Cassie O’Dell loves her job as a kindergarten teacher, but desperately wants a big family of her own. Her search for the perfect partner hits a complication when her new assignment as the substitute 4H teacher brings her to Will McDavitt’s farm. The big, broad farmer with the sexy Irish brogue gets her pulse racing, but does the widower and single father have enough room in his heavy heart for Cassie and her dream?
Between caring for his young son and struggling to hold onto the failing family farm, the sweet, gorgeous 4H teacher is the last thing Will McDavitt has time for, but a farm is no place for a city girl from Maine, especially a farm facing the threats of a powerful oil baron who will stop at nothing to acquire the family land. How can Will protect the teacher and his family when the more he loves the more he stands to lose?
Will McDavitt slowed his horse to a walk as he approached his house. He zeroed in on the woman knocking at his back door. Tugging on the reins, he brought Zeus to a complete stop a hundred yards from the house. An older model Chevy coupe was parked in his driveway.
If he was lucky, she’d leave without seeing him, without having the conversation he dreaded. He sagged down in the saddle, drew his hat further down on his forehead, and waited.
“Shite.” He blew the word out on a defeated sigh when she turned and waved.
“Mr. McDavitt?” She hurried toward him.
“Are you Will?” She glanced down at the paper in her hand. “Or Mike?”
Might as well face the music. He dismounted, wishing he was anywhere but his farm right now. “I’m Will.”
She was petite, not more than a few inches over five feet. Will shook his head. He supposed it didn’t matter how short or tall the banker taking his house was, the result would still be the same. He’d lost the family land. Remorse burned his stomach as he reached for the hand she offered.
“Cassie O’Dell. Nice to meet you.”
She shook his hand and offered a professional smile. They sent a pretty one to do their dirty work this time. Nice touch.
“I suppose you’re here for the check.” He started past her for the house. “It’s not the amount I discussed with your manager, but it’s close.”
“My manager?” She tilted her head. “I’m the new 4H teacher.”
“Teacher? But you’re not due till tomorrow.”
She shrugged, turning to survey the land around them as she spoke. “I like to be prepared. My aid and I will be here tomorrow with ten very rambunctious fourth graders. The more prepared I am, the smoother it will be for all of us.”
She turned to face him, and the right corner of her mouth curled. Will found himself returning the smile before he could stop himself. He planted his hands on his hips, cleared his throat and decided it was time for his 4H speech. Hell, he’d given it at least ten times in the last few years with every new 4H teacher. It was mechanical and possibly boring, but informative. Now, it seemed…lacking and he wished he’d polished it up a bit for the new school year.
“There are six-hundred-and-fifty of the most heavenly acres you’ve ever seen.” He gestured wide with his arm. “We have some nice riding trails, but the 4H Club will operate around the barns and this area of the farm most of the time. You may go into the pasture once in a while, so wear some good boots.”
He studied her face as she took in the hills and valleys surrounding them. A piece of her long blonde hair drifted around her face on a slight breeze and hooked itself on her glossy lips.
She studied the farm buildings, then the land. “It’s beautiful. It looks so peaceful.”
If she only knew.
“Such an array of colors. And I love those flowers over there.” She pointed to the mountain in the distance. “It’s like a staircase of pink climbing to the sky. I’ll bet they’re fragrant, too.”
Will ducked his head. “Those are weeds. Spotted knapweed.”
Cassie frowned, glanced at the mountain once more, then turned to Zeus.
“He’s huge. Is he a weed too?” She teased.
“He’s very large for a horse. Seventeen hands high and not a weed. I’ve had him since the day he was born, and I’ve yet to come across a horse as magnificent in size and markings as Zeus.”
“I love the white stockings on each leg.”
“Me too.” He motioned for her to follow, then he toured her through the cow, sheep, and horse barns, giving her bits of information vital to the 4H Club and their yearly fair.
“Is this the first time you’ve ever been on a working farm, Miss O’Dell?” They stood in the cow barn with the smells of hay and dust enveloping them.
