Loving the Country Boy (Barrett's Mill)

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9780373879762: Loving the Country Boy (Barrett's Mill)
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A City Girl's Second Chance 

City girl Tess Barrett hopes her move to Barrett's Mill, Virginia, will give her a fresh start. As she gets to know the family she's never met and begins work at their sawmill, everything starts falling into place. Until she meets Heath Weatherby. After narrowly escaping an oil rig explosion, Heath won't waste his second chance at life. He's committed to starting a family—and he wants Tess for his wife. Tess refuses to give in to her feelings for Heath, convinced they're just too different. But when the rugged mechanic is hired to fix her family's mill, her heart begins to recognize the charming country boy as her one true love.

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About the Author:

Mia Ross loves great stories. She enjoys reading about fascinating people, long-ago times, and exotic places. But only for a little while, because her reality is pretty sweet. A lifelong resident of Upstate New York, she's married and the proud mom of 2 amazing kids whose schedules keep her hopping. Busy as she is, she can't imagine trading her life for anyone else's--and she has a pretty good imagination. You can visit her online at www.miaross.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Tess Barrett was not a morning person.

Of course, that might have had something to do with the fact that her California-girl brain hadn't quite adjusted to Virginia time yet. Or maybe it was the dark blue sedan she'd borrowed from her grandmother, a far cry from the jazzy red convertible she'd left in LA. Yawning, she looked around and couldn't help admiring the lush scenery on the other side of the windshield. Ordinarily, she drove to work through bumper-to-bumper traffic jams, with the AC on full blast and palm trees waving at her as she passed by.

On this cool October morning, hers was the only car in sight on a gravel road that wasn't even two lanes wide. Towering oak and maple trees stood alongside the lane like guards, their branches arching overhead to form a tunnel of leaves ranging in color from pale green to gold to brilliant red. When the early sunlight started peeking through the canopy, it lit the whole area in a breathtaking display that would be right at home on an artist's easel.

Normally she wasn't the poetic type, and her creative impression of her surroundings startled her, to say the least. She must be more tired than she realized. Or, she thought as she drove around a curve in the unfamiliar back-country road, her fuzzy brain just needed caffeine.

Fortunately, she had some of her grandmother's secret blend of coffee mixed with cream and berries. Reaching toward the cup holder, she glanced down to grasp the handle of her stainless-steel travel mug. Just as she was lifting it free, the sound of a blaring horn jerked her eyes back to the road. Letting go of the cup, she cranked the steering wheel to the right and slammed on the brakes in a terrifying hailstorm of dust and gravel.

She swallowed hard to get her heart out of her throat and sat very still, taking stock of everything. She was unharmed, and the car was in one piece, although it sat cocked at an unnatural angle on the verge of the ditch. Framed in her driver's window was an antique delivery truck that had quite possibly been one of the first ones put into service. Sporting as much rust as metal, one thing about it stood out as new. Someone had gone to the trouble to freshen up the logo on the driver's door.

Barrett's Sawmill, Barrett's Mill, Virginia.

Her eyes traveled upward to find the driver staring through his open window at her. With his shock of sun-bleached blond hair and deep blue eyes, she recognized him instantly. "Heath Weatherby?"

His tanned face split into a wide grin. "So, you remember me?"

"Sure, I do."

Vividly. At her cousin Scott's wedding last month, she'd watched Heath flirt his way through all the single women at the reception. He'd brought to mind a lion stalking a herd of gazelle, hunting for one he could easily bring down. She'd had her fill of guys like that, so his very obvious technique hadn't left her with the best impression of him. Still, he was Scott's friend, so she plastered on the friendly customer-service smile she'd cultivated in the boutique where she worked.

Used to work, she corrected herself with a mental sigh. Yet another in a long line of failures she'd managed to accumulate in twenty-eight years, that position was history. Tess currently had no clue what lay ahead of her, but being late for her new job wasn't how she wanted to start.

Heath clambered out of the old truck, and she expected him to start yammering about how she should have been watching the road more carefully. Instead, he rested his hands on the roof of the car and leaned in to stare at her with obvious concern. "You okay?"

"A little shaken up, but basically I'm fine." Those eyes were studying her way too closely, and she turned away to retrieve her purse from the spot on the floor where it had landed after their near-impact. "Do you want my insurance card?"

For some crazy reason, he started laughing. Irked by his blasé attitude, she glared up at him. "Did I say something funny?"

"We didn't hit each other or anything, and even if we had there'd be no need to drag an adjuster all the way out here. I work on your gram's car all the time, so I'll fix whatever's wrong."

