Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Get Ready for the Material Witness Blog Tour Aug 1-7


It's that time again. I'm doing another blog tour.  Check out the sites below for reviews for Material Witness, and interviews and guest posts by me.  See you on the blog trail!  Lisa

August 1 Promo
Andi's Book Reviews

August 1 Promo
Paranormal Romantic Suspense,

August 2 Guest blog
Books, books the magical fruit

August 3 Spotlight
The Book Tart
queenoftarts@thebooktart.com

August 3 Review


August 4 Promo
Romance Book Junkies

August 5 Interview
FireStarBooks,


August 5 review
Smitten with Reading


August 6 Review

August 6 Spotlight
Simply Ali

August 7 Interview
Books & Beauty

August 7 promo
Mila Ramos, Paranormal & Contemporary Romance

August 7 promo and review
Blog Name: whoopeeyoo :D

Friday, July 27, 2012

Read Chapter One of NOTHING BUT TROUBLE by Lisa Mondello

NOTHING BUT TROUBLE by Lisa Mondello



Chapter One:

“Like I just told you, ma'am,” Stoney Buxton said, glancing up through squinted eyes at the fair-skinned woman standing over him. “I’m a rancher. I don't do wilderness tours. You'll just have to find someone else to guide you through that terrain.”
Though the sun floating in the cloudless sky in front of him made it difficult to see, he tipped the brim of his well-worn cowboy hat with the edge of the hammer he gripped between his fingers to get a better look at the young woman.
Now what in hell’s blazes is this?
She stood there, all legs, eyes, and lips pouting down at him. A picture of beauty, polished and gleaming like Sunday silver. Her long legs--he noticed every inch of them as his eyes trailed the length of her--would do better wrapped around a man's waist. Even hidden beneath her smooth fitting jeans he could tell those legs were much too refined and delicate to take the hard living of trailing through Wyoming wilderness. Her red manicured nails shone bright in the mid-day sun and matched the vibrant shade of her full lips. Her eyes, a soft shade of cinnamon brown, held a determined fire that told him she wasn't going to back down, no matter what he threw at her.
Something was seriously wrong with this picture.
“Gerald Hammond from the General Store said that you were the best guide in the area. I want the best.”
He saw her jaw set as a gentle breeze blew a wisp of hair over her forehead. She quickly brushed it away with an air of grace that spoke of money. Lots of it. Family money that paid for the designer clothes caressing every curve and valley of her body.
Pulling himself up to a stand, he stretched out the ache in his leg and his shoulder. That nagging ache was a constant reminder of the long days he now spent working the family ranch. And why he'd quit rodeo over a year ago.
“Old man Hammond said that, did he?”
“Yes.”
“Well, he was mistaken. There are plenty of guides on the reservation that can take you safely through the Wind River Mountain Range.”
Her chest heaved with an impatient sigh. “Yes, I know. But I need something a little more than what they’re offering. Much more, in fact.”
She didn't blink, even when he shifted closer. He had to admire that she didn’t appear intimidated by him, seeing how he stood a good ten inches taller than her. Lord, but she smelled good, all sunshine and fresh rain mixed with a hint of vanilla. Bailing hay and stringing barbed wire didn’t afford him much opportunity to be in the company the likes of this pretty little eyeful standing before him. It was just one more thing to remind him of what he was missing now that he was off the road and home for good.
“I don't think you understand, Miss...?” He flipped his hand, palm up and waited for her reply.
“Ms. Summers. Melanie Summers. And I understand perfectly. I understand that I am in need of a guide for the next four weeks.” She sucked in a deep breath as he moved a step closer.
“What you're asking for is impossible at best.” He shook his head at the absurdity of her request. “Have you ever been in the wilderness? Have you ever even saddled a horse?”
She lifted her chin defiantly, the spark in her soft brown eyes fired up like the heat of the sun beating down on them. Her voice was sure. “I know perfectly well how to ride, Mr. Buxton.”
“I'm not talking equestrian jumps that a poodle could land at the country club. I'm talking wild terrain where you are no better than the animals that consider you their prey. Have you ever had eight hundred pounds of snarling grizzly breathing down your neck? Ever felt a hungry mountain lion's eyes on your back as she stalks you?”
She gasped softly, a small flash of uncertainty creeping into her sun filled eyes.
Stoney sputtered. “Just as I thought. Lady, roughing it isn't staying at the local motor lodge-”
Her eyes flew open in sudden surprise. “Wait a minute. The local motor lodge? My father got to you.” She said the words as a statement, he noticed, as if she was already convinced that it was fact.
Stoney arched an eyebrow.
“This just stinks!” Balling her fists, she spun on her heels, muttering something unladylike under her breath as she took a few steps along the corral he'd been repairing in the feed yard. Her soft red cotton shirt clung to her back, defining the lines of her slender figure as she took each labored breath. He couldn’t help but wonder how it would feel to run his hand along her small back.
As she turned to face him again, he saw that her determined fire was back. “No matter. This isn't between you and my father; it's between you and me. If you're holding out for more money, then fine. Whatever it is that he promised you for turning me away, I'll top in return for getting me safely through the next month.”
“Look, lady, I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. But my refusal has nothing to do with money.”
She cocked her head in disbelief. Her anger had vanished with the dust and was replaced with blue-blooded charm. “Oh, it’s always about money, isn't it?”
His jaw tightened. Yes, there was something definitely wrong here. And money had nothing to do with it. It had everything to do with this beauty standing in front of him, who was clueless about what she was getting her pretty little hide into. “No,” he replied tersely.
“Mr. Buxton, I need your help.”
“Tourist season is in full swing. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding someone else.”
He turned his back to her and began walking along the fence toward the barn, almost forgetting... Abruptly, he glanced up and saw the charred remains of the barn. The place where all his troubles had started just one year ago. It hadn't taken but a second for him to hear her boots digging into the dusty gravel behind him, jarring him from his thoughts.
“Then I'll do it myself,” she said to his back.
His whole body stiffened. He angled back to read her face, to see if she was just being a spoiled rotten rich kid, trying to get her way, or if she was actually serious. Seeing her head held high and her arms crossed in front of her, he realized she was dead serious.
And dead she'd be if she stepped one boot into those mountains alone.
“You'll do no such thing.” Frustration flaring, he lifted his dusty hat and forced his fingers through the thick crop of black hair before returning the hat to his head. “You just don't get it, do you? You're not asking me to take you on a theme park ride where you'll get to see the wonders of the world at a nice safe distance. This is God's country. The creatures that live up there don't know civilization, and you are no better than them. You could--probably will--get killed if you go out there alone.” His lips twitched, taking a good long appraising look at the woman in front of him. “You might even chip a nail on that pretty hand of yours.”
