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Kirk Jacobs yanked off his ball cap, wiped the sweat from his forehead and peered down at his sister. "There was only one woman for me. Only one. And she died five years ago."
Pamela placed her hands on her hips. "She did not die, Kirk. She moved away and got married."
After planting the cap back on his head, he lifted both hands. "Married. Died. What's the difference?"
Trying to ignore his sister's glare, Kirk hefted himself onto the tractor seat. Surveying the farm in one quick glance, he sucked in a breath, acknowledging the work he had yet to do. It was more than a man could complete in a day, but Kirk liked it that way. A fellow couldn't think random thoughts when his hands stayed busy. And if his mind did happen to wander to places it ought not to go, he'd hum one of his favorite hymns or try to remember a bit of scripture.
He led a hard life, but a simple one. He shared a good-size house with his twenty-year-old brother, Ben. Until Ben headed off to the university in the fall, anyway. Two years at the community college wasn't enough for his little brother. Ben wanted to go to the University of Tennessee and get his four-year degree in engineering, of all things.
When he moved out, Kirk would be up to his eyebrows in work. In the years since his dad retired, the brothers had carried the heaviest load, caring for the cattle and the cornfields. They also tended the strawberry and pumpkin patches as well as the apple and peach orchard that provided their community with fresh produce in the summer and fall months.
The rest of the family stayed busy, as well. His mom and dad ran the family's bed-and-breakfast, grew a small garden and oversaw the family fun activity center that ran from May to late October. His sister and her two daughters took care of the gift shop and the small cafe that served lunch during the activity center's open months.
It was a lot of work, but they had a great family in an ideal situation. The Lord blessed them and showed them how to overcome obstacles. All in all, he couldn't imagine what more a man could want.
"There's a big difference between marriage and death, you big oaf." Pamela swatted at his pant leg. "You gotta quit talking about Callie like that. It creeps me out."
Frustration bubbled up in his gut. "I don't talk about her," he snapped. "When someone forces me, I simply acknowledge what she is in my mind. Dead to me."
His retort came out harsher than he intended, and he knew he should apologize, but Pamela had already crossed her arms in front of her chest and said evenly, "Mom has hired a woman to help out with the fun center and the cafe. Evidently a young, pretty woman. Said the gal's a lost soul, and Mom wants you" Pamela reached up and poked his arm "big brother, to show her around after supper tonight."
Kirk growled. "Why? Does she expect me to fall head over heels for the girl? I'm tired of her matchmaking. If I want a woman, I can find one on my own."
"Now, wait just a minute." She lifted her pointer finger. "First off, Mom never tries to match you with anybody." She lifted her middle finger. "And second, I'm just the messenger. If you don't want to show the girl around, you'll have to take it up with Mom."
"I'll do just that."
Pamela opened her mouth to add something else, but he started the tractor, causing it to roar to life and his sister to take a step back. Just to be sure she knew what an annoyance she was, he shooed her a little farther away then turned the tractor away from her. Her mouth continued to move, no doubt badgering him further, but he ignored her and made his way into the fields.
He assumed Mom hired the woman to take over Ben's responsibilities when it came time for him to head off to college. And he had to admit, the notion of hiring someone in the spring was a good one. With Ben leaving in late summer, the new help would know the ropes for next fall.
But why hire a woman? A woman wouldn't be able to help him in the same way as Ben. A woman would take up another bedroom at the B and B, as well. If Mom had hired a guy, he could have stayed at the farmhouse with Kirk.
Sure, the family owned the old cabin a little more than spitting distance from the B and B. A new hire could stay there, but the place hadn't been cleaned, let alone lived in for years. Neither the electricity or water was turned on. The gal would have to stay at the B and B, which left only two rooms to rent out.
The more Kirk thought about his mom's choice, the more riled he got. He loved his mother, but she often did things with her heart and not her head. He didn't know anything about the woman his mother had found, but he had a strong feeling she would be more of a nuisance than help. Snarling, he gripped the tractor's steering wheel tighter. He'd need to think about a lot of scripture while he worked today if he was going to be even remotely civil with that woman tonight.
Callie Dawson stood to her full height and stretched as far as her five-foot-three-inch body would allow. The pinch in the small of her back had grown to a raging ache. She'd been awarded the prize while carrying box after box of household items into the small cabin. Twisting her body, she kneaded the spot with her right thumb and knuckles. A long, hot soak in a bath would be necessary after she met with the family.
Dread washed over her at the upcoming meeting with Kirk's family. His mother, Tammie, had been more than kind. She was the one who had encouraged Callie to come back. But what would Kirk's dad think? Mike's teasing that she was his second daughter, evening out his children to two boys and two girls, drifted to her mind. She hadn't said goodbye to her "adopted" dad. What about Pamela and Ben, her pretended siblings? What would they think? And Kirk? Her throat tightened and shivers raced down her spine. What will I say to him?
Callie released a long breath as she walked into the bathroom and splashed cool water on her face. She wiped off with a towel then peered at her reflection in the mirror. Gripping the sides of the sink, she mumbled, "It's easier to feel nothing. Just don't feel, Callie."
She flopped onto the closed commode, resting her elbows on her knees and cupping her face in her hands. She raked her fingers through her hair then clasped them together. "Who am I kidding? I'm feeling something. I've been 'feeling' the full five years I've been away. It's why I had to get away in the first place." The love she felt for Kirk and his family wrapped around her heart. "It's why I allowed Tammie to talk me into coming back."
She bit the knuckle on her right index finger then stood, staring at her reflection again. "But the feeling doesn't matter. Actions do."