Ring Around the SUn

Ring Around the SUn

Gemini Judson

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That’s exactly what Teal Marin needs. When she inherits a cabin in the woods of northern Minnesota, she sees an opportunity to escape her physically abusive lover and disappear. From the moment she steps off bus, she realizes it won’t be easy—these weren’t the streets of Chicago.


 

As she battles against a new wintery enemy, a tall dark stranger emerges from the darkness. Darren Kennedy is a sports writer, nursing an old football injury and a broken heart in his cabin in the woods. He plucks Teal out the snow and teaches her the basics of cabin life. Together they ignite an unexpected passion that keeps them toasty warm.


 

Now Teal bathes in snowy, frigid sunshine with her new hero. Did she make a clean break? Not at all. Her former abuser wants his beautiful girl home.

 

 
PUBLISHED BY: Eirelander Publishing
ISBN: 144958487x
PUBLICATION DATE: 2009
WORD COUNT: 45000
SEXUAL CONTENT RATING: 4 4 4 4
EBOOK READER RATING:
CATEGORIES: Romantic Fiction, Contemporary, Erotica
KEYWORDS: Contemporary, Erotic Romance
 

EBOOKS BY Eirelander Publishing

EBOOKS BY Gemini Judson

 
EXCERPT
COPYRIGHT Gemini Judson/2009

Chapter One


Teal Marin looked in the mirror one more time. “Stop already.” She stepped back and grabbed a fistful of single-ply toilet paper from the stall and dabbed at her lip. It started bleeding again when she had to make small talk with the blabbermouth at the ticket counter. She just wanted a ticket to Duluth, not a historical account of the weather patterns for the Upper Great Lakes. The woman had chided Teal for her light jacket.

“Do you have long johns on, honey?” The woman’s gum smacked while she waited for an answer.

“No, but I’m sure I can pick some up when I get there.” Whatever they are.

“Maybe, but those buses can get darn cold and if your…”

Teal had rudely walked away from the mother hen in mid sentence. The weather was the least of her worries. In quick preparation for her journey, she’d only grabbed the few things she could stuff into her shoulder bag. No luggage. Keep it simple.

She pulled her bangs forward in an attempt to cover the purple bruise, now turning green around the edges. A nasty blob of red lingered in her eye. She’d seen that before. It would be gone by the time she got off the bus that evening.

She clutched her bus ticket in both hands as if it might fly away. It symbolized so much more than a ride out of town. She was about to disappear. Cliff didn’t know anything about Tony. She’d been deliberately secretive about her brother. Over the past two months, as Cliff became more violent, she closed down the information stream. The less he knew about her private life, the better. As far as he was concerned, she grew up in foster care in Minneapolis and had no family to speak of. He wouldn’t know where to look for her.

Teal recalled the first time she met Clifford Banks. Why didn’t red flags go up? She’d looked into his ocean-blue eyes and saw mansions in the sky—not the monster that he was.

An attractive Chicago lawyer flirting with a busty cocktail waitress is nothing new, but when he asked her to go away with him, Teal couldn’t believe her luck. Her fall semester grades had slumped beyond recovery anyway, so she dropped her courses, packed up her few belongings and went away with her hero. Now she’d give anything to undo that decision.

She stepped onto the bus and found a seat near the rear. She had some crying to catch up on and didn’t want to disturb anybody. She hadn’t seen Tony for months. It’s not like they were close. They were jostled around the social services as kids after their mom died. It was only after she turned eighteen that Tony looked her up. They drank a few beers together every now and then, a postcard here and there, a happy birthday phone call. Now he was dead. Thank God the call came when Cliff wasn’t home. Teal started hatching a plan almost immediately after she’d heard the details.

A skinny young man with a black trench coat walked down the aisle and sat in the seat next to her. Her senses were flooded with a powerful scent of sandalwood. He looked at her briefly and gave a weak acknowledgement. “Hey.”
So this was her traveling companion. He seemed harmless enough. At least he didn’t bother over her bruises or fat lip. She watched him pull out an iPod and poke the ear buds into his ears. Goodnight.

