Monica Accord knows trends, not tractors fashion, not fertilizer. But she's stuck working on Noah Cameron's farm after one mistake lands her with community service. Monica remembers Noah from high school, but she definitely never knew about the crush he had on her. Now it just feels as if she's some bothersome city slicker.
Yet she soon realizes there's more growing between her and Noah than just cropsa lot more. As long as the revelation of a family secret doesn't ruin their chance of a lifetime
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Standing amid the hustle and bustle swirling around her like a colorful carousel, Monica Accord thought back to when it all started. She wasn't a violent person, but she thanked her lucky stars that she broke Noah Cameron's arm all of those years ago.
There were three kinds of days in Monica Accord's lifedays when she didn't care, days when she knew she should care and the odd, rare day when she actually did care.
This morning, driving onto Noah Cameron's organic farm outside of Accord, Colorado, she cared.
Too bad. Life would be easier if she didn't have a conscience.
She parked beside Noah's ancient pickup truck, which was next to a big old farmhouse that appeared to be abandoned. White paint peeled from the railing on the veranda. One eaves trough hung askewit was a forgotten house, the owner off to parts unknown without a backward glance.
Was she at the wrong place? She had understood it to be a working farm.
Yesterday, the court's directions to the farm had been clear. The address was correct. This had to be the right place, but she couldn't be sure. Situated as it was down the highway that ran south from Accord, instead of north toward the attraction of Denver's shopping centers, it ran counter to Monica's internal compass. She rarely drove out this way.
And no one came out of the farmhouse to greet her.
She glanced at her watch7:00 a.m. Maybe Noah was already up and out in the fields, or maybe he was already in town at his store. Maybe she wouldn't have to face him this morning.
She could live with that. The shame burning a hole through her stomach concurred. Though at least the shame was better than emptiness. Something, anything, was better than nothing.
Bewildered, she glanced toward the fields. Ah. There was the proof of a working farm. Meticulously and perfectly tended, and an obvious indication of where the owner put his energythe fields were cared for a heck of a lot better than the house.
She stepped out of the car and studied the yard. Sorry-looking place.
In yesterday's courtroom when Judge Easton had intoned, "Guilty of a wet reckless," and had sentenced her to two hundred hours of community service, she'd thought she would be talking to high school kids about the dangers of drinking and driving.
She would have taken that on happily. Because what she had done last Friday night had been beyond recklessthere was no excuse for drinking and driving.
As her daddy had said after the verdict, "You don't make mistakes often, sweetheart, but when you do, they sure are doozies." He'd softened it with a hug before walking out and leaving her to pay her five-hundred-dollar fine. Fair enough. It had been her mistake and hers alone.
Lecturing kids would have made sense.
But no-o-o-o. Judge Easton had given her a far tougher sentence.
This whole terrible experience had moved with mind-numbing speed, as though she was caught in a vortex. Was she the only person who'd done something wrong last weekend? She'd committed a crime on Friday night and, boom, she was in a courtroom a few days later. She'd barely had time to hire herself a lawyer, but then, the facts were not in dispute. She had been drinking. She had run down Noah on his bike and had broken his arm. She'd heard he also had plenty of scrapes and bruises.
She shivered. She was lucky she hadn't killed the man.
The judge sentenced her yesterday and, boom, she was to start right away. Today. Was it a slow point in crime or did Noah have some kind of pull with the courts?
The whole town knew Noah as an ethical guy. Truly, she didn't think he'd do anything like pull strings.
If anyone had pull, it was the Accords, not the Camerons. Not that they'd ever used it. She strongly doubted the justice system in Montana was corruptible.
Was this rush because of the time of year and the fact that Noah needed help immediately? She imagined June must be a busy month for a farmer. Maybe that was the real and simple answer.
So here she was, serving all two hundred hours on Noah's farm, near him, with him. Crazy old judge. What did he think Monica knew about farming?
She'd expected to have to atone, but with Noah? Pure, simple torture.
Why couldn't it have been anyone other than arrogant, holier-than-thou Noah Cameron on that dark road last Friday night, he of the uber-huge brain who lorded it over others every chance he got?
They had gone to high school together, him one year behind her, but even then she'd been intimidated by the massive mind lurking inside the hippie exterior.
From her youngest days, she'd been made to feel inadequate by him.
Even worse, these days she worked for his mother. And Olivia Cameron wasn't the least bit happy that Monica had hurt her precious Noah.
