I’d inherited a house I had never seen, in a land I had never been to, from a relative I had never met. It was fortunate, plus or minus the un was still to be seen.
The house stood solitary, proud and ram shackled, near the edge of the sheer, steep cliffs. No it didn’t look foreboding; however it didn’t look welcoming either. This was to be my new home?
Oh my god, what had I gotten into? There was so much that needed done and I was so not the person to do it. Just from looking at the outside of this ‘opportunity’ as my mom called it, the roof needed tarred, shutters re-hung, porch re-railed and the swing fixed.
I was dreading looking at the inside. It just seemed too much to deal with at the moment and while my nest egg was large, it wasn’t infinite. My luggage was due tomorrow so at least I didn’t have to worry about unpacking today.
I sat down in the tall grass by the sprawling oak tree in the front yard, trying organize all the things I needed to do or even where I needed to start. Frustrated with my inability to form a plan I flopped back in the grass with a sigh, closing my eyes to the warm sun. I must have nodded off because the next thing I knew I was being gently shaken awake.
“Hey kiddo , wake up..” a soft smoky voice whispered thick with an Irish brogue. With a voice like that I must be dreaming a dream I didn’t want to wake up from.
Another gentle shake. There’s no shaking in dreams.
My eyes slowly fluttered open. I looked up, and up. A tall, willowy young woman stood practically over me, concern in her dark blue eyes as she looked down at me.
“Are you alright?” She was quite striking in an unusual way, add that to her accent and slightly elf-shaped ears and I was stunned, a fairy ..wait, no fairies weren’t that tall.
I blushed and laughed, embarrassed to be caught unaware, “Yes,” I stuttered, grinned sheepishly “Sorry I must have dozed off.” taking her offered hand, I stood.
“Thanks.” I said. I came to right under her chin and had to look up to meet her gaze and abruptly forgot I was holding her hand because at that moment, she smiled an open and friendly smile.
My stomach dropped to my feet and I think I lost something else. I panicked took a step back and dropped my sight from her eyes. I couldn’t help being overtly shy, it was always this way happening without warning. The name ‘Ice Maiden” was made for people like me.
“Well anyhow, I ..I’d better get inside.” I stammered out fidgeting nervously with the bottom of my little t-shirt and made tracks to the house without even indicating a goodbye. My mother would have killed me for my lack of manors at that moment.
“Inside?” she queried in a gentle tone, ” Ahh, so your Ma’s the new owner of McGowan’s Tower?” humor rich in her voice, “Since you’re a wee bit young to be out here by yourself, she’s inside then?”
Out of nowhere a flash of indignation took me and I pivoted on my heels, forgetting my shyness and met her with my fiery green eyes. “It’s my house, not my mothers. And I’m plenty old enough to go grab a smoke or a beer if I wanted to!” I growled.
I was immediately contrite. It wasn’t her fault I had a pet peeve about people assuming I was younger then I was. “Sorry I didn’t mean to go all psycho on you.” I mumbled, hung my head rubbing at the tension in the back of my neck. “Must be jet lag or too much fresh air.”
I grinned sheepishly, hoping she wasn’t mad at me for my rudeness I dared a glance up at her face. Wearing a bemused smile that brought the dimple in her left cheek out, she didn’t look mad or anything at all but totally cute.
“Ach and I thought we Irish red heads had a temper.” she teased strait faced, laughter in her voice. She flipped her long, thick red braid back over her shoulder. “Well, I’ll be accepting your apology over that Guinness you were just talking about grabbing. Tarres is a fine pub down the road in the middle of town. Serves the best brew and of course has the best service, considering my family runs it.”
She wasn’t flirting just being friendly, my head knew the difference but my heart didn’t care and gave another little flutter. I don’t date. Ever. I started to panic again. I didn’t know if I liked the feeling she seemed to make me feel or not, it was uncomfortable to say the least.
She must of pickup on my nervousness because she moved closer and said in a soft voice, one that seemed to draw me, no matter that I want to run and hide.
“By the by, my name is Caitlin.” her dark blue eyes held mine; friendly, kind and open. My will seemed to slip a bit.
“Come on, I promise you a very cold draft and you can ask any questions you might have about here. Since you said you’re making this your home, you should get to know about the town and at least a few people.” she teased gently. “Just for an hour or so then I’ll let you escape.” she grinned, impishly.
I decided to just push down whatever weird feelings this tall elf had invoked in me and just look at her like a friend. It helped with my tongue-numbing shyness. Ok, I got it under control. Control.
“Alix,” I coughed, “Alixilura is my name but most call me just Alix.” I shrugged, “Mom though I should have a heroines name so I could grow up brave and strong.”
I chuckled and shook my head at the irony. Instead she had gotten a little girl who had occasionally jumped at her own shadow, then a young woman who had a bad case of shyness.
Straitening my slim shoulders, I smiled at Caitlin, but said sternly “One hour that’s all. I have to get back here and get started on.. stuff.” I waved vaguely toward the house.
She laughed and held her hands up in mock surrender. “Ok, ok. I promise not to keep you up past your bed time.”
“It’s only noon!” I laughed, “You’re not getting that one past me! One hour.” I said sternly as I picked up my back pack to follow Caitlin into town.
She grinned teasingly back at me and I smiled back, feeling more at ease. I’d made a good decision. I was going to stick to it, even if it killed me. This attraction thing would go away if I ignored it and I truly believed Caitlin would be a great friend if I didn’t mess it up. I had already begun to like her quick wit and easy humor.
As we walked thru the center of the town Caitlin pointed out numerous things and told me the names of the people who ran, worked in, or owned said things. It was going to take a long time for me to remember even a minute amount of what she said. But her face was animated as she talked about the town and I could see she loved it here so I listened avidly. We came upon a tall charming structure that had a intricate sign of polished oak swinging from the stoop claiming:
~Tarres : Now you’re one of the family~
“Wow,” I said, admiration in my voice, ” I wish I could carve half that well!”
