Keeper Ch. 05byArdella©
'Friends with Benefits'.
Blue had never given that phrase much thought before, but now it kept popping into her head. It was painfully obvious she wasn't much good at relationships- Jackson had pronounced her unfit anyway, in a variety of ways and a lot of not very flattering phrases, before he decided he wanted her back, and ha ha, that wasn't likely to happen in a million lifetimes- but the longer she spent time with John the more she wanted. Wanted more. Wanted John. And wasn't that what most men really wanted anyway, the 'Friends with Benefits' thing?
Blue glanced in the rear view mirror, catching a glimpse of John and Abe as they rode in the bed of the pick-up truck, along with the chunks of wood that had just been loaded.
John had insisted that the wood was some that he had chopped for Jean to use in her old wood stove. Aunt Jean had often used the old stove for warmth, preferring it to the central heating system. According to John, since he regularly kept a supply for his fireplace, it was no problem to keep Jean, and now Blue, supplied at the same time.
After lunch and window shopping together in Chaplin, and then taking a long, round-a-bout route home as they enjoyed the snowy scenery, they had spent the next part of the afternoon filling the bed of the truck with the firewood. When they were done, John had tossed her the keys and settled in the back with Abe for the short ride to Blue's house.
Putting the big truck into park, Blue turned off the ignition, but barely had time to reach for the door handle before the door was opened for her and John was there, reaching for her to help her down from the high seat. Any thought of objecting, of insisting she could get out of a truck on her own, became forgotten at the feel of his hands at her waist. And if there was any objection left at all, being pulled against his body when her feet touched the ground finished off that erasure completely.
He was grinning. White teeth, creased cheeks, sparkling eyes...
"Damn, if I'd known how hot you'd look drivin' my truck, I'd've given you the keys hours ago." he drawled, his southern accent more pronounced, making his words low, slow, and sexy.
With those words, and with her hands on his shoulders and his on her waist, it seemed only natural when he pulled her against him even closer. So natural that it felt as if her body floated towards him, and she found herself wishing they didn't have their bulky winter coats between them.
Blue tilted her chin up, saw the look he was giving her... hot and hungry... and when he dipped his head towards hers she closed her eyes... and felt his lips purse against her forehead for a brief second. And that was it.
A little kiss on her forehead and he'd released her. Quickly. She watched in dumb confusion as he turned away and released the back gate of the truck and began unloading the fire wood.
"Huh. Okayyyy." Blue mumbled to herself. Not that a kiss on the forehead was a bad thing. It was kind of sweet. But,come on, after what he'd said and that look he gave her...?? Shrugging, she slipped her hands into the heavy leather work gloves he'd given her and set to work.
John could feel her watching him. He could also feel a heat rise to his cheeks that defied the cold winter air. Piling the wood with more vigor than necessary, he tried to avoid her gaze.
He'd bet he knew what she was thinking. Probably wondering what kind of wuss she'd gotten herself mixed up with. Hell... there he was, making his move, helping her down from the truck, which was the perfect excuse to pull her in and lay one on her. And she'd wanted it too, he'd seen that clear as day. But, oh hell, his damned inner voice had chosen just that moment to tell him the PLAN. That big, god-damned, stupid, insane plan.
But it wasn't even so much that that had knocked him on his mental ass, not really, because at the very same time his inner voice was chattering merrily away, the realization had hit him. Smacked him right up-side the head with a shovel. Whomped him but good, and all he could do while he was reeling from the blow was stupidly kiss Blue's forehead and practically stumble away from her in his haste to make sense of what he was feeling.
He'd scared himself. Yeah, he'd admit it. Big, tough, ex Army Ranger had just about pissed his pants when the realization hit him that Blue was the one woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
Jesus, did it always happen this fast? He'd heard people proclaim love at first sight, but had never believed in it beyond being the stuff of women's romance novels.
"But this isn't first sight, and you've been drooling over her for years. Admit it."
Okay, yeah. That was the truth.
"What are you scared of?"
John furtively gave Blue a glance over his shoulder. She was silently hefting chunks of wood off the tailgate and piling them with careful, exacting precision into the small shelter built onto the back corner of the house. Leaning against the truck, he watched her openly now, a sudden calmness beginning to settle over him. Okay, maybe not totally calm, but better.