Didn't anyonethe judge, Olivia, Noah, the townspeopleget that she would never intentionally hurt anyone, least of all someone she would happily never have to deal with for the rest of her life?
For years, she'd pushed the guy off her radar, but now she couldn't avoid him. She had to spend the next couple of months with himher entire summerall because of a mistake fueled by loneliness. Still, she knew there were no excuses.
She approached the nearest field with trepidation. Ha! She'd bet Noah would never believe she even knew a word like trepidation, let alone its meaning and how to use it properly.
Stepping over a couple of puddles, more miserable than she'd been at any time in the five years since Billy's death, she moaned low in her throat. A bird somewhere nearby sang in response.
She should have worn sturdier shoes. Rubber boots, maybe. Problem was, she didn't own any. Until yesterday, she'd never owned a pair of jeans, either. She didn't do denim.
Across a long field of swirling dirt in leftover patches of early-morning mist, to a stand of trees in the distance, plants dotted rows of dark earthen hills like tiny green hieroglyphics, a foreign language she would have to learn by immersionand fast. Sink or swim.
She used to be that new, that green and full of promise, like those plants. Where had it all gone?
Fascinated by their burgeoning vulnerable beauty, she squatted and rubbed a tender leaf between her fingers, both the plant and the soil still cool in the early day.
Babies scared her. Small helpless creatures terrified her. These soft plants intimidated her. What if she killed them?
If she bent over and walked down the rows with her palms outstretched, she could read them like braille, but she still wouldn't understand their needs, or how to keep them alive. She still wouldn't know how to farm.
Her lawyer had told her not to worry, that Noah would guide her.
She wouldn't be surprised if Noah kicked her off the farm upon first sight. In the pit of her stomach, that blasted recurring shame stabbed at her with a hot poker. Her tummy had been doing somersaults all morning.
She didn't want to be here, to have to face the man she'd hurt.
She touched the plant closest to her.
"How do I help you to grow?" she whispered.
Against the bright green, her hands screamed "pampered," her nails manicured with OPI's Not So Bora Boraing Pink. These hands that had never gardenedhad never even tended a houseplanthad to learn how to dig around in the dirt.
What had the judge been thinking?
What on earth did one night of loneliness and one drink too many have to do with farming?
She spotted Noah across the field, watching her, red hair blazing in the sunlight. Noah, she'd noticed, presented two faces to the worldthe happy, easygoing hippie and the uber-intelligent, fierce activist.
At the moment, he'd added a third. Angry farmerdirected at her.
The heat that had roiled in her belly all morning crawled up her chest and into her throat, choking her.
Her mind refused to remember what she saw Friday night, but echoing sounds gathered, drowning out the nearby bird's sweet melody. The screech of her tires on wet pavement. The awful thud of Noah hitting her car. The shattering of her windshield and tinkling of glass raining down on her in the driver's seat.
The silence of Noah's prone body. She didn't want to be here.
A wildfire raged inside of Noah.
His right arm ached from overuse.
His left arm itched inside the cast.
He needed to be able to work whole, unhindered. Almost as badly, he needed to wring that pampered, rich, entitled woman's neck.
Since last Friday night, he'd cursed Monica Accord from here to the Pacific Ocean, but his anger still hadn't cooled.
He didn't want to see her today, didn't want her on his farm infecting the goodness here with her shal-lowness, but what choice did he have?
The prosecutor had consulted with him before requesting the sentence for Monica; otherwise, they would have been inflicting the offender on the poor, hapless victim. Which wouldn't have been right. And he'd agreed with their decision.
He might not want Monica here, but he needed her, and he found the sentence fitting, forcing her to learn exactly how hard this job was, and how much her selfish act of drinking and then getting behind the wheel of her car had set him back.
He had told the courts that, yes, he would have her here to serve her community service.
Let her get her precious hands dirty for a change. Daddy couldn't buy her way out of this fix.
He knew he was being hard on her, but he had a right to be.
He tore out a couple of weeds and tossed them into the pail by his side, seething with an anger that hadn't abated even a fraction since the accident.
He hated this. He wasn't an angry man. Passionate? Oh, yeah. Angry? Nah. He left that for other people. He was a lover, not a fighter, but man, he wished he had a heavy bag to punch for an hour or two. He needed to vent, badly.
Trouble was, it would amplify that he had only one useful arm.
