I’m back at Farrington Farms. It’s a different day, slightly different story.
I pull my truck up right in front of Darby’s house. I hadn’t expected to be back here this Sunday morning, but after I hung up the phone with Darby not too long ago, I decided to take matters into my own hands. This morning when Darby called to regretfully inform me that she and Linnie could not attend Sunday dinner with my family, it hit me like a wrecking ball that my interest in Darby extends far beyond just mere intrigue into this fascinating woman. I now fully admit I’ve come to like her.
I’ve never used the word “hate” in my life to describe my feelings for someone, but before I ever met Darby, I intensely disliked her. It’s not lost on me that within just a matter of moments of meeting and talking to her, my entire perception changed. Darby really let herself get into trouble with me when she made the bold move to pull her application for the expansion grant from consideration. Yes, Darby is one of the most beautiful women I have ever known, but she became infinitely more attractive when I realized she has a heart of gold.
So here I am at her house, unbidden and possibly unwelcome, to make it known I have an interest in her. And if I’m interested in her, it means I have to be interested in Linnie.
After I hung up the phone with Darby, I had a new person I intensely disliked.
Her husband, Mitch.
“I’m really sorry, Colt,” Darby had explained on the phone not but half an hour ago. “But we’re not going to be able to come to supper today.”
“Why?” I asked quite simply.
She had no hesitation in admitting, “It’s Linnie. She’s just… in a mood, I guess. She’s flat-out refusing to go. While I could certainly force her and drag her to your house, it would not be a pleasant experience for any of your family.”
“What’s the reason for the mood?” I could sense by the tone of her voice that something had happened to put Linnie in her funk.
Darby didn’t answer right away. I could read into her pause she was trying to figure out whether she should share a burden with me. So I urged her. “Talk to me, Darby. What’s going on?”
There was no hesitation after that. She let it all come out in a rushing confession of frustration. “Her father called her this morning. I could only hear her end of the conversation, but it was clear he was in full-out attack mode on me. I could tell that whatever he was saying on his end, he was trying to manipulate Linnie into putting pressure on me to come back to Illinois.”
I didn’t push her for the details. I can imagine some of the things a parent might say to an impressionable seven-year-old to turn them against the other parent. While I don’t have any firsthand experience with such things, I’ve had plenty of friends and acquaintances over the years who have gone through bitter divorces and custody struggles. I’m aware there are some people in the world who will use their kid as a weapon.
Yeah, I don’t like this Mitch dude.
I assured Darby there would be other Sunday dinners they could come to. I put her mind at ease by saying I completely understood what she was going through, even though I don’t. The only thing I did understand is I had made a new friend in Darby McCulhane. I thought she was a good woman. She’s struggling right now to get situated into a new home and is very far away from everything that provided her security.
She helped me out and by extension helped my family out when she gave up the expansion grant.
I’m going to return the favor.
I turn my truck off and hop out with determination. After jogging up the creaky porch steps, I give three solid raps with my knuckles on the wood casing of the screen door. Within moments, Darby’s opening it and blinking at me in surprise.
“Good morning,” I say cheerily.
Darby pushes open the screen door wider and steps back in silent invitation. As I brush past her, she asks, “What are you doing here?”
“I’ve come to kidnap your daughter,” I tell her.
I did not expect this to alarm Darby, so it was not surprising to see the corners of her mouth tip upward. “Kidnap my daughter? I just want to make sure I heard that correctly.”
I grin and nod. “Cross my heart I won’t corrupt her or anything.”
Darby stares at me for a few moments and while she’s clearly amused, I can see a little bit of distance in her eyes—not because she doesn’t trust me, but because she doesn’t want to place her burdens on my doorstep.
I give her a reassuring smile. “I’m going to take her horseback riding. You told me the other day when you came over to have lunch that she had a horse and it was one of the things she really missed.”
It’s not hard to figure out that the rapid blinking of Darby’s eyes means she’s trying to dispel some wet emotion my offer has caused. The last thing I want to do is make a lady cry, so I also add on with a wink, “And that way, you can have a few hours of relaxation all to yourself. Maybe go get your nails done or your hair fixed up all pretty or something. Not that it isn’t pretty as is, but you know… spend some time on Darby.”
She just stares at me in disbelief. That lasts for only about three seconds before she snaps her head to the right and yells up the stairs,
“Linnie. Get down here.”
The footsteps overhead are far too heavy to belong to a seven-year-old. The way she’s stomping through the house above us indicates she is not a happy kid. She comes down the staircase with her shoulders hunched forward. When she reaches the bottom landing, she glares at her mom and says, “What?”
It’s not quite belligerent, but it is rude.
As I was raised by a Marine Corps drill instructor father with no patience for smart talk and a strong, southern woman who insists on manners, a crappy attitude has never been something tolerated in our family. I want to tell Linnie to have some respect for her mother, but that would put us off on the wrong foot.
To my surprise, Darby makes it known she doesn’t find her daughter’s attitude acceptable. She narrows her eyes slightly, and says in an even but firm voice, “Remember what we said? You need to check your attitude at your bedroom door. I don’t care if you want to stay up there and sulk but when you’re in my presence, I expect you to be pleasant.”
Linnie doesn’t respond, but her cheeks turn pink.
Darby glances to me and inclines her head my way before telling Linnie, “Colt is here to take you horseback riding if you would like to go.”
There’s no doubt in my mind I made the right decision in coming here when Linnie’s entire face lights up with joy. Her head snaps my way so fast her glasses slide down to the end of her nose. She just pushes them right back up as she asks, “Really?”
I nod. “I’ve got a good buddy who has a few horses, and he’s got two ready for you and me to saddle up for some trail riding.”
It’s also made clear to me that despite Linnie’s sullen attitude toward her mom, she was actually raised with good manners. She immediately turns to Darby. In a very sweet yet imploring voice, she asks, “Can I go, Mom? Please.”
Darby doesn’t hesitate or make her daughter suffer. She just smiles at her and gestures toward the staircase. “Go get changed into some riding gear.”
Linnie doesn’t need to be told twice. She goes flying up the stairs.
About The Author
Juliette Poe is the sweet and swoony alter ego of New York Times Best Selling author, Sawyer Bennett.
A fun-loving southern girl, Juliette knows the allure of sweet tea, small towns, and long summer nights, that some of the best dates end sitting on the front porch swing, and that family is top priority. She brings love in the south to life in her debut series, Sex & Sweet Tea.
When Juliette isn’t delivering the sweetest kind of romance, she’s teaching her southern belle daughter the fine art of fishing, the importance of wearing Chucks, and the endless possibilities of a vivid imagination.