Keeping Her Warm(2)

By: Alexa Riley

“Wish you would have told me you were coming this morning.” My mom gives a little huff as she pulls the biscuits out of the oven.

I grab one off the hot sheet and take a bite, not wanting to respond. I didn’t tell her I was coming for a reason. Whenever the women around here know I’m coming their daughters and granddaughters crawl out of the woodwork and I feel like a piece of meat being fought over.

I grit my jaw thinking about it. It isn’t that I don’t want a woman in my life, just no one has ever caught my eye. Plus, this is a small town. I didn’t like the idea of running into someone I dated after it didn’t work out. Or worse, one day I do find a woman and make her my wife and she has to run into people I dated.

I know what is coming from my mom next. She’s been on me since I healed from my injury when I retired from being a Ranger.

“I really think you and Susie would make a cute couple. Even cuter babies.” She says it dreamily, turning to look at me. She pushes her short gray hair behind one ear, giving me soft eyes while she smiles. I shove more of the biscuit in my mouth. She rolls her eyes before turning back to the stove to pull off the eggs and dump them into a bowl, but not before giving another little huff.

“Collie, you haven’t even brought me a woman to meet.” Her shoulders drops a little as she places the bowl of eggs on the table.

I swallow the food in my mouth, feeling a little bad. “It’s not that I’m hiding women from you, Ma.” I’m not. I just haven’t dated since I left the army. I didn’t have a desire to, on top of the other things. That part of me felt like it died when I almost lost my own life. I have a whole county to look after right now anyway. I don’t have room on my plate to worry about anyone else.

She walks over to me, placing her hands on my chest. “I just want you to be happy.” She looks up at me.

I want to tell her I am happy, but I’m not sure if that’s true. I don’t feel unhappy. In truth, I don’t feel much of anything. Numb to my own life. When that bomb went off it felt like it took more than a chunk of my shoulder. Something else went missing and I can’t seem to find whatever it is.

“Ma, I’m good,” I tell her, trying to reassure her. She studies my face. “You don’t need to worry about me. Not anymore.” I add the last part because I know while I was enlisted all she did was worry. I probably took ten years off her life when she got the call that I was unconscious and in the hospital going into surgery. That’s part of why I didn’t fight to go back, and I took my retirement and came home.

“Sila.” I hear a man’s voice come from the front door and I know it’s George. My ma steps back from me to greet him. A small smile pulls at her lips before she masks it.

“Hi, George.” She says it like she’s a little irritated. “You came over for breakfast?” she asks, grabbing some plates and setting them on the table that’s filled with a bunch of other breakfast food already.

“I came for your company,” he shoots back. His eyes come to mine and he gives me a wink. I just shake my head. These two have been dancing around each other for months. I know my mom likes him, but the problem is so does every other woman around here. Though the times I’ve been here I’ve never seen him give any of them the time of day. His eyes are always on my mom. I thought maybe I should talk to him, but I think my ma has it handled, and not to mention, I like George. Have from the moment I showed up one day and he was giving her hell about her unlocked door, too.

“Always the flirt.” My mom bats a hand at him in a shooing motion. George grabs it and kisses her palm.

“Only with you.” They stare at each other for a moment. I feel like I’m seeing something I shouldn’t be.

“Morning!” someone calls from the door. Thank fuck, I think to myself. I didn’t want to see what was going to happen next with George and my mom. My moment of relief is short lived when I see it’s Betty coming in.

“Cole!” She almost screams when she sees me standing there. My mom tries to pull her hand from George’s. He reluctantly lets her go. “I was hoping to see you. My granddaughter gave me her number to give you.” She starts digging through her purse and I guess she’s looking for it.

Fuck. I hate shit like this. Do I take the number and never call, or do I tell this woman, “No I don’t want it.” Both seem like shitty options. I give her a smile, trying to be friendly.

My radio on my hip goes off and I reach for it.

“Bannon here,” I call back to Asher.

“Got a call from the bank. They think someone is breaking in and staying in the house on the corner of 4th and Shine.”