The lone figure stumbled slightly on the side of the icy road, but recovered his balance again and continued slogging through the snow. His progress was slow, as the drifts were deepening by the minute. There was something familiar about the dark hair and the way his shoulders were hunched over against the cold....Marie drew in a surprised breath, recognition slowly dawning. Rubbing her fist against the window to clear the condensation confirmed her guess: Yep, that's definitely Mister Tall, Dark and Growly! Dear Lord - what's he doing walking along the road like that? He'll be lucky if someone driving by doesn't plow into him, and he's really not dressed for this weather....he looks frozen!
The look she'd seen in his hazel eyes, when he'd bent down to help her with the books she'd dropped, flashed through her mind. While he was undeniably rough-looking, there was also something almost - vulnerable?- about the man. Without even realizing she was doing it, Marie pulled the car over as she drove up alongside of the stranger, coming to a stop less than ten feet ahead of him. Rolling down the passenger window, she leaned over and called out into the wildly flurrying snow and sleet.
"Mister! Did your car break down?" What in the hell am I doing? Why did I stop? Forget it, Marie....he doesn't need your help.
She thought she saw him glance briefly in her direction but, surprisingly, he reached the side of the road where her car was idling and kept on walking. Maybe he didn't hear me in this wind? Marie tapped her horn gently, trying to get his attention.
"Hey! Do you need a lift, Mister?" Oh, terrific. I just offered the rough-looking guy a ride. My common sense has definitely flown the coop....probably for good, cuz I never, ever listened to it.
This time the man turned and stared at her, a look of doubt and suspicion etched on his craggy - but somehow appealing - features. Marie wasn't sure if he could even see her through the fogged-up windows. In a split second, she'd opened her door and gotten out, using the door to block the force of the wind. It did nothing to protect her from the sleet, however, and her hair was soon plastered to her face.
"Hey!" She waved a hand in greeting, beginning to think perhaps she shouldn't have even bothered. The man was not looking pleased at her interruption. "Remember me? I kinda ran into you at the library. Um, thanks again for helping me pick up all those books...." You're babbling, Marie. Just shut up and see if he needs help! When he continued to stare at her, she pushed on. "So, uh, did your car break down? Do you need a ride somewhere?"
His response was completely unexpected. Marie blinked. "Why am I offering you a ride?" Good question. I'm seriously wondering the same thing about now, buddy. "Uh, well......because it's freezing out here and it looks like you could use one."
The tone was gruff, but the hunched shoulders and the fleeting look in his eyes before he turned away from her said something entirely different. Marie pursed her lips, suddenly - inexplicably - determined.
"Look.....this storm is getting worse every minute, you're almost forty miles away from the nearest town, and even if you reach it, there won't be anything open anyway because of the holidays." Are those enough reasons for you, or would you like to hear a few more? She cocked her head, hands on her hips. "Where are you going to go?"
He shrugged, not turning around. "Dunno."
"Um...is there someplace you're trying to get to?
Okaaay....he was reading a book at the library a few minutes ago. Now he's just wandering around, by himself, in the middle of a blizzard, with no particular destination in mind? I could be wrong, but something isn't adding up here...
"Well, why don't I just give you a lift? I can take you a few miles, at least. You're not going to make it very far on foot in this storm....."
He shrugged again and started moving away from her. Marie sighed exasperatedly and decided to try another, last-ditch approach.
"Are you hungry?" Whoa! Just...whoa. First I'm offering the grouchy man a ride and now I'm trying to feed him too? What the hell? Okay, it's official....I've totally lost my mind!
"What?" He'd stopped and was frowning at her, a bewildered expression on his face. Bingo. My grandma always said the way to win a man's heart - or at least get his attention - was through his stomach. If in doubt, talk food.
"I asked if you were hungry?" Marie smiled in a way that she hoped would look inviting. "When was the last time you ate?"
The man jammed his hands further in his pockets, staring at the ground. "Dunno. Awhile ago." He jerked his head up then, staring at her with narrowed eyes. "Why?"
Again with the 'why'. Ignoring his question, she ducked inside the car and unlocked the passenger door. Standing back up, she motioned for him to get in. "Come on. You can come home with me. We'll get you warmed up and you can have some dinner. We can even find you a place to sleep....okay?" Hell on wheels, Marie....why don't you just offer to bear his children, too?
He regarded her suspiciously, hunching further inside his jacket against the wind, his hair dripping around his scowling features. "I don't need your damn charity." His voice was a growl and Marie could tell from his body language that he was getting ready to turn his back on her and keep walking. This called for drastic measures. She didn't know why, exactly, but something deep inside her was simply not going to let this surly stranger just walk away. God help me.
"I'm not offering you charity. It's just that, well, I'm alone too... Why did I just tell him that? Hell, I could've just rented a billboard or hired a skywriter! ...and I just thought that maybe we could both use some company?" Squaring her shoulders, she walked in front of the car, carefully picking her way over to where he stood. Just as she reached out to open the passenger door for him, her foot slipped on a patch of ice and she fought to remain upright. Before she knew what was happening, the stranger was at her side, one strong hand at her elbow, the other resting on the small of her back. The split-second reaction kept her from falling and startled them both. Marie grasped the man's biceps with both of her hands - Wow, his arms are really strong... - and quickly regained her footing. His hazel eyes met her brown ones full-bore for the second time that day and she let out her breath in an icy cloud.
"I'm such a klutz.....that's twice today that you've helped me out!" Realizing she was still holding onto his arms, she reluctantly let go and took a careful step back. "Uh, thanks....thanks a lot."
"Yeah." A low rumbling came from his throat and he gave her a gruff nod. "...'You okay?"
"I'm fine." She smiled at him again. Ah Hah - I knew it! The grouchy guy is only grouchy on the outside! "So, are you gonna get in?"
He hesitated again, looking decidedly uncomfortable and more than a little surly. Marie figured it couldn't hurt to go with some much needed humor. Besides, she was getting colder by the minute and her teeth were beginning to chatter. If I don't convince this guy now, we're both gonna turn into popsicles out here!
"Look.....it's freezing and I just figured you could use some heat and some food as much as I do. Whaddya say?" She quirked a grin at him. "I promise I'm not a serial killer or even a man-hater. I won't tie you up in the basement or hurt you or anything. C'mon....what've you got to lose?" The barest hint of a smile tugged at the stranger's mouth. Heh. He probably thinks it's funny that I said I won't hurt him. As if I could. Lord knows he looks like he can take care of himself.
Without further protest, he grunted and got into the car, tossing his duffel on the floor behind the seat. Marie slowly made her way around the front again and climbed into the driver's seat, shutting the door and pulling back onto the road carefully.
It was cold inside the vehicle, due to having had both doors open, but at least the biting wind was kept at bay. Marie rubbed at the steamed-up windshield with her coat sleeve and glanced at her passenger.
"I'm, uh, really glad you decided to come with me. My name's Marie, by the way."
Huh? Did he just say 'Wolverine'? Well, that's interesting. "Is that your first name, or your last name?"
"Neither." He wasn't looking at her, staring down at his hands clenched in his lap.
"Oh." Maybe it's a nickname? "Okay." She swallowed. So much for introductions. "Um, I only live a couple of miles from here. We'll be there in a few minutes."Not surprisingly, he didn't respond, merely looking out the window at the ever-present swirling snow. They drove the rest of the way in a pregnant silence and Marie wondered - not for the first time - if she was going to regret playing Good Samaritan before the day was over?