"She's probably going to be skittish. But that's where the PLAN comes in. You can do this, Johnny. You can DO this. HOO-AH!"
"Hoo-ah." John murmured, then had to turn away to hide a grin as Blue returned for another arm-load of wood.
One moment Blue was leaning over the tailgate and lifting a chunk of wood, the next moment it was pulled out of her gloved hand, tossed haphazardly over John's shoulder, and then it was she that was being lifted. John picked her right up with ease and sat her onto the truck's lowered tailgate.
And then he kissed her.
Not a peck on the forehead. Oh, hallelujah no. John leaned in, no hesitancy to his movement, just pure, male, take-what-he-wants going for it. And it just about knocked her boots off.
Standing to her side but pressed in against her, he angled his head and fit his mouth perfectly to hers. Taking full advantage of her lips being parted in surprise, his tongue plunged in, licking smoothly at hers, retreating, re-entering boldly. Before she knew it, her arms were up around his neck and she held on tight as she gave back as good as she was getting.
The kiss went on and on. Every time John's tongue swept against hers, jolts of arousal traveled down her body, swirling around her stomach before shooting down between her legs. Blue squeezed her thighs together, not sure whether she was trying to heighten the feeling, or contain it.
At some unknown point he must have taken his leather work gloves off, because when his hand traveled from it's resting place on her hip to burrow under her coat, then her sweater underneath, continuing on until his fingertips reached the sensitive skin of her back, she shivered delicately at the invading coolness of his skin.
He lifted his head when she shivered, and her eyelids fluttered open to his heated gaze.
"I've been wanting to do that again for... forever." The corner of his wide, sensuous mouth crooked up into a half smile.
"It hasn't even been twenty four hours yet." she felt like she needed to remind him, but the brush of his fingertips against her lower spine made any further rational thought difficult. Realizing his other hand had insinuated it's fingers snugly between her knees didn't help.
"Seemed like forever."
"Well, then, why didn't you?" Blue tilted her chin teasingly.
John chuckled, mirroring the chin tilt and looking down at her through his lashes. "I suppose I wasn't listening to my inner voice as well as I should."
"You have an inner voice?"
"Mm-hmmm." He leaned in and brushed his lips against hers.
"Well, I guess we all do." Blue closed her eyes as his lips traveled softly over her cheek.
"Mine's pretty vocal. But I find it's usually right."
She tilted her head as he nudged his nose against her neck. Feeling her shiver again, he raised his head and, sadly, removed his hands from their respective warm spots to settle on her shoulders. "Your cheeks are red." He brushed a finger against one of her cheeks. "You must be cold."
Blue lowered her lashes and turned her head until her lips feathered against the base of his thumb. "Actually, I'm very warm... now." she murmured, purposely speaking slow and soft.
His eyes flashed at her words and she felt a thrill, scary and exciting. This was completely foreign ground to her, such obvious flirting.
A movement from off to the side caught her attention, and both she and John turned to see Abe trotting from the shelter with a large-ish piece of wood in his mouth. The dog stopped mid-step, his head swinging towards them, looking comical as he realized he'd just been caught.
"Hey." John pointed to the woodpile. "Put that back."
Abe lowered his raised paw, his mouth still stretched around the firewood, lowering his head and keeping a careful eye on his master... and then took off like a shot.
The confounded look on John's face when Abe completely ignored him had blue covering her mouth in a vain attempt to hold in her laughter. Turning at the sound, John smiled fleetingly before his expression morphed into one of dire seriousness.
"I see. You consider blatant disregard for authority amusing."
"Yes." Blue pressed her lips into a thin line, trying not to snicker. She lost the fight when Abe returned, tearing past at top speed, his teeth still clenching the wood.
John's firm expression didn't change, except for a raising of his eyebrows, his eyes trained on Blue even though he had to have known that Abe had run by him again, missing him by barely two feet.
"Hmm. Are you always this flippant?"
Blue gasped in mock indignation. "Me?! What about him?" She pointed towards the dog now running in tight circles behind John, as if taunting him.
