Read an Excerpt
A Lone Pine Lake Novel
By Karen Erickson, Stacy Abrams
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Karen Erickson
All rights reserved.
Chloe Dawson stiffened at the sound of that voice. Low, husky, thrumming along her nerve endings. His voice, his face, his tall, rangy body had haunted her dreams for years. Years. Like since she was too young to even think such wicked thoughts.
Breathing deeply, she turned, offered her most serene smile to the very man who'd ignored her for what felt like her entire life. "Sorry, I can't."
Cameron McKenzie frowned, which was still a good look for him. After all, it was hard to mar that face, what with his perfectly square jaw, intense green gaze, and lush, beautiful mouth. "Why not?"
"I promised this dance to my date." Her smile felt pasted on, and the corners of her lips started to tremble. How easy it would be to give in and say yes. Give in to all those wishes and hopes and dreams she'd kept close to her chest and finally get a chance to be in his arms.
His frown turning into an intimidating scowl, Cameron crossed his arms in front of his solid wall of a chest. But he didn't scare her. He never had. "Who the hell is your date?"
"Hey, bro." Mac chose that moment to make his appearance at her side, his arm sneaking around her waist. She couldn't have planned it better. "Ready for that dance you promised me, Chloe?"
She smiled at Cameron's brother Mac, her voice soft. "You know it."
Mac took her hand and led her onto the crowded dance floor, taking her in his arms the moment they reached the edge. Chris and Jane's wedding had turned into the kickoff summer event in Lone Pine Lake. It felt like every resident of the small mountain town was there tonight.
Including the man Chloe had crushed on since she was twelve. It was a rare occasion; Cameron did his absolute best to avoid his hometown as much as he could. But the prodigal son had returned for his younger sister's wedding.
Reluctantly, Chloe was sure.
"What was up with Cam?" Mac asked, twirling her around the floor so quickly, she huffed out a shocked laugh. "And don't look so surprised. I have secret moves."
"I don't know what's up with your brother," she said breathlessly, laughing again when he dipped her over his arm. "Have you been taking lessons or what?"
Mac grimaced, then glanced around as if afraid someone might overhear him. "Jane made us take a few." He shook his head and she stifled a grin. "Claimed she didn't want her brothers making fools of themselves during her wedding reception. She says we're all terrible dancers except Dad."
Wow. Her best friend had actually kept a secret. Of course, Jane had been so busy planning and preparing, Chloe hadn't seen her much the last couple of months before the wedding, with the exception of the bridal shower and then the rehearsal dinner last night. "I had no idea. Considering I'm a bridesmaid, I find that surprising."
"Patrick and I swore we would do something far worse to embarrass her if word got out." Mac mock shuddered. "Jane dragged me to a dance class at the community college in Oakwood. Patrick took lessons with his wife where they live."
"And what about Cam?" Her heart fluttered mentioning his name. So stupid.
"Ha. He told Jane something like, 'make me,' and hung up on her."
Sounded like Cameron. He could be so ... stubborn.
"Jane knew he wouldn't make an ass of himself out on the dance floor anyway," Mac continued. "It's not his thing."
"He asked me to dance."
Mac faltered a step. "He did?"
She nodded. "I told him I already promised you this one."
"You turned him down?" The evil laugh that escaped her friend didn't go unnoticed. More than a few people surrounding them eyed him oddly. "I'm sure that pissed him off. No one tells Cam no."
"Well, I did." Chloe lifted her chin, pride filling her. It felt good, denying Cameron. After all, how many years had he unknowingly denied her? Her snub felt like a sort of payback.
"Huh." Mac twirled her in a circle, her diaphanous skirt flaring about her legs. The bridesmaid dresses they wore were a deep plum color, strapless, unlike anything she'd worn in her life. She felt like a fairy princess — and she wasn't even the bride. "He's watching us," Mac added.
"He is not." She couldn't believe it. Cameron McKenzie watching her? Had hell frozen over?
But when she glanced over Mac's shoulder, she saw Cam, still in the spot where they'd left him. Still with his arms crossed in front of his chest. He'd discarded his tuxedo jacket earlier, the bowtie was long gone, too, and he'd rolled up his sleeves. Revealing tanned, strong forearms covered in golden hair. Arms she ached to feel wrapped around her.
Instead she danced with his brother, one of her dearest, oldest friends. There'd never been anything remotely romantic between her and Mac, with the exception of that one night long, long ago. She'd come home from college, gone out with a bunch of friends at the local Pine Tree Bar, and gotten horribly drunk. Mac had been kind enough to drive her back home to her parents' house. Had leaned over with a goofy grin and tried to kiss her.
A rather ill attempt it had been, with lots of giggling and exclamations on her part, until they'd finally sprung away from each other, laughing nervously. There hadn't been a single spark between them. Mac was like her own brother, if she'd had one.
Besides, she only had eyes for Cam, both back then and now.
"He is definitely watching us," Mac confirmed. "He suddenly got the hots for you or what?"
