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Shelter Me Home

By:T. S. Joyce

Shelter Me Home
T. S. Joyce

       Chapter One


New York had chewed Farrah Fennel up and spat her out. In her defense,  the big city had taken seven years to break her. Still, she never  thought she'd be seeking sanctuary in her childhood home of Cooper  Landing, Alaska as long as she lived. Her traveling companions included  one ratty suitcase, a tobacco-chewing trucker who'd picked her up near  Anchorage, and about as much shame as a person could shoulder.

Walter pulled the enormous 18-wheeler off the highway and smiled  reassuringly at her. "Here's where you have to get off. I have to unload  right down the road, and then I'm headed back where I came from."

She smiled to hide the nerves that sent waves of nausea into her  stomach, and then nodded. Walter was a stout man with a slight paunch  and a beard with every shade of silver imaginable. He had an easily  earned smile and a knack for carrying the conversation where she failed  at small talk.

For the hundredth time, she shifted her gaze to the picture of his wife  taped to the dash. Farrah swallowed and looked back out the window to  watch the fat snowflakes blanket the quiet town of Homer. His wife was a  plain woman, if her sepia-toned picture was anything to go by, but when  Walter talked about her, he made her sound like the most beautiful  woman in the world.

That was what love was supposed to be like.

She'd missed her mark, and missed it wide, with Miles Anderson.

The 18-wheeler hissed and rocked as Walter pulled to a stop in a gas  station that doubled as a diner. Downshifting to park, he turned and  leveled her with a fatherly look.

"Ms. Farrah, I don't know the reasons a proper looking woman such as  yourself is out here hitching rides from strangers, but be wary." He  pushed his faded Peterbilt hat from his thinning hair and slid it back  on as if it was habit. With a tug at his pocket, he pulled a black  plastic rectangle out and flicked open a dangerous looking blade.  "Anyone gives you trouble, you put this in their neck."

The ease with which he said that was startling. With shaking fingers,  she reached across the cab and held it between pointer and thumb like it  was a dead snake. Even if someone had ill intentions toward her, she  wasn't altogether sure she could end a life to save her own. Walter  didn't have to know that, though.

"What does it mean to you?" she asked.

A slow smile spread across his face, and he shook his head. "Not a  damned thing. I don't believe in luck, and I don't believe in lucky  possessions. I switch out my pocket knives as I find them, and this  one's about due for a change anyway. You aren't taking anything  important from me, and I'd feel better leaving you with a way to defend  yourself."

"Okay. Thanks," she said, folding the blade and tucking it into her  pocket. "Not just for the knife, but for taking me all this way, too."

"Sure thing, and Ms. Farrah?" he said as she turned to open the door. "Be wary," he reminded her.

"Yes, sir," she said with a tiny salute and grabbed her duffle bag.

Inside of the simple luggage was everything she owned in the world.  She'd sold everything out of her one bedroom apartment in the city to  afford the plane fare to Alaska, and anything important and small  enough, she'd shoved into the purple suitcase. Her warmest clothes,  miniature bottles of fancy shampoos and body washes she'd collected from  the hotels she and Miles had stayed at, a pink bag of toiletries and  make-up, jewelry that held sentimental value, and a small wad of cash  she'd stashed in the hidden zipper inside. All of the money she had to  her name was bouncing in the bag against her leg as she waddled across  the snow and ice to the front door of the gas station. The wheels on the  luggage had stopped working years ago, and she dragged it across the  frozen parking lot, leaving a divot trail in her wake. Even if she  didn't own much, it was still heavy for a five-foot-three woman who  hadn't eaten a decent meal in a few days.

Turning to wave Walter off, she took the opportunity to catch her breath  and give her arms a rest. When the truck drove past, snow flurries  whooshed up from the ground and made tiny tornadoes in the wind.

Walter waved as the 18-wheeler pulled back onto the main road. She'd  been lucky to hitch a ride with a decent human being. From where she  stood, there weren't many of them left. Hopefully, she could get as  lucky with her next ride.

