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Detective Jess Parker is furious when she's given babysitting duty for a farmer who witnessed a murder committed by the spoiled son of the city’s most notorious crime family.
Michael Weatherford is refusing to give up milking his cows and allow the department to hide him until he has testified against Antonio Carboni. No, the fool man prefers his cows, but Jess hates everything about farming! She grew up milking cows in the freezing cold, and missing out on everything her friends did because she had chores to do. She is not happy with the assignment.
Michael can’t believe his ears when the tiny redhead calls him a “stupid farmer” for standing out in the open when she pulled into his driveway. He's worked as a special ops officer for quite a few years, and he knows what he is doing. He also doesn’t need a tiny city girl in four-inch heels to protect him. She will stand out like a sore thumb on his farm, and no one who knows a thing about farming would think she belongs there.
But once he sees her in her work clothes, Michael realizes he’s made a grievous error in judgment. She knows how to muck out stalls better than he does! Jess realizes that she’s underestimated the farmer as well; he believes in time honored traditions, and that includes old-fashioned discipline. Jess knows she's in love, but can she protect Michael and keep him alive now that she’s found a man she can love and respect?
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“Why me?” Jess asked, trying to hide the fact that she was truly pissed off from her superior; but with her redhead’s pale skin stained red, and her flashing green eyes, he could easily see that she was furious with the assignment.
“I thought you were anxious to get off of desk duty, Detective?”
“This isn’t what I meant, Captain. I want to get back out there solving crimes, not babysitting some farmer.”
“This farmer is our only chance to put away Antonio Carboni. The farmer is being stubborn and he won’t leave his milk cows. Your job is to pose as a hired hand, help with the chores, and keep Weatherford safe. You were chosen for this duty not only because you are the best detective I have, but because you were raised on a farm; isn’t that right?”
“I hate and despise anything and everything to do with farming. Sir!” she hastily tacked on when he gave her the look.
“I suggest you stow the attitude, Detective. You almost lost your shield a few weeks ago for not following proper procedure and putting your life, and your partner’s life at risk. I am trusting you to do this right. It is an important assignment, not a punishment. If you don’t feel you are capable, then tell me right now and I will find someone else.”
“I can do it, Captain. I’m sorry for letting my feelings toward farming get in the way of the real objective, which is keeping our witness safe so he can testify against Carboni.”
“May I ask why you hate farming so much, Jess?” The captain’s tone was soft and fatherly, now that his detective was accepting the assignment.
“It is work from sun up to sun down, sir. I saw both of my parents work so hard, and barely scrape by. My father breathed in so much dust he died of lung cancer in his early fifties. Mama still insisted on keeping the farm going, and she died a few years later. She caught a cold, which turned into pneumonia, and by the time she sought help, there was nothing they could do for her. As a teenager, I did not enjoy having so many chores that I didn’t have time to do the things other kids got to do. When there was a school program, half the time my parents couldn’t be there because there was always something that needed doing on the farm. That is hard to take when you want to see your parents there with all the other kids’ families. I could go on and on about what I hate about it, but I won’t let it interfere with keeping Mr. Weatherford safe.”
“I trust you, Jess. You are a good detective, and if you get Weatherford to the witness stand, you can be sure it will put you on track for a promotion. Not bad for someone your age, if you ask me. I didn’t make sergeant until I was in my thirties.”
“You are a good police officer, sir, and I am proud to serve under you. You treat me fairly, and I know that wouldn’t be the case in some precincts. I’ll head out and do my best to keep Weatherford safe.”
“It might not hurt for you to get some farm clothes, Jess. The department will reimburse you.”
“I have all the farm clothes I need at my apartment; I’ll stop by and pick them up. I’ll definitely need my boots.”
“You kept the clothes?” he asked, mildly surprised.
“I am my parents’ daughter; you never throw away anything that you might need to use again someday.” She smiled, and then left, ignoring the looks that another officer, Chuck Wallace, sent her way. The man didn’t know how to take no for an answer. The plain and simple truth was that she didn’t like Chuck, she didn’t like his looks, either; he didn’t have a chance with her.
After a quick stop at her apartment, she was on her way.
Michael Weatherford waved at the driver who picked up his milk on a daily basis. His storage tank allowed him to milk his cows twice before it needed to be emptied, and Al was faithful as could be to come daily at eleven o’clock in the morning to test the milk and empty his tank. It was then Michael’s responsibility to clean the tank and sanitize it before he milked his herd again. It was an everyday process, and that included holidays. Michael loved it; he couldn’t imagine having a boring desk job in some stuffy office. He needed to be outside; he needed to have the care of his cows, first and foremost, and of all the other livestock he owned and raised. He loved farming and would be content to remain on the farm passed down to him forever if permitted.
