Blindsided [Sexual Studies 2] [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Kate Watterson
eBook Category: Erotica/Romance
eBook Description: The inhospitable weather of Northern Wisconsin can be a welcome sanctuary. Dr. Kerin Burke is in a full panic, and in the process made a very bad judgment call. Still, the storm blowing in is the least of her problems. Help arrives, and it is the last thing she needs because instead of concentrating on how to solve her current problems, she's instantly involved with a man she barely knows. Tall, dark, and sexy is fine, but it doesn't do anything to stop her life unraveling like a loose thread. Jesse McCutcheon isn't interested in unwanted company. He comes to the woods to get away from life, not to see the darker side of it. But when he rescues a woman in a stranded car, his life takes a turn that makes him wonder why he's always been so afraid of commitment. She's what he has always wanted, but there is something else there, something dark and mysterious and she doesn't want to talk about it. Fine. He can be patient, but he knows this isn't going to go away. Whether she'll admit it or not, they've both been blindsided. [Erotic Romance: Contains graphic sexual content and adult language.]
eBook Publisher: Siren-BookStrand, Inc./Siren Classic, Published: 2009, 2009
Fictionwise Release Date: October 2009
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15 Reader Ratings:
"5 Stars: Blindsided is one of those books which reads a notch above the usual great book. The story centers on Kerin and Jesse falling fast and hard for each other, escalated by their smokin' chemistry in bed, while trying to make sense of 'the why' and 'the who' of all the danger and intrigue inexplicably surrounding her...The intrigue not only makes sense, but it isn't force-fed to us in the last three pages of the book. I enjoyed as a reader being a part of working out the solution. I fell in love with Jesse because instead of backing away once he learned of the danger Kerin might even be imagining, he needed to protect and support her through it. I related to Kerin's strength and yet feeling the instinct to lean on Jesse even though it was out of character for her. I could tell you about the other characters in the story, but?then I'd have to kill you, so I'll just tell you that Blindsided is an exciting story you'll enjoy reading."--Karen Haas, Just Erotic Romance Reviews
"4.5 Cherries: If you're looking for a hot read for a lazy spring afternoon, then grab a copy of Sexual Studies 2: Blindsided and cuddle up. You're in for a treat."--Tiger Lily, Whipped Cream Reviews
The first fat, fluffy white flakes that drifted downward looked so unthreatening. True, the radio had insisted dismally all afternoon that a big storm was intent on wandering into Canada via the upper Midwest, but they were so often wrong it seemed worth taking the chance to make a few more miles.
Every mile, every yard, every inch, and she felt just a little safer.
However, Kerin Burke had to admit that maybe taking this winding little county highway might have been a great mistake. Yes, it was infinitely more relaxing than battling freeway traffic, and the nail-biting antics of other drivers. Also much more private--and more unlikely a route. With the bristling pine forest around her she got the occasional glimpse of a snow-coated pristine northern lake so it was also much prettier--but still a mistake. She had actually started to relax a little and enjoy herself until the snow began in earnest, whipping sideways under a wind that came out of nowhere, swirling tall columns of white across the narrow road in bursts so thick that sometimes for long heart-stopping moments she couldn't see a thing.
A mere two hours after the first lovely little white flake landed on her windshield, conditions rapidly moved from dangerous to appalling.
Slowing to a crawl at ten miles per hour helped a little. Crouched over the wheel, eyes straining, with one hand Kerin groped for her map. Muttering out loud, she said crossly, "What was the name of that damned town and how far can it be?"
The crinkle of paper told her she'd found what she wanted and she took a second to pull it up in front of her. Tomahawk, she saw before quickly lowering the map. With a big enough black dot to hopefully have a motel.
If she could even get there. The road seemed to disappear right in front of her, only the solid image of the hovering trees defining where she needed to go. Already she hit drifts that frighteningly affected her control of the car and the wind echoed above the sound of the rock station she'd found, howling eerily through the treetops.
But disaster came from neither the elements, nor the ever darkening vastness of the forest.
The red light that flashed on the dash was her first inkling the car had died. It had stalled several times already since she'd left Indianapolis but always started again easily and she'd not even entertained the notion of stopping yet to have someone look at it.
Without power steering she slid gently to a rocking stop, helped by a three-foot drift. Snow pelted the windshield and her wipers seemed to just move it around, not actually clear it away. Her lights blazed in vague illumination behind that white wall, the skies having grown so dark it was hard to believe it was only late afternoon. Kerin's hands shook as she groped for the keys in the ignition.
