Read Rainsinger Online

Authors: Barbara Samuel,Ruth Wind

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction, #Fiction / Contemporary Women, #FICTION / Romance / Contemporary, #FICTION / Romance / General

Rainsinger (5 page)

BOOK: Rainsinger
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“If that’s supposed to make me feel sentimental, it doesn’t.”

“Not at all. This is all sort of awkward...I was just talking.”

He nodded.

“Is it El Durazno you want,” she asked, “or just some land in this area? I might be able to talk to some—”

“No.” The word was unyielding. “This land.” He gestured. “These trees.”

“Why?”

His eyes went flat. “I’ve already said why. It’s Indian land.”

Winona laughed. “So is all the rest of the land in America!”

“Not like this.”

His gaze touched the grass, the trees, the horizon with an expression Winona could only call yearning. His eyes grew liquid with a longing and passion she recognized on some instinctive level.

“I have to do this, for the ones who went before me. I don’t expect you to understand,” he continued.

She made a sound of annoyance, clicking her tongue. “Because I’m an Anglo and we’re out of touch with the land?” Her temper flared and she stood up. “Only the Navajo can hear the voice of the Mother here?”

He lifted one brow drolly. “Something like that.”

Winona clamped her jaw shut for a moment, willing her anger to subside. Later she could run out into a field and scream her frustration, or find a basketball and pound her anger into it.

For now she said softly, “I’ve seen this battle raging all over the world. Who loves the land more, the native people or the invaders who’ve tilled the soil for three or six or twelve generations?”

“It isn’t a matter of love. It’s a matter of belonging.”

“After so many generations, who belongs? Is this land more yours because your people were here for generations two hundred years ago, or is it really more mine because I’ve been here and breathed the frost and the dawns and the hot summer afternoons all my life?”

“I bet you’re gonna tell me.”

“No.” The fight left her. “I honestly don’t know. If we could go back in time and change history, most modern people would do it.”

“Maybe.”

Winona sighed. “We could argue this all day, and it wouldn’t get us anywhere. We have to solve the immediate problem. Who gets to stay?”

His stance eased. “You’re right.”

“Okay, then,” she said, pacing. “Let’s figure out the bottom line. I don’t have the money to return your investment—not at the moment.” She made a face. “The truth is, we have barely any money after the trip out here and the taxes yesterday.”

“And I sure don’t have the price of four hundred acres of prime ranch land.”

She swallowed. “I need to be here. My sister—” She broke off, wondering how to express what she had only felt to this moment. “She’s really wounded, and I’m afraid I’ll lose her if she doesn’t have some time and space to heal.”

He nodded. “I got the feeling there was a something of a problem there. Your parents?”

“They were killed in a car accident. Joleen was with them, but she walked away.”

Another mini-silence fell. Both waited for the other to speak. Winona finally did. “Look, maybe we can work something out. I have nowhere else to go. I have no job, no money, nothing—and I want my sister to spend some time here so she can get to the other side of her grief.”

He waited.

Winona took a breath. “I can see the work you’ve put into this place. And I’ll reluctantly agree that maybe you have the greater overall claim, even if legally I own it.” She paused. “I have résumés out all over the Southwest. If you’ll let us stay here until the end of the summer, or until I get a job, maybe we can work something out on the payments for the land, or something.”

Still he said nothing, and she was disconcerted by the way he could hide whatever he was thinking.

“All right,” he said finally. “I can live with that.” He cleared his throat. “There’s no place but the house for all of us.”

Winona chuckled. “If it doesn’t bother you, it’s not a problem for me. I’ve lived in a lot worse, with a lot more people.”

“It doesn’t bother me. I grew up in a hogan. Not a lot of elbow room.”

“Joleen is quiet, but she stays up to all hours. Will it bother you if she sleeps in the bedroom in the basement?”

“Fine. I guess you can have the room you slept in last night,” he said. “I don’t cook, so if that’s something you do, you’ll end up doing it all.”

“All right. We’ll eat junk or I’ll cook.” She folded her hands. “I’d like free run on these trees. They still need a lot of work.”

“What kind of credentials do you have to do that?”

“Oh, I assumed you knew. I’m a botanist.”

His mouth all but dropped. “Well, I’ll be damned.”

Winona smiled.

