Finding Forever (Smoky Mountain Lawmen Book 1) (10 page)

BOOK: Finding Forever (Smoky Mountain Lawmen Book 1)
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Ben
wholeheartedly agreed on all counts.  By targeting Gemma, their killer had
upped the ante and made both men more determined than ever to catch him.  He
didn’t stand a chance now.  And Ben would breathe easier too if Gemma wasn’t in
immediate danger. 
And from not having to fight the constant attraction you
have to her
, his conscience reminded him.  “We can suggest that she leave,
but you and I both know that she’ll likely refuse to go.”

Tristan
nodded.  “Doesn’t mean I’m not going to try my damnedest to convince her
otherwise first.”

Ben
sighed.  That was a conversation he was not looking forward to.

 

“Holy
shit, Sis!”

Gemma
whirled around at her brother’s exclamation.  He and Ben were staring around
them at the array of baked goods lining the counters of their kitchen.  After
Ben had dropped her off, she’d taken a short nap before nightmares had awakened
her.  Not able to go back to sleep she’d tried to watch some TV to distract
herself, but it hadn’t worked.  Working with her hands had always been the best
way for her to sort through her feelings and take her mind off her problems, so
she’d decided to bake something.  One something had turned into two somethings
and then many somethings.  She’d used up every bit of the baking ingredients
she had in the house. 

“I
got bored,” she said in reply.  It wasn’t a total lie.  That had been part of
her problem.  She wasn’t used to so much free time.  But there was no way she
was going to tell the two of them the truth.  If she thought they were
overprotective now it would only get ten times worse if they knew how scared
she really was.

Tristan
inspected the fruits of her labor.  “What are you going to do with all of
this?”

She
shrugged.  “I figured the two of you would eat some of it and the rest you
could take to work.”

Tristan
laughed.  “How many people do you think work for the county sheriff’s office? 
Geez, Gems.”

Gemma
blushed even as she straightened at his words.  She glanced over at Ben who
stood in the doorway silently watching her and Tristan.  “Maybe so, but when
have you ever brought back leftovers?”

“Good
point.”  Tristan grabbed a chocolate chip cookie off a plate and shoved the
entire thing in his mouth.  He moaned in ecstasy.  “God, I love it when you
bake,” he muttered after he swallowed.  “Ben, you need to try these.”  Tristan
shoved another cookie in his mouth.

One
corner of Ben’s mouth crooked up in a smile at Tristan’s obvious delight. 
“I’ll pass for now, thanks.”  He looked at Gemma.  “We need to talk.”

Gemma
gulped, nervously.  Even with the smile his words were ominous.

Ben
pulled out a chair from the table and motioned for her to sit.  She sat on the
edge and folded her hands in her lap to keep them busy.   He pulled another
chair closer and sat in front of her.  Gemma could hear the scrape of a third
chair behind her as Tristan brought a chair around to sit at her back.

“What’s
going on?” she asked, suddenly very nervous.  She looked from one man to the
other.  They wore matching expressions of wariness. 

Ben’s
hand covered hers and held tight.  “We got the report back on your car.  Someone
cut the brake lines then forced the car off the road.”

Gemma
felt her eyes widen.  “I knew it wasn’t a simple accident, but it never
occurred to me that there would be sabotage.”

Ben
glanced over at her shoulder at Tristan.  Her eyes narrowed as she realized
they were ganging up on her. 

“What?”
she asked, her voice dropping.

Ben
took a deep breath.  “We want you to take a vacation.  Maybe go out west and
visit your parents.”

Gemma
was shaking her head before he’d even finished.  “I’m not hiding.  No.”  She
stood and walked across the kitchen to the cookies she’d been removing from
their pans when Ben and Tristan had come home. 

“Gemma,
we’re talking about your life,” Tristan stated.

She
looked back at him in amazement.  “You think I don’t know that?”  She stepped
toward him.  “But I’m not going to run away.  I trust the two of you and the
entire police department to protect me.  If I go into hiding you may never
catch this guy and I have responsibilities that I can’t just abandon.”  She
shook the spatula in Tristan’s face.

Tristan
closed his eyes, frustration apparent on his face.  “Gems—” Ben waved him off. 
A silent argument waged between the two before Gemma watched in amazement as
her brother huffed then stomped out of the kitchen.

