Johnny watched as Marian pranced around the room. They had come to the Morning Dove Hotel for a small get-together being thrown for a newly engaged couple. She was like a dove herself, he thought. She was a very attractive woman. Johnny was fully aware every man in Hot Springs, Texas, his hometown just outside Austin, was just as attracted to her as he was. Every man over the age of 25, anyway.
When she turned to see him watching her, she honored him with the most graceful grin he’d ever seen. His heart thumped as he returned the smile. He wished she would come over and mingle with him by her side, instead of leaving him by the snack table.
But that was just the way Marian was. She was a social butterfly and didn’t mind the attention she got. In fact, Johnny was pretty sure she thrived on it. He’d noticed how much more at ease she was when there were a lot of people around, especially men. They didn’t spend as much time alone as he would like, but that was the price a man had to pay to have a woman like her on his arm.
Marian was two years Johnny’s junior and that wasn’t bad at all. She was a 28-year-old beauty queen as far as he was concerned. He’d been considering asking her to marry him but the time just never felt right. She was always conversing with someone else. They didn’t go to dinner and talk. They went to parties and she talked. To other people.
Johnny didn’t really expect much more. He had work to do, running his father’s ranch in Hot Springs, which was so close to Austin that a rock would hit it if thrown with great force.
It was an exaggeration, but Johnny sometimes felt that way since he’d made so many trips there. Austin was where most of his friends were. And it was where Marian lived. If he wanted to see her often, that was where he went.
Marian’s family owned the bank in Hot Springs and another two in Austin. They had a great deal of money. Marian liked to let people know exactly who she was, though she wasn’t introducing herself often. Everyone already knew who she was.
His eyes trailed her around the room as she laughed with three men who had made a half circle around her.
To his utter delight, Marian leaned to the side so she could catch his eye and then waved him over. He hurried across the room, wondering what she wanted. Would she introduce him as her beau? He chided himself for getting his hopes up when he knew that was unlikely at this point. They needed to spend more time together alone to really forge a relationship.
“Howdy.” He included all three men when he greeted them by looking at each and nodding. They replied the same, and all four pairs of eyes turned to Marian. Johnny noticed a look of suspicion in the eyes of the men. Or it could have been jealousy. Had Marian been talking about him? A tingle of apprehensive delight slid through him. He wanted to be cautious with his hope. He could only pray he wasn’t setting himself up for a great disappointment.
“Johnny, this is Greg, Clark and Cole. This is Johnny.” She turned her pretty blue eyes to him. “I invited them to the party after you told me about it. I hope you don’t mind.”
Johnny gazed at her, shaking his head. “Of course not. The more the merrier, I say.”
Marian beamed at him, bathing him with a warm feeling. “That’s so nice of you, Johnny. I just knew you’d understand. I met them when my family put on the theatre troupe last year.” She returned her gaze to the other men. “Gosh, we did have fun, didn’t we boys?”
“We sure did, Marian.” The one named Clark had a mischievous look on his face. Johnny wondered briefly what that look might mean. He recognized it from a look his best friend, Flo, sometimes gave him when she was about to suggest they leave work behind and go for a picnic or something. She was always getting him in trouble.
Thinking about Flo gave Johnny a different kind of pleasure. His best friend was 26 years old and worked as a house servant for the family Fitzpatrick. She’d come from the north to find work, leaving her parents behind. After four years of her living in Hot Springs, her parents had moved to Austin. They didn’t even tell her until they’d lived in the city for nearly two years.
Johnny remembered when Flo told him how she felt about that. It had been six years since she had moved to Hot Springs and she hadn’t corresponded with them during that whole time. Then she came across them in Austin while out shopping and found out they had moved there. She didn’t get an invitation to see their small cottage and truth be told, she didn’t care whether they invited her or not.
It wasn’t that they had abused her as a child. She’d been shown no real love or affection by either. Therefore, she grew up feeling no love toward them either. There was no parent-child bond there and that made Johnny feel sorry for her.
His own mother had died of cholera when he was 10 and Johnny had been raised by a loving father. John Sr. gave most of the ranch over to his son as his age began to advance and his health declined. Despite not even being sixty years old, John knew when it was time to give the reins to his son.
