Accounting for Love – Chapter 1
Series Info | Table of Contents
Stetson Miller looked around his father’s cluttered office. Well, it was Stetson’s office now, although he was sure it’d feel like his dad’s office until the day he died.
Died like his father had.
Stetson pushed the thought away. His office, his father’s office…none of that mattered now. Not with the office, the house, and the whole damn farm about to be stolen from him.
Desperate to do something, even if it was wrong, Stetson turned towards his father’s desk, ready to start filing papers or straightening up or something.
Piles were everywhere – piles on top of piles. He was pretty sure piles were having little baby piles every time he turned his back on ‘em. He picked up a sheaf of papers with a heavy sigh, thumbing through the jumbled mess. Hmmm…they appeared to be his heating bills for the cow barn this past winter…
Stetson looked up from the papers to stare at the rows of drawers to his right, all labeled in his father’s spiky, neat handwriting. Cow Expenses, the far right drawer label read, a little newer than the other labels. Not quite as yellowed. Not quite as faded. Stetson went to shove the papers inside when he noticed another drawer labeled Heating and Cooling Expenses.
He paused, eyes darting between the two drawers. The receipts really could go in either one…
Stetson dropped the papers on top of a precarious pile of receipts with a muttered curse that would have his mother spinning in her grave. He pulled his hat off and chucked it in the corner, shoving his hands through his hair.
This was ridiculous. The whole thing was ridiculous. Since when was a farmer supposed to like paperwork? Everyone knew that real work was done out in the fields, not in an office. Bucking hay, building fences, castrating cows – now that was a job well done.
Pushing papers around was for pansies. People who couldn’t hack it out with the real men.
Stetson’s eye fell on the letter in the center of his father’s desk. It sat there alone, unsmudged, no scribbled phone numbers or coffee spills on it. It mocked him with its pristine state of being, in such stark contrast to everything else in the office.
Thirty-one days. The bank had given him thirty-one days to bring his loan current. He didn’t need to re-read the letter to know what it said. Every word was imprinted in his brain, like a branding iron on his gray matter.
And it had been thirty-one days.
The month had passed in a blur, with Stetson considering and then discarding every idea he could think of, their outrageousness growing as the days passed.
He could sell his truck.
Except, what farmer didn’t have a truck? How was he supposed to haul hay or workers or rolls of fencing out to the pasture? How was he supposed to farm? And to add insult to injury, selling his truck wouldn’t actually solve the problem. That’d bring in $30,000, maybe. On a good day. Not $176,900.
Then came an even worse idea: He could ask Wyatt or Declan for a loan.
Which of course meant admitting that he’d screwed everything up from day one. Admitting that he was on the brink of losing the family farm.
The derision, the sneer on Wyatt’s face when he heard the news…Stetson didn’t need to actually tell his oldest brother the truth to know what Wyatt’s reaction would be. It was the same reaction that Wyatt had for almost every piece of news Stetson had to relay – good, bad, or indifferent.
And this news was definitely not indifferent.
No, he couldn’t tell his brothers. He couldn’t admit how much things had gone downhill since their dad died. They’d never forgive him.
Not, of course, that any of this was his fault. It was all the damn bank’s fault. Why, his dad was hardly even cold in the ground. They didn’t need to be circling like vultures overhead, just waiting for a chance to shred him to pieces. They could at least give a guy a chance to get his feet underneath him.
Stetson picked up the letter, unsullied by even a dirty fingerprint, and stared down at it unseeingly. Then, with a precision worthy of a surgeon, he began tearing it into strips. Long, straight, neat strips.
“When that asshole banker gets here, I’m gonna give him a piece of my mind!” Stetson growled to himself, tearing the letter into smaller and smaller pieces. Each tear of the paper was satisfyingly precise. “I’ll teach him how not to be a bastard. I’ll teach him with my fists, that piece of shit—”
A clearing of a throat cut Stetson off at the pass. He froze, hoping that if he just stood there long enough, no one would notice him. He’d blend into the background, like a cowboy version of a chameleon, and avoid the wrath of his housekeeper.
She cleared her throat again.
Stetson let the pieces of the letter flutter to the ground – his one act of defiance that he dared to do in front of his formidable housekeeper – and then turned to the doorway.
There Carmelita stood, her fists planted on her hips, shooting him glares that Stetson could only be grateful didn’t actually kill.
Behind his fiery, rotund Hispanic housekeeper stood…a woman?
She stared back.
Time stood still as Stetson’s mind scrambled to put the information in front of him together into a coherent whole. The hated banker, the one he was going to beat into the ground with his fists was…a woman.
“That low-down snake!” Stetson erupted, staring at the female banker. “That piece-of-shit bank president sent in a woman to do his dirty work? Is he hiding behind your skirts? Huh? Why doesn’t he come in here like a real man and face me?”
Carmelita’s face, unhappy to begin with, turned a bright shade of red that Stetson hadn’t seen since he’d gotten the oh-so-grand idea at age six to dye the white sheets in the guest bedroom a deep red. He’d used them as a cape to jump off the roof – he was gonna fly like Superman.
He wasn’t sure which had hurt worse: His broken leg or being on the receiving end of that stare.
“This lady is going to look at your books,” Carmelita ground out, staring Stetson down, which considering she had to crane her neck upwards to do, was quite the feat. His righteous indignation began to seep out of him like a balloon with a pinprick in it. “And you will treat her like a lady!” she thundered.
With that, his housekeeper moved to the side, letting the tiny woman through. Even with heels on, the banker barely came to Stetson’s shoulder.
“Hi,” the woman said, extending her hand toward him. “I’m Jennifer—” She stopped abruptly, Stetson noted with pride. Probably because he was looking down at her hand with all the respect he might give a rotting fish.
Maybe he couldn’t punch the banker, and maybe he couldn’t use choice words to tell her exactly what he thought of her chosen profession – stealing farms from hard-working, red-blooded Americans – so he’d do the next best thing: He’d put her in her place.
“I know who you are and why you’re here,” Stetson said flatly. “Let’s get some things straight. First, you’re not staying here. This is not a guest house; you can get a room in town. Second, this is my home, and I’ll not have it invaded by…” he waved his hand in the air, “bank people. You can use the office and the bathroom. The rest of the house and farm is off limits.”
Really warming up to the task of telling this woman what’s what, he continued, “Third, I’m not paying for the privilege of having my farm stolen from me. If you have to make a phone call, you’ll do it on your own dime. Use your damn phone, not mine. Fourth, Carmelita serves lunch at noon each day. Because I’m a good host, I’ll let you eat one sandwich with a glass of water, but that’s it. Finally, you’re gonna start at 8 and be gone by 5 every day. No exceptions.”
Drawing in a deep breath, he crossed his arms and glared down at her. Damn, it felt good to order the bank around. It was ‘bout time they got a taste of their own medicine.