Authors: Krystal Shannan
She jumped, startled by a burst of wind and snow pounding against the bedroom window.
A storm. I’m trapped with God only knows who in the middle of a fucking storm
. Panic filled her and her body trembled.
“Please let go of me,” she whispered, placing her unsteady palm against his chest, pushing away slowly.
He started with a gasp, turning his head to face her. She was not expecting a look of relief and genuine concern. His face reddened as well.
Is he embarrassed
He slid his arm from beneath her and removed his hand from her ass. “Please forgive me. I was only trying to warm you up. You were practically frozen when we found you.” He moved from the bed to the closet in the corner.
“We?” she asked.
Who else was here
“Juno, my dog. He was the big white shepherd.”
Ksenia missed his warm body next to hers. She shivered and pulled the covers tight around her shoulders.
He is not one of the kidnappers. This man found me in the snow. He saved my life
. She vaguely remembered him saying he worked for a sheriff. He’d shot the kidnapper.
This, I can handle
The muscles in his back rippled as he dug through the bottom of the closet. That she’d been touching him only moments ago was hard to believe. Maybe she had been a little hasty in wanting him to get out of the bed.
What am I thinking
Thank God, that redhead let his guard down for a second
. She shuddered at the thought of his hands touching her the way this man’s had.
“I knew I had one pair with drawstrings.” His gentle voice brought her from her thoughts. He stood and faced her holding a pair of black sweatpants. Sure enough, a drawstring hung from the waistband, and US Marine Corps was printed down the right leg.
She narrowed her gaze. “And?”
“They are for you. I sorta ruined your pants, and your sweater was pretty bad, too, after being wet and frozen.”
“I know these aren’t really feminine, but they will do in a pinch.” He smiled and winked. “Course, you are welcome to stay in your current state of undress.”
The smile and tease put some of her anxiety to rest.
I am safe for now, but what about the other goon
He’ll be looking for me and I didn’t see who was driving the white pickup
“Those will be fine. Do you have a hoodie or something I can wear, too? My normal attire consists of sweats and T-shirts.” She eyeballed the black, khaki, and green clothing hanging in his closet. Several also had Marine Corps stamps on the sleeves. “Are you a Marine?”
He laid the black sweatpants on the foot of the bed and returned to the closet. All of his movements were slow and relaxed, allowing her to relax as well. After grabbing another pair and stepping into them, he reached into the closet again and took out a cream-colored, long-sleeved thermal shirt. She scrunched her nose in disappointment when he covered up his washboard abs and rippling shoulders. A small sigh escaped. Why was her mind concerning itself over his abs? She needed to focus on contacting her father.
“Yes.” He finally answered as he stepped over to a dresser in the corner of the room. Moments later, he produced a huge hoodie with the words “Property of US Marines” stamped across the front. “Will this work?”
Ksenia chuckled and nodded.
This guy needs a little variety in the wardrobe
She slid from beneath the covers and tugged on the grossly oversized sweatpants. He had been right. Without the drawstring, wearing them would have been impossible. She pulled it as tight as she could, but they still rested very low on her hips. The edge of her bright pink underwear showed above the waistband.
Oh well, he’s already seen them anyway
He approached her with a smile and heat in his eyes. She grabbed the hoodie and slipped it over her head. “Oh my God, you’re huge.” She struggled to get her hands to the ends of the long sleeves. The garment hung to her knees. She glanced up to see his lips pressed together, like he was choking on a laugh. The corners of his eyes were crinkled and amusement flickered in his heated gaze. Her cheeks burned. “
…. I’m sorry.”
“It’s perfectly all right. The clothes are a little big on you.” His warm laugh rippled through the room.
“A little,” she quipped with a smirk. “At least now you won’t be blinded by my underwear.”
“It wasn’t as bad as you think.”
She snorted through a giggle, rolling her eyes. Her stomach growled loudly, and her hands flew to try and cover the sound.
He smiled. “I can make some dinner, if you’re hungry.”
