“That’s her?” A deep voice came from the front door.
“See anyone else around here, Branson?” Bianca swiveled away from me and spoke to the golden man who stood by the front door.
His laughter reverberated from his throat and all the way to my thighs. My eyes opened wide as I looked him over. Thankfully he was staring down at his phone, his golden eyes almost hidden by his blond locks falling forward over his tan skin. He wore a plaid red, white, and blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He was broad, lean, and muscular, and way too young for me.
“Who the heck is that?” I asked.
“Your caretaker,” Bianca raised an eyebrow at me.
“My caretaker?” I asked.
“The caretaker of The Estate,” Bianca explained it slowly as if she was talking to an ignoramus, which at the moment I actually felt like.
“The Estate,” I repeated like a parrot. Then suddenly snapped out of it. “Aunt Emma’s estate! Okay! Got it.”
“Round here we all just call it The Estate,” Bianca said with a shrug.
“And that’s the caretaker?” I whispered to Bianca, my voice catching in my throat.
“Every last inch of him,” she nodded, stealing a covert glance at the tall, broad man who dwarfed the front office space of the Cougar Creek cop shop.
“Lord have mercy,” I said under my breath.
Branson went straight to the sign-in sheet as if this wasn’t his first time here. But his handsome features scowled as he looked over at me. I stared back as he stepped across the sheriff’s office to tower above me, his arms folded over his chest.
“Well, that’s not intimidating at all.” I craned my neck to look up at him.
He started as if he hadn’t been aware of himself, took a step back, and unfolded his arms. “You’re Mae.” He stated the obvious. “I’m here to drive you home.”
“That’s a long way to drive.” My mind suddenly thought of a long leisurely drive back to L.A. with my caretaker, Branson.
“Pardon?” Branson looked at me a bit confused.
“Never mind.” I stood up turning to Bianca. “Do you need anything else from me tonight? It’s late and I’m exhausted. You are remanding me into Branson’s custody?”
“My custody? I’m just giving you a ride home.” Branson held up his hands in protest.
“Sheriff said you’re to verify who she is, take her home, and bring her back tomorrow to get her jeep,” Bianca confirmed for Branson.
I covertly looked him over thinking I wouldn’t mind being in his very good hands. But instantly my heart squeezed. Men weren’t safe; not at all. As I poured back through the years of lies, I realized there was probably not one single moment of truth in my relationship with my ex-gay husband. How was I ever going to trust any man ever again? Clearly, I was an idiot; a vulnerable, gullible idiot who believed anything anybody said to me.
“Are you sure he’s safe to take me to my house?” I asked Bianca.
“I have a police tracker on,” Branson wiggled his leg.
“Seriously?” I took a step back.
Bianca and Branson burst out laughing. “No not seriously,” Bianca said. “There’s only one person around here on the radar.”
“And it’s not me.” Branson pointed out. “Now come on. I’ve got a poker game waiting for me. Let me get you home and all tucked in.”
I looked over my shoulder at Bianca and we both did a slight giggle at his words, clearly thinking the same thing about being tucked in. It was a relief to feel an instant bond to this other middle-aged divorced woman, even though she’d never left this town. I guess that was nothing to hold against someone.
I shook my head as I trailed behind Branson to the door.
I wasn’t here to make friends. I wasn’t here to have romance. I was here to get some space, clear my head, and more than likely sell a house. My divorce was almost through and then I could start my new life.
Branson held the door open for me. “I’ll take you home, boss, and have you delivered to your jeep in the morning.”
My stomach sank. That’s right. He was my employee.
Well, of the estate, but as I was the sole owner of the estate, he was still my employee.
And a “no fraternizing with the staff” rule went without saying. There was no way to even have a little fling with Mr. Rock Solid Biceps.