Stave and Hoop
Bourbonland Short Stories and Novellas #2
Part 5 of 7
Leaving Littleham, they drove west into the setting sun. The sky was a tangled melt of fuchsia and orchid, blending into the deepest indigo. Her emotions were reflected in the heavens, a mixture of excitement yet calm, anxiety but acceptance.
Because they would have this night, and it would be enough.
It would have to be enough.
He was driving, of course. The bourbon had given her a nice buzz but had not completely dulled her mind and certainly not her body. And although Ting was trying to project an aura of assurance, his tight grip on the steering wheel failed to match his façade of confidence.
This far beyond Littleham, there was nothing except farmland, dotted by homesteads, more livestock per square mile than people.
They were headed into essentially the middle of nowhere, her curiosity increasing with every passing mile. This patch of Kentucky was devoid of quaint bed-and-breakfasts, of resorts, of out-of-the-way yet charming hotels.
He’d better not have fibbed about that camping thing.
Finally, Ting began to slow the vehicle and signaled a right turn.
And right onto one of the narrowest country roads she’d ever seen. Well, at least it was paved.
“Where in the world are you taking me?”
“Patience. You’re about to find out.”
“Yeah, but by the time we get there, I’m not going to be able to see it. It’s getting dark.”
“Don’t worry, it’s not far. And you will be able to see it. The moon’s out.”
Ting was as good as his word. Within the next few minutes, they were turning onto a gravel driveway which gradually sloped upward. Even though the night was closing in she could tell that the hill that they ascended was mostly cleared, with a few scattered trees serving as insufficient windbreaks. With the nearly full moon overhead, it was as though the sun had slowed its slumber to keep the landscape illuminated especially for them.
And then their ultimate destination came into view.
Before them was a towering log structure. To call it a mere cabin would’ve been an extreme disservice to its monumental size. Candace could discern a wraparound porch and a pointed, pitched roof. It looked like a ski chalet had been plucked off some mountainside and dropped into the middle of Kentucky.
Ting pulled right up to the front door and killed the engine.
“It’s a hunting retreat,” he said, answering the question she held in her head. “Got invited out here once to hunt. The place encompasses almost a thousand acres. Deer are as common around here as birds in the sky.”
“Let me guess. You were the guest of the gentleman we encountered back at the restaurant, weren’t you?”
“Yes and no. This retreat doesn’t belong to him, although it does belong to one of his best friends. He brought me along once a few years ago.” Ting looked across her at the cabin. “Never thought I’d be back here. But it’s out of season for hunting pretty much anything right now, so I called in a favor and got this place for us.”
True to form, Ting came around the car and opened her door. Every time he had done that, she had always noticed that Ting’s eyes had never left her face. His gaze had never wandered down to her exposed legs and thighs, and she had worn her fair share of skimpy shorts and skirts in his presence.
Keys jingled on a ring as he searched and found the one he needed. The lock turned with a faint click, and he opened the door for her.
The first impression of the cabin was not visual–it was quite dark–but olfactory.
The lingering earthy aroma of a thousand fires greeted her, wrapped itself around her, making her welcome. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she spied a massive fieldstone fireplace to the left. It almost made her wish that it was cold outside. They could build a fire and cuddle in front of it… or maybe more.
But there would be no cozy winter retreats here for the two of them. Or anywhere.
Ting turned on a light on a small table behind her, then took her hand and walked her into the living space. As they entered, automatic lights popped on, revealing the expected cavernous quality of the interior.
Everything was done in rustic fabrics and brown leather. The walls were rough-hewn logs, the pitched ceiling with exposed timbers. Contrasting with the primitive theme was the kitchen on the right, with a myriad of stainless steel appliances winking in the low light.
If this place was a thousand acres with a home on it—which had to be several thousand square feet in size—the property had to be worth millions.
But she knew the value of the real estate wasn’t the reason Ting had chosen to bring her here.
It was for the unique solitude. For the memories.
But something was missing.
“Where’s the rest of it?” she asked and then turned around. “Oh, I see.”
To the far left just before the fireplace was the bottom of the staircase. It wound behind them and up to the second floor, creating a balcony viewing area where one could enjoy the view through the two-story high glass wall at the back of the lodge.
“Stay here,” Ting said. “I’m going to bring our bags in.”
He gave her a kiss on the cheek before leaving.
“Where would I go?” she muttered to herself after he was out of earshot. “And why would I want to leave?”
