Heart of Clay(9)

By: Shanna Hatfield

When Callan finally started for home, snow covered the roads and fell with unrelenting force. Carefully maneuvering on the slick roads, she wondered what caused Mother Nature to decide they needed weeks of a winter wonderland in Tenacity. They rarely had more than an inch or two of snow the entire season, but this year looked like it would be a record-setting snowfall.

When she turned off the main road, the car slid several feet before she got it under control and headed straight again. She hated driving on slick roads and pulled into the driveway with a tense neck and white knuckles from gripping the steering wheel in a tight grip.

At least Clay left the yard light on and shoveled the walk. She appreciated his consideration. Even if they didn’t see eye to eye these days, she felt like they still respected each other, at least most of the time. An unspoken pact existed that neither one of them would air their dirty laundry anywhere except at home, with each other. The problem seemed to be that instead of airing it, they packed it away and all the baggage grew unmanageable.

Near the front door, Callan slipped on a patch of ice and her backside hit the pavement before she even had time to blink. Caught by surprise, she let out a gasp as Clay stuck his head out the door.

With the roads growing steadily worse, he'd been watching for her and thought he saw her lights in the driveway.

“Callan, are you okay?” he asked with real concern in his voice. He hurried out to where she tried unsuccessfully to stand. Her long coat and skirt hampered her attempts to gain footing.

“Give me your hands.” Clay bent over to help her rise. He grasped both her hands and pulled her to her feet then, with an arm around her, led her inside the door.

“Thank you.” Tears filled her eyes as she looked down at her hands. Clay glanced down and saw her palms were scratched and raw. A cut near her thumb bled. He wondered why she wasn’t wearing her gloves or her snow boots. Knowing Callan, she’d probably been too absorbed in her work to bother with putting them on before she left her office.

“You hit the sidewalk pretty hard, didn’t you?” Clay gently removed her coat, throwing it across the couch. He put his arm around her and led her to their bathroom where he rinsed her hands under a stream of warm water, poured disinfectant on her cut, and finished it off with a bandage.

Callan remained mute while he worked, keeping her head down. The sensations he stirred with his closeness left her unsettled while the scent of his aftershave teased her nose.

“All better.” He’d missed the feel of her soft skin against his work-roughened palm and wanted to keep the contact as long as possible. He offered her a teasing grin. “If you were so tired you couldn’t make it into the house, you could have called on your cell and let me know you needed help. You didn’t need to just plop down on the sidewalk.”

Callan tried her best to keep from getting emotional, but she released a choppy laugh and gave Clay the first real smile he’d seen in a while.

“That patch of icy, cold sidewalk looked so comfy and inviting, I just couldn’t resist.” She offered him a sassy grin of her own.

Clay ran his hands up her arms and looked her in the eye, attempting to ensure she wasn’t just pretending to be fine. “Are you sure you’re okay? Are you hurt anywhere else?”

“I’ll be fine. I think my pride received the most damage. Good thing it was dark out or I would have provided quite a show for the neighbors.”

“If you give a repeat performance, let me know. I’d like a front row seat.” Clay winked and hugged her lightly. “Have you had any dinner?”

“I had some crackers and an apple.” Callan stepped away from him, moving into the bedroom and kicking off her shoes. “I think I’m ready for bed. I’ll just get a glass of water and turn in.”

“Okay.” Clay wished she hadn’t pulled away so quickly. He walked through the house, turning off lights and locking doors.

Callan shuffled stiffly into the kitchen, partly because of her still smarting backside and partly because she dreaded seeing the pile of dishes in the sink. To her surprise, the dishes were gone, and the sink and counters had been scrubbed.