"Please." She kept her gaze carefully averted, staring at the tiny black buttons that ran down the middle of Mac's tuxedo shirt. "You must be joking. I am not Cameron material."
"I'll say," Mac muttered.
The little sigh that escaped her must've been his first clue he'd stepped in it. "You know what I mean." He laughed nervously, squeezed her hand. "He likes them tall, blond, and dumb."
"And I'm short, brunette, and smart. I totally get it." The song ended and she withdrew from Mac's arms. "Thanks for the dance."
"Chloe, wait a minute. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings," Mac started but she offered him a little wave, desperate to escape.
"See ya." She fled the dance floor without looking back, pushing through the crowds of people who mingled, trying her best to ignore anyone who called to her as she passed.
But it was so hard, considering how many of them knew her name, who waved at her, trying to get her to come over and chat. She'd lived her entire life in this town. Only left for Sacramento to go to college, and even then she'd come home every chance she got until she graduated. Luck had been on her side when she got the teaching job at the local elementary school. The very school she attended from kindergarten through eighth grade.
Her mother had been thrilled to keep her in town, since her two older sisters had left as soon as they could. Both of them lived clear across the country and visited sporadically, whenever it suited them.
Chloe's mom needed her around. Her dad had died a year after she graduated college, had suffered with cancer for two years prior. She'd been there for her parents and was still there for her mom.
Even if she'd wanted to leave, like her sisters, she couldn't have. Guilt would've wrapped too tightly around her heart.
Thankfully, Patrick, the oldest McKenzie brother, volunteered to take her mom home, since he had sleepy children on his hands and her mom's house was on his way home. So she didn't have to leave the reception. She considered staying till the bitter end her duty as a bridesmaid.
Relieved, Chloe glanced around, caught sight of the open doors that led out to the terrace. She needed fresh air. Needed to collect her thoughts, chew on the fact that Cameron had watched her a little too closely, which she still didn't understand. Yet she didn't want to get her hopes up, either.
Maybe by the time she was finished pondering everything, they'd be serving dessert.
If she couldn't have Cameron, then she could at least have a giant slice of wedding cake.
* * *
He followed her. Kept track of her all night despite the warning bells going off in his head. Should've been relieved when his little brother had taken her onto the dance floor in place of him.
Relief hadn't been the emotion flowing like lava through his veins, though. Jealousy, hot and deep, had penetrated him.
Cameron still didn't know what had come over him, asking Chloe to dance. There was something different about her tonight. In the past, she'd always just ... been there. His younger siblings' friend, the skinny, flat- chested girl with braces and glasses. She'd been an awkward mess in her early teens.
And once he'd graduated high school, he'd fled this stifling town and never looked back. He'd wandered at first, done more than a few risky things that would've flipped his parents out if they knew. Ended up in New York with a camera slung around his neck, snapping photos wherever he could of whatever he could.
He had a good eye and was young and eager for any sort of job that would give him the experience to take him further. Some of the jobs he worked had been losers. But eventually he'd caught the eye of a staff photographer at Newsweek magazine who'd taken him under his wing.
A few years later, he'd ended up on the front lines, a freelance war photographer. He was damn good at it, too, his photos appearing in various national magazines. He'd even earned a Pulitzer nom, not that he'd won. Until that last tour of Afghanistan, he'd always defied death, destruction, injury.
That last tour, though, he'd almost gotten himself killed. He still remembered the sound of the gunfire, the bomb going off, the power of it propelling the truck he'd rode in to flip over. He thought for sure he'd been close to death.
Pulling from his grim memories, Cameron caught sight of Chloe, watched as she slipped through the open double doors that led onto the terrace. She'd gone alone, after leaving her mother with Cam's oldest brother, Patrick. Everyone else was still in full party mode, didn't notice she was gone. The champagne flowed, the music was loud, there was lots of laughter and happy, chattering voices.
All the noise made him want to escape. Just like Chloe had.
Without thought he headed toward those beckoning open doors. Why, he wasn't sure. Would he talk to her? He rarely did beyond polite pleasantries. She was younger than him by four years, sweet in that wholesome, too-good way. And he'd caught her more than once looking at him with an uninhibited, adoring gaze. As if she believed he could hang the moon and touch the stars.
The furthest thing from the truth, what he touched usually turned to dust — at least in the relationship department.
But still he went after her, breathing deep the cool evening air when he ventured outside. The scent of pine overwhelmed him, calming and familiar. The bright full moon hung low, obliterating the blanket of stars that usually dotted the velvet sky. A breeze wafted across him, cooling his heated skin, rustling through the trees, and the sound felt like a gentle sigh easing his pained soul.
Cam frowned. Waxing poetic. What he usually did when he wanted to wallow in a dark mood.
He spotted her standing at the very end of the terrace, leaning against the railing, her face tipped up to the sky. The wind swept across her skirts, causing the fabric to billow and swirl, revealing a tantalizing glimpse of leg before it settled into place once more, hitting at mid-calf. Covering those shapely knees.
