Stick a fork in her. She was done. She was ready to quit. She couldn’t take it anymore. If it wasn’t the bank hounding her, or Trannon Weston badgering her to sell her property to him…
Meomi stared at the old pump. The tears rising in her eyes quickly turned it into a watery haze. Sniffing, she swiped away the wetness at her eyes and nose with the sleeve of her flannel shirt.
She was tired. Tired of fighting. Of being hungry. Worse, she was thirsty. There’d be no crops this year, thanks to the busted pipes that fed water to the fields. Without a harvest, she’d have no money to pay her taxes on the farm. And now that the pump to the house had also gone on the fritz…
“I can’t, Daddy. I can’t anymore,” she whispered. “I tried. Heaven knows I tried, but it’s too much. It’s…too m-much.”
She knew she was on the verge of breaking down. Again.
A hard gust of wind blasted her back. Shivering, she zipped up her down vest and turned to go back into the house. No sense staying out in this weather any longer than she had to. Besides, there wasn’t a thing she could do anymore.
She’d almost reached the rear kitchen door when a movement from the corner of her eye caught her attention. It took her a couple of seconds before she recognized the red pickup coming down the road. As if reading her mind, it turned onto the red clay trail leading up to her place.
Quickly wiping her face again with her hands, she cleared her throat and forced a smile on her lips. It wasn’t until the truck pulled up behind her twelve-year-old Chevy that she walked over to greet her visitor.
“Good morning, Meomi!” Cove Brodney greeted her as he climbed out of the cab.
“Morning, Cove. What brings you to my neck of the woods?”
“Just doing the neighborly thing. Checking to see how my favorite neighbor’s doing after that hard freeze last night.” He flashed her a grin that was almost dazzling. If she wasn’t so down-hearted, she would have been delighted to see him. Today, she was touched he’d come by, but she was too ashamed to let him know just how dire her straits had become.
“Cove, I’m your only neighbor down this stretch of road.”
He parked his hands on his hips, and she could tell he was studying her. She reciprocated, once again appreciating his muscular stature. He wasn’t a tall man. Less than six feet. But he was well-proportioned, with a kind face that reminded her of the profiles on the busts of Greek gods.
“Mind if I invite myself in for a cup of coffee?”
She sighed. “I’m sorry. If I could, I would, but my pump’s froze up. I can’t get any water into the house.”
“Oh?” He gestured toward the pump. “Mind if I take a look?”
“Be my guest.”
Going over to the device, he examined it. Even pulled a screwdriver out of the back pocket of his jeans to undo the screws bolting down the cover. She watched, arms crossed over her chest. He seemed to know what he was doing, but she knew it was a gallant if futile gesture. He finally verified it when he hung his head before looking up at her.
“I think it’s fried.”
“Thanks for checking anyway,” she told him.
He got to his feet. “I don’t know if Eldridge’s will have the parts to fix it, but they can probably order them.”
“Doesn’t matter. I don’t have the money to get it repaired anyway.” The moment the words were out of her mouth, she regretted saying them, and hung her head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…”
“Shouldn’t have what? Told me the truth?” He advanced toward her until he stood directly in front of her. “What’s going on, Meomi?” he softly demanded.
She opened her mouth to say he was kind to ask, but that she’d rather not burden him with her problems when another hard gust of wind tried to knock them down.
Cove reached over, placing a hand on her elbow. “Let’s get inside before we freeze out here.”
Reluctantly, she led him inside so he could see the dirty dishes piled up in the sink. “Sorry. It’s the maid’s day off.”
“Don’t worry about it. It happens if you can’t get any water from your well.” He glanced around. “Kind of chilly in here. How low do you have your thermostat set?”
“I don’t,” she admitted. “When it gets too intolerable, I start a fire in the fireplace.”
Before she could stop him, he strode into the adjacent living room where he’d see the rumpled blankets and pillow on the sofa and the remains of her meager breakfast on the coffee table.
“You’re living in your living room?” he verified, giving her an odd look.
Meomi gave a little shrug. “That’s why it’s called a living room.”
She didn’t expect him to walk back over and stop right in front of her to stare into her face. There was true concern in his blue eyes.
“How are you getting by, Meomi?”
She started to say something flippant. Something that wouldn’t give her away. To her utter embarrassment, she broke into tears. More astonishing, he pulled her into his embrace.
“Tell me all of it,” he gently demanded.
She did, right down to the fact that she had less than ten bucks in the bank, which was why she’d had to turn off the heat. But she still owed the electric company sixty-one dollars or they’d cut that off, too, and then where would she be?
“It doesn’t matter,” she finished. “I was about to call Trannon Weston to tell him I’m ready to sign those papers.”
“Is that bastard still egging you to sell him this property?”
She nodded in answer. “The well’s gone dry anyway. It can’t pump enough to irrigate the crops. Now, with the pump to the house burned out…”
He was so warm. His chest was like a padded wall, all muscle and fragrant skin. She couldn’t identify what cologne or aftershave he used, if he used any, but it was pleasant. And comforting.
