What Child is This?

an excerpt

Chapter One

Paris Cullier got off the train in Atlanta and looked around for the person from the Ames Peach Farm scheduled to pick him up. There were so many people disembarking with him, he couldn't tell if the person had arrived or not. He followed the other travelers into the terminal, thinking maybe his ride could be waiting there. No one exactly looked like a farmer. After waiting an hour, Paris deduced no one had shown up. He looked out the window. The sun had gone down, making it colder than when he first arrived.

Paris dragged his suitcase out of the station where he found several taxis waiting to pick up passengers.

"Do you know where the Ames Peach Farm is?" he asked one of the drivers, shivering.

"Sure. But it's too far away from me to drive you there. You need to take a bus, which will put you off right at the gates. If you want, I can take you to the nearest MARTA station."

Paris nodded. "Okay."

If he had a cell phone he probably could have called the farm, but they weren't allowed to have one at the orphanage. He climbed into the warm cab, hoping he didn't have to wait all night for a bus.

* * *

Of all the times for the truck to break down. Wyatt looked at his watch. Nine pm. The train from Louisiana had arrived two hours ago and he had no way to get in touch with his new housekeeper/bookkeeper. Whoever heard of not having a cell phone in this day and age?

Peter Mintz, his foreman, came from under the hood of the truck, wiping his greasy hands on a rag. He'd gotten the truck started, finally.

"This is a bad way to make a first impression," Wyatt said as they climbed back into the truck.

"He'll still be there," Peter assured him. "Where else can he go?"

True. His new employee came straight from an orphanage, which meant he didn't have any family and didn't know a soul in Georgia. Still, he'd bet Paris wondered why he hadn't arrived yet. The first thing tomorrow, he would go into town and buy Paris Cullier his first cell phone.

They arrived at the Atlanta train station at nine-thirty and found it empty. Wyatt and Peter looked around the entire depot, including the track but couldn't find Paris.

Peter removed his cap and scratched his head. "You suppose he missed the train?"

"Maybe," Wyatt answered when they walked back to the truck and climbed in. "Anything is possible." He hoped nothing had happened to the young man.

They arrived back at the farm after stopping at a neighbor's to pick up Jeff, Wyatt's son.

Andy, the farm dog, came bounding out into the yard, hopping up on them like he'd missed them. He barked loudly.

"What's wrong, boy?" Wyatt asked, patting the golden retriever.

Andy ran away from him and headed behind the house. When Wyatt didn't follow him Andy came back barking again.

"What has him so excited?" Peter asked as he and Jeff walked up the stairs.

Wyatt shrugged and followed. "He probably saw a squirrel." He passed them on the stairs and opened the front door with his key. Wyatt turned on the light, illuminating the living room.

Peter took Jeff to the kitchen while Wyatt searched for the orphanage phone number.

Andy continued to bark outside.

Wyatt turned on the central heating to warm the house since he'd forgotten to bring in wood for the fireplace. Well, he hadn't actually forgotten. He'd been busy with the farm and Jeff, and preparing for the arrival of his new employee. Wyatt found the orphanage phone number scribbled on the front of a notebook in the office. He sat down and dialed the number. Someone answered after several rings. "Hello, this is Wyatt Ames of Ames Peach Farm. Can you tell me if Paris Cullier left for Georgia yet?"

The kindly man on the other end of the line told him Paris left Louisiana on the train at seven in the morning, and that he'd personally took him to the station and saw him off.

"Thank you." Wyatt hung up before the man started questioning him. He didn't like to worry people unnecessarily.

"Maybe you should go check on Andy," Peter said. "He's still barking at something. It could be a snake."

Wyatt agreed. "You're right. I better get the shotgun because it might be something larger."

He got the weapon from the wall in the office and headed out the back door. He found Andy barking at something in one of the barns. Wyatt shivered. He'd forgotten to put on his coat. He didn't make a sound as he crept toward the barn.

Andy ran toward him and then sped off ahead of Wyatt. He started barking again at the barn door.

Wyatt eased the door open with his right hand while holding the gun in his left. He couldn't see anything at first and his heart thudded wildly in his chest.

Andy went in ahead, sniffing the ground. The dog stopped abruptly and growled.

Wyatt's eyes quickly adjusted to the dark. Some moonlight spilled through the window allowing him to see clearer. He noticed a pair of tennis shoes first and then the rest of the trespasser's body. The guy appeared to be asleep. Wyatt cocked the gun and then nudged the man's tennis shoe with the toe of his boot.

The stranger moved slowly and sleepily.

Wyatt nudged the shoe again.

This time the guy's eyelids rolled back revealing light-colored eyes.

Wyatt aimed the gun. "Who are you and what are you doing here?"

The other man eyed the weapon but didn't try to move. "My name is Paris Cullier. I think I'm supposed to work here."

Wyatt moved the rifle from Paris' face and set the safety. "What are you doing in the barn? You're supposed to be at the train station." He held out his hand to help Paris up. It was then when he noticed the other guy's boyish stature and build.

"No one was at the station to meet me," Paris said dusting off the back of his denims. He retrieved his luggage. "I took a bus here, but no one answered the door. I guess Mr. Ames was running a bit late or forgot about me."

"I'm Mr. Wyatt Ames." The rays from the moon reflected on Paris' blond hair like a halo.

"It's nice to meet you."

Wyatt swept his glance over the young man. "You're just a kid."

"So are you," Paris said, checking Wyatt out with pale hazel eyes and an impish grin.

Paris extended his hand.

Wyatt wrapped his large palm around Paris's and found it to be soft and small. Any idea of having Paris help out in the peach groves would be purely out of the question. His boyish frame wasn't designed for manual labor, but he should be okay with taking care of the house and keeping the books.