She glanced at the kitchen, thinking that she needed to go in there to get the fork she would need to feed Ting his dessert. She also wondered about the Garnet Center Cut and his promised special bourbon. Would it already be in there? She was tempted to peek but decided to let the surprise wait and for him to have the pleasure of the revelation.
Despite her assurance that she would stay still, she was irresistibly drawn to the back porch. She pushed the door open and went outside.
With a gas grill that seemed as large as a micromini car and a fleet of teak patio furniture, the back porch was several rooms in itself.
But in keeping with the somewhat minimalist theme, there were no potted plants or flowers cascading from baskets hanging overhead.
Such adornments were unnecessary considering the spectacle before her.
Moonlight bathed the soft, shimmering fields and hills before her, broken by wandering creeks. It was the same familiar landscape that was so common to the area, the same view they enjoyed over and over during the drive to Littleham—or anywhere in this area of Kentucky.
It was not forest, yet not open fields. But they were close enough to a wood that she heard the distinctive call of an owl, five soft hoots in a row. And there were other sounds too. A cacophony of summertime insects. And a noise that sent a shiver down her spine–a coyote.
She was so enthralled that she didn’t hear Ting come out onto the porch. His light touch on her shoulder made her jump.
“I see you can’t follow instructions. You wandered off from me.”
“I just couldn’t help myself. It’s so beautiful.”
“I can’t say as I blame you. Just wait until you see it in the daylight. The sunrise here is incredible. I don’t think we’re supposed to have rain overnight, so it should be perfect. As is this.”
He handed her a drink.
“This is my bourbon surprise?”
“It’s our bourbon surprise.” Ting held up a glass he had for himself. “Well, we share the pour. I put it over ice. Hope you don’t mind. I thought that since it was so stuffy and hot, you’d like it colder.”
“Ice helps open the flavor,” Candace allowed.
“Take a sip, and tell me what you think.”
Candace brought the glass to her face and nosed it after swirling the contents. She then held it up to the light emanating from the house behind her, trying to assess the bourbon’s color and get a good look at the legs.
“Deep color. At least I think so. A little difficult to tell in this light.”
Ting did not sip his own and waited for her to conclude her analysis. “If I’m expecting you to guess what this is, I suppose it’s only fair to confirm you’re right about that color.”
“Are we playing another game?”
“Not sure. Considering that I’ve got almost everything I could’ve wanted, not sure I see the value in playing a game.”
With his free hand, Ting brushed her cheek. “Very close to everything.”
“I think I’d better hurry up and drink this bourbon so we can get down to that dessert business.”
He nodded. “That dessert business is very important.”
Candace sipped, taking a very small amount to awaken her taste buds. As usual, the sensation was intense and shar but eminently pleasurable. She thought she detected a sweetness, which surprised her, given the dark color of bourbon.
Her next sip was longer and more generous, the spirit coating her tongue as it slid into her body and blossoming into a lovely warmth in her chest.
Her original assessment of the bourbon’s sweetness had been correct. And that led her to another conclusion.
“This is a dessert bourbon.” As she said this, Ting took his own long sip, his eyes never leaving her face. “And aren’t you the clever one? A dessert bourbon to serve with the dessert I’m going to feed you.”
Ting shrugged. “Not planned but a happy coincidence. Can you identify it?”
Taking a few moments to ponder, Candace reasoned that he would likely not select a local brand. He was trying to surprise and stump her, so he probably went outside the known and expected expressions from Bardstown.
“At first I thought this might be Weller Antique. But I think it’s too sweet.”
“So what’s your guess?”
“How many guesses do I get?”
“Since when playing a game, as many as you like. But I do hope it’s not too many. Because I’d like to go inside soon and start working on that dessert.”
Candace looked down into her glass and sniffed the bourbon again. Another sip.
“Woodford Reserve Double Oaked.”
Ting raised his glass to her. “Got it in one.”
They stood together on the porch, sipping and chatting about mundane things like how the main grocery store back home had recently moved items around, causing confusion and complaints, and the delay on a road project which was causing a lot of traffic problems at the exit near the highway.
There was a solace and shelter in these ordinary bits of chatter, manifestations of nervousness, anticipation, and anxiety. She could feel the sexual awareness crackling between them as though it were an electrified net. But despite the trepidation in confronting the unknown in her new lover, her excitement far outweighed the reservations.
And of course the bourbon was helping in that regard.
