- Publisher: Ka-Thunk! Publishing
- Series: Rescue Me Saga, Book 6
- ISBN-13: 9781941060124
- Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance
- Available Formats: eBook and Paperback
Quiet Peruvian-born artist Cassie Lopez learned this the hard way. Betrayed by the man she planned to marry, she shut herself off far away from it all but her closest friend from college…
Until the night Luke Denton came crashing into her Colorado mountain sanctuary with a vengeance. Confused by her heart’s response to this kind and gentle man, Cassie pushes herself to help the cowboy recover quickly so she can send him on his way. But Luke’s patience and understanding threaten to break down the very defenses she needs to survive in this world after he’s gone.
Search-and-Rescue worker, artist, and gentle soul Luke, who lost his wife and unborn child in a tragic accident, also knows firsthand of the unfairness of life. He keeps his own nightmares at bay by focusing on his rescue work and many other activities, including most recently adopting and working with abused and neglected horses.
Can two wounded people find trust and love together? Do nightmares end where dreams come true?
The nearly naked man pressed against her bare skin convulsed in another fit of shivers that rattled her jaw. After lying against Luke Denton for the past four hours with only their underwear as a thin barrier, she wondered if her body had any warmth left to give. His body felt warmer, though. Why was he still shivering? Perhaps she should go to the kitchen and warm up a hot-water bottle to aid in raising his core temperature.
Luke had crashed into her safe, quiet life with a vengeance when the snow shelf gave way and nearly killed him. What on earth made him think she needed some white knight to follow her home? She had spent the afternoon hanging out with her dearest friend Kitty at the bar in Aspen Corners, and the next thing she knew, Kitty was calling to ask if she had seen Luke.
Cassie had managed to find her way home alone for years without needing a man. Besides, she had only imbibed a near-virgin margarita. She had learned her lesson the hard way about drinking too much in bars.
Clearly, she was not the one in need of rescuing. This fool had nearly been killed when the avalanche knocked his truck off the road to her cabin. Regardless of why he was here—whether a stalker or a rescuer—she needed to keep him alive. Dragging the half-conscious man into her cabin had been the easy part. Waking him every couple of hours to make sure he was not suffering a concussion had not been much of a challenge. But pressing her body against his like this frazzled her nerves.
She was an artist, not a nurse. However, with the blizzard raging outside, no medical assistance would be arriving anytime soon. No sense calling Kitty or Marc D’Alessio again. During Marc’s last call asking for an update on Luke’s condition, he had conveyed what the next steps would be. Clearly, her body no longer provided him with much warmth. She crawled out from under the pile of woolen blankets and wrapped her robe around herself before running into the kitchen to put on a kettle of water.
After warming the water a couple of minutes, she removed it from the burner and filled the rubber bottle. Carrying it by the neck, she grabbed a dishtowel and went back to the bedroom. The room was at least twenty degrees warmer than she normally kept it. Still, her gaze rested on the covers quivering as the man’s body suffered through another bout of shivers.
Marc said to warm his trunk, neck, and—groin. She would place the bottle close to that area and then focus her efforts on his chest and neck. Cassie wrapped the towel around the bottle and slipped it under the pile of blankets, laying it low on his belly and being careful not to touch him. She hoped the bottle wasn’t too hot, but it would help circulate his blood and warm his extremities.
Get well, Luke Denton—and go back to where you belong.
This cabin had been her escape from the world for the past several years—more specifically from the males of the human species. No more.
She stared down at Luke a moment before fisting her hands and preparing herself to join him in the bed again.
Relax, or he will sense your fear.
With even more reluctance than earlier, she shucked her robe and climbed onto the twin mattress, pressing her full length against him.
Friction might help. She rubbed her legs against his and her hands on his chest and neck, creating more heat under the woolen blankets. Not used to so much warmth in her bed, she began to sweat. When his shivering stopped, Cassie sighed. At least she had done the right thing. Despite her discomfort, she had rescued him and was trying to nurse him back to health.
Thank you, Goddess.
The sooner Luke recovered—and they cleared the road to the highway—the sooner he could leave her mountain. Only then would she be able to breathe freely in her sanctuary once more.
While she did not own this place, her landlady, a patron of the arts and fellow Columbia graduate, had made a very attractive, affordable offer for a new artist starting out. The elderly benefactress practically let her live here rent-free, primarily wanting someone to live in the isolated cabin and studio she and her late husband had inhabited.
