"Little Red Riding Hood?" Mila cocks an eyebrow at me, a whisper of a smile flitting across her full lips. I nod.
"For some reason, that's how I think of you," I admit to her. "You were strolling out on the beach, all alone, and came along just when I needed you."
My eyes are glued on her face. I know that there is someone else in the room, but to me, it's just me and Mila. She stares at me uncertainly.
"That would make you the Big Bad Wolf," she points out.
I laugh. "Now you're catching on," I tell her.
Her gaze remains locked with mine, her eyes clear and dark. My gut wrenches at the sight of her clean and clear expression. There is no drug induced haze in her eyes, a marked difference from my usual companions. It's both refreshing and terrifying. I'm not sure how to interact with her. But since I woke up this morning craving her company, I knew I had to seek it out.
So here I am.
"Is this for me?" Mila motions toward the shopping bag and I nod. She delves into it with interest and then her face lights up when she sees all of the sweaters.
"They're all red," she laughs. "Every one of them."
I feel my lip twitch. "Of course they are. I have to keep you in character somehow, don't I? I didn't know what style you liked, so I bought you a bunch of them. I wanted you to be fully stocked the next time you come along and save me."
She visibly startles and stares at me, her movements frozen, her fingers dangling limply at her sides. I can't help but notice her slender hourglass figure. She's proportioned absolutely right to drive a man crazy. Full tits, tiny waist, lush hips. My groin tightens.
Fuck. I quickly think of dead puppies, nuns and cold pork. It seems to do the trick and my dick calms down. For now.
Mila is still staring at me, an intense, charged gaze.
"Do you need saving?" she asks quietly.
The air between us practically crackles with energy as we stare each other down. Her eyes are fathomless and deep, the kind of eyes that a man could fall into and lose himself. Permanently. I am flustered for a moment, trying to find the words to answer her when the other person in the room clears her throat.
Thank you, God.
I turn gratefully to find another woman there, a pretty blonde woman that I've seen before, but I can't place where. She seems to be waiting for an introduction, but Mila isn't giving her one.
I hold my hand out.
"Hi," I tell her. "I'm Pax Tate."
She shakes my hand firmly. Perhaps a little too firmly.
"Madison Hill," she answers. "Mila's sister."
Oh. Then her stern handshake makes sense. Big sister is looking out for little sister, trying to protect Mila from the Big Bad Wolf. I can't really blame her.
Madison is staring at me now with blue eyes that are nothing like her sister's. In fact, nothing about her resembles Mila, except for maybe the shape of her nose. She's tall and blonde, while Mila is petite and dark. Mila is sexier, although for some reason, I'm guessing that she doesn't think so. She's quiet now, allowing her sister to do the talking. It is clear that she is used to her sister taking charge.
"So are you feeling better?"
Madison cocks an eyebrow, her question a not-so-subtle way of telling me that she knows that I OD'd the other night. That she thinks I'm a fuck-up who isn't good enough for her sister. I can see that in her icy blue eyes. The thing that she doesn't understand, though, is that I don't give a shit what she thinks. She doesn't know me and that is my biggest pet peeve- when people judge me without knowing what the fuck they're talking about.
"I am, thank you," I tell her. I smile pleasantly. I won't bow to her. She's crazy if she thinks that. "Your sister was a lifesaver."
Madison doesn't know how to respond. I can see that she wants to say more, but there's really no way she can without seeming completely rude. She's disgruntled as she turns and kisses Mila on the cheek.
"I've got to get back to The Hill. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?" she looks pointedly at her sister, as if to silently warn her away from me. Then she glances at me.
"It was...nice to meet you."
And then she walks out, her stylish boots clicking on the tiled floor. The bells above the door jingle and then she's gone.
I look at Mila.
"I don't think your sister likes me much."
It's a statement, not a question. And even I can hear the ambivalence in my voice. It's obvious that I don't care.
Mila actually smiles.
"Well, I'm glad you're not all broken up about it."
I shrug. "I'm used to it."
Mila studies me quietly.
"Why are you really here?" she asks. "I didn't need for you to bring me a sweater. Or six." She chuckles. "Obviously I'll be all set in red sweaters for Christmas though. So thank you."
She pauses and looks at me and her face is very delicate. I hadn't noticed before how delicate she is. I can't imagine her trying to pull me out of a car. I must outweigh her by a hundred pounds.
"So?" She raises an eyebrow and I realize that I haven't answered her question. I don't exactly know what to say, so I decide to simply tell the truth. It's a novel concept for me.
"I couldn't remember if I thanked you for what you did," I tell her. "And I can't get you out of my head."
Her breath freezes on her lips. I can hear the startled little intake of breath and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. Did the truth scare her? Or has she been thinking about me too?
I look at her.
And for a moment, we are suspended in the moment. She drags her bottom lip into her teeth and her green eyes are liquid. She turns her face slightly, the curve of her cheek catching the sunlight from the window.
We are frozen.
And then she breaks the spell.
"You've been thinking about me?" she whispers. "Why?"
"I don't know," I tell her honestly. "Maybe I feel like I owe you."
"You don't," she answers quickly, her voice clear and sure. "You don't owe me anything. I'm glad I was there to help, but it was purely coincidence and anyone would have done the same. "
Her hands flutter around her nervously as she shuffles paper on the counter. I shake my head and smile.
"Not everyone would have done that," I tell her. "Not at all."
