No Bed Of Roses: Chapter One

No Bed Of Roses: The Wedding

Buy The Farm


Isla Duggan stood ankle-deep in the mud of a field she’d never seen before, in a state she’d never visited until today, and felt like maybe she’d found home.

Vermont’s spring air smelled crisp and sharp. Full of promise and possibilities. If she stayed here, she could live in the future, in those possibilities, rather than living with her past and her mistakes peeking over her shoulders.

The fields cried out for attention. The faded barn, too. At one time, someone had painted a scene on the side. Two horses pulling a plow with a farmer walking along behind. The scene could have occurred any time over the past couple of hundred years.

The painting stood at least fifteen feet tall. Who painted it and why? Was it an act of ego or an act of love? The paint had faded, and she wondered how many decades had passed since it had been bright and fresh.

Could she bring this place back to life? She had no aspirations to paint the barn, but she could tend to the rest.

A flat space of land stood next to a fence dividing this property from the next. That farm didn’t look like anyone had tended it in decades, either. Its barn was triple the size of her own and the land was probably five times as wide.

She didn’t need or want anything that big. With that property size, she would need help, and Isla wanted to be on her own for a while. She wanted to make her own decisions. Keep her work private from greedy eyes and ridiculous expectations.

The sound of a car horn had her flinching. She turned to see a small car pull into the driveway and park.

When Tansy Cheveyo jumped out of the passenger seat before the car fully stopped, Isla relaxed and squelched her way through the field toward her friend. She waved Tansy toward the cottage. “Stay there. This section is super muddy.”

Seconds later, she was wrapped in her friend’s arms as Tansy bounced. “Isla. I’m so happy to see you. I’m so glad you’re moving here.”

Which she hadn’t been sure she’d be brave enough to do. But having a friend within hailing distance sounded like a wonderful thing. “Me too. So far, I love it.”

Tansy laughed and hugged her again. “I knew you would. The cottage is small, but it’s adorable.”

Isla laughed. “I haven’t even looked at it yet. I like the fields and the barn. There’s a good flat space for my greenhouses.”

“Have you decided which experiments to start yet?”

A man with enough muscles to lift the barn behind her laughed and slung his arm over Tansy’s shoulder. “Let the woman breathe, Tans. She just got here. Let her breathe before you two start improving the world.”

Tansy laughed and leaned into the man. “You’re right. I’m just so excited. Isla Duggan, I’d like you to meet Sam Young.”

So this was Tansy’s Sam. She spoke about him as if he was a superhero. His physique matched, and the love directed at Tansy told Isla his heart did as well.

Isla held out her hand. “Hi, Sam. It’s nice to meet you. Tansy’s told me lots about you.”

Sam ignored the hand and wrapped his arms around her in a friendly hug. “Nice to meet you as well, Isla. Tansy’s been vibrating with excitement at luring another good friend to Vermont. We hope you love it here.”

“Me too.” Her echo of her previous words held some trepidation she hoped they wouldn’t notice. Of course, Tansy was more perceptive than that.

She patted Isla’s arm. “We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure this is the right place for you. If that doesn’t happen though, I can buy out your half of the property if you need to go. I don’t want that to happen, but the option is always there. You need to do what’s best for you.”

Sam nodded firmly. “Take your time to decide. Setting up in a new place takes time and comes with a lot of emotional swings. There’s no rush. And if you want to stay with us out at Midnight Lake and simply be, you can do that too. The fields and experiments will still be there next month or next year.”

She hadn’t said a word about what had prompted her sudden need to leave the lab in Texas, but these two had intuited that there were problems. She needed time to heal, but she also knew that work was the best thing for her. Having a purpose and a goal would stop her from overthinking her past.

Tansy looped her arm through Isla’s. “Let’s tour the cottage first. Sam already installed a security system in it. We’ll get one on the barn and anywhere else you’d like, too.”

That had her staring at them. Sam shrugged. “I’m sure Tansy has told you I’m part of the team who runs Midnight Security. We might be overly cautious with our security systems, but they’ve come in handy once or twice.”

