Authors: Stacy Gail
“No. What’d he post?”
“Photos of himself and a woman. Dressed to the nines and arm in arm at the theater. Holding each other on a ferry boat in Puget Sound. Necking at the botanical gardens. Kissing while at a restaurant. Kissing while on a dock with some stupid, isn’t-it-fucking-romantic Ferris wheel in the background.” The only thing missing was an artistic black-and-white shot of them going at it like rabbits between the sheets.
“And… you’re going to Seattle to
that he’s seeing another woman?”
His disbelieving tone snapped her attention back to him, only to find him staring at her as if he thought she needed to be medicated. “I want an explanation.”
“Babe, I can give you an explanation. This so-called fiancée of yours is a dog. He’s forgotten everything you’ve done for him, forgotten you even fucking exist, and he has moved the hell
. It sucks that he didn’t have the balls to officially let you go so you could do the same, but he’s probably hoping you can read the writing on the wall—the writing that says he has dumped your ass.”
She winced. “Damn, Quinn. Say what you really feel.”
“Okay, I will. And don’t forget you asked for this.”
“This guy you got tangled up with is a total piece of shit who gives good men like me a bad name. He’s a user and a self-centered asshole, but above even that he’s a goddamn
, something I consider especially unforgivable. He didn’t have the guts to tell you that you two are done, so he did it like the pussy he is and let you know about it along with the rest of the world online. Unless…I don’t know, maybe he is stupid. Maybe he didn’t think before he posted those pics, or maybe he thought you and all the people who both know wouldn’t see what he’d posted.”
“No, he’s not stupid.” And considering what their agreement was, she also had a pretty good idea why Jackson hadn’t contacted her in any way to officially break their engagement. But even that dodging of responsibility made Jackson look like the coward Quinn believed him to be.
“I don’t know what hold this bastard has on you,” he continued, shifting closer. “But you’ve got to let him go, Mia. You’ve got to get on with your life.”
to get on with my life. That’s why I made this trip in the first place. I need to force Jackson to tell me to my face that we’re over.”
“You can’t force a man to have balls, Red. Either he’s got them or he doesn’t, and he’s already proven which category he belongs in. Just be grateful you’ve been cut loose by the ball-less wonder without ever having to lay eyes on him again.”
“You don’t understand.” She had to lay eyes on Jackson at least one more time. To move on with her life, she had to get to Seattle.
the one who doesn’t understand. That polar vortex that landed you here did you a huge favor. It saved you from wasting another second of your life on that limp dick. Even more than that, it landed you on the doorstep of a real man who appreciates a spectacular woman when he sees one—a man who’s ballsy enough to do everything he can to make sure she understands that.”
She had no idea what to say to that, but apparently he didn’t need a verbal response. Without another word he leaned down and pinned her mouth under his
Suddenly, her world had a new standard for the term
For a heartbeat she fought to keep from responding, because she wasn’t some morally bankrupt slut who messed around while engaged to be married. But being stranded on Whiteout Mountain was waking her up to a few undeniable realities.
The reality that maybe she wasn’t as
as she’d believed.
The reality that she was holding on to a dream that wasn’t worth the devotion she’d given it.
The reality that Quinn Kingfisher could really freaking
Above all the other realities, that one was by far the most important.
There was nothing chaste about the pressure of Quinn’s lips this time around. As crazy as it was, she had the distinct feeling that in his mind,
was their first kiss and he was determined to make an impression on her that she wouldn’t soon forget.
As if she could ever forget anything about a man as fan-freaking-tastic as Quinn.
The pressure his mouth applied opened her lips. The moment she did, his tongue was in there for a thorough, wet taste of her. Feverish heat stormed through her, crackling under her skin like fire. She
it. Greedily she invited him to delve deeper by dancing her tongue against his, while his hands on her knees coaxed her legs to unfold and frame him as he moved in between her thighs like he owned that space. It was a dominating move. Arrogant. A taking of what he wanted, and not apologizing for it.
It was the hottest damned thing she’d ever experienced.
