Typical. It was just typical of Gippsland to have such a drastic downpour of rain, Charlotte thought grimly, and it was just as typical that it had to happen while she was driving along the most dangerous section of the Princes Highway. She could feel the balding tires of her Eighty-Nine Mazda Sedan drifting in the deep puddles, and her windscreen wipers were swiping the pelting rain so fast she could barely see the car in front of her. At this rate, she might get to Kilmany, her old home town, by Christmas! She sneezed and shivered and madly began pressing buttons to get the old heater to work, and every effort was wasted as not even an ounce of heat came out. She'd been at the airport long enough and was sick of the drive back home already. What an effort it had been to get her luggage and then her car all out at once. She felt lonely dragging everything around by herself; watching families assisting each other with the heavy baggage. She'd dropped one or two things here and there and had to put everything back down again and re-pile them over her luggage carrier. She didn't have any family around to help her.
A horn beeped and the traffic slowed even further. It was overcast and gloomy and Charlotte found no comfort anywhere she looked; she'd be best to pull over and have a rest. She looked at her clock which read eleven forty five which made her fifteen minutes late for the meeting with this strange lawyer that she'd never met, and she still had another twenty Kilometers to travel.
Charlotte was a happy go lucky girl who had thought that her life had been both pleasant and rewarding several months back. She had lost her parents when she was quite young and had been left in the care of her loving Pa, and they had lived a happy life under their family roof. They hadn't been Poor but neither had they been well off. They had lived on a property that was about twenty acres worth and most of it was bushland. The few acres that were left over was used by Charlotte to keep her two horses on. Oh how she had loved her horses; they used to be her pride and joy. She spent her life on horseback back then. Her horses had been her first true love. Painting had been her second. She couldn't remember when she'd began painting, she just knew she'd always wanted to be a painter. She admitted, it didn't pay a lot but she'd always believed that money wasn't everything. Sure, it helped. But nothing was as important as love and although her parents had been out of her life from such a young age, she was so lucky at the life her Pa had given her.
Her apartment in London and the house she was on her way to returning to had been filled with numerous canvases she'd painted whether it had been overnight or over a few months. They were all landscapes, she'd never been able to master portraits no matter how hard she tried and even though she'd spent the past two years painting landscapes all over the world, she was no closer to mastering any other painting style. She'd been to Paris, Italy and Spain and was just on her way to Egypt when she'd received an unpleasant phone call from a 'lawyer' saying she'd better return home immediately.
Her Pa had suffered a massive heart attack. And now he was gone. He'd passed away overnight.
Charlotte had met so many important contacts, and quite literally impressed them all, not one of them could have guessed that someone so successful had to live on Tiny, messy, artistic London apartment. Big enough for only herself and a boarder. It was all she could afford over there, though and it had made the comforts of home so much more meaningful. She'd even adopted a little of an accent. It wouldn't last long over here, Charlotte was an Aussie down to her bones.
Normally Charlotte would be excited to begin such a new and exciting chapter in her life, a move back from England to her old hometown would be such an adventure, at least it would of been if it weren't for the death of her Pa, which was the reason for her return home. Except it wasn't the usual yearly trip this time, Charlotte was here to stay.
She'd seen the world as it was and she'd made a promising career in painting which she was going to follow up here. Becoming increasingly tired of the hustle and bustle of the busy city life in London, a trip home was well overdue. A change couldn't really have come at a better time. A return home to the country was exactly what she needed, that and the fresh air couldn't be more welcoming than what it was now; especially after dealing with this hectic traffic.
“You're gonna love it there, Sal.” she teased her dog lovingly, patting her on the head. Sal, a golden retriever who she'd saved only months ago from a pompous fool of a man in an outer town pet shop in England, had proven herself more than the once and there was no way Charlotte was going to leave her friend behind.
“Once we get there that is. The traffic is dying off but the weather seems to be getting worse.” No wonder the grass was so green and luscious she thought mockingly, did it ever stop ringing here?
Charlotte had been really close to her Pa, he'd been her only living relative after her parents had died. She'd been only ten then, and after looking after her aged Pa for eight years he'd paid for her to go to the most prestigious Art school in the world; The London Art University, where she'd worked her butt off for the years she attended. But now her Pa's death had withdrawn her from the course with two years left unfinished.
