My breath hitched for a second longer than I was comfortable.
What was wrong with me? This man was more Grizzly Adams than Grizzly Adams.
His dark, well-kept beard was nearing his chest, while his long, black hair skimmed past his shoulders.
As ruggedly handsome as he was, it was those amazing pair of grey eyes that could make any woman swoon.
They were the color of dark rain clouds before a thunderstorm.
His mouth was shaped in what I guessed was meant to be a smile, but combined with his eyes, they smoldered as they captured my gaze.
One of the men standing next to the one with amazing eyes seemed to finally snap out of whatever trance they all seemed to be under.
“Of course there is. It’s this way.”
With a large smile planted on his lips, he motioned out in front of him with his hand to indicate the direction I was to take.
Without hesitation, I gladly welcomed the distraction from the large, dominating man that seemed to fill the entire room with his presence.
His gaze held a little more heat and knowing than I was comfortable with, and it only made it worse that I allowed myself to bask in that moment longer than I should have.
A deep, resonating voice filled the room behind us, and it seemed to prompt others to continue their conversations.
Oddly, my heart seemed to skip a beat as warmth spread over my entire body.
It baffled me, and I momentarily wondered if I was having premature hot flashes.
After being shown the facilities and making use of them, I splashed water on my face and pressed a cool rag against my neck.
The boys would need to make use of the running water available before we continued, but I wanted to linger for just a moment in the more than spacious restroom.
It was peaceful at this moment, aside for the muffled laughter and loud conversations that fell beyond the room.
Fatigue was on my heels, and I fought hard to keep it at bay. My body and mind lacked the sleep it needed to function normally.
Unfortunately, it had been that way since Mark had been diagnosed.
Sleep was a luxury.
Feeling like I had my head screwed on a little straighter, I left the shelter of the restroom and started to make my way to the front door.
The steady stream of voices in conversation made me feel more confident about my exit, realizing that I was really not that interesting after all.
It was not that I was not a confident person by nature, I was just not functioning as my normal self.
The more fatigued I am, the more ludicrous my words and behavior are.
“Excuse me, miss.”
Who else would come out in the middle of nowhere on a whim just for the fun of it? And look where that got us!
At some strange hidden city in the mountains, having to make use of some stranger’s home to use a restroom because the nearest one is eight hours away.
Who else does this stuff happen to?
At that moment, it struck me that I was lacking in manners.
Certainly, you thank the person who allowed you to trespass in their home to use their restroom, right? What is the etiquette on that?
Especially when it looks like they are having a party of sorts.
Do I just waltz right up there and say, hey, thanks for the use of the toilet?
And, if I were to do that, whom would I thank out of the lot of them? They all seemed to belong there.
Well, maybe not Grizzly Adams as much as the others, but there was certainly a presence about him.
The thought of him caused a small tremor to creep across my skin.
I need sleep.~
When a hand touched my shoulder through my shirt, it startled me.
I was so completely wrapped up in my own thoughts, I had not realized anyone was near me.
The small tremor turned into a bolt of electricity that now skittered across my arm to my fingertips.
I spun around to face the person who halted my progress, and created those beautiful tingles that drifted over my flesh.
My mouth was still gaped open from the energy that was still roiling forth from where his fingers warmed my skin through my blouse.
For a moment, all I could do was stare before something in my brain reconnected to my bodily functions.
“Oh, where are my manners?”
My head reacted quicker than my body. His grey eyes bore into me, and I willed my feet to move away from him to break the contact.
“Please thank...uh, well...whoever allowed us to use the facilities. I cannot thank you enough for allowing us to catch our breath and use your restroom.”
I gave a small lopsided smile. “I can imagine how unorthodox it is to receive guests out this far.”
His eyes held the same smile his lips did. It was broad, and full of white teeth as he nodded his head towards me.
“Quite unorthodox, but definitely not unwelcome.”
“Well, that is awfully nice of you to say.”
My face felt flush, as though a blush had started to creep over my cheeks. The intensity in his gaze could have certainly been a cause for it.
