Short sex stories

Sex stories




Belle of Bellville Ch. 07-08

Chapter 7

After she put in an order for groceries that would be delivered to the Barrington home later that day, and after she'd put up the advertisement for a new housekeeper/cook on the grocery store's giant cork message board listing her new TracFone number, it was time to head back to the pickup.

With a few bags of items she'd purchased, she walked toward the spot where Jacob Barrington had parked the pickup. She was relieved she hadn't bumped into him all that time, but now she was a little worried that he might've left without her.

As she strolled along the over-decked walk, she saw that his giant pickup was right where he left it. Good. He was probably busy with some business that was taking longer than he'd expected. Then again, they hadn't been in town more than a half hour.

Satisfied that he hadn't left her behind, she set her bags down and took a seat, crossing a leg over the other with lady-like poise, on a public bench near the truck. From her position, she wouldn't miss him when he returned. In the meantime she could kill some time by having a look in that big orange envelope.

She opened her bag and took it out and briefly weighed it in her hand. It felt very packed. There was clearly more than one letter. She slipped a slender thumb under the flap and carefully opened the lip of the orange envelope before she reached in and pulled out a few stamped envelopes, and then a letter from Gordon Shaw which explained from whom those letters were.

She was happy to find a postal money order with a nice amount from him, as well. Among the few stamped envelopes that Gordon had included, there was a letter from her brother, Reginald, among them.

"Of course he'd know I'd have contact with Gordon," she whispered.

A bit concerned, she opened her brother's letter and discovered that it had been written some six months ago. She felt her fingers tremble as she carefully unfolded his letter that was written on their company letterhead paper.

"Dear Isabella,

I don't know if this letter will ever reach you, but I'll hope and pray it will. I must say, it's not been a simple task convincing your devoted and loyal friend, Gordon Shaw, to forward this letter to wherever you now may be. I hope all is well with you, for that is not the case with us.

Father and the family are rife with worry about you. Your immature decision to up and leave without so much as a good bye over six months ago has placed undue and unnecessary stress on us all.

We are all worried sick about you. We feel that you've not shown the maturity and dignity becoming of a Boucher, and are still puzzled why you felt you needed to do this. It's been a disappointment to the entire family, as I'm sure you know.

However, this letter is not to rehash what's been done.

The sole purpose in writing this letter is to inform you the man you have accused of harassment is set to marry this July, on the 25th. If he is the reason for your fleeing your home and your family, then you can be rest assured you no longer have to continue this senseless wandering. On behalf of the family and Father, I am asking you to return home and end the suffering you have put upon us all, but most specifically, Father.

I beseech you, return posthaste.

Enclosed is a sizable amount in the form of a postal money order. You can cash it at any United States Post Office or bank. If you are in need of more funds, call me on my private cell phone. You know my number. Call any time, day or night. I will instruct my assistant to wire more funds to you.

Finally, I also want you to know that Father's health is ailing, and we all believe that it's due to his endless worrying about you. For him, if for no one else, do the only right thing and come home.

Godspeed.

Your brother always,

Reginald A. Boucher"

She reread the letter again and again. Each time she did, she grew increasingly concerned. Although Reg had written as many accusations and words of spite he could possibly fit in those few paragraphs, he at least found enough space to mention the state of their father's health although it seriously and annoyingly lacked in details.

Although she knew that their father would suffer in worry when she had made the decision to leave their home, she never guessed for a single moment that it would affect him physically.

Her father, Andrew Reginald Boucher, was known for his strong constitution, but the sudden death of his wife had to have affected that very constitution dearly. It had nearly brought him to his knees. Apparently, though, and if Reginald is to be believed, her leaving without a word only exacerbated an already compromised immune system.

She sighed. She felt incredibly guilty...again.

"Well, Reg, you've succeeded in getting the reaction out of me you wanted," she whispered as she quietly folded up the letter and slipped it back into its envelope and then back that into the orange envelope as she fought an inner battle.

She was torn inside. She really didn't want to return to Louisiana in the event that Charles DeVille decided against marrying whoever it was he was able to fool to become his wife. And although the thought that he was getting married in about two weeks should lift her spirits and remove the pressure from her now—because he appears to have moved on—she still felt that old fear and terror just thinking about being anywhere near him where he had easy access to her.

Then there was the added fear that Reg had written one of his low-key letters, downplaying the seriousness of their father's ailing health. It could very well be far graver than he was letting on. She was certain it wasn't the common cold!

She knew she should call to find out the true status of her father's health. She really wasn't sure she wanted to, though, because although Reg claimed that his cell phone was safe and secure, she knew out of past experience that Charles was a clever man. She was afraid that he'd somehow find a way to wire-tap Reg's cell phone since her brother didn't have the healthy distrust for Charles that he should. She didn't want to risk to have Charles find out where she was.

In the past, her brother had always taken Charles' side against her and her mother. Of course, Reg didn't know what Charles had done to her, and since the two have been best friends ever since they were boys, she doubted he'd believe her if she told him that his best friend had a very dark side. She was certain that had Charles slipped up just once, her brother would have a change of mind, but Charles could be absolutely charming if he so chose and he was in such control of his emotions—like a sociopath—that she knew there was no way he'd make a mistake and unmask the true him. He even had his own parents fooled so how difficult could it be for him to fool a friend?

Reg's letter did something else, too. It reminded her that she was still very much homesick. The pain and sorrow she had suffered in the past year since she'd been on the run had suppressed her homesickness, but every now and then it would rear its ugly head—as it did now.

She hated Charles so deeply, more than she ever thought she could hate another human being on this Earth. He made her do this. He chased her away from the only home she's ever known, making her flee across the country, struggling to survive, to finally end up here, in Bellville, Texas, as a domestic at a cattle ranch. He forced her to have to hide her true identity. For nearly a year, she'd been forced to live a lie.

A teardrop splattered on the orange envelope, making the ink run. She sniffled and wiped her eyes with her fingertips as the pain she thought she had under control, trickled through her carefully built wall. It tore her up inside. She was now more than ever tired of running. She missed her old life, her home, her mother's house where she could find her in each and every piece of furniture, her mother's oil paintings and hand-sewn drapes. She missed her mother's gardens. She missed her father.

"Lord save me, but I hate you, Charles DeVille. I hate you..." she whispered through her tears before she tried to finger the stream away as her tears came with a little more vigor. Passersby were quietly looking at her now, feeling her sorrow. She smiled uncomfortably as she tried to finger away her tears and dry her eyes, hoping to get herself under control before Jacob Barrington returned.

But it was too late.

A hand holding a clean blue bandanna appeared in her visual periphery. She froze with fingertips still under her wet eyes before she slowly raised her head and looked up at Jacob's unreadable face shaded by his cowboy hat. It was as if time suddenly stood still.

She knew there was no hiding her distress from him now. Not a chance. Not the way she'd been bawling! Her long wet eyelashes dropped as she stared at the proffered bandanna in his bare hand, and she sniffled once before she took it with ginger fingers.

"Thank you, Jake," she said with a teary voice and began to dab her eyes. She only paused with her embarrassing task when he moved and turned before he seated himself on the bench and calmly stretched out his long legs. The public bench wasn't that long to begin with, so he was sitting closer than was comfortable for her.

She slowly rolled big eyes to him and saw that, from under the brim of his hat, he was looking straight ahead of them. At least he wasn't staring at her. Looking at him now, it was as if he'd stepped out of history, straight out of the Wild West. He looked rugged, handsome, mysterious, unpredictable, and with a no-nonsense attitude and self-confidence that was so rare those days. She could easily see him sitting in some 1800's saloon playing a risky game of poker. Frankly, he looked more gunslinger than cowboy.

"You eat sorrow by the spoonful, Bella," he finally said, shaking his head.

"Excuse me?"

"I don't know you from Adam's off ox, but I know one thing for sure," he looked at her, "whatever it is that's ailin' you, you can't keep runnin'. Sooner or later, you're gonna have to take a stand and face your fears."

