“Come on then, Slick.” I head in the direction of cabin number five. The walk is cleared but there’s quite a bit of snow to cover before we hit pavement. I’d have taken her hand in mine, but she might’ve slapped me and in the cold, that sort of blow can sting like a mothereffer. As we walk side by side, I keep an eye out for Slick, who is struggling a bit with the long coat. After watching her wobble a third time, I sweep her into my arms.
“I can walk,” she declares, batting her hands against the steel cage of my arms.
“Yeah, I know. You can talk, shower, and eat by yourself, too, but someday I’m going to kiss you until you’re breathless, eat you out while the water rains down on your head, and feed you from my own hand so you might as well get used to me doing things for you now. Besides, I think Blue and Lucy were getting worried they were going to have to drag you out by your collar if you fell down.” The two dogs hop excitedly through the snow beside us.
The small pats turn to punches from her newly formed fists. “You are delusional!” she shouts. “Even if I wasn’t here for my sister, I wouldn’t climb into bed with a man who has clearly lost it.”
I set her down on the front stoop. “If you say so.” I open the door to cabin five and step aside. Cabin five is minimalist with heated cement floors, black custom cabinetry and a bank of windows that make you feel like you’re living outside. A cast iron stove hangs from the ceiling in the middle of the room to provide additional heat.
“This isn’t going to be my sister’s place. She’d hate it here,” Slick announces, but I notice that she seems interested. She trails her hands over the marble counter before checking out the fireplace. “You never told me what you do for a living or what this place is.”
“I don’t do anything but live here at the retreat.” At least, that’s what Cyn says. I do the books, invest my money, help build the cabins, fix any maintenance issues, and make sure the boogie man stays away from the gate.
She swings away from the fireplace and pins a narrow-eyed gaze on me. “How do you afford this? Is it drugs?”
“Not drugs. My old man had a lot of money and when he died, it came to me.” The old man meant to change his will but was too busy beating on my mom and sticking his dick into every passing vagina that he never got around to it. Medical reports say he died of a heart attack but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of his bedmates got tired of him and slipped something into his drink. “And this place”—I hold out my arms—“is for women and girls who need a place to stay while their shit gets sorted. My mom needed one of these but didn’t have it so she passed away from one fist to the gut too many.” The doc who treated her told me she didn’t have to die, that the injuries weren’t internal but her heart gave out anyway. I understood. I didn’t want to stay living around my old man either.
“Are you saying that my sister’s stalker…” She trails off, not wanting to finish the sentence, not wanting to be in a situation where someone she cares about was being abused and she didn’t know.
“I’m not saying anything like that.” The two sisters are going to have to talk this issue out on their own. “But your sister needed a refuge and cabin number two was empty.”
Slick doesn’t look convinced. In fact, she looks downright miserable. It’s time for hot cocoa, some peppermint schnapps, and a fire, I decide. “The dogs are cold,” I lie. “I need to get them inside. Ready to go back to the house?”
Slick nods. The lure of the animals is too much for her to deny, even though she’s feeling glum. I pick her up again and this time her protests are feeble. She’s preoccupied with the information about her sister. If the dogs and the booze and the fire don’t distract her, I guess I’ll have to use something else.
“Isn’tthis the best croissant you’ve ever eaten?” Cyn says as she pushes another plateful toward me on the coffee table. She covers them in a warm honey butter that is like heaven when it hits my tongue. I’m sitting in the living room on the floor surrounded by the dogs with a fire blazing away. I am warm and full. I can understand why a woman would want to come here. It feels safe and accepting. Almost as though you’re home. My mind is still whirling with everything King told me about this place and it gives me a better understanding of why my sister would want to be here.
“Why are you being so nice to me now?” I lick my fingers. “What are you after? I’m better when people shoot it straight with me.” I grab another warm croissant as I pet Winter’s head. She’s quickly becoming my favorite. I’m pretty sure at one time she was the runt of her litter. She’s smaller than the other dogs and seems a bit clingier.
“As much as King and I tend to bicker I don’t think I’d like the idea of him not living close to me. We’re cousins but it often feels more like we’re brother and sister.” I already have an idea of where she’s going with this. “He traveled a lot when he was in the Army. He’s back here now and it would hurt if he left again.” I can understand that. It’s the same way that I feel about Danny.
“So you should get it. I want my sister to come back home.”
“I do. But I think you’re forgetting that your sister is the one that wanted to come here. She needs a place to lay low and well—" Cyn lets out a long sigh— “we kinda need her too. Your sister is a doctor. A top notch one at that. Ours is getting older. She wants to retire. We don’t just need one but the town could use one too.”
“I need to talk to her,” I admit. There is so much more happening here than I know. This isn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be. To top it off, King isn’t helping me keep my head on straight. With every promise, or better yet, demand, he makes to me, I soften a little more toward him. He both frustrates and excites me at the same time.
“I think we might need you, too.”
“I’m just a vet tech.” I rub Snowflake’s head. She rolls over, showing me her belly. I give it a little rub.
“I’m talking about King.”
I peek over at her. “What about him?” I try and play it cool. He left me in the living room to do some work. Told me that my sister would be here soon.
“I don’t know. You did something to him. He’s acting all weird.” She reaches over and grabs my hand. “Don’t take him with you. We need him here, too. He keeps everyone safe.”
I can see the worry in her eyes. Our conversation from a little while ago makes a little more sense now. She’s afraid of losing him so I need to reassure her that I’m only here for one reason and it’s not King.
“I only came for my sister.” Something funny settles in my stomach as the words leave my mouth. I put the half-eaten croissant back on the plate, suddenly losing my appetite. Why does talking about leaving here upset me? I think King is doing something to me, too. I oddly enjoy all of his manhandling ways and straightforward comments. Sure, I pretend they irritate me but it makes me feel girly. Sexy even. For once, I’m not just one of the boys. He sees me in a different light and I’m eating it up. Not only that, he is making all these plans as though we are some done deal. Plans that are all too enticing, but they should send me running for the hills.
“That might be why you came to begin with but things tend to change rather quickly. Kind of like the weather around here. One minute it’s calm and then the next thing you know, it’s a full-blown blizzard.” I keep quiet because I know she’s right. King already has me feeling unsettled. “Especially when it comes to matters of the heart.”
“You and Jake? Is that a matter of the heart?” Every time his name comes up her eyes light up but then she hides it.