One mistake led to another, and I stuck my hand out. “My name is Brooke Marlin.”
Before clasping my hand within his, he looked at the offering a bit curiously.
His hand moved forward so fast that I missed the movement until I felt my whole body shiver from the contact.
The flush that had crept over my cheeks now flooded my body, as though I was branded by his very touch.
Panic seeped in, my brain overwhelmed between fatigue and shock.
Unclasping my hand from his, I was alarmed that the contact had not broken.
Both his hands were now wrapped around mine, enclosing it completely in his.
“Nice to meet you, Brooke.”
He let his mouth roll over my name like a food critic over a five star fine dining experience.
How something like that could send shock waves over me was beyond me.
A small whimper escaped before I clamped my other hand over my mouth, horrified at the small sound and praying that no one else heard.
What was happening to me? Oh yeah, sleep deprivation.
Those absurd things and strange behaviors that are par for the course when lacking sleep.
Children’s voices broke through the contact as the front door opened and my boys ran towards me.
Freeing my hand from within his confine, I knelt down to catch them in a hug as they ran at me at full throttle.
My eldest was not a small child, and the weight of them both nearly knocked me the rest of the way to the floor.
A warm hand at my back kept me from losing my upright position, and sent another rush of warmth through me. I really need sleep.
I laughed at their antics, trying hard to ignore the warmth at my back.
“And these,” I said as I stood and ruffled their hair, “these are my greatest gifts of joy, and frustration.”
They both giggled as I pinched their noses.
Just as they started to dodge each other around my legs, I grabbed each one by the hand to prevent them from chasing one another.
The man in front of me watched us with an amused glint in his eyes, and a curiosity that I could not fathom.
“This is Aaron and Hayden. Aaron and Hayden, this is…”
That is when it dawned on me that he had not given me his name.
This large, mountain man stooped down to their level, his large, massive frame refusing to diminish in its size.
“It’s nice to meet you two. I’m Slate.”
“Nice to meet—wait, what?” Hayden drew his brows together as he tried to determine if what he heard was accurate. “You mean like the bad guy that Robin fights?”
Slate looked up at me, a question on his face.
“Oh,” I chuckled. “He is talking about Robin, from Batman and Robin,” I said, cluing him in to the musings of my younger son.
I clutched Hayden’s little hand in mine, encouraging him to look at me as I leaned over.
“No, honey. His name is Slate, not Slade. Robin is not after Mr Slate.”
At least, I didn’t think so. I smiled at him.
“Oh, I get it. But—hmm…”
He let a finger bounce against his chin for a minute as if in deep contemplation about the world’s problems while sizing up the man in front of him.
Finally, his eyes sparkled as they widened.
“But maybe Slate works with Robin to catch bad guys. Maybe he is a superhero.”
Shaking my head, I could now see how years of superheroes had corrupted my son’s mind.
“Yeah,” I drew the word out, not sure where else to go with it. “Let’s go with that.”
Slate, a superhero?
I released his hand and turned my gaze back to Slate, attempting to view him as a five-year-old’s idea of a superhero.
The power that the man emitted without even trying, the sense of safety that one might feel when near him, the strength and determination that oozed off him, and the sexual prowess that flowed from his very being all seemed to fit, right?
Wait! Sexual prowess? Was that a superhero characteristic?
The front door opened slowly, and I could just make out the shuffle of tennis clad feet.
His movements these days were always a little more thought out...a little more wary.
The smile he wore as I turned to him seemed more improved than moments before, and I was thankful.
Thankful that his face no longer wore the pain that he had been starting to feel before we made it here.
A relieved smile crossed my face.
“Mark!” I might have gone to him had it not been for the rambunctious boys at my side.
“Come meet Mr, um, Slate.”
Turning to Slate, there was a look of surprise that crossed his features before I noticed that his eyes went a darker shade of grey.
The expression on his face turned even darker than his eyes conveyed.
“Are you okay?”