Ben
walked up to her and took the spatula from her fingers.  He tossed it behind
her where it clattered on the granite counter before he backed her up until her
butt met the cold surface.  His arms framed her on either side and he bent
close.  Gemma’s pulse skittered wildly without her permission at his nearness. 
She cursed her unruly body.  She knew he was trying to intimidate her.  He
wasn’t having that effect though.

“Ben—”

“No,”
he muttered.  “Gemma, this is about your safety.  You’re not safe here.  You
need to leave.”           

She
tilted her head and studied him.  She’d heard what he didn’t say.  There was a
wariness in his eyes that had nothing to do with her involvement in his case. 
He
wanted
her to leave, because she made him nervous.  Nervous that she
was getting too far under his skin.  He was attracted to her and it wasn’t
welcome. 

She
knew how he felt.  But she was tired of fighting it.  What he made her feel was
too good and it was worth taking the risk.  She had realized that this morning
when he kissed her senseless in the arena.  He needed to realize that too.

No. 
She definitely wasn’t leaving.

She
straightened.  With the way he was leaning toward her, her face lined up
perfectly with his.  “You’re scared of me.” 

His
eyes widened.  He straightened and dropped his arms.  “Gemma, this is not about
us.  This is about the lunatic after you.”

“Not
entirely,” she countered.  “You want me to leave so I’ll be safer.”

He
frowned down at her at her words and opened his mouth to speak.  She held up a
finger to stop him.  “Yes, I said safer and that’s what I meant.  There’s no
guarantee he won’t follow me.  But you also want me to leave so you can ignore
what’s happening here.”  She waggled a finger between the two of them.

He
tried hard to hide his feelings, but Gemma saw the flare of fear flash through
his eyes before steely determination replaced it. 

“No. 
What’s going on here is irrelevant.  This is about getting you away from a
killer.”      

“Nope,”
she said popping the “p.” 

“Gemma,”
he all but growled.

Gemma
threw her arms around his shoulders and pressed her body against his.  She felt
every one of his muscles tighten as he fought not to touch her.  She nuzzled
her nose into his neck and along the outer shell of his ear.  “I’m not leaving,
Benjamin, so you better come to terms with this—” she sucked lightly on his
earlobe, eliciting a low growl.  “And with the fact that I’m here to stay.”

He
pulled away to look at her then.  She let her feelings show, not bothering to
hide them anymore.  If one thing this situation with the serial killer was
teaching her it was that fighting feelings like these just wasn’t worth it. 
Something this strong should be embraced.  The rest would work itself out
later.

“Dammit,
Gemma,” he growled.  If possible his body felt even more rigid under her hands
than before as he fought harder for control.

Damn
military training
... Determined to break his iron control,
Gemma cupped his cheek to hold him steady.  She fluttered a soft kiss over his
lips, igniting the fire.   She felt his breath puff over her face as it grew
unsteady.  She ran her hand up to his hair and tugged the soft strands, her
lips hovering millimeters from his.  “My only question now is when are you
going to stop being afraid of what you feel for me and realize this is worth
fighting for?” 

She
kissed him then, immediately begging entrance to his mouth.  He didn’t resist
and his arms went around her as he kissed her back. 

Gemma
felt a moment of weightlessness as he wrapped his hands around the backs of her
thighs and lifted her onto the counter.  Pans clattered.  The thought that the
noise might bring Tristan running was quickly squelched as Ben pushed his way
between her legs, his hands urging them around his waist.  She eagerly complied
and locked her ankles behind his back.  The feel of him pressed against her
made her whimper.  Gemma had certainly snapped his control.  His hands were
trailing fire across her body.  They dove beneath her shirt as his mouth
plundered hers.  He pushed up her bra and filled his hands with her breasts and
Gemma jerked at the intense pleasure that shot straight through her.  She
tugged his shirt from his pants and slid her hands under to run them over his
abs.  Her fingers explored the ridges and valleys with their fine dusting of
hair.  The muscles jumped beneath her touch.  She skimmed her hands up the hard
planes where her fingers tangled in the whirls of hair covering his chest. 
Gemma ached to see and feel him against her.

