Authors: Seraphina Donavan
The SUV skidded sideways a bit as Patrick Murphy eased it into park. The small compact car was pulled off onto the side of the road, nearly covered with snow. It was a city car with its Georgia tags proclaiming the owner to be a resident of Fulton County, he could only imagine what an Atlantian was doing driving in the West Virginia mountains in the middle of a freak snow storm. With a gloved hand, he knocked on the snow covered window.
“Hello? Do you need help?” There was no answer. He reached for the door handle and found it locked, but from the muffled shriek, he knew the car wasn’t empty. “Look, I’m not going to hurt you, but you can’t stay out here all night. You’re going to freeze to death.”
He cursed the foolishness of people who didn’t have the common sense to stay home, himself included.
Just as he was about to give up, the window rolled down a slow, painful inch at a time, revealing a face that he knew only too well. Kayleigh Donnelly was as gorgeous as ever with her bright green eyes and silky chestnut hair. He knew that when the light struck it just right, there were strands of a deep, rich red buried in it.
“What the hell were you thinking?” he demanded. “You should know better than to try these mountains in the snow!”
“I didn’t roll the window down so you could yell at me, Murphy! I can’t get cell service out here. If you’ll just call Steven, he can come pick me up and we can pretend we never set eyes on one another!”
“You can’t call your brother, Kayleigh, because he’s out of town... and you’ve lived in Atlanta for too damned long if you think anyone gets cell service up here.”
Kayleigh wanted to cry, but she was just too cold. She hadn’t called Steven ahead of time because she hadn’t actually planned on seeing him. The intent had been to sneak up to the family’s cabin in the woods and lay low for a bit until she figured out what she was going to do to fix the mess she’d made of her life. Now, Steven was out of town and she was stuck with Patrick Murphy, her nemesis from time immemorial. It had started out innocently enough in childhood, with a bit of hair pulling and name calling. Over the years, it had grown worse. They couldn’t be in a room together without sniping at one another. Of all the people to discover her stranded on the road, it had to be him.
“Can you take me to Steven’s house?” she asked, though it goaded her to do so.
“No. The whole house is torn apart. He’s had workmen in there doing demolition on the bathrooms and kitchens. There isn’t even running water right now.... Get your bag. You can stay at my house.”
“Look, if you can just pull me out of the ditch I can probably make it to the cabin...”
“I have a four wheel drive, Kalyeigh, but if we stand here jabbering all night, even that won’t do us any good. Grab your gear and let’s go, or so help me God, I will haul you out of that car and toss you over my shoulder.”
Kayleigh didn’t doubt for a minute that he would do it. There were few men of her acquaintance who were strong enough to manhandle a woman her size, but Patrick Murphy, with his broad shoulders and well muscled chest was one of them. Reaching into the backseat, she grabbed the bag of clothes and toiletries, along with her laptop bag. Since the driver’s side door was jammed against the side of the ditch, she passed the bags to Murphy and climbed over the console. The snow was slick beneath her feet, her high heels having been intended for the failed job interview she’d gone to that morning rather than a harsh West Virginia winter. The sneer on his face was just about all she could take. Ready to give him more than just a piece of her mind, she opened her mouth, but whatever she was going to utter was lost on a shriek as he simply leaned forward and hoisted her onto his shoulder.
“What are you doing? Put me down!”
“Why? So I can watch you fall? I don’t think so, princess. You might be a pain in my ass, but your brother is my best friend. I’m not going to let you kill yourself out here just to be held responsible for it later.”
Patrick crossed the snow covered road in a few quick strides, the curve of Kayleigh’s bottom pointed skyward on his shoulder. He kept his hand fastened firmly around the backs of her thighs and completely ignored any urge he had to let it wander. Steven would kill him if he knew the kind of thoughts that routinely crossed his mind about Kayleigh. That was the primary reason he always picked at her. It was easier to keep the necessary distance if she was also hissing and spitting at him. There had been one night, the night of Steven’s wedding, when they’d stopped clawing at one another for a few minutes. As the best man and maid of honor at that wedding, they’d been required to dance together, and somehow they had danced right beneath the mistletoe. It had been a brief kiss, just a brushing of their lips together, but it had set him on fire, and he’d done everything possible to avoid her since.
Reaching the SUV, he deposited her on the passenger seat and stowed her bags in the back. He climbed into the driver’s seat without a word and turned the key. The engine roared to life and he headed up the mountain. The drive was tense and quiet, neither of them speaking and the vehicle slipping dangerously. When the finally reached his house, they just sat there in the driveway for a moment, relieved that the hellish trip was over. He cursed her foolishness and his own, and he cursed fate for locking him a snowbound cabin with a woman he could never have. It was going to be a long few days.
“Well, this is a fine mess,” she mumbled.
“That it is, but it looks like we’re stuck with each other, princess. Better make the best of it.” With that, he switched off the key and climbed out of the SUV.
Kayleigh reached for the door handle and climbed out of the vehicle. A loud groan above her caught her attention, and as she looked up, one of the branches of the large tree next to the cabin bowed, sending a shower of snow down on her. Her hair was soaked. The cold, wet snow invaded her clothing. It slid between the collar of her jacket and her neck. It dipped into her cleavage and managed to spread the icy wetness into her bra. It was the final insult of the day. It was literally the last thing she could take. The tears that she’d been staving off for days just erupted.
“It’s just a little snow, princess,” Murphy said to her, as he once again picked her up.
