Another Man's Castaway [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Sharon Kull
eBook Category: Romance
eBook Description: In Emma's opinion, the most interesting thing that has ever happened in her small hometown of Webb City concerns the plans of some idiot to build a cottage on the face of a cliff. Because of this, her peaceful existence is suddenly a thing of the past. Nick Harrison couldn't possibly be the cause of it, yet the problems did start shortly after he convinced her to rent her dilapidated cabin to him. She lost her job, the not so honorable Mayor wants her property for a museum site, Nick convinces her to help research an authentic Indian cliff-dwelling project and his mother shows up to pressure him to marry Emma. And that's when Emma is kidnapped by her ex-husband....
eBook Publisher: SynergEbooks, Published: SynergEbooks, 2007
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2007
8 Reader Ratings:
"Sorry, but I was just leaving. I'm on my way to watch an idiot fall off the face of a cliff," Emma told the man holding an armadillo, who was approaching her. She had her back turned toward him, was bent over with one foot on the center porch step, looking at him from beneath her armpit. He was devastatingly handsome, even upside down. Double knotting the lace of her hiking shoe, she stood up and pulled her yellow, nylon windbreaker from the railing. Wriggling into the jacket, she resisted the urge to study this stranger intently only by marching past him.
"But I'm here to see about renting your cabin," Nick protested, shifting his grip on Arnold and rotating on his heels as Emma passed so close by him, that he got a whiff of fruity fragrance. Before he showed-off on that cliff for her, he wanted to secure the rental on her cabin. His second reason for touching base with her now, was that of checking to make sure she'd heard about the cliff inspection. It wouldn't aid his cause to conduct that inspection, if she wasn't in the vicinity to watch him, perhaps from across the gorge below. Also, the concerned owner of a new pet wanted a better place to stash his armadillo than in the travel kennel. Arnold hated that kennel with a passion, and Nick couldn't blame him.
Already several strides along her front walk, the usually patient woman groaned, solidly. Turning around to face the stranger, his frustrated expression caused a flickering of sympathy. There was only one motel in town, its rooms numbering to five. Six through twelve had burned down several years back, and hadn't been rebuilt. No doubt, the construction crew for the house that was to be constructed atop the cliff, had claimed the available rooms, leaving nothing for any other travelers. This hunk wanted to stay awhile. If she refused to accept him as a renter, she'd feel guilty thinking of him camping out under a tree, or using his vehicle, a Blazer parked at the curb, as a residence.
"You really wouldn't want to rent my cabin," she said, to discourage him. However, at the same time she was definitely weakening in his favor. "It's a disaster. Who told you about it, anyway?"
Your ex-husband, he thought. Nick had learned quite a bit about Emma Connemara from Mason. What he'd heard, he liked. After a few months of listening to reverse bragging, a feeling that he loved the jerk's castaway wife had enveloped him like a thick fog. A foolish thing to have happened, but so very true. Unable to get her out of his mind, he'd eventually set the wheels in motion that would ultimately bring them together. Total time span; one year, eleven months, one week, and four days. Since he was trying to be casual about his obsession, Nick hadn't kept track of hours, minutes or seconds.
As a hands-on architect, meaning he also supervised construction and wielded a hammer occasionally, he had established an excellent reputation for creating elite apartment complexes. Although his work was in high demand, he'd nevertheless opted to do something for himself for once. The house he'd drawn up would be home to Mr. & Mrs. Nicholas Harrison. If he could convince Emma to marry him, that is. Giving himself a mental shake, Nick answered the woman who, judging by the way she was inching backwards, was obviously getting impatient with him.
"I overheard some people talking in a restaurant last evening." For the last week, he'd been sleeping in the construction trailer, and keeping out of her sight. He had only ventured into town once, in the middle of the night, to visit a twenty-four hour convenience store. The supposed gap between the crew's arrival, and his, was hoped to keep her from making the correct connection. He did not want her to make the wrong guess that he was somehow in cahoots with her lousy ex. Then there was the wish for her to come to know him as a nice guy, not someone who was out to take advantage of her past.
"Oh?" she questioned.
"Yeah." Her reaction to what he had to say next, would be interesting.. "I don't know who they were, because I'm a stranger in town." She didn't bat an eye over that disclosure, so he continued. "But they definitely said you had a cabin that's unoccupied. I'm looking for a place that will feel like home, so here I am."
"With your ... animal," Emma whispered under her breath, though wondering why he was staring at her. Did she have a smudge of dirt on the end of her nose? Did he assume she'd fall panting at his feet, just because he had shoulders two axe handles wide?
Nick heard that remark of hers, and didn't pretend he hadn't. "Don't you like animals?"
"They're okay. What did those gossiping people look like?" She wanted to know who was talking about her behind her back.
"Didn't see them, just heard their voices floating around." Geez, that sounded dumb, even to him.
"You must have been in the Copper Kettle. Those plastic palm trees are impossible to see past."
Grasping her statement like a life preserver, Nick used it to his advantage. "Yes, they sure are. What about your cabin? Are you interested in renting it?"
"Just a minute. How did you know where to find me?"
"Phonebook. Look, I'm really interested in your cabin. More so after seeing this lovely house you live in. I especially like the way you're accenting white walls by painting the porch and trellises dark green. Although having ten-foot tall boulders in the front yard instead of plants is a spectacular idea, too."
"Didn't have much choice in that, the boulders are too heavy to scoot out of the way. Are you buttering me up?"
"Only if it's working. Otherwise I'm making a jackass out of myself."
"Well, Jack," she began, fighting a grin, "you won't find my cabin quite so spectacular."
