This story is my entry for the 2012 Valentine's Contest. Please give it a fair read and vote at the end. I appreciate you taking the time to check it out, and hope you enjoy it.
"I hate winter. I hate snow. I hate travelling for work. I hate driving in snow in the winter travelling for work! And you know what I hate even more? I hate men. And Valentine's Day. I hate travelling in snow, for work, over Valentine's Day, for a man."
"Why don't you tell me what's really bothering you, Val?" Tricia asked across the static-laced line.
"The man, the one I've been seeing that I wouldn't tell you much about, is married. And he's my new boss. And he told me he can't see me anymore. I confronted him about the wife, and he swore they're separated, but then he said it wasn't right to date an employee, but that he was really glad he could offer me this 'get-away'. Get-away! Right, because it is such a privilege to drive in upstate New York in February!" I replied, disgusted with myself as much as with Kevin. I should never have fallen for those big brown eyes when he came on-board at my firm a month ago.
"You knew something wasn't right, or you would have told me about him. Val, you only have yourself to blame here," Tricia returned, in that helpful way best friends have.
"I don't want to talk about it," probably because she was right, "What are you and Bill doing this weekend?"
"We don't..." then nothing but static.
"Tricia?" I picked up my phone to see if it was maybe just the car's system that had failed, but my phone showed "No Service." Just as well. I didn't want to hear what my friend and her very romantic boyfriend had planned anyway. It had been a horrible week and I was really just looking forward to getting to my hotel and out of the weather. Tomorrow was Valentine's Day and I would be stuck in meetings all day, followed by dinner alone at some hotel in the middle of nowhere, probably surrounded by couples making eyes at each other and playing footsie under the tables. I wasn't sure if I could stand anymore thoughts about how happy everyone else was.
The snow had started falling as soon as I left the city. I should have taken a train, but then I would have had even more time to just think, and I was really sick of thinking.
Last autumn I broke up with my boyfriend of nearly two years. It had suddenly struck me that he was boring and unromantic, and I didn't want to spend the rest of my life with him.
I thought I would be relieved, even happy, to be single again, but I wasn't. Every man I met was either dreadfully dull or hopelessly self-centered. Then Kevin came along and I thought I had it all. He was romantic, interesting, and while a little self-involved, he at least thought about me enough to send me flowers and plan intimate weekends. Until I found out he was still married.
I wonder if he would have broken things off if I hadn't discovered his wife. I guess I'll never know.
The snow was mixed with freezing rain now, and I was having difficulty keeping the windshield clear. A big truck went past the opposite way and my windshield became a solid mass of mud, ice and muck. I hit the washer button over and over, flipping the wipers to high speed, but I could barely make out the road, and missed the curve completely.
I felt the rough shoulder under the wheels, then the jolt as I hit high grass under the snow. The car began to skid sideways. There was a colossal jolt and the car began to flip. I lost all sense of direction as I hung momentarily by my seatbelt, then was slammed back upright. I think I hit my head on the steering wheel because the next thing I remembered was sitting still, the car gently hissing in the snow bank while a warm sticky feeling crawled down my cheek.
I tried the ignition, but it wouldn't turn over. I grabbed my phone, but still no service. Taking inventory, I could move all of my limbs and turn my neck, so I concluded I would have to get out and head back to the road for help.
It took a few body slams, but I got the door open and pulled myself out into two feet of heavily churned snow. I had on pumps and a skirt, work clothes, and not the best for hiking, but I really had no choice. I couldn't see the road from where I had landed which meant they couldn't see me. If I wanted to be found, I was going to have to hike.
I stumbled along the track of my wreck for perhaps a hundred feet, but there was no road, and eventually the signs of my accident faded into smooth snow amidst the winter-bare forest. I turned in a slow circle and realized even my own footprints in the snow seemed to be fading behind me.
Panic gripped my chest and I stifled a scream. I was never one to overreact, but suddenly I had such a feeling of desperation, I wanted only to sit down and cry. Somehow I had lost my way, lost the road, and now the wind and snow were conspiring to separate me from my wrecked vehicle.
As I turned that slow circle again I thought I saw a light flicker through the trees. I waited. There it was again! I headed for the only sign of civilization I had seen since I left my car.