Cooper Landing was just two tiny hours away from Homer if she took the  highway connecting the two towns. She pulled her parka more tightly  around herself and zipped it up to keep the chill away. Her knees  buckled when a roiling and unexpected wave of nausea took her. She  swallowed hard once. Twice. A fine sweat broke out over her eyebrow as  the world wobbled. She needed to eat something, and fast.                       
       
           



       

Hefting the suitcase handle to her hip, she slipped and slid until she  reached the door, then tugged it open. The air smelled of grits and  fried potatoes and brought another wave of sickness from sheer  desperation. Mouth watering, she made her way to the back to a counter  adorned with old fashioned stools. A young couple talked quietly in the  corner. The only patron she had to pass on the way to an empty stool was  a man, his face obscured as he hunched over nursing a mug of steaming  coffee. His heavy jacket lay across the stool to his right, and the neck  of his gray thermal shirt was stretched just enough to show the strong  cords of muscle in his neck that led down to two vertebrae that pushed  against his smooth skin. A curl of black ink peeked out from under the  fabric and brushed the base of his neck. From the way his shoulders  pressed against the cloth of his shirt and hung loosely around his  middle, the man was built better and healthier than any of the models  she'd served drinks to in the city. The material of his shirt was thin  enough to show off the muscles of his back, and she looked away,  widening her eyes to saucers. The man had tingling warmth flooding into  her stomach like some dam had busted, and she hadn't even seen his face  yet.

What in great goodness was wrong with her?

She'd left Alaska years ago because no one would ever suit her in this  frigid place. Snow-loving hippie Alaskans weren't her type. It was  probably just the mysterious tattoo. She'd always been a sucker for  tattoos.

Much harder than she'd meant to, she dropped her luggage by a seat three  down from the man. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him twitch his  head toward her once before pulling his attention back to a weather  report on the old black and white television set hanging from the back  wall.

No matter which way she stretched her neck, there wasn't a soul to be  found to take her order. No one behind the counter nor in the kitchen,  from what she could see through a small cutout in the wall. Her entire  body shook with its need for fuel, and she searched instead for a  service bell to ring.

A bowl of peanuts sat between her and the man, and she pulled it to  herself and started gobbling the little snacks down like a desperate  squirrel. It wasn't until she was picking at the crumbs in the bottom  that she looked up to see the man watching her.

Recognition froze her in place.

Aanon Falk stared at her with raised eyebrows like she'd just beamed  down from the moon. She dropped the empty nut bowl with a tiny clatter  to the countertop.

"Hi," she said to break the awkward silence that filled the space between them.

He waited two seconds too long to be polite before he gave her a terse, "Hi" back.

Aanon didn't recognize her.

She turned away and stifled a laugh. Of course, he didn't. She hadn't  exactly been memorable in high school, and he had been seven levels out  of her league back then. She snuck a sidelong glance at him as he took  another drag of coffee. Oh hell, he was still out of her league, even if  she was interested. His nose was straight and strong, probably a gift  from the sexy Norsemen who peppered his genealogy, and the angles of his  jaw were sharp like glass. The color of his eyes rivaled the clearest  Alaskan summer sky, and blond hair tumbled out of his gray winter hat  and tickled the tip of his tattoo. Short, gold whiskers graced his  chiseled jaw, and when the waitress finally appeared through a swinging  door, his smile still held the masculine beauty she remembered. A  strange sensation rose in her chest as the memories of the lanky boy  she'd gone to school with warred with the physical presence of the  well-formed man beside her.

The waitress, Clara, her nametag read, topped off Aanon's cup of joe and  focused her attention on Farrah. "You know what you want, sweety?"

"Uhhh." Shit, was she really freezing up now? Perfect.  Aanon-Sexy-Face-Falk was staring, and her mouth couldn't remember the  syllables to the word pancakes.

"You okay?" Clara asked.

"F-fine," she stammered. "What's good to eat here?"

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