The engine flared to life and then abruptly went silent.
This, she thought frantically, cannot be happening. No one, especially someone who had experienced such an awful past few months, could have such bad luck. Car trouble on a remote road during a full-blown snowstorm? God must truly hate her.
If there was a God. She'd always thought so, but lately she was beginning to wonder.
She tried again. This time there was no answering spark, no comforting noise. This time the key merely clicked silently.
"Damn." Her oath was choked with dismay and a sort of numbing fear. She hadn't passed a car in many miles and no one in their right mind would be out and about anyway. Maybe a snowplow would come along ... but then again, the road crews would have their hands full just keeping the main highways clear in weather like this. Even in Indiana the secondary roads got fairly treacherous during winter storms.
Some of them became impassable.
She left the lights on, as it seemed the logical thing to do. Waiting an agonizing five minutes, she tried to start the car again. No luck.
Expensive piece of shit, she thought cynically, fighting not to panic. Minutes passed by. She tried turning the key once more. That useless, useless key.
Already, alarmingly fast, she was beginning to get cold. Gazing blankly out the window she saw nothing but white lashing, retreating, dancing in waves against the glass. She waited, shivering, the full irony of the situation weighing as heavy as the deep, deep silence of the frozen woods surrounding her.
And waited. It was hard to just sit there but she had no idea what else to do.
She fled Indianapolis because she'd become convinced it might be the only way to save her life.
Now, she might very well die anyway.
At least this death would be peaceful, she reminded herself and leaned her head back against the seat, closing her eyes. Her coat was lightweight wool, the one she wore to the office, a dress coat unsuited for bitter temperatures. Even with her hands deep in the pockets, her fingers were cool and aching. Before long she would be able to see her breath, even inside the car.
Eventually she could see her breath as the conditions worsened. Not a promising sign.
The knock came without warning, close, just inches from her left ear, and she jumped violently. Eyes flying open, Kerin twisted and stared out her driver's side window. A face, obscured by the flying snow, peered inside.
"Are you okay?" The shout was muffled by the wind.
A face. Another human being. Someone who had to have transportation to get there.
Rescue. It registered only dimly. It took a second before she summoned up enough composure to fumble for the button on the side of the door. Her window lowered so slowly that she knew her battery must be going dead. A blast of cold air and snow hit her right in the face and she gasped. "I'm fine, but my car is stalled."
The figure outside her window straightened. A tall man, she decided. She could hear the smooth idle of an engine even through the sighing wind. The words were nearly snatched away but she thought he said, "You'd better get out and come with me."
Get into the car of a perfect stranger?
Kerin shook her head, and inhaled another blast of snow. There was a small pile already on the seat next to her just from the brief time her window had been open. She called out, "Thanks, but no. Can you do me a favor and call a tow truck? Maybe let them know I'm here?"
For a second he disappeared, swallowed by a column of white that seemed to envelope his tall figure. He shouted into the wind, "Lady, no one ... here ... for days. I bet ... close the roads ... snow emergency."
The man bent suddenly and thrust his head inside the car through the open window. She flinched back but not before she got the impression of dark hair coated with white flakes, dark eyes, and a grim mouth. He said clearly, "I am willing to give you a ride but if we wait about one more minute, neither of us is going anywhere. Now, come on or forget it. It's a free country and if you want to freeze to death, hey, I can't really stop you."
Jesse McCutcheon eased the truck into gear and felt the tires spin uselessly for a few seconds before the four-wheel drive kicked in and they lurched forward into the blinding wall of snow.
It was most certainly the worst storm in at least three years, one of those deadly entities that swept in and started to dump snow so fast that you couldn't get anywhere, do anything, and the whole notion of the power of nature came slamming into focus.
The woman sitting next to him shivered. He could hear her shallow breathing, and actually feel the tremors as she shook uncontrollably. He said, "If you want to turn up the heat, that's fine with me. I'd do it for you but if I take my eyes off what used to be this road, I'm pretty sure we'll end up somewhere in Otter Lake. It's that top button. Push it over to the red."
"Thanks." It was a mutter.
Seconds later the fan went up with a gush of warm air that fanned his face. The snow clinging to his hair began to melt, running down his neck under the collar of his coat. There wasn't much doubt that the young woman sitting next to him had been apprehensive about getting into the car with him, and since he wasn't used to being considered a possible ax murderer or serial rapist, he wasn't just sure what to say. He settled for a conversational question. "How long had you been there?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe an hour or more." Her voice was soft, the accent subtle and almost southern.
