Chapter 10 – Too Close For Comfort
"The most important thing in communication
is to hear what isn't being said."
~ Peter F. Drucker
On the hill above the Duke Farm, Drake sat on the hood of his Scout, listening to the occasional 'low' from ol' Trudy and slapping mosquitoes while he kept watch. It was an unbelievably muggy night and the haze created a halo around the porch light as it cast its yellow beacon across the yard.
Like every other night for the past two weeks, Drake was here to protect Daisy and keep her family safe from harm. Normally he would welcome the solitude. His Scout was his personal retreat from the world and he had spent hours looking across various horizons while letting his cares drift away. Tonight was not one of those nights as he had several pressing issues to contemplate as the hours ticked by.
Jaxon had been extremely upset since meeting his handler and Drake was deeply concerned. Taking a few blows from Travis shouldn't cause the kind of upheaval Jaxon was displaying. There was something else bothering his little brother, but the younger MacFarland refused to discuss it. Even Jenny couldn't get an explanation for his short temper and moody behavior. That usually meant they would endure one of his meltdowns in the near future.
It made Drake's blood boil that Travis assaulted his flesh and blood. He never had fully trusted the agent. Granted, Travis was correct about them being too comfortable, but that didn't give him the right to act like a twisted surrogate parent. Even their father never struck his children in such a manner, regardless of his harsh ways and the cruel indifference that developed in the years following Finn's death.
Resting his elbows on his knees, Drake rubbed his palms together and thought about the days of his youth…before the tragedy. They had been comfortable back then, too. When they lost Finn, the only way of life they had ever known was lost with him. They all carried the scars of that night and dealt with it in different ways. Drake coped by building an impenetrable brick wall around his heart and grew to be a man of few words. Years later, tragedy struck again and after losing the woman of his dreams, he learned that being comfortable came with a rather unusual risk.
Now he got nervous when things were going well and with everyone living in Enos's home, there was "comfort" all around him. He slept in the same bed every night, Jenny had begun cooking again and insisted he break bread with the family at a real dining room table. Up until two weeks ago, he ate three not-so-square meals a day, right here in his Scout. The wadded up MacDonald's wrappers on the floorboards and the lingering smell of cheeseburgers in the upholstery gave proof of that fact.
Drake couldn't help but enjoy living in Hazzard and it scared him to death. The Circle M Ranch had everything a man could ever want or need. Enos had given them the run of the place and he had made the most of the offer. It had been ages since Drake had a horse at his disposal, or acres of forests to ride and hunt at his leisure. Even the land called to him, especially when the clouds hung low over the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was the closest thing to the MacFarland Estate that he had experienced in fifteen years. Yet, he was lonely.
His reclusive ways no longer provide him comfort. Somewhere along the line, Daisy had wormed her way under his skin. Drake was supposed to be staying away from her, but the memories from the barn were ten times more powerful than the ones from Bear Creek. He should've known it wouldn't be easy to walk away. He found her desirable, was drawn to her sassy talk, and that seductive body.
Over the last week, he caught himself yearning for Daisy to begin her chores. His heart raced when he caught a glimpse of her hanging the laundry, or carrying that god-forsaken milk bucket back and forth to the barn. Each time he saw her, she was more stunning than the last. As much as he fought it, the fiery beast had forced his grief aside and left him with an empty space in his heart that only she could fill. Maybe that meant she was actually good for him.
Drake smacked his palm against his forehead and gave his head a good shake. Daisy was not good for him. She was in just as much trouble with Monroe as he and had a fickle nature to boot. The girl was still in love with Enos. She even said as much to Jaxon before she dumped him because of his twin. After Drake walked out on her twice, Daisy wouldn't possibly consider letting him back in. Why should she?
The kiss... A voice inside his head whispered. Daisy kissed you. You're different.
"No, I kissed her." Drake argued with himself. He kissed her…and he liked it…a lot. But he still had a million other problems, the biggest being Daisy was off limits. He gave himself another smack. His reckless thoughts equaled a one-way ticket to trouble and at the very least a thorough arse whooping from Jaxon.
Why? Didn't Jaxon say he was through with her? You know he belongs with Katie.
Drake drew a deep breath and figured he was destined to go barmey trying to control this problem. It would take every ounce of self-restraint he could muster to keep from starting a fight with Daisy on the trip, just to see where it would lead this time. Sure, a fight would get him slapped, but he'd probably get another kiss out of it.
It would be worth it to lock horns again, to see her stand up and challenge him to battle. He tamed the beast once and could still remember the feel of her flesh rippling under his fingers. A powerful wave of lust crashed over him and he groaned when his body pulsed in response. This was not the way to spend a long night of surveillance and if he didn't get a handle on this problem, the trip would be sheer torture. He shifted to a more comfortable position and contemplated taking a dip in the cool pond for relief.