"My name is Nick. Harrison. Nick Harrison." He didn't see any sense in making up a name, she'd find out who he was sooner or later.
Since he more than likely already knew her name, she didn't bother introducing herself. "What do you do for a living? There aren't many job openings in Webb City."
Nick countered with a question. "Why is the place termed a city?"
Even though she was in a hurry, Emma rattled off the history of her hometown. "Webb City got its name when there was only a single building on the main street, and that was a farmhouse. Mr. & Mrs. Webb's dream had slowly come true as they sold off sections of land to other folks with dreams. Now, forty years later there are two-dozen businesses, a bus to take children to school in the next town, and a country doctor. Government facilities count a Sheriff's sub station, Post Office counter in the hardware store, Animal Control doing double duty as a domestic zoo. The Town Hall shares space with the library. Private residences are as plentiful as toadstools after a spring rain, both grouped in small subdivisions and strewn alongside meandering streets, most of which are paved. As a point of interest; Mr. & Mrs. Webb have retired and moved to Florida, for health reasons."
"I see," Nick said, hoping at least half of what he'd just been told stuck in his brain. Which was doubtful. The woman standing so close in front of him had the unknowing ability to demand all of his attention.
"So, at the risk of repeating myself, what do you do for a living? I need to be sure you would be able to pay the rent."
"I draw," simplifying the truth. He watched her expression closely for any indication that she'd figured out who he really was. At least, according to Mason, Emma did not know where her ex lived, or who he worked for. That was one connection she wouldn't be making.
"Oh, an artist. And you think living in a cabin will be inspiring, right?"
"I think living in a cabin will put a roof over my head."
Emma laughed, a brow arching when his heretofore motionless pet canted its head to look at her. "At least you don't have a big dog. My cabin isn't exactly spacious."
"I assure you, Miss Connemara, that Arnold isn't destructive like a large dog might be. Where is the cabin? Behind your house?" He couldn't see beyond the attractive structure, because of boulders flanking it, as well as a six-foot tall, wooden fence that evidently enclosed the backyard. A couple of mature shade trees thrust skyward out of the enclosure. Scrutinizing what he could see of her property from where they were standing, he belatedly noticed how close it was to the scrub forest that surrounded the small town. Shove this house back a few yards, and it would be nestled in the short woods. Scrub pines, although tall enough not to be able to see over, were by no means towering spires. Those facts indicated that her cabin was located in her backyard. Nick smiled.
"Yeah, it's behind my house. I must warn you that it isn't in the greatest shape, but if you're still insistent, the rent will be reasonable," Emma declared off the top of her head, her goal to discourage him. She already had enough dilemmas involving her property, but it wasn't her style to be rude and blatantly blurt that she didn't want him underfoot. What was she, nuts? This guy was a hunk!
"How much?" Cost didn't matter, he'd rent the place, and that was that.
"I'll pay you ten bucks to stay there."
"I've got the feeling that your cabin isn't the quality of the Hilton," he told her to go along with whatever she was getting at.
In spite of trying to discourage him, wishy-washy Emma liked this man more every minute. It had been quite awhile since she'd had any interest at all in romance, like since several months before her divorce, just over two years ago. Something inside her demanded an opportunity to cultivate a nice friendship.
"My goodness, how did you know the name of my cabin?"
Nick laughed. "You said you were going somewhere. Mind if I go along, so we can talk rental payments and cleaning deposits?" he heard himself asking before remembering his debut on the mountain. Oh, well. Show Time could always be tomorrow, Nick thought. All he'd have to do, was have the guys spread the word, that the cliff inspection had been postponed.
"Do you really want to take a two mile hike, while carrying an armadillo?" She knew his pet weighed approximately fifteen pounds, and that after a while the weight would seem to more than double.
"Not especially, but he's not leash broken. Why aren't you going to drive there?"
Emma canted her head toward her white Saturn parked on the gravel driveway. "I like it with wheels. The best vantage point isn't accessible by road."
News to him. He'd been living at the site for the last week, had in fact just come from there. A road good enough to be a highway passed within spitting distance. "You don't say. What angle are you angling for?"
"The bottom of a gorge. The idiot might need someone to shout a warning from time to time. Some areas of that cliff are prone to shearing off. I've got a loud voice, when necessary."
Nick flinched. The distance he could plummet was a good five-hundred feet. There wouldn't be much more than a grease smear, and clothing. He'd have to be extremely careful on the face of that cliff. "Maybe the idiot would land on his feet, right in front of you, saying something like; 'Howdy, Ma'am. Nice weather we're having, isn't it?" Nick rattled off.
"Mercy, if that's about to happen, I'd better get a move on, or he'll be disappointed because I'm not there." She took two steps backwards.
He took two steps forward, and since his stride was longer, he was now closer to her. "But I'm here, and very interested in renting your cabin. If you're refusing to rent it to me, just say so. Then I'll proceed to talk you into changing your mind."
"If you're so insistent to live in the disaster, it's no skin off of my nose. So, okay, you can rent it..."
"Thanks, I really apprec..."
"...but you'll have to come back at around noon. We'll talk details then. I've really gotta go." Without waiting for an answer, Emma turned her back on him and took off at a brisk pace along the concrete pathway that meandered through boulders taller than her head. Emerging onto the sidewalk that ended forty feet away, at the 'L' shaped corner of her residential road, she hooked a left in that direction and picked up speed. As she hiked cross-country, her mind was jogging back and forth between the man named Harrison, his sweet armadillo, and a cliff cavorting idiot. She pictured him driving away, heading north past her neighbors' houses, beneath the boughs of Blue Spruce trees that the city had planted more than thirty years ago.