Authors: Jennifer Crusie
She felt him growl against her lips and realized she’d moaned. Not only had she moaned—into his mouth—but she’d slid her hands up his back and tangled them in his short hair. He couldn’t have gotten away if he wanted to. But did he want to?
No, he gripped her hips now and pressed her closer. She was tempted to raise her knee. To wrap a leg around him. Just to get closer, to feel him between her thighs.
This was crazy. She hardly knew him. It was the first time they’d really touched. Which only made it more delicious, of course. The shocking press of their bodies together. The scandalous thrill as she realized he was hard. Hard for
Turned on by the taste and heat of her mouth. Aroused by her fingers tightening in his hair. If she invited him to her bed, he’d oblige her. There was no doubt in her mind. She could tell by the way he pulled her closer. The way the thick length of him pressed into her belly.
Oh, God. The thick length.
She wanted that. Needed it. And if this was a mistake, if it was stupid...hadn’t she already been considering that it was time to go? Time to move on? She could leave Jackson. But first, she needed him inside her.
She turned her face away, meaning to ask, but before she could find her voice, he put his mouth to her neck and sucked gently at the sensitive skin.
“Oh, fuck,” she moaned. Her weakness. If he bit her, she’d be— “Oh,
” His teeth pressed into her nerves with exactly the pressure most likely to make her arch her back like a stray cat in heat. Which she did, rocking against his erection with a gasp of pleasure.
She felt his breath shiver over her wet skin.
“Will you...?” she tried, not quite sure what to say or how to make her voice work properly. She inhaled a deeper breath, trying to ignore the careful scrape of his teeth down her skin. “Would you...?”
“Yes.” That one simple word and it tore through her, destroying any self-control. She hadn’t even finished the sentence. Yes to anything. Yes to whatever she wanted.
He stood straight, his hand sliding to fold her fingers into his.
“Do you want to follow me—?” she started, meaning to ask if he wanted to follow her home or ride in her car. But her words were cut off by the loud rattle of an approaching engine. She waited for it to pass, but the racket just got louder, and suddenly the headlights were sweeping into the lot of the Crooked R.
Jenny didn’t recognize the beat-up white panel van that turned in, but she watched it come to a rocking halt, anyway. A panel van was never a welcome sight in the middle of the night. It called to mind all the cautionary made-for-TV movies she’d seen about kidnappings and serial killers. Still, she had her own personal deputy standing right next to her. There was really nothing to fear. Nothing except...
The van door screeched open and out stepped Ellis.
“Let me take care of this.” Nate’s voice had turned so hard and clipped that it seemed impossible he’d been kissing her neck so softly just seconds before. When he took a step forward, she put a hand on his arm to stop him.
“No, really. He’s harmless.”
“Jenny!” Ellis called with a goofy grin, as if she weren’t standing in the dark with another man. Good Lord. Nothing affected him. Ten years ago, she’d thought he was laid-back and sweet. He was. He was also vulnerable and way too open.
His eyes focused on Nate for a brief moment, and Ellis offered the same open smile. If he’d noticed the intimacy between the two of them, Ellis still wouldn’t be jealous. He never had been, which was why he hadn’t understood her reaction to his occasional slipup.
Nate seemed to accept the man’s harmlessness at that moment. The arm she’d been grasping lost a taut readiness she hadn’t registered until it disappeared.
“See?” she said under her breath. “He’s no danger to me.”
Well, not in the physical sense. But he was becoming a terrible danger to her love life.
Her heart sank to her stomach when she realized she’d have to send Nate away. Her body practically screamed its objection to that idea. It wanted him. Now. And it didn’t care what price needed to be paid for that privilege. But her brain was working with an unfortunate clarity. She’d asked Ellis to meet her at closing time, and he had, if a little late.
But maybe she could come up with some excuse. Maybe she could meet him another time. Then again, if she talked to him tonight, it might be done and over.
They stood in an awkward silence until Jenny finally made herself do the right thing.
“I’m sorry. I forgot I asked him to meet me. I didn’t know you’d be here. I should really... Damn. Maybe I could call you tomorrow?”
“Jenny, I don’t know.”
Ellis finally shrugged and approached with his familiar lope, so Nate lowered his voice. “I’m not comfortable leaving it like this.”
