“Tell me you’re picking up more than just a few bags of Cheetos,” Megan’s voice begged through my cell.
My initial reaction was a breathy scoff. Total indignation on her implication. But a quick glance into the basket slung against the crook of my arm showed that’s exactly what I’d picked out for myself so far.
“There’s nothing wrong with Cheetos,” I tried to argue, despite the obvious deflation in my voice. Megan had always been my better half. We fell into each other’s lives during our first year of college, when we were assigned as roommates.
To me, Meg was perfect – blonde, bubbly, gorgeous. The type of girl that has fun and makes friends wherever she goes. I’m the exact opposite in every way, but Megan’s supportive nature had been perfectly suited for dealing with me back then. She would drag me to parties, forcing me to break out of my comfort zone little by little. It didn’t end in college. Meg had been my best friend since day one. The only thing that had changed since then was that she also became my publisher.
“There’s nothing wrong with them, except that they get all over everything and turn your fingers a permanent shade of orange.” Megan scolded into my ear. “And must I really remind you, Wren? Cheetos are not a food group.”
“Okay, okay, okay,” I cut her off. “I’ll get some fruit, too.”
“Good. This may be news to you, but you can’t get your best writing done if all you’re doing is munching junk food day in and day out.”
I tucked my cellphone between my cheek and shoulder as I picked up a box of cheese noodles to examine the ingredients. Part of my brain was wondering if Cheetos would taste good mixed in. The other part of me was trying to ignore Megan’s mentioning of my book. The book that I was supposed to be writing, but had hit a mental block on for a good week and a half.
“Wren, did you hear me?”
My brain snapped back to reality and I tossed the box of cheese noodles into my basket before answering with a vague, “Uh huh.”
“Well…then maybe you should answer my question.”
I felt my cheeks flush. Even on the phone Megan knew how to startle me.
“Yeah, sorry, Meg. My brain checked out for a minute.”
“Well check back in with me for a second, please.” The impatience sizzled in her voice. “How’s the book coming along?”
“Honestly, Megan, I don’t know. I can’t get past the first meetup. I haven’t struggled with a project in so long, but every time I go to type I just have a complete mental blackout.”
Megan sighed on the other end of the phone. “That cabin you’ve holed yourself up in was supposed to help you with your writing, not make it harder.”
I cringed at the harshness of her words. Whenever we started talking about my writing she switched modes from best friend to boss. It could be the best thing for me at times, but also the worst.
“I don’t think the cabin is the problem,” I defend my decision to move to an isolated Colorado cabin. Located an hour away from any big cities, my new home sat tucked into a scenic lake valley. There was only my cabin and one other, where a sweet older man named George Spaniel lived. It had taken me all of three seconds to sign the dotted line and fork over royalties from my last novel to buy the house. “I’m just…distracted.”
“By what? The bugs?” Meg scoffed. I knew part of her frustration came from wishing I was back in New York City, but that lifestyle had never agreed with me. The quiet Colorado life I had slowly built for myself was exactly what I’d always wanted.
My best friend sighed on the other line. “You’re right. I’m sorry, hun, I just need to push you a little bit. Deadlines are approaching and I haven’t seen hide or hair of a draft. Not even a chapter. You have to give me something.”
“I will. I promise. By the end of the week I’ll get the first half to you.” I had no idea what I’d be sending to her. I’d barely typed a sentence in the last three days.
“Deal. Listen, I gotta go to my meeting. Keep in touch, let me know if you need anything. Why don’t you try going to the city for a night? Maybe what you need is some life experiences to help get your juices flowing. If you know what I mean.” She giggled at her own perversion before quickly adding, “Love you bunches.”
I didn’t have time to say a word before the call disconnected.
I took a deep breath to clear my mind. I’d just made a promise to my best friend and publisher that I didn’t think I could keep. Finishing half of a novel that I’d barely even started? In a week? Yeah, right. Maybe Meg was right…maybe I needed to spice up my own life in order to properly write. In order to have inspiration. I specialized in erotic romance, and my last three books had been major successes. Yet my own love life was severely lacking. There were no men to speak of. Not even a crush. The only guy I had seen since moving to Colorado was the seventy-year old man who lived next door to me.
Writing sex wasn’t hard for me, though. Not with the history that I’ve had.
I sulked down the dried pasta aisle, trying to ignore my past. Part of the reason for coming to Colorado was to forget about the unspeakable things I’d done in my younger years.
I turned the corner and nearly barreled over Old Mrs. Krane, the keeper and beloved face of Quick -E Mart, the one and only convenience store within a fifty mile radius of where I lived.
