Chapter Seven – The Morning After
by Jannine Gallant
Candy woke slowly, head pounding to the rhythm of a jackhammer. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth when she tried to swallow, and her stomach rolled. Breathing in short pants, she waited for the nausea to pass. Not certain if she’d be forced to make a speedy dash to the bathroom, she pried open her eyes.
Pine paneling and an assortment of rustic furniture spun in her blurred vision. Definitely not her black lacquer Japanese style bedroom set. Where in the name of God am I? She peered toward the window. A swirl of snow slapped against the pane, and memory engulfed her. Wrecked car, know-it-all tow truck driver, candlelit room, bottle of bad whiskey. Check.
She pressed her hands to her throbbing temples, trying to remember what came after the whiskey. A tree had fallen on his truck. That had made an impression—and not only on the truck. She’d slipped her arm around his waist, sympathy taking the edge off her anger at the whole stinking situation. Had he kissed her? The rest of the night was a blur. Firm, cool lips, soft sheets…
She sat up abruptly, the movement reducing her to tears. Cold air hit her naked body. Staring down at her bare breasts, she let out a moan. Did I sleep with the man? Surely she hadn’t stooped so low. Surely she’d remember something so supremely stupid. Candy Wright didn’t have one-night stands. For crying out loud, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d had sex, it had been so long!
Sliding out of the bed, she tripped and sprawled across something warm and furry. Eye to eye with the dog, she blinked. Major blinked back and gave her a swipe with his tongue. His doggy breath sent bile surging up her throat. Bracing shaking arms against the hardwood floor, she fought it down.
“Kill me now and get it over with,” she hissed. The dog licked her again.
“Oh God.” Rising to her knees, she tugged Mitch’s wrinkled shirt and sweat pants out from under Major. Her bra and panties were beneath the bed. Teeth gritted, she dressed and cracked open the door. The hall was empty. She dashed to the bathroom.
After brushing her teeth with a new toothbrush she found in the medicine cabinet and washing her face, she was almost convinced she’d live. If she’d done the deed with hunky Mitch, she wasn’t sure she wanted to. The man was infuriating. And sexy. He’d swept her off her feet, literally and figuratively. She wasn’t used to men who didn’t try to impress her, who ordered her around, who couldn’t care less that she was the CEO of a successful Manhattan advertising agency. Of course he didn’t know that. He didn’t know anything about her.
Taking a breath, she opened the door and padded down the hall to the kitchen, the smell of coffee drawing her like a magnet. Mitch turned and smiled, holding out a steaming cup. Her hand shook as she took it. Wrapping her fingers around the mug, she breathed in the fragrance of heaven. “Is the power—“
“Nope. And the generator isn’t big enough to run the furnace and the stove at the same time.” He pointed at the green, two-burner stove set up on the table. “I dug out my old propane stove and made camp coffee.” He eyed her up and down. “You don’t look so good.”
She grimaced and took a sip. “Thanks.”
“It’s not that you aren’t gorgeous, even in my wrinkled clothes, but your face is a peculiar shade of green.”
“Gee, just what every girl wants to hear after a night spent with a whiskey bottle.”
His grin broadened. “And I thought you could hold your liquor.”
“I can. I’d feel a whole lot better right now if I hadn’t held it.”
“Well, Candy Cane, next time you should learn to just say no.”
She nearly choked on her coffee. “Candy Cane! Candy Cane! No one calls me that.”
“Hey, you told me I could last night.” His voice dropped low and sexy.
A hard knot formed in her chest. Tears burned behind her eyes. “My mom was the only one who ever called me Candy Cane.”
He cupped her chin in his hand and stared down at her. His voice turned gentle when he spoke. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
She wanted to lean into that hand, let it caress away her troubles. Straightening her shoulders, she stepped away. “You didn’t.”
“Your mother must be a special woman.”
His gaze never wavered. “Tell me about her.”
“Nothing to tell. She worked until the day she died so that I could have a better life.” She bit her lip. “Uh, Mitch, there are a few holes in my memory of last night. After the tree fell, everything is a bit of a blur.”
Color spotted his cheekbones, and her heart stopped beating.
“I may have taken advantage.”
She felt for the chair behind her and sank onto it. “What happened to all that talk about chivalry?”
“It was just a kiss. Well, maybe not just. Actually, it was an incredibly hot kiss.” He wiggled his eyebrows.
“Oh my God, I thought you meant…” She let out a long breath. “I’m afraid I don’t remember it.”
“Not exactly flattering. I must be losing my touch.”
His self-deprecating expression made her smile. “Is there still hot water for a shower?”
“As long as the gas for the generator holds out.”
She stood and turned to leave the room, but his words stopped her.
“Candy, you said your mother worked to give you a better life. What did she do?”
She looked back at him, and the tightness in her chest returned. “She cleaned houses for rich people. Do you have an issue with that?”
His eyes were hooded, completely unreadable. “Nope. It’s an honest way to make a living. What was her name?”
“Why do you want to know?”
She didn’t believe him for a minute. “Marie Wright.”
He ran one long finger along a scratch in the granite countertop. “You said you grew up in Vermont.”
She pressed her fingers against her temples. “For the first ten years, then we moved to New York.” Meeting his gaze, she wondered at his odd expression. “Is the inquisition over?”
He opened his mouth, then shut it. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be nosy.”
Sure he didn’t. Between her pounding head and her embarrassment at having kissed him, she refused to wonder why he was curious about her mother. “I’m going to take a shower, and then I’m going to go get my suitcase.”
He crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her. “How are you going to do that? It’s probably five or six miles back to your car. And in case it slipped your mind, my truck looks like a metal pancake.”
“I remember. I plan to walk.”
He snorted. “There’s a foot of snow out there and more falling.”
“I don’t care. I want—no—I need to change my clothes. Anyway, I could use the fresh air.”
His smile was slow in coming and made her stomach flutter. In a good way.