Divine Grace(2)

By: Heather Rainier

She had to remind herself that she might be only part-time help here at Stigall’s, but she was still a professional. She’d measured lots and lots of

customers, young and old alike, and Jack would get the same professional service everyone else got.

But somewhere between his bad boy grin and the moment she knelt in front of him to use the tape measure, something changed. Her hands hesitated, shaking with the fresh knowledge of what rested under those pants. She paused and looked up at him. He looked down at her, encouragement in his eyes, but the way he looked at her was different. She lowered her gaze and used her tape measure. He stood perfectly still, and she thought maybe he was holding his breath. She made a note of the measurement on the work order, and preparing to rise to her feet, she leaned forward and made eye contact with his erection.

Oh, my sweet heaven.

Now she knew the answer to her earlier question. Great balls of fire. Her mouth actually started watering!

Offering her his tanned, callused hand, he helped her rise to her feet and was slow to release her hand. She wondered if he could feel the heat coming off her cheeks, but the sudden dampness in her panties was even more disconcerting. He was her customer, and here she was lusting after him.

Okay, so he was her favorite, very sexy, very handsome in a cowboy sort of way customer. But she also counted him as a friend, thanks to his mom. And that was the sobering thought. She shouldn’t be thinking these thoughts, not when he’d just lost his mom.

He returned to the dressing room and changed back into the denim shirt, blue jeans, and boots she was used to seeing him in, most of which he bought at this very store. She even did the embroidery above the left breast pocket that carried his name and company logo. That had been her idea.

Grace’s full-time job was at a local screen printing and embroidery shop in their little city of Divine. All the local sports teams had their jerseys and hats printed there, and local businesses had similar items embroidered with their company names and logos. She’d asked him if he had a company logo, and when he’d told her no, she invited him to come by the shop with all the new shirts he’d purchased from her. She’d helped him design a logo and had done the embroidery herself. Thanks to Jack, they had received a lot of referrals for more work.

She wrote up the alteration order and attached it with a straight pin to the pants he handed back to her, neatly hung on the hanger. Jack was always 12

a considerate customer. Lots of people left heaps of clothes littering the dressing room floors after trying on half the store or threw the wadded up rejects to her and left the hangers still hanging in the dressing room. He was always neat as a pin about things like that.

“Do you have any neckties, Jack?”

“Yes, but all the ones at home are old. How about you set me up with something that will look good for tomorrow?” He looked down into her eyes, giving her that winsome smile that made her heart do flip-flops every time she saw him. She walked over to the tie rack and came back with a dark aquamarine silk tie. She held up the necktie to his shirtfront to see if it was the right color.

“This one reminds me of your eye color. Your mom would have loved it. Did the jacket fit okay in the sleeves? Not too long or short?”

“No, the jacket was fine. I’ll take the tie and the shirt.”

“Jack, is there anything I can do? To help out, I mean?”

“No, Mom and Dad’s Sunday school class is bringing over food to the house for after the funeral, and he’s already got a refrigerator and freezer full of casseroles. But I appreciate the thought, Grace.”

She knew he assumed she was asking if his dad was covered for food, but she’d meant for Jack. He looked like he could use a home-cooked meal.

He paid for his purchases and promised to be back after five o’clock. The morning was slow, and at two o’clock her boss let her go home. She was disappointed she wouldn’t see Jack but left word that he’d pick up the pants later that day.

She stopped at the grocery store and got everything she’d need to make a nice home-cooked meal for Jack and his roommates. Owen wasn’t at home, so she was able to work in peace. She baked bread, made homemade beef stew, and baked a cake, too. With everything loaded on the front seat of her little Honda, she drove out to the Divine Creek Ranch.

Jack and two friends owned equal shares in the ranch. All three were self-employed. Jack was a general contractor and electrician, Ethan Grant was bartender and co-owner of a local night club, The Dancing Pony, and Adam Davis was also a contractor.

