Never Too Hot
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When he didn't reply, she looked back up into an expression so intense her skin prickled, her palms started to sweat. She couldn't look away as his eyes dilated, the black pushing nearly all the blue away. She held her breath, waiting for his answer. And then she heard it, low and raw.
From the tense lines of his shoulders, the tendon jumping in his forehead, she could see how much the admission had cost him. And that was when she realized, for the first time, that he wasn't just some big, gorgeous guy intent on ruining her summer.
Connor was human.
He was a man who had obviously survived something horrific, who was just trying to deal with what life threw at him.
She had to ask herself why she'd decided she needed to act like such a bitch about letting him work on the cabin. Even staying there a couple of nights until the Inn opened up.
Was she being strong? Tough? Taking a stand, claiming what was hers because she wasn't a pushover anymore?
Or — and this was the worst possible option — was it the exact opposite? Was she afraid of herself? Afraid that her new life wasn't quite as settled and solid as she thought it was? That the addition of a stranger into her cocoon might break it apart completely?
No, she told herself. The life she was building at Blue Mountain Lake was a good one. And really, the more she thought about it, Connor had come all the way from California with no idea that his grandparents had rented out their house. Under the fluorescent lights she could see how tired he looked.
“You know what, this is stupid. You're not going to drive all the way to Piseco tonight. There are plenty of empty bedrooms upstairs at Poplar Cove. Until the Inn empties out again.”
He was silent for a long moment and although she'd been expecting to see victory in his eyes, there wasn't even a hint of it.
“I appreciate that, Ginger.”
Knowing she was repeating herself, but wanting to make sure she was being perfectly clear — not only for his sake, but for hers too — she said again, “But just until you find a new place to stay.”
“Sure.” He smiled, then, for the very first time, and even though it was only the smallest upturn of his lips her breath went. “Only until then. And I'll have the special.”
Going back into the kitchen, she gave Isabel the order, then said “I need to get some air,” and walked out the back door into the parking lot.
The sun had set and in the darkness Ginger looked up at the thick clouds that were blanketing the sky while wind whipped her ponytail against her face.
A storm would be hitting soon.
Normally, Ginger loved the changing weather. She got such a thrill every time she watched the crashing thunder duel with the lightning while she sat safe and cozy beneath a thick blanket on the screened porch.
But she didn't feel safe anymore.
All these months she'd thought she was so perfectly settled. That Blue Mountain Lake was an impenetrable retreat. She'd told herself nothing could rock her again, that she was steady now, that she was the one in control.
Had she been living a fantasy?
And yet, thinking of Connor sitting at the counter waiting for her to come back with his food sent a shiver of sudden anticipation running through her. Almost as if some secret part of her, deep inside, was hoping for trouble.
For something to shake up her lakeside idyll.
Which was crazy. She was perfectly happy. Of course she wasn't looking for anything — or anyone — to shake things up.
But if that was totally true, she had to wonder, then why was she buzzing head to toe at the thought of Connor sleeping under her roof?
He wanted her.
The moment he walked into the diner and saw Ginger standing behind the counter, desire had hit Connor square in the groin. And all the while they were talking, while he'd been hammering on her about getting into Poplar Cove, sex had been running a constant current between them.
She'd changed out of the skimpy tank and shorts combo she'd had on earlier, but the fitted white shirt and black pants weren't too bad either, managing to nicely highlight her ample br**sts. The half-mirrored walls gave him a good opportunity to appreciate the curve of her hips, the slight bounce of her br**sts as she sparred with him.
Not only was Ginger his perfect type, lush and soft and sure to be wild in bed, but she was clearly smart too.
Tough. He couldn't stop himself from appreciating — despite his irritation at having to work for it — how quick she was to cut his attempt at charm off at the pass, when any other woman would have folded at his initial apology.
And then there was the way she'd responded to his scars, the fact that she experienced some of the hell he'd lived through personally.
No one knew how much his hands still bothered him. No one had the guts to ask him outright if they hurt. He'd been surprised enough by her question to answer.
And afterward, he'd actually been disappointed when their conversation had ended and she'd gone back into the kitchen.
Since puberty he'd had plenty of experience with lust, but rarely had any of his attractions gone beyond the superficial, beyond the bedroom.
Fuck. He couldn't afford any distractions from his ultimate goals for the summer: continuing his intense training regimen so that he would be in peak physical condition for his upcoming Forest Service reinstatement, first, and fixing up Poplar Cove for the wedding, second.
There was no room for third.
He took a twenty out of his wallet and threw it down on the counter, then got the hell out of the diner.
ALL NIGHT, Isabel had thought there was something not quite right with Ginger. She hadn't been able to put her finger on it exactly. Just that she looked different. Brighter, somehow. But also, unsettled.
Eight months ago, when Isabel first met Ginger, she'd had the same impression — that Ginger was a woman in dire need of calm. Living on Blue Mountain Lake had clearly done wonders for Ginger's nerves, just as it did for most people who settled in long enough to slow down to the pace of local life. So, then, what on earth could have happened to Ginger to send her back to that unsettled place?
Telling Scott, her fry cook, to man the stove for a minute, Isabel headed out after Ginger.
Ginger shoved the curly hair that had escaped her ponytail back from her face. “I had an unexpected visitor this afternoon.”