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Lost and Found


Maddie James writing as

Sophie Jacobs




Lost and Found

Copyright © 2019, Sophie Jacobs

Digital ISBN: 9781622371600


First Digital Release as Body Heat by Maddie James, June 2013

Editor, Ayla O’Donovan; Copyeditor, Gilly Wright


Revised release as To Catch a Billionaire by Maddie James, June 2014

Revised as Lost and Found by Sophie Jacobs, January 2019


Cover by Jacobs Ink, LLC


All rights reserved. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work, in whole or part, by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, is illegal and forbidden.


This is a work of fiction. Characters, settings, names, and occurrences are a product of the author’s imagination and bear no resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, places or settings, and/or occurrences. Any incidences of resemblance are purely coincidental.


This edition is published by Sophie Jacobs and Sand Dune Books, Turquoise Morning, LLC dba Jacobs Ink, LLC, PO Box 20, New Holland, OH 43145.


Sophie Jacobs is a pen name of bestselling author Maddie James.

http://www.sophiejacobs.com


****

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Lost and Found


Snowbound in a secluded cabin. Lost in ghosts of the past. Driven by a life unfulfilled.


All Blaire Kincaid wants is to make her own way in the world, so she is thrilled when she lands her first private investigative case from a local rich and influential woman. Using her newly acquired PI skillset, Blaire sets out on an eighteen-year-old cold trail to find Reva’s missing nephew—the long-missing heir of the Maximillian MacGlenary estate.


But Darian MacGlenary doesn’t want to be found. In fact, when he spies the young woman stumbling into his Appalachian hollow, he panics. Who is she and what does she want? The bearded mountain man has tucked himself far into the backwoods on purpose, and the last thing he wants is a woman nosing around.


But when a chilled Blaire stumbles upon his cabin, arriving just hours ahead of an early winter snowstorm that holds them captive for days, things heat up.


Darian battles not only the ghosts of his past looming large in the small cabin he calls home, but also the woman who haunts every hot and bothered night they spend together within the cabin’s four walls. Blaire, tormented by the man she’s quickly falling for, and who pushes her away at every turn, tells herself she wants nothing more than to complete her task and collect her final paycheck.


That is, until they both surrender to close quarters, long nights, and body heat.







Prologue


Reva MacGlenary slowly rose, the folds of her Chanel suit skirt neatly falling into place as she did so. Her outward appearance was calm, of course. That’s how she always presented herself. Inside her head, random thoughts twisted incoherently. Inside her chest, her heart raced.

No.

This was not supposed to happen.

How could the senile old coot have done such a thing?

To me! His only living, breathing heir?

Reining in not only her surprise but her anger, she took a step forward. Then another. Her Gucci-clad heels picked up their pace as she crossed the parquet floor of the family library until she stood square in front of Martin Matthews, her father’s attorney. Ironically, he had sat behind her father’s desk as he delivered the news.

Strategically and deliberately, she placed her manicured fingertips on the glass overlay of the desk. Leaning her upper body into the space over it, she peered deeply into Martin’s eyes.

“Read it. Again.” She bit at the words with a potency she’d acquired in her fifty-some odd years of living as the patriarch’s daughter.

Martin did.

She had heard correctly. Her world spun.

Billions were at stake. Billions! Her entire lifestyle was on the line.

Reva fumed, then leaned closer into the attorney’s space. A long moment of silence followed as each family member, waiting to hear the continuation of the reading of the will, dared utter a syllable, or move a fraction of an inch in their chairs. Reva was in charge.

“Find him.” The words shot from her mouth. “Find that black sheep nephew of mine—and do it quickly.” She’d thought him long dead. And thought her father had forgotten all about him. After all, it had been years since anyone had seen Darian.

She straightened her posture with ram-rod precision, turned to walk away, and then paused, thinking. Running an elegant hand against her perfectly coifed hair, she spun back to face Martin. “Never mind. You’ll fuck that up too. I’ll find the bastard myself.”





Chapter One


From his perch high on the ridge behind his cabin, Darian MacGlenary watched with the keen vision of a hawk. Nestled among tree branches, he crouched on the deer stand, scouting out the deer he wanted to bag before breakfast the next morning. He’d sat there, solid as a statue, in the same spot every morning for weeks, tracking just the right deer—the one that would provide him a good bit of food come winter.

He knew the herd’s trail and routine better than he knew the time of day, for he’d repeated this routine every fall for the past four years. He was a crack shot, coming from years of hunting to provide his own food. He knew just exactly the buck he wanted, and he knew he’d have him come morning.

But now, as the sun grew higher in the sky, it was not a buck he watched, but a woman. A woman. And from the looks of her—what he could see through his binoculars, anyway, as she tripped through the woods and briars—a quite attractive young woman.

What the hell?

It had been years since he’d conversed with anyone except an occasional clerk at a discount store or the man who sold his meager crop of tobacco for him. The last thing he wanted today was someone on his property he had to talk to.

And a woman at that. Dammit.

For the briefest moment, he allowed his thoughts to drift to just what that meant. Woman. Scented, flowing hair…soft skin to a man’s callused touch…gentle kisses and feathery caresses…the musky scent of making love….

He smelled trouble.

Darian rubbed his bearded face with both hands trying to snuff out his thoughts. What she wanted and where she came from, he didn’t know, and he didn’t give a tinker’s damn to know either. But she was coming. And he knew she was coming for him.

Darian held the panoramic view of his farm and the Blue Ridge hills he now called home firmly in his sight. Below him stood his modest log cabin, dusted in the browns and oranges of fall, nestled deep in the hills, miles from his next neighbor. During this season, he was always reminded of Vermont, and found his mind wandering to his boyhood home. Quickly shaking away those thoughts, and the chill that traveled his spine at the remembrance, he returned his attention to the problem at hand.

The woman.

