Transferring from her old position had been one of the hardest to decisions Brooke Justice had faced. Those farmers back in Virginia Beach had taught her as much as she had them in the beginning. College hadn’t prepared her for the real-life problems farmers faced, but she’d been a quick study and they’d taken her under their wing. She loved that job, but her separation from Keith had gotten out of control and putting some miles between them seemed like the right thing to do when the opportunity arose.
Brooke gathered a stack of soil sample kits and a notebook with the list of her appointments for the day, then grabbed the keys to the truck the county provided for their use. She headed out the back door of the Main Street office where the truck was parked.
The little white four-wheel drive pickup was much more suitable to the roads than her own car. Many of the roads were still unpaved in this county. In Virginia Beach they'd provided her with a vehicle, too, only it was a big twelve-seater passenger van. It was a bear to maneuver and forget about parking it.
Just one turn off Route 58 and she was there. She pulled into the driveway of the sprawling white ranch with the red metal roof. A nice barn and lots of high dollar fencing was already in place. Some goats lay chewing their cud under the shade of a huge pecan tree in the front pasture. From here it looked like mostly clover and weeds, fine for goats, but the horses would go hungry in that field. There was tall fescue too—that could spell disaster for a horse farm that planned any type of breeding program.
A bright red cardinal fluttered by as she got out of the truck. Cardinal, good luck. Seeing the good luck sign calmed her. The lucky signs might have started as a fun diversion when she was just a kid hunting for four-leafed clovers with her brother, but over the years luck signs had become kind of like a second religion for Brooke. She believed in it, and it could make or break her day.
The front door opened and, at first glance, the height of the man sent her heart racing. For that one fleeting moment she thought it was Cody Tuggle, but then she caught the brown hair peeking from beneath the cap and realized it wasn't. Wishful thinking. At least the ball cap didn’t bear a tractor company theme and it wasn’t camo like those of ninety percent of the guys she met during these visits.
He met her on the driveway extending his hand as he approached. "Hey there, I'm Mike."
"You're the farm manager?" Brooke asked.
He raised his brow slightly, and then smiled. "Yeah, I guess that's me. For now."
Nice voice and good looking too. He might even be better looking than the music man.
His eyes were almost too blue for a dark haired man, and the tan showed them off just right.
It was hard to not stare into those baby blues. "I'm Brooke Justice.” She shook his hand feeling tiny in his presence. He stood a good foot taller than her, with broad shoulders that pulled his t-shirt taut and biceps...well, let’s just stop this gawking right here. “I was told y'all wanted to work on a pasture and grazing rotation plan. Want to show me around?"
"That's right. We do." He motioned her to follow. When they got to the back of the house he jumped behind the wheel of a Polaris Ranger, and she climbed into the seat next to him. He hit the gas pedal on the utility vehicle and it lurched forward.
She sucked in a breath as his arm flung across her mid-section with lightning speed as she ricocheted back in the seat. His softball-sized bicep didn’t go unnoticed, nor did the way it flexed when he repositioned his hand on the steering wheel. She knew she’d need to check out the rest of him as they sped through the smooth terrain.
They rode the entire property line first, then backtracked, stopping to talk about each area that was fenced off.
Brooke listened and took a few notes. "Y'all are in really great shape here as far as the fencing goes. Whoever set this up had some experience. It's already cross-fenced, so you'll be able to rotate to get the most from your pastures."
"I can't take credit for that. Guy that remodeled this place had been a farmer his whole life. Horses, cattle, goats. He remodeled this place for his wife as a surprise. He died. She's moved on."
"Is she the one who's engaged to Cody Tuggle?" She wished the words hadn't tumbled from her mouth, but there they were. Daddy’d always said he’d named her right because words rushed right out of her like water over the rocks, and there was no stopping them.
"Sure is," he said with no hint of emotion either way.
She tilted her head. "That bother you?"
"That Kasey has moved on? No. Cody is a nice guy. They’re good together."
"You've met him? And he’s nice?" she said with a little too much enthusiasm. Hello, mouth, quit going all fan girl on me.
"Sure." He leaned forward on the steering wheel. "Why do you look so surprised? Famous people can't be nice?"
"No. Not that, I just never met a star before. It's kind of cool that he's going to be moving here."
Mike tugged on his hat. "Well, not right here. He and Kasey are building a place on the acreage on the other side of that fence line. They bought the adjacent land all the way to the next curve. About four hundred acres."
"He bought the cut-over from the timber company?"
Mike nodded. "They did, but I think they're actually building on the far end. That land is still cropland right now."
"The old Doyle farm. I know of it. Nice piece of land." Too bad it wouldn't be farmed, though. She didn’t like to see cropland lose its purpose. Once that cycle was broken, it just didn't come back. More and more of it was being repurposed for non-agricultural
use. A bad thing for the county.
Brooke wondered if she'd get the chance to meet Cody Tuggle when they got ready to do something with that land. Probably not. He probably had “people” who would handle those conversations too. When she looked up, Mike was staring at her like he was waiting on a response. Just how long had she been standing there daydreaming?
"Cody's mother is going to be using this property. She's the one who is into race horses."
Hugging her notebook to her chest, she asked, "How long have you been working with race horses?"
"Me?" Mike chuckled. "I don't have any experience with race horses...with the exception of a few lousy bets."
"I'm sorry, I'd just assumed you--"
" Of course, you would, but no, I'm just doing a favor for Kasey, the one who is engaged to your favorite singer. She asked me if I'd take care of things for her while they are away. It was a win-win since I wasn't sure where I was going to put down roots when I got out of the military. This kind of helped me make the decision."
"Nice town to put down roots. I just moved here myself. I'm a Virginia Beach native."
"I’ve been here for a while now. Was your Dad in the Navy?" he asked.
She nodded. "A pilot.”
“How are you adjusting to Adams Grove?”
“I like it. I never realized just how loud it was out there near Oceana until I moved here. What a difference."
"The quiet is nice. When my parents split up, my brother lived in Virginia Beach with my mom. I stayed up this way with Dad. I kind of prefer the wide open spaces."
"Well, welcome home then."
He looked like he was going to ask her something else, but chickened out. "I won't be actually managing the farm. I'm just helping coordinate things that need to happen before all that, but I'll be your guy for a little while."
My guy? In another lifetime that would have thrilled her. "Got it. Well, I appreciate you giving me the tour, and look forward to working with you for a little while, Mike." She knew she should be done with this appointment by now, but she was still curious about him. Another few minutes wouldn't put her too far behind schedule. Usually she was meeting with married couples wanting to give the country life a try in their second half of life or lifetime farmers with big guts. It wasn't often she got to visit with young, hot, available men. Not that she was in the market for one and she’d already proven with her track record with “nice” guys. "What branch of the service were you in?"
He pulled off his sunglasses. White squint lines framed his eyes against his very tanned skin. "Marine Corps."
"Of course you were." He had Marine written all over him: muscles, confidence, and blue eyes just plain begging her to get lost in them so he could rescue her.