Someone's sleeping in my bed
Needing to ponder a marriage proposal, play-it-safe Jenny Baer escapes to an Ozarks cabinright into bed with a naked man! What's a recuperating Officer Gavin Locke doing in her rental amid a raging storm? He's the last thing she needsthe man she loved and left.
Trapped with Jenny in his cabin, with no power and too many memories, Gavin knows nothing's changed. She can't accept his dangerous career, and she's about to marry a powerful politician. But when one little kiss brings him to his knees, Gavin can't deny the attraction never died. Nor can Jenny. Once the flood waters recede, Jenny will wear a ring But from whom?
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The headlights sliced through the darkness ahead, glittering off the torrents of rain pounding the windshield of the small car. The wind blew so hard that it took some effort to keep the car on the road. Fingers white-knuckled on the wheel, Jenny Baer leaned forward slightly against her seat belt in an attempt to better see the winding road. The weather had turned nasty earlier than she'd expected when she'd started this almost-three-hour drive.
She'd intended to leave work just after lunch on this Friday, which would have put her here midafternoon, before the rain set in. Instead, she'd been held up with one crisis after another, until it had been after six when she'd finally gotten away. She hadn't even had a chance to change out of her work clothes. She'd thought of waiting until morning to head out, but she'd been afraid she'd only be detained again, maybe until too late to even consider the rare, three-day vacation she was allowing herself.
Her grandmother would say "I told you so" in that sanctimonious tone she often slipped into. Gran had insisted it was foolish for Jenny to take off on her own and stay alone for a long weekend in a secluded mountain cabin. But then, Gran was always trying to tell her only grandchild how to live her life. Though Jenny believed the advice was generally well-intended, she had to remind her grandmother repeatedly that she was thirty-one years old, held a master's degree and was the sole owner of a successful clothing-and-accessories boutique.
Gran would be even less supportive of this private retreat if she knew the reason Jenny had decided impulsively to take it. If she'd told her grandmother that prominent attorney Thad Simonson had proposed marriage, Gran would already be arranging an engagement party, maybe interviewing wedding planners. She wouldn't understand why Jenny had asked for time to think about her answer, though Thad had seemed to consider the request entirely reasonable. After all, he'd said, Jenny's practicality and judiciousness were two of the many qualities he most admired about her. She had accepted the comment as a compliment, as she knew he'd intendedthough maybe he'd been just a bit too prosaic about it?
Thad was out of state for a couple weeks on one of his frequent business trips, so Jenny had taken the opportunity to get away for a few days herself. She needed time to think about the ramifications of accepting his proposal without the distractions of constantly ringing phones and neverending meetings with employees, customers, contractors and sales reps.
Lightning flashed in the distance through the curtains of rain, silhouetting the surrounding hills against the angry sky. The full force of the early-June storm was still a few miles away, but getting closer. What had she been thinking heading into the backwoods with this looming? She was the least impulsive person she knewat least, that was the way she'd lived for the past decade or soand yet, here she was, inching through a downpour in the middle of nowhere, heading for a cabin in the Arkansas Ozarks with no housekeeping staff, no room service, none of the amenities she preferred for her infrequent escapes. All with less than forty-eight hours of planning, another anomaly for her.
Considering everything, it was a wonder the cabin had even been available on such short notice, but the too-cheery rental agent had assured her it was ready to rent. Jenny had assumed the weather forecasts had scared off other prospective vacationers, but she'd planned to stay inside to think and work in blessed isolation, so the prospect of a rainy weekend hadn't deterred her. This storm, on the other hand, threatened to be more than she'd bargained for.
She turned onto a steeply rising gravel lane pitted with deep, rapidly filling puddles. The car skidded to the right as she made the turn, hydroplaning on the water beginning to creep over the road. She gasped and tightened her grip on the wheel, letting out her breath slowly when the tires regained traction, digging into the gravel and forcing their way uphill.
She gave a little moan of relief when the cabin appeared in front of her as a darker shape in the headlights. No lights burned in the windows, and there seemed to be no security lights outside. It was hard to tell if the place had changed much since she'd last been here, almost eleven years ago. Lizzie, the rather ditzy rental agent, had explained that there was a carport behind the cabin, but since there was no covered walkway from there to the back door, Jenny parked as close as she could get to the front porch.
Her luggage was in the trunk, but the purse, computer case and overnight bag in the front passenger seat held everything she needed until morning. Arms full, she jumped out of the car and made a mad scramble toward the covered porch. She cursed beneath her breath as she fumbled the key into the lock. Just from that brief dash, her dark hair was soaked, the layers hanging limply around her face and sticking to her cheek. Her once-crisp, white designer blouse was now sodden and transparent, and her gray linen pants were wet to the skin. Mud splattered her expensive sandals and she'd twisted her ankle on the slippery steps. This was what she got, she chided herself, for coming to a place with no eager doorman to assist her.