She's hesitant now, probably remembering that night and how I had apparently puked all over her. Finally, she smiles too.
"Okay, fine. Not everyone would have given you mouth to mouth. Maybe you do owe me. What are you going to do about it?"
Her sassy words seem to startle her as much as they startle me. She looks surprised as soon as they are out of her mouth. But she's nowhere near as surprised as I am. Is she flirting? With me?
My, what big teeth I have.
I once again feel like the wolf as I smile at her, as I turn on my charm. I have it, I just seldom care enough to use it. I'm baffled as to why I'm using it now. But I am. Because her sassiness was an invitation.
"Hmm," I answer, grinning my best flirtatious grin. "What would you like? A pint of blood?"
She laughs, nervous and musical, before she shakes her head. "No, I gave up drinking blood a long time ago. I developed an allergy."
Warmth floods through me before I can stop it. She has a sense of humor. I love that in a woman. I grin back.
"Okay, noted. No blood for you. Okay, I've got it. Clearly, you're an artist who likes to feature the lake in your work. I happen to have one of the best views in Angel Bay from my beach. It's private and quiet and no one will bother you. You can use it whenever you'd like. How about that?"
I don't know why I just offered that. There is utter silence and I can feel my heart pound as I wait for her to respond. Why do I care what she says? But I wait, holding my breath, until she speaks.
"That's quite an offer," she finally says, her gaze still holding mine. We seem to be doing a lot of staring today. "Do you live alone? I'd hate to disturb anyone."
I'm more relieved by her answer than I care to admit. And then I'm amused.
"You're very direct," I answer, my lip twitching again. "Most girls try to be more subtle when they ask if I have a girlfriend. But the answer is no. I'm not married. And I don't have a girlfriend. You won't be disturbing anyone."
She blushes now, a faint pink that spreads from her cheeks down to her chest. I like it. It's seems very soft, very feminine. Once again, I fight the urge to reach out and trace the delicate color with my thumb. What the fuck is wrong with me? I jam my hand into my pocket instead.
"Hmm," she answers. "It seems a shame to waste a view like that on one person. I bet sunrises are amazing there. Something like that should be shared."
I laugh now, loudly. She completely just walked into this and I'm pretty sure she didn't mean to.
"You don't have to beat around the bush about it, Mila. If you want to be there at sunrise, just pack an overnight bag when you come out."
No one could miss my suggestive tone.
And she doesn't.
She blushes again, her cheeks bright red.
"That's not what I meant," she mumbles. She's embarrassed and I like it.
"No?" I ask, my eyebrow still cocked. "Because I can certainly arrange a sleepover."
"I'm sure," she says wryly. "But no. Thank you for the invite, though." She's laughing now, her blush fading. "Truly, thank you for the offer of your beach. I can paint the lake from memory, but it's always nice to actually be there looking at it. A new view will be great. Artists are visual people."
The air seems to whoosh out of me for some reason and I don't even know why. Perhaps it is the thought of her sleeping over. Or maybe it is the sound of her voice. It seems to have a profound effect on me.
I step toward her and she looks uncertain, but she doesn't move away.
"Men are visual too," I tell her softly, my eyes frozen on hers. "So I understand. But there is something that bothers me, something that puts me at a disadvantage. And I really don't like feeling disadvantaged."
"What is it?" she asks, her eyes not leaving mine.
"You've seen me at my worst. Maybe you should see me at my best."
My words hang between us, heavy and charged, and I don't know what the fuck I am doing.
"When are you at your best?" she asks hesitantly. And I can see from the determined look on her face that she is trying hard not to feel intimidated. I'm impressed. She's like a kitten standing up to a lion.
My answer is simple. And her eyes shoot sparks in response.
"You're kind of arrogant, aren't you?" she demands, her hands on her slender, paint-spattered hips. "A simple Thank you for saving my life would suffice. I don't need for you to carry me off to your bed to show your gratitude."
I pause for a minute before I try to smooth her ruffled feathers.
"Calm down," I tell her quietly. "I'm sorry. It's a habit. I was just joking. Sometimes I have an inappropriate sense of humor. Thank you for the other night. I'm sorry I didn't say it before."
She purses her lips and then sighs.
"It's okay," she answers. "And you did say it in the hospital. You didn't need to come here and say it again. I have been wondering though..." and her voice trails off.
It's her turn to stare at me now and her gaze is contemplative. I stare back unflinching.
"What?" I prompt. "What have you been wondering?"
"Why did you do it?" she asks softly. "Why would you do that? It seems like you have a wonderful life."
I'm surprised again. This girl is very direct and doesn't hesitate to say what she's thinking. And she thinks that I purposely tried to kill myself. What the fuck?
On the one hand, her direct attitude is refreshing. I have a feeling that she doesn't play games. But on the other hand, it's annoying as hell. Because sometimes I like to get lost in games so that I don't have to provide any real answers.
But I have a feeling that Mila doesn't tolerate bullshit.
"It was an accident," I shrug. "I was being careless. It won't happen again."
She's still staring at me and I fight the urge to flinch. It's like she's looking inside of me, trying to pick me apart and examine me. I don't like it.
"Really?" she asks. She sounds doubtful, unsure. "I hope not. If you're lying, I hope you get help. I might not be there next time to save you."
She turns on her heel and heads for the back room. And just like that, Mila the artist with the wholesome smile walks out of my life.
I'm surprised by how much I don't like the feeling.