Luckily, under the circumstances, the school agreed to refund one years tuition fees so she had something to live off without having to sell herself on the street. She had no idea what condition the house was in at the present but her fears abated as she turned into the well-manicured gardens filled with bright daisies and deep-red roses. It would look gorgeous in spring she thought happily, a smile returning to her pretty face for the first time that day. What was she talking about? It was lovely now, even though it was pouring down with rain! The relieved and happy smile stayed on her lips as she stepped out of her car and lent across to retrieve her phone and purse, straightening just in time to miss being hit by the suave red Jaguar that roared into the undercover carport. Her temper flared instantly as she stomped over to where the solidly built man was getting out of the smooth car door. He turned to her with an arrogant grin playing over his tanned, handsome face. His teeth were bright in contrast against the dark stubble around his chin. He carried himself closer towards her surely and smoothly.
“Sorry I'm late. Had stuff to do.” Impressed that he could pull off being so calm and composed within the first few seconds of facing Charlotte again after more than ten long years, he grinned his practiced smirk and looked down at the paper work in his hands.
“Stuff? What stuff to do? You were supposed to be here an hour ago Mr..Mr?” For the life of her, she wished this obnoxious man would look her in the eye. Who did he think he was to treat her so? To walk around her Pas house like he owned it.
“For the record, so were you. Late I mean. On another note, though,” he cut in smoothly pushing past her and making his way to the front door. He unlocked the gigantic twin doors with the flash looking key he held in his strong hands. For a lawyer, Charlotte thought, he was quite well built. She could tell from the way his suit jacket clung to his large biceps, and the way his pants outlined his thigh muscles so thoroughly that this man was strong; she was amazed that he could carry his height with such a confident manner. She heard loud and clear that he was not one to be messed with. He didn't look like he sat at a desk all day.
His large hands made their way into hers before she had time to respond, and he lifted one up to kiss gently.
She couldn't move her hand or her mouth to get out the churlish return. The touch of his hand sent shivers up her spine. And back down again. His lips were hot and soft, and lingered over her less than decent hands, showing off her long fingers and short chipped fingernails.
Get your act together girl. She scolded herself. You're looking like a fool. Say something.
Charlotte pulled her hand out of his as though she'd been burnt. What was it about this man that unnerved her so? She was acting like a school girl pining after her teacher. But he wasn't her Teacher. In fact she had no idea who he was, and she didn't like not knowing what was going on. She had been in control of her life from day one she wanted going to stand for being the last to learn what was actually going on here.
“Why some arrogant, good for nothing jerk, thinks he can just walk into my house and pretend to act like a gentleman after he's nearly run me over, i don't know but i will ask you to refrain from touching me and keep your... your despicable hands to yourself!” Despicable? She blushed. More like strong, manly hands. Jake chuckled deeply to himself she sounded funny with that faint London accent.
“You don't remember me do you Char?”
Charlotte finally looked up into the deep brown eyes that she'd been curious about since their meeting. No-one had called her 'Char' since her pa had been alive, even then he was only one of two men to ever call her that.
“Jake? Jake Treloar?” She whispered incredulously. He'd wanted to be more than a farmer, 'a jack of all trades' if she remembered correctly just like his dad wanted, and here he was in all his glory. But a lawyer? Surely she had to be mistaken. As Jake was opening her Pa's house to her Char couldn't contain her excitement at seeing a familiar face after so many years of polite solitude, and threw herself up into his arms “Jake!” she yelled at his answering smile, just as Sal ran over to greet him also. After introductions were made between her old friend and her playful dog, she invited Jake inside for coffee. “I'm pretty sure pa had a never ending stash of tea and coffee?”
Jake followed her in quietly understanding that this was a big step for them. Who knows what would be going through her head right at this instant, and he felt she would probably prefer to be alone instead of entertaining.
“Char, I'm sorry bout your Pa. I really am. The day he died, it was a great loss to the community. I'll come inside so you can sign these papers but I really have to rush, I've got a date at lunch. I'm a bit late.” he smiled nervously. What was he thinking? This was a big step for him. He hadn't seen her in years and she still had this school boy effect on him. He smiled again and wiggled his eyes brows suggestively, his white teeth strikingly bright against his tanned skin.