Teal sniffed. Cliff would work late tonight as he always did on Friday, then go for dinner and drinks with his lawyer friends. She would be halfway to Duluth by the time he got home. She reached into her canvas bag for her wallet. Eighty-seven dollars. She could have used a few more days to snitch twenties out of Cliff’s wallet, but the man on the phone seemed adamant that she come soon. Something about frozen pipes and snow piling up. Sure Tony, you couldn’t have left me a condo in Palm Springs?

Teal looked out the window into the dark January evening. Christmas had sucked. Cliff paraded her around to holiday parties in obnoxious short dresses with slutty cleavages. No less than three of his pals propositioned her, two of them with their wives across the room.

Cliff surprised her with a gaudy diamond engagement ring on New Year’s Eve. Later that night he punched her face in and shook her until her teeth rattled. The ring lost its luster. She’d pawn that sucker the first chance she got. He asked her—no told her—to marry him. “No fucking way, you ape.”

The young man sitting next to her awoke and sat up straight. “Did you say something?”

Teal realized her last thought was an audible. “Ah, no. I’m sorry. I guess I was thinking out loud.”

“Do you mind if I pop a light on?” He looked over at her, this time lingering a few seconds on her bruised eye.

She looked down at her hands and pretended to rummage in her wallet. “No, I don’t mind.” Just please don’t ask me any questions.

“Hope I wasn’t snoring.” He smiled at her. He looked about eighteen, maybe more. He had a big, fabulous grin that made Teal like him, despite her desire for him to shut up.

“No, you weren’t. Don’t worry.” Teal looked back out the window, hoping to end the conversation.

“My mom used to get a face like that about once a month. She finally turned the bastard in.”

Teal’s heart skipped a beat. She had no answer to this but continued to peer out the window. The overhead light made it impossible to see out—she only saw her sad reflection.

The bus pulled into the station in St. Paul and her sandalwood friend stood and waited to get into the aisle. She had a fleeting hope that he would travel north to Duluth with her. He was nice. She brushed the stupid thought from her head—she didn’t even know him.

As he grabbed his duffle bag from the overhead compartment, he tapped her lightly on the arm. “Do something about this. Promise?”

Teal swallowed and tried to smile. “I’m working on it. Promise.”

Mr. Sandalwood disappeared.

She slept most of the way to Duluth and stepped off the bus feeling chilled to the bone. Her fleece jacket and clogs were no match for the frigid wind that assaulted her as she walked the narrow corridor to the depot. Ah, love that Minnesota wind.

Teal squinted at the harsh lights of the depot and inhaled the curious blend of popcorn and bus exhaust. There were few travelers at this hour so she helped herself to two of the hard vinyl chairs. She perched her bag on one and rummaged for the notebook containing the information she needed. An attorney had appointed a caretaker for Tony’s “estate” until she arrived. She had a handful of quarters for the payphone—Cliff had accidentally broken her cell. It probably would have survived the slam against the wall but the secondary bounce on the marble floor did it in.

“Hello. This is Teal Marin. Tony Marin’s sister. I was given your number. I’m at the bus depot in Duluth.”

“Oh ya. I’m real sorry for your loss, Miss. Terrible tragedy. These lakes, ya know, boy. It’s just a shame.” Teal imagined the man on the other end of this phone conversation. He had to be one of the seven dwarfs—Doc.

“Thank you. Tony always liked the lakes.” Did he? She didn’t know.

“Oh ya. I’m sure he did. Miss, me and my wife drove to Duluth this morning and left his truck at the bus depot there. The key is in one of those deposit boxes.” He rattled off the combination to the box, leaving Teal struggling to tap life into her ink pen. “It’s a nice big Ford—black. Big bucket seats. The keys to the cabin are in there too, with directions. Say, you aren’t planning on going out there anymore tonight, are ya?”

“Ah, I dunno. Why not?”

“The snow’s piling up pretty good. It’d be a heck of a drive. Course there’s the dog.”

“Dog? What dog?”

“Oh, your brother had a dog. It’s been tied up outside for the last couple of weeks.” Here the man hesitated. “She should be okay.”

