What’s happening: Stage star Linn Sparks continues on toward her parents home after quickly dismissing a former friend, Polly Washburn.
Pleased at how deftly she’d handled the encounter with Polly, Linn eased up, letting the mule have its head.
“Whoa, boy, not too fast,” she warned when the wagon picked up speed. She tightened her hold on the reins once more, then jerked back— hard— when she caught sight of a man approaching, headed, no doubt, for Ledbetter’s Corner Cafe.
Hat in hand, he moved with slow, easy strides, his pace gentle, yet purposeful. The movements marked him as a man very much in control of himself— and the world around him. Her heartbeat quickened. Whenever she made a list of reasons why she didn’t want to come back to Brookfield, Ed Ferguson was always number one.
She should drive on, she knew, but Ed Ferguson was the sort of man who made women stop and take notice. It was a natural reaction, as instinctive as petting a hound dog when it wagged its tail, or stroking a kitten’s ears when it curled up in your lap and purred.
Her heart pounded. Sometimes when she stepped on stage, she felt flutters, but this was a thousand times more powerful… and a thousand times more dangerous. She could lose herself too easily to this man.
Fighting to regain her composure, Linn drew in a long, deep breath, just as she’d learned to do early in her career. She let the breath out slowly and dared to look.
He’d been handsome at eighteen. Now the boy she’d once loved had become a man, and Linn’s gaze raked shamelessly over his lean, hard body. Her next breath caught in her throat. Her hands yearned to reach out, to touch the strong, square jaw, and to run her fingers through his thick, dark hair as she’d done so many times before.
From where she sat high atop the driver’s bench, Linn could not see Ed’s eyes clearly, but she knew their pure, gray color. His eyes had always soothed her, had somehow possessed power enough to make her believe that everything in her world would be all right, so long as she could be with him, so long as he loved her.
She lowered her gaze, suddenly ashamed of the reckless, unabashed way she stared at him.
“Hello, Ed,” she said, when he drew near enough to hear. Thank goodness for her years of vocal training! Nothing in her tone belied her nervousness. But her hands trembled as she pushed a stray auburn curl away from her cheek.
Ed stopped mid-stride. He looked up, and his slate-colored eyes grew wide.
“Well, I’ll be go to hell,” he said in a quiet voice. Linn winced at the quaint midwestern colloquialism. Her ears had grown accustomed to more refined speech. For a moment, Ed said nothing more. He just stood staring at her as though trying to grasp the reality of her presence there on the dust-covered streets of Brookfield. At last, he grinned. The morning sunlight glinted on his neat, even, white teeth. The grin broadened.
“It sure is good to see you, Linnie Mae.”
She bristled and started to tell him she was no longer Linnie Mae, but his powerful gray-eyed gaze lingered upon her, making it impossible for her to speak. Heat rushed to her cheeks. Her face must be as red as her hair. And, good Lord! Why hadn’t she worn a hat? She must look a mess, and with that hot sun beating down, she’d sprout a whole new crop of freckles on her nose.
“I should probably go now,” she said. Looping the reins around her hands, she turned away.
“No, not yet.” Ed stepped up to the wagon. “Give me a minute to look at you, Linnie. It’s been a while.”