Love on the Line
Women at Work Book 1
by Kirsten Fullmer
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Romance
She’s an ordinary girl in an extraordinary situation.
Andrea left her comfortable home and her family to take a job building a pipeline with her estranged grandpa, Buck. She’s always been curious about his job, and why her mother dislikes him so much. She doesn’t expect, however, to uncover buried family secrets, for the job to be so difficult, or to be the only women on site.
Rooster isn’t a bad guy. He respects women; he was raised by one of the best. But that new girl on the job is too small and feminine. She’s a distraction, plain and simple, and she doesn’t belong on a pipeline. This job is his chance to impress Buck Brennan, a pipeline legend, and no girly greenhorn or workplace romance is going to ruin it for him.
Will Andrea prove herself to her grandfather and forge a relationship with the old man, or will continuous disagreements and unexpected sexual tension between Andrea and Rooster derail their hard work? Find out in this extraordinary coming of age story
Andrea couldn’t ignore her boots. Not only were they stiff and chafing her ankles, they were clean. Practically spotless. Then again, she reasoned, the men weren’t staring at her feet.
Hunching her shoulders, she clutched at the ends of her shirtsleeves, gripping them over her fingers like a cocoon. It was too warm for her heavy coat, but down right chilly without it. Much like this whole idea had been, she scoffed to herself: too good to pass up, and too outrageous to accept. But here she was.
“You take them papers on over to the man behind the desk,” Grandpa Buck instructed, pointing toward the office manager.
She peered up at the tall thin man who’d brought her to the mountains of West Virginia, and her mother’s words rang in her mind for the umpteenth time. “He’s no good Andrea, you can’t depend on him.” But then her mother had many opinions, and the woman made sure everyone within earshot knew exactly what she thought.
Buck nudged her with his elbow and pointed again at the desk.
With a silent nod, Andy put her thoughts aside, collected the stack of papers from the table, and headed across the room. Careful to avoid eye contact, she shouldered past the men gathered around the heater, wishing she had the confidence to join them and soak up some warmth.
At the front of the office trailer, she turned the employment forms on end and bumped the bottom of the stack on the counter to even them up. The thump of the papers sounded like a gunshot in the hushed room and she stifled the reflex to flinch.
The man behind the counter didn’t turn from his computer, so Andy placed the paperwork on the dusty worktop and waited, trying not to fidget.
Moments stretched out, long and quiet but for the humming buzz of the heater. Someone cleared his throat. The stares of the men bored into her back, making the silence surpass the discomfort of the cold. She scoffed at her situation, struggling to conquer the near hysteria rising in the pit of her stomach. For the first time in her life she had everyone’s attention, and she flat out wished she were invisible. Buck had warned her that there wouldn’t be many women on the pipeline, but in her mind, not many meant she’d be one of a few, not the only one.
“Don’t mind em starin’,” Buck had advised in his typical brusque manner. “They’ll get used to ya soon enough.” The bigger question was, would she get used to them?
“For heaven sakes,” she huffed under her breath. Considering her oversized clothes and heavy insulated coveralls, she probably looked more like the Pillsbury doughboy than a woman anyway. She tossed a self-conscious glance downward. Admittedly, she’d had to extend the straps of her coveralls all the way out in order to stretch across her more than ample chest, but it wasn’t like she was wearing a bikini.
The heater clicked and whirred, and the smell of burnt coffee wafted across the room. Boots shuffled on the dirty floor behind her. Unable to stand still, Andy turned to glance at the clock on the wall. The men behind her jumped, feet scuffing, all eyes averted to the ceiling or their hands, anywhere but on her.
Pretending not to notice, she turned back toward the counter. Her aunt June once said “Large bosomed women will rule the world!” but Andy couldn’t see how that could happen when most folks just stared at the straining buttons on the front of her shirt and–
“You got this paperwork finished?” the office manager asked, pulling the stack of papers toward him.
Jumping in her skin, she glanced up to make eye contact with the man. “I… yes.” She’d have to pay better attention. She knew when she was nervous her thoughts tended to jump around like a lunatic monkey. She had to keep a handle on that.
The man behind the counter regarded her momentarily over his reading glasses, reminding Andy of her father. The thought was followed directly by a sharp pang of homesickness. But the man leafed through the sheaf of papers, oblivious of her pained expression, so she sucked in a deep breath, resolved to stay on task.
With a sniff he affixed a paperclip to the stack, then turned to toss them on the growing pile of forms on his desk. He puffed out a sigh and met her eye with one brow raised in speculation. “I take it you’ll need PPE?”