Her hands weren’t still either, sliding around his waist to rake over his back. She wanted to learn the hard plains and contours of his long and lanky torso, and she was dedicated to her education. His fingers tightened on her braid before he tugged it free, making her scalp tingle as he pulled her head back so she could take the full force of his invading kiss. It was raw, edging on violent, because the need was so urgent, and if he pushed her back on that massage table she wouldn’t even consider resisting.
He was really that good of a kisser.
Instead of pushing her back, he lifted his head and looked down at her as if trying to memorize her face, his fingers slowly sifting through her hair to loosen it completely from the braid. “Licked it,” he said, and the hunger threading through his tone was almost unbearably exciting. “Mine now.”
That dashed some cold water on her inner fire. “I hope you didn’t just diminish my existence to the level of a cupcake.”
“You got a problem with that? Okay, fine.
.” He leaned in until his mouth was close enough for her to feel the breath of his words hit her lips. “I’m yours now. You can lick me any time you want.”
Her heart hammered against her sternum like it was trying to get out. “Wow.”
“You’re the boldest beast I’ve ever met,” she said, and even she could hear how rattled she was. “You weren’t kidding about being ballsy, were you?”
“You got a problem with me letting you know that just being in the same room with you makes me hot enough to melt a glacier? You don’t scare that easily, do you? Because that’s not hot.”
“Neither is hitting on a… an engaged woman.” At that, she looked away, her thoughts and all-over-the-place emotions converging in a head-on pile-up. Even before she’d met Quinn, she hadn’t been sure where she and Jackson stood—though wherever it was, it was probably on quicksand. She’d convinced that if she could just get face-to-face with Jackson she could remind him of what they’d meant to each other.
But with Quinn’s kiss branded onto her lips, she couldn’t remember why it was so damned important to hold onto someone who didn’t want to be held. Not by her, anyway. Her aunt was right; she deserved more than the crap Jackson had given her. Or at the very least she deserved to have someone in her life who didn’t have to be held against his will. It hurt that after everything she and Jackson had shared together—after everything she had given up for him—he could still walk away without so much as a word.
That was absolute rejection.
Considering that was what she’d gotten from first her mother, then her father, she probably shouldn’t be surprised the first love of her life wound up treating her the same way.
But she wasn’t devastated. Hearing herself admit that Jackson had found another woman hadn’t crushed her. It should have, but it didn’t.
The only thing that had devastated her—in a feverish, delightfully chaotic way—was Quinn’s kiss.
Rebound response, she thought, putting a hand to her heated brow while her blood continued to simmer with edgy, unfulfilled hunger. Jackson’s rejection had wounded her female pride, so this was her way of soothing the ache, proving she was still desirable. Classic, ego-stroking behavior, and totally understandable, under the circumstances. But it wasn’t fair. She couldn’t use Quinn that way.
The thing was… she wasn’t.
was the one pursuing
. And her response hadn’t come from a need to prove she was still alluring. If anything, she’d done her best to discourage Quinn. Almost against her will, she’d noticed how sexy Quinn’s rangy, lanky body was, and how tempting his gorgeous hair was, and how his crooked smile could charm the devil himself. And his kiss… she had to press her lips together to keep from sighing out loud. Damn, that kiss of his. It was so off-the-charts good it erased all other kisses from memory. Even Jackson’s.
That meant only one thing.
Her response to Quinn was the genuine article.
The problem was that she didn’t know what to do with that.
“I wouldn’t kiss an engaged woman like I just kissed you, unless she was
engaged woman.” The velvet rumble of Quinn’s voice brought her attention back to him, and she gazed up into eyes that instantly had her pinned to the spot. “Since I kissed you—and you sure as hell kissed me back—you need to start realizing that no one is engaged around here, and you’re free to do whatever you want.” He waited a beat, as if expecting her to contradict him. When she didn’t—because damn it all, his words felt like the truth—he leaned in like he was going to kiss her again, and this time the excitement that sky-rocketed through her outstripped the alarm. “What is it that you want to do next, Mia?”
