So far so good. She'd had been hiking all day and night to reach the cabin. By now her car would lay buried under several feet of snow in the lot off the highway. She had enough food and clothing to last her a few days, and she knew from experience the cabin would be stocked with canned goods. Chloe felt bad about reserving, then canceling at the last minute, but the snowfall made the excuse a plausible one. No way to trace her whereabouts.
The cabin was the ideal place in which to lose herself, to give herself space, and to help find her voice again. Accessible only via a hiking trail, it served hard-core hikers and campers. Parking as far away as she had along the highway, no one would guess it might be her destination. What crazy idiot would walk twenty miles in the snow to reach a cabin they hadn't even reserved? She'd be lucky if the cabin had a generator to power electricity.
An owl hooted overhead. The quiet soothed the worries she'd been carrying for far too long. Not much stirred under the dark sky. The unfettered moonlight and beaming stars overhead made her think of fairy tales and universal mysteries as she neared the marker that signaled the rise to the cabin that lay snug in the woods.
She wondered about her voices, why she had them, how they could be so precise. She'd heard them ever since her sixth birthday. Dry, dispassionate orders that told her all manner of things. Who liked who, which neighbor had stolen a car, cheated on his wife, or had gambling debts. Odd facts about things she had little interest in. Sometimes the information led to an arrest, sometimes it just entertained her. She'd find a missing engagement ring. Point out who stole a book from the corner store, or what kid had secretly been bullying others.
As she grew older, another voice became more distinctive. It told her what to do, who to trust, secrets that helped her avoid danger. All of the advice from her voice, from him, helped her to advance in life, stay safe, and be a better person. She tuned into him more than any of the other voices, although why she thought of it as a man's voice, she couldn't say. The voice could as well have belonged to a woman. It had no gender, no inflection. The voice simply was, and it always took care of her.
It bothered her more than she wanted to admit that she'd lost that intimate tie to the psychic plane. No matter how often she reached out to him, she heard nothing.
The pack on her back felt ten pounds heavier as night turned into early morning. Yet she trudged forward step-by-step. Jack had been right. She'd needed the exercise. Though tired, she felt worlds better than she had the past week. Her ribs no longer pained her, and the exertion awakened her fuzzy brain.
As dawn approached the horizon, she saw it. The hazy outline of a rooftop past a scraggle of branches and pines blanketing the forest floor amidst the snow.
To her dismay, smoke curled from the chimney. She hadn't thought for one second someone might have intruded into her space. Hell, yesterday morning the rental Web site had showed the place still empty. What the hell?
Could it be her stalker had beaten her out here? Chloe shook her head. There was no way the man could have followed her trail. No one had sensed or seen him, and the team had done its best to use all their resources to scry for him. Still, it paid to be cautious. She carefully concealed her pack at the edge of the tree line and withdrew her pistol from the front pocket.
Then she approached the cabin. She made her way to the eastern side, where she could peer through a window into the kitchen at the back of the house.
Firelight flickered against a pot of something steaming on the stove. Past the kitchen, she noted a long arm strewn over the back of a couch. The arm belonged to a man with short dark hair. She couldn't make out his features or his height, just the back of his head and a long arm encased in a sweater.
She shivered. Before she could decide what to do next, something cold and hard pressed against her temple. Damn. A pistol. She held her breath. The voices had been right. It was too late to find them now.
"Easy, sweetheart. Drop the gun." Joshua didn't relent until she dropped her weapon in the snow. He clearly had size on her, but he'd made it a habit never to underestimate anyone. In his experience, the female of the species was much more lethal than the male. He took a step back. "Hands up. Now turn around. Slowly."
The small woman bundled in a polar vest, gloves, jeans, boots, and a skull cap all dusted in snow could have passed for Frosty's wife before she turned around. When Josh got a good look at her face, the blood rushed from his head.
Absolutely beautiful. Not a pale cream or a dark brown, her cheeks looked caramel in color, flushed with cold and no doubt anger that she'd been caught. Long black hair trailed over her shoulders and contrasted with the light blue-gray eyes of a woman who could have owned any man she wanted. Full lips, a slender nose, and a stubborn chin completed the picture of seduction personified.
"Well?" Her husky voice shot a bolt of lust straight to his cock.
Yeah, she had killer looks. He couldn't quite peg her ethnicity. Black, Hispanic, Indian? A mix? Hell, he didn't much care. She'd perked his interest enough that he wanted to peel her like a banana and see what lay under the layers of clothing. But the shock of what felt almost like recognition unnerved him. She had the same height as that woman Xavier had rescued the other night from the warehouse, but his sense of familiarity went beyond that. He'd tried more than once to see into his own future, but lately he caught nothing. His attempt now showed him more of the same. Shit.