In thrall by the exterior, I was eager to see the inside. I was not disappointed. As lovely as the outside was, it was tame compared to the outstanding perfection of the inside. The atmosphere was warm, friendly, and had a crisp sense of being clean and cheery. People were enjoying themselves and it created a feeling of welcome. This was the type of place I enjoyed being in when I did go out. The place was so crowded no one noticed our arrival.
“This place is beautiful!” awe tinged my voice as I looked around. A pleased smile curved Caitlin’s mouth, flashing that sexy dimple again.
“Those two, one dancing around like a lunatic and one behind the bar drawing drafts flirting with everyone, are my sisters, Eloisa and Allyson, my brothers Douglas and Brendan. Eloisa and Douglas are twins.” she pointed out the young man waiting tables and the other cooking behind the bar, yelling at Eloisa and Douglas.
Her whole family was beautiful. It was just unfair to horde so much good looks in one gene pool. Still, I though, Caitlin was much more captivating then the lot of them, because but none of them could take my attention off Caitlin.
My lips began to twitch trying not to smile. It was just too much to be a coincidence. I had to find out. “Are you perhaps the third born?” A giggle escaped me.
She gaped at me in mock affront, “Who told you!” I was grinning then, laughing up to her. “Well our mom had to be able to tell which of us where who. Gran had eight daughters and seven sons.” she laughed. “Imagine the confusion there!” she quipped with a grin, “Let’s see if we can sneak past the guard dogs. If I can, I willna have to work this afternoon here at the pub.”
We slipped quickly and quietly in to the booth in the alcove. I could see everyone, but no one could see us. That in its self comforted me. It had its own mini bar and Caitlin made us two Guinness in frozen mugs. As she promised the stuff was prime, strong and true Guinness. I had drunk about half my mug when Caitlin finished hers and looked to the bar to get another; I slipped mine over to her and snatched her empty mug.
“Golly you’re a slow drinker, Caitlin.” I laughed. She looked back up and saw me grinning, the empty mug in front of me.
She smirked, “Most yanks can’t drink the stuff as well as you seem to be able too. Maybe I should get you something stronger?” she teased.
“Yes please, do you guys have ice tea?” I bantered back, feeling cocky now that I knew she didn’t mind my teasing.
She arched her brow, and laughed, “Ohh getting a wee bit smug are we now?”
Before I could reply, my stomach growled loud enough to be heard over the din of the crowed. I blushed.
“Sorry, ” I mumbled.
She laughed “Well I guess in order to get you feed I’ll have to be seen.” She started out of our hiding spot, I grabbed her arm. I didn’t’ feel like sharing her just yet.
“Wait, I can go grab us some food. What’s good here?” I asked.
“Well I’d never admit it, but my brother is a pretty good chef. And his potato soups my favorite.” she smiled. Returning the smile, I walked off to claim our food
I went up to the bar and asked for two potato soups and one ice tea.
“Well, your new around here, Are you passing through with the tour group?” Caitlin’s sister greeted in a cheery voice and a quick smile, as she placed my order on a bar trey.
Allyson was very beautiful, but not in a Caitlin way. Long blond hair and dark blue eyes gave her a fragile look, but in no way stirred me like Caitlin did.
I smiled; “Don’t know yet.” snatched up the trey, and went back to Caitlin.
“Mmm, smells good.” I slid the trey between us and snagged my ice tea and took a slow gulp. My stomach growled again as the yummy smell of the food hit me. Its heavy rich flavor made sure I’d remember where the best potato soup could be found in Ireland. Bliss.
“I think I’m in love with your brother if he can cook this good all the time.” I joked, “Does he do laundry and dishes also?”
Caitlin snorted, her cute little nose wrinkling up. “I can cook just as well, but I prefer not to tie myself only to the kitchen. I make better use of my time.” she said smugly.
We ate and discussed more of the towns people and laughed over a few childhood tales. The basic getting to know you stuff. The more she talked, the more I liked her and the more relaxed I felt.
She was confident, funny, intelligent and quite sweet natured. She liked building things and ran a fix-it shop here in town. She loved her family, was overprotective of her siblings, and by the way she was trying to hook me up with one of her brothers, strait.
I talked about my single childhood, growing up in a rural area with only my mom, my hermit life as a writer after graduating college in three years. Then my new house and how I’d received the letter that left it to me. I glanced down at my watch.
“Oh my gosh, it’s already four!” I exclaimed, mock scowling “I’m so blaming this on you” shaking my finger at her.
Grinning impishly she claimed, “Not my fault! We’ll blame it on the drinks.” she laughed, and then sighed, “Well, I better get back to work too. We need to do this again soon.”
I smiled, “Yeah, it was definitely fun. Thanks for making me come. I usually avoid socializing but with you its not so bad.” I teased.
We both sat there for a few minutes in relaxed silence.
I laughed, “Ok lazy bones, we better get going or we’ll never get anything done.”
“You first,” she grinned.
I sighed, “It’s a darn shame I’m so comfy. It makes leaving that much harder.” I stood. Laughing I grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet. “But you’re coming with me!”
We started out the alcove and had almost made it to the door when a woman caught sight of us, “Caitlin Mary Tarres!” Guiltily I released her hand. Caitlin gave me a sheepish grin and turned to the woman.
“Where have you been all day?!”
“Oh, Mom I didn’t expect you and Dad back for a few days. How was Dublin?” She asked sweetly, her wide eyes so innocent I could see the halo floating above her red hair.
Her brothers and sisters swooped down on us at that moment also. “Aye, Caitlin” Brandon, her chef brother greeted, “Old man O’Malley was expecting you this morning and you never showed up! He called here worried and Ma just happened picked up the phone.” he explained.
“Yeah.” said the twins, crossing their arms, grinning at Caitlin’s discomfort.
