The Legacy of Copper Creek (4 page)

BOOK: The Legacy of Copper Creek
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She slapped his hands away.

Pleased, he tossed her a dish towel. “I'll heat some water over the fire, and I'll wash while you dry.”

Her tears, he noted with satisfaction, dried as quickly as they'd started.

With this woman, he'd take temper over tears any time. Because there was something about this fierce little female, with so many layers of mystery, that did strange things to his heart. And though he could happily tease her all day long, what he really wanted to do was spend his time kissing that gorgeous, pouty mouth.

H
earing the ping of an incoming text on her cell phone, Cara paused to read it. Her brows knit together, and she swallowed loudly before tucking the phone in her pocket.

Whit poured hot water from a kettle into a small plastic tub he'd set in the sink. “So, what did you do at Ghost Mountain?”

“Do?”

“Your job. At the pricey ski resort.”

Cara was silent for so long, he figured he'd overstepped his bounds.

When she finally spoke, the words were strained, as though she were fighting to remain emotionless.

“I started out as a waitress.”

“You quit college?”

She shook her head. “I got through. Barely. But I had so much student loan debt, I was taking every job I could just to get by. Besides, working at the resort gave me a place to live.”

“What about your grandmother's place in Minerva?”

“Sold for back taxes.” She scrubbed a plate.

“Okay. So you were a waitress.”

“And then I was moved up to hostess and then manager of food operations.”

“That's pretty impressive. Why aren't you still working there?”

Whit saw the way her hands stilled. “I…needed to get away by myself.”

“You left a good job to drive across the state to Red Rock and then, after your encounter with No Name Suit-and-Tie, you end up here in the wilderness? Okay, Goldilocks. Something's going on. Are you in some kind of trouble?”

She swallowed. “Not the kind you're imagining.”

He tugged on a strand of her hair, trying to keep things light. “You can read my mind?”

She stepped back, away from his touch. “I didn't steal anything. I'm not wanted by the law. But I…”

“You what?”

She twisted the dish towel around and around in her hands. “I really made a mess of things. There was a guy…”

“Lover?”

“Jared Billingham.”

“Billingham.” Whit looked over. “How do I know that name?”

“His father is the owner of Ghost Mountain Group.”

Whit snapped his fingers. “That's it. I've seen the name on billboards and commercials. Hotels, condos, vacation villas. And, of course, that fabulous ski resort. So you were swimming with the big fish.”

She gave a wan smile. “I turned out to be the biggest fish of all.”

“So you and Jared…” Whit handed her a soapy mug. “You were a couple?”

She nearly bobbled the mug before catching it. “Yeah. My best friend, Mary Alice, used to refer to him as Prince Charming. Looking back, I think he chased after me because I was the only woman who never bothered to drool over him. He could have had his pick of really beautiful women, who made it clear they were available. Instead he chose plain old me.”

“Plain? If you think that, you haven't looked in a mirror lately.”

Instead of laughter, or even a smile, she shook her head. “I didn't think I could ever fit in. He knew the right wines, the gourmet foods. I thought he really was the perfect gentleman. But it was all fake. The charm. The quiet, polite manners he showed the world…”

“I take it Prince Charming morphed into something else.”

“I didn't even realize at first what was happening. His jealousy, his controlling nature, were subtle. He'd scold me for spending too much time talking to one of his friends, or even to one of my girlfriends at work. But then it got worse. I found him picking up my cell phone and checking all my messages. One night after work, when I spotted him watching me during my entire shift, seeing who I talked to, who I laughed with, I told him I'd had enough. I didn't want to see him anymore.”

“How did that go?” Whit saw the way her lower lip quivered.

“I guess I expected him to be angry or hurt. Instead, he was icy calm as he told me I was terminated immediately. He demanded my keys, my badge, and my uniform and asked security to escort me from the property. I asked about my belongings. He told me they would be waiting for me at the condo. I'm glad now that I took Mary Alice along with me to pick them up. They were in a box on the front porch. And he was sitting on a bench, waiting. Knowing Mary Alice could overhear, he simply told me that he felt sorry for me. That I was a fool who had allowed my silly childhood dream of writing to take over my life. That my promotions hadn't been earned because I was such a good worker or so smart but because he'd arranged them, in order to show me just how much power he wielded. And that, with the snap of his fingers, he could take it all away. But, he told me, whenever I came to my senses, he would be willing to take me back.”