Teal’s stomach bunched up in a knot thinking about a poor dog living on the end of a leash. “Hasn’t anyone been taking care of it?”

“Oh ya, sure. We go up there every day and feed and water her. Nice little husky. My wife says no more dogs ya see, otherwise I’d be tempted to bring her home myself.”

“Can you go get her, just for tonight? Get her out of the snow?”

“No can do. We’re stuck tight at my son’s place here about an hour away. I think she’ll be fine. She has a good coat.”

Teal stepped back out into the frigid night with a fistful of keys and some directions tucked inside a map. Goddammit. The thought of that dog out in the cold made her heart ache.

As she mulled over her options, she searched the parking lot for a black Ford. There were few vehicles in the lot, and she walked by one a couple of times before realizing it must be Tony’s. But it wasn’t a truck so much as a behemoth. Teal hoisted herself up into the cab and searched for a light. At first glance, the directions to the cabin seemed clear enough and the map was colorful, if not simplistic. She’d never forgive herself if she didn’t go help that poor dog. She headed out into the night.

The snow swirled and danced in the beam of the headlights. She clicked them to bright and that made it even worse. This was crazy. Out in a storm like this, unfamiliar roads, reading directions from some damn dwarf with messy cursive. His directions kept indicating “turn lt”. But “turn lt” looked a lot like “turn rt” with his rotten handwriting.

There were no tracks to follow on the snow-covered road and Teal figured her best bet was to stay equidistance from the trees on either side. She scooted forward in the big seat to get a better look at the birch and evergreen trees that leaned inward to swallow her. She reached down to make an adjustment to the baffling array of temperature controls.

As she inched the truck along, the road narrowed and seemed to disappear entirely. Tears gathered in her eyes. What did I do wrong? She tapped on the brakes and the truck slid slowly to a stop. She fumbled above her head and found the dome light that illuminated the cab in a soft yellow glow. The map had very few secondary roads marked, and Teal noticed it was dotted with stars—wildlife protection areas. Well, that’s helpful for the next time I go goose hunting. She snapped the light off with a huff.

She clicked into drive and tried to pull ahead but heard only a nauseating spinning sound. She tapped the gas lightly. More spinning. She tried reverse to no avail, then forward again, and this time gave it hell. The only response was the whine of the tires on snow and a freaky slide to the left.

The snow whirled up and over the windshield with a sudden blast. Teal glanced down to crank the heat even higher, sniffing back a dam of tears. When she looked up, a figure stood in the middle of the road. She let out a startled scream. The figure stood solid in the headlights and then began to trudge toward the truck.

“Shit.” She didn’t know if she should lock her doors or open them and ask for help. She saw now that it was a person in a big, green parka with the hood zipped up to form a short tunnel around the face. The rest of the form was covered in boots and gloves. Man or woman? Teal guessed man. She followed her city instinct and locked the doors.

The figured moved closer in the headlights, then came around to the driver’s side and stood looking in at her window. She heard a muffled voice. “What are you doing out here? Open up.”

She looked into the tunnel and saw a man’s dark eyes and that was about it. He spoke again. “Open up. It’s okay, I’m not an ax murderer.”

Her window frosted over and Teal realized she had nothing to lose. She could either freeze to death or see what this guy had in mind. She felt around for the window controls and inched it down. “Are you okay?”

“Me? I’m fine. I’m just wondering what you think you’re doing out here in a blizzard.”

“I think I’m lost.” That pretty much summed it up but she added, “I don’t know where the hell I am or how I’m going to get out of here.”

“You from around here?”

“No.” She pushed the button to open the window fully. “Do you know where Blueberry Road is?”

“Back that way about five miles. Sounds like you turned left when you should have turned right.”

Here they came. Those tears she’d been blinking back streamed down her cheeks. Teal slammed an unmittened hand on the steering wheel and fought back the flood with a blow of air that fluttered her bangs. “I couldn’t read his stupid handwriting and there’s a dog tied up out in the storm and I don’t know how to drive this damn truck.” Suddenly she felt like blurting out every injustice in her life.

