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A Man of Privilege

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“I believe I was invited,” he called as he pulled something out of the backseat.

Sheesh. Only a lawyer would construe what she’d said as an invitation. “Did Yellow Bird tell you how to find me?”

He was carrying something. As he got closer, she saw that it was a bright orange garden trug, loaded with stuff. “Not too many people get away with calling him names.” He grinned at her, as if he was letting her in on some secret. “Here. I brought you something.” He set the trug in between the rows and took a step back.

She looked at him for a long second. Was this a gift, or a bribe?

“It’s a gift. No strings attached.”

Tommy hadn’t said anything about mind reading. Keeping an eye on her visitor, Maggie crouched down. Deerskin gardening gloves, a trowel with an ergonomic handle, copper garden tags, a matching copper watering can and a bunch of heirloom seeds were all nestled inside. All top-quality stuff that she would never waste money on. She lifted out the watering can. Was this a Hawes? She’d seen this one in catalogs—for a hundred and forty dollars.

The whole basket must have set him back close to five hundred. James Carlson was, in fact, a good lawyer. At the very least, a rich one.

“I can’t accept this.” Even as she said it, she picked up the gloves. The leather was softer than anything else she owned. These weren’t the everyday gloves they sold at the hardware store. “I won’t testify.”

“I didn’t say anything about testifying. I said it was a gift. I wouldn’t come to pay my respects empty-handed. I know better.”

She looked up at him. His feet were spread a shoulder’s width apart, his arms were crossed, and a cryptic smile graced his face. He looked like a man who reigned over everything he saw, and right now, he was looking at her.

Goose bumps shot up her arms. She swallowed as she stood. She didn’t want anyone—least of all him—to think she was kneeling before him. Not too many people knew about the Lakota tradition of giving gifts. “Yellow Bird tell you that, too?”

“It’s something I picked up along the way.” He turned around, taking in her garden. “This is lovely.” Then he caught sight of the wheelbarrow. “Is that what I think it is?”

She glared at him. “My garden is organic. Did you come all the way out here to compliment my vegetables?”

He managed not to be offended at her short temper. Instead, he almost looked as if he enjoyed her attitude. “No. I came to see you.”

There it was again—the feeling that wasn’t quite lust, but wasn’t entirely innocent, either. What she wouldn’t give to not be in overalls, or standing next to a manure-filled wheelbarrow. “Yellow Bird said you’d show up.” Which was probably a stupid thing to say, but she had to say something.

Oh. My. That particular smile lit up his whole face. “The fact that Yellow Bird said anything is impressive. Either your interrogation tactics are unparalleled, or he’s fond of you.”

Anger hit her like a bolt out of the blue. “I didn’t sleep with him, if that’s what you mean.” The words flew out of her mouth faster than she could figure out what she was saying. She grabbed the shovel and swung it onto her shoulder as if it was a baseball bat. She could take the head off a snake in seconds. At the very least, she’d break his nose. “I’m not like that anymore, so if that’s why you’re here, you can take your stuff and go back the way you came.”

Looking a little stunned, he held up his hands and took two steps back. “I’m not implying anything. I can’t believe Yellow Bird would be fond of anyone. Half the time, I think he wants to shoot me.”

She eyed him. Lawyers were prone to lying. Was he telling the truth or saving his backside? “‘Fond’? Who talks like that?”

A hint of red graced his cheeks, and Maggie immediately regretted her snippiness. At this exact moment in time, the man standing before her didn’t look—or act—like any lawyer she’d ever known.

Nice, she scolded herself as her own blush began to creep down her chest. Way to embarrass yourself. Was there any way to salvage this situation without acting like a total jerk?

She took the shovel off her shoulder and set it on the ground. In response, he lowered his hands. An uneasy silence settled over them. God, she was so out of practice. She didn’t talk to anyone but Nan, and Jemma over at the post office. Was she supposed to apologize now or what?

“Let’s start over,” he said, offering his hand. “Hi. I’m James.”

Start over? Just like that? If only life were that simple. Maybe it was. He stood there with a soft grin on his face as he leaned forward in anticipation. “Maggie,” she replied. Although she wasn’t sure it was a good idea, she placed her hand in his and gave it a short shake.

Not a good idea. Warmth that had nothing to do with embarrassment began a slow build from where their skin touched. She meant to let go, but she was paralyzed by the oddity of the sensation. Tingles followed the warmth as it moved up her arm. The combination of the two was enough to squeeze the air out of her chest.