“He sounds pretty impressed with his own importance.”

Cara nodded. “He'd kept most of his speech cold and polite. But when Mary Alice picked up the box and walked toward the car, he grabbed my arm and told me that unless I grew up and came back to him, he would make my life a living hell.”

Whit's hands fisted at his sides. “So you were running from Jared before you ran into No Name in Red Rock.”

She nodded. “I just wanted to get away. I had a rental car, a credit card, and a little cash, and no destination until I landed here.”

“That text.” Whit nodded toward her cell phone. “Did it come from a friend or…?”

“Jared. He doesn't know where I am, but he's still sending threatening texts.”

“Threatening?” Whit's eyes narrowed.

“Telling me what he'll do to me when he finds me.”

“A really nice guy.” Whit's tone was low with fury.

“Yeah.” She began to pace. “I'm sorry I dropped all this on you. It's been eating away at me. But now, if you don't mind, I'm going to look around for something physical to do. Otherwise, I'll just have way too much time on my hands. And that will lead to another pity party and I've had enough of those.” She draped the towel over the edge of the sink.

Whit thought a moment before nodding. “I agree. If you're going to share this place, you need to earn your keep, Goldilocks. I'm going to chop more firewood. You can stack while I chop.”

She glanced at the flimsy jacket hanging on a hook by the door. “When I started out on this little odyssey, I was wearing that. I don't think it'll do much good in the snow.”

He indicated a door on the far wall. “You'll find plenty of parkas, boots, and work gloves in that closet.”

“Now you tell me.”

“I figured you'd had time to explore every nook and cranny.”

She crossed the room. “I missed this one.”

“Afraid you'd find a dead body or two?”

“Hey. I figured it was possible, the way my life has been going lately.” She managed a wry smile as she crossed the room.

A few minutes later, as he headed toward the cabin door, he saw her emerge carrying an armload of winter gear.

She looked over. “I'll join you outside in a few minutes.”

He chuckled. “Judging by all the stuff you've got there, it may take a while.”

He slid his arms into a parka and strolled out the door. Minutes later, as he picked up the ax and started to work, he thought about Cara. He frowned. He seemed to be doing a lot of that lately. He was spending entirely too much time thinking about her.

At least now he understood why she'd been so jumpy at their first encounter. He lifted the ax high above his head and brought it down, biting deep into the log. She expected every guy she met to be like Jared Billingham, out to get whatever they could, by any means necessary.

He had the satisfaction of watching the log split in one quick slice. It wasn't a fist in Billingham's face, but it was the best he could do. Any man who would manipulate a woman and then try to crush her dreams in order to control her deserved much more than a fist.

Cara Walton could fuel any guy's fantasies. It wasn't just the angel face and the model's body. There was also that combination of sharp brain and sophistication mixed with a dash of innocence and simplicity that was intriguing.

He brought the ax down again and again, enjoying the hard, physical release.

The door opened and the woman who'd been on his mind stepped into the snow and started toward him.

“I feel like Nanook of the North.” She was grinning from ear to ear.

He was relieved to see the smile back in her eyes. “You look like my nephew Casey when his mother puts him in a snowsuit. It's like a straightjacket and he can barely move. Can you bend those arms?”

With a laugh, she walked stiff-legged and stiff-armed in his direction. “What arms? Are there arms under all these layers?”

He was laughing as she bent down and, without warning, scooped up a handful of snow before taking aim. It hit him squarely in the face.

His smile turned into a look of surprise before he set aside the ax and filled both hands with snow. “Goldilocks, that was a declaration of war. And you don't stand a chance.”

Seeing what he planned, she ducked, and the snowball he tossed landed harmlessly on the bark of a tree behind her.

“A certain cowboy needs to correct his aim.” She scooped up more snow and sent it flying toward his head.