She turned her head and looked down at her lap. She wanted to deny anything was bothering her, but she couldn't very do that now that he caught her weeping. So she sighed and shook her head.

"I wish it were as simple as that," she said softly.

He turned his head and his gaze briefly softened on her. "It is," he said quietly. "You just gotta quit your runnin' and stay put."

She swallowed. "Thank you. I-I intend to," she lied.

He looked at her graceful profile for a few moments, seeing that she knew he was looking at her, but she didn't look back at him. "Ready to head back?"

She finally lifted her head but she didn't raise her eyes to look at him. "Yes." She was about to get up when he suddenly bent and took her bags for her. It was a gentlemanly gesture, and nothing out of the ordinary, really, but she suddenly found herself caught in a world filled with just Jacob Barrington. It was a brief moment, but it was enough to affect her and she closed her eyes for a moment.

"Thought you said you were ready?"

Her eyes quickly opened and she went red in the face. "I-I-I am," she stammered, a little out of breath, and quickly rose to her feet before she looked sheepishly at him. Lucky for her, he'd already turned and was leading the way to the pickup truck. She watched for a few moments before she softy sighed and then followed.

He unlocked the door for her and set her bags on the floor before he stepped aside. Then, and unlike what he'd done back at the ranch, he held out his hand to her. As rattled as she was at that moment by that unexpected but not unpleasant effect his closeness had on her, she didn't think and put her hand in his bare hand; skin touching skin...strong meeting delicate...

The sudden touch of his warm large hand against her fingers and palm sent a bolt of electricity through her, and she shuddered. She stopped and she quickly looked at him, seeing him quietly staring at her. Once again she felt as if time stood still. Then, as she descended from this heavenly place, she felt color rise in her cheeks. She quickly got in and seated herself but kept her eyes down as he closed the door. She only lifted them to peek over the dashboard, and watched as he rounded the front of his truck before he opened the driver's side door and got in behind the wheel. By then, she'd turned her head and was looking out her window.

She sat quietly on the far side of the bench again as he leaned forward and stuck the key into the ignition, soon bringing the heavy engine to life. Then, as she dabbed her face a little more with his bandanna, she paused when she heard the soft ringing of keys. She looked up to find him holding out a bushel of keys to her and immediately recognized them. They were the keys to her Rover.

She quickly looked at him, seeing him watching her with unreadable eyes. Then she looked at the bushel that he held out to her, and quietly took them, and watched as he leaned forward and shifted before he backed out of the parking space.

"Thank you," she said softly as she slipped her keys into her macramé bag. He didn't say anything as he concentrated on traffic, but even as they drove out of the city and back to the ranch, it was all done in silence.

**~*~**


After an eventful day, she decided to retire early to her room. No one questioned her need to retire early since they were all well aware that she still needed to rest. But that really wasn't the reason. She simply had a lot to think about.

Most of what she had to think about was Jacob Barrington and the affect he was having on her. To her surprise, it wasn't all unpleasant. In fact, she realized that she was feeling more for him than she should. She was feeling strange stirrings that were alien to her and what she thought she could never feel for a man after what Charles had done to her.

Earlier that afternoon, Doctor Bennett had dropped by as promised, and he had told her that she should get more rest. Her blood pressure checked out fine although he believed she was too skinny and she needed to eat more. He also made an appointment to see her at his office in a couple of days so they could begin with tests.

She really believed it was overkill, but it seemed to bring John Barrington some comfort that Doc was looking after her, so she agreed.

Earlier that day, she was able to find two soft blue cotton nightgowns that were more suitable for her environment in both texture and style, but she still had to wear her nightgown from the night before. She never liked wearing anything that hadn't been washed and tumble-dried first, so she decided that when everyone had retired for the evening—and she was happy that they retired early—she'd go into the laundry room and wash and dry her new clothes and underthings.

That evening, when the house was still, she took her small bundle of laundry and headed for the laundry room. She washed her things and was now waiting for the dry cycle to finish. She decided it was a good time to try and call her brother. He was still up around that early hour so she wouldn't be calling him out of bed. Unfortunately, the signal inside the laundry room was weak.

So she decided to go outside to see where the signal was stronger. She stepped outside onto the verandah, vaguely listening to the song of crickets all around her. Even standing on the verandah the signal seemed too weak and could easily break in the middle of what could be an important conversation.

"Ugh!" she said in frustration.

Then she took the steps of the verandah, and held her TracFone up in the air as she slowly walked and turned in a slow circle, making her long and free curls sway as she tried to catch that elusive signal. She was so caught up in her endeavor to find a strong signal that she didn't realize she'd come to a shed.

Then, finally, she caught a strong enough signal.

"There you are!" she said happily beneath her breath, but just when she was about to press in Reg's cell phone number, she became aware of some strange noises coming from inside the shed. She paused and listened, but it was silent again, and she listened a little while longer, but when she didn't hear anything, she resumed pressing in Reg's number before she held the TracFone to her ear.

It didn't take long for her brother to answer.

"Boucher."

She bit her lip as an uncomfortable look filled her pretty face. "You still refuse to use our family name, the name Papa agreed with Mama when they married? You remember, Reg? Beaumont-Boucher."

Silence.

"Isabella?"

"Yes," she said softly. "And before we proceed with this call, I need your word that when I hang up, I don't want you calling back. If you do, I'll shut this number down and never call again. Do not give this number to anyone, and do not attempt to trace me with it. Do I have your promise?"

Silence.

"I guess it's a no so then it's good bye, Reginald—"

"—Wait!," he said quickly. "Fine. I give you my word."

She nodded. Her brother's word was his bond and he never said or promised anything that he didn't intend to follow through with or keep.

"Thank you. Anyway, I got your letter."

"My letter? The one I sent six months ago?"

"Did you send another then?"

"No," he admitted. "I'm just surprised you've only now received my letter, or did you only now decide to call?"

"I only now received it."

"Where are you, Isabella? Tell me where you are so I can come get—"

"—How is Papa?" she asked, cutting him off.

"He's worried sick about you. We all are. You know your sudden disappearance didn't do him any good."

"Yes," she said. "You made that abundantly clear in your letter. The hint of guilt-tripping was a nice touch." She paused for him to respond, but he didn't. "Anyway, health-wise...how is Papa doing? Your letter mentioned that his health is ailing, but it didn't explain in what way."

"Why not call him yourself and find out? You know the number to the house."

"Is this your way of getting me to call him?"

"Yes," he said without hesitation. "He wants to talk to you, Isabella—"

"—I'd rather not. I-I don't think that's a good idea just yet."

"How do you mean?"

"Just..." She shook her head with a frustrated look on her face. "I don't want to talk about it. I just can't call him now, that's why I'm calling you."

"Jesus, Isabella," she heard her brother say with an exasperated sigh, "please don't tell me you're still under this illusion that Charles has wire-tapped the house phone?"

"Okay. I won't."

"Really? I mean, don't you think it's high time you outgrow—"

"—I don't want to talk about it. If you insist, I'll hang up right this minute—"

"—No. Please don't do that. Please don't hang up."

She looked down at her slippers under a frustrated frown. "I just called to find out how Papa is doing. I got worried when I read your letter. Has he seen a doctor?"

"He's home now. He's under Doctor Braithwaite's care—"

"—Wait," she interrupted him. "Home now? What do you mean by that?"

"Oh, I'm sorry," she heard her brother say. "Of course you don't know."

"Know what?"

"Father had an episode and he was in the hospital for a few weeks."

"Episode?" she asked breathlessly.

"Heart attack."

She felt as if her own heart had stopped. "Heart...attack?"

"Yes. Listen, Isabella, you have to come home now. You have to stop this senseless wandering and come home. Father needs you now—" But that was as far as her brother could get before the line went dead. She'd hung up on him.

Isabella quietly stared at the face of her phone, waiting to see if he'd call back. As expected, he didn't. She sighed as she let her hand drop and looked up at the starry skies, her emotions in turmoil. She was also in a state of shock.
Her father had a heart attack and he'd been hospitalized and she wasn't there to be by his side! She cupped her mouth with a shaky hand as if to stop that scream that wanted to tear out of her. She pressed her eyes closed as tears rolled down her face when the realization of her father's health situation hit her square in her chest. Her father could have died and she would have never known!