He had first watched her car make its way down the rocky road as far as it would go. He realized the driver was a woman when she left it behind and began walking. Through his binoculars he’d picked up the scowl on her face and her lips moving as if she were muttering to herself as she began the hike. He took in her impish nose, her long sunlit-blond hair, her full lips, her….

He put down the high-powered binoculars and shook away the direction of this thoughts.

He had to hand it to her, not many people, strangers or locals alike, dared to venture down his hollow. Most people knew better. He’d seen to that years ago. And for her to get this far, she’d had to do some heavy investigating. Everyone around here knew he demanded nothing from no one—except to be left alone.

He turned back to watch her again.

Occasionally she would disappear under the trees and he’d wait for her reappearance. Each time she did, his groin tightened, his brain spun with thoughts of why she was coming, and his stomach knotted with the anticipation of the thing that was important enough for her to go to such lengths—traipsing through the two miles or more of brush and stubble, of rocks and steep terrain, to get to him.

And would she get to him?

God, he hoped not.

****

Blaire Kincaid grasped the thin branch that had just sliced into her cheek. She jerked it away and tried to snap it off the bush and then promptly yelped when a thorn bit into her hand. Holding as steady as possible, she peered into her palm and watched the oval bubble of scarlet rise and spread out in her hand’s lines and crevices. She plucked out the tiny thorn and flung it to God-knows-where and then wiped the blood away on her jeans.

What an uncharacteristic thing for her to do—wipe her bloody hand on her pants leg. Yet, so was this trip.

Out of character.

But she was out to prove a point. If not to Mastin, then to herself.

Right?

With a grimace, she looked up and around her. She’d heard of people dying like this, lost in the woods never to be heard from again—like they’d stepped off the edge of the earth.

I think this is the edge of the earth.

The theme from the movie Deliverance played on a loop inside her head.

Ignoring that, and the sting on her cheek, she moved forward, talking to herself. “Not a simple job, Reva MacGlenary had said. Not a piece of cake. But I pay well…”

That last part was what got her. Paying well was a mighty nice enticement. And she needed the money. Her private investigator business was just a start-up and financing had been hard to come by.

“Didn’t know I’d have to hike the backwoods though. Not an earthy-woman. Think I wore the wrong shoes….”

She hiked down a steep incline toward the edge of a ridge and then followed it along as it steadily plunged downward. “Besides, I can handle this, right? That’s the whole purpose, isn’t it? To prove that I can handle it? I know Mastin wouldn’t agree, but I can do it. I will do it.”

Determined, she walked on. Yes, all true. But she was beginning to feel a little misled. A simple missing person case, Reva had said. Yeah, right. Simple. Then she stopped, abruptly. “But the cash advance was a godsend. And all I have to do is get a measly signature on a piece of paper and haul my butt back out of here.”

End of case.

Blaire smiled. Before she knew it, she’d be back in her cozy little apartment in Trenton, smelling the remnants of the day’s special from Café on Main below her, wishing she could afford the calories of one piece of Chocolate Toffee Tort, their specialty.

Everyone knew the MacGlenary estate was worth billions, and with the recent passing of Reva’s father, the rumor mill had been busy with speculation of who would inherit. Blaire suspected her assignment had a lot to do with the estate. She just didn’t know how. But finding the man to sign the document in her briefcase had proven to be a bigger feat than she’d originally anticipated, or that Reva had indicated.

The day brightened significantly as she walked the last few steps out of the woods. Raising a hand to shield her eyes from the sun, she scanned the horizon. “Well, at least I’m out of the woods.” Then she chuckled to herself at the play on words. Somehow, she really didn’t think she was entirely out of the woods, yet.

The man at the small store several miles back had told her exactly how to find MacGlenary. Down the “holler,” he’d said, about two miles until she couldn’t drive anymore, follow the ridge through the woods till she hit the briars, and then look for the line of sycamores bordering the creek. Follow the creek till she got to a sandy beach, then backtrack up the hill until she saw the barn, and then go over the hill and the cabin should be in the bottom land. If she’d followed his directions correctly. If, she thought. What kind of directions were they anyway? Hollers, briars, sycamores, barns? Didn’t these people ever hear of road signs? Or even roads? This was ridiculous.

And the man’s last words still haunted her with every step. Good luck, honey. Blaire guessed it really wasn’t the words themselves that bothered her, but the inflection in his voice and the deep throaty laugh afterward that gave her chills. But it had taken her over seven weeks of research to get this far, and now that she practically had Darian in her hip pocket, she’d be damned if she’d turn back now.

Questions still loomed in her brain, though.

Why would a thirty-six-year-old man hole himself up in no-man’s-land for the past four years? And where was he for the fourteen before that? She could find nothing. Blaire shook her head. It didn’t make sense. Especially when one knew his pedigree.

Minutes later, after walking through what seemed like miles of scratchy briars and dried weeds, Blaire found herself under a sycamore tree at the creek’s edge. Right or left? What had the man told her? Glancing one way and then the other, Blaire decided to go right. But before she took one step, she reached down to examine her ankle. The tiny space between the top of her socks and the bottoms of her jeans’ legs was exposed during her trek through the briars and weeds. And it hurt like hell. Now Blaire knew why. Tiny burs and thorned twigs had stuck to her socks and were scratching and digging into her skin.

She sat on a boulder at the waters’ edge, slipped off her tennis shoes, peeled her socks off her feet one at a time, cuffed her blue jeans up around her calves, and slid her feet up to her ankles into the cool water.

Oh. Nice. No more itch…

It was November, but the afternoons lately were warm enough, sixty degrees or more. The creek was near icy, though—and the crispness felt so good on her tired feet.

