Deacon couldn’t sleep. He’d tossed and turned so many times he felt like a pancake on a griddle. Not that he was a stranger to restlessness. In fact, he couldn’t recall the last decent night of sleep he’d had since the skiing accident. The doctor had originally attributed it to his broken collarbone—that the physical discomfort was the reason for his inability to shut his eyes for more than five-minute intervals.
But Deacon knew it didn’t take four years for bones to heal. That was the relatively quick and easy part. The healing of his heart had occurred at a much, much slower rate. Surrendering to the insomnia, he shoved back his quilt and dropped his feet into the fuzzy slippers waiting at the side of his bed. He snagged a robe from the bedpost and wrapped it around his body before making his way down the long hall to the kitchen, eyes bleary and spirit heavier than Santa’s gift sack of presents. His one and only mug had recently been washed and settled into the drying rack next to a single
place setting that got more use than the matching seven collecting dust in his cupboard. Deacon was a bachelor. He didn’t need more than one of anything, really. A quaint, one-bedroom cottage he’d built with his own hands. One good horse. One dog. (The good part was debatable on that).
One fulfilling job. One woman to love.
He’d once had that woman and Deacon knew his chances of ever meeting someone to fill that void again was slim-to-none. He’d already used up his one shot.
Twisting the heels of his hands into his eyes, he blew out a sigh that woke Rascal from his dog bed.
“Sorry,” Deacon apologized as he grabbed his mug and filled it with apple cider purchased from a local farm just a mile down the road. He punched a few numbers on the microwave and waited for his drink to heat. “You can go back to bed, Rascal.” The dog was fast asleep before Deacon had even finished the sentence. How he envied that—the ability to shut out the world with just one blink. When the microwave dinged, he retrieved his steaming drink and hunkered onto the plush, leather couch in the living room. Snow fell on the other side of the picture windows, fluttering down in iridescent flakes that looked like the sugar crystals sprinkled atop a gingersnap cookie. The forecast called for sunshine by morning. Deacon was grateful for that. If it was going to storm, he preferred mother nature
get it out of the way during the night. Come daylight, there would be chores to tackle and business to take care of. Everything was made easier under clear skies. In just a few short hours, he’d have not only a seemingly insurmountable list of jobs to complete, but a new farmhand to deal with. What had his mother been thinking? He knew her heart was in the right place.
It always was. But this Kate woman sure rubbed Deacon the wrong way. She’d marched onto the property, her head filled with notions as to how his farm fit into her story, not how she fit into his farm. It was hard
to tell exactly who worked for whom.
He’d have to set her straight after a hearty breakfast and a couple hours of sleep under his belt. He knew the first full day on the job set the pace for the remainder of the harvest season. He wasn’t about to let her believe her little news piece took precedence over selling trees. That just wouldn’t work.
One mug of cider down and a half hour of wakefulness later, Deacon found himself with his laptop open and Kate Carmichael’s name typed into the search bar. He had to laugh at how presumptuous she’d been
during their introduction, like she was someone famous who deserved recognition. Even if she had been an Oscar winning actress, Deacon likely wouldn’t have noticed. He didn’t pay attention to things like that,
didn’t have time to waste in front of a movie screen or television set. He was a simple, hardworking man who used all of the available hours of the day for productivity. Maybe that was the reason he gave himself a little leeway when it came to researching Kate right then.
It was night and he wasn’t wasting anything other than the sleep that always eluded him anyway. Before he knew it, he’d fallen into an On the Job with Kate Carmichael rabbit hole. Episode after episode of the woman learning new trades. Tennis coach. Rattlesnake removal specialist. Fortune cookie writer. He had to admit, it was undeniably entertaining. She had a charisma in front of the camera that he hadn’t detected during their brief time together. She was confident and self-assured, not ruffled and harried like she had been when she’d tried to mount the horse and ended up with her feet in the air and her pride bruised.
