Authors: J. C. Valentine
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by J.C. Valentine
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
As always big thanks go out to the people who keep me grounded and focused on my dreams: my family, especially my husband, who reads everything I put in front of him, and
my friends, you know who you are, who always give the best advice and words of encouragement. Most special thanks go out to those of you who read my books, because without you, none of this would be possible.
The sky was dark as pitch, the soft glow from moon overhead blotted out by a bank of dark and threatening storm clouds. The car glided over the dotted line. The truck ahead blared its warning and Felix Sinclair jolted upright, jerking the wheel and sending the car jettisoning toward a ditch.
.” Fighting the pull, Felix struggled to right the car, but succeeded only in sending it in the opposite direction, back over the center line, narrowly missing the reflective mile marker sign standing at the side of the road.
With a lurch, the vehicle threw itself over the embankment and down, down into the thicket of cattails and tall grasses. On impact, Felix’s forehead bounced off the steering wheel then snapped violently back when the air bag exploded, nearly breaking his nose in the process before sending him spiraling into oblivion.
Searing pain in his side was the first thing Felix noted when he came around. That, and the tight, swelled feeling in his teeth, as if someone had punched him in the mouth. Moaning, he tried to push away from the pillow encompassing his face. His first thought was, where was all this pain coming from? Had he gone for a drink with the guys last night and ended up in a brawl? It would certainly explain the feeling that his teeth had been smashed in with a 2x4. Or maybe that new routine Marco had him doing at the gym was the problem. It could explain why every inch of his body screamed with every fraction of movement.
Whatever the problem, none of it explained why he felt like he was standing upright and cold in his own bed.
And why wouldn’t the damn pillow stop smothering him!
Battling it back, Felix managed to get enough distance to see past the enveloping expanse of white and take stock of his surroundings.
What the hell was he doing inside his car?
It all came back to him in an instant. The truck, the horn, careening across the road. The accident.
He had been
on his way back from a writers’ convention, tired and worn from the weeklong event that had left him with terrible insomnia and dry, puffy eyes. He couldn’t sleep away from home, and so was running on less than three fitful hours a day. Coffee was the only thing that saw him through, but once confined in the warmth of his car, luxury leather seats cradling his body lovingly, he found it a constant battle to keep his eyes open.
He did everything he could think of to stay awake: rolling down the windows to let in the blustery fall air, blasting the stereo, slapping himself in the face. None of it worked, though. His eyelids would eventually grow heavy again and he would find himself jolting back into consciousness. It was frightening, but he really thought he could make the final hour stretch, and once he hit the city lights, he would be home free, too on edge traversing the constant flow of traffic to slip into unconsciousness again.
Obviously he had been wrong.
Not more than a few miles into the journey down the country road—a path guaranteed to chop his commute in half, according to Google Maps—he had lost
the fight. Now, as he sat trapped in his car in a ditch on the side of the road, he was cursing the internet and its empty promises.
What he needed was his cell phone.
Digging sore fingers past the constricting seat belt, Felix fumbled
around for his trouser pocket for his iPhone. Parting the crease of fabric proved an ordeal, and Felix cursed some more, straining his features as he tore at the material. Finally the familiar sleek plastic shell grazed his fingertips and he found his strength renewed.
Pulling the phone from his pocket, he held it up in front of his face…and cursed yet again. The screen was cracked down the middle, but, he thought next, that didn’t mean it was broken necessarily. Pressing buttons, he was able to call up his list of numbers, but just as soon as he hi
the screen went black. It was then Felix remembered that the battery had been running low during the convention and he had shut it off, because, idiot that he was, he had forgotten to bring along his charger.
Could his night possibly get any worse?
Apparently so, because when Felix lashed out at the air bag still pressing insistently against his chest it just so happened to rock the car from its perilous position and next thing he knew, he was standing on his head, his hands pressing against the roof the only thing keeping him from twisting his neck.
Frigid water rushed in through the open window and Felix’s body took on a low grade tremor. Blood rushed to his head and he could hear his heartbeat in his ears.
He had to get out of here and find help.