As another quintet of owl hoots punctuated the night, Ting put his empty bourbon glass on the railing. And gave her the most searing stare he’d ever favored her with.
So this is how it began.
She swallowed as he moved in closer, her lips parted, waiting for his kiss.
The coolness of the glass in her hand was the only other thing of which she was even remotely aware as Ting lowered his mouth to hers.
The kiss was deeper, hungrier, than ever before. Instinctively she arched close to him, and he gladly accepted the invitation to intimacy by wrapping an arm around her waist and pressing her body directly against his.
And was he ever ready for dessert. His whole being was telling her that—particularly a certain reaction he was having to her presence.
Sighing into the kiss, she broke first, dizzy from lack of breath as well as buzzing from the bourbon.
And because of him.
She’d completely fallen for Adam Tingley.
And who wouldn’t, really?
But leaving. Off limits.
This was not the moment to cry.
So of course she did.
“Hey…” He pulled her a little closer, held her a little tighter.
“Sorry,” she said, wiping away tears with her fingers. “Just… realized how much I’m going to miss you. How I wish… things were different.”
His lips flattened, and his jaw tensed. “Yeah.”
Taking a deep breath, she batted away the sadness.
Then she finished her bourbon, throwing it all back.
After she licked her lips, Candace said, “Ready for dessert?”
Not wasting any time, Ting took her by the hand and led her back into the cabin. He locked the door behind them. No more nighttime lingering on the porch.
Ting took her glass to the kitchen, placed it in the sink, and opened the fridge.
“I thought it should be refrigerated, so I put the cheesecake in here,” he said.
“Is that the dessert you really want, Adam?”
With his hand on the door and slightly hunched, Ting froze, the light of the fridge throwing his form into stark relief. And Candace just stood there smiling, smirking, waiting.
He slammed the fridge door shut, crossed the space between them with a few long strides, and looked down her body, breathing hard.
“I’m sure it’ll keep until breakfast.”
He cradled her head in his hands and kissed her, at first soft, light, but soon building to something intensely needy for them both. It was as though they’d picked up right where they’d been outside, and soon she was again pressing herself to him. The feel of his chest, the tight muscles of his torso, the power in his legs—and other places—
“To hell with this.”
He scooped her up into his arms so fast she almost fell out of his grasp headfirst, but he caught her.
“Not a lot of practice at sweeping a woman off her feet, huh?”
“No. I’ve never wanted to do it before.”
“Oh, that’s a really good answer.”
“Don’t praise me yet,” he said, hoisting her until his grip was more secure. “Still need to get you safely upstairs.”
It was no trouble at all for him. And God, what a delicious sensation: holding on to Ting’s neck as he effortlessly toted her, her head against his chest, so secure in his arms.
He didn’t bother with the lights and took her straight to the bed. After gently placing her atop it, he stood back, hands at his side.
Just like her.
She rolled to her side and propped herself up on an elbow. “Don’t tell me you don’t know what to do.”
“Not the problem. I don’t know where to start.”
“Paralysis by analysis. I tell my students to just do something. Get it started.”
“I can assure you that I am not suffering from paralysis in any part of my body at this moment.” He took a step forward as to prove his point.
Yeah, those pants in front were wonderfully tight.
“Are you going to go easy on the dress? I seem to recall a threat about it.”
“Maybe you’d better do the honors.”
“Don’t trust yourself?”
She rose up on her knees on the bed, then turned around. “At least unzip me.”
For several seconds, she didn’t think he was going to honor her request. Then she felt the tickle of his fingers on the nape of her neck, and the zipper was slowly pulled down.
The dress fell away from her back, loose on her shoulders.
Then he started on her hair, pulling the pins from her bun.
“Maybe I should’ve done this first.” Sweeping her hair away, his lips went to her neck.
As she responded by putting her hand against his head, Ting kept his own hands busy.
By unclasping her bra.
In moments, with the dress bunched around her hips and her bra tossed aside, she was nude from the waist up, her back against Ting’s still-clothed chest. His mouth at her neck, his hands moved forward, over her hips, slipping under her panties and splaying across her lower tummy ever so briefly before moving up to cup her breasts. He swept his thumbs against the underside, causing her head to fall back against him as she moaned.
She heard him inhale deeply as if he were trying to regain some measure of control.
But she wanted him unleashed.