Blaire looked at her watch. It was just after noon and it seemed she’d walked for days. Eyes growing heavy, she momentarily closed them. The thought that popped into her mind was the picture of Darian MacGlenary in the back pocket of her jeans. An eighteen-year-old picture. Half his lifetime earlier. She thought about how good-looking he had been at eighteen. Wondered how well he’d aged.

A brisk gust of wind whipped up the creek bottom and Blaire opened her eyes. This was the craziest thing she’d ever done in her life. That breeze was cold, which told her the temperature was dropping. Her thin sweatshirt and jacket were inadequate dealing with changing weather. She jerked her feet out of the water and worked to get her cockle-burred socks back on her wet, cold feet—then unsuccessful, tossed them aside. She shoved her feet into her shoes, sockless. Stupid. She’d closed her eyes for only a second, right? Stiff and chattering, she rose and tried to stretch the kinks out and then began stumbling on, praying she was going the right way.

The man at the general store hadn’t said how far or how long she’d have to walk the creek to get to the wide sandy area, but after forty-five minutes of traipsing up the creek, Blaire decided she’d gone the wrong way. The man said down the creek, hadn’t he? Down the creek would mean with the flow of the water, right?

She was going the wrong way.

It took another forty-five minutes to place her back under the sycamore where she’d started. Her gait slowed as she trampled on. Another hour passed. Stiff ankles and worn-slick tennis shoes were not the stuff of hikers, she decided. The creek’s shoulder was narrow, a solid wall of earth to her left, boulders to walk on, the creek to her right. Three times she’d slipped from a mossy rock and plunged thigh high in the creek, once turning her ankle, the sudden pain shooting up her leg as she hit bottom. Each time she slowly, but determinedly, hoisted herself back up and trudged on. Soon, she was so chilled, any discomfort but the cold was forgotten.

By the time she reached the wide sandy bank, she was nearly frozen, shivering so, that her teeth chattered. But she wasn’t about to give in. Besides, she had no choice. To give in would be defeat. Or worse. And it was a helluva long walk back to her car. Not to mention she’d already spent nearly twenty-five hundred of the five thousand-dollar advance Reva MacGlenary had paid her to find her nephew.

And it was her first real case. Her credibility was at stake here. Just think of the business she’d rack up when the news was out that she’d located the long-lost grandson of Maximillian MacGlenary. There was no way in hell she’d give up. No one ever said Blaire Kincaid was a quitter.

No one except Mastin.

At that thought, Blaire gritted her teeth, ignored the pain in her ankle, the throbbing in her palm, the clattering of her teeth, and turned toward the hill. Slowly, and determinedly, she made her way up the rise to the barn, hoping like nobody’s mother that MacGlenary’s log cabin was nestled in the bottomland on the other side.

****

Darian arched his back as he slung the mallet over his head and brought it down with such force on the splitter that the two wedges of wood flew sideways upon impact. It was then that he looked up and saw her coming over the rise in front of his cabin. What the hell? He glanced at his watch. Nearly five o’clock. He’d given up on her long ago.

He’d left his tree stand about ten and then slowly hiked down the ridge to his cabin, periodically watching, but then lost her. At one point, he’d even contemplated looking for her but then thought better of it. He didn’t want to be found. He didn’t like visitors. No matter how persevering they were. He just figured she’d given up and gone back to her car.

But now here she was. She’d found him. And he’d soon learn the purpose for her perseverance.

What the hell was the reason she had come to disrupt his life?

Darian slipped behind the cabin, sure she’d not yet seen him, and then circled around to the opposite side. As he cautiously approached the front porch, he felt his stomach knot at the prospect of a woman within the confines of his home. The thought frightened him. His home. A man’s home. Rough-hewn. Hard edges. Primitive. Rugged. Impenetrable to femininity. Just like him.

Just like me.

He rounded the corner. At first, he didn’t see her; then two more steps forward and he caught her backside near the opposite corner. Darian moved several steps in her direction and then stopped. Bracing his feet and legs in solid stance behind her, he crossed his arms. As if she sensed his presence, her movements stilled. Slowly, she rotated toward him.

The woman’s blue eyes zinged out to him like a life-giving beacon on a cold dark night. They flashed wide, almost as if in fright. She shivered once, and then before he knew it, she crumbled into a heap at his feet, her eyes rolling back in her head as she fell to the ground.

Damn, I didn’t know I’d grown that ugly.

He went to her. The moment he touched her, he knew something was wrong. Her skin, icy to the touch initially, bit back with fire as he lifted her and held her close to his chest. The soaking dampness of her jeans gave him even greater cause for concern, and he knew immediately that in this cold and wind, she’d have been a goner if she hadn’t happened on his cabin when she did.

Darian tamped down the tendrils of dread building up within him at the breaking of his very first rule of thumb: Never get involved. Then as he crossed the threshold into his cabin, placed her square in the middle of his bed and looked down on her, he felt too many things he didn’t want to feel, breaking his second rule: Never feel anything. But they were there and growing—concern, worry, fear for her life. And then as he momentarily ran his gaze up her body and looked into her face: physical desire.

Fuck. He turned them all off. Each emotion, no matter how small, tossed aside like nobody’s business. Then he began to deal with the tasks at hand. Without emotion. Without connection. Without feeling. Simply see to the woman’s needs, he told himself. Anyone else would do the same. Patch her up and get her the hell on her way.

So, he began.

And he knew he needed to work quickly.

He untied her shoes, carefully pulling them off her tiny, frozen feet. He knew the stiff toes would suffer first if they were not warmed quickly enough. Gingerly he held one swollen ankle—had she sprained it?—in his hand. Alarmed, he realized that her injuries possibly went beyond hypothermia, and that he might need to inspect all of her to determine other injuries.

Get her wet clothes off.

Deft fingers went to her waist and he swallowed hard as he fought to impersonalize himself from the situation. Impersonalize, hell! There was hardly anything more personal than removing someone’s clothing. A beautiful woman’s clothing, to boot. But she could die, he told himself. He had to do this. It was a necessity. He had to do what needed to be done.