“Oh, Wren, honey,” Mrs. Krane gasped and clutched at her heart with the loveable drama only an elderly woman can possess.
“Mrs. Krane! I’m so sorry. I really need to pay more attention,” I shuffled the basket on my arm, trying to cover the bags of Cheetos. I didn’t need any more scolding on my food choices. And Mrs. Krane was notorious for trying to be everyone’s mother. It wouldn’t be the first time she forced me into taking home things I hadn’t been wanting to buy.
“Don’t even worry, honey. Come down to grab some more supplies?” Her lips spread into a grin, making her chubby cheeks pinch up into little rosy apples. I could see her trying to eye the basket tucked against my side.
“Oh, you know me. Out of munchies as usual,” I brushed a strand of brown hair behind my ear and gave up trying to hide my basket of junk food.
“Well, I hope one of these days you’ll take me up on a dinner night. You know I’d love to give you a good home-cooked meal.”
My heart nearly melted as Mrs. Krane beamed at me. She’d been trying to get me to come to her and her husband’s home for dinner for the last three months since I’d first moved here. But I wasn’t one for the comfort of families and warm dinners, and the thought was enough to send me into an anxious fit.
“Oh, one of these days. I’m just busy with my book,” I tried to let her down gently, as always. “I better be getting back to the cabin. Sunset is usually when I do my best writing.” I skirted around Mrs. Krane toward the front counter, biting my lip in the process. It felt horrible lying to the gentle old woman, but it was only a half-lie. It was true that I did my best writing at sunset…it just hadn’t been true for the last several weeks. Lately, no time had been the best time for my writing.
“All right, darling. I’ll see you soon,” she waddled off down the aisle I’d just come from after giving me a sweet smile.
Quick-E Mart was one of the places that had quickly sold me on moving to Colorado. It was small and homey, and run solely by the Kranes. Mrs. Krane was always somewhere in the store, restocking or decorating for the seasons while Mr. Krane ran the counter. I had instantly fallen in love with the quirky joy of the couple and their tiny convenience store.
I skirted quickly to the coolers lining the front wall and pulled out a six-case of wheat beer bottles, tucking it up under my arm as I approached the counter.
“Hey Mr. Krane,” I greeted as I set my stuff down for him to ring in.
“Wren,” he nodded his head. In comparison to Mrs. Krane, he was much less talkative, but loveable all the same with his chubby fingers and protruding belly. His round face was almost entirely hidden behind a giant white beard. “I see you haven’t changed your ways,” he mentioned while stuffing the Cheetos into a paper bag.
“It’s my thinking fuel. Gotta have it,” I couldn’t help but grin at his dry humor. I’d learned quickly that his wry remarks came from a place of good humor and good intentions.
“Gah,” he spat, picking up the twenty dollar bill I’d set down to make change. “Garbage is what it is.”
“That’s what you tell me every time I come in,” I reminded him, the smile still pulled across my face.
Just then the front door swung open, making the tiny entrance bell jingle. We both looked up to see three very richly dressed men stomp in, bringing the fresh mountain air in with them.
“Where the hell have you taken us, Axton?” A dirty-blonde man with charming dimples shoved the man in front gently in the shoulder and grinned mockingly.
“No shit. What a dump,” the man in the back said. Not quietly enough to go unnoticed by myself or Mr. Krane.
I frowned and reached for my case of beer when the man in front stepped next to the counter, nearly shouldering me out of his way. He towered over me with broad shoulders and a grimace scowling his thin lips. He didn’t even bother to look at me. But I couldn’t help but to stare up at him. He was undeniably gorgeous, with thick dark brown hair that had been brushed back along his head and a jawline that could cut glass. I saw the muscles in his neck tense as he stared at Mr. Krane.
“The liquor?” His deep voice cut the air between the three of us, it was demanding and powerful, and so out of place in the coziness of the Quick-E Mart.
“Maybe you could say excuse me,” I spat out without meaning to. But his presence made the tiny hairs on my arm stand up on end, and seeing Mr. Krane’s face darken was enough to bring me to the old man’s defense.
He turned his head ever so slightly to stare down at me, and I was struck by his eyes on impact. They were the most beautiful storm-gray I’d ever seen. The second we made eye contact I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. I stared up at him, trying not to look as foolish as I felt on the inside, but I knew I looked like a mess compared to him. I was wearing a flannel shirt and ripped blue jeans, while he was wearing what I could only guess was one of the most expensive suits I’d ever seen. And it fit him perfectly, pulling taught across the muscles of his chest, and, I’d noticed, across the front of his pants. The dark navy of his jacket matched his eyes perfectly; he was like a storm at sea.
If only I had known just how much of a storm he was.