Trapped, terrified, tense, and tactic. Words you would usually associate with bad things, but in this case, not. There’d been the big incident followed by a few smaller ones, and the dreams, and I had been tense and jumpy, and not a little cranky. Malcolm had gone out to the field to work on something, it was growing dark, and I was in the barn by myself, keeping my baseball bat in my free hand while watering the horses, startling at every noise, and constantly looking over my shoulder. Even so, I didn’t hear Malcolm when he came in.
I put my left thumb over the end of the hose to squirt it with maximum force, and spun around, swinging Willy as hard as I could.
It was already too late when I realized it was Malcolm. The man had fast reflexes. He ducked. Good thing, or I would have knocked him out. I did soak him, though.
I stood there, unable to do anything but stare at him, breathing hard, hearing only the blood pounding in my ears. I dropped the hose.
“It’s just me, Vi,” he said quietly.
He stripped his sopping shirt over his head, wrung it out, and slung it over a rung of the loft ladder. Willy clattered to the floor. Malcolm shook water from his hair. I moved back a pace, fear replaced by another emotion that elevated my heart rate.
“It’s just me,” he said again, coming forward.
He had broad shoulders and a well-muscled chest, just enough hair to run my fingers through, smooth skin highlighted by sunburn. The kilt rested on his hipbones, exposing his navel and flat abs. I moved away until I hit the wall. He came right up to me, his blue eyes pinning me in place. I could smell sweat and dirt on his skin.
“Just me,” he whispered.
His arm snaked around me to turn off the water. We stood like that a long moment, and I held my breath.
“You startled me,” I said.
“I know. I’m sorry. Good thing you didn’t take the shotgun.”
I let my forehead touch his collarbone, felt his heart beating as wildly as mine. My nipples strained against my tee-shirt to make contact with his bare chest.
“I nearly took your head off.” I looked up at him.
“You have a hell of a swing. Would have been ugly if you’d had the gun.”
His voice was low and slow, a soothing caress, but calm was far from what I felt. He leaned one hand against the wall near my right shoulder and rested his cheek against my hair.
“What were you doing sneaking up on me like that, anyway?” I asked, trying for nonchalance and failing. All at once, I felt stretched and enveloped, as if he were pulling me inside him.
“I didn’t mean to.” He kissed the bruise on my forehead. “I decided to leave the truck at the other end of the field and walk back. It’s a beautiful night. I was about to say something, but you were too quick.”
His breath tickled my ear, sending little tremors straight to my lower belly. If I didn’t get away from him, my personal volcano would erupt. I shifted to the left. He brought his other arm up on that side.
“How about a walk?” he asked. “We need to talk.”
“I need to get to bed.” But first I needed to smack myself for saying that.
A leisurely smile curled his lips. “Okay.”
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”
I didn’t think that’s what he intended, either. But there were times like this in my past when I wouldn’t have hesitated. He was still married, and that was reason enough to pause. It was also the potential. If I started a relationship with this man, I wouldn’t be able to walk away from it without a backward glance like I usually did. That terrified me. More than anything, I didn’t want to screw it up.
But at the moment, I could scarcely breathe. After what happened with JJ, I needed more space then he’d been giving me.
“I feel a little trapped here.”
His face looked stricken, and he backed off. “You’re safe with me, Vi.”
“That’s debatable.” He gave me a narrow look, and I amended, “I mean, I know I’m safe, but…” Physically safe, yes, but emotionally? No.
He nudged my knee with one of his, moving my leg slightly to the side, closing the space between us again.
“I think I know exactly what you mean,” he said.
I was sure he was safe, but I still felt scared. “I didn’t thank you for the other night,” I said. Not much of a delay tactic.
Join me tomorrow for U is for Unflattering.
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