He flexed his neck to ease the tension that had lodged there like a recalcitrant tree stump, going nowhere no matter how hard he tried to yank it out.
Stop. This doesn't do you any good.
Filling his lungs with the fresh scent of morning dew, he tried to clear his mind. Usually, not much got him down at this glorious time of daynot worries, not memories.
He'd already been out here weeding for two hours, the drill usually as calming as yoga or meditation.
Even so, rage flexed its fists in his chest, pummeling his ribs, beating up on him from the inside out. He didn't need this.
An engine sounded in the distance, then in his driveway. He heard it because he'd been waiting for it.
She was here.
He dropped his spade and stoodit was a real struggle to rein in his emotions. Useless exercise. Fury flooded his veins. Every last item of produce he grew was destined for a food kitchen in Denver, or for families living miles around who had fallen on hard times.
Now thisa broken left arm and too much work to do alone in his current state. Whatever didn't get grown and harvested couldn't be eaten by those in need.
Why couldn't it be anyone but Monica here to help him? At the moment, he'd take aid from a goat if it was a viable option to get more accomplished. He really didn't want to deal with that woman.
Court-appointed or not, help was help. He glanced toward the driveway and his breath backed up in his throat.
Monica Accord stepped out of her baby blue BMW convertible, cool and composed, pale blond hair in place, long legs encased in designer jeans, a Victoria's Secret model and Sports Illustrated swimsuit-issue model rolled into one. A classy one.
Monica Accord could no more do trashy than the Pope could break-dance.
She walked toward one of his fields, stepping close to his rows of new radish plants, a puzzled frown furrowing her otherwise perfect brow. He tracked her progress, 'cause the thing with Monica was that walk was too normal a verb to describe her movement. Monica did nothing so mundane as walk. She glided, floating with a lithe elegance that mere mortals couldn't imitate.
God, she was gorgeous with the sun running warm rays over her skin as though infatuated with her.
His heart boomeranged inside his chest, beating hard enough to hurt. Twenty years after leaving high school, she was still the golden girl, and he was still the guy who had an unrequited crush on herdisgusting in a rational thirty-seven-year-old man.
He tossed his spade into the pail with the weeds.
Still a fool.
He needed his wits about him. Sure, he was a smart guy, but Monica Accord could scramble his brain in creative ways.
She bent over and touched a plant. Her lips moved. She was talking to it? Wasn't that a little New Agey for Monica?
Wrapping his anger around himself like a protective shield, he approached. She noticed him. He glared and watched guilt heat a path up her neck and into her cheeks. Good. She was the reason he was in this hellish predicament.
A swift glance at the cast on his arm had color infusing her face. When she noticed the healing scabs on his forehead, she winced.
When he reached her, she said, "I'm truly sorry." No "hi" or "how's it going?" She sounded abject and looked miserable. Good. She had screwed him royally.
There wasn't one ounce of compassion or forgiveness in him for her.
"Yyy-ou have any id-d-d" He hissed in a breath, furious. Not this again! Stuttering, for God's sake. He'd worked his butt off to overcome his affliction, but a split second in Monica's rarefied company and a bad case of stupefying adoration threatened to lock his tongue.
Steeling his nerves, he pulled himself together and started again.
"You have any idea what you've done to me?" He hated the victim-like sound of that "to me," but said it anyway, skipping the niceties and gesturing with the cast. "You have any idea how much trouble you've caused me?"
"I can only imagine, Noah."
"No, you can't," he snapped and was gratified when she flinched. He'd pierced her cool elegance. Since early adolescence, her effortless physical grace had mocked his gangly limbs, old clothes and wild hair. He'd grown up since then, had added muscle in all the right places, courtesy of hard work. His thin face had matured; his jaw had hardened. He refused to cater to fashion or vanity and yet, women found him attractive. Except for Monica, of course. He had the worst desire to crash through her facade and break down her boundaries, to make her as human as the rest of the world. As human as me.
"I can't get my work done." Bitterness churned up from his belly like acid reflux. "You've screwed me at my busiest time of year."
Had she ever once in her life thought of anyone other than herself?
"You've got big amends to make. Huge."
Hurt lingered in her eyes and he fought the urge to soften his words because he wasn't mad at just her. He was furious with himself because even after the nightmare of her hitting him with her car and breaking part of his body, his knee-jerk, teenaged reaction to her was to turn to jelly.
Some boys never grew up where some girls were concerned.