Big Bad Wolfe
Wings ePress, Inc.
Winner of the Golden Wings Award.
Twice a year Senior Editors from Wings
ePress, Inc. select whom they think is the
best overall read for their department.
Chapter One

At the sound of children’s voices and the tinkling of the nursery-character chimes that
hung above the entrance to Kids’ Kloset, Corey Tierney turned away from her account
books and smiled as she prepared to greet new customers. Her eyes widened and her
pleasant expression of welcome changed to one of amazement.

A blond giant blocked the sunlight that usually flooded her doorway. Her gaze swept up
from a level of a few feet above the floor, from the shy, fresh young faces she had
expected to see, almost to the ceiling. She gaped at an impressive length of worn denim
encasing lean thighs, a long expanse of cotton T-shirt strained to bursting by a muscular
chest and, finally, an indignant Nordic face with Old Mother Goose dangling over one
dark blond eyebrow and Little Red Riding Hood perched on a crown of gleaming flaxen

This golden behemoth was effectively prevented from untangling himself from the chimes
by two small tow-headed boys standing on either side of him, each reaching up to cling to
an oversized hand.

Mastering her initial surprise, Corey sprang forward to help. She never thought of herself
as petite, measuring a shade over five foot four, but she had to stand on tiptoe to reach
the small metallic figures. As she plucked Little Red Riding Hood from the Viking’s fair
hair, deep blue eyes, nearly dark enough to be called navy, glared down at her. She felt
a jolt, almost physical in nature, as though the man had rudely given her a hard shove.
Really, she thought with a touch of irritation, it wasn’t such a big deal. You would think he
had stumbled into a bear trap from the expression on his face.

She released the chimes, allowing them to swing free, and her bare forearm grazed a
broad shoulder. Suddenly realizing how close she was standing to the man’s blatantly
virile body, Corey stepped back quickly. Strange--her breathing was accelerated, as
though she had been pole-vaulting instead of offering a simple gesture of assistance.

Now her feeling of annoyance shifted its focus to herself. She was reacting to the man as
though she had been stranded on a desert island for years, starved for male
companionship. Just because very few men ever came into Kids’ Kloset didn’t mean she
couldn’t extend the usual professional courtesies, even if this particular man looked like
he would be more at home in a saloon tossing back a few tall ones with his cronies than
in a children’s clothing store.

Brandon Wolfe frowned before he bent to gently disengage the tiny fingers immobilizing
his hands. He had hoped he could find the clothes he needed for his sons here at Kids’
Kloset, but instead it looked like it was just going to be another encounter with an
arrogant woman who thought men didn’t know how to shop for children. Those silly
chimes hanging near the doorway were obviously too low for any normal-sized man to get
under without ducking. The proprietor might as well have posted a sign that said, “MEN

John and Robbie had been giggling at the sight of their daddy captured by Old Mother
Goose, but now John spied a play area with an assortment of toys and books. Grabbing
Robbie’s arm, John dragged him over to a stuffed bear large enough to be used as a
chair by little folks, plopped him down in the bear’s lap and started pushing a toy
locomotive along its wooden track. “Whoo, whoo,” he called out, instantly absorbed in his

Brandon sighed, straightened to his full height, ran work-roughened fingers through his
tousled hair and asked in a voice he knew to be hostile, “Are there any more booby traps
I should watch out for?”

Corey hastened to reassure him. “I’m terribly sorry,” she said and offered him what she
hoped was a disarming smile. “I’m afraid you’re considerably taller than most of my
customers. I never thought anyone could bump into my nursery chimes.” But her apology
only made him look even angrier.

“I suppose you’re one of those people who think only women know anything about kids’
clothes,” he said accusingly.

“Why no, really, not at all,” she said, trying to soothe him. “Fathers, and even
grandfathers, sometimes come shopping here.” Of course, it had been about six months
since that grandfatherly gentleman had come in, but she didn’t need to tell him that. “It’s
just that you are larger than most of them.”

Corey looked hastily away, fearful she was staring at just how delightfully large he
actually was. Olive Oyl’s song in that old Robin Williams movie-version of Popeye
suddenly sang out in her head--“He’s Large”--and she almost giggled aloud.

