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By Jorrie Spencer
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.Copyright © 2006 Jorrie Spencer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAs she paused at the threshold of the back bedroom, a bed creaked. Light flooded her vision and, as if petrified, she couldn't move. Through the glare she saw a man, torso bare, sitting on the single bed. Her old bed. Her mouth opened and the panic she'd stored in her chest for weeks erupted into a shriek. He winced and the hand that had flipped the light switch did not return to his side. Rather, he held it up, palm facing her, as if to say I come in peace. She cut off her scream.
He let his hand fall.
"Hello there," he ventured. His squint relaxed as he became accustomed to the naked bulb's wattage. He tilted his head, his expression appraising. "Is this a break-in?"
She glared, vexed by the man's apparent nudity. The blue comforter rode low on his hip.
"What are you doing here?" He spoke with great deliberation.
"What am I doing here? What are you doing here?" she demanded, angry he had frightened her. Her throat would hurt in the morning.
"Well." He looked about the bed. "I was sleeping. Quite peacefully, I might add."
"I guessed that," she said. He had bed head-thick, brown hair shoved to one side.
A phone rang. Disoriented, Hildy cast a look at her purse in which her cell lay. But hers rang with a different song.
"Great." He sighed. "You woke my mother."
He leaned forward to push himself off the bed, hesitated and grabbed the comforter he'd been sleeping under, wrapping it around his waist as he stood.
At the brief flash of firm thigh and buttock, Hildy redirected her gaze upwards. To her annoyance, she blushed and he noticed.
He pointed to the comforter. "Not on account of my modesty, you understand. I don't want you to scream again."
As he held a fistful of thick material at his hip the muscles of his arm bunched. Even if she were a black belt, she wouldn't stand a chance. The man was athletic.
Although a few inches taller and definitely stronger, he didn't tower over her. She backed out of the doorway and assessed her anxiety level. Not high, even though she'd confronted, well woken up, a stranger in her cabin. But this man blinked in bright light and answered his mother's phone calls at ungodly hours. His mild amusement irritated but did not scare Hildy.
She wished he wore pajamas, the thick flannel kind, to hide his chest and shoulders. It was cool enough at night and she didn't want to notice nicely defined muscles, didn't want to remember how long it had been since she'd slept with someone. She grimaced at her agitation, annoyed her self-righteousness of the moment could be muted by other ideas. Her thoughts had a life of their own and, bone-weary, she refused to find this comforter-clad man with a sleepy-deep voice sexy. He was trespassing.
It occurred to Hildy that someone had heard her scream when the cabin sat in the middle of nowhere.
She thought. Half a lifetime had passed since her last visit. Maybe there'd been a population boom.
He picked up a phone from the kitchen table. Her throat closed up. Her father had made that table.
"Hi, Mom," the trespasser drawled. "Don't worry, everything is under control here." Then he listened.
"Yes, I heard a woman scream. Loudly." He raised eyebrows at Hildy but she looked away, unable to collude in a moment of humor and she didn't feel like glaring at him again. "But she's fine, or at least in one piece."
More talking on the other end of the phone.
"She's standing right beside me."
Through the line his mother's voice rose, excited, if not angry.
"I don't know who she is because I did not invite her over. But she's okay. Right?" he asked Hildy.
"Okay" was a relative term. After Michael's multiple betrayals, she'd come here to sort her thoughts and bring calm to the constant noise in her head, noise brought on by anxiety and fear.
She was a mess, but she answered, "If a complete stranger wasn't sleeping in my cabin, I would be fine."
To Hildy's irritation, he declared, "Yep, she's fine."
"I'll take of her, Mom. Don't worry. Go back to sleep. Good night." He set down his phone.
"You'll take care of me?" she repeated in disbelief. Michael had told her the same thing but with quite a different meaning. This man seemed vaguely annoyed he had to deal with her. Michael had vowed revenge.
The man lowered himself into a chair, awkward with the bulk of the comforter, and scrutinized her. She resisted the urge to turn away.
"_Your_ cabin, you say? Are you one of Donald McAllister's daughters, then?"
"Yes. Who are you?"
"Jim Curry." At her blank expression, he added, "I've been taking care of the cabin."
"That's not necessary."
"Of course it's necessary. Otherwise, it would fall apart." He shrugged. "Before he died, your father asked me to look after things."
While Jim's tone was explanatory, not accusing, Hildy resented feeling she should provide a valid excuse for her absence. Time flies when you make your career your life might not work for anyone but herself.
"I used to fix things for your father and I've continued. Donald was a friend of the family. My mother, by the way, looks forward to meeting you."
"That's nice, but you shouldn't be here."
"Actually, it's better I stay. You shouldn't be alone." His tone implied he would brook no argument on this score.
"Excuse me? That's hardly your decision. I want to be alone." Her attempt to sound firm just sounded loud. She'd spent her entire life alone and this vacation guaranteed further solitude. What a time to feel maudlin. The shock of Jim's presence had upset her when she couldn't afford further upsets. Her brain was so dumb tired she couldn't make a strong argument against Jim staying. Though surely one existed.
"Where is your mother, anyway?"
Jim jerked a thumb backwards, towards the south head of the bay. "The plot over. She bought a slice of land off your father a few years ago."
"What?" Hildy's empty stomach clenched. A man squatting in her cabin with odd ideas about his role in her life, her land diminished and close neighbors. How could she find peace of mind?
"You didn't know?"
Hildy shook her head.
"He was lonely, spending months at a time here on his own, so he acquired a neighbor."
"Oh," she said in a small voice. She refused to defend her relationship with her father. In her present state she might become tearful.
But his chocolate brown eyes showed no contempt. "You've been away for a while." He rose in one smooth movement. "The hour is late. Nice to meet you, Donald McAllister's daughter. Do you have a name of your own?"
His mouth curved upward in an alarmingly attractive smile. "Bit punchy, are we? If you like, I can call you Donald McAllister's daughter. A mouthful, but serviceable."
"Hildy." She would not be charmed.
"Hildy, you look like you might fall down. Why don't you go to bed and we'll talk in the morning."
"This is my cabin."
"Why are you sleeping here?"
He paused. "That's a long story."
"Can't you sleep in your mother's cabin?" To her embarrassment, a pleading note had entered her voice.
He ran a hand through his hair, pushing the bed head to the opposite side. "Look, Hildy. It's almost three o'clock in the morning. I'm tired. My mother will fuss at me if you're here alone and then I'll never sleep."
"What? She doesn't know me."
"My mother and your father grew up together, so I'm sure she met you as a child."
Hildy had trouble marshaling her thoughts. While Jim Curry's points were, if not nonsensical, at least debatable, and her wish to sleep in the cabin without a perfect stranger in the next room reasonable, her brain couldn't provide a coherent sentence to convince Jim to leave.
He walked past her to the bedroom he occupied. Her desire to be alone appeared doomed to frustration.
He turned at the threshold of the door and yawned. "Hildy McAllister?"
"I hope your mother isn't by herself, then."
"Don't worry, my sister is with her." He began to shut the door. "Tomorrow, okay?"
"This is my cabin." She resented sounding like a possessive child talking about a favorite toy.
"Yes." He finished shutting the door.
"I just want everything to be clear," she called through the rafters while deciding to cave. Tonight, exhaustion dictated it was time to throw in the towel.
Tomorrow, she'd fight to be rid of Jim.
Excerpted from Haven by Jorrie Spencer Copyright © 2006 by Jorrie Spencer. Excerpted by permission.
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