Smoothly bringing the pickup to a stop in front of the house where instructed to park earlier, Rory killed the engine and leapt down from the cab, swearing lowly. His truck needed repairs, again, and he couldn’t afford them, so he was driving Boone’s truck. Loving that his brother was so generous, allowing him use of the truck whenever he needed it, plus rent-free accommodations at his house, he also resented the fact he needed to take Boone up on his numerous offers. He rang the doorbell, hopeful this interview wouldn’t be yet another waste of time, one more rejection when he told Saffron Bairstow, his potential employer, of his criminal past. He’d been shocked when he’d received Saffron’s call for an interview, so long had he gone without any employment opportunities. She’d said Ethan Collins had recommended him. He’d been happy for the opportunity, but somewhat irked Ethan had arranged it. While he appreciated Ethan’s willingness to help, to Rory it was another event in a long list of similar ones where Boone, their sister Zandra, or Ethan, Boone’s best friend, had acted on his behalf. Their actions both humbled and saddened him for, just once, he wanted to accomplish something on his own. After a moment, the door swung open, and he fought to keep his eyes from widening at Saffron’s appearance. Expecting an older and, frankly, butchy-looking woman, he found himself staring at the exact opposite. Possessing a lovely face, including big blue eyes and luscious lips, framed by softly curled blonde locks, he thought she might be younger than he was, at thirty-two. “Hi there, you must be Rory. I’m Saffron Bairstow. Please, come in.” “Thank you, ma’am, I’m grateful for this opportunity,” he replied as he took hold of the door she held open for him. Following her into the house, he looked around at the bareness of it as she led him into the kitchen, and invited him to sit at the table. Again this room was bare but at least had a table, and chairs to sit on. The living room they’d passed had been devoid of any furniture, holding only a pile of boxes in one corner. “You must have just moved in,” he said, eyeing more boxes. “Yeah, it’s pretty obvious huh? Aside from the bedroom and kitchen, I don’t have any furniture yet. I didn’t want to pay for shipping much furniture here, and figured I’d just buy it when I got here. Then, it turns out I’m busier than I thought I would be, and still haven’t even finished unpacking, let alone have time to go furniture shopping.” She shrugged, and flashed an easy smile. “Oh well, enough of that rambling, I’m sure you’d like to get the interview started. I was about to make coffee. Would you like a cup?” “Yes, please, with just a bit of milk. Thank you so much, ma’am.” When she returned to the table, he stood as she set a mug before him, and then took a seat across from him at the table, before he sat again. “You’re so polite. Is everyone around here that polite? Aside from the feed store and the grocery store, I haven’t seen much of the town yet.” “Most folks are, yes, and thank you again for this interview, I truly appreciate it.” “My pleasure. Did you bring your résumé?” “Damn. I forgot it in the truck.” As she waved a hand, he made to stand, and she shook her head. “No, sit, we’ll do the interview, and you can give me your résumé after.” Relaxing again, he outlined his ranching experience when asked, and she seemed impressed. However, when she asked the length of his last job, he told her they’d all been temporary, usually seasonal work. She cocked her head. He knew he had to give her a reason, and prepared himself for the look, the one he knew she’d unleash upon him when he finished explaining. “I have a criminal record, uh, I’ve been incarcerated, and it has impacted my chances when being interviewed.” Her eyes widened slightly, but she didn’t comment. “For what it’s worth, it wasn’t theft or anything money related. I am responsible, and I do have references.” When she still didn’t respond, he sighed. “Look, I know you’re worried about me being an ex-con. You’re a woman, on your own here, and I do understand that. All I can offer is my word I’ll be a dependable worker, and that I’d never do anything to jeopardize your ranch. I promise you, I pose no threat to you. You can call my references, and they’ll tell you that I’m as responsible as I’m saying I am.” At the slight but inquisitive tilt of her head, he braced himself, knowing what her next question would be. “What did you go to jail for?” Then she shook her head. “No, never mind, that isn’t any of my business. It really isn’t.” “Actually, it is. You’re worried, and you have every right to be. I was convicted of manslaughter, and served seven years in prison. You won’t ask, but you want to know why I did what I did. Everyone does. I got into a fight with a man, and it got out of hand, I admit that. I didn’t mean to kill him, but that’s what happened. I lost control, and I can sit here all day and tell you it won’t happen again, that I won’t ever lose control like that again, but when it comes down to it, you’ll either hire an ex-con, or you won’t.” She took her time before answering him, and he was hopeful when she didn’t avert her eyes from him. However, his heart dropped when she shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I can’t hire you. I guess I’m one of those who won’t hire an ex-con. Again, I’m sorry.” “Don’t be,” he said as pleasantly as he could, “you feel the way you do, and you shouldn’t apologize for it. Thanks for taking the time to interview me, and consider me for the position. I wish you all the best with your ranch.” He stood. “I’ll see myself out.” Closing her front door behind him, he cursed inwardly. This was the first interview he’d had in more than six months. The odd jobs thrown his way occasionally by Ethan, and a few others, weren’t enough. He needed a break, a chance to prove himself, but Saffron was just one in a long line of people who couldn’t find it in them to offer him that chance. He slid behind the wheel of his brother’s truck, to drive back to his brother’s house, where he’d eat the food his brother had paid for, and, later, sleep in the bed his brother had bought him. He glanced at the envelope on the passenger’s seat, containing the résumé he’d intended to give Saffron. Why even bother setting up these interviews? No one in town would ever give him a chance. As he had many times in the past year, he thought he should cut his losses, and move to a large city in order to find work. That probably meant factory work, a far cry from working with animals as he loved to do, but at least he’d have a steady paycheque. Living off his brother’s generosity was something he couldn’t do for much longer. It didn’t matter that Boone would gladly continue to support him, for he couldn’t allow it to continue. Already unsure of how much dignity he retained, it was fading by the minute.