Maybe all Drake needed was time to purge Daisy from his system. Distance might help, but that wasn't going to happen. He'd just have to suffer through it. When he saw movement at Daisy's window, he grabbed his binoculars for a closer look. A second later she crawled out of her room and took off into the night.
"Mac an donais, girl! Monroe is dangerous! Have ya no' been listening or are ya touched in the head!?"
Drake was utterly bewildered by her reckless behavior. He slid off the hood and marched after her, intent on putting her back where she belonged.
Daisy was oblivious to Drake's presence as she strolled to the pond. She held out her hands, brushing the tall blades of grass as she moved along. She thought of the countless times she had run down this path when she was little. Enos was the center of her world back then. It saddened her how everything had forever been altered. It took her heart to a very empty place.
She arrived at the pond to find moonbeams shimmering on the water like puddles of silver. The smell of wet soil and damp grass permeated the air and she moved closer to the floating dock. The water promised blessed relief from the oppressive heat and with a smile on her lips, she grasped the hem of her top.
Daisy was about to pull the material over her head when she was grabbed from behind. She screamed, only to have a hand thrust over her mouth.
"Hold yar weesht, girl! Stop now or you'll wake the dead! Ya should no' be out here!"
There was only one man in Hazzard with a husky Scottish brogue. Her fury zoomed off the scale, along with a sense of relief. A second later and she'd have been rather exposed. Why did that make her mouth go dry?
Drake let her go and she went on the assault, angry about her traitorous thoughts. She spun around to slap his face, but he easily caught her wrist and prevented her from hitting her mark. Daisy didn't hesitate in swinging her free hand through the air with dramatic force. Drake didn't catch it and she smiled in smug satisfaction when a resounding smack sent the birds from the perch in the trees.
"That's for sneaking up on me!" she shouted. She raised her chin in triumph and inwardly rejoiced. Ha! He's not so tough!
Daisy's pride was short lived when Drake barely reacted. In fact, the only indication that he felt the blow at all was a single raised brow. A satisfied half grin slowly crept across his face and he looked into her eyes with chilling intensity. Her heart shot straight to her throat. He felt it all right.
I just poked the big bad wolf with a stick.
His hand firmly held her delicate wrist and Daisy knew he had no intention of letting go. Drake was massive and if he had a mind to, he could do with her as he pleased. The idea stole her breath and she mentally railed against another round of traitorous thoughts.
Drake turned passive. With both brows now high on his handsome face, he spoke dismissively. "What's the problem, girl? Not have your milking bucket handy?"
Daisy gasped. He let her hit him. Drake was toying with her! Arrogant jerk! She furrowed her brow and tugged back on her arm, but his didn't flinch. His muscles were like steel.
"Ya' just let go of me, Drake! What are ya' doin' here anyway?"
Ignoring her protests he kept his hand manacled around her wrist and said, "I'm waiting for ya to kiss me. That's what ya usually do."
Daisy gave him a look that would've bore a tractor-size hole through a lesser man. "You don't stick around long enough to know what I usually do! Just let go of my arm you big bully or I'll slap you again!"
"Again? Ah, so ya want two kisses."
Daisy was speechless and her mouth formed a small 'O'. The audacity!
Amusement danced in his eyes and that smooth brogue wove an intoxicating spell. "Now, girl. If ya want me to kiss ya, just ask for it. Ya doona have to go to all this trouble to get my attention. Get on with the winchin so I can take ya back to the house. I'm here to protect ya from Monroe and making me chase ya is no' verra appreciative."
"I am not winchin you, kissing you or anything else with you!" she said, clearly offended by his snarky attitude. "So you are supposed to be my guardian angel again. Have ya' been checked for horns lately? What about a pointed little tail? You should take your trident and stick it where-"
"Och, girl. Ya have a wicked tongue. Ya should put it to better use. Get a wiggle on and come with me. Monroe's men will harm ya and you cannae be taking such risks. Tomorrow is a long day and I want ya in bed. Now."
Drake swore under his breath at his poor choice of words and the inappropriate images that popped in his mind sent his desire surging. With a flustered sigh, he quickly turned his back. He was putting a wall between him and the fiery beast…fast…even if he had to drag her all the way back to the house.
Baffled by his commanding behavior Daisy dug in her heels and again yanked on her arm. "You are out of your mind! I'm not going anywhere! You aren't the boss of me!" Wow, that sounded childish. Daisy glossed over the fact and said brazenly, "I came out here to be alone and I'm staying!"
