Chapter Three – What to Do With a Princess
by Christine DePetrillo
As Mitch reached over to crank up the heat in the tow truck, Major jumped into the space behind the seat. The sound of Candy’s teeth chattering stopped when she sucked in a breath. She scooted toward the passenger door, pulling at her skirt, which didn’t seem capable of covering those amazing thighs. Thighs Mitch had already felt as he’d carried her to the truck. Thighs that, despite the cold wind, had been warm against his hand. Thighs that led up to a tight bottom and a slim waist.
As Mitch hit the brakes a little too late to avoid a fallen branch, the truck skidded. It jerked as he drove over the debris. That’s what you get for over-thinking her thighs, jackass.
He tightened his fingers on the steering wheel and reached to turn on the radio. Again, when his hand came near her, Candy flinched.
“Relax. This isn’t…where are you from?” He eased the truck forward as a bluesy guitar tune wafted from the speakers.
“Manhattan.” Candy lifted her chin a bit as if being from New York gave her superiority.
If she only knew.
“This isn’t Manhattan. Folks here help each other. We’re looking at blizzard conditions. You need a place to stay. I have a place for you to stay. I’m not going to hurt you.”
“I’m not afraid of you.” The indignation in her voice left no room for anything else in the cab.
“Then why are you plastered against the door?” Mitch pulled his eyes off the road to glance at her. She looked like a twitchy rabbit cornered against a fence, but he sensed a tiger hidden behind those huge, hazel eyes. Did the cat want to purr or bite his head off? He wouldn’t make any sudden movements, just in case.
“If you haven’t noticed,” she gestured toward Major’s head jutting over the front seat, “that beast of yours has a saliva control problem. I do not want drool on my sweater.” Candy wrapped her arms tightly around her waist.
Mitch reached a hand back and patted Major’s head. He couldn’t believe the dog had given up his window seat. He must like their passenger.
“Don’t listen to her, buddy. She’s just a city girl who thinks wildlife is best viewed through a television screen.”
“You really are terrible at reading people, aren’t you?” She moved a little closer so she could put her legs directly under the heat pumping into the truck. “As it happens, I grew up in the woods of Vermont. I had more dirt under my fingernails than most of the boys and loved catching bugs, toads, and snakes.”
“Not dressed like that you didn’t.” Mitch gestured to her spike-heeled boots. What possessed someone to wear shoes like that in the winter?
She shrugged. “A girl has to grow up at some point. Can’t run wild through the forest forever.”
Why the hell not? It sounded like a perfect lifestyle to Mitch. Very similar to his own. Well, the one he’d fashioned out of necessity, anyway.
They drove with only the music filling the truck. Major, apparently not taking Candy’s insult personally, had fallen asleep behind the front seat. When Mitch stopped the vehicle in his snow-covered driveway, the dog popped his head up and barked. He pushed a wet nose into Mitch’s ear, then turned toward Candy.
She held up a hand. “Don’t even think about it.” She opened the passenger door.
Major scrabbled into the front seat, ignoring Candy’s shouts as he bounded across her lap, and hopped down into the snow.
Mitch bit his bottom lip, trying desperately not to laugh. When Candy turned fiery eyes his way, he couldn’t hold it in any longer. He laughed for a good twenty seconds before wiping his eyes.
“Your animal ruined my skirt. That’s funny to you?” She indicated tiny pulls in the expensive fabric.
He had clothes that looked far worse, and he certainly preferred his faded jeans and T-shirts over stuffy business suits and offices and meetings and…his chest tightened thinking about all the crap he'd left behind.
“Major would offer to buy you another, but he’s short on cash at the moment.” He motioned to the open passenger door. “Hang on a second and I’ll shovel a path to the door.”
He climbed out of the truck while Major barked at something in the backyard. Mitch grabbed the shovel he’d rested against the front door before leaving for work in the morning. At least someone had listened to the weather reports and made sensible plans. If Miss Manhattan had taken his advice and shacked up in the motel, he wouldn’t be freezing his ass off shoveling a path for her majesty right now. He wouldn’t be faced with the prospect of having her spend the night in his home. His castle. His refuge.
Something told him she would be less than impressed by the accommodations. She had VIP Treatment written all over her, and Mitch didn’t consider anyone VIP material. At the heart of it, people were just people. No one was any better than anyone else. Everybody had the same potential. Every life had worth. This was where he and his father had disagreed. Repeatedly. When his throat tightened, he pushed the thought aside like he always did.
“It’s freezing out here,” Candy called from the truck.
No shit, princess. He couldn’t feel his fingers, and snow had seeped into his work boots, icing up his ankles. He just wanted to get inside and take a hot shower. Alone.
Mitch cleared the rest of his narrow path and bowed before Candy, still seated in the passenger seat. “Your Grace.” He thrust out an arm, indicating the path was now ready to accept her.
She pursed her lips and placed one of those ridiculous heels onto the running board. The moment she put weight on it, the boot slipped, sending her tumbling into the snow pile Mitch had created at the end of the hastily shoveled path.
Again, laughter bubbled out of him. Twice in one day? Unusual, but she was just so…so…unlike anyone in Elridge.
He extended a hand to her, but she refused the help. Instead, she struggled to her feet like a newborn calf, then stalked to his front door. She would have succeeded in regaining her dignity if not for the compacted snow stuck to her skirt.
She turned to look at him through narrowed eyes. “Let’s go. I'm freezing.”
Mitch put a chokehold on the shovel handle, imagining Candy’s neck in its place. The quicker they got through this evening, the quicker morning would come. The quicker he could get her off to Atlanta. She didn’t belong in Elridge. She certainly didn’t belong in his house.
The screen door squeaked as he pushed open the front door.
“No locks?” Candy looked up at him as they stood close together in the threshold.
“Don’t need them.” Though someone should lock him up for bringing her here.
Her brow furrowed, as if the notion of not locking, double locking, triple locking one’s front door was incomprehensible, then stepped inside. “It’s cold in here.”
“What do you mean?” Mitch shuffled in behind her and flicked the light switch by the door. Nothing. Judging by the frostiness in his small kitchen, the power had been out for a while.
“Let me guess; you don’t believe in electricity. It hinders your pure living out here in the middle of nowhere.”
Mitch growled at her as he felt his way through the dark to the hall closet. He grabbed a flashlight and shined it on Candy.
“Stay here. Don’t touch anything.”
The last thing he needed was to have her wandering through his house. He’d get the power running, set the ground rules, and figure out what to do with the princess.