Let’s have some respect
Got girls in here
Just pay your tab
And lay down your beer Hoss and let’s take it outside
Take it outside
It’s man to man
Toe to toe
You know we need to go
Nobody’s gonna break it up
Not until you’ve had enough
And if you think you’ve got the guts
Then let’s take it outside
If you think you’re man enough
You really wanna knuckle up
If you wanna shed a little blood then let’s
Take it outside
(Lyrics from ‘Take it Outside’ Brantley Gilbert)
“This is exactly why I don’t live here in the off season anymore,” he grumbled as Mike stared at the plate his mother had just put in front of him, heaped high with perogies, bacon, cheese and sour cream. His mouth watered but he could already hear the trainers at camp making those disapproving noises about the extra weight he’d put on over the summer. “Shouldn’t there be something green on this plate?” One of the dieticians had told him once not to eat anything that had a face and always to make sure he ate something green. He had lime jello in his fridge and not the sugar free stuff. He was pretty sure that wasn’t what they meant but he liked it. He also liked pistachio pudding but he wasn’t a big fan of broccoli. He was pretty sure it was the broccoli they wanted him to eat.
“Since when did you start turning your nose up at your mother’s cooking?” Mike poked a fork into one of the little bundles of fat and carbs and then dipped it into the sour cream that, knowing his mother, wasn’t the light, low cal stuff. He put it into his mouth, closed his teeth on it and his mouth was suddenly full of cheese and grease, bacon and sour cream, carmelized onion and potato. It was heaven. He closed his eyes and felt a grin tug at the corners of his mouth. This was exactly whey the trainers called him a fat redneck but there was no way he wasn’t cleaning off his plate. He would just have to find some way of working off all of this later.
“My baby boy’s never turned his nose up at my cookin’,” his mother ruffled his hair. If any of the guys back in DC had seen that he’d never have heard the end of that. He could hear the apron strings comments in his head. Here at home, though, he got a sort of glow in his chest that matched the amazing taste in his mouth. It was good to be home.
“So what are your plans for tonight son?” his father asked. Mike kept his eyes on the plate in front of him. So the old man already wanted him out of the house. So much for missing him, Mike thought as he speared another perogie and smothered it with sour cream.
“I guess I’ll see if any of the guys wanna meet up,” he muttered before putting the cheese and potato filled dough pocket in his mouth.
“You mean you’re gonna let the local girls know the big hockey star is home,” his mother teased, planting a kiss on the top of his head. Mike laughed around the mouthful of home cooking. Back here he might still get into the VIP section but he was hardly competition for anything in a Stetson and a pair of tight Wranglers. It had been a big shock to him his first summer home. It wouldn’t be now.
“We’ll probably just go out for a couple beers,” he replied, taking his phone out to send a couple of texts to some old school friends who’d be happy to have him buy a round but who wouldn’t expect him to buy the next one. He felt her gaze on him and looked across the table to find his mother staring at him intently, her head cocked to one side, a smile on her lips that didn’t go all the way up to her eyes. He knew what was coming and steeled himself for it.
“When are you gonna bring home a nice girl to take care of you Mikey?” Normally he’d have a quick answer to that question, something along the lines of not needing one and being way too young to settle down when there were so many pretty girls out there. Tonight he poked at his food and shrugged his shoulders as visions of a certain red headed vixen suddenly filled his thoughts.
“A picnic?” Chelsea stared at the basket in Jimmy’s hand as she stood half in and half out of the front door. She’d put on a light yellow sun dress with spaghetti straps that stopped just above her knees that she’d bought in DC. It hadn’t been warm enough there to wear it there yet but there was a warm Chinook here tonight and the sun wasn’t down yet.
“It’s a beautiful night,” Jimmy smiled and held his free hand towards her. She put her sweater in her other hand and pulled the door shut behind her. He was wearing dark blue denim that stretched invitingly across his ass. Dress jeans the boys around here called them. They were pressed with a crease down the front. She easily imagined him standing at an ironing board in nothing but a pair of tighty whities and his well worn straw cowboy hat. The vision in her head made her smile. “If I’m honest I didn’t want to share your attention with anyone else tonight,” he grinned at her as he opened the passenger door of his old beat up F-100 and helped her inside. He gave her that look that should have made her heart skip a beat but she only smiled back at him and then looked away as she smoothed her dress over her lap.
