It had been a few months since his dad had died, and so much in Rafferty’s life had changed. Instead of working alone after the older man’s sudden death, he had been offered a position at Anderson’s insurance agency.
The offer had actually sent Anderson and Ruth’s relationship into a tailspin for a while. His sister had actually done something nobody in town ever expected her to do: she moved out of town. Just for a month to avoid Anderson, who she had been convinced was leaving town and her in the dust. But Anderson had quickly realized he couldn’t take Ruth away from Landstad and that he didn’t want to leave either.
While she was gone, Mia had kept him informed on her, and if Anderson had asked, Rafferty would’ve told him how to find her. But he never asked, and Rafferty didn’t tell him.
During that time, he started working with Anderson, and he had found out how different working with Anderson was than with his dad. And even though Anderson was his boss, he treated him ten times better than his father ever had. Now he enjoyed going to work every day.
Just when he was getting used to working with Anderson, the man had won his sister back, and Rafferty’s life had changed again. But not in the way he thought it would. He thought Anderson would fire him the moment Ruth was back in his life, but instead, they had just moved the office back to the building Rafferty had always worked in. It was bigger and had two office spaces, whereas Anderson’s office only had one.
It was possible because Ruth had been the one who bought the building. Not just his dad’s building, but dozens in town. In fact, she was the biggest landholder in Landstad city limits.
If that hadn’t been shocking enough, he had found out that she was also a writer, churning out books in her spare time for years. It was because of her writing that she could buy the buildings.
So far, he hadn’t been able to read the books she had written; after all, reading s*x scenes that came from his sister’s head didn’t seem right. Even the covers made him nervous. There was a lot of cleavage happening on those.
With her writing and her rental business, she had taken over Anderson’s office. As far as Rafferty could tell, she was happy. Happy with her work and happy with Anderson. Rafferty had never seen her this happy. He liked to see her that way.
The only thing that really didn’t change was Mia—she still hated him. Maybe not hate, but close. He still saw her every day or two in the café, but they never really talked. Not since his dad had died. And somehow, whatever fun they had during that day had been forgotten, replaced by the same anger she always had for him.
The only conversation they had was when she asked him to bid on her friend Tess Thorn at the Red River Flood Funding Auction that she organized. Her friend was the bank president and not well-liked in the community, and Mia had been nervous that she wouldn’t get bid on, and her friend would feel bad.
Mia had reluctantly agreed to go on a date with him if he bid on her friend. But only if he won. So, when the time came, he bid on the woman. Maybe some financial advice would be something he could use anyway. But to his surprise someone else started bidding on her also. In the beginning, Rafferty had been willing to go to $500 on her. It was for charity and for Mia. When that number was surpassed, he continued until it hit $1000 since he would also get financial advice and a date with Mia for the money it would be worth it. After that point, he kept bidding to see how high this guy would go. When the number hit $2000, he stopped, he couldn’t afford to win at that point.
So he didn’t get his date with Mia, but he did get a big hug from her. Which was enough for the effort, but he really wanted that date. When he asked anyway, she said no.
But today, he would finally get the date he had been waiting for. Well, not a date exactly, just a day with her. Anderson had invited him on a trail ride with him and Ruth and their friends. Tess and her new boyfriend, Math, the man Rafferty had bid against on her, was going to be there. And of course, Mia.
But Mia was pissed that he was there. Apparently, she hadn’t been told he was going, and she wasn’t happy to see him. Or that she would have to ride with him since there were only three machines. The hushed words between the women meant that Ruth and Tess were well aware of Mia’s anger.
Today, Mia was in jeans and a Landstad Tiger’s orange sweatshirt a few sizes too big that hid her glorious curves, from her great bre*sts to her round h!ps. Today, her hair was also orange to match the shirt. Well, they didn’t actually match. They were two different shades of orange. Turning, she caught him looking and glared at him, then stomped over to him.
“Let’s get this over with.” She climbed on the machine that Rafferty was standing next to.
“At least try to have fun,” he asked as he climbed on in front of her.
“Hard to do with you here,” she hissed into his ear.
