Home > Stranger Ranger (Park Ranger #2)(4)

Stranger Ranger (Park Ranger #2)(4)
Author: Daisy Prescott

“Do you?” he asks. “Are you new?”

“Four months next week.” I hold his stare.

He makes a humming sound but doesn’t comment. Like he’s making up his mind about something, he bobs his head once. His demeanor shifts and he takes a step to the side. “Well, nice to meet you. I have other customers waiting. Let me know if you decide to buy anything.”

I meet eyes with Kacey before weakly saying thanks.

We shuffle out of the way of the line that’s formed behind us.

Once we’re a few yards away, near a table crowded with jars of honey, I stop and face Kacey. “What happened back there? Did it get weird or was it just me?”

Crinkling her nose, she confirms my observation with a nod. “He was flirting with you until you went all biblical on him over lettuce.”

“That makes it sound like I sent a plague of frogs or lightning to smite him. You’d think a man who loves turnips so much would be more accepting of differing tastes.”

“I’m teasing. He was still chatty until I mentioned you work at the park. Did you notice that?”

“Weird. Who hates national parks?” Not sure why, but I feel deflated by how our encounter ended. What do I care if the weird farmer judges me? Or has a weird grudge about rangers?

“Guys with pet pigs?” Kacey offers in response to my question. “Do you think he lets it sleep in the house? Or in his bed? Why do all the gorgeous ones have to be freaks?” She sighs.

“Better to be appreciated from afar I guess.” I take one last glance over my shoulder at Odin. The name suits him even if he’s not an old man with one eye. Smiling and laughing one moment, serious the next, he’s as unpredictable as a summer thunder storm.

“You sound disappointed.” Kacy links her arm with mine. “Sorry we had to ruin your impure thoughts with reality.”

“No need to apologize. I’m happier to spend time with you before you head back to Greensboro.” I force myself to focus on the positive.

“Lies, but I’ll take the compliment.” Kacey gives my wrist a squeeze. “Let’s buy you some consolation soap to cheer you up.”

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

Odin

 

 

By early afternoon, the crowd at the farmers’ market fades, leaving only stragglers, bargainers, and tourists sampling the charms of small-town life.

I’ve had enough people for the week, and I’m looking forward to the quiet of my own company. All the talking and friendly chatter exhausts me. You’d think vegetables would sell themselves given they’re pretty self-explanatory, yet folks wanna hear a story about a carrot being grown from the guy who pulled it out of the dirt himself. So, I play my part of the happy farmer at the stand. It’s my bad luck I’ve always been charming. Part of my DNA.

My family has lived in the mountains surrounding Green Valley longer than anyone around here can remember. Before there was a national park or even a Cades Cove, the Hills established a homestead in the Smokies straddling Tennessee and North Carolina.

Because our last name is Hill, some people like to joke that we put the hill in hillbilly. Some people think they have a sense of humor when they’re just being mean-spirited. As my Nannie Ida always says, glass houses provide good views, but then again, so do mirrors.

This is why I prefer the company of Patsy over most folks. She’s smart, a good listener, tidy, and doesn’t give a damn about my family and reputation. She has more class than a lot of the gossips and Sunday churchgoers around here.

After I consolidate the remaining produce into crates and load them into the van, I fold the tables and collapse my tent. While I work, the face of the brunette ranger floats through my mind.

She looked familiar, but I didn’t recognize her name. It isn’t likely our paths have crossed. I don’t get out much, and I’m not hanging around the bars or the visitor center in Cades Cove. Normally, one of my cousins covers the stand at the weekly farmers’ market and I can avoid the crowds, but this week everyone had other obligations. This is what happens when I let my guard down and am forced to engage with the public. I get iceberg and Bible quotes. I’ve never been a fan of either.

Bothered I’m still thinking about her, I close and lock up the van.

“Come on Patsy. Let’s go for a walk.”

She gives a happy snort and steps closer to where her leash hangs on the top rail of her pen.

When the two of us stroll through town, folks stare. It’s worse when they insist on sharing an observation, tell the same old joke, and, in general, make a fuss. Honestly, at this point I’d think people seeing the two of us together would be old news around here.

Guess some folks don’t have enough going on in their lives and they need to make commentary about people minding their own damn business.

I don’t understand what the big deal is about a man walking his pig.

Patsy’s excellent on a leash. Doesn’t pull. Has never instigated fights with dogs. Hasn’t bit anyone. Doesn’t do her business in the middle of the sidewalk. In my mind, she’s much better mannered than any old hound dog.

She’s pretty darn perfect in every conceivable way.

There was the one time she trampled Mrs. Simmons flower bed, but even that was my fault for not paying closer attention to where we were walking.

If I had to find a fault in her, it would be that Patsy thinks she’s in charge. She’s also a little more than spoiled. I only have myself to blame.

“Clarice, please tell me you see that man walking his pig.” A woman shouts to her friend and points from about three feet away.

“I’m not invisible,” I tell her with a flat smile.

“Oh dear.” Her companion rolls her eyes. “You’re a tall drink of cool water, aren’t you?”

The question is rhetorical. Being compared to a refreshing beverage doesn’t require a response, so I remain quiet. Patsy tugs on her leash and releases a frustrated snort that we’ve stopped walking.

“You two have a nice day, m’kay.” I step off the sidewalk to pass them.

I’d like to say their behavior is atypical, but if I hear “You’re like the Jolly Green Giant, only less green” one more time …

For the record, I am not jolly.

There must be something in the well water around here. We grow ’em tall in Green Valley.

Does a pig need to be walked on a leash for health and exercise? No.

I’m the only weirdo in the area who likes to take my daily constitutional accompanied by a sow. Not even Cletus Winston is as much of an oddball as I am, and that’s saying something.

He’s only interested in pigs and boar in terms of sausage. In my opinion, he’s missing out. If we were friends, or even friendly acquaintances, I might suggest we partner up. Truffle salami can be incredible—or so I remember. I don’t eat pork anymore, not since I’ve had Patsy. I’d be offended if she ate human body parts around me, so it only seems fair.

Hogs will eat pretty much anything you give them. A few years ago a pig farmer went missing. Wife said he ran off with his mistress, and everyone believed her until his gold tooth turned up in the muck and mud of their hog pens. Macabre, but true.

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