"Are ya sure ya want to do that without your milking bucket?"
"Look, Caveman MacFarland. I'll never be able to sleep unless I do what I came here to do! It ain't open for negotiation! Now, I'm getting in that pond and swimming until I'm worn out!" Daisy took a breath and added, "And that's final!"
Drake freed her arm and his eyes turned predatory. "Fine. Go ahead then. It's a verra good night for a swim. I'll join ya."
When he reached for his belt, Daisy's mouth gaped in shock. It took a second to realize exactly where her eyes landed. Her breath hitched and she quickly averted her gaze, forcing her eyes to look at a high branch instead the perfect male specimen standing in front of her. Good grief what was wrong with her? Was that panic she felt!?
Unusual, downright bizarre… If it were any other man, she would wait until he was stark naked, take his clothes and run for the hills. But the idea of seeing Drake in the buff sent her heart thumping so hard she thought it might dislocate a rib.
He dispensed with the buckle and was reaching for his zipper when she suddenly shouted, "Stop it, Drake!"
"Ya doona want to swim?"
"No, I don't want to swim…anymore."
Drake visibly preened and fastened his belt. "Good. Now that ya made up your mind, let's go." He again grasped her wrist and took off at a fast pace, dragging her along the trail.
"B-b-but wait a minute!" Daisy protested as she stumbled behind him. "Would you stop already?! I mean it! I'll scream if ya' don't stop pushing me around!"
Without ceasing his forward movement, he flicked a haughty glance over his shoulder. "You're already screaming like a bloody banshee and I'm not pushing ya girl. I'm pulling. Now be quiet or the whole County will hear ya."
He released her hand, abruptly turned to face her and roared, "What!?"
Daisy smacked right into him and her hands ended up plastered across that chiseled chest of muscle. She pulled away like he was on fire and took a healthy step back.
"Um?" Drake pretended not to notice the way her body had fit so perfectly against his. He eased back on his snarky tone. "Girl. I'm trying to keep ya safe. I'm serious, Daisy. Ya cannae be running around alone with Monroe after ya. I will no' have it. From now on, your safety will be my responsibility."
Drake took a step forward and snaked his arm around her waist. He looked deep into her eyes and amended, "You are my responsibility. I willnae allow him to harm ya."
When his eyes locked onto hers, Daisy's knees went weak at the depth in his gaze. Her heart made an odd fluttering sensation and he pulled her against him. She was nearly moved to tears at the immense sadness his eyes carried, but she couldn't turn away. She searched deeper, past the sorrow and pain, beyond the haughty facade.
Looking into his eyes was like being drawn into his spirit. His powerful essence welcomed her, wrapping around her like a long lost love. She could feel his strength. Daisy saw mystery and intelligence, yearning and passion, a portrait of intense emotions all swirled together in a turbulent sea of dark green. There was something else, something very prevalent.
Honor. Daisy let out the breath she didn't know she was holding. In that incredibly miraculous moment, she could've sworn their souls touched. All her doubts evaporated. Drake's kiss had been real. He kissed her because he wanted to, not to help his sister.
When Drake inclined his head, Daisy did the same, helpless to resist this unexplainable connection. His strapping muscles pressed against her, she lowered her lashes and her lips parted ever so slightly. She could feel the heat on her palms as they pressed against his back. She craved the very thing she shouldn't want him to do.
Drake lowered his head slowly, building the anticipation in a pleasure-pain mix. When he gently pressed his lips to hers, it was the most tender, yet passionate kiss Daisy had ever known.
If Drake could've stopped time, he would've. He treasured every moment, drawing out the tender kiss, memorizing the softness of her lips and the warmth of her touch. Her body was crushed against him from knee to chest, setting his skin ablaze. He had to break away before he lost complete control and peeled off the layers to reach her bare skin.
Daisy returned his kiss with a gentle motion of her own. She wanted to touch him, run her fingers through that thick chestnut hair, trace that strong jaw and explore every tawny muscle. Everything about Drake was rugged. He smelled like the forest after a heavy rain, freshly cut timber and… What was that? Cheeseburgers?
Afraid he would bolt and run, she fisted her hands in his shirt and limited her movement to her lips. Just as she worked up the courage to explore, he growled deeply. Drake slowly backed away, hovering above her lips as his eyes danced over her features. That predatory gaze returned and he stepped back to devour her body with his eyes.
Daisy felt naked by the time his seductive gaze returned to her face. He carried a look that was downright possessive and she shivered in response. Another half-smile, another rumbling growl of approval, and more shivers of pleasure were sent chasing along every single nerve.
She licked her lips and in a breathy whisper, she said, "Sugar, are ya' gonna walk out on me again?"
