Chapter 2

2079 Words
Chapter Two Jason launched himself at the woman, arms open, diving to catch her and break her fall. It wasn’t pretty, but he caught her and rolled, body slamming into the sidewalk with teeth-jarring force, before coming to rest on his back. “I have you. You’re safe.” She was tiny. Nestled easily in his arms, even as she sprawled across his chest. And her hair slipped through his fingers like the softest silk. He caught a whiff of almond emanating from underneath her curly blonde locks. And was that rose? Jesus, her perfume reminded him of the heady nose in a perfectly balanced cabernet franc. He stroked down her back, unconsciously feeling for breaks and finding none. “Are you okay?” His heart pounded frantically in his ears. She could have easily broken her neck. Or worse. But when she lifted her head and locked eyes with him, his heart stopped altogether. Her wide-eyed gaze held him in t****l, and his stomach lurched like he was free-falling. s**t. Had he sustained a concussion? His body tightened in awareness as he stared back unabashedly. Her eyes were the exact shade of blue he’d experienced on a dive in the Maldives. Deep and solemn and mysterious as the reefs he’d explored. And then the corners of her eyes crinkled as her eyes lit in recognition. With expectation. Hope. His stomach churned dangerously. She looked at him like she expected him to hand over the moon at any second. Emotions tumbled through him like an upended salt shaker. She shouldn’t be looking at him like that. Like she believed in him. He’d ordered his life so that no one looked at him that way anymore. Especially a woman. “It’s you,” she said, awe in her voice. “I knew it.” Maybe he wasn’t the only one who’d bonked his head in the fall. “Are you okay? Did you hurt yourself?” He couldn’t stop caressing her hair. For the first time in years, the painful knot in his chest eased. But they couldn’t lie here forever, spread-eagle on the sidewalk in broad daylight. “I’m okay,” she said with a husky lilt to her voice, the sound soothing the rough edges of his soul with its sweetness. He could feel his bones turning to liquid as she continued. “What about you? I think you took the brunt of it.” She cupped his cheek, eyes full of concern. He fixated on her mouth, a perfect bow on top and a full, kissable lip on bottom, a dusky shade of pink that reminded him of his family’s signature rosé. A color that demanded to be tasted. Sipped and savored. He opened his mouth to speak, but she’d bewitched the speech right out of him. He cleared his throat. “Fine,” he managed to croak. Holy hell, what was happening to him? He shook himself. Her fall had obviously dislodged something in his brain. He needed to help her up, find Millie Prescott and hightail it back to the car before he did something he regretted. She broke into a smile, revealing straight white teeth. An even pinker tongue darted out to slick her lower lip, and for the first time in a very, very long time, the faintest stirrings of arousal sparked to life. What would that lower lip taste like? What would she taste like? “Shall we try and stand up?” “Sure.” No. I don’t want to move. She drew in a quick breath, hesitating, eyes suddenly unsure. “Wait. I have to know. Do you mind?” What on earth was she talking about? “No?” Her chest filled with air, pushing against him, as if she was getting ready to dive underwater. Before he could protest, she lowered her head and pressed her mouth to his. Her kiss was tentative at first. Gentle, curious. He inhaled sharply and tightened his grip on her skull, as his c**k sprang to full attention. All the shackles in the world couldn’t have prevented him from kissing her back. When her tongue slipped across the inside of his lower lip, electricity surged through him, shocking long-dead nerves back to life. With a groan that originated deep in his throat, he opened his mouth and deepened the kiss, pinning her against his chest with his other arm as they devoured each other. A minute or an hour could have passed, for all he knew. He was lost, floating on a wave of long-forgotten sensation, seeing a future filled with happiness. She broke the kiss and beamed down at him, adoration shining in her eyes. His airway closed off. No one looked at him that way. Like he was special. Important. Like he meant something. “I knew it,” she cooed, giving her hips a little grind into his painful erection. He gasped for air, head spinning. He must be concussed. It was the only explanation for this crazy hallucination. “Knew what?” None of this made any sense. She shrugged, lifting her eyebrows and giving him a knowing half-smile. “I’ll tell you another time,” she murmured as she dropped a gentle kiss at the corner of his mouth. With a sigh tinged with regret, she pushed against him and scrambled to her feet, extending a hand. “Need help?” Panic clawed at him. He needed to get up as gracefully and unobtrusively as possible, find Millie, get this romance basket Sterling had on the list and execute a tactical retrograde back to a safer part of town. Away from this beautiful woman with the blue eyes who made him forget who he was. Who made him dream of possibilities. “I’m good,” he said a little too roughly as he rolled to his right side and settled his weight on his left leg. Always use your meat leg when rising from a fall. His OT’s voice jangled in his head. Bracing his core, he rose, dusted himself off, and stared down at the beauty who barely came to his shoulder. God in heaven, did someone have it in for him up there? Condemning him to a life of longing for what he could never have? She was curvy everywhere. Breasts high and pert, full enough to fill his palms, just like he liked. And the way she kept looking at him, like she knew him. Like she liked him. More than liked him. His heart thunked a little harder. If he stood here much longer he’d be a goner, and where would