He leaned down and grabbed her pistol from the snow. After making sure the safety was engaged, he tucked the gun in the back of his jeans.
"You first." He nodded to the front of the house with his weapon, a handy .45 that could and had blown holes through flesh and bone.
She made no sudden moves and kept her hands where he could see them, on either side of her head. Not one flinch or tremble from the steady woman--a sign she most likely had experience with dangerous situations. She walked with graceful steps, even through the white powder accumulating on the ground. When she reached the front porch, she stopped.
"Up the steps and through the door." He still didn't understand why he hadn't seen this coming. His foresight had never failed to alert him to any threat. An advanced sense of self-preservation, his foresight protected him and his brother, usually without fail. Yet a woman with a gun had spied on them through their own goddamn kitchen window.
Glancing over her shoulder at him, she narrowed her eyes but didn't speak. She faced forward and paused to stomp the snow off her boots. A thoughtful intruder. How nice.
As they entered, Xavier added his two cents from the couch. "Nice catch. And yeah, I told you so."
"Shut up." It took real patience to ignore the urge to belt his brother, and he didn't understand why. Normally easygoing where his twin had a hair-trigger temper, lately he'd been off his game. He glanced at the woman, wondering what she thought.
She looked from Xavier to him and back. She blinked but remained quiet. He could imagine her surprise. Identical twins, he and Xavier looked enough alike to be the same person. Down to the fingerprints, not one physical difference had ever been documented between them. His parents couldn't even tell them apart.
Both dark-haired and dark-eyed, they had several inches on the woman. While their younger brothers took after their father and had the size and strength of grizzlies, he and Xavier inched just over six feet. They had less brawn than speed but enough muscle to get the job done. While the rest of the Cannon family took great pleasure in knocking the enemy down, he and his twin outsmarted, outflanked, and outraced them every time.
"Doublemint gum," the woman muttered and blinked. "This is so not good."
"Josh, put the gun down." Xavier waved at him. "Introduce me."
"I would if I knew her name." He snorted and tucked the gun away. Then he urged the woman face-first against the wall. "Spread 'em, honey. I'm sure you know the drill."
Josh sighed. After unzipping her coat, he ran his hands over her from top to bottom, careful to remain professional when he really wanted to cup the full breasts straining beneath her now open jacket. Holy shit, this was one fine, pissed-off woman.
She shifted under his hands. "You done yet? Or did you want to bend me over to make sure I don't have anything stashed up my ass?"
"I'm sure we can think of a better way to make sure you're clean, honey." An echo of lust spilled through him at Xavier's words.
"Back off. We don't know who she is," he sent his brother telepathically.
Xavier answered back, "I know her. We know her."
"Then why can't I see it? Have you spoken with her?" Only with one special woman had Xavier ever been able to mindspeak in that same way he did with Josh
"No. But I'm sure it's her. Bring her closer."
Josh rose from his crouch and put a hand on her arm to turn her around. She exploded in a flurry of punches and kicks that impressed the hell out of him. He didn't want to hurt her, so he didn't fight back as he could have. Then she shot past him, the couch, and his brother before they could so much as catch a breath. Several doors slammed in her wake.
"Damn, she's fast." Xavier rose from the floor, where the small woman had shoved him when she'd vaulted over the couch. "Good thing the windows are locked down, eh? I'll take the back, just in case."
"Whatever." Annoyed because their intruder had interrupted some well-deserved rest, he hunted her down with brisk efficiency. He and Xavier worked in tandem. One took backup, the other point, and they moved together. In minutes he'd unlocked the master bedroom door and the bathroom, where she'd locked herself in.
He dodged the burst of flame that nearly singed his brows and sent Xavier a message. With quick reflexes, he knocked the lighter and air freshener from her hands--explaining the mini flamethrower--and tried to cage her while he avoided hurting her. Xavier returned and used her split second of surprise to tackle her into the garden tub.
Josh picked up the lighter. "She's inventive."
"And squirmy." Xavier let out a huff when she kicked him in the gut. "Okay, that's it." He hauled her out of the tub and over his shoulder.
Josh watched with a keen sense of anticipation. He couldn't say why, but her presence added to...everything. Yet none of this rang true. The consequence of her being here on the heels of what had happened just a short month ago didn't fit. Had she been sent by Otis Werlin to kill them or to spy on them? Because no way in hell she'd arrived at the family's cabin by accident. Not after what had gone down a month ago.