Allyson was the first to look at me. She didn’t glance or go back to the conversation. She seemed to be taking my measure. Caitlin noticed the look, jumped at the chance to distract her mother’s scolding and promptly introducing me. O how I hate manners sometimes.
“This is Alix, she owns McGowan’s Tower now. The place looks like it will need a lot of repairing but it’s a sturdy a building as there ever was. It’s going to be a rare pleasure working on it.”
At her presentation, all six pair of gorgeous dark blue eyes focused on me. I shifted, uncomfortable with the scrutiny and began to inch toward the door that hung my freedom so close.
“Hi,” I waved weakly, feet shuffling.
Mrs. Tarres smiled warmly at me and held out her hand, “Ah dear, we knew your uncle well. So sad to have him passing away like that. He was a bit of a character, barked at times but it was much more than his bite. How long will you be in town?” she asked, slowly a slightly unholy flame lit her eyes, “Are you staying? Are you seeing any one special or are you single?” she fired off before I could get my balance. Both of Caitlin’s brothers paled, I almost laughed aloud. Yeah right. I looked to Caitlin to save me.
“Ma!” Caitlin exclaimed, “Leave the poor lass alone. We have to be heading out; we have loads of work to do!” She put her arm around me and moved to step out in to the afternoon. Her mom turned her arsenal towards Caitlin.
“Ah my Cait, that handsome young Donner is back in town. He’s had an eye on you since you were in pigtails. His da’ says he’s looking to stay.” Mrs. Tarres, beamed at her third born, clearly expecting her third born to express delight.
I couldn’t resist, my eyes caught Caitlin and I began to smile. ‘Pigtails’ I mouthed, grinning.
“Yes she was just telling me how hansom that young Donner is.” I said cheerfully, smiling sweetly at Mrs. Tarres. “And what a fine kisser he is.” While her mother’s eyes lit up with intent, Caitlin’s eyes gleamed vengeance. I laughed out loud. She hadn’t actually said even a word about Donner, but the excuse ‘the devil made me do it’ as a prime example in this case. “Well it was nice meeting you all, I have to be on my way so I can get settled in before night fall.”
Flashing a grin at Caitlin, I ducked out of the Tavern and walked away as quickly as I could, chuckling on the long way back up the hill towards the house.
I wasn’t expecting any more company for a while and was surprised by the bellow, “Alixilura!”
I spun around and saw her. I knew I was dead woman the second I saw Caitlin charging up the hill, murder in her flaming blue eyes. “You just wait till I get my hands on you, ya brat! Me Ma’s never going to let me alone now!”
I, of course having a sense of self preservation, ran for all I was worth. Laughing was slowing me down and her long shapely legs were eating up the ground between us, but, I thought as I put on a blitz of speed, I had run track so the chase was on.
We reached the porch of the ‘Tower”, before I realized I had the key in my back pack.
“Time out! Time out!” I cried as we leaped onto the porch, I collapsed against the door laughing hard and we both were panting hard. She stalked closer to me menacingly, or rather as menacing as someone trying not to grin could be. She leaned in and trapped me against the door with both her hands just above my shoulders.
My heart started slamming against my chest, not because of the run. I gulped. Breathing became difficult, she didn’t wear any perfume and her body heat was bringing the intoxicating scent of her skin to me. I was trying hard to suppress the sensations I felt, but just her scent was making me pulse down low. She didn’t seem to notice my distraction thank goodness.
“I canna believe you told my Ma that!” she growled, in thick brogue, so close her nose almost touching mine, “Now all I’ll hear is Caitlin you should marry! Caitlin when’s the young Donner to came a callin’! Ohh how your gonna’ pay once I get me breath back!” she was growling at me. I felt my stomach do that fluttery thing again and my spine tingle deliciously.
“I’d offer you a seat to catch your breath but as you can see the option is limited to the grass.” my voice barely steady as I indicated to the broken porch swing. I smiled sweetly. “Thank you for the run, I’d forgotten how much I like to run. In fact,” I said, “I think I’ll start up running again to get back in shape. Is there a good track around these parts?” I asked seriously.
She looked down at me with disbelief in her eyes, “You think you’re out of shape? I dunna even want to know what shape you think I’m in!” she chuckled dryly.
I couldn’t stop the slow blush that crept up my cheeks, and having a pale complexion blushes stood out. ‘Don’t think about her shape, don’t think about her shape’, I chanted in my head. I licked my lips, “Y..your shapes fine!” I stammered out, embarrassment immediately consuming me.
She threw her head back and laughed, “Oh my, I dinna mean to sound so threatening!” Misinterpreting my stammer, she stepped back allowing me vital space to breathe and recover from my slip. Another narrow escape.
Struggling to get my breath back to normal, I dug into my back pack for the little key to the large house behind me, I was still jittery from so close a slip on my part. My nerves on end and oversensitive, I could feel her breath across the back on my neck, making my knees shake. Thankfully she stepped back a bit further looking up at the house.
“Old McGowan kept the Tower in pretty good repair.” Caitlin mused, smiling broadly, admiring the big house with obvious affection. At my glance of disbelief she laughed and wrinkled her cute little nose.
“Inside, I mean. He figured that vandals would not come in to steal anything if it looked like the house couldn’t possible hold anything of value. It has a first rate alarm system, I myself put in there. All the water closets have the best modern pluming and accessories available. It has four large bedrooms on the second floor and a master bedroom. The master bedroom has a bathing room either of my sisters would easily kill for. The first floor consists of the dining room, a sitting room, a sunroom, a library and the kitchen.” she stopped her rapturous praise long enough to take a small breath. I stifled a giggle. She was just too cute when she was talking about something so mundane.
“The kitchen has all the latest and greatest that makes Brendan green with envy. I did the labor but old McGowan brought an expert in to color chord the house before I started the remodeling. I’m not so good with that.” grinning like an abashed little imp. She curled a fiery lock behind her ear that escaped her braid.
