Home > Stranger Ranger (Park Ranger #2)(3)

Stranger Ranger (Park Ranger #2)(3)
Author: Daisy Prescott

“Welcome.” He greets us with a warm smile, sweeping his hand through his hair. “What are you looking for today?”

“Tell us about your bounty,” Kacey casually says to the demigod like he’s a normal man.

Lord of the Vegetables gazes down at me, a tiny smile curving the corners of his mouth. “What do you like?”

If she picks up the extra-long carrots, I’ll pretend I don’t know her and walk away. Simple as that.

His large eyes are more melted caramel swirled in milk chocolate. A dark ring at the edge of his irises gives way to warm amber surrounding his pupils, all framed by dark lashes. I’m staring again.

“Umm …” I scan the display, willing myself to ignore the carrots. “Lettuce?”

“What kind?” He cocks his head to the side, indicating the bins of colorful leaves and small heads of green and red.

“Iceberg,” Kacey answers for me.

“Boring,” he says. “That’s like saying your favorite beverage is water.”

“Don’t knock the old H-two-oh. It’s magical. You can make tea or coffee or lemonade with it, or drink it on its own, or add bubbles and call it seltzer.” After I finish my defense of water, we all stand in awkward silence for a beat or two.

“Tell us about these.” Kacey pinches my side while using her other hand to point at a neat pyramid of green balls next to the carrots.

“Japanese turnips.” He picks one up, tosses it in the air, and catches it.

I make a face and don’t bother hiding it.

“Not a fan?” His voice loses its friendly tone and he eyes me challengingly.

“They smell like feet.” My nose wrinkles at the memory of my grandmother’s boiled turnips.

“Have you ever tasted this variety?” he asks. “I promise there’s nothing remotely foot-flavored about them.”

I shake my head. “I’ll pass.”

He pulls a small blade from his back pocket. It isn’t the typical Swiss Army style, more like a fancy hunting knife with a bone handle, worn smooth from use. There’s something old-fashioned and rugged about it.

Using the flour sack towel resting on his shoulder, he wipes the turnip clean before cutting a paper-thin slice. Extending the knife toward me, he implores, “Taste.”

I really don’t want to eat a raw, unwashed turnip, but Kacey elbows me, doing so neither gently nor subtly.

“Come on.” He wiggles the knife back and forth. “Trust me.”

He’s a stranger. I’m not going to trust him.

However, it would be rude to reject his offer and walk away.

“Fine.” I slide the slice from the knife and lift it to my nose. “It’s peppery.”

“You sound disappointed it doesn’t smell like old shoes.” He’s clearly amused by my reluctance.

“Has anyone ever called you a food bully?” I retort.

He laughs, though not the head-back guffaw from earlier. More of a chuckle, and it feels authentic and less staged. “Yes, but not for a long time. I won’t force you, but you’ll never know what you might be missing out on if you don’t give things a chance.”

His knife pauses near the turnip as he waits for me to make my decision.

I take the tiniest bite possible. A mouse would take a bigger mouthful. A wave of spicy pepper hits my taste buds, but it’s not like hot sauce. This is followed by an unexpected sweetness, and I take another bite, wondering if I imagined the combination.

“Good, huh?” He offers a slice to Kacey.

“Amazing,” I mumble as I crunch the rest of mine.

“So I was right?” He offers me another piece, which I happily accept.

“It isn’t polite to say I told you so or gloat.”

“I’ve never been a fan of being polite.” He sets down his knife. “How do you feel about kale?”

“Isn’t everyone over kale? It’s all about the cauliflower now.” Kacey laughs. “Don’t you follow the food fads?”

His face tightens and his mouth narrows into a thin line. “Can’t say that I do. I prefer to eat what I enjoy and leave the trends to people who need to be told what to like.”

She’s hit a nerve, and we stand around in another awkward silence. While friendly on the surface, I get the feeling Vegetable Thor isn’t a real people person.

“What’s this?” I point at a pale, yellowy-green cluster comprised of tiny triangular towers.

“Romanesco. Italian cousin to the cauliflower.” He eyes Kacey. “Incredible roasted and drizzled with fresh olive oil.”

“And these?” I point at the white version of the turnips.

“Ah, these have a surprise inside.” He cuts one in half, revealing the fuchsia center with a pale green outline. “Watermelon radishes.”

“Do they taste like the fruit?”

He chuckles and flashes his small smile again. “No, but they’re delicious.”

I take the piece from him and bite into it.

“Good, right?” he asks.

I nod. After swallowing, I say, “They taste similar to the turnips but different.”

“They’re from the same family. Kind of like cousins.”

“Makes sense.” I finish the radish, surprised by the kick of heat on my tongue.

“Better than iceberg?” He tilts his head back, and the posture feels intimidating, like he’s sizing me up.

“Don’t hate on the ’berg. It serves a purpose.”

Kacey laughs—or more accurately, snorts. I’m surprised his pig doesn’t confuse her for one of its own. “Don’t try to convince her otherwise. You won’t win this battle.”

He crosses his arms, forcing his muscles to bunch in a rudely distracting way. “Is that so?”

When he directs his attention at me, I can’t decide if I should feel flattered he’s so interested or perturbed he’s judging me.

“Life’s too short to be boring or eat boring food,” he declares, still focused solely on me.

“Let him who is free from sin cast the first stone,” I retort, the words flowing from deeply ingrained memory.

“Did you just Bible-verse me?” His steady gaze falters.

“Sorry. Slips out sometimes.” Out of habit, my teeth find my lower lip and chew the smooth skin.

“What’s up with the pig?” Kacey breaks through the weird tension surrounding us.

“That would be Patsy Swine, finest sow in the land.” He points at the black and white pig asleep in the shade of the tent. “She was supposed to be a miniature pot-bellied, but as you can see, she’s an overachiever.”

“Is she a pet?” I ask.

“Sure is. House-trained and everything. Her manners are impeccable—except when she naps on the job.”

“Nice to meet you, Patsy.” I give her a wave.

“We didn’t catch your name,” Kacey interjects.

“Odin Hill.” His grin returns as he stares at me “And you are?”

Are you freaking kidding me? Odin? God of thunder? Father of Thor? Of course he’s a Norse god.

“I’m Kacey, and this is Daphne. She works up at the national park.”

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