Once in the bedroom, Xavier and he mentally agreed to take off her clothes to prevent the woman from escaping. But the she-devil refused to accommodate him.
"Damn you. Get off me!" She knocked into Xavier with an elbow, and he finally lost his temper. That Xavier had lasted longer than five minutes without losing it surprised him. Those big beautiful eyes of hers had gotten to his twin too.
"Okay, princess. Time to pay the piper. Tell me what Werlin offered you, and I'll consider letting you go with your clothes on." "Help me out, bro."
Josh joined him. He straddled her waist and held her, and together they managed to drag her boots, jacket, hat, and gloves off her. The pants were trickier, but they came off with little fuss as well. Of course, two grown men who between them weighed triple what she did shouldn't have had any trouble.
And then she did the unthinkable. She managed a lucky kick between Xavier's legs.
Josh felt the echo of pain his brother felt from his balls to his brain. Xavier keeled over. Josh throbbed and groaned. But he refused to let go of the hellcat in his arms. The more she struggled, the more difficult it became not to physically react. Despite his brother's pain, her friction turned Josh on, big-time.
"God, that's weird." Xavier groaned. "A hard-on that hurts." He cupped himself, and after a few moments, he rose to his knees. He stared at her, lingering on her supple thighs. "You're gonna pay for that one, sweetheart."
With ruthless precision, they stripped her down to her bra and panties and double-checked her for concealed weapons. Her full breasts were a surprise on such a petite frame, but they looked real. And that ass... Josh had some lusty fantasies about parting those cheeks and shoving home.
"Oh yeah. Let's start the interrogation right now." Xavier rubbed his erection through his jeans, and once again Josh's arousal surged.
"Easy, bro. You're both killing me."
"You can both go straight to hell." She tried to dislodge Josh from sitting astride her waist while Xavier moved behind her on the bed. He soon held her wrists prisoner with one large hand. "Who the hell are you? Why are you here in my cabin?"
"Your cabin?" they asked at the same time.
Josh answered, "Honey, this is our family place."
She stilled and looked at him. "Wait. You're related to Julia Cannon?"
"Right. Like you don't know who we are."
She blinked at him, then at Xavier, her gaze searching. "Julia has two sets of twins?" Josh didn't answer; neither did Xavier. "Okay... So you said something before about a guy named Werlin."
Josh snorted, more than annoyed. Could an opponent just once tell the goddamn truth? "Tell your boss we don't care what he says. He had it coming to him, and if he doesn't like it, he can take it up with Boise's finest."
"Wait. Hold on." She took a deep breath and let it out.
But the only thing she managed to do was divert Josh's attention from her full lips to her tempting breasts. He could see the hard points of her nipples straining against the plain white cotton of her bra. And damn, but the sight of this petite woman in serviceable underwear was hotter than anything he'd ever seen in a magazine or on TV.
"Much as I wish she was ours, I doubt she is. The timing is suspect. She's got to be Werlin's secret weapon. Put her in a room, strip her naked, and the enemy will go out of his mind wanting to fuck her." Trust Xavier to get to the heart of the matter.
"Crudely put but yeah. God, I'm hard."
"What?" She squirmed underneath him and froze. A hint of fear appeared on her face and just as quickly disappeared, but it was enough to prod Josh to find some answers. To his disquiet, he didn't like seeing her afraid of him.
"Chloe King. I work in Bend at the PowerUp! gym. I've rented this cabin from your mom before, back in the summer. A nice lady." Unlike you went unsaid but understood. "There's a huge misunderstanding here. I came up to stay for a week."
"Through the storm?" Xavier released her wrists and joined Josh on the bed, sitting by her side and facing her.
She didn't move from her position under Josh, but she did lower her arms. Cautious, she nodded. "Yeah. I had some trouble at home and wanted to clear my head."
Josh wanted badly to ask what kind of trouble but didn't. Not yet. "So you just thought you'd push past the snow and trek into the mountains to a cabin you didn't see fit to pay for?"
She flushed. "I'm low on funds, okay? This is so embarrassing."
Xavier didn't look at him when he said, "She's lying."
"I know. But she's a good liar. I want to believe her."
"I want to fuck her."
"Xavier." Josh sighed, wishing he could argue the point, but he couldn't. He wanted to bury himself inside her as well. Hell. It had been too long since he'd had a woman. To Chloe, he said, "I'm Josh Cannon. This is my brother Xavier. You already met our mother, Julia."