Her intense blue eyes sparkling with avid interest, open and friendly. I day dreamed a second, thinking what I would do if I ever had that intense interest focused on me. I shivered.
“Oh?” It seemed my vocabulary had taken a turn for the worse. In disgust at my failed attempt at speech, I scuffed the door lock slightly with the key.
She leaned close and I glanced up at her again. Oh man, she was so close. I fought the urge to lean up and lick that perfect cupid bow curve of her lip, perhaps some nibbling but definitely licking. ‘No! Darn it, distract yourself quick!’ I silently scolded myself. I attempt to get the key in the hole, my hand jostling the door knob like it might help without the key actually in the hole. Focus darn it!
I fumbled the key finally into the lock. Surely she was not doing this intentionally. She flashed that sexy dimple again, I trembled. When the door came open, I tripped into the house and immediately slipped.
Right as I was sure I was going be eating some of the hi-polished wooded floor for an after lunch snack, Caitlin lunged to my rescue. She picked me up against her and wrapped me safely in her arms. I was stunned, both in speech and movement. My nipples tightened immediately at the press of her warm body.
“Alix, should be more careful lass!” she scolded, giving me a fierce scowl and a quick hug. Oh, dear. I lowered my eyes trying hard to think of something less.. her. Like the swell of her breasts behind the shirt she was wearing. No think, think! What was wrong with me? I knew I needed to keep it cool but all she has to do was breath and I was ready to pounce on the poor girl.
At my silence, her scowl turned into a grin and she laughing about her outburst, thinking she was teasing me out of my shyness. “Sorry about that. I guess I overreacted.” she laughed, trying to put me at ease. As she lowered me to the ground, all I wanted to do was rub back up against her and start purring.
Then I felt the sharp pain racing up my right leg! I almost collapsed back into the floor before I thought to snatch it back up. “Ow ow ow.” lifting my leg like a crane, and hopping around in a tight circle.
“Sweetie, are ye ok?” I heard the concern in her voice, but I was too busy trying not to act like a baby, my ankle was on fire. I stopped hopping and started breathing in thru my nose slowly to calm down. I peaked at her thru the narrow slits of my eyes.
“Yes. ” I squeaked, pain lodged my voice in my throat. My eyes started to water and I bit my lip to keep from whimpering as I set my foot gingerly back the ground.
As an accident prone person I could tell it wasn’t broken, just twisted a bit but the knowledge did nothing to ease the fire. I gave Caitlin a shaky grin. “See all better.” My lips tightened before the sting dulled.
I pressed my heal more firmly to ground, pain exploded as my foot bit off my head for trying pull such a stupid stunt. Stupid foot! Caitlin wrapped her arm around my waist for support and all but scooped me up, leading me into the posh living room. Placing me down on the couch, she dragged a foot stool over and picked my heel up, placing it gently in her lap, her hands were calming as she removed my shoe.
Hmm maybe my foot wasn’t so stupid after all. It was just plotting against me with the rest of my body; Mutinous limbs.
“Maybe I should call the Doc?” she said, worry evident in her voice. Looking at the swelling of my ankle her eyes darkened with concern.
“No, it’s ok.. Really! It’s just a little sprain. I should be back in tip top condition in no time, tomorrow at the latest.” I gave her a shaky grin to enforce the total non believability of my words. She arched that darn eyebrow at me showing she was not taken in by my too obvious fib.
I sighed, “Ok so it’s going to take more than one day but seriously its only sprained. It happens to me a lot” I confessed, abashed. ” I just happen to be a bit jinxed in the graceful department.”
Caitlin snorted, “Not that I’ve noticed, sweetie.” she looked conflicted for a moment, and then she smiled charmingly. The smile that seemed to set butterflies alight in my stomach. “But really I can’t leave you here by yourself in this condition and since I know for a fact that you don’t have any current relatives in this part of the world I’ll have to call home and tell them I’ll be helping you out for a few days. I planned on working on the outside of the house already, so I’d be around any way.”
“Hu?” I asked articulately.
She grinned that impish little grin of hers, teasingly thick brogue. “I have to call Ma and let her know I’ll be up staying here with you for the night and, well, see for sure if ya’ll need the Doc tomorrow. Ya’ll need someone to show you around anyhow.”
Then, before I could possibly object, she moved out to the hall where I assumed a phone was located.
Caitlin. Here Tonight. Oh My God! Nooooooo!, wailed my self control like a perturbed three year old. The other part of my mind was laughing diabolically. I was soo doomed, and I knew it.
After viciously telling the little imps in my head to be quiet or, or something… very not good would happen, I found I could almost form a coherent thought. I needed a plan.
Plan? My mind traveled off to a deliciously wicked plan, my body quick to follow. Bad Alix! Reigning myself in, I desperately searched for any “how not to jump her bones” type of plan I could come up with. Ok so I wasn’t too good at thinking up that kind of proposal.
I sighed, there was no way any plan I thought up could outsmart my rebellious body. It had been displaying its dictatorship over me since I tripped over air, landed smack down, tray in face, in middle of the cafeteria when I hit the gangly age of thirteen.
Forlorn at the thought that maybe my ‘as of yet not thought’ plan was doomed to failure, all I could hope was that I wasn’t damned to ruin this, whatever this happened to be.
The pain in my ankle had dulled down now and my attention was pulled to the low velvet thrum of her voice as she told her Ma the situation. I smiled. I could listen to her forever, the unintentional melody of her voice.
As I lay sprawled in a graceless heap on the couch, I set to right my limbs a bit and started looking around the room.
It was like looking at very fine piece of art that I truly appreciated and understood. The scheme was utter splendor in rich green and vibrant gold, a deep soft forest feel to it. I could almost smell the damp leaves of heavy pine and imagine the soft green grass holding me. Not to be overshadowed by the hues, the woodwork paneling and book cases were carved exquisite and delicate and feminine.
