“Elizabeth Benson,” she added, holding out her hand before thinking better of it and hastily jamming it into her jacket pocket. His look of confusion persisted, so she prodded his memory. “If you’re Ryan O’Connell, I had a job interview scheduled with you for this afternoon?”
Never again wouldRyan let Dan McKillop vet resumes for him. He’d told him three times that this particular candidate wouldn’t suit, and yet, here she was—in the calving shed, of all places.
Amber-eyed Elizabeth Benson, with curly strands of fiery red hair escaping the hood of a form-fitting, camel suede jacket, and sporting a pair of black, knee-high leather boots drawn over black spandex leggings, looked like the tooth fairy’s super-hot sister. The online footage of her didn’t come close to the real thing. She had a perky, uptilted nose and full, pink-tinted lips. Her smooth, milk-white skin was unmarred by wrinkles, freckles, or anything so crass as a pimple. Long eyelashes had been dipped in milk chocolate, leaving them brown at the tips and dark red near the roots. The form her suede jacket fitted was fine. Very fine.
Too fine. What the hell had been going on in Dan’s head?
They couldn’t have this girl living on-site as a case manager for a group of delinquent teenaged boys. She was a walking, talking, wet dream. Hiring her would be asking—no, pleading—for trouble.
“Was your interview this afternoon?” he said, stalling, even though it made him sound disorganized and stupid, which he wasn’t, but he couldn’t very well tell her that he hadn’t intended to interview her.
“According to the travel arrangements.”Which you madeher tone added.
But he hadn’t. Dan had.
He cursed his friend. Crap, amniotic fluid, urine, and blood covered his clothes and his hands. Likely his hair, too. The odds suggested his smell might not be daisy fresh, either. He’d ended up on birthing duty this afternoon because the night manager was off for another three hours and the two stooges in the machine shed had sissied out. They’d noted the heifer, a first-timer, was taking too long to deliver, brought her into the calving shed, then hauled him out of his office to come take a look. He cursed them out too.
Fortunately, the heifer showed the makings of a good mother. He lifted the calf—also a heifer—to its feet and helped it find one of the business ends of the udder. Once he had it latched on and was sure the mother’s milk had let down, he returned his attention to Elizabeth. He hated to tell her she’d come here for nothing, but better to yank that particular Band-Aid off quickly.
He straightened. She was even prettier up close. And, given the length of her legs, a lot shorter than she’d appeared when he’d been crouched on his heels, looking up. The top of her head maxed out at the middle of his chest and she had to tilt her chin to look him in the eye.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Benson, but—” he began, only to get cut off before he could finish.
He had an unholy urge to see how she’d react if he called her Beth. Or maybe Betty. Neither of which would suit her. Everything about her, from her overall appearance to her work experience, screamed money and privilege. Even her name. The Endeavour was no place for her.
“Elizabeth,” he amended. “I apologize for not being better prepared, but this is how life goes on a ranch. There’s a storm rolling in, meaning all available hands are out on the range, feeding cattle and gathering up any babies they think might not survive the weather.” He began to feel like a jerk for making it sound as if she didn’t matter. She was a human being, not a farm animal. “Come on up to the house. You can have a coffee while I take a quick shower. Then I’ll run you into town before the storm settles in. You’ll spend the night at the Yellowstone Hotel.” He didn’t know what arrangements Dan had made for her and couldn’t very well ask. He did know that planes weren’t going to fly. Neither were pigs.
If she’d noticed he said nothing about the actual interview, she didn’t let on. Ms. Elizabeth Benson didn’t appear to be the type of woman to waste words, a definite point in her favor, if there could be such a thing.
He ducked into the operating room where C-sections were performed to wash his hands so he didn’t spread bacteria over every surface he touched. Then, beckoning for her to follow, he slid the steel outer door back on its tracks. It stuck, meaning the temperature had dipped below freezing, and he leaned in to work it free. A blast of un-March-like winter struck him full in the face and bit through the heavy weave of his damp coveralls. Two inches of snow had buried the ground while he was delivering the calf. Montana did nothing halfway.
The wind caught Elizabeth, who likely weighed a hundred pounds at the most, and he seized her arm to keep her from blowing away. He reevaluated his plan. Common sense said driving her into town in these conditions would be stupid, especially when they had plenty of empty rooms at the house. Or she could stay in the bunkhouse they’d set up for permanent staff if she didn’t like the thought of sleeping at the main house with three strangers—although Dallas, a doctor, and Dan, the county sheriff, would likely stay in Grand for the night rather than tackle the roads in a blizzard.
He brightened. Having her spend the night at the ranch was the better solution, at that. She’d get to see how isolated they were. There were no other women within a twenty-mile radius.
They stumbled through the storm, although headway was slow. Ryan did his best to keep the brunt of the wind, snow, and sleet off Elizabeth, who struggled behind him. Finally, they entered the house through a side door that led directly into a mudroom off his private apartment. The mudroom had a shower attached for these types of situations.
He brushed the snow off as best he could, then kicked off his boots and began to unzip his coverall. Elizabeth remained on the mat in front of the door, dripping water and looking uncertain. Since he wore jeans and a flannel shirt underneath his coverall, meaning he wasn’t stripping down naked, he didn’t know what that look was about.
“Where do I leave my boots and coat?” she asked.
“Hang your coat on that hook and you can leave your boots on, if you like,” he replied.
“My feet are wet.” Delicate eyebrows rose a half inch as she pointed out something that probably should have been obvious. Those knee-high leather dress boots might be sexy as hell, but practical, they weren’t.
He cast around for a solution. “Here.” He scrabbled through the contents of a shelf in the closet and withdrew a pair of thick wool socks for her and a stack of clean clothes for himself. He passed her the socks. “Put your boots by the heater. You can wear these while they dry. The kitchen’s through there. The coffeemaker’s on the counter—it’s press and go. The pods are beside it and the cream is in the fridge. Help yourself to whatever you like in the cupboards.” He gestured to the tiny bathroom and shower. “I’ll be a few minutes.”
She peeled off her coat and hung it to dry. Underneath, she wore a black tunic with a flared skirt over the black leggings. A funky checkered gray scarf topped her ensemble. None of it hid her curves. A mass of cherry-red, spiral curls played with her shoulders. The cute nose and delicate skin glowed faintly pink from the cold. Again, he was struck by how pretty she was.
Removing the wet leather boots proved to be a bit of a struggle for her. He itched to help out as she balanced on one foot, but the offer might come across as too bold, so he left her to it and ducked into the bathroom where he could breathe. That hot little babe around a bunch of hormone-addled boys?