The last time he had to go into the city, Michael witnessed a brutal murder. He wanted to stop it, but couldn’t reach the poor woman in time to protect her from the man he later identified in a lineup as the spoiled son of Giorgio Carboni, the head of the city’s largest crime family. The police wanted to place Michael in protective custody until the trial and he told them he would suffer from amnesia if they took him away from his farm and his dairy herd. He wasn’t going to live cooped up as though he had done something wrong. If the Carboni family tried to get to him, he’d see them coming a mile away and protect himself. He’d dealt with worse.
Michael was just finishing up the task of cleaning his milk tank when a car pulled into his driveway, and proceeded to drive up the long lane slowly. Michael was forever telling folks to slow down so they didn’t toss all of his gravel outside the lane. Apparently, this driver knew that. Michael waited until the car came to a halt, and then he approached the driver, a woman. “Yes, ma’am? What can I do for you?”
“Are you just plain crazy, Mr. Weatherford? If I were out to assassinate you, it would be all over by now. You shouldn’t stand out in the open just begging to be shot.”
“It’s unlikely they would send a tiny little girl like you to kill someone as big as me,” he said, grinning at her when her green eyes started flashing fire. Michael knew he’d struck a nerve, and it pleased him for some perverse reason. It was obvious as could be the woman was a city girl; she was wearing a pair of heels that added at least four inches to her height, and wouldn’t be a bit practical on the farm.
“There are female assassins, but Giorgio Carboni is very old-fashioned and will probably send men to shut you up permanently. I do not want you making a target of yourself. Is that understood?” Jess demanded, doing her best to take control of her temper.
“Why should it matter to you what I do, lady? I don’t know you, and I don’t recall telling you about the Carboni murder.”
“I am Detective Jess Harper; I have been assigned to live and work here and protect you until you testify against Antonio.”
“You’re kidding, right? I could take care of myself better if I didn’t have to worry about keeping you safe too. You go on home, little girl. I prefer to do this on my own if you are the best the police department can offer.”
“First of all, Mister Weatherford, I am not a little girl. I am a police detective. I earned my shield and would ask that you treat me with the respect I am due. Secondly, you have no say in the matter, and neither do I. I was sent here because you need to be kept safe, and I will keep you safe. You need to be less conspicuous.”
“And what am I to do with you while you’re here, ma’am? I am a single man.”
“I am sure you are trying to tell me something, but I assure you I don’t understand what you mean.”
“It isn’t proper for you to stay here,” he said patiently. “Folks around here won’t understand me having a lady in my home. It will hurt your reputation, and my minister will be disappointed in me.”
“I appreciate your concern, Mr. Weatherford. I am not here as a lady, but as a detective, and you will keep that as our secret. What you will tell the curious is that I am a hired hand. You need extra help with the dairy and other farm chores.”
“Farmers aren’t stupid, little girl. They’ll take one look at you and know you’ve never worked a day in your life.”
“Is that so?” She grabbed a bag from the back seat of her car. “Show me to my room.”
“I don’t like this.” He was tempted to put her cute little ass right back into her little car and tell her to get gone.
“I don’t like it either,” she told him, and he could see she meant the words. “Orders are orders, however.”
“I could put you in your car and send you right back to the city,” he threatened her, stepping closer and trying to intimidate her with his height. “You couldn’t stop me, and it would put an end to this nonsense.”
“You’re welcome to try, but I will just knock you on your ignorant ass and we’ll be right back to square one.”
“Who do you think you are calling ignorant?” Michael was furious and barely resisting the urge to turn her over his knee for a good spanking.
“I think a man who turns down proper police protection in favor of milking his damn cows is very foolish and ignorant.” Her snapping green eyes said she meant what she was saying.
“I think you are treading on dangerous ground. Do us both a favor and go home. I don’t want you here.”
“I can’t leave; you are in danger, whether you realize it or not. Show me where I can sleep, and I don’t mean with you, so don’t go there, please.”
“I wouldn’t have you in my bed for love nor money,” Michael said heatedly. “I want a woman who isn’t afraid of a little cow shit on her shoes, and that sure as hell leaves you out.” He turned on his heel and stomped toward the house, not bothering to slow down for her to keep up in her damned heels. He couldn’t wait to see her shoveling out a couple of birthing stalls wearing those red heels. He would take a picture and post it on his Facebook account. “There is a small bedroom down here. You can use it. I sleep upstairs and I don’t want you up there.” He opened a door off the kitchen, and there was a surprisingly nice bedroom and private bath for Jess to use.
“This will be fine. Thank you. I’ll change and be right out. Please stay inside until I am able to go out with you, Mr. Weatherford.” She left the door slightly ajar.
