Chapter 2: Northern Hospitality
A blast of heat welcomes me when I cross the threshold into my unwitting host’s entryway. The only light in the entire place is that of a television to the left of us and a dim little porch light behind me, the faded yellow glow barely illuminating my shadow, let alone her face.
I step aside as my blonde benefactor edges around me to close and lock the door, side-eyeing me like she thinks I might be a serial killer. Honestly, because of the way she’s looking at me now, I’m surprised she even agreed to let me in, never mind extending the offer of letting me stay the night. For all she knows, I'm a psycho stalker making my final move.
“Here, pass me your shoes. I’ll toss them on the heater to dry off.” A tanned hand, fingers void of the holiday-themed nails every other woman seems to wear at this time of year, reaches out to grab my footwear.
I struggle to hinge forward, my puffy winter coat an uncomfortable barrier preventing me from reaching down my long legs to my feet. She huffs impatiently while I attempt to bend down to untie the thin laces of my soaked leather dress shoes, the expensive designer soles most likely ruined after their unplanned snowy adventure.
After finally removing my footwear, I place them in her waiting hand, almost laughing at the height difference between us when I stand to my full stature. She’s so petite. Maybe five-foot-two or three to my six-four. But that’s not the funniest part. It’s the sass and cocked brow that has my lips twitching with a well-contained smile.
Her eyes cruise my entire frame, not missing a single inch of me as they return to meet mine. “What the hell are you wearing? I mean, seriously, dude. This is Canada.”
I chuckle when she mocks me with a straight face. I must look like a damn idiot. This ugly beige coat I’m wearing was a quick buy at the airport, purchased on a whim when the weather app on my phone dinged, stating there was a cold advisory and snowfall warning in effect. The rest of me is a juxtaposition to this hideous jacket; its cheap fabric does not match the expensive navy suit and Burberry scarf adorning the rest of my body.
“What can I say? I’m a man of many tastes with a love of cheap coats and expensive shoes.” I shrug with a half-smirk, not embarrassed to own this impractical winter-business look I’ve got going on.
I take a second to check her out while she laughs at me, and man, I am not disappointed. Her blonde hair is tied back in a loose French braid over her shoulder, with chaotic strands framing her delicately beautiful face. It’s clear she’s dressed for bed in her fleecy red plaid pyjamas, paired with a cropped, tight white, indecently see-through long-sleeve that highlights her lack of a bra.
Damn. She is a looker with a banging body to match. I definitely could have stumbled upon worse. She's my own personal holiday treat, dropped right in my lap like a damn Christmas miracle.
“You done staring, or am I gonna have to kick your ass for being a perv?” She crosses her arms over her breasts, her teeth sinking into the middle of her lower lip as she glares at me like I’m some annoying pest.
Heat floods my face, most of which is still covered with my suddenly too-warm scarf. Thank God. “Uh, yeah. I was just—Shit. Sorry.” Great. And now I’m stuttering like a schoolboy talking to a girl for the first time.
To my relief, a laugh puffs from between her pillowy lips. “Apology accepted. Just hang your coat in the front closet, and I’ll go make us some tea. Get you warmed up a bit before I show you where you’ll be sleeping.”
“Sure. Thanks.” I nod, opting not to tell her I hate tea. It tastes like swamp water.
I’m not an ungrateful dick, though. I’ll take the thoughtful gesture and choke the nasty liquid down. She’s been incredibly kind to me despite her seemingly unapproachable nature, letting me into her home when she could have slammed the door in my face and left me to sleep in my car.
When I walk into the kitchen a few minutes later, her back is turned to me, and she’s bent at the hips, leaning over the countertop to watch the kettle as it comes to a boil. She must not have heard me approach because she doesn’t look up, giving me the opportunity to appreciate the swell of her ass and the dip of her lower back, those sexy little dimples at the base of her spine deepening as she shifts on her feet.
The sound of the kettle lever flicking off makes me jump, guilty that I’m acting like the perv she just implied I was moments ago when she threatened to kick my ass. Feigning like I just arrived in the room, I clear my throat and strut over to one of the chic white leather stools lining her kitchen island.
“Hey,” I say, clearing my throat, feeling awkward now that she’s turned to face me, one steaming mug of swamp water in each hand.
Her mouth is open in a small O, eyes, which I now see are light butterscotch in colour, wide like she’s seeing me for the first time. Which, technically, is true. My face is free of the bundled scarf that was covering it when we met, giving her a firsthand view of my two-day-old beard that probably looks like shit.
“What? Is there something on my face?” I slap a hand on each cheek and gasp in horror, her answering giggles a welcome reward that sends a tingle of pleasure south of my stomach.
“No. You’re just…” She shakes her head and smiles at me, and holy wow. It lights up her face like the fucking Christmas lights at Rockefeller. “Way hotter than I expected.”
That southern tingle in my groin turns into a full-blown erection at her honest admission. She’s bold. I more than like it.
“Shit, you’re not shy, are you?” I bite my inner cheek to hide my inflated ego, reaching for the mug she’s holding out to me.
“Call it as I see it.” Her shoulder lifts in a casual shrug, and she takes a sip from her giant mug that says ‘Boss Bitch,’ in bold letters. “So, strange man who may or may not murder me tonight, what’s your name? You know…so I can text it to everyone I know in case I go missing.”
This time I don’t hold back my laugh or my smile. This woman is a delight without even trying. Her unfiltered thoughts flow from her brain and out of her mouth in the most deadpan way, making it hard to tell if she’s joking or serious. It’s hilarious and refreshing to be in the presence of a lady who doesn’t say or do what is expected.
“Thane Gunn.” I give her my real name, her disbelieving eyes telling me she thinks I’m bullshitting her. No surprise there. Thanks, Mom and Dad.
“Thane Gunn? For real?” She places her mug down on the counter, leaning her elbows onto the granite surface to look me dead in the eye. I nod with a sigh, waiting for the uncomfortable laughter that always comes when people learn my identity. “That’s a badass fucking name.”
I drift forward, my elbows matching hers from my seated position, as I stare right back at her. “Are you making fun of me? I can’t tell. Because honestly, you’re harder to read than the fine print on a business contract.”
“Guess you’ll never know.” She bites her lip again to hide her Hollywood smile, and my breath hitches in my chest. Oh, the things I would do to bite that lip and kiss her senseless right now.
“So, do I get a name, or are you too mysterious to share?” When she doesn’t offer the information on her own, I pry. I need to know who she is, this sexy, mystifying stranger who may or may not be the actual psycho killer, luring her unsuspecting victim in under the guise of good old northern hospitality.
After a long moment of silence and a staring contest that could end wars, she breaks out with another dick-friendly smile. “Nikita.”
“Nikita what?” I want all the details. She got my last name. It’s only fair I get hers.
“Starling. Nikita Starling. But you can just call me Nik.”