Brandon took a few uncertain steps among the clothing racks, pausing to shrug his
shoulders in an attempt to relieve his growing tension. He looked around uneasily at the
wall displays of frilly little-girl party dresses. He didn’t know if it was getting tangled up in
that stupid mobile or the fact that the saleswoman was so damnably and distractingly
attractive that made him feel so out of place.

Corey hesitantly followed him. “Is there something I can help you with, Mr...?” she asked
in her very best unobtrusive, tactful salesperson’s voice.

He swung around to face her, and she felt the same shock as before when his dark blue
eyes met her wren-brown ones. Inexplicably, she felt a need for some kind of support and
reached out to cling to a clothing rack while pretending to rearrange the skirts hanging

She really was behaving like a dolt. Perhaps her friends were right when they accused
her of hiding from men by burying herself in her store. No, she defended herself silently, I’
m not afraid of men; it’s just this particular man is so, so--large!

“Wolfe. Brandon Wolfe,” he responded. “We’re really here in Boise for the WILA show,
but I thought while we were in town I could get the boys some new clothes,” he said,
nodding toward the children busily playing in the corner.

“WILA?” she puzzled.

“Western Idaho Llama Association,” he replied absently. The hard lines of his face
softened as he watched the older boy help the younger build a Lego tower. “You see,
John starts kindergarten this fall. He needs just about everything. He grows so fast I can
barely keep him covered, and he’s so darned hard on his things there’s not much left but
rags for Robbie after John outgrows them. So Robbie needs some new clothes, too.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place then. We have lots of nice things for little boys,” she
said briskly in what she hoped was a business-like tone.

Her throat had tightened in a most unprofessional manner as she watched the play of
strength and tenderness cross his rugged face. He was devoted to his children; that was
evident in his expression and in the very fact he was the one who was shopping for them.
Corey unconsciously pinched her lips together. Not like her ex-husband, who had made it
very clear he thought the only purpose of children was to carry on the male bloodline and
possibly to serve as slave labor on the ranch once they were old enough.

“But the problem is everything costs so much,” Brandon said, a look of embarrassment
and pain on his face. “I’ve been to half a dozen stores this morning, and it’s the same
everywhere. The prices on kids’ clothes are jacked up sky high. Why, a little shirt no
bigger than my hand costs more than what I pay for something for me!” he finished
heatedly, his face hardening into a mask of angry frustration.

“That’s exactly why I opened my store,” she said, not adding she had also needed to earn
a living and preserve her sanity after her divorce. “It’s hard for most young families to
make ends meet these days. Perhaps you didn’t realize this is a resale store? Our prices
are much lower than department stores.”

“Oh, I realized all right,” he said bitterly. “One of those snippy young clerks at the mall
suggested I come over here after I balked at buying some of their overpriced stuff. But I
don’t want my sons wearing other kids’ castoffs.”

Corey hid a smile. Here was a raging case of pride battling necessity. She set to putting
him at ease.

“We only accept clothing that is in excellent condition,” she explained. “Some of our
things have hardly been worn at all. A relative might send a gift that is too small or is in
some other way inappropriate for the child; the parents don’t want to hurt Auntie or
Grandma’s feelings by returning the present, so a whole outfit that is practically brand
new ends up here. I sell the clothes on consignment. The parents can use the money to
buy something for their child he or she really likes, and my customers get a great
bargain. Voilà! Everybody is happy!”

Corey concluded enthusiastically with a little flourish and a brilliant smile, then faltered as
she noticed how intensely the intriguing stranger was staring at her. Some of the self-
assurance she had generated as she had warmed to her sales pitch ebbed away, and
she turned hastily toward the boys’ section.

“Here are the jeans. And here are corduroy pants. A local outlet was overstocked and
discounted them for me to clear out their inventory. So they’re actually new. Older boys
think cords are unfashionable, but little boys still seem to like them, and they’re nice and
warm and soft when it gets colder. And on that table are the sweaters, and in this pile I
have some long-sleeved T-shirts with TV cartoon heroes printed on them. They’re really

Goodness! She was chattering on like a ninny. What must he think of her? She loved
helping mothers find the right clothes for their children; she mustn’t let the fact that this
time it was a man doing the buying unnerve her, even if that man was looking at her with
an intensity most unbecoming to a husband and father. Corey took a deep breath and
forced herself to slow down.