She suddenly heard a rustling sound in the surrounding bushes. Her hand dropped from her mouth and a sense of dread filled her when she realized that someone or something could be lurking in the dark. They could be watching her now.

Feeling suddenly very exposed and vulnerable, she quickly rubbed the tears from her eyes for a clearer vision, and turned around before she hurried into the shed to hide in the darkness. From that vantage point, she could peek out to see who or what it was. Hopefully it wasn't a stray longhorn, or worse! A bear.

When she entered the shed, she was surprised to find that it wasn't dark at all. There was light; a faint light coming from the back of the shed behind the large tractors. Then she became aware of those noises again. Grunts. Breathless gasps. Could someone be injured?

With her state of mind in that mode, she walked toward the sounds, but just when she was about to call out from behind one of the large tractors, she got a peek at exactly what was causing those sounds of pain, and stopped short. Her eyes went round as saucers as her heart skipped a beat because she realized she'd just stumbled onto a very intimate situation.

With a barely audible gasp, she snapped back against the tractor. Her chest was heaving and her cheeks were flushed with embarrassment. She had just become a witness to a very intimate coupling between a beautiful dark-haired woman, Elena, who was clinging passionately to a tall...blond...cowboy. And she recognized them both.

Elena was on her back on a bale of hay. The bodice to her dress was completely unbuttoned and her bra had been tugged down to expose her plump breasts. The pale light on her naked breasts illuminated the saliva left around her nipples which told her that they'd been vigorously suckled by the cowboy moving swift and hard over her, savoring each and every almost aggressively deep thrust.

"Ah, madre dios, say something to me, mi gran ranchero!" Elena gasped breathlessly.

Shocked to the core of her soul, Isabella couldn't move. She could barely breathe! Oh god! She'd just walked in on Jacob Barrington making mad passionate love to none other than Elena! She had to get out of there before either one of them saw her!

On soft-soled slippers, she rushed out of the shed without making a sound; no longer concerned that there still might be a wild animal lurking in the bushes outside. She needed to get out of there quickly, and the moment she knew she was safely outside, she threw herself into the fastest run she's ever allowed herself. She raced back to the verandah and then into the laundry room before she quickly shut and locked the door, not seeing the tall hatless "gunslinger" emerge from the shadows with a curious look on his chiseled face as he just caught her hurrying into the house.

Having paced his room for what seemed hours, Jacob finally stopped by the window just in time to see a night nymph dancing in the moonlight. Then he saw it was none other than Isabella because he recognized the nightgown she was wearing which was, to him, the sexiest nightgown he'd ever seen on a woman even though it was designed for elegance rather than enticing a man's sexual appetite. But on Isabella, it was sexy.

She seemed to dance in the moonlight, with one hand up and her long, pitch-black hair dancing around her slender body. He thought he was dreaming when he first caught sight of her, but then he realized that it really was Bella out there and he felt this powerful desire to go to her.

He fought a battle inside him, pacing back and forth in his loft home. It was too early to approach her since he had made the choice to help her get over her fear of men and woo her. She was so damned skittish that he had to approach her slowly. The last thing he wanted was to have her continue to see him as a threat, and the last thing he needed to do was do anything to give her that excuse. He no longer denied he wanted her, but he understood that in order to make her his, he'd have to take it slow.

All of that went right out the window when he saw her below...

**~*~**


Inside the shed, Junior and Elena fought to catch their breaths as they descended from the stratosphere. Their hot, no-strings-attached couplings were always a welcome break after a hard day's work on the ranch, and Elena was always ready and willing. He loved that about her. He also liked to believe she was ready for him only.

"You're the best," Elena purred with a smile.

He lay a moment on top of her, eyes closed, as he fought to catch his breath and was unwilling to pull out her tight hot channel. "I reckon you say that to all us pokes," he chuckled, hearing her giggling above him. He raised his head and smiled upon her pretty face before she began pushing at him.

"You're heavy! Git off me," she said with a charming giggle.

He smiled as he pulled out of her and got off before walking to the washbasin. He wasn't looking forward to the cold water to wash him now, but one glance over at the bale of hay and Elena's naked and spread thighs told him, it was the best thing for him.

He sighed. That woman was going to be the death of him.

She smiled coyly as she pushed herself up and leaned back on elbows. "Yes, but I mean it only with you," she said coyly.

He frowned as he washed his groin and looked over at her. "Mean what only with me?"

"That you're the best." When she saw the jealous look on his face, she laughed softly. "You know you're the only one, mi gran ranchero," she purred.

He gave her sidelong smile. "Yea, sure," he said with a chuckle. "Anyway, we best call it a night. I reckon I'd git to the stables 'fore I hit the hay myself, see if Billy did as I told him and put fresh hay in with Lady. She's near foalin'." He finished adjusting his jeans before he ran his hand back through his blond hair and slipped his cowboy hat on.

"Yea," she said with an exasperated sigh. "I wish your pa hired a real housekeeper," she said with a sigh as she pulled on her panties, missing how he frowned curiously at her. "He's still making me change the sheets in his room although they're never soiled. He makes me change his sheets every day," she said with a cute pout. "When will that Isabella start doin' them?"

"Don't you think you should be helping her?" he asked with a curious smile.

"Hah! No." She scoffed as she went to the washbasin to wash her hands. "I know your pa would like me to, but it ain't gonna happen. And you know what else? He wants me to help with cookin', too!"

"Yea, well, it'd be nice if you'd help her out more, at least until she's feeling better." He chuckled, shaking his head. "She ain't one hundred percent yet and we don't want her fallin' and faintin' cuz we work her too hard, know what I mean?"

"Yea," Elena said with a thoughtful frown. "She's already fainted twice." Then she looked curiously thoughtful. "Or maybe she's fallin' in some trance."

"Trance?" Junior asked with eyebrows up.

She knew Junior didn't believe in witches and hexes, so she merely smiled. "With so many good looking men around, what woman can resist fallin' into a trance?"

He shook his head with a chuckle. "You're not tryin' to say that she's some kind of witch, are you?" He chuckled again. "You're the bruja, Elena. A crazy bruja," he said as he walked toward the wide doors of the shed to head for the stables.

"Si, but you like your bruja loco, don't you?" She batted eyes at him.

He laughed and shook his head.

She didn't like the way that Isabella was getting all the attention—especially with the Barrington men. She damn well knew that although he never mentioned it, her "gran ranchero" had been looking at that Isabella, too. And she didn't like it. Time to up the ante.

"Hey, ranchero?"

Junior stopped and looked over his shoulder. "Yea?"

"I was wonderin'," she began with a flirtatious smile, "would you be jealous if I spent some quality time with James and tutor him in the ways of el amor?"

He frowned, hiding his jealousy. "He's twenty-one, not twelve. I reckon he don't need no tutorin' from anyone anymore."

"Maybe. Maybe not." She shrugged. "He's still lookin' at me in that way, you know?"

"I haven't noticed."

"Yea," she said with a nod. "I don't think he's been with a woman for a long time, ever since that Rena girl."

"You mean, Reece."

"Yea." Then she smiled coyly. "You know how I love to help the young ones out," she said as she let a long golden leg sway off the bale of hay.

"Do I now?"

"Unless," she batted long eyelashes, "you want me to be yours only?"

His handsome face grew just a little harder, but he merely shrugged as he headed toward the exit. Elena was a great woman but she loved to play games. "Like I've said before, Elena, I don't hold any papers on you."

"But how do you feel about it?"

"Do whatever you want." Then he masked his irritation with a smile. "You always do anyhow."

"Cabrón!" she said as he exited the shed, but the moment he had, her smile faded as a look of hurt reflected in her big brown eyes.