Daniel smiled back. “I guess we’ve got a deal, then, Miss Snow.” He shifted the blue glass cup to his left hand and held out his right.

For a moment, Winona was too dazzled to move. The grin gave his face a dastardly, charming aspect she would not have suspected, lending light to the sober angles, mischief to the dark eyes. Prickles of awareness stirred in her limbs, in her belly and knees and all the private, unmentionable centers of pleasure.

If there was a sexier man living, Winona hadn’t seen him. Which might make living in the same house a bit of a trial.

Still, she’d won the first round and couldn’t give up the advantage for the sake of a grin. Firmly she stuck out her hand and grasped his, pleased that her enormous paw didn’t engulf his. His fingers were dry and cool, his palm hard, his grip sure without trying to intimidate. As they shook to seal their agreement, Daniel held her gaze with the same steadfastness, and Winona knew it would take all her wits to do battle with him.

It was something she’d be well advised to remember. Especially when he smiled.

Chapter Four

D
aniel sat at the computer, bathed in the bluish light he’d chosen for this project. Blue background with dark-blue letters and symbols, to keep him calm as he tried to design an environment for an assortment of artists who were not terribly willing to be dragged into the twentieth century. The group was located in Albuquerque, and had begun in the late sixties as a commune who sold their jewelry and home-decorating crafts as a cottage industry.

Twenty years later, the business had mushroomed exponentially, and Monarch Enterprises employed nearly two hundred artists of various sorts. The younger set had been pushing for computerization for years, but the forty-something ex-hippies who’d grown into very, very rich entrepreneurs with condos in Taos and Aspen had just as fervently resisted the “establishment” gesture.

Daniel’s job was to design software for the company to meet their specific needs, and incorporate various already existing software for accounting, inventory and personnel files.

It was a big project, and he’d been working on it for several months. In two weeks, he was to deliver the package to the Albuquerque offices and turn it over to the one relatively sane member of the management team, who would examine it, then get back to Daniel for fine-tuning. In October, when the high-volume tourist season ended, Daniel would spend several weeks at company headquarters, doing the prodigious amount of work required to get the company online.

Daniel rubbed the back of his neck and stretched side to side to ease his spine. From the kitchen came the mingled aromas of chicken and onions. His stomach growled. Much as he hated cooking, he loved good food. Judging by the way Winona wielded a knife on the hapless chicken she’d gone to town to purchase, she was no stranger to the culinary arts. He’d watched for a minute, taking a break to refill his bicycle bottle with fresh Kool-Aid—strawberry today—as she and Joleen had started the meal. He’d frowned at the raw peanuts Joleen shelled, and the girl, catching his gaze, said, “It looks weird, but trust me, she’s a good cook.”

“Whatever you say, Little Owl.”

His new housemates had settled in with a minimum of fuss this afternoon, unloading the packed VW and distributing their belongings. There were fewer possessions than he would have expected from two females—a suitcase for each, a box full of pots and pans, another filled with various food staples and one with a modicum of household essentials.

To his relief, there was no evidence that the two were fussy or chatty. As soon as they’d settled their belongings, they had driven off to town. Daniel suspected Winona had done it to allow him some privacy.

The project was giving him fits, but in spite of the low-level distractions, he’d had the most productive afternoon he’d experienced in quite some time. If he was honest with himself, the unrelieved isolation of the ranch had been weighing on him.

Joleen came into the room quietly. “Mr. Lynch? If you want to eat now, Winona says it’s just about ready. If you want to keep working, she’ll put some in the oven for you to eat later.”

“Thank you.” He clicked the icons to save and pushed back from the desk, stretching mightily. “I’m as hungry as a bear after smelling that for two hours. Is she really a good cook?”

Joleen grinned. “Yep. She cooks weird stuff all the time because she’s been so many places, but it’s always pretty good.” She paused. “Well, except the chicken and bananas, but she promised never to make me eat that again.”

He chuckled and followed her into the kitchen. The big country table was spread with a red batik cloth he suspected Winona had picked up on her travels; his mismatched stoneware lay on top. A thick spray of spirea from the bush by the neglected barn was stuck in an old bottle. “You set the table, Little Owl?” he asked, going to the sink to wash his hands.

