Late April 2012, Iron Horse Peak, Colorado, continued fromSomebody’s Angel
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 stroked 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.
The next time he opened his eyes, the room was still dark. He lay pressed against a soft body again, nice and warm. Maggie. His cock stirred. His favorite times were waking up slowly together on their rare lazy days.
He was naked except for his boxers. She wore a bra and panties.
“I see you are awake again.”
Cassie? Coming out of his fog, Luke remembered where he was and what had happened. Avalanche. Cassie’s cabin. Hell, Cassie’s bed!Having her close like this—the closest he’d ever managed to come to the girl—made him grin. “How’d a little thing like you drag me in here?”
“You regained consciousness long enough for me to help you out of the truck, and I had you inside before the chills hit and you lost consciousness again.”
“Oh, so that’s why you undressed me.”
Her body grew stiff. “You had hypothermia. There would be no other reason for me to do so.”
Shit. No wonder he’d been out for so long and was so confused now. He wondered if he didn’t have a concussion, too. Luke suffered enough of those during his football days in college to remember the confusion they brought. He might even be dealing with some altitude sickness. Her place was barely three thousand feet above his, but the effects could be exponential.
“Luke, are you still cold?”
“Not much anymore.” Being too cold definitely wasn’t his problem now. His cock grew stiffer with her breasts pressed against his side. Cassie was going to be embarrassed as hell whenever they decided to move out of this bed.
Not that he planned on moving anywhere at the moment.
“Good.” She yanked the top blanket off him and held it up to her chest. “Because I need to check on my soup. Now, turn your head away.”
Why’d Momma raise me to be such a gentleman?
Luke sighed and turned away with deliberate caution to avoid any sudden movement that might set off the jackhammer in his head again. She hurried to cover herself and get out of bed. He regretted the loss of her body heat the moment she left his side.
“I will be right back with a bowl of soup. It will help warm you even more. Would you like some coffee, too?”
“Both sound good. Black would be great.”
As her footsteps retreated and the door opened and closed, he rolled onto his back again with a groan, laying his forearm over his eyes. Damn, he hadn’t felt this weak since O’Keeffe kicked him in the thigh.
Aw, hell.If his body hurt this bad, what did his new truck look like? Cassie said it was probably totaled. He’d only had the damned thing about five months. Bought it for hauling the—
Shit!Luke tossed the remaining blankets off and struggled to sit up. The room swayed, his head pounded, and his vision blurred at the sudden change in position. He held on to the bedpost until he could see straight again. He needed to find his phone and send someone out to his ranch to tend to his horses.
Luke stood and scanned the room, but it was too dark to see if his pants or coat were here. Where had he left his cell phone? He stumbled toward the living room and scanned it from the bedroom doorway. No phone in sight. Most people didn’t bother with landlines these days, but alone up here on the mountain, Cassie should have a backup.
“Lucas Denton! I want you back in bed!” She stood in a doorway across the room, a steaming mug of what he assumed was coffee in her hand. At some point since she’d left the bedroom, she’d donned a poncho to cover herself.
Cassie wants me in bed?He grinned. “How’d you know my given name was Lucas?”
“Just a guess.”
No doubt she used his formal name hoping to place more distance between them. Still, he didn’t mind hearing her call him that. Not as long as she let him call her whatever he wanted to.
Cassie came through the doorway from what he guessed must be the kitchen. The smell of strong coffee reached him. Damn, he needed that—but not yet.
“I need to use your phone.” He grabbed the doorjamb with both hands when his legs began to wobble.
“You need to be in bed before you pass out.” She walked to the center of the room, placing the mug on the coffee table. “Who do you want to call?”
Cassie glanced down at his boxers, and he realized that’s all he wore. She’d probably taken his pants to dry them out. As if realizing where her gaze was focused, she averted her eyes quickly. Knowing she stripped him out of his clothes, well, most of them, told him the woman didn’t mess around when dealing with hypothermia, despite clearly being uncomfortable in the presence of a nearly naked man.