Isla knew a bit of the story that had brought Tansy and Sam together, but she didn’t know the extent of what had happened when some jerks had wanted to steal Tansy’s technology and turn it into a weapon. Now that she was in Vermont, she’d find out the whole story one day.

As it was, the security system helped settle some of her nerves. She didn’t expect any of the issues from her past to follow her across the country, but it would be nice to have an early warning system if she was wrong about that.

“Now, let’s tour your cottage, and we’ll let Sam show off his security system. Then you can decide if you want to stay here for the night or if you’d prefer to come out to Midnight Lake with us.”

Isla wondered if she’d ever felt as welcome as she did at the moment. She was the kind of person who kept to the background and the sidelines. Sometimes, people didn’t even notice her, and that was just fine.

But being welcomed, being wanted? That was a pretty spectacular feeling.

She squeezed Tansy’s arm and smiled. “I can’t wait to see inside.”

The cottage held a large mud room with laundry and a main room with a kitchen and living area. A tiny bistro table and two chairs divided the two spaces. To the side was a bedroom and bathroom with an amazing clawfoot tub.

Instead of the dusty interior she’d imagined, the space sparkled. The furniture was old, some of it antique-old, but all clean as well. There was fresh bedding on the bed, covered by a beautiful quilt that made her want to dive right in for the night.

“I can’t believe you did all of this, Tansy. It’s so bright and fresh and welcoming.” There were even flowers on the tiny table and a kettle on the stove waiting to make tea.

Tansy smiled. “We really want you to stay here in Vermont. I had lots of help from our friends. You’ll be able to meet them soon, but I thought it would be overwhelming if everyone arrived here today.”

Sam pointed at the fridge. “We’ve stocked you up with some food, and Graham fixed up a few ready-to-go meals for you.”

She wasn’t sure who Graham was, but she already liked him.

“There’s currently only one diner in town. It’s open until three in the afternoon. The local B&B does an occasional dinner service and the Saloon will open soon, but everyone’s mostly on their own for food in the evenings.”

Tansy nodded. “You’re always welcome to come to the lodge for anything you need. We’ll keep a bedroom open for you there as well. With the two-mile hike in, we tend to get overnight guests. There are plenty of rooms.”

Isla swallowed, the emotions filling her. There was no doubt she was going to love it here.

Sam grinned again. “Now that we’ve completely overwhelmed you, why don’t we walk through your muddy fields and you can tell us some of what you might want to do?”

That sounded like the perfect antidote to her overwhelm. Focusing on the plants and her plans was definitely her happy place.

Levi "Oz"

Levi Connors wondered what in the hell he was doing. But he kept aiming his truck north instead of west or even south. Vermont was a state with about eight months of winter.

He wasn’t sure of much anymore, but he was still sure that he was a farmer. And farmers who worked in Vermont faced a ton of challenges that didn’t exist in Nebraska or Iowa. Or Kansas. But he couldn’t face Kansas again, and none of the properties he’d checked out in the other states had felt right.

Not that he could identify why they felt wrong, just that he couldn’t set down his money for any of them.

So he was heading north, giving in to the not-so-subtle hints from his former Army teammate Troy Phail. Phail was a terrible surname. It was also the name of the town where Troy lived.

The town where Levi was headed. Who headed to Phail?

Apparently, people who hadn’t been able to find their own space and who felt lost and alone. Phail might be a terrible name, but Levi felt like a failure, so it pretty much fit.

It was spring, and there wouldn’t be snow. At least, he hoped the snow was gone. It was the end of March. Back in Kansas, the wheat would be swaying in the wind. The corn would be going into the ground.

He wasn’t sure what growing zones they had in Vermont, but if they had snow in March, the growing season was much shorter than the ones he’d lived in.

If he decided to stay, he had a ton of research to do. Not only the growing zones, but the land’s personality and needs. Things that could only come from someone who’d worked it.

He couldn’t make any plans until he knew things. What were typical farming crops in Vermont? Did he know anything about them? He didn’t particularly want to dive into something new. He liked the tried and true.