Releasing one hand, he felt around for the buckle that held him aloft. When he encountered the small square button, he pressed in firmly and heard a satisfying
before the weight of his body crashed down on top of him. Already fatigued, his arms were too weak to hold the sudden weight, and Felix found himself in an awkwardly painful folded position, wet up to the shoulders, and trying to breathe evenly without sucking any water into his lungs.
He wasn’t sure how he managed it, but with a little wiggling and some heavy breathing, he was able to untangle his legs from beneath the dash and flip himself around. Now that the blood was returning to its natural flow his head began to clear and he could reevaluate his surroundings.
The trickling sound of water followed the small stream now licking at his wingtips. It was still dark outside, and he was alone. No phone. No help. Thankfully he had rolled the power windows down earlier, which afforded him his only escape route. Wiggling through the narrow opening, Felix dragged himself free of the car. Once outside he was able to see that he had indeed driven into a ditch. Dense copse of trees cluttered the landscape surrounding him. When he looked up, he found the only clear path to be the one paved by skidding tires.
The road was at least ten feet ahead. All he had to do was climb.
Heaving out a longsuffering sigh, Felix grabbed hold of a hunk of wild grass and pulled. His shoes slipped the whole way up; forcing him to eventually give up on the grasses, whose shallow roots gave way easily, and dig into the mud covered ground.
Finally reaching the top, his breaths coming in short burst
s, his skin burning from the biting cold, Felix stood tall, feeling accomplished, like some sort of mountain climber reaching the summit. He felt like shouting to into the night sky, proud and enlivened.
That feeling was quickly dashed as the heavens chose that very moment to open up and shed their cruelty upon him.
“Oh come on!” As rain poured down, soaking his clothes and plastering his hair around his face, Felix threw his arms up in disbelief. This night just kept getting better and better he mused as he set his feet to walking.
piercing shriek of the teapot prompted Poppy to pull her nose out of the new romance novel she’d picked up at the drugstore earlier that morning. Tossing the throw from her lap, she rose, placing the book on the arm of the sofa. For a moment, she got caught up in staring at the delectable male figure that graced the cover. It had been a long while since she last felt the embrace of a man, tasted firm lips or danced her tongue along the ridges of a muscled abdomen.
Unfortunately, after the hell she had gone through with Jimmy before, during, and after the divorce, if she ever laid her eyes on another man, it would be too soon. He had put her through the wringer, both emotionally and financially. The little turd had left her for his barely legal girlfriend and socked her with the lawyer’s fees and a slew of back taxes and credit card debt that she would be lucky to pay off before she hit retirement. So once a settlement had been reached—the judge decreed that the assets be split down the middle—Poppy hocked everything in the house that she could, sold the house at below market value, and turned over the title to the minivan, then started looking for a new place.
She bought the Victorian fixer upper on a whim. It was located a good mile outside the heart of the city, on a solid stretch of land, and without a single neighbor in sight. It meant that she had to commute for everything she did, but it also put her solidly outside the reach of temptation. Who would want to travel for a date? And more importantly, once she was finished running back and forth from work and running errands, she would be too tired to take up an offer anyway.
It was perfect.
However, she soon found out that it could get quite lonely in the country, alone and with no one to talk to. She didn’t often make phone calls, and internet service in the area was crap, so she couldn’t email anyone either. In an effort to break up the silence, she purchased herself a companion in the form of Bo, a giant Doberman with a heart of gold. He was a rescue dog, his past that of abuse. A jagged scar running from the corner of his left eye down to his lip made him appear ferocious, but beneath it all, he was a sweetheart. They had become quick friends and when he wasn’t keeping watch on the front porch, as he was
right now, he was always at her side. With Bo around, she didn’t need a man. He was a great companion, always appreciative, didn’t talk back, and he liked to snuggle. What more could a divorcee ask for?
The whistling was at a fever pitch now, and Poppy sighed. Giving one last fleeting look at the muscle bound lothario, she strode into the kitchen. Steam was shooting toward the ceiling as she removed the pot from the burner and twisted the dial on the stove to snuff out the flame. Pulling her mug with the little blue flowers closer, she began pouring the hot water, then dipped the teabag inside, swirling it with a spoon un
til the water turned a rich reddish brown.