Just do your fucking job.

He’d almost convinced himself of that fact until he slid his hands inside the waistband of her jeans, and in one swift movement removed them and her panties all at once, his hands barely skimming her cold flesh. Soft, cold flesh. A woman’s flesh.

It had been a long time—too long, as a matter-of-fact—but the stinging urgings of desire broke through as he, for just a mere second, looked down at her lying half-nude on his bed.

Unconscious body, asshole. Get a grip.

Darian jerked himself back into awareness. He’d been a lot of things in his life, he told himself, but a pervert wasn’t one of them. And he’d be damned if he’d take to ogling helpless young women as they lay defenseless on his bed. He’d be damned.

He continued to remove her clothing. All business. The jacket and sweatshirt were not nearly as wet, just at the bottom edges, and came off quickly. Then her bra. He took a quick assessment of her injuries and then covered her with several layers of blankets and quilts. Really, the only attention she needed now, he told himself, was warmth. The ankle would heal with elevation and time. The cuts and scratches needed a simple good dousing of antiseptic—but the temperature of her body, he suspected, had slipped way below normal—and she simply needed life-giving warmth.

Darian stepped to the fire and threw two more large logs into the fireplace and then poked at the embers, sending up sparks to ignite the additional wood. He grabbed several large towels and threw them over the backs of his kitchen chairs and let them warm next to the fire. Then glancing at the heap of wet clothing on the floor, did the same with them.

As he picked up the woman’s jeans, something fluttered to the floor at his feet. He bent to pick up the square of white paper, a little damp, but still intact, and then rose and turned it over.

He stared into a picture of himself. High school graduation. The last day he’d lived in Vermont. The day he’d left hell.

Darian stared at the picture and then slowly lifted his gaze to the woman banked beneath a mound of covers in his bed. Contemplating why a woman with an eighteen-year-old picture of him in the back pocket of her jeans would go to such lengths to find him, he shook his head, not coming up with the answer. Without a second’s hesitation, he flicked the photograph into the fire and watched his likeness fade into nothingness.

Appropriate. It was what he was then, and now. Nothing.

His gaze fell back to the woman. Someone had sent her. Someone who wanted something from him, although he couldn’t guess what. He had nothing of value, nothing anyone else would want. Nothing to offer. Stepping closer to the bed, he investigated the pert face.

Not even himself.

Darian drew in a long, deep breath as he stood over her and then let it out very slowly. He reached out and touched her cheek with a forefinger. His knuckle slid down her chilled skin, it came to rest at her neck. Instinctively, he poised two fingers over the pulse point of her neck, closed his eyes, and became one with the rhythmic beating of her heart. Too slow. Her heart rate was way too slow.

And his was way too fast.

Darian snapped his eyes open, jerked his hand away, and stood perfectly still. He was right. His heart was pounding too fast. Entirely too fast.

A raspy cough followed by a series of sneezes broke through the silence of the cabin. Darian knelt beside her. He cooed soft words until she finished the coughing and sneezing spell and then watched as she trembled noticeably beneath the blankets. He wondered if she was coming to, but after she’d stilled for a minute, decided she was not. Then just as he thought she’d calmed down, she uttered a word. One word. A name?

Mastin.

He bristled upon hearing her mumble the man’s name in her semi-conscious state. He might have to endure the invasion of this woman into his home and his life—if only brief at that—but he didn’t want to have to endure the moaning of a woman for her man while she was here.

Darian ran a hand under the blanket to check the condition of her legs and feet and knew they were still entirely too cold. He raced to the fire, snatched the heated towels off the chairs, and crossed the room once more. He peeled her covers back long enough to wrap the warmed towels around her feet and legs and then replaced them.

She coughed again, still shivering, and Darian looked to her face. He didn’t want to do it, not really, but he knew he was going to have to. Needed to. It might mean her life. She had to get warm. He had to bring her temperature up.

Darian removed his heavy flannel shirt and laid it on the foot of the bed. His boots came next—he left his socks on—then he removed his own denim jeans. Stepping a few steps away to a pile of laundry on top of an ancient chest of drawers, he picked up a pair of insulated long johns and put them on. As he padded back to the bed, he still reasoned with himself that it was the right thing to do. Then as he studied her pixie face, he knew. It was the right thing to do. And she would thank him for it when she woke. Right?

He slipped between the covers, pulled her cold and shivering body next to his, and turning her upper body into his, wrapped his arms around her. Her frigid breasts seared against his warm chest as he tucked her into the nest within his arms. Then he threw one leg over her towel-covered limbs, pulling her closer into the warmth his body offered.

The strawberry essence of her hair disturbed him greatly as he drifted off to sleep.





Chapter Two


Darian started at the sting that slapped him square across his right cheek. He’d been dreaming, hadn’t he? About satin and lace and smooth supple skin and silky hair that would slide through fingertips and moist lips placed in the most erotic places and….

Smack!

“Get off me you stupid oaf!”

Darian snapped his eyes open at the blonde lying slightly beneath him. His hand cupped a breast. His leg was still thrown possessively over her thighs. His lips lay only inches from hers. Her blue eyes glared up at his with ice-cold precision.

“Do I have to hit you again?”

Darian jumped back off the bed in one smooth motion. Suddenly realizing he was standing before her in his long johns, he leapt to the other side of the cabin, grabbed the blue jeans he’d taken off the night before, jerked them over his body, and then cursed when he realized why he was having difficulty zipping his fly. Damnation all to hell! He’d not awakened with hard-on since, since….

He shook the thought away. Glancing out the window, Darian realized he’d slept way past his usual wake-up call—sunrise. Dammit.