The condescending bastard! Melanie fumed inwardly. If there was one thing she didn’t need right now was an overblown ego for a guide. Unfortunately, she knew it was foolish to venture out in the wilderness on her own, given her medical needs. She exhaled, feeling a prickly heat, caused by the sun and jet lag, settle along her spine. “I’m not exactly a babe in the woods, Mr. Buxton. In fact, I probably know more about those wild animals you fear will eat me alive than you do.”
He tilted an eyebrow. “Oh, really?”
Okay, he was kind of cute, she admitted to herself, in a primitive sort of way. She probably would have thought more about it if he didn’t smell so much like a barnyard. Lord only knew how long he’d been baking out in the sun, gaining steam. But then again, cowboys in the rough and tough real world held little resemblance to the glamour that Hollywood gave them. “I’m a zoologist. I’ve studied all about animals and the wilderness-”
“Yes, but have you ever ridden that kind of terrain before? Met the beast face to face?”
He had her there. The only beast she’d ever encountered was him! Leading the sheltered life she had--albeit with protest--she hadn’t had the chance to venture into anything more dangerous than a walk through the Bronx Zoo. But she was determined to change that starting now. The deal she’d made with her father held only one requirement. She needed to stay one month in the wilderness, and he’d keep the funding for the Kenya project alive. Now that her dreams were within reaching distance, she wasn’t going to let some arrogant cowboy keep her down.
She answered honestly, with reluctance. “No.”
His mouth twitched, then gave her a half grin that made her insides stir and her mouth go dry. “Just as I thought.”
“But that doesn’t mean--”
“After I’m done here, there’s a long line of fence to repair before the weekend, Ms. Summer. I don’t have the time to waste baby-sitting some city girl with romantic notions about experiencing the wilderness. I’ve got work to do.”
Her blood burned through her veins. His dismissal of her may have signified the end of the conversation to him, but she was far from through with this overbearing cowboy.
Melanie followed his skinny little butt past the corral and all the way down a row of barbed wire rolled out on the ground along the fence, ignoring the reason she’d taken notice of his behind at all. “So do I. That’s why I need to hire you.”
He stopped short, and she almost plowed right into his back. Dust from the ground heaved up in a cloud, choking her. He twisted around and with his hard body mere inches from her, she had to crane her neck to look up at his face.
Immediately, she was sorry she’d taken a closer look. His rugged good looks and appeal were all too evident now. His shoulders seemed as wide as he was tall, giving him the kind of strength and power that had a woman longing to be wrapped in his arms. His thick dark hair, sweaty from working in the heat of the sun, curled around the edges of his cowboy hat. His features were sharply defined and his jaw was square. Although he’d yet to give up more than a quirk of a smile, she had the feeling that deep dimples marked his cheeks when he laughed.
He touched his hat by the brim and adjusted it on his head. “Look, there are more than a handful of outfitters in this territory. Any one of them would be more than willing to give you what you need for the right price.”
Sure they would, Melanie groaned inwardly. And then all it would take would be a quick phone call from her father, promising a hefty deposit to the bank account of their choice and the deal would be over. She’d be on a plane back to Long Island before her lipstick wore off her mouth.
No, she needed Stoney Buxton. From what Gerald Hammond had said, he was good on a horse and solid in the range. Most of all, he was invisible. No matter how hard her father tried or what kind of money he tossed around, he’d never find Stoney Buxton. That was the only way she’d get a fair shot at proving herself.
Melanie snapped her gaze back toward the house on the opposite side of the corral with the sound of the screen door slamming. On the front porch she saw a man sitting tall in a wheelchair, glaring down at Stoney. “What in tarnation has got hold of you, son? Why don’t you bring the girl in for a drink of something cool? Don’t leave her baking out there with the animals.”
“That’s what she wants,” she heard Stoney mumble under his breath. When she glanced up, his dark blue eyes met hers, and he grew flush. “Leave it to Pop to keep me in my manners. I’m sure Ma saw your car drive in and has something already set out for company. That is if you’d like something.”
Well at least she wasn’t getting hauled off the ranch like she’d suspected she would. It gave her more time to work on convincing Stoney to take her up on her offer. “That would be nice.”
They walked to the small farmhouse in silence. When she’d arrived, she’d noticed the ranch was smaller than some of the others she’d passed in the area. But the farmhouse had a nice welcome feel about it that put her at ease. She hadn’t noticed the ramp leading up to the front entrance when she’d pulled onto the property earlier. Stoney had been working by the corral, and she’d zeroed in on him as the point of contact.
A woman Melanie guessed to be Stoney’s mother greeted them at the door and welcomed her with a wide smile. Melanie suddenly felt completely out of place in a world she’d never known. The house was simply decorated with a mix of Indian rugs, beaded crafts and old furniture that had seen years of wear. As simple as the home appeared, with its lace drapes and braided rugs, it felt warm and cozy, like the Velveteen Rabbit who’d been loved a lot. A lump formed deep in her throat and she didn’t know why.
“My name is Adele,” the woman said warmly.
“It’s nice to meet you and...” Melanie swung around to greet the man in the wheelchair. She was caught by his overt appraisal of her, not quite sure it she met with approval or with censure.
“Wally Buxton,” he said, finally rewarding her with a wide smile, revealing deep dimples. Melanie returned the smile, again wondering if Stoney had inherited the same gene.
“It’s nice to meet you.”
Stoney stood at the kitchen door, filling it completely with his height and bulk, holding his hat in one hand, his hammer in the other. “Well, if it’s all the same to you, I’ve got some barbed wire that’s been needing my attention.” He put on his black hat and tipped it cordially before spinning through the door. Adele did nothing to hide the disappointment of his dismissal. Melanie fought to keep hers in check.
“Why don’t you come into the dining room?”
Still looking at the empty doorway, she said, “I don’t want to be any trouble.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. It’s no trouble at all. I rather enjoy having the company. Since my daughter, Delia, got married and moved away, I don’t get the opportunity to entertain much, except for these sweaty cowboys and they’re not fit to be in my dining room half the time.”
Melanie was raised with the finest that life had to offer. That included attending the best finishing schools that had groomed her to polish and shine herself for the world to see. What was expected of her all her life and given her parents pride at the many social functions she was forced to attend had always been the bane of Melanie’s existence. Still, in unpretentious company, she was glad her good manners and grace were something she could draw on to put her hostess at ease. She only hoped that when she was finished visiting with Stoney’s mother, Stoney himself would still be around for her to deal with on her own terms.