As I trudged through the snow and ice, my shoes became swamped and eventually were sucked from my feet. I continued on with staid determination. A light meant people and people meant rescue. My feet ached with cold and injury from objects on the forest floor, but I continued forward toward that light which now appeared to be windows of a cabin. Those windows twinkled merrily, and smoke puffed warmly from the chimney.
By the time I reached the door, I hardly had energy to knock, and sagged against the door exhausted. No one answered my first knock, so I tried a second time, but my sleeve caught on the lever handle and the door opened inward, dumping me unceremoniously onto the foyer floor. There I lay trying to regain my breath as the wind swept into the room, guttering the flames in the fireplace.
I called out in a weak, raspy voice as I shuffled to get far enough into the room to close the door. Again no answer. Logic would dictate that someone must be here if there was a fire in the fireplace, but I didn't see anyone and the room appeared to encompass the entirety of the small cabin. A kitchenette and dining table sat to the right of the doorway, while a bed, sofa and chairs occupied the remainder. A small bathroom hung off the back, but the door was open and the room dark.
It was then that I smelled the food. I hadn't realized how hungry I was until the smell of a roast and all its trimmings wafted over me, with hints of fresh bread and coffee. The room was warm and lit by the fire, as well as several candles and a few oil lamps. On quick inspection I found a total lack of any modern appliances, or even electric outlets. The stove looked circa 1920. Who in the world lived here?
By this time I had gathered enough strength to try to stand, but found that my feet were beginning to ooze blood onto the stone floor. Not knowing what else to do, I stood up to head for the bathroom to clean them before I made too much of a mess.
I must have stood up too quickly, because the next thing I knew, the floor was coming toward my face at an alarming speed. I let out a startled yelp as something stopped my nose from connecting with the stone while a huge clatter came up around me.
"Weel now, what do we have here?" a soft, deep voice with a lilt exclaimed as strong arms lifted me from the cold stones. "A wee lassie, come to rest out of the storm, are ye? Or are ye a fairy driven from the forest?"
The handsome face looking down into mine was strong-boned, topped with shiny black hair, but the feature that held my attention fast was the set of slightly upturned, brilliant blue eyes. They sparkled with barely contained mirth, and held the depth and breadth of a tropical sea at midday. I had never seen eyes like those.
"Cat got your tongue, has she?" he continued as he carried me to a rustic sofa in front of the fire. "Weel, we'll just have to take a look at ye and see then for ourselves."
I looked around for the other party to which he referred with his "we", but he seemed to be alone. I saw then what had caused the noise when I nearly passed out; fresh firewood lay scattered all around the entryway. He must have come through the door, arms full of lumber, when he saw me going down and dropped it to catch me.
"Thank you," I whispered, "for, for catching me I mean."
"Ahh, so she does have a voice! Maybe ye can tell me what ye are doin' drippin' snow and such in my foyer?" he asked, still smiling as he removed my coat and settled an afghan around me.
"I had an accident. I wrecked my car, but got lost somehow, looking for the road. I saw the lights from your windows and came to find help," I replied, feeling rather ashamed for having just barged into his home as I'd done. "The door opened and I called out. I'm sorry." I don't think I made a bit of sense.
"So a lass, not a fairy. More's the pity. No need to be sorry. I'm happy to help ye. Ye say ye were lost in the woods, then? So it would be yer feet as are leavin' the drops of blood, since yer face seems to ha' stopped bleedin'." He looked at me intently, turning my face toward the light of the fire before lifting my feet to peer at them.
"I'm sorry," I said again, not knowing what else to say, "I think I cut them stumbling through the forest. I lost my shoes to the snow and ice."
"Weel now, they don' look too bad. I'll just get some water and wash ye right up," he answered, starting to walk away. "By the way, my name is Ian, and welcome ye are to share whate'er I have."
His accent was enchanting. I watched him walk to the kitchen and put a tea kettle on the stove. He looked about six feet tall, slim but moderately buff; the kind of build that looks strong without being muscle-bound. He smiled back at me and I noticed his straight, white teeth, full lower lip, and high cheekbones.