“Do you know what sizes the boys wear?” she asked.

“No,” he admitted with a grin. Corey noticed with relief he was looking a little more relaxed
by now. “I guess I never got past prices this morning.”

Corey walked over to where the boys were playing. They were beautiful children. The
older boy had very pale blond hair, almost white, and bright blue eyes like his father but
lighter in color. The younger child also had blond hair but with more of a golden cast, and
his eyes were hazel. Both boys had sturdy, healthy-looking little bodies and rosy, chubby
cheeks. They wore shorts, T-shirts and sneakers with holes at the toes. Their clothes
were rather shabby, Corey noted, but very clean. Well, she thought with satisfaction, I
can fix the shabby part.

Corey smiled at the boys when they looked up at the adults. “So, you’re going to start
kindergarten, John. That’s great. Stand up next to the giraffe so I can see how tall you

John jumped up from the Legos to stand next to the plywood cutout shaped and painted
to look like a giraffe with inch and foot marks on the neck. He strained every muscle in his
little body trying to look taller, thrusting his jaw up and stretching his neck until his face
turned bright red.

“Wow! You’re such a big boy. You’re going to grow up to be really tall like your daddy,”
Corey said admiringly.

“I’m big, too,” Robbie said, leaping up and down like a little frog in his attempt to reach the
same level as John.

Corey smiled at the boys’ antics, but she glanced over at their father and noticed he was
frowning at his sons’ performance. Not wanting to be responsible for behavior that might
cause them to get a scolding, she quickly turned back to the clothing.

“I think a size six or maybe even a seven would be about right for John and probably a
five for Robbie.”

She efficiently gathered a selection of coordinated shirts and pants for both boys and
handed them over to their father, exquisitely aware of the large hands accepting them.
She tried to avoid any contact, but when her fingers grazed his hard, callused palm, she
instantly felt all shivery in spite of the fact her small air conditioner was woefully
inadequate for this hot August afternoon.

“Try these,” she said a trifle breathlessly. “The changing rooms are over there. They’re
pretty small. I don’t think the three of you will fit in one room. Maybe if you help Robbie,
John can manage by himself.”

“Course I can get dressed all by myself,” John said indignantly.

His dad handed him his stack of clothes. He encircled them with his little arms in a mighty
bear hug, crushing them against his chest, then marched importantly on short, sturdy
legs into the curtained cubicle.

Robbie’s father took him by the hand and led him into the fitting room next to John’s.
Brandon made short work of getting his younger son dressed in one of the new outfits. It
fit the little boy perfectly. Robbie obediently stood in front of a long mirror for inspection,
but Corey noticed he spent more time glancing longingly at the toy corner than he did
checking his reflection.

“I don’t think he needs to try everything on. Just pick the things you like, and I can use
this outfit to compare the sizes,” Corey said.

Robbie gave her a grateful look and started to step out of the jeans right where he was
standing, but his father firmly ushered him back into the cubicle to change. When he
came out dressed in his old clothes, he skipped over to the toys and happily resumed
playing with a dump truck.

Meanwhile, John had been cloistered in his changing room an inordinate length of time.
“Do you need some help, Champ?” his dad called out.

“No,” came the muffled response. “But something doesn’t look right,” he added in a
plaintive tone.

“Come show me,” Brandon said patiently.

A red face, topped with hair that seemed to have been arranged with an eggbeater,
emerged from behind the zoo-patterned curtain. John walked out slowly, looking quite
woebegone. Somehow he had managed to get his head through the long sleeve of a
sweater. The whole length of the knitted sleeve was bunched up around his short neck,
while one chubby shoulder protruded through the opening where his head should have

Corey and Brandon exchanged amused glances over the crestfallen little boy. “That’s
quite a fashion statement, John,” Corey managed to say with a straight face.