The chill in the room made him cold again, his abs aching from many prior bouts of shivers that must have worn out his muscles. This whole cabin was awfully damned cold. No wonder she had to wear a woolen poncho in here. He glanced over to find a fire burning in the fireplace insert, but heard no motor running the fan to put out heat. How did she survive the winter up here? Either the fire wasn’t burning hot enough or the blower was broken. He’d investigate later.
His focus returned to Cassie. “Listen, I need to check on my horses and find someone to go to my ranch to take care of them.”
“They are fine. Adam and Kitty spent the night there after the aval—”
“Sorry, Karla. I knew her as Kitty in college and the name stuck, although she did not let anyone call her that but me. Anyway, I called her a little while ago to let her know you were conscious and doing better. She said one of Angelina’s brothers—I forget which one, Matteo maybe—moved in at the ranch until you can return home.”
Luke hadn’t relied on anyone to take care of his commitments since the day he’d lost Maggie. Those horses were his responsibility. Sure, Angel’s brothers, Matt and Rafe, knew a lot about horses, but his animals had special needs.
“They won’t take too kindly to strangers. I still need to check in on them.” He realized it sounded like he planned to put a call through to the horses. He leaned his shoulder against the doorway and ran his hand through his hair, hating the feelings of helplessness overtaking him again. “Look, I need to talk with someone down there.” His raspy voice sounded barely above a whisper to his ears. He’d never felt so weak.
Trying to take command of the situation while fighting to remain upright, he held out his free hand palm upward. “I need to use your phone.” She stared him down, silent and unrelenting. “Please. What would you do if it was your alpacas in the hands of a stranger?”
Her features softened. She sighed and pulled a cell from the pouch in the front of her poncho. “But I insist that you sit down before you fall over.”
He walked up to the fireplace instead. Maybe being closer to the flames would stop his body’s incessant shaking. As he leaned his shoulder against the mantel, he accepted her phone and then stared blankly at the buttons. He had no clue how to reach any of the Giardano brothers. Glancing back at Cassie, who stood with her arms folded over her chest, he asked, “Do you think Adam’s still at my place?”
“No. Adam took Kitty home yesterday. She’s been having some back pain, and he wanted her in their own bed last night.”
Not that he could remember Adam’s number, either, but his or Karla’s contact info would be on Cassie’s speed dial. Dammit. Luke couldn’t think straight. He sat up, took a few steps toward the coffee table, and picked up the steaming mug, but must have tripped over something and lost his balance. He pictured himself about to be sprawled out on top of the table.
“Luke!” Before he landed, Cassie ran around the table and grabbed him around the chest, surprisingly quick and strong for such a little thing. She helped set him upright again.
The room continued to spin. “Sorry, darlin’. Got a little dizzy.” When he patted her shoulder to convey that he was okay, she stepped away from him abruptly, forcing him to steady himself on the arm of the couch. He drew in a deep breath.
Fear. He saw genuine fear in her eyes, much like he saw in his horses. Why would she fear him?
“You should be in bed. Please, Lucas, cooperate with me. Make the call from there.” The plea in her voice caught him by surprise, too. Almost sounded like she cared. Well, if she didn’t, she’d have left his ass to freeze out in that newly formed snow mound. The woman was a mass of contradictions.
“Let me just call Angel before going back to bed. She’ll know how to reach her brother.” He heard her sigh as he stared at the phone a minute longer. Hell, he didn’t have a clue what Angel’s or Marc’s numbers were, either. He always used the programmed contacts. Even if he did recall, the blow to his head had probably scrambled his memory.
Cassie came to his rescue, taking the cell from him. “I do not wish to bother Kitty, but Marc’s number is in the recent calls. He was with Angel the night of the avalanche and called to check on you. Maybe they are still together. If not, I am sure he will know how to contact her.”
“Good thinking.” Luke sat down hard on the small sofa, too late realizing the jarring movement would set off more jackhammers between his temples. He held his head in his hands, hoping the throbbing would go away before he had to speak to anyone.