His parents had grown wheat and corn like their parents before them. And their parents and grandparents before them. There were best practices involved and traditions, too. He knew the ebb and flow of the seasons. He understood the land and the crops. Even understood the weather disasters that devastated the lands on a whim, like the tornado that had wiped out their family farm and his parents right along with it.

He didn’t know sweet diddly squat about snow and how it affected the land and the growing.

Still, he kept driving north. Troy often lived up to his call sign of Epic, as in Epic Phail. The man was always concocting plans and had more ideas than an ear of corn had kernels. The man was always thinking of ways to improve. Even when things were fine just the way they were.

Hell, Epic had talked Arrow and Falcon into living in Phail. That left him, Slick, and Scooby on the outside. Levi was tired of being on the outside of everything.

Once he crossed the state line, Levi paid more attention to the GPS. He wanted to be done driving and get out to stretch his legs. He also wanted to drive forever until he found a place. His place.

The town of Phail was in the eastern section of the state, not too far from New Hampshire and closer to the south than the north. That had to be some good news if he was thinking about putting down roots here.

Even the thought had him feeling guilty. For generations, his family had lived and worked in Kansas. Why was he turning his back on generations of tradition when that tradition had kept his family fed and employed for decades?

Now he was the last one. The last of his family’s line. A traitor thinking about ignoring their history and traditions and moving to another state.

Still, he kept driving.

Every sign he passed had him closer to Phail. To failure?

When had he become such a depressing man? His lips curled up as he realized Epic would have a smart-ass response to that.

He followed the GPS instructions and drove into the town. And had driven right through it less than a minute later. Grinning, he turned the corner onto a side street so he could turn around. Not that there was a lot of traffic he’d be holding up if he executed a three-point turn.

Before turning to head back to town, he pulled over to the side of the road and drew his first easy breath in a long time.

Barns and farmhouses spread out on the fields as far as he could see. Weathered, comfortable buildings built to last.

Maybe Vermont wasn’t Oz, after all.

Which had him grimacing. Being a farmer from Kansas meant his team used Oz from the Wizard of Oz movie as his call sign. It drove him nuts, and he didn’t need to start making his own Oz references.

Epic, Falcon, Slick, Scooby, Arrow, and Oz. It made him roll his eyes every single time. This time, he was grinning because no one was there to see it.

Another minute later, he pulled his old truck into a parking lot near his buddy’s store. Phail General. Because, of course, Epic used his family name to identify his business.

Levi found he was still grinning as he spotted the No Fail Diner, Phail Phoods, Doc’s, and The Saloon. Nothing uptight about this place.

A bell sounded above the door when he walked into Phail General. The door had barely closed behind him when a loud whoop sounded from behind the shelving units crowding the space. “Oz! You made it.”

His buddy engulfed him in a hug, and then Arrow joined them. Marcus Ramirez had been their military team leader and he was now the deputy here in Phail. His call sign was accurate. Arrow had led them straight into danger and straight out the other side more times than he could count. Levi had never met a steadier man.

Troy slapped him on the shoulder. “Why didn’t you tell us you were heading up? Man, I’m so glad you’re here.”

The welcome had some part of Levi settling. While the farm in Kansas had been home, being with his team had always been a close second.

Arrow grinned at him. “We’ve got a big old farmhouse just north of town where you can stay. Sean and his Branna are the only ones living there. They’re renovating, but there’s at least one free bedroom that’s fixed up and ready for you.”

Troy nodded. “Let’s go see Falcon at The Saloon. He’s probably working on something there or at the farmhouse.”

On the way out of the store, Troy flipped the sign to closed. “Perks of being the boss.” But Levi noticed the closed sign also told any customers in need how to get a hold of Epic if they needed something.

A small town where people had your back. Maybe coming to Phail wasn’t the worst decision he could have made. And that sentence sounded ridiculous in his own head. “You ever think of changing the town’s name to something less terrible?”

Marcus laughed, and Troy rolled his eyes. “Not a chance. It’s a name with character. Just like yours, Oz.”

At least he hadn’t committed to moving just yet.

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