Andy’s thoughts spun through the million bits of pipeline information she’d managed to extract from Buck over the last twenty-four hours. Several snickers bounced through the group behind her as she floundered.
Squaring her shoulders, she pushed forward. “More than likely…”
“Come on,” the office manager replied, motioning for her to follow.
At the end of the narrow counter stood a haphazard stack of cardboard boxes
filled with hard hats and safety vests. He pointed at the gear. “Take one of each and sign the form on the clipboard.”
“Personal Protective Equipment,” She mumbled, irritated that the acronym had slipped her mind. “Thanks.”
The office manager returned to his computer and Andy bent to select a white hard hat with its accompanying bag of parts, and a cellophane wrapped pair of dark tinted safety glasses. One glance at the box containing bright yellow vests and she sighed. Not that she minded the color, safety yellow made her look tan, it was the lack of gear anywhere near her size that gave her pause. Outdoor work clothes for small busty women were in short supply, evidently. Even the cursed steel-toed boots had been hard to find in her size.
Balancing her new hardhat on the counter, she placed her safety glasses inside the hat and bent with a grunt to kneel in the cramped space by the boxes. Cussing the layers of clothing hampering her movement, she searched in vain for a vest that was any size other than a man’s extra large. Finally she gave up and snatched up a vest, scribbled her signature on the pad, then collected her hat and glasses and turned back toward the crowded room. It was impossible not to notice that the other men’s vests were dingy from multiple washes, as well as smudged with mud smears and splatters. Hers practically glowed in the dark by comparison. I’ll stand out like scarecrow, she thought in disgust. One thing was certain though; the vest would fit around her chest without any problem.
About the time she shrugged into the huge vest, trying it on for size and finding that it hung well past her hips, the door of the office opened, pushing in a blast of frigid air that sucked Andy’s breath away. She jumped at the shock, knocking her safety glasses to the floor. With a shudder she bent to pick them up.
“Rooster!” the workers cheered, hands raised in greeting.
A man leaned into the wind to close the door, then nodded a hello to the group. Andy peered around the base of the counter at the new arrival, her fingers frozen in mid air as they reached for her forgotten glasses.
At first, the man referred to as Rooster looked much like the others in the group,
but when he turned from the door Andy was shocked to find him younger and far more attractive than the typical middle-aged, paunchy, laborer. He wore a heavy-duty work coat over a flannel shirt, and his tinted safety glasses were perched on the brim of his ball cap.
Like most men in the room, the skin around his eyes was two shades lighter than the rest of his face, resembling a reversed raccoon. Unlike the others, his dark beard was neatly trimmed. He carried a hard hat covered in stickers tucked under one arm.
“How’s your mom-an-‘em?” a giant, red-faced worker standing near the door bellowed as he thumped the younger man on the shoulder.
“Tiny,” Rooster grinned, extending his hand. “They’re well, thanks, and your family?”
The big man beamed as he pumped Rooster’s hand up and down. “Ornery as ever, I’d expect.”
Rooster nodded and turned away to scan the crowd, taking in the crew with nods of recognition. Andy couldn’t help but note that his gaze lurched to a halt on her Grandpa Buck.
She stood, partially hidden by the end of the counter and shrugged out of the vest. She wasn’t necessarily great at reading people, but she noticed something change in the younger man’s expression when he spotted Buck. What was it, wariness maybe?
At least the arrival of Rooster seemed to have shifted the men’s attention away from her.
With purposeful strides, Rooster headed across the crowded room, calling out greetings along the way. A relaxed mood filtered through the group as he passed, and the men now talked amongst themselves, raising the noise level in the small trailer to a dull roar.
Rooster met Buck with a handshake. Andy couldn’t hear what was said, but it didn’t appear to be much more than an introduction, then Buck turned to the crew. “Men,” he hollered over the din, “Let’s head on into training.”
Laughter and joking subsided as the group shifted their hats and cold weather gear, feet shuffling, to plod toward the little room at the back of the trailer. Andy collected her hat and glasses and brought up the rear, thinking perhaps she could slip into a seat in the back without drawing much attention. Unfortunately, those seats had been filled first and the only remaining chair was in the front of the room.
As she stood in the doorway watching the men settle onto the folding chairs, she contemplated the best route to the few empty seats at the far end of the front row. Through the mutters and scuffles of the chairs on the floor, Andy became aware that the stares of the men fell on her once again. In every eye was a question, a taunt, or a glimmer that left her feeling… inadequate. Most of their eyes eventually landed directly on her chest, as if they expected the extended straps of her coveralls to give out at any moment.
