Bo was finding it hard to concentrate. There was a slightly awkward silence since his abrupt comments when he picked her up. But sitting next to him, in her short shorts, bare legs all smooth and enticing, was driving him to distraction. Then there was her soft, almost husky murmuring along with the radio. The only words she'd shared with him, had been a request to change the radio station. And since that moment, they had been engulfed with soft rock. Bon Jovi and Journey weren't on his music radar, but it was inoffensive, and it came with the breathy singing from his passenger.
"So where are you taking me?"
Natasha finally spoke, and he glanced at her briefly, her anger had seemed to have eased a little and there was the hint of a smile on her lips.
They'd been driving for over half an hour, the built up urban landscape giving way to more rural surroundings.
"Small village, about fifteen minutes further away. Frey told me the pub there has a new celebrity chef and the food is amazing."
She murmured appreciatively.
"And if I am going to blow my rather strict diet, I'm all for it being the highest quality."He added.
"I can't argue with that....but that is rather in conflict with that bloody lovely Mexican we ate at last week."
He groaned, "fast food is my downfall. And might I add, a treat."
When he turned to her, she rolled her eyes, "how long have you lived here?"
Surprised at that, he offered, "ten weeks."
That made her laugh, when he glanced at her again, she offered, "and you are on first name terms with the proprietor of this fast food joint?"
He placed his spare hand over his chest, as though he'd been shot, "you've caught me out, I'm fatally wounded!"
That made her chuckle, "you can't bullshit a bullshitter, and I am definitely one of them."
Intrigued, he was tempted to pull the car over and question her further, but he couldn't on the country lane.
"So what does the perfect Miss Ingram bullshit about?"
Blushing, she gave a shrug, "the usual. What I say and what I do are very different."
Giving a knowing nod, he turned his full attention back to the road, but knew that she had almost opened up about something. And he was still non the wiser about what made her so distant, so stand offish.
But this wasn't he time to push her, he was trying to redeem himself, not push her even further away.
Natasha peeped out at the thatched cottage that was now a village pub. It was old, very old and beautiful, seeped in history and more picturesque that a postcard. A great choice for a romantic evening, bloody Freya. As she climbed out of the car, Bo joined her, linking his fingers through hers.
She nodded, "it is, must seem like a fossil to you."
He laughed, "California isn't very old, compared to this. I do still feel a little in awe when I see something like this. Five hundred years old. The first east coast settlers were in the sixteen hundreds, so yep. This pub literally can supersede any history I have."
Natasha looked up at him, as he opened the door for her, "but you have history beyond that, through your parents?"
He shrugged, "I've been to Sweden a few times, though there aren't any of my mother's family left there. And Jamaica, as we know it, well that's younger than the US."
She blushed, her world history knowledge was abyssal. "I feel quite ignorant now."
They were greeted inside the building and shown to a table in the corner of the smaller room in the pub, and left with menus.
In fact, it was a long moment before he spoke, "you can't know every country's history....don't ask me about British monarchs, other than Henry the Eighth, who I had some misplaced admiration of as a child, I know NOTHING."
She grinned at that, he was quite apologetic, something she hadn't expected, nor spotted in their initial meetings. He was starting to break her mental stereotypes. That surprised her.
The food was exquisite, unusual dishes, well presented, without the meagre portions that most high end restaurants served. Plus all the products were sourced, and she was assured that on the drive home she would pass the farm where her lamb was reared. Environmentally aware, and supportive of the community, were the exact same ethics she tried to take into her own business. When Bo visited the bathroom, she started to chat to the staff member clearing the table about this, the next moment the chef, a younger Gordon Ramsay, came out, still in his chef clothes and entered into a conversation about his work.
He was about to leave, promising to come visit her, when Bo reappeared.
"Bo, this is Tommy, the chef here. We were just talking about the restaurant. Tommy, this is Bo, Bo Holding, he plays for the North West Hornets." When the other man grimaced, she added, "the local ice hockey team."
He nodded then, "how did I not know that there was hockey in this area. I watched a lot when I was training in America. Loved it."
Bo shook hi hand, smiling awkwardly, "yep, it's not exactly stopping traffic in this country."
"But that is changing!" Natasha added.
