Home > Cream of the Crop (Hudson Valley #2)(8)

Cream of the Crop (Hudson Valley #2)(8)
Author: Alice Clayton

Mmm, my favorite flower stall. Look, beautiful deep-red dahlias. I’ll take a few bundles for some color in my living room.

Just shopping, not noticing at all that there’s a stall now just twenty feet away that contains the most beautiful thing ever created on this earth.

There he was.

Come on, strut it out, girl.

No use. Those gray-blue eyes laser locked on me across the pavement, and the entire world stopped. Usually I didn’t see him until I made it up to the counter. He said his line, I said my line, and that was it for the rest of the week. Sometimes, if I was lucky, the wind would blow a few wisps of that thick, wavy hair around his face. And then angels would sing . . .

But today, something was different. He spotted me way before it was time, and he held my gaze. His eyes were piercing, cutting through the crisp autumn-morning air.

And as the wind blew, I realized there was no tie in his hair today. The chestnut was mixed with mahogany and copper and all the other sexy brown crayons. It was thick and a little curly, and cropped just above his shoulders. As I watched he ran his hand through the length, pushing it up and away from his face.

Today was different, I could feel it. I forced my feet to move toward him, using muscle memory to make things that should bounce, bounce. He noticed. He dropped his gaze from my face and it rolled down my body, his stare heavy enough that I could feel it.

There was no one else in line—another first. I walked right up to him, slowing my pace at the end to make sure that when I revisited this later in my dreams (day, sleeping, and wet varieties) I could truly savor it.

Now, standing in front of him, glorious in his simple godlike jeans and T-shirt, I took a moment to breathe. This time, I got a hit of him. Peppery, clean, with a hint of sweet butter. It made sense: the man owned a dairy.

I would kill someone with my bare hands to see him hold his churn.

The mere thought of this nearly knocked me off my feet, but as it was, I was already feeling the telltale signs of going googly, as Roxie called it. Thank goodness, he knew the drill.

“Brie?” he asked.

“Oh. Yes,” I answered. He wrapped it up, handed it to me, and this time, instead of what simply could be called an accidental brush of a finger, he held onto it for exactly two seconds longer than he needed to. And in those two seconds, he reached out with his thumb and stroked the inside of my palm. For two seconds, he thumb-stroked me.

I held my breath for an eternal two seconds, thumb-stroked so good that I saw stars. And when we finally let go, I knew I’d never be the same.

If he could make me that stupid with his thumb, what would happen if he—

My body was threatening to blow out every circuit, so I stepped away as he looked over my shoulder to the line that had formed. I walked up to the cashier, handed her the package, and fumbled in my linen bag for my—

Where’s my money? I peered into the bag, seeing the eggs and the flowers, but no small coin purse holding my cash for the day. I looked behind me, looked on the ground, and for pockets that I didn’t have.

“Shit,” I breathed, wondering where it had gone. “I’m so sorry, I think I lost my money,” I told the cashier, confused and still rattled by the thumb porn.

“Sorry, cash only,” she said, taking my cheese and setting it back onto the display. “Next!”

“It’s on me,” a deep voice interrupted, and I looked up to see Oscar handing me back the cheese.

“On you?” I repeated, and for the first time, he grinned.

“Mm-hmm.” He raised that scarred eyebrow in a knowing way. “On. Me.”

Yeah, today was different.

If Saturday morning had a ritualized feel to it, then Sunday was etched into stone tablets and mounted on the wall.

You will have brunch with thy mother and father. So it is written. So it is done.

Brunch with my family meant a lazy morning reading different sections of the Times, consuming platters of food from Zabar’s, and recapping the week’s events over incredible coffee. An unstated rule was that, barring anyone being out of town, Sunday mornings were nonnegotiable. Even hangovers were not an excuse for no-showing. You got your ass out of bed, and nursed it with one of my mother’s patented Bloody Marys, supplemented by extra onion on your bagel and schmear with belly lox.

Once when I was home on summer break from college, I developed a terrible case of mono and could barely walk. My father carried me downstairs on Sunday mornings and my mother would push on my jaw to make sure I ate my chicken soup.

If you were breathing, you were brunching, my mother would say. And for the most part, with the exception of Great Aunt Helen’s untimely demise in our front room one Sunday, the rule was rock solid.

The other rule, equally unstated, was that you don’t bring someone home with you on Sunday morning unless there’s a sparkling ring in your very near future. My brother, Todd, once brought over a Dakota or a Cheyenne or some such, who giggled and pranced and preened, and kept referring to my brother as Tad. He never made that mistake again. Sundays were for family.

This particular Sunday I was lounging at my end of the dining room table, croissant in one hand, fashion pages in the other, trying to concentrate on what I was reading. But my eyes kept wandering to the travel section that my father was reading, to the story on the back page with the picture of a small farm in upstate New York.

Its claim to fame was a flock of imported Scottish sheep that were not only delightful to look at, all snowy white and puffy, but apparently gave some of the most delicious milk around. The farmer made incredible sheep’s milk cheese likened to a Spanish Manchego, salty and perfect. A husband and wife, living in the country, making things with their actual hands!

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