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#SALE #99cents Was this man saving me? Or had my life just gone from bad to worse?
“Um, sir? I can walk.” My voice came out reedy and weak. “Would you mind putting me down…please?”
“Soon as we get to my place.”
“Your place?” All the blood was going to my head, making my words slow. My tongue felt thick. I should have been frantic, but I couldn’t seem to get a scream going. “I need to call the cops.”
“No cell service here. Call ’em from my home phone.”
“Please. I’ll walk.”
He set me on the ground and steadied me before taking his hands away. “You got no shoes.”
I looked down. Oh. Right. No wonder it was so cold. That and my lost coat.
“I won’t hurt you. Promise. You want to walk, you walk.” I blinked at him. He was dressed appropriately for the frigid night in a dark canvas coat with a thick beanie pulled low. His face, covered in a dense beard, didn’t need much else. His bottom half, in jeans and mud-stained boots, looked just as warm. “Here.” He unzipped his coat and, before I could stop him, put it over my quaking shoulders. Oh my gosh, it was Heaven. “Sorry I didn’t ask.”
I waited. “Ask what?”
“Permission to pick you up. Usually…” He paused and shook his head. “Never mind.”
What kind of person had a usually that involved heaving bodies over their enormous slab of a shoulder? A fireman? A serial kidnapper? “You carry…people…a lot?” The words didn’t want to slide out past my chattering teeth.
“Used to.” He shrugged, then glanced at my feet. “Boots are big, but you can—”
Before he could take off his shoes for me, I stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “No. No, I’ll walk like this.”
“You could just let me carry you.” He looked up the mountain, towards wherever our destination was. “Be faster.”
“I’m heavy. I don’t want you to—”
“Light as a feather.”
I was shuddering too hard to give him a look.
“Am I not killing you? You swear?”
“Not planning any…nefarious activities?” I tried to make it into a joke, but my voice came out tiny and scared.
“Don’t even know what that means.”
“I mean, you’re not going to—”
“Kidding.” His mouth did a weird quirking thing at the corners, which I assumed was meant to be a smile. It didn’t look entirely natural on him. “I won’t hurt you. I promise that on the memory of everyone I’ve ever lost.” Each word sounded dead serious.
Which I guess it would if he were a creepy person, bent on killing me, but considering that I couldn’t feel my toes—or my brain—anymore, it was definitely one of those leap of faith moments. Just those words—leap of faith—sent my mind careening back to the second he pulled me from the car.
I finally nodded. He grabbed my hand and bent, and suddenly I was on his back again, my rear end by his head.
He huffed on—actually up—each uneven step jolting me against him, and I could do nothing but curl into his heat.
“Not far,” he huffed out. A few minutes later, I smelled wood smoke just as a dog barked, the sound muffled. I strained my neck to look ahead.
It was a log cabin, its windows glowing warmly. There was someone waiting there for him, surely. A woman, all snug in that home, dinner simmering on the stove. Or, not dinner, maybe, since it was late, but a hot chocolate or something.
I’d sell my soul for a hot chocolate right now. Anything hot.
I almost laughed. It would be really weird if I laughed right now, wouldn’t it?
At the cabin door, he let me down slowly. Boneless, I collapsed immediately against him.
“Can’t…feel…feet.” My teeth clacked together with each word. I had no control over them.
He threw open the door to a madly barking dog, who looked—I squinted—happy. Something clawed at my knee and I looked down. Oh. Two dogs. A big German Shepherd-type creature and, beside it was that one of those papillons. I blinked. A one-eared papillon?
“Back it up, girls.”
Slowly, I turned to look up at him. “Me?”
“Talking to the dogs.” He turned to them. “Brownie, quit it!”
The big dog stopped jumping, moved back a few feet, and sat.
Once Bear—the little one—complied, going to sit next to her companion, he and I went in. He shut the door, enclosing us in quiet—aside from the crackling of a wood stove—and blessed warmth.
“Might wanna…” He lowered his chin toward my feet. “Get that thing off.”
Thing? I glanced down, puzzled, until I realized what he meant. My tights, full of runs, with big holes in them now, choked my toes. I couldn’t feel them.
“Have a seat. I’ll heat up water for a tea.” He paused. “Get you something to put on.”
I nodded, swayed, put a hand out, and caught myself on the door. Oh. Boneless.
“I can’t…” I peered at the sofa. I mean, the place was tiny, so it wasn’t far, but it looked miles away. I tried a step, but it sent shooting pain up my foot and I was much, much too tired. Or something more than that—beyond pain and exhaustion, into some kind of otherness.
I sank to my bottom, right there, against the door.
My savior walked back into the room with a few folded-up items, and stopped when he saw me. “Bath?”
I shook my head. “Pro’ly drown.”
“Here.” Slowly, he drew close, like he might approach a wild animal. He set a pile of neatly-folded fabric beside me, picked up one item—a soft plaid blanket—and put it over me, then handed me the telephone he’d stuck in his back pocket. “Call whoever you need to.”
I stared at the phone, suddenly unsure of who I should reach out to. Granny Evans, definitely, since she’d start worrying eventually.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“About nine thirty.”
I blinked. “You’re kidding.” What time had I left the party? Eight, I’d thought. Maybe eight thirty?
Something else occurred to me. “How’d you find me?”
“Opened the door to let the dogs out. Heard you skid off the road. Took me a while to pinpoint your location.”
Something broke loose inside my chest and I couldn’t keep my head up. With an audible thunk, my forehead hit my knees. I was shaking, only not from the cold this time.
Was I crying? I turned my head, wiped my face and stared at my palm. Definitely wet.
How did I not know what my body was doing?
“Hey, hey. Don’t do that.”
I couldn’t stop because I couldn’t even tell it was happening. How was that for messed up?
He crouched in front of me, framed by his dogs, and I noticed his feet. He wore slippers. Grey, flannel slippers, the most out of place thing I could imagine on this big brute of a man.
“What…Uh… Please don’t do that. What can I do?” he asked, sounding totally out of his element.
After everything that had happened tonight—my jerk boss trying to put his hands on me, then, oh, just driving off the side of a mountain, nearly dying, and being hauled back to life by this guardian angel person—I couldn’t drum up the tiniest drop of fear or suspicion.
All I wanted was a hug.
“Could you,” I managed through chattering teeth. “Please hold me?”
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