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Chapter 6 – Match of Wits

Checking the lock for the final time, Austin huffed a gentle sigh, tugging on the hem of the Kentucky sweatshirt she wore. The one Kevin had insisted she put on. Dear God, how had she let that happen? The kiss hadn't been enough, had it, she berated herself, felt her cheeks burn slightly as Cheyanne crawled into the bed, still wearing the clothes loaned to her by Howie. It was too late to worry about their own soaked clothing. They could do that in the morning. Yawning, she padded over to the bed, glancing to make sure the lock was in place. Crawling in next to Cheyanne, she pulled the covers up, shivering when she remembered what had happened earlier. Shaking her head lightly to clear Kevin from her mind, she sighed lightly. Impossible. She was wearing the man's sweatshirt--not to mention his boxers as well, how could she hope to think of anything else?

"Why did you lock the door?" Cheyanne asked sleepily.

“Because I don’t want Mr. City Boy sneaking in here tonight thinking he can take you,” Austin answered, pulling Cheyanne into her embrace without a second thought. She buried her face into Cheyanne’s light locks, inhaling the soft scent of her shampoo. It calmed her considerably and made her forget the scent of Kevin’s musky passion, which only sent a fire burning down her belly. “Just because I agreed for us to stay here doesn’t mean I give him permission to take advantage of you. I saw the way he’s been looking at you.”

“Like the way you’ve been looking at Kevin?” Cheyanne mused softly, unable to help her impish nature from flaring. In fact, it honestly had to be said before she burst. The temptation was just too great when Kevin and Austin had returned from their shower, acting as if nothing had happened. Cheyanne had played along then, but all bets were off now.

"Oh, please. That pretty boy? Give me some credit," Austin said, trying to play it off. It was useless, though. Cheyanne could always see through her.

"Come on, Austi. I saw the muddy handprint on your neck. Not to mention the smears of mud all over your clothes. And I've known you long enough to recognize that twinkle in your eyes." Giggling, Cheyanne tugged playfully on Austin's hair.

"What twinkle?"

“Usually, your eyes are really dark… Even when the light is reflecting in them, they’re dark. Because you like to pretend your so tough. But when you get in that sexual frenzy… Which I know you have… They get lighter in color as you get this smirk on your face… Like this really soft hazel… You’re just so happy, Austi…” Cheyanne explained with another sweet smile. But, when Austin snorted, Cheyanne couldn’t help herself, “Twinkle, twinkle, Baby, twinkle, twinkle!”

"Ugh, Chey! Stop, already. Nothing--"

"My ass. Don't think I missed the way his hand just happened to pat your butt, either."

"I'm surprised you saw it at all, considering you kept gazing at Howie like he was your knight in shining armor," Austin teased with a giggle.

“This isn’t about me and you already said there’s nothing that’s going to happen between me and City Boy, right?” Cheyanne immediately flushed a bright red, burying her face against Austin’s chest to conceal the fact. Though, she figured after a few moments, Austin would know anyway, because her chest would be in fire from Cheyanne’s cheeks. She had tried her hardest not to make eye contact with Howie all night, but every time she glanced up, he was watching her. But, for the first time in ages, it really didn’t make her nervous. Instead, it intrigued her. But, that only seemed to cause added turmoil in her already confused heart, knowing now was not the time and place to be considering such foolish thoughts. Hadn’t she already gotten herself into enough trouble?

"Right," Austin said, twirling a honey curl around her finger. "Men stink, remember?"

Cheyanne snorted with giggles. "Well I'm sure Kevin doesn't. You should know. Didn't you scrub his back for him?" Unable to resist teasing Austin, she sat up, saw her friend's blush. "Or were you too busy scrubbing other areas?"

Austin’s jaw dropped ajar in pure shock. “Cheyanne Grace Lorde!”

“So…” Cheyanne trailed sweetly. “That’s a yes?”

Poking her playfully, Austin yanked the covers over her head. "Good night, Chey."

Still giggling, Cheyanne lay back down, wrapping her arms around Austin. "Night, Austi," she murmured.

*~*~*


Howie yawned softly as he stood beside the stove, waiting patiently for his Spanish omelet to fry. He did his best to keep his eyes open as he listened to the sizzling of the butter and various other ingredients, wishing he had slept better the previous night. But, that was a useless wish, considering Cheyanne had been in the cabin. He had hoped that somehow, having her that close would make it easier for him, but now it only seemed harder. Austin kept a close eye on the younger woman and a closer eye on him. And, just the mere thought of Cheyanne curled in bed a few doors down the hallway was enough to tempt him. His dreams had been quite amorous. Dreams that he thought were long forgotten. Dreams that had gotten him into a bit of trouble. But, he willed himself not to get stuck in that position again, watching Kevin stagger into the kitchen like a zombie. Poking himself into the fridge for the coldness, Howie couldn’t help but comment, “You must have slept like a baby last night.”

