Authors: Kathryn Thomas
“I’ll just wait until you leave before I lay down. Who mows your yard?”
“I do. I just haven’t felt like it this week. Why?”
“Why don’t you hire someone to do it?”
“Because it only takes thirty minutes to do it myself, and because I kind of like piddling in the yard.”
He nodded once then turned back to the garage. “You have gas for the mower?”
“You don’t have to do that!”
He looked at me with that way he has. “Alex, you’re pregnant. You probably shouldn’t be mowing the yard anyway. So for this week, at least, you don’t have to. Isn’t there a kid in the neighborhood that would like to earn a few bucks?”
“I don’t know. Besides, the grass is about to stop growing anyway.” I could tell he wanted to do or say something, but was holding back. “Okay, fine. I’ll get a neighbor to do it the rest of the year. Happy?”
He relaxed a little. “Yes. Thank you. Promise me that you will get someone to do it for you.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said with a dismissive wave of my hand. “I’ll ask Mel if knows of anyone.”
He smiled slightly and disappeared into the garage. A moment later I heard the garage door go up and, not long after that, my lawnmower start. I opened the garage to see my car sitting where I left it and I wondered how he got the mower out. I always had to back the car out to make enough room.
I itched to get my hands on the mower as I heard it roaring away outside. I took pride in my yard and it annoyed me that he was mowing it. I would never admit it to him, but I didn’t think he would do it right.
As he moved to the backyard I opened the front door and looked at the fresh cut grass. I mowed in straight lines to leave a pattern of tracks in the grass, but I had expected him to just go around and around the yard like everyone else. Instead he had mowed in a crisscross pattern that had left the grass with a checkerboard pattern that I rather liked. No wonder it was taking him so long. With a smile I closed the door. Cain Rodgers was just full of surprises.
After an hour of mowing, I heard the mower stop and I watched him through the kitchen window as he washed the mower down with the garden hose. I never bothered with that but for some reason it pleased me that he was taking care of my mower rather than doing the job as quickly as he could. Washing finished, he started it, let it run for a moment and then switched it off. As he pushed the mower around the end of the house, I opened kitchen door to see how he managed to get the mower out without moving my car.
“Do you want me to move my car?” I asked when he appeared in the drive.
“No. I got it.” With a grunt he hefted the mower up and held it over my car, his arm muscles bulging as he squeezed through the garage, my eyes opening wide in surprise and admiration. He must have been strong as an ox because the mower wasn’t exactly light. Past my car, he crouched and put the mower down, rolling it into its corner.
“What?” he asked as he turned.
“Nothing. Just seems like it would have been easier to move the car,” I said, but that wasn’t what I was thinking. It was the middle of September, which meant it was still hot and humid, and his shirt was stuck to him like a second skin. I had seen him naked, but never working hard, and I was imagining seeing those muscles working as he strained and sweat.
“Probably. But it’s done now,” he said as he wiped his hands on his pants.
“Come in. I have cold one for you.”
“One more thing,” he said as he lifted the trimmer off the hook. He stopped in the drive, gave the starter cord a couple of quick jerks, then disappeared as the trimmer snarled and whined.
A few minutes later the trimmer fell silent and I heard him clomp up the three steps to my kitchen door. He opened the door before he toed his boots off and stepped into the kitchen. As he entered, I handed him a beer.
“Just water, I think,” he said, taking the beer and putting it back in the refrigerator.
“You want a shower?” I asked as I filled a glass with ice and water.
“I don’t have any clothes. Thanks, but I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine. You smell. I have to run a load of darks anyway. I will just chuck your clothes in with mine.”
“What about underwear?”
“What about it? Do you care if your undies come out a little blue?”
He gave me a lopsided grin. “No, I guess not.”
“You know where everything is. Throw out the clothes when you get undressed.”
Two minutes later I had bundled his clothes in with mine and had thrown them in the washer. Five minutes after that, he stepped out of the shower wearing nothing but a towel around his waist. I tried not to stare, but it was hard… it was damned hard
The moment the dryer stopped, I pulled the clothes from it and shoved his into his hands. I wanted him to get dressed so I could stop thinking about all the things I was thinking about with him walking around in that towel. He made no move to seduce me, but I couldn’t help but wonder if that towel would fall off, and if it did, what I would do.
The moment he was dressed, I hopped into the shower, taking a little longer than necessary with the water a little cooler than I liked to dampen my bubbling desires. I had forgotten how sexy
Cain was. I didn’t emerge until I was dressed and ready for work, to head off any potential pleasantness that might occur that could lead to hurt feelings later.
He had prepared me a paper sack of fruit and a pair of sandwiches, once again cut into bite size chunks. There was also a pair of plates with Farfalle noodles in a light white sauce sitting on the table. “I hope you don’t mind,” he said as he pulled out a chair for me.
“No. You didn’t have to cook,” I said, sliding into my place. I couldn’t decide if I was annoyed or pleasantly surprised.
