Tansy was dreaming, but in the dream she wasn’t herself.
It was twilight, the last of the sun’s glow trailed pale fingers along the hillside, setting the blossoming peach trees alight.
The earth was cool against dream-Tansy’s feet. She turned from the trees and trotted down the hill into the berry bushes, her stride smooth and silent.
In the shadow of dusk, the bushes seemed much taller than usual and the leaves and berries larger, releasing the scent of sunlight with every step she took into the valley.
Something was very different.
The soil was so fragrant, and soft beneath her feet, as if she were walking on a trampoline. Her muscles tensed like a coiled spring.
She tried jumping and was amazed to find herself sailing sideways through the air.
She landed lightly and lowered herself instinctively to the ground, ready to pounce and pin.
She definitely wasn’t herself tonight. But she wasn’t sure what she was.
Before she could concern herself with it, an incredible scent caught her attention.
It wasn’t danger or milk or meat, but something just as heady and attractive.
Her feet were moving before she had made up her mind.
She stalked her way across the farm, sticking to the shadows, pulled like gravity to the force that called to her from across the acres.
She slipped under the split rail fence that separated Martin’s Bounty from Dolly Strickland’s farm just west of theirs.
Bright eyes gleamed from the shadow beneath the oak tree.
A shiver went through Tansy’s frame.
He slipped out of the shadows, sleek and sinuous. Yellow eyes, midnight black fur, muscular shoulders rolling under that sleek pelt as he approached.
Jett. Dolly Strickland’s cat.
But he was as huge as a panther.
No. He wasn’t bigger. Tansy was smaller somehow.
She froze in place as Jett reached her at last, thrusting his head into her neck and rolling his body against the length of hers.
The delicious scent of him enveloped her and she applied her own cheek to his haunch. A rumble warmed her chest as she realized who she was in this dream.
She was a cat. That much was clear.
But she wasn’t just any cat - she was Cleo, Jett’s paramour and companion.
Tansy was her own cat.
She’d never dreamed as another person before, let alone another species.
Jett abruptly ended their greeting and stalked into the trees at the edge of Strickland’s farm.
Tansy followed, fascinated.
They traveled between the trunks, the looming trees making her feel even smaller.
A bug skittered across Tansy’s path, its movements oddly jerky.
Her paw shot out automatically and she batted the air around the bug, testing.
But it continued on its anxious way into the shelter of the undergrowth.
Jett turned over his shoulder and fixed her with his amber gaze.
Tansy pretended to be bathing her paw, as if to say she hadn’t been playing with the passing bug at all, just washing up.
Follow, his eyes repeated.
She relented and went to him.
He gave her an affectionate head butt, then continued on his way as her senses reeled again at his scent.
The dim of the trees gave way to soft green light ahead.
Jett hung close to the trees now, his dark fur nearly invisible as he cloaked himself in shadow.
Tansy’s tabby coloring camouflaged her well, she hoped. But she followed Jett’s lead, trying to make herself merge with the leaves and soil.
In the clearing ahead, Tansy saw a human figure. He was male - tall and muscular. And there was something familiar about him.
Then she saw another figure, seated on a stump. This one was also familiar.
Tansy froze, whiskers quivering.
The seated figure turned to look at her.
The world seemed to blur out of focus.
When she opened her eyes she was looking at Cleo, who stood frozen at the edge of the meadow.
She could feel the stump beneath her, the rough bark under her fingers.
The clearing was a brighter green than before, but its fragrance was more subtle.
Cleo blinked at her and she felt faint.
“Tansy,” a deep voice said.
She had forgotten there was another human in the clearing.
She turned to the voice.
It was Burton. Of course it was.
He moved toward her, the lean muscles under his t-shirt reminding her of Jett for a blinding second.
He knelt at her feet, luminous brown eyes searching hers. An expression of concern made his unbearably handsome face somehow even more beautiful.
“Tansy,” Burton whispered, placing his big hands on the stump, caging her hips.
But now that she was in the thrall of his nearness, she couldn’t remember what had frightened her.
Warmth emanated from him and he smelled delicious, a combination of forest and spices and something so masculine…
She leaned in to him, a flower to the sun.
The concern in his eyes turned to hunger.
She twined her arms around his neck as he kissed her, one hand between her shoulder blades, pulling her closer.
Tansy’s pulse thundered in her ears, her body tingling with stimulation, hardly able to register each sensation. His warm mouth sought hers, demanding yet gentle. His strong arms felt so solid around her, and the beat of his heart thumped against her chest, not as frantic as hers, but resounding. It pounded out a rhythm of need that pulled at her until she hurt.
Something cried out in the distance.
Tansy tried to push the sound away, to lose herself in Burton’s embrace.
It cried out again, in a familiar cadence.
Meow, mmm-meow, meow, mmm-meow…
She tried to pull back from the kiss, but found she was no longer in Burton’s arms.
She opened her eyes.
The pink light of dawn filled her bedroom.
The dream was over.
She squeezed her eyes shut again, hoping she could bring it back for just a minute.
Well, that part hadn’t been a dream.
Tansy sat up and saw Cleo sitting outside on the windowsill, gazing at her with more than a little reproach in her yellow eyes.
“Sorry, your majesty,” Tansy said, hoping out of bed to open the window. “If you’d been having that dream you wouldn’t have wanted to wake up either.”
Cleo blinked at her and leapt inside and onto the floor, more flowing than actually landing on her feathery paws.
As Tansy watched, the fluffy tabby padded over to her bed, sailed effortlessly onto the pillows, turned around twice, curled herself into a furry ball, and went promptly to sleep.
“No snoozing for me today,” Tansy said, smiling at her feline friend.
Tansy wasn’t much of a snoozer anyway. She had way too much to do out here on the farm.
On the way to the bathroom she could hear Sage banging around in the kitchen and humming the theme song to Friends.
Tansy smiled. Her sister wasn’t usually the type to hum. She must be enjoying having Arden to pal around with.
In the kitchen Sage banged out the tat-tat-tat-tat-TAT drum part on the counter.
Tansy’s eyebrows went up in surprise.
That kind of abandon was downright out of character for Sage.
Maybe there was something more to her good mood than Tansy had suspected…
It was hard not to think of Riggs. The gentle giant seemed to be quite enamored of her sensible sister.
And it would have been impossible even for Sage not to notice how hot he was. Could something be going on between them?
“Breakfast in ten minutes,” Sage yelled up happily.
“Awesome,” Tansy yelled back.
She dashed into the bathroom, hoping a quick hot shower would clear the romance out of her head.
For all that she was dreaming of Burton, and even mentally matchmaking Sage and Riggs in her head, there really was no time for any of it. She had big problems to solve in the real world, namely saving the farm where she hoped to spend the rest of her life.
If they couldn’t get it together in time for the tourist farm to open for peach picking season, there would be no way they could avoid selling the place just to pay the taxes.
And Tansy was not going to sell Grandma Helen’s farm. The orchard and berry fields and the old farmhouse were the backdrop for all the happiest memories of her childhood.
She glanced in the bathroom mirror at her own twinkly blue eyes, so much like her grandmother’s. Whenever she missed Helen so much she couldn’t bear it, she had no further to look than the mirror to remember her.
Don’t worry, Grandma Helen, I won’t lose our farm.