Home > Stranger Ranger (Park Ranger #2)(2)

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

Kacey picks up a small paper cup and hands another one to me. “Have some cider.”

Happily distracted, she appears to have forgotten about the demigod.

After blowing on my cup, I take a sip.

“Where should we go next?” Kacey’s attention swings from table to table.

In the opposite direction from Vegetable Thor is one of my favorite vendors. “Let’s go look at that one.”

“I thought you were self-banned from buying any soap or soap-based products.” She sounds suspicious.

I refuse to meet her eyes. “Who says I’m purchasing it for myself? Handcrafted items make thoughtful gifts, and your birthday is coming up.”

“First, who says I want soap?” She wrinkles her nose. “Second, when is my birthday?”

“November,” I mumble.

“Which is three months from now.”

I give her a full smile. “Never too early to be prepared.”

“Is it time for an intervention?” She removes the stack of bars from my hand.

“I’m trying to support the local economy,” I complain as she returns my collection to the table.

“Then buy some veggies or alpaca socks, or one of those weird-looking carved wooden spoons.”

“I already own seven pairs and two spoons. I barely cook.” Casting a loving glance at the bars, I sigh. “You’re right. No more soap. I already have half a dozen bars waiting in the cabinet under my sink. How many soaps can one single woman use in a year? Three? Four? I can’t be allowed to buy any more.”

Eyeing me with suspicion, Kacey sips her beverage. “You could always put them into your drawers to freshen your clothes. That’s what my grandmother did.”

“I’m not sure I want to smell like your grandmother. Plus, my work is kind of a scent-free zone. Don’t want to attract bears or other wildlife.”

Kacey wrinkles her nose. “Please tell me you at least wear deodorant.”

“Natural.” Took me a while to find one that works, but I now smell like roses and sage instead of lavender and BO.

She lifts my arm and sniffs close to my shoulder. “Not sure that counts.”

Squealing, I try to escape her grip.

“Stop!” My voice comes out louder than intended, and I sense the people around us directing their attention our way.

I lift my gaze to see who is staring. Across the crowd, my eyes catch those belonging to the farmer I’m not supposed to notice. His brow wrinkles and his head cocks to the side, like he might recognize me but isn’t sure from where. Or maybe he just thinks I’m a nut because he witnessed Kacey sniffing my armpit in public.

As soon as he realizes we’ve locked stares, he breaks the eye contact by dipping his chin and focusing on his table.

Not for the first time in my life, I debate whether it’s better to be invisible or seen but judged.

“What else do you want to get this morning? Honey? Jam? Crocheted pot holders? Vegetables? The hot farmer guy?” Kacey singsongs.

“What? No. I wasn’t staring.”

“Never said you were,” she says with a knowing lilt.

“Even for Green Valley, seeing a pig hanging out at the market is unusual.”

“Right, the pig is what caught your attention. You were practically licking him with your eyeballs.”

I groan. “Ew. Never use licking and eyeballs in the same sentence again. Promise?”

She holds up her palms. “Okay, okay. There was a line there and I crossed it.”

“Was it that obvious I was staring?”

“If he were a bullseye and you were throwing lust axes with your eyes, I’d say you hit your mark … or something like that. You get my point.”

“I’m definitely going to hell.” I groan again.

“It’s not a sin to appreciate beauty.”

I huff out a laugh. “Not sure my thoughts were focused on his beauty.”

“Daphne!”

“I know, he’s a wholesome farmer and I’m having all the dirty thoughts—definitely going to hell.”

“Then I’ll be sitting next to you in the handbasket.” Kacey grins. “This is going to be so worth it.”

Before I can react, she’s wrapped her hand around my wrist and is tugging me forward through the crowd.

“What will be worth it?” I ask, attempting to drag my feet enough to slow her pace.

“You’ll see.”

“Stop. This isn’t college! You can’t make me do embarrassing things just for the hell of it,” I plead. “I’m a park ranger—I have a certain reputation to uphold. I’ve taken a vow.”

“Whenever you say that, I feel like you’ve decided to become a nun.”

“I’m not even Catholic, or Buddhist. Anymore,” I add half-heartedly.

“I know. That’s why it always confuses me.”

“Trust me, I have no plans to join a convent or cloister myself off from society.”

“Good to know.” She gives my hand another yank and returns to her mission. Acting as a human icebreaker ship, she parts the crowd, making her through the various clumps of people. A former college lacrosse player, she makes an imposing first impression, especially with her height and nearly black hair. As if sensing her determination, people instinctually move out of her way.

“Kacey.” I wriggle my arm free from her grasp.

She pauses, turns. “What?”

Her face glows with false innocence.

“I don’t need you playing matchmaker. You’re only in town for the weekend and I want to spend time with you.” There are exactly zero lies detected in my statement.

She’s not buying it. “Don’t you want to meet the hot farmer?”

“When have I ever been into ditching a friend for a guy?”

“Never. That’s part of your problem. I’m not actually advocating for you to ditch me, but why not at least talk to him? You never put yourself out there to meet anyone. I worry about you.”

“No need to do that. I’m great. I love my job. My co-workers are awesome, and my boss is amazing.”

“How many dates have you been on since moving here in the spring?”

I hold up a circle with my index finger and thumb.

“Exactly. I doubt you have a lot of options around here.” She glances to the left and right.

“I don’t need options, plural.” I sneak a peek at Vegetable Thor and sigh. “He’ll probably be here again next week. If it’s meant to be, it can wait seven whole days while I spend time with my best friend.”

“Nice try.” She grins at me.

Without giving me the chance to change her mind, she walks over to the table.

“Wait, Kacey,” I softly call after her, sounding lame even to my own ears.

I have two choices: let her go off on her own and observe her from a safe distance, or join her and attempt to prevent any meddling on my behalf. From prior experience, I know both possibilities come with their own risk.

By the time I catch up, she’s parked herself right in front of his display of brightly colored and, frankly, weird produce. I recognize a few things, but most are only vaguely familiar. Oddly shaped and strangely hued, some look straight out of a Dr. Seuss book.

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