Hometown Hero (Hometown Alaska Men Book 2) (8 page)

BOOK: Hometown Hero (Hometown Alaska Men Book 2)
9.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

"Okay," he said. "I'm going to look around. Lock the door behind me."

She nodded and did as he asked. Rick walked the perimeter of the cottage, using his phone as a flashlight. When he rounded the side he came across a tipped trash can. Relief filled his chest. An animal, most likely a dog. An animal. Not a man.

Rick righted the can, picking up the garbage and stuffing it back inside. He picked up a lone cigarette butt, adding it to the can. He secured the lid, finding a large rock to place on top.

Back at the door, he called, "It's me."

Tawney unlocked the door, holding it open so he could come in.

"You had a visitor, but it was the four-legged kind."

"A dog?" she asked, the worry lines on her forehead easing.

"That's my guess," he said. "Dumped your can over."

"Oh, my." Tawney sat on the sofa, her hand on her heart. "Woke me up. Scared the crap out of me."

"I know the feeling. Mind if I wash my hands?"

She looked at him then. "Of course not. I'm sorry. I don't know why I’m so jumpy."

He washed his hands at the kitchen sink. "You're a woman living alone."

She stood. "Can I offer you a drink? I know I need one."

"Sure, why not. Might help me wind back down."

She removed a bottle of liquor from the cabinet above the fridge.

"Tequila?" he asked, amused.

"I’m not much of a hard liquor drinker, but I like a margarita once in a while. Shot?"

"I will if you will." He grinned.

Tawney chuckled. "Remember, I lived in Vegas." She placed two glasses on the counter, giving each one a healthy splash of tequila.

"Bottoms up," she said, hefting the glass.

Rick clicked his glass to hers, and they shot the tequila. The liquor burned all the way down, landing hard in his gut.

"One more?" she asked, her brows raised as if to encourage him.

She didn't think he'd do it. He could see the amusement in her eyes. He slid his glass to her.

She inclined her head. Again they shot the liquor.

A slow buzz vibrated in his body. A dangerous glow.

"Again?" she asked.

"Nope, I'm good." Too much tequila and he'd forget every reason he should stay away from her.

"Me, too, just wondering if you'd do it." She smiled as she screwed the lid back on the tequila.

He shook his head. She thought he was some kind of goodie-two-shoes and that was fine with him.

"I feel better," she said.


"Relaxed." She nodded. "I'm sorry I called you. I need to big girl up."

"Don't be sorry," he said, resisting the urge to touch her. The tequila was making him soft, stupid. He knew she'd bat his hand away if he tried anything. She was a spooked woman. She didn't need him or any man trying to paw her. "That's why I got you the phone."

"I have to remember where I am," she said. "There are animals here. Nature sounds. Vegas didn't have much nature, not in town anyway. It's rugged here. Untamed in the best sense of the word."

"I guess it is."

"Want to sit?" She gestured to the sofa.

Rick took a seat. She joined him. "How did the job interview go?"

"Great." She smiled. "I’m going to teach a tap class, and two dance aerobics classes. Liv is going to let me do all new choreography. She thinks my dance background will be good for business."

"That's wonderful," Rick said, meaning it.

She settled back against the sofa. "I know. Liv is a life saver." She turned her head to the side to look at him. "You were right. She said I had a dark brownish aura yesterday, but today my aura was pink, bright with light."

He grinned, leaning his own head against the sofa. Being with her, right now at this moment felt easy, right. "Well, the place is called Karma Fitness."

Tawney smiled, closing her eyes again. "I don't care what it's called, I love it."

"Hmm." Rick relaxed into her sofa. "Tell me something good about Vegas, about Nevada. You must have one great memory."

"Gosh, I don't know? Maybe the day I left. That was great." She smiled.

"Come on," he coaxed, wanting to hear something good about her life. He hated that he might have driven her into moving to a place she hated, into a lifestyle she'd never wanted. "You must have one good memory."

She pursed her lips together. "Hmm. I saw wild mustangs once. They ran in a group, their heads thrown back, as if to say no one can tame me. Such raw spirit. God, I'd never seen anything so beautiful."

Her eyes were closed, her face softened by the memory of the mustangs.

