Authors: Kimberley Reeves
She’d lost her mind. Stark, raving mad, that’s what she was. It was the only explanation Abby could think of for what she had done. She swore under her breath as the jeep hit another man-eating pothole and launched her a good six inches in the air before slamming her already tender bottom onto the leather seat.
She’d left the smoothly paved highways of California for
? What had she been thinking? It felt as if she had been bouncing over the dirt road for hours. If you could even call it a road; it was more a minefield of potholes than anything else. Abby braced herself for the next unavoidable crater less than ten feet ahead, a low growl erupting from her throat when she hit it dead on with the same painful results.
With a deadline looming over her, she had been frantic to get away from the distractions of the city and find a secluded place where she could finish her novel. Abby’s eyes darted from one side of the road to the other. Trees, trees, and more trees…attaining peace and quiet was definitely not an issue in the middle of nowhere, USA!
that stupid cabin anyway?
Purchased by her grandfather over five decades ago, the place had primarily been used as a father and son get-a-way. Abby hadn’t even been aware of its existence until she approached her parents and told them she needed to get out of the city.
“I haven’t been up there for years,” Sam Travis told his daughter. “As I recall, the road leading to the cabin is pretty tough to navigate.”
Convinced his warning was a ploy to dissuade her from going, Abby brushed it off. “It sounds perfect,” she exclaimed.
“I have a lot of fond memories of the old place,” Sam said. “When your grandfather died, I couldn’t bring myself to sell it. Naturally, I didn’t want to see it fall into disrepair so I hired a caretaker to maintain the cabin and surrounding grounds. There are only two cabins occupying that side of the mountain, and I wouldn’t even consider letting you go up there alone if he didn’t live so close.”
“I’m not a helpless little girl,” Abby lightly chastised.
“No, but you’re
little girl, and I feel much better knowing there’s a man I can trust nearby.”
Abby’s smile had been indulgent. What type of person would actually
to make their home on a mountainside, miles from any form of civilization? A cantankerous old man, he had to be. If she had to travel up and down this God forsaken road every week for supplies, it was pretty much a guarantee that she would be cranky as hell. Abby groaned at the sizeable pothole looming before her. One more, she promised herself, just one more and she was going to get out and walk the rest of the way!
Taking it slow doesn’t seem to help much
, Abby thought grumpily when she thumped her head on the roof. Rounding a sharp curve in the road, she let out a sigh of relief when the cabin came into view. A narrower, but thankfully smoother, dirt road fed into a circular driveway. Impressed by how well-maintained it looked, she made a mental note to call her dad and tell him what a great job his hired help was doing.
She pulled up to the cabin and cut the engine, carefully easing out of the seat. Biting back a groan, Abby stretched and rubbed her bruised bottom before proceeding stiffly up the porch steps. The knob turned easily in her hand. Such a simple thing, finding the door unlocked, and yet it thrilled her to no end because it meant she didn’t have to worry about the dangers of getting burglarized, as she did in the city.
Shoving the door open, Abby stepped inside and immediately fell in love with the spacious, airy feel of the place. She glanced around the living room with an approving nod. The furniture was expensive, but simple and tasteful, and for whatever reason had been pushed back against the walls.
The caretaker must have done it so he could wax the hardwood floors
, she thought, eyeing the glossy sheen appreciatively. Abby wandered through the living room, bypassing a hallway off to the left which she presumed led to the bedrooms, and opted to explore the rest of the cabin first.
Idly running her fingers across the books that lined a massive built-in book shelf, she noticed they were all old, many of them first editions that had probably been there since her grandfather’s days. A brick fireplace on the far wall caught her eye, as did the empty wood bin. With any luck, she would find chopped wood outside and be able to build a toasty fire later.
To the right of the living room was a traditional country kitchen where a beautiful wood chopping block was centered between the sink and stove; above it, pots and pans suspended from hooks sparkled as if they had been freshly scrubbed. An antique oak table surrounded by four matching chairs overlooked a breathtaking view of the forest and created a cozy dining area. The appliances were new and modern, which would have seemed odd if Abby didn’t know her father so well. Sam Travis would have spared no expense in seeing to his daughter’s comfort and must have called ahead to have the caretaker handle it.
Further inspection of the cabin revealed two small bedrooms, a surprisingly large bathroom, and a sun room just off of the kitchen that led out to a wrap-around porch. In the master bedroom, she discovered an over-sized queen bed with a powder blue down comforter and matching throw pillows; a thoughtful gift from her parents. Abby’s dad knew she had a fondness for down comforters, but the soft blue was her mother’s touch.
It had taken much longer to get to the cabin than anticipated and the late afternoon sun was waning. Thankfully, there was no need to pack a large supply of food because her parents had taken care of that as well, but she still needed to unload her clothes, laptop, printer, and various other supplies. And, if she wanted to build that fire later, she would have to carry some wood inside, assuming it was already cut. If not, there was probably an axe in the tool shed she’d spied from the kitchen window.
With a happy sigh, Abby set about unloading the jeep. After hauling in the last of her clothes, she took a stroll around the cabin in search of fire wood. Her dad had thought of everything else, so she wasn’t surprised to find a tree stump with an axe buried in it at the back of the house. She was disappointed, however, to discover the pile of logs hadn’t been chopped into kindling.
She’d never wielded an axe before, but how difficult could it be? With a determined set of her chin, Abby pried the axe loose, placed a section of log on the tree stump, and carefully took aim.