* * *
Stoney shook out the pain in his throbbing thumb for the second time in the last fifteen minutes. Damn that hammer. Damn the fence. Damn Melanie Summers for showing up here, flashing easy money around as if he was some mongrel sniffing for tidbits.
He tossed the hammer to the ground and inspected the raw skin on his thumb. No doubt the nail would be black and purple by nightfall. Serves him right for thinking about Melanie sitting with his mom, no doubt telling her things a mother wants to hear. He had a hard enough time trying to convince his folks his decision to go back to rodeo was good for the ranch. He didn’t need the likes of some city princess to do in all his hard work.
He heard the familiar sound of his father’s wheelchair rolling over gravel and swung around to greet him.
“Almost done?” the elder Buxton asked.
“Done breaking my hand, if that’s what you mean.” He shook out the lingering throb in his thumb. “I still have the section of fence in the far side where the herd broke through yesterday. There’s nothing but that old broken tree limb propped up, keeping most of the cattle inside the property line. After I’m through, I’ll take a ride out to see if I can round up the strays.”
He finally stole a quick glance at his father, who was just sitting in his chair, nodding his head. No outward emotion registered on his father’s face, but Stoney knew it was there, buried somewhere, eating at him.
Before the accident, it would have been the two of them riding out together. But since a falling beam that struck him during the barn fire left him without the use of his legs, Wally Buxton was limited to what he could do at the ranch from the confines of his motorized wheelchair. Knowing his father’s spirit would be broken if he couldn’t do anything but watch from the porch as he worked the ranch, Stoney had constructed as many wheelchair friendly devices to allow his father to work his ranch. Given his father’s determination and stubbornness--something both father and son shared--he’d made the best of it without much of a fuss. Still, there were times when his injuries were all too apparent and confining.
“I’m assuming the lady has some business with you,” Wally said, eyeing Stoney with amusement. “You know her from the circuit?”
“Does she look like the kind that hangs at a cowboy bar?”
“No, but I can’t figure how you’d meet up with a girl like her otherwise.”
He tossed his father a wry grin. “Thanks a lot, Pop.”
“She’s got some accent. Sounds like she’s from the East.”
“I didn’t ask.”
“But you’re wondering. I can tell. You’ve got Buxton blood running too strong through your veins not to notice a pretty thing like her.”
“And Mom’s no doubt pouring tea and planning my wedding, right?”
Wally laughed hard. “When was the last time you brought a woman out to the ranch for your momma to meet?”
“Never. And I’d like to keep it that way.” Stoney couldn’t help but laugh himself. The kind of woman he’d met during his time with the rodeo weren’t fit for meeting mother.
Buckle bunnies. That’s what some of the other cowboys called them. It was almost his due as a bull rider to have the prettiest offerings, and he’d taken what was offered when the time seemed right. No promises. No talks of commitment. It was the way it was.
It was the way he liked it.
Stoney watched as Wally stared out at the horizon for a moment, looking at the line of fence that bordered the property. This was the ranch he’d grown up on and his father before him. It was small in comparison to some of the other ranches in the area, but it earned them a good living, and it made them happy. Working together, they’d worked on expanding the ranch before the barn fire changed everything. But all those dreams died when the barn went up in flames.
“You going to tell me what her business is here?” Wally finally asked. “Or is she some well-kept secret?”
Stoney began hammering away at the barbed wire against the stake. “She wants a trail guide through the Wind River Mountains. I told her to go to the reservation.”
There was a silence made unbearable by the sun beating down on him, showing no mercy. And Stoney knew what his father was wondering. How on earth had she landed here?
Stoney answered his unspoken question, finding it hard to look his father in the eye. “Gerald Hammond sent her.”
There was another strained silence. Wally cleared his throat. “That was kind of him to be thinking of us.”
“I guess.”
“What did you tell her?”
“I don’t have time for this. I’ve got too much work and with Mitch gone and...” Stoney blew out a frustrated breath and hammered with more force than necessary.
“Hammond must have thought it would be worth your while if he went out of his way to send the girl here.”
Stoney stilled. He knew exactly what was on his father’s mind. Medical bills left in the wake of Wally’s injuries threatened to take hold. Although the money Melanie was offering to pay for his services would go a long way toward bailing out the ranch, it still wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough. He’d weighed all their options, run the numbers backwards and forwards until his head hurt, and none of it looked good. Going back to rodeo seemed liked the answer to his prayers. A step in the right direction anyway.
The cowboy’s Christmas is what they called it on the rodeo circuit. The biggest rodeos and the best purses were up for grabs for the best of the best during the month of July. Stoney would be up against the best bull riders the circuit had ever seen. Up until a year ago, he’d been considered one of the best. He was banking on that still being true.
“This last year was worse than we’ve seen in a long time for the ranch. Taxes are higher. Medical bills are out of control. We’re running out of choices, son,” Wally said, still looking out at nothing in the horizon.
Stoney felt his chest tighten. This ranch had Buxton blood and sweat all over it. He didn’t want to think about what would happen if they lost is all. “I know, Pop. That’s why I’m going back to rodeo. I made some good money before, and it’s helped the ranch. There’s no reason-”
“You know how your momma feels about you riding rodeo again. One cripple on this ranch is enough.”
Fire spit through Stoney. He straightened his spine and towered over his father in the wheelchair. Before the accident, they use to meet eye to eye. “You’re not a cripple, Pop,” Stoney said, softer than the fire in him would have allowed if he hadn’t taken control of it. Despite his obvious position over his father, Stoney felt like a little kid defending his hero. And his father had been--still was--his hero for all of his twenty-eight years. Being confined to a wheelchair had wounded his father’s heart, but not his spirit. Wally Buxton still had the power of an ox.
They stared at each other for a long while, not needing words to hear their thoughts. That’s the way it had been with them for as long as Stoney could remember. Wally was the one to break through the silence. “Come on. Your momma made some cherry pie and I’m sure Ms. Summers isn’t going to touch it, so we might as well have at it.”
He didn’t have time for another break today. He’d already wasted too much time warding off Melanie Summers and her wild ideas. His work load had doubled since Mitch Broader, their only ranch hand, left to take care of family business back east. With his father out of commission, that left the brunt of the ranch’s workload on Stoney’s shoulders.
