Home > Stranger Ranger (Park Ranger #2)

Stranger Ranger (Park Ranger #2)
Author: Daisy Prescott

Chapter One

 

 

Daphne

 

 

“I’m going to hell.”

“What is it this time?” Kacey repeats her typical response to my declaration.

“Impure thoughts.” I sigh and stare up at the sky.

Taller than I am by half a foot, she scans the crowded farmers’ market. “Which guy are you thinking about? The tall one with the blondish hair or the grumpy-looking guy loudly talking about his sausages? I can see this going either direction.”

“The tall one.” I’ve been trying not to stare and failing miserably—like a belly-flop-instead-of-swan-dive level of failure.

“Ooh. He’s a living, breathing advertisement for eating your recommended daily servings of vegetables.” Kacey sighs, and I find myself doing the same once again.

Across the community center parking lot is what I can only describe as a fever dream crossed with a hallucination, sprinkled with fantasy and a dash of what-the-ever-loving-hell-is-he-doing-here-in-Green-Valley-Tennessee mystery.

The six-foot-something bearded man—or perhaps demigod is a better description—stands behind a table loaded with wooden crates and baskets full of vegetables.

Wholesome farm boy comes to mind, but that’s not quite right. He’s all man, from the light brown beard to the wide spread of his shoulders, from the muscle-corded arms to the flat planes of chest and abs, right on down to his long, strong legs. To clarify, he’s not hawking his wares naked. I’m certain public nudity is frowned upon by the good citizens of this fine town, but my imagination is happy to conjure up a visual of what’s beneath his long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans.

The demigod is currently chatting up a customer, completely unaware of me—which is exactly how I prefer it. Gives me a chance to observe him like he’s in a nature documentary narrated by some impossibly stuffy British man.

Great, now I have David Attenborough from the Planet Earth series in my head narrating the scene.

The farmer has a habit of brushing his hands through the messy waves of dark blond hair that nearly reach his shoulders to keep them out of his face. As he moves and gesticulates while speaking, a lock flops over his eyes and he sweeps it away. It’s mesmerizing and draws attention to his tan forearms and the stretch of white cotton around his bicep and shoulder.

Then there is his face, chiseled by the gods themselves. Angular, but not harsh. The hard cut of his cheekbones and broad forehead are softened by large eyes and a slightly-too-wide mouth. From afar, his eyes look brown, but they are probably pools of molten chocolate up close.

If I had a fan, I’d use it to temper the flames of lust heating my face.

Tearing my attention away from cataloging his features, I take in the rest of his setup. Tables. Vegetables. Open-sided tent. A black and white pig sleeping in a pen.

My mouth drops open and a puff of disbelief escapes.

“What now?” Kacey asks.

“I know that pig,” I whisper.

“Did you just call that fine-looking man a pig?” Unlike me, she doesn’t lower her voice. In fact, she raises it in shock. “Did you date and he dumped you?”

“Shh.” I reprimand her and flap my hand to remind her we’re in public.

“It’s fine. He’s too far away to hear us.”

Making sure she’s looking at me, I glare at her.

“It’s fine,” she says in a normal voice before whispering, “Fine.”

We both stand as still as fence posts, staring across the market.

“Damn, why do the good-looking ones always have to be terrible humans? What a waste.” Resigned disappointment tinges her words.

I take a step to the left and face her. “What are you rambling about?”

“The cruelness of handsome men always being pigs. Looks versus decency is a dilemma for the ages. For once, I’d like to have the complete package.” She softly snorts. “Yeah, I stand by that statement.”

Ignoring the familiar diatribe, I correct her. “It isn’t a metaphor. The actual pig in the pen behind him—I recognize it.”

“Does that mean you know him? Because if you do, you should go over and say hello.”

“Weren’t you bemoaning the cruel imbalance of looks versus substance not ten seconds ago?”

“There’s only one way to find out if the hypothesis is true.” Pressing her hand between my shoulder blades, she gives me a soft push.

“I doubt he’s your type.”

“Who said I’m interested?” She pretends to be offended, but her smile betrays her.

I pretend to wipe drool from her chin before she swats my hand away. “For one thing, he’s a farmer.”

She scoffs. “I like food, so we already have one thing in common. Two, we share a love of plants. I own a fiddle-leaf fig.”

“A fake one,” I remind her.

“You’re one to talk. The only vegetable I’ve ever seen you eat is a potato, preferably fried or formed into a tot.”

She speaks the truth.

“I’ll eat salad,” I say in my defense.

“You eat ranch with iceberg as the vehicle because it’s not appropriate to eat dressing with a spoon. At least not in public.”

“You forgot the grape tomatoes and cucumber—if it’s peeled—thank you very much. Oh, and I’ll also eat raw carrots with ranch. Cooked ones taste like old people.” I stare at my feet, because if I glance at Kacey, I’ll make a weird face. Knowing my past luck around guys, that will be the exact moment the hot farmer glances in our direction and notices me.

Kacey is on the move, and I follow. Sticking close is better than letting her roam off on her own.

Continuing our conversation as a means of distraction, I ask, “Does popcorn count as a vegetable? It’s corn—comes from the same cob as sweet corn. The corn lobby would argue it’s an important part of the standard American diet, and kettle corn must count, too. Being made in an old-fashioned pot means it’s wholesome, which equals healthy.” I’m breathless from trying to keep up and share random thoughts about corn at the same time.

I don’t think Kacey is even listening to me because she’s making a beeline for the row of tables on the far side of the lot.

“Look, apple butter!” Pointing at a stand decked out in red and white gingham with green accents, I try to throw her off course. “Is that apple cake? There are free samples. Bet they’d be nice enough to let us have more than one.”

Her steps falter as she swivels her head, pausing and sniffing the air like a velociraptor. “Ooh, cake.”

I know my best friend’s weaknesses and I am not afraid to use this knowledge to my advantage.

While Kacey loads her palm with free baked goods, I sneak a peek over my shoulder.

Farm boy has his head thrown back, laughing at something an older woman is saying. The way she’s gripping the cucumber in her hand, I’m assuming something inappropriate has been said. She’s old enough to at least be his mother and is probably related to him, by marriage if not blood. In Green Valley, everyone is connected somehow.

I’m one of the few exceptions. Recently hired seasonally as an interpretation specialist for the park’s visitor center, I’ve only been in the area since April.

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