He glanced back at the bed. The woman, now up on her knees in the center of the bed, was frantically trying to cover herself with a sheet—wrapping and tucking the large piece of fabric around her tiny body. When successful, her gaze lifted in sharp movement and caught his.

“Where are my clothes?” Her words were demanding but the tone of her voice was weak. He could tell she was trying hard to be tough and in control, but the worried and, well, frightened expression on her face said otherwise.

Darian pointed to the chair next to the fireplace and opened his mouth to speak.

“And why are they off?”

“Well, I had… You see they were…wet.” Darian started for the stiff dried blue jeans hung over the chair.

“And how did I get here?”

Darian glanced back into her face. Fire leapt from her blue-embered eyes, even though he knew she was scared. “I don’t remember coming into the cabin.”

“You didn’t. Not of your own accord anyway.” Darian took another step forward. “You—”

“Why were you in bed with me?” Her gaze kept the contact with his as she scooted closer to the edge of the bed and let one leg dangle over the edge.

Darian thought he’d never seen a lovelier sight than the small shapely calf peeking out from under the sheet. “You were—”

“Never mind. I don’t think I want to know.” She held the sheet tight against her chest and move the other leg next to the first, then quickly snapped her gaze back to his. “We didn’t… You and I… Did we?”

Darian stared. He felt one mustached corner of his lip draw up slightly as a thought occurred to him. A terribly evil thought. He crossed his arms over his chest and watched with lewd pleasure at the look of horror that washed over her face.

“Oh God. We…didn’t.” Her head shook slowly from side to side as if trying to convince herself.

Darian rubbed his bearded chin with his hand as he felt the smirk on his face grew ever broader.

“Tell me, dammit. Did we or did we not. Do. It?”

Her eyes were as round as his grandmother’s Wedgwood saucers. “You mean you’re actually going to let me finish a sentence?”

She glowered at him. “I only need one word.”

“What if it’s not the word you want to hear?”

She took a deep breath. “It better be the one I want to hear, or you’ve got more problems than you think. Now tell me.”

Darian cocked his head to one side. “You don’t remember, then?”

“No.”

Stepping forward toward the foot of the bed, Darian narrowed his eyes at her. “I assure you, sweetheart, if we had, you would remember it.”

Her back bristled. “Just what is that supposed to mean?”

He arched an eyebrow to her. “What do you think it means?”

“It better mean there wasn’t anything to remember.”

“But it could mean that it wasn’t worth remembering.”

“Stop twisting things.”

“Stop asking questions.”

She bristled, her back shooting up straight. “If I can’t remember it, then it must not have been an earth-shattering experience for either of us.”

Darian studied her sitting there, perched on the edge of the bed—his bed. She almost looked like she belonged there. “You know, there was a time last night when I actually thought you might thank me this morning.”

Her eyes narrowed, and her chin tilted slightly in the air. “Thank you for what? Sexually accosting me?”

Darian’s voice lowered. “I didn’t sexually accost you.”

“Then we didn’t do anything, right?”

“I didn’t say that. All I said was that I didn’t take advantage of you.”

“Well I sure as hell didn’t go willingly. And I obviously wasn’t conscious, so I couldn’t give you my permission, so what do you call it then?” Her voice grew tighter and squeakier and louder with each succeeding word.

“I’d call it saving your ass.”

She glared at him. “Obviously you’re not going to cooperate with me, are you?”

Darian watched as clutching the sheet tighter around her, and fully swung both legs over the side of the bed. He didn’t answer her.

“Well, it doesn’t matter anyway. I’m getting out of here as soon as you…” The woman put her entire body’s pressure down on her right foot and started to stand—then pitched sideways with a wince of pain.

Darian caught her before she hit the floor. He slipped one arm under her bent knees and the other behind her back. “Ankle?” He looked into her suddenly misty eyes as he asked the question and lifted her back onto the bed. His gaze held hers for a brief tension-filled moment. She nodded and tried to hide what he thought were tears of pain. Darian released her and stood up. His gut tightened. He hated the way she made him feel.

“Only an idiot traipses around in the woods when she doesn’t know where she’s going and what she needs to survive,” he said angrily.

She nearly came up off the bed. “Oh, so now I’m an idiot?”

“You said it, not me.”

She did rise again but wobbled back down.

“Dizzy?”

Lying down against the pillow, she put the back of a hand to her forehead and turned her gaze away. “What do you care? Give me my clothes. I’m getting out of here.”

“You’re not going anywhere.”

Dropping her hand to her side, she glared at him. “Wanna make a bet?”

Placing one knee on the bed, he leaned forward and grasped both her upper arms. “Let me give you a little piece of advice: Don’t bet unless you know you can win.”

Her eyes pinned him at arm’s length. “I repeat. What do you care?”

Darian felt his fingers tighten around her small upper arms. Why does she make me so angry? “I care because I don’t want a woman to die in my bed. You’re not going anywhere. It’s a long way to haul a corpse over my shoulder out of here.”

Darian watched her eyes grow large with alarm. “Die?”

He let go of her and she sank back into the pillows. “Look, you are a sick woman. When you got here yesterday you were in a near state of hypothermia, if not actually there. You’ve sprained your ankle and you’ve got scratches all over you, which we need to watch for infection. Not to mention that you’re probably going to get one hell of a nasty cold from wearing those wet clothes in this weather. You coughed and sneezed all night long. You’re not going anywhere until I say so.”

She sat up on her elbows and glared at him. “Oh, really?”

Darian leaned over to within inches from her face. “Yeah, really.”

She tilted her chin. “I’ll walk out of here any time I damn well please.”

He examined the obstinate way her perky little face tilted up at him—the way her lower lip puffed out in defiance. “Not with that ankle, you won’t.”

“Then you’ll have to drive me.”

“Nope, no car.”

“Then I’ll walk.”

“In about a week.”

“I can’t stay here with you.”

