“No! Shit!” Sansa blushed furiously once the expletive left her mouth despite no one being around to hear it. She was alone in the hallway outside of her apartment. Alone and locked out. “Shit.”
The second time the word came easier but her voice sounded much more tired than before. She had been working a twelve hour shift at the coffee shop, covering for her coworker who had called in sick, and she had an essay that was due tomorrow and now she couldn’t even get inside her own apartment. She rifled through her big bright yellow tote bag, hoping beyond hope that the fourth time checking she’d find her keychain. In her desperation she sat down on the floor, not caring if she got dirt on her work clothes, and upended her bag and poured out all of the context on the floor.
There was a lot of stuff, receipts, tissues, make-up, a bar of chocolate, lip balm, even a notepad but nowhere to be seen was her keychain with the neon yellow band. Her niece Catie had braided the band at kindergarten and the loss of that felt worse than the hassle of being locked out.
Thankfully her phone was one of the things that were in the bag and she had googled and called a locksmith who promised that they had someone close that would be there in a little while. So while she waited she sat down against the wall, her clothes were already dirty anyway, and ate the chocolate bar.
What the hell is a few calories when the day has already gone to shit?
Just as her pity party had started getting good the elevator dinged and the largest man she had ever seen stepped out. He was so tall that he had to duck through the doorway and so broad shouldered that he almost took up the whole doorway. The effect of his size was only heightened by the fact that Sansa was sitting on the floor and for some reason she found herself flushed as he walked over to her.
He had long dark hair that reached his shoulders and a thick full beard. If it hadn’t been for the locksmith tools he was carrying the red flannel shirt and blue jeans made him look more like a lumberjack and like he just stepped out of the cover of a romance novel.
Where the hell did that thought come from?
When he came closer, she noticed that his full beard had a spot close to his mouth where no hair grew as well as raised scarred skin on his cheek up to the hairline above his temple. It looked as if he had a skin transplant or something and she couldn’t help but feel curious as to what had happened to him.
“You the one locked out?” If she had thought his appearance rugged, his voice just completed the whole thing. It was low, rough and raspy, almost like a growl. And it had a very distinct Scottish burr that reminded her of home.
Just as she was about to answer his grey eyes locked with hers and the intensity of them made her suddenly tongue tied. It was as if he was trying to see into her very soul. She only managed a small nod before needing to look away.
Get a grip, Sansa Stark. You’re acting as if you have never seen a man before!
She had of course, seen men before that is. She just hadn’t seen a man like him. He looked scary and imposing. From the corner of her eye she could see him nodding at her door and she hastily nodded her affirmation and he got to work.
It was fascinating to watch a man of his size first try to pick the lock from the outside and work with a lot of small tools that his big hands almost engulfed. It was also terribly awkward. He didn’t say a word, barely made a sound as he worked and she just watched, unable to find anything to say to break the silence. Would she just be disturbing him working?
She could check stuff on her phone but she found that incredibly rude. What if he needed to ask her something or check something with her and he’d look up and she’d be on her phone like some teenager? So instead she watched and hoped that it would be quick work.
But today was not her day.
“Yeah, I’m gonna have to use my camera,” he said breaking the silence so suddenly that she jumped a little. “It means I’m gonna have to remove a piece of your doorframe.”
And then he did just that. Worked on silently as if he had done it millions of times before, he probably had, and then he was watching a small screen and there was a sound that almost sounded like a cough coming out of him.
“Cat huh?” he said and before she knew what she was doing she was on her feet moving closer to where he was kneeling by her door.
“You’ve got a cat,” he stated and as if to prove to her that she in fact had a cat he held up the monitor to her. She grabbed the monitor, her hands over his as she saw her red short haired cat swatting at the camera as if it were a toy.
“O’Malley no!” she cried out when the cat started biting at the camera. “Stop it! O’Malley!”
There was that small, deep cough again and she realised that it was his chuckle. The large man was chuckling at her cat’s antics. Chuckling as her cat was trying to eat what was probably very expensive equipment.
“I’m so sorry,” Sansa managed to say and quickly pulled her hands away when she realised they had been resting on his for quite some time.
“Don’t worry about it. He’ll get bored soon enough,” the man said and she could hear his amusement in his deep voice. “It’s cute.”
She couldn’t hide the surprise on her face, her red eyebrows rose high and it made his lip twitch. Was he fighting a smile?