“you think you're a bit late? Are you always late for important dates?” she teased easily. She was afraid they'd still be weary of one another after the way they parted when she left for England, what was it, two years ago now? But obviously not.
“I didn't know this was a date? I would have dressed a bit better...” he grinned across the paper at her, taking in her shock, herself realizing what she had just implied.
“o, i mean.. this isn't a date um..”
“Its okay” Jake laughed out loud. I was just joking. We'll catch up for a date some other time...”
Jake walked out and proceeded to show her around the newly renovated house. Taking one step to Charlottes' two. She felt his presence beside her everywhere she walked. She remembered a distinct attraction between them in high school but nothing could have prepared her for the immense awareness she felt with him so near. His suit molded to his body sleekly, making her want to reach out and run her fingers down the shiny material. Or down his chest, or even... hang on. Just what was she thinking! A blush tinted her cheeks as jake saw her quickly look away. She wasn't even listening to him, was he that boring. He supposed she would be used to amazing buildings and surroundings, what with the high life her Pa mentioned she'd been living in during her stay in London. It was politeness she was showing him now, what interest would she have in a country boy showing her around the house. He could've sworn he'd had some sort of effect on her when she'd first recognized him but obviously she was getting over the shock now. She had in fact changed quite a lot since he'd seen her last. She'd developed more as a woman, he couldn't help but notice the soft cleavage showing at the top of her singlet, or the shapely curves of her jeans when she bent to pickup the paper she dropped. And she was still as fiery as ever given her quick reaction to his speedy approach into her carport. Although she was slow to take in the well thought out gentleman approach, he knew her to be as witty as anyone he knew. Give her time and she'd show him whose boss around here.
“Its changed heaps since you left hey? I've helped your Pa with most of this stuff he had an amazing gift to remodel houses. You should seen what he's done with some of the houses around here”
“What do you mean?” She looked up at Jake curiously, guiltily. She should be the one to be talking about her Pa's works so proudly not Jake. She's the one that left and she went through a fleeting moment of guilt at how she left her Pa on his own to follow her dreams.
“You do know he funded a lot of the redevelopments around here donut you? He won the lotto a few months back.
Fist division. Thirty million dollars. You didn't know?” He asked, sounding surprised that she had no idea about any moneys left over to her. “It's written right here on page four. To be left to my Granddaughter, Charlotte Grace Smith, the sum of Five million dollars, the remainder of all my funds. As well as,” he continued with his matured drawl, “Ah there it is. Right there, his house, cars and property. twenty acres.”
After not hearing a response for a minute or two, Jake looked up into bright blue eyes shining to the brim of tears. She hadn't been able to talk to her pa for months as he had refused to have a home phone put in or own a mobile phone, and she'd been traveling here and there.
The guilt she thought she'd have to work through though it was not to be an easy task.
“I'd like to purchase some of your newly acquired property for my own usage... our properties join right down the middle and I'm in need of quite a lot more land.” He'd try and help her adjust back into this new way of life as much as he possibly could. “You're Pa suggested i talk to you about a similar adventure if he and I never got around to it. And, well you know, with the unfortunate and untimely passing of your pa, i suppose the job lies between the two of us now.”
There was silence. What did he expect her to say?
“Excuse me?” Her voice, he noticed, had taken on a more exasperated tone and he hurriedly attempted to explain the offer in friendlier terms. Perhaps he should have waited a while before bringing it up. He'd only wanted her to be thought of and she needed to face the facts that she might actually need help looking after all this newly acquired wealth. He hadn't known what she was up to every second of the day in London but he'd seen her pa every other day and he knew the basics of what she was doing with herself. She was busy, but he bet she was pampered. Not used to getting her hands dirty that sort of thing? He took in her chipped fingernails. Maybe she was?
When he heard she was coming back home his bitterness at her abrupt departure from his life without a second thought for him, turned to anger. He felt sure it was payback time. He just didn't think he'd fail in the first five minutes. Already, he felt like he just wanted to pull her close and tell her everything was going to be alright.
He moved quickly to her side, “It isn't what I meant Char. I mean you will probably need a hand with the property it's a big job and your Pa said you were quite into your work as a painter so you might have limited time? I can help you by taking some land and putting it to good use.”