The big man knelt down to carefully ease the sleeve over his son’s head. He put the
sweater right, then stayed down on one knee, his powerful hands gently squeezing the
small shoulders. He smiled into the little boy’s eyes until, reassured, the child smiled back.

Corey observed their interaction, admiring how Brandon understood his son’s needs, but
the tableau of man and boy created a wrenching pain deep inside of her as it reminded
her of her own lost dreams. She had wanted children, a family, so badly.

She looked away, but that was even worse, for she could see all three of them reflected
in the long mirror by the changing rooms. The golden strands in her light brown hair
made her look as though she fit right in with the two blonds. Yes, it could be a happy
family scene if you discounted the sudden shine in her brown eyes from unshed tears
and the fact that her lips were compressed into a narrow line to stifle a half-formed sob.

Corey hoped the boys’ mother realized just how lucky she was to have such a strong, yet
tender, husband and beautiful children. It was exactly the kind of family she had always
longed to be a part of.

For the first time, Corey questioned the wisdom of opening a children’s store. It had
seemed like a good way to satisfy the craving she had felt to be around children when
she had finally accepted the painful fact that endometriosis meant she would never have
any of her own, but now she wasn’t so sure. Perhaps she had just chosen a method of
rubbing salt into her wounds.

Corey turned away from the moving scene to straighten an already tidy pile of sleepwear.
A few deep breaths and she had her emotions under control again. The boys’ father
would think she was certifiable if he noticed her getting teary-eyed just from watching him
untangle his son from a sweater. She tucked her light green cotton shirt more smoothly
into the white poplin slacks she was wearing and turned back to her customers.

Brandon rose from his kneeling position, and soon he and John were engrossed in
picking out which clothes they were going to buy. John tried on a few more items--this
time with the help of his dad--when there was any doubt about the fit. He took a particular
liking to a long-sleeved shirt with a garish imprint of hideous monsters who were the
unlikely heroes of a popular children’s TV show.

“This is really neat, Daddy!” John enthused, grabbing the shirt by one sleeve to wave it
through the air like a flag. He quickly pulled it on, then went over to the mirror to admire
his image. He contorted his face, trying to look as mean as the monsters, and puffed out
his chest. “Can we get this one; can we, please?” he begged.

His father frowned at the shirt. “No, John, I don’t want you wearing things like that to

John’s face fell. Corey interceded for him.

“I live right across the street from an elementary school,” she offered helpfully. “All the
boys wear shirts like that to kindergarten. It wouldn’t be inappropriate.”

Brandon scowled fiercely at her. Who did she think she was, questioning his authority in
front of his son? It seemed everyone he knew, from his own parents to strangers on the
street, thought they knew more about raising kids than he did. He would put her in her
place in a hot minute. He walked purposefully toward her.

So what if she saw a lot of kids and their clothes every day. That gave her no right to try
to convert him to her way of thinking with a smile that could charm the skin off a snake. It
was hard enough to enforce an unpopular decision without some adult encouraging a
child to argue with his parent.

He looked at the shirt and at John’s hopeful face. Perhaps the design really wasn’t so
bad, but if he changed his mind now, John would get the idea he could get his own way
anytime he pushed hard enough.

He bent his head so that he was only a few inches from the pretty little saleslady’s face
and stared into her soft brown eyes.

Corey took a hasty step back, recoiling in surprise at the ferocity she saw in Brandon’s

“I don’t need you or anyone else telling me what’s right for my children,” he said in what
was in reality a low voice, but somehow it seemed to hiss sharply through the room. He
turned back to his son and commanded in a tone that allowed no room for further
discussion, “Take it off, John. We’re not going to buy that one.”

For a few seconds it looked as though John might sulk, but he did as he was told and
handed the offending shirt inside out to Corey. Corey straightened the garment, folded it,
put it away and hesitated. Perhaps she shouldn’t offer any more suggestions. She couldn’
t believe the way Brandon had changed so suddenly. He had helped untangle his son
from the sweater sleeve with gentle concern for the child’s feelings, but now he sounded
like a domineering tyrant. If she had a terrific son like John, she would pay attention to his
likes and dislikes and allow him to make his own choices whenever practical. She wanted
to support John, but his father was so forceful, so opinionated, so... so mule-headed, she
wasn’t sure she should try.

