The bees were what had sold her. The bees and Hiram Glass. The lovely octogenarian had tended the hives for years, selling the honey at the same farmers markets where she sold root vegetables, and vine vegetables, and leafy greens—and, the years the weather cooperated, strawberries the size of her fist, but that didn't happen often.
She would leave untouched the section of the acreage where the busy hives thrived; these days, honeybees faced so many obstacles. Moving them would add unnecessary stress, and there was no need. Their location allowed more than enough room for the expansion of IJK Gardens—though the Hope Springs, Texas, property would be more of an annex; the farm in Buda that served as her bread and butter was forty miles away.
It was a nice bit of separation. The business of earning a living from the pleasure of getting her hands dirty for fun.
The annex would be her baby, her indulgence, the heirloom vegetables she'd grow here her specialty. They would cost more to cultivate, requiring higher prices, but the demand was equally high. Consumers determined to avoid genetically modified foods would pay for quality produce. And pay for the honey from her bees.
Her bees. The words made Indiana Keller smile. Even now, standing across Three Wishes Road from her property, in the driveway of the Caffey-Gatlin Academy, she could hear them. She had to close her eyes, and be very still, and hold her breath, and bow the muscles of her imagination, but the hum was there, a soft busy vibration of work being done.
Work had been her life for years now. Work kept her sane. Work left her no time for a personal life. Work was her savior and most of the time her friend. An easy one to keep. Demanding yet constantly loyal, and in the end, she was the boss. That was the part she liked best. Calling the shots. Taking charge.
Doing so had gotten her through some very dark days. The darkest were gone now, and, vestigial family issues aside, she'd come through relatively unscathed; but she would never forget them, what going through them had cost her, what she'd made of herself, by herself, for herself, because of that cost. And now, with this new venture beckoning her . . .
She hugged herself tightly, shivering in awe that the gorgeously overgrown and scruffy fifteen acres across the street was hers, all hers, and there was absolutely no rush to get done the things she wanted to do. As long as her impatience didn't get in the way, she could take her time clearing the space for the greenhouses, and making over the cottage to live in, because first on her list was learning everything she needed to about taking care of the bees.
Just as the thought entertained her, a new sort of buzzing set up along her spine. Not one she heard, but felt. An awareness. A sense of impending change. A clear breach of her private communion. What she heard were footsteps crunching the driveway's gravel, and she flexed her fingers, then rubbed at her palms where her nails had dug deep.
The steps drew closer, and they were firm, heavy, most likely belonging to a man. Possibly Angelo Caffey, whose woodshop sat behind the Caffey-Gatlin Academy. Or a member of her brother Tennessee's construction crew, who were converting the academy property's original barn into living quarters for Angelo and Luna, his wife.
But neither was who came to a stop beside her.
"Can I help you with something?" the man asked, smelling earthy, spicy. Privileged.
"No. I'm fine," she said without looking over. She knew who he was, but doubted he remembered their paths crossing last week.
"Are you a friend of Hiram's?"
"I am, yes. Why?"
"Because friends of Hiram know he's not one for trespassing." He nodded across the street toward Camaro where it hugged the rough ground. "He says it's bad for the bees. Strangers disturb them."
No doubt he knew as well as she that Hiram had moved before the property sold. And that the bees deterred most strangers who ventured near. Yet she'd parked in what had been Hiram's driveway. As bold as she pleased. "And you are?"
"Not a stranger," he said, that silver-spoon privilege again.
"Then that makes two of us."
He waited a moment, his weight shifting from one hip to the other. "Does he know you're here?"
Ah, this one was clever. "Hard for him to know when he moved to Boerne to be near his son."
He smiled. She felt it in the way he relaxed his stance, in the pull drawing her to face him. It was hard to resist, that pull, because she knew what she would see. But it was so, so easy for the same reason. Looking up at his face gave her a very great and particular sort of enjoyment. He was an incredibly handsome man.
"Have we met?" she asked, as conscious as he that, formally, they hadn't.
He was shaking his head when he said, "I was about to ask you the same."
She held out her hand. "Indiana Keller."
"Keller," he repeated, taking it, holding it, his shake firm and lasting. "As in Tennessee? Though if you're Indiana, that's a really dumb question to ask, the state thing and all."
