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Eventually, Violet joins me. “So what are you doing in Whiskey Run?”

Honest. I need to be honest with her, well as much as I can be. “I’m looking for somewhere... to live. I needed to move, and I ended up here.”

“What kind of experience do you have?”

I shake my head. “Not any. I wasn’t allowed... I never had a job before, but I’m a fast learner and a hard worker.”

The man from the booth gets up and puts the hat on his head. I can see him without even turning my head, but I try to keep my eyes trained on Violet. I can’t help but wonder if he’s heard our conversation. I chance a look at him and right then, I know he has. There’s definitely pity on his face. And I hate pity.

2

Brett

I came into town because I’m sick of my own cooking. I burn toast and everything else. Well, I am over it. I needed something besides butter noodles, especially since the last time I made those I burned them. I swear I can still smell them in my house.

I’m eating the apple cinnamon Blaze cake that Red’s Diner is famous for when the woman comes in. She’s definitely not from around here. I’ve never seen her, but how I know for sure she’s new is that everyone in their booths turn to look at her and not one person says hi. In Whiskey Run, everyone sort of knows everyone, so she’s definitely an outsider.

She’s nervous, and even though she looks clean, she’s still rumpled. Her jeans are short, like maybe at one time they fit her, but not really now. She’s beautiful in a sweet kind of way. She’s small, probably doesn’t even come up to my chest. And she’s young. Really young from the looks of her. But of everything, it’s her eyes that capture me. She has the most defeated look on her face. I want to look away, but I can’t. I listen to what she and Violet are talking about and find out she’s needing a job. I’m not worried. I know Violet Jennings. She takes in everyone and everything and does anything for this town. There’s no way she’ll turn down the woman, not when it’s so obvious how much she needs the help. I walk up to the counter and I’m captivated by the woman. It’s like I can’t take my eyes off her. She’s pretty, and just one look at her brings out every protective bone in my body.

I do my best to ignore the woman sitting at the counter. I hand my card to Violet. She’s looking between me and the woman, and I know I should be worried by the look she’s giving me. “How you doing tonight, Brett?”

“Good,” I grunt, thinking the faster I get out of here, the better off I’ll be. But when I make the rough sound, the woman jerks and wraps her arms around her middle.

I frown as I look at her. Oh hell no. She’s scared too.

“Hey, Brett,” Violet starts. I drag my gaze from the woman and look at her. “Are you still hiring for a housekeeper and a cook out at the ranch?”

I shake my head side to side quickly. I know exactly where she’s going with this, and I don’t want any part of it. “I never was hiring.”

But in true Violet nature, my negative response doesn’t even stop her. “Well, I can just imagine how long it’s been since it’s been cleaned.”

“I clean it.” I shrug.

“You’re a rancher. You don’t have time for that. Well, my friend here is new in town and she needs a job. Unfortunately, I don’t have any openings, but I talked to her and I think she would be perfect for what you’re needing.”

I’m about to tell her no, just as the woman in question jumps up. “I can’t... I can’t go to his ranch.”

I watch her closely. She really is scared. I clench my fists at my side, wondering who in the world has hurt her and where the asshole may be right now. “What’s wrong with my ranch?”

The woman blushes prettily. “Nothing. I’m sure it’s a fine ranch.”

I snort. “It’s not. It’s falling down around me. But you’d have food and shelter. You would just have to cook for me and two other guys. Maybe clean a little bit. I won’t be able to pay you a lot, but you’ll get room and board too. And you’ll be safe. No one will bother you there.”

The woman was shaking her head, ready to say no the whole time I was talking—until I said the word safe. It’s then she stopped shaking her head.

“But I don’t know you,” she half whispers.

Violet jumps in, and it’s almost like I forgot she was even standing there. “I can vouch for him. He’s sort of grumpy, but he’s a good guy. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

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