Oh, fudge! She wasn’t going to let any big bully intimidate her even if he did speak to her
in a voice with the sting of a bullwhip. After all, the worst that could happen would be that
he would stalk out of the store, and she would lose a sale. Resolutely, she skimmed
through the remaining shirts and came up with one with a Buggs Bunny design.

Holding the shirt out for them to see, she turned and said brightly, “How about this one?”

Brandon stared at her with such heat in his dark blue eyes that she instinctively held the
shirt up higher in front of her as though it were a kind of shield against his searing gaze.
She had begun to waver and was going to put the shirt away when John broke in.

The little boy wriggled his nose, chewed an imaginary carrot, then said, “Eh, what’s up,

Brandon’s tried to hide his amusement. Well, he hadn’t actually said no to this particular
one, and at least it didn’t have a monster on it. He probably should turn it down, too, just
for the principle at stake, but somehow he didn’t want this lovely young woman, however
misguidedly persistent, to think he was too unreasonable.

“It will do,” he said quietly. “I think we have enough now. Let’s add up the damage.”

Corey tried to contain the little gasp of relief she couldn’t quite hold back. She wasn’t sure
why the big man made her so uneasy--after all, what could he do to her?--but she was
glad for John’s sake she had stood up to him.

She helped John and his father carry the clothing to the cash register at the counter.
Then John ran over to join his brother playing with the toys while Corey totaled the
purchases. They had chosen a half a dozen pairs of pants with mix-and-match shirts and
sweaters for each of the boys. She told Brandon how much the clothing was going to
cost. When he heard the figure, his face lit up with a wide smile.

“That’s more like it,” he crowed. “They probably could have only had about one set of
duds each for that amount of money at one of those high-priced stores.”

Corey caught her breath. How quickly his moods changed. His wife surely must have her
hands full trying to keep up with such a complicated man. But what a beautiful smile he
had! Very white, evenly spaced teeth gleamed in sharp contrast to his deeply tanned
face. Two little curved creases on each side of his mouth formed a double set of
parenthesis around his lips. Corey felt a sudden sharp urge to reach up and trace the
bowed indentations with a fingertip. Shocked at herself, she looked away and hastily
started putting the clothing and the receipt into a large plastic bag.

Brandon pulled a checkbook from his back jeans’ pocket and made out a check. Corey
was unable to resist examining his face as he looked down at the counter. His eyelashes
were light in color but unusually long for a man’s and thick, like a brush. His chin and jaw
line were square and too prominent, really, for conventional good looks. And though he
didn’t look old, in his early thirties probably, his face was already lined, perhaps from long
hours in the sun, judging by his dark tan.

When he had first come into her store, he had overwhelmed her with his size and sheer
presence, but she realized now you couldn’t actually call him handsome, at least not in
the movie star sense, though there was no doubt he did possess a magnificent body, and
the navy eyes and thick gleaming blond hair were exceptional. Still, Corey thought, what
impresses me the most is the way his face changes when he smiles. In repose, his face
looked rugged, stubborn, possibly even arrogant with his chin jutting out at an I-dare-you-
to-hit-me angle. But with a smile, his countenance exploded into unrestrained boyish glee.

Annoyed with herself, she shook her head ruefully. She had no right to speculate about
some other woman’s husband. Though it would be wonderful to be the person who made
a man smile like that, she couldn’t help thinking wistfully. Before she could contain it, she
let a small, audible sigh escape. She couldn’t remember even one time her ex-husband
had ever smiled at her in quite that way.

At the sound of her sigh the object of her intense scrutiny glanced up with a quizzical
expression on his face and handed the check over across the counter.

Brandon had what he needed now, but for some reason he felt reluctant to leave. It
troubled him to think he would never again see those warm brown eyes that were as
intensely focused on him as if he were the only man on earth. He suddenly realized that it
had been a long time since any woman had paid that much attention to him, much less a
woman as pretty and bright as a newborn day.

