Welcome to What-A-Burger @janewithay
Chapter 10: Boiling Springs

**WTWAB**

Chapter Ten:

Boiling Springs

"The reason as to why we are attracted to our opposites is because they are our salvation from the burden of being ourselves."
― Kamand Kojouri

***WTWAB***

"Well, he's a Shih Tzu all right; pure bred from the looks of it … not sure about his age, but given the condition of his teeth I'd say he's around three – maybe four. No micro-chip either," Doc Wolf announces, as he finishes up his exam.

"He's a healthy little guy; maybe a bit underweight – course from the looks of his feet I'd say the rascal put quite a few miles on those pads of his, didn't you boy?" he said, ruffling the tiny dog's ears. "You say your daddy found him in back of the Burger, huh?"

"Yes, sir – least that's what I was told when I picked him up this morning. Um … Listen, Doc ... I don't wanna get ole Bip all fired up over this here fellow if the owner's gonna show up and claim him – that would break my baby-girl's, heart."

I watched the exchange between Boots and the veterinarian carefully. Even though I had already formed a definite opinion of Boots, I am beginning to realize that my first impression of him, spitting notwithstanding, may have been a little harsh. Any man who puts his child first like he does surely can't be all bad, can he?

"Well, of course, we can't be sure Boots. But given that he's not chipped, got no tags, isn't on any website for lost dogs and the condition of his feet, I'd say your chances of the owner showing up at this point are probably slim. Still, I can list his picture and keep him here for a week or two to see if anyone contacts us."

"Naw … I mean, yeah … I think y'all should run the picture just in case – it's the right thing to do after all - but I believe I'll go ahead and take him on home to Lillibet tonight if it's all the same to you."

"I think that's mighty fair of you, Boots. Okay, I'll just go ahead and give him his shots, and then you can take him on – although you might want to check with Miss Peggy at the Paw-Wash to see if she can squeeze him in for a grooming; he's plumb ripe."

Two shots and one call later, Boots and I are dropping off the dog at Peggy-Pigs Paw-Wash.

"Why Boots, I declare it's been ages since I saw you last … what-choo-been-up-to-boy?" She says," as she reaches out and grabs him in a huge bear hug. Brown curls surround her head like a frizzy halo, and they bob, haphazardly, as she fairly dances him around the salon.

"How's your Mama? Lord – I haven't seen her in a dog's age – I've been busier than a one legged cat in a sand box."

"Nice pun," he snorts.

"Oh, you … come here and gimme some sugar; I swan … I haven't been bussed by a handsome chap like you since I was in bobby socks."

He bends over and gives her cheek a dutiful peck, and the woman fairly beams with pleasure.

What is it about this man?

She looks up suddenly, and a sly grin spreads across her face like jam on bread.

"Well now, who do we have here? Ain't she a pretty little thing? Don't tell me you're finally over that no count, trashy Tanya … well, I declare, Boots … it's about time. Lord knows we've had you in our prayer circle for goin on five years if it's been a day. Course, I was holding out hope against hope that you'd finally come to your senses and sweep me off my feet one of these fine days, but I can see that even if I do have the right parts, they ain't exactly the latest models, and that's a fact.

What's your name honey?"

"Um, Annabelle. Annabelle Crow," I stammer.

"Crow? As in bird?"

"Er ... yes."

"Huh. Well, I don't believe I ever knew any Crows round here. Where's your daddy from?"

At this, Boots steps in between us and takes my hand.

"Miss Peggy, this here is Miss Annabelle, she's a friend of the girls. She's gonna be visiting us for the spring and maybe even into the summer."

WHAT?

"Well, now … it's right nice to meet you, Miss Annabelle; such a pretty name, I declare. Is your mama from round here; your face looks so familiar."

"Uh."

"Naw, Belle's from …" he cocks his head to the right and his smirk to the left.

"Oh, my …" she frowns.

"But her granddaddy's from Mississippi," he lies, unashamedly. I swear I feel the tiniest of hip bumps and it's all I can do not to stomp on his foot.

"Well, I declare … it is so nice to meet yuuuuuu," she says, as if my granddaddy being from Mississippi made all the difference in the world.

"What time will he be ready?"

"I'll have him finished by four. Y'all go on and enjoy this beautiful day. Boots, you should take Miss Annabelle down to the springs," she says with a small wink. Boots face reddens.