“If you’re going to be here, then you might as well call me Michael. No one calls me mister except strangers and salespeople.”
“Okay, Michael. You can call me Jess.”
“Is that short for Jessie or Jessica?” he asked curiously.
“Jessica,” she replied, trying to keep him inside while she quickly changed into her work clothes.
“Then I will call you Jessica. Jess is too boyish, and you certainly don’t look like a boy. I’m sorry I lost my temper and said some nasty things. I understand you are here to help me.”
“It’s okay, Michael. I’ve heard worse, believe me. I have grown a pretty thick skin. Some of the boys in blue make you sound like a saint.” She walked out of the bedroom and said, “Where do we start working?”
“Who the heck are you?” Michael asked in stunned surprise. The woman who went into the bedroom didn’t look a thing like the girl who walked out. For one thing, her red hair went from a pinned up style into two ponytails, one on each side of her head. She’d removed the makeup that made her appear older and more sophisticated, and now she looked like a green kid! Her red heels were replaced with worn boots, and he suspected they had been broken in on a farm.
“I’m still the city detective, and don’t you dare forget it.”
Michael shook his head and then led the way to the barn. “I need to clean out a couple of birthing stalls. I have three cows ready to deliver at any time, and I keep them here to watch over them.” He handed her a shovel, then went to get the wheelbarrow, and by the time he got back, she was waiting with a shovelful to toss into the empty wheelbarrow. He noticed she was wearing work-worn gloves; her jeans and shirt weren’t new, either. Jessica wasn’t the city girl he’d first thought her to be.
No, she was a hard-working farm girl, and she had two stalls cleaned with fresh straw put down before he finished one stall. He went to where the cows were tied, and brought them, one at a time to the birthing stalls.
The sound of a vehicle in the driveway drew Jess’ attention. She readied her weapon. “You stay in here, out of sight.”
“Don’t get excited, Jessica. That sounds like Herb’s pickup truck. He’s a neighbor.” Michael was so confident of his assumption that he walked right outside and waved. The driver waved back and jumped out of his truck.
“Hey, Mikey. I was wondering if you had some sandpaper I could borrow? I used up mine, and Evans don’t carry the kind I need. I don’t have time to go traipsing off to the city to buy me some.”
“Sure, Herb. Come on in the tool shed. I have plenty to share.”
“Lookee here, who’s the little gal, Mikey? You fixing to get hitched?” the elderly man asked.
“This is Jessica; she just started working for me today. I need a bit of help with the cows, and with the house. My cooking is lousy.” Michael deliberately tried to change the subject. Herb loved to gossip.
“Hiring a gal is better than getting married so’s you can eat better,” the man said with a laugh. He then took his sandpaper, hurried to his truck and took off for home, anxious to finish his project.
“You can’t scare the neighbors with that weapon of yours, Jessica. If you pull it on one of them again, I’ll turn you over my knee.”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
“I would dare, and you’ll learn that the hard way if you ignore my one and only warning.”
“You just try it, and I’ll put a hurt on you!” Jess angrily threatened.
Another car hit the driveway, and Jess defiantly pulled her weapon and held it ready. “Would you puh-leeze get your butt inside the barn!”
“And let you shoot an innocent neighbor of mine? Not on your life.” He was going to wear out his hand on her backside.
It didn’t take long to make out the lights on top of the car. It was the sheriff. “Great!” Michael muttered in disgust. He deliberately went into the barn and she heard him banging around in there.
“I’m Sheriff Lewis, miss. Where is Weatherford hiding? I want to talk to him.”
“He’s rather busy, Sheriff. I would be happy to take a message.”
“Some damn city cop is coming out here butting into our way of doing things. You tell Weatherford to send him on his way. If he needs babysitting, I’ll do it myself. We don’t need no help from town.”
“Sheriff Lewis, is it? Yes? Well, I am under the impression that the mayor agreed and signed off on a cooperative exercise between your department and the police department. It was agreed that a deputy could not be spared for twenty-four/seven protection; therefore, a detective would be assigned the duty. I am curious as to your objection here. Perhaps you wish to accept a bribe offered by the Carboni family, and make it easy for one of their assassins to kill Mr. Weatherford?”
“How dare you say such a thing? You don’t know me! And, for that matter, who the hell are you, girl?”
“Detective Jess Harper. I am working undercover,” she explained, lest he misunderstand. “I am the ‘damned city cop’ you object so strenuously to working with.”
“You’re a cop? The hell you say! You couldn’t protect a fly buzzing around a cow’s tail, girl! They just sent you out here to get rid of you.”
“They sent me out here because I am the most qualified for the job.”
“How in hell did you make detective? I’d say the old-fashioned way, but you ain’t that pretty!”
