Authors: Shady Grace
On silly impulse she stepped closer and grabbed each side of the hat brim right above his ears, careful not to hook herself. She yanked the cap further down his forehead making his skin crinkle. “Very cute, Terry.” She giggled, but when his dark gaze connected to hers and held, the humor died on her tongue. She stared up at him, speechless by the instant swell of heat being this close to him, smelling his spicy cologne and natural manly scent. All she had to do was stand tiptoe and she could feel the mesmerizing heat of his lips again, on hers, like before.
Stunned by the instant change in the air, Mary let go of his hat and stepped back. She laughed, more out of embarrassment than anything, and forced herself to glance down at his boots. They were brand-new work boots without a single scuff mark, rather than good old-fashioned rubbers.
“Are you planning on felling some trees while we’re out there?”
“What’s so funny?” The sensual sparkle in his eye disappeared before Terry looked down at himself. “The guy at the store said this is what I needed.”
“Yeah, and he probably had a good laugh when he soaked you for a few hundred bucks, too.”
His grin faded. “It was actually more than that.”
Mary cleared her throat to curb her laughter, feeling slightly sorry for him. “Well, might as well put it all to good use. I’m surprised you didn’t show up with a portable fish finder, too.”
“That would’ve been a couple hundred more.”
She chuckled and eyed the fishing rod in one hand and the bouquet of carnations in the other. “Are the flowers a new trick to lure in the fish?”
“Nah. Just the women,” he said, and grinned like the devil.
Terry lifted the bouquet. Mary accepted it and sniffed the blooms. “They’re beautiful, but you didn’t have to.”
The devil-may-care grin faded, and his eyes seemed distant, as if he was looking past her. “Carnations were my mom’s favorite.”
She eyed him carefully, curious to ask about his mother but thought better of it. Maybe later she could find out more of his story. There was bound to be quite the epic tale from this mysterious man. There was something about him that made her nervous yet excited at the same time. Even though Tom’s image still clung to her memory like a bad disease, she had to let him go. And here was Terry McCoy, little more than a stranger, who boldly strolled into her life and turned it upside down. Because of him everything had changed.
“Let me put these in a vase and we’ll get going.”
“Sure. Take all the time you need.”
His smile made her stomach flip upside down. She couldn’t be the first woman who wanted to throw herself at him. Maybe he had a whole nest of girlfriends back in the city. The thought made her sad, but at the same time, he was here now and she was in charge.
She was suddenly ashamed of going to bed and dreaming about him last night. Waking up with her fingers between her legs on the verge of orgasm, and not for the first time either.
Needing a distraction from her wicked thoughts, she set out to fill a vase with water and set the arrangement on the kitchen table. The bold mixture of purple, pink, and red, reminded her of the man who brought them. He was bold and colorful, too.
“Do you like them?”
She spun around with a gasp, unaware he had followed her inside. Her nerves jumped to life and her body heated with awareness by his close proximity. Was it a normal thing for him to sneak up on people all the time? She eyed him suspiciously, but Terry simply smiled, apparently content to stand there and watch her, and not try to make any sudden moves.
She turned back to the vase, feeling a little more at ease. “Thank you for the flowers, they’re beautiful.”
“Not as beautiful as you.”
She turned around, her gaze snapping up to his. It was probably just a line, maybe one he’d used many times on other women, but she still liked hearing it. Maybe because she’d never had a man tell her that before.
His crooked grin made her face heat. She cleared her throat and avoided eye contact. She had to be careful with a man like him. She needed to feel safe and secure and know she was doing the right thing. Marrying Tom had been a mistake. What would she be doing with Terry McCoy, a notorious criminal?
“The trail to the river is up the road a little ways.” She moved to walk past him, but when his hand touched her forearm and held her, she paused. Every hair tingled where his hand touched her. She sucked in a sharp breath, her gaze downcast.
“Are you afraid to be alone with me, Mary? Do you want me to leave?”
He leaned closer until she felt his breath at her temple. The heated caress made her want to lean in and let him swallow her up in his embrace. A shudder sizzled down her midsection and decided to go right between her legs. “No. It’s . . . I’m okay. Just a little nervous, that’s all. I don’t get much company around here.”
She glanced back up, her eyes searching his. Something was happening to her. His touch didn’t feel wrong; it felt natural.
Terry nodded, apparently misunderstanding her reaction, and released her arm. “I understand. Remember, you’re the boss.”
She felt like a nervous girl about to fool around with the bully neighbor. “Well, the fish are waiting for us.” She quickly headed for the door, embarrassed by his deep chuckle right behind her, and grabbed her rod and tackle box from the hallway closet.
“Why are we fishing in the evening? Isn’t early morning better?” He fell in step beside her as they crossed the driveway to the path across the road.
“Morning or evening. It’s basically the same, but I didn’t feel like getting up at dawn.”
“Ah. I see.” Terry chuckled behind her.
They walked in silence along the path, surrounded by the relaxing swish of branches in the breeze. Nothing compared to the natural beauty of her property. Trees pushing sixty feet or more, some with trunks the width of a vehicle. The trickle of water from the river a constant and relaxing sound. The ever-present mountain tips above the treetops. It never failed to amaze her how insignificant she was in this endless highway of nature.
“If we catch anything, will it be on the dinner menu tonight?”
“Sure, if you’d like.”
His relieved sigh made her chuckle. “Thank God. I was beginning to think I’d have to shoot a squirrel or something.”
Mary paused on the path and turned to face him. “I’m not a complete hick you know. Mima might enjoy frontier living, but not me. I actually own an electric coffee pot, and I blow-dry my hair.”
Terry nodded, his lip curling in amusement. “Good to know.”
