Tara Maclay stood on her front porch maintaining a tight hold on the pistol concealed within her pleats as the young men made their way towards her. They appeared to be Confederate Soldiers, but Tara had heard many stories about Yankee posers using the guise of Southern Militia, only to ransack and set fire to homes and crops.
Donnie had shown her how to handle the revolver against her father's wishes. Her brother told her, "You never know when you may need to defend yourself, Tara." He was right, and now she was prepared to do whatever it took to keep her family and farm safe. The closer the boys came to the porch, the more firmly she griped her handgun. She was not, by any means, afraid to use the weapon.
The locusts in the live oaks that lined the narrow road to the Maclay home noisily accompanied the visitors. Underneath the massive hovering hardwood limbs, Will Rosenberg sucked in a deep breath of humid air, trying to shake the nervousness he had developed after seeing the blonde girl exit the house. It had been a long while since he had been in the presence of such a strikingly beautiful woman. Will watched the blonde intently as he and Xander paced up the lane, but as they neared the porch he was unable to meet her gaze, instead choosing to stare at his feet and fidget.
The soldiers came to a halt and Xander looked at Will expectantly, but his cousin who normally ‘did the talking' appeared preoccupied by his coat buttons. Recognizing that Will wasn't going to speak, the dark haired boy looked back to his welcoming committee and snatched off his hat, "Good mornin' ladies." He proceeded to whack Will on the arm with his hat reminding the redhead to remove his own in the company of women. Realizing his rudeness, Will quickly removed his cover, leaving his red locks in disarray.
"My name is Alexander Harris, and this is my cousin Will Rosenberg."
"What's your b-business here?" Tara asked curtly, her slight stutter betraying her nervousness.
Xander squinted one eye because of the brightness of the sun beaming over the house as he spoke to Tara, "Work, we're here for work. Your neighbor, Mister, um, Mister..." He wrung his slouch hat in his hands.
"Giles," Will supplied as he finally made eye contact with the blue eyed blonde.
Tara almost shivered in the hot morning sun when the green eyed stranger caught her gaze.
Taking a moment to regain her composure, Tara queried, "What kind of work are you looking for?" Surely Mr. Giles wouldn't send riffraff to my house. She trusted her neighbor very much. He had been most helpful since the passing of her parents, and knew well the struggles she faced.
"Anything ma'am, we're broke and trying to get back home," Xander continued.
"How long will you be available?" She was desperately in need of help, no doubt.
"As long as you need us," Xander blurted when given that thread of hope. The young men looked at one another anxiously.
Ginny, who had stood by silently until now, stepped up and touched the young girl's arm. Tara acknowledged the worried indication from the woman with a single nod, then spoke to Will and Xander, "Excuse me gentlemen, I'll be right back." She retreated into the house with Mammy Ginny and Abe on her heels.
"Miss Tara, I's not tryin to mine yo bizness," Ginny began, "but you thank you kin truss dem boys?"
"Mammy, first of all, this is your home too and if I invite someone to stay then you have every right to express concern," Tara reminded the older woman. "And I don't think Mr. Giles would have sent them to my doorstep if he thought they would do any harm. Besides, we really need the help, at least until Thomas gets home." The fact that the green eyed redhead may have been influencing Tara's decision was never mentioned to Mammy.
Abe stood at the screen door ogling the strangers as the two women debated. Xander smiled and waved at the boy in an attempt to make friends, but Abe dove into the skirts of his mother who stood just behind him the hallway. Will could clearly see the large round white eyeballs peering out from behind Ginny's dress, but could barely make out the profile of the blonde standing just inside the doorway. He continued to try though, as he eagerly awaited the return of the beautiful girl.
"Wut ‘bout folks in town, wut dey gon say ‘bout you puttin up two mens?" Ginny expressed concern for Tara's reputation.
Tara pondered that for a moment then responded, "Let ‘em talk, my concern is keeping this farm." The blonde spun to go back outside.
Ginny smiled widely after the girl turned her back. She was so proud of the sometimes stubborn Tara, "Well, in dat case, I's go gits dem sum brekfass and put it on de back porch."
Tara paused before opening the screen door, "That's an excellent idea Mammy, I'm sure it's been a long time since they've had a decent meal."
Will watched the blonde reemerge from the house, his heart racing as he silently prayed she would employ them.
Pausing at the top of the steps Tara put her hands on her hips, "I expect you both to be up at dawn everyday except Sunday," she began, "I will make a list of chores that will need to be accomplished daily before we head off to the fields."
Both young men breathed a huge sigh of relief as they glanced at one another. Xander quickly expressed his gratitude, "Thank you, thank you very much, Miss..."
"Maclay, but you may call me Tara. Follow me," she descended the steps and moved towards the barn, speaking as she walked, "There is a crop bin in the barn that you can use as your living facilities." Tara pointed across the field to the east of the house, "See that tree line over there, just inside the woods there's a creek that you can use to bathe." She stopped momentarily to face the soldiers, "I won't be able to pay you anything until after the first trip to the cotton gin."
"That's fine, we'll take it, I just wanna git back to my sweetie," the dark haired boy bubbled. Tara smiled kindly at the thought of the boy missing his darling.
Will couldn't help but focus on the curvy hips of the blonde as they approached the barn. Ashamed of himself, he averted his eyes until the girl opened the barnyard gate and then he paid close attention as she gave them more instructions. He tried to make eye contact again with Tara, but this time the girl blushed and looked away quickly.
Pushing a strand of blonde hair behind her ear she continued, "You m-may have the rest of the day to get settled in, but I expect you to be prepared to work in the morning." She led them into the section of the barn where there was no livestock, "here you are," she waved a hand around. Farm equipment and other odds and ends were stacked about, "You may move the things out of here and into the adjacent b-bin. Later today we can bring out mattresses that aren't being used from the house."
"Oh yes, Ginny is preparing you both a breakfast plate, she will serve it to you on the back porch."
Xander lit up immediately, they had only been able to afford a meager portion of food this morning and it was already wearing off.
"Thank you very much ma'am," Will expressed as Tara made her way back to the door.
The blonde let his sincerity soak in only for a moment before she replied, "You're welcome, but there's one more thing," her deep blue eyes met with Will's emerald green ones, "I sleep with a pistol under my pillow and I am not afraid to use it. Don't ever come into my house uninvited or you will surely meet the barrel of that gun."
Shock swept over Will's face, he couldn't believe the seemingly soft-spoken woman could be such a spitfire. It intrigued him; he was rapidly becoming fascinated by more than the blonde's beauty.