"Generally, when someone introduces themselves, politeness dictates that ye respond with your own name as well," he continued, without reprimand, "unless, of course, ye don't remember yer name, and then that's a different circumstance entirely."
"Oh! I'm sorry. I'm Val, Valerie Trent. Thank you, Ian, for everything."
"I haven't done anything yet, Valerie Trent, but I'll accept yer thanks over yer apologies," The kettle began to hiss and Ian poured some of its contents into a bowl and carried the bowl and a cloth to the sofa. He knelt beside me and dipped the cloth in the water before bringing it to the side of my forehead.
"Ouch," I exclaimed, reaching to grab his wrist.
"Ye see, now I'm the one to be sorry. I'll try to be more gentle, but we need to clean this cut," he explained as he removed my hand from his wrist and, true to his word, very gently dabbed the cut.
When he finished with my forehead he moved near my feet and began wiping the dirt and blood from them as well. His actions caused some new bleeding which he held pressure to until it stopped. Without saying a word, he went into the little bathroom and came back with a handful of bandages and ointment.
The entire time Ian worked on me, I watched him. He moved with an economy of action laced with grace. His muscles would bunch under his shirt as he lifted my leg, and his strong hands would firmly wipe away the dirt. Then he'd apply ointment with a feather touch before softly wrapping the foot in gauze. He finished with a simple piece of gauze and tape he place on my forehead.
"There," he said, grinning at me as if he'd accomplished a great feat, "I think ye'll do. Would ye like some dinner? I'm sure it's ready by now." He headed for the little kitchen again.
"Thank you, but I couldn't. I've already taken too much advantage of your kindness. If you have a phone, I'll call for a tow truck, or if not, I'll have to bother you for a ride to the nearest service station."
"You'll not be goin' anywhere in that storm, lass," he said, opening the oven door and removing a heavy iron pot. "There's plenty here. Would ye rather beer or wine?"
I looked out the window from where I sat and saw only darkness with streaks of snow blowing sideways across the glass. I was in no condition to argue with the man, so I said, "Wine."
Ian pulled out plates and loaded them with beef, vegetables, and slabs of fresh bread. He carried them to the coffee table before returning for a bottle of wine and two glasses. It smelled heavenly.
"Eat up! Ye'll need yer strength after slogging through the forest in this storm."
I thanked him again as I picked up my plate. It tasted as good as it smelled. When I finished my plate, wiping up the last of the gravy with my bread, he asked, "Would ye like some more?" sounding just a little incredulous.
I laughed in mild embarrassment. I've always had a healthy appetite, despite my slender build. "Thank you, but I'm full. That was the best pot roast I've ever had."
"T'would be the whiskey. Beef is just beef without a generous shot of the spirit," he said, grinning at me again.
"Where are you from?" I asked, blushing at my bluntness.
"Right here! What makes ye think otherwise?" he answered, looking at me in mock seriousness.
"Your accent. It's heavenly," I responded, blushing again. I had only drunk a half glass of wine, but my tongue seemed to have become disconnected from my brain.
"Oh, aye. Well I was born not far from here, but I was raised by my Scotts-Irish father back in his homeland," he responded with another soft smile, and his eyes twinkled in the firelight. "I can control the accent," he said, without a hint of one, "but I don't when I'm home."
"Is this where you live?" I asked, figuring if he was willing to talk about himself, I was happy to listen.
"Nay, I have a real home, but the woods are my favorite place," he looked fondly out at the blackness beyond the window pane.
I wanted to ask all about his life, but he stood then, picking up our plates, and went in the kitchen where he put the rest of the water from the kettle into the sink and washed up. He covered the Dutch-oven and walked to the door where he set it just outside. Realizing there was no refrigerator, this made perfect sense. He collected the dropped wood and placed it beside the hearth.
He returned and sat beside me, staring into the fire. His profile looked like a Roman bust, nose long and straight, cheekbones high, jaw square. Suddenly he turned to catch me staring at him, and he smiled again, this time as if he knew a secret.
"And what about you, Val. Where do you hail from?"
"Oh, I grew up not far from here, actually, but I live in the city now. Brooklyn actually, though I hope to get a place in Manhattan soon."
