DAISY AWOKE SATURDAY morning to the distinct smell of coffee and horses. She pulled Luke's navy comforter up to her chin, stared up at the cathedral ceiling, and tried to piece together the sounds sifting in through the open window. Gravel crunching beneath heavy tires. A horse whinnying. A female voice. A female voice? Daisy bolted up in bed. She and Luke had come back to his place after cutting the hay at her father's farm, and they were going to bale and store it with Kevin's help this morning. They'd stayed up half the night talking and the other half making love. Maybe she had heard wrong. She closed her eyes and listened. She couldn't make out what was being said, but the voices were definitely Luke's and a woman's, and they weren't outside. They were inside and dangerously near his bedroom door.
She shot a look at the clock. Seven o'clock. Holy cow. That was later than she'd slept in forever. She darted into the bathroom wearing nothing but one of Luke's T-shirts and took a quick shower. Everything in Luke's house had a masculine touch. Earthy hues mixed with a splash of navy and a touch of maroon. His shower was oversized and had two sprays, one up high and the other about waist height-very decadent. How great would that feel if we were...Oh my God. Stop it.
She'd never get out of his shower smelling feminine. He had men's American Crew body wash and shampoo. She was surrounded by the smell of him, and if she wasn't going to see her father in a few hours, she would relish in it. She needed to go home and wash off Luke's smell so her father didn't wonder if she'd bathed in him, and while she was at it, she needed to stare at those offer letters that she'd been ignoring. She'd worked hard and she wanted a meaningful career, but even though she hadn't accepted that first date with Luke in hopes of finding a relationship, and despite telling herself she wasn't going to get involved, she had feelings for him. Big feelings. Feelings she was having a hard time pushing aside.
I just have to commit to a job; then it will be easier to leave.
I can't stay in Trusty.
She rolled her eyes at the thought. No, she definitely couldn't. She finished showering, dressed-in last night's clothes-and when she opened the bathroom door, she found Luke sitting on the bed with a fresh cup of coffee and that sexy smile that stole her breath and sent her best intentions down the drain. He rose to his feet.
"Hey, babe." He placed his hand on her hip and kissed her cheek. "You smell like me."
"I know. It was either that or not get clean."
He set the coffee cup down on the dresser and wrapped his arms around her waist.
"I'll buy you whatever you need to be comfortable and smell delicious."
Oh boy. It would be so easy to fall into Luke's life. She loved curling up against him and falling asleep in his arms and waking to the sounds of the farm-
And some strange woman's voice.
"In here," he called.
A pretty face popped into the bedroom. "Daisy! Luke didn't tell me you were here."
"Daisy, I'm not sure if you remember Emily, my sister?"
Emily came into the bedroom with open arms, and as Luke let go of Daisy, Emily pulled her into a hug. She was a few inches taller than Daisy, and though she was older than Luke, with her youthful, slender body and vivacious personality, she could pass for twenty-five. "Oh my gosh. How are you? You dyed your hair."
Daisy had been a few years behind Emily in school, and she'd known of her but would never have recognized her, much less have been on a hello-hug basis. She didn't have time to think or respond before Emily continued with a welcoming, friendly smile.
"I like it darker. You're working over at the clinic, right?"
"Yeah." Daisy reached up and touched her wet hair, wondering if Emily was used to finding women in Luke's bedroom.
"Luke, give her a hair dryer. Sheesh." Emily walked into his bathroom and opened the cabinets under the sink. "I know you have one. I left my hair dryer here when I stayed over that night we had mimosas. Remember? You never gave it back." She came out of the bathroom and made a beeline into the hall. "Where'd you put it?"
"Sorry," Luke said to Daisy. "Emily's a little pushy."
Emily came back armed with a hair dryer. "Told you. Found it in the linen closet. Here." She handed it to Daisy. "Take this as a good sign. He never has women stay over, so he has no clue as to what you need. You'll have to give him a list. Or even better, we'll go shopping for extras and stock up on your stuff. Lord knows I could use a girl's day out."
"Emily," Luke said.
"I just want to get to know your girlfriend."
The G word sent a little thrill through Daisy. She couldn't help but like Emily-and wonder where she'd been all her life. She could have used a female friend all those years ago. "My stuff?" She looked at Luke.
"Hey, I'm all for it." He smiled.
"I'm...only here for a few weeks." I think.
Emily put her hand on her hip. "Huh. Really?" Now they were both looking at Daisy.
"Daisy, why don't you dry your hair and we'll give you some privacy." He shuffled Emily out the door while Daisy wondered what the hell just happened.
Daisy heard Emily say, "Wishful thinking much?" before Luke closed the bedroom door. Wishful thinking much?
