It’s that time again! Y’all up for Five pages of this week’s Friday book? Today I’m featuring Kiss Me, Kate.
“Yowza,” Kate muttered as the front door of the farmhouse opened. Recalling herself, she quickly said, “Hi there. I c-called earlier. I’m Jill’s sister. The, uh, house-sitter.” Kate stumbled over her words as a man who could pass for George Clooney’s identical twin brother answered the door. O brother, where art thou been all my life?
“Hello.” Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome spoke in a voice so hot and deep she was sure it could melt chocolate, not to mention what it was doing to her insides. “Ms. Summers?”
“Harper.” She silently remarked how strange it felt to be using her maiden name again and extended her hand. “Kate Harper.”
“Harper.” He shook the hand she offered, his grip strong yet curiously comforting. “Rick McAllister.”
Kate prayed he couldn’t feel her hand shaking. Damn, she was a fool. She needed this job, desperately. Now was not the time to act like a giggling teenager crushing on a movie star. Although with his dark brown hair and cocoa-colored eyes, he could certainly grace her silver screen anytime of the day or night. “You’re doing it again,” she muttered underneath her breath.
“Excuse me?” Rick had heard her mumbles and looked confused.
Mortified, Kate attempted to backtrack quickly. “Nothing, I was just, uh, saying…so you and Jill are friends?”
Rick grinned in a way that let Kate know he wasn’t fooled. “Yep and I don’t mind telling you that your sister makes a Dutch apple pie that can bring a grown man to his knees begging for a crumb of the crust.”
Kate laughed at his description. She constantly heard similar comments from most of the folks in town. Her sister owned and operated a diner on Main Street. It was typically packed for breakfast, lunch and dinner due to Jill’s amazing culinary skills and vivacious personality. Kate couldn’t think of one person in town who wasn’t drawn to Jill and her delicious food—which made it all the more painful to have to admit she was Jill’s baby sister. People expected Kate to be like her and were always disappointed.
“Jill’s cooking is one of the reasons I’ll never succeed in any diet.”
“Why on earth are you dieting?”
Rick looked so sincere in his question, Kate wasn’t sure how to respond. Flustered, she changed the subject. “I, uh, understand you’re leaving town immediately.”
“That’s right.” Rick stepped back from the doorway and gestured for her to enter. “Why don’t you come on in? Would you like something to drink? I’m not sure there’s much left in the fridge except for a couple beers and maybe some lemonade. Wes and I have been trying to clean it out so nothing would spoil. We weren’t sure we’d be able to find someone to stay here on such short notice.”
“Oh, I’m not thirsty. Thanks anyway.” Kate’s eyes took in the spacious foyer. “Wow.”
Rick chuckled behind her. “Is that an impressed ‘wow’ or a horrified one?”
“Impressed,” she answered without thinking. “This house is even better on the inside.” It was an old farmhouse, situated on twenty-five acres just outside the small town where she worked as the high school librarian. She’d driven by the house quite a few times in the past since it sat on the road that led to one of her favorite hiking trails. Every time she drove by, she slowed down to see all the improvements the new owners had made over the years.
Although she’d never actually met Wes Robson or Rick McAllister, she’d certainly heard all about them via the gossip grapevine, a.k.a. Jill. She had seen them in town on various occasions, but only from a distance. She had to say up-close was much, much better.
“Other than Wes and myself, I think you’re the only person to ever actually admit that. We still have quite a bit of work left to do, as you can see. Wes and I have put most of our efforts into maintaining the outside of the house and the outbuildings. I’m afraid neither one of us is much use when it comes to interior decorating. Add to that the fact that our housekeeper quit a couple months ago, we’re two hopeless bachelors when it comes to housework and voila—the mess you see before you.”
“Not a mess.” Kate studied the high ceilings and arched doorways that led to several different rooms. The house was clearly built at a time when people paid attention to detail. She was so sick of the carbon-copy cardboard boxes contractors liked to refer to as “dream homes” nowadays. “A work in progress—and one with a lot of potential.”
“I agree,” Rick added quietly. “We’ve just had a hard time making any progress on that work. Come on in the living room. Wes will be here in awhile. He’s out mowing the yard.”
“I assume you have a riding mower?” Kate wondered if yard chores would be part of her duties if she could convince Rick and Wes to allow her to stay.
