Jack had to admit, Madison was a trooper. She stood in a field, bevied up to a couple of his milking cows (IS THERE A TYPE) and pretended she was delighted to be in a bovine huddle. Neal snapped away, giving her direction as 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 a while of hearing the same words, they lost their meaning.
“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.
“Yeah, like you totally love his milk. Thank that little cow for his contribution to the dairy industry.”
“Uh, okay.” Her nose wrinkled and she drew back for a second, then seemed to pull a shade over those DOUBTS and slip into smile mode again. She bent over, puckered up and gave Clarice a pert peck on the cheek.
Jack bit his cheek to keep from laughing. The pose, he could see from here, was both sexy and endearing all at once. 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.
If only Jack made beer, too, he’d be rich.
Milk—endorsed by Madison.
“Great, great, sweetie,” Neal said. “Now scooch in a tiny bit closer, yes, yes, that’s it. And how ‘bout a hug for your new best friend?”
Madison draped her arm around Clarice’s neck, the reservations clear on her face, particularly since Clarice wore a heavy dose of Eau de Farm instead of Eau de SOMETHING. She leaned over to give the cow one more kiss when Clarice balked, apparently not in the mood for snuggling.
The three-year-old heifer backed up quick, knocking into two other cows who were happily chewing their curds. The movement startled the other two. They 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. The EIGHT HUNDRED POUND beasts slammed into her, just as Jack was shouting and waving his arms, hurrying over the split rail fence and into the pasture.
Madison teetered, then lost her balance and toppled to the ground, butt first, right into a freshly made cow patty.
Jack and Madison both turned at the sound of the voice. A woman stood five feet away, dressed in a long flowing brightly colored skirt, Birkenstocks and a blue tank top. Her hair was the same gold color as Madison’s, but it hung in one long braid down her back, with beads woven in and out of different strands. She wore no makeup, no jewelry,
Madison turned and saw her mother behind her, standing beside a very tall and nearly naked man with skin so dark, he blended into the night. “Mother?”
“I swear, you are the hardest woman to track down. I called your agent, and he told me you were out at the Cheese Pleese Dairy Farm, though I have no idea why. Is that some new retro food thing Vogue is doing?”
“Uh, not really—“
“And then, I get there, and this guy Joe tells me you’re supposed to be pitching hay and he has no idea how the hell you’re going to do that with those fancy shoes. He goes on and on about how you are the worst employee he’s ever hired. Hasn’t seen hide nor hair of you in the barn since you arrived.”
“I don’t work in the barn.” That, at least, was the truth.
“Took three people before I found out you were here. So, Mobalage and I pedaled on out, and here we are.”
“We despise auto emissions. I can’t imagine what they’re doing to the environment. So we rented mountain bikes to get us around the Berkshires. Oh, and I don’t think you’ve met my new husband.” Vivian Worth turned and opened her arm to indicate the man standing behind her, wearing only a cloth wrapped around his waist and woven crown of beads and feathers.
and her skin was dark with the knd of perpetual tan that came from working outdoors every day.
“Mother?” Madison said, scrambling to her feet. She went to brush off the cow residue from the back of her skirt, then thought twice and put up her hands in defeat. “What are you doing here?”
:”I told you, visiting 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 turned to Jack. “He’s an old friend of the family,” she explained, as if Jack had just become one of those, too.
“Mother, I told you not to come. I’ll meet you in Manhattan in a couple days.”
“I’m VICTORIA Worth,” the woman said, thrusting out a hand to Jack, ignoring her daughter’s complaints. “Madison’s mother.”
“Jack Pleeseman, the one responsible for the cows.”
She laughed as they shook, the same rich, deep laughter as her daughter had. “My daughter’s never been one for the great outdoors. How 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 the particular photo, then lowered his camera again when Madison glared at him. “Don’t you dare.”
“People would have paid me millions for that one.”
“Just enough to pay your hospital bill after I cracked your skull open with a Jimmy Choo.”
Neal laughed. He 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.
“I have now become a running joke,” Madison muttered.
“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.
SCENE WITH MOM
MADISON HEADS OFF To CHNANGE
Mobalage stepped forward, withdrawing a long stick with a string of beads and feathers attached to one end. He shook it at the cows, muttering under his breath.
“Whoa! Don’t be cursing my cows,’ Jack said.
“Oh, he’s not cursing them,” Victoria said, waving a hand of dismissal. “He’s blessing them.”
“Blessing them? Why the hell would he do that?”
“Mobalage is convinced cows are people reincarnated. He blesses every one he sees, just in case one of them is a relative.”
“I thought cows were only sacred in India.”
“Oh, they are, but Mobalage grew up on a dairy farm and he was so poor as a child that he slept in the barn with the animals. Think of him like Tarzan, but without the gorillas.”
Indeed, Mobalage had moved into the pasture, shaking his feather stick and letting out low moos. Clarice gave him a wary look, then apparently decided he was one of them and dropped her head to chew some grass.
“Well,” Jack said, watching the tall black man spread his blessings around the field, “if it increases milk production, then bring on the holy water.”