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Big Man

By:Penny Wylder

Prologue


The sound of the ax hitting wood stops me as I walk across the yard with the bottles of water I just grabbed from the kitchen. I should just keep walking, get back to the fence I’m working on, but I can’t help it. It’s a reflex by now. I glance toward the sound, and my whole body tenses when I spot him.

Grant Werther. A whole lot bigger now than the scrawny teenager who used to chase me around this yard. There’s growing up well and then there’s growing up into the most irresistible man I’ve ever seen swing an ax.

I watch him pause to wipe sweat from his brow. Then, while I’m still standing here, halfway out of the house, totally exposed if he turns around, he tugs his shirt off over his head.

Fuck.

Sweat glistens along his perfectly-cut chest and abs. His biceps are as thick as my thighs, and I can’t help thinking, as I watch him lift and ready the ax to swing, how easily he could toss me around a bedroom. I imagine having those big, strong hands around my waist, picking me up. Pinning me against the wall of the room I slept in alone last night because he insisted on sleeping in his truck. Because he doesn’t want to be here any more than I do.

Because he doesn’t remember me. Not the way I remember him.

He’s filled out, yes, but he’s also gotten arrogant, judgmental. He thinks I’m too good for this town just because I wanted to get out of it as fast as humanly possible.

He’s the last person here I ought to be fantasizing about.

But he swings that ax, digs it deep into the dead tree he’s chopping down in the middle of my property—our property, as it turns out—and I cannot stop my damn brain. It’s straight off into fantasyland. If Grant is this big all over, just imagine what’s in those jeans of his…

I imagine him bending me over right here in the grass and fucking me, hard and raw, the way this country man likes it. My clit throbs at the thought. Fucking hell. I can’t even cross the lawn these days without getting wet.

I tear my eyes from him and stride across the grass toward my destination. But I’m only halfway there when I hear him clear his throat.

I glance over, find him smirking at me. He moves toward me across the lawn, and it’s all I can do to keep my eyes fixed on his face, not wandering over his half-naked body.

“You drinking both of those?” he asks.

I glance down at my hands and realize I’m gripping both water bottles extra hard now. I’d planned on it, but… I extend one to him with a shrug. “Yours now,” I say.

“Thank you kindly,” he says, only a hint of sarcasm in that response. His hand brushes mine as he takes the bottle, lingering just longer than is normal. With him standing this close, I catch his scent, maddening, overpowering, and it makes me want to throw myself at him. Let him take me however he wants me.

To judge by the way his gaze drips over my body, lingering on my chest, he’s thinking the same thing. But he just cracks open the bottle and takes a long drink, still eying me as he does.

When he straightens once more, he throws me one last smirk. “Best keep working on that fence,” he says. “Staring at me all day isn’t going to fix it any faster. Unless, that is, you’d prefer a more… hands-on distraction.”

My cheeks flash red hot, and I storm away without a response. Mostly because I don’t trust myself to retort with my throat as tight as it is. But when I glance over my shoulder, I find he’s the one watching me now, eyes on my backside. And he looks every bit as interested as I feel.

Dammit. I’m in trouble now.





1





Sasha Bluebell





The letter arrives at the worst possible time.

I’m currently between clients, juggling freelance jobs from my last company, where I was their head paralegal consultant until I had enough of their bullshit pseudo-assignments and quit to pursue my own thing. But it’s been slow-going in the freelance world, and it’s taken me a while to build up a private client base. Originally I took on a couple of gigs for my old firm on a case-by-case basis. Now they’ve flooded me with so many that it feels like I’m full-time again, minus the healthcare benefits.

Not that I can complain about the money. That, at least, has been more than decent.

Still, my schedule is a wreck. So much a wreck, that when the letter first arrives, I don’t even notice it in my inbox for a week straight. When I do, I take one glance at the cover letter and find myself wincing, wanting to shove it straight back under the stack of unread incoming mail that awaits me on my desk. The longer I can prolong this, the better. Because I don’t want to confront any of the emotions that rise up when I read that first line.

