Brothers of Cooper Ranch

By: Leslie North

Bella's reaction to his touch was instantaneous. Her knee jumped as if he'd struck a reflex, and she moved it out from beneath his hand. Sawyer was left with nothing to hold but cold, empty air. I should be used to it, he thought as he drew his hand back. He wanted to smile to let her know it was all right, but the skin around his mouth was tight, and the muscles necessary suddenly didn't work properly. He leaned in to grab his coffee, hoping Bella wouldn't notice his wounded expression.

His hopes went unfulfilled—the theme of the past week.

"Sawyer…" She reached for him tentatively. Sawyer paused, still holding his mug, and his heart climbed into his throat. He held perfectly still as he waited for the moment her fingers alighted on his own…

His laptop rang with the shrill trill of an incoming call, cleaving through the moment like a bolt of lightning splitting a tree.

Bella jumped again. Her fingers fled from his own, as if she were a guilty child caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She glanced around frantically for the source of the ring.

"Hit Accept." He momentarily considered taking away his wife's coffee if she was already so on edge.

"I haven't forgotten how to use Skype!" Bella retorted. She reached forward and tapped the touchpad, then quickly sat back, hands pinned between her knees. Sawyer wondered if he could get away with reaching for them beneath the table but decided against it at the last second. Sitting next to his wife presented too many temptations.

"Bella!" Shannon's round, friendly face popped up on the screen. "Sawyer! So good to see you!"

"Right back at you, Shay," Bella replied. She extracted one hand to wave enthusiastically. "God, how long has it been?"

"Almost a year! How are you…besides married? Wave that ring finger at me again!"

Sawyer started. He hadn't realized Bella had retrieved her wedding band from the nightstand where she first left it after waking up. He had been so worried about seeming normal and cohesive in their meeting today that the most obvious detail hadn't even occurred to him. Thank God Bella had the presence of mind to remember it.

And just like that, their meeting with Marketspace commenced. As pleasantries were seen to and summarily dispensed with, Sawyer felt himself slowly beginning to relax into his chair. He began the meeting with his usual scripted introduction to Farm2U, although he had a knack for making his explanation sound off the cuff. No one would ever believe that for every new proposal, he spent hours drafting and practicing his words.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bella watching him admiringly as he spoke. His emotions warred within him. On the one hand, Sawyer enjoyed the positive attention from his wife; on the other, it was the same look she had fixed him with the first time she had heard his pitch. Clearly, nothing he was saying now rang at all familiar. He wondered if it was worth sweating over. If Shannon noticed the quality of the look Bella gave him, she might start to suspect…what? That this was Bella's first time hearing the mission statement of the company she had wed herself to?

Sawyer concluded his introduction, paused, and took a sip of his coffee for effect. "Bella tells it better," he concluded. It was a calculated risk. Both women chuckled, although his wife's eyes widened in abject alarm, as if she fully expected Shannon to call on her next to rehash all of what he had just said.

"Yeah, Bella? Why don't you talk to me a bit about your plan to ship the product out?"

"I was just going over the plans last night…refreshing myself, as it were," Bella saved quickly. To Sawyer's surprise, she reached down into the briefcase beside her to pull out her own tablet. "I emailed them over to you last night. Did you manage to download them yet? If you did, you can follow along with me while I explain."

Bella took charge of the meeting and explained for a solid half hour just how Farm2U intended to fulfill their same-day shipping promises. Shannon listened raptly, occasionally scribbling notes on the legal pad in front of her or checking something Bella said in her own copy of the plans.

"So as you can see, we've got all the kinks worked out already. All we need is you…and my final question to you is: can you afford to be without us?" Bella turned, and slayed him with a triumphant smile. Sawyer wanted to gather her up into his arms right then and there, Skype call be damned. He imagined kissing those brilliant lips so thoroughly that they glowed red like embers; he imagined slipping an arm around her waist and sweeping his laptop off the table as he lowered her beneath him onto its surface.

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