Starting the engine, he hit the gas, and the machine jerked forward, forcing her to grab on to him tighter to not fall off. So, her body was pressed nicely to his as the others headed down the path into the woods on Math’s property.
Slowly, her hand slid over his body as one pressed against his stomach and one pressed against his chest as she held on to him. Feeling her bre*sts pressed into his back, and her lower body pressed to his b*tt, he could barely concentrate on driving.
Soon enough, her hold loosened as she became more relaxed on the ride. Her hands were now resting on his h!ps, but her body was still pressed to his. The landscape was hillier than he had expected, and in some low spots, there was water. The longer the ride the more low spots, more water.
Turning his head, he said to her above the sound of the machine, “Do you want to get dirty or stay clean?”
Her laughter rang in his ears as she admitted, “Dirty, of course.”
Her arms tightened around him as he sped up and went through the next puddle at a higher speed, and the splashing water almost got them. The next was the same, so he held back a little so the other two couples could get farther in front of them he could get their speed up some. At the third puddle, he accelerated and hit the puddle enough to send muddy water high into the air and right on top of them.
He was worried she was going to be mad since her body had tensed when the mud had fallen onto them, but to his surprise, she just laughed. So he did it again, and by the time they caught up with the group, both were soaking wet and muddy. The other two couples didn’t have a speck of mud on them.
As the ride continued, Mia encouraged him from behind to hit every puddle. By the time the three couples stopped for a rest by the river, Rafferty needed to wipe the mud from his face. But it was worth it to see Mia smiling and happy.
“How did nobody else get dirty out there?” Rafferty asked the group after the machines were shut off, and they could have a conversation without yelling.
Mia grabbed him around the waist and swung off the machine as she answered him. “Because their girlfriends would kill them if they got dirty.”
“You got that right,” Ruth said as Anderson helped her off their machine. Before he set her on the ground, he k!ssed her.
Mia ignored the couple and said, “You know, when you asked me to come on this trail ride, I expected mud to fly.”
“I didn’t know that,” Tess said. “I just thought it would be fun to get away for a day. With friends.”
“It will be fun. Except for the whole Rafferty thing.” She waved her hand in his direction. It seemed her anger hadn’t completely diminished.
“You mean the guy who took you mud-running? When no one else would have?” Ruth asked Mia.
“That might be him,” Mia murmured behind him.
He was looking at the river they were parked by. It was almost not a river, since if he took a running leap, he could get over it, but it was still a river. It was a beautiful spot, and Rafferty was glad Math had picked it. Though he didn’t know Math Nordskov very well, Anderson did. And the girls were all part of their book club, so they got along. His sole purpose of being here was to be with Mia. It had been a while since he got any alone time with her.
Turning, he saw Mia and the other women were sitting on a fallen log, probably left there for that purpose. They were chatting about something, and Math and Anderson were off looking at something in the woods. With no interest in the fauna, he wandered over to the women.
“So, Mia, what’s happening in town?” he asked. She was the town gossip. Except he noticed when it came to the book club, she didn’t talk about them at all to others. He liked that she was loyal to her friends.
“Let’s see.” She leaned back and looked up at him. “There’s this jerk of an insurance guy who keeps showing up at places I am.”
“Mia!” Ruth yelled at her.
“Okay, I’m sorry, Rafferty.” Blushing, she looked away. “We were talking about the Baker house. It’s for sale. I was just asking Ruth if she was going to buy it.”
“Are you going to?” Rafferty asked her. After all, Ruth was loaded and liked to buy property in Landstad.
“I haven’t decided yet,” Ruth said, then she looked over at Anderson. “I mean, we haven’t decided yet. It needs a lot of work. I don’t know if we want to take on a project. And I like living downtown.”
“If it were me, I would buy it in a heartbeat!” Mia exclaimed, wiping mud from her neck. “I have always wanted a house on The Hill.”
Rafferty looked at her. Her excitement was showing, and it was charming. Almost as charming as calling the street just one block off Main Street “The Hill.” There was no hill, and there had never been one. In fact, it was a lower street than Main Street was. When he biked it as a kid, he realized that. But what it did have was six large old houses, most in need of repair. Well, there were five now since one had been torn down a few years before.
