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The Love Barn The Love Barn original

The Love Barn

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Chapter 1: Chapter 1: Cole

Volume 1: Give Me Back My Man

Cole ODELL RODE his bicycle's momentum through the intersection and craned his neck to look up the hill.

"Christ," he muttered.

If this wasn't a metaphor for his life, he didn't know what it was.

He took a foot off a pedal as the bike came to a stop and balanced himself while studying the brown barn that sat on the highest point for miles around.

This was where he was scheduled to get married in five weeks and five days.

Except he was missing the other half of the equation.

His bride.

Cole swung his leg off the bike, dragged his arm across his brow and began walking.

The sting was gone as was the anger. He'd burned through all of that during the last few weeks since he came home to nothing but a note that said, I'm sorry, weighted down with her key to the apartment. She could have kept the key if she'd have left his dog.

This wasn't the first time he'd had to reinvent his life. His hands had been tied these last few weeks, his decisions made, but finally-finally-he could take his life back. He still didn't know where things had gone wrong or why his fiancé had left, but one thing he'd realized over the last few weeks was that he didn't miss her.

Cole tipped his chin up, the warm breeze drying some of the sweat.

At long last he reached the top of the hill and turned into the gravel drive that led to The Love Barn parking lot. The structure was an ancient two-story barn, but someone had put a lot of TLC into it. Other than the barn, two houses sat a short distance away and off a separate driveway. The only vehicle was a single Jeep Wrangler.

He hoped someone was around and that he hadn't pedaled all this way for nothing.

A little stone path led away from the gravel to a side door. Two flowerpots stood guard at the door, their blooms wilting a bit. A white sign over the door read Barn Office.

Cole took a deep breath and laid his bike in the grass.

The worst they could do was say no.

He wiped his hands on his shorts and approached the door. The interior was dark. His heart fell. He'd come all the way out to the city limit sign to start collecting the building blocks of his life, and there wasn't anyone around. He cupped his hands around his face and peered inside at the little office.

Calling first would have been smart, but he'd wanted to do this in person.

"Great," he muttered and turned toward the two houses.

"Stop it!" A woman cried out. "No. I said stop it."

Cole whirled toward the houses. There was something about the notes that voice that set off warning bells.

"No," the woman wailed.

He sprinted toward the sound. His heart throbbed in his throat and his pulse pounded. He blew past the first house, the sound of her voice coming from farther away.

The second house's windows were open and the front door stood ajar.

Cole grabbed the banister and vaulted onto the porch, peering inside but saw no one.

Grunting came from around the corner.

He crossed the porch and froze.

"I-hate-you." A woman stood in the middle of what he assumed was meant to be a garden. She wore shorts so short he wasn't sure if they were outerwear or not with a tank top. Her red hair was piled on top of her head, tendrils flying around her face.

She bent, scooping up handfuls of soggy earth and hurled them at a pig. The creature had to easily weigh a hundred pounds and was currently wallowing across the neat rows of the garden. The mud splattered on the animal whose tail did a quick wag.

Cole braced his hands on the railing, his knees shaking from the surge of adrenaline. He choked out a laugh at the tableau below him. When he'd heard her, his mind had gone to one place. One terrible conclusion. The reality, while clearly damaging, was not what he'd assumed.

"Why?" The woman groaned and tilted her face up. Mud covered her feet, ankles and calves. It was streaked down her arms and clothes. She'd clearly been doing battle with the creature and losing.

"Can I help?" Cole vaulted off the side of the porch and dropped to the ground.

The woman shrieked and went down in the mud, right next to her garden destroying interloper.

Crap.

Cole hadn't meant to startle her. He picked his way through the mud, giving the pig a wide berth though the creature seemed to have found the perfect spot and settled in. He crouched in the wet earth next to the woman. Up close and under the mud she was pretty, with an expressive face, a slightly upturned nose and rich, chestnut hair. It was her eyes that concerned him with the iris all blown out, eating up the golden brown ring and turning it black.

She had beautiful eyes. Not quite brown, not quite anything else. Sort of a light, golden brown. She stared up at him, a bit of mud sliding down her cheek. His gut tightened for a whole new reason. The hair on his arms practically stood up and all he could do was stare at her. He had this urge to get closer, touch her, but he didn't know her.

What the hell?

"What are you doing here?" She shook her head, breaking the spell.

She was possibly hurt, and he was here to help, not gawk.

"Look at me." He held up his hand.

"Stop," she snapped and wiped her cheek, smearing the mud further.

"Where does it hurt?"

"My pride? All over." She groaned and levered up into a sitting position.

"Are you sure you didn't hit your head?"

"Yes. I'm fine." Her gaze jumped over his shoulder then her eyes widened. "Watch-"

Something shoved Cole forward, and he went sprawling into the muddy woman. She rolled back, lying flat on the garden rows. He caught himself, but the slick ground gave him no purchase. He pitched face first into the woman's ample chest while a pig squealed, as though laughing at him. She grunted and curled her body around him, hands gripping his shoulders. It shouldn't feel good to be held like that, but it did and that was fucked up.

Yeah, life was sure kicking him in the balls now.


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