Paris Cullier looked out of the train window seeing nothing but trees, woods and an assortment of farm animals. He'd been on the number 20 Crescent Amtrak train since seven this morning and his ass and legs were sore from sitting too long. This was his first train ride and hopefully his last. He'd gotten off earlier in some little hick town in Alabama to stretch but had to climb back on board just as soon as the conductor was ready to pull out. He wouldn't say he'd had a boring time since he did meet some interesting people along the way. He'd listened to his MP3 player most of the way and took a nap somewhere between Slidell, Louisiana and Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Paris looked down at his watch. It was nearly seven in the evening and they should be arriving in Atlanta soon. There were still a couple of stops before his but he used the time to make sure he'd put everything back into his carry-on luggage. He'd hate like heck to leave something behind. No doubt he'd never see it again.
Paris still couldn't believe his luck. He was relocating to Georgia for his first full-time job. Mr and Mrs Brown, the people at the orphanage where he'd lived for the last eighteen years told him about the job and helped him get his resume together and apply for it. He'd thought he didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting the administrative/housekeeping position even though he could type, had mad computer skills and had taken some advance accounting classes in his senior year.
One of the black-dressed conductors came through the door looking at the little white tags he'd put above their seats earlier. "If you're getting off in Atlanta you need to start gathering your things," he said to everyone in the car. "We'll be arriving in exactly fifteen minutes. This is one of our longer stops. We'll be there for thirty-minutes. If you want to get out and stretch your legs, this is a perfect time to do so." He left them and went to the next car.
Paris felt the cold breeze as the conductor opened the door. There was one good thing about living in New Orleans. They had two seasons: summer and something a little cooler than summer. Atlanta, he'd heard, got snow. Paris had seen snow once in his lifetime but even then it had melted as soon as it hit the ground. Thanks to Mrs Brown, he had a heavy coat, thermal underwear and boots. Mr Brown had said he was going to need them.
The train pulled into the station and stopped.
Paris joined the other travelers who were getting off. He carried one of his pieces of luggage. The larger bag was at the back of the car.
Paris got off the train in Atlanta and looked around for Wyatt Ames from the Ames Peach Farm who was scheduled to pick him up. There were so many people disembarking with him, he couldn't tell if the man had arrived or not. He followed the other travelers into the terminal, thinking maybe his ride could be waiting there. No one exactly looked like a farmer. After waiting an hour, Paris deduced no one had shown up. He looked out the window. The sun had gone down, making it colder than when he first arrived.
Paris dragged his suitcases out of the station and found several taxis waiting to pick up passengers.
"Do you know where the Ames Peach Farm is?" he asked one of the drivers, shivering.
"Sure. But it's too far away for me to drive you there. You need to take a bus, which will put you off right at the gates. If you want, I can take you to the nearest MARTA station."
Paris nodded. "Okay."
If he'd had a cell phone, he probably could have called the farm, but they weren't allowed to have cell phones at the orphanage. He climbed into the warm cab, hoping he didn't have to wait all night for a bus.
* * * *
Of all the times for the truck to break down. Wyatt looked at his watch. Nine pm. The train from Louisiana had arrived two hours ago and he had no way to get in touch with his new employee. Wyatt had tried to call his cell phone but all of his attempts went straight to voice mail. He didn't know of anyone in this day and age who didn't have a phone attached to his or her ear during their waking moments.
Peter Mintz, his foreman, emerged from under the hood of the truck, wiping his greasy hands on a rag. He'd gotten the truck started, finally.
"This is a bad way to make a first impression," Wyatt said as they climbed back into the truck.
"He'll still be there," Peter assured him. "Where else can he go?"
True. His new employee came straight from an orphanage, which meant he didn't have any family and didn't know a soul in Georgia. Still, he'd bet Paris wondered why he hadn't arrived yet. Wyatt checked his phone again but he hadn't received any incoming messages.
They arrived at the Atlanta train station at nine-thirty and found it empty. Wyatt and Peter searched the entire depot, including the track, but couldn't find Paris.