“How dare you Jake... I mean... that is an extremely selfish proposition.” she practically spat out his name in tears and for the life of him, he couldn't work out what he had done that was so selfish.
“Is it?” he asked maddeningly “it seems entirely practical to me. I can hardly leave you alone to work out your finances when you've basically been living off nothing in London!”
“I had only the very best in London thank you.” Charlotte sniffed, and began to lie effusively when she wondered how he knew of her life in London. Her pa! she'd bet her life on the two becoming best buddies in her absence.
“You've been checking up on me haven't you! That's so sneaky. And now you think because I am desperate and a women that I need you riding up on your white horse willing to save the damsel in distress? Well for your information you selfish greedy... selfish man... I do not need your help. In any way shape or form!”
“I can tell from the small size of you that you haven't been eating well; you're tiny and you'd be right to assume that I've been keeping an update through your pa.” For the life of him he couldn't workout where a night on a white horse or a damsel in distress came into the conversation but if she was a bit loopy by now he couldn't blame her she'd had a hard time of late so he had heard.
She certainly hadn't grown selfish, nor greedy or conceited. She had on the other hand grown more confident and more stubborn. If that was possible.
She was still his Charlotte he mused. And with this knowledge dawning on him, he swiftly pulled her close and his head went down to meet hers in a strong, passionate kiss.
“You insufferable girl,” he declared as his open mouth met hers. Charlotte shocked into being kissed so full on for the first time in her life in such an open and needing way could do nothing if not return the kiss and as she began to hold on to his arms tightly and get swept up in the awe of it all. He pulled away regretfully, his eyes fierce and angry.
“I was only trying to help.” he ground out. “And now look what you've gone and done you little brat... You're no different from when I first knew you.”
Charlotte began to feel dizzy and sick, but couldn't stop her body from wanting his kiss. How dare he say such a nonsense thing to her she had changed, very much since she'd seen him last. She wasn't the little girl he used to try and shake off as a youngster. And she'd soon enough show him that too!
“I can handle all of this myself thank you very much for asking and I'll thank you to never kiss me again. It was insufferable and I've had better.” There she thought ruefully, that should put him in his place.
With eyes brimming full of honest and boyish laughter Jake soon let out a snort, which he failed to make into a pretend cough and soon he was chuckling his heart out with laughter. That kiss, he thought happily was not one of an experienced kisser. Earth moving though it was, he was relieved to find an innocent on his hands. Why did that thought make him so happy?
Charlotte glowered at the tall figure, so very much at home on the hearthrug, the elegant cut of the black shiny suit jacket molding athletic shoulders, the long legs more than capable of standing the fashion for a slim style. How dare this fancy-pants stride into her home and tell her she didn't know what she was getting herself into and that she couldn't handle it. She'd show him!
“Where do I sign the papers?” she cut in gingerly. “You are totally impossible and I don't ever want to see you again!”
Jake Treloar watched the play of emotions suddenly transform the previously well controlled face of the beautiful young woman before him. He was puzzled, not a state he often found himself in.
Charlotte finished berating him with a tight mouth, her bright eyes glaring at him angrily and stormed upstairs and into what used to be her room, slamming the door shut she stopped short of falling onto where she'd last left her bed.
“what the?” she mouthed silently. And then she fainted. Within an instant Jake was there, helping her over to the smooth leather couch and easel that was in the place of her old bed. Her pa had done everything in his power to create a quiet and peaceful escape for his dear granddaughter and had succeeded in doing just that. It was Charlottes dream, he knew, come to life. Instead of her single bed and limited furnishings, she now had her own private studio where she could paint at her leisure.
Jake returned upstairs with fresh water and a wet face washer, softly wiping it over her face. The linen came away quite clean from her face, without the plastered foundation or blush that the girls swarming around him nowadays wore. It seemed Charlotte owned none of her fresh faced beauty to makeup. That knowledge made her even more appealing. Why he should be thinking about that at a time like this he didn't understand.