He blew out a resigned breath, knowing it was important to his father. “Sure, Pop.”
He walked alongside the motorized wheelchair. He was getting accustomed to slowing his wide strides to keep in step with his father as the chair moved against the gravel. He stayed at his father’s side out of respect the man deserved. His father rolled into the house before him.
He found Melanie sitting at the dining room table, one long leg draped over the other, a smile that seemed curiously triumphant written on her face. His mother wore an uplifted expression he hadn’t seen in her for the better part of a year.
What the hell was going on?
Adele pushed the dining room chair aside so Wally could position his wheelchair at the head of the oak table. “Melanie and I were just having a lovely chat about her plans while she’s in Wyoming.”
Stoney eyed Melanie, a nagging suspicion floating up his spine. “Oh? And what would they be?”
Melanie averted her gaze for just a moment before lifting her soft brown eyes to him, shining a Cheshire cat grin, and giving fuel to that eerie feeling taking hold of his gut. One bat of her dark eyelashes and he knew he’d been had.
* * *
“Didn’t you hear a damn thing I told you by the corral?” Stoney said, storming out the door after Melanie. He’d held his anger in place long enough to make it out the screened door, slamming it in his wake. “You’ve got no business coming here, filling my family full of dreams that aren’t going to come true.”
Melanie spun on her boot heels, propped her sunglasses on the bridge of her nose, and looked at Stoney over the wire rim. “I have every intention of fulfilling my end of the bargain.”
“No one in their right mind would throw around that kind of money. My family has been through enough to-”
“Which is why I think this business arrangement will work out well for both of us.”
“Now how do you figure on that? Who’s gonna do all the work around here for the next month while I’m out there traipsing through the wilderness, keeping your pretty little hide alive. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re a little short of hand right now.”
“With the money I’m prepared to pay, you’ll be able to hire someone to take your place. As for keeping me alive, I don’t want any special treatment. I can hold my own.”
Stoney sputtered. “That one is still open for debate. Do you even know what it costs to hire a ranch hand to work sun up to sun down for a whole month?”
“Fifteen thousand dollars is not all that much for what I’m asking,” she said. It was much higher than she’d originally intended on paying, but a lot lower than she’d consider if Stoney could do for her what Gerald Hammond said he could.
Stoney’s face hardened. “Money like that may be nothing to you, but it keeps bread on the table for working folks.”
“I didn’t mean to imply-”
“I know what you meant to do. You think you can buy me like a piece of stock at a cattle auction. I’m not for sale. And I’d appreciate kindly if you’d leave my family out of whatever death wish you have.”
She stifled a retort about the death wish and kept to the pressing issue. I can’t do that. This is much too important to me.” He shook his head and stared at her like he was looking right through her.
She was struck by his strength once again as he fought to keep his control in check. The tight set of his jaw belied his control and she got the feeling he could lift her without any effort and toss her over the fence if she pushed him.
And she’d push him, all right. It meant that much to her to prove to her father and herself that she could last a whole month in the wilderness without the aid of medical intervention. Only then would her father agree to keep the funding for the Kenya project. But she knew her father. He was determined to keep her from going at all cost. And he had a lot more money than she could combat with which to do it.
“Adele told me about the hard times the ranch has had. This money could help you and your family. I’m glad to be able to do that for them. The only thing I ask is that no one knows we’ve gone.”
“What’s this all about? Why is this so important?”
“My reasons are my business.”
He crossed his muscled arms across the expanse of his chest and studied her for a moment. “You wanted for something?”
She giggled at the sidelong look of suspicion he gave her. Not only because of the absurdity of it, but because he just looked too damned cute. “You’ve got an imagination to go along with all that muscle. No, I’m not on the run for any crimes.” Only from my father and his control. But that was none of Stoney Buxton’s business, and she was determined to keep it quiet.
He eyed her, the tick in his jaw twitching, telling her he didn’t find any of this amusing.
She coughed out the rest of her laughter, knowing she wasn’t going to get very far irritating him. He was a business man. She knew how to handle business men, although most of them wore designer suits and smelled of expensive cologne, unlike the sweat and dirt she smelled on Stoney. Still, she turned on her best charm. “Look, I don’t know you.”
“True enough.”
“And I don’t know what kind of struggles you and your family have gone through. That’s really none of my business.”
“Right.”
“But it doesn’t take much more than 20/20 vision to look around here and figure out you could use a little help.”
He rolled his eyes and stepped off the porch stairs. “I’m not looking for charity.”
“You need money,” she said to his back.
Stoney swung around to face her again, tossing her a cool look. “And you’re just the person to open the check book.”
She cocked her head. “Don’t be foolish. This could help both of us. You don’t look like the type of man to shy away from honest money.”
He drew in a deep breath and could hardly look her in the eye. She knew he wouldn’t step anywhere near her request if it held the stench of a handout. Men like Stoney were as complicated as the earth was old and the ground ran deep. For him, it had to be honest and earned. Nothing less would do.
“I’m not looking for you to carry my bags or draw the bath water,” she said when he didn’t respond.
His laugh was rich and hard and he dipped his gaze beneath his dusty leather hat, shaking his head. When he lifted his head again, she saw them. He had dimples. Deep, and completely adorable. Her heart betrayed her confidence and fluttered wildly.
“Good, because you’d be sadly disappointed.”
She forced air into her lungs and placed her hand on her chest to steady her rampant heartbeat. “I’ve checked out the prices the other outfitters are charging for extended trailing. It’s only right that I pay a little more since I’m asking for a personal guide. This isn’t a handout, just a fair business arrangement. I’m prepared to make the same offer to one of the other outfitters, too. That is if you’re stubborn enough to decline.”
He took a long appraising look at her, much like a man does when he finds a woman attractive, as if he was weighing the option to pass her by or dip his head and kiss her waiting lips. It filled her with a strange sense of longing she couldn’t define.
“I may be stubborn, lady, but I’m far from dumb.”
Her eyes widened, almost afraid to believe her good fortune. “So what are you saying? Will you help me?”
He rolled his dark eyes, kicked his dusty cowboy boot in the hard, dry dirt, and said almost under his breath, “I’m gonna live to regret this.” Then looking at her straight on with sapphire eyes as dark as a moonless night, he said, “You’ve got yourself a guide.”
# # #