“You Irish then?” he asked. His question caught her off guard and when she frowned he nodded towards the top of her head. “I just figured, with the hair and the cat’s name.”
“Oh no. I’m half Scottish actually, on my dad's side,” she told him and that made his lip twitch again. “Lived up north when I was little but we moved down here before I started school. My hair I got from my mother, and she’s from Cambridge.”
She had no idea why she was giving away so much information all of a sudden. Perhaps it was because now that the silence was finally broken she didn’t want it to return. There was also a strange sense that he suddenly seemed easy to talk to. He thought her cat was cute after all.
“And the cat’s name?” he asked and she felt her cheeks flush.
“It’s… uh… a character from a movie,” she said and his forehead knitted, as if he was trying to figure out what movie it could be. He didn’t have a chance to ask her anything else because it seemed as if O’Malley had gotten bored with his new toy.
With a nod he went back to working in silence and it wasn’t broken for a long while. She found she didn’t mind it as much since it was due to him concentrating and not purely ignoring her. He had initiated conversation after all.
“Fucking bloody buggering cunt!” The row of sudden, harshly spoken profanities made her cheeks flush bright red and her eyes widen. As if he suddenly remembered he wasn’t alone the man’s head whipped around to look at her and he cringed. “Shit, sorry.”
She was appalled, his use of language was beyond crude, but the soft apology in his eyes as well as in the deep set voice made her nod her head and she tried to fan her face in hopes of settling the bright red skin into a more normal pink.
“I’m gonna have to break your lock, no way around it,” he said gruffly and he sounded almost as annoyed as she felt about it. That meant she had to get a new lock, she doubted her landlord was going to pay for that since she only had herself to blame.
There goes my Christmas gifts budget. They're all just gonna get candy this year.
“I understand,” she said as she realised he was waiting for her confirmation. Once he had it he thankfully put the piece of her door frame back and then he proceeded to cut her lock. She stepped back and covered her ears at the loud noise.
In a matter of minutes she was inside of her apartment and it was a bittersweet feeling. She was happy that she wasn’t locked out but it sucked that she had to get herself a new lock. The feeling turned almost completely bitter as her phone dinged with a text from her coworker Sara. It was a picture of her goddamn keychain and the simple words.
Sara: Lost something?
She was about to break out in her own litany of crude words but she was cut off by the appearance of her cat. O’Malley strutted out of the bedroom and went right for the locksmith. He was standing just inside her doorway, looking at something on his phone as the cat reached him.
“Careful, he tends to bite and scratch. He’s not much of a people person,” she warned as she hurried over to grab the cat before he could cause any bodily harm. She was amazed to first hear the deep purr coming from the cat and then see how the large locksmith knelt down and scratched behind the cat’s ear with two of his large fingers.
“I can relate to that, Mr O’Malley,” he said softly with another twitch of his lips. The cat proceeded to press himself even closer to the large man and Sansa could only watch the cat, who still scratched everyone she knew if they tried to pet him, enjoying the large man’s attention. She was the only one who was allowed to pet him. Well, she had been. Now he apparently counted a big, broad shouldered hairy locksmith in the same category as her.
“Do you have pen and paper?” the locksmith asked, making her stop her staring and she hurriedly got out her notepad and pen. When the man stood O’Malley mewled his protest before jumping on the couch to relax. “You can get a new lock at this place. And this is the make and model of the lock you had. It’s easiest to replace it with the same kind.”
His penmanship left a lot to be desired, it was sprawly and rough but she could make out an address and a name and numbers. She figured she’d just bring the note with her to the store. Her dad could probably handle changing the lock for her.
“Thank you,” she said as she realised he hadn’t had to help her with this. He had gotten her inside her place, as soon as he got paid his job was done. Yet he had taken the time to find out where to go to replace her lock. “What do I owe?”
As soon as the words left her mouth dread set in her stomach. She tried to picture all the items she had poured out of her tote bag and she couldn’t remember having seen her wallet.
“Shit,” she said in a hiss as she proceeded to pour out the context on her small round kitchen table. No wallet. “Shit, I’m so sorry. I seem to have lost my wallet as well as my keys.”
She was mortified. He must think her such a mess. She was a mess.