Cassie hit the callback button and handed it to him again. When it went to voicemail, he left a brief message.
Let go. There’s nothing you can do now.
No doubt Marc had taken care of everything after hearing about the accident. The man was good at taking care of everyone’s needs but his own.
He ended the call and handed the phone back to Cassie. “Thanks. Guess I’m going to have to trust that they have things under control down there. How long do you think it’ll be before I can head home?”
Cassie shrugged and pocketed the cell again. “The road is covered with twenty feet of snow, ice, and debris from fallen trees and rocks. I would guess a couple of weeks. But it is late April, so the snow will melt in the coming month.”
“Damn. That’s a long time.”
“Look, I did not ask for this, either.”
He shouldn’t be so ungrateful for putting her out like this. “I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m not used to lying around doing nothing.”
“But that is just what you are going to do for the next few days. Plowing snow can wait. Now, back to bed.”
He stood and swayed on his feet. Cassie placed an arm around his waist and led him back to the bedroom, piling up pillows and blankets so he was sitting up. “I will return in a few minutes with your lunch.”
With it being so dark in here, he would have expected it to be time for breakfast or supper. Much as he hated to admit it, being back in bed was just what he needed. The shaking had finally stopped, and he leaned into the pillow. He needed to regain his strength.
Cassie returned a minute later and handed him the mug of coffee. “Drink this while I prepare a bowl of soup for you.”
“Why don’t you join me?”
“It will be easier for me to eat in the kitchen.”
She probably preferred to keep her distance from him. He sat up and took a sip of the black brew. It was stronger than he made it at home, but damned good. Maybe it would clear some of the cobwebs from his brain and give him a boost of energy. Not that there was anything he needed to be doing or that she would allow him to do for a while.
Except maybe checking the blower on her fireplace insert. He made a lousy patient, but thankfully, stayed pretty healthy most of the time. Too bad Cassie would be subjected to his frustration until he was well enough to go home.
When she returned, he didn’t waste any time trying to set a different tone. “Cassie, darlin’, I’m not blaming you for my being stuck up here. It’s my own fault, but I have a lot of obligations right now. I can’t be away from my horses too long. It’s a crucial time in their recovery and training. I don’t even know what the weather’s like down in the valley. O’Keeffe doesn’t like being shut up in the barn, but I can’t leave her out in a blizzard, either.”
She sat down on the bed as far away from him as practical and traded him his mug for another filled with soup. “The storm was mostly up here in the mountains. Kitty said they only had a few inches at your place that first night.” She cocked her head. “How many horses do you have?”
He grinned. “Four at the moment. All rescued mustangs that had been abused or neglected. I’m training them for SAR work.” He didn’t want to think about the day coming when he had to turn them over to someone else, for the same reason foster parents found it hard to let the kids they cared for go.
“Search and Rescue. I just transferred to the squad out of Fairchance. When these horses go to new owners, I’ll take on three more. My mustang sanctuary is small potatoes compared to some, but I can’t afford to hire a lot of hands to help right now, so three’s my limit.”
“But you said you have four.”
Luke smiled. “The fourth is Picasso, a gelding I plan on keeping. He was my first one and a damned good SAR-trained horse already. When Pic’s ready, he’ll be valuable in mountain rescues, but we’ll remain a team.”
Thinking about how he’d recently been rescued himself, Luke shivered and took a sip from the mug of soup—well, more like broth. Still, it tasted better than what he would have served himself from a can. The heat from the liquid warmed his insides, and he finished it off, handing her the mug when he didn’t see a nightstand nearby.
“Thanks. That hit the spot.”
She held out her empty hand, and their fingers brushed. Luke had a feeling that’s what caused her to pull away so quickly. Why so spooked? Didn’t she know he’d never hurt a flea? Even if he were so inclined, he most definitely wasn’t going to hurt anyone in his current condition.
His eyelids grew heavy.