Tommy nodded, "I'll definitely come to your next game, as long as I can wrangle a night off!"
Natasha laughed, then rifled in her bag, pulling out a plastic credit card size fixture list. "All the details are on here."
He nodded, "and I'll be calling in for a slice of cake soon."
The three shook hands again, then Bo led Natasha out to the car.
He didn't speak for a long time, despite her attempts to break the silence.
"That was an amazing meal," was greeted with a grunt.
"How are you travelling to the game on Friday?" was met with a single word, "bus."
After a couple of comments about the music channels on the radio and the beauty of the sunset as they drove home, she gave up.
When he stopped the car, she looked around, before staring up at him, "I want to go home."
Bo, had taken too long to process the evening, and had blown things....again. He had left the bathroom to see her engaged with a really good looking man, and they were happy, laughing, in a way she rarely did with him. Then there was the put down of his team, someone forty five minutes away hadn't even heard of them. That's how cutting edge, and in the pulse of society his life was. There was no greater put down.
He ran a hand over his face, yet again his own insecurity and anger was ruining everything. And it was no one's fault but his own.
"This is my place...."
She shook her head, climbing out of the car,"No way. I'll call a cab."
He rounded the car himself, and when she reached for her phone, he took her hand, "I'm sorry. I take too long to deal with shit. I seem to have extreme reactions around you."
He hated there were tears in her eyes, but he was so bloody consumed with all that had happened. Selfish, he knew. As usual his inability to cope with the shithole of his life was ruining every situation, but he didn't seem to be able to control his anger. He'd never thought he was an angry man, but the last two years.
Shaking his head he met Natasha's eyes head on, "don't go. I know I keep asking you to give me another chance, but I am serious this time. Please."
She looked strong, determined and he was going to lose this chance, and yet this had come to mean so much to him, she meant so much to him.
"Ten minutes, then I'll drive you home, no questions."
He had no idea how he was going to change this, no idea how he'd begin to apologise, but he just needed to change the scenery.
"Look, Bo. I don't know what is going on with you, but I can't deal with this hot-cold thing. I like you, I wouldn't be here if I didn't. But it's not going to work."
"I was jealous!" He gasped, then let the mortification wash over him at that admission.
He ran a hand through his hair, "that chef, back in the pub. You were laughing....you seemed happier with him than with me."
She laughed, loudly. And it was a minute before she replied, "that's it? Really?"
He shrugged, "can we do this inside? Please?"
Shaking her head, she closed her eyes, "I laugh with you - when you're happy, when you're fun..." She gestured around them, inside the car, "we've been in here for almost an hour, and you have barely spoken to me. And it wasn't for the want of me trying. If me talking for five minutes to another man, when you yourself have done nothing to 'stake any sort of claim' over me. We aren't in a relationship, we have kissed, twice. And every time we take a step forward you run away, physically and emotionally. And I'm too exhausted to go on with this."
"I've never been like this before, Natasha. This isn't me."
She shrugged, "that may be the case, but I've given you at least five chances."
"One minute, I can't do this out here."
She studied him for a moment, and he wished he could read her mind, know what he was thinking.
He wasn't expecting that, "why what?"
"Why do you want this? Why are you fighting for something that is so obviously not working? We have literally known each other for a couple of months. This isn't like we've invested years into anything. I'm not sure you actually want more than this anyway."
He grabbed both hands and tugged her towards him, "because for two years I have lost all direction, I trust no one, I have cut myself off from everything and everyone. Until I met you. For the first time in ages I want to spend time with someone. I suddenly don't feel as though everything is about to fall apart. You've done that."
"What's happened? Why are you like this?"
He had to be honest, but he wasn't doing it on the doorstep. "Come up to my place. I am serious, a few minutes, I just can't talk about this here."
Every cell in her brain told her to tell him to go to hell and get out of there, but she was curious, as to what he had to say, then there was the fact that she equally had found him as intriguing as he hinted he found her.
But she'd given him a last chance, and he'd blown that.
Saying that, she couldn't remember liking someone, most of the time, as much as she liked the friendly, happy version of Bo. She'd done things she'd sworn off years earlier with him over the last few weeks, she'd almost started to imagine that she could do this, date, spend time with a man. Sex. That thought made her shudder, that wasn't something she was ready to think about, despite how ravenous their kisses had been.