What was her background like now he wondered silently, eyes intently upon the lips he'd just felt on his own. He would put money on the fact that she'd never been kissed before, well apart from the time he tried his very hardest to put the moves on her when they were young bestfriends. Yes, Charlotte was still as fiery and yet just as innocent as when she had walked out of his life. She was not the person she left Kilmany being, She was even more stunning, more confident and more fiery. That much had quickly been established. She was also a lot more stubborn than he knew her to be, more proof that she had learnt to be more assertive than the next person. She must have done it tough to get where she was in life. Her pa would be proud. Like her pa, he was too, extremely proud of her- but unlike her pa, Jake was once again becoming increasingly enthralled with the girl before him.
He stroked his chin, contemplating his situation as he took an impatient few steps around the room.
She generally wanted him gone and today, he admitted nothing had gone at all to plan. Charlotte had spent a few years over seas and wasn't at all a plain sight for eyes. As he had thought a few times today, already, she was in fact quite beautiful, he would bet she'd had her fair share of men running round after her and was surprised to think that she had stuck to her studies; he knew the potential she had in becoming a bright and passionate person. If she was here with no man chasing her, then why did she not want him around? She'd been alone for so long that he assumed she'd want some friendly company, he certainly did! And surprise surprise, she was telling him to leave her alone. That was something he'd never dealt with before.
Jake remembered the nervous trembling of her lips just before he lent in to kiss hers and his mouth twisted in sensual recollection. He sat up as she started, her lips parting unconsciously in an invitation he could not resist. As he stroked one finger gently along her jaw, he bent and kissed her, catching her in his arms and drawing her into his warmth. For a moment the slender, supple figure was pliant in his arms, the lips returned the pressure of his, hesitatingly, with a naivety that he kept questioning to accept, and was still, the very last thing he expected. Then, she jerked back, abruptly freeing herself, anger turning her eyes a pure, hard blue. Instinctively her hand came up to strike him and Jake pressed the blow with the palm of his hand. The sound of the slap rang through the small room, then she was gone, a rushed absence.
Jake listened to her footsteps as she ran back downstairs, the slam of the door, the unmistakable click of a lock somewhere. He stood rubbing his tingling cheek, a look of rueful surprise on his face. Of all the things he had expected to happen this morning, it wasn't that his dear Charlotte was not only untouchable, but, he was correct to assume that she was also quite literally, untouched.
No wonder she had fainted, Charlotte grinned later on as she was sipping hot chocolate on the steps of her front veranda. She was admiring the bright colours of the sunsets, the contrasting oranges and purples across the sky as the sun set over the distant mountains, the birds flitting to and fro, settling in for the night. She was still so overwhelmed at the news she had received today; she couldn't believe she was now the proud owner of five million dollars, a brand new Land cruiser and BMW Sedan, a large double story house, it's land and a heart stopping kiss off the Man next door. A kiss from her first love. And she wanted more!
Although the kiss was not discussed again, it didn't stop Jake from thinking about it. Constantly. He'd tried to keep his distance for the last two weeks and had managed quite well, except for the accidental meeting at the supermarket in Sale, it was the closest complex around for an hour or two. That went smoothly, although he was pleased to witness the assessing glances between Char and the secretary from work that had been hanging around him all week. He knew Char hadn't missed his knowing grin and he had to try hard to hide the laugh that he had to bottle up inside. She didn't have much to base her jealousy on but those deep-blue eyes couldn't look any cuter than that moment. He hadn't looked twice at another girl for weeks. He couldn't. Not once he had heard about Charlotte's' return in the near future to Kilmany. Charlotte's lawyer, who was also Jakes best mate, had shared with him the news of her pending return, knowing full well how it would make Jake take a break from his faced paced, jet set, girls and money lifestyle. He'd have a good laugh now if he knew that Jake couldn't sleep properly; every time he closed his eyes he was faced with a cheeky minxish grin and the bright blue eyes of the girl next door.
“Let me carry your bags for you Char?” He insisted, picking up one of the ten bags she'd been about to carry to her car. “You could use the trolley you know, it is easier... Why are you driving this car for?” He was obviously baffled as to why she'd be driving this old heap of a car when she had two in her garage that were practically brand new.
