Cab hated to think what those embellishments might be. “Want me to steer clear of the Cruz ranch tonight?” he asked wearily.
Rose hesitated. “No.” She didn’t meet his eye as she got into her vehicle. “Just stop bossing me around.”
Thank goodness she’d planned out each and every step to build her cabin. Now that Rose had the posts in place, the rest of it went more easily. Pieces fit together correctly and screws tightened easily in her predrilled holes. By the time the pale sun had climbed as high as it would get on this fall day, she had the floor and four walls in place. Which was good, because if ever she needed a place to get away to, it was now.
Autumn had welcomed her with open arms to the Big House last night, assigned her a room and told her to stay as long as she liked. Later she’d pick up the rest of her things from the carriage house and move them in, but for now she needed to be alone, outside.
It felt good to work like this on her own. No one to stand over her and tell her what to do. No one to point out the small mistakes she’d made on the way. No one to take the tools out of her hands and do it for her. Why was it no one thought she could do things for herself?
Standing on the ground and looking up at her creation, Rose felt proud of what she’d accomplished. The small house wasn’t perfect by a long shot, with gaping holes where the windows would go, another for the door, and not even a start to the roof on top. It was a plain square box.
But it was her plain square box. She couldn’t wait to finish it.
First, however, she needed lunch and a bathroom break. A quick trip to the truck got her the bag lunch she’d packed this morning and a roll of biodegradable toilet paper. She left her lunch near the tree house and walked farther into the woods to find a suitable place to pee. As she heeded the call of nature, it occurred to her this was a flaw in her flawless plan. She envisioned slipping away to her tree house for long days of painting, which meant many more cold and uncomfortable bathroom breaks like this one in her future.
What if she wanted to stay overnight?
An image floated into her mind of her grandparents’ lakeside cabin where they used to visit when she was a kid. Completely off the grid, it had no indoor plumbing. Instead it had a pristine outhouse with a linoleum floor, washable walls and a padded toilet seat. Adequate ventilation ensured that while not exactly odor-free, it didn’t reek either. Rose finished up and made her way back to the building site. Should she make one of those, too?
First things first. She used hand sanitizer to clean her hands, and sat down to eat her lunch with an appetite she rarely had when she worked at the jewelry shop. She liked it out here where it was quiet and peaceful. Sociable by nature, she wouldn’t want to be alone all the time, but she needed restful periods like this for her artist’s soul.
She frowned as she thought over her difficulties finding time and places to paint. No one took her art seriously. In fact, it galled her that no one took much of what she did seriously. Including Jason. Even now that it seemed obvious he hadn’t been serious about her for quite some time, that didn’t stop him from getting together with her when he came through town. She was good enough to sleep with, obviously. Just not good enough to marry.
Was he dating someone else in North Dakota?
She waited to feel the blow that thought ought to deal her, but instead of anger, she only felt sad. What had happened to them? Were they ever meant to be together?
Probably not, given the way things had gone.
She set down her sandwich and contemplated the thin band of silver on her finger. Was it time to take it off? She’d planned to wait until she had a final conversation with Jason, but the truth was, she didn’t feel like waiting. Jason had kept her waiting for years, and lately he hardly had bothered to pretend they were having a relationship. Why should she give him the courtesy of a formal breakup when he hadn’t given her any such courtesy?
She gave the ring an exploratory tug, wondering if it would cling to her after so much time on her finger. But just like the other day at the jewelry store, it slipped off easily. She held it up, looked it over one last time, then slid it into her pants pocket. Nothing to it. With a shrug that masked an ache in her heart, she packed up the remainder of her lunch and got back to work. She was sad for the death of her first real relationship, but her pain was for the girl she’d been, not for the woman she was today. She was ready to move on.
She’d been ready for quite some time.
Rose stood up and surveyed the tree house rising above her. She should have done this years ago. She didn’t know how she’d get through these next few days, until she rescued the rest of her things from the carriage house, found a new job and moved on. She was afraid Emory might try to hold her to the lease she’d signed. If he did, she might have to make a trip to small claims court. Autumn had said she’d be glad to rent the room to her on a long term basis, but if she had to pay for two places, money would be awfully tight.
Later that afternoon she rolled back into town and parked at the grocery store. She needed a contribution to bring along to the gathering at Ethan and Autumn’s place tonight. She’d left the woods early today to give herself time for a shower and change of clothes once she got back to the Big House. She’d framed in one of the large windows of the tree house securely, without even scratching the glass. And she’d prepped the doorframe, too. Next she’d put in the smaller window and get started on the roof. It had been hard to leave the tree house at the end of the afternoon. She wanted to keep on working straight through until it was done, but she was tired, her muscles ached, and she desperately needed a shower before she would be fit for company.
Rose turned at the entrance to find Hannah Ashton behind her. “Hi, how are things at the clinic?” She made a mental note to stop by soon and visit the animals. It was hard to play with the strays and not be able to take any home, but she knew Hannah’s boss, Bella Chatham, appreciated anyone who took the time to come and handle them.
“They’re good. We’re busy,” Hannah said. “You coming to Ethan’s tonight?”
“Yes.” Rose smiled. “I take it you are, too?”
“Uh huh. These poker nights are getting out of hand. I think we might have enough people for three tables tonight. Are you shopping for something to bring along?”
“I’m grabbing some chips and dip.”
“I’m on soda duty. Although we all know everyone’s going to drink beer.”