Wednesday morning the ovens were ready, and now Cora entered Miller’s in need of coal. When she looked around, she noticed she was the only one in the store. Well, Eliska had sent her over as soon as the sun rays slashed through the bakery windows. A rummaging sound came from the storage room. Had Mr. Miller not heard the bell?
“Hello?” she called. The noise stopped, then more shuffling came. A loud bang caused Cora to flinch, then she heard a curse. Once the curtain was shoved to the side, a scowling face was revealed.
When Mr. Miller locked gazes with her, the irritation in his expression softened instantly. Her heart skipped a beat.
“Mornin’,” he drawled.
“Good morning. Stub your toe?”
“Naw. I’m not clumsy. I meant for that wash tub to fall off the shelf.”
She chuckled, trying to ignore the way her body tingled at the sight of him. Would her reactions to this man never cease? “Have you got coal? We need several bags.”
He crooked his finger at her. “Come on back. I’ve got plenty.”
As she approached him, he stayed as he was with his lean form pressed against the frame and one hand holding up the green curtain. She drew closer and realized he wasn’t going to move. She might have to stoop under his arm and probably brush his body with hers. The understanding made her pulse quicken but didn’t slow her gait. In fact, she had to keep herself from hurrying. When she reached the entrance to the storeroom, she realized she wouldn’t have to duck to go inside.
With her heart racing faster than a galloping horse and her stomach dipping and swirling, she met his gaze squarely as she went past him. Awareness hung between them. He desired her. He did. And he knew, he had to know, she felt the same. Thomas Miller missed nothing.
Once she was inside the storeroom, the privacy of the area made it impossible for her to remember why she’d set foot inside in the first place. Hopefully he would recall the reason for her presence. He stepped up behind her, and his warmth penetrated her body.
He cleared his throat.
She turned. Her gaze connected with the buttons on his shirt. His chest was broad, strong. He seemed capable. Dependable. Her fingers itched to slide over him and around his shoulders. She shoved her hands into her pockets and tried to find some semblance of control.
“So…coal,” he murmured.
His voice washed over her. Don’t look up, she warned herself. If she met his gaze, she’d be trapped. Controlled. Held captive to whatever it was he wanted. Did he want her?
As she fought the need to discover what was in his eyes, she knew she should back up. Just one step. One step, and she might be able to breathe again.
His scent reached her nose, musky and male and bold. Just like him. Confident and challenging. And he was an honest man. Her head began to spin, her thoughts grew jumbled. She yearned to move closer to him, to feel her breasts pressed against his chest, to have his arms wrapped around her like steel bands. She closed her eyes and let out a slow exhale.
“Cora,” he uttered.
And she was powerless to ignore him. Slowly she lifted her gaze to his. The heat burning in his eyes matched the fire inside of her. A roaring sounded in her ears. She wanted this man. In fact, she needed him.
His hands cupped her shoulders, and her heart leapt. She bit down on her back teeth to keep from exulting “yes”. He pulled her forward, and she did nothing to resist him. Her body pulsed, waiting, needing. He lowered his head and set his mouth on hers.
For a mere second his touch was tender, cautious. But then heat shot through her, and she could no longer remain passive. She opened her lips under his, and it was all he seemed to need to let desire consume him. He ravaged her mouth, pulling and sucking, plundering with his tongue.
When his arms wrapped around her, she moaned, and he reacted by holding her tightly. His grip was so strong, she felt he never wanted to let her go. Need and hunger had her trembling, and she ran her fingers through his hair, her palms tingling at the silky feel.
He picked her up and turned her, shoving her against the wall of the storeroom. His kisses moved to her neck, and she arched to give him access. The nips and bites he gave her flesh set her skin on fire. She gasped for breath as she ran her hands over him, wishing she was touching his bare body. He moved back to her mouth, taking again what she freely wanted to give. When he lifted her leg, helped her curl it around his hip and set himself against her center, she moaned.
Her deepest yearnings lived and needed to be set free. She had to have him. Did he understand? Did he know how much she wanted him? His hands caressed her restlessly, moving over her curves with a boldness she craved. This had never happened to her before. This longing. This deep-seated need to feel a man inside her. And it seemed he desired her just as much.
Cool air touched her shoulders. He’d opened her blouse. When his lips touched her skin, shivers ran along her flesh. Again she ran her fingers through his hair and clutched him to her. His mouth was a fire upon her. She wanted that fire inside her. How could she tell him? How did she let him know what she craved? She’d never been carried away by passion. She’d never been so infatuated with a man. She’d never hungered to be close to the opposite sex. And now, they weren’t close enough.
She pushed her lower half against him, and he made a noise in the back of his throat. He uttered her name as he planted feverish kisses along the tops of her breasts. Would he pull her chemise down? Would he kiss her there? Would he suckle her? Her head swam. A haze overwhelmed any sense she had, and if she knew how to say the words, she’d beg him to take her. But the bell tinkled. And he pulled up sharply.
The sudden loss of his lips jarred her. She blinked. “T-Thomas?” Was that her voice? She sounded desperate. Uncertain. Her heart was racing fast. Too fast.
He squeezed her shoulder then slipped into the main area. With her pulse beating as wildly as a bird’s wings, she leaned her head against the wall. What had happened? What was happening? Control. She needed it.
Forcing slow breaths past her lips, she tried to determine what was going on. And what would she say to him when he returned? Her heart ran cold. What would he say? Her palms grew clammy. This was unacceptable. Unfathomable. What had this man done to her?
Hastily, she buttoned her blouse. The curtain rustled, and instantly the area was invaded by his intensity. He didn’t stop to talk to her. Instead he pulled out a handcart. “So,” he began with his back to her, “coal.”
Noise grew in her ears. He was ignoring her? Why? Shocked and stunned, she tried to gather her wits.
“How many bags?”
How many what?
He turned to look at her. The expression in his eyes was guarded, veiled. Exactly what was wrong with him? Hadn’t he kissed her? Hadn’t he wanted to kiss her? His jaw clenched and unclenched. They gazed at each other for several moments across the expanse of items separating them. She had no idea what to do, what to say.
“I think you’ll need five bags to start with,” he said abruptly.
Without an agreement from her, he stacked the coal on the handcart. He wheeled it past her without so much as a glance. Had she done something wrong? He seemed mad. But should she care? This passionate, mindless embrace she’d just shared with him had not been in her plans. She’d never wanted to experience a man’s touch again.
Anger at herself, at him, grew. She shoved away from the wall then stepped into the main area. He was ringing up her purchase. Without words, she waited for him to finish. The urge to rage, to bolt, festered inside her. Using every ounce of will she possessed, she tamped down the tumultuous emotions.
He named a sum without looking at her. She gave the exact amount then picked up the handle of the cart.
“I’ll do that,” he rushed to say.
“You will not,” she snapped, seething. Her response stopped him before he even had a chance to come around the counter. In fact, he took a quick step back and bumped into the shelves behind him. She had shown so much of herself to him. Too much. Embarrassment flooded her, overwhelmed her. As quickly as she could, she fled from him.
Join me next week when we interview M/M author Lourdes R. Florido. ~Tina