CLOSING NOTE: BEST OF 2016:
Petronella Glover is a multi-genre author whose work has been translated into a dozen languages, including the Catalonian Romance language, where she has won two awards for Best Translated Story. A little quirky, very geeky, and unequivocally romantic, she hopes to one day visit the City of Love, find a bustling café where she can sample their hot chocolate and write her first New York Times Bestseller.
DETKA, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE
by Petronella Glover
I always thought I was a strong, capable woman. I’m not talking in the physical sense—especially not while I tried to drag myself out of my steaming wreak of a car—but in the sense that I’m confident in who I am, moving heaven and earth to soar in the career path I had chosen.
Unfortunately, that chosen path did not include spinning off a road unprepared for the onslaught of snow that I was now getting buried in.
I mean, sure it snowed in Houston, but usually just a sprinkle once a decade or so. A little dusting here or there to make it look like we lived in a picturesque snow globe, for the scant few minutes or hour it took before it all melted.
But there was nothing elegant about this aborted drive home to Clear Lake. In fact, nothing was clear at all. The snow was whipping around me hard enough to form a blizzard; it was completely white as far as the eye could see—or rather, not see. Global warming, I thought. It intensifies all kinds of storms.
I shook my head, trying to focus my thoughts. I could have sworn there had been another car on the road with me. One that had slammed into me when they, too, had lost control on the snow-covered asphalt, causing me to flip over when I hit the side of the road…but I couldn’t see or hear anyone else nearby. Had they driven off after the crash?
I looked around, dazed, trying to remember if my cell phone had been in my bag, or on the seat beside me. I suspected I had lost consciousness for a few minutes, when gravity had caused the blood to pool in my head; my memory of what had happened had become a little spotty.
I reached over to the passenger’s side of the car, squinting as I tried to spot my phone, spot anything useful. All I could see or feel were broken pieces of glass—including the broken screen of my now destroyed smartphone.
I swore. I should have heeded the Snow Advisory warnings. There was a good reason I-45 had been almost deserted at this time of day. And yet….
The smell of gasoline seeped into my consciousness, and I realized there must be a leak somewhere. I needed to get out of the car. Now.
I unclipped my seat belt, bracing myself as I hit the roof of the car, turning myself around to drag myself out of the vehicle through the broken passenger window. I stood up, wincing at the pain stabbing my side, the whiplash making itself known as I leant gingerly against the upside-down car door.
I tried to catch my breath—inhaling a few too many snowflakes in the process—and shuddered. I’d watched enough survival documentaries on the History Channel to be sure I had to find shelter. I knew my body would soon go into shock, or even worse: I could develop hypothermia.
But where to go? After the car had spun out and flipped over I had lost all sense of direction. I figured I was bound to hit a building on one side of the road, sooner or later, if I picked a direction and started walking, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that there had been another vehicle on the road, directly behind me, when I had the crash. I distinctly remember feeling a massive jolt and then….
I frowned. What if there was someone injured in that other car, someone who needed help, too? Or had I been unconscious longer than I thought? They could have continued on down the road, and I would be none the wiser.
I called out to see if anyone would respond, walking around the car blindly, several times, to see if there was any other wreckage in the immediate area.
Nothing. But in this weather, the vehicle could have skidded just about anywhere.
I decided to go for help. Once I reached a business or someone’s house, I could ring 911; I could alert them to the possibility that it had been a multiple car crash. It was certainly better than freezing my ass off in a car getting ready to explode, waiting for rescue.
I struck out away from the wreck, and started trudging through the ankle deep snow, continuing to call out for help, all too aware of how much my muscles had atrophied during my 118 days upon the International Space Station.
Despite the intensive rehabilitation I had undergone upon my return to Earth, my legs screamed at me to rest. It was not long before the simple feat of walking became an exercise in sheer mental determination as I felt my extremities start to go numb.
I kept telling myself to move one foot forward, then another. “One small step for man…” I muttered, teeth chattering.
All of a sudden there was a light in front of me. Except it didn’t belong to a house, or any kind of vehicle. It was bobbing to and fro as its owner advanced on me.
I squinted, trying to see who it was, wondering how the hell they could see me, for they seemed to be striding forward with purpose and direction.
When they reached me I couldn’t see much better—they were shining the light directly into my face, blinding me further.
“Kakovo cherta?!” was the only greeting I got, before I was unceremoniously swept up into a man’s strong arms.
