There was just one thing to do. Hannah felt her heart squeeze in regret. That was to wear the borrowed clothes Emily came up with—she certainly wasn’t buying any more with her own money—pull off this dinner with the drop-dead gorgeous Jack Gamble and then stop answering her phone.
After that, maybe she could look for another job in a different town.
THE HOUSE-SITTING GIG was in a nice area of town, Jack thought. It wasn’t where the fancy folk lived, up on Buffalo Hill, and it wasn’t the seedy side of town, down on Painter’s Flats. It was close to the town center, within walking distance of the town amenities—the library, the clinic, the town hall, Main Street. A fairly nondescript, stucco, two-story walk-up apartment building, postwar construction. He was pretty sure it was the only actual apartment building in Glory.
The unit she was staying in was at the back, overlooking the parking lot and playing fields beyond. There was a girls’ soccer game in progress. Jack took a big breath and knocked. He felt foolish now, stopping to pick up some flowers on the way. The stems felt crumpled in his hand.
But he’d thought this over carefully. He’d decided he was being hasty last week in Saul’s barbershop. He had to face the facts—he liked party gals. Glamour babes. This idea of settling down with a quiet little Glory girl might not be such a good idea, after all. Meeting Hannah Parrish last week had helped him change his mind. She didn’t strike him as the usual glamour girl, anyway. There was more to her. A lot more.
And then to find out she was here in town! Right under his nose! Jack knocked again. This time there was a hell of a racket inside, some kind of squawking. Well, she’d said there was a parrot on the premises, or at least he thought that was what she’d said yesterday.
“Oh! You’re early.” Hannah looked gorgeous. Tight black velvet pants, some kind of long flashy-looking tunic, dangly silver earrings, those wild boots she’d had on last week…
He glanced at his watch. “Only five minutes early. Here—these are for you.” He thrust the bouquet at her. She seemed taken aback.
“For me?” She flashed him a beautiful smile and reached for the flowers. Then she moved inside.
“Won’t you come in for a minute? I’ll just put these in some water—”
“Jacko! Take off, eh? Atta girl! Take off, eh?”
She took his arm as he came into the small vestibule of the apartment. “Oh, don’t mind her. It’s just Joan, my—er, my friend’s parrot. She can be really cranky sometimes.”
“I see that. Or, rather, hear that.” Jack took full measure of the apartment as he stepped inside. Hannah disappeared into the kitchen. He made a face at the bird.
The parrot squawked and began to twirl madly on its wooden perch, croaking out the same line over and over again. “Take off, eh? Take off! Jacko!” A black cat sat on top of a china hutch in the dining room and stared down at him.
“How did that bird know my name?”
“Oh, she calls every man Jacko. A previous owner taught her to talk.” Hannah called from the kitchen. Jack moved a little farther into the living room.
Other than the weird pets, the place was very nice. Cozy. Inviting. Nicely furnished. A calm peaceful place, sort of the way he’d like the farmhouse to be done up once the cleaners were through with it. Ira Chesley had lived in bachelor squalor, which Jack abhorred. He’d hired a crew of cleaners to come in from Vulcan, and they were finishing up on the weekend.
“Thanks so much for the flowers!” She glanced at him as he came back to stand at the entrance to the kitchen. “It’s very thoughtful of you.” She seemed genuinely pleased, and he was glad now that he’d brought them. He watched as she stood on tiptoe and reached into a high cupboard for a glass vase, noting with appreciation the sleek line of the velvet over her bottom, her long legs—
“Nice place here,” he said, turning around. No need for her to catch him leering. “How long’s your friend away?”
“Friend? Oh…oh, a while. I’m not sure. She’s on a…a tour of some kind. In Europe.”
“I suppose it isn’t that easy to get away when you’ve got a cranky parrot.”
Hannah laughed. It occurred to him again that she had a delightful laugh, very musical and low. Sexy.
“No, you’re right there.” She clipped each stem of the mixed bouquet—lilies, carnations, mums, whatever—and inserted it into the vase, rearranging a couple of blooms before she was satisfied.
“Don’t you work?”
She looked startled, even alarmed. The scissors clattered to the counter. He frowned. “Oh, yes, I do. But I’m on holiday right now.”
“I see.” He thrust his hands into the pockets of his new trousers. He’d spent a bundle on clothes last weekend, both for social occasions and for work. His bush garb of jeans and the all-weather jackets he wore for prospecting wouldn’t do now that he was back in civilization.
“There!” She smiled up at him. “Lovely. You can set this on the dining-room table and I’ll just grab my coat.”
He carried the flowers into the living-dining area. Very pleasant, he thought again. Coral walls, comfortable-looking furniture, polished end tables. Everything neat and tidy. There was an oval needlework frame standing by a chair, with a partly completed piece of work on it. Looked like the friend was a real homebody. Jack had a flash of regret. She seemed the kind of woman he’d thought might one day be for him.
Until he’d met Hannah.