“Yoohoo, Johnny…” He heard Marian’s musical voice calling him. He came out of his thoughts and looked down at her. “There you are,” the woman quipped. “You weren’t with us for a bit there. Come, let’s go get some lemonade!”
Marian’s pretty smile ran through his mind as Johnny plunged the shovel into the soft dirt. His current job was to plant a row of trees along the fence line around the pasture on his father’s property. Once the shovel was in the ground, he leaned on it with both hands and looked out across the land at the outline of the mountains in the distance, making a rolling wave of the earth with a backdrop of gorgeous blue sky.
It was nearing 10:30 in the morning, Johnny’s favorite time of the day. It wasn’t too hot, like it would be later that afternoon. And the chill of the first morning air was gone, warmed by the rays of the sun.
His mind was filled with thoughts of Marian. She had looked so pretty at the party the evening before. He felt privileged she’d asked him to escort her, even if she did spend most of the time talking to other people. Mostly men. The women always seemed intimidated by Marian, something Johnny could understand.
One woman Johnny knew wasn’t intimidated by Marian was Flo. He chuckled, looking down at the blade of the shovel and beginning a hole while he reminisced on the few times Flo and Marian had had brief encounters. While both were politely civil, the underlying tension was easy to see. Flo spoke her mind whether Marian wanted to hear it or not. And because Flo knew how to be forceful with tact, no one could accuse her of being petty or jealous.
Flo was the kind of woman who knew who she was from the beginning of her maturity and never played a part for anyone. She was perfectly fine with just being herself. Those who didn’t like it, didn’t have to talk to her. It made no difference to her.
“I’ve got plenty of friends,” she always said. “I’m fine with (insert name) not liking me.”
He let out another soft laugh, pushing the blade of the shovel in the ground again.
“And what has you so amused?” He spun around, hearing a familiar voice behind him.
“You nearly gave me a seizure, Flo,” Johnny admonished with a smile. “Why are you sneaking up on people?”
Flo laughed, squeezing her green eyes shut and throwing her head back. “It’s a skill I have. Comes in handy sometimes.”
Johnny raised his eyebrows. “Exactly when does that talent do you any good? Who you trying to scare?”
“Well, since I live in the Fitzpatrick house, I have to be a little quiet you know. Those two are a handful when they get cranky.”
Johnny could picture the Fitzpatricks, a couple from the heart of Scotland who had immigrated to America in search of cheap land and the blessing of freedom. They weren’t old and cranky but he still understood why Flo would want to be a little quiet. Mr. Fitzpatrick was a large man with a boisterous attitude and a voice that boomed from one room to another. If he was on a large stage, the people in the back would hear him. The people in the nearest city could probably hear him.
He and his wife rarely argued. They were cut from a similar cloth, though Mrs. Fitzpatrick was slender and small compared to her large husband. She had auburn hair that swept in long curls around her face and down her back. She often chose to leave her hair down, which wasn’t really the style he saw on most women, but he had no problem with it.
They were in their late forties and had the energy of 20-year-olds. Mrs. Fitzpatrick made the most delicious butter and sugar cookies he’d ever had so whenever he got a whiff of the baking or Flo told him, he would mysteriously show up at their ranch just in time to have a few fresh ones.
He nodded. “I understand,” he said.
Flo leaned against a fence post and crossed her hands behind her back, giving him an intense look. “So you had a good time last night?”
Johnny nodded. “Missed you there, though. Why didn’t you come?”
Flo looked away from him and to the side, staring at the grass as if she’d never seen it before. She shrugged. “I wasn’t feeling very festive last night. I got the house to myself because the servants and the Fitzpatricks went out. Some to the party, others somewhere else. And I think the Fitzpatricks were visiting the Carringtons. Whenever they go over there, they don’t come back until the early hours of the morning.”
“Well, I guess you didn’t really miss much,” Johnny said, pulling a shovelful of dirt from the earth with his shovel and dumping it to the side to reuse later. “Marian seemed to have a good time.”
Flo rolled her eyes. “Oh Lord, is that who you were there with last night? I understand why you didn’t tell me.”