I held a special appreciation for Caitlin, having displayed such great skill. It was obviously poured most her heart into this master piece of a room. I was looking forward to the secrets the rest of the house held, and the things Caitlin would reveal about herself through each room.
She entered the room with a frown on her face, blue eyes unfocused in though, gnawing on that delicious lower lip of hers.
Unfair, I almost pouted. I wanted to nibble, looking up her long legs and sexy stride. Yes, I defiantly wanted to nibble a bit. She flipped a strand of amber gold hair behind her ear and her blue eyes came to focus on my face, my now blushing face.
She gave me a reassuring smile as she sat down next to me. “I’m needed at the Tavern, that dunderhead brother of mine busted a pipe in the kitchen and its chaos down there. Ma’ say she can spare Allyson for the night till I can come back, to watch over ya.” she frowned, solemn.
“Look you don’t have to do that. I can take care of myself.” I said defensively. My temper was starting to show again. “I don’t need any one to look after me. Call her back.” I could feel my chin tilt in that stubborn way I have. I wasn’t about to become someone else’s problem. I could manage.
Caitlin caught the mutinous look in my face and grinned, leaning in close. “Ach, I wasna grumbling’ at you. I was thinking’ what I’m gonna’ do to Brendan when I get down there.”
That sexy smile was curling those oh so tempting lips again. My anger evaporated, its energy diverted to controlling my insistent urge to grab, tug her down on me and kiss her like there was no tomorrow. I took a deep breath through my nostrils to calm down, and ended up with her scent filling me again. I panted once. Ok, twice.
“Such a feisty little one,” she tipped my chip up and leaned in, my lips started to throb. She laid a kiss on my forehead. “No worries, Allyson volunteered for the job. Tween the two of us you’ll be right as rain. I’m going to go make sure your room is ready. Assuming you want the master one, I’ll have to make a few adjustments to it.”
Oblivious to the mass melt down she had just caused, she stood and walked right out of the room again her footsteps accenting the thudding of my heart in my ears as she climbed the stairs. I lay on the couch trying to remember how to breathe again.
After I had calmed my heart down to a slow gallop, the door bell rang. I heard Caitlin tread down the stairs to greet the person, murmuring in low tones. Allyson’s smiling face came in view of the door way.
“Ah, a captive audience. Just the way I like ’em.” she mocked, grinning. “Hmm how many ways are there to torture someone who can’t escape?”
Caitlin laughed and gave her a little playful shove, “You be nice now, I dunna want you scaring the little one away.”
My lips twitched at this. I’d never had a sister and their goofing around seemed fun; it felt good to be included.
Flashing a evil grin at her “little” sister, Allyson arched an eyebrow, “I think I can be relatively… entertaining.” Wiggling her eyebrows at me in a mock leering fashion, I laughed at her antics. Caitlin frowned for a split second, then laughed also. Her azure eyes light with mirth, soft mouth curled.
My heart leaped at the idea that, in that split second, she might have been jealous, but then the reality of the situation set in. I’d only know Caitlin about 6 hours now. It shouldn’t matter that every time I saw her, heard her, smelled her; my mind went soft, my hands ached to touch her or my heart spazzed in my chest. But it did and all I could hope was that she felt something, even a pale comparison to the wildness in my heart.
“Well I better get a move on, Ma will be on the war path if I don’t get down there before they need a boat. Besides I owe Brendan a smack upside the head, I ken.” Caitlin shuffled to the doorway, looking back she added, “If me sister here gets out of hand or ya need something just call down ta the tavern.” Smiling she waved to me and left.
The oxygen in the room seemed to come back letting me breath normally, and I could see Allyson moving to sit at one of the lounge chairs.
Steepling her fingers, she leaned forward and looked me in the face with open curiosity. ” Soo.. What’s going on with you and my lil sis?”
I articulate sputtered, ” W..what?”
She grinned, “You and Caitlin, spill. How long have you two know each other? What’s your relationship, and none of that ‘just Friends’ blarney. I could have been electrocuted by the air in here alone. Never figured her for the type, but I just figured she was a late bloomer and hadn’t met the right fellow yet.” A cunning smile played on her lips, as if she had everything figured out and nothing I could say would possibly change her mind.
Did I mention I stuttered? Taking a deep breath, ” Just today, just friends, and what are you talking about?” Finding my tongue was always a relief, no matter how shy-locked, I was always relived at its ability to defend me.
She looked a bit surprised, “Really? Only today?.. Hmm that bears contemplating. I hadn’t seen you before the tavern, but then again you could have been a recluse who kept her locked up here in the tower for your nefarious purposes or something.” she grinned, “I knew Caitlin was acting particular today. She’s a ‘by my word’ person that’s why we were worried when the old man called that she had yet to show. Normally she uses her patent ‘don’t approach me” attitude with most people but she took to you right off, put you right under her wing.” She narrowed her eyes at me, awaiting my response.
“She seems like a remarkable woman, she was very kind to me today.” I said shyly. That was soo pale compared to what I actually felt, but I couldn’t very well tell her sister I had the hots for Caitlin now could I, that before today I figured I was an asexual anomaly.
She smiled kindly at me, the cunning look receding now that I had answered a few questions and was not an obvious threat to her sister. “As far as I know she’s only dated a few times in high school and in the last two years hasn’t had any a boyfriend… or girlfriends for that matter.” She calmly waited to observe my reaction to that. I tried to not let my eyes light up or my pulse to speed, but by her smug smile I could tell I hadn’t succeeded.
She laughed, “I could tell you liked her. You seem like a nice person, though a bit quite. I don’t think Caitlin is aware of any of her feelings at the moment. She thinks she’s just found a good friend. So my advice is not to rush anything, let her get to know you. She may seem like a tough person but she’s a softy.” she conceded.