Suddenly,
cold air washed over her as Ben pulled away.  She scrambled to hold onto the
counter as he unwrapped her legs from around his hips and stepped to the side. 

Mouth
open to ask why he stopped, Gemma heard the footsteps coming down the hall from
the living room.  Understanding dawned and she hastily pulled her clothes back
into place.  There was no way Tristan wasn’t going to know something had
happened, but they could at least minimize the shock value.

Ben
yanked her off the counter and in front of him to hide his aroused state just
as Tristan rounded the corner.

“Gemma,
you have—” Tristan started then stopped as he took in their disheveled
appearance, Ben’s arm wrapped around Gemma, his hand splayed over her belly. 

He
shook his head.  “What?  Are you trying to butter her up to get her to leave?” 

Gemma’s
eyes widened and she whirled around.  “Is that what that was about?”

Ben
stared at her incredulous.  “You started it, not me.  I tried to deny—this,” he
gestured between them with one finger.  “You wouldn’t let me.  Remember?” 
Anger tinged his voice and Gemma blushed furiously.

“You’re
right.  I’m sorry.  I’m a little out of sorts at the moment—for numerous
reasons.”

Ben
nodded then turned his gaze to her brother.  Gemma watched the anger in Ben’s
eyes turn to fury. 

“And
you’re an ass, Mabley.  You know me better than that.”

“I
thought I did.  Then you started making out with my little sister in my
kitchen.”  Tristan’s furious expression matched Ben’s.

Gemma
had had enough.  She stepped directly in front of Tristan and stuck her finger
in his chest.  “That’s enough!  Every time I like a man you do this.  You
attack him like he’s a worthless piece of scum.  And I know you know that he is
not,” she said pointing back at Ben.  “That man saved your life more than once
and you’re practically accusing him of assaulting me.  For you information, he
tried to keep his hands off me, but I forced the issue to get him to admit how
he felt.  I’m tired of the overprotective bullshit—from both of you!”  She
looked between the two men who both now looked chagrined, Tristan rightly more
than Ben.

“Now,”
she poked Tristan in the chest again.  “You owe Ben one hell of an apology.”

She
whirled around and pierced Ben with a heated look.  “And we’re not finished
with this.”  She marched to the door, pulling her anger around her like a
cloak.  As she passed through the doorway she tossed one last pronouncement
over her shoulder.

“And
I am
not
leaving!”

 

Chapter 13

 

Gemma
let out a sigh of relief as she shut herself in her office at work on Monday. 
Things had been tense between Ben and her and her brother and her since their
argument several days earlier.  The men had made up the same night as the
argument though.  They were joking and laughing like nothing was wrong when she
walked into the kitchen the next morning. 

They
had both ignored her though for the most part except to tell her who was
driving her where and who her guard was for the day.  Tristan had been
glowering at her anytime she was in sight and speaking to her only when
necessary.  She knew she’d upset him by refusing to leave and by calling him
out on his BS, but she was truly sick of being treated like a child and things
were going to change.  He had softened some over the weekend after Ben left to
go back to Richmond to pick up more clothes and give a full briefing to his
SAC.

Ben
hadn’t been glowering at her before he left, but he had been avoiding her. 
Tristan had taken over chauffeuring her around and Ben only came back to the
house to shower and sleep.  When he’d left Saturday morning she had had to
fight the urge to throw herself at him and beg him not to go or to take her
with him.  She hadn’t slept well all weekend with him gone, which was saying
something because she hadn’t slept well since this whole ordeal had begun over
a week ago.

She
blew out a frustrated breath as she put her things away and booted up her
computer.  He couldn’t avoid her forever though.  With the heat they shared,
he’d cave eventually.  Military training or not, he was still a man.  And a
hot-blooded one at that.

Gemma
fanned herself as memories of the other night flooded her brain.

Determinedly,
she pushed the thoughts aside.  If she dwelled on those she would be a
quivering mass of goo for Mona to scrape off the desk chair.  At the very least
she was going to have employ Mona’s tactic of keeping an extra pair of panties
on hand.

