Home > Deacon (Unfinished Hero #4)(13)

Deacon (Unfinished Hero #4)(13)
Author: Kristen Ashley

He reached out a hand and pulled out a DVD case. I saw it was Red. Thus I grinned again.

He went to the player and as he ejected the last movie, he asked, “Things good with your family?”

I figured he asked this because we’d been doing the breakfast dishes when my family called.

He had then absented himself. The call lasted an hour and a half. A call that, during, John Priest had taken it upon himself to go to the big shed that held a bunch of crap, including my little tractor, and cleared the snow from my lane and the parking area.

Part of the time he did it, I watched from the side porch, listening to my family, happy and together and celebrating and trying to pull me into that feeling long distance, and I did it with that something I was denying I was feeling bubbling up inside me.

It was a super-awesome thing for him to do. Giving me time with my family. Giving me a break from the constant work.

When he got back, I thanked him.

His reply was, “Chile dip.”

I took this to mean badasses weren’t good with gratitude.

I’d noted that too.

“Things are good with the fams,” I assured him as he put Love Actually in its case and tossed it on the TV stand.

It was then he surprised me by asking another question, this one more personal than the first.

“Why aren’t you there?”

“My cabins are rented.”

He finished shoving Red in the player, turned, and leveled his eyes on me.

“Why aren’t you there?”

I sighed.

Then I explained. “I have an SUV to buy.”

His head cocked to the side. “What?”

“I have an SUV to buy,” I repeated. “And I’m saving to pay my dad back for giving me money to make a go of this place. I’m doing that with interest so it’s taking some time. And I’m buying my SUV with cash because I don’t want to finance it. The cabins are filling up and I almost always have several of them rented, but it’s not like it’s steady and I haven’t been here long enough, and the cabins haven’t been renting steadily enough to assess how the rentals are going in order to get a sense of what kind of the income I’ll have. So I’m being cautious. And I need the money.”

He moved to his chair, no longer looking at me, and folded his frame into it.

What he didn’t do was reply.

I reached to the remote.

That was when he spoke again.

“Why didn’t they come here?”

“Home is closer and Mom and Dad have a huge house.”

I felt his gaze so I looked to him.

“You got eleven cabins,” he pointed out.

“Home is home, Priest, and my sister just had their first grandchild. My mom and dad live on the ranch in Oklahoma where my dad grew up, his dad grew up, me and my brother and sister grew up. With Lacey having her first baby, the ranch was where this Christmas had to be.”

“Have you met her kid?” he asked.

I shook my head.

He looked to the blank TV.

I took that as a sign it was time to fire up the movie, so I did that.

We were ten minutes in before Priest said quietly, “Nothin’ more important than family.”

His words made me catch my breath, mostly because he was right. I should have taken the financial hit, closed Glacier Lily, and taken a few days to drive down and spend Christmas with my family, meet my nephew, get to know my soon-to-be sister-in-law better, commune with my beloved uncle.

I really should have.

I also caught my breath because those words came from him and they were surprising, seeing as he was here with me, a stranger to him like he was to me.

Which meant he either didn’t have any family or he knew just how true those words were because he lost his somewhere along the way. Neither option, by the by, sat very well with me.

But bottom line, I couldn’t deny that deep inside I liked it that he felt that way.

It was my turn not to reply and I didn’t.

I just reached to a cookie tin, settled in, and watched the movie.

* * * * *

“So, badasses drink hot cocoa,” I remarked.

“Yup,” John Priest confirmed.

I grinned into the steam coming from my cup and snuggled deeper into the blanket I’d wrapped around me prior to sitting in my Adirondack chair on my side porch, Priest beside me.

I had my eyes trained through the trees to the glimmering Christmas lights fighting through the dark to give a subdued but nevertheless merry feel to Priest and I sitting in the cold and snow, drinking cocoa late at night after tons of movies, good food, a dinner that Priest tucked into—his first bite of duck making his face change momentarily, showing me he liked it, making me like giving that to him more than was healthy.

Now Christmas was almost over and it wasn’t a good day. It was an excellent day. He wasn’t talkative company. He wasn’t warm. He wasn’t affectionate. He hadn’t even smiled.

But that didn’t mean he wasn’t good company. That didn’t mean in his own unique way he didn’t communicate without words or even looks that he appreciated being there. My company. My food. My goofiness. Just being somewhere nice with a decent person on a holiday. It meant something to him and he communicated that to me.

And I knew that because there we sat, in comfortable silence broken only by me occasionally saying something stupid just because I had the feeling he enjoyed me being a dork. So much it put the comfort in comfortable for him.

I listened to the river flow, allowed the stillness of the night to shroud me, warm in my blanket with hot cocoa in my belly, and definitely warm in the companionship of the man at my side.

I sighed quietly and relaxed deeper into the beautiful tranquility.

“We don’t change.”

That came from Priest and it came quiet. Not ugly. Not icy. Not mean.

But firm.

And the bubbling inside me stopped gurgling.

“Okay,” I whispered.

“’Preciate the kindness,” he went on.

“Good,” I said softly.

“You’re a good woman, Cassidy.”

I closed my eyes, opened them, and murmured, “Thanks.”

“But we don’t change.”

“Got it.”

He said no more.

I licked my lips and took a sip of cocoa.

The night was no less still. The view no less beautiful. But the tranquility was gone.

I sipped my cocoa and got to the bottom of the cup, doing it making a decision.

So he was scary. So he was badass. So he was closed off in a way that he’d made clear more than once he was never going to open.

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