Copyright © 2013 Em Petrova
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Whir-thump-thump. Whir-thump-thump. Dr. Brant Foxfire tilted the shopping cart off its back wheels and let it slam into the floor.
A woman who was scowling at the small-town grocer’s cereal selection looked up at the sound.
“Sorry,” he said as he pushed by her. “Noisy wheels.”
“Oh, these carts are so old.” Her face wreathed in the false smiles he saw too damn often from women. As the only orthodontist in Reedy, Wyoming, he got plenty of female attention when mothers paraded their crooked-toothed kids into his office. And the women at the coffee shop or diner he frequented all made it a point to display their charms. More often than not he got eyefuls of flesh he had no desire to see.
While this attention flattered him, he wasn’t in the business of chasing skirts like some of the local cowboys. Long ago, he’d sworn to keep out of the beds of Reedy residents. It was too easy to ignite rumors, which for a professional man could be the equivalent of career assassination.
Goddamn cart. Couldn’t he just have a peaceful trip to the store for coffee and a frozen tray of lasagna without that whirring noise? He heard enough of it in the office from all the gadgets used to suction and clean patients’ teeth. While he loved his job, he didn’t get away from it often enough. Fifty-hour workweeks and no distractions at home…
He jerked as a woman passed the end of the aisle, carrying a plastic shopping basket over her arm.
Brant’s chest constricted a little at the sight of her long blonde braid straggling over one shoulder, the soft end kissing the curve of her full breast. Who was she? In a small town like this, he knew just about everyone, from the older citizens who frequented the coffee shop just down the street from his office to every member of the police force. And who could forget all the women he knew but didn’t want to know better?
But this woman was mid-height with all the curves and secretive allure of Marilyn Monroe. Fuck yeah, he would have remembered seeing her.
The lady perusing the cereal was staring at him, and she had that look. The one that said she was hungry for some man-prey.
“Excuse me.” He quickly wheeled his whir-thumping cart past her. She grinned and struck a pose with a box of granola like a model in an ad.
In the main aisle leading to the two cash registers in Brenniman’s store, Brant spotted her again. His Marilyn. She wore a white, curve-skimming summer dress that clung to her hips when she walked. For a moment, he stared at her round ass, battling an arousal he hadn’t felt in far too long.
He might be a bachelor by choice, but he was far from dead. And this woman could raise a man from his grave.
Or from another dark pit? Brant pushed back this thought with a low grunt. He wasn’t going to think about tying this woman up or laying the flat of his hand against that lush ass of hers. It wasn’t normal, and he wasn’t sinking into that quicksand again.
The cart wheel locked up completely, and he gave it a swift kick. Then, scooping his food items out of the basket, he abandoned the cart altogether. Glancing up, he caught a glimpse of Marilyn taking her place in the checkout line. She was wedged between a mother with three kids in the back of a cartful of diapers and Franklin Worthy, an eccentric cowboy painter. And he could tell by the way Franklin looked at Marilyn that Brant wasn’t the only one to find her inspirational.
“Hello, Franklin.” Brant crowded into line.
Franklin’s head was tipped down, his gaze obviously clinging to Marilyn’s shapely calves. Possessiveness flared inside Brant. Would Marilyn catch Franklin staring and let the playboy engage her in conversation? Lots of women fell for Franklin. With his long hair, French cigarettes and perfectly paint-splattered clothes, he ensnared women like cowboys roped cattle.
But not her. She’s off-limits.
For a long minute, Brant stared down at Marilyn’s bare toes peeking from her leather sandals. Christ, the woman was wearing silver toe rings. Lurid images of pulling those off with his teeth slithered through his head. He also envisioned different silver ornaments—shackles for her wrists and ankles.
No. He would not—could not—entertain those ideas. He’d left all that behind years ago when he’d lost his last girlfriend over his need to control in the bedroom.
Franklin didn’t respond to Brant’s greeting, so he ignored the painter too and instead focused on Marilyn. She was unloading her shopping basket onto the counter. Bags of beans and rice, a small amount of ground beef. A candy bar and a bag of sunflower seeds.
The corner of Brant’s mouth tugged with a smile. Sunflower seeds?
When she presented her profile, he studied her delicate jaw and upturned nose. The cashier gave Marilyn the total, and her long lashes swooped over her cheeks as she turned her attention to her purse. Her face, devoid of makeup, was country girl Marilyn before Hollywood dolled her up.
She dug through her purse and came out with a bank card. When she swiped it, Brant swore she shivered.
Gazing at her openly now, he fought to control the feelings she aroused in him. He wanted to throw himself in front of her, shield her from the leering Franklin Worthy and the frowning cashier.
“I’m sorry, but your card’s been declined. Do you have another form of payment?”
Marilyn’s face mottled red, and Brant’s heart strained toward her. Eyes averted from the cashier and the customers in line behind her, she flicked through her wallet and came out with a few bills.
“Take these off.” She pointed to the sunflower seeds, the beans and the candy bar.
“Sure thing.” The cashier gave her a new total, and Marilyn passed her the bills.
When the cashier dropped a few coins of change onto Marilyn’s open palm, Brant’s throat tightened. Suddenly, the urge to fill that little hand up was so strong, it dizzied him.
Had he ever felt this way? The need to protect, possess, care for and claim all at once?
Marilyn grabbed her single shopping bag and hurried toward the exit. Everything in Brant’s body screamed to stop her, to ask her name and to buy her sunflower seeds.
But Franklin Worthy blocked his path, gaping at Marilyn too.
Brant nudged his shoulder with more force than necessary. “You’re next, Franklin.”
The man shot him a narrow look and began to move down the line.
In the parking lot, Brant realized he’d missed Marilyn. She’d vanished from his life as quickly as she’d come. Except she’d left him with that burning loneliness and the yearning to be more to someone.