The opportunity to buy the horse ranch had come along, and they’d decided to sell their homes, live in the ranch house, and invest the money from the sale of the houses in the ranch. From the looks of things, their

investment was paying off. She knew all this because Rose Marie told her all about them in extensive, glowing detail. Up until that moment, Grace hadn’t met any of Jack’s roommates.

The only associate of Jack’s she knew personally was his ranch foreman, Angel Martinez. She liked Angel because he was always polite to her and made direct eye contact when talking to her, but she sometimes got the impression he was flirting with her.

She drove through the gated entryway, holding the lid on the pot to keep it steady as she drove over the cattle guard, and headed down the long gravel drive to the large rock-faced ranch house. Horses grazed on thick green grass in fenced pastures on both sides of the drive, and she noticed a couple of the dappled gray mares looked like they would be foaling soon.

She followed the drive around where it curved in front of the house and parked by the porch steps. She saw a truck parked on the side of the house, so at least one of them had to be home. She gathered up the box that had the cake and bread in it and climbed the steps that led up to the welcoming shade of the front porch. She rang the doorbell.

Half a minute later, the heavy oak door was opened by a gorgeous man dressed in faded jeans and an unbuttoned plaid shirt, which revealed his muscular chest and abdomen. He stood in the doorway toweling his shoulder-length brown hair dry. He must have been fresh from his shower, judging by the clean, masculine scent that followed the gust of cooled air that swept past her when he opened the front door. Her nostrils were filled with his spicy scent, and her mouth watered as she tried to pull enough brain cells together to form words into sentences.

He spoke in a voice that was like velvet, soft and smooth, with a slight Texan accent. “Hi. What can I do for you?” He smiled warmly at her, looking curiously at the box she held.

“I’m a friend of Jack’s and wanted to bring him some food to help out.

He told me that his father had plenty of food at his house, but he didn’t say anything about at his own home. I have a big pot of homemade beef stew out in the car, and I made y’all fresh bread and a cake.”

Smiling, he opened the door for her and stepped aside so she could enter. “Let me get my boots on and I’ll carry in the pot for you.”

It was then that she noticed he was barefoot.

He disappeared for a moment and came back with socks and boots.

“Sorry, you caught me coming out of the shower,” he said with a grin.

One moment she was thinking what a nice visual image he had provided her with, and the next second, she was wondering why she would think something like that. A small part of her knew for certain that though it might not go anywhere, she already had the hots for his roommate Jack. Where was her loyalty, even if it was only loyalty to a fantasy?

“I’m sure Jack will really appreciate your thoughtfulness—” He paused, waiting for her name.

“Grace! Grace Stuart. I’m sorry. I should have introduced myself properly before barging in your house.” She saw pleased recognition in his eyes, and a big grin crossed his handsome face.

“You’re Grace! I’ve heard a lot of nice things about you. It’s good to finally meet you.”

Had Jack told his roommate about her? The dawning recognition in his eyes mixed with a little surprise had her very curious. She wondered what exactly Jack had said about her. His roommate was already headed out the door. She followed him down the limestone steps to the car. The hot summer sun beat down on them as they left the shade of the deep wraparound porch. He opened the front passenger door, and the smell of the stew wafted out.

“That smells really good, Grace.” He lifted the cardboard box lined with a towel that contained the stew pot. “I have a feeling we’re going to eat good tonight.”

She followed him back into the house, still carrying the smaller box. “I know from experience that when you’re dealing with the loss of someone really close to you, it’s easy to neglect the mundane tasks like preparing meals. I’m still in shock that Rose Marie passed away. She was my favorite customer at Stigall’s.”

“Jack hasn’t been home a lot since it happened. He’s been trying to make arrangements and watch over his dad. He probably has missed a few meals. It’ll mean a lot to him that you took the time to come all the way out here for him. I’m sure we’ll all be singing your praises later.” He placed the cardboard box on the black and gray granite counter top.