Neither was she. She was still reeling from that kiss. She was still wet and aching. But she pasted on a smile. “You’d better go,” she said, trying not to let her voice crack with grief.
Nate finally stopped watching Ellis and turned toward Jenny. She wanted to blurt out an apology right then. Wanted to explain or backtrack or
But instead she met his gaze and smiled.
He watched carefully, giving Ellis—who’d miraculously had the good sense to stop ten feet away—one last glance before he shrugged. “All right. But I’ve already got your number, so I’ll call you. Tomorrow?”
“Yes. Please?” she added, one tiny concession to the wailing grief of her body.
His shoulders relaxed a little. “I’ll be in touch.” He paused just as he was turning away and aimed a quick glare toward Ellis. “Keep your phone out, okay? Call 911 if you get worried.”
And it was fine. She wasn’t the least bit worried about Ellis as Nate walked to his truck and got in. He started the truck and backed out. Her only worry was that he wouldn’t call. And why would he?
She’d felt nothing but guilt about Ellis earlier, but now she was irritated at what he’d interrupted.
“I told you to go back to Idaho, Ellis!”
“I don’t have anything to go back to. I told you I lost my house to the bank.”
“I know, but those guys you’re hanging around are bad news. Jackson isn’t like your town. There’s money here. And
with money. You don’t know what they’re like. Kids who’ve spent their whole lives getting everything they wanted, and the so-called friends who want a piece of that.”
He shook his head like she was being silly. “It’s fine, Jenny. I’ve made some good friends, and I found a place to stay down in Hoback. I’m not crashing at Tex’s place anymore.”
She wanted to shake him. “You always get sucked into stuff, Ellis. Always.” Like marriage.
He rolled his eyes as if he’d heard her thought. “I’m not a kid anymore, Jennybug.”
Crossing her arms, she held her ground. “How did you lose your house?”
“I couldn’t pay the mortgage.”
“What mortgage? It was your mom’s. She left it to you free and clear.”
Ellis shifted and scratched his head, then rubbed his arms as if he’d just noticed the cold.
“I knew it,” she sighed.
“Look, it wasn’t some harebrained idea. The restaurant was a good opportunity and Chistopher knew exactly what he was doing! He just needed some start-up money. But then the recession hit, and...”
“Exactly. That’s why people don’t invest in restaurants. And yes—” She held up her hand to stop his next thought. “I’m sure Christopher is a great guy. Everyone’s a great guy as far as you’re concerned.”
“People are okay, Jenny. You don’t have to be so suspicious all the time.”
No, people were not okay. She wasn’t okay. Her parents weren’t okay. But she’d never get him to believe that. Hell, she’d left him after a few months of marriage, and here he was, telling her people were nice. “You said you needed a favor,” she sighed.
“I just need to store some stuff in your garage.” He blinked slowly. “If you have one, I mean.”
“What stuff?” she asked suspiciously.
“Landscaping?” she scoffed.
“Yeah. I’ve got a good thing started. All these rich people. The resorts. You know.”
“The resorts have their own gardeners,” she countered. “And in case you haven’t noticed, it’s winter.”
“I know! I’m on with a plowing company and working the contacts. Right now I’m acquiring a lot of supplies for spring and my van is jammed full of stuff. I need to get rid of some of it.”
“You said you had a place! Keep it there.”
“I’m at the Pineview Camp in Hoback. I have to walk to the bathroom. You think I have storage space? Just help me out. Please, Jenny?”
“God!” she groaned, tipping her head back to glare at the stars. Her breath hovered briefly, haloing the constellations in pale white before the wisps floated away. “Why did you even come here?”
He shrugged one shoulder. “Because I thought you’d help. I thought... You loved me once. I was pretty cool after you walked out on me, Jenny. I signed the papers you wanted me to sign. I never gave you any shit about it. But I was still your husband, even if you want to pretend I never existed.”
Crap. His easy smile was gone now. He looked dead serious. And he was right. She did want to forget about it. She did go through life pretending he didn’t exist. “I’m sorry, Ellis.”
“I know you are.”
A sound snuck to her ear on the breeze, something long and lonesome. A wolf, way off in the Tetons somewhere. She shivered and told herself it was a coyote.
She didn’t owe Ellis anything. She didn’t. They’d both been too young to know what they were doing. So why couldn’t she leave this guilt behind? Why couldn’t she leave any of her guilt behind?