“That’s enough, Tobe,” Michael said in a low voice. “You’re just spouting off because you couldn’t get hired by the police department Detective Harper works for. I won’t stand for you abusing her out of spite.”
“I’m telling you, Mikey, we don’t need a city cop telling us how to do things. I can sit out here with you myself.”
“At least you wouldn’t be ready to shoot every neighbor who pulled into the driveway, but other than that, you would stick out like a sore thumb, Tobe. Besides, you don’t care much for cows.”
“At times, they do. Detective Harper knows how to shovel cow dung, and I’m betting she’s familiar with the whole process of milking. That’s more than I can say for you.”
“You mean you expect whoever is protecting you to work while they’re here?” It was clear as could be that Sheriff Tobe Lewis wanted no part of the farm chores.
“That’s right.” Michael was barely able to keep a straight face.
“Well, I drove out here to tell you to expect her, and since she’s here and shoveling manure, she can just keep the job. If I see any strange city folk around, I’ll give you a call, or mosey on out here and let you know.” He looked at Jess and shook his head. “I’ll be damned if I can see her protecting you, Mikey. Most likely you’ll be taking care of the both of you. Good thing you know what you’re doing.” The lazy sheriff got into his police car, turned his vehicle around and sped down the driveway, throwing as much gravel as he could with his tires.
“One of these days I’m going to kick his ass clear up to his shoulders!” Michael muttered, and then he looked at Jess. “Seems to me I made you a promise, little girl.”
“I wouldn’t advise you try what you’re thinking.” Jess was ready to give the big man a good set down. He certainly deserved it after the obnoxious way he’d treated her. Threatening to spank her like a naughty child when all she was doing was trying to keep him safe. Giorgio Carboni wouldn’t rest until the only witness to his son’s crime was dead and unable to testify. He might try bribery first, but Jess had a feeling that Michael Weatherford wasn’t the type to take one cent for getting amnesia. He was the type who would stand on his convictions and see Antonio serving life without parole.
“It’s plain as day what you are thinking, Jessica. I gather you weren’t given any background information on me, were you? No, you wouldn’t be standing there so assured that you could do some fancy kick and spin and put me on the ground without exerting yourself. I imagine you are good; you would have to be in order to make detective, but I am better. I served eight years as a special ops officer.”
“If you are that intelligent, then you must know that spanking a grown woman for trying to keep you safe is illogical, not to mention illegal?”
“Spanking grown women is a time-honored tradition on this farm. My grandfather believed in spanking his lady; he said it was his way of showing his disapproval in a loving manner. My father was raised to believe the same, and he told me that spanking a grown woman was the fastest way to get her attention. I believe in spanking. I’ve seen it work miracles, and you, little girl, have one sassy attitude that needs adjusting. We can do this the easy way; you’ll walk into the barn with me and bend over and take what you have coming for pulling that weapon out after I warned you not to do so; or, we can do this the hard way. I prove to you that I am more than capable of handling a little redhead like you, and I carry you in the barn and turn you over my knee and give you to understand that I mean what I say. The choice is yours.”
“Fuck you, you asshole!” Jess took up a fighting stance. He was going to regret pissing her off. She didn’t care how many bruises he got.
The fight was over before it started, and Jess was dangling over Michael’s strong back as he carried her into the barn. He took a seat on a bale of hay, flipped her in the air and dropped her over his lap as if she weighed nothing at all.
“Don’t you dare!” she screeched, but he did dare.
His hand fell on her right cheek and it hurt! Michael treated her left cheek to a spank, and the spanking continued while she hollered, cursed, kicked, and tried every trick she could think of to free herself from the tight hold he had on her. When nothing else seemed to work, Jess did the only remaining thing she could think of and she bit him.
Michael let out a yell and dumped her on the floor while he got up and jumped around, trying to rub away the pain in his thigh. “You bit me!” he accused. “You little brat; you bit me!”
“You deserved it, and I am not one bit sorry. I warned you not to spank me!”
“Girl, I am going to tear a strip off of your butt now.” When he saw her look toward the door, he pointed a finger at her. “Don’t even think of moving. I’m already aggravated, but if you get up, I’m going to lose my temper, and you’ll get a spanking to remember ‘til your dying day!”
“You are not going to touch me again, period! I am not your child, your sister, your wife; I am not even your girlfriend, thank God! I am your appointed protector, a police detective with every right to carry a gun, and use it if I deem I am being threatened.”
“Are you threatening to shoot me?” he asked in a low voice.
“No, but you don’t want to make me angry. I don’t appreciate being manhandled.”