Jack Burton heard the roar of the jeep’s engine long before it pulled up to the cabin. He’d had this side of the mountain to himself for so long, the idea of someone inhabiting the cabin below irritated him. In the ten years he’d been caring for the cabin it had remained empty, which explained Jack’s surprise when he received a call from Sam Travis asking him to get the cabin ready for his daughter.
Not only was Sam’s daughter coming to live for the next six months, she was going to be living alone for the duration. Isolated as the cabins were, that meant Jack would be called upon for every minor repair and task that was too much for a woman to handle. Not that he had an aversion to manual labor. It was being at her beck and call that he objected too.
“She does know how secluded the cabin is, right?” Jack had asked. “I mean, your daughter must have lived in the woods before if she’s planning to spend that much time alone up here.”
Sam laughed. "Jack, I’ve spent the last twenty-six years spoiling my daughter. The closest she’s gotten to a forest is an annual trip to the tree farm at Christmas. But, she has a stubborn streak a mile wide. Abby was determined to hide herself away for six months and nothing was going to change her mind. That’s why I’m offering you the job of watching over her.”
“You’ve been very generous over the years. It’s the least I can do,” Jack told him.
“Of course, Abby needs to remain in the dark about you keeping an eye on her. She would be furious if she found out and probably run off to find someplace else to stay. I just need to know she’s safe.”
“I understand, Mr. Travis. It shouldn’t be difficult to do since I have a clear view of your cabin from my balcony.”
Sam had thanked him and then wired the money along with a list of things he wanted Jack to supply the cabin with. Jack had damn near lost it when he saw a powder blue down comforter and pillows on the list. Pretty princess obviously wasn’t into roughing it if she needed down pillows to sleep on! It still rubbed him the wrong way; he’d scoured every town within a hundred mile radius for the damn thing and ended up having to place a special order to make sure it arrived on time.
Of course, he could have turned Sam down, but Jack had been taking care of the cabin for so long it was almost a part of him. He even slept there a couple of nights during the week, partly because regular use of the plumbing was the only way to keep the pipes from becoming encrusted with minerals, but it also helped to have a change of atmosphere. It cleared his mind, and Jack found he worked better after spending a day or two in the Travis cabin.
Now, watching the shiny black jeep pull up to the cabin, he couldn’t help feeling resentful that his routine was being disrupted because Sam’s pampered daughter wanted to play Jane of the Jungle for a while. Actually, he didn’t know why he was getting so worked up. Realistically, she probably wouldn’t last two days before running back to the big city.
He leaned over the balcony to get a better look as she climbed out of the jeep, or rather tumbled out. It was all he could do to keep from laughing out loud when he spied her massaging her little round bottom and amused himself with thoughts of running down there to offer a helping hand. Then she straightened up and Jack let out a low whistle between his teeth.
Abby Travis had one hell of a figure. A snug little crop top outlined her ample breasts and emphasized a waistline he could span with his hands. Her hips curved out invitingly, enticing his eyes into taking a second appreciative glance at her bottom. The tight jeans she wore suggested a pair of shapely legs were hiding beneath the heavy denim. Hair as black as midnight fell long and straight to her waist, shimmering like spun silk in the late afternoon sun.
She was too far away for a clear view of her facial features, but her bone structure was delicate, and the idea rolled through his head that spoiling Abby Travis would be more of a pleasure than a burden. A woman who looked like that could haunt a man’s dreams for months just by gracing him with a passing glance.
She disappeared inside the cabin, emerging a short time later to unload the jeep. He probably should have gone down to help carry things in but decided against it. Once he made an offer of his services, she would be hammering on his door for every little chore that came along. Besides, he was thoroughly enjoying the view, especially when she leaned over to pick up a box. After carrying in the last load, Abby came back out and circled the house, stopping in front of the wood pile.
Jack chuckled when she picked up the axe and hauled a section of log onto the tree stump. He’d planned on chopping a good supply of firewood before she arrived but had gotten wrapped up in his work and lost track of time. Despite feeling a wee bit guilty, he walked back into his cabin and sat down at his desk.
What the hell; he would let her take a couple of swings before he traipsed down the hill and offered to take over. As slender as she was, Abby probably didn’t have the strength of a kitten and would give up after the first few misses. She might actually appreciate his help if she realized what hard work it was.
Jack opened up his laptop and reread the last few lines he’d typed and was instantly pulled back into the world his imagination had created.
Abby took the first swing and let out a very unfeminine grunt at the jarring pain that shot up her arms. She stepped closer to inspect the piece of wood the axe was embedded in and frowned. It had barely scratched the surface! She must not be doing it right. Whenever her dad or one of her brothers did it, the wood split neatly down the middle after one blow. Granted, her dad was six feet four and extremely muscular; all of her brothers had inherited both his stature and strength, but surely she should be able to do it with a couple of good strikes.
Abby pried the axe out and took another shot. A few microscopic wood chips that barely qualified as sawdust sailed through the air. Clenching her jaws, she lifted the axe again, refusing to give into the pain.
She hated giving up, hated admitting defeat, and there was no way in hell a piece of wood was going to get the best of her. She took another swing, felt the trickle of sweat glide down her temples and pool in the hollow of her neck. Two more swings. The salty water moved to the swell of her breasts and was soaked up by the material of her blouse.
Her shoulders were beginning to burn, the muscles in her arms quivered in protest, and her fingers felt as if they were molded to the axe handle. She hauled the axe up, brought it down hard, pried it loose and swung again. Her lungs burned almost as bad as her shoulders, but she could see the wood beginning to splinter and was encouraged by it.
“How are you going to build a fire,” she ground out, “if you can’t even chop one piece of wood