"If it wasn't for your lights, I would have driven right by."
"Thank heavens then you weren't about five minutes later, Mr....?"
"McCutcheon," he supplied readily.
"McCutcheon." It was almost a prim response. "At any rate, my battery was going dead. I couldn't even roll up my window all the way. I hope the snow won't completely ruin the interior of my car."
"I'm sure any damage suffered would be preferable to slowly turning into a block of ice," he spoke dryly, trying to sound nonchalant as he strained to see the turn-off for Loon Road. If he missed it--and in this nasty soup it was just possible--they would be in some trouble. Using his intuition, he was sure it was just ahead but the white-out conditions and his reduced speed made everything different to judge.
No thanks either, for his timely rescue.
Jesse chanced one swift glance over. The woman huddled in her long coat, collar up, her small form radiating tension in palatable waves. Not much was visible except for the top of her head. He jerked his gaze back to the road, or whatever he could see of it. "I need you to help me out, if you would."
That roused her a little and she stirred. "How?"
"We're looking for a blue spruce. Your side of the road. Right on the corner of an intersection. There's a sign, but we won't see it, not in this crap. The tree is big, and much taller than the pines around it."
The girl leaned forward, peering out the windshield. "I'll try but I can't see anything. Should it be getting dark so early?"
He couldn't see anything either, but he hardly wanted to say so. He murmured, "It's the storm. Speaking of which, what were you doing on the road anyway? They've been broadcasting dire predictions for most of the morning."
She didn't answer his question. Instead, she asked coolly, "If you knew that, what are you doing on this road, Mr. McCutcheon?"
"I was hoping they would be wrong." It was a truthful answer.
She laughed, a light sound, almost startling with the howling wind and slashing snow. "So was I."
"Yeah, so we're both stupid," he said half-under his breath. He was beginning to sweat despite the dropping temperatures outside, whether it was the blasting heater or the fact that the road he traveled many of times looked like something out of a fantastic fairy tale, he wasn't sure. Deep drifts sent the truck spinning sideways almost every few feet and though he'd managed so far to plow through each one of them, his hope that the trend would continue was starting to dwindle.
Damn it, where is the road?
"There!" The woman pointed suddenly out her window. "A big tree. I'm pretty sure a spruce ... it's hard to tell."
Timing wise, he had no idea if they had gone the right distance. However, it did look like there might be a gap, which could be a road. Twisting the wheel, he managed part of the turn before they lurched to a halt, the truck nose to nose with some snow-laden pines.
Backing up got interesting.
He could go a few feet, turn the wheel, and move forward, making some progress each time. The only good news was that he was sure now it was Loon Road, and that was reassuring. His companion said nothing during the whole neck-jerking business, just sitting with her coat held around her like a protective blanket.
It was a mile to his cabin. One blasted mile. Walking the distance in what was probably at least knee-deep snow didn't hold much appeal. Wrenching the wheel around with all his strength, he gunned the engine and finally managed a fishtail entrance to the narrow road that led to his lane.
Finally, he got a little lucky. On this road, the wind wasn't depositing great heaps of sticky white powder in his path. Actually, as the trees thickened even more and the wind blasted straight north, he could see a little better. His mailbox coming into view was a fabulous sight.
The lane on his property was long, deliberately long, deliberately private, and curved downward and then up a steep hill. Ninety-nine percent of the year he loved it that way, with the cabin tucked back where no one could see it except from the lake, the winding drive bordered by tall, straight white pines and the occasional graceful birch. This particular night, however, it was like trying to make his way through a soggy marsh blindfolded.
The truck stalled out somewhere at the bottom. A formidable drift had formed already, blocking the slope upward, the wind direction and barrier of the trees making a perfect dumping ground for nature's abundant generosity. He usually had trouble with drifting in that spot, but rarely so fast and so much.
All this time, since spotting the spruce, his companion hadn't said as much as a word. He couldn't tell if she was scared, or merely standoffish. Somewhat wearily, he pulled out the keys and dropped them in his pocket. "We'll have to make a go of it on foot now."
It was almost fully dark now. The woman turned, and her face was a pale gleam. "On foot? To where?"
"My house," he replied evenly and pointed at the windshield. "Right over that hill."