She set both mugs on the floor. “Lean forward.” Pulling the blankets out from behind his back, she left only the pillows. “Lie down. Sleep.”
All fight gone, he let sleep claim him.
* * *
Cassie watched his eyelids droop as his body relaxed into the mattress and pillows. He looked like a little boy, but that vulnerability was only temporary because of his weakened state. When he recovered, she would need to be on her guard every moment until she could send him home.
How long would that be?
As she spread the blankets over him, her smartphone buzzed. She returned to the living room before answering quietly.
“Hi, Cassie.” Angelina’s voice conveyed worry, but not as much as she had heard the first night. “How’s he doing?”
“He is sleeping again, but he did manage to drink some coffee and a weak soup.”
He no longer needs my body heat. Thank you, Goddess.
Angelina sighed. “That sounds great.”
Cassie filled her in on Lucas’s physical condition as best she could.
“Sounds like you’re taking good care of him. I hope he’s not giving you any…problems.”
Her hesitation reminded her that Angelina had been part of the cleansing ceremony around Adam’s hot tub that night. She understood why this situation was so difficult for Cassie.
“For the most part. It seems that I am the problem more than he is. When do you think Marc and the others can start digging out from the other side?”
The pause set her on alert. “I can’t speak for Marc…. He’s…not…” Angelina’s sniffle made Cassie wonder what had happened.
“Is everything okay?”
A longer pause punctuated with more sniffles followed. “I don’t know. He’s…” Angelina’s breathing sounded shaky. “We just haven’t been able to work things out. I don’t know if we ever will, but I’m sure my brothers and their rescue squad teams will help as soon as the blizzard is over up there.”
“Angelina, what happened? You two seemed to have a lot to talk about at daVinci’s the other night.”
“I can’t talk about it right now.”
“Okay. I understand.” Cassie would never pry. There had been many times she did not wish to share her feelings, either. “Thank your brothers for me.” Normally, being snowbound made her feel safer, but with Lucas in her bed, she no longer enjoyed that sense of security.
“Listen, Cassie, tell Luke not to worry about his horses. Matt’s loving every minute of this. He’d love to have a place like Luke’s. He’ll stay at the ranch until Luke returns home and is back on his feet. Beats his tiny apartment in Leadville.”
“How can Lucas contact him to check on the horses? I know he is going to worry no matter how much we try to reassure him.” Like Lucas, she would have worried if she had been on the other side of the avalanche and cut off from her alpacas, especially with Graciela in her condition. She walked over to her desk and jotted down the number on a slip of paper.
Angelina’s voice came through the phone, stronger now. “Lucas? Surely he hasn’t forgotten his name!”
“No! It is just that…Luke seemed so…familiar. I was not comfortable calling him that.”
“How are you doing, Cassie?”
I am trying to keep myself emotionally distant despite our being thrown together like this.
Cassie cleared her throat. “I am fine, thank you. Just tired.” She had not slept much while in bed with Lucas the past two nights. Blankets and the space heater were enough to keep him warm now. She could sleep on the floor by the fire or on the nearby loveseat, which was plenty long enough for her. While the cot in her studio was much more comfortable, she should remain closer to Lucas in case he had a relapse or needed something.
“We love you for taking care of our friend. I know this isn’t easy for you.”
“I am only doing what anyone would do.”
Even if it kills me.
Something told her she would never be the same.
After saying goodbye and disconnecting the call, she stared at the open bedroom door a moment before pivoting around and heading to the kitchen. Certain he would sleep for a while, she would add more ingredients to the heartier soup to nourish his body later—which should speed up his healing.
The tactile memory of her body pressed against his sent an uncharacteristic wave of heat into her face before her stomach churned. She thought she might be sick. Even in his weakened state, the muscles under his skin spoke of strength she would be hard-pressed to overcome if she had to fight him off.
Being alone in this isolated cabin with any man other than her brother scared her beyond reason, but Lucas Denton had a charm about him that most likely weakened the resolve of many women.