She was a natural on camera. But that didn’t mean Deacon welcomed that camera on his property. It was nearly sunrise when he finally snapped his laptop shut and allowed his eyes several moments of rest with his head leaned back on the couch cushion. If it hadn’t been for Rascal’s startling bark, alerting Deacon that he was late with the dog’s morning bowl of kibble, he would’ve stayed asleep on that couch until noon. It was the first real sleep he’d had in weeks. Blinking, Deacon’s gaze came into focus on the hands on the clock hanging on the opposite wall.
“Oh no!” He jumped up from the couch. “Shoot!”
“Shoot. Shoot. Shoot!”
Bark. Bark. Bark!
In an all-out sprint, Deacon rushed across the room and scooped the dog’s meal from the open bag.
Bits of dry food rolled across the hardwood floor like scattered marbles, a mess he’d have to leave for later.
“Why didn’t you wake me sooner?” Deacon gave Rascal a displeased look before heading to his room to throw on a pair of jeans, plaid work shirt, jacket and boots. He scrubbed a toothbrush over his teeth, then
shoved his cowboy hat onto his head. It was the fastest he’d ever gotten ready, but it wouldn’t do any real good. It was already 7:45.
Fresh snow crunched under his boots as he tramped down the hill toward the rambling main house. He could see thick coils of smoke twisting up from the red brick chimney but it was the rich, savory smell of
bacon that reached him first. That was quickly followed by the joyful sound of laughter, something long absent from their mountaintop farm.
Deacon cracked the front door open and followed the pleasant sound into the dining room.
“Sometimes I do wish we had the chance to slow down a little during the holidays and just enjoy the
season, but I wouldn’t even know what that would look like. I’ve been doing this since I was a little girl—” Marla twisted around in her chair when Deacon entered.
“Deacon. You’re in the shot!” His mother threw her hands in the air and slapped them back down onto the table in a display of utter annoyance.
Not the greeting he’d expected. She brushed his hand away when he reached around her to snatch a piece of bacon from the greasy pile on her plate.
“Now I have to say all of that again!” Marla scowled at her son. “I’m sorry, Kate. Where were we?”
Deacon ignored his mother’s words. “We need to get to work.”
“I already am.” Kate tapped the edge of her cell phone and propped it up in front of her, about to continue with Marla’s interview. “Marla, you can just pick back up where you say you’ve been tree
farming all of your life.”
“I mean, it’s time to do the job you were hired to do,” Deacon corrected. He stole another piece of fatty bacon.
“That’s the funny thing.” Kate aimed her eyes at Deacon. “I’ve been hired for two things: work at a tree
farm for the holiday season and document what that’s like. I’ve technically got two jobs to do.”
“Which is exactly what I’m concerned about. I can’t have you putting in half the effort when I’ve got more than full-time work to be done around here.”
“That’s not going to be an issue,” Kate volleyed. “When I do something, I give it one-hundred percent.
I’ll be giving both jobs that and more.”
“You do realize there’s no logic to that math, right?”
Kate rolled her lake-blue eyes. “You get what I mean.” She pushed to her feet and collected her breakfast plate, along with Marla’s now that Deacon had eaten all of her bacon and nothing remained on the empty ceramic. “If my short-term memory serves me correctly, I’m the one who was here and ready to go at 6:30. Over an hour and a half before you decided to waltz in.”
“I overslept.” With an empathetic look that only a mother could perfect, Marla glanced up at her son. She took his large hand into hers and rested it on her shoulder. “You still having trouble sleeping? The doctor said he
could prescribe you something for that.” Deacon cut his mother a fast look. “I’m fine.”
Like she was suddenly privy to something she shouldn’t be, Kate fumbled with the plates in her hands and then scooted into the kitchen, quick to duck out of the mother-son exchange.
“You can leave those at the sink, Kate. I’ll take care of them,” Marla instructed. She still had her hand on her son’s and gave it a pat. “Deacon, there are people you can talk to. Professionals. Working through
everything might help you sleep at night. I think it’s about time to put it all in the past once and for all.
“I’ve worked through everything I need to work through.” He pulled his hand free. “Now I need to get to real work.”
“You know I only push it because I love you.”
He fell silent a beat before he shed a small smile and said, “I know. I love you, too.”
“Think about it. Please. You can’t keep things bottled up inside you forever, son.”
His mother might be right, but it sure wouldn’t keep him from trying.