Home > The Somerset Girls :A Novel

The Somerset Girls :A Novel
Author: Lori Foster

Chapter One

   A refreshing shower, ice cream and the book she was reading.

   As Autumn Somerset got the unhappy pigs into the back of her truck, she repeatedly recited the awards that awaited her at the end of her day.

   A day that should have ended...oh, about three hours ago.

   As a designer, she’d wrapped up appointments promptly at five o’clock. Yes, she’d been thinking about that tub of carrot-cake ice cream in her fridge even then. In fact, she’d thought about it since it had arrived a few days ago. Being a dedicated member of an ice-cream club had its perks, like new flavors every month. Her efforts at healthier eating meant she only consumed ice cream on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and holidays.

   True, every so often she created a holiday all her own. Like Cleaned the Kitchen Day. Or Completed a Job Day.

   Or Mother Didn’t Insult Me Day. That particular holiday earned her two scoops.

   This being a Monday, she didn’t even need a fake holiday.

   “Sure do appreciate it, Autumn.”

   Forcing her mouth into a polite smile, Autumn turned to the man who had, over the past two years, gotten several pets that he then no longer wanted. Ass, she thought in her head, but what she said was, “It’s no problem at all, Ralph.”

   “Got that first pig thinking it’d be small, ya know? Like a dog.”

   “Yes, I know.” He’d thought he was getting a miniature pig—then he’d found out differently.

   “Got the second one to keep it company, but that first one outgrew it in no time—”

   “I do understand.” And, damn it, she wanted her ice cream. If she had to converse, she’d rather do it with the pigs that were now squealing inside the cage of the truck. “I have to get going so I can get them settled.” Trying for a speck of diplomacy, she suggested, “You should really think about gifts other than pets, don’t you think? Perhaps your kids would like a nice swing set? I could design one for you.”

   “Can’t afford that.”

   Smile locked in place, she volunteered her sister without pause. “Ember and I will help with that, okay? But only if you promise me, no more animals.”

   His face lit up.

   Good. One job down. She’d tackle Ember next.

   At least her sister loved animals as much as she did—which, honestly, might be the only thing they had in common other than blood.

   By the time she got the pigs to the farm, it was after nine o’clock. Pavlov, their six-year-old redbone coonhound, met her in the yard, jumping around the truck in excitement. Because she lived on a farm, Pavlov didn’t have to be locked in the house while she was away. The doggy door let him in when he wanted—to her side of the house, her sister’s, or their parents’ separate residence—but more often than not he preferred to visit with a cow or mule or even a turkey.

   “Hey, buddy. Miss me?”

   Too busy seeing what new friends she’d brought home, Pavlov paid her no attention. Never had a dog been so taken with other animals.

   “Anxious to meet, huh?” While Pavlov bounded around, jumping into the truck and then out again, she set the pigs loose in the wide-open pen.

   He barked in excitement.

   Noses to the ground and already rooting through their new digs, the pigs moved forward. “I present Matilda and Olivia.”

   Pavlov, aptly named, went into the pen, too, only because the gate was open. With the sun splashing crimson across the sky, she waited, arms folded over the wooden post, while they got acquainted. It warmed her heart to see the pigs so happy. The smaller of the two ran circles as he explored the area. The biggest one found the shade and then rolled around, wallowing in freedom.

   How often had Ralph even had them outside? She’d taken them from the basement, poor babies. Yes, they’d been fed and had straw to lie on, but it wasn’t the same. Farm animals needed fresh air and sunshine.

   Here, at the Fresh Start Farm, they’d get that...and more.

   “You’re home now, babies.” Stepping into the pen, too, Autumn found a grassy spot to sit and spent another half hour lavishing love, scratches and hugs on the affectionate animals.

   Finally, as the sun sank behind the trees and mosquitoes filled the air, she headed in. All it took to get Pavlov to come along was to open the gate again.

   The dog walked through every open door, every single time. That, in part, accounted for his name.

   Because he’d jumped into the truck bed, she took her time driving the short distance, going gently over ruts and small hills so she wouldn’t jostle him too much, and then parked on the gravel lot behind the sprawling farmhouse. Porch lights had automatically flicked on.

   “Race you in,” she told Pavlov and then took off running. Ears flopping, he gave chase and they hit the door together, her laughing and him barking.

   Unfortunately, after getting two steps into the foyer, she found Ember waiting on her.

   “About time!” Ember stood from the couch, where she’d been flipping through a design magazine. “Where have you been, anyway? It’s late. And ewww, Autumn, you reek.”

   “Nice to see you, too.” Putting the shower on the back burner, she made a beeline to her kitchen sink, where she washed her hands and arms up to her elbows.

   Pavlov ate the food she put into his dish like he hadn’t been fed in a month, which was just his way, then drank noisily, splashing water everywhere. Finally, with slobbering chops, he greeted Ember.

   Laughing, Ember said, “You are such a pig, Pavlov.”

   Speaking of pigs...

   As Pavlov headed into the living room and his big pillow bed, Ember shook her head. “I take it he’s sleeping with you tonight?”

   Pavlov varied his routine, sometimes staying at her side of the house, sometimes Ember’s, and sometimes even with her parents or their hired man, Mike. “Looks like.”

   “That dog is so fickle.”

   “He loves us all.” Ignoring the reason for her sister’s visit, Autumn took the ice cream from the freezer.

   “Is that going to be your dinner?”

   Unwilling to debate her eating habits, Autumn pointed a spoon at her. “I volunteered you today.”

   With a groan, Ember flopped into a chair at the table. She, at least, looked fresh and pretty in a sundress and cute sandals. Her dark hair, much like Autumn’s but with reddish streaks supplied by a salon, didn’t look frazzled and wasn’t soaked in sweat.

   No matter what Ember did, she never seemed to sweat. If she hadn’t been her sister, Autumn might dislike her on principle alone.

   “Ralph gave us two pigs, one miniature—maybe—and one definitely not. I just got them settled, thus the lovely aroma you noted.”

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