Their dinner ends not long after, and having won the argument, Austin pays the bill. With his hand on the small of her back, he ushers her out of the diner and onto the busy sidewalk. Carson townspeople move back and forth across the walkway, still busy hanging stars and twinkling lights in preparation for their New Year’s bash; a party that brings people into town from forty counties over.
Nikki stares in quiet amazement as the Fitzgerald sisters work to hang the twelve foot star in the middle of Main Street, hanging a line between the town’s parallel buildings. Luckily for them, Austin and a few of the other local workers rush over to help the aging fabric store owners.
Once the star is placed to their liking, Austin returns to where Nikki is waiting against the wall of Angie's diner. As he approaches, Nikki feels the first trickle of wetness falling on her cheek. Only then does she notice that the light snowfall seems to be increasing in heaviness as it continues.
Coming to stand beside her, Austin turns his attention in her direction.
"Are you ready to go? I'm afraid that the snow is forecasted to be a bit heavy tonight."
Taking her by her elbow, the heat of his hand filtering through the thickness of her jacket, Austin guides her to his large work truck. Parked parallel alongside the street, as she steps off the sidewalk to enter the vehicle, her foot slips on the slick precipitation. Instead of falling face first into the side of the truck as she was anticipating with a wince, Nikki finds herself twisted around and resting in Austin’s overly muscled arms.
“Are you ok?” he asks, cradling her close to his body, but at the moment Nikki is speechless.
Unable to form any words, she simply nods her head. Trapped in a heated exchange with this man she’s missed for so very long now, Nikki feels herself leaning closer into his body, bringing her lips an inch from his, but as if struck by terror, Austin straightens abruptly and steps away from their embrace. Instead of kissing her as she had hoped, he opens the truck door and lifts her by her hips, placing her into his truck. He angrily slams the door closed, shaking the truck and Nikki as she sits inside, stunned.
His eyes spew hatred as he climbs into the driver’s seat and Nikki turns to gaze out the window, shrinking into herself. Her hands rest protectively on her stomach as she rests against the door, as far from Austin as she can possibly be. The warmth of her breath caresses the cold glass, causing the window to fog with each exhalation of air.
“Nikki…” Austin pleads in an attempt to garner her attention.
She turns to study him.
Running his fingers through his hair exasperatedly, he simply says, “I can’t do it again.”
“Do what?” she whispers in return.
“Fall in love with you. I just can’t do it, Nikki. It would kill me this time.”
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