“The nearest neighbor is three miles away. You don’t have a choice.” Darian could swear she moved her face closer just a bit. Or maybe he moved, but both their lips seemed only centimeters apart. His voice suddenly became softer, almost seductive. “You’re not well. You need bed rest and time for that ankle to heal. Until then, you’re staying right here.”

And that gives me time to figure out what you’re up to, lady. And who sent you.

Watching her swallow what he imagined to be a huge lump in her throat, she returned, “I guess I don’t have a choice.”

One corner of his mouth drew up slightly. “I guess you don’t.”

“But only on one condition.”

Darian arched an eyebrow to her. “Oh?”

“That I don’t do bed rest with you. You have to sleep somewhere else.”

Darian quickly jerked his body backward and stood over her smiling. “Whatever you say. Not up to a repeat performance?”

She jerked the pillow out from under her head and threw it. He had to stifle a smile as it caught it mid-air, then watched her turn into the bed and pull the covers over her head.

****

Blaire was so dizzy she could hardly stand it. Every time she’d jumped up or leaned forward or shouted to make a point, her head nearly split in two and her stomach lurched. She hadn’t really felt nauseous until she started moving. Perhaps because she hadn’t eaten for a while—she didn’t know. But the fact remained that she felt about as chipper as limp linguini. And linguini that had lain in the water too long at that.

So that was that. She was stuck. At least a week, he’d said, until her ankle could support her weight. Well, we’ll see about that. She’d play along long enough to get him to sign the damned document….

Document. What did she do with the damned document?

Argh. Still in the car…. Stupid!

But she hadn’t anticipated the hike. She’d hoped to convince him to come with her into town so he could sign, and they could get the paperwork notarized. She’d thought wrong, of course. Now she’d have to somehow get back to her car—wherever it was—to finish her task.

She sank deeper into MacGlenary’s feather pillows and lifted one corner of her covers to peek out into the cabin. He stood facing the fireplace, his back turned to her—his broad, naked back with sinews and cords stretched sexily across it—and pushed at the wood in the fireplace with an iron poker. He moved away, and she watched next as he pumped some water from the sink into a kettle and set it on top of a wood-burning stove.

No running water. Great…. She felt somewhat dehydrated and didn’t have to pee right now but she knew eventually she would. Where would she go? Obviously he could step out the door and take a whiz if he needed. Was there an outhouse?

Oh goodness.

He cleared his throat and her gaze settled on him again. That’s when she noticed how nicely his broad shoulders tapered down into thin hips and a quite nice ass. He left the stove and stepped across the room to a chest of drawers, pulled on an undershirt and a green plaid flannel-shirt over that. Blaire was suddenly disappointed. She wanted to inspect him a little longer.

He changed his socks and laced up ankle high work boots over them, and then straightened. He looked like he’d just stepped off a magazine page advertisement for one of those old cigarette company ads—rugged and devastatingly handsome. Alpha male, through and through.

Yes, Darian MacGlenary had aged well. A little rough around the edges, scruffy beard and shaggy hair and all, but overall, he had aged quite nicely.

Then he pointed his gaze directly at her. “Going out for wood.”

Shit. He knew she was watching him all along. Blaire nodded, pulled the covers back a bit, and then called out, “You are Darian MacGlenary, aren’t you?”

His gaze held hers for the briefest moment before speaking to her in an almost gruff tone. “That who you’re looking for?”

She paused a minute before answering. “Yes.”

“Why?”

“That’s between me and him. Or you, if you’re MacGlenary.”

“I see.”

Blaire was tired of the games. “Are you him or not?”

It took another minute for him to answer. “Maybe.”

Then he turned and left. He was MacGlenary, she was certain. He was being as mysterious about himself, as were all the others. She just wasn’t sure why.

Blaire glanced around the cabin. His humble abode consisted of a one-room log cabin, no electricity, she imagined, the bed, an arm chair, a rough-hewn table with two chairs he probably made himself, the fireplace and wood burner, and a small variety of other furnishings and necessities scattered about. A man’s home, Blaire thought, for a woman would insist on more of the amenities of life. Like a bathroom.

Heavy footsteps reverberated on the porch outside the front door, and she decided to feign sleep. She was a bit sleepy. And tired. The hike in had taken it out of her. So, she justified the need to roll over on her left side and close her eyes. For just a short while.

Her last thought was how she could figure out what made Darian MacGlenary tick. What made him the way he is?

****

A cold front had settled over the hollow during the night, leaving a fairyland of frost in the woods surrounding the cabin. Darian hoisted an armload of split wood to his chest, saw his breath fan out around his mouth as he exhaled, and lumbered for the cabin. Upon entering, his gaze immediately settled on his bed and the pixie in it. She had turned her back to him and drawn the covers up over her shoulders. He could barely see the top of her strawberry blond head.

Darian grumbled under his breath and kicked the door shut behind him. She flinched just a little as it made contact with the doorframe. He made his way to the fireplace. A few moments later, after bringing the dying fire back to life, he started another in the wood-burning stove so he could make coffee. And in a little while, breakfast.

He wondered if she had an appetite by now. Probably. She’d been walking around in the woods nearly all day yesterday and he doubted she had any sense to pack her anything to eat. She needed rest, but her body needed nourishment as well, so he’d let her sleep for a while and then wake her for something to eat.

So, he sat, drinking his coffee, watching her sleep. Or what little he could see of her anyway. What thing brought her to him? He guessed he’d find out in due time. He’d been rough on her, he admitted. Rude. Not telling her if they’d slept together, not telling her his name, but he had to be noncommittal. He needed to feel her out slowly.

Feel her out slowly.