Reddens? Did-did he just … blush? I watch in amazement as the color spreads to his ears and down his neck.

"Does he have a name yet?" she asks as she fills in the forms.

He looks at me for help. I look down at the little pooch and am once again reminded of Dean Berty; with his thatch of white and long beard, the resemblance is uncanny. Still, it isn't my place to name this dog.

"Shouldn't your daughter be the one to choose?" I ask, quietly.

Both he and Miss Peggy burst out laughing.

"Oh-hell-no," he says, wiping his eyes. That poor thing'll be more confused than a fart in a fan factory if ole Bip tries to name him."

"Ain't that the truth," says Miss Peggy.

I look at them confused; don't most children get to name their own pets down south?

"I'll explain it to you in the car," he says.

"Just call him dog, for now, I guess."

"Wait. How-how about Bert?"

What am I doing?

"Bert?"

I shrug. "He looks like an old man with that beard; he should have an old man's name," I explain.

"Miss Peggy puts her face down next to the boy's ear and croons, "Do you like the name, Bert?" His tail thumps.

"All righty ... Bert, it is. Now all you need is a cat named Ernie, and ya'll be set!"

A few minutes later we walk back to Miss Vicks' house. As promised, Shelly has a large picnic basket waiting for us in the sunny kitchen, where she stands at the counter watching a small black and white TV; the kind with rabbit ears.

"Miss Belle, I went and pressed an old sun dress of Miss Rosalie's for you; it's gonna be hotter than Hades this afternoon; go slip it on; it'll be big, but it's pretty and more importantly, cool"

She hands me a red cotton dress, perfectly plain, save for a few buttons on the back. I take it from her and run to the bathroom and slip it on. It's loose and comfortable.

When I return to the kitchen, Boots and her are standing at the counter munching on a pan of freshly baked biscuits; my mouth waters. Boots breaks a piece off the one he's eating and puts it in my mouth (which opens automatically before my brain even it gives it permission to do so.)

"Good, huh?"

"Mmm …" I grunt, my mouth full. He laughs.

Miss Shelly raises her eyebrows and looks at the clock.

"Y'all need to get before Miss Thing wakes up from her nap," she says, buttering a biscuit and popping a piece of it into her mouth. "I'd like a little peace before that happens, thank-you-very-much. My story's bout to start; now shoo."

We shoo.

I climb into an old silver Volvo; the seats worn, but buttery and soft. Volvos aren't known for soft seats; indeed, my Aunt's friend, Frances Beekman, had a blue Volvo station wagon and Aunt Margaret often remarked that it suited Frances to a T because it made one sit up ramrod straight; as if a hot poker was up one's backside.

'She's a lovely woman Bella, a bit stoic perhaps, but lovely. That said, I swear I have never known any individual who still possesses a pulse, to be as stiff as Frances; why it's as if she has two spines instead of one.'

But Boots' Volvo was different; it was soft. Contented, I let out a little sigh and sit back in the front seat, trying to relax.

"This is nice," I say, stupidly. "I wouldn't have expected you to drive a Volvo."

"It's the same one I used to drive you to Miss Vicks' house the other night."

"Is it?" I guess my memory has gone by the way of my wits; they're both lost.

"Guess your mind was on other things that night," he says, with a wink.

I feel my face flush.

If he only knew ...

"I drive a lot of everything," he continues. I'm a mechanic; if it's broke, I fix it. After it's fixed, if I like it, I might buy it; depends. I got all kinds of cars and trucks; even got a few bikes. But I always take the Volvo when I got Bess by my side."

"Is it her favorite?"

"Naw, it's the safest."

Thud

His love for Elizabeth is just so very sweet

Stop it

I avert my eyes and stare out the window trying to make, well, basically everything fade away.

"So, why can't your daughter name the dog?" I ask, after a few minutes of awkward silence.

He laughs, sexily.

He laughs, sexily?

What is wrong with me?

"Elizabeth gives herself a different name every time she turns a corner; can you imagine how mixed up that little man would be if I let her do that to him? Shit – he'd be as lost as last year's Easter egg."

"Is that why you call her all those derivatives of Elizabeth?"

"Derivatives?"