Xavier gave her a hard look before grabbing his HF handset from the dresser. "Hold on. I need to make a call." He pressed a button to signal the other side and waited. "Hey, Sam. You're on detail, huh? Get Mom for me. Yeah, we're good." A pause. They exchanged pleasantries, and then his voice changed. It softened as he spoke to their mother. He asked about Chloe.
After a few seconds, he grinned. "Yeah. Short. Long dark hair. Looks really good in a tight sweater." He laughed. "Just kidding. No, no reason I'm asking. Just found a picture here of the woman with her name on the back. I was curious." Another pause. "Okay. Yeah, love you too. We're keeping an eye out, and we'll let you know if we hear anything. See you soon." He disconnected, and his smile faded. "She's Chloe King, or at least a woman fitting that description." His eyes narrowed. "So you came all the way out here with just the clothes on your back and a gun?"
"No. My pack is behind the house in the woods."
Xavier left without another word.
Josh didn't take his gaze from her. "So you had problems and needed to hide out for a bit."
She nodded. God, that mouth made him think of all the things she could be licking or sucking right now... He cleared his throat but didn't move from his position holding her down. Most of his weight rested on his thighs but not all.
"Shut up, Xavier." Josh forced himself to focus on what she said, not what she looked--and felt--like. "You expect us to believe you just happened to come up here, through a snowstorm, for the hell of it."
She frowned, her eyes clouding with anger. "No. I told you, I had a few things I needed to deal with."
His brother returned carrying a heavy pack. He dropped it by the doorway and rejoined them on the bed.
"Trouble, you said? Like what?" Josh repeated.
"Like a stalker, Mr. Nosy." She looked as if she regretted her outburst as soon as she said it. A lot more like Xavier than him in temperament, apparently.
Xavier leaned closer to her.
"What is he doing? Hey. What are you--are you sniffing me?" she ended in a squeak.
Xavier drew back, his eyes narrowed. "Stalker, hmm?" To Josh, he sent, "I think it's her. She's wearing that same light perfume like the woman from the warehouse. But she's not answering when I try to send to her."
"Yeah, but you haven't been the same since Werlin tagged us." The bastard they'd dealt with in a small town outside of Boise, Idaho, on their last mission had caught them in the back blast of a bomb. The shock had knocked him and Xavier unconscious. The slight concussion had affected their gifts. Though both brothers continued to communicate telepathically with each other, Josh had started having trouble seeing the future. Xavier's ability to reach out and talk to their girl, as they liked to think of her, had been hit or miss. And for the last two weeks, definitely miss.
"Do you think she's the one?" The one person they'd been in intimate contact with for years. Xavier didn't know it, but his eyes softened as he looked down at her.
"Hell. I don't know. What I do know is we need to come to some understanding with her."
"And nothing says we can't do that while horizontal."
She rolled her eyes. "Oh hell. You guys are talking to each other. Great, more telepaths. Just what I don't need."
"What are you talking about?" A woman who talked about psychic ability as if it weren't out of the ordinary not only made Josh instantly suspicious...it also intrigued him.
"You know what I'm talking about. Now let me go. I'm not working for your Werlin guy. Besides, I'm cold."
Xavier grinned down at her tight nipples. "Yeah? Well, I know a good way to warm you up." He leaned down and kissed her before she could protest.
Josh groaned as he stared at the back of his brother's head. Their odd connection had always linked the two of them, making for some awkward moments during dating especially. Everything Xavier felt, Josh felt as well, and vice versa. Magnified arousal rebounding between brothers made it hard for Josh to think beyond how good Chloe felt under his twin's lips. Like when he'd touched her before, the connection was electric. And way more powerful than he could handle right now. He wanted to rip off the rest of her clothes. Get next to her skin to skin, then plunge inside her.
She moaned and writhed, and he realized Xavier's hands now cupped her breasts. "She feels so damn good."
"God, Xavier, stop. I can't..." He panted, his cock so hard he hurt. And then Chloe bucked up, grinding against his balls.
Lost in the woman and the carnal experience of his brother's needs, he exploded. Like a fucking teenager during his first time. He felt the answering jolt in his brother, heard his disappointed groan, and then Xavier leaned up from Chloe.
Embarrassed and frustrated because he hadn't planned on having a damn orgasm while interrogating the woman, Josh ignored the mess in his pants and left the bed. He dragged his brother with him. To Chloe, he ordered, "Don't move."
They slammed out of the room, both panting and uncomfortable.
"That hasn't happened in years. I hate that." Xavier shoved him into the wall. "Couldn't hold it, could you, lightweight?"