This was not what she’d envisioned at all. She’d come here to work, and work she would. But a niggling sensation in her stomach reminded her otherwise. This job was far more than a way to earn money. It was the chance to escape. Her gaze lit on Buck and held there. The opportunity to spend time with her grandfather had been part of it too. The man was a mystery to her.
Granted, she didn’t have any idea what building a pipeline would be like, but standing out in a crowd had never been comfortable for her. She figured she would just be another worker, not a spectacle.
The silence in the room grew uncomfortable prompting Andy to once again contemplate how to get past the men to the chair in the corner. Squaring her shoulders, she swallowed hard and gathered all the courage she could muster.
Momentarily she contemplated turning to run, but her father’s earnest goodbye advice came to mind. “You’ll do fine, Honey, just keep your chin up.”
Resolute, she stepped forward, but when she reached the front row her heart fell further. As the men settled into their seats, most had crossed one muddy boot over the other knee, making it impossible for her to pass. How had four years of college and reading hundreds of books about people in life threatening situations, left her unprepared her for this? Was it so hard to get to a chair? None of the women in her novels had struggled with such trivial problems.
The worker she recognized as Tiny sat at the end of the row. His bearded chin lifted and he peered up at her in question, as if he had no clue what on earth she could possibly want from him. Then his face flushed even redder than before as he realized she needed him to move. He jolted to his feet, causing the hard hat in his lap to clatter on the floor and roll in a circle.
“Sorry ma’am,” he muttered as he maneuvered to let her pass.
The men in the room snorted and chuckled.
One at a time, the workers stood to let her move past. Making a quick choice, she
decided to face the men chest to chest, as she passed. She couldn’t imagine trying to pass each one with her hinny toward them, but she immediately doubted her decision. Some of the guys stared her hard in the eye as she shuffled by, others nodded solemnly then looked away. In the close quarters, her chest barely cleared theirs, and she leaned back in an effort to avoid contact. One worker jeered at her openly, disrespect obvious on his scruffy face as he glanced from her face to her chest and back. Mumbles rumbled through the room, and as she turned to sit, Andy’s gaze snagged on Rooster scowling at her from the third row.
Once again her mother’s voice rang in the back of her mind. “Stay home where you belong. You’ll love grad school, just be patient. No need to go running off half- cocked.”
Setting her jaw, she turned to the front. Half-cocked indeed, she thought. What have I done? Besides break my mother’s heart, that is. Back home, at least I knew where I stood. Well, most of the time anyway…
A fifty-ish woman entered and bustled to the front of the class. “Good morning,” she called out, brushing her greying bangs out of her eyes. Although she wore jeans and a t-shirt like the other men, hers were too tight, outlining every ample curve, panty line, and bulge. Her attire was also far too clean to have seen much action outdoors. Her clothing somehow resembled a costume, an effort to dress up like a pipeliner rather than actually be one.
Like she had room to talk, Andy admonished herself.
The woman readjusted her paperwork, all the while her eyes scanning the group of men. When her gaze lit on Andy she froze in shock, causing the men to snicker. The woman recovered, did one more double take in Andy’s direction, then perched reading glasses on the end of her nose and cleared her throat. “Let’s begin…I’m Molly, the safety coordinator. ”
Glancing from man to man, Andy remembered what Buck had told her that morning. “All the workers are required to take a safety class at the start of a job.”
The gruff old man hadn’t offered an opinion about Molly one way or the other, but Andy got the distinct impression that the men in the room had little respect for the safety lady or the information she shared. It was obvious to her that the men didn’t care for Molly. The way one man adjusted his hat lower over his eyes, and another picked at dirt on his jeans, told her they were neither interested nor engaged. Saddened, Andy wondered if it was because Molly was a woman, or if they felt demeaned by being required to attend the training over and over. Or both.
As Molly droned on and on about procedure, Andy struggled to pay attention. She expected the information Molly shared to help her prepare for the work ahead, but even with her limited knowledge of the job, the safety topics covered seemed ridiculously basic: drug-testing policy, no weapons on the job site, no fighting. In an attempt to stay awake, Andy turned to glance over her shoulder at Buck. He sat in the back row, slumped down in his chair, arms crossed over his chest, with his safety glasses on and his hat brim pulled low. The old man was catching a nap, she realized. They had certainly got up far too early that morning. After yesterday’s tearful airport goodbyes, and hours of travel, she was exhausted as well as stuck in the wrong time zone. And even though her bed had been comfortable enough, she’d been so nervous she hadn’t slept.
