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Chapter One

No one was more surprised than Calla when Clayton announced at Thanksgiving Dinner that he and Alexis were engaged. They had only been dating since July.  No one was less surprised than her husband, Bruce. Since Lexi was his wife’s best friend, he knew she was difficult, choosy and high maintenance, with even higher standards. But, he also knew that his new friend and business partner was determined to have and hold Alexis Green at any cost.

And cost it would, more than money. Bruce feared his friend might lose his sanity and go grey at the age of thirty by the time this was all done. The couple agreed that they both wanted a small wedding and a big honeymoon. Even so, the bride-to-be was nearly making herself crazy and the groom in turn, with details and plans. What were they thinking trying to plan a New Year’s wedding? He knew what they were thinking. It was Clayton’s old fashioned Mennonite upbringing. Delaying the wedding meant delaying the wedding night and neither could hold out much longer. It would only be natural to give in, but Clayton wanted the one and only time he would wed to be one hundred percent perfect.

Lexi, well, she kind of understood about waiting. She went to Sunday school and all, and found the notion very romantic, but could not quite comprehend that a man would put HER off and make HER wait. What was the world coming to? Growing more sexually frustrated each passing day, she decided he would give in or suffer. Always a lady, she would be subtle, but she would make him burn for her as badly as she did for him. She also couldn’t wait to be done with this wedding. The planning of it practically became a full time job, falling mainly upon Lexi and Calla, since the only thing Clayton specifically wanted was that she attend.  

All his energy was spent settling in and readying Green Acres, the old homestead he bought around the time Alexis Green went from being his real estate agent to his fiancée. He named this self-sustaining paradise for her. It was fitting. There was never a more ‘green’ farm ever built. The old windmill was restored and updated, generating alternative energy even better than when it was new, before such terms existed. Clayton McBride spent his hours setting seemingly random posts and building solar stations for his portable electric fencing, building nursery coops for spring peeps, mowing and spreading manure and compost trucked in from Walnut Bottom Farm. He and Bruce Cowen pooled resources and manpower to get both homesteads running at optimum efficiency.

  While Lexi looked at bridal catalogues at night before bed in her little apartment in town, Clayton combed through seed catalogues from his big four-poster bed. He stayed in the stone house nestled into the mountainside at Green Acres. Trying not to count down the days until she would join him, he concentrated instead on winter wheat and clover. There was just so much to do to get ready for spring crops and livestock. He had decisions to make and plans to follow if it would be a productive first year.

Sometimes the enormity of it all was overwhelming. Half a year before, he’d been an unattached agriculture engineer, traveling from farm to farm up and down the Eastern U.S. helping to make other farms work and succeed. Now he was starting his own. Having not done any real farming since he left his parents’ place in Pennsylvania to go to college, he wondered if he had what it takes. And soon he would be a husband to the most clever, and gorgeous, woman he’d ever met. Sleep overtook him as he wondered if he was dreaming.

*          *          *

 “Would you like to ride into town with me, Calla? We could have lunch at the Brass Lantern.” Bruce came up behind her in her studio, tugging and twirling her long spiraling pony tail.

Spinning and tapping a dot of white paint on the tip of his nose with laser precision, “No, but how about you and Clayton meet Lexi and me there for supper? I want to finish this painting for the silent auction next weekend and it needs time to cure before you so kindly frame it… and, we will be going out there this afternoon, for a private party, of sorts.”

“Private party you say? And what sort of private party is taking place at the Brass Lantern Inn this afternoon?” he asked with raised eyebrow and exaggerated suspicion.

“A scandalous one!” she replied, setting down her palate and brush and turning to spread both palms across his chest, almost kneading like cat, while he hugged her to him. “It’s kind of like a Tupperware party, but with lingerie instead of lunch boxes. The best part is, Lexi thinks it’s going to be a sales party for candles and scented wax burners, stuff like that. She would not budge in her decision to not have a bachelorette party so I secretly invited some of our girlfriends to come for a surprise lingerie party. If you and Clayton come afterwards the girls could meet him, and, I promise to buy something.” Calla winked up at him.

“Well, you devilish little imp.” In one quick motion he spun her around and swatted her bottom playfully. “I’ll see what I can do.”  

*          *          *

Clayton was waking up slowly, dreaming of Lexi. He could almost feel her warmth and smell her hair as his morning wood pressed against the firmness of her rear. He dreamed she lay cupped by his body in their bed. He could almost feel the tickle of long wisps of hair in his two day unshaven stubble and hear her faintly moan when he squeezed her breast… almost feel her breathing, harder and faster in his arms…

“MY GOD! LEXI! What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to surprise you with breakfast. I brought muffins and coffee, but you just looked so exquisitely peaceful and warm and comfortable, smiling sweetly in your sleep, I couldn’t resist crawling in and cuddling.”

She lay looking up at him in her plush white sweater dress and a sea of covers, seeming so innocent, pretending not to notice the half angry and half embarrassed expression on the hard-on wielding man standing there in black boxer shorts. Unable to suppress the beaming wide smile that began to spread across her face, she gave herself away. Clayton narrowed his eyes at her with his fists on his hips for a second, then bent down and scooped her up. He carried her out to the sofa in the other room, mumbling something about an evil little temptress and, just a little roughly, dumped her there and went back to the bedroom closing the door behind him. Pleased with herself, if not thoroughly satisfied, Alexis went about pouring coffee while he dressed. 

