I step outside and turn toward my truck. I don’t make it two steps before someone crashes into me, knocking the box of croissants out of one hand and spilling my hot coffee on the other. The box flies into the air, and a pair of delicate hands swoops in and catches it before falling into my arms. My free hand instinctively wraps around her small frame and holds her tight to my chest.
“Oh, shit, sorry.” I shift my eyes toward the soft apologetic voice that has me momentarily paralyzed. The palest blue eyes I’ve ever seen stare up at me. They glisten like the color of thick ice after a hard freeze. Shimmery silver streaks frame her otherwise dark brown hair around her face and lighten her blue eyes even more. Despite the silver-gray hair, her skin is smooth aside from the faint creases around her smiling mouth. My chin brushes across the top of her head as I balance her in my arms.
I hold my gaze on her. The sparkle in her eyes fades, and the pale blue color shifts to a dark gray. She closes her eyes as her cheeks turn a bright shade of pink.
“You okay?” My voice comes out low and rough. She presses her free hand against my chest and I tremble. Holy hell. I silently beg for her to open her eyes again so I can study her icy blue stare.
My head drops closer to hers as I breathe in her scent of vanilla and spice. Damn. She smells like a cookie. I try to open my mouth to speak but the words catch in my throat. Nothing more than a faint grumble escapes.
“I’m so sorry.” She pulls back and smiles up at me. Her slight southern accent tells me she’s not from around here. “I’m such a klutz.”
“It’s fine.” I smile in return and release her from my protective grip. My stomach tightens, and my mouth runs dry.
I know everyone within a fifty-mile radius and have never seen her before. Dressed in a sleek, fitted lavender peacoat, black silk scarf, and ivory dress pants, she looks too elegant for this rugged country town. Even her boots look fancy compared to the worn leather cowboy boots most people around here wear.
She must be a tourist. There’s no way someone as stunning as her could hide from the local gossip committee. Although, being early March, it’s too early in the season for tourists to arrive.
I shake the coffee off my hand, grateful for the frigid wind cooling the hot liquid before it can leave a burn. “Looks like you saved my pastries. That’s all that really matters.”
“Well, that’s good, ‘cause I’m pretty sure I elbowed you in the gut.” She lets out a soft laugh and the sparkle returns to her eyes.
“Did you?” While I didn’t feel her physically hit me, her laugh does.
She steps back, and I can see her full frame. Her long, mostly dark hair hangs to her elbows. The light breeze blows her hair around her body and into a soft hug. She looks young despite the silver streaks in her hair, but something in her eyes tells me she’s already lived a full life and is closer to my age. Her long peacoat hugs her figure, revealing just enough of her sensual curves to remind me I’m still a man with needs. I swallow hard, trying to regain my crumbling composure.
“I didn’t feel it,” I finally manage to say.
“Regardless, I’m sorry.” She hands me the box of pastries she gracefully saved before falling into my arms. The tip of my finger brushes across her hand as I take the box. A shock shoots through my body, and the faintest gasp escapes her lips. She felt it, too. “And I spilled your coffee. I hope it didn’t burn you.”
“It's fine. No need to apologize” A strand of silver hair catches on her lip, and I fight the urge to brush it away. “I think you’ve said sorry three times now. I’m gonna live.”
“Sorry.” She cringes and lifts her hands in defeat. “I can’t help it. I’ve always been overly apologetic. It’s a problem.”
“Yeah, don’t do that.” My smile grows and takes over my entire face. I need to get going before I’m late, but I can’t move. Instead, I stare at her like some crazed fool caught in a trance. “Now you’re apologizing for being you. That’s even worse.”
“If you spent your life knocking into every stranger you don’t see, you’d apologize all the time, too.” She laughs—a light playful chuckle—indicating she’s used to poking fun at herself and others. This woman knows how to have fun, I can tell. “Especially if it results in an attack on pastries and coffee. That’s just wrong.”
“In that case, I concede.” I look down at my now half empty to-go cup before I toss her a crooked smile. “Rachel’s coffee is the best and spilling it on the ground should be a crime.”
“In that case, let me get you a fresh cup. I was headed there anyway.” She holds her playful grin and points to Sweet Cakes. “I’m in desperate need of coffee. That’s where you got yours, right? I hope it lives up to your hype.”
“Don’t sweat it. I’ve already had my fair share for the day. I gotta run anyway, or I’m going to be late.” I reach behind her and open the door. “But you should get her coffee. My hype is spot on.”
“Thanks.” Her smile warms every frozen inch of my body, and I no longer feel the chill in the air.
She waves as she walks into the shop, leaving me to stare. Something about this woman leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy inside. She leaves me wanting more. The last time a woman had such an effect on me was in college when I met my ex-wife, Irene. It had been love at first sight. Or so I thought. Irene instantly stole my heart and later crushed it into a thousand pieces.
The divorce had been so bad, I still struggle to find all the pieces of my shattered heart. It’s hard to believe fifteen years have passed since Irene left. It feels like an eternity, and yet the pain from her betrayal still stings. She did a number on me.
My gaze wanders back to Sweet Cakes, still thinking about the stranger who just entered the shop. I’ve had my fair share of flings since Irene, but nothing serious, and no one caused my body to physically react with nothing more than a brief touch. But that pale-blue-eyed beauty lit me up inside.
It was hard enough meeting a good woman when I was young, but I’m approaching fifty, and it’s not like there’s an endless supply of available women close to my age around here. At least none that I’ve made a connection with. The younger ladies hit on me all the time when I meet my buddies for drinks. Personally, I don’t understand why. I’m almost old enough to be their father. My good friend and local cattle rancher, Wyatt Strong, says age has nothing to do with it. According to him, I’m the quiet brooding type that women love. Whatever the hell that means. I’m not quiet and I don’t brood.
I check the time as I slide into my truck. I have just enough time to head to the office to grab my notebook and files before heading to the chalet. If all goes well, I’ll be signing a new client today.