I grabbed my jacket off the back of the kitchen chair. Zipping it up, I opened the front door and took a face full of blowing snow. “Holy snow balls in hell!”
Kyler’s footsteps had barely made a dent in the drift of snow covering the steps leading off the porch. Unwilling to fall again, I held onto the banister as I carefully shuffled through the packed snow. Not once did my boots sink through and hit the wooden steps. Jesus. This was some heavy snow.
In the fading light and through the whirling snow, I could see the downed pine tree to my left and the snapped electric lines whipping in the wind. There was a slight path in the snow, where it had to have been disrupted by Kyler.
I followed it around the house, wading more than walking. My hands were shoved deep in my pockets, but I already felt the cold biting into them. I couldn’t feel my nose or my cheeks as I rounded the side of the house.
He was crouched beside a pile of snow, a shovel clenched tightly in his hands as he stared at the backup generator.
“Kyler?” The wind carried my voice to him.
His head snapped in my direction and he rose quickly. “Syd? What in the hell are you doing out here? I told you—”
“I know.” I waddled closer to him, teeth chattering. “But you shouldn’t be out here by yourself.” I pulled out my hand, tugging my wet and now icy hair back from my face. “I can keep watch.”
“Jesus, you’re going to catch pneumonia!” Red splotches colored his cheeks.
“That’s n-not true. You can’t get a cold from a w-wet head.” Sniffling, I turned my attention to the generator, my eyes narrowing against the stinging wind. “Is it o-out of gas?”
He stared at me a moment, expression stormy as he turned back to the generator. “No. There’s gas in it, but someone cut the fucking lines going into the house.”
My mind rebelled against what he had said, but I saw a long disruption in the snow, leading away from the generator to the surrounding woods—a trail that looked to have been made by skis. “No. No w-way.”
Kyler moved through the drifting snow with more ease than me and reached behind the generator, pulling out sliced wires. “Completely cut.”
I stared at those wires, heart sinking. Fear slushed its way through my system. “This isn’t g-good.”
“No.” He dropped the wires and turned to me. “We need to get back inside. Now.”
I wasn’t going to argue with that or when he dropped his arm around my bent shoulders, tucking me close as he herded me back inside. I had no idea how he wasn’t cold or how his fingers weren’t numb. Maybe it had to do with the time spent skiing and snowboarding.
Maybe I was just a wussy when it came to the cold.
Kyler quickly unzipped my jacket and slid it off my shoulders. “You really shouldn’t have come outside, Syd. I told you I’d be okay.”
“But someone cut the wires. They could’ve still been outside.” Shivering, I let him pull me into the living room. “You could’ve been attacked or…or been covered in snow.”
He tugged me down to the thick carpet in front of the fireplace. I cringed back from the warmth; it was almost too much against my ice-cube skin. “I can handle myself,” he said, crouching down beside me. “It’s you out there that worries me.”
“It shouldn’t.” I fixed my gaze on the bright orange and red flames.
“Why wouldn’t it?” He ran a hand through my wet hair, brushing off the snowflakes. My eyes closed when he made another sweep and I wanted to push into the touch, like a cat seeking more petting. “When I heard you say my name outside, my freaking heart practically stopped.”
“Dramatic,” I murmured. His hands lingered in my hair, and in those moments I forgot about the mess that had become us.
“It’s true. The idea of you being out there with some fucking asshole running around scares the shit out of me.”
“Do you think we’re safe here?”
He didn’t answer immediately. “It’s going to get cold. We’re going to have sleep down here, but there’s enough wood in the back of the garage to last us. I know that’s not what you meant, but I don’t think anyone can get it in, and besides, if they do, they aren’t getting out.” I opened my eyes. Kyler nodded toward the wall near the fireplace. Several rifles were on display. “They actually work?”
He nodded as he rose and unhooked one of the rifles. He propped it against the wall. “It’s also loaded. No safety. So don’t play with it.”
“Wasn’t planning on it,” I said, my gaze moving to where the curtains parted above the window. Night would be here soon, a very cold night, but he was right. That wasn’t my big concern.
“I’m not going to let anything happen to you,” he said, his fingers moving over my cheek. “I promise that.”
My chest swelled. “I know, it’s just the idea of someone doing these things on purpose is really…”
“Scary?” he said, dropping his hand. “I know how to use a rifle. Like I said, if someone walks in here, they won’t be walking back out.”
I shuddered at that, but I was also relieved to know we weren’t completely unprotected.
“It’s probably just some jerk messing with us. Nothing to really worry about,” he stood again, running his palm along his jaw. “I should probably try to get this room sealed off before we lose what little light we have.”
Pushing to my feet, I ignored his frown. “I’m going to help.”