Johnny snickered. “Yeah, I’m sure you understand. I don’t know why you don’t like her. You should give her a chance.”
Flo narrowed her eyes and spoke with heavy sarcasm. “I didn’t just arrive on the boat, Johnny Mason. I’ve been here going on eight years and I already know her. I don’t have to talk to her every single day to know about her.”
“But your opinion is biased,” Johnny retorted, kneeling to pull a rock from the hole he was digging. He tossed it over his shoulder when he stood back up, his eyes on Flo, whose face had turned red. “Do you even remember what happened to make you not like each other?”
Flo finally turned her eyes to his. Shaking her head, she sighed heavily. “It’s not that it was one thing in particular. I just don’t like the way she leads men by their noses. Men – including you – will do anything for her just because she has a pretty face.”
Johnny felt slight resentment flowing through him. “No, no,” he said. “It’s not just because she’s pretty. I mean, of course she is but…”
Flo sighed again, this time in an exaggerated way that let him know he needed to stop talking. He didn’t want to aggravate his friend so he clamped his mouth shut and dug the rest of the hole in silence. It didn’t take long and when he looked to the side to where he’d set the saplings, he saw her holding one out to him.
He took it with a grateful look, smiling. “I know you mean well, dear. I know you do.”
Flo pulled the corners of her mouth down in a soft frown. “My intentions are only to let you know what kind of woman other people see when they look at her. She’s always talking! I thought I talked a lot until I met her. And…” Flo scrunched her nose in disgust. “Not only is she always talking, but she’s always talking about herself. How can you stand to listen to someone who has nothing better to talk about than themselves?”
Johnny felt a pinch of anxiety in his chest. He hated it when Flo lectured him. Sometimes she made him feel like a child with her admonitions. She was a smart girl, and definitely cared about him. But even tactfully, she could sometimes be brutal in her assessments.
“I don’t know, Flo,” he said, holding in a sigh so tight it made his voice thin. She studied his face, making him self-conscious. He felt his cheeks heating up. “I just like being around her. I like it when she talks to me. We have fun when we’re together.”
Flo nodded, her blond hair bouncing on either side of her face where the curls had come free from the braid. “And tell me how many times you and she are together?”
“We’ve seen each other every other day for weeks,” Johnny said defensively. What he’d said wasn’t exactly a lie. They had seen each other. But the circumstances when they had encounters could not be considered dates. The party the evening before had probably been the second time he’d been on a “date” with her and they still hadn’t been alone. Most of their other encounters were just meeting on the walkway, stopping to chat for a few minutes and then going their separate ways.
Those could not be considered dates and he knew it.
“She is playing you for a fool and I don’t like to watch that. You’re my best friend. When are you going to realize it?” Flo’s voice had softened considerably. He lifted his eyes to study her slender face, wondering what she was feeling and what had prompted this reaction from her.
“I can’t… I can’t think that.” Johnny shook his head, dropping his eyes to the shovel as he turned the dirt over around the new tree and patted it down to hold the tree in place while it spread its roots over the next months and years.
“Why not?” Flo demanded. Johnny thought her voice sounded a little hurt. It made him feel bad but now he couldn’t meet her eyes. “Don’t you see what everyone else sees? She talks to and flirts with men right in front of you. How can you let that go on?”
“She’s just being friendly,” Johnny insisted.
Flo snorted in an unladylike way, shaking her head emphatically. “No, Johnny. She’s not just being friendly. She’s flirting. And you know it.”
Johnny’s chest was hurting with tension. He frowned. “Can we please not talk about her anymore? I don’t like arguing with you.”
“We shouldn’t be arguing about this,” Flo agreed. “I’m sorry. I will back off a little. I didn’t mean to get upset. And I’m not upset with you. I’m upset… with her.”
She let the end of her sentence trail off and sighed.
“I understand,” Johnny said, softly. “But you just don’t see in her what I see.”
This time when their eyes met, neither looked away.
“You’re right about that, Johnny. You are sure right about that.”
Several days later, Johnny was finishing planting the last of the long row of trees along the North side of the property. He was glad to be almost done. He was tired of planting and some of his other duties had gone undone, which meant he was behind schedule and the work was piling up.