“It is, and please, call me Cassie.”
“Farms can be dangerous, Cassie,” he warned. “So always, always watch where you’re walking. If you don’t know what something is, don’t touch it.” His tone was serious.
“I’ll be sure to keep my hands to myself, Mr. McDavitt.” She reached out and ran a finger across the top of a cow stanchion.
“Do you know what that is?” Hadn’t she heard a word he said?
“Not. One. Clue.” She moved to run her hand down the cow’s nose. “Some kind of collar, I’d guess.”
Will sighed. “Did you volunteer to be the 4H teacher?”
Her hand stilled on the cow’s broad nose. Cassie made a kissing face and leaned closer, ignoring Will’s question for a moment. “Volunteered is not the exact word I’d use. The regular teacher is ready to pop her baby any day and they needed a fill-in. The other teachers were already leading other programs, brownies, girl scouts, horseback riding.” She gestured in the air. “I was the only one available. But hey, who doesn’t like a good challenge? Am I right?” She bent and kissed the cow, then ruffled the hair on top of its head.
“Me.” He rolled his eyes heavenward. He had the distinct impression she was his challenge.
She stepped around him and headed toward the snorting black and white cow. “You don’t like a challenge? Why?”
“Let’s just say I’ve had my fill in the last few years. I’d gladly take a quiet, calm kind of life at this point.” He touched her back and guided her toward the door before every cow in the barn had glossy lip prints on their foreheads.
“I’m sorry you’ve had challenges, Mr. McDavitt.”
“Will.” He said. “Call me Will.”
“When I moved here from Maine, I remember one of the teacher’s quoting a poem. She said, ‘Springtime brings new life to the land, and every autumn’s harvest brings new promise.’ Something about bringing in the hay and grains and hunkering down together for winter. I can’t do it justice, but the sentiment is the same. I hope the promise of this autumn brings you everything you’ve ever wanted.”
What did he want with his autumn’s promise? Easy, his farm. He wanted to keep his farm. He wasn’t a betting man, and he rarely took chances, but he hoped with all his heart the woman walking next to him was right. He hoped there was such a thing as an autumn promise.
Will cleared his throat and nodded his appreciation. They walked up the driveway in comfortable silence. He looked at his watch. Four-seventeen. Shite. To hurry her along, he opened the car door for her. He had work to do and he was already behind. If he didn’t get the final numbers together for the farm expenses he’d never meet the deadline on the loan extension. Will didn’t mind that she’d shown up unannounced, and a day early, but he couldn’t waste any more time. The way things looked, he wouldn’t have the family farm next year. Who was he kidding, he’d be lucky to own it through this 4H season.
“Thanks for the tour. The kids are chomping at the bit to get here.” She leaned her bottom against the fender of the car, ignoring the door he held open, and dug through her purse.
“No problem, I like to help out the schools whenever I can. I figure I spent twelve years making their lives hell, this is the least I can do.” He gestured toward the open door, hoping she’d take the hint.
She shook her purse to rearrange its contents. “The Irish accent? I’m Irish too.”
“Yes, born and raised in Donegal until I was seven. When I came to America, we spoke Irish, then I learned English. The first seven or eight years of school were rough. I didn’t fit in.”
“Bilingual, very nice.” She held up her key chain, tossed her purse on the passenger seat, and slid into her car. “See you tomorrow.” A small cloud of dust from the gravel floated around her back tires as she turned onto the dirt road from the farm.
Will stood in the driveway watching after her as she headed down the road.
“Who was that?”
Mike stood by his side, hands on his hips, mirroring his brother’s stance.
“The new 4H teacher.”
“She’s pretty. Is she nice?”
Will thought a moment before answering. She was nice, but she was probably too naive to be wandering around a farm alone. “She’s nice. We’ll need to keep an eye on her, though. She was kissing the cows, for the love of God.”
Mike’s laugh echoed off the buildings. “Will McDavitt, you may stand a chance with her.”