For it was definitely a male chest I was now pressed against. An invitingly warm male chest.
Oh, for gods sake! This is not some ridiculous Hallmark movie, I told myself. “Put me down, please,” I told him.
No answer but a tightening of his arms around me. Maybe he didn’t speak English, if his Russian expletive was anything to go by. “If I could just borrow your phone, that would be great.”
“No reception,” was his simple reply, thick with accent.
“We have to go back. There could be another person who is in nee—”
“There is not,” he interrupted in such a way that seemed to broker no argument.
I twisted a little in his arms and pushed against his chest enough to get him to stop, to look at me. “I am not some goddamn damsel in distress,” I said. “Put. Me. Down.”
He merely looked at me and raised a dark eyebrow. “Is this not most expedite way to shelter?”
He was right. I knew I would be slow, and directionless.
He took my silence as agreement and started off again, his stride lengthening as he picked up speed.
I tried to formulate a plan to…to…what? I shook my head, befuddled by the cold. He could be a serial killer, for all I knew. And yet, I was in a situation where I needed rescue. Wasn’t that simply what this man was doing? Rescuing me? Being all chivalrous and shit.
Except I was not the type of sheila that usually needed aid.
I was the type of girl that would travel vast distances to go camping in the Outback as a teenager, just so I could see the Milky Way in all its splendor, and Dream. And I was the first Australian woman to go into space, to live on the International Space Station.
It took a lot of grit and determination to live the life I now live. I had always been the one to steer my own course, to plot my own horizons—
And now I couldn’t even see a bloody thing. “I can’t keep my eyes open,” I muttered, more to myself than anyone else.
“So don’t,” he replied, and that was the last thing I remembered.
I woke up to the sting of my face being slapped.
He is a serial killer!
I struggled against him and I heard him swear again—expletives that actually helped calm me, as I recognized them as ones the Russian astronauts would use whenever there was a glitch on the Space Station we had to rectify.
“I am not going to hurt you,” he emphasized, in English, and he backed away from me as if to demonstrate.
I looked down to find myself lying in front of a portable kerosene heater, thoughtfully wrapped in blankets but still shivering with cold.
I looked up at him, to study him for the first time, and my breath caught a little—as cliché a response as that was for me. He was a beautiful specimen of a man; the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome.
“Why did you slap me,” I asked.
“I should not have let you sleep,” he replied, matter-of-factly, and then crouched, reaching forward to gently touch a sore part of my head.
I winched. “I could have a concussion?”
Without preamble he stood up, turned around and walked out of the room.
I didn’t have time to consider my options. When he returned he threw a bundle of clothing at me. “You need to get out of those wet clothes.”
I shook out the fabric to see an extra-large t-shirt—and nothing else. “You don’t expect me to wear only this?” I exclaimed, incredulous.
“Nothing else would fit you,” he pointed out, and I couldn’t help but look down to see his chest was not the only impressive part of his body. This guy was built.
I blushed, and then shook off the blankets, starting to shake as I tried to undo the zip on my hoodie, which was sodden with melted snow. My fingers fumbled on the zip, and for a long minute I got absolutely nowhere, until large sure hands reached forward to undo the jacket, then peel it off me.
I was too relieved to be embarrassed; too cold to feel intimidated in his presence. I stood up and closed my eyes as he pulled me close and pressed me against his chest, rubbing his hands up and down my arms to increase circulation—trying to infuse me with his warmth.
Oh, I was warm, all right—but not in the places I should be. I had no idea how my body could have that instinctive response, when it was so close to shutting down due to hypothermia, but I chalked it down to heightened emotions as a result of the car crash.
After a few minutes he released me, stepping back to study me for a long moment. “Try to change now,” he said, then turned around.
I waited, to see what he would do, but then realized he had already done it. He was giving me privacy.
I continued to fumble with fingers that wouldn’t work properly, but managed to drag my sopping, blood-spattered clothes off me, and pulled on his white, oversized t-shirt.
“Done,” I said, after what seemed like an age, and he turned around again to study me.
I tugged the bottom of the t-shirt, as if that alone would lengthen it and hide more of me, but it only resulted in a quickening of my blush. By gods, he is a looker! I thought. I was turning into one of those vapid women in the romance novels I hated reading about, always swooning over the first handsome guy to come “save” them. Get a grip, girl.
