, then spun on his heel to walk away, but turned back with an angry scowl on his face. He pointed his finger at her. "Listen. I could have forced you to sell out to me, as long as I offered to buy your part of this farm and you couldn't raise the money to buy me out. Partnerships work that way, in case you didn't know or have forgotten. I realize this farm has been in your family since its existence, and therefore I'm willing to share it with you—at least until your sister is out of school and on her own. That assumes, of course, we can last that long without killing each other. Now, it can be a pleasant business arrangement or it can be a battle every step of the way." He snapped his teeth together, straightened to his full height and rocked back on his heels. "I didn't spend twenty years in the Navy for nothing. I don't give up easily. I fight for what I want, and I want to live here on this homestead and farm the land my grandmother bought for me."
The stress lines between Iris's brows deepened, and her mouth tensed. "In other words take you and your cracker box or sell out to you, at your price, and move on. Is that it?"
Iris pushed her hands into her pockets and hunched her shoulders. "You've played all the right cards. Or rather your grandmother played them for you."
He shrugged. "Either way, I'm here and I'm staying. I'll be out in the morning with the plumbers. A few days after that I'll bring in the house."
Iris pressed her lips together tightly and half turned, so he couldn't see the tears that glistened on her thick lashes. The tension that had been building in her for days had mounted to produce a splitting headache; all she wanted to do at this moment was slip inside that screened door, hide in the house, and cry. But damned if she would! She wouldn't retreat with her tail between her legs. She'd brazen it out, even if it killed her!
"Iris!" Brenda called from the barn door. "Where's that plastic bucket I use to feed the calf?"
"In the machine shed, where you left it." Iris lifted the heavy braid of hair off her chest and flung it over her shoulder. She looked directly at John D. Lang, Jr. for a full ten seconds before she spoke. "You win, Mr. Lang. But I don't have to like it." She forced herself to concentrate on keeping her poise, her tears at bay, her fists from flying out to hit him, while fantasizing about his disappearing beneath the manure spreader.
John backed off a few steps, hesitated, then said, "The mobile home won't stick out like a sore thumb regardless of what you think. After I finish with it, it'll blend into the surroundings. I plan to add a screened porch across the front to break the straight line and have the whole thing painted to match the trim of this house."
"Oh, great! That should be just dandy. A white house, a green house, a red barn. Christmas all year long," Iris said with a stoical calmness she didn't feel at all. She was pleased to see the flicker of annoyance on John's face.
He half turned so he could look toward the grove. "I'll have the house set in the long way, then the front will face the drive. When I add the porch and the carport, I may have to take out one small tree."
"Noooooo! You're not cutting down my trees!" A pounding began in Iris's head that threatened to make her eyes go out of focus. Since her father's death, five years ago, she had been in charge here, and had guarded every tree as if it were the last one on earth. No, sir! This sailor wasn't going to cut down a single one of her trees!
"The grove needs to be thinned. For now I'll only take out the tree with the NO HUNTING sign on it."
"You'll do no such thing! What in the hell did you learn in the Navy that makes you so all-fired smart about thinning a grove?" Chin up, body taut, Iris was mindful of the thudding in her chest, the pounding in her head. Mustering the fragments of her self-possession, she locked her gaze to his and refused to look away.
His eyes were cobalt-blue and fenced with thick brown lashes, topped by reddish-brown brows, which were now drawn together with displeasure. As she watched, his features formed a deeper frown, the muscle in one lean cheek jumping in response to his clenched teeth. His gaze fell from her eyes to the soft and vulnerable curve of her lips, lingered long enough to send an unwelcome tremor through her, and then passed down to the arms folded tightly across her chest. He made no attempt to conceal his impatience with her. The pounding in Iris's head expanded into her stomach and echoed through that empty chamber.
He spread his long, denim-clad legs and hooked his hands in his hip pockets. The movement spread his jacket and revealed an open-neck knit shirt with a small monogrammed symbol on the chest. Iris's eyes flicked to his feet and the blue-and-gray sneakers. A stray thought passed quickly through her mind. Nikes! Good heavens, Who would have guessed they made them that big?
"So this is the way it's going to be, huh?" John said thoughtfully. "You're going to drag your feet every step of the way."
"If necessary." Iris wanted to scream. More than that, she wanted to hit something—preferably him.
"I've had young kids come into the Navy with chips on their shoulders. Some thought they knew it all. You can bet they were whipped into line before they shipped out." His brows lifted in a silent message.
"I'm no kid, Mr. Lang, and this isn't the Navy. You're in my territory. We'll see who is whipped into line." Her voice was low, with the force of her anger held in check.
"I-r-is! Where's the pine tar? Candy's got a cut on her fetlock."
"On the shelf in the tack house," she called, grateful for the interruption. Casually, with an outward calm belying both the ache behind her forehead and the dancing devils in her stomach, she began to walk toward the barn. Leaving the sailor standing on the walk, she thought that surely he'd have the good manners to leave. Not true. He appeared beside her, matching his stride to hers.
"There aren't any horses listed in the farm inventory."
She stopped and turned on him like a spitting cat. "Sugar and the colt belong to Brenda. She bought the mare with money she earned, and she paid the stud fee. There are two more horses on this farm that have never been listed. They belong to me."
"I see," he said—to her back, because she had walked away.
Iris pulled back the bottom half of the barn door, latched it to the top shelf, stepped over the thick doorsill, and into the barn. A single light burned at the end of the row of stalls. For once Brenda hadn't turned on every light in the barn. They had been trying to lower their huge electric bills.
