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Authors: Suzanne D. Williams

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BOOK: Love After Snowfall
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An excuse. Being self-sufficient physically had handicapped her emotionally. The thought of people and crowds, cities, terrified her. She’d become that way living here with Nathan. He’d handled any transactions that required travel, often leaving her behind for days. He and Timmy had been her only companions.

“You are
not
self-sufficient. People need people, something you’ve proven to me in the last day.”

“I need no one. I will take you to your cabin and return here.”
An odd ache formed in her gut at her own words, but she quelled it. She’d gotten too soft, Ezekiel Knapp’s affections working on her in an unseemly manner. It would pay to remain unattached. She’d see he had medical care and go on with her existence.

“You will
not
return here,” he said. “I know we’ve had only the last day together, but I like you, Clem. I refuse to walk away.”

“You will not
be walking away,” she returned, motioning at his leg.

He made a face.
“Carried away. Flying away. The transport is not the issue. I don’t wish to become a man with one leg, but I don’t wish to become a man without Clementine Button either.”


Psh.” She made a sound and spun away from him again.

“Spoken like a woman who only needs a little convincing,” he said.

“If your convincing involves any use of your mouth, then forget it.”

He laughed and one hand on her
shoulder, flipped her flat. “Now, which use of my mouth are we speaking of?” A spark lit in his eyes and danced there.

“The same one Nathan used to shut me up,” she returned.

He leaned closer, bringing his lips to hers. “Nathan was a smart man. I’m beginning to see why he kept you here all to himself.”

“If you kiss me …” she began. She meant it as a warning, but the twitch of the corner of his mouth said he took it differently.

“What if I make you a promise?” he asked. “I’m a man of my word.”

She said nothing. Faithfulness had to be proven, and though some part of her like
d him, he’d yet to demonstrate that to her.

“Come with me, Clem. I won’t leave you. I promise.”

“You aren’t in a position to leave me,” she said. “And how can you promise me something you have no power over? There is nothing between us. If I come with you, then I’m what? Your companion? I hardly think we should share a bed together out there.”

He took hold of her hand and folded it in his. “What if I give you everything that’s
Ezekiel Knapp?”

She drew her brow into a
v
. What did he mean by that?

“What if we go to the city together and get married?”

She drew back. “Married? I hardly know you.” She wriggled upright, but he once again pulled her back.

“Hear me out,” he said.
“You don’t want to be alone, and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather share my life with.”

“It’s ridiculous.” She struggled against him. “Unhand me, Mr. Knapp.”

His palm to her chest prevented her from rising. “It’s Ezekiel. Stop calling me
mister
. And stop fighting against something we both want.”

She stilled.

“Is that how Nathan did it?” he asked. “He came into your life and whisked you away? I’ve said I’m not him. So you should see I have no intention of leaving you behind, on this planet or the next.”

Her hand struck his cheek with a
thwack.
He stared at her unmoved. “Go ahead. Be angry at me. Then get over it and consent to be my wife.”

She chewed on her lip,
her gaze on the handprint newly formed on his skin. Where Nathan had been driven, Ezekiel was tenacious. She’d always been able to convince Nathan to let her have her way. He’d dispute with her at first, thick brows drawn tight, but relent in the end.

“We’ll go to your cabin
and call for help,” she said, measuring her words. “But you have not convinced me to the rest.”

He lowered his face to hers. “Give me time, Clem, becaus
e convincing is something I do really well.” With that, he captured her lips, and she sailed away on the strength of it.

Who was this man?
And why was she so powerless in front of him?

 

CHAPTER 3

 

The sky was clear and bright, and the air tremendously cold. It promised to be a good day for travel, but an uncomfortable one that night. Clementine turned her footsteps toward the suspended moose meat. There were many things that needed doing before they left. They must eat, then pack clothing and emergency supplies, also, cooking utensils. It paid to be prepared.

She’d been f
oolish to stay here and risk infection in his leg. The streaking around the wound was a sure sign things had turned worse. It was perhaps equally foolish, to consent to take him west, though according to him, it was closer. Traveling to town would be safer and more familiar. She should put her foot down and refuse.

She snorted.
Like he’d listen. All morning he’d rattled her thoughts with his kisses, and it had worked. Lying there, pressed up against him, she’d entertained his proposal for a minute or more. He’d read her right. She didn’t want to be left behind, but neither did she want to leave and live in the city. Having someone in the cabin with her again had taken her back to life with Nathan, the feeling she’d had of her and him against the world.

Her footsteps lifted the new powder
snow into a fine spray.

Admit it, Clementine, that’s not all you remember.
No, it wasn’t. Vivid dreams of Nathan’s lovemaking had returned, only they were mixed in with Ezekiel’s face. She shouldn’t think such. This was a man she’d rescued only two days ago. She couldn’t possibly have grown attached to him in two days.

She’d take him to his cabin, call for help, and return
home. Any upset she felt by his removal from her life she’d simply have to get over. She couldn’t have everything she wanted. She’d learned that with Nathan. She’d given up things for him, too.

Her family, for one.
Leaving North Carolina to move to Alaska had been huge, and now, she’d not spoken to any of them in over five years. Five long years. She missed her sister and her mom and dad. She missed the green mountainsides, sweeping farm valleys, and rocky streams. There was so much life there, a beauty much different from Alaska.

