Undeniable Demands(8)

By: Andrea Laurence

 He would not have it, so he terminated her. He never dreamed  the decision would come back to haunt him.

 If she were any other woman, he would’ve asked her to dinner to  talk over his offer and kissed her to keep the inflammatory words from flying  out of her mouth. Her temper, as spicy as her hair, was a massive turn-on. He  had a weakness for redheads.

 But she wasn’t another woman. She was holding on to seven years  of bitterness along with the key to something more important to him than  anything else. Protecting his family was his number one priority. Toying with  Victoria like a cat with a mouse could cost him dearly. He needed her to sell  him this land. He couldn’t fail. As much as he’d like to resolve their  differences between the sheets, it wasn’t the answer in this situation. He  doubted it would sway her, and she’d probably shoot him if he tried to kiss  her.

 “Arrogant and pigheaded,” Wade grumbled, turning to steer the  four-wheeler down the center aisle of trees toward the entrance. She thought she  knew so much. Well, she forgot rich, powerful, ruthless and determined Wade  Mitchell came in the same package. He would secure that land and protect his  family one way or another.

 Wade came to an abrupt stop as an old pickup truck, draped in  Christmas lights and garland, pulled in front of him. Piled into the trailer it  towed was a crowd of bundled-up people sitting on bales of hay and singing  Christmas carols. The driver, Owen, threw a hand up at Wade, then continued back  toward the house.

 Hayrides, Santa visits, sugar cookies and hot chocolate.  Picking out a tree at the Garden of Eden wasn’t just a shopping trip. It was an  experience. On the weekends in December, the farm was a madhouse. And it had to  be. A good portion of their income came from just this one month. Sure, they did  other things throughout the year, but Christmas tree farms depended on a good  Christmas to stay afloat.

 And lately, it hadn’t been enough.

 Wade blamed himself for that. When the boys grew up and moved  away, the Edens had to hire in help. Owen had always worked on the farm, but as  each year went by, more staff was added and their expenses went up. Throw in a  mountain of hospital bills and competition from increasingly more realistic fake  trees, and the Edens were lucky they’d survived this long.

 Wade followed the truck to the house and then veered off to  park the ATV back under the awning where they kept it. The farm would be closing  soon, so he skipped the house and headed around to the tree-processing area.  Heart attack be damned, he found his dad out there with a couple of teenage  boys. They were leveling, drilling, shaking and net-bagging all the trees  selected by the last round of customers.

 As though he’d never left, Wade grabbed a tree and put it on  the shaker to remove any loose needles. When it was done, Ken laid the tree out  to drill. They carried special stands in the gift shop that ensured a perfectly  straight tree.

 Wade held it still while Ken drilled.

 “You haven’t lost your touch, kid. Need a job?”

 Wade smiled. “I could work for about a week. Then I’ve got to  get back to town.”

 “That’s fine, fine. We’ll be closed by then, anyway.” Ken  lifted the tree and gave it to one of the boys to run through the netter. When  he turned back, he gave Wade a big welcome hug. “Good to see you, son.”

 “Good to see you, too, Dad. Is that the last of the trees for  tonight?”

 “Yep. With perfect timing, you’ve shown up just when all the  hard work is finished. Come help me haul these trees out to the parking lot and  we’ll go see your mother.”

 Wade grasped a tree in each hand and followed his father  through the snow to the parking lot where the last few cars waited for their  trees. He watched his father carefully for signs of ill health as he hauled  around the trees and helped families tie them into trunks and onto roofs. The  man wasn’t quite sixty yet and had always appeared to be at the peak of health.  His brown hair was mostly gray now, but his blue eyes were still bright and  alert, and he didn’t hesitate in his physical work. Ken had always been a lean  man, but a strong man. If nothing else, he looked a little leaner than  usual.

 “There’s nothing wrong with me, so quit looking for it.” Ken  snatched the last tree from Wade and hauled it down to the pickup truck waiting  for it.

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