Summer Lentz hefted her suitcase and laptop bag into the trunk of her snappy little rental car. She paused to catch her breath, grateful for the parking space she had snagged just half a block down from her Murray Hill building.
Every once in a while, her body inconveniently reminded her that recovery was a very long journey.
She took a deep breath of late spring air and resisted the urge to walk back to her apartment to verify that the door that she checked twice before leaving was indeed locked and the stove — that she never used — was off.
It was a week upstate. She’d be back to civilization before she knew it. Besides, maybe a few days without the bustle of Manhattan would allow her to recharge her batteries. Or — she grimaced at the thought — she’d completely disappear from the consciousness of everyone at work. At Indulgence, if you weren’t there eleven hours a day, you weren’t there. The sleek Midtown West headquarters were as glossy as the pages of its magazine. And more cutthroat than a season of reality TV.
Summer had carved out a place for herself at Indulgence without selling too many pieces of her soul. Nine months into her promotion as associate editor, things were finally falling into place.
She had upgraded her shoebox studio to a slightly roomier one-bedroom. Her wardrobe had seen a gradual and tasteful edit. The blog that she was so proud of had grown exponentially. On the outside, her social life was a whirlwind of parties, openings, and meet-ups. Though, at times, it was hard to tell where work stopped and life began.
If she could hold herself on this trajectory without any other major crises, she could almost taste a senior editor position in her future.
The phone in her cream-colored Dooney and Bourke signaled.
Summer slid behind the wheel and swiped to answer.
“Are you farm-bound yet?” The deep, smooth voice of her best friend warmed her ear.
“Well if it isn’t the famous Nikolai Vulkov. What’s the Wolf doing today?”
Niko was second generation American, but after too much vodka, one could begin to detect the slightest hint of Russia in his bedroom tone. He had a reputation as both a talented photographer and ladies’ man, hence the nickname.
When Summer hadn’t instantly fallen under the Wolf’s spell at the magazine, they had become fast friends instead.
“You sound out of breath. Are you pushing yourself too hard?”
Summer wrinkled her nose. “What are you, my dad?”
“Do not spend this assignment hauling hay bales and tipping cows. You understand me?” he warned.
“Is tipping cows even a thing? I think that’s an urban myth.”
“Way to dance around the issue, brat.”
“I promise to take care of myself. I’ll probably be in bed every night by eight.” She flipped the sun visor down to check her eye makeup. “I doubt there’s any midnight martini special in town.”
“Well, while you’re there, text me a couple of pics of Old MacDonald and his organic farm so I can start planning for the shoot in July.”
“Will do. And while I’m gone, try not to fall desperately in love with any models.”
“I can’t promise anything. So don’t stay away too long. I may need you to vet a Brazilian beauty.”
“Never change, Niko,” Summer sighed. “I’ll see you in a week.”
She hung up and plugged the address into the GPS. Just three hours to Blue Moon Bend.
His brother’s obnoxious ringtone had Carter Pierce straightening from his work and tossing his dirt-covered gloves to the ground.
“Hello to you, too.” Beckett had his politician voice on, adding to Carter’s irritation.
“I’m in the middle of something,” Carter said, swiping a hand through his dark hair.
“What are you in the middle of?”
“A field of lettuce. First pickup for the produce shares is this weekend.”
“I realize that. I thought we weren’t harvesting until tomorrow. Isn’t that why I’m spending my entire afternoon with your hairy mug?”
Beckett gave Carter nothing but shit about his beard. His clean-shaven brother didn’t understand that after a few years in the military, the choice to sprout facial hair was a special kind of freedom.
“I was checking the irrigation and thought I’d get a head start.”
“Well stop starting and get your ass back to the house.”
“Check your watch.”
Carter swiped a finger over the dirt coating the face of his leather watch cuff. “Shit.”
“Better hurry up or you’ll give her a bad first impression.”
Carter hung up on his brother’s laughter, grabbed his gloves and tools, and ran for the Jeep.
The time had gotten away from him, as usual. Knee deep in plants and earth and sunshine, some days he felt as though time stood still. He should have set a damn alarm.
Maybe she’d be late?
He threw the Jeep in gear and hightailed it down the dirt lane toward the house.
It wasn’t like he didn’t have other things to do. Showing a writer around for a week was yet another responsibility that the rest of his family felt would sit nicely on his shoulders. His mother should be the one holding her hand, letting her pet calves, and make garden fresh salads. Or glib-tongued Beckett. He’d give her the idyllic tourist view of the farm and then treat her to candle-lit dinners. Send her back to the city with stories of how romantic Blue Moon was.
But no. It fell on Carter to walk her through life on the farm. And he sure as hell wasn’t going to treat her like an honored guest. An extra pair of hands was an extra pair of hands. He was going to put Summer Lentz to work and send her back to Manhattan with the real story on farm life.
He spotted the little red coupe as he shot down the lane to the farmhouse.
Bringing the Jeep to an abrupt halt next to the car, a sense of urgency propelled him out of the Jeep and across the drive. The front door was unlocked, as it always was. Maybe she was inside.
He stopped midstride when he spotted her. Her navy button down, with its crisp collar, was tucked neatly into the waist of slim pants the color of ashes. The pants ended a few inches above her trim ankles, most likely to show off the short suede boots with needlepoint heels. Stick-straight hair hung to her shoulders in a silvery blond curtain. Wide eyes, the color of the Canterbury bells that bordered the flowerbed behind her, peered at him. Her full lips wore a sheen of pink gloss and were parted, as if to ask a question.
She looked like one of his grandmother’s porcelain dolls come to life. Her small hands were clasped in front of her, spine straight enough to draw a compliment from a drill sergeant.
He had probably scared the hell out of her with his entrance, Carter thought, and stopped his approach.
“Hi.” Her voice was whisper-soft, with a huskiness that went straight to his gut.
The man before her was like no farmer Summer had ever envisioned. His dark-as-midnight hair was shorn ruthlessly short on the sides with more length on top. Beards weren’t exactly hot in Manhattan, but his had her questioning why that was. Raincloud eyes held her gaze and the deep frown that put the line between his eyes had her pulse skittering.
The dirt streaked Henley stretched across a mile-wide chest, sleeves shoved up his very fit forearms. His legs under the worn, holy jeans were braced as if for battle. She just wasn’t sure if it was with her or someone else.
He looked like a model some smartass art director had plunked down in a field to sell jeans or watches. Niko was going to have a field day with tall, dark, and frowny, Summer decided. She wished she hadn’t left her phone in the car so she could get a picture of him just like this.
She was already fascinated and he had only spoken a single word. This story had just gotten a hell of a lot more interesting.
“Are you Mr. Pierce?” She started forward, covering the dusty distance between them, her hand outstretched.
He paused for exactly one second before engulfing her palm in his. His grip — and everything else about him — radiated strength. Rough calluses met her manicured, moisturized hand. There was something there. An energy that shot straight up her spine.
“Carter,” he said, finally.
“Summer.” She returned the pressure of his grip as confidently as she could. In her line of work, everyone was a potential enemy, but Carter Pierce was a different kind of dangerous.
He didn’t release her hand, but the frown line gradually dimmed. “Welcome to Blue Moon Bend, Summer.