I stepped off the train, nerves twisting in my stomach as I looked for a cab. I juggled the duffel on my shoulder and swiped at the sticky heat dampening my forehead. It’d been a few years since I’d been to Gran’s house, summer jobs and studies taking up most of my time these days, but when she’d fallen sick, I knew I had to see her.
I’d dropped everything and cleared my schedule, determined to be there for her all summer. Her frail voice had insisted that she was fine, she didn’t need any help, but I’d refused to hear otherwise. I’d missed her desperately, and I’d let life run away from me, forgetting what was really important. It was time I slowed down, appreciate the old home where I’d spent my childhood summers, and soak up all the love Gran had to give.
A yellow cab sped up to the curb, the driver getting out of the cab and coming around for my bags. I rattled off the address of the old estate before sliding into the back seat, the driver packing my bags in the trunk before getting behind the wheel.
“We’ll be there in approximately twelve minutes, ma’am.”
I shot him a smile. My whole body was drained, and my mind was exhausted, but still excitement coursed through me as all the joyful memories of childhood started to emerge.
My Gran, the greatest woman I know, ninety-two years young and so full of life. Going to her house has always been one of my most favorite summer traditions, but now the idea of going there made me sick with grief and sadness. I was going to my grandmother’s house to say goodbye before the cancer made her too frail and weak. I knew I shouldn’t be so sad⎯she had a full life of utter joy⎯ βυτ at one point, old age can’t be kept at bay any longer. My grandmother was my best friend. She was a sassy sweet soul, and I wanted to spend all the time possible with her before she was gone.
I glanced down at my lap, where I held a box of pastries purchased at a small Parisian bakery we both loved. My lips formed a smile as the memories of those Sundays, of spending hours in the kitchen secretly eating all these delicious baked confections, flooded my mind. The various flavors and types of pastry were to blame for the extra twenty pounds around my middle.
The car rolled to a stop, and the cab driver got out, opening my door for me. I stepped out onto the stone driveway and peered up at the beautiful brick building that housed so many of my favorite childhood memories. Large, creamy pillars decorated either side of the two-story entry, a wide wraparound porch inviting visitors to stay and have a cup of coffee while overlooking the beautiful, impeccably manicured landscape. The view was breathtaking. It was like looking at a priceless piece by Monet. It was captivating and breathtaking.
“Scarlet!” The excited call from Darla blared from the vast front door. Darla was in her late forties with flawless skin and a soft frame. Her smile was as bright as the sun on a hot summer day, and equally inviting. I ran to her and hugged her fiercely. I had always loved her and her vibrant personality. I had missed her almost as much as I missed Nana.
“Oh, my pretty girl, I have missed you so much. I see you brought some baked goodies. I’ve been watching my figure, but you know how I never could resist those sweets. I swear since working for your gran I’ve gained fifty pounds. She is going to be so happy to see you, darling. I think you are exactly what she needs to lift her spirit.” Darla twisted a lock of my hair between her fingers. “You always had the most beautiful red curls. My sweet girl, how was your trip?”
“I’ve missed you, too, Darla. I may have brought some of those apple turnovers you love so much,” I whispered conspiratorially.
“This is going to be such a fantastic summer. Oh, and wait till you see the new looker that works for your gran. If only I was a few years younger.” She chuckled, and her deep laugh bounced merrily off the walls. When Darla laughed, the world took notice. Like Santa Claus at the mall with a young child on his lap, her laugh was pure joy.
I found it a little sad that Gran hadn’t greeted me upon my arrival. That she wasn’t here hugging and kissing me meant only one thing: her illness had gotten worse and now she couldn’t physically afford to disobey her doctor. At least I had Darla to make me feel a little more at home. “How is she, Darla?” My voice was laced with sadness and worry.
“She has good days and bad ones. But she is still just as feisty and fiery.” Darla smiled and winked at me as her eyes twinkled with mischief. Even though Darla was making light of the situation, I knew it was only for my benefit. It was a ruse to keep my spirits up.
After putting away my clothes and washing up in the bathroom after the long train ride, I wandered into the large bedroom that was still a shrine to my childhood, Gran had everything from my childhood out for display. I smiled that everything had remained as I left if the only thing that changed was my single bed was now upgraded to an opulent king sized version. I smiled, looking at all the trinkets from my childhood. Gran sure was teetering on borderline hoarder. I smiled cherishing all the love and devotion my Gran felt toward me, my whole life she had been my biggest champion and supporter.