Outside, Junior's smile faded, not feeling at all good about what he heard. He knew Elena was out for a commitment from him, and he liked her well enough, but he wasn't sure how Pa felt about it. He couldn't deny he wanted her exclusively and although she acted like a flirt, he knew, in his heart, it was just an act. Elena was a sweet gal, and just a little playful. She never meant anyone any harm. As these thoughts lingered in his head, he stopped just outside the door when he realized he'd forgotten to zip up his fly.

"That woman's hotter than a stolen tamale and she's gonna do me in," he whispered to himself as he zipped up his fly. Then he suddenly started when he saw his brawny brother standing just in front of the bushes.

"Jake?" he said, seeing that glare in his younger brother's eyes. "What the hell are ya doin', lurkin' out here—?" That's as far as he got before he heard a growl, saw stars, and all the lights went out for him even before he hit the ground!

**~*~**


Chapter Eight

Tension was so thick in the air in the Barrington kitchen the following morning that Isabella was certain she could cut it with a knife. There was something terribly amiss between the two eldest Barrington brothers, and she appeared to be the only one clueless as to what. Well, she and John Barrington, that is.

Once again she failed to see her plan through to leave Barrington Ranch although there was no excuse for that delay any longer. She had her keys and she had been packing her things, but then she suddenly felt exhausted and was overcome with intense sleep. The emotional shock she suffered having heard about her father's health tore her up inside, and she couldn't deny having seen Jacob with Elena in the shed had affected her adversely, too.

That night, with her resolve to move on, she had allowed herself a break from packing her things and laid herself on the bed thinking about those jarring events, and how she needed to leave Barrington Ranch now more than ever. The next thing she knew, it was morning. Another chance missed!

As she thought about her failure, she quietly poured the coffee as Elena poured the juice. Neither one said a word as they served the four Barrington men their breakfast. Come to think of it, it was unusually silent at the Barrington breakfast table.

She could see, however, that John Jr. was glaring at Jacob from time to time. James seemed to try and make himself invisible in his chair as he quietly had his breakfast, and even the patriarch of the family was unusually quiet as he looked at his two oldest sons from under a darkening frown.

It was also pretty clear that John Jr. and Jacob had brawled. John Jr. had a bruise on his left jaw the size of an orange, and a healing cut on his lip. There weren't any cuts or bruises on Jacob, at least none she could detect, but his knuckles, now cleaned, had been cut and had bled some time ago.

Then she frowned when she saw how Elena would glare at Jacob from time to time. Her expression changed from sympathy to anger when she looked from John Jr. to Jacob. She was clearly upset with the latter and she obviously knew what was going on.

Then she finally put two-and-two together. She realized that the two brothers had gone fist to fist over Elena. She'd seen how Mister John eyed the exotic beauty when he thought no one was looking, and he must've come upon them the evening before—much like she had—and they must've fought about it...and despite being the older brother, Mister John clearly didn't emerge as the winner.

After the quietest breakfast she's ever attended was over, the Barrington men, one by one, got up and left for their work. With them out of the kitchen, Elena lost interest in staying, and she soon disappeared, too, leaving the cleaning up to her. As she cleared the table and cleaned the kitchen, she thought about that uncomfortable morning. It was obvious to her that talking things out in the Barrington home was not the norm. Brooding was.

The Barrington men, including John Barrington himself, were normally men of few words. She surmised that when it came to talking about feelings, they didn't talk at all. Instead, as with most men, they chose to be silent and allow any and all grievances go away all in their lonesome. Problem was, that never happened.

Whatever gripes they might have, if they don't talk them out, these could fester and become a big bitter ball and a feud. Simple disagreements would then become monumental grudges that can escalate into hatred. She knew this better than anyone since her father and her brother were pretty much the same way.

When her mother died, the relationship between Reg and their father became strained to the limit. In the past, it was her mother who kept the peace in their house. She always made Reg go to their father to talk things out, and she wouldn't take no for an answer. Now she was gone, Reg and her father's relationship only seemed to deteriorate. Was there even a relationship anymore? She couldn't be sure.

"So much time wasted," she whispered softly as, later that morning, she pulled the bedsheets out of the washer. Since Elena had gone a.w.o.l., she decided to do the bedsheets herself. She needed something to keep her mind off of her father's health issues, hush her guilt for not being there for him, nurture the hope that Charles really did plan to get married, and...try to ignore how she'd been feeling about Jacob Barrington.

A few moments later, she found herself in the gardens. The warm, early summer breeze made the washed sheets billow as they blew gently on clotheslines. It was mid-morning, and she busied herself with the daily laundry, hoping to get it done by noon. She'd seen that clotheslines had once been strung up but were never used. As long as she was there, and the weather permitted it, she was going to make good use of them.

Although the laundry room was well equipped with an industrial-sized washer and dryer pair, and although it was still quite a walk from there to the clotheslines, she believed it was worth the extra effort. For her, nothing beat washed sheets and bedding blown dry by nature's own.

Dressed in a yellow sleeveless cotton dress and a pink cardigan, she hummed softly as she set clothespins on the freshly washed sheets. She was enjoying this peaceful moment after the tense morning, and the delicate scent of clean laundry always made her worries go away, even if only for a brief half hour or so.

The breeze picked up a little, whipping the black tendrils of hair around her small face. The rest of her hair had been bound in a low tail down her back, and the bunch was heavy enough not to blow all too wildly around her.

Who would've guessed that she, Isabella Beamont-Boucher, child of privilege, young mistress of Boucher Manor, and the product of children of two prominent Louisiana families, would find herself hanging out bedsheets on a cattle ranch in rural Texas?

"How unpredictable life can be," she whispered as she adjusted a damp sheet on the line before she resumed humming her song.

"That song sounds familiar."

She started a little before she turned big blue eyes and looked at James who was standing to her right with a loaded basket of freshly washed sheets and pillowcases. Aside from John Barrington himself, James was by far the kindest, most approachable Barrington.

She smiled. "It was my mother's favorite song."

"It's Pa's favorite song, too." He smiled as he dropped the basket by her feet, and then straightened as he gazed around them and at the billowing sheets. "You just about need a compass to navigate around these sheets."

"I'd have to settle for a map since I've never held a compass, let alone know how to use one," she joined in the joke, making him chuckle.

"I use my smartphone for maps," he chuckled. "Need any help?"

She bent and took up another big damp white sheet, but when she shook it out, he immediately stepped back to avoid flying droplets.

"Oh, I see!" She laughed. "You want to help, but you're afraid of a little water."

He grinned. "Hey, I offered to help hang the sheets, not get wet by 'em."

She shook her head, smiling. "Then you have yourself a dilemma, indeed," she pointed out as she tossed the sheet over an empty stretch of line before she looked at him with a wry smile. "There's no avoiding getting somewhat wet when tending to the laundry. See?" She turned and showed him where dark spots dotted the front of her yellow dress and pink sweater.

"Didn't you notice we have this new-fangled metal box thing that dries clothes and big sheets like this in the laundry room?" he asked as he flicked a corner of a billowing sheet with a fingertip. "It'd get the job done with half the effort."

"Yes, but will they have that spring-fresh feel and scent?"

"I'd seen a box of "spring fresh" dryer sheets in the laundry room," he said with a big grin as he helped her hang up the last sheet, no longer bothered by droplets of water.

"Funny, Mister James," she said wryly as she finished.

"Didn't I tell you to just call me James without the "mister"?"

"Yes, I recall you have," she answered with a nod and playful smile dancing on her lips. "But can you recall my explaining to you that propriety dictates that I address you respectfully in your father's house?" Then she bent and swept up the empty laundry basket as she made her way out from behind the billowing sheets.

He caught up with her brisk walk and fell in step, walking side-by-side with her. "Yea, reckon I understood you in the beginning, but you've been here now three days. I reckon it'd be aw'right to be less formal now."

"Well established decorum knows no time limits, Mister James. You don't expect the others employed by your father to be as informal, do you? After all, they've been here far longer than I."

"You don't seriously think you're just one o' the ranch hands, do you?"

"No, of course not. But I am paid staff, Mister James."

