Never Too Hot
Page 3

 Bella Andre

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This was perhaps the only problem about settling into a small town as a single woman. The available men (who weren't ordering from the senior menu) were pretty slim pickings.
She'd been set up by one of the local biddies with Sean Murphy, who co-owned the Inn with his younger brother, but there'd been no chemistry. Yes, he was a great-looking guy. Tall, dark, chiseled. But even though she'd enjoyed his company, she couldn't shake how much he reminded her of her older brother.
One day in the not too distant future was she going to have to pull up stakes again, simply for the chance to start a family?
She sighed. Maybe it was time to get a refill on her iced tea. It was pretty darn hot after all. And she had only thirty minutes left to paint before she had to leave for her shift at the diner. No point in spinning off in her head with what-ifs and worries when she should be enjoying the time to herself.
But just as she was about to put down her brush, the screen door to her left abruptly swung open.
She spun around to see a large man standing in the doorway, his face tight and grim, his eyes narrowed. Fear hit her square across the chest.
How long had he been standing on the steps? Had he been watching her?
She'd never met him before. He wasn't the kind of man she would have forgotten. So why was he looking at her like that, like he'd come to get revenge?
Oh God, her parents had told her this would happen, hadn't they? They'd told her it was crazy to live out so far in the woods. Her nearest neighbors were nearly an acre away, far enough that they wouldn't be able to hear her screams. Maybe, she thought wildly, the biggest problem about being a single woman in a small town wasn't having trouble finding dates, it was being murdered.
Ginger gulped in air, swallowed hard, tried to remember how to breathe. She gripped the paintbrush like a weapon despite the fact that she knew it wouldn't do a lick of good in beating back the wall of muscle staring her down.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
He moved all the way onto the porch, the door banging closed behind him. “What are you doing in my house?”
His house? What was he talking about?
Huge and nuts. Not a good a combination. She was in big trouble here. Too far from the phone to place an emergency call to a friend, or even the police. Was her only choice to try to bluff him with some tough-chick act?
She was toast.
Widening her stance, lifting the paintbrush as if it were a knife, she growled, “Get off my porch,” just as the sun moved out from behind a cloud and landed on his torso.
She sucked in a sharp breath. She hadn't been able to see his arms and hands clearly at first, but now she couldn't take her eyes off them. His skin was a mess, beneath the short sleeves of his T-shirt, raised and bumpy, covered with red lashes and lines. In the glimmering sunlight streaming in through the porch screen, it looked fresh and raw and terribly painful.
“Oh my God, what happened to you?” She dropped her paintbrush and moved toward him.
If anything, his expression became even more fierce. “I'm fine.”
She continued across the porch. He was obviously in shock. In denial about the pain he had to be in.
“You don't need to pretend you're okay. I can see your arms, they…”
By then she was only a handful of feet away from him, close enough to see the true damage. She swallowed the rest of her words as her eyes and brain finally made the connection.
She'd just made a terrible mistake. Yes, he'd been hurt. Badly. But it wasn't recent. They were old wounds.
His words were low and hard. “I was burned two years ago. I'm fine now.”
She bit her lip. Nodded. “Oh. Yes. I can see that now. It's just when the sun hit you, I thought-” She should stop talking now; the hole she'd dug was already big enough. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make such a big deal about your… your scars.”
The silence that followed her horrible words was long. Borderline painful. He must hate it when people freaked out over his scars and here she'd practically been wrapping gauze around them.
And of course, now she couldn't stop wondering how he'd gotten so badly burned. Even though it was none of her business.
Finally, he said, “I'm Connor MacKenzie. And this is my house. I thought it was empty. I just flew all the way from California. It should be empty.”
His name registered quickly. At last, something that made sense. “Are you related to Helen and George MacKenzie?”
“They're my grandparents.”
She breathed her first sigh of relief. He wasn't a serial killer. He was related to the cabin's owner.
“I'm Ginger. Why don't you come in.” She tentatively smiled. “Maybe we can start over and I could offer you a glass of iced tea?”
He didn't smile back. “How do you know my grandparents?”
Did he realize that every word out of his mouth sounded like an accusation? Like she'd screwed up all of his big plans when she didn't know him from Adam.
“I'm renting this cabin from them. Didn't they tell you?”
He stared at her for a long moment, and she got the uncomfortable feeling that he was trying to assess whether she was telling him the truth.
There would have been a time when a big, strong man of few words like this would have had her trembling and weak-kneed. She would have assumed she was the one in the wrong even when she clearly had it all right.
Fortunately, a lot had changed in this past year. And she, frankly, wasn't in the mood to be pushed around.
“Wait here.” Sixty seconds later she was back with the signed lease. “Here it is.”
He took the document from her and as he read through it, she was able to take a good long look at him for the first time. Golden-brown hair, deeply tanned skin, thickly lashed eyes, a full yet masculine mouth and strong chin, presently covered with a half-day's stubble.
Now that she was no longer worried that he was going to attack her, on an elemental level, her body suddenly recognized his beauty.
His innate power.
Up close, not only was he strikingly handsome, but he was even bigger than she'd first thought. Between the wide breadth of his chest and the muscles flexing beneath his T-shirt, from the size of his biceps and the way his chest tapered down to slim, tight hips, she could feel her breath slowly leaving her body, quickly being replaced with something that felt — uncomfortably — like desire.