I asked questions about her family and ancestry, curious to know anything I could about Caitlin and not shy about asking. “And if you ever tell her we were talking of her, you’ll pay dearly cause she’ll kill us both.” she grinned ingenuously at me and I knew she was telling me things that she wouldn’t normally tell a stranger. I felt my lips curl up in response, before laughter over took me.
“Yeah but I can outrun her,” I giggled.
“How do you know?” she queried with a tilted grin.
“Well… after I sicked you mom on her she came looking for a bit of revenge.” We sputtered with laughter till our sides ached.
“You’ll do Alix.” she said wiping a tear from under her laughing eyes. “Let me go heat up the food Ma sent with me. We’ll eat dinner.”
Leaning back I thought on all she had said about Caitlin. I couldn’t imagine such a beautiful, engaging woman wasn’t already claimed, and because of that I felt elated.
Allyson came back in almost unnoticed, “Better wipe that smirk off your face or I’ll think you thinking un-pure thoughts about my baby sister, which in that case I can’t hang out with you anymore.” she fake scowled at me.
“Clean completely clean!” I proclaimed my innocents. And I was thinking clean thoughts about Caitlin, ..In the shower.. I grinned. Allyson threw a throw pillow at my head. I laughed “Okay, okay.”
My stomach growled, “Oh wow what’s that smell?” I quarried, mouth watering. Smelled like spicy and rich something I hadn’t had.
“Just a stew my brother makes, brought some bread for a trencher.” She escaped into the kitchen and set the trey holding our meal on the little table between us.
Unthinkingly, I swiftly pivoted my legs to the floor, jarring my now swollen ankle. Eyes wide, I sucked air between my teeth to post-phone the curses I wanted to shout. Allyson immediately stood to come to my side. I waved her back “Fine, I’m ok” I said, through clenched teeth and teary eyes.
She ignored my flailing hand and knelt next to me taking possession of my ankle.
Examining it closely, turning and prodding my foot this way and that till I was literally growling at her. Seriously she looked up at me, squeezing my hand in reassurance. “Not broken, thank goodness. Your right, the swelling should go down in a few hours. Just try to keep from bumping or jarring it too much, kiddo.” Her face concerned. ” You need the ice pack?” Pain swallowed my voice so I just nodded. She leaned over me to grab the Ziploc bag holding the ice.
“Am I interrupting something?” Caitlin’s voice said, her lithe frame leaning too casually against the doorway, arms folded, eyes slightly narrowed. My eyes leaped to Caitlin, pulse fluttering at just at the sound of her voice.
A wicked smile that only I could see crossed Allyson’s face, “Why, nothing at all, lil sis.” She reached up slowly to flip a stray strand of hair behind my ear, looking into my slightly stunned face. “Alex, here, just moved too fast for her own good.” She purred.She leaned over and brushed a chaste kiss on my cheek, stood and moved over to the other couch to lounge.
I saw Caitlin frown heavily at her sibling as I floundered for a reasonable rebuttal. The sting in my leg had dulled down at Caitlin’s presence as my senses were diverted elsewhere. Caitlin had recently showered, I could tell by the way her red hair curled and wet arrange down her back in a deeper red. Wet.. shower.. Caitlin. I sucked in my breath and attempted to divert myself. She had obviously changed from her dirty work clothing into a clean pair of blue jeans and a loose sleeved shirt. Much to my dismay both accented her attractive, willowy body.
Caitlin stopped frowning at Allyson and arched one of her perfect eyebrows at me in mock anger, “Moving were ya? Allyson, get the duct tape, we canna have her flitting about on us now can we, especially with an injury? Might prolong treatment.” she smirk impishly at me, I felt light headed at the sight of that endearing dimple again.
The words “duct tape” flittered into my Caitlin hazed mind. I had trouble swallowing.
I watched as she moved over to the couch were I was sitting and took the cushion right next to mine. I could feel her body heat curling out, linking her to me, fresh from her shower. Her unique scent teasing the air around me till all I could focus on was the nearness of Caitlin. I repressed every compulsion I had to get on her lap and start kissing that soft curved mouth of hers. I was practically trembling. I was defiantly panting.
Allyson was unable to contain her laugh in glee, obvious amusement on her face. Her eye darting between the two of us. I didn’t mind her smirking too much, I was counting on her presence to keep me from doing something unwise. Insanely erotically pleasurable mayhap, but unwise. I hoped that reason would be good enough to get my rebellious body back into submission, or at least regain a minor amount of conscious thought. I could still feel Caitlin’s warmth so very close.
“Now n.. no need for desperate measures as of yet. I still have to eat to keep my strength up.” I said softly, mock fearfully. Forcing back thoughts of what exactly I could use that strength for, I reached an unsteady hand out to scoop up the bowl of soup on the coffee table. I figured that to be a good diverter of energy, besides, my stomach rumbled at hunger at that moment lending credibility to my action.
“Geeze Allyson, have ye been starving the sweet lass as well as tormenting the poor girl?” Caitlin asked, a parody of seriousness in her voice. Her teasing eyes her sister and including me once again in their game of sisterly bickering. Allyson firmly pressed her lips together in silence, pretending to be peeved at Caitlin. Caitlin focused on me to tell the tale of what the evening had held.
“No she’s been really talkative. Enlighteningly entertaining in fact.” I smirked. Allyson moved to grab a pillow from the couch and narrowed her eyes in threat.
Caitlin’s azure eyes flashed between the two of us, mobile expressions on her face varying from humor to curiosity to a few I had no hope of reading at the moment.
“Mostly we talked about sports and politics.” I stated clearly.
Allyson choked and Caitlin’s eyes zoomed in on her. I obviously overlooked the fact that I hadn’t heard her speak on either issue and both knew those were things she’d never talk about.