Ian's face screwed up as if he'd smelled a skunk. "No life in the city. All that concrete strangles the life from everythin' within."
I laughed. "The city is full of life! The bustle, the crowds, the museums, the theater. How can you say it strangles the life out of everything?"
"Movement is not the same as life. When was the last time you heard rain patter on yer roof? When did ye last see a wild animal stop to graze yards from yer window? When did ye last hear the silence of new fallen snow?" he waxed poetically, just as a gust of wind moaned past the cabin spattering frozen rain into the window with the sudden rattle of pages turning, and we laughed.
"I don't suppose I'll be hearing that silence during this storm," I answered.
He shook his head, looking down, and said, "Nay, not this night."
He stood and went to the fire, adding another log and prodding the embers. He seemed to be listening to the wind echo in the chimney.
He returned to sit beside me, and I asked about his life in the Isles. He told tales that seamlessly wove together his life with the legends of his father's people until he had me in tears laughing.
"So fairies are always the excuse whene'er a man comes home too late and smelling of more than just smoke and ale. And for just about everythin' else as weel."
"I see. And do the wives believe these tales?"
"Not a bit o' it, but they happily blame the fairies for the knots on the husband's head come morning," he grinned, pantomiming knocking me over the head with a skillet.
I shook my head and laughed along.
"What about you?" he asked abruptly, "Surely ye have tales from yer life in the city."
I thought about it and realized I didn't really have much to tell. My life was work and an occasional outing with friends, once you took the men out of the equation. I told him about my job. That took all of about thirty seconds. He prompted me for more and I had to admit my life really was pretty dull.
"What about yer man? Surely a beauty like you has a man to hold ye on a cold night, or when yer dreams wake ye in a clammy sweat? It'll be Valentine's Day in a few minutes, I bet someone's waitin' for a kiss," he asked, smiling tentatively for the first time.
"No. No man at the moment. I had a boyfriend for a long time, but it wasn't working out. And then I met a lying, cheating bastard," my eyes inexplicably teared up at that, "No," I choked out, "no men in my life."
Ian scooted a few inches closer and took my hand. He didn't say a word, didn't ask any questions, but just sat beside me and held my hand as I got my breathing back under control.
We sat like that, shoulder to shoulder, and stared into the fire for a long time. I was casting quick, side-long glances at him when I caught him doing the same thing. He smiled comfortably, while I blushed at being caught.
Still facing the flames, Ian asked, "How did ye come to find this place, again?"
His eyes seemed to spark and flash with light, and he tightened his hold on my hand, intertwining our fingers. His lips quirked up just a bit, but he remained still.
"I saw the lights from the windows through the forest and followed them," I answered, wondering why he'd asked.
"Mmhmm," he murmured, looking around the room.
I followed his gaze and realized the room was not brightly lit. I looked at the windows and they were fairly small.
"Fairy lights, I s'pose," he said, softly.
He turned then to face me and leaned in closer. I found myself leaning into him without consciously deciding to do so. When his lips brushed mine it felt like the whole world suddenly focused down to that one point of contact, that all of the energy of the storm outside was now running like a current between our lips. As you can't pull away from the source of an electric current, I couldn't pull away from him. Nor did I want to.
He wrapped his free hand behind me, sliding it into my hair and pulling me even closer as he ran his tongue along my lower lip before nibbling it between his own. The sheer power of the force running through me made me moan, parting my lips and giving his tongue entry.
He tasted of rich gravy and red wine, and I wanted to relish every morsel. When my tongue began to seek its fulfillment within his mouth, he pulled me even closer as he dropped the hand he was holding to run it up my arm, then down my back.
As if knowing my triggers somehow, his hand slipped easily between my short blouse and skirt to softly feather my low back, just above the cleft of my bottom. I felt the power build in my low belly as my juices flowed below. I arched toward him and thrust my tongue deeply into his mouth, demanding a response.
My orientation changed as he guided me back against the pillow padding the arm of the sofa, and his knee nudged my right leg straight. He lowered himself gently over me, left hand still soothing my low back, lips and tongue still teasing mine. His hand that had been behind my head caressed my neck, brushing lightly against my earlobe as it made its way to my collarbone. Another trigger touched, I sighed and his lips travelled away from mine.