Johnny didn’t have to stress about it too much. His father never rebuked him for anything that was done later than intended. He was glad there hadn’t been any emergencies and that he’d been given almost a week to get the trees planted.
Now that the task was almost finished, he was anxious to be done. He had just two more to plant. The holes would take him several hours and then the day would be getting late. He would have to rush to do the evening chores. And he would only have to do it quickly because he wanted to. He could, in reality, take all the time he needed.
“Looks like you’re almost done there, son.”
Johnny looked up from the hole he was digging to see his father, leaning on a cane, walking toward him. Johnny’s eyes dropped to the cane.
“What’s up, Pa? Why you using a cane? Your leg acting up again?”
John Sr. nodded, also glancing down at the dark cherry wood cane with a marble hand grip. “Yep. Giving me a fit.”
“Then why did you walk all the way out here?” Johnny was concerned. It was a long walk for his father to make over uneven terrain with the possibility of tripping at any moment.
“Needed the exercise. And we haven’t talked in a while. Thought I’d see how you’re doing.”
Johnny thought back on the last few days, realizing that he and his father hadn’t just not spoken, but they hadn’t really seen each other. How was that possible for two people who lived together? The ranch must have been bigger than he thought. But his worry for his father overcame any humorous thoughts.
“You’re right, we haven’t. Where have you been? You haven’t come down to dinner since Monday. Here it is Thursday, and I feel like I haven’t seen you in a year.”
The suggestion brought a grin to his father’s face, making Johnny feel warm inside.
“Well, it hasn’t quite been that long but it does feel like it. Now you know why I decided to get my exercise by coming to see how your progress was going on the trees.” John Sr. scanned the line of trees Johnny had planted. “You have a good eye, Johnny. This line of trees couldn’t be straighter, I don’t think.”
Johnny also studied his work, stepping to the side to look down the line. His father was right. It was very precise. Johnny had a knack for ranch work. It helped that he loved what he was doing. His father always said a man who loved his job would never have an unhappy day at work. Johnny couldn’t be more grateful for the lot God had given him in life.
Now, if he could only share it with Marian…
He shook the thoughts out of his head and glanced in his father’s direction. “They are straight, aren’t they? Thanks, Pa. I’m glad you noticed.”
John Sr. smiled. “You’re welcome, son.” He pulled on the strap to the bag he was carrying over his back and brought it around his front. Johnny’s eyes lit up when they saw the bag. That meant his pa had brought an afternoon snack.
“Aw, what did ya bring, Pa?” he asked with a grin.
His father’s grin didn’t waver. “Only the stuff you like, that’s all. I have fresh, cold tea, should be real refreshing for you. And those cakes and cookies Flo brought over a few days ago. We can eat the rest of those. You feel like taking a break? I know you’re almost done. I’ll wait till you’re finished if you like.”
Johnny ran his eyes over the work he had left and shook his head. “Nah, this will take a few hours. I’ll take a break now.”
The two men walked toward a hollow fallen tree several feet away and sat on it. John Sr. doled out the goods he’d brought and they sat eating in silence for a few minutes.
Johnny wondered what Marian was doing. Ever since he’d talked to Flo about the party on Sunday night and how Marian was while there, he’d been thinking that maybe she was trying to make him jealous. Maybe she just wanted to get him riled up. That could be a good thing and a bad thing. If her intention was to hurt him with it, it was bad. But if she was trying to get more of his attention, that meant her behavior was good.
“I’m missing out!”
Johnny’s eyes darted up to see Flo riding toward them on her horse.
“Here I was coming to get you to play hooky and go on a picnic with me and your father beat me to it. Well done, Mr. Mason,” she laughed as she slid out of the saddle. When she landed, her boots made small puffs of dust clouds lift up in the air.
Flo was like a breath of fresh air every time he saw her.
“Florence,” John Sr. acknowledged her with a nod. He wasn’t smiling but both Flo and Johnny knew he was teasing. “You aren’t supposed to be distracting my son when he’s working. You keep coming by and nothing will get done.”
Flo’s smile never wavered. “I know. I’m terrible. It’s almost as bad as someone else coming with tea and cookies and not offering any to everyone.”