“Dimitry,” he suddenly announced.
“Oh, sorry. I’m not quite with it at the moment,” I replied. “My name is Elanora.”
He kept studying me, and then gestured for me to go sit in front of the heater again.
“You are astronaut, no?” he asked, as I watched him walk into the kitchen and put the kettle on.
“Yes.” How did he know that? “Ti kak, Russkiy shpion chto li?”
He turned back to look at me, surprise and a glint of a smile registering on his face. “No, I am not Russian…spy. The logo on your jacket gave you away.”
Ah. That made sense. “No luck on a phone signal?” I asked, starting to relax. If he was going to do something questionable, he would have done it by now.
He shook his head, returning to the stove to pour the boiling water into two mugs. “I tried to call paramedics when you unconscious—no dial tone—then realized you should not be sleeping, if possible head injury.”
His accent was thick, his phrasing a little stilted, but he spoke English better than any other Russian I had met, up until now. I had to admit he was impressing me. “Spasibo”, I said simply, meaning it.
He walked over with two steaming mugs of tea, and smiled. “You are welcome.”
My curiosity got the better of me. “Ti otkuda?”
He handed me my tea, before answering, somewhat woodenly: “Ne vazhno.”
Ah, a sore subject for him. Who replies with “It’s not important” when someone asks them where they come from?
He disappeared for a few minutes to put my clothes in the dryer, and then we both sat down on the couch nearest the heater, cradling our teas in our hands for some time before speaking again.
“Your command of my language is good,” he offered up, eventually, while I sipped my tea.
“Spasibo. I attended five hours of Russian language training each week for around two years, so that I could master the Russian navigation and control systems of the various spacecrafts our two countries operate together.” I hesitated, wondering how much he knew about NASA operations, then continued. “The Russian MCC only speak their native tongue, and thus all operations in the Russian Segment, or the Soyuz vehicle, are in your language. We have to be able to respond quickly to any unexpected situation that may arise, so there is no time for interpreters. If we did not pass our language training in Star City, we could not go to the Space Station, period.”
“You are accomplished woman,” he said, not meaning it as a compliment, but a statement, which I valued more.
I nodded, and was about to ask him what he did for a living when he asked: “Is it lonely up there?”
I turned towards him, surprised, to see him looking out the window at the billowing snow. Everyone usually asked me how amazing it was up there, or told me how lucky I was, their questions often based on assumptions. They didn’t seem to realize the full scope of emotions astronauts could experience on an extended mission.
I put my empty cup on the coffee table, taking my time before answering. “I was living in close quarters with several other astronauts on a day-to-day basis, so, no, I would not say I was lonely…. But, I did feel alone in my thoughts at times. It could feel overwhelming. Sometimes I looked down at Earth, and it seemed too far out of my reach, emotionally. I mean, sure, I knew it was just a shuttle away, so that feeling of dissonance—of being out of step with the world—should have been an easy thing to dispel, but it often lingered.” I paused, then added. “It’s a hard thing to explain, so it usually doesn’t make the PR interviews for NASA.”
He turned to look at me, and his expression softened somehow, perhaps in understanding. I wondered if his homeland felt alien to the life he lived here, and I debated whether or not I should ask him. The question struck me as a little too personal, given his reticence to answer my earlier inquiry.
His eyebrows furrowed intently, and he put his tea down, reaching for me.
I instinctively pulled back, but he continued forward, leaning in to look at a suspicious red patch spreading through the t-shirt I was wearing.
“You are hurt,” he stated, almost accusingly.
“That is to be expected,” I answered, wryly, “given the upside down car and the wreck and all.”
He merely glared at me and hopped up, presumably going to a medical cabinet for supplies.
Before I could protest that he had absolutely no permission to pull his t-shirt up to look at my wound—and thus, see me practically naked—he returned with iodine, a wet face washer, gauze, a bandage patch…and a pair of scissors.
He sat back down on the couch again, leaning forward with the scissors.
“Whoa!” I said, raising my hands to halt him. “What do you think you are doing, mate?”
“Tebe nechego ot menya boyatsya,” he said, looking me straight in the eyes as he gently pushed my hands down.
I repeated his words in my head, wanting to trust him: You have nothing to fear from me…. Nothing to fear….
Instead of pulling up the T-shirt, he cut it where the blood stained it red, tearing it open wide enough to look at the injury underneath. Grabbing the wet face washer, Dimitry looked at me for permission, and I nodded before he pressed it down on the wound and then gently, methodically, wiped the blood away to expose the injury.