"Your ... house?" It was an unhappy question. He caught the sideways flash of her eyes in an oval of a face. "How far is the closest town?"
"About twenty miles too far away. Look, lady, you saw that road."
"Yes, but..." Her voice trailed off on a breath.
Females being conditioned from birth to be wary of unknown males, he really couldn't blame her for being less than enthusiastic about the idea. On the other hand, the way he looked at it, he'd stopped and done something decent for another human being. If she didn't like it, well, hell, that was her problem. Tersely, he said, "Follow me."
Then he shoved open his door.
* * * *
Wallowing knee deep in snow, having it fill her eyes, her mouth, her shoes, Kerin was both miserable and unhappily out of her depth. It was all she could do to make any progress forward and Mr. McCutcheon, with his long legs and purposeful stride, was considerably ahead of her after just a minute or two.
He turned around just as she blundered into something buried in the snow and fell flat on her face. Literally on her face. With her hands in her pockets, she didn't even have time to break her fall. Sitting up and spitting snow out of her mouth, she heard a small curse before someone jerked to her feet. He put his mouth near her ear and said, "Come on."
He half-helped, half-dragged her up the steep slope of what must have been a driveway, but was pretty much indistinguishable from the rest of the landscape except for the gap in the trees. The conifers crowded thickly around, giving a ghostly echo to the roaring gale of blowing snow. Progress was easier with his help she had to admit, though it felt very odd to be clinging to the hand of a man she didn't even know, blinking against the stinging onslaught of moisture and wind.
The cabin was visible once they reached the crest of the hill. The last few feet were easier and she gladly scampered down a pathway that was protected by what looked like a garage. She got a glimpse of a square dark structure in front of them, possibly two-storied, though it was hard to tell in the wild dervish of the storm, before her rescuer let her go and pulled something from his pocket. Keys, she realized as he pushed past her and fumbled for a minute in the growing darkness. The door swung open and magical warmth seemed to reach out and touch her.
It took her a second before she realized he was waiting for her to precede him inside. Hastily she complied, stepping into a small dark foyer. He followed and when the door shut behind him, the resulting quiet compared to the wildness outside was almost unsettling.
Even more unsettling was the knowledge she might not be freezing to death in her car, but she definitely was in an extremely isolated place with a complete stranger.
The lights flared to life, replacing the darkness with a warm golden glow. She saw they stood in a small hallway with plain paneled walls and a polished wooden floor. Shaking out of his coat, Mr. McCutcheon said evenly, "I would appreciate it if you would take off your shoes and your coat. We're both pretty much covered in snow but the less we drag in the less I have to clean up."
In the light, Kerin could finally see her would-be-savior.
He was tall, but she'd been able to figure that out already. A bit over six feet at least, maybe even taller. Dark hair to his collar, right now plastered to his head and neck with melting snow. He turned and opened a door to what turned out to be a closet, and took out a hanger for his coat. She observed wide shoulders under a tan-colored flannel shirt as she stared at his back, and jeans that fit well over lean hips and long legs but were undeniably wet from mid-thigh downward. He turned back around and held out his hand.
His face was arresting. All the same features that every man had, eyes, nose, mouth, but there was a vitality in his dark eyes, also in the subtle curve of his well-shaped mouth, and the elegant line of jaw and chin.
Mr. McCutcheon, Kerin realized, was a good-looking man.
Very good looking.
His dark brows lifted a fraction. "Uhm, warts?"
Her coat dripped. Kerin could hear the faint splatter on the hardwood floor. "Warts?" she repeated stupidly.
"I was wondering if I had suddenly sprouted some." He smiled, his hand still outstretched, as if he expected her to give him something. His teeth were white and even. Of course.
He wondered if ... Oh God. Because she was standing there just staring at him. Blood rushed to her cheeks and she instantly struggled out of her sodden coat and handed it to him. She stammered, "I'm sorry. I'm not usually so rude, but this has been a tough day and I guess ... I'm not really myself."
He calmly hung up her coat and closed the closet door. "No problem. I'll show you to the phone and you can at least the call the towing company and let them know where your car is when they can get to it."
"Thank you." Kerin bent and removed her shoes, wriggling her half-frozen toes. Her socks were soaked as well and she took them off for good measure, draping them over her shoes by the closet door. Mr. McCutcheon had left the little entryway and turned on more lights and with some curiosity, she followed.
