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Love At All Costs (Stetson Series Book 3) by Xyla Turner (1)

Chapter 1

Nadine

Iowa was not the place I thought my fellowship would send me. The domestic abroad application asked if I was willing to relocate and I checked the box, yes. Who knew there was an agriculture school in Iowa? I was accepted into a post-graduate fellowship that would land me in a network where I could name my price, location, and even my time. It was the best of the elite and though CAN-IT Corporation had offices in Iowa and New York, having any connection with the multi-million-dollar company was definitely in my best interest.

My mother made a note to share that the president and founder of the corporation would tie tying the knot soon, so he was off-limits. Her goal for me, was to marry up, not work, like I intended to do. How I came from that woman was a mystery that my grandma and I were still trying to solve. My mother struggled with opioids after an injury that landed her in and out of rehab during my younger years. Her habit took up a big chunk of my childhood, causing me to be raised by my grandmother.

“I’m just saying, looking for a man won’t be bad for your career if that man is already in the field.” My mom turned the corners of her lips down, in that way she does when the woman feels she has made some sort of point. All while pounding the seasoning in the raw roast with her small fist.

The woman stood five-foot-two with a small frame, naturally thin, perfect brown skin that did not always hide the wear and tear of her former life. Her usual uniform consisted of jeans, a button-up shirt that was usually her husband’s and a scarf around her head that kept her wrap intact. She is still pretty and I barely look like her, but the woman is haunted. I had a good five inches on her, my hair was curly, and my complexion was darker than her mocha mixed with a small amount of cream coloring.

“Mother, I’d rather look for love than a man. However, I won’t be looking for either in Iowa. I mean, come on, it’s Iowa,” I scoffed.

She gave me her infamous side-eye which communicated more than she needed to say, but I moved towards the door.

“See ya and tell Lazarus I said hey.” I called back.

“You headed home?” She asked.

“Yeah.” I answered. “Lots of packing to do.”

She nodded and as usual there were no pleasantries or love exchanged between the two of us. I went my way and she went hers. Grandma Beth said mother had a rough life and still hadn’t forgiven herself for some of her decisions.

I got it, but I didn’t.

Mother was married to a patient man named Lazarus. The man was a clear-skinned, dark chocolate version of the former wrestler, The Rock. He was kind and gentle, just what mother needed. She lacked confidence, but Lazarus always kept her on the right track. Grandma Beth said it was because of him that mother got it together. He adored her and our family, for that matter. He also had a pretty tough life. Not that I knew the details, but according to the family gossip, he used to be in a gang and did some time. He also got out and if it weren’t for the story and burned skin on his arm where his tattoo used to be, we would be none the wiser.

The man was six-foot-two of solid muscle and as dark as Kofi Siriboe. A gorgeous combination and mother had done well for herself and I suspected she knew it because whatever he asked, she did. No questions asked. His dinner was always ready on time, clothes cleaned and the woman kept a clean house. I guess it was give-and-take between the two of them. They worked well together, so that was fine by me.

I hopped on the train to go to my apartment. My lease was up in three days but I was moving to Iowa tomorrow.

I was born and raised in Bowie, Maryland. I went to college and grad school there as well, so no one expected me to up and leave for a job. I think that was why I wanted to go because I had literally never been anywhere for any length of time. I lost touch with a lot of my friends from college and I attended grad school at night so I didn’t really make friends; just went to class, studied at home, and graduated two years later. My major was in Food, Science and Technology and I worked as an agriculture technician where I could have worked on the Eastern Shore. That was another thing people thought I was crazy about, what I did for a living. However, I decided a long time ago not to float to their drum. Grandma Beth instilled that into me as a child since she practically raised me. She told me that the world as I knew it would be hard and if I tried to please everyone, including my own mother, I’d be used up and taken advantage of, and I was way too precious for that to happen. I always remembered those words, so I always put me first.

At the end of the day, I was all I had to watch out for.