ORDER:



Thursday, July 26, 2012

Read Chapter One of THE MORE I SEE by Lisa Mondello

THE MORE I SEE by Lisa Mondello

As a top-notch cutting horse trainer, Cody Gentry was riding high until he lost his eyesight after a freak chemical accident. Unable to see the hand in front of his face, never mind the horse or cattle he trained, he knows his life is over and slips deep into depression. His whole future hinges on the success of an eye surgery that could give him his old life back.
When guide dog trainer, Lyssa McElhannon, arrives on his ranch like Florence Nightingale coming to save him, he wants no part of her or her guide dog. But something about Lyssa’s musical laugh coupled with her tenacity digs under his skin and won't let go. Having been blind most of her life, Lyssa understands the paralyzing fear Cody feels after losing his vision. But she refuses to let the stubborn cowboy waste his life away sitting in a chair when she knows first-hand that a good guide dog can change his world. She just needs one month to prove it to him.
Falling in love with Cody was not part of Lyssa’s plan, nor was having him open her eyes to see that there was a whole lot of living she’d been missing out on.

Chapter One:

There was nothing extraordinary about Alyssandra Orchid McElhannon but her name. She was used to being invisible where men were concerned. Men were an unusual breed for sure. This one was no different.
Lowering her sunglasses, she blinked as she peered at the long, lean man stretched out on the lawn chair by the pool. So this was Cody Gentry. The man that insisted she come all the way from the Houston school where she'd worked to personally train him here on the Silverado Ranch.
At least Cody Gentry had a valid excuse not to notice her. He was blind.
He made no move to indicate he'd heard her approach, or the soft sound of dog claws scratching on the concrete as she led her guide dog closer. No tilt of his head, no lift of his long fingers, weaved tightly together on his lap, not even a twitch of his booted feet, crossed and slightly hanging over the end of the lawn chair.
Lyssa slid the sunglasses back up the bridge of her nose. He could be asleep, she decided. By the slump of his shoulders and the angle of his head, cocked to one side, his white straw cowboy hat tilted over his face ever so slightly, it was certainly possible. It would explain why he'd yet to have even a slight reaction to her approach.
She knew how acute the other senses were when one was lost. She'd outfitted herself in her usual garb, a pair of well-worn blue jeans, a cool cotton button-down shirt, and a comfortable pair of sneakers. She could understand how the soft soles of her sneakers would be muffled. Lyssa wasn't the most graceful person, but she wasn't a clod. If Cody hadn't heard the sound of her footsteps, he should have at least noticed the telltale sound of Otis' paws on the walkway.
Maybe he wasn't asleep. Maybe he was just being rude. Mike Gentry, Cody's father, had warned as much.
It had been only a week ago that Mike Gentry first approached the Houston Guide Dog School asking for immediate help, insisting his son needed a one-on-one instructor. If only the school could send someone to the ranch, he said, it might break through the deep, impenetrable depression that had overtaken his son since a freak chemical accident had rendered him blind nearly eight months earlier. It might help him get back among the living again.
Lyssa had been in the office the day Mike Gentry strode in with deep pockets and endless arguments about why he needed someone immediately. The director had been insistent that the school offered only month-long classes to students who stayed on their campus. While what Mike was asking for his son was not unprecedented, it was usually reserved for extreme cases.
The money Mike offered to gift the school spoke of his desperation. Right in front of Lyssa, he'd offered what amounted to enough money to service several dogs to those in need. After a failed corneal transplant, the likelihood that Cody would get his eye-sight back was slim to none. Cody needed to become functional again in his own environment, and without the aid of a guide dog, he wouldn't be able to get around.
Mike had assured the school that Cody was eager to work with a guide dog, but given life on the ranch, he felt that training should be conducted in the environment where the dog and handler would spend the bulk of their time.
Lyssa found she couldn't stay quiet. There was time before the next class started. She had a dog ready and, even with the limited information Mike Gentry had offered about his son, Lyssa felt the match might work.
Peering over at Cody now, she realized the depression Mike Gentry spoke of was much worse than he had let on.
The desperation, the depression. Lyssa had seen it happen before. Although, since she'd lost her own eyesight at such an early age, she didn't remember feeling it herself. When she regained her sight after twenty years of living in darkness it was cause for celebration. New miracle surgery—an option that wasn't open to everyone. Yet. But Lyssa was sure that one day it would be. The advances modern science had made astounded her.
Until that day came, she had the incredible task of trying to pull this six-foot-plus man out of his despair by showing him that life was still worth living without his vision.
She sighed, noticing the heavy slump of his shoulders. She had her work cut out for her.
She commanded Otis to sit and the well-trained dog heeded the command instantly. Lyssa cleared her throat. The man didn't move.
As she suspected, he'd heard her perfectly well. He simply chose to ignore her.
"I was told I could find Cody Gentry out here by the pool," Lyssa finally said.
The muscles on his face twitched slightly. "Who's looking?"
The timbre of his voice was deep, with a faintly ominous edge that reminded Lyssa of the voices she'd heard as a child when she and Kim would sneak downstairs in the middle of the night and watch old horror flicks on cable. She couldn't see the movies, she'd only heard the voices. That added to the mystery, raised the level of anticipation, sending shivers racing up her spine.
Cody wasn't anything out of a horror movie. She ignored the swell of apprehension that had her confidence faltering.
She knew better than to extend her hand in a normal greeting for her introduction. Instead, she drew in a deep breath and hoped her voice sounded pleasant. "I'm Alyssandra McElhannon."
He didn't move. "What do you want?"
"I brought Otis," she said cheerfully.
"What's Otis?"
"Otis is a who, not a what."
His whole body seemed to stiffen. His voice was controlled, but edgy enough to send shivers chasing over her skin. "I'm sorry you came all the way out here like this. Apparently someone failed to give you adequate information. I'm not training cuttin' horses anymore."
"Oh, Otis isn't a horse. He's a dog. Your guide dog. And I'm here to train the two of you to work as a team." She said the words with the pride she couldn't help but feel. Otis, like many dogs trained as seeing aids for the vision-impaired, was a lifeline to independence.
He sat still, unaffected. It wasn't at all the reaction she'd been expecting.
"Not interested."
"And you would be Cody Gentry, I take it?" she asked, already knowing he was.
"I just said I'm not interested."
"And I heard you. My job is to make you interested."
"Says who?"
Confused, she said, "Mike Gentry, for one."
He groaned audibly and straightened up in his chair. "My father sent you, huh?"
"That's right. He didn't tell you I was coming?"
"Did he already pay you for your troubles?"
"Well, yes, a portion is—"