“Actually I wasn’t paying attention so I don’t know what she was babbling away about. She just acted so sweet I couldn’t tell her to hush up.” Grinning at Allyson, I shrugged helplessly and looked back at Caitlin.
The feather pillow landed right in my face causing me to sputter with laughter and promptly drop my soup in my lap, which, of course, soaked the pants I was wearing.
Allyson sat on the couch in stunned horror, her face twisted between shock and laughter she was suppressing. Caitlin immediate jumped up and dashed out of the room. Obviously laughter won out over shock, for Allyson was laughing so hard she almost fell off the couch.
Mourning the loss of potentially fine cuisine, the only thing I was grateful for in this mishap was the fact that I had waited long enough to eat, the soup was cool. Mortified by the way these accidental situations always seem to hone in on me, I lost my voice so I just glared at the floor feeling the cold soup soak into my favorite pair of jeans and into uncomfortable places on my person.
Caitlin came back in the room carrying a few towels, her sweet face furrowed in contrite concern as she methodically wiped up most the errant soup from the cushions. Noticing her sister in fits of giggles, she spoke to Allyson harshly in a language I couldn’t even begin to understand.
Allyson just laughed harder if that was possible, her face turning red for lack of air. Caitlin growled angrily and opened her mouth to say something else, but was waylaid by my placing my hand over her mouth.
Finding my voice, “It wasn’t her fault, these things just happen to me. A lot.” I blushed shyly, removing my hand from over those tempting lips. “Natural Klutz.”
“It wadna yer fault,” she said softly, her brogue thick rolling through me with an intensity of some emotion, glaring at her sister who was sucking in gulps of air trying to calm down. “She shounda been rough housing while yer in ill health, lil one.” Reaching for a clean towel, she tenderly pressed it into my lap where most the soup had soaked in.
Oh. My. Goodness! Desire leaped back to the full of raging, I sucked in my breath, jack knifing strait up. My blood drained from my face, strait down to bring my attention in full force to an area I was trying to ignore.
“Did I bump you leg?” Caitlin’s vivid blue eyes held only concern, no knowledge that she where she was pressing the towel was totally inappropriate.
I could tell she was only trying to help but that small fact did nothing to tamper my unfortunately strong reaction to her doing something so very close to what I had mused about earlier in the day.
Mutely, I shook my head and closed my eyes. I reached to take the towel from her, fighting every impulse I had that was screaming at me to lay back and let her do what I wanted her to do. My eyes sprang open. Goodness, how could I feel like this with her sister sitting less than four feet away from us?
I looked over at Allyson who was watching us with avid interest now that she had gotten her giggles under control, her mouth now curled in a cunning smirk.
Blushing profusely, I took the towel from Caitlin. “Thank you but my jeans have soaked up most of the soup, there’s no help for it. I must c.. change.” I stuttered softly.
I pushed up from the couch balancing on my good foot. I wasn’t about to set my twisted ankle down again, no matter how much it was telling me that it didn’t hurt at the moment. The liar.
“Is there something around here I might be able to use as a crutch? I need to go to the restroom anyhow. Didn’t I see some umbrellas behind the front door? I hope the water is good I think I need a bath anyhow. “I could tell I was rambling but I couldn’t seem to stop. “I should be fine the rest of the night, so you two can head back to your home.” Looking at Caitlin, I waited patiently for her to concede.
She snorted, wrinkling up that oh so cute nose of hers. I noticed the light dust of freckles on her pale skin for the first time. Her blue eyes changed from anger and concern till they were brimmed with amusement. “If you think I’m letting you stay up here alone your off your rocker girlie.” Caitlin stated, her generous lips twitching in repressed amusement at my obvious attempt at stubbornness. “You need me to watch over ya till yer all healed up and can run around by yourself.”
“I’m staying.” Allyson chimed in as she chuckled. “Sorry about the laughing, I laugh when in nervous. An well you looked so calm when the soup tipped over, like you do it every day and it was only a mild inconvenience, it just set me off. So please donna be mad at me.” Her expression open with contrite, and a hint of devilment.
I grunted at the pair, knowing I was beaten before I could start to argue. Caitlin was obviously concerned and Allyson was not there as a chaperone. I could tell she was around in case there was more amusement to be had. Neither would leave at this rate.
“Fine you two,’ I conceded, with an sigh, holding my hands up in surrender. “May I at least change into something a little less.., well, wet? No actually, it’s been a very long day with the flight over and all. I’d really like to take a shower. Which direction is the bathroom?” The surrendering wasn’t really well done of me but I didn’t know what else to do, plus I was getting cranky for lack of sleep and embarrassment wasn’t helping.
I glanced at Caitlyn, who looked back at me with concern and determination. Allyson, on the other hand, was just looking amused.
Caitlyn reached out to take my arm, “Here I’ll show you were it is.” she said softly. “You’ll need some help.” she said with a slight smile that made my knees wobble again.
Help with what? I thought vaguely. As her hand wrapped around my arm, my pulse skyrocketed.
I almost whimpered.
‘This could get interesting, very interesting indeed,’ the wicked side of my mind laughed gleefully.
“Why doesn’t Allyson help me to the shower?” I sputtered in desperation, wanting to remove any temptation that might be my undoing. I looked from Caitlyn over to my chaperone, a obvious plea in my eyes.
“No, I’m going to hunt you up some food, I’m sure Caitlyn can help you with any needs you might have.” Allyson smirked as she headed off to the kitchen, whistling a damn jaunty tune.
Oh, I was going to have to get her for that one. Not like I wasn’t having enough trouble keeping my hands and other extremities to myself without her encouragement.
Caitlyn cleared her throat, causing me to glance up as a look of uncertainty passed her face. She spoke softly to me, “I don’t mean to be so bossy, lil’ one. I can be a little strong headed at times..” she trailed off. “If ya’ don’t really want my help, I… I understand.” she said tentatively, her eyes slightly avoiding mine.