“Finish the tour and… and think.” God yes, she needed some space to get her head screwed on straight, and that was never going to happen with him short-circuiting her at every turn with his sexy glances and sexier kisses.
God help her if he ever took her to bed. Her damn head would probably explode.
He watched her unblinkingly—for a wild moment she feared he might see her thoughts of hitting the sheets and getting busy—before he nodded and backed away to help her off the table.
The man had her so confused she could only feel crushing disappointment at his retreat.
The snow had lessened to intermittent flurries by the time Mia went to bed, and the next morning greeted her with beautiful blue skies beaming down on a dazzling winter wonderland. Whiteout Mountain was a majestic sight, skirted low in dense evergreens, while high above the tree line the mountain’s jagged, craggy terrain was shown in harsh relief against a mantle of snow. The ski runs that had been carved into its rugged face snaked through the trees in white swaths, and she could see from the great room’s vantage point that two of the ski lifts and the red and black gondola cars were moving along smoothly.
Everywhere she looked, it was absolutely breathtaking.
Well aware that Quinn had again stayed up late to finalize a deal with a helicopter company, Mia tried to keep it down as she poked through the kitchen to see what she could make for breakfast, and got inspired when she saw a six pack of beer. Fifteen minutes later she had beer biscuits sliding into the oven and a simple country gravy simmering away on the stove. She saved frying off the bacon for last, noting that the fridge was packed with this staple far more than any other item.
No doubt about it—Quinn probably needed a twelve-step program to deal with his bacon addiction.
She’d just turned on the coffee maker and was getting down mugs when she heard shuffling behind her. Turning, she found Quinn leaning against the open doorway, eyes closed, a Whiteout Mountain robe in navy blue hanging open so she could see he wore black sweatpants…
And nothing else.
Between the open panels of his robe, she couldn’t help but notice an unflawed expanse of golden skin stretched tautly across a smooth chest. Even in his relaxed state, his pectorals were well-defined, and the right one was decorated with some kind of colorful tattoo, but thanks to the robe she couldn’t see the overall picture.
The sweatpants hung precariously off his hipbones, giving her a magnificent view of a killer set of abs and that yummy Y-formation of obliques arrowing down to that barely covered part of his body.
She stood there, ogling him like she’d never seen a man before, while heat washed over her in ever-intensifying waves. He was born to give women the kind of trouble that started with hot flashes and ended with a broken heart. He had the kind of physique sculptors wanted to sculpt, painters wanted to paint, and women wanted to lick. She was neither a sculptor nor a painter, but she was a woman who damn well knew what to do with her tongue.
And she wanted to use it in the worst way.
Even as that thought made her moisten her lips, she realized there was one thing that stood out with such clarity it might as well have had a spotlight on it inside her head. The mere sight of Jackson had never made her so hot her panties got damp. In that moment she couldn’t even remember what the hell he looked like. But she knew she’d live and die never forgetting her first glimpse of Quinn’s body. It was just that spectacular.
She blinked when he made a closed-mouth noise, and a blush sizzled her cheeks at being caught checking him out. But when her gaze jerked back up to his face, she relaxed when she saw his eyes were still closed, and she belatedly recognized he’d attempted to greet her with the word “morning” without going to the trouble of opening his mouth.
“Good morning. Coffee’s not ready yet. Do you want to go back to bed and I’ll call you when everything’s ready?”
Since he didn’t move and scowled, she took that grunt as a no.
“Okay. Everything else is done, so let’s try a tiny eye-opener.” Pouring some orange juice into a glass, she plucked up a slice of bacon and moved to where he stood. “Open wide.”
He cracked one eye open, saw her offering of bacon, and brushed it aside before he caught his hand around her nape. When he reeled her in for a slow, sleepy kiss she didn’t even try to fight it, and while she had the excuse of not pushing him away because her hands were full of bacon and juice, she knew that wasn’t the case.
She wanted to kiss him. She liked kissing him. And God help her, she hoped she could go on kissing him.
Slowly his lips rolled away so that he could nuzzle his face against hers. “Mm. Morning, Red.”