Grunting in reply, Kevin headed straight for the coffee, not bothering to cover his yawn as he turned it on. "Couldn't sleep," he finally grumbled, peering into the pan to see what Howie was fixing. His bed had seemed colder and lonelier last night that it had in a long time, despite the fact no one had shared it with him in months. He had entertained the notion that, after what had passed between them, she might come to his room, but that had quickly been shot down when he'd passed their door, only to hear the lock click. Lying in his bed, he'd replayed what had happened in his mind, holding his pillow as he'd fallen into a fitful sleep. The guilt hadn't hit him until he'd awakened, and even now it was dull. He couldn't bring himself to feel what he had once thought he'd feel if something like that happened. Whenever his thoughts drifted towards Kristin, they immediately shifted to the petite, curvy woman down the hall.

“Well, do you think you could at least try to entertain Austin a bit more to keep her away from Cheyanne?” Howie entertained hopefully when Kevin pushed him out of the way to retrieve some milk for his brewing coffee.

“Why don’t you do your own grunt work?” Kevin replied, obviously grouchy.

"Well," Howie said with a chuckle, slipping his omelet onto a plate, "I can't very well get time alone with Cheyanne if I'm entertaining Austin, can I?"

Slamming the refrigerator shut, Kevin stepped past him to retrieve a mug. "Why the hell would I want to entertain her?"

"You didn't seem to mind entertaining her last night," Howie stated, taking his plate to the table.

“Last night was a fluke,” Kevin growled, dumping the appropriate amount of milk into his mug before slamming the jug down. He didn’t seem to care as a bit of milk sloshed onto the counter, rummaging loudly for a spoon instead. He was so furious with himself for even bending under the pressure of Austin, but she was so damn alluring. The way she had instantly given into his kiss in the rain, wrapping her legs around him for leverage. She had even gone the distance to push him back in the mud so that she could straddle his lap. But, he had quickly flipped her. Then, when he had directed her toward the shower, she insisted on yanking him in. The heated kisses had led elsewhere. Somewhere a married man, no matter how miserable, should have never went. Kevin muttered a sharp curse at his mind for trailing again, ignoring how much his warm coffee matched her eyes. “I was just trying to shut her up.”

Judging from Kevin's expression, he was in no mood for teasing. Quickly biting into his omelet, Howie kept his thoughts to himself. Trying to shut her up, huh? He hadn't been too successful, especially considering the embarrassingly loud noises coming from the bathroom the night before. Cheyanne had been amused yet slightly mortified at the same time. Cheyanne. Glancing at the clock on the wall, he wondered if she'd be making an appearance soon. He longed to see her again.

There was a soft shuffle of locks from the hallway, causing Howie to perk and Kevin to slouch in their seats at the round kitchen table. Sure enough, Austin appeared first with Cheyanne slowly following behind. The eldest made sure to keep all eye contact from Kevin, though he didn’t look as if he were searching her out either. Instead, she headed straight for her purse hanging on one of the empty chairs, rooting in the depths to pull a pack of cigarettes from it.

“Morning,” Cheyanne cooed with sweet southern charm when she realized Austin wasn’t going to say anything. She offered a small smile, keeping her hands perched on her abdomen. Howie instantly noted how adorable she looked in her fresh, pale yellow, ribbed tank top and short jean shorts with faded and torn hems. Her honey locks were twirled into two long braids, giving her an innocent appeal. Though she looked good in his clothing the previous evening, he couldn’t deny the pleasure of seeing her in something that fit. After all, since he had been unable to sleep, Howie made sure to do all of the girls’ laundry, stacking it neatly outside their door. “Oh, Howie, thanks for doing our laundry--”

“But don’t ever do it again,” Austin was quick to snap into conversation. She glared sharply at Howie when she retrieved her addiction, only able to conjure the idea of Howie hording Cheyanne’s undergarments for sniffing or some other bizarre activities. Instantly smacking the bottom, she popped one out, only to hear a sharp snort from Kevin. Finally, she glanced up. “Alright, Smokey the Bear, I’ll take it outside. Chey hates the smoke anyway.”

Cheyanne smiled slightly as her friend skipped outside, dropping the pack on the table. "Is there juice?" she asked Howie softly. When he scraped his chair back, she shook her head. "I can get it," she assured him. Pulling down a glass, she found a jug of orange juice.

"Would you like an omelet?" he asked, motioning to his plate when she turned to face the table.

Oh, God. Covering her mouth, she felt her stomach churn at the sight of the eggs mixed with cheese and peppers. Quickly setting her glass down, she raced down the hall, slamming the bathroom door shut behind her.

“Apparently she’s heard of your cooking,” Kevin mused with a wicked smile, leaning back in his chair, trying to avoid the bay windows that would lead to the site of Austin.

"Oh, bite me," Howie muttered, already going after her. Pausing outside the door, he lifted his hand to knock, but dropped it quickly when he heard the gagging sounds coming from inside. A moment later the toilet flushed, and when she stepped out, her face damp and flushed from rinsing, he eyed her worriedly. "Are you okay, honey?" he asked softly.