"Yes, you know ... nick –"

"Oh hell … there you go again … I KNOW what it means, Yank. I just don't think I ever heard anyone outside of an English class ever actually use it in a real life sentence before; what ... you a teacher or something?"

I swallow thickly and look down at my lap trying to decide just how much I should tell him.

"Why did you tell Mrs. Pig that I was staying with Alice and Rose for the spring and possibly the summer?"

"Why are you changing the subject?"

"I'm not … I'm …"

"A teacher?"

The silence is so loud it's deafening.

"Or something," I mutter, finally. I turn my head away from his eyes and stare out the window.

"Huh," he grunts. "Well, okay, then."

"What does that mean?" I ask, suspiciously. I may not know this man well, but I do know he always seems to have a motive.

"Mm … nothing. I'll get it out of you eventually."

Of that, I have no doubt.

"Alibi."

"Alibi?"

"Yes … it means you have a story ready just in case you need to pull something out of your ass real quick in order to cover said ass," he explains in a serious, teacher voice that sounds remarkably like my own. I want to hit him with my purse.

Except … I don't have one.

I turn to give him a glare, and he pulls a face.

I laugh in spite of myself.

He takes the next exit off the highway and turns down a long, winding, gravel road, then another, and another, until he finally stops when a fallen branch and debris prevent us from going any further.

"Shit. I guess we should've used the truck after all; the roads still rough from the storm we had last week. You feel up to hoofing it?" He asks, shutting off the motor and glancing down at my feet.

I'm still wearing the same silly sandals I had on when I ran away from James. The weather had been so pretty that morning, and I'd had a pedicure only a few days before …

I sigh.

"Oh don't you fret, Yank ... if it get's that bad, I'll just haul you over my shoulder like I did back at the barn.

Oh, I don't think so.

Well, are you coming or what?" He asks, climbing out of the car. He reaches in the back seat for the basket and hoists it on his blue-jeaned clad hip. I notice that in spite of the well-worn denim of his pants, they're clean and fit him well. In fact, everything about him today is clean, save for the beds of his fingernails, which are still marred with traces of grease. I guess that must be quite difficult to remove. He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out something red.

"Is that a lollipop?"

"Nah ... it's a Dum-Dum, dum-dum. You want one?" he asks, removing the wrapper and popping the candy into his mouth. I roll my eyes. He acts like a child half the time, even if he does look like a man.

A He-man.

I can remember my Aunt Margaret using that expression:

'He's what you would call a He-man … virile, strong, a little hairy, a bit smelly, and just all man.'

"No thanks."

"Suit yourself."

"Does this mean you're going to be spitting soon?"

"Yes Ma'am, it does," he says, as he marches down the road, gravel crunching between his steps.

"Perfect," I grumble, as I try to keep up with his long-legged pace. But it's not easy – he's tall – at least six feet two and I'm almost a foot shorter. Soon, I find myself panting to keep up, and even sooner, all I am is a dot on the landscape and a speck in his dust cloud. Which is, I must say, rather a shame; apart from the physicality of the hike, I'm rather enjoying the view.

And I'm not referring to the landscape.

"You ready for that shoulder yet, Yank?" He calls.

"Never!"

"Suit yourself!"

"I will!"

"Damn stubborn Yankee!"

Stupid redneck with a gorgeous ass

What?

I didn't say that out loud, did I?

I round the corner of the path, huffing, and puffing and then let out a scream when a pair of arms wind around my waist and lift me up in the air.

"What'd you say?"

"Nothing," I yell. "Put me down!"

"Nope, not until you tell me what you said."

"I didn't say anything, I swear it."

"Liar."

"Boots … Please … put me down!"

His eyes narrow. "You call me a redneck?"

"Maybe."

"Uh-huh. And did you say something about my ass?"

"No … well, I might have called you an ass."

"That's not what I heard."

"Well, get your ears checked then. Now put me down!"

He does. I drop to ground like a sack of potatoes and land squarely on my behind.

"Ouch!"

"Serves you right for telling a fib," he laughs.

I stand and brush my seat off, then let out a gasp. There before me is one of the most beautiful vistas I have ever viewed in my entire life.

"It's right purty, isn't it?"

"It's gorgeous," I say. Because it is. Between the mountains, the trees, the flowers, the blue skies, the bird songs, and the babble of the water and the warmth of the sun … I have never seen anything more gorgeous.

