Authors: Desiree Holt
Tags: #Western romance, #erotic western romance, #contemporary western romance
She couldn’t believe the switch in conversation. Had she just imagined him saying those three words that were turning her upside down? Her body ached for his hands, his tongue, his hardened erection, and he was talking about landscaping?
“I don’t think—”
“That’s right. Don’t think. Just let this take us wherever it goes.” He bent and brushed his lips over hers. “Good night, Dewdrop. See you tomorrow.”
Then he was gone.
Cassie sat on the patio for a long time, playing with the locket and where his lips had made contact with hers. She called herself all kinds of a fool, knowing she stared danger in the face. She had to find a way to protect herself from this fire threatening to consume her again. Once burned was more than enough for her.
Griffin Hunter could whisper all the sweet words in her ear he wanted. She knew the truth. In the vernacular, he wanted to fuck her, and just like before, he’d do whatever it took to accomplish it. She just wished she didn’t feel this awful, aching need.
Sleep eluded Cassie. She tossed, restless, dozing off and on to be awakened by the memory of Griff’s mouth on hers, his maleness so close to her. Images of the past kept floating in her head. No matter how she tried, she couldn’t chase them away.
When the numbers on her watch read at six o’clock and the sun was already trying to slip in around the edges of the window shade, she got up to work on the house. She stepped into the shorts and T-shirt she’d thrown over a chair, pulled her hair back in a ponytail, and hurried to the kitchen. In seconds, she had the coffee pot going. Too bad she couldn’t wave a magic wand and make her wonderful single-serving pot appear. Today she reminded herself to eat, popping bread in the toaster while she filled a mug.
She was munching on the last bite when she heard a truck pull into the driveway. A glance at the clock told her it was almost six thirty. Nobody started life that early in Stoneham. Peeking through the curtains, she saw Griff lifting equipment out of a pickup labeled
Hunter Landscape Services
. Ignoring the flutter in her stomach, she opened the door and stepped out on the porch.
“I think this is a very bad idea.” She tried to sound as firm as possible. If she let him into one corner of her life, he’d take the rest. She couldn’t do it again. Sure, he’d said he loved her, but could she believe him? Trust him, after everything?
He looked up. “Planning on doing the yard work yourself?”
“Okay, then. I try to get as much done as I can before the worst heat of the day. I thought I’d get all the hand work done before starting the mower. Don’t want your neighbors throwing rocks at me.”
She started to tell him again to go away, but her mouth had its own idea of what to say. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
He stopped arranging his tools and looked at her for a moment then nodded. When he spoke, his tone was as reserved as hers. “Yes. That would be nice. Black, no sugar.”
“Easy enough.” Cassie girl, you are playing with fire again. How many times will you hold yourself in the flame?
She ignored the alarms going off in her head and poured coffee into a mug for Griff, refilled her own, and took them both out to the porch. She sat down on the top step and motioned for him to join her.
“I appreciate the hospitality.” He sipped his coffee. “Not what I expected after last night.”
. She was still trying to decide if she had imagined it or not. Had he said he loved her or had she imagined it? Was the unbelievable story he told true? From beneath her lashes, she stole an all-encompassing look at him. His jeans and T-shirt hugged his body like a second skin. As he sat down, muscles flexed smooth and effortless beneath the fabric. When she got to the bulge in his crotch, her gaze slithered away.
Don’t go there.
The aviator shades were in place again, making his eyes unreadable. Cassie wished hers were, too. When he turned her face toward him, she was afraid of what he would see there.
“We still have a long way to go, sugar,” he said, in his deep, liquid voice, “and I’m not rushing things. But I’m taking advantage of every minute you’re here. Be warned.”
She didn’t know what to say to that. She was torn between wanting to run and wanting to throw her arms around him and bury herself against him.
“So,” he said, changing the subject. “How’s it been going? Anyone giving you a hard time?”
She shook her head. “Not unless you count the fact that you can’t get anything done until next year around here. I forgot this place operates on Stoneham time.”
He threw back his head and laughed. “Oh, yes. Nobody hurries for anything around here. What’s on your plate that you’re so anxious to get finished with?”
