Chad stood, biting his lower lip, outside of the door that had once been the guest room. However, its more common purpose had been his grandmother’s sewing room. He felt guilty as hell about not clearing all that shit out of there before she went to bed last night. It was not just the mammoth table and fancy sewing machine against the window. The chest of drawers was full of fabric. There were dozens of boxes under the bed, in the closet, and around the room.
Fabric had been his grandmother’s one vice. The woman could not go anywhere without checking out the sewing stores. And as much sewing and quilting as the old woman had done, on a working farm and ranch, there was never enough time for hobbies. Though, those last months, before cancer won, it had been about all she could do. She had sewn him, all his cousins, and their children beautiful quilts.
“To remember me by,” she had said. As if he needed scraps of fabric, no matter how sewn together with love, to remind him of the woman, who had instilled values in him more than his mother. Chad still got choked up thinking about it, but sleeping under the red, white, and blue stars and stripes quilt that she had sewn him did just that. Then again, he always felt their presence here.
But that was not what he was doing here this morning. He raised his hand to knock on the door – until he saw the time on his watch. Five a.m. might be standard rising time for him. He had always been an early riser, a morning person. But he was confident that women like her, and their daughter, were not used to such hours. True, he had warned her last night that the day started early around here. And one thing that he wanted to impart to that girl, young woman, his daughter was the value of hard work.
Still, yesterday had been traumatic for them both. Hell, for all of them. It was not every day you discovered that you had a teenage child. He was sure that the past few months must have been hard on them, too. What harm would it do to allow them to sleep in this morning? He would get the horses out into the pasture, do a few chores, then make her a cup of coffee and bring it up. Yeah, that sounded like a better plan. Then they could all discuss things like routines and chores over breakfast.
With the decision made, Chad turned and walked down the stairs. Into a kitchen that had not smelled this good since the doctors found the lump in his grandmother’s breast. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs and stared. She was humming something, though he could not tell what song it was, as she stirred something in a couple of the old cast iron skillets on the stove. Her butt sure looked fine in those Walmax jeans. He felt his body respond, even though he had been vigilant to take care of that before he got out of bed.
He focused his energies and wayward thoughts elsewhere. He inhaled deeply, trying to figure out what was for breakfast. It was not the sweetness of pancakes, and there was no distinct smoky flavor of bacon hanging in the air. He inhaled again as she turned with the old wooden spoon in one hand.
She wore one of those frilly apron things that his grandmother sewed. She had made a passel of those for everyone, too, before she died. Those things had defined the woman for him. Except for church, funerals, and when they went into town, he could not remember the woman ever being without her trademark. If he had his way, they would have buried her in one. As with so much that came in the early days after losing his grandparents, he had not had his way.
But the woman, his woman, sure looked good in one. It seemed right somehow. To see her standing there in his grandmother’s apron with the old woman’s spoon in her hands. It reminded him of his visit to Washington, D.C. Well, specifically, to Arlington National Cemetery. The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier had affected him as few things could. That was the only thing he could compare to this feeling — a changing of the guard at this old place. And something told him that his Grandmother Grace would have liked this woman.
Except maybe, of course, how they had met. And the fact that he had not been there for her or their child when she had needed him. But he had to let that one go. As he had told her last night, they could not change the past. And he was here for them now. When they needed him most.
Cassie, no, Rose, she had to start thinking of herself by that name now, felt incredibly embarrassed. She had tossed and turned all night, unable to do more than doze here and there. When she looked over at the old digital clock next to the bed and saw the bright orange numbers four-three-five, she had given up. He had said, Chad had told her, that the day started early around here.
So, she had gotten up, made the bed, admiring the intricate workmanship in the old quilt, wondering if she would ever be any good at that sewing stuff. Then she had grabbed some jeans, a t-shirt, and underwear from the neat pile which sat on the old cedar chest at the foot of the bed. She had snuck quietly into the bathroom, showered, and dressed.
There was no point in make-up, and to make things simpler, she had combed and braided her hair while it was still wet. She knew her hair would have waves when she undid it, but the braid would keep it out of her way while she made breakfast and did whatever chores Chad needed her help with.
She had tiptoed down the stairs, not wanting to wake the others with creaks and moans that were only natural in an old house like this. She had opened the fridge and began to plan their meals for the day.
But seeing him standing there, saying nothing, worried her. “I’m sorry. Maybe I shouldn’t have…” Rose stumbled over her words. In broad daylight, as she remembered Aunt Rose said, she felt far more insecure than she had the night before.
