Rosewood Short – Part 5
Jeremy Carver had managed to secure a slot among Jess’s very slim ranks of favorite people. She didn’t have to force smiles or put on airs for him. Jade Haley’s very best friend could read people as well as he read horses; he elevated her inn’s great room to something worthy of a Regency gentleman’s library, the leather upholstery, bookshelves, even the fire on the grate, accessorizing his enviable gorgeousness. Tonight, he was in jeans and a deep brown sweater that brought out the ochre tones in his eyes, his hair soft and gleaming, long fingers curled around a brandy glass.
“Hot,” he said with a little frown. “Muggy. Too many mosquitoes.” His nostrils crinkled. “I always hated the beach.”
Jess hid a smile in her mug of decaf. “Even the hot cabana boys?”
“Especially them,” he said with an eye roll. “God, I’m so sick of man candy.”
“Remy’s going down in history as the first human alive to be sick of man candy,” Jade said with a laugh. She was ensconced in a leather armchair, feet propped on the matching stool, looking too pregnant and ready to pop any minute.
“Well good for you,” Jess told him, sending him a salute through the air with her mug. “So let me amend that: How’s the big shot trainer thing going?”
That teased a small smile from him. “It’s a study in learning I don’t have a clue what I’m doing – ”
Jade made a sound of protest.
“ – but it’s great. Rosie’s doing so well; I’m so proud of her,” he said of his horse.
“Winter show season is getting ready to start,” Jade said, “and I told him he didn’t have to come up here.”
“And let you give birth with only your mother and Ben there? No. No way.” They smiled and shared a look that Jess knew she’d swapped with her sister hundreds of times. A sibling look. Jeremy had been there for Jade during all the heartbreaking ups and downs of her relationship with Ben; he was maybe too protective, something that had prompted his migration to the upper tier of showing. He’d gone all the way to Florida to give them some space, to allow their marriage a chance to work. And Jess knew that no matter how many afternoons she spent chatting with her sister-in-law over tea, Jade was always going to want and need her best friend.
“I better go check on the girls,” Jess said, uncurling her legs and getting to her feet. She wanted to leave the two of them alone all of a sudden; let them have a chance to catch up.
“Do I need to – ” Jade started and Jess waved her off.
“You can return the favor when I’m your size,” Jess assured, laying a hand on her mostly-flat stomach. She was starting to show, but hadn’t reached Jade’s level of huge.
Jade made a face.
The girls were Maddie, and Jade and Ben’s six-year-old, Clara. Tyler was still at school, so it was a tea party and dress up kind of afternoon. They were in front of the TV, absorbed in something pink and princessy, Clara talking a mile a minute to her younger cousin. Jess peeked in on them and then kept moving, going to the kitchen and the backdoor. Through the inset glass panes, she could see that the door to one of the outbuildings – the shop – was open, and in the shadows within, she could just make out Chris moving around beneath the bare bulb overhead. She took her jacket down off its peg by the door and slipped outside.
It was a gray afternoon, clouds stacked high, the wind pressing low along the ground, leaves tumbling. She smelled wood smoke from a fire further down the road: someone burning leaves. The sound of laughter drifted over from the play set; Jo was pushing Avery on a swing. Willa was in kindergarten and big enough to swing all by herself. Both girls had heads of glossy black hair, like their father, gleaming blue in the dull sunlight, flying as their swings arced through the air. Jess spared her sister and nieces a wave and kept going.
The sharp smell of wood shavings enfolded her when she stepped into the shop. She loved that smell. When she’d lived in Buckhead – what felt like a lifetime ago – when she’d been married to someone else, there’d been no shop, only a garage, and it had always reeked of…nothing. There’d been no man smells. No spilled gasoline, no motor oil, no summer sweat and cut grass and earth. They’d had a lawn care service. And the cars had been so new they never leaked a drop of anything. Dylan had been a gentleman, not a man’s man. He’d been a cheating son of a bitch too.
But the shop…it smelled the way a man’s place was supposed to. Wood, dust, paint, varnish, oil, all of it full of the promise of hard work. It smelled like dedication. She loved it.
She’d bought a dresser at a yard sale a few weeks before, and Chris was mobile enough now to work on it. Half the drawers were missing, so he was building a whole set of new ones for it, and would stain the entire thing a dark cherry.
He was working on one of the drawers now, sanding the edges, and Jess perched on a step stool and watched him work.
“Did Jade go home?” he asked without looking up.
“She’s still in the great room with Jeremy.”
He flicked her a fast glance that asked why she’d come all the way out here when she had company.
“I thought you might be lonely,” she said.
As he moved around his work table, she noticed he wasn’t limping. “We live in a hotel,” he said with a wry half-smile. “How could anybody be lonely?”
She didn’t allow the comment to sting. Instead, she said, “I wasn’t talking about that kind of lonely.”
His hands stilled, head lifting. His expression was caught somewhere between doubtful and amused. “Are you coming onto me?” he asked with a little eyebrow jump.
She wrinkled her nose. “Yeah. I don’t got the moves though, huh?”
He grinned and her heart somersaulted. She felt young and stupid all of a sudden – in a good way. She hadn’t known if was possible to still get giddy over her own husband…at least, she hadn’t known it with Dylan. Chris had helped her realize all sorts of pleasantly surprising things about herself.
“Sweetheart,” he said, “when you look like you do, you don’t need any moves.”
Her stomach tightened with a happy flutter. “You don’t think?”
“I think you know exactly how to get what you want.”
Heat moved through her, tingling beneath her skin. She wondered, as their eyes clicked together like magnets, if his mind was rushing back to three years ago and that first blue-washed night in her kitchen. The heady taste of excitement. The way his rough hands moved over her skin with such gentleness. She’d had no moves that night, only longing. And he’d understood perfectly.
Jess got to her feet. “How’s your leg?”
“You’re sure – ”
She went to the door, and behind her, heard the muffled tread of his boots moving across the hard packed dirt floor. Yes, she thought, pulse leaping. She slid the door closed and dropped the pin in the latch, securing it…
Just as Chris reached her and turned her around. He braced his forearms on the door on either side of her head, leaning in close. He smelled like the outdoors, fall air, shavings, sweat.
Jess caught his face in her hands, the hard line of his jaw framed by her thin fingers. There was a sudden stinging in her eyes, a catch in her breath. Swirling amid the fervent heat inside her, there was a pang of guilt. “I know these have been a tough eight weeks,” she whispered. “But I love you so much.”
He kissed her, not in the hungry way she’d expected, but gently. A slow, sweet kiss. Her hands went to his neck, her fingers spearing up through his hair. He touched her throat, traced along her collar bone. On the other side of the door, she heard a soft brush of sound. A rustling. It grew louder. It was rain, a steady autumn tide of rain.