"That's nice of you, but I heard a pretty loud crunching sound. The parts could get expensive, and I don't want to pay for it." She left out the part about not having the money to cover much of a car repair bill. That would sound pathetic, and since she hadn't confided her money problems to Gram, she wasn't about to share them with a stranger. Not even a great-looking one wearing a you-can-count-on-me grin.

"Wasn't planning to charge you for it."

She wasn't sure what to make of that. In her experience, whenever someone suggested something outside the norm, the situation turned out badly. For her. "I don't know."

"Why don't we have a look, and then we'll decide?"

Her foggy, sleep-deprived brain couldn't come up with a decent protest, so she simply nodded. Heath opened the door for her and stood back to give her room to step out. Logically, she knew it wasn't possible, but she thought he was taller than he'd been when they'd first met. Dressed in worn jeans and a denim shirt with Morgan's Garage and his name stitched over the pocket, he had the solid, dependable look of a man who could live up to his promise to fix things that were broken. And not just cars.

That dreamy impression flitted through her mind before she could stop it, and she firmly clamped down before any more had a chance to follow it. With a string of bad relationships to her credit, she'd promised herself that for the foreseeable future, she'd keep her life clear of male distractions. Despite having every possible advantage, she'd accomplished nothing of value beyond earning a bachelor's degree and holding a series of retail positions whose main attraction was the employee discount.

If that was going to change, she recognized that she'd have to figure out how to make it happen. For herself, and by herself. Not like her mother, who was still struggling to recover from a ninja-style divorce that had stripped her of her glittering lifestyle and a good chunk of her pride. Tess knew that if she wanted her own story to end differently, it was time for her to take control of her life and find a way to make it work. Her own failed engagement had finally convinced her that relying too heavily on someone else simply wasn't worth the risk.

The sound of Heath's boots crunching in the gravel brought her back to the problem at hand, and she dutifully trailed after him. Hunkering down, he ducked his head under the front end of the sedan for a better look. She was no expert, but any moron could figure out the car wouldn't roll with that wad of crumpled metal wrapped around the right front tire.

"That doesn't look good." What a stupid thing to say, she chided herself, and waited for him to pile on with some criticism of his own. She was well accustomed to that, and she braced herself for the shot.

Instead, he glanced up at her with the kind of amused look he might have used with a curious child. "Yeah, I was thinking the same thing."

"I wasn't trying to be funny."

"I don't doubt it." He started to say something else but apparently thought better of it and focused back on the damaged pieces.

Her reflexive response was to demand what he meant by that, but she managed to stop herself. It was too early in the day for a battle of wills, and considering how her morning had gone so far, she'd probably come out on the losing end. Besides, he was clearly going out of his way to help her, and she didn't want him to think she was ungrateful. So she swallowed her sharp words and asked, "Will it be hard to fix?"

"Nah. Couple days, tops." Standing, he brushed his hands off and rested them on his hips. "Like I said, I'll take care of it, no charge."

She was sorely tempted to take him up on his offer. A month ago, she'd have accepted without a second thought, allowing someone else to step in and make her life easier. But in the interest of taking responsibility for herself, she didn't feel right about doing that anymore.

"I can't let you do that," she countered in a firm but polite voice. "It's not your fault I was paying more attention to the scenery than the road."

"Yeah, I could see how that'd happen. It's real pretty out here."

Male admiration twinkled in his eyes, and she narrowed her own in disgust. "Let's get one thing straight right now, country boy."

"Okay."

The casual way he said it made it clear her warning had no impact on him at all. Unlike other guys, who backed up a step when she blasted them with her don't-mess-with-me glare. At five-three, she didn't physically intimidate anyone over the age of ten, so that look was her only option when she wanted to make a point. Either he was braver than most people she knew, or more foolish. Whatever the case, she wasn't thrilled to lose the one advantage she'd ever been able to cultivate.

Summoning her iciest tone, she said, "I'm here to help out at the mill while Chelsea's on maternity leave. Period, end of story. Whatever you're selling, I'm not buying. Got it?"

"Got it." Punctuating his reply with a quick nod, he moved out to a more respectable distance. "Can I ask you a question, though?"

"Sure."

"What's with the attitude? All I did was give you a compliment, and you act like I'm trying to work you over."

"In my experience, when a man tells a woman how pretty she is, he's expecting it to get him somewhere."

"Well, now, don't I feel silly?" Heath drawled with a mischievous grin. "I was just lookin' for a smile."

