Chapter 11: Part 1

Raphael still hadn't spotted me, so I slowed down my stride. I didn't want to appear too eager. Our eyes met as I stopped in front of him and offered him a small, shy smile.

"Are you done with business?"

"Yeah." His lips curved into a small smile. "I'm sorry about that. I didn't plan on having a meeting with Jon tonight, it was a last minute inconvenience."

He grasped my hand and pulled me closer. "Let me make it up to you."

My heart soared, thankful that ditching me hadn't been premeditated on his part.

"How are you going to do that?" I tipped my head back so I could meet his gaze.

Raphael's grin was mischievous. "Come on."

He towed me behind him as he navigated the crowd. He didn't stop when we got to the edge of the farm's yard; he went straight into the tall grass. I dug in my heels before he could tug me into the scary, critter filled grass.

"There could be snakes!" I tried to yank him back onto the mowed, normal looking yard, but he wouldn't budge. Instead, he laughed and hefted me over his shoulder.

I squeaked and grabbed onto his shirt. The stringy grass was so long that I could extend my hand down and grab the leafy ends as Raphael walked.

I burst out laughing when the entire grass stalk – roots and all – came out of the ground. Giggling like a fool, I wielded it like a whip and brought it down against Raphael's ass.

He didn't even break stride, he just reached back and tore the grass from my grip.

"Behave or I'll throw you into the grass with the snakes." His amusement reassured me that he probably wouldn't follow through on his threat.

As soon as he placed me back on my own feet I stumbled; light headed from the blood rush. He steadied me with a hand on my forearm.

"You okay?"

I tried to glare at him but just ended up squeezing my eyes shut in pain. "On the way back could I piggy back instead of hanging upside down over your shoulder?"

"Who said I'm carrying you back?"

I cracked open an eye to study his face and he grinned when he caught me peeking. "You think you're funny." I grumbled good-naturedly.

When the dizziness subsided I opened my eyes and finally got a good look at my surroundings.

We were in front of a barn. An actual barn! I was a city girl, born and raised in Atlanta, so it was kind of a shock to see the huge, red monstrosity illuminated by a single light that dangled above the door. But that wasn't even the best part. The best part was the green, john deer tractor that was parked right in front of it.

"Whoa." I walked closer, admiring the ordinary looking tractor that was so exciting to me because I've never seen one outside of a movie or book.

The unique smell of engine oil mixed with straw and cow shit made my nostrils flare. It was so akin to what I imagined a real life farm would smell like that it caused a large, delighted smile to make its way across my face.

I ran my fingers over the ridges in a wheel that was almost as tall as me. "I've never actually seen a tractor in person before."

Raphael climbed onto the seat before offering me his hand. I took it without hesitation and he lifted me up onto his lap, he maneuvered us so that my legs fell to opposite sides and the steering wheel was directly in front of me.

"This is pretty cool." I clenched the steering wheel with both hands and turned it from side to side. I tried to imagine what it would be like to drive it.

I was so immersed in my daydream that I startled when a husky chuckle tickled my ear.

"You really enjoy driving big vehicle, don't you?"

"I didn't at first, but after a while it almost became a form of art." I paused as I remembered all the practicing with my dad and how long it took to become proficient at driving a semi. "I would practice and practice until I could operate a semi flawlessly."

"My dad was so proud of me." I smiled as I remembered my dad's delight when I successfully passed my class A driving test.

"I wasn't interested in tractors until I was about ten years old. Jon and I thought it was a good idea to take this tractor for a test drive. We got it started and we lurched our way around the barn. We found out too late how hard this thing was to steer and that the breaks have the nasty habit of not working unless the pedal is slammed to the floor."

My gaze was fixated on the party in the distance, but I was enraptured with the childhood story Raphael shared with me.

"That day we ruined a good chunk of that year's corn crops. We plowed right through it while our Nonno chased the tractor and screamed." Warm breath caressed my neck. "That was the worst ass liken Jon and I ever got."

I tried to envision two mischievous boys plowing through a corn field, an old man screamed and chased them as the tractor destroyed more and more of the precious crop. I dropped the back of my head against his shoulder and laughed.

"That was the last time I drove any kind of big equipment until I turned 21, and had to get my class A license."

"You and Jon are blood related?"

"Our papas are cousins. We use to spend a lot of time here when the Carnival wasn't on tour."

Raphael wrapped his arms around my stomach and pulled me closer. "Did I make it up to you?"

My smile grew as I thought about it. "Yeah, this was pretty great. I think you more than made up for it."

Raphael hooked a finger under my chin and turned my face to the side. I got a glimpse of lightened eyes before his lips settled over mine. That fiery attraction between us exploded and the world around me seemed to fall away.

Nothing else mattered but the feel of his lips and the gentleness of his hand as it cupped my cheek. This felt like the start of something new. I realized that the glimpse into his past wasn't something he regularly shared. The intense, dangerous façade that Raphael cloaked himself in was slowly, but surely melting away, and in its place was a Raphael that was rarely shown.

It felt like I was becoming a part of his world.

Author Note:

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