Emma tucked a bookmark in between the pages and set it aside. As I walked over with the bottle in my hands, she straightened the over-sized shirt hanging open over a white tank top. Everything about her screamed small-town, except her eyes. Her eyes spoke of wisdom and worldliness beyond this little Colorado mountain town. I would wager her knowing eyes were the result from all those books she reads.
“What do you think of this one?” I asked, awkwardly holding out the bottle to her, almost dropping it. It’s an act. I don’t drop things. But it was important I come off like a yuppie. I still wasn’t entirely sure what a yuppie was, but it’s what a man spat at me in an alley way a month ago when I grabbed him and slammed him to the ground. I claimed I’d slipped, which was a better explanation than why I really threw him to the ground, and how it would have resulted in him losing his head if I hadn’t. As much as I disliked having to appear ridiculous and uncoordinated, I know how necessary it is to not appear as what I am.
Taking the bottle from me, Emma’s fingers touched mine with the barest brush. Heat shot up my arm then down my back sending a shiver rolling down it with unfamiliar pleasure. Again, the fantasy assailed me in vivid color, and I desired it more than anything I’d ever wanted in my life. Someone to see me.
But it was forbidden. I was not to be seen, certainly not to know affection. I was to follow the missions wherever they took me.
Emma didn’t notice my mind wander or my deliberate swallow. She examined the label, biting the inside of her cheek as she thought. “This is a Malbec, so if you want something bolder and spicier, this is your gal,” she said with a smile, handing it back.
I wished she was my gal, my thoughts mimicked her term. I took back the bottle, “Oh, okay.”
Her dark brows wrinkled in confusion. They were thick and dark, a striking contrast against her honey wheat hair and chestnut brown eyes. It added to the intelligence of her face. “You sure do have interesting taste in wine.”
Uh oh. I put on an easy smile, “How do you mean?”
She gestured to the bottle in my hand, then tugged at the bottom of her plaid shirt. “I mean, you never drink the same kind twice. Most people come in and pick the same bottle or at least stick to the same types of wine. You’ve gotten everything from a cabernet to a dry white, all the way to rosés and moscatos.”
Could she guess the small army of wine bottles I’d bought remained unopened, gathered at a corner of the uninhabited building I had made base camp? The fact that I’d never even had a sip of alcohol in my life was probably poking through and making me seem out of place. I’d assumed people would pick out as many different kinds of wine to collect the variety. My Masters would be disappointed in me.
I shrugged and maintained the easy smile, though my back muscles tensed.
One of the refrigerators kicked up a high whine along with a clunky rattle, making the machine sound sick. Emma looked over at it with her brow furrowed. I sniffed the air for burning rubber but detected nothing electrical. Emma stared at it a few long seconds before turning her attention back to me.
“Still figuring out what you like?” Emma asked.
I nodded in agreement, grateful to let her lead the conversation.
She smiled back, clearly pleased to have figured me out. “Well, there’s not a lot of good stuff here. Small-town people tend to keep it sweet or in a box. Let me show you the best of the crop here and maybe that will help you decide.” Emma came around from behind the counter. The prospect of knowing one of her ‘favorites’ kicked up the speed of my heart again in hungry anticipation for something that gave me a little piece of her.
The refrigerator next to the first complaining machine loudly rattled and shook now, like it might expire any second. The other man in the store eyed the fridge from an aisle away, edging away from it.
Emma took a few steps toward the refrigerators. “That’s weird. At least it’s cold out, so if the fridges die, I can nestle the bottles in the snow out back.” Casting a shy glance over her shoulder at me, she bit the inside of her cheek in a way that made me feel all at once restless. “I guess I shouldn’t advertise where I plan to stash the unsupervised booze.” Emma laughed lightly, but I wasn’t paying attention to her anymore.
A third refrigerator matched the clatter and screech of the first two. One of my hands fell to Emma’s arm, stopping her from moving any closer. I almost didn’t notice how good it felt to touch her warm, impossibly soft skin. Almost.
My gaze darted around the store. “You need to go,” I instructed in a low voice.