If Jack had been a betting man, he would have taken fifty to one odds that Madison would have run out of here before dawn. All to avoid the scene currently before him.
Madison stood in a field on Thursday morning, bevied up to a couple of his best Jersey cows and pretended to be delighted to be in the bovine huddle. Neal snapped away, giving her direction as he had before, sending her so many compliments that after a while they started to sound like a record playing the same track over and over again.
Was that what it was like for her? He’d noticed how she deferred his compliments, as if she didn’t believe them. Maybe, after years of hearing the same words of praise, they had lost their meaning.
She struck a funny pose, aping for the camera between shots. Jack smiled.
After talking to her last night, he felt as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Well, maybe not lifted, but at least he wasn’t the only one carrying it. With his brother, his aunt and now Madison behind his ideas, he had the ammunition he needed to win the battle to save the business and everything important to him.
Madison was the last key he’d needed to propel Cheese Pleese into true success. Energy surged within Jack, along with another feeling that had nothing to do with business.
And everything to do with the woman standing a few feet away. A woman who supported him, who cared about his daughter, his company. He’d thought women like her didn’t exist, but now, here she was, standing in his field, cozied up to his best milk makers.
It was a far cry from the first day he’d met her and she’d pronounced his farm smelly and his animals ill-mannered. Since the cows hadn’t changed an ounce since Madison had arrived, Jack could only think that maybe she was beginning to like this place.
To like him.
“That’s it, sweetie. Now get up closer to that cow. Could you give him a kiss?” Neal said.
Jack didn’t bother to correct Neal’s gender mistake.
“A kiss?” Madison asked, dubious.
From her position against the fence, Ginny giggled at the prospect.
“Yeah, like you totally love his milk. Thank that little milk machine for his contribution to the dairy industry.”
“Uh, okay.” Her nose wrinkled and she drew back for a second. Then she seemed to pull a shade over her reservations and slip into smile mode again. While Ginny laughed, Madison bent over, puckered up and gave Clarice a pert peck on the cheek.
Jack choked down a laugh. The pose, he could see from here, was both sexy and endearing. With that on a milk jug, Pleeseman wouldn’t have any trouble landing sales in grocery stores.
Particularly among the young, single male population. Hell, she could be responsible for an entirely new drinking regimen among men. All he had to do was paste “Got Madison?” on the label and every male with a beating heart would become a calcium addict.
“Great, great, sweetie,” Neal said. “Now scooch in a tiny bit closer, yes, yes, that’s it. How ‘bout a hug for your new best friend?”
Madison draped her arm around Clarice’s neck, despite the bovine’s heavy dose of Eau de Farm—instead of Eau de Parfum.
“Okay, how about one more peck on the cheek? Just to be sure we got the shot.”
Madison leaned over to do as Neal had asked. Clarice balked, apparently not in the mood for additional snuggling. The three-year-old Jersey backed up quick, knocking into two other cows who were happily chewing their curds, part of the background decorations. The other two let out a moo of indignation, then confused, started heading toward Madison instead of away from her.
Three-inch heels were no match for a mini cow stampede. Madison tried to scramble away from the nine-hundred pound beasts, but they moved forward in mindless panic, slamming into her, just as Jack started shouting and waving his arms, leaping over the split rail fence and into the pasture.
“Madison!” Jack reached out, but she teetered, losing her balance and whispering past his grasp. In slow, awful motion, he watched her topple to the ground—butt first into a freshly made cow patty.
“You okay?” He asked, reaching her side.
She grinned. “Nothing a gallon of Clorox can’t fix. Did we work laundry services into the contract?”
Jack laughed. “If we didn’t, we will. Here, let me help you—”
“Oh, my goodness! Madison? Is that you, honey?”
Jack and Madison both turned at the sound of the voice. Five feet away stood a tall, willowy woman, dressed in a rainbow colored skirt that hung nearly to her Birkenstock sandals. Tan, muscular arms showed beneath a navy tank top. She wore no makeup, no jewelry, but her hair was the same gold color as Madison’s and hung in one long braid down her back, with beads woven in and out of the strands.
“Mother?” Madison scrambled to her feet, ignoring Jack’s outstretched hand. She went to brush off the cow residue from the back of her skirt, then thought twice and put down her hands. “What are you doing here?”
This was Madison Worth’s mother? Jack did a double take and decided, yes, she had to be. Given the identical color of their eyes and their nearly twin heights, this woman was definitely an older version of Madison.
“I told you on the phone that I was coming to visit my daughter.” She gestured toward the pasture. “Who appears to have become a dairy farmer when I wasn’t looking.”
“It’s a photo shoot, Mother,” Madison replied, regaining her poise and striding across the grassy field as if nothing had happened. “How did you find me?”
“I called Harry.” She faced Jack. “He’s an old friend of the family,” she explained to him, as if Jack had just become one of those, too. “I’m Vivian Worth.” She thrust a hand over the railing to him. “Madison’s mother.”
“Jack Pleeseman, the one responsible for the cows.”
She laughed as they shook, the same rich, deep laughter as her daughter. “Madison’s never been one for the great outdoors. How in the world did you convince her to do this?”
“I’m working, Mother,” Madison said, climbing over the fence, heedless of how her skirt rose up to her thighs. Neal arched a brow, clearly considering taking that particular photo, then lowered his camera again when Madison glared at him. “Don’t you dare.”
He grinned. “People would have paid me a nice chunk of change for that one.”
“Yeah, just enough to pay your hospital bill after I cracked your skull open with a Jimmy Choo.”
Neal laughed good-naturedly, then turned to Jack. “Did you get what you wanted today?”
“Yeah, we’re done. Thanks a lot.” Neal promised to mail a CD of the two shoots, then packed up his camera and headed back to his car, laughing the whole way there about Madison’s tumble into cow patties.
“I’m now a running joke,” Madison muttered.
Jack gave her a one-armed hug, ignoring the Eau de Farm she’d picked up from Clarice’s pasture deposit. “Hey, doesn’t everyone want to be a legend?”
The look on her face told him she could have done without this particular moment of notoriety.
Vivian stepped forward, opened her arms for an embrace, then caught a whiff and changed her mind. Instead, she frowned at the look on her daughter’s face. “The least you can do, Madison, is pretend to be happy to see me,” Vivian said. “Because I don’t intend to go anywhere. Not until you and I have had a chance to catch up.”