“Too bad; I’ve never met anyone who needed manhandling more than you do, Jessica.” Again, he reached for her, and the fight was over ridiculously soon. Jess found herself lying over his lap, and this time he had his belt in his hand. He used it to strap her backside, sit spots, and upper thighs until she was bawling, begging him to stop, and apologizing for biting him.
“Are you sorry now?” he asked softly, cracking the leather on her sit spots once more.
She cried out, nodded, and tried to say, “Yes.” It was extremely hard to understand her, but Michael stopped the punishment, and stood her on her feet.
“If you are going to stay here you’d better know from the very beginning that I don’t put up with defiance, lies, or attitude. You know now how I deal with that sort of thing. I don’t care that you are some fancy detective in the city. On this farm, you are the hired girl. You are not to pull that weapon unless there is a real danger. I don’t want some innocent person shot because they made the mistake of pulling into my lane. Hear me?”
“It is my job to keep you alive to testify, but if you ever spank me again, you won’t make it to that trial because I will kill you myself!” Jess was furious with him.
“I know the perfect cure for a case of the sulks, little girl. Do you want me to demonstrate?” he asked, perfectly serious.
“The last thing I want from you, Mr. Weatherford, is a demonstration of anything you consider a time-honored tradition!” Jess Harper tearfully proclaimed. Her backside hurt unbearably; she couldn’t handle a spanking any better now than she could when she was a kid and her father thought her deserving of a punishment to remember.
“I would offer to hug you to let you know you’re forgiven and the matter is over and done with, but I don’t think you want a hug. Am I right?” Michael asked quietly.
“I do not want you to touch me at all.” Her emotions were mixed, to say the least. No one had dared put a hand to her in ten years! She was seventeen the last time her father punished her, and even then, she’d thought herself too old to be spanked. Her father didn’t agree with her, however. He’d made sure she knew that he was displeased with her for sneaking out when she was supposed to be in her room working on a term paper that was three-fourths of her grade for a class she needed to graduate. Not only did she get a sound spanking, her parents grounded her until her term paper was completed to his satisfaction. His satisfaction meant turning in a paper that earned her an A+. It was also a major factor in getting accepted at the college of her choice. She would have to admit that spanking was a time-honored tradition in her family too. “I am feeling pretty raw right now,” she admitted.
“Fine. We are done with this unless you continue to pout and sulk. The cure for that is another spanking, and I know you don’t want that right now, do you?” She didn’t answer, just glared at him. She was a feisty one. He understood that, and he respected it. She was a woman who wouldn’t cower in fear.
“We’ll milk at five, and have supper after we’re done. I never did get lunch today, and I’m already hungry. Do you know how to cook?” he questioned.
“Good. Would you fix us some supper? Maybe start it now, and finish up when the milking is done? You have milked before, right?”
She slowly nodded and he smiled.
“I knew it. You’re good with a pitchfork, and those boots and gloves told me you grew up on a farm, or you hired out while going to college?”
“I grew up on a farm; we milked a few cows, not nearly as fancy as this operation. Papa grew corn and soybeans, wheat and oats, too. He loved it, but it eventually killed him. Too much smoking, dust, and the chemicals he used, caused cancer. He died at fifty-two. Mama died a few years later. She was fifty-four.”
“I lost my folks during my last tour in the Marines. They were driving home during a bad storm; Tobe was deputy then, and said that Dad lost control of the car. They think he hydroplaned. He went off the road, and a tree fell on them. I feel bad that I wasn’t here at the time. Maybe they wouldn’t have been trying so hard to get home to do the milking if I was here to do it.”
“It was their time, Michael. Even if you were here, something would have taken them. At least they were together. Mama grieved for five years before she was permitted to join Papa. I like to think they are finally resting and having a good time.”
“Tobe told me my folks were holding hands.” Michael’s eyes were suddenly full of tears, and he didn’t bother to swipe them away. “They were always close; loving towards each other. That is the kind of marriage I want.” He looked at Jess and asked, “Why haven’t you married, Jessica?”
“I want special too, and I won’t settle for less than love. I haven’t met that man yet, and until I do, I will remain single. Besides, the job takes up a lot of time.”
“I can understand that. Come on; I’ll take you to the kitchen and show you around. I might not have what you want, so make a list, and I’ll shop for it.”
“You aren’t going anywhere right now, Michael. Out here, I at least have a chance to see trouble before it’s on top of us. In town, we would have to be looking four ways at once. It’s just not a good idea.”
“I can have the groceries delivered. Bart would do that for me.”
“Okay. But don’t do anything like that without warning me first. Carboni’s men are liable to pose as delivery people, repairmen, salesmen, anything you can think of. That is why we need to stay alert.”
“Believe me, I’ll know if there is danger. I have a built-in trouble detector. It hasn’t let me down yet.” He showed her around the kitchen, and she quickly came up with an idea for their dinner.