Not Cassie. No man could charm her. Never again.
Lucas. Somehow calling him by his formal name made her feel less intimate with him, despite the fact they had spent two nights together in her small bed. She threw a handful of amaranth into the pot and stirred absently as she tried to shake off the memory of his body on top of hers. The smothered sensation dragged her back to the pool room at the Lima cantina. Feelings she thought she had long ago buried erupted to the surface. Raw. Exposed. Thankfully, Lucas had not taken advantage of the situation.
Drawing a ragged breath, she pulled back the curtain in the pantry and searched for the quinoa. Perhaps she would make a healthy salad for herself so Lucas could have more of the hot food. She doubted his taste went to the South American grains and delicacies in her pantry. No matter what, she needed to keep him from becoming feverish or chilled again, which would result in her returning to the bed with him.
The anguish in Lucas’s voice brought her hand to a standstill. She set the canister down and ran into the bedroom. Lucas thrashed on the mattress, sweat dotting his forehead as his powerful hands clenched the sheet.
“God, no! Can’t reach you!”
For a few seconds, Cassie weighed whether she should try to wake him or let him fight whatever monsters invaded his sleep until they passed. The suffering on his face made her cross the room and touch his shoulder, hoping to pull him back to the conscious world.
He grabbed onto her arm. “I have you! Don’t let go!” He yanked her arm, and she lost her balance, tumbling into the bed on top of him.
A scream reverberated in her mind. Lucas opened his eyes, and she realized the scream had not been a silent one. Breathing hard, she pushed off him, but he stared at her with unseeing eyes and placed his hands on either side of her head, pulling her closer as if he intended to kiss her.
She fought to escape him. “Let me go! I am not your Maggie. I am Cassie.” She pried at his hand, attempting to loosen his grip as bile rose in her throat. Her mind flashed back. The way they sneered their words in her native language and the sounds of their voices made her lose the love that she had for Spanish.
Cassie beat against Diego’s chest. She refused to open her eyes to see the look of triumph on his face. “Get off me, you pig.”
“She wants to fight.Que bueno. I like a chica with some fight in her.”
Her fear mounted as he undid his belt, and she pounded her fists against him again and again until her wrists ached and her hands grew numb.
“Whoa, darlin’. Wake up. You’re dreaming. Not sure what all you said, but you were screaming in Spanish.”
Her hands stilled. Even without opening her eyes, she knew that Texas drawl did not come from Pedro or his friends. She blinked several times and stared into Lucas Denton’s eyes, a mix of blue and green that looked like gray to her. What was he doing on top of her—again? Cassie shoved him away, a feat made easier when he simply rolled off her.
“Sorry if I scared you, Lucas. I am fine now.” How long had she become lost in the flashback? The two of them were a mess. She had probably bruised his chest if the throbbing in her hands was any indication of the impact of the blows delivered. She pushed herself upright and darted to the foot of the bed, gasping as she attempted to draw a deep breath. Her upper arm ached from some unknown reason.
Still not certain how she had gone from trying to ease Lucas awake from his nightmare to being submerged in her own, she contemplated how to explain her reaction to him without revealing more than he needed to know.
“You were dreaming about Maggie.” She gasped for a full breath, not realizing she had been breathing so shallowly until she tried to get a sentence out. “I heard you scream for her. I came in to check on you.” Breathe, Cassie. “When I tried to wake you, you grabbed my arm.”And my head. That had been the real cause for the flashback. She rubbed the skin on her arm where it had grown tender from his grip, but more disturbing was the lingering tingle she felt from his holding her head.
No, not tingle. Memories of the touch of those other men so long ago made her stomach churn.
“I don’t remember anything, darlin’, until you called me el puerco and screamed at me to get off you. I’m real sorry. I was asleep. I wouldn’t hurt you for anything. You sure you’re okay?”
She nodded. In reality, she had to admit his touch was nothing compared to… She swallowed the bile before it erupted. “I am fine.”
And I will be much better when you are off my mountain.