“Not much to it,” he said. “Boiled some noodles I found in the pantry and opened a bottle of sauce in there… and ta-da!”
“You’re going to sleep after I leave for work, right?”
“Yes. And I will lock up when I leave.”
He had added some spices to the sauce that I really liked, but not so much to make it upset my stomach. Bland is the name of the game right now. “This is good. Thank you.”
He smiled and looked at his plate. “Just trying to take care of my girls,” he said softly without looking up.
Tonight was another one of those nights, the type of night that seemed to go on forever. I had been nibbling at my fruit and sandwiches as the night progressed, but I’m just hanging on. Normally I do my thing, the showy spins, flips and twirls, to attract attention and to bring in the tips, but tonight I am only doing it when asked. And even then, I’m keeping it simple. Earlier I nearly dropped a two-hundred dollar bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue on a simple over the shoulder flip that gave me the rush of impending doom. I’ve been off my game, and I knew it, but I was getting through it thanks to the food Cain had packed for me.
By one-thirty I was counting the seconds until I could leave. I was tired, and still mildly sick, when the owner of
The Cat’s Claw,
Peter, stepped up beside me behind the bar. “You doing okay?” he asked quietly as he sat a shot glass on the bar and poured a splash of Bacardi. He offered one to me but I shook my head no.
“I’m hanging on,” I said softly as I promised myself I wouldn’t cry in front of him.
He took a sip of his drink, looking over the rim of the glass as me. “Still feeling down with the flu?”
“I’m feeling okay,” I replied, though I was feeling anything but at the moment.
He finished his drink and sat the glass on the bar. “See me before you leave tonight.”
I rapped lightly on Peter’s door. “You wanted to see me?”
“Have a seat. Shut the door.”
I eased the door shut and steeled myself for what was about to come as I sat in a chair.
“Do you know what I want to talk to you about?”
“I have an idea.”
“Alex… you are one of the best bartenders I have ever seen. But this last month, you have been seriously off your game. I’ve noticed and the clients have noticed. What’s going on?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Ridell. I just have a lot going on in my life right now.”
“Anything I can help with?”
“I don’t mean to be a hard-ass, but you’re part of the draw of
and you’re not pulling your weight.”
“I know. I’m sorry,” I said as I looked at my shoes. I wanted to meet his eyes, but I couldn’t.
“Alex, look at me.” I raised my eyes to his. “You need to get whatever is bothering you squared away, okay?”
“Yes, sir. I’ll try.”
“Don’t try. Do. I don’t want to lose you, but if you don’t get your act together, I’m going to have to make some changes. Understand?”
“Yes, sir. I understand.”
“Good.” He smiled at me. “I’m sorry to have to come down on you like this. You have been one of my better employees, but I can’t play favorites. Everyone around here has a job to do, and yours is to dazzle and amaze. So tomorrow, I want you to go out there and show me you stuff, okay? And if there is anything I can help you with…”
“No, sir. Nothing. Thank you for giving me a second chance.”
His smiled widened slightly. “Okay. Now go home, get some rest, and come back tomorrow full of that ‘Oh yeah? Well watch this!’ attitude you used to have.”
I managed to hold my tears until I got to my car, but the moment I sat down and closed the door, the tears started. I had never been reprimanded for my work in my life, and it hurt. It hurt a lot. I was doing the best I could, given the circumstances. I was caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. I was afraid to push harder out of fear of dropping and breaking the bottles. But to tell Peter
I was holding back would cost me my job just as quickly. Maybe I should just end it. Maybe I should just call the doctor and end the sickness and the tiredness once and for all.
I had a right good old cry there in my car, but finally the tears stopped and I felt like I could drive home. As I sniffed and wiped at my eyes and nose, I decided that I would redouble my efforts. I would get more sleep and stay off my feet until it was time for work. It was only the last two or three hours of the shift that were so tough. I could do it. And once I was no longer sick all the time, things would be better. I just had to tough it out until then.
With a final sniff and sigh I started my car, wiped my eyes one more time, and started for home.
I eased my car past Cain’s hog. I had expected him to be gone when I got home and I wondered why he was still here. The last thing I needed tonight was another fight.
He was standing in the kitchen when I opened the door. “What happened?” he asked as soon as he saw me.
“What do you mean?”
“It looks like you have been crying.”
“Problems at work. Why are you still here? Shouldn’t you be on your way to Dallas by now?”
“I just woke up an hour or so ago. I thought I would wait until you got home and say goodbye.”
“Goodbye,” I said as I moved past him.
“Do you want to tell me about it?” he asked as he turned to follow me into my bedroom.
“Okay,” he said, but then he stepped up to me and gathered me into his arms and held me.
I let him hold me a moment and I could feel the tears threatening again. “They’re going to fire me,” I said as the tears began to leak out of my eyes.