“Don’t argue with me. I can help. What do we need to do? Gather some blankets? Make a bed fort?”
He cracked a grin. “Come on then.”
We used a sheet from upstairs to tack against the door leading to the sunroom, since some cold air was getting around the blue tarp. Then we gathered up all the blankets and, along with a set of sleeping bags and a king-sized mattress dragged down from upstairs, we created one hell of a bed near the fireplace.
A makeshift bed that we’d have to share—a makeshift bed with a shotgun tucked nearby.
As we put everything together, the tension between us would evaporate, and then return with a vengeance every time our hands or bodies brushed. When I looked at him, I would find him watching me, but he always looked away quickly. I didn’t know what to make of that. We joked and made idle conversation to fill the silence. He avoided talking about anything that could be led back to what had happened between us or what could be happening outside. By the time we had dinner (cold cuts again), I was wired tight and tense.
I hit the liquor cabinet like someone coming out of forced rehab. Pulling out the bottle of Jack, I poured myself a shot and downed it. The liquid burned like a hot coal, causing me to cough.
“Are you drinking again?” Kyler asked, setting his guitar case down in the living room.
I sat the shot glass down and refilled it. “Yeah.”
He reached around me, taking the bottle from me before I could pour another. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
I scowled at him. “I think it’s a perfect idea.”
“How about we stay away from the hard liquor tonight?” He bent and pulled two beers out of the tiny bar fridge. He popped them open. “And drink this?”
“I hate the taste of beer,” I said, taking it.
He smiled as he went back to the guitar case and put the bottle down on the end table. “And I hate seeing you drunk.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. “Why?”
His shoulders rolled in a lazy shrug. “It’s just not you, and don’t take offense to that. I like that you’re not like that. You’re not a party girl, and that’s okay.”
My mouth opened, but nothing came out. He liked that I wasn’t a party girl? But every girl he dated—and the word “dated” was used loosely—was a total party girl. My brain started to obsessively break down his words. What could he mean by that? It didn’t make sense.
I was already annoyed with myself within a minute of him saying that.
Holding the bottle to my chest, I watched him pull out the guitar. Several candles had been lit throughout the room, casting soft shadows as soon as night had fallen. Pushing the air-dried hair back from my face, I averted my gaze when his eyes found mine, his fingers messing with the tuning pegs. I went over to our bed and sat, wishing I’d had the forethought to bring along some good old-fashioned paperbacks.
But a few moments later Kyler started to play the guitar, and I wasn’t thinking about books anymore. Twisting toward him, I was lulled into fixated silence. This wasn’t a song I recognized, possibly something unique and original.
His long fingers slipped over the chords with a skilled ease I was envious of. The way he played was captivating, the lifting tune enthralling. As he played, a lock of brown hair fell over his forehead and those thick, impossibly long lashes fanned the tips of his cheekbones.
When he stopped, he lifted his chin and his eyes met mine. My throat felt too thick to speak, but I couldn’t look away. So much stretched out before us in the silence—words better left unsaid and truths that should’ve never been spoken.
Kyler put the guitar aside and reached over, picking up the bottle he had placed beside him. Only then did he look away, as he took a drink. Taking a deep breath, I let it out slowly. I wasn’t sleepy. Actually, the exact opposite, but I wished I were. I sipped the beer, hoping it would knock me out. And that was the strangest damn thing. As much as I wanted to just go to sleep to avoid saying or doing something stupid, I didn’t want to miss any time with him.
And then he spoke. “I shouldn’t have given in.”
The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. I didn’t regret it, though, because it needed to be said. I shouldn’t have done what I did in the sunroom, treating her no better than some random chick getting a quickie against the wall.
Syd was better than that and she deserved more. And even though quick hookups were all I’d ever been capable of, I would’ve given her more if she had wanted that.
I would’ve given her everything if she had asked.
It would probably never be enough, and I knew I couldn’t undo everything I had done in my past. I couldn’t go back and change the fact that I’d been with all those girls, that Syd had seen me take home one girl after another, but damn, if she had asked, I would’ve told her that my feelings for her ran deep.
But I couldn’t change any of that and now Syd looked at me in the same way every single one of those girls in my classes and the ones I met at the bars did. She expected what they expected—a night of sex and nothing else. And I felt like a total shitbag for that.
Syd coughed on her beer and blinked rapidly. “Excuse me?”
I ran a hand through my hair. “Earlier in the sunroom—I shouldn’t have given in to what you were asking for.”
Her hands balled into tiny fists, and I had enough experience to be thankful she wasn’t still holding onto the beer bottle, because there was a good chance she would’ve thrown it at my head. “I was trying to avoid talking about this, since you made yourself painfully clear earlier.”