In her dream, Sage emerged from the rubble.
She had no memory of how she had gotten here. There was only the scent of charred wood and the thunderous echo of a recent explosion in her ears.
Instinctively, she knew the way to safety was forward, but she was looking out over a sea of jagged rock and splintered wood.
She gazed down at her bare feet, then spun around, hoping to find another way out.
A fog of dust hung thick in the air behind her. Whatever had just happened was back there. Forward was the only way.
Sage took a deep breath and stepped into the rubble.
She gasped, not from the pain she expected, but from surprise.
The jagged rocks beneath her feet somehow felt smooth as sand.
Sage was a logical person. Frantically, her mind grasped at reasons she wasn’t feeling pain. Maybe she was in shock from whatever had happened just outside the reach of her memory. Maybe she’d had nerve damage.
But as her mind worked, her feet blithely navigated the rocky terrain, carrying her further from the cloud of dust and closer to something that pulled at her like a magnet.
A wall of golden yellow and emerald green began to emerge out of the mist before her.
And the shape of someone, looming before it, wide shouldered and frightening.
She couldn’t turn back or even pause her trek. He drew her in, like a vortex.
Sage blinked the dust out of her eyes as her feet carried her closer still.
The shadowy figure took on depth and reality hit Sage like a kick to the chest.
It was Riggs standing before her.
Of course it was.
The hunky alien invaded all her dreams lately, insinuating himself into her every nightmare and saving the day with a smoldering look or gesture.
He didn’t confine himself to her dreams either. Riggs was constantly underfoot in real life too, trying to help her around the farm, but mostly just distracting her with his beguiling scent and his excessively muscular body.
He wasn’t exactly a chatterbox, thankfully. But the intense look in his blue eyes told her he wanted her more than his words ever could.
Sage wasn’t used to being the object of so much pent-up passion. She hadn’t done much dating - her life had mainly revolved around her education and keeping an eye on her impulsive younger sister. She’d always assumed she’d meet a nice guy in grad school with similar interests and that would be that.
Riggs was many things, but he wasn’t a nice guy.
Not because he wasn’t nice, but rather that he wasn’t a guy at all, really. He was an alien.
Besides, no nice guy could look like he did - all bristling muscles, angled cheekbones and icy blue eyes.
And he was an impossible distraction from the enormous task of running the farm and organizing the books.
At least here in the dream she could safely succumb to temptation.
This will get it out of your system. Kiss him once and call me in the morning.
But melting into his arms didn’t feel like medicine.
Dream-Riggs was looking down at her, jaw tense, lightning flashing in his eyes.
She moved closer and he extended his hand to touch her cheek. Sage gasped at the shiver of pleasure that ran to her core at this gentle touch. It felt real, so real.
He bent to kiss her.
Sage went up on her toes, sliding her hands up his biceps as she longed to do in real life. Each of his arms was as broad as one of the young peach trees on the hillside of the farm.
He flexed and the muscles rolled under her hands.
Sage bit back a moan as his lips hit hers and she lost herself to the ecstasy of his embrace.
He ran his hands through her hair and she could feel the tilt and spin of the Earth, the eternity of the stars.
The universe seemed to call her name.
“Sage,” the masculine voice came from just outside her bedroom door.
It wasn’t Riggs.
She opened her eyes to greet the day, such as it was. The pink of dawn hadn’t lit her windows yet.
But she always got up early.
Apparently someone else got up even earlier.
“Just a minute,” she called out softly.
She slid out of bed and wrapped a robe around her before opening the door.
Otis Rogers stood on the other side, shifting the weight of his heavy frame from one leg to the other anxiously.
Not the man she was hoping to see.
You are not hoping to see any man show up outside your bedroom door. Nothing good can come of that.
Maybe something could.
“I’m really, really sorry to wake you,” Otis said. “Arden told me you’re usually up at five.”
“Five-fifteen,” Sage said. “What do you need?”
“I just wondered if it was okay for me to use the last of the unsalted butter,” he said.
“It’s fine,” she said. “Go ahead and use it.”
His wide face broke into a sunny grin.
“Thank you,” he said.
He gave her a little wave and went back down the hallway toward the kitchen. Sage shook her head, wondering when he would feel his debt to the family was paid.
Otis had been part of a scheme to steal the bees from their farm, sabotaging their peach crop. He had confessed and was apparently trying to work off his guilt by baking for them. A lot.
Sage got up early each morning, but couldn’t imagine being up early enough to arrive at someone else’s house before dawn without invitation or payment.
She headed to the bathroom to grab a quick shower and get ready for the day.
The dream still clung to the edges of her mind.
Get with the program, Sage.
With luck, she could pull herself together enough not to still be daydreaming about Riggs when he appeared in real life.
The shower didn’t help.
Somehow the hot water pounding her skin only made her think of his warm mouth on hers. She closed her eyes and pictured his hands instead of her own sliding the soap all over her.
Enough, Sage, she told herself, opening her eyes. You have work to do.
She rinsed off as quickly as she could, got dressed and headed to the kitchen.
Sage had taken over cooking duty when she and Tansy moved to the farm after Grandma Helen’s funeral. The days on the farm were long, with so much manual labor that she was amazed Helen had been able to accomplish it all right up until the end, even with a few farmhands. Sage liked to start the day with a hearty breakfast.
Now that Arden and the three alien men from the lab next door had joined them, meal prep was literally three times as much work. Honestly, probably five times as much, given the way the men ate.
But Sage couldn’t complain, the three fugitive aliens worked as hard as any ten men and Arden’s background in botany had already gotten them out of one major jam. Not to mention that Sage enjoyed her company. It had been a while since she had a true friend that wasn’t her sister.
They had a good thing going.
Except for all the mating.
First Arden and Drago had paired up, and then her sister Tansy had bonded with Burton. Now everyone was looking expectantly at Sage and Riggs.
Well it wasn’t going to happen. Sage had plenty to keep her busy. She wasn’t going to waste her time falling in love, especially with an alien. She had promised her little sister that they would try to save the farm. With everyone else distracted, Sage needed to stay sober and focused.
The hallways leading to the kitchen smelled heavenly.
When she arrived she nearly wept.
Otis was bent over the stove to remove a tray of croissants. The kitchen table was already practically groaning under the weight of two massive coffee cakes, a tray of homemade doughnuts and a pastry ring of some kind.
Dirty dishes were stacked on every counter top and the whole kitchen looked as if there had been a light snow. Sage presumed it was flower, or confectioners’ sugar. Probably both.
It was a mountain of carbohydrates and mess, without a gram of protein to carry a farmer through a long day’s work.
“Think this is enough?” Otis asked over his shoulder.
“Um, yes,” Sage replied. She was going to have the devil of a time cleaning the kitchen.
“There’s coffee on the picnic table,” Otis said. “Why don’t you have a cup while I clean up in here?”
She almost refused and then she remembered that he had tried to sabotage the farm. Besides, she was pretty sure he wasn’t actually going to get the kitchen cleaned up - at least not to her standards.
“Thanks,” she said. “I think I will.”
She stepped outside.
The first pink rays of dawn peeked over the hillside to greet her.
True to his word, Otis had placed a tray of mugs and milk along with the coffee carafe on the picnic table under the magnolia tree.
Sage grabbed a mug and poured herself a steaming helping of the brew. The farm was so quiet and lovely early in the morning. She had to admit it was nice to relax for a moment before the bustle of the day began.
And to get her thoughts together before she saw Riggs.