Nope. Not allowed. She forcibly regained control of her limbs and wrenched her hand out of his. So what if James was hot? So what if he had a good smile? So what if he made her feel things she’d forgotten she was capable of feeling? He was off-limits. He was probably trying to manipulate her. He was some East Coast rich guy, so he’d never be able to understand what her life had been before, or what it was now. He was going to be the president one day, so she could never in a million, billion years entertain the notion of kissing James Carlson. Not even once.

“It’s nice to meet you, Maggie.” He didn’t seem offended by her reaction. She couldn’t decide if he was that smooth, or merely that clueless. “Tell me about yourself.”

She needed to get her head together. It might be difficult, if not impossible, to do it while he was standing here, looking untouched by the blazing sun or the proximity to manure, but she needed to try. And to do that, she needed a drink. “There’s lemonade in the house, if you’re interested.” Tea would have been more traditional, but hey—it was eighty-seven degrees out. And then she could at least wash her hands and face while Nan sized him up.

“That would be lovely.” He stepped to the side to let her pass and then followed her into the house.

When she opened the door, Nan was in her chair, as usual, but Maggie noted the way she was breathing a little hard. She made a casual turn in order to check that the door had shut behind James and spotted the shotgun nestled in between the umbrellas. Good ol’ Nan. She always, always had Maggie’s back. “Nan, I’d like you to meet James Carlson. James, this is Nanette Brown.” She left it at that.

Nan managed to stand without knocking over her worktable. “Welcome, welcome.” She gave Maggie a look that said you look like hell. “Can I get you some lemonade?”

Maggie took her cue and ran with it. “Excuse me.” She sprinted back to the bathroom, where she furiously scrubbed every available surface with a scratchy washcloth. Without bothering to dry herself off—water evaporated—she bolted to her room and dug out a clean pair of jeans and the nicest top she owned, the blue silk one with the bugle beads around the neck. She’d have to act as if the wrinkles were meant to be there.

When she got to the kitchen, James was leaning up against the counter while Nan rummaged in the fridge. “I know I’ve got some cake in here—oh! There it is,” the older woman mumbled at the lettuce crisper as she rooted around for the leftover carrot cake.

James glanced—and then stared—at her. “Hi,” he said again, sounding more like a regular guy than a lawyer.

Maggie swallowed. He was probably used to high-class women who had perfect manicures and could subsist on celery for months at a time, women whose spring wardrobes cost more than her car. It wasn’t possible that he was attracted to her. It just wasn’t. She had dirt—or worse—wedged under her fingernails, and she saw too late that the jeans she’d grabbed had a smear of paint down the thigh. “Hi.”

Over the next five minutes, Nan bustled around the kitchen, slicing cake and pouring lemonade as she tossed out harmless small talk such as, “It’s so hot out! And they say we aren’t going to get any rain until the weekend.”

Throughout the verbal barrage, James nodded and smiled and agreed as if they were all the oldest of friends. Maggie felt horribly out of place in her own kitchen. She wasn’t wearing a skirt to smooth out, so she had nothing to do but sit on her hands.

“Oh, my—look at the time!” Nan made a clucking sound as she gathered up her cake and lemonade. “The Biker Brotherhood is on! I’ll close the doors so my show doesn’t interrupt you two.” Before Maggie could protest, Nan had the bifold doors shut.

They were alone. “It’s her favorite show,” Maggie explained, looking at her cake. Strangely, she had no appetite.

James didn’t notice. “She seems sweet. Are you two related?”

“She’s sort of my fairy godmother.” Which sounded so much better than, “She found me when I was a Popsicle and nursed me back to health.”

James grinned as he took another bite of cake. “This is delicious.”

More of that unfamiliar warmth heated her cheeks.


“You made it?” He looked surprised—but as though it was a good surprise.

“I like to bake.” Lord knew she had enough practice. There wasn’t much else to do out here in the winter.

He finished his cake and sat back, taking in the cramped confines of the kitchen. “This is a nice place.”

Now he was sucking up. “Compared to what?” She couldn’t know for sure, but she was willing to bet rich boys didn’t spend a lot of time in earth houses.

Why on God’s green earth did he keep smiling at her? Had she missed some manure on her forehead or what? “Compared to a lot of places. How long have you been here?”

“Nine years. The whole time.”
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