By afternoon, I was disappointed that I had yet to see Gran, but Darla had told me that she slept a lot now due to the medication the doctors had given her. I decided to take a walk around the grounds to dispel me from my dark thoughts and look at the new beautiful landscaping. Whoever the new landscaper was, he had a very detailed eye. Everything was beautiful and perfectly arranged.
I felt a pang of guilt that I hadn’t seen all this in the past years. My friends, school, and Summer activities became more important at times, and my family took a backseat. You only realize the mistakes you are making when it’s too late. I trailed my fingertips over the perfectly manicured hedge. I turned the corner and ran right into what seemed to be a wall but was in fact a giant, burly man. I stumbled, my arms thrusting out, and was about to fall flat on my behind when suddenly, two strong, rock-solid arms surrounded me. They wrapped around my waist, and stunning green eyes pierced right through me before his lips parted and he breathed, “Are you okay? ” His deep voice pounded through my ears, the sprinkling of an accent registering, and I remembered Darla’s comments about the French landscaper. My heart thundered as I lay speechless in his arms, swallowing the utter shock and surprise I felt. His emerald dark gaze held mine for another long beat, his touch on my body the only thing I could feel. I trembled with the new sensations pulsing through me.
“Wow, your arms are huge…” I breathed and instantly wanted to go back in time a few minutes to erase the stupid words that had raced out of my mouth.
I was unable to say anything else, my eyes still trained on his.
His beautiful mouth curled into a crooked grin before his grip tightened around my waist and he hauled me against his body. “But they sure came in handy, didn’t they?”
His words fell upon deaf ears. All I could think and feel was his body, this giant, stunning man holding me against him. His grip tightened again at that moment, almost taking my breath away. His presence was overwhelming, his broad shoulders and chiseled biceps stretching the thin fabric of his white T-shirt.
I’d never seen a man like this before. He was broad and formidable, and I felt remarkably small wrapped up in his arms. I peered up at his face, which was just as stunning as his stature. A dark, well-kept beard and nearly jet black hair had me aching to feel the strands beneath my fingers.
“I’m Beau Loup,” he whispered as a small smile curved his lips. His words danced around the air between us, my mind too scattered at that moment to say anything profound.
“I am Scarlet Fair. My gran owns the house,” I introduced myself, feeling his gaze flutter across my skin, setting it on fire as he went.
“Mm, glad to make your acquaintance, Ms. Fair.” His gaze finally landed on mine again. His intense stare penetrating me to my very core. “I hope to see more of you.” His words twisted in the wind, his tone and the wicked gleam in his eyes implying so much more. This man had a roguish charm about him, and if I wasn’t careful I would fall as his prey.
“Well, if you work here, it seems you will.” I pulled from his embrace and missed the warmth instantly. Beau Loup didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. Something about him was welcoming. Oddly enough, he reminded me of my father− big, rough, but completely kind-hearted.
“Work and live.” His words pulled me from my thoughts.
“You live here?” I nearly swallowed my tongue.
His eyes rose in amusement before he answered. “I’ve got a place out back. Ms. Fair sold a corner lot to me a while ago.”
I nodded slowly, my eyes tracing the stark lines of rigid muscle decorating his body. I could feel my face getting flushed. I twisted my hands together, my skin prickling with aroused awareness. “It was nice to meet you, Beau. I hope to run into you again.”
“I’m sure you will.” He took my hand in his and lifted it to his lips. He placed a lingering kiss there, his gaze shooting a blaze of fire straight into my core, and his words hung in the air as he winked at me. Why wasn’t he leaving? Shoo, will you? At that moment I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I had to leave. This man had me trapped, and I needed to get out. “Well, I must be going.” I quickly snatched my hand back from him and spun around so fast that I almost tripped. I noticed him lurch to catch me, and his face had lost that devastating smile, it now seemed to be marred with concern and worry. Just as quickly as that worry came, it vanished when he saw I hadn’t fallen.
I swiftly ran off before I could embarrass myself any further. “Until next time, petite rouge.” As the distance grew between us, I could still hear his laughter following me.
Sensations raced across my skin, curling my toes and prickling the hairs on the nape of my neck. The feeling of immediate danger seemed to course it’s way through my body, as if raging and combusting in my bloodstream.