He was wearing his best dress shirt, stiffly starched, collar pressed. The light blue of the cotton matched his eyes. She knew that she should want to run her fingers over it, should want to undo each and every button slowly to reveal his sculpted chest beneath it. She also knew that’s why he’d chosen it. Not only because it brought out the blue in his eyes but that it would also bring back memories.
Chelsea looked down at the basket as he slid it onto the space between them on the bench seat. She could smell chicken pie inside, his mother’s recipe and one of her favorite things in the world. It made her chest ache. He was really pulling out all of the stops.
She took his black felt hat when he handed it to her and watched as he ran his long fingers through his blonde hair. It already had some of the highlights in it that would make it almost white by the end of the summer. He’d let it get a little long while she was gone. He normally kept it military short, almost a brush cut. She found she liked it this way, with bangs that almost fell into his eyes the moment both hands where on the steering wheel.
He aimed the truck up the rutted dirt road that went behind the house and she felt her heart beat begin to race. She knew where he was heading and she also knew why.
He’d be expecting her answer and he had a right to it, she thought as she ran her fingers along the crease at the top of the cowboy hat in her lap. She’d asked him to wait until she got back from taking her mother’s place in DC and when she’d said it she’d firmly believed that she would feel exactly the same when she got back as that snowy night that she’d left but that was before she’d gotten a taste of freedom, of riding in limos and attending cocktail parties with heads of state, Princes and VIP’s. She had believed she’d been grown up enough to make that decision when he’d asked the question by firelight, curled up in front of the fire, the flickering flames turning his face golden like the god she’d always thought he was. In so many ways she felt like that girl who had looked up at him and thought he was everything she wanted was just that, a girl, a child. She felt so much more grown up now, now that she’d been somewhere outside of this little world with its tall grasses and endless skies.
When the truck slowed in front of the gate to the upper paddock Chelsea’s heart was racing and her hands had gotten clammy. This was maybe her favorite spot in the world, dotted with wild flowers and at this time late in the spring the grass was up to her hip. It was a good place for a girl to hide, sit in the grass and watch the horses and dream. It was also the place she’d made love for the first time, when Jimmy had been so tender and patient and she thought that had been the best day of her entire life. That was why they were here, why he was grinning at her as he reached for the basket and gave her the blanket to carry. It was supposed to make her happy but suddenly it was the last place in the world she wanted to be.
“I want to go dancing,” she blurted suddenly as he opened the door for her. He stood there, picnic basket in one hand and the handle of the door in the other, staring up at her like she’d just said something in another language.
“Dancing?” he asked, looking perplexed. She ran her finger along the edge of the brim of his hat and nodded, but didn’t meet his eyes.
“Yeah, let’s go to Cowboys. I feel like doing some line dancing, maybe a two step or two?” She raised her gaze to meet his and hoped that he didn’t see the panic in her eyes. She did her best to smile, to look enthusiastic, even as her pulse pounded in her chest and she fought the urge to dry her hands on her dress.
“If that’s what you want.” He looked over at the meadow and Chelsea swallowed with some difficulty. He’d gone to a lot of trouble, put a lot of thought into this and she felt like the worst person on earth but she knew if she went into that paddock, if she sat down on the blanket and he looked into her eyes that she’d say yes and then…, then she’d be stuck here forever as a farmer’s wife and she’d never see a big city again.
“You know you’re never gonna get farther than that as long as that gap toothed idiot is on your team right?” Mike smirked as he stared into his beer.
“That gap toothed idiot is the captain of my team and the reason that a lot of those butts are in the stands. He’s an amazing player.” It was a defense that came easily, not least of all because it was true.
“Fuck, not this year. Tell me he was playing with a broken arm or something,” one of his other friends pleaded as he joined them at one of them tables that circled the dance floor. Most of his buddies had chosen to sit on the barstools that faced the floor. Mike had intentionally chosen the one that did not.