Without warning, Luke grunted in pain and rolled on top of her. Bile burned the back of her throat, threatening to choke her as she flashed back to the horrific scene in the cantina five years ago.
Sweat. Bodies. Three drunk, aggressive men. She pummeled the man on top of her, but could not shove him off.
Cassie clawed her mind back to the present and shoved the delirious man off her chest. Despite his weakened state, Luke wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her with him. Even though she was on top now, she could not shake the feeling of being smothered.
“Easy, girl.” She pulled away and looked down at his face. He appeared to be sleeping, but was he? “…not gonna hurt ya.” She cowered from his touch, preparing to run, but his eyes remained closed. He reached up to stroke the side of her head. “That’s my girl.”
Was he dreaming about his dead wife? When the puma had injured Kitty’s husband, Adam, Luke’s dead wife had used Cassie as a channel. While friends and family gathered in the waiting room, Cassie had sketched an image of his wife and their unborn baby as if they were in heaven, letting him know they were okay.
Sympathy for him weakened the urge to swat his hand away. His gentle touch did not appear to be a threat or hurtful in any way, unlike… She shuddered. Do not go there. Gentle or not, the last thing Cassie wanted was to be touched by this man, by any man. So why did she stay here in this bed with him?
His hand made her feel something different from what the other men had. Not frightened. Just strange. Something she could not identify. Safe, maybe?
Do not fool yourself, Cassie.
She would never feel safe in the presence of a man again. Up here on this mountain, she surrounded herself with her artwork. More recently, her precious alpacas had brought her pleasure—and peace. After years of trying to reconnect with the Universe—even beginning to see some success this past year—now her sense of security had been ripped away. Perhaps unintentionally, but that tenuous connection had been shattered just the same. She wanted to meditate, but could not leave him to spend time at her altar in her studio.
Luke grew restless again, thrashing on the bed until his arm wrapped around her back, trapping her once more. Cassie’s body shook, but not from the cold.
No! I am suffocating!
Cassie jerked his heavy arm off her and let it drop onto the mattress as she scooted out of the bed again. She needed to put space between herself and this man. With him no longer shivering, she could leave him with the hot-water bottle while she started a pot of soup as well as a broth for his first attempts at eating again. When he came to, the soups would help warm and nourish his body. She stocked lots of staples in her pantry, but it would take a while to turn them into a meal.
Thank you, Goddess. This would give her time to collect herself.
Grabbing her robe, she ran from the room to escape the monsters lurking in the shadows that waited for any sign of weakness before they pounced.
* * *
Luke pulled his hand back, giving O’Keeffe the space she needed as he took a few steps away from her in the round pen. The mare was more skittish tonight than she’d been since the rescued mustang had come to his ranch months ago. What had spooked her? He’d been working with the battered horse daily and had expected her to trust him more than this by now.
But he’d learned with the others that sometimes you took two steps forward only to take three more back.
What the hell had those bastards done to try and break her spirit? How could anyone treat an animal like that? O’Keeffe retreated across the pen, and her image faded away as if he’d only been dreaming…
Exhausted, Luke tried to lift his arm to stroke the horse. Dead weight. Would he ever be able to break through to this one?
Suddenly, Maggie lay next to him. Confused at the change from being with O’Keeffe what seemed only a moment ago, Luke rolled onto his stomach, groaning when his muscles protested. His wife’s body had been warm beside his a moment ago, but without warning, she also disappeared. Something didn’t feel right, but he couldn’t analyze it now.
I need to find her.
But he was so damned weak…
A wave of shivers convulsed him. The wall of ice and debris roared down the mountainside. Seeing his wife’s crumpled body half a football field length down the mountainside tore at his gut. “Don’t move, Maggie! I’ll be back as fast as I can.”
Wait. Hadn’t Maggie been in bed next to him a moment ago? Was he dreaming now? But what if he wasn’t and this was real—again?
Maggie needs me!
Luke ran as if her life depended on him, because it did. Helpless. Lately, she’d become more independent, and he’d begun to wonder if she’d ever need him again. She’d grown so strong and confident since that first time he’d met her when she was just beginning to free herself from her overbearing family. While he’d encouraged her every way he could to gain her autonomy, he had to admit he sometimes missed having her depend on him emotionally the way she once had.
One thing was certain—at this moment, he had to find help. The temperatures tonight would drop like a rock. He still had a good six hours of daylight to bring the emergency crews back to her, but it had taken the two of them hours, albeit at a slower pace, to hike up here from the parking lot.