“Hell yeah. Pardon my language, but it would be a bit much to do with a push mower.” Then he seemed to realize the reason for her question. “You don’t have to worry about that, though. There’s a teenager who lives down the road. He’ll be taking over the yard work once school lets out in a couple weeks. Jill says you’re a teacher?”
“Librarian, but as it’s at the high school, chances are good I know your new gardener.”
“Oh yeah, Scott’s a great kid. He’ll do a terrific job.” Kate wondered if Rick knew how much the Miller family could use any money Scott would earn. His mother was a teacher at the same school as Kate and his father had recently been placed on disability. The family had four kids, ages eight to seventeen, and Kate knew money was tight.
“Jill says you’re going through a divorce,” Rick added and Kate felt the usual tightness in her chest that accompanied that statement. The pain of her slime-ball husband’s desertion still stung. She’d come home two months ago to find their house empty and their joint bank account cleaned out.
Madison was a small town and she was sure there was little chance Rick McAllister hadn’t heard all the gory details of how the town’s top lawyer had run out on his dumpy librarian wife and taken off with Madison’s one and only hairdresser. True to the cliché, Kate was the last one to find out about Zachary Summers’ cheating ways. In fact, until she came home to find everything in the house gone—except her books and clothes—Kate hadn’t had a clue Zack wasn’t faithful to her.
Having grown up in Madison, Kate wasn’t surprised by the townspeople’s reactions. Her husband’s exploits were apparently acceptable because they were so expected. She overheard one particularly nasty comment about how it had only been a matter of time before Zack Summers left to find a woman worthy of him. On top of that, Kate sensed most of the women in town were actually pissed off with her for not keeping her husband happy because they now had to travel thirty-five miles toHarrisburgto get their perms and color.
Kate cleared her throat and nodded. “That’s right. Unfortunately divorce is a rather pricey investment and I decided to put my house on the market to help with the cost.” Not that Kate gave a damn about the house. Zack picked out the modern monstrosity, determined to rub his success as an ambulance chaser in the neighbors’ noses, and Kate had hated it since the day they’d moved in.
“I’ve been staying with Jill, but she and I are rather different people and her apartment is a bit small.” Kate didn’t bother to include the fact that, although she loved her sister dearly, Jill was driving her up the wall.
“Well, I have to say Wes and I were starting to give up hope of finding someone to take care of the place. Fact of the matter is we aren’t sure how long we’ll be out of town and we hate to leave the place empty for so long. There are lots of plants inside that need tending, and Rex.”
“Jill did tell you we have a dog, didn’t she?” Rick asked, looking concerned.
“Uh, no.” And Kate knew exactly why Jill had omitted that fact. Kate was deathly afraid of dogs since being bitten by one in the sixth grade. “Is Rex an outdoor dog?” Silently she prayed he was one of those dogs kept in a pen in the back she only had to throw water and food at once a day.
Rick laughed. “Oh no, although he probably should be. Big old pain in the ass is what he is. He adopted us about a year ago.”
The word “big” reverberated in Kate’s head. “He adopted you?”
“Just walked up to the back door and started scratching. Wes is a softie when it comes to dogs. Started feeding him scraps every night. Next thing I know, there’s a horse of a dog sleeping with me in my bed, hogging the covers.”
“H-horse of a dog,” Kate mumbled as Rick studied her face.
“You’re afraid of dogs,” he said simply and, realizing she wouldn’t be able to deny it, she nodded.
“Hell,” Rick cursed.
Kate sank down on the plush chair behind her, indecision flooding her. A dog. Dammit, they would have a dog. Of everything she could have dealt with while house-sitting, she wasn’t sure about an enormous dog.
Then her mind drifted back to this morning when Jill’s current flavor of the month, Seth, came into the kitchen completely naked. Kate spent more than half the night listening to the man’s moans and groans and her sister’s headboard banging against her bedroom wall. That was when she decided sleeping on the street was preferable to spending one more night under Jill’s roof. There were dogs on the street, she supposed, so if she was willing to cuddle up to a trashcan rather than risk seeing the naked woman tattooed on Seth’s ass again, then perhaps she could handle this. “Dog or trashcan,” she muttered.
“Trashcan?” Rick asked, clearly confused.