“The coaching staff made some changes to the way we play. They didn’t match up with Ovie’s style,” he explained. These guys had played the game, hell most of them still did play the game in midnight and weekend beer leagues. He could probably draw up plays on the back of one of the coasters and explain strategy and they’d understand it. The fact was he didn’t want to talk shop tonight. Somewhere between his parents place and the bar he’d decided that all he wanted to do was get messy drunk and pick up some cute little cowgirl to take home and ride him, make him forget that sexy little red head whose body was still haunting his imagination. “We still made it farther than the Flames,” he began, getting ready to rub a little salt into the wound, but when he looked up from his beer, none of his buddies were paying any attention. In fact all of them were staring at the dance floor like men coming out of the desert and finding an oasis.
Mike turned on his barstool. There was a line of mostly girls in daisy dukes or skimpy jean skirts and cowboy boots, pig tails, braids and either t-shirts or button down shirts tied somewhere above their belly buttons. It was the regular fare for Cowboys, Calgary’s most notorious party spot, and most of the girls were certainly cute enough to be openly gawked at, but Mike was pretty sure he knew what had them all staring.
He thought he was maybe seeing things, like you do when you want to see something or someone badly enough. It was the red hair that had caught his attention. He’d never really been the kind of guy who had a type, blonde or brunette they were all pretty much the same to him. He liked women, all women in that ‘how could I possibly choose’ kind of way. ‘Maybe one night could make a difference’, he thought to himself as he watched the girl with the cherry red hair trying to drag some tall drink of water onto the floor. In just about any other city with the obvious exception of Nashville, the guy would have been laughably out of place in his iron on wranglers and his black cowboy hat. Here though, the only thing that made him stand out was the belt buckle that damn near looked like a hubcap from a Navigator and the fact that he was tall, taller than Mike knew he was on skates.
“Bet he can’t dance,” one of his buddies dug his elbow into Mike’s ribs. ‘And what can my two left feet do about it if he can’t?’ Mike wondered to himself as the music began to play and a chorus of ‘yee haws’ rose from the crowd on the floor.
That was the problem with Cowboys. He liked looking at all the girls in their cut offs and bandana tops but he couldn’t do any of the line dancing or cowboy waltz stuff. That required more coordination than he had, off of the ice anyway. He was about to turn back to his beer when the red head gave up trying to drag her cowboy Casanova onto the floor and joined the line just as they broke it down low.
It was something about the way she got low and something about the way her frothy little sundress danced around her ass when she did that made him pause. There was something in the way her cherry red curls bounced as she came back up that made it hard for him to breathe. He’d thought that colour could only come from a bottle but he’d followed that landing strip to heaven and no one dyed the hair down there…did they?
‘Couldn’t be’, he blinked and then reached up and rubbed his eyes. It had to be jet lag, he reasoned as he found himself sliding off of the bar stool and circling around to the other side of the dance floor. He’d wanted to see her and now she was here…things like this just didn’t happen, especially not to him.
The grin she wore as she wiggled her ass to the hard driving southern rock song he knew. It was imprinted on his brain and hit him like a wrecking ball, nearly making him stagger backwards as she threw her head back and giggled when she missed a step.
Mike lifted his ball cap and ran his fingers through his unruly hair, not able to believe his eyes. Even if he didn’t trust his vision, his cock twitched in his jeans as if to say that it knew exactly what he was looking at. And then there was that scar, that little puckered starburst of skin behind her knee. His mouth knew it, he remembered running his tongue over it, remembered the way she squealed when he tickled the back of her knee.
She loved the song that was playing. In general she was pretty open minded about music, her iPod was testament to her eclectic taste but when it came to country she preferred something with an electric guitar and a hard driving beat. She was a little disappointed that Jimmy wouldn’t dance to it but it didn’t really matter, not once she got going. She was out of practice though, she realized as she missed a step and got behind, but she didn’t care. She felt free out on the floor and at least Jimmy had cracked a smile when she’d begged him to dance.