"Then you're fired. I'll make sure you get the rest of the money you're owed by mail. I'm sorry he wasted your time."
Lyssa's huff was slightly exaggerated. Cody was as difficult as Mike Gentry had warned, but in a totally different way than Lyssa had been prepared for.
"In the first place, the school pays my salary and it is run entirely by donations. Second, training my dogs and students is never a waste of my time. Furthermore, you aren't the one who hired me, your father did. In fact, he asked me to stay on at the ranch until you and Otis were working well together. So, you can't fire me, no matter how much you squawk."
He made a face that almost made her laugh. "Squawk?"
Crossing her arms across her chest, she said, "I call it like I see it."
"Listen, Ms. McElfen—er—McEllaf... What's your name again?"
"McElhannon," she said slowly. "Alyssandra Orchid McElhannon. If we're going to be working together, I'd prefer to keep things informal. So you can call me Lyssa, if it's easier."
Easier and infuriating, she knew. Just because he couldn't see her, didn't mean he couldn't hear perfectly well. In fact, she knew his hearing was much better now than it had been before he'd lost his eyesight.
"Okay, Lyssa. I appreciate your crusade here, but you really are wasting your time. And mine, for that matter. I don't need a dog, and I don't need you. I need my eyes back. And if you can't give me that, then get out of my way! I don't want you or your dog here."
Anger flared so strong through her whole being that Lyssa could taste its bitterness. Part of Mike Gentry's argument that Cody needed a one-on-one instructor was because of his environment. He'd warned Cody could be difficult to work with, but explained he was there on Cody's behalf and that Cody was anxious to start training as soon as possible. He had attitude, but a strong desire. The only way to show Cody exactly how infuriating he could be was to throw it back in his face, his father had told her. Fight fire with fire. That seemed to be the only way to break through Cody's despair lately.
Lyssa couldn't argue with that. Cody had plenty of attitude. But Lyssa had underestimated the warning and now regretted it. Fight fire with fire? In her estimation, she was going to need to set off a case of C4 explosives to even make a dent.
"Otis and I aren't going anywhere," she said calmly. "At least not for the next month."
"A month?"
"That's right."
Anger simmered to a boil just beneath the surface of Cody's exterior, it seemed. His movements were quick and deliberate as he sat up straight and dropped his boots to the ground with a thud. She wanted to take a step back to shield herself from the slap of anger she was sure he was about to unleash, but she held her ground.
Lyssa had been too young to feel the anger when she'd lost her eyesight. She learned, just as a child learns to crawl and then walk, how to live in her dark world. Learning to crawl for a child was second nature. Curiosity won over confidence every time, hands down. Get from point A to point B and it didn't matter how you got there as long as you did it.
Learning to crawl as an adult, however, was utterly different.
Lyssa stayed rooted in her place and silently watched Cody stumble, disoriented, trying to rise from the lounge chair. He then felt his way around the table to the back of the chair. He lifted his head and an almost imperceptible sigh of relief escaped his lips. Cody dragged in a breath of air and began walking, his body tall and proud, his hands rooted at his side instead of out in front of him as a guide.
He must have memorized the amount of steps. Even in his stubbornness, his instinct for survival took over. Maybe she could use that to her advantage. Make it his. She wasn't going to give him an inch, though. She suspected a single step back for Cody would feel more like a mile.
Eight steps.
He didn't need her here. Not right at that moment. But she gave it one more try to see if she could make a small crack in his resolve.
"If you'd like, Otis will take you in."
He reached the door and lifted his hands, floating them out in front of him until they made purchase with the outer wall of the house. "I told you I don't need the dog."
"Yeah, I heard you. But counting eight steps only gets you from the chair to the house. What do you do when you're out in the fields? There aren't any chairs out there. Or is that some place you never venture anymore?"
His whole body became rigid. But he said nothing.
Lyssa shifted her weight to one hip and crossed her arms as she looked out into the green and gold pastures that rolled deep into the horizon.
"I suppose you could count the fence posts, or even paces to the fence, but turning around would be a bear. You could end up walking all the way to the county line before you hit the other side of the ranch."
"Your point?" he said haughtily.
"Otis can help you get around. Help you climb out of your eight steps and make it a hundred or more."
He dismissed her easily by turning and carefully walking through the French doors.
She released a slow breath, felt her shoulders sag slightly. Guilt should be gnawing at her insides by now for stripping down his reality, but she had no other choice. In her experience, it was either depression in a comfortable chair for the rest of his days, or it was living again. She was determined to make sure Cody Gentry chose right.
In the meantime, Lyssa had a few strong words for his father.
* * *
Where the hell was his father? And how dare he invite some snotty woman into the house to fix what couldn't be fixed, Cody fumed silently as he moved through the kitchen. A dog? What the hell was he thinking? Anyone with an ounce of sense or optical training knew that life as he knew it was over.
"Isadore, have you seen my father?" He knew the housekeeper was in. Ever since the accident nearly eight months ago, the petite woman, who'd been a regular fixture in the main house for as long as he could remember, had taken to keeping her eyes on him.
"He's not back from Houston yet," she said. He heard the scrape of a pan against the metal stovetop. He was sure the pot was empty and she was just trying to act busy, as she always did when he caught her watching. No doubt she was the one who'd told Lyssa McElfen, or whatever her name was, he was outside by the pool.
"He's with Ms. Waite."
Terrific. Dad's new lady friend. Cody supposed he should be happy for his old man, having been widowed for more than seven years now. His trips to Houston were becoming longer and more frequent.
"Has Beau made himself scarce, too?"
"Your brother is out with the horses, I think. He's been out a long while and should probably be in soon. Do you need me to get him?"
Cody sighed, a fingernail of irritation scratching its way to the surface of his composure. But he didn't bark out at Isadore. He knew better.
"No, don't bother. I'll find him."
The last thing he wanted was for Isadore to rush right out to find Beau. His relationship with his brother had been tenuous at best since Beau went on the road. He'd left home nine years ago to pursue fame on the rodeo circuit as a bronc bareback rider, leaving Cody a pile of ranch work and his dad's bad moods to deal with because of it. The World Championship title would have been his had he not come back to Texas and married the daughter of their father's biggest rival, opening up a rodeo school on the ranch his dad had always wanted for himself.
Thanks to the accident that took Cody's eyesight, his dear brother was now doing double duty back at the Silverado Ranch, stepping into Cody's boots as easily as if he'd never been gone.
"What do you know about our new guest?"
