Never Too Hot
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But he still wasn't leaving. Instead his eyes were scanning the cabin and then he was walking over to a log that held up the wall between the porch and the living room. Without warning, he slammed his fist into it.
She half screamed in surprise. “What the hell are you doing?”
Calm as anything, he used his fingertips to brush away the crumbled wood chips.
She swallowed hard. “You just made a hole in the log.”
A perfect fist-sized hole. How strong did he have to be to hit it like that without even flinching?
“This rotten log is just one of the half-dozen ways this old house could come down around your head.” He turned back to her, raised an eyebrow. “I'm sure my grandparents would be happy to give you a refund on your rent.”
Her heart was still pounding from the shock of seeing him knock a huge chunk out of the log. But she was bound and determined not to let his scare tactics work.
“I'm not going anywhere.”
“Then we'll talk tomorrow.”
The screen door slammed shut behind him as he left. Ginger couldn't stop herself from moving over to the log to get a better look at it. And as she put her hand into the hole he'd left, she hated how Connor had made her look at the cabin that had been her refuge with different eyes.
MOST DAYS Ginger's five-mile drive to the small downtown strip on the opposite side of Blue Mountain Lake was a leisurely, relaxing one. As winter had turned to spring and spring had shifted into summer, the trees were bursting with bright green new growth that she'd never failed to appreciate.
What on earth was she going to do about Connor? About the fact that he clearly wanted an all-access pass to her home? She wasn't ready for her lakefront idyll to come to an end.
She was finally getting the hang of, well, hanging out. Her paintings were starting to look the way she pictured them in her head.
And Blue Mountain Lake — but especially Poplar Cove — felt more like home than any home she'd ever had before.
It was a whole different world out here in the woods as compared to her previous life in New York City. She loved everything about it. The past eight months at Poplar Cove had been the happiest of her life. The setting, of course, was spectacular, but her joy was inspired by far more than the beautiful natural surroundings.
Freedom was a revelation. For the first time in her life, she answered to no one but herself. Not a husband, not her parents, not the committee members of umpteen charity boards.
Sure, she'd had to get a job waiting tables in town to pay for her canvases and paints and groceries, and it had taken a little while to get used to taking orders and delivering food and drinks, but waitressing was a small price to pay for not having to take her parents' money while her ex-husband kept their money tied up with lawyers.
As she parked her car behind the diner and got out into the fresh air, she took a few seconds to breathe it in as she reminded herself that there was no reason to freak out.
So the owner's grandson had showed up out of the blue. So what? The most important thing was that she'd held her ground. And would continue to do so. Unfortunately, she had to admit that he'd done a good job of making his point about the old cabin. Something would have to be done there.
Isabel, her closest friend in town who also happened to own the Blue Mountain Lake Diner, always gave good advice. If anyone would know what to do in a situation like this, it was Isabel.
Ginger was halfway across the parking lot when Josh, Isabel's fifteen-year-old son, nearly knocked her over as he shot past her to join a pretty blonde on the sidewalk. Ginger called out a hello, but he didn't hear her as he rounded the corner.
She pushed through the back door into the kitchen to find Isabel chopping a couple of bell peppers into thin slivers. “Who was that cute girl Josh was leaving with? He couldn't take his eyes off her.”
Isabel sighed, not looking up from her task. “Who knows? I'm the last person he'd introduce her to.”
From the first, Ginger had been struck by how attractive Isabel was. Slim and blond, nearly fifty, she looked easily a decade younger. Today, however, she looked tired. Worn out. Probably because things had been rough lately between Isabel and her teenage son.
“What happened this time?”
Isabel's words came out in a rush. “He slammed in through the door, even though I've told him at least a hundred times that he's going to pull the door clean off its hinges, and when I asked him to grab the silverware from the dishwasher, he told me he wasn't going to work today.”
For the past few months Josh had been helping out for a couple of hours in the afternoon to earn some spending money. Apart from a tray of dropped wine glasses, he'd done great. A little lazy sometimes, but he was only fifteen.
“Hmm.” Ginger didn't want to take sides, even if it did sound like Josh might be out of line. “Did he say why?”
“Evidently his father told him he should be out having fun with his friends because there's plenty of time for him to work when he grows up.”
Isabel blew out an angry breath. “I'm going to kill Brian. He feels guilty because he only sees his son a handful of weeks every year and doesn't have a clue how much harder all of his endless generosity makes my day-today. You should have heard Josh last night going on and on about all the 'totally awesome' things he did with his father in the city the past couple of weeks.”
“Must be hard to compete with that.”
“Impossible. So I told Josh he'd better stay or else and you'll never guess what the little shit said?”
Ginger had a pretty good idea what a fifteen-year-old boy might come up with. Especially after working with them for the past months at school.
“He said the only way he was going to stay was if I chained him to the stove. And then he blasted out of here with that girl to go see a movie.”
Ginger leaned on the counter. “I still have nightmares about fifteen. Braces. Bad skin. All I needed was the ponytail and glasses to perfect the look. The extra fifteen pounds didn't help any, either.”
Isabel grunted and Ginger knew she was being no help at all. “What I'm trying to say is that fifteen is a hard age for everyone. And you've got to know that Josh is a great kid. All year up at the school when I was doing art with his class, he was always really polite. Amazingly focused. There was this one kid I almost smacked a couple of times when he repeatedly flicked paint on the-” She realized she was heading off on a tangent and switched back to Josh. “Anyway, compared to some of the other kids, Josh is practically an angel.”