His words on the front porch had been the reason she could not sleep. She felt the heat rising in her cheeks even now. She dropped her head and stared at the old yellow and green linoleum. Its geometric patterns of squares and rectangles reminded her of the quilt.
She was a stranger here. And she knew that the other Grace, the woman whose kitchen she had invaded, would have been far from pleased with her. It was one thing to know that she had disappointed Aunt Rose. She had struggled with that for almost fifteen years. But the other woman’s presence just seemed to hang over this place.
She reached behind her to untie the apron strings as she felt tears gathering in her eyes. What was she doing here? No matter what the man said, she had no right to be here. In the woman’s kitchen. Wearing one of her aprons, that she was sure had been sewn with the same love and care that went into the quilt she had slept under last night.
But her fingers had ceased to function, transforming the neat bow into a mess of knots. What a prophetic image of her life. She could almost hear the words, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” This time, she was not sure whether that voice was her beloved Aunt Rose or the ghost of the woman that lived here.
Just when she was about her turn and run, she felt his heat, followed by his hands reaching behind her, staying hers as they continued to tug and pull on those strings, only tightening the noose. “No, leave it.”
Rose looked up into those eyes and chastised herself once more. How had she not seen it? Perhaps some people would dismiss it. After all, it had been just the one night. The bar had been dark. The motel room lights dim. But those eyes had burrowed into her soul that night. Just as they were now. She shook her head and opened her mouth.
She got no further as his mouth covered hers. His fingers clasped tighter around her own at the small of her back, drawing her body against his. If there had been any doubts, that kiss blew them to smithereens. The power of that connection, that need, was just as volatile as it had been fifteen years ago. And the thick bulge behind the zipper of his Wranglers left no doubt that he agreed.
By the time that Chad drew back, his forehead resting against hers, those strong, rough hands covering hers in the small of her back were the only thing keeping her on her feet. His voice was husky as he whispered, “Hello, Darlin. Good Morning.” The tenderness of those lips brushing against her forehead was almost as devastating as those other kisses had been.
“Shit,” she cussed as the smell of biscuits pushed its way through the haze of need, passion, and newly awakened memories. She shoved him, and Chad released his hold on her hands, allowing her to turn back towards the stove. She bunched up the corner of the apron and used that to open the door of the oven and remove the pan. She was pleased to see that her little faux pas had not caused them to burn.
“So, what’s for breakfast?” She looked up as she set the pan on the back burner. He had moved away and was rummaging through the cupboards, pulling out plates, cups, and glasses.
“Just biscuits with sausage, gravy, and fried taters,” she turned back to the stove to cheek on the pans there as well. She had lowered the propane on those earlier, only enough to keep them warm. She knew they were all fine, but it gave her an excuse to pull her eyes away from those tight fittin’ jeans. She could not stifle the chuckle as she began to hum the old tune quietly.
“Do I get out things for Cal… for Grace, too? Or do we let her sleep in?” He turned back to her with a smile.
She had been pondering that one herself. Callie had gotten out of the habit of waking early since they had taken her out of school. Even then, her daughter might not have seen this side of six a.m. since she was a baby. But Aunt Rose had always said, “Begin as you intend to continue,” she spoke her thoughts aloud.
“Yeah, I had considered that, too. On the other hand, I don’t relish the thought of trying to wake her at this time of the morning. And maybe, we could use the time to talk about some things without her around?”
She nodded as he passed the plates to her, “I suppose you are right. Maybe just this once. But when she wakes up, we need to talk with her.”
She took two biscuits from the pan and cut them open, placing them on the first plate, before taking it from his hands. She spooned up fried onions and potatoes, then covered it all in the creamy sausage and gravy mixture. “Sorry, I was going to scramble eggs to go with it, but I could not find any.”
Chad chuckled, and the sound skittered along her spine as if he had run those calloused fingers up her bare skin. “That’s because I have not collected them yet.”
She passed him the plate before turning back and loading another one with much smaller portions. “Oh, if you’ll show me how to collect them later, I’ll take over that chore.”
He sat the plate on the table and came back to pour two cups of steaming, dark ambrosia. “Coffee, elixir of the gods,” she placed her plate on the table next to his.
“Milk? Sugar?” he turned towards the fridge.
It struck her then. Just how little they knew of one another. One night. Less than ten hours. Fifteen years ago. That was all they had ever had. Until Gerald pulled this shit, yesterday. Then, why the hell had it all felt so natural?
“Yes, please,” she replied as she watched him grab an old fashioned brown cow cream and sugar set.