She ticked off her items for him. “Cleaning out the house, listing the house, probating the will, having the funeral service, all that stuff. Neil McLeod’s handling the legal work, but he doesn’t seem in any bigger hurry to get stuff done than anyone else.”
“Get used to it, Cassie. You’ve been away too long. Nothing’s changed.”
Except my life.
“By the way. Who would I call as a locksmith to bribe for some Saturday work?”
“You have to be kidding.” He cocked an eyebrow. “What’s so urgent it can’t wait until Monday?”
She told him about Diane’s room. “I’m sure it’s nothing more than my imagination, but it makes me nervous thinking someone I don’t know about has a key to this house.” A thought struck her. “You didn’t happen to come over and go through that room, did you?”
“I haven’t set foot in this house since Diane died,” he said, obviously angry at her implication. “And if I did, I wouldn’t be sneaky about it.” He drained his coffee. “I don’t like the sound of this, though. Especially with you staying here all alone. Let me make a couple of calls.”
He pulled his cell phone off the belt clip and scrolled through to find the number he wanted. Cassie listened while he cajoled someone into coming over, in the end almost threatening. “Just do it,” he said. “You owe me enough favors, it won’t kill you to pay one back.”
“I don’t want you to impose on anyone for me.” Cassie folded her hands on her knees in a prim gesture.
Griffin disconnected the call. “Phil Morgan does most of the locksmith work in town. He hates to work on Saturday, but I rattled his cage a little. And I’m not imposing. He wouldn’t mind calling me if he needed some work in a hurry.”
“Thank you.” She didn’t know what else to say. “I appreciate it.”
“Is the room still the way you found it?”
She nodded. “I checked everything then put it back the way it was. I thought of calling the police, but I changed my mind.”
“When I take a break, I want you to show it to me.” He handed her back the mug. “Thanks for the coffee. I need to get to work.”
Cassie dragged out the cleaning supplies she’d bought, found her mother’s broom and vacuum cleaner, and began methodically divesting the house of its accumulation of dust and neglect. She didn’t know how long it had been since someone had cleaned the rooms, or what her mother had been able to do.
She made a mental note to call Harley in the afternoon and ask him more about her mother’s condition. She felt bad about not getting back to him yesterday, but her mind had been on other things.
A lot of other things. And with all the answers she’d been looking for, she seemed to have come up with more questions than ever.
Cassie had just finished with the living room when the doorbell rang. When she opened the door, Griffin stood there with Phil Morgan.
“How you doin’, Cassie?” Phil had been a big player in Diane’s group, but now he seemed intimidated by her little sister’s presence.
Cassie smothered a laugh. “Fine, Phil. Just fine.”
“Sorry about your mother. She was a nice lady.”
“Thank you very much.”
Griffin stepped into the house and took charge. “Cassie, why don’t you let Phil know what all he needs to do. Then you can show me that thing you were talking about before.”
“Oh! Of course. And thanks for coming out on a Saturday, Phil.” She made herself smile at the man. “I know I cut into your time off, and I’m more than willing to pay for it.”
He just nodded then followed her as she showed him all the doors, even the one from the garage into the house. He made notes on a little pad of paper as they walked, nodding to himself.
“Okay,” he said when they were finished. “Let me get my stuff, and I’ll have it done in no time. I’ve got a portable key machine, so you’ll have a whole new set before I leave.”
She was more grateful to him than she could have said.
“I want to see Diane’s room,” Griffin murmured, coming up behind her. “Let’s do it while Phil does his thing.”
She felt strange standing with him in this room, a painful picture of him and Diane together on this bed slamming into her brain. Could she ever ask him all the questions tumbling in her mind? She tamped down her thoughts to focus on what they were doing.
“You’re right,” Griff said. “Your mother invented neatness. Her housekeeping may have suffered the last few months, but she never would have left stuff this way. And, of course, it’s been six years since Diane set foot in here.”
He frowned as he looked around, standing still for a long time as if memorizing details. He walked around the room once more, taking his time now, studying in the disarray in the closet, searching for some kind of indication of why someone had been there.