“Morning, Boom.” She didn’t move away as he pulled her closer, still holding her nape as he positioned the rest of his arm round her shoulder and pressed his forearm against her spine. And she had to smile when his head dropped to her neck so he could fit his face in its curve, no doubt hiding from the morning light. “You don’t have to be up just because I’m up, you know. Why don’t you go back to bed? Everything can keep.”
She tried to remember when she last looked at the kitchen clock. “It’s after nine.”
“No. Time with
. You’re up, so I’m up.”
For a full second the words bounced around in her head without making any sense, before they sank into a pool of growing wonder. Time. He meant he wanted to spend whatever time he could with her.
She wasn’t totally clueless. He’d made it clear that he was as fiercely into her as she was into him, though she’d done her best to fight it. There was no guarantee that they’d have another morning together, so he was pushing himself past his aversion to mornings in order to spend every available second with her.
That was a beautiful thought.
Something unbearably sweet slid through her, a flood of warmth that swelled in her chest until it was all she could feel. She tried to shake it off by pressing her mouth to the hair above his ear—the only place she could reach with a turn of her head—and took a step back.
“Go sit down and I’ll bring you some of my famous beer biscuits and country gravy, along with lots and lots of bacon and coffee. And again, I promise no talking until you’re really awake.”
“Perfect woman,” he repeated his praise from the day before. This time however, he accompanied it with a sweet caress of the hand that went from her nape and down the line of her back. Her eyes widened when it kept going to cup her ass cheek to give it a friendly squeeze, and her temperature surged like a runaway rocket. Then he took the juice and bacon from her, turned to shuffle into the dining area… and stopped dead. “Fuck.”
“What?” Maybe the bacon tasted like crap.
He stared a long time out the window as if he didn’t recognize the brilliant, sunlit sight of Whiteout Mountain. Then he shook his head and slid into a seat without saying a word.
As Quinn led the way to the Gear Room, he glanced over at Mia by his side, her mittened hand curled around his. She didn’t shy away from him when he had taken her hand this time around, something he hadn’t missed.
He also hadn’t missed how the goddamn snow had stopped.
“The only problem with a sunny day in the mountains this time of year is that there are no clouds to trap the heat in.” He gave her hand a quick squeeze. “It’s probably around five degrees right now, but you can handle that, right?”
“Five degrees isn’t a big deal for a Chicago native. But the sun? With no manmade canyon shadows to hide in? An hour out here and whatever patch of skin I’ve got exposed is going to give new meaning to the term well-done.” She popped her nose out of the scarf long enough to wrinkle it playfully at him. “That’s probably something you don’t have to worry about, but if I don’t want to wind up looking like my ruddy-faced, leathery Welsh ancestors, remind me to bring along a tube of sunscreen next time we decide to hit the slopes.”
“The Blackfoot Nation’s probably not the world’s leading consumer demographic when it comes to using sunscreen, but some members of my family still have to be careful.” He opened the Gear Room’s door for her, then guided her toward the sound of raised voices near the pro shop at the back. “My great-grandfather was full-blooded, and my dad’s grandmother was half. Throw in some French, Scots and a dash of Spanish, and you have the Kingfisher family. And speaking of family,” he went on as they rounded a display rack in the pro shop and came up on that source of the voices—two people squaring off over a tablet and several unpacked boxes of merchandise. “Hey, Uncle Alex, Emma. How’s life in inventory?”
Just like he’d expected, his cousin Emma pushed her glasses into place and gave him a martyred look. “I want a raise.”
“We haven’t opened yet, Em.”
“I still think I deserve one, because people should be paid for going insane. This is so incredibly hard, Quinn. I seriously don’t care how many hand warmers are in stock. I don’t even see the point of why I should know all of this.”
He sucked in a breath the blast her for whining over nothing when a faint hum of sympathetic amusement came from Mia.
“I remember my first job at a fast food place in my neighborhood when I was sixteen,” she said, smiling at Emma. “I was trying to save up my money to buy this total hunk of junk that became my first car. I got started with bussing tables, cleaning the dining area, emptying out trash cans and, the worst of all nightmares, cleaning the restrooms. You don’t realize how disgusting people can be until you’ve cleaned up the deliberate messes they’ve made in a public bathroom.”