"I'm stronger than I look," Paris said as if reading his mind. "I've been helping around the orphanage for years." He buried his hands into his pockets.

"You must be cold. We better get in," Wyatt said.

The longer he stared at Paris, the more pieces of his clothing Wyatt removed with his mind. Lusty thoughts played out in his head. He hadn't felt this excited sexually--ever.

"How old are you, really?"

"Eighteen," Paris answered as he walked beside Wyatt.

Andy ran in the house and into the back door.

"How old are you?" Paris asked.

"I'm twenty," Wyatt answered. "I'll be twenty-one in a couple of weeks."

"Oh," Paris said. "Any chance your father's name is Wyatt, too?"

"No," Wyatt answered. "I'm Wyatt Ames owner of Ames Peach Farm."

Paris stopped. "You mean you own this place? Are you the one who hired me?"

"Yes, and yes," Wyatt answered. "My parents were killed in a car accident recently, and I am their only child. Is this going to be a problem?"

Paris shook his head. "No." He continued to walk beside Wyatt.

Wyatt entered the back door first and Paris followed him to the den where Peter and Jeff were.

Peter rose from his seat. "Who is this?"

"Peter, I'd like you to meet Paris Cullier," Wyatt said. "Paris, this is our foreman, Peter Mintz. Paris took a bus here when we didn't arrive at the station in time." He turned toward Paris. "I forgot to tell you the truck broke down along the way, that's why we were late to the station."

"No harm, no foul," Paris said and walked over to Peter, shaking his hand.

Peter looked surprised at first and then he smiled.

"It's nice to meet you, Paris," Peter said.

Something hit the floor. The three men turned their attention toward the sound. Building blocks lay scattered everywhere.

"What a cute child," Paris said, leaving his luggage and going over to Jeff.

Jeff looked up at Paris and appeared confused. Jeff always acted wary around strangers. In fact, he usually cried and clung to Wyatt's leg.

"Hello," Paris said to the child. "What's your name?"

"His name is Jeff and he's two years old," Wyatt answered.

Paris sat down on the floor and began stacking the building blocks.

Jeff sat down beside Paris and began playing, too.

"I better go put this gun away," Wyatt said enjoying the sight a little too much. He also didn't miss the amused look on Peter's face. "I'll be back in a minute to show you to your room, Paris."

"Okay," Paris said not taking his eyes off the blocks.

Wyatt turned to leave and Peter followed him. They were back in the office before either spoke.

"He's kind of young, isn't he?" Peter asked.

Wyatt placed the shotgun back on the wall. "Yes. I thought he'd look a little older."

"The people at the orphanage wouldn't have gone to all the trouble to recommend him if they didn't think he'd be capable of doing the job."

"I suppose," Wyatt said still not sure if this was going to work out or not.

"And Jeff seems to like him."

"That's because he thinks Paris is another kid."

"He's not a bad looking guy, either," Peter said. "He has nice eyes."

"I hadn't noticed," Wyatt lied.

Peter chuckled. "Sure you haven't." Peter knew Wyatt preferred men. "This should make life real interesting around here."

Wyatt frowned. "He's here to work so get your mind out of the gutter."

Peter chuckled again. "I will if you will."

"I better show him to his room and then we can eat," Wyatt said.

Mrs. Hill from down the road had sent beef stew and cornbread. Since his parents died, the neighbors had been helping out and making sure he had three square meals a day. His mother never let him or his father near her kitchen so Wyatt barely knew how to boil water.

Wyatt and Peter found Paris and Jeff putting the blocks into a toy box.

Wyatt picked up Jeff, and Peter left to go warm the food.

"Your room is upstairs across from mine," Wyatt said.

Paris followed him out of the den and up the stairs to the second landing. Jeff kept looking over at Paris and playing with him. The two giggled like best friends.

"He's certainly a happy child," Paris said.

Wyatt chuckled. "He has his moments." He opened a door and turned on the light.

Paris rolled his luggage inside.

"You have your own bathroom. I hope the room is to your liking."

Paris glanced around. "It's bigger than any room I've ever lived in. And I don't have to share it with anyone."

Wyatt supposed Paris had very little privacy growing up in an orphanage. "Peter is warming dinner. You can come down once you're settled." He left with Jeff and walked downstairs.

Peter had the food warmed and dished up. Wyatt put Jeff in his high chair.

Paris came down and joined them a few minutes later. He'd taken off his jacket and wore a long-sleeved knit shirt over his jeans.

He sat down next to Jeff. "Hey little guy, isn't it past your bedtime?"

"Normally, it is," Peter said.

"You have a fine son," Paris said to Peter.

"Jeff isn't Peter's son," Wyatt said. "He's mine."

Paris looked at Wyatt and then at Jeff. "And you have custody?"

Wyatt nodded. "Yes, his mother died."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Every child needs a parent." He turned to Jeff. "You are such a lucky little boy. You live in a beautiful home and have a father who loves you. Don't forget that when you're older and you're mad because he won't let you drive the car."

The words nearly broke Wyatt's heart. True, his parents were no longer alive but they had been there for most of his life to love him and to teach him right from wrong.

"How long did you live at the orphanage?"

"Eighteen years," Paris answered. "My mother put me up for adoption after I was born. So I know a thing or two about kids and keeping house."

Like Jeff, Paris never knew his mother. Peter also lost his parents at an early age. Aren't we a fine kettle of fish?

Peter gazed over at him, shrugged and then said grace.

Wyatt lowered his head. Tomorrow they would start their first full day as a new family.