He hardened at the play on words, thinking of his tortured night. His dreams had held an erotic bent to them throughout the night. He’d only wanted to warm her, to save her life. And as he lay beside her, just before he drifted off to sleep, he’d patted himself on the back for his ability to separate himself from his emotions. He was doing what had to be done, just as he did all those years ago when he worked as an EMT. That was what he was trained to do, separate the emotions from the task at hand. And he did it well, except the one time….

Darian shook his head and again looked to the woman. He had tried to do that last night, but admittedly, he had failed. He hadn’t intentionally noticed how soft her skin was, how small her back was with his huge arms wrapped around her, how fragile she felt, how vulnerable. How good she smelled. And how his body responded holding her.

He’d tried to hide it from himself, but his body had responded. Not just the physical arousal but the deep internal arousal of passion and desire. The sizzling heat rose in him—the instinctual desire to protect, to care.

When he woke to the feel of the soft mound of flesh beneath his fingertips and her peaked nipple in his palm, it was almost more than he could stand.

And after four years of celibacy, no doubt it was more than any man could stand.

But Darian knew it was more than that. He’d broken one of his golden rules and had begun to care, and that’s where he’d made the fatal mistake. Emotions and feelings lost him something so precious once, and he didn’t care to experience that again. He’d cared too much, and it nearly devastated him. It wasn’t about to happen again.

Not for anyone. And particularly not for a stranger.

Dammit.

Darian rose and paced the room. He didn’t care about her. He didn’t even know who she was. All he cared about when it came to that woman was whether she’d let him pin her hips to his bed for about an hour. He’d vowed once he’d never care about anyone again, but using her for sex wasn’t caring, it was using. And if she offered, he might damn well accept.

A soft moan escaped from underneath the covers behind him. Darian slowly turned, set the coffee mug on the table, and looked to his bed. He watched as the blankets and quilts were flung back in disarray and she turned over on her back and moaned again. Her arms flailed out to the sides and the sheet slipped down around her waist exposing her small breasts. Darian sighed and then gulped in a huge breath.

He stepped closer and looked down upon her; then carefully, trying not to touch her, lifted the sheet back over her breasts. His gaze never left her face. Still breathing deeply, he reached out, and promising himself just this once, he touched her cheek with the back of his fingers. That was when the alarm bells went off inside him.

Fuck. She’s sick. And he’d been thinking about using her for sex. Where was his goddamned head!

He sat on the edge of the bed and touched her forehead. Clammy and hot. Burning with fever. Quickly, Darian tucked the blankets around her once more, retrieved a T-shirt from his chest of drawers, and then slipped it over her head, finally allowing her a little dignity and him a little sanity. Then at the sink he dipped a cloth into the icy water he’d pumped earlier, wrung it out, and folded it into a neat rectangle. At her side again, he placed it over her forehead and knew it was the only thing he could do, besides being there for her.

He sat there on the edge of the bed for several minutes looking into her small, heart-shaped face, willing his body not to feel the emotion that was coursing through it or the panic that tripped down his spine and grabbed his abdomen. He did not care for her, he reminded himself. He did not care. He did not.

But it was a lie.

He’d begun caring about her the moment she’d turned those saucer blue eyes on him yesterday, before she melted at his feet.

****

Darian nursed her fever throughout the night. He kept her forehead cool with the damp cloth as much as possible while she sweat the fever out into the sheets. Even though she was semi-conscious, he managed to get some water between her parched lips from time to time. He flinched each time she incoherently mumbled, especially when she called out her lover’s name. What kind of a man was this Mastin, Darian wondered? What kind of man would allow her to go traipsing off into no-man’s-land unprepared? A fool, he finally decided. An idiot. For he decided then and there if Pixie were his, he wouldn’t have let her go. At least not alone.

Pixie. He didn’t know her name—she’d never offered it to him. But all night long as he cradled her petite body to his during her fever, stroked her cheek, dabbed her burning forehead with the cool cloth, he had to call her something. So, Pixie it was. She reminded him of a wood nymph, like something out of a children’s storybook. A mythological sprite. Pixie. Her small frame demanded the name as well as her cute upturned nose, the freckles sprinkled across it, and her eyes—blue as the ocean and just as wide and deep. The only thing not Pixie-like about her was her long golden hair.

After four years of looking at nothing but trees and squirrels, she was a sight rest his eyes upon. Yet, he thought and smiled, as he brushed a wayward strand of hair from her forehead, she’d be beautiful just about anywhere, anytime.

The dark hours of the night passed and Darian swore he would not fall asleep again holding her, but he did. This time, he lay on top of the covers with Pixie to his left underneath the covers, her head supported by his chest, one arm cradling her to him, the other laying across his chest, his fingertips gently grazing her cheek.

****

When Blaire tried to pry open her sleep-encrusted eyes, she found it almost impossible to do so. She felt drugged, like she’d slept for days. Working one hand up from beneath the covers to her face, she rubbed a small fist over one eye and then the other, trying to will them to open. She sighed deeply and relaxed. Maybe she’d just roll over and sleep in today. That is the beauty of owning your own business, she told herself, you can sleep in whenever you feel like it.

Blaire tried to roll over but couldn’t. Something—or someone—was in her way. Alarm coursed through her body. Her arm rested on something other than a pillow and her head was leaning on something harder than feathers. Slowly opening one eye, she stared at her hand and the slow and rhythmic rise and fall of the flannel-covered chest beneath it.

Oh no, not again.

Lifting her head only slightly, she looked at the sleeping man beside her. Darian MacGlenary. In his sleep he didn’t look so gruff. In his sleep, he almost looked rather…sexy. Fleeting stabbing icicles coursed through her. When, other than during the giddiness of adolescence, had she ever admitted to herself that a man looked sexy? Well, she guessed, now. She shifted so she could lean on her elbow and more comfortably examine the masculine form beside her.