“Yep.” She plopped down in the middle chair. “You don’t mind that I picked the flowers, do you?”

“Not at all.”

Winona scraped bright orange whipped sweet potatoes into a beautiful china bowl she must have brought with her. “Our mother always put flowers on the table,” she said. “Especially in the winter. She used to say fresh flowers were the only thing that got her through winter.”

“Nice.” Daniel dried his hands on a cup towel. Winona put the bowl of potatoes in his hands. A pat of butter melted into a yellow pool on top, and his mouth watered. “Looks good.”

He placed the bowl on the table and settled at one end, folding his hands in his lap, trying for one minute to keep himself from being totally dazzled by the woman moving around his kitchen with such ease.

He failed. Every time he looked at her, she took him by surprise again. Her height, that cloud of palest-blond hair and the generous siren curves—everything about her was a sensual feast. She moved with the grace of a gazelle, surprisingly light-footed. Her clothes were a strange combination of exotic fabrics and colors combined into eminently practical shorts and blouse that bared her strong-looking arms and runner’s legs.

With a flourish, she put a glass dish of baked chicken in some kind of sauce in the middle of the table and sat down. Irrelevantly, he noticed she wore no jewelry at all except a slender silver chain around her neck.

She looked at Daniel. “Do you mind if we say grace?” she asked.

“Of course not.” He bowed his head and Joleen murmured a familiar Protestant blessing.

“Our father was a minister,” Winona said, dishing up chicken for each of them. “White or dark meat?”

“Dark, please.”

“Good for you,” she said, plucking out a succulent-looking thigh and a leg, then spooning sauce over it. Daniel spied the peanuts in the sauce and told himself to reserve judgment. Nothing that smelled this heavenly could possibly taste badly. “People seem to always want to stick to the dry white meat, when they could indulge with the rich dark.”

Joleen passed the potatoes silently. Daniel caught the tightness around her mouth. He helped himself to a generous serving and passed the bowl to Winona. “What kind of minister was your father, Joleen?”

The girl shrugged, her attention on her plate. “I don’t know.”

Winona made a noise of disbelief. “Don’t be silly. He was a Congregationalist minister all our lives. So was his father.”

The food momentarily stole his attention, even from the dazzling Winona. The chicken was tender and succulent, and the strange sauce had a rich, savory flavor that surpassed its scent. The sweet potatoes were a harmonious complement. After months of frozen pizza and egg rolls, Daniel’s taste-buds yelped for joy. He paused after inhaling several mouthfuls. “This is excellent,” he said. “I can’t remember the last real meal I ate.”

Joleen lost the pinched look and grinned at him. “Told you.”

“Thanks,” Winona said, without undue modesty. “It’s one of my favorite dishes. A woman in Kenya taught me to make it.”

“How did you end up in the Peace Corps, anyway? It’s sort of unusual in this day and age.”

Winona lifted one shoulder. “A lot of people still serve—you’d be surprised.”

“Why did
you
do it?”

She neatly dabbed her lips with a cloth napkin that matched the tablecloth and grinned. The expression gave a clear light to the crystalline pale irises. “I wanted to help mankind,” she said, and shrugged. “It always sounds absurd when you say it out loud like that, but it seemed like I could make good use of my botanical skills in the Corps.”

Daniel tried to keep the cynicism from his face. Her answer disappointed him somehow. He would have felt a lot better if she had admitted to a longing for adventure or a wish for exotic lovers or any number of other, more base, reasons for signing on. Politicians avowed the service of mankind. So did missionaries and Indian agents and the hordes of fresh-eyed college kids who swarmed down to the reservation every summer. “And did you?” he asked.

“Yes.” The word was without guile or guilt.

“Ease your conscience, did it?” he asked in a quiet tone that hid his disappointment.

Winona inclined her head, a faint smile on her plump mouth. That mouth was a killer, Daniel thought. Rosy without lipstick, the lower lip just a bit too full.

Kissable.

He scowled at this traitorous thought. She was just another poor little rich kid, looking to make herself feel better.

“Conscience’ isn’t a dirty word, you know,” she said.

As if he didn’t notice the damnable smile still playing over her delectable mouth, Daniel spread margarine over a roll. “It is when you use the sorrows of other people to make yourself feel noble.”

BOOK: Rainsinger
4.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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