Never Too Hot
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She stared at him for a long moment before turning and walking to the door. Over her shoulder she softly said,
“I really hope you get what you want. Good night, Connor.”
Dropping to the floor he did one push-up. And then another and another to drive away the swirling emptiness that was there, still waiting for him to drop back into it.
He'd gotten all the sleep he was going to get tonight.
THROUGHOUT THE rest of the night as Ginger fell in and out of sleep, Connor's story ran through her brain. All the pictures he'd painted. All the ones he hadn't that she could so easily imagine on her own.
Endless hospital visits. Not knowing if he was going to be able to use his hands again. And then having to fight with the Forest Service to get his job back after he'd already sacrificed so much.
His agonizing story had touched her deeply. Every word had pierced the core of who she was. She'd ached for him as he talked. She'd had to reach out for his hand, to let him know that he wasn't alone, to try to absorb some of his pain, if only for a second. Waking up throughout the night, she found herself worrying about him, wondering if he'd managed to sleep, hoping another nightmare wouldn't come for him as soon as he let his guard down.
For the first time in years she was awakened by her alarm, rather than with the first rays of the sun. At six a.m., she'd assumed Connor would still be asleep, but his door was wide open. Where could he be? Could he have decided he'd had enough of her probing questions and packed up his things to head back to California?
Her stomach twisted at the thought of it — even though his leaving had been exactly what she'd wanted the previous afternoon — and she had to go to his room to see if his things were still there.
Seeing his bag on the dresser sent relief washing over her. He wasn't gone. Not yet. And even though she didn't have a clue about where things could possibly go between them after what had happened last night, she was glad.
Quickly showering and dressing, she went downstairs to guzzle a cup of coffee before she headed back to the diner. And that was when she looked out the kitchen window and saw him on the beach, putting himself through what looked to be an intense workout. He was doing pull-ups on one of the trees at the edge of the white-gold sand in front of the cabin.
Watching him brought back the sensation of his body against hers, the hard warmth of his muscles, the slide of his fingers against her br**sts. She'd never been so physically drawn to any man, had never wanted to be possessed.
In the sunlight his scars stood out in sharp relief. And as she watched him, she saw the horrible fire in Lake Tahoe play out in her mind, almost as if she'd been there with him.
How hard, she wondered, had it been for him to get to this point, where he could withstand the pressure of wrapping his scarred hands around a tree limb and pull himself up?
And how hard must it continue to be?
Although she'd trained in many different disciplines of art, she'd never been particularly drawn to sculpture until this very moment. If only she had clay at her fingertips, she felt that she could make something truly great.
Simply because she was wholly inspired by her subject.
Whenever she worked the breakfast-into-lunch shift Ginger was amazed by how quickly seven hours could disappear.
“So,” Isabel finally said when they were the last two in the restaurant. “How'd it go last night with Connor?”
Ginger knew Isabel had been dying to ask all day. Just as she'd been dying to confess, “The only word I can think of is gravity.”
Isabel grabbed her arm and pulled her down into one of the chairs in the empty dining room. “What are you talking about?”
“We talked last night.” Among other things. “For quite a while.”
All she had to do was close her eyes and she was right there again, in his bedroom, watching him try to fight back his pain as he told her about the fire.
“He's gone through so much, has worked so hard to get to where he is today. He's really an extraordinary man.”
“I thought he reminded you of your ex-husband.”
Oh yeah, she had said that, hadn't she?
“Do you think first impressions can be wrong? That once you learn more about someone, once you've had a chance to go deeper, that everything can change?”
“Maybe. Or maybe it's just our way of trying to convince ourselves that we can have the one thing we know we should stay away from,” Isabel said pointedly. “Besides, how deep could you possibly have gone in one night?”
Ginger instantly gave herself away with a deep flush.
“Are you telling me that you slept with him? The same guy you didn't want anything to do with yesterday?”
“No,” she said, glad to be able to tell her friend the truth. “He saved me from a falling tree branch and then later we kissed but-”
“Oh Ginger.” Isabel ran one hand over her face. “I didn't want to say anything to you last night. I hoped I wouldn't have to, not when you were so clear about keeping your distance. But I really think you should watch it with Connor.”
“Why?” Isabel was the one who'd been pushing her to get out there and date. “Did you know him well as a kid?”
“No. Actually, I hardly ever saw him or his brother. Only when they were having bonfires out on the beach or they were water skiing. I'm just trying to make sure you don't get hurt.”
“I appreciate that,” Ginger said slowly, and she did, but Isabel's warning didn't sit quite right with her. If Connor were anyone else, wouldn't her friend be encouraging her to live a little? To stop clinging to safety and take a risk for once in her life?
Another possibility struck her. “How serious were you and his father? A couple of dates? Or was it something more?”
Pain flickered across Isabel's face so quickly she instantly regretted her question. Ginger had been such a shrinking flower for so many years that she sometimes had the sense that she was overcompensating. First with Connor and now with Isabel, pushing and pushing until she forced them to tell her things they'd much rather keep buried.
But before Ginger could tell her friend to forget it, that her probing question was way out of bounds and she was grateful to know Isabel was looking out for her well-being, Isabel said, “We were pretty serious. Very serious, actually.”