Saturday, May 4, 2013

All That’s Best Of Dark And Light (Reader-Suggested Prequel)

Fiona could hear the axe splitting logs against the big, chipped stump out behind the kitchen. She sighed heavily, pushing back the damp curls clinging to her forehead with the back of her hand. It was a hot summer and she’d have been much happier if she could sit out on the porch while she shucked the bowl of pole beans she was going to make for supper.

But he was out there. The man her uncle hired on a semi-regular basis to chop wood. He was out there scanning the yard for a glimpse of her, and when he saw her, would stop working and stand there slack jawed and gaping, staring. She avoided even looking out the window. She didn’t trust him, and didn’t want to give him any reason to speak to her.

She didn’t know where Uncle Ras was and Mr. Devereaux, the stocktender, had gone into town to talk to the blacksmith there.  And the new hire, Mr. Peltier, was nowhere to be found. The idea that she was alone in the kitchen, and that the man outside knew it, unsettled her. I don’t like how he leers, how he undresses me with his eyes. I don’t know anything about him and I don’t trust him. She peeled a long, green fiber from the edge of a pole bean hull and flicked it into the bowl she’d put on the table to catch scraps.

The rhythmic cracking of the axe outside stopped. She froze, glancing warily up from her task. He’s going to come in here. He’s going to come in here wanting a drink of water. She scowled. “Bloody hell.” she hissed under her breath. She went to the sink, grabbing a clean glass as she went. I’ll just get him one so he won’t have to come inside. I’ll just set it out on the sill for him. She worked the pump handle up and down, hastily filling the glass. I appreciate the work he’s doing for us...but he makes me nervous...and...

She opened the window shutter, set the glass down on the sill, and did a violent double take. That’s not...that’s not...

Mr. Peltier, who her uncle had just hired on, stood in the yard holding his hat and mopping his face with what looked like his wadded-up shirt. His coal black hair, bound in a gleaming braid, hung down his back as he leaned the axe against the stump and turned to look at her.

With some effort, she snapped her gaze from his bare chest to his face. It didn’t help. The image of him half naked in the fiery blast of the sun seemed to be burned into her retinas. If he was anything except utterly comfortable in his skin at this moment, he didn’t show it. And why shouldn’t he be? There’s nothing about him to be self-concious about. He looks like a Greek god. I might be struck blind after this.

“Good afternoon, Miss Lewis-Smythe.” His white teeth gleamed in his burnished face, his cheek dimpling as he smiled. “Is that for me?” He put his hat back on and hung his shirt on the handle of the leaning axe.

“What? Oh!” She held the glass out to him, stunned out of her gobsmacked state. If she’d thought he was a beautiful man the first time she’d laid eyes on him back at Fort Bridger, he was nigh unbearable now. For all her misgivings, he’d turned out to be a rather pleasant-natured young man, polite and smart and possessing a quiet humor. Her initial opinion of him, that like most of the other Army personnel at Fort Bridger, he’d be rude and overly familiar with her, could not have been further from the truth. She couldn’t decide if having him here every day would end up being a good thing or a bad thing. “Yes. Here.  It took her a moment to collect her thoughts. “Where’s Mr. Yarl?”

“Thank you.”He took the glass and nodded at her. “Mr.Devereaux told him we didn’t need him today.”

“Oh? Why is that? Fiona’s voice was slightly unsteady as she watched him tilt back his head and drain the glass, the white hairpipe and silver choker he wore and the pale feather in his hair gleaming against his glowing skin.  His face grew serious as his eyes returned to her face. “You don’t like him around the place.”

She raised an eyebrow, a little embarrassed at so bluntly being called out for having uncharitable thoughts. “Why would you say that?”

He shrugged. “It’s true, isn’t it?” He shrugged. “We didn’t like him here, either. I didn’t like how he looked at you." His black eyes were unreadable wells and seemed to search her thoughts. " I don’t trust him.” He mopped his face with his shirt.

“You two sacked the man my uncle hired to chop wood?” She couldn’t honestly claim that this news offended her, but she still found it a little shocking.

He shrugged again, returning the glass to her. “Whatever you want to call it. I told Mr. Devereaux I’d chop wood for you. So he paid Yarl for the time it took him to get here and sent him home.”

Fiona watched him stoop and start loading split firewood into the canvas carrying sling, feeling the back of her neck starting to sweat anew. Unlike many of the rough men out here, Mr. Peltier had the lithe poise of a dancer, easily slinging the load of wood over one sculpted, masculine shoulder. She watched the subtle ripple of strength across his ribs as he straightened up, gripping the canvas strap at his chest with a strong, graceful hand.

Again, she forced her gaze back to his face, and again, doing so failed to help her focus her thoughts. “What...” She cleared her throat. “What about when we run out of firewood?”

“If Mr. Lynch doesn’t dismiss me and Mr. Devereaux for unhiring his hired man..." A self-aware smirk dimpled his brown cheek as his bottomless eyes again met hers. "I’ll still be here tomorrow. Where do you want me to stack this?”

UPDATE: My parent's dog, Lily (again, I swear that's a coincidence) has been reunited with my folks! Going on a phone tip from this morning, my Dad's handyman Patrick spotted her. She is exhausted, smelly, hungry, and soaked, but she's alright and back home with the people who love her! Thank you for all the good thoughts and crossed fingers!


Anonymous said...

I can't tell if he's flirting with her, being a gentleman, or both. Or if this whole shirtless chivalry thing is all part of his master plan to be *just friends*. Made me crack up though.

Hooray to getting your folks' dog back! She looks like she could use a nice long belly rub and some table scraps and everything will be okay.

Regina said...

Thanks. I can't tell you have relieved I am that we finally have her back at my folk's house.

Nah, he's not really flirting with her. He's not a flirty guy. He is a guy who has no feelings of propriety or lack thereof about going shirtless on a hot day while doing hard labor. After all, he grew up in a Absaroka village, where walking around shirtless doesn't even cause anyone to blink. So it's less him trying to catch her attention and more him trying to avoid taking her presence into consideration and thus not changing his behavior for her.

This is a man with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and a stubborn streak, after all. ;-)

Katrie said...

Yay for Lily the dog!! :D

And yay for Mmmmmm... happy pretty thoughts of Storm! ;) Loved the little tale!!

Regina said...

Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it.

Who doesn't like a little fanservice very now and then, eh?