Here's a Chapter of
The Mountain Man's Runaway Bride!
I stroll along the street, grimacing a bit at all the twinkling lights. Matrimony has definitely over-delivered on Christmas. It never fails to happen, every year, as soon as we finish eating turkey, they get busy. Maybe I’m a grinch, but I don’t find anything about it that amazing. If anything, it reminds me of how solitary my life is. If it wasn’t for Birk, his family, and Rowan, I wouldn’t have much human interaction at all.
Which means the last thing I want is to be surrounded by Christmas. The only consolation I have right now is that I’m not going to be in town for long. I just came into town to grab up supplies at the hardware store to fix a burst pipe.
I’m not a plumber, but I can get the job done. Here in Alaska, you have to be self-sufficient. The weather is as harsh as you see on the television. There can be months during the winter where you can’t even leave the house due to the weather. I’m usually stocked, but I had to go fix Mrs. Crabtree's water line a few times this past week. I used what I had stocked up as a result, and I don’t want to find myself completely out in case of an emergency.
A friend of mine, Fred, is the local plumber. He is usually around to help Mrs. Crabtree and others, but he took his wife on a vacation to Hawaii for their anniversary and aren't expected back until after the holiday, so I’ve tried to help some of the older residents where I can during my time off. It’s not like I have a family to go home to after working all day in the lumber yard.
After I stock up on the plumbing supplies, I want to do some errands. I’m determined to pick up a generator for the Crabtrees. Theirs is toast, and I know they live on a tight fixed income. Mr. Crabtree’s medicine probably takes half of what they draw. They don't realize I pay attention, but I do.
I’m so caught up in making a mental checklist, that I don't notice the petite woman coming toward me, until I barrel into her. As soon as I reach out to keep her from falling on her backside, my world changes. It feels like I touch a live electrical wire. Sparks fly and my heart flips in my chest, making all my senses go on high alert.
Her perfume wraps around me first. It’s a sweet mix of oranges and some type of flower. Immediately I want to breathe more of it in. It’s a reminder of spring, which happens to be my favorite season. I’m overly aware of our proximity, my bigger frame towering over her, the soft curviness of her body, the way she feels when I touch her….
I clear my throat as she sputters an apology. If I had trimmed my beard this morning, she would have seen my smirk. But when her eyes meet mine, I know I’m in trouble. Something deep in my gut tells me she is mine.
It’s an unusual feeling for me. I’d like to say it’s because I’m desperate to find a woman to live my life with, because I do want that. Living in Matrimony means there are definitely more men than women. But it’s not purely that, because even the women in Matrimony that are single hold little appeal for me. Truthfully, I just never knew what I was looking for until just now. Apparently, it was a soft, petite, curvy woman with chestnut hair and beautiful brown eyes. I stand looking at her, completely shell shocked. She brushes her hair back from her face, giving me a view of her soft features. My eyes dart down to her full lips, which are lush, glossy perfection, before traveling back to the beautiful, brown, doe eyes that captured my attention first.
"Are you alright?" I ask, seeing a slight red mark on her face where she took most of the hit. I have the strongest urge to reach out and touch the spot, and even ache to kiss it. The need is almost so powerful that I do it, but I control myself, barely. I don’t make a habit of scaring tourists, and don’t want to start now.
"I'm fine, are you okay?" she asks, her voice reminding me of the warmth of the sun, it’s that potent. Then, she smiles. I suck air into my lungs at the hunger that hits me. I never thought an attraction could be this powerful and happen this quickly. My friend Birk said that’s how he felt about his Aggie, but I just laughed, thinking he was over embellishing.
Clearly I was wrong.
"Yeah,” I respond with a grin of my own. “Of course, I would be better if you let me take you to dinner. I mean, it’s the least I can do for almost running you over." I’ve never been accused of being a Casanova, but I’m hoping she says yes. Surely she feels this attraction between us. I can’t be the only one experiencing it… Can I?