She’d given up communication, for another. Five years in this cabin, on this property, barely speaking to another person besides Nathan had changed her from the outgoing twenty-year-old Nathan had fallen in love with to the solitary woman she was now.

She needed no one to survive. Every day, she told herself that.

Approaching the meat, she
slowed and raised her gaze. But in lifting it, her eyes fell on a pattern in the snow. Her heartbeat sped in her chest.

“What’s this?” Crouching on her heels, she laid the span of her hand in the impression of a man’s boots, a bigger man than Ezekiel Knapp. She scanned the path of the prints away from
the cabin and into the distant trees. They were hours old. Whoever this was had come during the night.

The meat.
Standing back to her feet, she shuffled forward and uttered an oath. He’d stolen an entire leg quarter! One oath was followed by two, her anger flaring. She’d worked hard for this moose, and this man had cut into her winter supplies without any thought.

She removed her knife and flicked op
en the blade, stabbing the meat. She cut a portion and settled it in her sack.

Stolen what wasn’t his and not knocked at the door. This though
t bothered her. Why wouldn’t he knock? There was no one else this distance out, and she’d have provided warmth and shelter without giving it any thought.

He was a
traveler then, another trapper, or someone on a mission. He must have not had time to pause.

She dismissed it. She shouldn’t begrudge him food. Once Ezekiel was gone, she’d have
enough to survive. Providing whoever had come last night didn’t return again.

She slung her sack over her arm and clutched her rifle. She’d come prepared this time against the bear, though most likely it was gone. Perhaps she should remain prepared against the intruder as well.

Trudging back toward the cabin, her thoughts moved inside. She’d be glad to be done with Mr. Knapp. He was becoming a real problem in her mind, one easily enough removed once she made this trip. Two days, maybe a third, tops, and she’d go back to being Clementine Button, the wife of deceased, Nathan Button, who’d loved her.

But not enough to live for.

 

***

 

“Are you comfortable?”

Ezekiel looked up at Clementine from his position in the sled. Maybe he was crazy to have
mentioned marriage, but it seemed like the perfect solution. She was as afraid of abandonment as she was of leaving the small world she lived in, and he could help her with both. “If you include lying upside this hunk of moose meat, then I’m fine.”

She made her characteristic cross between a scowl and a
pout. “We will need the meat.”

“And the frying pan and the bear grease and …”
The other thirty supplies.

“Mr. Knapp …” She
cut him off, then seemed to make an effort to relax, lowering her voice. “Ezekiel, there are always unforeseen circumstances out here, and though the snowmobile has served me well, it is an old machine.”

This brought a question to mind. “Where have you gotten gasoline all this time?” he asked.

She nodded her head toward barrels at the side of the cabin. “Nathan had enough to last us two years. I’ve used half of it.”

He eyed her
. “What would you have done when you ran out?”

She ignored
his question, calling the dog. “Up, Timmy.”

Timmy climbed in
beside him, wrapping herself around his feet. Either Clementine had no plan, which was probably the case, or the one she had was weak. He laid back, his view for the next few hours destined to be the sky and the trees.

Clementine’s boots crunched over the snow
to the side of the snowmobile, and the sound of the motor drowned out any further possibility of talk. He settled back as best he could for the long ride.

It was smooth for quite a ways, and
warm enough. She’d bundled him even more than before, and the dog provided steady heat. He drifted off for a bit and awoke to the skid of the runners, the swish of the snow, and an ache in his backside. The sled could use more padding.

She slowed to a crawl then came to a halt. Her face looking down at him brought a smile to his l
ips. “A lovely sight.”

She frowned. “I did not stop for compliments.”

He laughed. For all her crustiness, Clementine had a soft side that was intensely appealing, and sleeping beside her for two nights now, though he wasn’t conscious much during the first one, had given him thoughts he’d dismissed from his life. Kissing her was pleasurable, and, if not for his injury, not where he had wanted to stop each time. He
was
a man who’d lived alone for several years after all.

Nevertheless,
the words of his mother kept pounding in his head.
A woman’s a man’s best thing, and he should respect that, put a ring on her finger.

That was as much behind his proposal as anything else. In
his heart, in the deepest place, he knew he’d never find another woman like her. Frivolous, fragile females did not appeal to him at all. He had no use for parties, fancy clothing, or expensive living, and here was a woman who was anti all those things. She could shoot a moose and slaughter it, chop her own firewood, do any of the numerous chores it took to live in the wilds of Alaska without giving them much thought. Physically, she needed no one. However, there the comparison ended. Mentally, she did, and she wasn’t about to admit that.

“I do not like wondering what goes through your brain,” she said.

His smile widened. “I would tell you, but you’d dump me out of the sled.” He twisted his head to see around the area, but the wooden sides she’d fashioned were too high. “Why are we stopped?”

“Direction.
You need to tell me which way to your cabin.” She circled behind him and with her hands beneath his shoulders, shoved him upright.

He gave a groan.
Stupid leg.

He turned his
eyes to the area around them and nodded his head to the side. “That way, directly west. You’ll cross the river at some point.” He brought his gaze to her face, now inverted over his. “We should check my traps while we’re here.”

“Check your traps?”

“Right. Why not? We’re near the run of them, and it’ll save me losing whatever’s been caught.”

“I did not bring you this far to check traps.”

He chuckled. “Come, now, Clem. You’re a practical woman, whatever’s in the traps is money, and money’s scarce out here.”

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