Before she could blink, a handful of snow landed on her cheek and found its way down the collar of her parka. Just as she brushed it aside, she looked up to see him racing toward her.

With a squeal, she turned and started running.

In quick strides he caught up with her and wrapped both arms around her, lifting her clean off her feet. In one quick motion, he scooped up snow and lobbed it right at her.

“Oh, you'll pay for this, Cowboy.” She was still wiping away the snow when he bent down and filled his hands with more.

Seeing that, she dropped to her knees and did the same.

“Not on your life, woman.” Whit leapt on her, moving so quickly she was pinned beneath him, and they sank into a snowdrift tall enough to bury them both.

He grabbed some snow and held it up menacingly. “You'd better apologize for that sneak attack, Goldilocks, or your face is going to freeze.”

She held up both hands in a sign of surrender. “Whit. No. I've had enough.”

Laughing, he tossed aside the snow. When he looked down at her, he realized too late that it had been a mock surrender. Laughing, she tackled him and rubbed a snowball into his face, forcing him to eat a handful of snow.

“Quite the little actress, aren't you? Now you've done it. I won't be fooled again by your cheating.”

“I wasn't cheating. I was using war strategy.”

“Here's your strategy.” Straddling her, he smeared snow over her face just as she did the same to him.

They both froze in place, laughing so hard they could barely catch their breath.

“I love the devious way you think, Goldilocks.”

“You mean, the same way you do?”

“Yeah.” Whit leaned close enough to touch his forehead to hers. And immediately realized his mistake.

Up close, her face was glowing and her lips, pursed in a perfect little pout, filled his line of vision.

“I think I've found a way to end this war.”

Seeing the way his gaze burned over her lips, she understood his intention and tried to turn her face away.

He reached up and caught her chin so that she could do nothing more than watch as his face slowly descended toward hers.

“You'd better declare a truce, Goldilocks.”

“Never.” The word was forced from her suddenly dry throat in a low, drawn-out whisper.

“Oh, I do love a challenge. Don't say I didn't warn you.”

His mouth closed over hers in a kiss that was as shocking to their systems as the snow had been just moments earlier. A kiss that sent tiny spears of fire and ice dancing through both their veins.

“Ready to declare a truce?” He spoke the words inside her mouth, sending yet another series of tremors through both of them.

This wasn't at all what she'd expected. Where Jared's advances had been deliberate and calculated, this seemed more like an accidental seduction.

Still, she couldn't speak. Could barely breathe. The press of that hard, muscled body on hers was doing the strangest things to her brain. Despite the layers of clothing, she could feel him in every pore. The touch of those lips on hers had the breath backing up in her lungs. Her heart was beating a wild, crazy tattoo, and she wondered that it didn't burst clear through her chest. But she couldn't decide if it was fear or lust.

“I'll take that for a no.” His mouth roamed her face, pausing to nuzzle her chin, her cheek, the curve of her ear, where he whispered, “Did you know you have the most amazing mouth?”

“And you…” She was suddenly terrified as his arms came around her, pinning her to the length of him as he returned to her lips.

At first it was merely a quick kiss. But then he kissed her again, long and slow and deep until her sudden gasp alerted him that the dynamics had just changed.

If he'd meant this to be a friendly kiss or, at the most, payback for her sneaky attack, it had become something quite different to a girl who'd just escaped a painful encounter. This would feel more like a threat than play.

At her gasp, Whit rolled aside and took in a long, frigid breath of air before getting to his feet. Reaching down, he caught her hand and helped her up.

“Hold still.” He had to fight the sudden urge to gather her close and kiss her until both their heads were spinning.

Instead, he turned her and brushed snow from her hair and backside before lowering his hand and holding it stiffly by his side. “You might want to go inside and get out of those frozen clothes.”

“So you can call me a quitter? Not on your life, Cowboy.” She flounced away and began picking up logs. Seeing him standing as still as a statue, she called over her shoulder, “What are you waiting for? Did your brain freeze? You promised to chop the firewood, and I promised to carry it inside.” She lifted her chin, determined to hold on to her dignity. “At least one of us is doing her job.”

BOOK: The Legacy of Copper Creek
10.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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