Michael watched as she moved quickly and efficiently. She used a chef knife with skill and confidence and he just knew he was going to enjoy the meal she was planning. She asked him to get down the crock pot; he did so, and she put the prepped food in there to keep it warm and let it finish cooking while they did the milking. He was more than a little impressed. On his own, he would have come inside and made some toast, and then put peanut butter and strawberry jam on it; added a glass of milk, and called it his meal for the day. Not exactly healthy, but he didn’t cook.
“I’m all for getting the milking done so we can eat,” he commented as they walked to the milking parlor. He gave her a rundown on his milking procedure, and then he brought in the first cows to be milked. There were twenty on each side of the parlor, and Michael demonstrated how to put the milkers on each cow. He watched Jessica the first and second time she did it, and then he moved to the other side of the parlor and did those cows while she finished her row. The milkers automatically released when the cow was done so as not to cause stress and pain to the animal. They prepared for the next group of cows, releasing the finished cows before bringing in the next ones. Each cow’s udder was thoroughly washed with an iodine solution to prevent contamination of the milk, which traveled through tubing into the milk holding tank in the milk room.
The entire process was so much different from how she’d done it on her father’s farm many years ago. Oh, washing the cow’s udder with the solution was still part of the process, and cows that kicked were also. One of the Guernseys almost got her when she got too close behind her. Jess scolded herself for making such a greenie mistake, and then she was more careful.
They filled the parlor several times with cows. Once finished with the animals, they cleaned and sanitized the milking parlor. Jess was secretly pleased that Michael took that part of milking to heart and went the extra mile to be sure that his parlor was spic and span. He also took the time to examine his cows to make sure they weren’t injured in any way. Jess knew from experience that animals, including cows, felt affection for their owners – provided they were loved and well-cared for. Michael took good care of his cows, and in return, he was loved by the stubborn animals.
“We are done once I check on the mothers-to-be in the birthing pens. Good job, Jessica. I am impressed. You did a good job, and you kept up with me. The cows liked you; I could tell.”
“They love you; I could tell,” she replied, grinning.
“Some people don’t believe cows have feelings, but they do.” Michael was serious as could be. “Kids used to make fun of me because I felt that way. Nothing has changed; I’m still getting made fun of because I think a lot of my cows.”
“I won’t make fun of you, I promise. I believe the same thing,” Jess admitted.
The cows in the birthing pens seemed content, so Michael and Jess went to the house, washed up, and she checked their food to confirm that it was done. She quickly made a salad with her own special dressing, and then she took up generous servings of the stew for them to eat.
She sat down, trying not to wince as she did so, and he took her hand. “Heavenly Father, we thank You for this lovely meal we are about to eat. We ask that You guide us and keep us safe as we move forward to deal with the obstacles You send our way. We love You, and we praise You. We ask Your blessings upon us, and we ask this through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.” Michael released her hand. “I didn’t ask if you are a Christian; I hope I didn’t offend you?”
“I am a Christian and I thought your prayer was touching.” Why did this aggravating man have to be so darned perfect? She didn’t want to like a farmer. She hated farming!
“Thank you, Jessica. Squirming on that chair won’t help.”
“I can’t sit still; I hurt. I can’t believe I allowed you to get away with treating me like that. It just isn’t done! I could have you arrested.” She gave him an angry glare.
“You could, yes. But then you would have to bare your backside to have all sorts of pictures taken for evidence. You would also be poked and prodded by a doctor to determine the true state of your bottom. Somehow, I can’t imagine you standing still and permitting a photographer to focus on your behind. Then those pictures would be passed around a jury several different times while they deliberated. I also imagine it would be embarrassing to have your coworkers know that you were spanked while on duty.”
“I could just shoot you and claim the Carboni family did it.”
“You could, but you won’t. You know darn well that bit of defiance, plus biting me, earned you a warm bottom. Now eat your dinner and I’ll give you a hand with the dishes.”
“You do make me angry,” Jess stated.
“You aren’t bored though.”
Jess hurried to finish eating so she could stand. Her poor bottom was smarting like crazy, and there was nothing she could do about it. Michael was right; she couldn’t live with the ribbing she would get if word of this spanking got out. The men she worked with would laugh and tease her mercilessly, and that would hurt even worse than the spanking did.
Once Michael ate his fill, she gathered the dirty dishes and put them in the sink. There was no dishwasher, so they would need to be washed by hand. She didn’t mind; her apartment didn’t have a dishwasher either. She made quick work of the chore, and true to his word, Michael dried the dishes and put them away.
Jess went to the freezer, took out a package of meat and put it in the refrigerator to thaw for the next day. The telephone rang, and a feeling of foreboding increased with each successive ring until Michael answered with a pleasant hello. She could tell by his expression that there was trouble. He motioned for her to come and stand beside him, and he put the telephone on speaker so that she could hear.
