Scarlett’s pulse kicked in a burst of realization. “You’re going to be my point of contact at the farm for the whole four weeks?”
Looked like she’d unknowingly managed to piss off karma after all. But come on. She needed a blockbuster, not a ball buster. She had to be stuck with the cockiest Cross of the bunch?
That unsettling smirk worked its way back over Eli’s mouth. “Yes ma’am.”
Greeeaaat. “Scarlett,” she said. “And I’m not going to keel over from heat exhaustion.” She was hardly a delicate freaking flower.
Eli lifted one shoulder halfway before letting it drop. “That’s what everyone says right up ’til they do it. But just because you don’t plan on something doesn’t mean it isn’t gonna jump up and bite you on the…”
“Ass?” Scarlett supplied, filling in the obvious blank from where Eli had abruptly trailed off. No, really? They didn’t even swear all the way out here in God’s country? Fuck, she was hosed.
Chagrin flickered over his sun-bronzed face, there and then gone. “Yes ma’am.”
“Scarlett,” she reminded him, pulling a breath full of hot air into her already tight chest. Story. Story. You’re here for a story. “Okay. Any other house rules I should know about?”
“We start early ’round here.” He angled his boots over a branch on the path, heading toward a long, skinny barn-looking structure.
Wait… “How early?”
His smile paved the way for his answer. “Five-thirty.”
Oh, ow. “You do know that’s inhuman, right?”
“You do want the ‘authentic experience’ of farm life, right?” Eli volleyed, slinging air quotes around the words she’d used earlier, and shit. Shit, shit, sleepless shit. He kind of had her there.
Not that she was conceding defeat of any kind. “So no flip-flops, hydrate, cover up, and be ready to roll at oh-dark-thirty. Is that all?”
The slight lift of his dark blond brows was the only betrayal of his surprise. “It’ll serve for now.”
“Excellent, because I’ve got a couple rules of my own.” Scarlett jammed her flip-flops to a halt on the path, staring Eli down even though he stood a solid foot taller than her in those banged-up boots of his. “I’m here to do a job, and I don’t intend to take any half measures, which means, yes, I’m going to take a lot of pictures, and yes, I do want to experience farm life authentically. I’m fine with hard work, and also fine with any suggestions or guidance you’re willing to offer while we get that hard work done. What I’m not cool with”—she lifted a finger to send her point all the way home—“is you underestimating me. These features are going to do a lot for your farm, and I’m a damned good photographer, not to mention a pretty smart woman. Now, are we going to play nicely together for the sake of this magazine layout, or are you going to keep leading the way with your cocky attitude? In truth, I’m fine with either, but if you want to go the arrogant route, be forewarned. I bite back.”