As she slipped back into her seat, warming her fingers against the warm mug, she took another look at her book. If only men were made as sturdy and delicious as the ones in her novels, she thought longingly. It was like a sales pitch that promised one thing, then delivered another. She had yet to encounter a nearly seven foot man, trimmed in bulging muscle, ruggedly handsome and looking for the one woman he could settle down with so he could complete his life’s mission: to be completely loyal and content with his lot in life.
They just didn’t exist as far as she was concerned.
Still, a girl could dream. Finding the dog-eared page she used to mark her spot, she picked up where she left off.
Malcolm strode into the cottage, the swift breeze tearing at his kilt. “Get over here, wench,” he demanded huskily, his sweat glistened chest rising and falling heavily.
Effie panted at the sight he created, light from the open doorway casting his face in shadow, the edges of his hair all aflame, making him appear as some sort of avenging angel. Heat suffusing her, her every cell gone aquiver, Effie bolted into his open arms and reveled in the sensation of his lips crushing down on hers. Moaning—
A crash of thunder made Poppy nearly jump out of her skin. Placing a hand over her racing heart, she tried to calm her breathing. Letting out an exaggerated breath, she focused her attention back on the story.
Moaning, Effie threw her head back as Malcolm licked his way down her neck, stopping to suck and nibble on the tender flesh. Thrusting her fingers into his hair, she mirrored—
Bo’s harsh bark served as yet another shock to her system. He must have positioned himself right outside the window, she thought with some annoyance. Twisting around, she parted the curtains behind the couch just in time to see the bolt of lightning streak across the sky, bringing with it a moment of daylight. Blinking rapidly, Poppy peered onto the porch, seeing Bo standing at attention at the head of the stairs.
“What are you so wound up about?” she wondered aloud. Bo was never one to be skittish. In
fact, he seemed to love thunderstorms almost as much as she did, but now he seemed alert and agitated, if the hair standing up on his back was any indication.
roll of thunder and a bolt of lightning cracking across the sky later, and Poppy thought she glimpsed something in the distance. On her knees now, her nose pressed against the glass, her hands cupping her face, she peered into the pervading darkness.
Oh yes, there was definitely something moving out there.
She watched as the inky blob pushed past the gate at the end of the walkway and lurched toward the house. Bo was in a tizzy now, his bark growing harsher and faster, a warning to whatever it was to go away.
As the figure grew nearer, she began to make out more detail. For instance, the blob was now tall and lean, had hair and wore
dark clothing. The figure was hunched in on itself and Poppy knew from the slight chill inside that it must be downright freezing outside. The fact that it was raining made the person’s situation that much worse.
Cursing to herself, she leaped backward off the couch
, untangled her ankles from the blanket, and rushed to the door. With little thought to what she was wearing, or not wearing, as the case may be, she whipped open the door in time to see Bo bound off the porch and charge the newcomer.
He was completely waterlogged by the time the first house appeared in the distance. It appeared old and in mild disrepair, it’s peaked roofs harsh and forbidding amid the flashes of lightening that streaked across the midnight sky.
Felix squinted, keeping his eyes focused on the warm glow of light coming through one of the arched windows on the first floor as he trudged through puddles. His toes squished in his shoes and his tailored suit clung to his frame, but he kept his gaze fixed, the house now a welcoming beacon.
He was shivering violently by the time he reached the old wrought iron gate and let himself inside. Thunder rolled overhead and the hush of sheeting rain falling down around him clogged his ears.
Making his way up the long and twisting walkway, Felix barely noticed the raised flowerbeds to his sides or the Doberman that stood facing him on the porch. He was single
-minded. Get inside, make the call, and go home where he would slip into warm pajamas and crawl into bed so he could bury himself beneath the covers and finally get a good night’s sleep.
He had nearly made it to the porch when the dog he had failed to notice jumped to attention, baring its teeth and snarling with rage. Leaping back, Felix stumbled over his own feet, barely keeping from falling flat on his ass.
Holding his hands out in front of him he
chattered, “N-nice d-doggie.” Clearly undeterred by his gentle tone, the dog sprung off the porch, the look on his face clear: he was out for blood.
Prepared to turn tail and run for his life, Felix stopped abruptly when the front door opened and a slip of a woman stepped into view.