"But it's not as gorgeous as my ass," he sings, as he pulls out a red and white, checkered table cloth and lays it on a grassy knoll overlooking a large, bubbling spring.

"I did not say that," I insist.

"Have it your way, Yank. I know what I heard."

Blushing, I open up the basket and begin pulling out the contents.

I expected sandwiches, chips, and maybe a piece of fruit and perhaps, a cookie or two. What I didn't expect was a virtual feast.

Container after container of fried chicken, potato salad, macaroni salad, deviled eggs, pickled beets, biscuits stuffed with ham, and a frosty jug of iced tea, meet my eyes and makes my mouth water, again.

"Is that all she put in there?" he asks, disappointed.

"You've got to be joking … we'll never eat all this," I protest.

"Wanna bet?"

I look to see him rummaging through the basket.

"Oh … there you are! See? I knew Ole Shelly wouldn't disappoint!" He holds a container up in the air and smiles at it adoringly.

"What is it?"

"What is it? What IS it? Ooh … gal, just you wait … your ears are gonna wiggle they'll be so happy!"

"It looks like cake."

"Cake? It looks like cake? Well, just you wait … it might look like cake, but this here? This is a little slice of heaven in a box."

I laugh at his ridiculous hyperbole and sit, passing him a plate and plastic picnic ware.

We help ourselves to the food and tea and begin our feast.

"This – this is amazing," I say, in between bites of, well, the most amazing food I believe I have ever consumed. Of course, it's been a very long time since I truly ate a meal of any substance, what with all the drama of the past few weeks. I chase those weeks out of my mind … I want to enjoy this moment.

Please, God … let me enjoy this moment.

We chat while we eat, and as promised, Boots doesn't ask questions about my circumstances that led me to North Carolina, although he does circle around them, dangerously close to the edge.

"So, Miss Or-Something, what do you like to do for fun in that pipsqueak state of Massachusetts?

Huh, what do I like to do for fun?

"I read. I like to go to symphonies. I enjoy visiting museums. I love to travel. How about you?"

"Well, the last few years I've been pretty busy playing mama and daddy, so I haven't had much time to go to symphonies and museums," he chuckles, using air quotes. But I go to the occasional race, and of course, I like tractor pulls and hunting. I go fishing with Liz whenever I can. I like music … I like it a lot."

"What kind – country?"

"Yeah, country's good, so is classical. It's all good, I guess."

Classical? I try to cover my surprise by reaching for a deviled egg.

"What … you think a country boy like me can't appreciate classical music or something? Man … you really are a snot, aren't you?"

"No … I'm … just … okay, yes, surprised. You seem more like the type to pick a banjo to me, I guess."

"Well, yeah … I do like banjo music … as I said, it's all good."

"Sorry," I say.

"Whatever. What else do you like to do?"

I rack my brain trying to think of something … and there's not much else I do-do. God, when I get back to Massachusetts, I really do need to get a life. I'm a bore.

"Um, nothing really. Well, I love old cemeteries; I used to do gravestone rubbings but …"

"Shut-up."

"What?"

"I don't believe it."

"What?"

"We've got something in common."

"Really?"

"Yep. I love the old bone yards … always have ever since I was a kid; even got a bumper sticker on my truck that says 'I brake for old graveyards.'"

"I've got one of those too!"

"I never did a rubbing though."

"I could teach you … it's not all that difficult …"

"Yeah?"

I shrug. Suddenly the atmosphere changes and instead of the light banter we were enjoying there's awkward silence between us. He knows I won't be sticking around long enough to teach him anything, least of all gravestone rubbings.

I struggle to find a safe topic and try to keep the conversation flowing.

"So, um … your ex?"

Brilliant diversion, Bella, as always … I groan, inwardly; small talk has obviously never been my strong suit. But Boots surprises me and seems to take it in stride.

"Tanya."

"She's …"

"Dead," he says, bluntly.

"Oh – Oh, I'm so sorry ... I didn't realize … I thought from the way the girls and Miss Pig talked that you and her were –"

"Over. We were; had been for a while. She ran off with a sailor from Massachusetts a few years after Bip was born. Met him at some bar in Charlotte. Didn't leave me no note, no kiss goodbye, no frying pan clobbered over my head … she just poofed. Cleaned out our savings account; just took the money and ran. Left me the baby though, so I guess I can't complain; I hit the lottery with that little gal."