But she knew the answer to that. Even if she’d been young and stupid, she’d known better than to marry him. When he’d asked her, somewhere deep in her heart she’d known the warmth hadn’t been love. It had been relief. She’d been on her own for almost a year and she’d felt lost, and Ellis had loved her. And he’d owned a house. And she’d just wanted some security for once in her life.
Jenny cleared her throat. She told herself not to do it. She ordered herself to say no. But somehow her mouth opened with “Okay. But only for a little while.”
Ellis grinned. His smile was still a little boy’s grin, full of pride and joy and charm.
“Let’s get it over with. You can follow me home.”
“Whatever you say.”
She thought of driving straight out of town again. But this time, her past was right on her tail. Better to wait until she lost him before she disappeared.
went from bad to worse. Well, “bad” in the moral sense and “worse” in the sense that he was now in the mood to throw everyone in jail and sort out the details later.
He’d awoken to a vicious hard-on and indecent thoughts of Jenny Stone. He shouldn’t have embraced the situation quite so thoroughly. He’d felt guilty even as he’d taken his cock in a tight grip and groaned with relief. He shouldn’t have thought about her, but he hadn’t had much choice. She’d driven him crazy last night. Just that first sweet sigh against his mouth would’ve been enough, but she’d added a hundred other moments to set his heart racing. The sounds she’d made. The touches she’d granted. She’d been wild for him. Just a little. Just enough that he knew it would be good in a million different ways.
He’d covered about twenty of them as he’d stroked himself that morning. So it had worked out nicely. Which was more than he could say for his current situation.
He’d driven his old pickup to the cabin, not wanting to grant any official status to this visit. It made him nervous, driving down the rutted, icy dirt road without his radio, but he wanted to do this right. Today, he was here as a cousin, not a cop.
But when he reached a part of the road where a rise in the terrain had caused fresh snow to blow across the ruts, he knew he’d be back in an official capacity soon. There were tire tracks. Fresh tracks from this morning. Which was why he now found himself crouched under a lodgepole pine that let loose waves of snow every time the wind blew. And it was blowing a lot.
Nate shuddered as another fine dusting of powder found its way past the back of his jacket collar and snuck icy fingers beneath his shirt.
God, if that asshole Ellis hadn’t shown up last night, maybe Nate would still be in Jenny’s bed. He definitely wouldn’t be crouching in an icy ravine watching for signs of movement from the cabin. At the very least, he would’ve slept in and been soaking his sore muscles under a hot shower. Sore because he’d spent half the night working his ass off to make that woman come a dozen times.
He smirked at his own wild imaginings. Maybe he couldn’t have managed a dozen, but he’d have done his absolute best. There was nothing he loved more, nothing that got him off more, than watching a woman come apart like that. And Jenny’s little moans had promised a lovely reward for any endeavors. He wanted to know what she looked like, tasted like, felt like. He wanted to find out just how wet she got when he bit her neck like that. Fuck, he hadn’t expected that response. She’d jerked against him as if he’d touched a raw nerve. A nerve that went straight to her—
Wind slapped him in the face, and snow shifted down his neck, and Nate hissed and eased into a different position, cursing his stray thoughts and stray erection.
He couldn’t see enough from this position, anyway. He’d have to get closer to the cabin. See who was parked there, maybe even peek in one of the windows. He wasn’t interested in surprising anyone right now, but in this snow, he might not be able to make out faces once someone was in a moving vehicle. And he might not be able to get a license plate number unless he walked right up and dusted the snow off.
“Damn.” The tree provided easy cover, but he couldn’t stay. Glancing back to be sure the truck was hidden on the road that cut off toward an even more isolated cabin, Nate eased out from under the tree, cursing a blue streak when more snow showered down. He missed his uniform hat and its wide brim. He wouldn’t take it for granted again.
His boots crunched over the sheet of old, frozen snow that covered the rocky ground, and the sound seemed to echo off every surface, the only sound in this silent winter scene. But as he drew closer, he heard the hum of a propane heater and moved a little more quickly along the edge of the road.
He caught sight of a bumper. An ancient little Japanese car with a tan paint job and pitiful brown racing stripes down the side. The only thing that piece could race was a moped. He didn’t recognize the car, but it matched Luis’s description of what Victor had been driving lately, and Nate felt both disappointment and vindication at the sight.