He frowned, his other arm sliding around me to pull me closer, to give him more immediate access to the wound. Warning me that it would sting, he poured iodine onto the jagged tear in my skin, before packing it and placing a patch over it to seal his ministrations.
I gasped in pain, and ended up all but sitting in his lap. His hand stayed pressed against the bandaged wound, as if knowing the pressure would help ease the ache. His other hand absentmindedly stroked my long hair.
“You will need to get it checked at hospital,” he told me, eventually, when my breathing settled again, his hand continuing to move back and forth against my hair in a soothing gesture.
I nodded, unwilling to speak—too exhausted for words.
I felt Dimitry adjust our position slightly and I cringed in pain, closing my eyes as I waited for the ache to subside.
He muttered something in his native tongue that I couldn’t quite hear, or didn’t have enough command of his language to understand, so I instinctively turned my head towards him to better catch his words.
His lips touched mine, and I froze, at first believing the act was an accident, until his mouth moved upon mine again, this time in gentle inquiry.
My pulse quickened, and I couldn’t help but wonder if pain had loosened my inhibitions.
I reached my hand out, tentatively, to rest it on his chest, tracing the collar of his shirt with one curious forefinger.
His response to that intimate gesture was immediate. Dimitry captured my mouth with his, kissing me sensuously for several long minutes before sliding his tongue along the crease of my lips to encourage me to open them to him.
Overwhelmed, I clutched at his shirt, already dizzy from the heady pleasure of our kiss. Eager to deepen it, Dimitry pulled my bottom lip between his teeth and bit it playfully. I gasped and he surged into my mouth, his tongue sliding in to claim mine as his hand moved up my back to fist passionately in my hair.
A little panicked at the intensity of our interaction, I pushed against Dimitry’s chest, and he stopped instantly, pulling back far enough to look at me and recapture his breath.
Where to begin, I wondered. “I really can’t stay—”
“But, detka, it’s cold outside.”
I laughed. Dimitry’s singsong delivery of the classic song line was a perfect rejoinder to my straight one—even with the Russian substitution for the endearment, “baby”.
Despite the situation—or rather, in spite of it—I found myself starting to relax.
Dimitry’s gaze travelled all over me, warming me without the need for a fire. When he was certain I did not want to bolt again, he carefully lifted his hand off my bound wound to slide it up and trace a line underneath the swell of my breast, stroking my skin gently, soothingly.
I closed my eyes again, wishing I could purr, and he swooped in to recapture my mouth, our second kiss deepening quickly, growing more passionate than the first.
Oh, my, I thought, I’d have a car wreck every day if this was the reward.
Letting go of my hair to slide his hand down my back again, he lowered it to my buttocks. With a firm touch, he lifted me up and slid me more fully into his lap.
He must have felt my grimace of pain, because he once again pulled back to affirm that I was okay.
I tentatively smiled at him.
He reclaimed my mouth again.
Feeling bolder, I slid my own hand up the side of his neck, into the nape of his hair, gipping it tightly as the kiss became more incendiary. His reaction was electric.
He stood up, picking me up in the same action, and started moving out of the room—presumably heading for his bedroom.
A strong gust of wind shook the windows, rattling the entire house, and suddenly the power winked out, pre-empting my “I’m not that kind of girl” declaration I was about to make.
He put me down gently, and froze, as if he was listening for something—but what?
All I could hear was the storm. It was amazing he had heard me at all, following the crash, for a wind this sharp could whip away any sound before it was fully formed.
After a long moment, he focused his attention back on me, seemingly satisfied the disturbance had been due to the inclement weather.
“Are you well, malyshka?”
His gaze was intense. Intimate. I started to feel nervous.
“Do you know that this is the heaviest snowfall in Houston since the twenty inches that fell on this day in 1895,” I stated, as I backed up awkwardly. Although it was too dark to see him well, I could sense him advancing on me, and I kept retreating until I hit the wall behind me. “That’s one hundred and twenty-four years ago now,” I all but stuttered, trying to deflect his interest with some boring facts.
He continued forward. “Pozdravlayu tebya s dnem Valentin,” he murmured, next to my ear.
“Ah…er…Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too.”
He raised one arm to rest it on the plaster beside my head—how can he be so impossibly tall?—while his other hand reached up to sweep my long red hair off my shoulder, so that it fell down my back.