All the fight left me. She has misinterpreted what I meant with my desperate plea, her feelings had been hurt in the process. I felt like a heel.
I caught her hand in mine and bumped her with my shoulder a little playfully. With a dramatic sigh I said, “Well, if you reeaally want to help.” Her blue eye tipped up to mine. Relief flooded me as she grinned when she saw my smile.
“This is the shortest way to the master bath,” she smiled impishly reaching for a candle handle besides the fire place. As she pulled it down the book shelf to the right opened, revealing a passage way behind the case.
Caitlyn’s laughter spilled out when my jaw dropped in astonishment.
“Like it? It’s one of my favorite projects around this house.” She smiled with pride, “all the different places to go that no one knows about. Since you’re the owner now, you’ll need to know about all of these at one time or another. Discover all their secrets.” She smiled shyly.
I smiled wide in delight, “I thought they only made these for Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew.”
“Well then, Nancy, let’s get you to your bath.” She chuckled, tugging gently on my hand, letting me use it as a unsupported crutch. As I followed her closely down the narrow corridor, her slim calloused hand in mine, the walls reflected the lights from the floor in a soft glow.
Every breath held her while it enthralled me.
I made sure not to look at the gentle sway of her hips, knowing that my hands would surely want to follow. I mostly focused on trying to keep my breath shallow so I wouldn’t inhale her tempting scent. I had to reinforce steel into my will to maintain a calm temperament.
Her red hair seemed to shimmer a little as she walked, refracting a red gold that was mesmerizing in itself, her ear tips seemed to peek out of the glorious mass; the hypnotic effect strongly reminding me of an elf once again. That and my nibbling plan. With that combination it was hard to keep from enabling the “accidentally trip, fall on Caitlyn, and kiss/grope her” plan that my mind kept playing over and over. My body thrummed at the nearness of her, which did not help me enforce restraint.
‘It is a good plan,’ my impulses wheedled to my logic.
“You ok back there? Your awfully quiet …” Caitlyn asked, curiosity in her voice. Her eyes peeked over her shoulder at me, glowing vibrant blue in the odd light of the narrow hall.
My heart stutter in my chest Which made it harder to remember the basics of how to talk. I was sure she could feel the violent trembling in my hand, hear the loud thrumming in my veins.
I cleared my throat, “Erm, yes, just thinking…” I gave her a tentative, half smile.
She grinned back, eyes lit with kindness, “All that thinking must mean you must be getting better. That or you’re up to mischief.” she said in mock leeriness.
Her gentle teasing released the unknown tension that had been gripping my heart, which incidentally also loosened my tongue and mind from its former captivity.
I gave her a mock innocent look, “Who me? Why I never…” I didn’t think my indignation would hold ground and sure enough she started laughing.
“Aye, sure. You’d never get in to mischief, eh? I just bet you were in a lot of trouble when you were a wee lass” she smirked, her eyes laughing at me. “What did you say your ma’s number was again? I think I need to call her to tell her you’re ok? Mayhap wheedle a bit of information about you… Since you have my sister as access to my misdeeds as a wee lass, ’tis only fair.”
I eyed her with narrowed suspicion as we continued to walk down the narrow corridor, “I, distinctly, don’t remember giving you any numbers, much less that of my mother’s, to begin with you wretch,” I stated primly, laughter choked my voice as I tried to maintain a serious face, “You’ll have to do better than that to get such top secret information from me.”
A truly wicked grin appeared on Caitlyn’s face, causing my heart to falter. “Is that so? Did my sibling also tell ya I happen to be well known as the Torturer of the Tarres family?” She smiled evilly, that sexy dimple of hers deepened as her smile widened. “I can get information about anything from any one. I have my ways.”
She reached out and pressed a hand to the wall, which swung out to reveal the bathroom. Caitlin tugged me in. Glancing around the master bathroom I was defiantly impressed. The marble tile imprinted with jaded script adorned the walls matching the large sunk in tub that was churning with jetted water and the three headed, benched shower. The entire room was open, it remained me of an ancient Greek bath house. Well, minus the masses.
“You don’t scare me Caitlin, Allyson already told me what a softy you are.” I chuckled at her cuteness.
Turning to look me dead in the eye, she widened her stance and leaned in closer to me, as if to intimidate me. Her voice lowered to a husky growl. “So Alixilura, what’s it going to be? We can do this the easy way or the hard way? It’s up to you. Either way I’ll still get what I want.”
I froze. My eyes widened, going slightly unfocused. The mental picture of Caitlin in tight black leather standing in that domineering pose burned itself in my mind as her voice made my body tighten and tremble faster than the sound of a cracking whip. I could feel myself being pulled closer by her fiery blue eyes.
Allyson busted out laughing breaking the intenseness that had nearly made me faint. “You’re so easy, Alix! Caitlin ya say I was messing with her? What do you call that little act?” I started, leaned to the left. Allyson sat on a wall bench behind Caitlin, a few towels to her right, that mischievous grin plastered across her face. “What? I always wanted to try this room out!” she exclaimed.
I had to roll my eyes at that. “What the heck makes you think I’ll be bathing with you?” I asked amused.
She pouted, playfully hurt. “So you’ll bathe with Caitlin but not with me?” She gave a sultry smile and a lusty wink. “Besides you don’t think I’d pass up the chance to see you naked did ya?”
I turned three shades of red on that comment then paled in embarrassment, locking up my voice.
Caitlin took one look at my face and blocked Allyson’s view of me, glaring at her older sister. “That was uncalled for Ally.” She hissed harshly, fists clenched.
Allyson’s eyes widened at the stance. She had probably never seen her sister this angry, especially at her. She held up her hands, palms out. She leaned to the right to catch my eye so I was forced to tip my eyes up to her. “Sorry, honey. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I forgot you’re not quite use to us yet. Forgive me?” she made a cute little helpless face that forced a laugh out of my choked up throat.