From WIP Abiding Echoes, Book 3 in the Echoes of Orson’s Folly series:
Chills worked along Beth’s spine where Justin rested his hand as he guided her to the kitchen. She knew the way by now but suspected if he hadn’t helped her along, she might have walked in a tight circle in the foyer until she dropped of exhaustion.
He talked as they went, his voice deeper than normal and a little husky. “I pulled some chicken from the freezer this morning so it should be defrosted. Want to help me fry it up?”
“Fry it up?” Panic fluttered up from her stomach. “You mean like—cook it? In a pan?”
Justin flashed a grin. “That’s usually what ‘fry it up’ means, yeah.”
Well, here was her chance to tell him she didn’t know how to cook, and he could have a good laugh at her expense.
But then they were in the kitchen and Justin dropped his hand from her back as he crossed the room. A searing smile in her direction when he pulled out a frying pan sent tingles from Beth’s fingertips to her center and back. Justin set the pan on the range with a clatter and then walked to the refrigerator and pulled out a white serving plate on which rested a whole raw chicken minus feathers and head.
Beth took one look at the pale whitish pink meat and shuddered. Oh, she’d rather go back to kissing Justin. She didn’t…really need to eat to survive, did she?
He set the platter on the counter next to the range and pulled a knife from a butcher block holder. Then he looked over at Beth, obviously expecting her to join him by the dead bird.
Bile rose in her throat. “Ahh, was that—ummm…walking around here at some point?”
Glancing at the chicken and then back at Beth, Justin broke out in laughter. It was a few minutes before his guffaws subsided enough so he could speak. “No, with chicken, you’re pretty safe. My mom refuses to keep chickens on the ranch.”
“I like your mom already,” Beth muttered under her breath, sending a mock glare in Justin’s direction.
“She’s going to like you, too,” murmured Justin, turning back to the chicken on the counter and deftly wielding the butcher knife.
Beth’s breath caught. She hadn’t expected him to hear her. The sharp knife sliced easily through the meat as Justin separated legs and wings from the body, and then worked on the thighs. She didn’t want to watch but his movements were so self-assured and easy, she found herself mesmerized. Still, she should contribute to dinner, but the problem was she had no idea what she could contribute. So, she hovered in the middle of the kitchen. What did Justin expect her to do? Before she could put voice to the question, he answered as though reading her thoughts.
“There’s a potato bin in the corner.” He pointed with the knife. Beth hastily shifted her gaze to the direction of his gesture and away from the gross piece of chicken skin that clung to the tip of the knife. “Can you grab us a few and peel them for mashed potatoes?”
Peel them? Beth worried at her lower lip as she crossed the kitchen to the bin and lifted the top. An earthy smell wafted up, not unpleasant but certainly a scent she’d never have expected to discover in a kitchen. She stared at the pile of brown tubers. They’re just plants, or parts of plants, anyway. The problem was, she hadn’t a clue how to remove the peels. Casting a surreptitious glance over her shoulder, Beth noted Justin had finished cutting up the chicken and was systematically rinsing the individual pieces at the sink and setting them into a bowl. She shifted her gaze back to the potatoes. How many should she peel? How many potatoes would two people eat? Surely not more than one each.
That decision made, she reached in and plucked two fairly large potatoes from the bin and shut the lid. The next problem hit her as she turned around, unsure of where she should carry her prizes. Where exactly did one peel potatoes?
Justin finished rinsing the chicken, set the bowl aside, and looked up, smiling when he caught Beth’s eye. He motioned for her to join him at the sink. His eyes fell to the potatoes she carried and he raised a brow. “Not very hungry?”
Actually, she was starving, Beth realized as her stomach grumbled softly. Justin’s words seemed to indicate she hadn’t chosen enough potatoes so she shrugged and played the helpless female card. “I couldn’t carry them all.”
“Gotcha.” Justin winked as he crossed the room to the bin, returning in short order with two more potatoes. “Do you use a vegetable peeler or a paring knife?”
Beth stared, unable to form an answer to the question, simply because she had no early idea what a vegetable peeler was. And while she could guess what a paring knife was, she had no idea how she would use a knife to remove the peels from the potatoes. She opened her mouth to explain, preparing herself for his ridicule, when he simply pulled open the second drawer down next to the sink and rummaged through the utensils until he found what he wanted. After he pushed the drawer shut, he held up an instrument that looked like a knife with a split in the middle to form an inverted blade.
She eyed the tool with suspicion. This must be the peeler, though it looked more like a knife that someone had turned inside-out. It didn’t look all that complicated to use. But it did look sharp. She accepted it with two fingers, not having a clue what she was going to do with it.
Beth cleared her throat. “Justin…um, I don’t—cook.”
He stared, his face showing no expression at all. Then he tilted his head and his forehead knit into a confused frown. “Oh. You don’t cook.” He sounded like she’d just confessed to having arrived from Mars.
She let out an impatient sigh. “I—actually I don’t know how to cook. I…never learned.” She averted her gaze, waiting for his laughter. When none came, she chanced a look at him.
Justin’s eyes twinkled and he wore a bemused smile. He rubbed two fingers along his jaw as he studied her. No doubt contemplating how utterly useless one female could possibly be.
She offered him a weak smile and a tiny shrug. “Sorry.”
He stared a miniscule second longer before he moved, and she had no time to register the intent in his eyes before his lips had claimed hers. He moved closer, crowding her against the cabinet. This was no gentle lead-up to passion. It was fervent ardor, unleashed and wild.
Raw hunger of surged through Beth. Of their own accord, her hands snuck upward along Justin’s taut chest, where she fisted them in his shirt and clung as he took her on another heated foray into the land of longing.
Justin stroked his tongue along her lips and she shivered, parting them beneath his touch, granting him access. Pressing herself shamelessly against him, Beth was convinced the flames of pleasure licking at them would soon ignite. And she didn’t care. She understood, without knowing how, that on some level she’d always belonged to Justin. She’d only been waiting to find him.
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