“No worries,” he said but she doubted that it was. This was his job, this was how he got paid. If she didn’t pay him, how did he get paid? He had done all he could to help her and now she felt like a complete idiot. “You can phone in and pay once you’ve got everything sorted.”
She nodded, feeling relieved as she accepted another note from him where a phone number and what she assumed was a reference number, was written on it.
“Thank you. Again, I’m so sorry,” she said but he only shrugged and started collecting his things. She was relieved that he didn’t make a big deal of it but she was also concerned that the stress of juggling school and a job as a barista was getting to her. She shouldn’t have lost both her keys and wallet like that.
“Hey, anyone can have an off day,” he said over his shoulder, as if he had read her mind and then he was gone. She was surprised that such a large man could move so silently, the only thing signaling that he had left was the sound of the elevator door closing.
Sansa appreciated the kindness of the large man but he obviously overestimated her ability to handle changing a lock by herself. Not that she had expected him to do it for her, not at all. He probably wouldn’t even have been willing to since she was unable to pay him for his actual work. But the idea of sleeping in an apartment with nothing but her safety chain as a lock didn’t appeal to her. So she did what her twenty-four year old self hated.
“Hi daddy,” she said sweetly once he picked up the phone. “I need some help.”
Dad is going to murder me.
It had only been a few weeks since she had to change her lock and here she stood again. Staring down at the content of her purse poured out on the floor yet again with the yellow band of her keychain missing.
This time she checked with her coworkers first but no one had found her keys. Admitting defeat she googled for a locksmith and then she could only wait. There was no chocolate in her purse this time, but at least her wallet was there.
The elevator dinged and if she had been troubled before somehow everything was heightened when the large lumberjack-looking locksmith stepped out. His eyes caught hers and she wondered if you could die of mortification. Not only did he have to witness her making a fool of herself twice in little over a month but she realised that she had forgotten to pay him for the first time.
Maybe he won’t remember me?
“Might as well just cut the lock right away, huh?” he said and she couldn’t bear meeting his eyes. So much for hoping he wouldn’t remember her.
She remained sitting on the floor and watched him. He was wearing another one of those flannel shirts, a deep green one this time and as he bent down to pick something up her eyes lingered on the shape of his butt in his blue jeans. It was a very firm nice butt.
Oh God. Stop staring.
She had forgotten how large he truly was, but as he worked her eyes followed the lines of his body and there was something very appealing about the size of his hands. She flushed as he turned his head to look at her and busied herself with her phone. She prefered he thought she was acting like a teenager rather than being caught checking him out.
Despite him saying that he was going to cut the lock right away he still tried to pick the lock but soon admitted defeat. She still appreciated that he tried because having to change the lock again was an expense that would hit her hard. When he started cutting the lock she saw her savings account flash into single digits in her mind.
“All done,” he called out and she practically jumped to her feet. He followed her inside like last time and as her cat hurried over to him he didn’t hesitate to kneel down and scratch him.
“Well hello there Mr Thomas O’Malley, the alley cat,” he said and she stared at him wide eyed. He looked up at her with a slight twitch in his lip and she found herself blushing under his gaze. “You know, I hadn’t seen Aristocats before.”
“Never?” she said surprised and that sudden burst of air that was his chuckle rang through the room as he stood to his full impressive height.
“You have the exact same expression as my sister when I told her. She made me watch it with her,” he admitted and the mention of his sister drew an actual smile to his face. It was small and some people would probably call it a smirk but on him it seemed to be as much joy in it as a full blown smile on anyone else. “She got where the name came from right away when I told her about you.”
Sansa’s eyes turned wide and she was practically gaping at him, like a fish out of water. But there was a low warmth setting in her stomach and she couldn’t help herself from taking a step closer.
“You… told your sister about me?” she said and watched with fascination as he looked caught off guard. One of his large hands grasped at the back of his neck, making the fabric of his shirt strain against the muscles of his bicep and she could have sworn there was a slight tint to his cheeks. It was hard to tell with the thick beard.
“I… I told her… about the cat,” he said without being able to meet her eye and she couldn’t help but smile. He was acting suddenly shy and it was so endearing to have this giant of a man turn shy because of her attention.
To think he talked about her, or her cat, with her sister for some reason made it feel like there were butterflies flying around in her chest.
“What did you think? About the movie,” she asked, hoping that the change of subject would make him more comfortable and slow the frantic flutter in her chest.