She always had trouble sleeping when she started something new, like the first day of grad school. Then again she more than likely hadn’t slept then because she dreaded it rather than–
Molly thumped her binder closed, signaling the end of class, and Andy’s head whipped up to attention. The older woman passed a stack of palm size papers to Tiny. He took one and passed the stack along. When they came to Andy she took one, then handed the rest to the man behind her. Curious, she turned the paper over and realized it was a safety sticker for attending the class. Unsure what to do with it, she stood to survey the noisy crowd, dreading the journey back to the door. The man behind her peeled the back off his sticker and pressed it onto his grimy hard hat.
“So that’s where the stickers come from…” she muttered holding up her yet-to- be-assembled hat, wondering if there was a specific location for the sticker.
Molly pressed her way past the crowd of men to Andy’s side, her eyes bright with excitement. “Oh my!” she said loudly as she pursued Andy from head to foot. “Don’t you look cute!”
Andy stiffened. She didn’t need any help appearing different in front of the men. She cocked her head to one side, her sharp gaze taking in every aspect of the safety woman, but it was difficult to assess much past Molly’s floral perfume. The fumes were overpowering to the point of making Andy’s eyes water.
“I didn’t know they made Carhart coveralls so small,” Molly gushed, “Where ever did you find those?”
“At the store.” Andy replied, taking a step back to disengage the woman. “Well, they’re absolutely adorable…”
Adorable? Insulated coveralls? With an irritated shrug, Andy tried to sidestep
around Molly and follow the other workers, but the older woman grabbed her arm.
“I’m glad to see you here,” Molly continued, her expression serious. “Us girls need to stick together.”
Buck had offered Andy only one bit of advice that morning, and it had been short
and simple. “Don’t let nobody push you around out there.” Molly may be the only other woman on the job so far, but Andy had no intention of being cowed on day one, so she offered a grimace of a smile and tugged her arm from the older woman’s grasp. She may need to gain allies, but something told her that this woman wasn’t the place to start.
Back in the front office, Andy spotted Buck near the heater, surrounded by men. She wandered to the edge of the group, picking up scraps of the conversation. From the corner of her eye she spotted Buck’s hardhat on the table alongside his stack of site plans and clipboard filled with paperwork. She could see small safety stickers randomly stuck on his hat, so she stuffed her safety glasses into her overall pocket, then tucked her hard hat shell under one arm and cautiously peeled the sticker off it’s backing.
Careful not to wrinkle the thing, she retrieved her hat, turning it this way and that as she looked for a good spot. As she assessed the hat, the plastic bag containing the inner workings fell on the floor.
Embarrassed, she attached the sticker on what she hoped was the front, then tipped the hat over to look inside. Having never held a hardhat, she had no way to know it would be just a blank plastic bowl. She bent to collect the bag of parts consisting of a crisscross assembly with a nob on one side. Obviously the items in the bag fit on the inside of the shell to keep the thing on her head.
The workers paid her no attention as they stood talking and joking amongst themselves, so Andy sidled closer to the table and lifted her grandfather’s hat for a peek inside. Sure enough, the crisscross part fit into slots on the inside of the shell.
She’d never been much good at working puzzles under pressure. Left to her own devices she could figure things out, but she hated looking like a fool. And unfortunately, this job was prime territory to look clueless. Which she definitely was. The last time she’d felt this insecure was back in her Human physiology class and the professor had–
The door slammed, bringing her back to reality with a jolt. Quickly she replaced Buck’s hat on the table and side stepped, attempting to appear nonchalant as she inserted the assembly into her hat. How difficult could it be to put together a hard hat after all? As luck would have it, more difficult than she thought. The tabs didn’t line up with the slots.
“You have it backwards.”
Andy glanced up to find Rooster at her shoulder, and did a double take in surprise. He was even more handsome and imposing up close. She’d always been small for her age, even full grown she was only five foot two. Next to Rooster’s six foot three, she felt at a disadvantage. She hated feeling this way and it was sadly becoming the norm.
His sky blue eyes assessed her in a penetrating manner.
She turned the hat in her hands. Sure enough, the slots matched up, but with Rooster glaring over her shoulder, her hands trembled. The tabs on the headpiece should have slid into the notches, but for whatever reason they didn’t fit.