He sensed Isadore's hesitation in her hitch of breath. "Mr. Gentry asked me to get the guest bedroom ready. She is staying in the room next to yours."
"Ain't that convenient," he groaned, nearly under his breath.
Not quiet enough, however. Isadore's glare penetrated him, as harsh as the hot Texas sun. He didn't have to see the scowl on Isadore's face or the fist planted firmly on her aproned hip to know that was the picture in front of him now.
"You be polite to her. Ms. McElhannon seems like a very nice young girl."
"I'll be my usual charming self."
"Hmm, that's what I'm afraid of."
He fought the smile that pulled at his cheeks as he felt along the wall of the kitchen and down the hallway.
He had a good idea where Beau was at, but the arena was not a place he wanted to be right now. Not when his nerves were frazzled as if he'd been running a caffeine IV into his veins all day.
Twelve steps. He pushed through the front door. Three steps. He gripped the rail and eased himself down to the walkway. This was his ranch. He knew every inch of it, had committed it to memory long ago and could call up any image at will. He didn't need a stupid dog to help him get around.
The walkway led to the gravel driveway and beyond that, the field of high grass. He could almost see the tall blades bending against the light breeze, creating a ripple of green and gold in the sun. In the distance, he could hear a tractor, most likely mowing and scoring the piles of clippings to bake in the sun before being tied into bales.
Cody walked toward the sound, slowly, deliberately, noting the sudden change beneath his boots as he moved from gravel to grass.
"Where are you heading?" Beau called out from his left. His brother was still a good distance away.
"For a walk. You got a problem with that?"
"No, but you might when you end up in the pond you're heading towards."
Cody groaned as heat crept up his neck and seared his cheeks. "At least by then I'll know what direction I'm heading in."
"That's for sure. Do you—"
Beau was about to ask him if he needed anything. A simple question, Cody knew. He just hated hearing it from his big brother.
New wife, new baby, Beau seemed to have it all. And now he was here working Cody's horses and filling his size 12 boots with ease.
Cody supposed he should feel grateful. Although they never seemed to see eye to eye on just about anything, he trusted Beau like no one else. And yeah, his love for his brother ran deeper than the earth he was standing on, despite the bad feelings that had worked their way between them over the years. That was never going to change.
But right now, Beau's very presence on the ranch nagged at Cody like an annoying insect. He didn't want Beau's help. Didn't want anyone's help. He wanted to be able to get up in the morning and work like he'd done his whole life.
He couldn't see how his hands had changed over these last eight months, but he knew they had. He could feel it. The calluses, buried deep in every inch of his palms, had been there his whole life. A working man's hands. Now they'd grown soft from a lack of the physical labor that had dug those marks in deep. He fisted his hand and squeezed, trying to feel what was no longer there.
In the distance, Cody could hear an unfamiliar dog barking and the musical laugh of a woman. Not just any woman. Alyssandra Orchid McElfen or whatever.
The woman had a mouthful of a name to go with that sharp-edged attitude.
Still, as much as Cody wanted her gone, he couldn't help but wonder what the woman was like. How that sass in her voice translated to the way she walked or her looks. When she was angry, did she stand rigid, balling her fists at her hips?
Unlike the softness his hands had developed, a woman's touch was a softness he'd missed sorely these past months. And for all the steam Lyssa had spewed at him by the pool, Cody found himself wondering about the woman whose carefree laughter was floating to him from the distance.
There hadn't been an ounce of pity in Lyssa's voice, which to Cody was a welcome relief. If he heard one more worried syllable asking how he was getting along, he didn't think he could stand it.
He sighed as he sat on a section of freshly mowed grass and absentmindedly sifted through the stray clippings that were now baked bone-dry from the hot sun. It didn't matter what Lyssa and his father had cooked up for him. He didn't need a dog.
And he didn't want anyone's pity because his life was now dug deep in a hole. In a matter of weeks his eyes should be healed enough to try for another transplant. Despite what his old man thought, Cody hadn't given up. He was dealing with what life dealt him. His own way.
Lyssa was right about one thing, he realized as he sat there in the hot sun. Something as simple as walking across the yard, the same yard that had been his playground as a child, had become a dangerous affair.
Early on, when Cody had refused to believe the doctor's assessment that his eyes were shot, Cody had surged on. He was a worker from the cradle. Hands in dirt, feet in muck, and he didn't care. Nothing was ever going to keep him down, never mind a simple chemical accident.
It was just stupid drain cleaner that had landed him where he was. It wasn't as if the ranch hadn't had other young hands that were wet behind the ears and stupid in the ways of basic safety. It had been sheer bad luck that had him in the crossfire when the chem-ical cocktail the impatient ranch hand had mixed exploded. It was also Cody's fast action that had prevented that young hand from getting killed.
Tossing a handful of blades to the ground, he chuckled wryly at the irony. At one time Isadore had said he had eyes like a hawk, seeing every little detail that happened on this ranch no matter where he was standing. Every acre was etched in his memory. He knew every swell of green pasture, every upturned stone that built the natural fences along the property, as if Mother Nature herself had laid them that way on purpose. He closed his eyes and imagined it as it had been the last time he'd sat by the pond and looked out at the ranch he knew so well.
The Silverado Ranch had always been his home, and his childhood memories, plentiful and lush, only dug his roots in deeper, and made the love for this land that much stronger. It was lost to him now. But the memories were there.
They'd been a trio as kids, him, Beau and Jackson, running through the fields when their old man had relieved them of their daily chores. Brock was too young to keep up with them, the gap in years too wide from the older three boys. Too young to share in the trouble young boys usually met up with when exploring. And they hadn't really wanted him tagging along. Not then, anyway.
It was one of Cody's deepest regrets now. In times of crisis, he could count on his brothers. But the space in age between Brock and the rest of the Gentry boys had left the youngest boy on his own more times than not.
In the beginning, it was always the three of them, tamping down hay fields, running tracks in the high grass as they played cowboys and Indians. It had been a daily event, dashing through the vast playground that was theirs. Something as simple as finding the skeleton of a cow was like the biggest archeological find to three young boys out on an exploration. Bringing that find home to show their dad had their chests puffed out with pride.
Back then, their dad was just their dad. A cowboy from the cradle like his old man, and his before him. He used to say the land owned him, not the other way around.
But that had changed when Hank Promise moved in and bought the property now known as the Double T Ranch. The father Cody had known and loved had changed. And it had changed them all. Nothing ever felt the same again.