He was still smiling when she looked over at him now, only there was a covetous gleam in his blue eyes too as she stomped and twirled to the music. The expression on his face said that he was clearly thinking ‘she’s mine’ and for once today Chelsea found that she didn’t mind. In fact she kind of liked the way his eyes got all soft when he watched her, like she was the only girl in the room.
‘It’s not really him I’m mad at’ she reminded herself as she gave him a warm smile. He tipped his hat to and gave her one of those slow smiles that turned her heart into melted butter. ‘Guess that still works’ she grinned at him as the song came to an end and the next song, a swing by George Strait began to play. He walked slowly towards her and her and Chelsea got that feeling that she’d been waiting for all day, her heart began to swell, her pulse jumped and her knees got a little weak as she reached out to put her hand into his.
Except it wasn’t his hand that hers went into. As she spun on the heel of her cowboy boot, she turned to find herself looking into a pair of dark brown eyes that sent a shock wave straight down her spine.
“You,” she sputtered, almost tripping over her own feet as he clumsily guided her around the corner of the floor. “What are you doing here?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” her last night in DC hissed as he stepped on her foot, making her wince. It was a good thing he was wearing sneakers. If he’d been wearing boots it might have hurt worse.
“Why? Do you think you’re so amazing that I flew all the way across the country for another bang?” she snapped back at him, to which he made a face, turned and dragged her off of the dance floor. She was running to keep up with him when he stopped, dead, causing her to run into his back. Peeking around his shoulder, she looked for the reason why; Jimmy was blocking their way.
“Would you mind taking your hand off my fiancée.” It was in the form of a question but it wasn’t one. Chelsea could tell by the way his eyes, normally so blue had turned a stormy gray. Chelsea tried to pull her hand loose but just as she’d remembered it being, the hand holding hers was strong, the fingers thick and unyielding. She tried to go around him, put herself between him and Jimmy but he held his arms out, blocking her path.
“I don’t see a ring.” She felt his thumb move quickly over the back of her hand, checking for the tell tale bump of a solitaire no doubt. She could barely contain a smile.
“Cee Cee, do you know this…low life?” An hour ago Chelsea might have said yes, just to give herself some distance, some space away from the rush of her impending future. Now, as she looked up at the scowl on Jimmy’s handsome face, she knew she would do anything not to hurt him.
“No,” she replied calmly. She didn’t add anything like she’d never seen the guy in her life; that would have been a lie. As it was, she didn’t know him. She didn’t know his name or what he’d been doing in DC or whose loft they’d had sex all over, so ‘no’ wasn’t a lie. She felt the man holding her hand’s entire body become very still. He turned and looked over his shoulder at her, the shock in his eyes not at all hidden by the brim of his tractor hat.
“You’re engaged?” He wrinkled his nose, as if the word itself left a bad taste on his tongue.
“Not yet,” she replied in a whisper, dropping her gaze down and to the side so that Jimmy wouldn’t read the words on her lips, wouldn’t know that she felt she had to give an explanation to a total stranger. She glanced up at him through her hair and thought she saw relief in his dark eyes, just for a moment, and then he was moving and so was she.
“I said take your hands off.” Jimmy had a hold of him and instinctively, protectively Chelsea pulled backwards on the hand that was still holding hers’. Their fingers were laced. They seemed to fit together that way, like two puzzle pieces that once you’d put them together would not come apart. She realized in that moment that she didn’t want Jimmy to hurt him and he could. He was a Provincial champion steer wrestler and the man whose hand she was holding, she remembered, didn’t look like the kind of guy who hit the gym. He had strong legs. That was something else she remembered and thought ‘maybe he could run’. A vision of Jimmy chasing him across the parking lot with a lasso made her smile and she did her best to hide it behind her other hand.
“Not sure yet,” Mike replied as his buddies fell in behind him like a posse. He didn’t actually like fighting. He’d do it, if he had to, but he didn’t like it and the last thing he needed right now was to have to call and tell the organization he’d broken his hand on some guy’s face in a bar brawl. On the other hand, he didn’t like the way this guy was looking at…damn, he still didn’t know her name.