"Sounds wonderful."

She seemed to melt into the corner of the sofa, her head on her arm, her legs curled up under her.

She smiled. "Those horses were the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen."

Suddenly the need to make things right with her overwhelmed him. "I'm sorry that I left you at the altar," he said. "It wasn't you. I was a total selfish jerk."

"Wow, an apology." She studied him, looking for what, he had no clue. "I'm over it. We're good."

He knew he should leave but didn't want to end this moment with her. He'd waited a long time to deliver his apology, and she'd accepted the apology so easily. He'd expected her to act wounded, hurt—maybe even argue with him or hurl insults. Instead, she'd reacted with grace and class. Maybe the tequila had mellowed her.

Her eyes were closed again.

He didn't know what to think about her anymore. Who was Tawney O'Hara? She had a lot of layers, and he wanted to discover every one of them.

Rick gave into fatigue and shut his eyes. The ache in his bones eased. He listened to his breath, to Tawney's breath. The silence stretched between them, a good kind of quiet.

He thought of the mustangs, wild, free. Sleep claimed him. Horses. Running. Falling. The hit to his mouth. Blood.

Rick jerked awake.

Had he just cried out? The dream had been vivid, real to the point he could feel ropes cutting into his wrists, feel his own teeth swimming loose in his mouth, taste the unforgettable metallic tang of his blood. He blew out a breath and ran his fingers through his hair, shaking off the dream.

Beside him, Tawney shifted. Her feet slid off the sofa and onto the floor.

They'd fallen asleep. That would teach him to take two shots of tequila when he was tired. He blinked, waiting for the dream to totally fade. His breathing slowed, his focus turned to Tawney.

Man, she was so beautiful, no doubt about that.

Tawney stirred. Her eyes fluttered open. "Rick?" Her voice was husky with sleep, sexy.

His body roared to life in places it shouldn't. "We fell asleep."

She ran a hand through her tousled hair. "Oh no, I'm sorry. Tequila."

"Don't be sorry," he said. "Aside from the crick in my neck, no harm done."

"Ugh," she groaned as she sat up. "What time is it?"

He located his phone. "Seven."

"Okay. Plenty of time before my first class." She smiled, rubbing the back of her neck with her hand.

"And plenty of time for me to go home and get a little more sleep." He stood, stretching. "Don't remember the last time I slept sitting up."

"Me either." Tawney rose. "Can I get you anything? Coffee? After all, you did come to my rescue last night."

"Nope, I'm good." At the door, he said, "Don't hesitate to call me, for any reason. I don't mind."

She met his stare, her blue eyes full of gratitude.

"Thank you." She went up on tiptoe and kissed his cheek.

Her lips felt like velvet against his skin, and it took all his willpower to keep from hauling her against him and kissing her full on the mouth. Instead, he gave her a nod and let himself out.

The air wasn't as warm this morning and the freezing temperature helped put out the fire brought on from the brush of Tawney's lips on his skin.

Once home, he crashed on the bed, but sleep eluded him and in its place was a Vegas showgirl with a bright pink aura.











"How do you think it went?" Tawney asked Liv. Her first dance class was done. She'd followed Liv's lead, learning the routines along with the girls. Near the end of class, Liv had let Tawney take over. The class of seven three-to-four year olds had loved Tawney. Teaching tap to little girls wasn't new to her. She'd taught little budding showgirls in Vegas for over five years. For Tawney, just seeing those little cuties dance had done things for her psyche nothing else could have. Innocent, sweet girls, eager to learn and play.

For the first time in forever, Tawney felt like she was worth something and she didn't want to let that feeling go. These new feelings stacked themselves on the back of Rick's apology to her. She'd still been high on that apology when she'd walked into Karma Fitness that morning.

"You did great," Liv said, taking a seat at her desk. "I knew you would."

"Thanks. I thought it went well, too. I have some fun ideas. I'm going to Anchorage to get a couple of things I think the girls will like. Things that will inspire them to pay attention and have fun."

Liv looked up from the stack of papers on her desk. "I like that. You have initiative."

"Why wouldn't I?" Tawney asked. "I love to dance."

Liv smiled. "You working your other job today?"