Provide info about how she was raised

***

THE PLANE RIDE FROM the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Libby, Iowa was not bad. I took a sedative and slept most of the way. Between motion sickness and fear of crashing to my death, I thought it best not to expose my fellow passengers to a Nadine Woodrow panic attack. This mostly happened when I flew alone and since no one from my school wanted a fellowship in Iowa, I was the only one.

Small towns were quaint enough and growing up in Maryland was not a far stretch from Libby. Driving through the town, I saw the mom and pop’s stores, diners, shops and other merchants. There was a bank, realtor’s office, locksmith and shoe store along with a bowling alley, bars and grocery stores. It was a rural place and people did not seem to live far as there were not as many cars in the downtown area, but horses and many of riders, despite Iowa being in the Midwest, had on cowboy hats, both male and female. The next thing I was looking for was a biker club.

I no longer had an apartment, but a nice A-frame house that happened to be sea green. There was a wraparound porch and a whole lot of grass in the back of the house. The landlord assured me that someone came out every two weeks to maintain the grounds. The husky man looked very much like a man out of a western movie with a Stetson, skintight jeans and cowboy boots. His facial hair was out of control and his long hair was pulled back in a fly away ponytail. The tanned skin revealed that he’d been out in the sun enough and his bulk, probably meant he used to be an athlete of some sort. Probably football. To make matters worse, he rode up on a horse. I, in turn, was in peep-toe suede booties, jeans, a satin blouse and fashionable sunglasses. It was clearly noticeable that I wasn’t from around those parts.

“Where can I get something to eat around here?” I asked the landlord, who told me his name was Walter Munn.

“There’s a place called Sarah’s Cuisine that many of the locals frequent and it’s damn good, but you might want to check out the grocery store or the Timms Organic Store. They are over the small bridge right there.” He pointed west. “Sarah’s is downtown. It gets really dark around here so decide what you want early enough. Oh, and you’ll need some proper footwear. The rattlesnakes will take those toes of yours.”

Yikes.

My head nodded before I said “Okay, noted.”

“I’m just down the road if you need anything.” He informed me as he nudged his horse to turn around.

As I scanned the area, I thought it would be best that I get food now and then go shopping tomorrow. Thank goodness the Uber service was up and running in this small town. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

When I entered the diner, all eyes turned to me and at first, I wasn’t sure why but apparently, I was interrupting a situation.

“Knox, we got a guest now, go on ahead and sober up.” A tall bulky man said to a handsome, but mangled looking cowboy.

“She left me,” the drunk man slurred. His eyes swung to me and then he repeated, “She fucking left.”

“Knox,” said the man who I assumed was the owner, despite the name being Sarah’s Cuisine. “Come on, man.”

“Fuck, I’m going,” he replied but he kept his eyes on me.

At first, the drunk man looked upset like he was about to cuss me out, but then he smiled and slurred, “Welcome. Coming to break another man’s heart.”

“Ignore him, suga.” A smaller lady came up to usher me inside. “He lost a love again and we’re all just hoping he recovers soon. You must be new around here. Come on in and have a look-see. The name is Sarah.”

Ahh, she was the owner and after eating the appetizers and the first part of my meal, I concluded that my landlord was right, the food was terrific. This solidified that I could make this a weekly stop.

The next day, I found my way to the Timms Organic Store where they had fresh vegetables, fruit, and CAN-IT items stocked. Nobody was at the front of the barn, so I waited for ten minutes and still no one showed up. I saw a cowbell, so in a spurt of hot as hell Iowa irritation, I started ringing it non-stop until a sun-kissed man appeared from the inside of the barn and with a phone to his ear.

“A second!” he yelled with matching irritation.

He was having an argument on the phone with someone that sounded like his significant other. After five more minutes of the baking heat on my brown but about to be crispy skin, I yelled back, “I’ve been waiting for seventy-two thousand seconds. It’s hot!”

“Hold your fucking horses,” he snapped back and that was when the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (D.M.V.) started to surface.

“I don’t have any fucking horses.” I hissed back in complete annoyance.

