Dawn was just easing into the cabin when Kate woke to the soft tickle of several strands of her hair wafting gently against her cheek from Mitch’s deep, even breaths. His arm was draped over her waist, a large hand tucked under her side, holding her body tight against his. She stayed still and quiet, not wanting to lose the moment or the feel of Mitch wrapped around her like a blanket, legs tangled, arms enclosing her in his heat. Taking your back. She didn’t know what to think about how deep those words had gone or how much they meant. Her eyes wandered around the cabin, the early morning light casting the space in a mellow glow, disguising the worn, aged reality of the rundown building. Ace was watching her from his place by the door, only his eyes moving as his head rested on huge paws. Kate smiled to herself, thinking he and Mitch shared that feature as the man stirred at her back, sliding his big hand over her stomach before resting it on her hip.
“Morning, baby,” he muttered, voice rough with sleep. “I could get used to this, waking up with you all warm and soft.” He nestled his face into her neck and breathed deep, sending goose bumps down her body. Kate felt his chuckle rumble against her back when she shivered. “Can’t wait to have you in my bed, be inside you.” His splayed hand moved down, tightened on her thigh. “Kiss you to sleep, kiss you awake.” He made a low humming sound and rocked his hips into her.
Before she could decide what to do, Mitch rolled to his back, taking her with him. Stretched out on top of him, her head tucked under his chin, she was drawn into his warmth, her traitorous body overruling her head with alarming ease. When a long sigh of resignation drifted across his chest, he smiled and languidly ran his fingers up and down her spine, repeating the seductive gesture over and over until she was boneless and limp, happy to never leave the perfect cushion of his body or the cozy comfort of the little cabin. The heady thrill in not looking over her shoulder in fear for the first time in years washed over her. And that brought her straight out of tranquility and into hardwired tension. What was she thinking?
“Stop thinking,” he murmured, lifting a hand to the side of her head, tangling his fingers in her long silken hair. “Let me have just a few more minutes to savor the best morning I’ve ever woken up to.” He grinned when she snorted, then laid a hand on her head to keep her still, safe and warm against him. His. At least in his mind she was, though he suffered no illusions she’d fall at his feet without a fight. No, not her. Winning this woman was going to be the biggest challenge of his life. Mitch stroked her hair as visions of the myriad ways he was going to convince her there was something truly good happening between them swirled through his head.
Kate fidgeted against his hold, then trembled at the feel of his semi-hard erection rising temptingly under her belly. Mitch rubbed both hands up and down her back. “Be still, honey. Give me one more minute of you being quiet and biddable before we have to get up.”
“Biddable? In your dreams, Cartwright.” He chuckled, then abruptly rolled her to her back, taking his weight on his forearms as he made himself at home in the cradle of her body. Staring down at her, absorbing the feel of her under him, he was imbued with a potent confusion of deep hunger and intense satisfaction. Eyes wide, Kate skimmed over his features, studied the look on his face, tried not to read the serious undercurrent of his gaze.
Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, Mitch lowered his head to her mouth. Kate wrapped her arms around his neck and returned his kiss with heat and need and utter recklessness. She didn’t want to look at that serious look on his face, didn’t want anything to ruin this time with more questions or painful decisions. She just wanted to pretend for a little while longer.
He raised his head, met her eyes, then crooned, “’The wheels on the bus go round and round,’” as he tapped lightly on her forehead. She grinned, the child’s rhyme so unexpected coming from him.
“How in the world do you know those words?”
“Rug rat, otherwise known as my nephew. It’s his favorite book.”
Kate blinked. “Are you saying Mike and Lisa had a baby?” She stared up at him, shocked and thrilled at the news. She pushed against his chest and sat up when he shifted. “When? How old is he? What’s his name?” The questions flew out of her mouth, excitement sparkling in her eyes.
Crawling off the bed and getting to his feet, Mitch pulled on his jeans and walked to the fireplace to stir the coals before tossing on the last few pieces of wood. As he worked, he said, “Yeah, Mike and Lisa had a babe. He’s a few months over a year, his name is Jake and he’s just as handsome as his uncle.” He grinned over his shoulder at her. “That would be me, of course.”
“Lisa wanted a baby so much,” she murmured. “We talked about it many times. There seemed to be some kind of problem, though whatever it was, it obviously got worked out. I’m so happy for them.”