His skin tightened. She had a great set of legs, long and slender, with gently flaring hips and a nipped-in waist.
Why had he never noticed before?
It pleased the photographer in him to watch people unaware. He could easily imagine photographing Chloe with little direction. The moon lit her pale skin with a luminosity that made her glow. Gilded her dark hair with threads of gold. And illuminated her profile so that she looked the sprite, a pretty, sexy little woodland fairy ...
"I know you're there, Cam." Her soft voice reached him, and he noted the amusement lacing her sweet, lilting tone. "If you're looking for Mac, he's inside. Probably still cutting loose on the dance floor."
He approached her, his steps light and careful, drinking in those exposed slender shoulders with his greedy gaze. Her hair was swept to the side, an abundance of dark waves that cascaded artfully. All the bridesmaids were dressed the same. The dark purple strapless dress, the hairstyle, the flowers, even the damn jewelry — his sister had planned it to the very last detail.
So why did none of the other women capture his attention like this one?
"I'm not looking for Mac." He stopped a few feet from her, still not close enough to touch. Not that he had any business touching her. She was off limits. Untouchable. Forbidden.
Cameron didn't do relationships. He didn't mess around with sweet, beautiful girls who wanted it all when he could offer nothing. And Chloe was the epitome of the sweet, beautiful girl who wanted it all. She probably deserved it, too. Wanting to settle down with a good hometown boy and live forever in Lone Pine Lake, making babies and becoming members of the chamber of commerce or some such crap.
Yeah. The thought alone had him ready to run.
Slowly, she turned to face him, her head tilted to the side. Causing all that pretty hair to tumble farther, falling past her chest. Inviting him to thread his fingers through the strands, see if they were as soft as they looked. "Who are you looking for, then?"
He parted his lips, rationale momentarily preventing him from saying it. This — this feeling he was experiencing was ridiculous, illogical, and a complete waste of time. But the words fell from his lips as if he had no control over them.
"I was looking for you."
Her eyes widened the slightest bit, her jaw dropping. He'd shocked her. No surprise — he'd shocked himself. "Why?"
Cam came closer until he stood by her side, facing the opposite direction, out toward the meadow where plenty of wedding ceremonies had taken place, including Jane's. She and Chris had planned a sunset ceremony, knowing how damn good the spot looked with the sun sinking into the horizon, its golden pink glow casting the thicket of evergreens that lined the property with a pinkish hue that took many a breath away.
It had been a gorgeous ceremony. He was happy for his sister. She deserved this second chance at love.
But was he happy to be back in Lone Pine Lake, even for such a short period of time?
Nope. Not really.
"You cold?" he asked when he saw Chloe shiver. If he still had his jacket on, he would've offered it to her. Draped it over those slim shoulders, his fingers accidentally brushing her skin. Would she enjoy his touch? Or look at him like he was crazy?
That he even contemplated such a thing proved he was crazy.
"I'm fine." She shrugged those very fine shoulders, cast him a sideways glance. Luckily enough she ignored that he'd ignored her question. "We should probably go inside. They might be cutting the cake."
The music still blared. He didn't hear the overenthusiastic DJ announce anything. "They're not cutting the cake."
She nibbled on her lower lip; he caught the nervous gesture from the corner of his eye. It sent a bolt of lust shooting through him and he shoved it down. "I guess we should make small talk, then," she said.
Why did she sound so damn reluctant? "Guess so."
Breathing deeply, she turned to face him, her breasts brushing against his forearm, which he had propped on the edge of the railing. Just like that, his entire body tightened, became achingly aware of this pretty, tempting female standing by his side. "I'm sure you've been asked this a million times already tonight, but how long are you staying in town?"
If he had his way, it would be less than twenty-four hours. But considering he had no job to return to, no home, no prospects, and he was a messed-up head case, he was here for the long haul. "Not sure."
She frowned. "What sort of answer is that?"
"An honest one. I'm not sure."
An irritated sigh left her and she mimicked his position, leaning against the railing, her elbow bumping his. "You've always been a man of few words, haven't you?"
"As few as possible." He shrugged, looked at her. "It's worked for me so far."
Her gaze met his, pretty dark brown eyes studying him. Looking right through him. He wanted to squirm where he stood. "It's always driven me crazy."
"What's driven you crazy?" It startled him, that revelation. He irritated her? How? He rarely saw her now, and when she was younger, he'd merely tolerated her. Even though there had been those times she and Jane had been such thorough pains in his ass, he'd been tempted to take a long drive and leave the two giggling girls in the middle of nowhere. Hope like hell they'd find their own way back.
"Your lack of communication," she answered, training her gaze once more on the meadow instead. "You never want to talk."
"Talk can sometimes be meaningless."
"I love to talk." She smiled, bright and sunny, full of bubbly happiness. "It's part of my job, a part of me. I've been told I have excellent communication skills."
Excerpted from Tempting Cameron by Karen Erickson, Stacy Abrams. Copyright © 2013 Karen Erickson. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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