She held out her hand expectantly, her grin still intact.
John Sr. studied her with narrow eyes for only a few seconds before breaking into a grin, lifting the bag and handing it to her.
“There’s not another container of tea but I can go back and get some for you,” he offered.
She shook her head. “Not necessary, Mr. Mason. I brought the stuff for a picnic with Johnny, like I said. But my position has been usurped.”
Johnny lifted his eyebrows, amusement filling his chest. “Usurped? That’s the thousand dollar word right there.”
Flo laughed lightly. “I heard it from one of the men in town and stopped to ask what it meant. I think I used it right.”
John Sr. nodded. “You did. But who would be saying that?”
Flo shrugged, sitting on the hollow log next to Johnny. “I think he must have been foreign. He had some kind of accent. Not Scottish or Irish. I’d recognize those any day of the week. I think he was from England. He was talking business with someone and all I heard was that his position was being usurped. I asked what it meant and he told me.”
“There’s a British person in Hot Springs?” John Sr. asked, a sudden look of concern on his face. It puzzled Johnny but he didn’t mention it. He filed it in his mind to ask about later.
“Yeah,” Flo replied, biting into her cookie and chewing with a thoughtful look on her face.
John Sr. stood up. Johnny looked up at his father. “Pa?”
“I’ve got to get back,” his father answered without hearing the question. “It’s going to take me a bit to get there. That man might be one of the doctors I asked for help recently. My health…” He shook his head, gazing at the two of them warmly. “It’s just not doing what I want, is it?”
“Do you want a ride on my horse?” Flo asked, jumping up to her feet.
John Sr. lifted one hand and shook his head. “No, dear, I really do need the exercise and I have to think of what I want to tell them. I have… a lot to think about, really. This will do me some good.”
Johnny noticed the flash of concern on Flo’s face.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
John Sr. nodded. “Yes, I’ll be all right. You two have fun playing hooky.”
He turned and hobbled away, leaving a pain in his son’s heart. Johnny shook his head, his eyes saddened by the defective form of his father.
“His health is really declining, Johnny,” Flo said quietly. “I worry about him. I know you have to be, too.”
Johnny hadn’t taken his gaze from his father’s back. “I am. Very much.”
“What are you going to do if something happens to him?”
Johnny’s eyes darted to Flo’s face. He could see the daughterly love she felt for his father on her face.
“I can’t think about that.”
“But you have to,” Flo replied, bluntly. “I… I know you want him to be here for the rest of your life or at least to see you married with children but… that might not happen. You should prepare for that. I know it’s hard. I just want to let you know I’m here for you. If anything happens, I’m right here for you.”
She placed one hand on his arm, tilting her head to the side as she spoke.
He couldn’t look at her. He dropped his gaze to the ground, nodding. “I know, Flo. I… I’m hoping I can marry before he leaves this earth.”
Flo didn’t say anything. He had to look at her to see why. He couldn’t really tell what the look on her face meant.
An idea came to his mind like a flash out of nowhere. Flo had said Marian was only trying to make him jealous. Maybe he should try the same thing with her.
“I… I had a thought just now,” he said, gazing out in the distance as he spoke. His heart jumped a little in his chest. Flo might not like his idea.
“And what is your thought?” she asked, blinking purposefully.
“You said how Marian is always trying to make me jealous, right?”
Flo nodded. Her face turned dark at the mention of Marian.
“Well, maybe you and I could hatch a plot. We could pretend to be courting so that Marian would see how it feels to be the jealous one.”
Flo’s eyes had widened considerably. “What? Courting? You and me? No.” She shook her head. “No, I won’t do that. It would be time-consuming and embarrass me.”
“I’d embarrass you?” Johnny was a little hurt by that.
“Not you. The lying. I don’t do it well.”
“You don’t have any parents to convince. And everyone sees us together all the time anyway. Come on, Flo. Please?”
Flo was taken aback by the suggestion that they pretend to court. The only thing that would get her would be a whole lot of annoyance. Then again, she didn’t like seeing how Marian treated Johnny. Maybe if she did what he asked and he saw that Marian was unaffected by it, it would convince him what Flo already knew – that Marian was not interested in him.