There’d always been the possibility that Luis had been wrong, after all. But that was almost certainly Victor’s car, and he was almost certainly doing something illegal.
Before he could ease farther forward, Nate heard voices from somewhere past the cabin and they were getting closer. Whatever Victor was doing, he wasn’t doing it alone, and Luis had made clear this morning that James was already on his way to Casper.
Nate eased into a hiding place beneath another pine. The tan car started and pulled onto the drive. The kid inside was skinny and dark-haired, with a thin goatee that framed a narrow mouth. The rest of his face was covered by black sunglasses, but Nate was pretty sure it was Victor.
He watched the car pass, looking carefully to be sure the kid was alone. He was.
A second engine started. A tortured squeal of metal and fire. Nate winced and watched the edge of the snow carefully where it disappeared around the bend of the drive.
There. Harder to spot because the vehicle was white, but once it cleared the bend, there was no mistaking the familiar sound of that engine, not to mention the jagged black marks where a logo had been scraped off the white van.
“No,” he breathed in utter disbelief. “No. Not happening.” It couldn’t be happening, because he was going to sleep with Jenny Stone, and he couldn’t sleep with a woman who was involved in this situation.
But he couldn’t deny that the guy in the driver’s
seat of the van looked exactly like Ellis. Nate memorized the license plate number as he tried to talk himself down.
Ellis was obviously involved with Victor, who was likely involved with growing illegal drugs. But that didn’t mean that Jenny knew anything about it. The guy was her
-husband. She said she’d only seen him once in ten years. A bad association, maybe, but not a damning one. Jenny didn’t have a record. Nate knew that for a fact.
He blew out a deep breath and forced some of the tension to leave his body. This was probably just a terrible coincidence. He could press her a little harder, see if she gave any sign of guilt. She was damned open, as far as he could tell, all her emotions stamped on her face in clear relief. He’d be able to tell if she was lying.
Once enough time had passed, he slipped back out to the dirt road and approached the cabin. There were no other cars parked in front of it, and above the heater, the only sounds he could hear were distant raven caws and the faint thump of snow falling from nearby trees. The sun suddenly emerged, adding instant warmth to the air, but it glared from the windows of the cabin, turning them into two-way mirrors. If there was anyone inside, they’d be able to see Nate as clearly as if he were standing in the spotlight. All he could see were tree and sky and snow reflected in the glass.
Taking a chance, he headed toward the side of the cabin and pressed his cupped hand to the window to cut the light. Empty, but for a sagging old couch and a broken table. He didn’t spot anything that looked new except one folding chair and a flashlight. Oh, and the plastic tarp greenhouse in the backyard. There was no mistaking that.
It listed slightly to the south, as if the northern winds were slowly easing it backward. His first impression was that Luis didn’t have to worry too much about this operation, it wouldn’t hold up under the coming spring storms. But when he approached, Nate saw that though the thing had been built slightly off-kilter, it was fairly solid. He walked around, looking for an entrance, but all of the plastic sheeting seemed to be heavily weighted down with cement blocks. Apparently, they wanted to discourage any curious cross-country skiers from investigating.
Nate didn’t want to leave any indication that someone had been poking around. He didn’t want to set off any alarms or raise any suspicions, so after another circuit around the building, which looked to be about fifteen by twenty feet, he stopped at an overlap in the plastic.
This seemed to be the door, if it could be called that. The propane heater hummed away nearby. A hint of warmth shimmered off the sheeting.
Nate slipped his gloved hand beneath the edge of plastic and eased it forward to create a gap. Warm air steamed past his face. He tugged a little harder. He could finally see something. The edge of a rough wooden table. Empty pots stacked in a corner. Shovels and buckets. He pushed the first layer of plastic forward and got a glimpse of what sat in rows on the table. Cheap plastic pots with tiny plants growing from them. He tilted his head. He couldn’t see much, but they definitely looked like miniature marijuana plants.
Well, at least it was better than meth. Somebody could lose their life messing around with that. Still...
Now he had a better idea who was involved. He’d watch again tomorrow morning to see if any other players showed, and then he’d call it in. James was gone. There didn’t seem to be any reason to worry he’d contributed. And it didn’t have the feel of a major investment. Best to get it over and done with.
But first, he had to call Jenny.