She glanced up at Rooster in question and he nodded, confirming that she had it right, so she tried again. Using both thumbs she pressed harder on the plastic. Nothing happened. She gritted her teeth and braced the hardhat against her stomach. Still no luck, damn it all!
“Give it here,” Rooster huffed as he snatched the hat away. With little effort he snapped the plastic lining into the hat and pushed it back at Andy. He didn’t say anything as he walked away, but his opinion of her was clear. Pure disgust.
Andy watched his retreating back as he made his way through the crowd to the door. For the hundredth time that morning she wondered what on earth she’d been thinking to come here.
“You ready?” Buck asked at her elbow, bringing her back to the present. Then without waiting for a reply, he turned away.
One of the workers tossed a curious glance her way and she offered a limp grin. The man turned away to mutter something about her to his coworker. Two more men turned to stare at her over their shoulder. That familiar sick feeling she’d first experienced on the plane crept back into her stomach. Her shoulders slumped.
“Get your coat, I’ll meet you at the truck.” Buck tossed over his shoulder.
That’s how the old man operated, she supposed. He’d issue a command then walk
away. Maybe her mother was right about him. With a resigned glance toward the door, she collected her coat from the back of a chair, and hurried to follow her grandfather.
The men trudged out of the office, leaving the door wide open to bang in the wind against the side of the trailer. Frigid air poured in, motivating Andy to shrug into the heavy coat. Zipping the bulky thing, however, was no easy task as she juggled her hardhat and vest and wove through the crowd of men.
On the wooden steps of the trailer she squinted across the yard into the sunrise. With the freezing wind pulling at her hair and burning her cheeks, she plopped the hard hat on her head and hunched down into the collar of her coat. The glare of sun off the snow-covered ground was blinding, so with icy fingers she pulled the safety glasses from her pocket and fumbled with the plastic wrapper.
When they’d arrived at the yard at just after five that morning, it had still been dark, but she’d been aware of a few men loading trucks. Now, with her tinted safety glasses on, she paused in shock at the hubbub spread before her.
The yard consisted of a huge, four-acres wide dirt patch, with trailers spread along one side and pieces and parts of long three-foot diameter pipe organized in several rows at the other end. Two inches of fresh snow had fallen the night before, but was now churned into a muddy path of tire tracks made by a multitude of large trucks and assorted vehicles, most still parked, back-end first, against the fence line.
Andy moved to one side of the steps and tugged her gloves from her coat pocket. Continuing to gawk, she pulled them on.
A strange configuration of semi truck trailers near the office caught her attention. One trailer was pulled in endwise with the hinged back doors open and a deck built across them for access. Inside the trailer she could see what looked like a well lit and heated office, but one entire inside wall of the trailer also contained three roll up doors, with more trailers pulled up to the openings endwise, like a giant letter E. The configuration was a brilliant way to bring in a warehouse full of supplies, she supposed in fascination.
A large tank of some kind was situated at the other side of the yard, with trucks lined up near it. In shock, she realized the men pumped gas from the tank. Weren’t there regulations against pumping gas outside of a gas station? Men she recognized from the class hustled in all directions, loading supplies into pickups, and onto flat bed trucks. Some of the gear she didn’t recognize, but amid the materials she saw ladders, chains, ropes, hoses, shovels, and cases of bottled water. Two men jostled what appeared to be a heavy roll of black plastic onto one truck. Workers stood in groups of two or three, smoking, laughing and talking as they hunched into their coats in the wind.
She noticed several of the men turn to stare at her, and the ripple effect spread across the yard, all eyes on her, as their conversation died. One man smirked and elbowed another and a worker whistled a sexy call.
A lump formed in Andy’s throat, and her cheeks burned with heat, even through the cold. The men ranged in age and body type, all wearing jeans and heavy coats, ball caps or hard hats, tinted safety glasses, and most had a beard or goatee. And every last one of them stared at her.
Kirsten is a dreamer with an eye for art and design. She worked in the engineering field, taught college, and consulted free lance. Due to health problems, she retired in 2012 to travel with her husband. They live and work full time in a 40′ travel trailer with their little dog Bingo. Besides writing romance novels, she enjoys selling art on Etsy and spoiling their three grandchildren.
As a writer, Kirsten’s goal is to create strong female characters who face challenging, painful, and sometimes comical situations. She believes that the best way to deal with struggle, is through friendship and women helping women. She knows good stories are based on interesting and relatable characters.