“As you can imagine, Mr. Weatherford, Antonio has embarrassed his father greatly. I am sure there are details that you have not been told, but Antonio feared for his life. His girlfriend was from a competitor, and Antonio learned that she was dating him just to gather information for her father. She then promised to have Antonio tortured if he did not answer her questions. Poor Antonio was so hurt, so upset, and he knew his father would be very upset with him for dating a girl that his father had warned him against. My client is willing to pay you well to simply tell the authorities that your vision was blinded by an obstruction, and there could have been someone else involved. That female was corrupt as can be, and she led young Antonio astray.”
“Mr.— I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name, sir?”
“You may call me Frank, Mr. Weatherford.”
“Very well, Frank. I believe that young Antonio is at least five years older than me, and, by now he should have a well-developed sense of what is right and what is wrong. I am sure you will understand that I have been warned by the District Attorney’s office not to have any communication with the Carboni family. Either you are related, or you work for Mr. Carboni. I will not accept money to change my testimony.”
“You haven’t even heard the amount Mr. Carboni is willing to pay. You could sell that farm and go somewhere like Paris to live quite comfortably for the rest of your life.”
“If Mr. Carboni has taken the time to check my background, and I am sure he has, then you know I am a former marine. In short, I believe in the truth. Thank Mr. Carboni for what I assume is a generous offer, but I am not interested.”
“A pity, Mr. Weatherford. Mr. Carboni was in hopes that you would be reasonable. You would have a nest egg in case something happened to your livelihood, say an unexpected fire in your barns or in your parlor?”
“If my cows suffer in any way, you may assure Mr. Carboni that his son will never appear in court. That is a bona fide promise made on the memory of my father and mother.”
“What? Do you know what you are saying?” Frank was actually shocked.
“I know precisely what I am saying. Mr. Carboni does not want to get on my bad side.” Michael disconnected the call, and Jess shivered. It was easy in that moment to picture Michael as a member of a Special Ops task force, leading his men into battle with the determination that he would keep all of them safe. She also realized how deeply he cared for his animals. To threaten a man with the death of his son if any of the cows were harmed was a drastic statement. He’d just tossed down the gauntlet to Giorgio Carboni, and that man would order a hit; in fact, it was probably a done deal by now.
“We are going to need to put some extra guns around this house and in the barns. Carboni is going to send men out here to kill you.”
“Probably. I think you should take yourself back to the city, Jessica. I am used to getting myself out of scrapes. I am not afraid of Carboni or his hired thugs.”
“You should be afraid. Now Carboni knows he can’t buy you. He also knows you aren’t afraid of him. In fact, you are so unimpressed that you threatened the life of his only son if one of your cows suffers in any way. Yes, he wants you dead. That was very foolish, Michael Weatherford,” she announced as her cell phone rang. “Parker.” She listened. “Yes, Captain. I am settled in, but Mr. Weatherford would prefer I not be here,” she confirmed and then responded to his next comment. “No, I am not leaving. He is stuck with me whether he likes it or not. He just had a telephone call from a Frank, probably Carboni’s lawyer. He offered Michael a lot of money. Michael turned him down, and when Frank made a veiled threat that something could happen to Michael’s cows, Michael proceeded to tell him that if one of his cows suffered, Antonio wouldn’t go to trial because he would never be seen again.” She listened, nodding all the while as her superior vented. “Yes, Captain. He promised to go after Antonio, and he meant it. He basically waved a red flag and dared Carboni to come after him! I am expecting trouble.” She listened again, and then said, “I will try.” She then hung up.
“You will try what?” Michael asked suspiciously.
“To take you into protective custody, to put you up somewhere that Carboni can’t find you.”
“The answer is the same as before; I refuse to hide from the likes of Carboni.”
“It isn’t just about you, Michael. This is about getting a conviction for the murder of a woman who was trying to break up with Antonio. He went into a rage and he killed her brutally and viciously in front of you. She will never laugh, love, have a baby and raise it. Her parents have to live with her loss every minute of every day. They have placed the hope for Antonio’s conviction on you. If you play games with Carboni and lose, they will be cheated out of a conviction. Antonio will walk free, and he will think he can do as he pleases for the rest of his life. How many other women will he use and then kill when he tires of them? Or punish if they want to walk away from him? You should allow me to take you away from here to someplace safe and remote.”
“I think you should go and take someone with you who pretends to be me, as a decoy. That should confuse Carboni and keep you safe at the same time.”
“No. I am going to do my damndest to keep you safe so you can testify.” She looked around her. “Let’s do what we can to keep unwelcome visitors out.”