In the Matter of the Estate of Maryanne Bluebell…

No, thank you. I spent a year after Mama died being heartbroken. I don’t need to relive that again, thank you very much. Besides, it took her estate that whole year and an extra 8 months to even get this letter to me. How important could it be?

But eventually, after a week of ignoring that half-opened letter on my desk while I sorted through my current freelance projects, I ran out of excuses. I couldn’t prolong the inevitable anymore. I had to face the music.

I unfolded the full letter over a hefty pour of Cabernet one Friday night, with my favorite cheesy TV reality show on in the background, and a long-overdue weekend off ahead of me. I figured that might mitigate the blow, knowing that for once I had some free time to myself coming up. I’d worked overtime for the last month and a half straight to carve myself this little slice of freedom.

And this is how I decided to reward myself? I really am a masochist in disguise.

By the time I reach the third line of the letter, I’ve already downed my whole glass of Cab. I need to refill to finish reading. Because this one, I didn’t see coming.

I didn’t expect the middle block of text, written by my mother herself, years before her death.

I didn’t expect the plea to resonate so deeply.

I didn’t expect to feel it in my bones when I read her words on the page, ink long-dried, words she asked her lawyer to add to this case file long before the breast cancer stole her from me.

Sasha,

You are my only legacy. I don’t say this because I’m ashamed of it—you are the best thing that ever happened to me. My dearest dream in life was to raise you right, and I am so proud of the woman you have become.

I know how much you love your life in the city, and I’m happy that you’ve found your place. But I hope you recognize the history and importance of our home back here, too. Your great-great grandfather built this house with his own hands. For generations, your family has tilled the soil, lived off what this land produced. I hope that when I am gone, you will respect the legacy we’ve both been entrusted with and do what is right for this place.

If you’re reading this letter, it all belongs to you now, my love. I trust you with it, as I trust you with everything in my life.

Your loving mother

She left it unsigned. That, somehow, makes it sting even worse.

I just keep rereading the words this place and our home. She means the family farm back in Nowheresville. That place and I haven’t been on speaking terms for fifteen years. Not since I applied to the farthest college away that would take me, packed up my bags and got the fuck out of dodge.

I’ve spent the last fifteen years right here in New York City. I can’t imagine going back. Hell, I barely even visited, not until two years ago, right at the end, when things were so bad Mama couldn’t make it on a plane out here. She visited me in the city as often as she liked because I couldn’t stand to visit her.

I visited that one time. The last time. I held her hand as she closed her eyes and breathed her last. I barely stayed long enough to sign the estate over to my more-than-capable legal team and then I high-tailed it out of dodge.

I never thought I’d need to go back. I never planned to set foot in that tiny town ever again.

But here are her words, staring up at me in black-and-white, asking the impossible. Asking me to return.

I can’t, is my immediate gut reaction.

You have to, is what my frontal cortex yells at my monkey brain.

Because how can I ignore this letter? How can I disregard the last wishes of my mother when I’m her only child, her only heir, the only one she ever had to lay all her hopes and dreams on?

I fold the letter back up, for tonight. For tonight, I concentrate on my shitty reality TV show and my bottle of Cabernet, which I’m definitely going to polish off by myself, propriety be damned.

For tonight, I let myself enjoy the first day off I’d managed to carve in my schedule since as long as I can remember. Life here in the city is hectic, but it’s what I love. There’s always something going on, always a new project to focus on, always something to occupy my attention. Much better than country life. Much better than that stifling hometown I escaped the first minute I could.

For tonight, I enjoy the life I built myself, on my own sweat and blood and tears and exhaustion.

Then the next morning, hung-over and bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, I unfold the letter one more time and dial the number at the bottom.

“Paul?” I ask the moment the estate handler picks up. “I need to book a flight back home…”

And that’s how the real trouble began.





2





Sasha Bluebell

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