Peter removed his cap and scratched his head. "You suppose he missed the train?"
"Maybe," Wyatt answered when they walked back to the truck and climbed in. "Anything is possible." He hoped nothing had happened to the young man.
They arrived back at the farm after stopping at a neighbor's to pick up Jeff, Wyatt's son.
Andy, the farm dog came bounding out into the yard, hopping up on them like he'd missed them. He barked loudly.
"What's wrong, boy?" Wyatt asked, patting the golden retriever. He'd raised Andy since he was a pup and the dog had a gentle nature.
Andy ran away from him and headed behind the house. When Wyatt didn't follow him, Andy came back, barking again.
"What has him so excited?" Peter asked as he and Jeff walked up the stairs.
Wyatt shrugged and followed. "He probably saw a squirrel." He passed them on the stairs and opened the front door with his key. Wyatt turned on the light, illuminating the living room.
Peter took Jeff to the kitchen while Wyatt searched for the orphanage phone number.
Andy continued to bark outside.
Wyatt turned on the central heating to warm the house since he'd forgotten to bring in wood for the fireplace. Well, he hadn't actually forgotten. He'd been busy with the farm and Jeff and preparing for the arrival of his new employee. Wyatt found the orphanage phone number scribbled on the front of a notebook in the office. He sat down and dialed the number. Someone answered after several rings. "Hello, this is Wyatt Ames of Ames Peach Farm. Can you tell me if Paris Cullier left for Georgia yet?"
The kindly man on the other end of the line told him Paris had left Louisiana on the train at seven in the morning, and that he'd personally taken him to the station and seen him off.
"Thank you." Wyatt hung up before the man started questioning him. He didn't like to worry people unnecessarily.
"Maybe you should go check on Andy," Peter said. "He's still barking at something. It could be a snake."
Wyatt agreed. "You're right. I better get the shotgun because it might be something larger."
He got the weapon from the wall in the office and headed out the back door. He found Andy barking at something in one of the barns. Wyatt shivered. He'd forgotten to put on his coat. He didn't make a sound as he crept toward the barn.
Andy ran toward him and then sped off ahead of Wyatt. He started barking again at the barn door.
Wyatt eased the door open with his right hand while holding the gun in his left. He couldn't see anything at first and his heart thudded wildly in his chest.
Andy went in ahead, sniffing the ground. The dog stopped abruptly and growled.
Wyatt's eyes quickly adjusted to the dark. Some moonlight spilled through the window allowing him to see clearer. He noticed a pair of tennis shoes first and then the rest of the trespasser's body. The guy appeared to be asleep. Wyatt cocked the gun and then nudged the man's tennis shoe with the toe of his boot.
The stranger moved slowly and sleepily.
Wyatt nudged the shoe again.
This time the guy's eyelids rolled back, revealing light-colored eyes.
Wyatt paused for a moment, a little taken aback at the sight. He shook off sudden rush of lust he'd felt.
The guy blinked and continued to stare at him.
Wyatt aimed the gun. "Who are you and what are you doing here?"
The other man eyed the weapon but didn't try to move. "My name is Paris Cullier. I think I'm supposed to work here."
Ooh shit. Wyatt moved the rifle from Paris's face and set the safety. "What are you doing in the barn? You're supposed to be at the train station." He held out his hand to help Paris up. It was then when he noticed the other guy's boyish stature and build. The horniness he'd experienced earlier returned. And what a voiceâ€¦ masculine but a little sultry.
"No one was at the station to meet me," Paris said, dusting off the back of his denims. He retrieved his luggage. "I took a bus here but no one answered the door. I guess Mr Ames was running a bit late or forgot about me."
"I'm Mr Wyatt Ames." The rays from the moon reflected on Paris's blond hair like a halo.
"It's nice to meet you."
Wyatt swept his glance over the young man. "You're just a kid."
"So are you," Paris said, checking Wyatt out with pale hazel eyes and an impish grin.