"Naw. You're different."

"Aside from my gender, in what way am I different from the others?"

James shrugged. "You just are."

She smiled and shook her head. "It's very kind of you, and it's appreciated."

"I'm not just sayin' it just to be kind, Isabella," he said with a slight frown.

"I know, Mister James, but I also know my place here at Barrington Ranch and in your father's house. Aside from my gender, I'm no different than any other hired person here and I would truly appreciate it if you could accept that."
"But what about Elena, then?"

"What about her?"

"She's your gender and she never says "mister"."

"Perhaps you need to ask her," Isabella said as they crossed the cobblestone walk to the back door of the house toward the steps leading up to the laundry room door.

"Naw. I already know why," he said with a sigh. "Elena's like family ever since her pa left her behind when she was only twelve and Pa took her in as his own."

Isabella was surprised to learn that Elena had been part of the Barrington family since she was a young girl. "What about her mother?"

James shrugged. "Her ma skedaddled when Elena was just six years old. She used to be our housekeeper and cook, but then when Ma left, Elena's ma went with her."

Isabella blinked big eyes as she looked at James. "Your mother is still alive?"

"Yea," he said, frowning as he looked at her surprised face. "What did you think?"

"I-I didn't think anything," Isabella confessed. "I assumed she'd passed away."

"Naw," James shook his head. "Ma didn't like life on the ranch. She was more into city life and left for New Orleans when I was just a couple of years old."

That was a surprise! Mrs. John Barrington was a resident of Louisiana??

"She writes Pa from time to time," James continued, oblivious to her surprise. "Well, she writes a letter every week." He shrugged.

"Do you still have contact with her?"

"I used to visit her every weekend," he admitted.

"Not anymore?"

"Naw. Just once a year. I'm fixin' to go visit her after college classes are done for the year like I always do."

"Do any of your brothers visit her?"

"Nah. And that's a shame. Junior don't want anythin' to do with her, and Jake, well, I reckon he's still upset that she'd left so he pretends he don't know she exists. But I think Jake misses her a lot. Oh, a team of wild mustangs can't git him to fess up about it, but I think he misses Ma the most since they were so close before she left. He took it hard. It's maybe the reason why he's so against marriage, ya know?"

"No, I didn't know but it stands to reason," she said with a brief smile. "And there you have your answer, Mister James," she said, drawing a curious look from him. "Elena is more like family than staff, therefore she's allotted privileges paid staff are not. It affords her the right to be less formal."

"Well, don't it count that you have a room at the main house? I mean, the ranch hands don't, so don't that make you different than them?"

"Although it's deeply flattering to me, no, Mister James, it doesn't change my status here. I'm still not a Barrington, I was not raised in the Barrington home and, at the end of the day, I'm still paid for my services. That makes me no more and no less than a member of the Barrington staff." Then she smiled. "And I'm fine with that," she said quietly as he opened the screen door to allow her through first.

Although she was well aware that John Barrington and at least one of his sons were nothing less than warm and kind toward her, she knew her place as just another employee, and she wanted to make sure that when she left, they'd never be able to say she took advantage of them.

She wasn't blind, though. She, too, had noticed how their interaction with her didn't seem to sit well with sexy, beautiful Elena. The spirited young woman she was supposed to oversee held a special place in the Barrington home, and even being the Barrington housekeeper and head of housekeeping, she knew better than to attempt enforcement of her position with Elena right from the start. She would eventually "woo" the sensual beauty to accept her, but for now, her barbs were up, and she kept her distance lest those barbs stab her.

Elena was also a few years older than she was. The exotic beauty's green eyes sent warnings loud and clear that she didn't appreciate her presence and she sure wasn't going to allow her to assert her authority with her. She had been with the Barringtons since she was a little girl, so the Latina, rightfully, still held seniority over her.

James had followed her into the laundry room and was still talking as she thought about these things, so she didn't hear half of what he was saying. She was busy tidying up the place for the day as he stood back against the long fold-up table on hinges that was used for folding clothes as he continued the conversation she'd already decided was over.

"I don't think Pa or Junior would either," he continued.

She had no clue what he was talking about.

"I really appreciate your help, Mister James," Isabella smiled up at him, but her smile faded when she saw him looking into her eyes with a look that sent alarm bells off in her head.

"Isabella?"

"Mister James?"

"I'd been thinkin'—"

The sound of heavy boot falls made him pause, and he raised his head to look over her head and at the door of the kitchen behind her.

"Oh, howdy, Jake," James said as he quickly straightened with pink cheeks.

Once again, she felt intimidated by Jacob even though she didn't even see him. He was standing in the kitchen doorway behind her, but the fact that he only stood within a few feet of her, unnerved her. She quickly took a rag and pretended to wipe down the dark red washer as James turned to face his brother.

"Was wonderin' where you'd been keepin'," Jacob drawled.

James cleared his throat and looked more uncomfortable. "Here, there... So, ah... what can I do for you, big brother?"

"Didn't Junior tell you to go help Dan with herdin' cattle to Parcel Six?" Jacob said with an authoritative, unfriendly tone that even surprised his younger brother.

"Yea, I was on my way to saddle up when I saw Isabella here strugglin' with some heavy laundry baskets out back. I reckoned she might need some help, is all."

She wished the floor would just open up and swallow her whole. The last thing she wanted was to be in the middle of this and she wished James hadn't brought her name up in his defense. She understood it, but she didn't like it.

"Really? That's mighty helpful of you, James."

"Just wanna help where I can, considerin' Pa had said that Isabella shouldn't overdo it," James said with a sheepish smile.

She frowned as she looked up at him, but he had his full attention on his brother behind her.

"Yea, well now that's done, you best go relieve Jerr. He had to take your place, and I had to pull 'im from Chet's group off Parcel Two."

"Oh?" James' blue eyes lit with tease. "Which Jerr you talkin' about, Jake? That smelly old dog or your Australian Shepherd?" He followed that up with a chuckle at his own joke.

Well, at least she now knew the name of Jacob's beautiful dog.

Isabella pressed fingers to her smiling lips, knowing the old cowpoke and his penchant for avoiding the showers, but she couldn't stop her shoulders from shaking in silent laughter. Momentarily forgetting herself, she looked over her shoulder with a smile behind fingers, but one look at Jacob Barrington's stony face wiped the smile from her face instantaneously—and he wasn't even looking at her!

"Yea..." James cleared his throat as his brother remained stoic, silent, and unamused. "Better git my behind in gear," he mumbled as he twisted his waist and took his hat off a higher shelf, plopped it on his head and headed for the screen door. "See ya, Isabella," he said as he pushed open the screen.

"Mister James," she returned politely as she watched him go. Then it dawned on her that she was alone with the last person she'd want to be alone with.

She turned her head, but Jacob had already strolled over to the screen door to watch his younger brother walk around the verandah before he exited via the screen door, too, and she quickly dropped the rag, turned, and hurried through the door into the kitchen.

**~*~**


An hour after that uncomfortable situation in the laundry room, she was in the kitchen finishing the bread dough. She had already packed it in bread pans and covered them with cotton cheese cloths. They stood side-by-side on the counter to rise, and would soon be ready for baking the perfect loaves that Marie, the Beaumont-Boucher's family cook, was famous for.

She had taught a reluctant five year old Isabella this little trademark secret, and although a curse back then for a playful child that wanted nothing more than to play outside, as a grown woman now, she could appreciate what she'd learned from the friendly Cajun woman now.

"You truly are a godsend, Marie," she said with a soft smile.

The sounds of the refrigerator door being pulled open behind her made her pause and look over her shoulder. She blinked surprised eyes when she saw Jacob had returned to the house and was helping himself to a bottle of coke—a Dr. Pepper. She soon learned that coke was the generic name for all carbonated drinks here in Bellville.

Thankfully, the refrigerator's silver-chrome door was in-between them, obscuring his view of her. It was then when she decided it would be a good idea to make a quiet exit...

"Need anythin' from town?"