The room she entered was, well, in a word, impressive. The whole house opened in front of her. To her left stretched a galley kitchen separated from the rest of the giant room by a long bar flanked by stools. It was very modern in contrast to the rest of the space, with polished marble counters and tall cabinets done in flat pine with round polished bronze handles. The refrigerator, stove, and microwave were shiny and clean, the counter immaculate except for the keys he'd carelessly tossed down. The rest of the living space was huge; soaring vaulted ceilings, enormous stone fireplace with sofa and chairs scattered around, and a set of stairs leading up to a loft above, complete with railing overlooking the open area. On her right, a spectacular wall of windows displayed the fury of the snowstorm, white piles beginning to show against the glass. With all the wood and stone, the space felt warm and appealing, especially after the hellish outside conditions.
Surely a deranged killer wouldn't keep such a neat house, would he?
The place was gorgeous and elicited only one response. She said it almost involuntarily. "Wow."
"Thanks." Her host nonchalantly pointed to where a phone hung on the wall just to the right of the kitchen. "Phone book is in the drawer beneath. Since I don't think you're from around here, I want to tell you that Tomahawk is closer, but Rhinelander is bigger. More tow companies. You might try both."
Her own clothes were fairly wet, and her hair clung to her face and neck in cold, clammy clumps. Rather self-consciously, Kerin smoothed it back as best as possible. The phone book was a sliver compared to the Indianapolis directory, but she did find three towing companies. While she made her calls, Mr. McCutcheon disappeared up the stairs to what was presumably a bedroom. Just as she was hanging up the phone, he came back down, his tousled hair much drier, and another shirt and set of jeans replacing his wet ones. "Any luck?"
Carefully cradling the receiver, she admitted, "Well, sort of. There's a snow emergency, which I think is what you tried to tell me back on the road. I guess the police will ticket you if you're out right now. They said as soon as they could get out there, they would tow it to a garage and look at it."
"Kind of what I thought they'd say."
"The snow isn't supposed to stop for at least twenty-four hours."
"Is that so?" His face wore nothing but a neutral expression. Arms crossed over his broad chest, he leaned casually against the kitchen counter. His hair must be naturally wavy for it had begun to curl as it dried dark against the strong column of his neck. His mouth was a firm, even line.
"And," she added with gloom, "the wind is supposed to stay like this for even longer than that."
He said nothing. Probably, Kerin thought morosely, wondering how he'd ended up with an unwanted houseguest when they were likely to be snowed-in for several days. If she was uncomfortable and uneasy about being trapped with a total stranger, how must he feel about having some unknown female in his house for what looked like a long time? Taking deep breath, she said swiftly, "Mr. McCutcheon, I haven't thanked you yet for stopping to help me. I really have no desire to impose on you but there doesn't seem to be much--"
"Jesse." The interruption was smooth.
Kerin blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
His fine dark eyes looked amused. "My first name is Jesse. Mr. McCutcheon is a little formal."
Disconcerted, Kerin mumbled, "All right then, Jesse."
Dark brows lifted a fraction. "And you are?"
Had she not even told him her name? She paused a moment before she said quietly, "Kerin. Kerin Smith."
It was better for the both of them if he didn't know her real name.
She had no idea.
Jesse McCutcheon didn't even blink at her unoriginal deception. He just scanned her up and down with a quick look. "I'll see if I can come up with something dry for you to put on."
Staying with some unknown man, wearing his clothes ... the situation was crazy, almost as crazy as the situation she was running from. Kerin quickly shook her head. "Don't go to any more trouble, I'm fine."
A violent gust shrieked past the house, rattling the kitchen window and sighing uncannily like a wounded animal. Her host asked politely, "You really want to spend the rest of the evening in soaking wet clothes?"
"I'll see what I can do."
"Okay." Her reply sounded a little ungracious, even to herself. She modified it by adding, "You've already done too much."
He tilted his head slightly and looked at her with a disconcerting, intelligent gaze. "Would you drive past a stranded motorist, and leave them there in the middle of a storm?"
Even though the house was warm, Kerin felt cold from the sodden fabric sticking to her legs and upper body. He was right about her needing to change clothes. She shook her head.
"Of course not."
There was an undercurrent of amused exasperation in his voice. "So then, relax a little, Kerin Smith. I wasn't out prowling for my next victim, I was just driving home. And I didn't stop because I wanted to lure you to your doom. I just did what you would have done yourself. I'm a nice guy, I promise."
At that moment, the entire house went pitch dark.