Never Too Hot
Page 14

 Bella Andre

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At ten, Ginger untied her apron and hung it up in her locker. She'd already spent far longer cleaning up than she usually did. Most weeknights, after the dinner shift, she was home by now. Tonight, she'd tried to work off her careening thoughts with a mop and sponge.
Isabel emerged from the office where she'd been working on the computer and looked at the gleaming floors and stainless steel counters.
“Wow. These could be photographed for a magazine.” She shot Ginger a look. “Having second thoughts about letting Connor stay at your house for a couple of nights?”
Ginger sighed. The log cabin really did feel like home. Which was exactly her problem. Somewhere along the way she'd forgotten that Poplar Cove was only a temporary respite from her normal life. As much as she wanted to pretend that the log cabin was hers — and that she could live there in blissful peace forever without having to face life's usual stresses — it wasn't.
“When my lease is up, he'll probably want the cabin back.”
“Is that what's really bothering you? That you're going to have to look for a new place to live in a few months?
I'm sure you could find another lakefront cabin to rent by then.”
“You're right,” Ginger admitted. “It's just that…” She tried to figure out how to put her feelings into words.
“This might sound weird, but for the first time in my life I felt like I could be myself.”
Her parents weren't here telling her how to behave. Her ex-husband wasn't here criticizing her. She'd found a place where people were getting to know her for her and not because of who her father was or how much money she had.
“And in so many ways Connor reminds me of my ex-husband.”
There was that same initial attraction. That same alpha-male-coming-to-take-what's-mine act.
“Having Connor in the cabin, I'll have to watch how I look. What I wear. What I say.”
It had already started. Look at her, doing anything she could think of to avoid going home.
“Why do you think you need to do any of that?” Isabel argued. “Why can't you just go on exactly as you have been and if he doesn't like it, who cares? You've really come into your own here. I find it hard to believe that one guy could make you forget that.”
“You know what?” Ginger said slowly, as Isabel's words seeped in. “I think you're right. It'll be fine.”
If there was one thing she'd learned during the past eight months, it was that she needed to live a life that made her happy. Wear whatever she wanted. Do whatever she wanted. Say whatever she wanted.
So Connor was going to be moving in and out of her space over the next few weeks, so he was going to be sleeping in one of the empty bedrooms for a couple of nights. So what?
The wind was blowing even harder as Ginger went out to her car. As she drove back to the cabin, Isabel's words ran on repeat in her head, working to set her straight right when she'd been about to veer off course.
Getting out of the car behind the log cabin, she crossed over the patch of grass beside the house onto the beach. Standing under the huge clump of old poplar trees that shaded the house most of the day, she stretched out her arms to let the frenzied wind whip her hair and clothes around.
She loved it here, loved the raw and wild weather that blew in and out almost at random. Living in the log cabin made her feel the same way, as if she were constantly surrounded by a forest rather than four walls.
All of a sudden there was a loud screeching sound right above her head. Connor's warnings about how unsafe the cabin was shot through her brain just as she heard an ear-splitting crack. She tried to move, to run, but she didn't know which way to go, could barely seem to pick up her feet.
Suddenly, strong hands and arms came around her rib cage, picking her up and throwing her across the sand.
She landed hard on her side a split second before he leaped onto her, covering her with his body.
She felt it then, the force of something hitting them hard. Her stomach lurched like she was in an elevator on a free fall, and the back of her arm behind her elbow stung, but even as her brain worked to process the last thirty seconds, she knew it was Connor who had taken the brunt of… whatever had just hit them.
“What just happened?” she rasped against his collarbone.
Connor's breathing was just as ragged as hers. She could feel every beat of his heart as it thumped hard against hers.
He didn't answer her question, just ground out a rough, “Are you hurt?”
In the dark, his fingers ran across her face, from her forehead, to her cheekbones, down to her mouth as if he needed to check for himself that everything was still intact.
“No,” she said, shivering at his touch even as she asked again, “What hit us?”
His words rumbled from his chest to hers as he told her, “It was a widow maker. It almost fell right on you.
Almost crushed you.”
“A widow maker?”
He shifted them slightly, but still kept her cradled in his arms. No one had ever held her like that, like he would protect her with his last breath. Not even the man she'd married.
Despite the cold wind, the press of Connor's hard muscles against her had heat pooling at her br**sts. Between her legs.
She'd known he would be hard, but she didn't realize just how small she'd feel pressed up against him, that her curves would almost melt into his strength.
Her head, her insides spun and swirled as he pointed up to the large grove of poplar trees. “A widow maker is a dead branch or limb resting on live ones. Every year hundreds of people die beneath them when they fall.”
In the dim moonlight peeking out between the clouds, she saw an enormous limb lying on the beach not more than a foot away from them. At its biggest point it was at least a foot thick. She could only guess how much it weighed, how close she had been to becoming another casualty.
“If you hadn't seen it, if you hadn't moved so quickly-” She started shaking at the realization of what might have happened if not for Connor. “Thank you for saving my life.”
“I saw it this afternoon. I should have taken it down right away.” He cursed, drew her closer. “What the hell was I waiting for?”
Wait a minute, was he blaming himself for this?
“It was an accident.”
“You could have been hurt. So badly.”