Having only taken two steps into the direction of her room, she stopped in her tracks and let a moment pass before she turned and looked across the kitchen at him. He was sauntering over to the tidy round kitchen table to help himself to a big Red Delicious apple, his tall, imposing profile to her with hat in hand that left his wild blond locks free. For a brief few moments, she wondered how they would feel slipping through her fingers...

"Don't you mean "city"?" she said, clearing her throat and producing an amiable smile.

He turned his head and looked at her. "You know it's a city now."

She nodded as she looked away. "Yes. I understand." She understood that she could now refer to Bellville as "town" since she now understood that using "town" was relative rather than literal. Like coke was the generic word for all soda pop.

"Supplies? Groceries? Women things?" he said as he moved the apple as he spoke, looking at her now with no animosity.

"No. Not that can think of. Thank you, Mister Jacob," she said politely.

He calmly turned and leaned lazily back against the table. He crossed booted ankles and laid a muscular tanned forearm over his abdomen.

"You sure, now?"

"Yes, Mister Jacob, I'm sure," she answered, not at all certain that was the case, but it was the best answer to give. She wasn't planning on going anywhere with him. Ever. Not after that uncomfortable situation from the day before. "Now if you'll excuse me—"

"—I'd like you to come with me to town."

"What?" she piped with big, saucer-like eyes.

"Come on." He motioned with his head, already heading into the direction of the door as if it was a settled case.

It wasn't. At least, not to her.

"Um, Mister Jacob? Sir?" she tried but got no response. "Mister Jacob!" she finally called out a little louder and finally got him to stop and turn on heel to look calmly back at her. "I can't go with you. I still have the laundry outside, and I have bread rising for baking, and—"

"—It can wait. Evenin' supper ain't for another seven hours and we'll be back long before then."

"You're forgetting there's afternoon supper," she pointed out. "Your father is strict when it comes to three meals a day—"

"—Taken care of. Rosita's Caterin' is comin' by in an hour," he said. Then he quirked his eyebrows. "Any other excuses you wanna toss out, or can we git goin'?"

He was clearly telling her he knew she was making up excuses not to go with him, once again confirming for her that he was more astute than she gave him credit for. It irritated her, so when he arched an eyebrow, he got a cross look in return.

"I don't want to go into town," she finally conceded.

He stared at her and saw her flush with color before she looked away.

"With me? Or in general?"

"Please don't make it personal, Mister Jacob," she said softly.

"But it is personal, Bella." He finally moved and turned to face her, eyeing her with hard blue eyes. "I thought you understood that. It's very personal. And it's all your doin', too."

She blinked big eyes in disbelief. Was he upset with her? "My fault?!" She shook her head. "No. How can my not going to town with you be—?"

"—I warned you to leave that day, remember?" he said, narrowing eyes and watching color rise in her cheeks. "But you didn't listen. You had to stick around and prove somethin'. Now you've won my Pa's heart and nestled there, and it's too late. I offered you enough money to go and find another place, but you wanted to challenge me, and by doin' that, you made it personal. So yea, Bella, it's been personal since day one."

"You can't be serious." She shook her head incredulously. "How did you expect me to act after you came charging into the kitchen like an irate bull, bossing me around? From the moment I stepped on hallowed Barrington ground that day, you acted like a tyrant toward me. You even threatened me if I stayed."

"I wasn't threatenin'. I was tryin' to give you fair warnin'."

"Same difference!"

He slowly shook his head. "No. I was givin' you a chance to leave while you still could cuz I knew you couldn't understand what you were gettin' yourself into here," he said as he checked his wristwatch.

Her lips tugged into an annoyed line. "If time is of essence," she said, "I suggest you leave posthaste and tend to your business, Mister Jacob."

"I'm trying, but she ain't cooperatin'," he drawled.

She stiffened. "I beg your pardon?"

"Now as I see it, you've got two choices, Bella," he slowly began as if talking to a slow child. "You can either come with me on your own two feet, or you can come kickin' and hollerin' over my shoulder," he said, ignoring her gasp of outrage, "but you're comin'."

"How dare you threaten me!"

"You got one minute to make up your mind," he said, unimpressed with her indignation. "And before you go thinkin' you can go callin' for my pa's help, he's gone for the day and he ain't gonna be back 'til supper."

Isabella narrowed her eyes but he arched a mildly surprised eyebrow. "Now you listen to me, Mister Jacob Barrington, I'm not one of your mindless cows that you can push and prod as you see fit. You're not the first man who thinks he can push me around, and I'm certain you won't be the last, but you'll learn soon enough that I refuse to be pushed around."

"Time's up."

Her heart skipped a terrified beat. The color in her face sucked straight out when she saw him take his first step toward her. Panic ignited but hope returned when she realized there was still a decent gap between them—big enough for her to easily run and stay out of his reach.

Acting purely on instinct, and absolutely not thinking, she quickly turned tail and fled for the door that led to the hall by her room, but despite his bulk, Jacob Barrington was quick on his feet!

In the next instant, she felt arms snatch around her, and she made a yelp before she was snapped about-face and shoved back against the wall. In her panic—and anger—she immediately flew into a struggle and began shoving at the offending arms around her waist, but then he pressed his entire body against hers, pinning her back against the wall, and the effect of that move was instantaneous.

She froze and ceased all struggles.

It was as if an electrical shock sped through her entire being. Her nipples puckered and hardened and her feminine parts far lower than that, heated up. Shocked by this purely physical reaction to feeling Jacob's hard body against hers, she quickly looked up at his handsome but tense face...and then she went bright red—brighter red than that Red Delicious that he'd just dropped on the floor. But she couldn't tear her gaze away from him.

Once again, her body betrayed her common sense, as her gaze dropped from his eyes to his lips. They were so close, so strong, and so full, well within her reach. She ached to know how they'd feel against hers. Her fingers that had come to rest on his hard shoulders, curled as she fought her desire to find out what it would be like to kiss him and to be kissed by him. Her desire proved too strong and her will, too weak, when he made the first move and his head lowered...

She felt his warm breath brush her lips, and she went instantly dizzy. Although he was so tall and so broad, his body didn't frighten her as she had expected. In fact, it was as if she couldn't get enough of being enveloped in the strength he emanated. They were touching from chest to toes and it felt heavenly...like nothing she's ever known...and when his lips descended, hers rose to meet him in a deceptively gentle kiss that hid the intense desire burning just beneath the surface.

Her mind spiraled out of control. She was overcome with a strange hot dizziness that made her unstable on her feet. In that state, she didn't trust her legs and leaned into him, pressing her body only tighter against his. The sensation of her hardened nipples grazing his chest sent fresh bolts of electrical current shooting through her, and she knew he could feel her tremble when he reacted by intensifying the kiss; gently twisting and molding her lips to his as he seduced her and welcomed her into the passionate world of lovers.

She never wanted the kiss to end. It was as if she fed a certain need inside her that had been starving. Her arms slipped up his shoulders and around his neck, and she kissed him with a growing hunger that even surprised her. Her lips never left his even when she felt him lift her as her feet left the floor; they never left his even as her legs wrapped around his hips as he carried her to her room, even as she felt the soft downy surface of her comforter at her back. Her lips only broke free with a gasp when she felt his groin press tightly high between her thighs, and she experienced the most incredible sensation of his hot bold erection burning through the layers of both their clothing against her spread parted labia and aching pussy.

They were both fully clothed, but he was unmistakably making love to her as if they were as naked as the day they were born. His tongue licked across her lips and she opened them, thirsting for him like a rose for the taste of first morning's dew, welcoming his tongue for deeper exploration.

His hands smoothed down her body and along her thigh and leg, slipping first one then the other around him, encouraging her with deed, not words, to wrap them around him. He never broke the pace of pushing his hips tightly against her; back and forth, demanding then relenting, mimicking the rhythm of the real thing.

To her, it was the real thing. She gasped and writhed under his gentle but persistent sexual seduction. Her body was set aflame. She never felt this incredible heat before and never thought she ever would. But he felt so good and hard against her, and she welcomed the bold outline of his erection, still separated by layers of cotton, against her, stimulating her aching hot core to surrender until she thought she'd go insane.