Candace fell forward on the bed, then rolled away until she was standing on the other side. She stepped out of her dress, giving him his first look at her bare chest.
Another shuddering breath later, he was stripping off his own clothes.
Candace was treated to Ting’s striptease for her. His eyes never leaving her, he peeled away with swift determination all his clothes until he was left standing in boxers. And he made no move to remove them.
Thinking he might be waiting on her before completely baring himself, Candace hooked her thumbs under the elastic of her panties.
“Wait… I’d love to have the honor of taking those off you.”
“That has to be the most polite way anyone has ever said I want to get you naked.”
A low, throaty laugh rolled out from him as he came around to her side of the bed.
Ready for her.
And God, was she ready for him.
The physical aspect of their relationship was something she had too long denied. She’d thought through the early days of simply going out for ice cream or milkshakes they might leave it at that or just some kissing.
There had been some point, a realization, when she knew it would not be so simple.
But he was the best-looking, most polite, and sexiest complication she’d ever seen.
Turning to pull down the covers, Candace inexplicably felt her confidence leaving her. It wasn’t that she was suddenly possessed of doubts or that the desire to make love to Ting had left her. Far from it. She wanted him.
But not what came after.
They were about to not only cross a physical line but an emotional one as well. They had been headed for this moment for weeks, and she had willingly come along. But now that they were here, the sureness of their separation sliced through her like a dull blade, and her chest ached.
This was the feeling that she had been trying to outrun these last wonderful weeks with Ting.
Just like she’d tried to bury the grief of her mother’s death.
“Candace?” Ting had placed a hand on her shoulder.
Gently he turned her around, and on his face she could see the same mixture of desire and regret that was coursing through her body.
But he did not give her time to indulge in sorrow.
In one sweeping, claiming kiss, Ting rescued her from that extreme and brought her to the safety of his presence and touch. With one hand at the base of her neck to cradle her head and the other at her waist, he possessed her. Her body responded, blossomed, and was ready to experience him.
He slowly moved her onto the bed, onto her back, and was soon above her. Candace splayed her hands across the taut muscles of his back, pulling him closer, inviting him to consume her.
The panties came off.
Candace parted her legs wide for him as his hand found her folds, his mouth moving from her neck to her breasts. She was vaguely conscious of moaning his name, which produced a growl. She’d never made a man do that.
Her leg came up against his as her hands moved down to peel his boxers from—
He was… large.
And she just went for it.
With a shaky but greedy hand, Candace wrapped her fingers around Ting’s length. He reacted as though stung or hit, freezing and then uttering a string of curses.
“Wait… just… wait…”
He reached for the table next to the bed and snatched something from the surface.
“Snuck up here before bringing me that drink, did you?” She watched as he opened the packet and slid the sheath over himself.
“Yep. Didn’t want to be interrupted—at least too much—at this moment.”
A kiss. Then he pulled back.
That awestruck, openmouthed gaze he lavished upon her as he entered her was a vision she would never forget. Candace knew it would comfort as well as haunt her the rest of her life.
She opened her legs wider, then wrapped them around him as he began to move against her.
Her initial impression of his size was wrong.
She’d never been filled like this before.
Or was there something different about him? Something she was attributing to this union that went beyond the physical that made it feel—
Yes. That confirmation that she had fallen in love with him.
The desperate, exquisite realization was a relief, a benediction to these weeks of tension and dancing around each other.
His thrusts became faster and deeper, and a delicious friction bloomed between them. She latched her legs behind him, the instinct to keep him inside her so primitive and strong. Candace’s head fell back into the pillow when Ting managed to hit some spot deep inside her. Then she bucked against him when she felt his hand between them.
It was all so fast, the fall into oblivion, the elation, the pleasure rocketing through her body. The delight of surprise was short-lived as Ting came, another growl erupting from him but this noise so much louder, primal, beautiful.
But the next sound was the best she’d ever heard.
Her name on his lips, murmured against her neck as Ting fought against completely collapsing upon her. Not that she would mind.
Her palms swept up his arms and across his back, coaxing him to relax against her. He responded, gravity gradually pushing him down, his weight a welcome blanket.
“So that’s what we’ve been missing all this time,” she whispered.
And that was what she already missed.
Copyright (c) 2017 Jennifer Bramseth. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotation in a book review.
Exclusive preorder link for Stave and Hoop. The novella will be released on Amazon, Barnes and Noble/Nook, kobo, and GooglePlay on May 16 (no preorders).