Marriage at Circle M (Windover Ranch #2) - Donna Alward Page 0,1

homes. The peeling trim on the eaves would soon be gleaming and white like the sections she’d already painted. Somehow, she’d taken a plain, aging bungalow and made it home.

“You’re painting.”

She kept her eyes front as if refusing to look at him. “Your powers of deduction astound me. What tipped you off?”

He ignored that bit of sarcasm, too. She had to be tired, after all. The drips down the side of her paint can were fresh; she’d obviously been at it a while before he showed up. And he knew for a fact that she’d been up late last night, because her lights had been on when he’d been on his way back from town at nearly one o’clock. He wished she didn’t have to work so hard for everything. But he was the last person who could make things better for her. At least for right now he was.

“How do you find time to do everything, Grace? Every time I see you, you’re busy at something.”

By getting up at five a.m., she thought. Instead she shoved her hands in the pockets of her shorts. “It keeps me out of trouble.”

“Then I sure hate to ask what I’m about to.”

Mike was serious, she realized, pushing away the urge to use sarcasm as a shield against him. Normally he said nothing at all or what he did say was disarming and funny. But Grace had known him long enough to know when he was troubled. And the tone of his voice right now told her something was definitely going on. When he merely stared at her house longer, she wrinkled her brow and went to him, gently placing a paint-splattered hand on his forearm.

“What’s wrong?”

“Connor took Alex to the hospital yesterday afternoon.”

Grace’s belly twisted at the news. He and Connor were like brothers, so much more than business partners. When Connor had to slaughter his beef herd, he and Mike, long-time friends, had become partners in Circle M Quarter Horses.

“Is it the baby? Are they okay?” Alex looked after the business end now but had a baby due in a few months.

Mike didn’t seem to be able to look at her, but she could feel the worry emanating from him. His arm was tense beneath her fingers and his jaw clamped tight. “She went into early labor, so they’re keeping her in for a while. Doc says she’ll be on bed rest from here on out. That’s all I know for now.”

“What about Maren?” Grace looked up at his profile. Maren was the couple’s toddler, a princess with raven curls and sky-blue eyes like her mother. “Is that why you’re here? Do they need someone to watch her for a while?”

“No, no.” Mike turned to her then, his lips relaxing just a little. “Connor’s grandmother is looking after her. But…I know Alex took over doing the books after she and Connor got married. It’s not fair of me to ask, but I was wondering, I mean we were wondering, if you’d consider coming back and doing the books for the farm for a while.”

If it had been a less serious topic, Grace would have made a quip about that being a regular speech for Mike. Instead, she just nodded. “Of course I will. I don’t mind at all.”

“It’s just that I know you’re already busy, and—”

“Mike, it’s fine. Alex and Connor are my friends too. I’m happy to help.”

His relief was clear. “Thank you, Grace.”

It was her own fancy that made his words sound like an endearment. But she knew now that Mike didn’t think of her in that way anymore. He only looked on her as a friend, she knew that. He’d made it abundantly clear long ago.

She’d already let girlish fantasy rule once in her life and look where that had gotten her. A few troubled years, a whole lot of hurt and then back here in small-town Alberta with a tiny yellow bungalow and a double bed with one pillow.

“You’re welcome. I’ll try to stop by tomorrow and get things up to speed.”

The morning sun grew warmer as they stood on her front lawn, the dew evaporating in the heat. This was just what she needed. To torture herself further by seeing Mike day in and day out at Circle M, a reminder of wanting what she couldn’t have. But the truth was, she needed to do some repairs to the house and money was scarce. What she made by doing the odd book work and cleaning jobs