She thought of Dakota, her oldest brother, leaving prison and walking out of her life, and her smile faltered. "And you are?" she repeated, even though she knew.
"As in the Caffey-Gatlin Academy? Though since you're standing on the center's property . . ."
"Sounds like we're both full of dumb today," he said, his self-deprecation taking her aback. It was unexpected. And terribly cute.
"It's nice to meet you, Oliver." Officially.
"And you, Indiana," he said, then released her. "Though . . . weren't you at Luna and Angelo's wedding reception?"
Oh, the games we play. "I was," she said, inordinately pleased that she hadn't been invisible after all. She never knew, actually, if what little effort she took with her appearance made her stand out, or blend in, or any difference. "And you were, too."
His expression darkened, but in a searching, curious way. It was nothing nefarious. Nothing strange. Nothing to make her uneasy. "You should've said hello."
"Then?" She shook her head. "You were too busy with Angelo."
"I'm never too busy to meet a new friend."
Friends. Was that what they were going to be? Because what she was feeling . . .
She pulled in a deep breath, blew out flutters of anticipation, and wondered about fate and possibilities. About right places and right times. "It's always nice to be friends with the people you see regularly."
"Will we? See each other regularly?" he asked, and this time the look in his eyes did give her pause.
It was an interesting look, one that had her pulse blipping a bit, her anxiety rising in a very nice way as she made him wait. "Once in a while, at least, since I bought Hiram's place."
"Ah," he said, nodding. "So not a trespasser after all."
She looked over her shoulder at the buildings—the academy, the woodshop, the barn—where they sat on the five acres belonging to Luna Meadows Caffey, then down at the driveway before lifting her gaze to his. "Not on Hiram's property anyway."
"And not here," he said, returning her smile, his simply devastating, with dimples and deep lines like starbursts at the corners of his eyes.
That was good to know, though her friendship with Luna kept that from being a worry. But Oliver extending such an invitation, when they had no history and had only just met, tickled her. Warmly. "Are you working with the center now?"
While she waited for him to answer, a truck slowed in front of them on Three Wishes Road before turning to park behind her car in the driveway Hiram had rarely used. The tire tracks were more ruts than anything, and visible, though the strip between was green with weeds gone wild.
It was just like Will Bowman, however, not to care about the state of things beneath his pickup's wheels. Like Indiana, he let very little get in the way of what he wanted. And that had her wondering about Oliver Gatlin. Did he share the same trait?
Running into him at the Caffeys' reception had been a fluke encounter. They belonged to completely different worlds—his served up with a silver spoon, hers with a shovel or a spade. That juxtaposition left her uncertain as to how she felt about their being in contact. Especially with the way the buzz he'd brought with him was still stinging along her skin.
When he spoke, it wasn't in response to her question. "I'd ask if you had a trespasser, but since there's a Keller Construction sign on the side of that truck, I guess he's expected."
Will Bowman was never expected. A strange thought, but there it was. "Yes. I was early to meet him, so thought I'd enjoy the view from here."
He was quiet for a long moment, finally shoving his hands in his pockets and saying, "Then I'll leave you to it."
And that was it. He turned with only the slightest nod and walked back into the academy, vanishing as if the last few minutes had been conjured by her imagination. Such a dismissive departure was probably the norm for Oliver Gatlin, but she knew so little about men, and even less about his silver-spoon variety.
That lack of knowledge was likely the culprit behind the difficulty in her closing the gap time had left between her and Tennessee. Oh, but she was trying. For six months now, she'd been trying, putting herself in Hope Springs, in her brother's path, hoping to get back what she could of all they'd lost the year she'd been fifteen.
Tennessee just seemed . . . unreachable, as if keeping her at arm's length was the best he could do. As if he wasn't ready for anything more, fearing their closeness would cause more hurt. As if his guilt over the tragedy they shared was a burden as heavy as hers. It shouldn't have been, not when she was the one at fault.
"Too bad for you, big brother," she muttered, taking a deep breath before heading back across Three Wishes Road.
Because if all went according to plan, she was not the only family member who'd be coming back into his life, and hopefully to stay.