“Perhaps we should go see if my clothes are dry now,” I said, in one last ditch effort to distract him from his goal, from me.
“I do not care to see if clothes are dry,” he whispered, leaning down. I felt his lips on my neck as he started kissing his way down to my collar bone.
My breath caught and I raised my hand to his chest to once again tell him that as sexy as he is, he was moving too quickly for me.
But I didn’t get the chance to push him back.
Instead he was ripped away from me, and I saw the silhouette of another man advancing on me in his absence.
Panic flared. I instinctively raised my hands in a defensive gesture I learnt while helping my brother practice his Tae Kwon Do moves.
I heard the other man chuckle.
It was not a nice sound.
He was on me before I could react properly, but then Dimitry slammed his body between us.
I hit the floor with a massive thud. All my wounds and bruises erupted in agony. I scrambled away, my eyes widening.
The two fighting men were tearing into each other, fists flying everywhere, their bodies crashing and breaking furniture all around the room.
My fear increased when I realized they are too evenly matched; too equally qualified to kick each other’s ass.
I bit my lip, trying to think, one hand pressed to my side to quell the pain. I had to somehow sway the fight in our favor. I would not be that bloody damsel in distress who stayed on the sidelines while someone else risked his life to save mine.
I looked around, trying to get my bearings.
The kitchen. I saw cooking implements swaying on the rack above the counter, and make a dash for them, grabbing the first pan within reach.
There was a loud crash behind me, and I turned around to see one silhouette hurl the other into the coffee table, shattering it into its component parts.
Please don’t be Dimitry. Please don’t be him.
But it was.
The stranger advanced on Dimitry.
I saw him pull out a weapon. The stranger wanted to attack my Russian while he was dazed and vulnerable on the ground.
I didn’t even think. I raced forward and smashed the back of the frying pan into his head once, then twice.
The man—pissed off and swearing—collapsed on the ground.
I hit him again, to make sure he was out.
His body went slack, unconscious.
Shocked, Dimitry stood up slowly and took the frying pan out of my hands. He moved like he was hurting.
He turned the pan this way and that. “How ingenious.”
“Not really. I watched it in a movie once.”
Reality set in as he put down the frying pan, kicked away the killer’s weapon, and then handcuffed the man.
“You have handcuffs? What the hell are you?” I asked, incredulous.
He leaned forward to tie off the gag around the man’s face, and then turned to me. “I am…Russkaya razvedka. There was threat against your life, that we were monitoring, for some months. We had tracking device in your car.”
“You told me that you were not a Russian spy,” I accused.
“I’m not…not exactly. I am Russian, but part of your country’s intelligence network.” He hesitated, then continued. “I am attached to NASA space program as part of its, ah, security measures.”
“I’m not buying it,” I replied, shaking my head in denial. “There is no way possible that psycho could have attacked me on the exact stretch of road you happened to live on.”
“Who said this was my house?”
Istared at him, wide-eyed. He was right. He had never said this was his house.
I had been unconscious when he had obtained entry to this residence. He could have done a reconnaissance of the rooms while I had still been out cold. It made sense, given the circumstances, that he would head for a house that had appeared empty.
“When I learned of the immediate threat to your life, I too far away to reach you in time. It had appeared the killer had left you for dead.” His hands fisted in anger as he walked back over to me. “I was…distracted. I should have gone to look at wreck when assured of your physical safety. I should have—”
“There is no way you could have seen anything in that storm, and he is no longer a threat.” Unable to find the right words to thank him, I reached forward to grab one of his hands, tugging it until he opened it and threaded his fingers with mine. “Mission accomplished.”
The lights flickered on again, and I was able to see how blue his eyes were; how earnest. How can I not trust him? I asked myself. He had just saved my life twice in one night.
“What now?” I asked simply.
“Now, I report to my superior. We find out why he was after you, and go tell your people.”
I smiled, and feeling impulsive stepped forward, once again placing my hand on his chest, this time to tug playfully at that collar of his. “But, baby, it’s cold outside….”
His answering grin lit up the room. “Well, maybe we wait five minutes more….” His voice trailed off, and he reached his head down to kiss me.
© 2017 by Petronella Glover.
Heart's Kiss Magazine: Issue 1: February 2017
Copyright © 2017 Arc Manor LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2017 Arc Manor