The hooded man seemed nonplussed by this sudden burst of emotion. “It’s okay. I’ll get you going. Do you have this in four low?”

“Four low what?” She sniffed.

“Do you even have it four-wheel drive?”

“Ah, I don’t—I don’t really know—how do you tell?”

“Geez. Will you let me drive?”

Teal hesitated. Was this the stupidest thing? Picking up a stranger in a big, green parka in the middle of the woods in northern Minnesota? Yup. “Sure, you drive.”

She glanced over at the passenger side. A truck the size of an ocean liner and it had to have bucket seats. She made a split-second decision to go around and opened the truck door, hopping down like a bird fledging a nest. She was surprised by the depth of the snow. And the height of her stranger. She felt elfish as she waded around the front of the truck. Clogs. Good call, Teal. One of them slipped off in the deep snow and she kicked around to find it, balancing on one foot.

The stranger was already in the driver’s seat and now hollered out the open window. “What are you doing?”

“I lost my shoe,” she hollered back. There it was. She slipped it on and made her way to the passenger side.

“All set?” The stranger unzipped the hood of his parka and slid it off his head. Teal saw for the first time the face behind the voice inside the tunnel. She’d envisioned a scruffy, deer-slaying woodsman. After all, what kind of weirdo takes a hike on a night like this? She wasn’t expecting the sleek and sculpted jaw line and long, dark hair. He flashed a quick look at her with what appeared to be shining brown eyes. She wasn’t sure.

She let out an involuntary small, “Oh.”

“This is a nice rig. I can’t believe you made it this far and didn’t even have it in four-wheel drive.”

“I should have never come out, but the man said there was a dog stranded out in the snow. It’s my brother’s dog.” She knew this didn’t make any sense to the stranger, but she felt the need to jabber. His soft voice and those eyes threw her off kilter.

“Ah yes, the dog. Why don’t you buckle up? This is going to be a fun ride.”

He eased the truck forward. No more spinning. They drove slowly and turned onto another little road. Or no road at all. The trees parted, but the terrain was a sea of snow. Now it was getting interesting.

The truck floated and groaned and spun to the side. The stranger steered and corrected and punched the gas as they plowed into the deep snow. They plunged into snowdrifts that sent sheets of white over the windshield. Teal nervously glanced over at the stranger as she gripped the handle above the door.

A few more powerful surges and a little more grinding and spinning and Teal saw a light. They turned into a narrow drive and a cabin appeared like a dream amidst the swirling snow, with a yellow light glowing on a porch. They parked the truck and sat in silence.

“I like your truck.”

“I can tell.”

“I live here. I’m pretty sure you’ll be spending the night. My name is Darren Kennedy.” He pulled off a heavy mitten and stuck his hand out.

Exhilarated and terrified, Teal cast a bewildered glance at the man in the driver’s seat. Had she just been kidnapped? She didn’t shake his hand.

“What do you mean I’m spending the night?” A mixture of fear and anger and many other things boiled in her belly.

“Look, you were screwed already. I couldn’t just leave you there. At least this way you’re some place safe. There’s no way you’re getting to Blueberry Road tonight. Come on in. I’m a normal human being. And I have your dog.”

“What? Are you kidding? You don’t even know what my dog looks like.”

Apparently not interested in further discussion, Darren Kennedy hopped out of the truck. Teal watched him wade in a sea of white to the softly illuminated porch. She opened her door and once again landed in snow up to her ass. She trudged up to the steps where he stood on the porch with his hand extended to help her up.

“Ah shit.” She reached her hand up and took a pull and almost flew into the door. When they went inside, a husky skittered over in a full-body wiggle.

“She’s a real nice little dog. Just a pup I think.”

Teal stooped to scratch the dog’s ears and try to settle her down. “This is going to sound weird, but—I don’t even know if this is the dog. I’ve never seen it. I was told it was a husky. How did she get here?”

“She came into my yard earlier tonight, dragging a chain. Did you say she was your brother’s dog?”

“Yeah.” Teal looked up at her stranger. He had taken his parka off and sat down on a bench to remove his boots. “I’m Teal Marin. Did you know my brother Tony?”
 

 
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