At least this time he didn’t throw her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, she thought. Instead, he scooped her into his arms and cradled her to his chest. She had to fight the urge to bury her face against his massive chest and just sob out all of her worries and heartbreaks. He wouldn’t appreciate it very much, she was sure, and there was the added bonus of giving him more ammunition to use against her.
Inside the cabin, Murphy flipped the light switch and cursed when nothing happened. He had a freezing, snow soaked woman in his arms who was crying as if she’d just lost both her dog and her best friend. Sobbing women, as a rule, made him very nervous. The fact that it was Kayleigh only made it worse. He wanted to fix it for her, he wanted to make everything okay. But if he let down his guard even for a minute, then the distance he’d fought so hard to maintain between them would be wasted. Steven wasn’t just his best friend, he reminded himself, he was pretty much his only friend. Making a move on Kayleigh would destroy that friendship.
In the dark, Patrick moved through the cabin, through the bedroom and into the bathroom. The ancient clawfoot tub had been refinished and the porcelain over cast iron sparkled. There were candles on the shelf and a book of matches. Setting Kayleigh on her feet, trying not to think about how good it had felt to hold her and how damned hard it was to let her go, he lit the candles and let the soft glow fill the room. The power hadn’t been out for long. The room was still pretty warm. Turning on the taps, he let the tub begin to fill.
“This room won’t stay warm for very long with the power out, but I’ll get the fire built up in the living room. Get out of those clothes and get a hot bath,” he said. He knew that he was barking orders at her, but it was all he could do.
“Aye, aye, captain.”
“You’re trying my patience, Kayleigh. I don’t know how long we’re going to be stuck here together and you getting sick isn’t an option. Now, strip and get into that tub, or I’ll put you in it clothes and all!”
Angry, not just at him and his orders, but at the situation itself and at the mess that had brought her there, Kayleigh yelled back at him. “Fine! You want me to strip then I’ll strip.” With a hard yank she pulled her jacket open, sending buttons flying everywhere. The silk blouse beneath it came next, again the buttons skittering across the tiled floor. She shrugged out of both garments, letting them fall to the floor. She couldn’t rip the skirt, she knew, but she unzipped it and let it drop to the ground until she stood there in only her bra and panties and the garter belt and stockings that she preferred. Pantyhose had always been a misery to her, and the ultra feminine stockings and garters made her feel sexy and beautiful, no matter how sedate her outward appearance was.
Breathing hard from anger, her face flushed and her lashes still damp with tears, she glared at him. “Happy now?” She was unprepared for his response. He shoved her against the wall, his body pressing against hers intimately. His mouth was on hers instantly--hard, unyielding, claiming, but oh so skillful. It wasn’t a kiss so much as a vanquishing. Her hands were above her head, pinned there by one of his larger hands. His other hand cupped her chin, tilting her head up, giving him greater access to her mouth. The kiss deepened even further. His tongue swept between her lips, gliding sensuously over hers.
Every subtle movement, every slight shift of his mouth over hers was both delight and torment. It took her back to Steven and Dawn’s wedding, and that kiss under the mistletoe. That had been the first moment in her life where she’d truly felt passion. Prior to that, kissing and even sex, had been just something she could take or leave. It was nice when it happened, but it wasn’t a focus in her life. Then Patrick Murphy had settled his lips over hers in a ballroom crowded with friends and family and had literally set her world on fire. Now he was doing it again, in the darkened bathroom of his home, while she was helpless and practically naked in his arms, her temper once again leading her down an unexpected path.
Kayleigh fought back the whimper of protest when his lips finally broke from hers. He stepped back and it was all she could do not to arch into him, into the strength and heat that his body offered. She knew that he wasn’t unaffected. She’d felt the delicious bulge of his impressive erection against her. His ragged breathing and heated gaze only further proved the point.
“Get in the tub. Get warmed up and changed. You have fifteen minutes,” he said and stormed out.
Kayleigh watched him go, and after a moment, shook herself out of the lust and anger fueled stupor to do as he said.
Kayleigh climbed from the tub and quickly toweled off. Wrapped in a towel, she peered out into the bedroom and noted her bag sitting on the bed where Murphy had brought it in. Thankfully, he’d made himself scarce. Rifling through it, she found her lotion and applied it liberally before donning a bra and a simple T-shirt along with a pair of aging, flannel pajama pants. It was the least sexy thing she owned, and after fifteen minutes alone in the tub to reflect, she realized that baiting Murphy was a bad idea. There were lines that just should not be crossed, she had decided.
Leaving the bedroom, she walked through the living room and into the kitchen where she found him standing at the stove, heating water. He’d shed his jacket and boots and wore only a soft looking sweater and a pair of jeans that hugged his lean hips and long legs. His large, well muscled body seemed to fill the small kitchen.
“Hot cocoa?” he asked, as if he hand’t just branded her with his lips no more than twenty minutes earlier.
“Yes, thank you,” she replied politely. Watching his economical movements as he poured the steaming water into mugs and stirred in the cocoa mix, Kayleigh was struck again by how gorgeous he was. They had always rubbed one another the wrong way. When they’d been younger, he’d picked at her mercilessly. As they’d both gotten older, he’d either ignored her or treated her like she was still a child. Neither had been the response she wanted. Taking the mug from him, their fingers brushed and she felt a jolt of awareness. They were alone in a cabin, in the snow, and would be stuck there together for days. All those platitudes she’d preached to herself in the tub were wavering, becoming more and more indistinct as she was in his presence. They both sipped the warm drink in silence, not making eye contact and neither of them acknowledging what had happened between them in the bathroom.