"I told you so," Gran's imaginary voice whispered in her ear, making her scowl as she shoved through the door.
The interior of the cabin was stuffy and dark, lit only by the almost-constant flashes of lightning through the windows. In the strobe-like illumination, she could see that she had entered a spacious open room with a kitchen and dining area at the far end, and a big stone fireplace on the wall to her right. It was all exactly as she remembered.
She hadn't anticipated the feelings that almost overwhelmed her when she walked in, stealing the breath from her lungs and leaving a dull ache in her chest. She'd told herself she'd sought out this cabin only because it was the first place that had popped into her mind when she'd looked for a peaceful hideaway for the serious deliberations facing her. She'd reassured herself she was drawn here because she'd recalled the natural beauty, the soothing backdrop of birdsongs and mountain breezes. The long Labor Day weekend she'd spent here with her college boyfriend's family had been one of the most pleasant holidays of her life. It had seemed a lucky omen when she'd made a couple of internet searches and phone calls and discovered, to her surprise, that not only was the cabin still on the market for vacation rentals, it was also available this very week.
She'd thought she could enjoy the setting without dwelling on the copious tears she'd shed by the end of that year, after a bitterly painful breakup. She'd thought she had long since dealt with that youthful heartbreak so she could remember the good times and forget the bad, the way any mature adult looked back at the foibles of youth. Maybe she'd even thought this would be a fitting way to put a final closure to her one previous serious relationship before committing completely to a new, permanent union.
Perhaps she shouldn't have been quite so impetuous in booking this cabin. Maybe some old memories should remain locked away, without such tangible reminders.
Shaking her head in exasperation with herself, she set her bags at her feet and fumbled for a wall switch. She hoped the light would banish those old images back into the shadows of the past where they belonged. Nothing happened when she flipped the lever. Great. The storm had knocked out the power. She stood just inside the room, debating whether she should get back in the car and make a break for civilization, preferably someplace new and memory-free. As if in answer, a hard gust of wind rattled the windows, followed by a crash of thunder that sounded like the closest one yet. Okay, maybe she'd stay inside for a while. She tugged her phone out of her pocket, using the screen for light. A very weak signal, she noted in resignation, but the time was displayed on the screen. Almost 10:00 p.m.
She might as well peel out of these wet clothes and try to get a little sleep. Suddenly exhausted, she kicked off her muddy shoes and carried her overnight bag toward the open doorway on the left side of the room. Tomorrow morning, after the tempest had passed, she would decide what to do if the power wasn't restored. She'd anticipated that by the end of this retreat she would have a pile of paperwork completed, crucial decisions made, the rest of her life neatly planned out. Had she been hopelessly naive?
She had her blouse unbuttoned by the time she reached the doorway. She couldn't wait to be out of these wet things and into her comfy satin nightshirt. She hoped the mattress was decent. Not that it mattered much. She was tired enough to sleep on a bag of rocks.
The bedroom was tiny, taken up almost entirely by the bed. Just as that fact registered, she stumbled hard over something on the floor. Her overnight bag fell from her hand and landed squarely on one bare foot. Pain shot all the way up her leg, making her yelp and hop. Her phone hit the floor, screen down, plunging the room into total darkness. She fell onto the bed.
"What the hell?" The sleepy, startled male voice erupted from the darkness as hands closed around Jenny's arms.
Instinctively, she reached out, and her palms landed on a very warm bare chest sprinkled with wiry hair. She choked out a cry and shoved herself backward. She'd have fallen off the bed if the man hadn't been holding on to her.
"Let go of me!" she ordered sharply, barely suppressed panic making her throat tight. "What are you doing here? I'm calling the police."
"Lady, I am the police. And you're breaking and entering."
She struggled to her feet. Holding on to her with one hand, the man sat up on the bed and reached across with his other hand to fumble around on the nightstand. Cold fluorescent light beamed in a small circle from an emergency lantern he'd set beside the bed, making her squint to adjust her vision. Seeing the man who still gripped her arm did not exactly inspire confidence.
His shaggy hair, dark blond with lighter streaks, tumbled around a hard-jawed face stubbled with a couple days' growth of dark beard. She couldn't discern the color of his narrowed eyes, but she could see that his mouth was a hard slash bracketed by lines that probably deepened into long dimples whenor ifhe smiled. His bare shoulders were tanned and linebacker broad. Dark hair scattered across his hard chest and narrowed to the thin sheet pooled at his waist. A large white bandage covered his right shoulder, but the evidence of injury made him look no more vulnerable. Overall, she got the immediate first impression of coiled strength, simmering temper and almost overwhelming masculinity.
