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I was no artist, but when it came to self-reliance, my life was a living, breathing art exhibit.

Staring at my mother’s ring, I turned it around on my finger. I grieved her passing but I wore the ring as a reminder: I would never be like her. She had destroyed her health, family, and self-respect for her sick idea of love.

Stuffing the damp laundry into the dryer, I hit start. I heard the familiar buzz of the weed whip and realized the new landscaper, River, was here.

My neighbor said he recently moved into the subdivision and was worth every dollar. My yard was an eyesore and she wasn’t very subtle when it came to dropping hints. I walked into the kitchen and rolled my eyes. Grabbing my purse, I checked the time. My last summer pedicure was in thirty minutes.

In three short weeks, I would be teaching a new round of seniors at Alden High School. Pulling out my checkbook, I located River’s last name for payment: Jamison. I got a drink of water and frowned at the mint plant shriveling near my window. “Black thumb strikes again.”

My lovebird, Lint, chirped a response.

I eyed him in his cage. “What? I’m not teaching botany.”

He paced on his perch, chirped again, and then settled back in the same spot. I smiled at him before the new landscaper came into view. Some water went down the wrong tube and I sputtered.

“Wheet!” Lint scolded me as I coughed.

I froze.

River roamed through the backyard wielding a weed whip. Heat climbed under my skin and into my cheeks. He was shirtless and had abs like a Greek god. His wavy, golden brown hair curled on his damp forehead. Loose jeans hung around his hips and his arms and back muscles were a pretty sight as he worked in the sun. His stark green eyes shot up to the window in time to catch me drinking him in like a tall glass of tea. A slow smile stretched across his lips and he waved. I gasped and turned away from the window.

Cringing, I snatched my purse, wrote the check to leave on the door, and hurried out of the kitchen. I swore to avoid all further acts of voyeurism…as well as the new landscaper. I paused in the doorway and tilted my head. Something smelled weird.

Returning to the kitchen, I sniffed the air. Was something burning? I checked the stove and the oven, confused. I heard a knock at the door and dropped my shoulders. So much for my genius escape plan.

River stood outside the screen door with a wide grin on his face. “Hi.”

I felt like I swallowed water down the wrong tube again. “Hello.”

“You must be Elan Taylor. I thought I’d introduce myself.” I could smell blades of freshly cut grass and the alluring musk of his body odor. “I’m River.”

“Nice to meet you.” I swallowed.

He watched me like a newly discovered species and I shifted on my feet.

“I thought you might want to check my work since it’s my first time here,” he offered.

“No, no.” I quickly answered. “I saw your work from inside. Looks great.”

His green eyes sparkled. “You were watching from inside, huh?”

I flinched as the sentence took on a double meaning. “Anyway. Is there anything else you need?”

“Just my payment.”

I opened my mouth and then closed it. “Oh. Right. I got distracted.”

He grinned.

“I think I left it in the kitchen, one moment.” I returned to where I had left my checkbook. Pull yourself together, Elan.

I opened the screen door and handed him the check. “Thanks so much.”

A scowl formed on his face. “Is something burning?”

“Mmm, not sure.” I gripped the door, anxious to close it.

His eyes went past me as he pointed down the hall. “Something is definitely burning.”

I turned around and saw smoke. “Uh oh.” I abandoned him at the door and searched the kitchen again before following its trail into the laundry room.

“Holy hell.” Panic swelled in my chest at the smoke pouring off the dryer. It sparked and caught fire. “Not good!” I shut it off, coughing and gagging. I ran to the kitchen to get water and barreled right into River’s naked chest.

He grabbed my hands. “Whoa, whoa.” He blinked at me and my heart pounded like a war drum. “Stay here.” He dropped my hands and walked past me.

I huffed in annoyance and called after him as he disappeared around the corner. “Don’t we need water? Or something?” I followed him into the laundry room.

All coherent thoughts abandoned me. River’s back was to me as heat rippled around his body. There was a loud vacuuming sound and my ears popped. The smoke swirling along the ceiling stilled. My eyes stung and I croaked on the rancid air. The smoke poured back into the laundry room and disappeared along with the sparks and flames. A loud suctioning sound echoed and River shuddered.

I paled, backing into the hallway as he turned around. I eyed his hands for some secret fireman’s tool.

He scowled. “I asked you to stay where you were.”

“How…” I shook my head. “What did you do?”

He shrugged. “I extinguished the fire.”

I shook my head, dispelling of any irrational thoughts going through my head.

River stared down at me.

I laughed. “Okay.” I blew the air out I had been holding. “Well, uhhh, thank you.” I moved down the hall, and he trailed me. “I’ll pay you extra for your trouble.” I opened the screen door for him.

“Not necessary. Just keep me around.”

I released a nervous laugh and let the screen door slam between us with an unceremonious bang. River’s brow shot up and I looked down at my feet.

“Well. No more fires, okay Elan?”

I shrugged and snorted.

His emerald eyes widened a notch. “Did you just snort?”

I shook my head. “I know. It’s a problem.”

“I think it’s cute.” He leaned into the doorframe and his arms filled the width of my entryway. I gulped, thankful the screen was between us. “I think you’re cute.”

All the blood left my face and he smiled even wider. “Definitely cute.” He stared at me for another moment and then turned and walked away.

Sweet Mother. I stood in the door like a gutted fish still trying to figure out how he put out the fire.

I would absolutely be avoiding the new landscaper.


Photo Credit: TheOdysseyOnline.Com

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