“It was alright. I’m not much for cartoons.” His response came with a slight shrug. His words made Sansa gasp and she almost reached out to grab his arm, but stopped herself when her hand was just a few inches away from it. He stared down at the near contact and when his eyes darted up to her face, her breath hitched and her cheeks flushed. There was an unexpected heat in his eyes, turning the grey into a moltens silver.
“They are not cartoons,” she managed to get out beneath her breath and cleared her throat nervously as she stepped back. “They are animated features. Some of them have even won Academy Awards.”
“Right,” he said noncommitedly but there was a twitch of his lip again and by now she was pretty sure that meant that he was fighting a smile. “So, I took the liberty of picking up the lock you need. If you want I can change it for you right now?”
She was taken by surprise by him thinking ahead for her. He was definitely going beyond what was required of him as a locksmith. It also meant she wouldn’t have to tell her dad about this, but she knew that probably would cost a lot more. He must have sensed her hesitation and gave a slight shrug of his broad shoulders.
“You can have the lock at market value. Same price as at the store I recommended last time,” he said and she could have hugged him. Except that would mean making a fool of herself and she wasn’t sure he was the kind of man that would appreciate that kind of display of gratitude.
“Really? Won’t your boss get mad?” she asked and he scoffed as he walked over to the door and started taking out the cut lock.
“I am the boss,” he said and there was a wash of shame as she remembered that she hadn’t paid him for the first time. He was running his own business, which she could imagine was really tough, and he had done her a kindness that she hadn’t returned. Yet here he was, still being kind to her.
“I’m sorry I haven’t paid for the first time. I swear it slipped my mind. I’ll pay you for both right now,” she blubbered out frantically and he looked up at her with his one whole eyebrow raised in surprise.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said but she shook her head vehemently as she made her way over to him.
“No, it’s not right. And I want to make it right,” she said and this time she couldn’t fight the urge to put her hand on his arm. He stiffened under her touch but he didn’t flinch or pull back so she carefully let her hand rest on his arm.
His very firm arm. His very warm firm arm.
“Alright,” he said in what almost sounded like a growl and pulled his arm away from her grasp. It felt as if her hand was tingling from the contact and she saw that he rubbed the spot where her hand had rested. Had he felt that too?
She then stood there and watched as he started rolling up his sleeves, exposing his muscled and hairy forearms. That was even worse than having the fabric of the shirt clinging to his arms. To have his weather worn skin on display like that made her cheeks flush and her stomach flutter.
Worse isn’t the right word. It’s too good. I gotta stop staring.
“Do you mind if I change?” she asked and his head whipped up so fast that his hair flew into his face. With a low curse he pushed it away and then his eyes were on her. She had never met anyone with such intense eyes, it was almost unsettling but in a way that sent a shiver down her spine.
“Go ahead,” he managed to say after having shaken his head, as if he was trying to clear it, and she gratefully walked into her bedroom.
Her apartment was small, with a joined kitchen and living area and one bedroom that only had room enough for a bed, dresser and desk but she loved it. It was hers and it was nice without being overpricy. She knew she could have chosen a bigger, fancier place since her parents were paying her rent while she was in school but she had wanted to get a place that she could afford to pay for herself once she was done in school.
She quickly threw off her work clothes, wishing she could have taken a shower to get the coffee smell out but she would never have the guts to do that with him out there. So she had to settle for putting on new clothes.
It was just a simple blue sleeved knitted dress that reached just above her knees but when she stepped back out he looked up and froze. His eyes widened as they lingered on her naked legs and there was that sudden shiver again, running down her spine. It was as if he had completely forgotten what he was doing, and she felt her cheeks flush. She could feel the heaviness of his gaze like a caress as it moved up her and finally settled on her face.
Sansa’s mouth suddenly felt dry and her tongue darted out to lick her lips, making his eyes follow the motion and the way his adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed made her feel almost faint. She wanted to put her teeth there, scraped them along his jaw.
What the hell is going on with me?
She needed to collect herself before something happened, before she embarrassed herself even more than she had already had, so she broke his gaze and moved into the kitchen to pour herself a glass of water. She gulped it all down in one go but it did nothing to cool the heat in her stomach or on her cheeks.