"Wow."
"Yeah, wow. I guess I was so damn busy running the shop and helping Daddy out at the Burger, I never saw it coming. Tanya's biological daddy was supposedly from Massachusetts, but she'd never been there. Always did have a hankering to see it though; guess I should've known." He pauses to take a gulp of his beverage before he continues.

"Anyway, she got killed in a wreck somewhere south of Boston around two years back. The cops there called me; she still had me listed as her next of kin.

So, it's just me and Elizabeth now, I reckon, and honestly, she's the only good thing to come out of that union so … yeah."

"I'm sorry, Boots."

"Eh, don't be; she was what the girls call a BFM."

"BFM?"

"Big fucking mistake."

"Oh."

"Well, it's water under the bridge now. Besides, Tanya always was a wild thing; pretty as a picture, but knew it too, know what I mean?"

I nod my head.

"We'd known each other since we were kids; hell, all of us grew up together in the home. I knew she was no good; the girls, Miss Vick, even Mama and Daddy, hell, they all tried to warn me off her, but I was too damn stubborn, and she was too damned determined to pin me down, so …" He trails off.

"The Home?"

"Yeah … that's a story, too. I'll let the girls fill you in on good ole Boiling Springs Home for Children."

"All right," I say. Although it isn't all right … a home for children? My curiosity is certainly piqued. I resolve to ask the girls about it tonight when we get back to Miss Vicks.

"How did you get the nickname, Boots?"

His eyes narrow and he grins.

"Well, you sure are a nosey little thing, aren't you?

What's your real name? I know it's not Annabelle Crow … any fool could tell that was made up on the fly."

"I-I …"

Don't know how much I should tell you … if I can trust you … if I'll put you in danger

"Forget it … I'm just messing with you, girl," he chuckles, shaking his head. " I guess folks started calling me Boots when I was just a little chap … I had a pair of cowboy boots, and I never did wanna take'em off; wore 'em all the time; even to the town pool," he shrugs.

"It's sort of charming," I offer, trying to envision a miniature Boots with a thatch of red hair; all freckles and smirks and tripping about in a pair of over-sized, cowboy boots.

"Charming?" he snorts.

I blush.

He grins.

"Whew, it sure is getting warm out; I'm hot," he announces.

"So, how about you?" He quirks a brow in my direction.

"A little," I admit. "I can't believe it's May … the temperature must be close to eighty."

"Naw, I mean … you got an ex back home or what?"

And there he is … the blonde hair and pale face of the blue-eyed demon is suddenly before me, threatening to ruin my afternoon. I can feel my throat tightening in response, and I force myself to relax those muscles in an effort to keep it at bay.

Boots nudges my knees, slightly with his foot. I clear my throat.

"No."

He leans forward and lifts my hair away from my temple and traces a line down my cheek.

"You sure about that?"

My hands begin to tremble ever so slightly, and the appetite I was finally enjoying vanishes in the blink of an eye.

"A BFM?" He asks, gently.

"Yes," I whisper. "The biggest."

I start clearing up the remains of our picnic, and he watches me, quietly, with those big green eyes that never stray far from my face.

"Well, my bucket is full." He says, finally, stretching out his long legs, and patting his non-existent stomach.

"Mine too; everything was delicious."

"Yeah, Miss Shelly is one heck of a good cook, and that's a fact," he says, wiping his mouth, almost daintily, with a starched, white napkin.

He's got manners after all. He keeps them well-hidden, but he's had some exposure to polite society, I think to myself.

He lets out a belch and grins.

Okay, I take it back; he's still an oaf.

"Sorry … excuse the pig, the hog speaks next."

"Pardon me?"

"Hah ... now you're the hog!"

"What are you, like five?"

He laughs. "Pretty much. You need to lighten up … you're so formal. Lord ... don't you ever let that hair of yours down?"

"It is down."

"I'm talking about the one up your butt."

I'm about to jump up and start for the car (he is so annoying!) when he suddenly rises and stands above me with an outstretched hand.

"Come on, Yank, let's go for a swim!"

"What?"

He moves his arms around in a free stroke pattern.

"NO."

"Yes."

"I don't have a bathing suit with me."

"You don't need one."

