The Fox and the Hound Ch. 01bybrightlyiburn©
If there was one thing that was undeniably, unequivocally true, it was that Miranda Fox was having a very bad day. It wasn't that summer had crept up freakishly early on the quaint New England town in which she lived, making it creep towards eighty degrees at the beginning of April. No, she was getting used to weird weather. And it wasn't because her job sucked about as much as it was possible for a job to suck, although that was certainly part of it. It wasn't even Veronica Vespucci, the bitchy bride-to-be on whose wedding pavilion she was working.
No, it wasn't any one of those things that was making Miranda's day a living hell. It was all of them combined. She actually didn't usually mind her job, although painting was sort of an odd profession for someone like her. It wasn't until she'd gotten hired as part of the grouping working on the Vespucci-Hanover wedding that her job had started to suck. Miranda had gone to school with Veronica and she was even bitchier now than she'd been then, if it was possible. Veronica took every possible opportunity to make fun of her current situation.
And no wonder, Miranda thought, glancing around warily as she made her way down the street to her apartment. Not even a car to my name! She couldn't afford both the car and the apartment, not with the way she was living now. Usually she got a ride from one of the guys, but tonight she was on her own. I guess chivalry really is dead, Miranda thought, shifting the heavy duffle bag, full of her tools, more comfortably onto her shoulder. I mean, my place isn't that far out of the way. Then again, most of them were married and wanted to get home to their wives—or more likely, their dinner tables.
There was an alley she passed, on her way home. She could hear the faint sound of music, from a club not too far from the other side of the alley. Had she known how much more stressful her night was about to get, she might have hurried on by. But Miranda heard a racket from the alley, as though someone was stumbling through a forest of metal trash cans, and paused to look. She jumped back, clamping her lips shut on a shriek of surprise, as a man staggered out of the alley and almost ran right into her.
He had to be one of the most gorgeous men she'd ever seen in her life. However, he was also completely, totally plastered. Dark eyes stared at her from behind a fringe of long, black, rapidly blinking lashes. He had a shaggy mop of black hair that he had to push back from his eyes about twice per minute; it was long enough in the back to tickle the base of his neck. The high cheekbones would have made him look effeminate but a long, narrow nose balanced that out some.
"Well hello!" he exclaimed, grinning lazily at her. "What have we here?"
"Someone who's leaving," Miranda said, turning on her heel and beginning to walk away."
"Oh, well that's just great!" The man's voice rose, somewhat dramatically. "Another woman is leaving me! Not a one in twenty-four years and then two in a week!"
Despite her better judgment Miranda paused and glanced back over her shoulder at him. For a moment she wondered if that was sorrow she saw in his dark eyes; then it was gone, buried beneath drunken bravado. Stopping had given him a moment to catch up and he threw an arm around her shoulders, leaning against her heavily. My god, he's drunk, Miranda thought, turning her face away. Damnit, I should have escaped while I could. She glanced around quickly, to see if there was anyone around who would help her if he got rough.
"You know," the man went on, "I didn't even like her very much. It's more the principal of the thing, really."
"That's great," Miranda muttered, trying to get out from underneath him. "Look, Mister, I really don't have time for this..."
He laughed. "Mister? That's rich! No one has ever called me that before." His breath was warm on her neck as he leaned in. "I'm bothering you, aren't I?"
"Yes," Miranda answered candidly. She did not like the shiver of delight that crept down her spine when his lips were so close to her skin.
She staggered beneath his weight as he leaned even more heavily against her. Like a sleepy puppy he rubbed his cheek against her shoulder. Miranda paused and looked down at him uncertainly. Don't be stupid, she told herself, even as she reached to touch a strand of hair that lay across his cheek. You don't know him, he's drunk, you could end up in a lot of trouble. He'd brought this on himself, after all. So why did she feel so bad for him? Miranda couldn't stand the type of guy who got drunk...or the type of guy who bragged about how good he was with women. Not good enough, apparently, she thought.
"I don't feel good," he said quietly.
"Look, I don't even know you," Miranda said, trying to disentangle herself from him. "I...there's nothing I can do to help..."
His lips couldn't have been more than an inch from her neck. "I know," he murmured. "I'm sorry..."