He walked across the room and flipped a switch. “No one can set foot anywhere on this farm without waking me, Jessica. I told you I was Special Ops. I lived hard for too many years not to have a safe hideout. I may even have a few old enemies. I guarantee that the boys Carboni sends out here won’t be expecting the welcome I give them.”
“You are something else; I am glad I’m on your side, Michael.” Jess truly admired the man. “You don’t fit into the same mold as most of the farmers I’ve known in my lifetime. I figured you would be absolutely helpless. Now I am certain the opposite is true.”
“I’m not helpless, but I would feel a lot better if you were somewhere safe, Jessica. I don’t want to see you in danger because I provoked Carboni.”
“Most people cower in fear when he speaks.”
“It’s not in me to cower.”
“I like that about you, Michael,” she admitted, blushing.
“I wasn’t sure you liked anything about me,” he teased.
“I can go back to my list of ‘don’t likes’,” she offered, involuntarily reaching back to rub her bottom.
“You weren’t supposed to enjoy that spanking, little girl. I warned you not to pull that weapon of yours unless there was real danger, and you couldn’t wait to defy me. With that feisty attitude, I’m amazed no one has taken you in hand before now.”
“I am telling you that it isn’t done in today’s world!” she insisted, giving him a look that kept most men at bay.
“It is done in today’s world, when you meet the right guy, that is. You just give off that police look of yours and it terrifies most men to know you could put a hurt on them. I am not afraid of a little girl like you because I know I am stronger, tougher, and meaner, if it comes right down to it. What I don’t understand is the men you work with. Surely they aren’t afraid of you?”
Jess looked at Michael and could see that he was perfectly serious. “Michael, it is never a good idea to get involved with a coworker, I don’t care what job you are working at. I’ve seen police officers get involved, it turns sour, and then one of them has to transfer to a new house. Both officers have nothing good to say about the other in the meantime, and when a new officer comes into the house from where the transferred officer went, they have a preconceived idea of what the other officer is like. It doesn’t help to promote the ‘I have your back’ camaraderie that is necessary when you’re a cop. We all know that, so it helps not to be involved. The guys I work with regard me as another cop. I don’t date police officers, and I rarely meet anyone who isn’t a police officer.”
“That surprises me. You are too pretty to not be involved with someone who loves you enough to warm your backside when you get all feisty.”
“I know, it’s a ‘time-honored tradition,’ right?”
“It certainly is in my family. It works, Jessica. You weren’t frightened of me, were you? It certainly stopped the attitude. We got through milking and dinner, and we’re speaking as human beings to each other. I made a few wrong assumptions, as did you. I think we are on the same page now, and when you stop trying to make me feel guilty for turning you over my knee, we’ll get along even better.” He chuckled at her expression of frustration. It was then that an alarm sounded.
Before Jess could ask any questions, Michael was on his feet, and heading out the door at a run. “I am going to kill that dumb Pat!” he shouted, racing toward the road. Jessica had her gun in her hands, running as fast as she could to keep up with him. She was fast, but Michael was faster.
“Slow down, you idiot! How can I keep you safe if you are running so far ahead of me?” She was going to raise hell all over him if he didn’t get himself killed. Finally, she saw where he was going. One of his Holsteins had managed to get herself tangled in some vines.
“I’ll get you out of this mess – AGAIN – you silly creature! You are a cow, Pat, not a horse who can jump fences. You are supposed to keep your butt inside the pasture, girl,” he scolded, but his voice was full of love for the animal. “Here, I’m going to get your foot unstuck. Hold still now, and don’t kick me in the head when I bend down to do this.”
“Can I help in any way?” Jess offered, relieved that it was a cow that had tripped an alarm, and not one of Carboni’s men.
“No, Jess. Pat tends to be a bit skittish. She thinks she is a horse; she jumps fences, and inevitably ends up in this briar patch every darn time. I think she does it to get attention!”
“She has an attitude, huh? Maybe you should spank her?” Jess said with a perfectly straight face, just to see how Michael would react.
Michael laughed. “If I thought it would put an end to her jumping fences, I would try it!” He finally freed Pat’s hoof and then he led her back to the pasture and put her inside. “You stay in here now, young lady!”
Pat pushed at him with her nose, and Michael gave her a few pats of affection. “I mean it, Pat. You stay inside this pasture where you’ll be safe.” He gave her head a rub and then said, “I love this cow; she isn’t so young now, but she still has a calf every year and she puts out a lot of good, rich milk.”
“She also has you wrapped around her little teat,” Jess teased the man, laughing. “Pat knows you will come running when she jumps that fence, and you do just as she wants. She gets a dose of attention, and happily returns to safety. You are a softie, Mr. Weatherford!”