Marian just wanted the attention. Flo knew from the moment she’d laid eyes on the woman, flirting with every man walking, that she would break Johnny’s heart. At the time, she didn’t know that Johnny was, in fact, enamored with Marian. But it didn’t take long to see it.
Flo often wished she had grown up in Austin or Hot Springs, so she and Johnny could have spent a lot of time together having fun. She would have distracted him from Marian’s wiles. She wouldn’t have let him even have a chance to fall for that woman.
Then again, who was she to come between him and any woman he desired? It wasn’t like she wanted him for herself. She was his friend. Maybe there could have been something between them if he wasn’t already head over heels for Marian.
“Don’t you want to help me out, Flo? You’re my best friend. Don’t you want to help me?”
His voice was gentle, almost pleading but not quite. He wasn’t going to beg her, nor did she want him to. She sighed, shaking her head. “I do want to help you. You know I do. But I just… I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do.”
“Well, since you’re my best friend and we already get along well, what would be the harm in having a good time together? I’ll get my mom’s ring and give it to you. We’ll go to the festival together and just have a good time. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Flo was still uncomfortable with lying to everyone.
“So…” She stopped, a thought crossing her mind. “You know how hard I’ve been working to save money and buy a place of my own, don’t you?”
Johnny raised his eyebrows. She could tell he was surprised by the sudden change of subject. “Of course, you’ve been talking about that since you arrived here. You’ve had trouble because of not enough money.”
Flo nodded. “And because I’m a woman. Banks don’t want to deal with me. But… I saw a plot of land with a small cottage on it that I want to buy. I actually saw it last year and have been thinking about it ever since.”
“No one has bought it yet?”
Flo shook her head. “No, I’m not sure that the owner is actively searching for a buyer. I go and check every week and it still has a sign on it that it’s for sale. It looks like the owner is taking care of the land and not letting it get out of control. But the longer the house sits there unoccupied, the worse it will degenerate.”
“True,” Johnny said thoughtfully.
“So that’s what I’m working on now. And… I don’t know if I have time for anything other than making that money. Someone could buy it out from under me anytime.”
The look of surprise on Johnny’s face doubled. “You know what land you want to buy? Why didn’t you ever mention this to me?” He looked a little hurt. “I would have offered to buy it for you.”
“I want to get it myself,” Flo replied sternly.
“Well, then, help me out with this thing with Marian and I’ll give you the money to buy it. How’s that? Fair trade?”
“You want to pay me to pretend I’m your fiancée?” Flo threw her head back and laughed. “Oh, Johnny, you must be kidding! What a funny thought!”
“I’m serious, Flo. Think about it. Pa and I are not hurting for money. We’re not the wealthiest in Hot Springs; certainly not in Austin, but I have enough saved in my account to give you the money and still have some left over.” He grinned at her over the opening of his canteen as he tipped the tea back into his mouth.
“But I haven’t even told you how much it is. Why, it could be 10,000 dollars.”
Johnny almost choked on his tea. He leaned forward and coughed. Flo slapped him on the back, a grin on her face. When he recovered, the back of one hand against his lips, he looked at her. “10,000 dollars?” he repeated, his voice tight. “I think you’d better pretend to be Marian’s fiancée for that kind of money.”
Flo was so amused by that thought she burst out laughing. Johnny quickly joined her.
“It’s not 10,000 dollars,” she confirmed. “But you must have a good amount if you think you can loan me the money to buy a house and land and still have some left over.”
“I’ll even help you decorate and everything,” he said with a grin.
Flo chewed on her bottom lip, thinking. It was a really good idea, come to think of it. She could easily spend more time with Johnny, she had no problem with that. And since she was estranged from her parents, she didn’t care whether they knew the truth or not. She doubted she’d even tell them what was going on. They hadn’t bothered to let her know they had moved to Austin, so close to her, all the way from New York.
Who did that to their only child?
Her parents, unfortunately. She shook her head to clear it of thoughts of her parents.