"Yep, I have enough time this afternoon to grocery shop and get a couple of errands done before my shift."

"Busy girl."

"Thanks to you, Liv." Tawney put her coat on. "See you on Wednesday."

"I'll be here," Liv said, her attention back on the stack of papers on her desk.

Tawney let herself out. On the sidewalk, she paused and took in a bit hit of clean Alaska air. Her gaze tapped on the surrounding mountains, white with snow. Beautiful.

She zipped her jacket and started for the store.

A Jeep rolled up alongside her. Rick.

He lowered the passenger window. "Good morning."

"Hi." She leaned down to see in the window. "What's up?"

"How was your class?" His jaw appeared freshly shaven, the five o'clock shadow he had after his night shift absent.

Her heart sped up. "Fantastic." She smiled. Satisfaction replaced her crazy emotions for him. "The girls were great. Adorable."

"I'm glad," he said, the words warm. "Want to keep me company? I'm taking a quick run to the cabin to change out the washers in a leaking faucet."

She shook her head. More than anything she wanted to go with him, but to what end? Being with him was like a form of torture. She wasn't the right girl for him; he'd made that clear once already. "I need to grocery shop."

"It will take two hours, tops, round trip." He gestured her inside. "Come on. You've seen the cabin before. I've done a lot of work on the interior. It would be great to show it off. And you've been nowhere since you hit town. Aren't you the least bit curious about what's out there?"

Tawney hesitated. Common sense warred with her impulsive side. So far Rick had been a gentleman, not giving her false hope. Dare she think they could become friends? If so, she could use all the friends she could get.

"A drive in the country," he coaxed. "Fresh air minus the smell of fish. Pristine, sparking snow, not the muddy stuff stacked up in town. Egrets so white you can't see them in the snow-covered trees."

She laughed. A drive sounded like mindless fun. "Okay, I guess my shopping can wait. Who needs to eat anyway?"

He grinned and reached across the seat to open the door for her.

Tawney tossed her gym bag in the back and climbed in.

They sped down the highway. Tawney gave her full attention to the scenery. She spotted two moose and one eagle. Rick was right: the snow glittered here like a never-ending field of spun sugar. She lost herself to the sparkle. When they'd been driving close to an hour, Rick pulled off the main road, heading down an unplowed road. Deep rutted, ice crusted, tire tracks led the way, and soon the cabin came into view.

"Wow," she said. "The place looks the same."

"On the outside." He pulled up close to the porch and cut the engine. "My grandfather built the cabin the old-fashioned way. He built the place to last, and it has."

"I always loved the covered front porch." Tawney exited the Jeep. She walked up the three steps to the porch, her gloved hand sliding up the log railing, dislodging the snow. Two white rockers invited people to sit, a table made from a round of wood between them. Charming. How great would this porch be in the summer when the days were long and often warm?

Rick opened the door and she followed him inside.

He turned on the space heater.

"It'll take a minute to warm up," Rick said. "The place is heated by wood, but we won't be here long enough to start a fire."

Tawney did a slow walk through the kitchen, noting the rustic birch cabinets, the updated cream color quartz counter tops and the old-fashioned appliances. No, new appliances, but they had a fifties look to them. The living room was simple, with a brown leather couch and matching chair and ottoman. Stairs led to the second level. She'd never been upstairs.

"Bedroom upstairs?" she asked.

"Yes." Rick came up behind her. "There's also a small bathroom. Feel free to go up and take a look."

"Maybe later." She didn't want him to get the wrong idea about her. She wasn't here for sex. "Mind if I use the restroom?"

"It's right through there." He pointed to a closed door.

In the bathroom, Tawney quickly used the facility, noting the clawfoot tub—original to the cabin. The small teak vanity and sink were new, as were the medicine cabinet and quaint light fixture. As she washed her hands, she stared into the mirror above the sink. What was she doing checking her makeup for Rick? Old habits died hard.

Back in the living room, she found Rick in the kitchen finishing up with the washer replacement.

"You've done a wonderful job with the remodel," Tawney said. "Everything you chose works with the cabin."

"I had a little design help from a friend," he said. "Coffee?"

BOOK: Hometown Hero (Hometown Alaska Men Book 2)
9.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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