“I'm still a little uncomfortable with this new role I'm playing Jake, I mean this is a new lifestyle for me, poles apart from my own upbringing. Unlike you, i haven't grown up with everything, so I'm using my own car. Get over it.” Char had replied, rather cantankerously, and he'd sensed her wish to be left alone as obviously as he observed the discriminatory glare that his partner had been sending her; Tania was his secretary used to the high life, and couldn't understand why this girl would be driving about in a scrappy sedan when she had brand new ones to be seen in? She was disturbed at just the thought of driving in a car older than the year she was living in.
A quick look across to this sophisticated secretary was all Jake needed to confirm that Tania and Char were worlds apart on so many levels. That thought made him immensely and surprisingly relieved.
“We'll see you round Char.” He cut in hurriedly, and pulled Tania along with him. Char still seemed a bit anxious, and the tense look on her face when Jake had invited her to join them for coffee just made her worse. He insisted, trying to relieve her of the awkward situation though he'd just made a fool out of himself in front of her; typical, Jake thought sullenly; the one woman he wanted to impress and again, he'd spoilt it. Jake didn't know why or how how she seemed to get under his skin like she did, but the point was, thats exactly what was happening. Char was already getting him unsteady and acting shallow, well, tough, if she didn't want to join him for coffee that was her problem. There were plenty of girls in the small country town that he could make do with. Unfortunately for jake though, he didn't want to spend the night with any other girl. He wanted Char. she'd better remember to keep putting up her defenses because he wasn't going to rest until he had her.
How dare Jake flaunt that woman in front of her like that! Char was fuming and by the time she'd got into the car she was so edgy and troubled that half way home she had to pull over and turn the engine off for a minute. Which was frustrating enough as she was on the same stretch of road where she'd had to deal with the heavy downpour of rain upon her arrival here. That pouty made-up girl he was with must've been his date that he had to leave her for the other day. Well she didn't know what he saw in her but why should she care so much? They'd only spoken once or twice since her return to Kilmany.
She hadn't had anytime to make friends with any neighbors as she'd been so busy setting up her art studio with canvases and paints and on other days she'd been clearing the veggie garden, which must've been the only thing her Pa hadn't had time for, as it took her all weekend to clear out. She was just in the middle of re-planting some herbs and salad seedlings she'd brought in town when Jakes Ute pulled up into her drive way. She wiped the sweat off her face with her jacket that was lying to the side and by the time he'd strolled over to her she'd guzzled half her bottle of water.
“Thirsty?” He inquired knowingly. His gaze traveled down and back up her body, and the guilty smirk he gave her when he noticed he'd been sprung gazing seconds too long at her chest made her feel like a million dollars. But why should it? She challenged crossly. He was nothing to her. All he obviously cared about was his money and his girls.
“Why are you here?” she snapped briskly, and at his shocked face she picked up her jacket and drink and turned toward the house. “I'm sorry. Want a drink?”
how did he manage to look so good in his casual jeans sitting low on his hips, his checkered shirt hugging his chest firmly. His work boots were muddy and his dark hair messy, probably from running his hands through it so often unintentionally. She looked down at her own lack of formality, her ripped denim shorts and top. She suddenly felt dowdy and insignificant around this man. His confident grin faltered a little when her eyes finally met his. It was her turn to look away in embarrassment; her long perusal of his person being quite obvious.
“Thanks for the drink. And I've got your dog in my car. No need for thanks thats okay.” He looked smug now, knowing that she would no doubt get on her high-horse, like she did when he'd just rocked up at her place. Jake was pleased to note again the effect he was having on her; the same as she was having on him.
“My dog? Sal?” she asked confused, “But she was just... here?”
She gave a short laugh now as she accepted the fact that he really did have Sal in the car, she must have escaped. Jake couldn't help but join in.
He couldn't believe the transformation in Char, that gorgeous smile was back on her face and she'd seemed to forget who she was around, actually appearing to enjoy someone else's company, and if he hadn't witnessed her short temper already, he would swear she'd grown into a cheerful delight. He couldn't remember the last time he'd enjoyed coffee and cake so immensely.
“So, you enjoy baking now? These blueberry muffins are delicious” Jake smiled up at her as he scoffed down a few more of her mini-muffins.
“Don't start on my baking mistakes, Jake,” She laughed lightly “I remember all of my baking attempts when I was younger thank you very much!” Back when she was trying to impress him when they were in high school. She had taken her job as lady of the house, but had always admitted she had a lot to learn in the kitchen.