Run, damn it. Just run!
“God, please stay with her.” He whispered his prayer as he ran. “Hang on, darlin’.”
“I am not your darling.”
Maggie? No, his wife didn’t have a Hispanic accent. Besides, she loved when he called her darlin’.
Then whose warm body was pressed against his? Reality slammed into him. Of course it couldn’t be his wife. She had died in the avalanche almost eight years ago.
Didn’t she? He couldn’t have made that up—not in a million years—unless he’d just awoken from the worst damned nightmare imaginable. He thought he’d come to terms with Maggie’s death during the past year, so why the nightmares now?
He flashed to the crushing sound of a wall of snow and debris slamming against his truck. What the hell? He and Maggie didn’t own a truck. Besides, the Land Rover her parents had given her when she went off to college had been parked miles away when the avalanche killed Maggie and the rescue worker—Angel Giardano’s father—at the bottom of that scree slope.
So why did the crush of the snow pack feel so real to him now?
The body pressed against his moved, bringing him back to the present. He was in a warm bed. Next to a soft, warm body. Luke opened one eye. Dark, straight hair. Definitely not Maggie’s red curls.
She was built smaller than his wife, too. Who the—?
“You are awake?”
This time, the accent clued him in. Cassie López, not Maggie. His head still fuzzy, he glanced around the darkened room, but couldn’t make out many details. One thing was certain. He lay cozied up with the girl in a cramped twin bed. Must be dreaming still.
Nice imagination, Denton.
If this was a fantasy, why was he dreaming about her in a bed this size? Then again, being cuddled up with her in the small bed’s tight confines sure worked for him.
She moved against him. Soft skin warm against his body. Sure seemed real. Not a dream.
Whoa! How on earth could he have wound up in bed with Cassie? Confusion returned, compounded by the throbbing in his head. He recalled setting out from daVinci’s bar to follow her home after some of them had met for pizza and drinks, including Adam and Karla, Marc and Angel. There had been some kind of threat that made him worry about her ability to get home safely. But if he’d put the moves on her, he’d remember—wouldn’t he? He hadn’t had that much to drink.
Had she invited him into her bed? No. Any woman who slept in a twin bed didn’t invite men to join her. Hell, this skittish filly would have kicked him in the nuts before she’d allow him into her cabin, much less her bedroom. She didn’t like him much—well, any man from what he’d observed the few times he’d been around her. Adam practically set her jaws on edge, too, and that man wouldn’t hurt her for anything, either.
When he moved to face her, a splitting pain seared between his temples, worse than any hangover he remembered. He closed his eyes and waited for the pain and nausea to pass. How much did he drink at daVinci’s?
Keeping his voice to a whisper, he asked, “What the hell happened?”
“You do not remember?”
He started shaking his head, but the motion made matters worse. “Not a thing.”
“Not even the avalanche?”
So there had been another avalanche. He hadn’t imagined or dreamed it.
“You probably totaled your truck.” She glared at him. “You could have been killed. What were you doing up here?” Now she sounded pissed—and more like the Cassie he remembered.
He grinned. “I wanted to see you make it home safely.”
Her body grew even more rigid. “Obviously, I can take care of myself. You, I am not so sure about.”
The girl had a point. But he’d had the best of intentions. “Living up here all alone, well, it’s good to make sure someone checks in on you regularly.”
“I have lived here since soon after graduating from university four years ago. I do not need anyone checking up on me.”
Her breathing became shallow, agitated. Better drop the subject. “How long have I slept?”
“Since the night before last.”
“What time is it now?”
“Early evening. It has been almost forty-eight hours since the avalanche, although you have had a few moments when you spoke lucidly.”
What the hell had he said? He had no memory of any conversations—hell, no memory of anything but some wild dreams about horses, avalanches, and Maggie.
Ironic that an avalanche had taken Maggie away and another had brought him into Cassie’s arms. Okay, enough trying to make sense out of this screwed-up mess. He wouldn’t be in this girl’s arms for long. She didn’t trust him. Detested him, most likely.
So damned tired. Too exhausted to do anything about the exotic, contrary beauty in bed beside him, for sure, Luke’s eyelids began to droop.
“Good. Sleep now. You need to regain your strength.” Her words filtered through his fuzzy brain briefly before they faded away, but he heard her stress the word need as if there was an unspoken soon.