"No, girl. I dinnae mean to upset ya." He caressed her cheek with his fingers and murmured, "So verra lovely..."
Daisy checks flushed at the romantic gesture.
"Why did you leave like that? I don't know what to think." The moment she said it, she saw his defenses go up and he went right back to snarky.
"I take my job seriously, girl. I'll be here to protect ya." Drake dropped his hand and gestured to the house. "We have to go now. Ya need to rest before the trip or you'll be fair puggled by morn. I'm taking ya back and I'll be right outside. Ya be ready by six and I'll drive ya to the ranch with Luke. Let's go. Time for bed."
Daisy communicated her displeasure by crossing her arms and crinkling her brow. She was firmly planted. They just shared another earth shattering kiss and he was talking about her being his job.
"Blimey hell, what now?"
Drake looked baffled. "Aye, it's my job to keep ya safe. Doona fight me, lass. I can see that you're tired. Ya need rest."
Daisy pursed her lips. Wasn't his answer good enough? Especially since she didn't know what she expected to hear. Those feelings of confusion came rushing back and it chapped her hide. She didn't like unknowns and felt like she was barreling down the highway in a car without brakes.
Drake sighed dramatically and offered his hand. "Daisy, may I take ya back to the house?" Clearing his throat, he added, "Please."
Please? Now that was monumental! Daisy bit her lip and made her request before she lost the nerve.
"I need to ask a favor. It's hotter in the house than it is out here and I can't sleep." Daisy tucked her hair behind her ear and said, "I'm scared. Everything is all messed up and I'm spending the next three days on the road with my ex-fiancé and his new girlfriend. Enos was my best friend, but he hasn't talked to me in two weeks. Seeing them together...I mean...it's gonna be…"
Drake stood quietly and waited until she was ready to go on. She could've hugged him for that.
"I could really use a friend," she said. "Since I'm your responsibility, can I sit out here with you for awhile and talk?"
Daisy dropped her eyes to the ground. For a second, Drake thought she was going to cry, but she pulled herself together. She looked so vulnerable standing there, chewing on that full bottom lip and drawing circles in the dirt with the toe of her shoe.
When she chanced a look, he gazed into eyes as blue as the North Sea. He saw a sadness that matched a bit of his own. She was scared and lonely. How many times had he been there? Part of him screamed not to do it, to keep her on the outside. Daisy might still be in love with Enos, but she had lost him to Jenny and taken a significant blow to her self-esteem in the process.
Daisy needed someone to care and was being incredibly brave. She was just asking him to be a friend. For some reason the idea of her turning to anyone else, especially his brother, caused his heart to twist. Would it be that risky to spend a little time talking with her? He wouldn't have to sit alone and think of his own painful memories. They would make a perfectly miserable pair.
He acted a little put out when he answered, "Have it your way, but ya cannae be running off or taking risks. Say ya promise."
"Say it or I'll stuff ya back in your window."
"Okay! Did anyone ever tell you you're hard work!? Oh, for heaven's sake. I promise."
Drake made some odd grunting noise of approval and led her to a safe spot in the grass on the hill. The two sat together under the stars and while Daisy talked, he took in every word, mannerism and feature.
Every. Single. Feature.
When she rubbed her eyes and a sleepy yawn slipped out, he walked her back to the farmhouse. Outside her window, he swept her off her feet and lifted her inside.
Daisy turned around to rest her elbows on the windowsill and with a carefree giggle she said, "Good night, Drake. Thanks for stuffing me in my window, sugar."
Sugar. He rolled his eyes. "Go to bed, girl."
She disappeared in her room and Drake retreated to his post. He climbed on the hood of his Scout and resumed his watch. The feelings Daisy resurrected that day in Bear Creek were alive and dancing a wild jig, but so were the others…the ones of abject terror and fear of loss.
He was in deep. There was no denying that fact. For eighteen months Drake had been lost in his grief. For even longer he chose to be alone, shoving anyone who got too close away. Maybe it was time to change his ways. Daisy was something unexpected.
He still didn't know how he would explain this to Jaxon, but he had plenty of time to figure it out. No sense in pushing him into that meltdown. For now he would continue to keep their encounters secret. Who knew how she would treat him tomorrow when Enos was around. She certainly wouldn't be kissing him. All he needed to do was play it cool and give it some time. Taking it slow would allow Jaxon to heal and maybe Jenny could reach Katie. At the same time, Daisy could begin grieving over Enos, if she was ready to let go. Somehow he doubted that. As for Drake? He needed to face his worst fears.
Nice and slow was the best course of action and would allow a friendship to form while he kept her safe. It was a good plan. Easy peasy.
What could possibly go wrong with that?