Chapter Seventeen – Knight in Denim Overalls
by Jannine Gallant
Snuggling against Mitch, Candy rested her cheek on the flannel covering his chest and listened to his heartbeat. Faster than normal. A result of the fever or something else?
“What were you dreaming about?”
His body stiffened, and his breath rushed out, stirring the hair at her temple. “Something that happened a long time ago.”
She turned in his arms to look up at his face. His eyes squeezed closed, lines of pain etched deep.
“I’m listening if you want to talk about it.”
When he met her gaze, she stared into the soul of a deeply wounded man.
“I can’t, Candy. It’s not that I don’t trust you…” His throat worked convulsively as he swallowed. “I just can’t.”
She pulled away a fraction of an inch. His words stung. “All right.” Staring at the ceiling, she bit her lip, then blurted, “Do you have a girlfriend, fiancée, significant other, someone I should know about?”
“No.” His voice rose. “Of course not. I wouldn’t have slept with you if I was involved with anyone.”
Relief surged through her like a torrent, little bubbles of happiness bursting in her chest. “You said…I thought…never mind. It doesn’t matter.”
“Not a very flattering picture you have of me. What kind of jerk do you take me for?” He picked at the covers.
She covered his hand with hers. His skin was hot to the touch. Jerking upright, she touched his brow. Definitely warmer than she liked.
“Mitch, you’re scaring me a little. I think you need to see a doctor. Now.”
His eyes widened. “Seriously?”
“Jeb, my neighbor, was an army medic. If you really think—”
“I do.” She slipped out from under his arm and stood beside the bed. “If anything bad happens to you because—” She broke off and worried her lip between her teeth. “Let’s just say I’m not going to risk losing someone else I…care about.”
Reaching out, he snagged her arm. His fingers burned around her wrist. A smile curved his lips, and the ghost of devilish amusement danced in his fever bright eyes.
“I like the sound of that.”
“Save it for later.” She backed up a step, then rushed forward and dropped a kiss on his lips. Her heart contracted when he slid his fingers through her hair. “Mitch…”
“I’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.”
“Definitely, but let’s make sure of it.”
The damned ATV wouldn’t start. So maybe she was doing something wrong. Who knew how to run one of these things? Not an ex-country girl turned confirmed concrete junkie. Giving the machine a kick with her borrowed boot, pain shot up her leg. Candy gritted her teeth and forced back tears.
By the time she reached the little cabin tucked into the woods, she couldn’t feel her feet. Rapping frozen knuckles against the solid wood portal, she stomped hard on the porch until a burning sensation assured her they were still attached.
The door flew open. A tall, lanky man with a gray buzz cut glared down at her. “What’s all the ruckus out here?”
“S-s-s-s-sorry. I got snow in my boots on the way over and—”
“Good Lord, come inside.” Reaching out a long arm, he pulled her over the threshold. “Aren’t you the girl Mitch was with yesterday?”
Candy nodded. Her cheeks burned in the sudden blast of heat. Flames leapt behind the glass window of a woodstove. “I’m Candy Wright.” She pulled off a knitted mitten and stuck out red fingers.
“Jeb Nobell.” He released her hand. “You’re half frozen.”
“More like three-quarters.” She sniffed and wiped her running nose on the sleeve of Mitch’s jacket. “But right now, I’m more concerned with your neighbor. He cut himself on a chainsaw yesterday, and he’s running a fever.”
Frown lines bisected his weathered face. “Did you take him to the clinic?”
“I couldn’t.” She tucked her numb fingers into the jacket sleeves. “A tree flattened his truck the first night of the storm, and my rental car is stranded beside the road with a bent axel. I did the best I could…” The sympathy in his deep brown eyes was her undoing. Sniffing again, she dashed tears from her cheeks.
“I’m sure your best is mighty fine.” He gave her arm a squeeze. “Let me get my first aid kit, and we’ll go check him out.”
Feeling as if a two-ton elephant had been lifted from her shoulders, Candy watched her knight in denim overalls lope up the stairs.
Standing in Mitch's driveway next to Jeb's powerful four-wheel-drive truck, Candy stretched onto her toes and pecked his leathery cheek. “How can I ever thank you?”
“No reason to. Mitch is a friend, and I look out for my friends.” He smiled at her, his chocolate brown eyes twinkling. “I like you, Candy. You made the best of a bad situation and didn’t panic. If you ever need anything, all you have to do is ask.”
Warmth filled her, thawing the last of the chill she’d been feeling since setting out that morning. “I appreciate it. Appreciate everything. Even if I’d had a working vehicle, I’d never have been able to negotiate the road to the clinic. Thank God they got the downed tree cleared away.”
“Yup, almost back to normal. Power’s on. Another day of sunshine, and the road will be in tolerable shape. Mitch, too.” He chuckled. “I mean, a day or two of those antibiotics should work wonders. Just make sure he takes them all.”
“I will. Thanks, Jeb.”
He nodded, sketched a salute, and climbed into his truck.
Candy walked back to the house, closed the door, and leaned against it, relief settling in. Mitch was going to be fine. The visions of gangrene she’d harbored disappeared with the melting snow. And she had clothes. Real clothes. They’d stop at her disabled car on the way home. The thought of wearing something other than baggy sweats and flannel sent a shiver of anticipation skittering down her spine.
“If that smile gets any wider, you’re going to pull a muscle.”
Her gaze snapped to the hallway. Mitch lounged against the wall, watching her. Major sat beside him.
“I was thinking about my favorite sweater. It’s shouting my name from its prison inside my suitcase.”
He cocked his head and frowned. “Are you sure? I thought it was the lace teddy.”
A giggle burst through her lips. “You must be feeling better. Still, I think you should go sit down.”
“Only if you come with me.”
The way his gaze strayed down the length of her body nearly convinced her. Heat flared. For crying out loud, the man isn’t even touching you. Get a grip! She took a breath. “As soon as I change.”
“If it’s into that lacy teddy, you have my blessing.”
She crossed the room and stopped inches away. The dog whined, and she reached down absently to scratch his ears. “You’re in no condition for teddies, lace or otherwise.”
Mitch tugged her against him. “Wanna bet?”
Wrapping her arms loosely around his neck, she smiled. “No.” Leaning in, she kissed him lightly. “I’m just so thankful you’re going to be okay. I was worried. Really worried.”
“Does that mean you care, just a little?”
She rolled her eyes at his wheedling tone. “Maybe a little, smarty.”
“Then sit with me on the couch. I’m sure we can think of something to do that won’t tax my strength.”
“Just as soon as I change. Promise.”
His gaze caressed her face. The look in his eyes… She let out a shuddering breath, afraid to put a name to it.
“I’ll be right back.”
“I’m holding you to it.”