He lay on his back, his bearded chin jutted forward, a small snore exited his slightly open mouth. His was an aristocratic, aged face, so much different from the eighteen-year-old photograph. But he was incredibly handsome, even beneath the scruffy beard and the shoulder length black, gray-streaked, shaggy hair. Blaire studied his lips, full between the thick whiskers of his mustache and beard. Then her gaze traveled up to the prominent cheekbones beneath closed steel-gray eyes. She’d noticed his eyes right off, the first time she saw him standing by the cabin, for they looked cold and stabbing. But now, as he lay sleeping, his closed eyes rimmed in dark feathery lashes and bushy dark eyebrows, he didn’t look so frightening. In fact, Blaire thought, he almost looked almost…inviting. Warm, cozy and comfortable. And she suddenly felt all the world like snuggling into his side. It was hard to resist the flannel shirt, but he was sleeping—and he would never know.

But men aren’t supposed to be like cuddly teddy bears. At least no man she ever knew. Men were all angles and planes and hard edges. Like Mastin. And to think of all the times she wanted as a little girl to curl into a warm teddy bear lap and be held and comforted—and wasn’t—she found it extremely difficult to stifle the urge to do so now. Because Mastin wasn’t a teddy bear daddy. Mastin was hardly a father at all.

Blaire let the arm supporting her head relax and as she did so, carefully placed her head in the crook of MacGlenary’s shoulder. Without a lot of movement, she eased into the warmth of his side, trying to convince herself that he really didn’t feel so good. That she was simply cold, and he was comfortable. She ignored the warm feelings building with her. They didn’t exist. No man had ever made her feel warm inside.

Not that kind of warm, anyway.

She was simply tired. Her ankle pounded; her head hurt. Her skin was hot and clammy and cold and shivery all at once. And she didn’t feel like fighting any of it anymore. So, she didn’t.

She tightened the hold she had on his chest ever so slightly and burrowed deeper into his side. And just when she’d finally comforted herself next to him, he let out a huge snort, abruptly turned, and captured her firmly between his arms, pulling her into his chest.

Blaire shivered and sighed; his chin rested on her forehead. Wiggling backward a bit, she raised her face to his and looked square into his open gray eyes, which incidentally didn’t look cold and stabbing anymore, but warm and full of something she really didn’t want to name at that moment.

They lay there, face-to-face, practically nose-to-nose, each studying the other, until Blaire did something she’d never done in her entire life. Something so bizarre, something so uncharacteristic of her, she thought she’d gone out of her mind. Something she’d never even dared to initiate.

She leaned forward and kissed him ever so softly on the lips.





Chapter Three


And he kissed back.

His lips captured hers and his arms tightened their hold around her back. He smelled of wood smoke and tasted of coffee. The whiskers over his lip tickled slightly but also felt sort of raw and manly. She liked it. His flannel shirt, as well as his body, held the heat between them. Blaire’s lips seared with the moist intent of his angled across hers. His tongue dipped, and she parted her lips cautiously and then let caution to the wind as he groaned and deepened the intensity of the kiss. She groaned a little back and gathered the fabric of his shirt in her hands.

Passion, deep-seated in her belly, twittered up in sensual ribbons, and she wanted to open her body and let him in. Oh, God. That thought was ridiculous. But it was what she wanted.

She broke away, pushed him back.

“Mornin’, Pixie,” he said.

Blaire leapt back out of his grasp, berating herself for her stupidity. What was she doing kissing the man? She glanced down at herself. Where did she get this T-shirt? How in the hell did she allow herself to get suckered in by his flannel shirt? Darian MacGlenary held an evil, sexy look in his eye. Most definitely evil. Temptation. Oh God. And she was frightened beyond belief. Not only of him but also of herself.

Of what she was feeling.

“Um…yeah. Mornin’.”

She scrambled to the far corner of the bed near the headboard. Blaire sat up, drew her knees to her chest, and draped the blankets over them protectively. It was then that she risked a look at him. He was still lying on his side, his head propped on his fist, legs crossed leisurely at the ankles. Smiling.

“Why are you still lying there? Shouldn’t you get up and…do something?”

Darian shrugged. “Nothing to do right now.”

He still watched her. Blaire looked everywhere but at him until she couldn’t stand it anymore. She looked at his lips.

“You know I really need to get out of here before somebody kisses…” Oh damn. “I mean, misses me.” Blaire looked away in blushing embarrassment. She felt MacGlenary’s grin on her.

“You said ‘kisses’.”

Her gaze snapped to his. “I meant ‘misses’.”

“That’s not what you said.”

Her eyes narrowed. “It’s what I meant.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh.”

By this time MacGlenary had rolled over on his stomach closer to her, and Blaire had leaned in his direction to make her point. She looked at his lips again, remembering the tickle of his mustache, but also remembering the eruption of emotion and the warmth she felt with his arms wrapped around her.

She hadn’t realized she was staring at him until she saw his lips move.

“Want to try it again?”

Blaire sat up, ramrod straight. “What?”

MacGlenary chuckled. “C’mon, Pixie.” He pointed to his lips. “Lay another one on me.”

He was taunting her! She, an innocent victim of circumstance, holed up in this ungodly cabin with an uncivilized man who wears flannel shirts. And he was taunting her?

“Go lay one on yourself.”

He snorted, and she jerked the covers back in an attempt of escape. But he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. MacGlenary was on her in a flash. Beneath him, his hard-muscled body covering every inch of her five-foot-four frame and then some. Every time she breathed in, her chest rose and the thin, cotton T-shirt she wore did nothing to protect her hardened nipples from his chest. They seemed to graze the front of his shirt every few seconds. And she didn’t like what it did to her.

Well, actually, she did.

No, she didn’t.

Darian took first one of her hands, then another, and lifted them over her head. She sucked in a shaking breath as he pinned them there with his one big hand. His stare bore down on her but had lost the evil teasing look of a moment earlier. She was momentarily frightened.


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