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Big Stranger’s Baby
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He’s the biggest I’ve ever seen.
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I changed out of my black dress, but I still feel like I’m standing back in that cemetery, watching them bury my father.
I toss back the shot and cringe. I don’t normally drink that much, but being back in Wheelville makes me feel like getting drunk. It’s not just my dad’s funeral, although it’s that, too. But it’s also the way this place makes me feel, like I’m some little girl all over again. Staying in my father’s big house all alone isn’t really helping anything, but still, it’s the only place I have here.
I lean up against the bar and sigh, letting my blonde hair fall down around me. The bar is surprisingly packed with rough-looking guys, probably the same guys that work in my father’s mine. When my father was alive, he was the owner of the biggest coal mine in western Virginia, and Wheelville practically exists because of him.
Fortunately, nobody recognizes me. I grew up in Wheelville, at least until I was old enough for my dad to send me off to boarding school. From there, it was an elite private college up north, and then on to the city to join his friend’s law practice.
I figured I was set, living in New York, not even thinking about Wheelville. At least until I got the call that changed my life forever.
The bartender smiles and pours me another drink. “You okay, honey?” she asks me, a nice-looking older woman with kinky dark hair.
“I’m okay,” I say to her and manage to smile.
“You here alone?”
I nod. “Just having a few drinks.”
“Well, you be careful, you hear.”
I cock my head. “Why?”
Someone looms up behind me, and before I can turn to look at him, I hear this deep, booming laugh. “You warning this poor girl about me, Marn?”
“Of course I am,” she says, winking. I turn and get a look at the guy standing behind me, and I have to do a double take.
He’s enormous. It’s the first thing I notice. Big, broad shoulders, stubble on his chin, cocky grin, handsome face. His eyes are a deep sea-foam green, and his hands are easily bigger than my head. He looks down at me with that same cocky grin, and I feel some chills run down my spine.
As soon as he sits in the stool next to mine, and Marn the bartender hands him a beer without asking, I know I’m in trouble. I’m drinking in The Shaft, which is the miner’s bar in town. It’s really the only bar that I know, since my father employs pretty much the whole clientele.
He doesn’t employ them anymore, I mentally correct myself.
“What’s your name?” the big man asks me.
He’s probably my age, I realize with a start. I assumed he was a lot older, but there’s no age in that face, although there seems to be a lot of experience. His clothes are simple but clean, although his hands look like any coal miner’s, with soot under the fingernails embedded so deep that he’d have to tear off his fingers to get rid of it.
“Amelia,” I say without thinking. I cringe, realizing that he might put two and two together, but fortunately he just nods.
“I’m Samuel,” he says.
“He’s trouble,” Marn interjects as she passes.
“Don’t listen to old Marn there,” Samuel says, winking at me. “She’s just jealous. Got a thing for me, you see.”
“Please,” Marn says, rolling her eyes. “And enough of that ‘old’ bullshit, you asshole.”
He booms another laugh, and I find myself smiling. It’s incredibly infectious, and I notice a few other guys glancing over at him like they’re in on the joke.
“What brings you here, Amelia?” he asks me.
I shrug a little. “Business,” I say.
He gives me a look and smirks. “Business, huh? What kind of business?”
He laughs and I smile right along with him. “Sounds confusing to me.” He takes a long drink of his beer, practically finishing half of it. I have to admit, this guy is absolutely obnoxious, but he’s also shockingly attractive. Big and tall and muscular with the sort of hands that know what they’re doing, I haven’t been around a man like him in a long time. I’m used to the intellectual type, smart rich boys from good families, but this Samuel guy is the opposite of that. He’s hard, a little rough, but also completely at ease in his own skin.
“Do you work in the mine?” I find myself asking him without thinking.
“How could you tell?”
I nod at his hands. “Fingers.”
“Ah.” He holds them up. “The hands of a worker.” He eyes me for a second. “Let me guess. You’re a lawyer?”
I stare at him, surprised. “How’d you know?”
He booms another laugh. “I guessed,” he admits.
I shake my head, looking away. I can’t stop smiling around this guy. Maybe it’s the alcohol, but suddenly I’m forgetting about my problems, about my dead father, about the fate of his company. They’re reading the will tomorrow, and I know my life’s about to change even more than it already has, and I feel so desperate to cling on to the way things were. I know that’s all gone, though.