Chapter Five – A Hard Liquor Kind of Situation
by Amber Leigh Williams
Mitch told himself to stop staring, but despite the heat of the growing fire in the hearth, the command froze before it could take effect. Funny, he’d thought the oversized flannel and sweatpants would lessen her effect on him.
No luck there. Her wet hair was combed back from her face, which only managed to make her hazel eyes look deeper, larger. Between the flames of the hearth and candles, her beauty took on a luminous quality. It feathered along the high arch of her cheekbones and softened the bottom curve of her full mouth.
The tightening in his chest eased into a welcome ache. It had been some time since he’d felt like this, and he didn’t know how to curb it.
That wide-eyed gaze locked onto his, and his pulse picked up pace, the air going thick in his lungs. After several beats of continued silence, she blinked and looked away.
“Thank you for the clothes.”
He frowned, clearing his throat to jumpstart the stalled words. They came out rougher than he intended. “It’s not much, but you’re welcome.”
She licked her lips. His traitorous stare followed the quick flick of her tongue.
“This is a nice room. I imagine there’s a lot of light during the day,” she said.
Turning, he looked at the wide windows aligned with the western horizon. If not for the whiteout blanketing the landscape as far as the eye could see, they would be enjoying a nice sunset right about now. “This room is the reason I purchased the house. It was a bit of an impulse, to be honest.” But he wasn’t going into that now. Wiping palms that were surprisingly damp on the thighs of his jeans, he stepped back. “Here, sit by the fire.” He shooed Major from the foot of the armchair closest to the hearth. “Are you hungry?”
“I could use a drink,” she said, sinking onto the leather cushion. She was a tall woman, but the chair enveloped her, somehow making her look small and delicate.
“A drink.” Yeah, he could use one of those, too. Maybe whiskey was what he needed to douse the warm, cozy fire she’d lit in him. As cold as the house was, he had no right to feel such riotous warmth. “I’ll see what I have.”
The kitchen, separated from the living room by a high granite countertop, ran toward necessity. He used the flashlight to find his way more easily around the rustic wood cabinetry. There wasn’t much he could whip up for her besides the whiskey and a bottle of cabernet he kept around for whenever he was in the mood to cook anything nicer than microwave dinners. “Is wine okay?” he called back into the living room.
“I’ll take some of that whiskey,” her voice said close behind him.
Glancing over his shoulder, he watched her run a hand over the smooth wood face of one of the cabinets. “You sure?” he asked, holding up the bottle. “It isn’t the smooth kind.”
She rolled her eyes, and the jaded, city attitude that cloaked her face skewered him. “Just pour me a glass. This is without doubt a hard liquor kind of situation.”
Taking a tumbler down from the cupboard over his head, he poured her a glass and set it down on the island between them. “There you are, princess. Have fun.”
She lifted the tumbler but frowned at him as she cupped it in both her hands. “You don’t think I can handle my liquor?”
“Did I say that?” he asked, amused. He poured a second glass and swirled the liquid. Rarely did he allow himself to indulge in whiskey anymore. Not alone, anyway. It had helped him cope with the most haunting events of his life. And from coping had grown a dependency he solved by pulling up roots and changing his lifestyle completely. In a way, whiskey had saved his life. He never took a drink without remembering—
She took a sip.
He waited for the flinch when the burn kicked in, but she did no such thing. Damn it, she was exceeding every one of his expectations.
“You didn’t say it, but the whole chauvinistic act leads me to believe you’re thinking it.”
It took him a moment to grasp the thread of the conversation. He snorted out a laugh. “Chauvinistic?”
“Yeah.” She set the glass down so she could prop her hands on the counter behind her and pull herself up on top of it. Crossing her legs comfortably, she lifted the glass again and gestured with it toward him. “You know what I’m talking about. The sweep-the-damsel-off-her-feet thing you did back there on the road.”
“Down here we call that chivalry, darlin’.” He smiled despite himself.
“Chivalry is dead. Didn’t you get the memo?”
“Apparently not.” Truthfully, surrounded by the rustic wood of the kitchen and with the glow of candle and firelight from the other room, if he hadn’t known any better, he would think this was a scene straight out of another era. An era in which chivalry was very much alive and kicking. He tossed back the whiskey in his tumbler and set the empty glass aside. The liquid joined the curious fire inside him and did nothing to squelch it as he'd hoped.
“So what do you do when you’re not driving a tow truck, Mitch?” she asked.
He leaned back against the cabinet behind him and crossed his arms. “You don’t have to do that.”
“Make small talk,” he told her. “If you want, I can show you the guest room, and you can shack up there for the night. Neither Major nor I will bother you.”
Her shoulders stiffened. “I thought making conversation would be more pleasant than listening to the wind howl. My mistake.”
He frowned, cursing himself as she hopped down from the counter and took her drink into the living room. He didn’t know what about her amused him one moment and put his back up the next. The part of her that could sip whiskey like water intrigued him to no end, but the city part reminded him all too much of the types he used to date—the kind of woman who had been drawn to his name and the money behind it. Not the real man inside, the one he’d given up everything to save.
He ran a hand through his shaggy hair and sighed, forcing his shoulders to level off as the breath and tension filtered out of him. Then he poured himself another glass, afraid she might be right about one thing—this was on its way to becoming a situation only hard liquor could solve.