John glanced over his shoulder, uttered a low, firm, "Abe.", made a quick hand gesture, and just like that, Abe stopped in his tracks, dropped the wood, and sat at attention.
John turned back to Blue, a self satisfied look settled onto his handsome face. Two seconds later he burst into laughter, making another gesture that released Abe from his pose. Blue watched, amused, as Abe trotted off with his prize.
"That is one happy dog." Blue gripped the edge of the tailgate and began to slide off, holding onto John's arm as he reached out to help her before her feet even hit the ground.
"Happiest I've ever seen him. I know how he feels." he murmured. Blue looked up and found his gaze focused intently on her.
He smiled and lifted a finger to her cheek. "Either you're cold or you're blushing." he observed, way too knowingly. "Come on, how about we get this load finished, head to my place, and..." He glanced at his watch. "Hey, you like football?"
John laughed at the face Blue made. "I'll take that as a no."
"Sorry." Blue shrugged, but smiled.
"Okay, no football for Sweet Baby..." He broke off at Blue's expression, this time one that wasn't teasing. He cleared his throat and started again. "Okay... no football for Ms. Blue Waters. How about we relax for a while and watch a movie? We've got plenty of time before dinner together, then heading over to Orley's for poker."
Blue's eyebrows shot up. "Poker?"
"Didn't I tell you? You've been drafted into the neighborhood poker game. All residents of our little area must play."
"All three of us." Blue said wryly.
"Yup." John smiled, and she swore she saw a hint of devil in it. "No getting out of it. No excuses. Do you play?"
"Um... no. I've never played in my life."
John's eyes narrowed. "Unfortunate. For you. I trust you have plenty of cash to bring with you tonight?"
"Plenty of..." Blue sputtered.
"I'm kidding, I'm kidding." John said quickly, holding up a hand. "We don't play for money. We switched to strip poker years ago. It'll be fun having a novice join the game... I was getting tired of seeing Orley in his skivvies."
The tip of John's finger gently pushed up on Blue's chin, helping her mouth close.
John held his cell phone to his ear, watching through the kitchen doorway so he could track Blue's movements as she wandered through his living room. They had just gotten through his door and had taken off their coats when his cell rang. Prepared to ignore it, he had instead excused himself when he saw it was Abby on the caller ID.
"Jackson Hubert Woods." Abby snickered softly before continuing. "Thirty-five. Lifelong resident of California. Born in the Bakersfield area, moved to Los Angeles at the age of 18 where he went to school to become a-"
"I'm not being a dick here, Abby. I'm really not. But what did you find on Woods?" John spoke quietly and watched Blue pause at the fireplace, touch the stonework lightly with her fingertips, then look up at the painting that was hanging there.
Abby 'tsked' over the line. "Patience, Grasshopper..." she said in a truly bad imitation accent. "And you shall be rewarded. Woods was in Los Angeles for two years before he moved to Modesto. But just before doing so, he was served with a restraining order, requested by his then girlfriend."
John grunted, but made himself smile at Blue as she glanced at him over her shoulder. Turning, he walked to the far end of the kitchen to stand just inside the mudroom. Blue wasn't even trying to eavesdrop, but he didn't want to take any chances that she might accidentally overhear something he said and become curious.
"He spent the next five years in Modesto," Abby continued. "where he apparently kept his nose clean. And then, we have another move and another restraining order, but this one was served after the move. It seems your Mr. Woods had followed his latest paramour after she had, probably wisely, made a break for it. Woods then got into some unwelcome mischief... public nuisance and a couple other piddling charges like that, all relating to the case... charges were dropped or not bad enough for anything to come of them... blah blah blah, he moved yet again and has been a good little boy ever since. Oh, and the details in both restraining orders are your mainstream, everyday kind of stuff. Nothing that really stands out and sets off any big, clanging alarms, although of course just the need for a thing like that is worrisome enough. But you know what I mean."
"Yeah." John leaned his back against the doorway, rubbing the bridge of his nose between finger and thumb. "Yeah." he sighed. "No getting caught with a knife in his girlfriend's shower while wearing a wig and a dress. No alarms like that."