“What worked out is I sent them to Hawaii for a month,” Mitch laughed as he started a fire in the stove and filled the kettle. “Not long after you’d left Montana, I suppose. I came home after finishing a job in Australia and overheard them talking one night. Lisa was pretty upset about not getting pregnant and I knew being worried wasn't helping matters. So, as a thank you for taking care of my dogs whenever I need it, I gave them a nice, long vacation.” He met her gaze across the room. “She was pregnant before they even made it home.” His smile was so irresistible, her breath caught and butterflies began to flap wildly in her stomach.
“What a wonderful thing to do,” she said softly, “and doubly wonderful that it gave them such a gift.” She felt the prickle burn in her nose and quickly crossed the room toward her pack, trying to navigate through the tears shimmering over her vision. And bumped straight into Mitch’s hard chest and enveloping arms as he stepped into her path.
He nuzzled, nipped the soft place where her neck met her shoulder, then wound his fingers in her hair and pulled her head back. He held her tearful gaze, then kissed her hard and hot. When she was breathless and weak-kneed, he lifted his head. “No wonder Mike and Lisa befriended you. Does everyone fall under your spell?” She closed her eyes and shook her head, whispered, “I need to go out, and so does Ace.”
Mitch released her and grabbed a tee shirt, pulling it over his head before settling the heavy weight of his leather jacket over her shoulders. “This will keep you warm,” he said, and as she opened the door, he added, “Don’t go far and keep the cabin in sight.”
She gave him a two-fingered salute and followed Ace around the house and into the forest. Standing under the thick canopy, night had yet to give way to dawn, though Kate could see the shadows retreating with every passing minute as she looked toward the cabin. She took a deep breath of the cold mountain air, flavored with the sharp, heady aroma from the pines and in the quiet, away from Mitch and his force field, her thoughts broke free and began to unravel.
Three days ago her life had been simple, uneventful and solitary. She’d actually thought maybe the threat was over, she was at last forgotten, lost in the shadows. But then, out of nowhere, the soft, throaty rumble of a Harley had changed everything,
Mitch had barged in, knocked her off her feet with his wit and humor, then enticed and teased with a skill and intensity she could never hope to withstand. He was smart and tough, resilient and effective. He’d gotten under her skin, burrowed right in and laid claim to her while her head was still spinning. In just three frigging days.
Maybe she had lost her edge. Not once in four years had she allowed anyone in—other than those brief weeks spent in Montana with Mike and Lisa—and yet now, here was Mitch, melting her resolve with his kisses, igniting a need in her she couldn’t resist even as she struggled to deny it. The intimacy he’d shown her, the glimpse of what could be, made her want to rage against that tiny seed of hope because it was going to cripple her when she had to walk away.
Shaking her head to dislodge the worst of her thoughts, she walked around the house to the front, calling Ace as she made her way to the door. It opened just as she put a hand out for the rusty knob, a beaming Mitch grabbing her arm and hauling her inside. He whistled for Ace, then shut the door when the dog was over the threshold. Pulling his jacket off her shoulders, he tossed it in the general direction of his pack and said, “Open wide.” When she just stared, Mitch raised a dark brow and waited, one hand hidden behind his back. “Okay then, if you won’t cooperate,” he said impatiently and yanked her against him, his tongue licking between her lips until she opened for him, then abruptly, between one thrust of his tongue and the next, he pulled away and stuck a half-eaten cookie in her open mouth.
Laughing at the look of surprise on her face, he turned to the stove, lifted a mug and handed it to her with a slight bow. “Your tea, Madam.” Still chewing, she took the steaming mug and smiled at him; he looked so pleased with himself, she couldn’t help it. “Thank you,” she murmured, “though first I have to give Ace—”
“Done.” She looked over to see Ace near the front door happily munching his dog food. “All you have to do is sit down with me while we drink our tea and have a little something to eat while we figure out the game plan.”
“Mitch,” she began, trying her best to put some distance between them.
He stepped closer. With a finger under her chin, he lifted her head to face him. Their eyes connected and held, then he murmured, “Wheels on the bus, baby.” Grazing his knuckles down her cheek, blue eyes vivid as a summer sky, he said gently, “I know what you were doing outside, Kate. You were plotting your escape, figuring out how to ditch me—for my own good, of course, and maybe try to convince yourself there’s no hope for us.” He grinned at her scowl, leaned in and kissed the twin furrows on her forehead. “Three days ago, everything changed. For both of us.” He took her elbow and maneuvered her over to the bed, gently pushing her down. “We need to talk.” When she opened her mouth, he shook his head and sat down beside her. “While you’ve been out there thinking, I’ve been in here thinking. Within the next half hour—sooner if possible—we’re leaving, no discussion, no debate.”