He took a glass pitcher of yellowish-white liquid from the fridge and sniffed it, before pouring some into the one with a hole in its nose. “Sorry, it’s from yesterday, but it still seems fresh.”
He blushed, and the red spread to the tips of his ears. Another feature their daughter seemed to have inherited from her father. “I usually do the morning chores before breakfast,” he explained as he took his chair and passed the cows towards her.
“I’m sorry,” she stared at her plate. That awkward feeling was asserting itself again.
His fingers, under her chin, forced her eyes up to his. “Don’t worry. You didn’t know.” He smiled, another mannerism that Grace seemed to get from this man. How had she never noticed how little her daughter had in common with Gerald?
“Besides, homemade biscuits and gravy are way beyond my limited culinary skills. Bacon, eggs, toast, and cereal are about my limits,” he took a bite.
Those eyes actually rolled back in his head, and he moaned. Not quite as loudly or as passionately as the ones that he had that night, but it was reminder enough for her nipples to harden in the soft cotton bra.
“Where did you learn to cook like this?” Chad managed to squeeze the words out as he brought the next bite to his lips.
She was torn between giggles and tears as she brought the first portion to her lips. She used those brief moments to compose herself. They had so much to learn of one another, especially if they were to build that dream that he held forth last night.
She frowned as she remembered that Gerald had never asked such questions. Even in the beginning, when she had been determined to “make the best of things” as Aunt Rose had advised her, he had not really listened to the things she said.
“Growing up, I spent more time in the kitchen with our housekeeper and cook, Aunt Rose, than I did with my mother or especially with Daddy.” It seemed strange, telling these things to this man, the father of her child, as they ate breakfast.
On the one hand, their actions, the way things had just flowed as they worked together to get the food on the table, was like they were an old married couple who had been doing this for years. But these questions, and the fact that she had not known about the fresh eggs or milk, reminded her again how very, very little they did know of one another.
How strange it all felt. But then again, she had never felt that she belonged anywhere. Not in her whole life. She was just an actress playing a bit part in this thing they called life. Ironically, this felt more comfortable, more natural, than any of those other roles had.
“Is that where the name comes from?” He shoveled another heaping forkful between those incredibly sexy lips.
She nodded, forcing her eyes from those lips and looking at the food instead. Even the silence was companionable as they ate. But as he said, there were things they needed to discuss. And those chores and meal schedules seemed an excellent place to begin.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t consult you about meal times or even the things you liked to eat,” she stammered as she brought the last bite to her lips.
“Don’t worry about it. Things were so hectic yesterday. Besides, it’ll probably take a while for us to figure these things out.”
He leaned back and brought the cup to those lips. She had to stop looking at his lips. Her eyes dropped, but the broad expanse of shoulders and chest were even worse. She could also see a few of those crisp chest hairs peaking from the top button of his flannel shirt.
This time it was the tingle between her legs that caused her to shift on the hard wooden chair. Even though she had masturbated when she went to bed last night, maybe she should have this morning in the shower? Being around this man seemed to have ratcheted up what she always considered her healthy sexual libido.
Even if she and Gerald had not had sex in years, she had a decent collection of toys in the nightstand back in Houston. And dozens of romance novels, porn for women, on her old tablet as well. But no book boyfriend had ever measured up to this man.
They definitely had lots of things to figure out. And at the moment, how she was going to survive hours, days, and weeks of this man’s presence without shoving him to the ground and having her wicked way with him was the one that took priority in her mind.
“Penny for them,” he smiled around the rim of the delicate porcelain cup.
She shook her head, and that blush which seemed never far away in his presence flared once more. She practically spluttered coffee across the table as that deep, melodic peel of laughter warmed her nether regions again.
“While you’re humming those old Conway Twitty songs, add this one to your playlist. I’ll come right out and tell ya, I’d just love to lay you down.” He rose from the chair, collected their dirty dishes, and put them in the sink.
Rose was still pondering those words as he ran hot water in the sink and added detergent. She practically jumped out of the chair when she felt those strong hands grasp her shoulders.
Chad leaned over, “But those morning chores need doing.” He bent and kissed the top of her head, “Wake her up whenever you think best. It’ll take me a couple of hours, but when I get back, we can talk about that internet stuff.”
“And darlin’, while your humming those tunes, don’t forget Charlie Pride. It sure was nice kissing my angel, good morning. It might be a while before we get around to the love her like the devil when you get back home part. Just know this old jarhead can’t wait.”
Rose watched him turn and head outside without saying a word. She did not trust herself to say anything. Maybe she should get another shower before she woke up Grace? A cold one.