No he was wrong, Jake grinned to himself now, something she was oblivious to as she chatted away about no-one ever cooking in London. He could live with a temper she was always captivating. Thats why he'd held out marrying anyone else, he knew she'd come back to him one day. He knew most people would call it Cocky. He called it romantic.
“Well, it's utterly scrumptious. Now, don't wash up too much, we've gotta go around the paddocks and find where Sal's getting out or she's going to keep coming around to my place. She's more than welcome but my brothers are busy enough and don't want to fix the fence themselves... which means it's my problem now.”
“Twenty Acres Jake, you know thats how much land is here. Its four o'clock. It's going to take us to midnight to find a fence down.” Char looked at him in disbelief.
Jake laughed at her kindly and headed out the door.
“Hurry up then Char, we'd better get moving.”
“We can take the car?” She insisted hopefully, and knew the answer as soon as she saw his thick set eyebrow rise up to his forehead sarcastically. “I'll bring the horses round shortly, and if you cant ride anymore then you can walk.” And then he left.
After starring out of her bedroom window for what seemed like hours, though it was only minutes, waiting for Jakes return, she couldn't remember the last time she'd been so nervous; and she didn't even know why she was feeling this way, what was there to worry about. She knew she didn't have to worry about her horsemanship she was a natural without a doubt, even the conversation would run smoothly. No. It was being alone with Jake again that was giving her the butterfly's in her stomach and the silly smile on her face.
Afternoon tea had been an informal occasion where she was able to keep her eyes off Jake as she was so busy in the kitchen cooking, she'd baked so many muffins because it gave her something to do while Jake was there.
The magnetic connection that'd been there between them in high school seemed meager compared to the way she felt drawn to him now. He didn't need to be masculine and manly he didn't need to show his muscles or touch her in anyway. No, the physical yearning was there when all he did was smile at her. She wasn't very sensible when i came to matters of the heart. She'd never been in love before, but she'd always fancied Jake, from the moment she first met him.
As Char turned away to check herself in the mirror for the last time she straightened her plum checked shirt and adjusted her faded jeans to sit a little more comfortably. This extra hard labor around the farm was helping her body maintain its thinner shape not that she needed it. Her blue eyes looked tired but her skin still had its natural glow about it; which she swore came from the abundance of fresh fruit and veggies she now had access to. Her diet in England had consisted mainly of tinned veggies and noodles; Eating a fresh piece of apple was like heaven to her right now. She turned again to the window to see Jake riding down her driveway with a spare horse behind him. Why they needed horses for she couldn't guess, she could bet there wasn't even a fence down, Sal could've got out through the front gate. Even her dog wasn't used to this sort of lifestyle, or so much freedom.
“Come on Juliet,” teased Jake playfully at her through the second story window, “I can see you up there playing with your hair. You'd look just as gorgeous if you hadn't brushed your hair for a month!”
“I don't know if that's meant as a compliment or not but I'll take it as one,” she returned joyously, still in awe that their friendship seemed to be heading back In a pleasant direction. “And besides, I only brush my hair like once a week anyway so the day might come where it may be once a month. Then you can repeat your compliment!” Smiling to herself she shut the front door and called for Sal, who was sitting next to the horse she was about to climb.
“Sal's great Char, she's waiting for you already. I wish our dogs were half as obedient. All they care about is sheep.”
She mounted her horse in such a swift movement that she was up next to Jake before he could finish his sentence.
“I take it that you still found time to ride in London? Where, around the street?” he was laughing at her but she didn't care. It was nice to feel comfortable with him and banter again. Just so long as she didn't get too close.
“Have you still got the same dogs?” although she felt the need to change the topic, She was interested to know how much had changed around here. She'd bumped into once of her old school friends up at the shops and had a short conversation but apart from that she hadn't seen anyone else that had looked remotely familiar.
“Nah they're all new. They make me appreciate the old ones though these guys are terrible; They don't listen and they eat too much. My brothers donut have to put up with it cos they've both moved out. Mark, hes moved out for the business, the clients are out of town and he does the jet setting, but really, he's so proud to be a bachelor. He has a different girl each weekend, which I think is the real reason he moved away from here and to the city. I reckon he must've been running out of girls to date.