Oh, damn, Miranda thought. She threw an arm around his waist and gripped him tight; she had to, to be able to pull him along with her. I'll bring him inside and see if he has a wallet on him, she thought, struggling beneath his weight. Maybe I'll find a number I can call, someone who can pick him up. If not, she could always call the hospital. Or the homeless shelter. There was simply no way Miranda was letting some drunken guy she didn't know spend the night in her apartment. This was stupid enough as it was.
As this hour there were very few people on the street. The few she saw looked at her strangely but made no comment. By the time they were in sight of her apartment there was no one around, so far as she could see. Lovely, no witnesses, Miranda thought, as she struggled to drag the man toward the stoop, only twenty feet away. At least that means no one will see me if I decide to just drop him here. Aside from leaning against her, he also swayed and hummed faintly.
"What do you do with a drunken sailor?" Miranda sang beneath her breath, even though that didn't sound even vaguely like what he was humming. "What do you do with a drunken sailor...what do you do with a drunken sailor early in the morning..."
"Put him in the longboat 'til he's sober," her charge sang back at her, startling her.
I wish I was drunk, she decided, as she hauled him up onto the stoop and to the apartment door. Then I wouldn't feel so odd, singing along with him. But she did sing with him, since it distracted him long enough to get the key in the lock and open the door. Like a child entranced, he followed her up the stairs, stumbling only a little. By the time Miranda got him into her apartment she found she wasn't all that worried about being attacked. The man could barely stand up. He fell down onto her couch as soon as she released his arm and didn't move.
"You don't look like you're going anywhere," Miranda commented dryly. She planted her hands on her hips and stared down at him.
"Mmmno," he mumbled, turning his head just enough to look up at her. "Can't."
"So if I leave you here for ten minutes, I won't have to worry?" Miranda asked.
"No worry," he agreed, his voice slightly slurred. "I mean...whoever you are...thank you...for your kindness..."
Stupidity, Miranda corrected silently. I'm being stupid. Yet she didn't feel like she was in any danger. And it was beyond a doubt the most foolhardy thing she had ever done, but she left him laying on the couch and went to take a shower. Covered in paint and plaster as she was, she wanted to be clean. But she made it quick, scrubbing herself and washing her hair at top speed. Miranda was still damp when she pulled on her clothes. Her hair hung down past her shoulders, so wet it soaked immediately through her shirt.
Upon her return to the living room she found, much to her displeasure, that her drunken charge had left the couch. He said he couldn't move, Miranda thought, worrying at her lower lip as she stepped cautiously around the couch. And like a moron, I believed him. She glanced around for something she could potentially use as a weapon, but she had nothing that would work. My tools, Miranda thought, taking a step towards the bedroom. Unless he's in there already...
She was not happy to find that he was. Although he didn't seem ready to attack her or anything; on the contrary, he was draped at the foot of the bed like a giant dog. He must have heard her approach, because his eyes opened and he stared at her.
"What are you doing in here?" Miranda demanded. She folded her arms over her chest and hoped she looked at least a little intimidating.
"You've got one hell of an uncomfortable couch," her charge answered, in a voice that was still slurred.
Miranda smiled sweetly. "What, you don't like springs poking you in the back? Too bad...get off my bed!"
Maybe I can drag him, she thought, as she approached. He doesn't look that heavy. As it turned out, he was a bit heavier than he looked, and trying to get him off the bed only landed her on it. Miranda growled in frustration, but the sound died on her lips. Her charge was awake, aware, and reaching for her. For someone so drunk, he moved faster than she would have expected. Suddenly she found herself half pinned beneath him. She pushed at him, but he didn't budge so easily. I should have known better, Miranda thought, starting to panic. God, this was so, so stupid!
For awhile he simply stared at her, his dark eyes blurred from the alcohol. Then he lowered his head, letting it rest against her shoulder. What is he doing? she wondered, shivering as his breath blew warm against her neck. This would be much easier if he wasn't so...so... If she wasn't attracted to him. Miranda tried to find a place to brace her hands, to try to push him away, but she couldn't find a good one. She couldn't really reach his shoulders or chest, and touching him at all made her...well, she didn't like to think about what it made her feel.