He placed the vase in the center of the dining table, a square antique-looking piece of furniture with four chairs pulled up, all with seats in a striped plum fabric. Classy. He noticed a manila folder on the table, neatly marked, “Town of Glory—Seth Wilbee.”
“Well?” She appeared with a wrap over her arm, some slinky sexy thing. Purple and blue, all kinds of colors. It looked terrific with that long reddish hair. He’d remembered it as being more vivid last week. It seemed more auburn now. And curlier. “Ready whenever you are.”
She acted a bit nervous and Jack wondered why as he followed her out of the apartment. She locked the door carefully and didn’t say anything when he took her arm. “You like Japanese food?” he asked, realizing he hadn’t really checked her preference.
“Oh, yes. Anything,” she answered, with a breathless laugh. Maybe she was just glad to be going out. Glory hadn’t impressed him as a very exciting town. He didn’t think much had changed since the years he’d spent summers here with his uncle Ira. When he was a kid, he hadn’t noticed. Now he still didn’t care, because he wasn’t looking for excitement. Not since he’d made the decision to settle down, to get married, to start farming, to live a whole different life.
“What happened to your car?” She sounded surprised. His shiny nearly new Dodge pickup was parked at the curb.
“I sold it. Picked this up in Calgary the other day. Not new, but a little more useful now that I’m a farmer. I hope you don’t mind riding in a truck?” Probably most of her dates drove some kind of flashy up-to-date vehicle. He felt a twinge of nostalgia for the Mustang he’d sold.
“Heavens no! You should see my old clunker.” She laughed and got into the passenger side and Jack closed the door.
Heavens no. He hadn’t heard that expression in a long long time. Now, if only the restaurant was decent. Jack wasn’t particularly keen on foreign food, but he figured it was just the kind of trendy thing a woman like Hannah would enjoy.
He glanced at her. She’d buckled her seat belt and was looking out the window with interest. A lot of houses still had Halloween decorations up.
Jack took a deep breath. Maybe he was crazy. Maybe he should’ve left well enough alone. Maybe he shouldn’t have gone back to her sister’s like that, to track her down. But…he knew he wasn’t crazy. If he hadn’t made the effort, he’d always wonder. It was better this way, to find out if his instincts about Hannah Parrish were right.
If they were…well, he’d have to decide what to do next.
“WHY FARMING? I like taking chances.” He flashed her a winning smile that had her smiling back. “Planting a crop in the spring and hoping to make money off it in the fall is risky,” he went on.
“What about your uncle?” Hannah said, leaning forward. “Will he be coming back?” They’d had to wait a little before they could be seated in the small restaurant and were enjoying a drink before dinner. Enjoying? Well, Jack was having a beer, a Japanese brand. He was probably enjoying it. In a panic, Hannah had ordered something called a “sidecar” off the cocktail menu, and it was disgusting. She rarely touched anything but sherry or a glass of wine with dinner.
“He’s at the Crowfoot, extended care. Healed up fairly well, but he’s weak. An old man.” Jack shook his head and frowned. She felt her heart go out to him. He obviously had a great deal of affection for Ira Chesley. “He’ll need more care than I can provide if I bring him home to Glory. His house is a mess. What my aunt Minnie would have called a typical bachelor’s place.” Jack laughed and took a sip of his beer, the devil-may-care look back on his face. “I’ve hired cleaners, but I need someone to fix it up. I’m no decorator. You know anyone in that line of work?”
Hannah would’ve loved to take on a job like that. She adored decorating. But how could she offer when he thought she was only a house sitter, someone who’d been accidentally plunked in Glory for a few weeks? She admired the way he felt about his uncle, a rather dour, grumpy old man—at least, that was how he seemed to her. Most guys wouldn’t dream of assuming that kind of responsibility for an elderly uncle.
“You want to come out and take a look at the joint? Maybe give me some ideas?”
“Your farmhouse? Sure! I’d love to.” Hannah made an effort to hold back her enthusiasm. She reminded herself that this evening was the only time she’d be spending with Jack. She couldn’t keep this up. Nails, hair, clothes—all lies. Plus, she’d decided that the red rinse was finally showing signs of fading. Soon she’d be back to her usual brown. Eight shampoos! What a laugh. More like eighteen.
“Another one?” He held up his drink. The waitress was headed their way.
“No.” She shook her head.
“Didn’t like it, huh?” he said with a curious glance at her nearly full glass.
“No. Sorry—I’m not much of a drinker.” She shook her head again. Maybe that wasn’t what Emily or one of her friends would have admitted. But she wasn’t her sophisticated younger sister. Not by a long shot. And there was a limit to how much she could pretend.
She watched as Jack talked to the waitress. He was easygoing, familiar, friendly. Emily was right. Jack was a handsome guy. He had on a dark-blue crew-neck—could it be cashmere?—a snazzy sports jacket and charcoal trousers. Everything looked new. Earlier, Hannah had noticed he was wearing an old Rolex. The really classy kind. Stainless steel. Not that modern Rolexes weren’t classy, but, well, there was something about that forties and fifties style that never got old.