“F-Fine,” Cheyanne promised shakily, bracing a hand on her abdomen as if she were telling the child to calm itself. She made sure to avoid any eye contact with Howie, holding her opposite hand to her fiery cheek. Only a little bit over a month into the pregnancy and she was already becoming extremely nauseous and sensitive to noxious substances and aromas. Only usually bothered by the smell of smoke, now, pregnant, Cheyanne became violently sick over just the bit of smell from Austin’s clothing. It was a horrible experience and she could only expect it to continue for another two months, if not more. And, she couldn’t dare tell a soul about the pregnancy, so she was utterly alone.

"You sure? I know my omelets aren't for everyone, but I didn't mean to make you sick," Howie said, reaching to smooth the curls from her face.

Smiling slightly, she shook her head. "I'm fine. My stomach's just been unsettled lately. I think I'll just make some toast," she said softly, leaning against his hand, suddenly needing his strength.

"I'll get you some, honey."

Cheyanne was about to object, but Howie really didn’t give her the room to do so. Instead, he reached to pull her to his side, circling a warm arm around her waist for stability while they walked back to the kitchen. She couldn’t deny the warmth that burned at the pit of her stomach, actually making the nausea wash away, but she didn’t admit to it. Instead, she let him help her into the kitchen chair like the gentleman he was before starting some tea and toast for her. But, what Cheyanne found most interesting was Kevin intently staring at Austin smoking on the porch. Only, when he was caught he snorted sharply and stood. “She smokes like a damn chimney! It’s disgusting! How many packs of cigarettes does she go through a day?”

“I…” Cheyanne could hardly manage to finish her sentence as Kevin reached into Austin’s purse, drawing out her unopened pack of cigarettes. She immediately furrowed her brows in disbelief. “What are you doing?”

"If she doesn't have any she can't smoke them, can she?" Kevin asked, stuffing the pack into his pocket. Snatching the open pack off the table, he crumpled it in his fist before tossing it into the trash.

"Oh my," Cheyanne whispered as Howie set her tea in front of her. "He's just signed his death warrant," she murmured as Austin came back inside.

“What do you mean?” Howie questioned in confusion, watching Austin blow off the rest of her drag before flicking the butt and stepping inside. Holding her favorite lighter, she prepared to slip it back in the open pack for safe keeping, but realized it was no where to be found. She then stooped into her purse, finding no fresh pack, either. Immediately, she whirled around to point a finger at Cheyanne.

“Did you trash my cigarettes again, Chey? Because, honestly, I promised I wouldn’t smoke around you anymore and I haven’t--”

“I don’t have them,” Cheyanne instantly defended.

“Then where are they?”

“In my pocket,” Kevin announced, leaning on the counter after dumping his coffee mug into the sink. A satisfied smirk spread to his face when he watched Austin’s entire body tense with aggravation. Though he already cared deeply for this woman, he wouldn’t allow himself to face those emotions. Which meant, that he would keep her in turmoil, escalating conflicts so he wouldn’t have to stoop below her and possibly admit his feelings for her. He knew she wouldn’t have the gall to retrieve them, which meant she had to stop smoking.

"And you think that'll stop me?" she asked, rolling her eyes. Crossing her arms over her chest, she glared at him. "Give them to me."

"You have to come get them on your own," he said smugly, resting his hands on the counter and returning her glare.

Narrowing her eyes, she sucked her bottom lip between her teeth, eyeing the bulge in his pocket. If he wanted to play this game, she decided, lifting her eyes to his, she would be more than happy to play along. Stepping over in front of him, she placed her hands on his chest, felt his muscles tense under her fingers as she slid them down. Pushing the memory of his naked wet body out of her mind, she dropped her hands lower, smirking when she heard his intake of breath. Leaning against him, she slipped her hand inside his pocket, feeling around carefully. "Whoops," she said with an amused smile, "wrong pocket."

“You’re not funny,” Kevin growled, hoping to keep his voice steady, though it wavered between octaves. That seemed to fuel her search as she slipped her hand into the opposite pocket, reaching for him instead of the cigarettes. She stroked the side of him, causing him to shudder before she allowed her claws to sink into the tenderly aroused flesh. He immediately jerked, hitting his back against the handles of the drawers, causing him to wince. “What the Hell are you doing, woman?!”

Austin became defensive. “Getting my stuff that you stole!”

“Well, I’ve got shit in there that belongs to me, too!”

“Don’t worry, I’m not after that!”

“Thank God for the little things!”

“You seem to tell Him that a lot, huh?!”

“Like she wasn’t already familiar with that area anyway,” Cheyanne breathed softly, holding a hand to the side of her face to shield the amusing scene unfolding. She knew if she laughed, Austin would torture her.

Howie clapped a hand over his mouth, amused at the two idiots yelling at each other, and slightly shocked at what sweet Cheyanne had said. "Why don't we go for a walk?" he murmured through his fingers.

Nodding gratefully, Cheyanne pushed back her chair, opting to take her tea with her. Glancing at Austin, she realized she and Kevin were in a glaring match, and decided it best to just slip away.
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