“Okay,” I started as I buckled my seat belt. “Go right out of the lot. We’ll follow this road for a few miles, then make a left on Slater Lane.”
“Where are we going?” There was a bit of irritation in Dominic’s voice. He didn’t like not being in control. Or not having information he thought was important, at least.
“The Bubbling Brook Inn. It’s a bed and breakfast off the beaten path. There probably won’t even be any other guests. But mostly, it’s quiet and hidden away. We can at least stay for tonight.” I left no room in my tone for him to question me.
Twenty-five minutes later, we were greeted by a large white farmhouse with a sign proclaiming it as the Bubbling Brook Inn. The rich blue shutters matched the gingerbread tucked into the points of the roof and beside the pillars of the oversized wraparound porch with its wide stairs. It was quaint. And perfect for hiding out, if only for one night. Staying at a place like this would also give Allison some semblance of normalcy.
We were greeted by a pleasantly plump older woman with graying hair wearing an apron covered in a lilac print and a big smile. “Hello, folks. Can I help you?”
I stepped forward. “Do you have any rooms for the night?”
“But of course. Please, come in.” She held open the screen door and led us into the foyer. “I’m Rose. My son, Teddy, and I run the Bubbling Brook.”
It was not an overly decorated room, as some public foyers tend to be. Rather, it felt like a home.
She went to a modest desk and pulled out a book I presumed to be her register. “We are completely empty for now, so you have your pick of the rooms. If you’d like two, so the girl has her own, I can do that, too.”
“No. We’d rather have one room with two beds if you can,” I said. I wanted Allison with me at all times.
“All right, then. I have just the room. The fee is one-sixty-five per night.”
“Okay. Do you take Visa?” I started to pull out my credit card, but Dominic stayed my hand and shot me a look.
“We’ll just pay cash, Miss Rose.” His charm worked on the woman.
“That’s fine, too,” she said smiling up at him.
He pulled his wallet out and handed her one-eighty in twenties. “Keep the change incase we decide to stay another night.”
I rolled my eyes at him because he was wooing this old woman who was already more than willing to help us out. But he just could’t resist beguiling her.
We gathered our bags from the car, and Rose led us up the stairs to our room. There was a twin bed in one corner, and a queen in the center of the opposite wall. Handmade Amish quilts draped over the mattresses, and picked up the soft yellow tone on the walls.
I tossed my bag on the queen bed, alongside Allison’s, claiming the larger bed for us and leaving Dominic to the twin. He caught my eye as I sat on the edge of the bed, letting me know he understood the meaning in my actions.
Allison went to use the bathroom in the hall, so I took the opportunity to ask the question nagging at me. “How much do you have?”
His eyes met mine and held. “Ten grand.” He studied me as I leaned back on my hands, taking in the information and what it indicated about our situation.
“You were ready to run.” I paused, scanning a stony face that revealed nothing.
“I have to be ready to go off the grid at a moment’s notice. It’s part of being involved with the feds like I am. Yeah, I was ready to run. I’m always ready to run.” So matter-of-fact. Almost cold.
“You think Ritter can track my cards?”
“I wouldn’t put it past him.” He sat next to me on the bed. “Look, ten grand should be more than enough to get us through this and back home. But if it’s not, I have stashes I can access. We just have to keep enough to get to one. I don’t think we’ll need it, though.”
Just then, Allison came galloping into the room. “Mommy! Mommy! There’s horses out back! They have horses!”
It eased my heart to see her so overjoyed at such a simple thing. I jumped off the bed, joining in her infectious excitement. “Let’s go see them,” I said as I grabbed her hand and let her pull me out of the room and down the stairs, leaving a baffled Dominic still sitting on the bed.
We were so loud going down the stairs, it brought Rose out of the back. “What’s all the excitement?” she asked.
“Horses!” exclaimed Allison, practically jumping up and down.
“She must have seen your horses out the bathroom window,” I explained. “She loves horses. We were going to walk around to see them.”
“I’ll do you one better,” Rose said, taking off her apron. “I’ll walk around with you. Introduce you to my Teddy. He’ll let you ride one, if you want.” She beamed at Allison, and I thought my daughter would explode with delight.
My hand found her shoulder to help keep her spirit firmly on the ground. “You have to calm down, or you could scare the horses.”
Her heels found the floor in obedience, and she walked calmly between me and Rose around the house. I heard the screen door close as Dominic followed.
As we entered the barn, Rose called out, “Teddy! We’ve got some guests. I’ve brought them out. . .”
“All right, Mama,” a deep and rumbling voice called, cutting Rose off. Teddy came out of a stall toward the back, and my hormones kicked into overdrive. He wore a blue plaid button-down with the sleeves ripped off. Dirt clung to dark skin glistening with sweat, wrapped around strong muscles and sinew. His hat was the trendy type worn by the hottest country singers of the day. And his dirty blue jeans hugged his hips and thighs. The strong line of his jaw peeked from under the shadow hiding the rest of his face.
Leaning his pitch fork against the stall door, he walked the aisle to greet us. “Howdy, m’am,” he said to me as he pulled off his leather glove and offered me his hand. Then he turned to Allison. “And who might you be, little lady?” he asked her, tipping back his hat and stooping to her level.
She giggled. “Allison.” Her hands were clasped in front of her, and she twisted back and forth in a classic timid motion while her eyes stayed on the ground.
“Nice to meet you, Allison. I’m Teddy. Would you like to meet my horses?”
Teddy stood. “Well, all right, then. They’re all outside, so come with me.” He took her hand and led her to the back of the barn and out the door. I followed closely, Dominic at my side. Rose had gone back to the house.
The warmth of Dominic’s strong hand enveloped mine, his fingers sliding between my own. Our pace slowed as teddy helped Allison stand on the bottom rail of the fence, pointing out the horses and naming them. Leaning down, Dominic whispered against my ear, “I’d wonder if you didn’t react to a man like that, but I’d like to be the one on the receiving end of your hormonal rage.”