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Lydia's Twin Temptation(Divine Creek Ranch 8)(11)

By:Heather Rainier

He realized she was speaking of the café in present tense when he was already thinking of it in the past tense. The realization hit him that he was already expecting she would quit the diner, but why should she? Where would she go if jobs were that scarce? He didn’t want her to work there anymore, and a plan formed in his mind.

If she cooked that well with the ingredients a café kept in supply, what would it be like if she had a huge kitchen and anything she wanted in the way of tools and foodstuffs at her disposal?

“Lydia, you’re a damn fine cook.” In more ways than one, baby.

A blush rose in her cheeks, and she thanked him as their perky waitress sped up to his window on her roller skates. He paid her for the treats and then handed Lydia her chocolate shake.

“So how did you wind up in Fort Stockton if you were living in Austin?”

Lydia toyed with the wrapper on her straw and said, “I don’t like the big city. I’ve always wanted to live in a small town and the constant traffic really got to me. I was contacted after graduation about an opportunity here. They had interviewed me while I was at school and evidently I’d done well. I was offered a job, and sold or gave away almost everything I owned to come here. I packed up Gunther—”

“Gunther?” Was there somebody else in her life he didn’t know about? He hadn’t even thought to ask about that, and his heart began a free fall in his chest. Maybe that was why she’d looked a little pensive earlier.

Lydia nodded and smiled brightly. “Yeah, Gunther. He’s my ’73 Karmann Ghia.” Chance almost broke a sweat in relief at that news. “My brothers bought him for me and rebuilt his engine.” She chuckled in embarrassment and added, “I know, it’s kind of juvenile to name my car, but I took one look at him five years ago and he’s just so cute I had to name him.”

Chance smiled at her as she blushed again and admitted to himself that he was completely beguiled by her. “So you packed up Gunther,” he prompted, using the German pronunciation as she had.

“Yes, and I drove from Austin to Fort Stockton. In theory, I knew how far it was, but I thought the drive would take forever. I was thankful it was still spring then because I don’t have air-conditioning in my car. I dread the thought of driving away from Fort Stockton in this heat with no AC.”

“But what happened when you got here?”

“The operation had folded before it even got started. They lost two of their investors. The person who should have let me know about the change in status must have thought someone else would and I somehow slipped through the cracks. They felt bad when I contacted them, but there was nothing they could do. I was living on a shoestring in Austin and I didn’t have much money when I’d started on the trip. I had just enough to get a motel room and I found a job at the café. Until I could get groceries, Mr. Cortez bartered my meals for part of my pay, at full price, even though I cooked them myself.”

Chance looked at her with admiration. Somehow she’d taken on a very disheartening situation and managed to survive. It made him want her even more. She was like a wildflower, blooming out there despite adversity.

“You put up with an awful lot from that boss of yours.”

“I did. I honestly did look everywhere in town. No one is hiring right now. Mr. Cortez was an asshole but basically harmless, or so I thought until today. He yelled a lot and he didn’t manage the café very well. He was a little ‘handsy,’ too, but I dealt with that straightforwardly and he stopped it, until today.” She put her hands to her temples and shook her head. “I can’t believe he robbed my motel room and slashed my tires. He knew I would have no choice but to call him.”

Chance wanted to go find the bastard and pound him into the ground. The man had systematically backed Lydia further and further into a corner trying to make her dependent on him.

“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he was behind my car problems all along.” She looked up at him with bright eyes, looking like she felt a little better. “Anyway, that’s why I’m here, for now.”

Curiously, Chance asked, “Where will you go? Do you have interviews lined up?”

Lydia shrugged and shook her head. “Once I have the money saved up for a deposit, rent, and living expenses for a month or two then I’ll start putting out feelers. Unfortunately, if I move it will have to be back to a larger city where the prospects are better.” She looked disappointed at that notion, and Chance smiled inwardly. He thought he had the perfect solution for her. “So tell me about the ranch, Chance. Every time I meant to ask you more about it we’d get busy so I don’t know much. Do you and your brother run it together? I don’t even know where it is.”