“My grandfather asked me to talk to you,” Nate admitted, looking out the delivery van window to take in the changes around Last Stand in the year since he’d driven through the small downtown. There were some new businesses,but the vats from Outlaw Tequila were still there. The park was still trimmed and pruned, empty now but ready for use when the weather cooled.
“How is Everett?” she asked, glancing his way as she stopped at a crosswalk. They waited for a mother pushing a stroller with one hand and holding a preschooler’s hand with the other. “Everyone was worried about him after the accident this spring.”
The collision had devastated the town, killing the youngest Delaney, Rose, and her boyfriend. Rose had been just nineteen years old. When he’d heard the news, he’d tried calling his own youngest sister, Lara, who’d left home at around the same age and hadn’t looked back. The number he had for her didn’t work anymore, reminding him how thoroughly she’d cut ties with the family. He shook off those memories and focused on Keely.
“Thank you. He’s doing better,” Nate assured her, appreciating her concern. “Feisty as ever, so I’m sure that’s a good sign.”
“He’s the one who sent you to talk to me?” Her voice sounded genuinely curious.
“He says you’re growing wildflowers on Ramsey land,” he told her bluntly.
Straightening her shoulders, she reared back in surprise. “Excuse me?”
“He claims he wanted to prep the ground in the east field to start his fall tomato crop, but that the plot is being used for sunflowers—and not by him.” Nate had stopped by the farm stand this morning, hoping the field manager would tell him something different—that Everett was confused, or there’d been a misunderstanding. But Grant Wilkins had told him the same thing.
“What east field?” Keely shrugged her shoulders. “We both know Harper lands border the Ramsey property. Does he think I’m farming too far on his side? Because I have a survey map of our lands and I double-check it before I work any new grounds for Windy Meadows.”
“I’m sure you do—”
“And I’m very respectful of all the borders,” she insisted, clearly offended. Or irritated. “I think highly of your grandfather, Nate, but he couldn’t be more wrong about this.”
“Should we drive out there?” He hated to inconvenience her, but his grandfather was up in arms about the land poaching. “Maybe if we look at the map together, we can take some photos and get it all sorted.”
“I don’t need to drive out there.” She shook her head, ponytail swinging as she huffed out a frustrated sigh. “I’ve got a hundred and one things to do today, and none of them involve spending time with you to appease your grandfather.”
“Okay then.” He turned his attention to the road ahead and ground his teeth, seeing he had wasted his time. “I’ll drive out there myself and see if I can figure it out.”
She said nothing, but she drummed her short nails on the steering wheel as if there were thoughts brewing.
“What?” he asked, wishing she’d just spit it out.
She drummed for another moment as they turned at the faded old sign for Harper Ranch, a relic from four decades past. “How will you know what fields are freshly planted, let alone which are tomatoes and which are bluebonnets?” she shot back, her words barbed with the other things she didn’t say.
Like how much she resented him being here.
Or how much she resented him, period.
“I’m sure I’ll think of something,” he told her mildly, unwilling to engage.
He’d ticked her off, but he’d be damned if he’d let her get under his skin. He needed to focus on recovering as fast as humanly possible if he wanted any hope of salvaging his career. That meant he couldn’t get tangled up in a drama with Keely, even though she still enticed him like no woman before or since. Some relationships weren’t meant to be.
“Is that so?” She tipped her head to one side, as if she needed to see him from another angle.
As if she didn’t believe him.
“Yes. You told me you don’t want to help me sort through it, so I’ll manage on my own.” He was grateful when the old barn came into view, his truck parked between it and the ramshackle farmhouse where she’d grown up.
“Right. But if I recall correctly, that just means you’ll say whatever you think someone wants to hear while going ahead with what you had planned in the first place.” She braked to a fast halt and jammed the van into park before sending him a withering look. “At least these days, I know what to expect from you.”
Levering the driver’s side door open, she hopped down to the dusty gravel and walked away as fast as her boots would take her. Had he thought she was non-confrontational? Damn. Time had changed her, apparently.
Nate watched her go a moment too long for him to convince himself that it didn’t matter, his surgical scar throbbing in painful time to the beat of her retreating footsteps. He’d known that his grandfather was sending him on a fool’s errand, so it hardly came as a shock that Keely hadn’t given him a warm welcome. But since he wasn’t about to let his grandfather set the lawyers on a woman who once meant everything to Nate, he would find a way to smooth things over between them.
Exiting the delivery van, Nate headed toward his truck, reminding himself that no hitter worth his salt let himself get down about the first strike.
He was prepared to go deep in the count. He just needed to dig in.