His lips brushed her neck and she jumped. Get a hold of yourself, damnit, Miranda thought, struggling beneath him. Her mysterious charge was intent upon her neck, teasing the surface of her skin with gentle nips. No way, she thought, just no way. Oh, not that she hadn't been attracted to men before; just not drunk ones that were slobbering all over her.
"Stop!" Miranda insisted, shoving at him. "Stop it!" His head lifted and those bleary eyes blinked at her. "Stop?"
"Yes, stop," Miranda repeated. "I didn't give you permission to maul me!"
Confusion swirled in the dark depths of his eyes. He stared at her for long moments, as if she'd said something in a foreign language that he knew nothing of. She thought he was going to move, but he simply dropped his head back to her shoulder. Grumbling beneath her breath, Miranda pushed at him, trying to get out from beneath him. He merely shifted, moving off of her enough that she could breathe, but keeping an arm around her. As hard as she tried, he wouldn't budge, and after a few minutes she realized he'd fallen asleep.
"Oh, lovely," Miranda muttered, rolling her eyes. "Well, my day is officially complete."
It had been much too late to consider the fact that he might be imposing upon his generous—and currently nameless—hostess. So Chase didn't feel too bad about getting into the shower while she was still fast asleep. As the hot water ran down his back, he wracked his brain, trying to remember what had happened last night. It was hard, with his head aching as if he'd swallowed a gallon of ice cream whole. He was pretty positive he hadn't slept with her, since both of them had still had their clothes on. Although she certainly looked like his type.
She was on the tallish side for a woman, probably about five nine. He really liked the look of her. And there was definitely something striking about her hair; it was a rich, dark brown, but he could see a lot of red in it, too. Somewhat plain-faced, but she had a kissable mouth, and Chase got the feeling, judging by those lovely long lashes, that she had nice eyes too. I'd remember sleeping with someone like her, he decided, as he reached up to turn off the shower. There's no way I'd forget that, no matter how drunk I was.
He supposed he shouldn't have let it get to him so much. It wasn't something he was all that torn up about that he should drink himself into a stumbling stupor. It's the principle of the thing, really, Chase thought, pushing his wet hair out of his eyes and looking around for a towel. Not that it was a terribly healthy relationship to begin with, but at least I was honest. It had bothered him enough when she'd kept him such a secret from her rich, snobby parents; he hadn't known until last night that she'd really been keeping him a secret from her rich, snobby fiancé. With that feeling of being someone's dirty little secret multiplied, Chase had decided he'd had enough.
As he came out into the living room, a towel hanging loose and low on his hips, his mystery benefactress came stumbling, bleary-eyed, out of the bedroom. She blinked at him, and he saw he'd been right about her eyes; they were a lovely shade of light brown that reminded him a little bit of walnuts. Groaning, she ran her fingers back through her bed-tangled hair.
"I guess you weren't some really weird late-night-cold-pizza dream," she said, frowning. She had a decidedly pouty lower lip the stuck out sulkily when she frowned.
"'Fraid not," Chase said cheerfully. "I take it you're not that happy to see me."
"I'd be happier if you would put some clothes on," she grumbled, heading past him into the living room.
"You know," Chase said, "I have never had a woman say that to me. Are you a lesbian?"
She was leaning over, inspecting the contents of her refrigerator when he said it. Straightening, she whirled to face him and planted her hands on her hips. Obviously not amused by that, he thought, grinning. Granted, most people find it rather rude. Chase didn't care. As far as he was concerned, you could only be offended by something if you let yourself be. So if she got offended, it was her fault, not his. But to his surprise she simply rolled her eyes, tossed her head, and went back to looking in the fridge. Peeking over her shoulder, Chase saw containers of carrot and celery sticks, cartons of fruit juice and skim milk, even Egg-Beaters, which were utterly disgusting, as far as he was concerned.
"Are you a Vegan or something?" he asked.
She elbowed him away. "I like to eat healthy. And for cripes sake, put some clothes on!"
Chuckling to himself, Chase retrieved his clothes from the bathroom and put them on. Ugh, he thought, plucking at his t-shirt. Definitely need to go home and change before work. Ah, work...another reason he'd drunken himself into a stupor last night. That was the whole reason he'd found out in the first place. As soon as the Bossman told him he'd be working on the Vespucci-Hanover project, Chase had known something was up. But I promised I'd do it before I knew, he thought, running his fingers through his hair to get it out of his eyes. And I can't go breaking my promises to the Bossman, not with what he's expecting out of me.