I reach out and touch her again, unable to stop myself. I find myself gently moving her towards the building beside of us, and out of the way of another passerby. There’s this strong urge to protect her and shield her. I can’t explain it, but it feels right. The way she looks up at me as I touch her makes me wonder what she’s thinking. Is she struggling as much as I am? How would she react if she knew I was wondering what she looked like underneath the bulky winter clothes she was wearing? She’s gorgeous, all curves with her soft, wavy hair that was brown, but also looked as if it had been kissed by the sun. Her creamy golden skin beautiful and soft…
I shove my hands into the pockets of my coat to stop myself from touching her yet again.
“I’d like that—” she says, and I feel joy push through me so quickly that it steals my breath. Then, a fallen expression comes over her face and she shakes her head no. "Wait, I don't know what I was thinking just now. I can't…" The regret that flashes on her pretty face gives me pause. I immediately want to put the smile back on her beautiful lips.
"Why not?" I ask. A no wasn't the answer I’d hoped for, and clearly she was going to say yes. She just looks at me, sad, but as if she’s searching for the right words. Just then someone slaps me on the back, making me jump. I was lost to anything and everything around me but this woman. I turn to see Kerry, owner of the bar and restaurant in town. We’re friends. I’m not as close with him as I am Birk and Rowan, but he’s a good guy. I worry about him being around the girl I’m talking to, because he’s been on the hunt for a woman for a while now. He even put the moves on Birk’s Aggie once.
Kerry’s last woman did him really dirty, but he says he’s not cut out for the single life. Still, I can’t exactly demand he leave me and the girl alone. Plus, he should be safe. He’s getting married next week to some woman he met on the internet. I think he’s even convinced Rowan to try that route. I couldn’t do it. I want sparks to fly between me and the woman I’m going to claim. Sparks like the ones I’m sharing with the girl beside me…
"I see you had the luck of meeting her first," Kerry says, smiling at me.
“Huh?” I ask, confused and feeling like I’m missing something. I turn to look at the girl beside me. I could introduce her to Kerry, mostly so I can finally get her name. She might have changed her mind about dinner, but I’m not giving up. There’s an attraction between us, and I’m positive she feels it too.
When I turn, she’s dropped her head down, staring at her boots. Her hair has fallen from her hood, and it fans out over her face, sheltering her. My heart hurts when I look at her. God, she’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of in a woman. I feel like the Man upstairs might have been watching me and sent a miracle my way. When she looks back up her gaze goes from Kerry to me. I don’t think it’s my imagination now that the regret is thick on her face, it’s almost as thick as the color on her cheeks as she blushes as if she’s embarrassed.
"Ash, this is Dixie. Dixie, this is Ash," Kerry says. I feel my brow crinkle, and I swim in the confusion of Kerry introducing me to the girl of my dreams and then, a second later reality slams into me with the weight of a ton of bricks.
Kerry’s mail-order-bride was named Dixie… It’s all anyone has been talking about in the bar for the last month. I heard about it whenever me and guys from the lumberyard dropped by for a beer in the evenings.
"You’re Dixie?” I asked, my throat feeling raw.
“That’s her,” Kerry responds. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there to meet you, Dixie. I was held up at the bar. Let's bring this over to the Heifer for a warm drink and some food."
I’m not sure why I felt compelled to follow Kerry and Dixie. Maybe I was legitimately suffering from shock. Maybe, I’m just a damn fool.
Kerry and I each pick up one of Dixie’s bags as she trails wordlessly behind Kerry, looking anywhere but back at me. I watch her though. She needs two steps to Kerry’s one. I slow down, taking her elbow in hand, just in case she slips on the ice. Even the most weathered residents could take a tumble if they weren't paying attention. I do that because I am an idiot, and I can’t resist. Dixie looks up at me in panic. The confusion on her face is painful to look at. She should be mine. I feel that in my bones.
But she belongs to Kerry.