"I am NOT taking my clothes off and getting in that water with you."

He rolls his eyes.

"So ... just slip that too-big dress of yours off and go in your unmentionables."

"My unmentionables."

"Yes, you know … your bra and pan –"

"I know what they are, Edward."

"Edward, huh?" His eyes take on a predatory gleam, and his voice drops down several notches.

Okay, I'm not going to lie … this could be fun.

I'm hot.

He's hot.

And that water looks wonderful.

Images of the two of us frolicking and cavorting in the spring flood my mind; I can see us laughing and playing; carefree, pink-cheeked, and as happy as children. And perhaps, just perhaps, a small kiss or two tossed in for good measure.

I look at the spring

I look at Boots

I look at the picnic

It's tempting

"Isn't it still too cold for swimming?"

"It's a warm spring. The water is cool in some spots and boiling in others. You have to be careful, but not around here; this spot is completely safe."

"What about the cake?"

"We'll eat it afterward."

It's the afterward that has me trembling.

He beckons me with his finger, all curled and pointing.

You know that moment when you know something is about to happen and everything inside you is screaming:

WARNING

GO BACK

DO NOT PASS

Yes … that moment.

That was the moment that should have come with James, but never did; until it was too late.

Why? I reason that I must be defective in the areas of basic instinct and female intuition.

Yet here I am, in the middle of a Carolina forest, with a virtual stranger – a man, who has already pushed every one of my buttons; including a few that I never knew existed, and it finally appears … instinct. The feeling sweeps through me, swift and sure.

I shiver in equal parts of unknown fear and delicious anticipation.

I'm teetering on the precipice of right and wrong, good and evil, love and hate, Yankee and Rebel. And I know I should give into it; I should listen; take heed -

"Oh come on, Yank ... getcher tail in that water before I throw you in!" He pulls his T over his head and tosses it on the tablecloth. I can't stop the stare or the blush as I note the ripples of his chest and the breadth of his shoulders. He has a long torso; a swimmer's body, with equally long legs, legs which are now thankfully uncovered, as his jeans drop, carelessly, to the ground.

He stands, there, in all his glorious, magnificence, wearing nothing but a pair of gray plaid boxers and a cocky grin.

"I'd ask if you like what you see, but your tongue hanging out and that puddle of drool on your chin, pretty much sums it up for me, so what's the point?"

Ugh. Talk about an arrogant, insufferable ass … Like what I see … what nerve!

"I'm just joshing … Lord … you sure are as serious as a heart attack, aren't you? I thought you agreed to let down your hair, relax, and have some fun today. Now come the hell on and get in the water!"

He turns and runs to the spring and dives in like he's Michael Phelps training for another Olympic encore.

Show-off

I wait for him to surface, but he doesn't.

I scan the horizon; the spring is bubbling, and there is a thick mist in parts, but no Boots.

I panic.

I run over to the edge and toss aside my too-big, Rosalie-dress and jump in.

"Boots!" I yell. "Boots!"

I wade through the bubbling waters looking for signs of him, finding nothing. Hot tears form in my eyes, and my throat begins to constrict with fear. What will I tell his sisters and Miss Vick?

Oh my God ... what will I ever tell his little girl? She's already lost her mother and now her father too?

"Boots!" I scream, crying now in earnest. I start to wade out; frantic to get to the blanket ... I know I've got to get help somehow. I hope he has a phone in his jeans.

I'm just about to climb out when I feel something pinch my thigh. Startled and scared, I look down in time to see a pair of swampy-green eyes rise above the surface, followed by an aquiline nose and a mouth full of water, which is squirted at me, through a set of blinding white teeth.

"Going somewhere?" he taunts, his face all smirks and googly eyes.

I take one look at his beautiful, stupid, mocking face and promptly burst into tears. His smile fades faster than a Spring Break tan.

He looks at me, horrified.

I scramble to get out of the water.

"Hey, hey … I'm sorry, sugar … I was just playing. I didn't mean …" he reaches out for me and pulls me back from the edge, into his arms.

I smack his chest hard with one hand and pound his shoulder with my fist. He grabs them and clasps them together, then stills them with a kiss.

"I'm sorry," he whispers.

"I-I thought you might have hit your head and drowned," I cry, collapsing into his chest "You scared me so badly … why? Why did you do that? If you only knew what I've been through ... what HE put me through ... and now you … YOU do this to me … it's worse than anything he ever did," I babble.