Ksenia raised her eyebrows. Food did sound good, but she needed to get hold of her father. “What time is it? What day is it?”
How much time did I lose
Papa needs to know I’m safe
“Day before Christmas Eve. You wouldn’t have lasted out there overnight.”
“I know. I wasn’t dressed to be in the weather. I was supposed to be on a plane.” She sighed and sat down on the bed. “Do you have a phone?”
He inclined his head toward the nightstand where a black cell phone lay. She reached over and tapped the home button. The screen flashed, and a message displayed across the screen—
Shit. Now what
He nodded. “Storms usually knock my cell service out.”
“Oh, no satellite phone or radio?”
“Summit County doesn’t have money for satellite phones, and the storm last week took out my radio antenna. The parts to fix it haven’t come in yet.”
“You don’t keep spare parts?”
“No money in the budget for that.”
“Thank you for saving my life. I would be dead if you hadn’t shot that man. My father will probably offer you a job when he meets you. Don’t take it though.” She frowned at his grin.
“Let’s talk over something to eat. I have a few questions for you.”
She followed him into the cozy eating nook in his kitchen, sat down on the cushioned bench, and crossed her legs. He continued over to the stovetop, put down a frying pan, and turned on a burner before proceeding to dig through the refrigerator.
Her gaze wandered across the living area. The space was comfortable but undecorated. A brown couch and recliner faced the fireplace with a large flat-screen TV mounted above it.
Even in the mountains, you can’t separate a man from his TV
. She smiled and peered out into the swirling snowstorm. Two dark eyes and a pink nose suddenly pressed against the outside of the window.
“Your dog is still outside.”
He laughed. “Juno is on guard duty.”
“Oh.” She paused and then introduced herself. “I’m Ksenia Sharanov.”
“It’s nice to meet you. Matt O’Reilly at your service.” He winked and set a plate of eggs and toast spread with butter and strawberry jam in front of her. It smelled divine, and her stomach grumbled again. She was glad he didn’t recoil at her name. A lot of people did, and the police were always trailing a few steps behind, trying to get clues into her father’s business dealings.
“Thank you.” She paused. “When you found me…. Didn’t you say you worked for the sheriff?”
“You’re welcome, and yes, I did. I’m glad you remember. Makes me less worried about a concussion. You mentioned more would come. More men?”
“Enemies of my father. There are at least two more kidnappers.” She shuddered and took a big bite of the crunchy toast. The strawberry jam was so sweet. She licked her lips in appreciation. “I thought I was dead when I fell over the ledge. Then, again, when he was about to shoot me. They killed my bodyguard, Yuri. At least that’s how they made it seem.”
Surely he didn’t betray me
. Her eyes teared at the memory. She wiped them. “He’s been with me six years. Ever since freshman year in college.”
He slid into the bench opposite her with another full plate. “You are safe with me. As soon as the storm clears, I’ll take you wherever you need to go.”
She laid her fork on the table and picked up the second piece of toast. Her stomach grumbled again. “They are going to come looking for me. They won’t stop until they kill me.”
“Not in this storm. Where are you from, and why do they want you dead?”
“I’m from Moscow, but I am studying at NYU to get my Masters in Computer Engineering. So I’ve been living in New York for the past seven years.”
“That’s why your English is so good.”
She nodded, her mouth full of toast. After swallowing, she continued. “I came out here with my roommates to ski. I’m just glad their flight was delayed, or they would have been in the car with me when those goons attacked. My death will be retaliation for something my father did—” Too much information could implicate her father in the murders of the men who killed her brother, and she would never betray her family.
“Will be? You speak as though it’s still going to happen.”
She sighed. “That’s why I had a bodyguard. It’s not the first time they’ve tried, and it won’t be the last. This is the first time they’ve tried in the States, though.”
He frowned and continued to eat. When they had both finished, he cleared the table and washed the dishes.
A Marine and a cop.