“Well, I suppose we could do that. I do have some saved, so I wouldn’t need the whole thing from you anyway. And I’d love to have some help decorating and stuff like that. It would be fun. But no manly stuff. I mean, I like manly stuff too, but I don’t want a bear on the floor or a lion’s head hanging on my wall.”
This made them both laugh again.
Johnny’s smile was so big, it made Flo feel a little bad. He really had high hopes that he would marry Marian someday and Flo just didn’t see it in the cards. Even if Marian agreed to marry him, she wouldn’t be a good wife. She wasn’t a one-man woman, at least not from what Flo had seen. And if she was, Johnny was not that man.
Marian was too wealthy for the likes of Johnny. And Johnny had too good of a heart to be with the likes of Marian.
But Flo kept her mouth shut about that. She knew it would sting Johnny deeply if she told him that Marian was not interested in him and that he needed to set his sights somewhere else. She didn’t want to hurt him any more than she usually did when she got blunt with him. Sometimes, his puppy love aggravated her so much she wanted to scream. But she wasn’t his mother or his sweetheart.
So she stayed quiet and agreed to help him win over a woman who clearly wasn’t the commitment type.
“I just hope I can buy it. Some men won’t sell their property to a woman.”
Johnny shook his head. “Don’t worry about that. If you have any trouble, I’ll buy it for you and sign it right over to you.”
Flo felt a warmth surround her heart and fill her chest. She gazed at him, tilting her head to the side. “You’d do that for me?”
Johnny looked at her like she’d lost her mind. “Of course. How is that different from giving you the money you need to buy it? I don’t want it. Lord knows I have enough land to take care of.” He lifted one hand and swept it around him.
He stood up abruptly, startling Flo.
“What’s wrong?” she said in alarm.
“I’ve been sitting here for almost an hour. I gotta get to finish planting these trees. I want it done today and I’m anxious for it. You want to help me?”
She grinned, standing to look up at him. “I’d love to help you, Johnny. Of course.”
She followed him back to where he’d been working and watched him as he began to dig another hole. There was only one shovel so she prepared to hand him the sapling when the hole was done and pat down the dirt around it with him.
He was a good-looking man. Flo didn’t understand why Marian didn’t return his affection. She’d thought a few times about how she would react if he turned that attention on her. Flo wasn’t pining for Johnny but if he offered, she wouldn’t turn it down.
If it was real.
The scheme they were about to pull probably wasn’t going to work in Johnny’s favor. They might make Marian jealous but Flo was fairly certain it would only lead to pain. Deception usually went that way. And she’d never been under the impression that forcing someone to be jealous worked in any kind of positive way.
But she wanted Johnny to be happy. And right now, watching him dig a hole, with a smile on his face and a tune on his lips, she knew she’d at least given him some temporary happiness. Even if it was really only false hope.
She handed him the sapling when the hole was deep enough and knelt down to help him push the dirt over the roots. She could feel how excited he was. He was such a good soul. It hurt her heart that he felt he had to play at deception to win a woman’s heart.
It should never be that way.
Good guys always seemed to come in last.
And Johnny was a very good guy.
“True Love Leaves no Doubts” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Florence Radcliffe decided to leave her home and her oppressive parents behind, eight years ago, and finally take her life in her hands. Her first encounter in the small town of Hot Springs was Johnny, who was meant to become one for her closest friends. For the last four years, Flo has been watching him pine for the love of Marian Voorhees, but the moment he comes up with a plan to seduce her, the situation becomes more complicated than ever. She knows she plays with fire, and in an attempt to tame her growing feelings, she will find herself trapped in a painful dilemma. Will she manage to sort everything out without ending up heartbroken?
Johnny Mason has lost his mind ever since he met a young society lady who has shown no sign of liking him back. Blinded by passion and ego, he lures Flo in as his partner in crime to make Marian jealous. However, over the course of his scheme, he will get tangled up in his own trap. Will he find the courage to unfold his complicated feelings? Having finally a chance at true love within reach, will he take it before it is too late?
Flo and Johnny are too afraid to ruin their friendship by expressing their newfound feelings. As time goes by, though, staying away from each other gets harder and harder. Will they ever discover their love for one another? Could they actually ignore these strong emotions?
“True Love Leaves no Doubts” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.