The
one saving grace for the week was Stacy’s progress.  She was recovering well
and had gone home on Saturday.  Gemma had visited her a couple times at the
hospital and at home.  She felt so guilty for her part in the accident that
she’d baked more cookies and pastries and had cooked several easy to reheat
meals to stock Stacy’s freezer.  Stacy had told her repeatedly that she didn’t
hold any hard feelings against Gemma, for which Gemma was grateful.  Things
could have turned out so differently in so many ways.

Mentally
slapping herself to shake off her musings, Gemma gathered what she’d need for
her first few sessions and locked up her office.  Time to pull her head out of
the clouds and do her job.

 

Ben
pulled his cell from his belt as it vibrated.  Gemma’s number stared back at
him, mocking him for the coward that he was.  He had run back to Richmond over
the weekend like a rabbit from a wolf.  Gemma had been spot on with her
accusations last week.  She absolutely scared the shit out of him.  He had always
told himself that he didn’t do permanent and he’d never been tempted to even
think otherwise. 

Until
her.

Now,
permanent didn’t seem like such a bad thought and that’s what scared him.  He
knew his track record and his family’s track record with relationships and it
wasn’t pretty.  He didn’t want to enter into something “permanent” with Gemma
only to have it end up being temporary and hurt her in the process.  She
deserved better than that.  She deserved someone who knew how to do permanent.

He
slid his thumb over the screen of his phone and reluctantly answered.  “Yeah,
Gems.”

“I
just wanted to let you know that I’m taking a group out on a trail ride at
Biltmore this evening.  I should be done about seven-thirty.”

“Wait. 
When did this happen?  Where’s your guard?  Did you clear this with Tristan?” 

“Just
a little bit ago.  He’s right here.  And no, I haven’t talked to Tristan since
he dropped me off this morning,” she said answering his questions succinctly.

Sounds
like she’s still mad at me
, he thought.

“Gemma,
we’ve talked about this.  You can’t go off gallivanting around in public.”

“I’ll
be fine.  It’s not like I’m going to be alone.  A guy I know from my riding
club called asking if I could show some of his family around the trails near
Biltmore.  He was going to do it, but he hurt his knee playing tag football a
few days ago and can’t ride.  They came to town over the weekend for a family
wedding and are leaving tomorrow and they really want to see the estate.  I
need to get out for a while, Ben.  I’ve been cooped up in either the house or
the office for nearly a week and I’m going crazy.”

Ben
sighed.  “What about your guard?  Is he going with you?”

She
hesitated and Ben knew he wasn’t going to like the answer. 

“I
asked and he said he doesn’t ride.”

Yep. 
He didn’t like it.  “You have to have a guard.  I can’t get away yet.  I’m
still playing catch up from the weekend.”

“Well,
Tristan’s not answering his phone and I need to leave.  I already loaded up my
horse and Officer Maxwell is going to drive me to the estate and wait with the
truck.”

Shit. 
He’d seen Tristan walk in with a suspect in another case about fifteen minutes
ago and knew he was going to be tied up for a while.  “Gemma—”

She
cut him off.  “I’ll be fine.  While I loaded Jasper, I sent Mona to my house to
get my dad’s hunting rifle.  I’m not going out unarmed.”

That
stopped him.  He knew she could shoot.  He’d heard the stories from Tristan
about how much of a crack shot she’d been as a teenager.  He doubted that had
changed.  But knowing how to use a rifle and being a good shot were a lot
different than having to unholster the gun, aim, and shoot it in rapid
succession.  And if she got jumped from behind she’d never get to use it.

“Ben,
I just called to give you a heads up.  Unless you plan on arresting me, I’m
going.”

He
bit back a growl of frustration.  He was sorely tempted.  But she was right. 
The danger was minimal.  It was unplanned, she’d be in a group, and she’d be
armed.  He was overreacting based solely on his feelings for her.  “Fine.  But
you check in with Maxwell every fifteen minutes and you call me as soon as
you’re done.  I’ll meet you back at the equestrian center and help you get
Jasper settled then I’ll take you home.”

“Sounds
like a plan.  And seriously, Ben, don’t worry.  I’ll be fine.”

His
head knew that, so why was his gut screaming otherwise?

 

BOOK: Finding Forever (Smoky Mountain Lawmen Book 1)
11.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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