“What I can’t figure,” he said at last, “is what they’d be looking for. Diane didn’t have anything of real value. Not even our wedding ring. I got what I could afford. And why now?”
“I asked myself the same thing. I can tell you my parents didn’t change a thing in this room after Diane died. Did she spend much time over here?”
“As much time as she did anywhere, I guess, including our home.” The venom in his voice was obvious. “But she didn’t have anything worth taking. Something else is going on here, and it bothers me that I can’t figure it out.”
Phil was just finishing up when they walked out onto the porch. He closed the workbox on his truck and brought a set of keys to her.
“The same key will open all the doors,” he told Cassie. “I didn’t know how many you’d need, so I made four. I guessed you were looking for extra security, so I also put deadbolts on the three outer doors.”
“Thank you very much,” Cassie told him. “This has been a big help. Let me get my checkbook, and I’ll pay you. Oh.” She stopped. “It’s an out-of-state check. Is that okay? I promise you it’s good.”
“No problem.” His smile was just a tad uneasy. “Uh, just pay me for the materials, and we’ll call it square.”
“But that’s ridiculous.” She raised an eyebrow. “What’s going on? You came out here on a Saturday, which is at least double time. I insist.”
“Uh…Griffin?” He shifted from one foot to another.
“Pay him what he says, Cassie. He owes me too many favors to charge for his time.”
She saw it was useless to argue with them, so she wrote out a check for the locks and Phil all but ran to his truck.
“I think that man’s afraid of you,” she said, a smile twitching the corners of her mouth. “Do you beat him on a regular basis?”
“At least once a week,” he said, a solemn expression on his face. Then he then winked at her.
Her heart stuttered, and she had to turn away. This was absurd and ridiculous, and she had to stop it.
He went back to the yard work, and she tackled another room in the house. When her stomach grumbled, she knew it was time for lunch. She debated about offering Griffin something, knowing she was wading into deeper and deeper waters, but finally went to the door and hollered to him.
“If you like tuna fish, lunch will be ready in ten minutes.”
He looked up from the side yard, startled. He wiped at the sweat on his forehead with his arm. “Okay. But I need to find a place to wash up.”
“You can use the bathroom downstairs. Come on in.” She went back to the kitchen to fix their lunch.
What are you doing, Cassie?
In a minute, the front door opened and closed, and footsteps moved down the hall. She was just setting their plates on the table when he came into the kitchen. His presence filled the room. His hair was still damp from running wet hands through it, and he had put on a clean T-shirt. Muscles rippled beneath the tanned skin, and he smelled of maleness and the outdoors. Her unruly hormones did a happy dance.
Despite the past, despite the pain she still carried with her every day, she wanted nothing more than to throw herself against his body and hold on for dear life. And that was a sure recipe for disaster.
“I think you’ll need to soak the towel I used, for about a week,” Griff told her with a tiny grin. “Sorry about that.”
“No problem.” She fussed at the table settings. “I hope this is okay.”
She had prepared tuna sandwiches with chips and pickles and large glasses of iced tea.
“This is fine. You didn’t have to fix anything for me. Most days I just take a break and run down to the sandwich shop.”
“I didn’t mind. I was making something for myself anyway.” Could she just stop being so fidgety? She felt like a fly that couldn’t find a place to light.
It’s just lunch. What’s the big deal?
“Thank you for getting Phil out here and helping with the locks.”
He shrugged. “No big deal. He does owe me, and it was important to get it done. I’m not saying someone has a key to this place, but no sense taking chances.”
“I can’t imagine why anyone would want to go through Diane’s room.” She brushed a stray hair off her face. “It just seems so strange. What on earth could they be looking for?”
“Do you know what kind of visitors your mother had in the last few months?”.
Cassie shifted in her chair. “I know this sounds awful to say, but I haven’t spoken to my mother in the past six months.”
Griff gave her a strange look. “Did you two have a fight? I know you haven’t been back here since…well, for several years, but I guess I assumed you all were still talking.”