They spent the morning clearing away the fallen branches that weren’t touching the downed lines. Chris was strong and not a bit afraid of manual labor. He worked on the greenhouse while Emily went in to fix lunch. It was hot, and with no fan running, the house stifling. It would be better to sit on the porch and eat. Emily brought out sandwiches, a bag of potato chips, and two lukewarm sodas. Then she called her new handyman to eat.
When they sat at the little round table on the porch, they both noticed the shadowy figure poised at the edge of the woods.
“He’s been hanging around for the last hour or so,” Chris said. “I take it he’s not yours?”
“No, he’s just a stray.” Emily watched the gaunt husky slip back into the cover of the trees. She was glad he’d made it through the storm, but the poor thing was probably starved again.
It had been a while since anyone sat at the table with Emily. Usually, she propped a book up in front of her, but that would be unforgivably rude. She would just have to bury the tiny flutter of disquiet that threatened to balloon up inside of her. So she was sitting across the table from a nice-looking man. So he was going to sleep in her barn tonight. So she didn’t know him from Adam. She was used to dealing with older people so set in their ways they were practically concrete. Certainly she could manage to deal with a man nearly her own age.
Chris had washed in water from the creek and run wet fingers through his hair. When he sat across from her, Emily noticed the tiny drops of water sparkling against the rich cinnamon brown.
He ate with gusto, talking in between about the trip he was making across the country. “I’m just taking my time, wandering about. Going along the back roads.”
“Guess that’s how you happened by here.” Emily offered him another sandwich.
"Best way to see America and meet her people. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I decided not to wait till I’m too old.” He grinned and his eyes held Emily’s gaze for a moment. So blue, so very blue. She thought she could drown in them, but something was being held back, was hidden in their depths. She couldn’t tell what, but his carefree smile seemed almost forced.
Emily finished her sandwich and took the leftovers out to the barn. The husky was nowhere in sight.
“He’ll be back,” she told Chris. “Sooner or later, he’ll trust me enough. I just have to give him some time.”
She noticed Chris watching her in a peculiar way, as if he wondered why the dog mattered to her at all. She really didn’t know herself, except she felt sorry for him. She knew all about being alone.
“I have to go to work now.” She turned back to the house. “You can just go ahead with the windows on the greenhouse. I’ll be home around six.”
Chris watched as she went into the house and came out with a black bag.
“In case you’re wondering, I’m a public-health nurse,” Emily said. “Home care visits are part of my job. I have some people to check up on after the storm. A lot of them…don’t have anybody else. If you get thirsty, help yourself to whatever you can find. I’ll try to pick up something cold on the way home.”
It seemed strange to have someone watching as she drove away and even stranger to have him waiting when she came home at half-past eight.
“I was getting worried,” Chris said when she slid down from the truck seat. He’d been sitting on the porch steps, but he came to meet her and took the bag of groceries and the six-pack of beer from her hand. “You look tired. I fixed some supper. Hope you don’t mind.”
She didn’t. In fact, it felt good to have someone taking care of her for a change, even if he was just a stranger who would be gone in a few weeks.
After they ate the meal cooked over Chris’s one-burner camp stove, they sat on the porch and drank the beer and watched purple evening shadows steal across the fields. Emily was tired, but it was nice to have someone to talk to instead of just the old dog.
“My parents lived on this farm all their married lives. I didn’t come along until they were both in their forties. I guess they’d just about given up on ever having a family. As it was, all they got was me.”
“Not such a bad deal.” Chris’s voice was nearly as soft as the country twilight. “I bet they were immensely proud.”
Emily shrugged, uncomfortable when the talk centered on her.
Chris let a space of silence lapse, as if he understood, then he asked, “Didn’t you ever feel trapped, living way out here with no one your own age around?”
Emily wanted to shout no, but if the truth were told, at 18 she had felt more than ready to get away from home. Her parents had sensed it and they hadn’t held her back. “They made sure I went to college. I lived away for five years, but then the farm got to be too much for Dad. Who else did they have to depend on but me?”
She smiled sleepily at Chris and tried to hold back a yawn, but her eyes simply wouldn’t stay focused. “Must be…the beer.”
Chris stood up and ‘rousted the bedroll he’d stashed in the corner of the porch. “Good night, Emily,” he said softly and ambled off to the barn.
It was surprising how quickly Emily got used to Chris being around. After so long living alone, she looked forward to pouring two cups of coffee in the morning. When she wasn’t making her nursing rounds, they worked outside together, and the farm began to take on a new spruced-up appearance. After five days the power came back on, and by the time one week turned into two, it was almost as if Chris had always been there. But when he tried to kiss her, she shied away like a wary doe.
They were in the orchard and had stopped to drink lemonade from a thermos. The next thing Emily knew, Chris brushed a stray wisp of hair back from her face and carelessly leaned toward her, but his lips only had a chance to graze her cheek before she turned away, her heart thudding in her ears.
She’d been wondering for days what it would be like to have Chris kiss her, but now that he almost had, fear and uncertainty plucked at her. For a man like Chris, it was no doubt just a moment’s pleasure, but for Emily…for Emily it could be the way to heartbreak.
You’re acting like a fool, for heaven’s sake. The man only tried to kiss you.
But it was hard to cope with feelings she had thought were left far behind, and she wasn’t prepared. Everything had been nice and predictable before that storm two weeks ago, nice and quiet with no surprises.
Why did Chris Carter, a most uncommon prince, have to come along? She had nothing to offer him. She was a plain woman. He must be at least five years younger. She was too old for him, too old for romantic love, but telling herself took all night and far into the early morning.
Stop back tomorrow for the final excerpt from An Uncommon Prince and Other Short Stories, part of the Sweet Romance Christmas Giveaway. If you haven't yet signed up for a chance to win free e-books and gift certificates, click here: http://tinyurl.com/khf7wfa