It took another moment to realize that she knew him. Or had once known him. Quite well actually. Had his fingers not been biting into her arm, she might have thought her weary, memory-flooded mind was playing tricks on her.
Surely fate's sense of humor wasn't this twisted!
He blinked up at her and she wondered for a moment if he even recognized her in the shadows. Though he didn't release her, his fingers relaxed their grip. "Jen?"
Of all the improbable possibilities she could have imagined for the start of this poorly planned vacation, falling into bed with Gavin Locke wouldn't have even been on her list. She stared mutely at him, unable to think of a thing to say. Her heart pounded in her chest, her throat suddenly so tight she couldn't draw air in, much less force words out. Once again memories filled her mind in a rush of images so vivid that she could almost feel his hands sweeping over her bare skin, could almost taste his lips on hers, could almost hear his low, hoarse groans of arousal and satisfaction.
Even as her face warmed and her pulse raced in reaction to those arousing flashbacks, she struggled to tamp them down again. She'd simply been caught off guard, she told herself irritably. It was only natural that unexpectedly finding Gavin in bed, half-naked, would remind her of all the times she'd seen him that way before. Just because she'd long since moved on didn't mean she'd forgotten her reckless, youthful love affair. Just as remembering didn't mean she hadn't put it all safely behind her.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded. "How did you get in?"
His words roused her into a response, though she wished her voice emerged a little steadier. "I came in through the front door. What are you doing here? Did you break in?"
"Did I No, I didn't break in! I used my key."
Following his sweeping gesture, she glanced toward the nightstand. Beside the plastic lantern sat a couple of medication bottles, a holstered handgun and a metal ring holding several keys. She swallowed, unable for the moment to look away from the weapon.
"Look, Jenny, I'm running on too little sleep, and I'm fairly pissed that someone got all the way into my bed without me hearing a thing, so maybe you could start explaining. Why are you here?" His voice was a growl underlain with steel. It was deeper than she remembered, but his cranky tone was familiar enough. She'd heard it often during the last few weeks of their ill-fated college romance.
She lifted her chin, refusing to be cowed by his mood. "I rented the cabin from Lizzie, the agent at the leasing company. I paid in advance for the weekend, and I have the paperwork to prove it in the other room."
His fingers loosened even more in apparent surprise, and she took the opportunity to snatch her arm away and move a step back from the bed.
He seemed to process her explanation slowly. Perhaps his mind was fuzzy from whatever was in those prescription bottles. "Lizzie rented the cabin to you?"
She nodded. "She said there was a cancelation and that it was available."
"Lizzie is a."
A clap of thunder drowned out his words. Probably for the best. When the noise subsided a bit, Gavin shook his head, tossed off the sheet and swung his bare legs over the side of the bed. He wore nothing but a pair of boxer shorts. Though she'd seen him in less, that had been a long time ago, and seeing him like this now was not helping to ease the awkwardness of this encounter.
She became suddenly aware that she was standing in front of him with her wet blouse hanging open, revealing the lacy bra beneath. She reached up hastily to tug the shirt closed, fumbling with buttons. Her foot throbbed, she didn't know where her phone had landed and her hair still dripped around her face. In her wildest imagination, she couldn't have predicted her retreat starting out like this.
Seemingly unconcerned with his own state of undress, Gavin stood just at the edge of the lantern's reach. Lightning flashed through the nearby window, revealing, then shadowing, his hard face and strong torso. As inappropriate as it was, considering the circumstances, she still felt a hard tug of feminine response somewhere deep inside her. The years had been very good to Gavin Locke.
She cleared her throat. "If you want to see my paperwork."
"Come on, Jenny, you know I believe you. Besides, I've dealt with Lizzie enough recently to know that your story is completely plausible."
The wind howled louder outside, so Jenny had to speak up to ask, "Are you saying she rented you the cabin for tonight, too?"
"She didn't have to rent it to me. I own this cabin now."
"Oh, crap." When had he bought it? Why? She had a vague memory of it belonging to an old friend of his family's, but she'd never imagined Gavin would now be the owner.
"You can say that again." He shook his head in disgust. "I told Lizzie not to rent the place this week, that I needed it myself. I should have known she'd get it mixed up. She's new at the job and she's incompetent."
"I " A gust of wind blew so hard she could feel the cabin being buffeted by it. Something hit the roof above them and she cringed, glancing up instinctively. She couldn't help thinking again of the tall trees surrounding the place. She suspected a branch had just fallen on the roof, and she hoped it wouldn't be followed by the whole tree.