It was then that I saw an older man come from the house, marching towards me. At that point, I had already put everything down on the table because I was going to take my business elsewhere.

“Can I help ya?” The older man asked as I shook my head in the negative. “Mills, get your head out of your ass. We have a gotdamn customer.”

Yeah, that was my cue.

“Ma’am,” the older man called as I turned and headed back towards my place.

“I’m good. No need to spend my money where I’m not treated with respect.” I called back and kept going.

There was more cursing, but it was from the older man to his insolent son, I assumed, but that was none of my business. I called an Uber again and went back to Sarah’s and tried a completely different dish. That was delicious too, so I figured I might have to revise my schedule and come twice a week.

Later that evening, I was unpacking all of the pictures that I brought over from Maryland. The goal was to make the space my own and since the landlord basically said he didn’t care what I did as long as I didn’t burn the place down, I decided to make the space cute. The fellowship was for six months, my entire last semester in school, and that could fly by or be the longest twenty-four months ever.

A hard knock on the door startled me. Who the hell could that be?

Peeping out the window, I saw a four-wheeler on my grass, which made me open the door with more force than I knew I had.

“Hey, why are you parked on my grass?” I snapped.

The hulky figure looked down at me, which caused me to take a step back. It was the jerk from earlier. This time, I noticed those smoldering green eyes, his chiseled facial structure, and those full lips. His blond, cropped hair didn’t help but instead of appreciating him, I stared at him and asked again.

“Why is your thing...” I pointed to his mode of transportation, “On my grass?”

“Lady, it’s just grass. What’s your deal?” He was looking at me like I had four heads.

I glared at him and instead of answering the question, I asked, “Why are you here?”

He sighed and said, “Looks like we’re neighbors and we started off on the wrong foot earlier. I’m Mills. My Pops and I run the farm and the store.” He held out his hand for me to shake it.

At first, I stood and watched him, to see if I could sense a flicker of him being disingenuous. When I saw none, I held out my hand to meet his, but he turned my arm over and looked at my wrist.

“That’s pretty hot,” his eyes were on my tattoo.

It was a small open red heart with the jagged lines with sharp peaks and valleys going through the heart in a horizontal direction. His eyes met mine and something passed over his face. Slowly, I pulled my hand out of his but those green eyes lingered on mine.

“No,” I cut off the connection and said, “We got started on the right foot. You’re an unprofessional jerk and I wouldn’t patronage your store or products if it’s the last thing I do.”

I took a step back and reiterated again. “Now, get that thing off my grass. I rent this place.”

The man looked more amused than put in his place. Well, that was until I slammed the door in his face.

I continued with my previous task before I was so rudely interrupted and pulled out more paintings. They featured one of the biggest and most magnificent cities. Not just in America but places like Dubai at night and China in black and white. There was even one of Paris and Shanghai. Then there were the Afrocentric women carrying their load or their babies wrapped on their backs. Some were of women dancing while others were merely holding a briefcase while breaking the glass ceilings. Those were my reminders; my life and my burdens.

A knock on the door caused me to groan. What did this nincompoop want?

“Yes?” I snapped.

With a smirk still on his face, the man said nothing but held out a paper bag that looked pretty heavy.

“Yes?” I repeated.

“My Pops wanted you to have this. He’ll have my hide if I come back with it. You can dislike me for my rudeness, but don’t take that out on my pop.” He said with all genuineness and sincerity.

“So, let me get this right.” My hand found my hip. “You’re saying that you were insulting and I need to accept this peace offering because you’re an asshole and I shouldn’t take this out on your Pops that raised this asshole?”

The smirk was gone but something else stepped in its place.

Intrigue?

“Well, yeah.”

He ran his hand through his blond, cropped hair with a slight breath.

“I’ll pass.” Those were my final words on the matter and then I, once again, closed my door.

A growl could be heard through the thick wooden door but I kept doing what I had to do. There was another knock a minute later, but I didn’t answer. A few minutes later, I heard him drive away and that was the end of that.

Well, I wished it was.

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