Hill glanced at her in snatches, trying not to stare and trying not to be too curious about the feel of her. But he was. He could hardly take his eyes off of Caitlin as she stood at the large window of her sunroom. But he had to. He was on a deadline. Besides that, her husband, Adam Church, was always nearby, guarding his most prized possession, currently on display in a window which framed her like a painting in an art museum. Look, but don’t touch, he told himself.
Rosemary, a short, matronly, middle-aged woman, approached him, carrying a platter with a tall glass of icy lemonade. He stood upright and pitched the hoe, wiping the sweat from his forehead with his arm. He’d been digging into the hard, dry ground for two hours under suffocating humidity and scorching heat. Sweat was dripping from his white-blonde hair, streaming in rivulets down his swarthy, sweat-slick skin. He smiled at Rosemary as she stood in front of him.
“Miss Rosemary,” he smiled. “You’re looking beautiful as ever.”
“Your charm won’t work on me,” she said dryly, her Valencian accent heavy. “The Mrs. told me to bring this to you.”
“She did, huh?” He looked toward the house and saw Caitlin smiling at him, one hand resting at her neck, the other on her hip. The skirt of her white halter dress was split damn near to her crotch, and she had legs for days. “Well, tell her thank you.”
“Hilton, right?” Rosemary asked, even though she was certain of his name.
He nodded, still admiring Caitlin’s perfectly sun-kissed skin.
“Hilton. Be very careful. The mister is a very dangerous man.”
He took the glass of lemonade and held it up, tilting it slightly toward the window where Caitlin stood. He saw her smile broaden, brightening her lovely face. She was the most alluring woman he’d ever seen.
“Thank you, Miss Rosemary. I appreciate the warning, but it isn’t necessary. And, please, everybody calls me Hill.”
“Look at me,” she said and waited until his eyes met with hers. “I like you, Hilton. I’d hate to see the same thing happen to you as the last man.”
Hill gulped the refreshing beverage, unconcerned about Rosemary’s admonition. He returned the glass to the elegant tray and watched Rosemary disappear into the well-kept Mediterranean-style mansion. It was nicely secluded behind a forest of trees at the end of a dead-end street. The rambling ten thousand square foot home sat on more acreage than the Churches could figure out what to do with, so they had contracted Hilton Parker’s landscaping company, which consisted of himself and two migrant workers, Gabe and Ty.
Hill pulled off his sweat-soaked T-shirt and tossed it onto the stone wall. His bare chest and broad back were beautifully defined, and his arm and ab muscles were dense from physical labor. He brushed his wet hair away from his face and winked at Caitlin, who stood watching—gazing intently, licking her lips. He stuffed the earbuds in his ears, turned up the music on his iPod, grabbed the hoe, and cut into the dirt.
As Bono crooned melodiously in Hill’s ears, he abruptly saw stars—not of the Hollywood type, but of the ‘something just knocked the wind out of me’ type. He dropped to the ground, landing face-first in the dirt. He rolled over, trying to get his bearings, but something impacted him repeatedly, hard and swift. He rolled onto his side to avoid the crushing blows. A sudden, sharp pain cut into his gut, then another. The yard spun. He rolled and pushed himself onto his knees and, just as he attempted to stand, his face met with the stealth kick of a steel-toed Timberland. Pain radiated from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. He fell back, banging his head on the shaft of his tamper. Everything went black.
When he came to, his chest felt as if someone had parked a pickup truck on it. His head throbbed in sync with the beat of his heart—the only indication he was still alive. The sun glared in his eyes, and his vision blurred, but he could make out the blurred silhouette of a rather large man whose well-worn work boots pressed down on his chest. It was Adam Church.
Adam was an intimidating man. He was striking, like a young Marlon Brando, with a towering height of six-two. He had a slender build, and it was obvious that Adam worked out, pushing hard at forty to keep his athletic physique in top condition. He looked much younger than his years and strived to maintain the physical agility of a younger man. After all, his wife was ten years younger. Although his hard edges were softening, it remained dangerous to trifle with him.
Hill looked up at the window to see if Caitlin had witnessed his embarrassing beat-down.
“She’s not there,” Adam said. He removed his large booted foot from Hill’s chest and extended his hand to help him up.
Hill hesitated for a moment but took Adam’s hand despite his misgivings. Once Hill was on his feet, Adam reached into the front pocket of his now bloodied shirt and pulled out two cigars, handing one to Hill, who was bent forward in pain, grimacing. He noticed Rosemary standing at the door with her hands over her mouth, eyes wide. He nodded at her, a gesture to let her know he was okay. He wasn’t . . . but he saw the worry in her eyes.
Adam flicked the lighter, putting the flame to Hill’s cigar first, then his own. He pulled the cigar out of his mouth, cradling it in the bend of his forefinger, standing toe-to-toe with Hill, looking down slightly to make eye contact.
“Do we have an understanding?” Adam’s voice was steady and calm.
Hill nodded, wiping the blood that dripped from his nose. He was a little unsteady on his feet, woozy. His head still throbbed. Cigars weren’t his thing, but there was something audacious about it. He probably would’ve enjoyed it more sans blood and pain.
“Good talk, then,” Adam said. He put his cigar in his mouth, holding it between his teeth, shoved his hands in his pants pockets, and walked away.
Hill heaved a sigh of relief.