“CeeCee.” The guy held his hand out towards her and beneath the brim of his cowboy hat Mike could see a patronizing little smile on the guy’s face that made Mike curl his hands into fists. He wanted, really badly, to knock this guy’s teeth down his throat and that was an emotion he just wasn’t used to feeling, at least around anyone other than say Max Talbot or Sean Avery.
“Mike, you have let go of my hand.” She said his name. His heart raced in his chest to hear her say it like that, in a half whisper, her lips so close to his ear. He had to fight the urge to close his eyes and lean back to get a whiff of her perfume, to feel her body sway into his. He used the anger he was feeling to suppress the softer feelings he didn’t really understand.
“This guy, really?” he asked, glancing over his shoulder at her. Her jewel green eyes met his and she smiled and nodded. He wanted to ask if she was sure and he wanted to just drag her out to the parking lot and leave with her. Instead, very reluctantly he let his fingers slide from hers’ until just the tips of their fingers were touching. ‘Why does this make my chest hurt?’ he asked himself as he stared down at her finely boned fingers with their white tipped nails. He could feel them in his back, felt the sting of them digging into his flesh and he shuddered. “Are you…you’re gonna marry him?” He forced himself to look into her emerald green eyes even as he told himself that he being a god damned pussy. She was just a fuck, a one night fucking stand. He shouldn’t care. He did.
“Pretty sure, yeah,” she replied, leaning in and brushing her lips along his cheek. He clenched his jaw and did his best not to moan. Her hand slid from his and he was left standing there, watching her walking towards him, going up on tip toes to kiss his cheek as the praying mantis wrapped his claws around her and turned to usher her away.
“You know that chick?” one of his buddies asked putting a beer in his hand. Mike started to shake his head and then stopped.
“Kind of, yeah,” he muttered. CeeCee, the guy had called her that twice. Mike tried it out, whispering the name under his breath. It didn’t seem right. It didn’t fit the little vixen he’d had in his bed. It sounded too childlike, too innocent.
Chelsea was still staring straight ahead, feeling the bumps and bounces of the driveway up toward the house but not seeing it. She was still seeing Mike’s pouting lips and the bedroom eyes. ‘Mike’ she smiled as she thought about the way his hand had felt holding hers’ and the way he’d looked at her, as if he was pleading with her to stay with him. A little part of her had wanted to.
“Strange, that guy thinking he knew you.” Chelsea made a noncommittal noise in her throat and then turned towards Jimmy who was staring straight ahead, both hands on the wheel. He was still wearing the same guarded expression he had been since he’d manhandled her out of the club. She hadn’t liked to lie to him, but she told herself that it would hurt him less than knowing who Mike really was. When she’d left for DC he’d told her she had her freedom for as long as she was gone. She’d known then just as she did now that he hadn’t really meant to give her permission sleep around. That had been her decision but she’d never meant to rub his nose in it. That had all supposed to have stayed in DC with her father. It was never supposed to arrive on his doorstep. “And you’re sure you didn’t know him?” Chelsea blinked and then stared into her lap.
“I think he was maybe just drunk,” she mumbled as the old pick up rumbled to a stop in front of the farm house. Chelsea glanced up at the porch light, expecting the flutter of butterflies in her stomach that usually began right about this time. They were there, but there was only a couple, not the usually swarm of beating wings that sent her pulse into overdrive. She looked across the bench seat to where Jimmy was still holding fast to the wheel. She waited for him to ask her to ask him in. He didn’t. “Well…umm, goodnight then,” she muttered as she reached for the door handle. The sound of the old door creaking open in the silence seemed eerie, not least of all because he almost never let her open it on her own.
“Chelsea.” She paused with one foot on the running board.
“Yes Jimmy?” She waited, heart hammering hard in her chest.
“If I asked you now, would you say yes?” Chelsea stared out at the darkness and then a sad smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.
“I’m not sure,” she replied quietly, and then stepped off of the running board, onto the ground and closed the truck door behind her. She didn’t look back as she walked up the stairs to the front door. She heard the truck idling as she put her key in the lock and then heard it speed away as she opened the door.