Never Too Hot
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She wasn't prepared for his fingers to move to her elbow, for him to gently stroke her bruised skin.
“Where else does it hurt?”
She found herself saying, “My knee,” even though it was barely throbbing, simply because she wanted him to tend to her again. And when he did, when he gently caressed her leg, she couldn't repress a low moan of pleasure.
His hand stilled on her knee. “Are you sure you're okay?”
Her arms and legs were fine. It was every other part of her that ached. For more of him.
She said, “Yes, I'm okay,” and then the next thing she knew he was hauling her to her feet and moving away.
The wind rushed between them as he said, “What were you doing out here so late?”
Thrown by his abrupt question, and by the loss of his heat and rock-hard strength against her limbs, her mind went blank for a moment.
“Sometimes I'm wound up after working the dinner shift.” Especially tonight after going several rounds with him across the counter. “And I love the lake on nights like this when a storm is rolling in.”
It hit her, how had he been there to save her at all? “Why were you outside? How did you see me?”
“I was in the kayak, paddling back to shore when I saw you walk out on the beach and stop under the tree. That was when I heard the limb shift.”
“You were kayaking at night? Why?”
He took another step away from her. “I haven't been back here in twelve years. I wanted to get out on the water.”
“You couldn't wait until morning?” was her first question and when he didn't answer she asked another, “Twelve years is a long time to stay away. Did you come to the lake a lot before then? As a kid?”
It didn't add up. “It's so beautiful here. How could you have stayed away for so long?”
“Fighting fire was more important.”
A puzzle piece clicked into place. “That's how you got burned, isn't it?”
He didn't answer, then, just backed completely out of the moonlight so that his face went into shadows.
“Good night, Ginger.”
Great. She'd done it again. Let curiosity get the best of her, about his scars. He probably thought they were the only thing she'd noticed about him.
She walked back into the cabin and went upstairs, took a shower to clean the smell of grease from her hair and skin, brushed her teeth and slid into bed. But all the while, she could still feel the heavy beat of his heart against her chest, the way he'd run his fingers so gently over her face and her limbs when he thought she'd been hurt.
After ten years as a hotshot, Connor knew his limits. He'd pushed himself hard today, harder than he usually did and his muscles were screaming for rest, for a few hours to rebuild what he'd broken down.
But it was hell trying to sleep one wall away from Ginger. Especially now that he knew how it felt to hold her.
He couldn't stop replaying the scene in his head. Watching Ginger stop under the trees. Hearing the shifting and cracking of the limb, knowing it was going to crush her. Jumping out of his kayak and running through the water praying he'd get to her in time.
Sweating again at the thought of how close it had been, he kicked off the thin blanket covering his naked body.
Finally, as the wind blew rain hard on the roof, Connor slept.
Ginger was wrapped deep in a dark and swirling dream where she was running through a forest full of falling widow makers when a cross between a scream and a roar woke her. Sitting up in bed, her hand on her heart, it took only a second to realize it was coming from Connor's room.
Her stomach clenched with fear as she threw on a flimsy robe and shot out of her room. My God, what could possibly be happening to him? She shoved his door open.
From the dim light in the hall she could see that he wasn't on the bed, but on his feet now, swinging at the air like a tortured beast, his eyes closed, his beautiful face taken over by rage. And deep, deep pain. His fists were closed so tightly the scars on his knuckles stood in out sharp relief and her heart broke into a million pieces as she watched this big, strong man fighting like hell against some demon in his head.
A voice in the back of her mind told her to leave him. That she should let him fight his battles alone. That he would probably break her in two if she got involved and he didn't wake up.
But she couldn't do that.
Not after he'd rushed in to save her from the falling limb tonight. Not after he'd taken the full force of the hit on his own back.
Not after he'd been so gentle, so protective of her out on the beach just hours before.
She ran over to Connor, any thoughts of fear gone. She put her hand on his arm and as soon as he felt her touch, he grabbed her forearm in a vice grip and pulled her against him, her robe opening and falling off her shoulders.
Oh God, he was squeezing her so tight, she cried out with whatever breath she could find.
“Connor! It's me. Ginger. You're having a bad dream. It's just a dream. Please wake up.”
His eyes opened but she could tell he didn't see her, that he was still trapped in his own personal hell. And then, in a flash, his eyes cleared and he came back to her, to his bedroom, to Poplar Cove.
His chest was rising and falling hard against hers and as their bare skin rubbed together, in the back of her mind it registered that he was naked and she nearly was. But it didn't matter. Not when she'd just seen him go through something so horrible, not when she was so worried about him.
“What are you doing in here?” His words were as gruff and hard as he'd been when she'd first met him on the porch.
“I had to come, when I heard the-” She cut herself off as she realized just how much he was going to hate her having seen him like this. “I had to help you.”
His hands that had been so tightly gripping her shoulders moved, slightly at first, down over her shoulder blades, then farther down her spine, to her hips. His next words were so low she almost couldn't make them out.
“And you thought this was how you could help me?”
She could hardly breathe, certainly couldn't move, not when he was still holding her so tightly. Not when leaving his arms was the very last thing her body wanted. And then one of his hands curled into her hair and her head was tilting back and he was kissing her. Every part of her that was woman wanted to take this moment and give in to it. Give in to him.