But what used to be was now all stored in his mind in a vivid spectrum of color. Now all he saw when he opened his eyes was a cold blackness.
The dog was getting closer, Cody realized with uneasiness. The prance of running paws on the ground grew louder and louder still until he could hear the dog panting. What was the dog's name again?
Before he could gather himself up and stand, the dog was by his side, licking his face.
"Knock it off," he groused, pushing the dog away with one hand while trying to stand. Despite his attempt to keep it back, a smile tugged at his lips.
"Otis, heel," Lyssa commanded, still from a comfortable distance. That little bit of time allowed Cody to stand up on his own without having to deal with the awkwardness of declining help.
The dog was still by his side, panting.
"Your name is Otis, huh?" He reached out and immediately the dog nuzzled his face to Cody's palm, allowing him to scratch behind his ears. He bent his head to get closer to the dog and whispered, "Don't get too used to this. I'm really a mean old bugger," he said with a slight chuckle.
Otis barked and Cody laughed.
In truth, he'd always loved dogs, all animals really. Something about what this dog represented gnawed at him though. It wasn't the dog's fault.
"Score one for Otis. You two look like best buddies already."
He heard the smile of satisfaction in Lyssa's voice and he snatched his hand away.
"Don't you keep your dog on a leash?"
She was out of breath, Cody realized, as if she'd run a mile. And with that image, he pictured the rise and fall of her chest as she took in air.
It wasn't good for him to think about Alyssandra McElfen, or whatever her name was, as a woman. The scent of her drifted to him on a slight gust of wind. A hint of vanilla mixed in with the sun-baked grass and dirt and gave Cody a heady feeling he wanted to shake off.
"Actually, I only keep him on his leash when he's in training, so he knows he's working. When he can
roam free and exercise I let him. He's a working dog, but he's still a dog."
Otis was back for more affection and Cody obliged before he could think otherwise.
"He's tall. What breed is he?"
"German Shepherd. Most guide dogs are retrievers because their temperament is good and consistent. But we use shepherds, too. He's beautiful, not just his color and stand, but his personality. He's such a sweet thing."
"Now where have I heard that before?"
She chuckled and Cody had the amazing image of Lyssa's nose crinkling just slightly, the mental image of it making his head swim. He wondered how true that was.
"Don't let him scare you off," Beau called out. This time the sound of his voice was closer than it had been before he'd sat down. Terrific. Now he had to deal with his brother too.
"She's the one that brought the beast," Cody said sarcastically.
"I was talking about you and you know it." He could tell Beau had turned toward Lyssa by the change in his voice.
"Cody's been an ornery old goat since the day he was born. Never forgave Doc Masterson for swatting his behind. But we keep him around for laughs."
"At least I'm not ugly."
"Says you," Beau shot back.
"Did you have anything to do with this?"
"Lyssa? Hell no, that was all Dad's doing, but I'm glad he did. It'll be nice having some female company on the ranch again."
The smile in Beau's voice was like fingernails to a chalkboard.
"Mandy ought to appreciate that."
"Mandy is the one who introduced us. She picked Lyssa up from the airport."
"Your wife is very nice," she said, the smile in her voice so obvious that it had Cody gritting his teeth. She hadn't talked to him that way.
"Great, so everyone knows everyone now. Everyone likes everyone. Now I can leave."
Beau's sigh was more of a grunt. "Well, if it were my choice I'd haul you out to the back of the barn and beat you with a board like an old rug just for your rudeness. We were raised better than to treat our guest with so little hospitality."
"I learned from you."
"Hey, you were still getting your dirty diaper changed when I was standing up by the—"
"Enough already!"
No one answered and Cody took the few seconds of silence to calm himself.
"Sorry about that, ma'am," Beau finally said, quietly.
"Lyssa," she corrected, her voice soft and sweet as summer rain. It irked Cody to no end how the smoothness of her voice changed when talking to Beau. With him, she'd been sharp, her voice holding little of the warmth he heard now.
He supposed he deserved it. No, he had deserved it. He'd been a horse's behind earlier. Had he been this ill-mannered with company as a child he probably would have been hauled out behind the barn for a whippin' by his old man.
Cody turned to leave, and a wave of panic smacked him square in the chest. His head began to swim when he realized he had nothing to hold on to, nothing to ground him but the vast earth beneath his feet. Somehow in the commotion of the dog, the conversation, he'd gotten himself turned around and now had no idea which direction to take back to the house.
He hated it. Hated the helplessness consuming him. Hated even more that now he was forced to swallow a baseball-sized lump of pride and ask for help.
"I need to finish up with Sweet Sassy's Smile before I can get back to the Double T. Maybe you can talk this old bag into showing you around, Lyssa. It was nice meeting you."
"Likewise."
To Cody, Beau said, "Sassy's coming along real nice. You ought to think about coming out to see her. I can't imagine why but I think she misses you."
Cody's heart squeezed. Sweet Sassy's Smile, his four-year-old cutting horse, was his pride and joy. For two years he'd been training her every day. That is, until the accident. He'd never felt more connected to any living creature as he did when he was riding her, whether in the arena or out in the fields. It had been a long time. Too long. It hurt too much.
"You think about it." Cody could hear Beau's wide strides move along the grass, then hit the dry dirt as he walked away.
A cold ache settled inside him. He shouldn't be at war with his brother. The things they'd argued about as kids didn't matter now, and maybe they never had. But to hear Beau talking about Sassy, knowing he was enjoying the very thing that had driven Cody his whole life, tore into his soul.
Now Beau was gone and he was alone with Lyssa, the savior his father brought to the ranch to exorcise the demons from his son's soul. Or at least get him a little further than from the house to the pool.
A gust of breeze kicked up some dust and blew it his way. He had no choice, Cody realized. Asking Lyssa for help now would be like saying yes to this ridiculous plan they all had to bring him out into the world again.
Just get it over with, he told himself sharply. He could lock himself in his room later if he wanted. Until then he could handle this much humiliation.
Before he could push the words past the prideful lump in his throat, Lyssa said, "I need to unpack my things and put out a bowl of water for Otis. If you don't mind, I would appreciate you showing me to my room."
He would have sighed with relief if he didn't catch himself. "Showing" Lyssa to her room would be easy as long as he kept up conversation and followed her to the house.
Maybe she knew that or sensed his panic. If his father had hired her, she must have been working with the blind for some time and knew he was standing there practically wetting his pants with fear. She was a smart woman for handling him when he didn't want to be handled at all and for that, a smile crept up inside him.
"After you," he said smoothly. And thank God, he couldn't see her smug smile.
# # #

 

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