“You must’ve wanted that car bad,” Quinn remarked while his cousin stared at Mia with a level of horror that only a teenager could adequately pull off. “Guess inventory doesn’t seem too bad now, does it, Emma?”
“Though if you’ve had it with inventory like you just claimed, I don’t have a problem with you cleaning the restrooms in all the public areas,” Alex announced to his daughter with what sounded like his very last thread of patience. “I just want you to learn how to work for a living. Whether it’s here counting hand warmers until you’re cross-eyed, or unclogging backed-up toilets and constantly breathing through your mouth, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m good either way.”
“Inventory’s not that bad,” Emma announced in a difference tone that was borderline angelic. Quinn almost didn’t recognize her. “I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it.”
“That’s a way better attitude than I had.” Mia nodded, and her expression was a masterpiece of commiseration mingled with encouragement. “I lasted less than a week at that place before I hit the Classifieds again. I’m Mia, by the way, the stranded traveler who wound up on Quinn’s doorstep.”
“Mia, this in my uncle, Alexander Muir and his daughter Emma,” Quinn introduced, reaching out so that his hand rested in the small of her back. “We’re here to screw up your inventory by heisting a tube of sunscreen, if you know where you can put your hands on one.”
“I know just where to look.” Alexander handed the tablet to Emma with a hard, speaking look before he headed to the checkout counter. For her part, Emma renewed her focus on the boxes around her, and Quinn felt a stirring of hope that his young cousin wouldn’t be completely useless after all. “The whole family’s heard about you and your travel woes, Miss Mia, so I have to say I’m glad to see you’re trying to have some fun while you’re here with us. I’m also glad,” he added, lowering his voice and glancing in the direction of his daughter, “that you came along with just the right thing to say to make my daughter rethink how hard she has it here. Yeah, it’s tough learning how to do new things, and having the pressure of getting things done right is a pain in the butt. Work is hard—that’s why it’s called
. But she could have it so much worse than she does.”
“In a weird way I’m thankful I had such a hideous introduction to the workforce.” Mia grinned, plucking off her mittens to stuff them into her pockets. “It showed me what I was capable of. I’m sure she’ll figure that out too, as time goes on.”
“I just hope we can avoid any strikes or walkouts before opening day.” Alexander offered up a tube of sunscreen and Quinn took it before Mia could reach for it. “Let me know if you need any help in scrounging up some equipment for hitting the slopes.”
“Your mom wasn’t kidding about everyone around here being related,” Mia murmured as they headed back out to the main area filled with lockers and a stairway that led up to the gondola loading level. “Must be nice, having such a huge family.”
He thought of his father and brother, and their cold condemnation of how he lived his life. “I don’t know if
is how I’d put it.”
“If your family’s getting on your nerves, I think it means they care enough about you to make themselves a nuisance.”
“I guess.” He lifted a brow as her wistful tone sank in. “Do you have a big family?”
She shook her head and tucked a stray curl under the red knit cap she wore. “It’s just me and my aunt in Chicago. My father lives in Florida with his wife and a couple of grown step-siblings I don’t know very well. That’s pretty much it.”
“So you’re not close?”
“Not really.” She wrinkled her nose in lieu of a shrug, glancing up the stair steps toward the gondolas. “I always got the impression my dad blamed me for being the one who ran my mom off, so I’ve never really been able to relax my guard around him, but that’s okay. He’s got his life and I’ve got mine, and I know he did the best that he could by me. Generally speaking, things are peaceful between us.”
He shook his head, amazed at how unemotional and matter-of-face she sounded. “How can it be your fault that your mom ran off?”
“Well, I was born, and that’s kind of what kicked things off.” She grimaced, clearly trying to find the right words to explain. “To this day my mom’s an incredibly busy woman with her career—a career that doesn’t allow time for her to also be Mother of The Year. My dad always felt that because she was so lacking in the mothering skills department—and she felt bad about it—she avoided coming home as much as she could by going from one project to the next.”