He let out a heavy sigh. “Guess I’m just in time, then.” Holding her at arm’s length, he smiled. “The real reason I came over was to let you know the good news. I just had a surveyor confirm what I’ve been suspecting for some time.”
“Please tell me you found a gold mine, and you’re willing to give low-interest loans to close friends and neighbors.” She returned the smile, which made his widen.
“There. That’s the Meomi I’m used to seeing,” he teased. “Actually, it’s better than a gold mine.”
She snorted. “What could be better than a gold mine?”
“There’s a natural spring running under both our properties, and we can both tap into it to feed our crops and our homes.”
Meomi gave him her best you-gotta-be-shitting-me look. “Under both our properties?”
“Yep.” Cove nodded once. “It extends underneath my back forty and about two hundred yards under yours. Not only will you no longer have to rely on that well, or worry about having to dig another, but drawing from it won’t be that much of a headache.”
She continued to stare at him in disbelief. “You’re willing…to share…property rights?”
“Yeah. Why not?”
She shook her head. “That’s so generous of you, but—”
He pressed a finger to her lips. “No buts. If you were the one with the spring, and you found it running under my land, you’d do the right thing and let me know, wouldn’t you?”
“You know you could’ve kept this all to yourself,” she told him.
“You’re right. I could have. If it had been anyone else but you…” His voice trailed off as he continued to stare at her. At that moment, she wanted to kiss him in the worst way, but she feared his reaction.
Miraculously, he made that decision for her.
It was too brief a kiss. Soft, warm, but too damn short. Almost like a friendship kiss.
When he pulled away, she waited for him to apologize. Or for her to. Neither of them did, and that felt right.
“Okay. So that solves my irrigation problem. If I can get Joe Ackerman over here to start laying out lines, I just might have a cash crop ready in time for harvesting.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he assured her. “I’ve already called him, and he and his crew’s set to arrive first thing Monday morning.”
“But until then, there’s the matter of me getting water into the house.”
He let her go and started for the back door. “I got just what the doctor ordered.”
He didn’t respond. Instead, he strode out the back door. She followed him out into the yard, then stopped to watch as he went around to the bed of his pickup. Lowering the tailgate, he hefted what looked to be an old-fashioned clay jar onto his hip. She continued to watch in numb silence as he took it over to the pump where he set the jar on the ground beside it.
“What are you doing?” she finally inquired.
He returned to his truck to retrieve a toolbox and took it over to the pump. There, he removed a small shovel from the kit and proceeded to dig into the frost-crusted ground. When he reached the depth he wanted, he placed the jar into the hole, then began digging in another spot about a foot away.
Eventually he reached what he was looking for and pulled up a length of the hose leading from the pump to the house. Unscrewing the hose from the pump, he blew on the end before inserting the hose into the jug. Several strips of electrical tape to secure the hose to the jug so it wouldn’t slip out, and he was finished.
“All right! You should have plenty of water now until you can have that pump fixed.” He dusted off his hands as he grinned at her.
She didn’t try to hide her look of disbelief. “Are you telling me that jar’s got enough water in it to last me for…for at least three or four months?”
“It could last you for as long as you want,” he answered solemnly. “Or rather, for as long as I want.”
She pointed to it. “But that looks like it can only hold maybe five gallons at the most!”
He walked up to her and, to her surprise, placed the tips of his fingers of one hand on her left cheek. “Meomi, listen very carefully. This is between just the two of us.”
She stared at him, waiting.
“What if I was to tell you I’m an Aquarian?”
“An Aquarian? You mean Aquarius? Like the zodiac symbol?” She narrowed her eyes. “What does your birth sign have to do with this?”
“A lot.” His lips pressed into a thin line before continuing. “Meomi, there’s not many of us, but we do exist. We have for over a thousand generations. You could say we’re the reason that zodiac symbol exists.”
Her first instinct was to write him off. Call him a quack and separate herself from him as quickly and as far away as possible…until the image of the pottery jar floated in her mind.
“You’re a water bearer?”
“Sort of. We have this ability to… Let’s just say water to us is our lifeblood. We always have access to it.”
“How?” She glanced back at the half-buried jug. “Are you telling me that container will never run dry?”
“It’s a lot more complicated than that,” he admitted, dropping his gaze. “It’s a long story.” He pivoted around and went back to retrieve his toolbox, which he took over to the truck.
Fearing he was about to leave, Meomi called out to him. “Cove?”
He stopped by the passenger side door and glanced over at her.
“I…I’d like to hear more about Aquarians.” Throwing a thumb behind her, she gave him her warmest smile. “How about you tell me over a cup of coffee?”
He hesitated for a moment, then gave her a beaming smile of his own. “I’d really like that.”
She remained by the back door, holding it open so he’d enter first, then closed it behind her.
And sometime later during their discussion, her wish was granted when they exchanged their second kiss. It left her believing they would eventually share more in the coming days.