“I’m off my game and they know it. I get so tired by the end of the shift and I feel sick all the time – not like I’m going to puke at any moment, but like it would only take a nudge to set me off. Eating helps, but it doesn’t help enough.”
“I’m sorry,” he said as his arms tightened down briefly.
I expected a lecture but he said nothing else. I eased my way out of his embrace. “Will you come sit with me a moment? Please? I need someone to talk to.” I led him to the couch where we sat down and I leaned into his side. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m already doing the best I can.”
“What did your boss say?”
“Nothing, really, just that I had to get my act together, that I was a draw for
and I wasn’t pulling my weight. He wasn’t nasty or anything, but as he said, he couldn’t play favorites and I wasn’t doing my job.” I sniffed as I fought back the tears.
“I wish there were something I could do to help you,” he said as he kissed me on the hair.
“You’ve been trying,” I said quietly.
“I know. But I wish I could do more. I wish there were something I could do to help you feel better. I’m afraid it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
“I’m so tired of feeling sick all the time.”
We sat still and quiet for a long time. I rolled onto a hip so I could snuggle in a little closer and I could feel my eyes getting heavy. When I was with Cain I wanted him with me. He was so supportive, kind, and generous. Why was I always beating up on him? I realized the problem wasn’t Cain; it was me.
was the problem. He had been nothing but reliable, supportive, and caring.
“When do you have to leave for Dallas?” I murmured.
“When you go to bed.”
“I don’t want to go to bed. I want to sit here, with you.” I snuggled in closer still and stretched up to kiss his neck.
“Alex…don’t. This is hard enough as it is.”
“I’m sorry for the way I have treated you. It was wrong. You have done everything you said you would. You’ve been here every time I needed someone.” I felt the tears trying to start again, but this time in shame for what I had done. “I don’t want you to go.”
“Will you stay with me for a while and just hold me? I want you to hold me so I can feel like everything will be all right.” I sniffed, and I adjusted my position so I could lean in tight.
He moved with me, taking me into his embrace. “Hear…hear now. Don’t cry. It’s going to be okay. We’ll get through this. Don’t cry, Alex.”
I leaned up, offering my lips, and when he didn’t take them, I pulled his head down as I stretched for them. He didn’t resist, but he was holding back. I turned, pushing myself up higher, dumping all my fears and frustrations into that kiss, tasting him as my tongue danced along his lips.
His mouth opened, finally accepting the kiss, and I pressed in, needing to feel his strength. Despite what he did, he had always been there for me, always willing to do more.
“Alex, stop,” he breathed as he pulled back from the kiss.
“Stay the night with me. Cain, I don’t want you to go.”
“We’ve been down this road before,” he said, the bitterness thick in his voice.
“I know, but not tonight. I was wrong. I want you to stay. You’re a good man, and I think you will be good father. Please, stay with me. Not just tonight. Give me a chance to...”
“To get to know you. To… fall in love with you.”
“Do you mean that? The last time you wanted me to take you to bed, you ended up kicking me out and telling me to never come back. What’s changed?”
“Me! I’ve changed! I thought I could do this alone, but it’s too much.” I looked down, ashamed to have to admit it. “I need help, Cain. I need your help. I can’t do this by myself.”
“I’m not leaving the Hounds.”
“I know. You said you needed time to work something out. Is that still true? Can you, will you, still do that?”
He paused as he gazed into my eyes. “Yes. If you will give me the time, I will work something out, some compromise we can both live with.”
I didn’t want to share him with the Hounds, but it was time for me to start trying to meet him halfway. I whimpered softly as I was flooded with emotions that I couldn’t understand. Hope and regret, elation and disappointment. “We can try, can’t we?”
He smiled, the first genuine smile I had seen since this morning. “We can try. That’s all I’m asking for. A chance.”
This time he pulled me into the kiss and I melted into him. It may not last, or we may find out that we are not compatible, but for that moment, at least, I felt a great weight being lifted from my shoulders.
“Take me to bed.”
“Are you sure? If I make this commitment, if I trust you, there is no going back,” he breathed as he held my face, his eyes intense. “When I make promises, they are for keeps.”
I whimpered again, his words plucking at my heartstrings, offering comfort and support beyond what I felt from friends and family. “Promise you will always be here for me,” I begged, needing to hear the words.
“I will always be here for you. Always. You have my word,” he whispered before he covered my mouth with his own.
I decided that I was going to do it, that I was going to make the leap of faith as my grandmother had. I leaned into the kiss, forcing Cain’s head back as I rose and sat astride of him, losing myself in the kiss. He pulled me in, holding me tight, his arms wrapping around me and holding me so that I felt protected in a way that I never had before.
He pulled back from the kiss, his lips going to the hollow of my throat where he kissed, his tongue busy caressing my skin. I didn’t love him, but I wanted to. I wanted to fall deeply, madly, head over heels, can’t live without him, in love with him. I opened my heart and, once again, I felt the connections form, tenuous, delicate, easily broken, but there.