Whoa up there, he cautioned himself. He didn’t have the time, money or energy to allow
his thoughts to drift along those lines. And even if it had been the right time and place to
meet a woman, this wouldn’t be the right woman--not an uppity little thing who obviously
thought she knew a lot more than he did even about his own kids.

Still, in a few days he would be back at his cabin, alone with his sons and his llamas. Who
knew how long it would be before he could afford to enjoy a woman’s company? Surely
he could indulge himself in a wee bit of harmless flirting. A smile or two from this pretty
little lady might have to last him a long while.

“I surely do appreciate your help,” he said. “I was beginning to think the boys were going
to have to run around buck naked this winter.”

Corey examined the check and noted there was only one name printed on the account.
She braced herself for the now expected jolt before looking up into his dark blue eyes. “I
doubt if Mrs. Wolfe would be very pleased to see them in that condition.”

He seemed to stiffen. “There isn’t any Mrs. Wolfe,” he said harshly.

Corey was ashamed of the flash of exhilaration that surged through her body. Where had
it come from? How could any decent woman ever be pleased at the idea of a broken
family? “I’m sorry to hear that,” she murmured and tried to believe she really meant it.

He made a visible effort to relax as he turned to look at the boys happily engrossed in an
entire village of Lego towers. He swung back around to face Corey again. This time his
voice was light, conversational, with only a few swirls of sultry undertones. “Have you
worked here long?” he asked.

Corey found herself reacting to the underlying sensuous timbre. Her throat tightened,
and she found it hard to reply with the right touch for small talk. “I opened the store
almost four years ago.”

“So, it’s your own business, then? Is there a Mr. to help out?”

Was she mistaken, or was the sensuous quality of his voice deepening? One thing she
was sure about. Her friends were right; it had been too long since she had tried to talk to
a man. She was letting her imagination run wild. It was hard not to stumble over her words.

“No. I’m divorced.” After all these years she still hated to say it. “I opened Kids’ Kloset
after my husband and I separated.”

The fine lines around his eyes crinkled as he smiled at her. Had he looked pleased when
she told him she was divorced? He seemed almost playful now that he had outfitted the

“I’m afraid I’m at a disadvantage. You know my name, but I haven’t had the pleasure of
learning yours.”

“Corey. Corey Tierney.”

He reached across the counter to take her hand as though they had just been formally
introduced at some social function. “Corey,” he said so softly she could barely hear him.
“Corey,” he said again a little louder, rolling the two syllables across his tongue as though
he were trying them out, maybe tasting some unfamiliar fruit to see if he liked it. He
seemed to come to a favorable conclusion, because he said more firmly, “Corey Tierney,
I’m very, very pleased to meet you.”

His hard, rough fingers were still clasping her smaller hand as the blue flame from his
penetrating gaze scorched her soft brown eyes. Corey felt mesmerized. She couldn’t
move nor could she look away. I’m being ridiculous, she told herself. He’s a customer,
nothing more.

After what seemed like an eternity, but was surely only a few seconds, she finally
managed to break away to pick up the large bag of clothing Brandon had purchased. She
started to hand it to him, but he turned to walk down to the end of the counter and around
it to take the package from her.

He was standing very close to her. Too close. Corey suddenly wished the wooden
counter was still serving as a barrier between them. I need protection, she thought wildly,
though she wasn’t sure as to protection from what. He lightly grasped Corey’s shoulder
with one of his big hands, his palm warming her skin right through her thin cotton shirt.

“You run a real fine operation here,” he said admiringly. “I’m glad Miss Snooty over at the
mall told me about it.”

“Tha... thank you,” she responded shakily.

He grinned at her. “You should come to the fair. I’d like to show you what I do. Drop by
the llama arena tomorrow; I’ll be there all day. I might even treat you to some cotton
candy.” Then he added more softly as if he were only talking to himself, “Though it
wouldn’t be as sweet as you.”

He dropped his hand from her shoulder, and Corey was surprised to realize she wished
he would put it back. It hadn’t been that way with her husband. By the time they had
divorced, she had hardly been able to bear his touch.