Despite her best efforts to control it, she felt one tugging at the corner of her mouth, threatening to upend her disapproving frown. After a few seconds, she gave in and let it come through. Unfortunately, that seemed to encourage him, and his face broke into a victorious grin. "There it is. That wasn't so hard, was it?"

Tess opened her mouth for a sharp retort then decided there was no point. She had reacted to him as if he was a leering stranger on the street. When she replayed her stern warning in her head, she felt her face heating with embarrassment. He might be a little too suave for her liking, but Heath wasn't dangerous.

"No, it wasn't." Realizing that wasn't enough, she went on. "I apologize for being so rude. I guess I'm still wiped out from my trip, and for a West Coast girl like me it's four o'clock in the morning."

"Yeah, that trip east is a real killer. I worked in Alaska for a while, and it took me a week to recover from the flight home."

"What did you do in Alaska?" she blurted before remembering that she was late for work and should keep their conversation short and sweet. Then again, a few more minutes probably wouldn't make much difference one way or the other. "I've never been there, but from all the Travel Channel shows I've watched, it looks like a fascinating place to live."

Sorrow dimmed his bright expression, and his eyes went a murky bluish-gray that could only mean she'd inadvertently struck a nerve. Shortly after they appeared, though, the clouds were gone. "It is. I worked on an oil rig for a couple years and spent a lot of my spare time flying around with my buddy in his bush plane. We ferried tourists and hunters around, and delivered supplies to some villages that actually were in the middle of nowhere."

"It sounds incredible."

"Yeah, it was."

Although his tone was upbeat, it sounded forced to her, as if he were making a concerted attempt to be positive about his Alaskan adventure. Instinct told her something had forced him to return to Barrett's Mill. Something that made him sad, even now. She wouldn't dream of asking him about it, of course, but she couldn't help wondering what had happened to him.

"I'll come back with a wrecker to get Olivia's car," he said, bringing her back to reality. "But in the meantime, I can't just leave you stranded out here. Would you like a ride to the mill?"

That wasn't how she'd intended to begin her new, independent life, but she wasn't exactly dressed for a cross-country hike. "I can call Paul. I don't want you to go out of your way."

"Not out of my way. I was heading there, too, to drop off this truck for Paul."

She looked at him doubtfully. "You were driving in the opposite direction."

"Actually, you were. You must have missed your turn back there. Easy to do."

Her cheeks flushed again, but she stayed silent and just nodded at him, turning toward the car.

While she got her purse, she regretted misjudging the friendly mechanic, lumping him in with the other shallow, manipulative guys she'd known. Not that it mattered, she thought as she followed him over to the truck.

For the time being, she was done with men. With her heart still in pieces, it was safer that way.

Baffling wasn't the word for Tess Barrett. Sweet one minute, prickly the next, she'd kept him off balance since their bizarre meeting in the middle of the road. Not quite the way he wanted to start his day.

Heath shut the passenger door a little more forcefully than he should have, wincing at the jolt of pain that zipped up his arm to his shoulder. He sometimes forgot it was still healing, and he had to be careful how he moved. The lingering reminder of his past mistakes drove him nuts, but since there was nothing he could do about it, he did his best to shrug it off as he circled the truck and climbed into the cab.

While Heath started the pickup and pulled around the disabled sedan, he couldn't help glancing over at his passenger and wondering what her deal was. He'd grown up running wild with her cousins, the infamous Barrett boys who were the stuff of local legend. Knowing them as well as he did, he definitely pegged the family resemblance in the stunning brunette with the dark, intelligent eyes, sitting beside him.

Other than that, she struck him as a whole different animal. In a slim skirt the color of lilacs and a tissue-thin blouse a couple of shades lighter, she looked decidedly out of place on this backwoods road in the heart of the Blue Ridge valley. Then again, she'd traveled across the country to help out at the iconic sawmill that had given the town its name and still provided many of its residents with a decent income. To do something like that, she must be incredibly generous. Or desperate.

Thinking of her being in trouble bothered him for some reason, so he went with the other option. "It's nice of you to come out and lend a hand with the mill. I'm sure your family really appreciates it."

"At the wedding, Chelsea mentioned she'd be out with the baby for a while and would be looking for someone to take over while she's gone. When I lost my job a couple weeks ago, it seemed like a good time to try something different. So here I am."

"That's great for them but tough for you," he commented with genuine sympathy. "Mind if I ask what happened?"

"Oh, the usual. I was managing an adorable little boutique in Beverly Hills. After a few months, the owner's husband started paying more attention to me than to her, so she fired me."

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