*          *          *

The giddy voices down the hall sounded familiar as Lexi made her way to the private room for the silly party. She hated these things but could always use a few more scented wax cakes to make a house smell like cookies or baking bread for a showing, and Calla was just so insistent. They sound awfully excited about candles, she thought as she opened the door. A bubbly and loud “Surprise!” was shouted by familiar faces, not in unison but with the same effect. She stood in the door with her mouth agape at the scene. The only candles there lit a room of lace and frills and twinkle-eyed women with mischievous grins. It looked as if a Victoria’s Secret store had exploded in the room. Panties and bras hung from the ceiling. There were racks of gowns and teddies and a couple privacy screens were set up to allow people to try them on for size, if anyone dared.  Wine bottles on the table were even dressed in garter belts. Calla handed her a glass of chardonnay with a wink, wearing a pair of gaudy pink panties on her head that said ‘naughty girl’ in gold letters.

“Indeed, you should be spanked,” Lexi said as she accepted the glass, returning the wink.

A couple hours later Lexi and Calla, with a few of their closer friends that traveled several hours to be there, met Clayton and Bruce in the dining room. They sat down to a beautifully set table in front of the fireplace and enjoyed a terrific meal of prime rib. The men did an excellent job of making polite conversation considering neither could take their imaginations away from the ample gift bags the girls set down between them. The blue lace peeking out of the tissue paper in Lexi’s bag was no accident. She was a woman on a mission and now had more ammunition.

As is customary, the topic of weather came up in conversation. “Really, snow tomorrow?” 

“Up to a foot,” Bruce confirmed.

“I think I’ll go out and take some pictures then. I’d like to paint a snowy landscape of one old place outside of town, but, would like some photos to look at from the warmth of my studio. ” Calla said. “Will it be safe enough to drive around?” she asked Bruce.

“The next day, maybe, if you take the Jeep. You shouldn’t go alone though, I’ll try to make time.” Bruce offered.

“No need, I’ll go with her.” Lexi offered quickly, her wheels turning as soon as Calla said photos.

“Then come over before the snow starts and spend the night. Grace and I are baking Christmas cookies and making salt dough ornaments for the craft bazar. There will be cocoa,” Calla coaxed.

“Just listen to you two domesticated country girls,” Megan said. “If someone would have told me while we were in college that the two of you would be standing in a farmhouse kitchen, wearing aprons and baking cookies one day, I’d have peed my pants laughing.  But then,” throwing glances at the men, “I can see country life has some fine perks. I’m a bit jealous. Hey, I thought you and the mother-in-law were like oil and water. Can’t resist raw cookie dough or are you getting along better with the old woman?” Megan had a knack for blurting out whatever was in her head.

“Very much so, ever since…” Calla’s thought train derailed as she remembered the turning point in her relationship with Grace. Although it was not the primary reason, her sullen and sour attitude was discussed the first time Bruce had taken her over his knee. What Calla had not known was that Uncle Bud and Grace were, conveniently, a day too early for the estate auction he had taken her to that day. Although her husband had passed away, his lifelong friend kept a close watch over the family.

Bud knew that Grace’s already spiteful attitude towards Calla would worsen after the incident the night before. Calla had run her car off the road driving home in a storm, after drinking too much following the end of her shift at the Inn. He knew Bruce would be taking Calla in hand and felt that would be all the punishment the young woman could bear. She didn’t need Grace there listening and judging her. Grace was literally bent over a barrel and reacquainted with the second purpose of a man’s belt that afternoon. Apparently it was an excellent position for listening well.  She was much more receptive to what Bud had been nicely trying to point out for some time.

“Ever since they realized they are more alike than different.” Bud’s voice chimed in as he approached the table, having seen Bruce’s truck outside and wanting to have a word with him.

‘That sheriff really is a knight in shining armor,’ Calla thought to herself, remembering him finding her sloshing her way up the road on foot that night. Although, she wasn’t exactly appreciative of him when he breathalyzed her on the front porch in front of Bruce, and even less so the next morning when she faced the music. Blushing at the memory, she glanced at Lexi. She and Clayton had not been dating long, but Clay felt he had no choice than to tan the hide of Calla’s partner in crime. Lexi had urged her to stay though she was supposed to go straight home due to the weather. And though Alexis had made it across town without incident, she could not deny that she should not have been behind the wheel herself.

‘I guess a little city sass has been domesticated out of us,’ Calla thought without regret. Looking at the finely cut sculpture of a man sitting beside her in the glow of the fire, knowing the depth his love and the skill of those hands, at whatever task he put them to, she grew hot from head to groin with want, and thought, ‘That’s right, Megan, be jealous.’

“I’m ready to call it a day and get into something more comfortable.” Calla stretched and batted her eyes exaggeratedly.

As the girls giggled and said goodbye, Bud, Bruce and Clayton stepped outside to talk while they waited on the ladies.


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