“Bo!” She clapped her hands loudly. Stopping abruptly, the dog’s ear pricked back at his master’s call, but he kept his attention trained firmly on Felix. Water pelted down in cold, heavy drops as they engaged in a silent standoff. “Bo, you leave that poor man alone!”
Felix was frozen to the sidewalk, though he wasn’t sure if it was fear of the animal keeping him there, or the pale beauty of the woman before him.
She made a pretty picture all right. Long, dark hair hung down to a waist that tapered in then flared back out to encompass full, rounded hips. Smooth, shapely legs peeked out from beneath a short pink cami. Even from this distance he could see that she had tiny, kissable toes, but that wasn’t even the best part. Letting his eyes skate over her petite frame, he found himself staring at a pair of full, heavy breasts, perky though the small scrap of fabric offered no real support. His mind immediately conjured up pictures of him sucking those pert nipples, now stiff from the cold, into his mouth and laving them with his tongue until she cried out from pleasure.
“Are you going to stand out there all day?” The woman was now standing at the edge of the porch, staring through the rain at him as if he had lost his mind.
Blinking the water from his eyes, Felix shook his head to clear the errant thoughts before they got him into even more trouble. The night certainly wasn’t panning out the way he had hoped, far worse, actually, and he wasn’t too eager to bring more bad luck down on top of him.
Before he could utter a single word, the woman stepped off the porch and into the rain, stamping through the puddles that had accumulated on the stone path as she approached him. Fire blazed in her eyes and suddenly, Felix felt like a naughty schoolboy answering to his mother.
Grabbing him by the arm, the woman tugged, forcing him to follow. Warily he stepped past the large guard dog and onto the porch. When he looked over his shoulder, it was to find the animal close on his heels, its big head poised to take a chomp out of his rear. Its gums lifted threateningly and Felix quickened his pace. He moved carefully into the house where incredible warmth slammed into him. He was guided to sit in a wooden rocking chair and a warm blanket was wrapped around his shoulders.
. I’ll go fetch a couple of towels.”
Felix couldn’t do much more than shiver while he waited for her to return. A puddle began to grow
beneath him as his clothing dripped onto the floor, and he felt vaguely remorseful that he was ruining the lovely hardwoods.
When he looked up, he found the hateful hound sitting at attention, his cold, shark-like eyes boring holes into him.
Felix stared back, taking in its considerable size. The animal must have been a good eighty pounds, maybe more. Its face was wide, its ears cropped unnaturally, and it had a nasty scar running down one side of its face, twisting what had probably been a once cute animal into a monster. Despite getting off on a bad foot, he figured that the dog probably wasn’t all bad. It was obviously the keeper of the house, and so could be expected to behave aggressively with strangers. Felix had always liked dogs and vice versa, so he decided maybe making nice would help ease the tension between them.
, p-pooch.” He made kissing noises and stretched out a hand, but pulled it back just as quickly when the dog snarled and snapped its teeth at him. “Okay, m-maybe you are just a b-bad dog,” he muttered through clacking teeth, and curling back under the blanket. While he waited to for the woman to come back, he kept a wary eye on the mutt.
Better to be safe than sorry
It didn’t take long for the woman to return as promised, and he when he looked up, he saw that she
was holding two plush towels. Shaking one out, she laid it on the floor beneath him, then stood to survey him.
“Take off your clothes,” she commanded.
Felix peered up at her and cocked an eyebrow.
“Oh please. You don’t have anything I haven’t already seen before,” she said in a scathing tone.
“I d-don’t h-have anything e-else to w-wear,” he said haltingly, barely able to control his voice.
“I have blankets you can use.” She folded her arms across her chest when he didn’t move to comply. “It’s either that, or you can die from exposure. Personally, I don’t have the energy or the tools to bury your body, and I am not in the mood to deal with the police tonight. So spare us both the hassle and strip.”
A smirk tugged at the corner of his lips. If there was one thing Felix liked about his women, it was spunk, and this woman certainly had plenty of that. She and the dog certainly made a good match.
Shrugging the blanket off his shoulders, Felix moved shaking hands to the hem of his shirt and began tugging at the material as best he could. Without another word, the woman knelt down and started unlacing his shoes.