Will elbowed him hard in the ribs and walked away. He didn’t want a chance with her. He’d done quite well avoiding women since Sarah passed and he liked it that way. He climbed the porch steps two at a time. Henry would be home from his grandparents soon, and the rest of the day would belong to him. His four-year-old-son wasn’t demanding, but Will always tried to put Henry before anything. The prospect of losing the only home his son had known ate at him as much as knowing he’d let his family down.
He’d been careful with his spending, competitive on his dairy prices, yet no matter what, he was in the red every month. Will dropped into his desk chair and reviewed his bills. Grain prices rose weekly, and the Department of Agriculture inspected his farm three times this year. Even the local government came down on his ass constantly, telling him he was out of compliance with one thing or another. He tossed the papers down. The pigs were sick, livestock escaped the fence every other day. Some days he wondered if it was worth it.
* * * * *
“I don’t like peas, Da.” Henry pushed the offending orbs around his plate with his Mickey Mouse fork.
Will lowered his fork and sighed. Dinner had become a struggle since his son developed likes and dislikes in food.
Mike leaned forward. “They’re from the garden, Henry. At least try a few more for Uncle Mike.”
Will was grateful his brother stepped in to deal with Henry’s growing resistance about…everything.
“I think I saw someone north of the pasture again today.” Will chose his words carefully, not wanting Henry to understand.
Mike stopped chewing and held his gaze. “What did you do?”
“Nothing, I couldn’t. By the time Zeus and I got down there, they were gone. No signs of any disturbances at least.”
Mike nodded and looked over at his nephew.
Henry balanced his napkin on his head and slid it off several times before arranging it over his head like a tent. One chubby hand snaked out, snatched a piece of bread off his plate, then disappeared under the napkin.
“He gets that from you,” Mike teased.
“Hi mommy. Ok, I will,” Henry said.
Both men looked at the four-year-old.
Will lifted one side of the napkin. “Whatcha doin’ in there, Buddy?”
“Talkin’ to mommy. She said she loves us. She wants me to tell you Cassie is nice.”
“Nice?” Will slouched in his chair, pushing his plate away.
Henry sat up. “Who’s Cassie, Da?”
Will stared at his brother in stunned silence. Mike leaned back and peeked over each shoulder.
Henry yanked the napkin off his head. “At school, we made hand prints.” He held up his hand and waved it proudly in the air. His fork skittered to the floor. “Mrs. M. said they’ll be leaves when we’re done coloring them.” He picked up a pea with his fingers and popped it into his mouth, wrinkling his chubby face as he chewed. “Da, how will my hand turn into a leaf after I color it?”
“Your hands won’t be leaves, Henry. The paper will be in the shape of your hand, then you’ll color it.”
Henry nodded and swallowed the last pea on his plate, then asked to be excused. “I have homework, Da. It’s reading a book about fisses.”
“Fish.” Will corrected, emphasizing the H.
“Like the ones we catch in our pond. But these fiss talk. Do you think fiss really talk?” He giggled as he skipped to his backpack in the living room and dug out his brightly colored book.
Henry was all he had left of Sarah. He tried to remember her voice, her laugh, but as the years sped past, it was becoming harder to recall. It was the same with his father. He wished Da could’ve lived long enough to see the grandson who bore his name. So much loss, too much.
Will loved Henry’s mother, but he supposed their rush to marry and start a family at the tender age of twenty hadn’t been the best decision. He wouldn’t regret it though, ever. Sarah’s ovarian cancer took her quickly, but no one could take away the nights he’d spent sitting up caring for her, memorizing her face, holding her in his arms.
He would fill the void in his son’s heart with all the love he could give. Making Sarah proud, and giving their son the life he deserved, was his top priority. He rolled the silver band around his finger. Mike was wrong, he didn’t need another woman.
“I haven’t forgotten my promise, Sarah. I’m trying as hard as I can.”
Minutes later, Will held Henry’s tiny hand as they headed for the porch swing to read about fish.