"Fuck off." Josh slugged his brother in the chest, right over the lingering scar still healing from a piece of lead that had embedded there after the bomb. "If you hadn't been so busy shoving your tongue down her throat and feeling her up, I might have been able to control myself."
"Shit. That hurt." Xavier rubbed his chest.
Ignoring the wounded look in his eyes, Josh went on the offensive. "What the hell are you thinking? We don't know who she really is. The Werlins are still after us with a vendetta you know won't go away until either we're dead or they are, and our mojo is on the fritz. So fucking that woman right now is not a great move, by any stretch of the imagination." He glared at his brother, wishing he didn't always have to be the voice of reason.
His twin ran an unsteady hand through his hair. "I know, I know. It's my fault. But Josh, she was so damned sweet. I mean, those tits, that mouth... I couldn't think when I looked into her eyes. She's got to be our girl. I can't hear her, but I feel her. You know?"
They blew out frustrated breaths at the same time. Then Josh froze. "We left her in there by herself with her bag. I sure as shit hope the gun I took from her was her only one."
Together, they turned and pushed the door open only to find her lying on the bed asleep, looking like an angel. She'd pulled the covers up to her chin, and while they watched, she sighed into the pillow. Into Josh's pillow.
Ignoring the flare of lust that grew to life once more, Josh took the opportunity to search through her things while Xavier called and asked their younger brother for any information on a Chloe King. If they'd had any connectivity out here, Josh would have called or looked online for the information himself. But the weather had knocked them out of the loop. Good for isolation, bad for backup.
After a search through her things, Josh pocketed another pistol, two knives, and her two-way radio. If the woman didn't work for Werlin, she needed to come up with some answers for the arsenal in her bags.
"Sexy and lethal. Not a good combination." Xavier shook his head. "Just our luck, eh?" He closed his eyes, breathed in and out a few times, and focused.
Josh could feel him reaching out. "Anything?"
Xavier swore. "Woman is locked up tighter than a drum. Either I'm still out of it, or she's not ours. But this is confusing as hell. She's the woman we rescued last week from the warehouse. We prevented that death."
"Yeah, but that doesn't mean she's our girl. Some of my visions don't seem to relate to her. At least not that I can tell." He glanced down at her, at the full lashes creating shadows under her eyes. Chloe looked sweet and so vulnerable lying there. "We have to be sure about her. But I won't lie. I feel something more for her. It's psychic but not. I don't know."
"I feel it too." Xavier grimaced at the mess in his pants. "I don't know why she's not sensing me up here." He tapped his forehead. "But I'd swear our girl and Chloe are the same person."
Josh couldn't have said why finally finding her made him so nervous. For the better part of their lives, he and Xavier had been connected to her. Their girl. The dependency had built throughout the years, until she felt like another, extended part of them. Fear that she might not be everything he'd once dreamed her to be crept over him, and he almost wished they had never found Chloe King in the snow, standing with a gun as she peered through their window.
Christ. He didn't know what to feel. Excited? Scared? Angry?
Trying to concentrate on what he did know, he turned his thoughts back to their guest. "Chloe said she's hiding from her stalker. He has to be the same guy with the big knife. I just wish we'd caught the bastard." Another thought struck. "If Chloe is hiding from this guy, he could track her here. Wouldn't that be fun? A crazy killer who likes knives, a mystery woman we both like who's distracting as hell, and the Werlin clan coming to slit our throats. All in one happy little cabin."
"With one bedroom and one bed, don't forget that." Xavier grinned. "You know, we should keep a sharp eye on her. Who knows what kind of trouble she might get into on her own?"
Josh considered the king-size bed in the sole bedroom. He and Xavier had planned to share it. "I guess there's room for one more. But no sex, Xavier. I mean it," he reiterated when Xavier continued to grin. Josh groaned. "Not yet, okay? Let's at least verify she is who she says she is first."
"That I can do." His brother made a face. "Now I'm going to clean up while you keep an eye on sexy in there." He turned away muttering, "I can't believe I came in my pants."
Josh couldn't believe it either. He took another look at Chloe and amended that. Actually, he could. He sure the hell hoped she was on the up-and-up. She was a fighter, and he respected that. Sexy as hell and aggressive. Now if she had intelligence and moral boundaries he could live with, she'd be the perfect woman. A lot of ifs.
She rolled over, and the blanket slid off her shoulder.
His cock rose again, and he sighed. One way or the other, he and Xavier were going to have her. He just hoped she wasn't working for Werlin.
He'd hate to fuck her, then have to kill her.