Back at the house, Alex shed her smoky clothes and jumped into the shower. When she got out she applied Sunny’s salve to her scratches and cuts, then changed into yoga pants and a fitted gray t-shirt that said “I *heart* drummers”.
“You did a great job,” Sam said to Alex when she joined them in the living room where they sat drinking beer and talking about the past weeks’ events. “Did our chanting not work like it was supposed to?”
“It didn’t weaken it fast enough,” Alex said. “So I improvised, but it was close. He was stronger than I thought. And heavier.”
“Well, you scared the crap out of all of us,” Dean said. “We didn’t know if we should jump in or not. This one –“ he pointed at Nick “- was two steps from busting in to save the day.”
“And getting himself killed,” Alex said, fixing Nick with a ‘don’t pull that stunt again’ stare. He flushed but he kept eye contact with her. Oh, he’d do it again, she would bet on it.
“Where’d you learn that wrestling move?” Sam asked.
“It’s a move a woman can make if a man is sitting on her with the intent to harm her,” Alex said. “It’s all about changing the center of balance. I wasn’t sure it would work on the dog though, but I guess it was big enough that it did work. I was pretty much out of options by then anyway.”
“I’m thinking of printing you up a t-shirt,” Sunny said, stretching out in the recliner with a beer. “It’ll say, ‘I wrestled a hellhound and won.’ What do you think?”
Alex laughed and pulled a comb through her hair, filling the room with the smell of fresh apples.
“I think I’d wear it with pride,” she said.
“So you guys are heading out then, now that this is all over?” Sunny said. “I’m not saying I’m throwing you out, I’m just asking.”
“Doug’s coming down for the Keeneland sales in a couple of days,” Nick said. “We’ve got to meet up with him in
“What about you fellas?” Sunny looked at the brothers.
“Not sure,” Sam said, as he almost always did. “We’ll find something.”
They sat and talked for a while, comfortable again after a week of tension. But after another hour or so, Sunny looked sleepy and Alex said, yawning,
“Well, you all can chat, but I’m going up to bed. Maybe I won’t dream about hellhounds, but I’m not betting the farm on it.”
She went upstairs and into the room she’d been staying in. Sunny had kindly changed the sheets and the bed was crisp and cleanly made.
Alex sighed. She was tired and sore, and her brain still felt like somebody had been stomping on it. Not the kind of tired that meant a need for sleep, exactly – like she needed time to just ‘be.’
She’d get back to the riding and that would do it, she knew. Something about the smell of the hay, the earthy warm scent of the horses, the rich tang of the track in the morning fog – those things always centered her. She would smell the leather of the saddle, hear it creak as she settled in on Cherry Blossom or Bourbonette or Cat’s Paw, or that wild young colt Red Sunset, and she would tuck the reins between her fingers. The horse would exhale, snort, dance on his toes, and his velvet ears would twist back toward her, and she would talk to him and feel again the perfect union of horse and rider. Then she would feel like herself again.
She turned on the bedside lamp and turned off the overhead light; she would read and then go to bed. Try to calm her mind. Maybe that would help. At least brushing her teeth had gotten that smoky smell out of her mouth. Yuck.
There was a knock at the door, and she said,
“Come in,” almost without thinking.
Nick opened the door and put his head in.
“Am I welcome?” he said hesitantly.
“Sure,” Alex said with a smile, remembering the way he had kissed her before she went into the circle.
He came in and closed the door.
“How are you feeling really?” he asked, coming up to her and putting his hands on her arms.
“I’m really fine,” Alex said. “A few scratches here and there, but they’re already starting to heal. Sunny’s potions work great, and I don’t have to smell like a pharmacy.”
Nick smiled. “No,” he said, “you smell like an orchard, and I love it.”
Alex almost said, “That’s the popular opinion,” but decided that wouldn’t be wise.
“Well, I’m glad,” she said, smiling up at him.
He took her face in his hands and kissed her, gently, then pulled her to him, and she gratefully rested her head against his chest while he put his arms around her. He was so solid and warm and reassuring, she thought. He had hugged her but never really held her like this and she felt like they fit together, her head under his chin, the perfect height.
“I really am sorry,” he said. “I never thought about how you felt about everything. I never asked and you never said.” But he wasn’t blaming her.
“I should have said something,” Alex said. “I was suffering in noble martyred silence. Like an idiot.”
He let out a soft chuckle; she could hear it reverberate in his chest.
“But I knew,” he said after a moment. “I guess I pretended I didn’t, but I knew. Angel, I am so sorry.”
“I know,” she said.
A moment or two passed; Alex wanted to stay there as long as she could.
“So please tell me you won’t leave me,” he said.
“I won’t,” she said, then lifted her head to look up at him, giving him the same sly look from earlier. “Jettison the bitch and I’m there.”
“Consider her gone,” Nick said and kissed her.
(music – Colorful – The Verve Pipe)
She wasn’t going to ask him for anything. That had been the plan. But after a few minutes of kisses that started sweet and gentle (which she liked much more than she wanted to admit) it was clear this might go quite a bit further. So with great effort he pulled back.
“I think,” he said carefully and gently, “that if you’d prefer to, ah, sleep alone, now is the time for me to go back to my own room. I mean, I’d love to stay, but I think by now you knew that.”
“I knew that,” she said and kissed him so he knew which way her mind was made up.
He stayed. He told her to let him know if any of her injuries bothered her, and he undressed her carefully and slowly, kissing her and touching her gently. She felt his hands trembling. She was surprised she was shaking too.
They made love carefully and gently, taking their time. He made certain she had her pleasure before he took his, and then he laid his head down against her chest and wrapped his arms around her, and she didn’t want to let go. Afterward he spooned against her, and she lay awake for a very long time reveling in the feeling of his breath against her shoulder and his arm holding her tight.