Holding on to Chaos
Evangelina Merill was suffocating under a purple paisley wrap sweater that she couldn’t get over her head. Autumn had descended on Blue Moon Bend, rendering her South Carolina work-from-home wardrobe of yoga shorts and tank tops ineffective against the chill.
At the time, a visit to the town’s thrift shop had seemed like a good idea. But that was before she rapped her elbow on the dressing room wall hard enough to see stars. And before she got this sweater wedged firmly over her face.
And before the fire alarm went off.
“Everybody out!” The shopkeeper, a soft, grandmotherly type with a funny name—Meara? Morra? —pounded on Eva’s dressing room door.
“I’m stuck!” Eva told her, her voice muffled through the fabric.
The woman yanked open the door, grabbed Eva’s elbow and dragged her toward the door.
“Is this just a drill?” Eva asked through an armhole.
“I wish,” the woman puffed. “Forgot the grilled cheese was on the hot plate in the back. Caught a whole rack of hemp blouses and vintage leather vests on fire!”
That explains the beef jerky smell, Eva thought.
She felt a wave of heat at her back as the door of the shop closed behind her. And then a draft.
Oh. Shit. Her pants were on the floor of the dressing room.
Eva wrestled the sweater off her head in time to see the police cruiser pull up, lights flashing.
“Oh, no, no, no,” she whispered. “Not him. Not now.” Why did the response time in Blue Moon have to be thirty seconds? And why, dear God why, had she left the house in her navy pinstripe push-up bra and her Let’s Do This cheeky bikinis?
“Oh, boy.” The woman next to her gazed at her with sympathy. Another dressing room victim, she had long dark hair and was wearing nothing but a bodysuit and Chucks. The woman jumped in front of Eva and stood in a Superman stance.
“What are you doing?” Eva had to yell the question to be heard over the sirens of the approaching fire trucks.
“I’m blocking you. You’re new in town. You don’t need your Facebook gossip group debut to be this. I’m Eden, by the way.”
Eva reached over Eden’s shoulder and offered her hand. “I’m Eva, and I hardly ever go out in public without pants… or a shirt.” They shook awkwardly.
Sheriff Donovan Cardona, all six-feet-four-inches of sublime male perfection, jumped out of the cruiser. “Everyone out, Mayva?”
Mayva! That was it.
It took Donovan all of half a second to zero in on her. She could tell without looking at him because her skin heated to approximately one thousand degrees. Her blush was visible from her hairline to her toes. Silently she cursed her redheadedness.
Donovan was still looking at her, staring really, Eva realized when she peered over Eden’s shoulder. Six firefighters rushed past them and into the store.
“Eva.” His voice, that delicious gravelly rasp, scraped over her bare skin like a razor.
“Morning, Sheriff,” she said, attempting cheerful and casual. The man only caught her in embarrassing moments. She had a crush on him the size of North America, and every time he saw her, she was doing something stupid. Falling out of a tree that her nephew Evan dared her to climb, walking into screen doors, appearing practically naked in the middle of town.
She blinked when a camera shoved its way into her face. “Ladies, can you comment on what happened here?” A scrawny man with wire-rimmed glasses and a digital camera demanded answers.
“Oh great. The Monthly Moon is here,” Eden groaned.
“What were you two doing when the fire broke out? Did you set the fire? Was anyone hurt? Are you going to buy those clothes?” He rattled off questions like a journalist at a press briefing, getting extreme close-ups of their pores.
“Anthony Berkowicz! You snap one more picture, and I’ll shove that damn camera up your damn ass,” Eden threatened.
“I’m not taking pictures,” he claimed. “I’m shooting video.”
“Anthony!” Eva and Eden shouted together.
Eden took a threatening step toward Mr. Nose for News, leaving Eva exposed. Donovan stared, then swore, and stalked back to his car. Eva promised herself right then and there that she wouldn’t leave her house ever again.
“I have a right to bring Blue Moon the news,” Anthony yelped as Eden made a swipe at his camera.
The sheriff, without a hint of humor, clapped a hand on the shoulder of Blue Moon’s poor excuse for a journalist. He towered over Anthony, his broad shoulders blocking out the rest of the world. “Count of three, Anthony. If you’re still taking pictures or video or painting a damn picture, I’m cuffing you.”
Anthony lowered his camera reluctantly. “Can I at least shoot the fire?” he asked, dejected.
“Fire only. You swing that thing at these two one more time and you won’t like the consequences,” Donovan promised.
Anthony scampered off to get a better view of the smoke that was pouring from the back of the shop.
Donovan closed the gap between them and Eva tried to cover her chest and crotch regions. Why were her hands so damn small?
“Here.” His voice was gruff, but the cotton t-shirt he dragged over her head was oh so soft. It smelled incredible.
“Thanks,” Eva said, crossing her arms in front of her chest to ward off the chill. He had a good foot on her, and the t-shirt hit her at the knee, covering every bit that needed covered. She wanted to pull the shirt up over her nose and take a deep breath, but that would be weird and creepy with witnesses.
“You two all right?” he asked.
Tongue-tied Eva nodded.
“We’re fine, Sheriff,” Eden answered for the both of them.
“I gotta go do some traffic control before some idiot drives into a house,” Donovan announced.
Eva nodded again.
“When do you think we can get our stuff, Sheriff?” Eden asked. Obviously, the woman was immune to sexy, Eva decided.
Donovan squinted at the building. Flames were visible in the windows now. “Not sure. I’ll check with the chief and let you both know.”
Mayva was shouting orders at the firefighters. “Forget the clearance rack! Save the leathers! Oh, and there’s this really cute tunic I had my eye on! No, not that one!”
Satisfied that everyone was alive and staying a reasonable distance from the flames, Donovan jogged off into the street leaving Eva to enjoy the view of his well-toned ass in his uniform pants.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I could use a drink and some pants,” Eden announced.
“My place is two blocks over. I have a six-pack of John Pierce Brew in my fridge and at least four clean pairs of yoga pants,” Eva offered.