“All done,” he suddenly said and when she whirled around he was in the kitchen. Not close enough to make her feel uncomfortable but close enough for her to almost be able to smell him. She could make out a hint of pine and apple. Maybe it was his fabric softener? It was both manly and comforting rolled up into one.
“Great. Can I get you anything to drink? I probably have some soda in the fridge, or there’s always water. Or I can make coffee.” Her nerves were making her babble but he only had to shake his head to shut her up.
“I’m fine. I better get going,” he said and of course he did. He didn’t want to hang out with some silly girl who was brainless enough to lock herself out twice in a month. He definitely wouldn’t want to have coffee with her.
A frown appeared on his forehead then and he looked at her for a long time before shrugging.
“Actually, I wouldn’t mind a glass of water if that’s alright.” Had her disappointment been that obvious? She chose not to dwell on that, instead she hurried to pour him a glass which she then handed to him with a smile.
As he accepted the glass their fingers touched, it was inevitable since his hands were so large. What was unexpected was the warm tingle that the touch caused, a tingled that spread up her arm into her chest, making her breath hitch. His grey eyes were staring down at her and she couldn’t look away, didn’t want to.
His scarring was more prominent up close, the skin raised and pinker than the rest of his face and she noticed it pulled the corner of his lip down, perhaps that was why he seemed to always hold in his smiles.
Sansa wasn’t sure how long they stood there, the glass between them, holding each others eyes but she didn’t mind. She was actually reluctant to look away from the heat in his eyes and the way his eyelashes brushed his cheek when he slowly blinked. She couldn’t remember ever having anyone looking at her like this, like she was mesmerizing.
She nervously cleared her throat, trying to find something to say but the sound must have startled him because he quickly pulled his hand away and stepped back. She watched as he drained the glass in one go and then moved over to his bag where he started writing up a receipt.
They distance gave her a chance to calm down, to catch her breath and slow the racing of her heart. Perhaps he needed the same because he took his time and once he was done he only moved close enough so that she could pay.
It wasn’t until after she paid and he gave her a copy of the receipt that she reacted to the amount being only slightly higher than the cost he had given her the first time.
“Hey, you didn’t charge me for the first time. Not all of it,” she tried to protest but the look he gave her made her stop her protest. There was a different kind of heat in his eyes, one that challenged her to dare and argue with him.
“You’ve paid what I deemed fair. Just give it a rest,” he said sternly. Despite the imposing figure he made she couldn’t help but smile up at him. Her smile seemed to take him off guard as his face lost it’s hard tint and his eyes narrowed slightly.
“If you’re ever at the coffee shop on campus, make sure you tell them Sansa said you get free coffee. For life,” she said with a soft smile but her offer was met with a derisive scoff that made her flinch.
“Do I look like I’ve ever set a fucking foot at a University?” His voice sounded almost angry and that made her frown.
Okay fine, he looked like he was well over thirty so maybe he didn’t attend University but that didn’t mean that he might not have a reason to be on campus sometimes. And it didn’t give him a reason to suddenly be rude to her.
“ I was just trying to be nice ,” she said emphasizing the words and he seemed to get the hint because he turned his eyes downward and his hand scratched the back of his neck.
“Right. If I’m ever there then,” he said and she took it as an apology. “Sansa was it?”
“Yup. That’s me,” she said and when she smiled he managed to smile slightly back. It caused a complete uproar in her chest that was so unexpected she could do nothing but grin at him.
“Thank you again for all your help. Both times…” she hesitated and he seemed to understand what she was asking without her having to say the words.
“Sandor,” he rasped out. She wasn’t sure how long they stood there, looking at each other but it felt both merly seconds as well as minutes before he stepped back and picked up his things.
“I’m grateful for the business but try and keep a better eye on your keys from now on, yeah?” His voice sounded surprisingly soft and Sansa gave him a blushing smile as she nodded.
“Yeah, thanks again Sandor.” She wasn’t sure but it almost sounded like his breath hitched, his eyes molten silver again before he nodded and left.
He left her there, standing in her kitchen with a hand on her heart trying to steady the beating of it into a more manageable rhythm. There was a heat that had settled all over her from the moment their eyes had met and it left her skin humming.
“What was that?” she asked O’Malley as he came up to rub himself against her leg.
There was no way she could just happen to lock herself out again. Her savings account would be able to take that. No matter how much she’d want to see a certain locksmith again. That would just be insane, wouldn’t it?