Ryder's inside scooping hay into a wheel barrel. “All right, let's get you to work. Grab the pitchfork over on the wall and come help me. If you remember what a pitchfork is.”
Rolling my eyes, I head right for it and grab it off the wall. “I think you're going to be surprised at how well I'm going to do today.”
“We'll see,” he says with a smirk.
We load up three barrels, pushing them into the horse stables. The horses are already out in the field, so the stalls are open. It stinks, literally. Covering my nose, I breathe in and out through my mouth.
“Yup, I remember this smell.”
“Good, because you're the one cleaning it out. I need you to clean out each stall and fill it with fresh hay. Can you do that?”
“All of them?” I ask.
“Yeah, all of them.”
“And what about you? What are you going to do?”
“It's a farm, Jenna. There's plenty to do. I'm going to fix the barn door, if you must know. It's loose and doesn’t close right.” He grabs a toolbox from against the wall, and walks backward to the doors. “You can handle this right? Or is this too much? You want to call it quits already?”
“No, I can do it.” Taking the shovel that's leaning against the wall, I start to scoop out the first stall. I'm not backing down from a single challenge he gives me. I want the opportunity to sell him on our offer, and I can't do that if I leave.
It takes me about three hours to clean all six stalls. Every so often I can feel Ryder watching me. But when I look up, his eyes are on the job he's doing. I caught him once, and he smiled lightly, then went right back to work.
Plucking rogue hay out of my hair, I wipe my hands on my pants. “Done. And it was easy. So, is it my turn? Can I pitch what we have to offer now?”
“Uh,” he says, “I said you have to work. We're not even close to being done. I've got a lot more for you to do.”
“All right. Go for it. Give me what you got. It can't be that bad.”
Ryder lists off task after task. And when I think I'm done, he's right there, ready to give me more. He has me gather the chicken eggs from the coop, feed the pigs, brush the horses, and give all the animals clean water.
As I'm scrubbing the gunk off the inside of the chicken coop, it hits me like a ton of bricks. I'm doing all the same tasks his dad had me do when I was a kid. Every single one. Ryder hasn't even had to give me any real instructions. It's like it's second nature to me. I already know what I'm doing without a second thought. It’s shocking how quickly it all comes back.
Running the back of my hand across my forehead, I spot Ryder as he's pushing a wheel barrel full of apples through the dirt lot. He stops, and I swear he knows I'm watching, but he doesn't look over to acknowledge me.
Setting down the wheel barrel, he wipes sweat off his head with a rag. And then he does exactly what I don't need him to do. He grabs the hem of his shirt and yanks it over his head. His body glistens under the sun. He's hot and wet, and all his muscles ripple as he stretches his arms over his head.
It takes me a second to realize I'm not breathing. It's not until my lungs are burning that I finally draw in a huge gulp of air.
He's mesmerizing. A farm boy model that girls would go crazy for. He'd do great in New York. I know he'll never actually go, but the fashion side of me is drawn to his chiseled jaw and rock hard body. Then there's the rest of me, the feral side, the side that secretly wants this man to grab me and throw me against the barn.
Taking a few controlled breaths, I clear my head and walk over to him. “All right, I've finished everything you gave me to do.”
“No you didn't,” he says. “Now we need to wash these apples for the farmer's market this weekend.
We're standing at the outside wash basin, scrubbing apples and checking them over for any bruising. There's a quiet between us, but it doesn't feel awkward or weird. It feels natural, familiar, even flirty at times.
He splashes me with water, chuckling to himself. “Oops,” he says. “I missed the apple completely.”
Smirking, I flick water up at his face, and before I know it we're having a full blown water fight. I'm laughing and smiling, enjoying every second of this. I had always told my friends back in New York that life on the farm was gross, dirty, and I hated every second of it.