What are the chances
If anyone can be trusted, surely it’s him
. The corners of her lips curved up. He had short dark hair with gray speckled in just above his ears. The service had been hard on him. She wondered how old he was…thirty-five, maybe? When he’d smiled at her, his whole face lit up. A guy hadn’t looked at her like that in a long time, not since Papa had chased Stephen off four years before and come to think of it, she couldn’t remember Stephen ever showing such desire.
He had only been after the influence he could gain by being married to Peter Sharanov’s daughter. Yuri never kept her from dating after he left, but she couldn’t bring herself to trust anybody after that. Giving her heart to a man who didn’t love her wasn’t a mistake she wanted to make twice.
The lights flickered and went out.
“Damn,” Matt muttered. “Sit still. I have a lantern in the bedroom.”
The cabin was pitch black, but he made his way easily to the bedroom and returned with a fluorescent lantern. Ksenia was right where he’d left her—huddled on the bench at the table.
“Is anything wrong?” Her voice held an anxious edge.
“No, the storm just knocked it out. If something was wrong, Juno would have barked.”
“Is he still out there?”
Matt smiled and turned toward the front of the cabin. “Juno, check.” A quick bark answered the command. “He’s good. He’ll make sure nobody gets close without letting me know.”
She seemed to be adjusting well, nothing high-maintenance about this girl so far. He like that a lot. More than he should. “Would you like to play cards? Come on, I’ll get the fire started. It’s going to get cold in here without the furnace.”
Her face lit up. “Yes.”
Matt picked up the lantern, and led the way into the living room. He settled Ksenia on a throw in front of the fireplace and used the key and a lit match to produce a roaring fire. He was never so glad he had upgraded the fireplace from wood burning to gas.
Matt pulled a deck of cards from a nearby end table and dropped down next to her. “What’s your game?”
“Poker,” she answered and gave him a sly grin.
He chuckled at her confidence. “Great.”
“You will not think so after I beat the pants off you.” Her laugh filled the cabin.
“Bring it on. I play a pretty mean poker game myself.”
“Have you ever played a Russian?”
“No, I can’t say that I have.”
“We always win.”
Two hours later, after many rounds of poker lost, Matt was quite willing to agree with her. Ksenia had completely wiped the floor with him. He laid down his last hand and held his arms up in mock surrender.
“Coward. I was bluffing,” she quipped and giggled.
“You count cards, don’t you?”
He caught the slightest hint of a smirk in the firelight. Her brunette hair fell in soft waves around her face and down past her shoulders. The only thought in his mind was running his fingers through the glistening locks.
She is not a good idea. Who knows what she’s mixed up in
“Let’s just say I wouldn’t recommend a game of real poker with me…ever.” She flashed him a wide grin. “I play a very good game of pool as well.”
“I bet you do.” He returned the smile. “Are you getting tired?”
“Maybe a little.”
“You’ve had a long day.”
“True. I wish I could call my father. He will be worried sick.”
“Is there was anything I can do?”
“It’s not your fault. You’ve done nothing but help me and make me comfortable in your home.”
The wind had picked up even more and was beating torrents of snow against roof and walls. The cabin groaned and the shutters rattled. Matt stood and grabbed the lantern. “Come on, let’s get you tucked in.” She stood and walked ahead of him from the living room and down the short hallway to the right—back to his bedroom. Matt turned to go as she sat down on the edge of the bed. “I’ll leave the lantern in here, in case you need to go to the restroom.”
“I—” She started to say something, but seemed to decide against it. “Thank you.”
Matt headed for the door. He wondered what she had wanted to say, but it wasn’t his place to press.
He paused and glanced back. Her gaze darted to the rattling window and then again to him. Lips that had previously been relaxed and laughing were now tight together. She looked genuinely scared.
“Will you stay with me, at least until I fall asleep?”
His groin tightened at the thought of slipping into the bed next to her. He hadn’t realized how hard he was fighting his own desires until she asked that simple question.
“Are you sure?”
She nodded and moved to the far side of the bed.
“I was going to sleep in the living room.”
“Please stay with me. I really don’t like storms.”
She is scared. Geez, and here you were thinking about taking advantage of her