Then she looked at him, head dropped, sadness emanating off him in waves.
"Ten minutes, maximum."
His head lifted and he smiled, "thanks, Natasha. That's more than I deserve."
They travelled up eight floors in a lift, before he took her hand and led her to a door at the end of the corridor.
"It's nothing special."
She gave him what she hoped was a supportive smile as he opened the door, then hid her shock. It was a modern place, painted off white throughout, modern kitchen to her left, then a large lounge diner in front. But the place was empty, a two-seater sofa, a tiny table with two folding chairs and a wall mounted TV pretty much summed up the contents of the living space. She was frozen on the threshold mouth agape when he turned back to her.
Natasha nodded, stepping forward, "I'm going to sound rude....but you live here?"
Turning back, half way to the kitchen, he eyeballed her, "you don't like it?"
She shrugged, "it's a bit bare."
He rolled his eyes, "I'm a man, I don't do baskets and throw pillows."
Laughing she walked past him, "you don't do life either. If you weren't here, I'd swear the place was uninhabited. No books, no DVD's, no mail....no signs of life."
"I wasn't putting down roots....so everything stayed in the States."
Rolling her eyes, she accepted one of the bottles of beer he offered her, then sat on one side of the sofa, "you have got to get over this attitude."
She nodded, "you are here, even if you bloody hate it. You need to get that chip off your shoulder."
His bottle hanging in his finger tips, he watched her for a long moment, "chip?"
Natasha didn't answer, just kept her eyes fixed on him.
"You want to know why I hate it here?" Again she was silent. "Two years ago, I was a year into a contract, top ten NHL team, couple of million basic....best in the world. Then I got pushed down a staircase, in a Chicago nightclub, just after winning the Stanley Cup. CCTV couldn't identify who it was...but a drunken man was always going to lose against 14 iron tipped steps."
She gasped, "that was your injury?" She couldn't imagine how that was, to lose all that he'd worked so hard to get.
He nodded, "blew my knee to pieces, I've had six reconstruction surgeries to fix fractures and reattach ligaments."
"Shit. Everything you'd worked for."
Shrugging he sat beside her, "my family were disappointed, friends haven't called in months, and the woman who said she loved me....never even visited me in hospital. So forgive me if I'm not trusting of strangers when people I have known for years can turn me over like that...." he clicked his fingers.
She sighed, "your girlfriend?"
He laughed, "Daniele. She was an up and coming model when we met. Beautiful, and she knew about everything I wanted to talk about. NHL, football, the same music, movies." Glancing up at her, he laughed in a self deprecating way, "it was all out there in a million interviews, the internet means nothing is sacred. And I thought she loved me. But once I was out of the limelight, injured, possibly crippled...she was gone. A wannabe model who was suddenly commanding more attention, she got what she wanted out of me. Two years of living for free and a huge boost in her career. Whilst I struggled to keep hold of my leg."
"Did you almost lose it?" That thought must have been unbearable, her heart bled for the terrified Bo, facing all his demons alone.
He nodded, "initially they told me it was a possibility. But I got through it."
"And you are back playing."
He laughed, in a self deprecating way, "of a fashion."
"Do you still get pain?" She couldn't imagine skating for hours with two 'normal' legs, let alone one with that much trauma.
Bo pulled up his long shorts to show an angry scar that bisected his left knee cap from top to bottom. "It's weaker." Tightening his shorts over his right knee he showed her the comparison of both thighs, the injured one being a lot smaller, though still huge by anyone's standards. "It's getting stronger, but only really hurts if I fall, or twist it."
Sitting back she patted him on the back, "you have just gone up in my estimation, that's pretty impressive, Mr Holding. Thank you for sharing that, it really does help." And it did, whilst he repeatedly acted like a prick, there was a background, a reason why he didn't trust anyone.
Bo tried to find a hint of sarcasm in her expression, but there was none. She was genuine, she really did thing that of him. No one had put confidence or hope into him in so long that it felt strange. She wasn't like Daniele, he knew that, she was good, she was honest, she was beautiful, and she challenged him, made him think.
She was all that he had ever wanted. He just had to work out a way not to fuck it up....again.