Elizabeth watched Ryandisappear up the path to the house. Mixed emotions abounded. She should have known better than to toss him like that again, but she’d gotten enormous satisfaction out of it, and it served him right.
For a few seconds, she’d thought he might kiss her in retaliation for it. She wouldn’t have been surprised, since he’d been pretty free with his hands in the past when he thought she needed a lesson.
Her behavior was as inappropriate as his, she conceded, considering he was her boss and she was a female employee. If they were going to work together, they couldn’t continue to carry on in this manner, no matter how much they rubbed each other the wrong way. The informality of the ranch environment was no excuse for a lack of professionalism on either of their parts. Obviously, he’d come to that realization first. Still, she couldn’t help but wonder what might have happened if he had kissed her.
She trudged to the cookhouse, the shafts of her rubber boots slapping each other. Buckets of water upended and poured from the sky just as she opened the cookhouse door and darted inside. She picked up a tray and headed for the buffet.
“Is the weather in this state always so extreme?” she shouted to Steve, who was in charge of cooking bacon on the other side of the buffet counter. The rain thundering against the steel-clad roof made normal conversation almost impossible.
“What—you mean this little shower?” he shouted back.
Elizabeth took that as a yes.
The rain had eased up by the time she finished her breakfast. She dashed to her bunkhouse between downpours so she could shower and change her clothes before she had to be in her office at nine.
She found the note straightaway. Someone had stuck a folded sheet of lined loose leaf to the door, under the overhang, out of the rain.
She didn’t think anything of it at first. Her mind had reverted to Ryan and her worry over how to get their relationship back on a professional track. Then it flipped to what she planned to wear, since the day was so wet and dreary. Leggings and a tunic would do. She dropped the note on the wooden table underneath the front room window where she liked to drink her first cup of coffee every morning before heading to work.
She’d showered, dressed, and was sipping black gold before she remembered the note. She opened it.
I think you’re pretty.
Well, wasn’t that nice.
A tiny ball of ice wedged in her chest. She stared at the note for long moments, trying to decide what to do, or if it warranted her doing anything at all. She wasn’t comfortable with receiving the anonymous note, no. She especially didn’t like the thought of one of the boys hanging around her living quarters, but since the ranch was a wide-open, communal space where everyone roamed as they pleased, there wasn’t much she could say. To flag the path between the bunkhouses and the ranch house as her personal space would come across as extreme.
The real question was whether or not she should tell Ryan about it. He had a tendency to overreact when it came to women in jeopardy—whether real or imagined—and she didn’t believe it was because she was special. She didn’t want to give him an excuse to terminate her employment.
She finished her coffee, her morning routine on its head. She tucked the note in a pocket and locked the bunkhouse door behind her. It had started to rain again, although not as aggressively as before, but she was glad she’d opted for a flat-heeled pair of boots. The gravel path to the ranch house had turned into a stream.
She was hanging her coat at the main entry as Jazz emerged from Dan’s suite.
Elizabeth had a strong admiration for Jasmine ‘Jazz’ O’Reilly. Not only was she traffic-stoppingly beautiful, with long, muscular limbs, long-lashed blue eyes, and short, spiky blond hair, she had a job that commanded respect, too. She ran the smoke jumping and emergency services at the Custer County Airport. Elizabeth felt like a Smurf when she stood next to her.
“Hi, Elizabeth. How do you like working at the Endeavour so far?” Jazz asked cheerfully in a smoky, lounge singer voice that Elizabeth envied her almost as much as her height.
“So far, I love it.” Except for that note. But she’d come into this job with her eyes open, and the incident would end up in her research, so there was that.
“Have you gone riding yet?”
“Afraid not. I don’t know how,” Elizabeth admitted.
“You’ll learn. I’m not good at it either, but I enjoy it. It’s a great way to see the ranch.”
She doubted there was anything Jazz did that she wasn’t good at. The woman was hardwired for success.
“I’ve got to get to the base,” Jazz continued, zipping up a bright yellow slicker that enhanced the vivid blue of her eyes, “but we’ll get a chance to chat more on Saturday night.”
Ryan had a movie night planned. Trying to pick out one movie for four boys and eight adults was going to take trial and error. Elizabeth had suggested Japanese anime, to his complete and utter horror, a reaction she’d expected. One of the boys was deep into role-playing games and would likely appreciate anime, but everyone else would be lost. She’d then suggested the boys drop movie titles into a box and they’d draw from it each week. He’d been far more receptive to that.
“We’re going to get either porn or movies with a lot of violence,” Ryan warned her, as if she hadn’t figured that out for herself.
“There’s a simple solution,” she replied. “For every inappropriate title we draw, we substitute a Hallmark movie from the women’s network. Or maybe a children’s cartoon. They’re a captive audience. They’ll get tired of that game pretty quick.”