“Mish, please, you should at least think about accepting this check. This could be the break you need.”
He squinted against the bright morning sunshine as he pushed his pungent load out to a manure pile well back from the barn, his side smarting with every step he took. “Your giving me this job was the break I need,” he said. “Of course, that assumes I need a break in the first place.”
“You walked in here with one change of clothes under your arm, no wallet and no ID,” she pointed out. “You accepted a job at an embarrassingly low hourly rate. This isn’t the movies. I’ve pretty much rejected the idea that you’re some kind of eccentric millionaire in disguise.”
He glanced back at her. “Yeah? What if I am?”
Becca laughed, her eyes sparkling with amusement. She really had beautiful eyes. “If you are, why the heck are we having this conversation while you lug a load of manure in this heat? Let’s call for a break and reconvene for dinner at your favorite restaurant in Paris. Because as long as you can afford it, I’ve always wanted to fly on the Concorde.”
She was teasing, but there was some truth in her words. She wanted to have dinner with him. He could see it in her eyes. Mish dumped the wheelbarrow, feeling glad — and very stupid. He didn’t want her to like him. He couldn’t want her to like him. Yet he was happy that she did. “Sorry, I seem to have misplaced my bankcard.”
“Aha,” she said with another smile. “Proof that even if you are a millionaire in disguise, you need a break.”
She had such a beautiful smile, it was impossible not to smile back at her. And as he did, Mish felt himself start to slip.
She more than merely liked him. He may not have been able to remember his own name, but he knew how to read a woman. And this woman was Interested, with a capital I. If he pulled her into his arms and lowered his head, she would lift her mouth to meet his. And while getting it on with her on the floor of the barn in the middle of the day was stretching the edges of the fantasy envelope, the idea of spending the night in her bed in the very near future was not so farfetched.
But she wanted a hero, he reminded himself. So instead of moving closer, Mish took a step back.
“I do need a break,” he told her, willing her not to move any closer. “And the fact that you’re letting me stay despite knowing that I lied to you is–”
“But you didn’t,” she told him, moving closer despite his attempt to control her through telekinesis. She moved close enough for him to see the individual freckles that swept across her nose and cheeks. Close enough to see the flecks of green and gold mixed in with the darker brown of her eyes. “Not really. I looked in your personnel file, at the notes I made when we spoke on the phone. You definitely omitted some information, but Ididn’t ask, so it wasn’t a lie. You told me you were mainly a handy man and that you’d worked on ranches before. I made the mistake of assuming you’d be able to handle the horses, too.”
Personnel file. There was a personnel file with his name on it, somewhere in Becca’s office. It was entirely possible that file would contain his last known address and phone number. He had to have some clothes, some belongings somewhere, didn’t he? If he could find those, he might start to remember who and what he was.
“I wasn’t completely honest with you, either,” Becca continued. “I didn’t mention the fact that your starting salary isn’t going to increase any time in the near future. The owner of the Lazy Eight doesn’t believe in raises.”
“The money you’re paying me is good enough for now.” Mish pushed the wheelbarrow back toward the barn. He was far from done with the stalls yet it was nearly time for lunch. He was going to have to simply grit his teeth against the pain and pick up his pace.
Becca’s pager went off and she looked down at it, turning it off. “Shoot, I’ve got to go take this call.” She started toward the office, walking backwards. “What do you say you let me treat you to a drink after dinner tonight? As a sort of a thank you? There’s a roadhouse about twelve miles down the road — it’s not too far away. They have a really great band on Thursday nights.”
She’d asked him out.
Mish had thought he was safe as long as he kept his distance and didn’t do something crazy like invite her to have dinner or a drink with him. But he should’ve known that Rebecca Keyes wasn’t the kind of woman who’d sit back and wait for something she wanted to have happen.
“Um,” he said, but she didn’t give him a chance to figure out how he could turn her down without hurting her feelings.
“I’ve got to run,” she told him with another of those killer smiles that made his insides tangle. “I’ll talk to you later.”
And she was gone, leaving Mish with an entirely new set of what if questions.
What if he let himself go out with her? She only wanted to have a drink. It wasn’t as if she’d invited him over to her place to spend the night, was it?
So what if he went? He’d have a chance to sit across the table from her in some dimly lit bar. He’d have a chance to gaze into her eyes as they talked.
As she asked him questions about himself.
Where he came from. Where he’d worked before this. Questions about his family. His childhood. His hobbies. Former girlfriends. Present girlfriends.
Lord God, what if he were married? What if he had a wife and children somewhere, but he simply couldn’t remember them?
Of course, it was entirely likely that if he had been married, his wife had left him while he was in prison.
Mish shook his head as he began shoveling out the next stall in the barn, almost welcoming the punishing pain in his side.
Yeah, he was one hell of a hero.
Copyright 1999 by Suzanne Brockmann