"Jacob..." she whispered breathlessly with growing desire, and began rubbing and pressing his groin against her in earnest. "Jacob—oh!" she ended with a cry when it felt as if her very soul was ripped from her body and hurled out into the stratosphere!

That rubbing, that pushing, and that pressing finally resulted in her first true orgasm with another. It was a wondrous experience that she's never had in all her adult years...and it was surprisingly draining. She discovered that she was unbelievably sleepy, but even as she fought against the tide of slumber, she was already succumbing to it.

When he finally broke the kiss, she was already quiet beneath him. He lifted his head and looked upon her with eyes that were still dark with unrequited lust. But this wasn't his moment. This was hers. And for a few moments more, he stared at her flushed, sleeping face before he gently slipped her arms from around his neck and laid them on her chest. Then he moved away and carefully moved her further onto the bed. He removed her uncomfortable looking strap sandals from her delicate feet, and then took the throw from the armchair and laid it over her. She stirred only once, mumbling something before she turned onto her side with hands under her cheek.
As he was about to exit her room when he heard her whisper a name, and this time it wasn't the name of the man who haunted her. This time it was his name that she whispered with a soft sigh. He stared at her for a few moments before he quietly exited her room with a smile on his lips...

**~*~**


When evening supper came around, Isabella seemed no different than usual, but that was just a farce. To borrow one of the Barrington's 'Texasisms', she was as nervous as a fly in the glue pot. When all too familiar boot falls sounded in the kitchen as the Barrington men entered for supper, and she immediately tensed. She instantly recognized one pair of confident boot falls that could only belong to one.

She pretended as if nothing had happened as she turned from the counter holding a serving dish with a large beef roast on it. It was garnished with fresh radishes, romaine lettuce, and sliced bell peppers. She set the dish in the center of the table as the Barrington men congregated around the table at their usual seating places.

Jacob was the last to enter, and from the corner of her eye she could see that he looked showered and refreshed, just like his father and brothers. He glanced at her but she quickly lowered her eyelashes just as he pulled out his chair and seated himself and immediately helped himself to large helpings of buttery fluffy mashed potatoes.

"Isabella!" John Barrington called jovially.

"Yes, Mr. Barrington?" she asked as she returned with a large pitcher of fresh milk.

"Havin' consulted with my boys, we've decided unanimously that the position of housekeeper and cook is yours if you still want it."

She stole a glance Jacob's way, but he wasn't looking at her. "Unanimously?"

"You do make a fine home-cooked meal, Isabella," John Jr. said with an appreciative smile as he reached for the oversized fork on the serving dish with the roast.

"And the house ain't been this clean for a long while," James added with a smile.

"Thank you, Mister John, Mister James," she said with a stealthy glance in Jacob's direction as he lifted his head and looked straight at her. Her eyelashes fluttered briefly before she quickly returned her attention to the father and smiled. "Thank you, Mr. Barrington."

"No, Isabella, thank you," John Barrington said with his Texas twang. "Us four ornery cusses have been enjoyin' some real fine dinin' since you've arrived, and I particularly like how my bed sheets have been smellin' and feelin'," he said with a chuckle. "Nuthin' beats Mother Nature lingerin' in the sheets, tell you what."

"Yea," James chimed in, "Pa said you should get two days a week off. Everybody needs time off to do things like, I dunno, see a movie or somethin'."

Both John Jr. and Jacob raised their heads and frowned curiously at their youngest brother who had a suspicious blush in his cheeks.

"That really isn't necessary. I take my rests throughout the day," she said.

"Nonsense," John Barrington said as he scooped large ladles-full of gravy on top of his mountain of mashed potatoes, "like my boy says, everybody needs a day or two for some R and R."

Understanding that he wasn't going to take no for an answer, she relented. "Well, I guess it would be nice."

It didn't matter, anyway, she thought silently. The moment she awakened and remembered what she'd allowed to happen, she knew she couldn't stay. She also decided she would leave Barrington Ranch that very evening because she couldn't trust herself around Jacob Barrington. Earlier, she'd enlisted old Jerr's help to bring the Rover to her side of the house. This time she was going to do whatever she needed to do to leave. This time she was going to see it through, no ifs, ands, or buts.

She knew that her choice to leave so abruptly had more to do than her sexual attraction to Jacob. She was actually beginning to have stronger feelings for him, more than she was comfortable with. She wasn't sure if they were truly for him or just some misguided reaction to everything that had happened in the past twenty four hours. It was still all so confusing!

And to be honest, she wasn't really sure how he felt about her, either, considering his renowned reputation. Did he see her as a challenge? Another notch on his bedpost, metaphorically speaking? Did he only want her because she was convenient? She was nothing like the women he was most certainly accustomed to, and she had a lot of baggage she knew he didn't need.

"Then that's settled," John Barrington said. "What days do you reckon you'd wanna take, Isabella?"

She opened her mouth but James was quicker.

"How about Wednesdays and Thursdays?"

"Oh, um, yes, well that sounds fine," she said with a nod.

"Then it's settled. You'll have Wednesdays and Thursdays off," John Barrington said with a wink, drawing a shaky smile from her.

"Well, if there's nothing else, I'll leave you to your supper," she said. "There's chocolate mousse cooling in the refrigerator for desert." She turned to leave when James spoke up again.

"Well, we were kind of hopin' you might want to come and sit with us."

She stopped and turned to face him. "Thank you, Mister James. I'm honored, please know that, but it's not my place," she said with a kind smile. Then she turned and left the kitchen without further incident.

"Why didn't you say anythin', Pa?" James whined. "She should be at the table like the rest of us."

"Naw. Isabella's right, son," his father told him. "It ain't fair to Elena."

"It ain't like she can't. She just has her supper in her room cuz she's hooked on that stupid teevee show that she can't go a day without."

"Regardless," his father told his youngest son. "She might not like seeing Isabella gettin' special treatment. That can breed bad blood and we don't want any of that. Elena's set in her ways, and she's been with us for a long time. We've gotta think of her feelings."

"Yea, Pa's right, James," Junior said as he scooped up a large forkful of gravy-drenched mashed potatoes. "Until she decides to come sit with us at the table on her own, it ain't a good idea to have Isabella do it first. Elena has seniority."

"Elena's a spoiled brat," James said with an angry frown.

"Watch your tongue, James," Junior warned with a hard look.

"It's true, ain't it?" James said stubbornly. "She ain't pullin' her weight around here, and she's makin' Isabella do all the chores, even Pa's sheets now."

"I said," John Jr. growled, "watch your tongue. Or I'm gonna watch it for you."

"I'm just tryin' to say that she needs to start thinkin' about helpin' out around here more cuz she don't think she has to. Even Angie pulled her own weight around here—"

"—And then some," Junior said with a derisive sniff, looking at Jacob as his lips curled. "Right, Jake?"

Jacob flickered up cold blue eyes as he looked across the table at his brother. "If you've got somethin' to say to me, Junior?"

"Maybe. Maybe not."

"Then say it already."

"You really want me to do that, Jake? Right here at the table?"

"Go for it."

"That's enough!" John Barrington said with a harsh tone as he looked at his sons. "You boys will keep a civil tongue at my table, hear? Whatever's goin' on between you two, it ain't comin' to a head here. Git it outta your goddamn system already! It's affectin' the morale among the men, not to mention makin' supper these days mighty unpleasant, and I ain't gonna stand for it anymore, hear? Not anymore."

The tension between the two eldest Barrington sons was thick and hot. After their father's reprimand, the meal proceeded in uncomfortable silence, the discomfort felt mostly by the youngest of the three sons.

Jacob was the first to finish, and he set his napkin aside and then rose from the table before he exited the kitchen. Not long thereafter, John Barrington, too, had enough, and muttered a curse before he threw his napkin on the table.

"I'll be in the study," he said as he shoved his chair back, got up, and stalked out of the kitchen.