that leave him then? She slid her hands into her back pockets and stared up at him expectantly. Like she was waiting for him to speak. He scraped a hand across his jaw. “So maybe you can help me? I’m looking for Millie. I’m here to pick up a basket for Resolution Ranch.” She grinned up at him, blue eyes dancing. “Follow me.” She opened the door and sailed in like she worked there, catching the door so it wouldn’t slam shut on him. Jason covered a laugh as the scent of patchouli and lavender hit his nose, and hardwood creaked under his boots. Against the back wall stood a small refrigerated and freezer section with signs for items like “farm fresh eggs,” “grass-fed local beef,” “Sinclaire bison,” and his favorite, “goat-milk yogurt.” His mouth quirked. Who knew that hippies hid out in Prairie? All that was missing was the mysterious Millie who was probably in the storeroom washing produce in Birkenstocks, dangly earrings and desperately in need of a razor. “Where’s Millie?” She must not have heard him. She wove through the displays of fresh bread, flowers, and beeswax candles to a counter on the far side of the store. An enormous woven basket stood wrapped in pale pink cellophane, filled with beauty items and several books with shirtless men on the covers. Next to the basket stood a case of wine. Sealed with bottle caps. Heaven help the poor sucker who had to choke down that. It was probably closer to soda-pop than wine. The woman turned, pride on her face. “I made the basket from last spring’s willow cuttings.” “It’s very nice.” The kind of thing his step-mother would snap up to bring home for a bit of local color. “But can you tell me where I can find Millie? I have a receipt of donation for her.” “I’m Millie, silly. Didn’t you know?” She held out her hand for the receipt. He went hot, then cold. Then gulped, frantically trying to wrap his head around the disconnect. This little bit of a woman who kissed him like there was no tomorrow, who made him feel for the first time in years, was Millie Prescott? But where were the long skirts and tattoos? Where were the layers of dirt from infrequent bathing and never wearing shoes? “But I thought Millie was a hippie?” As soon as the words left his mouth, he regretted them. Hurt flickered briefly in her eyes. If only the floor would open up and swallow him now. She shrugged it off with a half-smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “It’s okay. I know that’s what everyone calls me.” She inhaled deeply, then slowly breathed out. “I don’t mind. They’re not saying it to be mean.” But she looked like she minded. Very much. And that made him an a*s. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. It’s only–” “You’re surprised I don’t look like someone you’d find in the heart of Haight-Ashbury?” She arched an eyebrow, sass lacing her words. “That I wear deodorant, and I like expensive perfume?” She crossed her arms. “You smell very good,” he murmured, but she didn’t hear him. The little firecracker was on a roll. “Just because my family started the first organic farm here doesn’t mean I’m a hippie. Just because I use biodynamic practices to make my wine like some of the farms in Europe doesn’t mean I’m a hippie either. What even is a hippie?” Her eyes dared him to argue. He shouldn’t take the bait. He should thank her for her time and stay as far away from her heated kisses as possible. But he couldn’t resist. “Wait. You’re one of those biodynamic zealots? Everyone knows they’re the ideas of a con-man selling snake oil.” He shook his head. “Stick to the science and you’ll get good wine every time.” She scowled at him, two streaks of pink bursting across her cheeks. She was cute, riled up. But oh, so wrong. “You’re the one who doesn’t know what you’re talking about. Biodynamic methods are about infusing the grapes with your energy and life-force.” How could she say that with a straight face? “And can you prove that it works? How do you quantify life-force?” He had her there. She narrowed her eyes. “Do you still feel the missing part of your leg?” Yes. He froze, mouth open to make a comeback, but the words evaporated. He snapped shut his mouth and glared at her. How dare she ask him something so… personal? For that matter, how could she tell? He’d worked and worked on his gait to the point that most people were surprised to learn he was a below-the-knee amputee. His heart sank to the floor. Of course. The baseball game. Everyone in Prairie who attended the exhibition game last March had seen his prosthetic. He clenched his jaw against the regret that surged through him. He couldn’t even feel normal for five f*****g minutes. Once again, his goddamned leg sealed his fate before he’d even gotten started. And Sterling wondered why he didn’t bother to date. She stepped into his space, lifting her chin to maintain eye contact. “You do, don’t you?” She placed a hand on his right thigh and a zing of electricity shot through him. His heart started to pound, and a wave of dizziness washed over him. What in the hell? How could she unbalance him so easily? Her eyes filled with tears. “I feel it too. Your body misses your leg.” Of course, he missed his leg. What sane person wouldn’t? Her voice grew hushed, reverent. “That’s your life force. Every living thing has it.” “Enough.” He stepped back, chest tightening at the sudden loss of her touch. “I don’t need a lesson in metaphysics.” The look of disappointment on her face punched him in the gut. What was wrong with him? Millie was causing him to lose his s**t. Maybe he needed to call his peer mentor. He shook his head, determined to find some kind of emotional purchase. “I have to go.” He covered the distance to the door in record time. Her voice floated after him. “But what about–” He waved a hand over his head, eyes focused on the buildings across the street. “Someone will come for it.”
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