She stepped off the path and parted the brush. “Watch you don’t get your rod caught in here. It’s a little tricky.”
“Want to hold it for me?”
The insinuation in his voice was unmistakable. “I’m talking about your fishing rod—not your dick.” Her eyes widened when she realized how terrible that sounded coming from her own mouth.
Terry’s rumble of laughter made her cheeks burn. “My, my, you have a dirty mind, Mary. I wasn’t even talking about that.”
Completely embarrassed, Mary stepped through the brush first and let the branches whip behind her, right in his face. She ignored his curse and his loud fight to get through the brush without getting his rod stuck, and made her way to the river’s edge. She’d just set down her tackle box when Terry burst through the trees, violently yanking his pole out of the twisted branches.
“Why don’t you trim the brush there?” Terry threw his gear onto the rocks and panted for air. “Jesus Christ, I might need plastic surgery on my face now.”
Mary’s shoulders shook from laughing. The crumpled mess of his hat barely clung to his head. He looked so cute and out of his element that her smile faltered as she stared at him, realizing this was the first time she’d seen him look vulnerable.
He wanted to come here. The city boy criminal wanted to be here—with her.
She opened her tackle box and found the perfect jig. “This is my private spot, Terry. I don’t want anyone finding it.”
He shook his head and stood straight, stretching out his back. “I don’t think that’ll ever be a problem. A Smurf can barely fit through it.”
Mary turned around and glared at him. “Are you teasing me about my height?”
He cleared his throat and set out to find a spot to fish from. “Of course not.” Yet his voice spilled with suppressed laughter.
For a long while they were completely silent, enjoying the trickle of the water, the swish and sway of branches in the breeze, the musical chatter of the birds. Every once in a while Mary would glance at him without making it obvious, and stifle a smile over his struggles. But he managed to get a decent cast out into the river and after a while he seemed to be really enjoying himself. Mary imagined he didn’t get much joy in life. How could anyone who lived on the wrong side of the law?
“Have you ever fly-fished?” he asked.
“I’ve tried it, but I don’t have the patience. Less of a headache with a casting rod.”
“Makes sense. I’ve seen fly fishing in movies and it looks tricky.” He looked at her over his shoulder. “Can I say something that has nothing to do with fishing?”
Mary cast her line back out and glanced at him. “Depends on what it is, I guess.”
“When I first met you, you were very timid. Terrified even. I mean. . . .” He sighed, maybe trying to find the right words. “Obviously what happened with Ben scared you, I know that. But it seemed to me you were already afraid of life. And somehow, right now, you seem stronger.”
She looked away and focused on the rushing water. Could she trust him with the truth? She released a shaky breath, her gaze focused on the rushing water instead of him. There were few people in this world she talked to. Mima was wrapped up with Gabe, and her mother was busy soaking up the sun in Florida. They only spoke a few times a year and even then it mostly consisted of the weather and her mother’s latest adventures. Would it be a mistake to open up to Terry?
She continued staring at the water. “Before Tom, I was different. I was raised to be tough, like you, I imagine. I didn’t have brass balls, but I had a pair of something. He took that away from me—a long time ago.”
She didn’t dare look at him, because she knew he was staring right at her. “How long did he hurt you, Mary?”
The silence dragged on for a long while before he spoke again. “And now that he’s gone, the old Mary is coming back.”
Unwanted tears filled her eyes, and she swallowed. It took a minute to be able to answer without cracking. “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll never be the old me.” It became increasingly difficult to breathe and her vision blurred from too many tears.
“No, no,” he said without hesitation. “All he did was put your soul in hiding for a little while, and now she’s come back, stronger than ever. This is you. The woman in front of me right now is the real Mary.”
She turned to him,
looked at him with eyes wide, throat tight. The sincerity written all over his face made her break down right then and there. She barely managed to keep hold of her fishing rod as her knees gave way and she slumped down onto a rock. The tears she tried holding back slipped down her face like the force of the river at her feet.
Violent sobs racked her body as she let go of all the fear, the pain, and the desperation in her battered soul.
Terry was right behind her in seconds and wrapped his arms around her, slowly rocked her against his chest. This had to be the first time she’d ever cried so hard—even right after Tom died. The second time she’d let her guard down in front of Terry McCoy.
She turned and sobbed against his chest until she had nothing left to give. And he crouched there without moving for what felt like hours. He petted her hair and told her everything would be okay. Nobody would ever hurt her again.
If only those words were true.
Terry hugged her tight and kissed her forehead. “Come on. Let’s leave the trout to live another day. I’ve been craving squirrel all afternoon anyway.”
She lifted her face and let out a raspy laugh, rubbed her tears away with her sleeve. “Okay.”
He wrapped his arm around her, grabbed their gear and walked her home. This time he had no troubles getting through the gnarly brush. He didn’t say another word on the walk home, just held her close, a strong wall of protection. The spicy, male scent of him was a small comfort in itself.
When they finally reached the house, Mary was completely exhausted and a little embarrassed by her emotional outburst. But if it bothered Terry, he didn’t show it.
Like a man on a mission, he ushered her into the house, straight to the couch. He sat at one end and patted the seat next to him. “Come on.” He lifted his arms for her to cuddle up to him.
How embarrassing to be this vulnerable with a man she barely knew. “You don’t have to do this, Terry. I’ll be okay. I’m sorry—”
“Don’t ever be sorry to show your emotions. Come on.” He pulled her down and onto his lap before she could argue further. She tensed at first, but finally relented. “Being human isn’t always easy.”
It felt childish to be in this position as he petted her hair and told her everything would be all right. But it felt good. Maybe Terry McCoy wasn’t such a bad man after all.