John Jr. watched with head bent; eyes following his father's angry exit.

James looked disapprovingly at his remaining brother.

"It ain't his fault Angie left, Junior. You've gotta stop holdin' him responsible for somethin' he ain't had anythin' to do with. Pa's right, this has gotta end. It's tearin' the family apart. Angie made her choice. She wanted Jake—"

"—You've got a ten gallon mouth these days, James."

The youngest Barrington sighed. "You've gotta respect her choice and you've gotta let it go, all right?"

"You don't understand, James." John Jr. shook his head; his handsome face still grim and the hurt still very much alive in his blue eyes. "Jacob betrayed me. He betrayed her. He seduced her—"

"—Stop it already!" James snapped; seeing his brother descending into that place of hurt and rage again. "Now I don't know what she told you, but I know what I saw. Jake ain't ever made any designs on her. I swear, Junior, he did everythin' to avoid her. Her leavin' ain't his fault, it's her choice, and it's time you set this whole mess aside—" He abruptly stopped when Junior shot to his feet and set his napkin over his plate.

"Don't let Isabella's dessert go to waste, James," Junior said before he turned and left the kitchen, too.

"Jesus." James shook his head and set elbows on the table and held his weary, frustrated head in his hands. "This has gotta end already..."

"Was my cooking not up to par this evening?"

James looked up at the door and saw Isabella had returned from her room, holding her own half-full plate with a curious look in her eyes. She looked sheepishly at him as she walked to the sink to empty her plate in the garbage disposal.

"No, no, Isabella. Your cookin' was excellent as always. It ain't that. Honest," he said as he quickly got up and went to her to stand beside her. "My brothers have been like this long before you came, and ain't got nothing to do with you or your cookin', which is pretty damn good."

She smiled wistfully before she bent and pulled out the dishwasher rack. "Good. Then what ever it is, it's not my concern," she said as she set her silverware and plate in the compartments.

"I just wanted to let you know you've got nothing to do with the quarrel between Junior and Jacob."

"Thank you. That's kind of you, Mister James." She smiled a quick, uncomfortable smile and passed him to clear the table as his gaze followed. Then he quickly followed to help her.

"You don't have to do that, Mister James."

"It's okay," he said with a charming smile. "I don't mind."

"Well then," she gave him a warm smile as she gathered and stacked the plates, "I appreciate your help."

"Y'know? Isabella is a very pretty name."

"Thank you."

"Are you named after your mother?"

"No, Mister James. My mother's name was Eleanora."

"Was?"

She was quiet as she rinsed a plate before setting it in the dishwasher. "Yes. Was," she finally said.

"I'm sorry," he said with genuine empathy.

"Thank you," she said kindly.

"How long ago?"

She understood that he wasn't being nosy. He was just showing polite interest, but it still stung to talk about her beloved mother. "Little over ten years."

"An illness?"

"No." She shook her head as she closed the dishwasher. "Automobile accident." She pressed the buttons and the machine started its cycle. "So," she said as she plastered on a smile, "would you like me to set a pot of coffee? Do you think they'd want some?"

Understanding that she was through talking about a painful and tragic event in her life, he decided to change the subject with humor. His eyes twinkled and he chuckled. "Arbuckle, you mean?"

She laughed softly. "Yes. I forgot. Coffee is Arbuckle around here."

He smiled with a nod. "I could use some."

"Then I'll set a fresh pot of Arbuckle for you, Mister James."

**~*~**


After she'd cleaned the kitchen, and with tablecloth carefully bunched up so as not to drop any crumbs, she went to the other back door that opened directly to the outside. She stepped out onto the short square porch under the burning lamp and tossed out the table cloth, shaking off any crumbs before she checked for stains.

She was lucky this time.

She began folding the big red and white checkered table cloth and quietly let her mind travel back in time. She recalled the moment her mother taught her to appreciate the hard work of their incredibly energetic and skilled housekeeper and cook, Maria, and to learn from her for her own benefit.

"However unlikely it may seem this moment, Isabella, there might come a day when you'll need basic domestic skills. You can't know what the future holds. A time may come when you'll find yourself in a less fortunate situation than today, so it's wise to familiarize yourself with these basic but no less important tasks and to learn to do them right. It also helps build character and a deep respect and appreciation for the work of those employed by us so that we may never take them for granted."

She smiled by that fond memory as she finished folding the tablecloth.

"Well, you're right, Mama." She looked up at the starry skies with quiet eyes, and sighed with a smile. "And I thank you with all my heart for pushing me."

Then the smile on her face froze and faded when she noticed a tall silhouette of a figure coming toward her from the darkness. She slowly narrowed her eyes and peered into the darkness, but when she realized who it was, her eyes widened and she blinked.

Jacob Barrington was coming directly to her. How did she know? Well, and he was looking straight at her! Unable to meet with him right now, she turned around and quickly stepped into the house—and made a beeline for her room, tossing the folded tablecloth onto a built-in cabinet along the wall that lead to the door to the short hall to her room.

Once through that door and after closing it behind her, she threw herself into a run and quickly rushed into her room before she shut the bedroom and fell back against it. Then remembering something, she quickly turned and managed to lock her door. When she finally felt safe enough—and her heart stopped its racing—she crossed the room and seated herself on the edge of her bed with an exasperated sigh.

"This is insane," she whispered as she ran a hand back over her head as she struggled to regain a degree of composure and calm. Then she sniffed and sat straight up straight before she brushed away imaginary wisps of hair from her face. "I can't afford to let him rattle me and have me lose my focus." Then her gaze slipped across the room to her packed suitcase, bag, and her keys on top of that bag. "But I can afford to leave tonight as planned," she whispered with, what she didn't know, a sad gleam in her determined eyes.

She rose to her feet and went to the adjoining bathroom for her last shower at Barrington Ranch...

**~*~**


Isabella waited till midnight before she'd make her move. She needed to be sure everyone was fast asleep when she left. She had written a good bye letter and slipped it into an envelope that now lay in the center of her tidy bed. Then she took her things and successfully crept through her window and packed her things in the Rover. Then she shut the window.

Using the silent mode button of her car alarm remote, she winced when it didn't turn out to be so silent after all. Two chirps signaled that it was disabled and the damned Rover lit up twice. She should've shut down the alarm earlier when Jerry drove the Rover to her side of the house and handed her the keys! But so far, so good. She tugged open the door and made to quickly climb in behind the wheel...

There was a suddenly a bark behind her, nearly giving her a heart attack. She snapped around with big eyes to find none other than Jacob's dog, Jerry, with tongue lolling and black and white bushy tail wagging behind her. Happy to see her, he barked a couple of times more and she quickly put a hushing finger to her lips.

"Shhh! Shhh! Shhh!" she hushed, and he responded by barking again!

"Hush, Jerry, hush!" she whispered with as firmly as she could, making the Aussie's ears perk and his head tilt before—much to her chagrin—he barked again as he bounced in a quick circle, thinking maybe she wanted to play with him.

"No. No. No. I don't want to play. Hush now, Jerry, shhh!" she desperately tried to silence him. He rushed over to her with ears flat in friendly greeting, and to her dismay, he barked again! She dropped to her knees on the grass and grabbed him to her as he playfully wiggled in her embrace. She took his snout and clamped it shut. "Please be quiet! Hush, you silly dog!" she said beneath her breath.

"Where do you think you're goin'?"

"Ah!" She whirled around so quickly that she tripped and fell on her butt on the ground!

Jerry barked happily thinking she was playing a game with him, and he immediately lapped her face.

That tore her out of her shock!

She spat in disgust when his doggie tongue lapped her lips and she finally grabbed his energetic body to her before she looked utterly furious and red-faced up at Jacob Barrington.

He was leaning against the Rover, big arms and ankles crossed, hood tipped back, and looking as if no matter what she told him now, he wouldn't believe her. It suddenly dawned on her that he already knew exactly what she was planning on doing...and that she was caught red-handed in the process of doing it.

To be continued

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07-08   belle   bellville  

May 8, 2018 in romance

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