His hostess was in the kitchen, crunching on carrot sticks as she packed lunch into a cooler. Was she that tall in high school? Chase wondered idly, as he watched her dash into her bedroom and come back with her tools. That would have sucked for her...I bet they teased her for it, even though it makes her totally hot. Not that he'd ever been hugely picky; in his opinion, the only women who were unattractive were the ones who were either so overweight or so underweight that it was unhealthy. His hostess might be slender, but who wouldn't be, living on rabbit food like she did? Chase just didn't understand people who wouldn't eat meat.
"Damnit, I'm going to be so late for work," she muttered, as she reached for the phone. "How the hell am I supposed to get a ride?"
"I can give you one," Chase told her. He was glad she wasn't looking at him, because the double entendre made him grin broadly and he thought she just might slap him for it. "As long as we're not too far from the club I was at last night. I left my truck in the parking lot. If they didn't tow it."
She turned to face him and, to his surprise, smiled. "That would be great!" she exclaimed. "We're not that far at all. Look, if you like, I'll give you some money for gas and even for breakfast, but we really need to leave now."
"Not a problem," Chase told her. "I'm going to be late for work, too. Where do you work, anyway?"
"Oh, you know Eden Park? I'm working on a wedding pavilion there," she answered.
Hello! Chase thought, his grin widening. Looks like my job just got better in spades. So this little number was on the crew he'd be working with...maybe he ought to thank the Bossman, after all. He picked up her bag of tools, ignoring her scowl, and carried it for her as they headed out of the apartment. Fortunately it was a relatively short trip to the club from her apartment, and much to his relief, his truck hadn't been towed. That battered red Ford was a sight for sore eyes, all right. Chase had a motorcycle, too, but generally he didn't care what he drove, as long as it got him from point A to point B. It was just that chicks tended to dig the motorcycle much more than the pickup truck. He'd taken the truck last night cause he thought he might have to sleep in it, if he ended up too drunk to drive.
He allowed his hostess to give him directions, even though he knew how to get to Eden Park. Chase didn't want to tell her just yet that he was going to be working with her soon. No, he'd much rather just watch from the corner of his eye as she shifted, crossing those long, sexy legs of hers. She had work boots in her bag, but he noticed she was wearing flip-flops at the moment. And—much to his delight—she had painted toenails, and wore things like anklets and toe rings. That was just damn adorable, in Chase's opinion.
"So, you got a name?" he asked, realizing that she probably wouldn't like some of the things he'd call her, even if they were meant affectionately.
"Miranda," she told him, glancing over at him. "Miranda Fox. Folks call me Randy."
Chase chuckled. "Miranda Fox, huh?" he repeated, grinning. "Now if that doesn't just beat all. Chase Wolfe, at your service, Randy."
She surprised him again by laughing. It was a sweet sound, really, and it seemed to break a bit of the tension. Chase was disappointed when they reached Eden Park, and the area where the pavilion was being built. Chances were good that she was going to be pissed at him when she found out that he hadn't told her he was working with her. It means I'm going to have to work harder, Chase thought, watching her walk around the truck, if I want to get her to... Grinning, he leaned out the open window of the truck and watched her walking away.
Miranda paused and glanced back over her shoulder at him. "Take a picture," she said, scowling, "it lasts longer."
"Are you giving me permission?" Chase asked, unable to stop himself.
She whirled and came towards him. To his surprise—once again—she leaned against the door of the truck and put her face close to his. "Only if you can pay me really, really well," she murmured, a teasing smile touching the corners of her mouth.
He couldn't stop himself. Chase cradled the back of her neck with one hand and pressed his mouth against hers. He'd been right about her having a kissable mouth. That pouty lower lip was soft and she moaned softly when he sucked on it. And here he'd been starting to get the impression that she was a bit of an ice princess. Ice princesses didn't open their mouths so nicely when he coaxed their lips open with his tongue. Chase kissed her until he could feel her trembling, then pulled back just a bit.
"What don't you hop back in the truck?" he suggested in a soft, husky voice.