A broken woman meets a desperate man on a cold snowy winter night. They delve into the heat of the moment and discover that A Gentlemen’s Wager is never worth the price of love.
Cecily was staggering aimlessly down the street. Her body had focused on the last command from her brain—Walk away. She didn’t feel the cold, the wind or the snow. She just hypnotically put one foot in front of the other. It mattered not where she was going. It mattered not if she ever reached her destination. Nothing mattered but the urge to escape from the mess that was her life.
Groggily, her eyes began to focus on a distant light that was growing closer and brighter. Still, she kept putting one foot in front of the other.
* * * *
Royce swerved and slammed on the brakes, the car fish-tailing in the loose snow but miraculously neither loosing traction nor hitting the idiotic pedestrian. He stared out of his snow-covered windshield as the snow-covered figure just walked past his car like he wasn’t even there. It was something in the way the person moved that both startled him and enraged him at the same time. He could have killed the stupid pedestrian. The weather was shitty, but his headlights were bright enough for anyone to see his car approaching. And who in their right mind walked down the center of the street like cars didn’t exist?
A sense of indignation abruptly seized Royce. Giving this stranger a piece of his mind felt like the perfect way to blow off some steam and frustration. He leapt from his car. “Hey! Are you outta of your damn mind? I could’ve fucking killed you.” The person’s backside grew smaller as it moved further down the road. He quickly chomped up the distance separating them. “Did you hear me?” What’s with this asshole?
The person didn’t stop, didn’t seem to hear him, and in fact appeared to be completely oblivious to his presence. Beyond pissed off, Royce shouted, “Don’t you take another fucking step!” He placed a crushing hand over the stranger’s shoulder as he finished, “Don’t you hear me talking to you?” He forcibly turned the person around to face him.
The hood of the stranger’s coat fell back from its owner’s face and Royce actually gasped. The stranger was a woman! A damn fine looking woman. All of the rage and mounting tension coursing through him evaporated as he looked into the woman’s far-away eyes. She stared straight ahead as if she didn’t see him. Carefully, he palmed her cold cheek with his warm hand and the heated contact must have shocked the woman from her trance. When her eyes blinked and connected with his, Royce’s stomach literally jumped. Her eyes were amazing. Slowly he said, “Lady, what are you doing? Why are you out and alone on a night like this?”
Royce watched as the woman finally took in her surroundings. Apparently his previous questions weren’t going to get answered—she appeared confused and disoriented, and wasn’t improving much. As those amazing stormy gray eyes shimmered with unshed tears, Royce was hit with the shocking urge to collect her in his arms and fight all her demons. At the very least, he knew he needed to get her someplace warm.
Through trembling lips she said, “I’m cold.”
Not wasting another minute, Royce carefully corralled the woman over to his car and got her settled in the passenger seat. He jumped into the driver’s seat and turned the heat up high. While connecting his seat belt, the woman abruptly burst into hysterical tears, scaring the shit out of Royce. Oh Lord, now she’s hyperventilating.
Soon the waterworks simmered down and Royce was shocked to realize he’d been holding his breath. Keeping his hands on the steering wheel, conscious of not making any sudden moves, he said, “Where do you live? I can take you home if you want.” He glanced at her snow-blanketed coat. “By the looks of you, you’ve been in this blizzard for a while. Maybe I should take you to emergency. You could be suffering from frostbite.”
Royce covertly watched the woman from the corner of his eye as she very slowly came to her senses. When she reached up and swiped her wet coat sleeve across her wet face and pulled in a deep breath, he sensed the worst of her outburst could be over. Still, he wasn’t leaving anything to chance.
“I’m sorry,” she sighed. “I don’t need a hospital. I’m cold, but not numb in any of my extremities.”
He turned to her and noticed that she stared out the window at the falling snow. “I can take you home. Where do you live?”
When she turned to him, her eyes were so unbearably sad—pewter gray pools of haunted pain. “Where I used to call home is no more.” Her sad eyes shifted again to the falling snow. “Where I live now is not where I want to be. I’ve inconvenienced you enough tonight. I won’t overstay your kindness. Just drop me off at the nearest police station. I’ll stay there until I’m ready to go home”
That just didn’t sit well with Royce. It was so damn cryptic. So miserable. So not happening. It was her look—a look of complete loss and agony. That look had him itching to touch her and assure her that things would be okay. He crushed down the impulse and instead said, “I’ve had a pretty stressful night, too. Maybe we could both use a cup of coffee. There’s a place not far from here.”
Suddenly seeming to come fully awake, the woman’s head snapped back to him and she replied, “I know of a better place, where they serve something stronger than coffee.”