After Daisy dried her hair, she went in search of Luke and found him in the riding ring with a young stallion. She admired the silhouette of the mountains. Rounded peaks and valleys played across the horizon. She inhaled deeply, filling her lungs with the crisp morning air, so different from the air in Philly, which was heavy and polluted. Even the scent of manure didn't dampen the freshness of the morning. In the years she'd been gone, she'd forgotten how much she loved mornings-and the scent of hay. From the second she'd set foot in medical school until her residency ended, Daisy had been on a dead run-to study, complete labs, make the grades, handle rounds, study, study, and study some more-and she knew that once she accepted a full-time job, whether in Chicago or New York, she'd continue on that hamster wheel.
She inhaled again. If she had forgotten something as wonderful and simple as the crisp sting of fresh air in her lungs, what else had she forgotten? She sank down to the grass to watch Luke while he was unaware of her presence. He seemed so content and happy here, that the more time she spent with him, the more she questioned why she wasn't. She mulled over his comment about her seeing Trusty through scorned teenage eyes and she knew he was right, but seeing Trusty through anything else was not an easy task.
The young stallion had a saddle on its back, and Luke led him to the edge of a tarp that was spread out on the ground. The horse's neck was bowed, his ears sharply forward. Daisy had been around horses all her life, and she was familiar with what horse handlers called bombproofing, teaching the horse how to properly react to stimuli that might spook him. The horse leaned forward and blew out through his nose. Luke didn't flinch. He held loosely to the lead, speaking calmly and confidently, stroking the horse's back as if the tarp were no big deal. The horse blew out through his nose, sniffing the tarp again. Luke was standing beside the horse, talking, looking around, and when the horse finally relaxed its bowed neck, Luke took another confident step forward. She couldn't make out what he was saying, but he stood close to the horse, and she noticed that he was using the same slow strokes that he'd used the evening before when he was massaging Rose. He led the horse forward again, and he continued the same pattern of talking to the horse as they crossed the tarp. Luke was patient, and each time the horse hesitated, he calmed him, gaining his trust.
Daisy was mesmerized by his confident demeanor and the way his body showed no outward signs of frustration. She remembered the way he'd reacted to Darren, the way his entire body had tensed and how he'd protected Janice without hesitation, and she realized that he was a protector. It's who he was, and watching him with the horses confirmed something else that she was coming to understand about him. Luke was a lover. He loved with his entire being.
When he completed the exercise, Luke walked to the side of the ring. He spotted Daisy in the grass and waved her over. As he opened the gate, the horse nudged him from behind. Luke turned to face him, and the horse pressed his forehead to Luke's chest. The horse trusted him.
He knows you're a lover, too.
LUKE REACHED FOR Daisy's hand as she joined them. He took the saddle off Skyler, then led him toward the pasture. "Hey, babe. Sorry I didn't wait inside, but I wanted to fit in a little training before we left for your dad's."
"That's okay. I need to go home and change before we go anyway, so take your time and you can meet me there."
"Dais, I'm really sorry about Emily. She stops by a lot. I shouldn't have called her into the bedroom. That was inconsiderate."
"She gave you crap for that, didn't she?"
He opened the gate, and Skyler joined the other horses. "You might say that. I just wasn't thinking about if you'd be embarrassed and I should have been. I was excited for her to meet you. I mean, I know she knows of you, but for her to meet you as my girlfriend." He stopped by the barn and drew her close, gauging her reaction to his use of the word girlfriend. That was a term Luke hadn't associated with since high school, and even then it was mostly the girls who had labeled themselves as his girlfriend. That is, until they saw him with another girl and realized just how wrong they were. Girlfriend. He liked that term in relation to Daisy. It fit. It felt comfortable, rolled off his tongue as easily as Dais and babe.
"Luke, you know I'm supposed to leave in a few weeks." She held his gaze, even if the conviction in her voice wasn't reflected as confidently in her eyes.
She'd said it clear as day. She was planning a future far away from Trusty, and he had no business hoping to keep her there.
"Yeah, I know." He ran his hand through his hair. He shouldn't care, not after just a few days. But he did, and it hurt like hell. "Do you really dislike it here that much?"
She sighed. "Yes. No. I thought I did."
They walked up to the cars in silence.
"Daisy, I won't try to talk you out of leaving Trusty, but...just know that I really like being with you."
"I like being with you, too. More than I probably should, Luke. I knew when you asked me out that I was leaving. I worked so hard to prove myself and to secure job offers in places where I could learn and grow in my field."
Her eyes filled with determination, but when she spoke again, her voice quivered a little.
"I didn't expect..." She stepped closer and hooked her finger in his jeans.
He looked down at her hand, focusing on it. He loved when she did that, linked the two of them together. When he met her gaze again, there were no words left to say. He lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her. When he tried to draw his lips away, she leaned in to him, prolonging their connection until the need for oxygen drew them apart and she looked up at him with sorrow in her eyes.
"I know, babe. I didn't expect it either."