“Really? There’s a hill? In Landstad?” Tess asked in confusion.
“No, not an actual hill, maybe a rise. But anyway, I have always loved those houses. The Baker one was my favorite. It was painted all kinds of colors before they repainted it white the last time. It always looked amazing from the outside. You should buy it, Ruth. It would be perfect for all your little Andersons.” Mia turned to her friend in excitement.
“I don’t know if we are having any little Andersons, and I love it downtown. You should get it,” Ruth told Mia, even if downtown and work would only be a block away.
“I can’t afford it. I’m only a waitress!” Mia exclaimed.
“You have owned that café for years,” Rafferty reminded her. She always downplayed her owning the café. She had owned it for years and wasn’t even thirty yet. She should be proud of what she had accomplished so far in her life. Instead, she always just told people she was a waitress.
“Doesn’t mean I make much money. Definitely not enough for a house on The Hill,” she told him, making the area of town sound far more important than it was.
Looking at her orange hair, Rafferty decided he would have to look at the house of Mia’s dreams one day soon. Probably this week. He himself couldn’t tell the five remaining from the one that was gone. But for Mia, he was suddenly very interested. Until right now, he had no idea that just a house could make her so excited.
As the men came back, they joined in the conversation, and it turned to who had lived in the houses on The Hill over the years. Since the three who had grown up in town were almost all the same age, they couldn’t remember back too far, but the recent history gave them enough to talk about.
Soon they were heading back to their cars. Again, Rafferty and Mia were in the back, but Rafferty let Mia drive. Her eyes had lit up at the prospect, and he wondered if he had made a mistake.
But it hadn’t been a mistake. Not only had he been able to wrap his arms around her, but she spent the entire time talking to him. No real conversation, but excited words and questions about what they should do. Mostly, they just let the group get ahead of them to see how wet they could get. And they got wet and dirty.
When they finally made it to Math’s yard, the other four had already crawled off their machines. And when Ruth had seen Mia, she stated that the orange-haired woman wasn’t allowed in her new SUV. To Rafferty’s delight, he had to take her home.
They said their goodbyes and headed back to town. Of course, this meant his pickup’s interior would be covered in mud, but he got to spend a few more minutes with Mia, so it was a price he was willing to pay. And the Mia he was bringing home was happy and seemed to forget her anger at him.
At her door, he watched her jump out of the cab. Climbing out, he rushed around to follow her. She was already at her door when he caught her. Following her into the stairwell, they stood at the small landing that held three mailboxes, though he was sure there were only two apartments.
“I had fun today,” he said, because the day had been nearly perfect. All it was missing was spending the rest of the day with her.
“It did turn out to be pretty fun. Even if they are all sticks in the mud.”
“I think we’re the muddy ones.” Rafferty smiled at her.
“You definitely are,” she said, leaning against the wall behind her.
“You need a mirror.” He had been itching to touch her hair all day, so he ran his hand over the orange hair with flecks of mud in it. Some were more chunks than flecks.
“Are you flirting with me, Rafferty?” she asked, then licked her l!ps.
“Do you want me to?” He watched her tongue.
“Yes,” she whispered breathlessly, then quickly said, “No.”
He lowered his l!ps to hers, “Let’s go with yes.”
As his l!ps finally touched her soft ones, he wondered why it always took months for him to k!ss her again. Deepening the k!ss, he pulled her soft, wet body to him. Her hands went around his neck and held on to him. God, she felt so good in his arms.
The room suddenly echoed with the sound of Taylor Swift singing about New York. Mia pushed away from him and dug in her pocket, pulling out her phone. “Mandy,” was all she said.
Turning away, she headed up the stairs, talking to her cousin. He watched until she made it to the top of the landing, then she was gone.
Leaning against the wall she had just been leaning against, he cursed her cousin. If she hadn’t called, he might have been able to follow her up the stairs and maybe into the shower. Stomping out the door and into the sun, he wished it would just rain to match his mood.