Brandon wheeled around and in a few quick strides had collected the boys and was
shepherding them toward the exit. She noted he took care to duck deeply when he
reached the door. Both John and Robbie called out, “Bye,” several times, and Robbie,
though his dad held one hand, twisted around as he walked away to wave at her with his
free hand until they had all left the store.

Corey looked around her shop. Yes, it looked the same. Coordinated outfits and
accessories were still pegged to the walls, teddy bears were still attired in infant wear in
the front display window, tables were still stacked with neat piles of sweaters, and racks of
clothing were still aligned in orderly rows. Why, then, did she feel as though a tornado
had whirled through the place and left her strangely bereft?

She took a deep breath and inhaled the last few lingering traces of Brandon’s clean male
scent. When he had touched her, he had been so close she could feel the heat radiating
from his body and smell his unique fragrance made up of good plain soap, leather and
well-scrubbed masculine body. She shivered as she remembered his hard fingers sliding
over her shoulder, then she picked up some papers from the counter to fan her flushed
face. She felt hot and cold at the same time.

What had he said? The fair. He had said he was in Boise for the fair. She hadn’t been to
the Western Idaho Fair since she was a little girl. She remembered delicious nose-tickling
smells of hot grease and buttered popcorn and the pungent ammonia stench of the
animals: fat pigs with curly tails, enormous bulls and soft, fuzzy, lop-eared rabbits.

But he had said llamas. That couldn’t be right. She must have misunderstood. Had she
been so befuddled by the mere presence of an attractive male that she couldn’t hear the
difference between llama and lamb?

Corey walked around the counter and paced restlessly through the store. She hadn’t
spent a day just on fun in ages. Tomorrow was Sunday. She always closed the shop on
Sundays, but after church, where she sang in the choir, she usually spent the day sorting
the mountainous piles of clothing people brought in for resale. It was a never-ending job.
And there was all that bookkeeping she needed to catch up. And her house really
needed a good cleaning.

He had said drop by, he would be at the fair all day. It hadn’t been a real invitation, just a
casual bit of flirtatiousness, a meaningless line thrown out without any serious intent. A
handsome, virile man like him could never be really interested in a plain-Jane sort of
woman like herself. She flicked an imaginary speck of dust off the display of baby

Oh, fudge! I deserve a little time off, don’t I? she thought a trifle defensively. Why couldn’t
she do something just for fun if she wanted to? And judging from the way she had
practically fallen apart just because a man had turned up at her usually women-and-
children-only store seemed to indicate it was about time she had a few casual encounters
with the opposite sex.

Her closest friend, Kim, was always badgering Corey to go out. But to Kim going out
meant going somewhere, most usually a bar, with the exclusive purpose of picking up a
man. Corey hadn’t wanted to because, as much as she loved her friend, she thought Kim
chased men a shade too aggressively and indiscriminately to suit Corey’s taste. And
discriminating or not, Corey really hadn’t wanted to meet any man since her divorce.

But that needed to change. She had made too big a deal of it. She really had been hiding
from men by immersing herself in work and community obligations. It had been quite
cowardly of her, actually.

Suddenly, it seemed very important to her to prove to herself she could be around a man
without going all to pieces. Perhaps she had retreated from the world for a while after her
awful marriage and divorce, but she was not afraid of men, not even a big, virile,
opinionated, forceful man like Brandon Wolfe. She could meet him casually, just for the
fun of it, if she wanted. Of course, he wasn’t the right kind of man for her, but that wasn’t
the point. She just needed to show herself she could do it. It would be therapeutic.

Yes, Kim would go to the fair if Corey asked her. One of the things about Kim that made
her a terrific friend was that she was always game for an adventure. She would be glad to
spend a hot, sunny August afternoon with Corey at the dusty state fairgrounds. They
could behave like kids again. It would be good for both of them. They would ride the
Ferris wheel, eat caramel-covered apples, admire the blue-ribbon-winning loaves of
home-baked bread, and if they just happened to run into Brandon Wolfe and his llamas,
well, she could handle that, too. She was sure she could
Llama photos by Linda Wallace

Courtesy of Blessed Be Rahch
Linda Wallace
Romance/Mystery Author