Attempting to ignore John D. Lang, Jr., who was trailing close behind her—and her throbbing head—Iris kicked at the clean straw with her booted feet as she went down the narrow passage. A devilish hope that he'd step in some manure and soil his spotless Nikes briefly crossed her mind.
Brenda was waiting beside a tan-and-white-spotted colt, holding the rope halter and rubbing the soft nose that nuzzled her arm. "I didn't notice it until she followed Sugar in and I saw the blood," she wailed. "There must be some barbed wire down somewhere."
Iris knelt down beside the colt, rubbing her hand up and down the slender leg, keeping well back in case the sharp little hoof lashed out. "Did you get the pine tar?"
"I didn't want to turn her loose. Is it bad? It bled a lot."
"I'll get the tar. Where is it?" The masculine voice came from far above Iris's head.
She stood and gave him a disgusted look. "You wouldn't know pine tar from . . . apple butter," she said, and stomped off down the aisle.
"I don't think she likes you, Junior." Brenda's blue eyes had to look up a long way to reach his face.
"I think you're right."
"She's gettin' one of her headaches. It's been coming on all day. By night she'll be throwing up her socks."
"She suffers from migraines?"
"Yeah. I think that's what she calls them. You're enough to give even me a headache, Junior."
"My name's John."
"Then why was ol' Mrs. Lang always callin' you Junior?"
"Reasonable question." He reached out and fondled the colt's ears. The animal tossed her head.
"Horses don't like to have their ears touched," Brenda said quickly.
"Oh? Sorry. Back to why my grandmother called me Junior. I don't think she realized I had grown up. I was away at sea most of the time, and my trips home were few and far between. Granny sometimes thought I was my dad. How old is the colt?"
"A month. Do you like horses?"
"I like 'em, but I don't know much about 'em."
"I could teach you that. Sugar was my 4-H project a few years ago. She got a blue ribbon at the fair. Hey, we're looking for a new leader. Want to be one?"
"What in the heck would he know about being a 4-H leader?" Iris walked into the stall with a can and paddle in one hand and a roll of paper towels in the other. She knelt down, pried off the lid, and dipped the clean wooden paddle into the thick black tar. "Whoa, girl. Easy, now. This will make it feel better, and keep the flies off, too." Talking to the colt in a calm, smooth voice all the while she dabbed the medicine on the cut, Iris concluded, "That should do it." She wiped the stick clean on the paper towel and replaced the lid on the can. "Put her back in the stall so Sugar can see what we've done to her baby," she said as she stepped up onto the bottom board of the stall to reach the nose of the brown-and-black-spotted mare. She gave her a gentle pat: then the horse's pointed ears stood at attention when Iris brought a handful of molasses-soaked grain and pellets out of her pocket and held it to the soft lips; which quickly began to nibble. "You like that, don't you, girl?" she crooned softly to the horse, and placed a kiss on her nose.
When Iris stepped down too quickly from the rail, a jarring pain coursed through her head; it was followed by a quick succession of pains so sharp that she almost swayed. "Finish up here, will you, Brenda? Feed Buck and Boots for me tonight. I'm going to the house."
"Will you be too sick to take me to town later?" Brenda called as she reached the door.
"Of course not!" she said as confidently as she could manage.
"Do you have migranes often?" John asked while she was closing the bottom half of the barn door.
"No! You're the only big headache I've had in a long time." Iris gritted her teeth.
He ignored her sarcasm. "What do you take for it?"
"Aspirin, aspirin, and aspirin. You caused it," she blurted. "When you leave it'll probably go with you." Ignoring him now, she concentrated only on breathing deeply to keep her stomach from heaving, and on placing one foot in front of the other so she could get to the house. She reached the screen door and flung it open. "Goodbye, so long, happy sailing," she muttered, and stumbled into the house.
She dropped her jacket on the kitchen floor, jerked her boots off with the bootjack, and reeled to the newel post at the foot of the stairs. She leaned on the rounded top, hoping the demons pounding in her head would let up long enough for her to make it up the steps. Her stomach convulsed, and she groaned.
"Iris, let me help you."
Him again! It was too much. She closed her eyes tightly and held onto the post, knowing that any minute she was going to further humiliate herself with a crying jag. Everything hurt so damn bad!
"What have I done to deserve you?" she croaked feebly. This was the enemy, but strangely, she couldn't fight any longer. An arm slid across her back, and she was pulled against a broad chest. Too sick to reject this gesture of help, Iris leaned into the arms that steadied her and the long, warm body that absorbed the tremors that shook her. Reeling and desperately afraid she would throw up, she let him help her up the stairs.
"The bathroom . . ." She staggered away from him and through the open door, not even bothering to close it, and sank down on the edge of the tub. Holding the blond braid in her hand, she leaned over the stool as the bathroom door closed, allowing her to lose the contents of her stomach in private.
Her migraine had reached gigantic proportions by the time she wet a cloth and grabbed a bottle of aspirin from the medicine cabinet. John was waiting outside the door. His identity was no longer important to Iris. He was help. She headed down the hall to her bedroom with his hand beneath her arm to steady her. Somehow they both made it through the narrow door and to the soft bed. She buried her face in the pillow to shut out the light. Her senses were so numbed by pain that she was only vaguely aware that she was between the cool sheets and the covers were being pulled up around her neck.
- On Sale
- Feb 1, 2008
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Grand Central Publishing