Wrong. Plenty of discussion and debate. Years of answering to no one fired up Kate’s temper. “As we already know, Cartwright, you don’t listen well.” She glared up at him. “I’ve made it very clear that you aren’t the boss of me.”
Mitch laughed, then bent into her glare. “You've dealt with this on your own long enough.” He kissed the soft skin behind her ear. “It's time you had help.” He bit her lobe, then sucked gently to remove the sting before murmuring, low and rough, “Don’t know what this is between us, but it’s something big and I want more.” His lips burned up her throat, found her mouth and nibbled at her bottom lip. “I’m not looking to be your boss, baby, just your man, so don’t fight me on this, it’s too important.” He kissed her, spoke against her lips, “Let me in. I’ll keep you safe, slay your dragons, work your body till the only thing you’ll ever know or want is me.” He pulled back, held her gaze. “I’ll do anything for you.” Then he smiled, eyes hot with promise. “Except let you go.”
They stared at each other for a long time, then Mitch nodded his head in that way she understood meant he'd made his point and there wasn't anything more to be said. The look that made her want to reach for her pistol. But since she was trying desperately to hide the fact his words had left her speechless, she could only silently watch him walk purposefully across the cabin to his pack. “We have to get out of here, Kate. I’ve got a feeling.”
She cleared her throat, moved to crouch at Ace's saddlebags and began to sort and arrange the contents. “A feeling?”
“Yeah,” he muttered, “I’ve been getting a lot of those lately.” Taking a pair of socks from his pack, Mitch propped himself against the wall to pull them on, then stomped his feet into his boots and bent to lace them up. “What was your escape plan, before I showed up? You walking to…wherever?”
Kate shook her head. “No. Along this ridge and down the other side is a little hamlet called Bear Claw. It's a fairly easy hike, under two hours. I rent a small garage unit there, with an old beater car, some weapons and a few supplies. My back-up.” She met his gaze. “I haven’t been there in a few months, not since I made my yearly rent payment, but everything was okay then.” She sighed. “I almost gave the unit up, thought I wouldn’t need it anymore.” She gave him a forlorn little smile. “Good thing I didn’t.”
“Proving how brilliant you are, honey, because we need to get gone and an old beater will do us just fine. We get out of these mountains and over the border into Nevada, I’ll take it from there.”
Frowning, she said, “Nevada? Why are we going east? Shouldn’t we be going north toward Montana instead?”
Wagging his brows, he smiled. “I’ve got a plan.” One he was going to have to convince the most stubborn and self-reliant woman he’d ever known to get behind, though how he was going to accomplish it was pretty sketchy at the moment.
“Care to elaborate?” she asked, glancing up at him, a bag of dog bones in her hand that she hadn’t packed yet. Ace came over and leaned into her, nearly tipping her over as he locked onto the bag. Smiling, Kate gave him one, though her eyes stayed fixed on Mitch. “So, the guy with all the answers suddenly doesn't have anything to say?” She cocked her head. “If you're not playing boss man, Mitch, then share the plan.”
“I don't have all the details worked out yet.”
“Oh, so you really don't have a plan.”
“I have a damn plan,” he snapped, “it just needs some tweaking.” When she laughed at him with easy amusement, he smiled in surprise at the rare sound, then knelt to pack his gear. “So, quick hike to town, get into the garage without being noticed, and we can be on our way before anyone’s the wiser. Works for me.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Mitch, just so you know? I can recognize a diversion when I see one, so don’t think this is over. We’ve got two hours ahead of us with nothing to do but talk.” She smiled sweetly. “And to tweak those plans of yours.” She went to the bed and began folding the blankets. “The garage is behind a gas station off the highway. Not many people around, even during the day. I have the key, rent’s paid, car started right up the last time I was there. We shouldn’t have any problems.”
“Good,” he said, “then let’s roll, baby.” Now that gears were turning, things falling into place, he was eager to get moving. His preferred method was fast and light so he grinned with approval when Kate immediately finished packing and within fifteen minutes had everything taken care of and was ready to walk out the door. Christ, talk about a pro. She was fucking made for him. He paused for a moment to wonder just exactly how hard she was going to fight him tonight when he explained his idea. His grin widened in anticipation.