Except knowing that wasn't really making him feel much better. John thanked Abby and finished the call, then returned to the living room, where Blue had seated herself at one end of the sofa. Abe's head was resting on her knee as he sat at her feet, begging for the petting that she was giving him.
John crossed the room to sit with her, trying to look more casual than he was feeling at the moment. She smiled at him, making his heart take a ridiculous leap.
"So you're the buyer. I didn't know."
John tore his eyes from her face to follow the point of her finger. Above the stone fireplace mantle hung a large, unique landscape painting, sign with a tiny, flowing script in the corner- 'Blue Waters'.
"Aunt Jean only said that someone saw it during that little local library showing that was still running it's course when I'd moved to Cali for school. She'd given me the impression that it was a tourist passing through. That was what, almost ten years ago? And it's been here all along." Blue said with a mild tone of wonderment, looking at him curiously.
John looked at the painting and remembered when he first saw it. He'd had to have it, barely paying attention to whatever price it'd been. He hadn't even been finished building the house, living out of a small camper while the work had been going on, and he'd already known exactly where he'd wanted it to hang.
And it had hung there in it's spot ever since, and every time he walked in the door, whether coming home after an assignment or just coming in from getting the mail from the box by the road, his eyes automatically landed on it. It was part of his home. It was part of him. And it was part of Blue.
"It's my very favorite of all your paintings." he downplayed- greatly- what he felt about Blue's creation. "So, how come you aren't rich and famous by now?" he teased, knowing instinctively to lighten the conversation from the deeper path his thoughts were taking. For now.
Blue laughed lightly, looking slightly self conscious with an adorable pink tinge coloring her cheeks.
"Thank you for the compliment, but I know my talents and limitations. I enjoy the 'doing', but teaching art is my strong point. It won't make me rich, but it makes me happy." She smiled, making John's breath catch in his chest at the sheer, simple, beauty of it.
Right at that moment was when John's biggest goal in life became not only to have Blue in his life, but to be the one to ensure her happiness.
"What about you?" She was asking, and he had to blink and breathe to bring himself out of his thoughts. "I'm guessing you are satisfied with what you do? What exactly is it that you do, by the way?" she asked curiously before he could answer her first question.
John cleared his throat and shrugged, settling himself comfortably into the sofa as he gathered the words, sticking to his usual answer when someone asked him that question. "Well, I guess you could say I tell people what to do." he chuckled. "I guide them, offering professional consultation for businesses having issues..."
"...sic the good guys onto the bad guys... leap tall buildings in a single bound..."
Blue was smiling interestedly, and John had to bite his cheek to keep from saying 'shut up' to his faintly sarcastic inner voice, at the same time feeling like a bit of a heel for giving her the damned cover story about his job, even though it wasn't completely a lie, he did guide people and tell them what to do.
"Hey," he stretched his arm over the end of the sofa to grab the television remote off of the end table. "I promised you a movie, didn't I?"
Blue lifted a shoulder and cocked her head as if considering. "Mmmm, yeah, but I like talking to you. I don't need a movie to entertain me right now... I have you."
And oh, hell, but didn't those completely innocent words from her lips go in through his ears, past his brain, and straight down to his groin, where things were getting, um... tight... never mind that she was talking about talking. Besides, spending time just talking to Blue was right up there on his list also. Hell, if they just sat here staring stupidly at each other, he'd be okay with that too.
"All right." John flipped the remote blindly over his shoulder, getting the laugh he'd wanted out of Blue. "Conversation it is. So, Ms. Waters, seen any good movies lately?"
"As a matter of fact, I have..." Blue settled herself sideways onto the sofa, facing him, and he relaxed into the soft brush of her voice, knowing this was something he wanted to always come home to.
Glancing over at the painting above the fireplace before returning his gaze to the woman next to him, John let himself dare to hope.
"Move your hand lower. That's it. Now curve your fingers around. Perfect. Wait for it... okay, now."
Blue gestured with her hand and immediately Abe bowed down, his snout resting on the floor between his front paws. His hindquarters remained raised up in the air.
"Oh my gosh!" Blue laughed, delighted with yet another successful trick.
"Remember, he'll hold position until you say he can quit or give the signal to stop. You remember that one, right?" John grinned, clearly enjoying himself as much as Blue.