"I'm sorry, shush … I shouldn't have done that to you, you're right. I should have known better," he croons, kissing my forehead.

"It's just ... I can't …"

He kisses all over my face, and I can't breathe … I can't catch my breath at all. He's all there, and I'm all gone.

"I'm sorry … I won't scare you again, I promise … He lifts the hair off my neck and kisses it gently.

"What's your real name?" he whispers in my ear.

Mynamemynamemyname …

"Isabella … Bella." The truth pines out of me, unbidden, but without a trace of regret.

The heat … the smell of this man, the feel of his skin, the hard calluses of his hands on mine … it's too much, and it's not enough.

"Bella?"

"Yes."

"You're beautiful."

"I'm not ... I'm …"

A mess.

I'm trouble.

I'm every girl your mama warned you about.

I start sobbing, thinking of everything I was, and everything I'm not anymore, and everything I will never be again, thanks to James Witherdale.

His specter, threatening and ominous, rises before me, but with a single touch of Boots' hand to my face; he disappears into the white mist.

"Shush …now. Hush. I know you've had bad things happen, honey, I'm so sorry." He kisses my temple softly and trails the kiss across the sweep of my cheek … softly, so soft … softer than a whisper in the wind.

The water steams, spits and sprays under, above, and all around us.

"I knew it … I've always known it … Alice told me years ago you'd be coming," he mutters into my collarbones; he's pressed so close to me I can feel his heartbeat pounding life into mine …

Thud

Thud

Thud.

I'm as lost as a girl can be, yet in his arms, I'm suddenly found. I don't question why, instead, I grab on to his neck and hold his face closer, closer, closer … pressing the stubble of his beard harder into the softness of my skin, relishing the burn.

I feel raw. I feel open.

I feel alive.

"I knew it the moment you stepped out of that sorry-ass truck, when I saw your eyes for the first time, all round with fear, but familiar too; that's why I got so damn mad."

There isn't a part of us that isn't touching … arms, hands, feet, legs, breaths, … even our hair, wet and wild, is tangled, twined and twisted together. We're snarled; odds and ends of mismatched remnants … a blue and gray quilt of perfect imperfections.

"I knew you had troubles."

Kiss

"I knew you were gonna spell trouble."

Lick

"I knew you were gonna be trouble."

Nibble

"And I knew … I knew …

Fuck." His mouth, hot and hungry, covers mine.

Finally, finally, finally …

"Bella," he groans against my lips.

"Boots" … I whisper …

"Edward, Edward, Edward …"

**WTWAB**

I'm sure you've read about trauma and how it affects one's decision-making skills? And how traumatic events precipitate hormonal encounters due to the overflow of adrenaline? (It's well-documented; trust me, I've done my research.) And then, that pesky Mr. Dopamine and his cousin Serotonin steps in and decides to crash the party, and …

Oh, God

The next thing you know … before your brain has the sense to call Reason and Logic – before your Good Senses arrive to show them who's the boss of you -

You're flat on your back

Naked as a jaybird

With nothing but the Carolina sky above you

The soft grass of the earth beneath you

The babble of the spring all around you

And the weight of a dirty, sexy mechanic

Between your legs

And deep inside you …

***WTWAB***

A/N: Oh-hell-no that wasn't sposed to happen in this chapter; Lord. I done told these two fools that this here was sposed to be one of them transition chapters, but then that dumbass had to go and take that plunge into the spring and shot that plot straight to Lucifer. Bless their horny little hearts. Known each other for all of what; two days? Couple of Hootchie Mamas, and outside, necked as a jaybird, too. I'll pray for them.

I can't even think straight now. I gotta get me somethin stronger than sweet tea to settle my nerves down over this shit. I got no idea what they're gonna do next ... I just hope they do. (Okay, I'm kidding. The next chapters almost finished. lol!)

Happy Easter for those who celebrate! See you in a week or two!

Jayne xo

PS: I want to thank y'all for the lovely reviews from the last chapter. I was very touched by the wonderful homecoming this story received. Thank you so very much!

And thanks also to my fic-sis, Fran, who makes everything so much prettier, and especially for her loyal friendship, sisterhood, and unwavering support. I love you, girl!

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