“Pete, he's married with two young girls Mary and Louise, and they live a short distance up the road here, they brought the property next door for a whopping cost but we've been able to expand the business three times over already, so they immediately made their money back.
“And for the labour, we hire just under thirty workers throughout the year. Me, i just take clients out to dinner...”
Char looked over at Jake now, admiring his straight posture, and realized she loved the way his hair refused to do what it was told, flopping over his eyes instead of combed into place. It was nice to know he wasn't all straight and perfect.
“and harass the new next door neighbors obviously?” she joked and her body immediately responded to the cheeky grin he sent her way.
“Touche'” The copper shades of sunset were swathing his athletic body in rich colours in a way that made Char think of all the provocative things she'd be willing to do with him. All day she'd been playing these tantalizing thoughts over and over in her head. Ever since Jake had first appeared back in her life, actually. She loved hearing the pride in his voice when he talked of his life, and the smile on his face as he spoke of his family; and with such an obvious improvement of the financial side for him, why wouldn't he be proud? It made her wish for a large family of her own. She'd always been the only child which is why she used to hang out with the Treloar brothers so often when she was younger.
They urged the horses over to the main fence and began a fast paced trot, Jake obviously happy to keep the conversation up while they could.
“So you're in that massive house by yourself then?” Char queried, clearly speechless as to how he could handle the quietness. Solitude was one thing, and although his house was as big as her inherited one, she felt lonely most of the time; she couldn't imagine how he felt.
His house looked modern and roomy. He'd done a lot to it she could tell over the years.
“Yeh, I do. Want to see how well I've looked after my bedroom?” he winked at her confidently, chuckling now at the unsure look on Chars' face. She couldn't understand how Jake could laugh about such a thing. She blushed from head to toe and looked away bewilderedly. She'd thought about his bedroom enough over the past few weeks and didn't need reminding on the subject. “Oh Char, I was only joking'. You've already seen my bedroom, it hasn't changed much since we were kids. Remember when i tried to kiss you on my bed?” He was baiting her now, she'd taken it, hook, line and sinker.
“Oh shut up will ya.” She now grinned back, it was slowly dawning on her that he really was just teasing and she couldn't add any meaning to what he'd suggested. No matter how much she wanted to. She'd seen the way he looked at her and knew he'd follow through if she showed any sign of interest. That was something she didn't want, not after last time.
“I knew it Char the fence is down, look!” and he galloped up further. “Damn, our cattle are in your paddock, look over the hill!”
Together they galloped effortlessly over the overgrown mountain, each horse keeping up with the other. Jake took a side-long glance at Char, trying to determine how he was going to get his cattle back into his paddock, he'd have to do something about this problem immediately, before the cattle realized this was one vast twenty acre paddock with no fences separating any of it, except for the one around the outside.
Charlotte smiled and shrugged her shoulders, “There could be worse things. Need a hand getting them back in?” she seemed to be enjoying his bad luck, and the smirk playing out on her full red lips was just what he'd been looking for, an excuse to lean over and hold her to his charged body.
He was wild, he was sexy, he was cocky he was, she gulped, moving closer. She didn't pull away, in fact, he thought, she felt warm and inviting, which made his body ache for her eagerly.
“Char...” he whispered. “I told you years ago that the next time i kissed you it would be because you wanted me to. I couldn't care less about the cattle right now. Id spend the rest of my life herding them back up if I could just have... do you want me to kiss you Charlotte?”
Jake savored the feel of chars lips on his own. It brought back memories and feelings of times together in the past. To have Charlotte in his arms not resisting, not pulling away. But to have her easing into his hands just like that; so pliant. So soft. So willing.
And as quick as the kiss had started, the kiss had finished. Char pulled away quickly, sitting her small backside firmly back into the saddle. She opened her startled eyes and look up into his.
“I'm sorry. I shouldn't have I mean...”
“It's okay Char. I enjoyed it too. Maybe we really could go to my bedroom?” he tried to make light of the situation but it seemed he was digging himself in further.
“I have a boyfriend Jake.” there. Now he would have to stop kissing her like that!
“What?!” He g
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