Caroline Mulholland peered through the windshield, cursing the snow that hung as a thick, wet curtain between her and the road. This was the kind of weather that made headlines, when strangers lost their way and died in their cars along an empty stretch of highway. Caroline was no stranger to these roads, though. She'd spent the first nineteen years of her life here in rural Michigan, where nothing ever changed.
That's how she knew that if she could just make another mile, a gravel road would lead to the lakeside cabin her family once co-owned with the Spencers, the next-door neighbors of her childhood. It would be shut up for the winter, of course, but she knew where the spare key was, and she'd take any shelter from the impending storm.
The shout erupted from her as she spotted the huge rock marking the entrance to the road. Throwing her sturdy sedan into low gear, she made her way down the narrow, sloping drive to the cabin. Relief welled when the small building came into view. She'd never seen such a welcome sight.
Pulling up in front of the wide porch, she grabbed her overnight case and slogged through the snow to the door. Reaching up, she found the key she'd hoped would be above the door and slid it into the keyhole. One turn and she was in.
With a huge sigh, she dropped her case and pulled off her leaky boots. She'd been living in Atlanta for too long. She'd forgotten that fashion boots were useless in Michigan snow, and she hadn't owned snow boots in forever. Caroline made it a point not to come north when it was cold unless she had a good reason. That good reason was tucked inside her purse, a letter from the family attorney handling her parents' estate.
Shivering, she yanked off her gloves and rubbed her hands together. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she used the tiny flashlight on her keychain to light her way through the dark space. Her destination was the large room at the back of the house, which housed the fireplace. She swept the light toward the corner where wood used to be stored and saw a reassuringly large stack of logs, plus a small pile of tinder. Caroline had been the best fire builder in the Girl Scout troop, a talent she was grateful for tonight.
She tripped over the edge of a braided rug that didn't used to be there, catching herself before she hit the floor. In the process, she knocked something off a table she hadn't expected, the noise loud in the silent house.
She'd worry about that after she made a fire, she decided. Using the pinpoint of light, she walked up to the fireplace.
And saw tiny dying embers glowing red and yellow within the ashes.
Her stomach clenched, and her heart began to beat faster. Someone else was here! Had the Spencers sold their interest in the cabin to someone else? Had a stranded stranger found the key and come in? Or had someone decided to make the cabin his home for the time being, or even a hideout?
"Stay where you are, and don't make a move."
Caroline gasped at the harsh masculine voice behind her. Raising her arms, she said in a trembling voice, "It's all right. I belong here."
"Not unless you're a Walters or a Spencer. I know for a fact that no Walters have been here in at least five years, and I'm the only Spencer left. And please don't tell me you're a weary traveler afraid of the weather."
"As a matter of fact, I am." Caroline dropped her arms and turned toward the man behind her. Raising her flashlight, she saw that he held a gun. "Both smart enough to get inside until the storm passes and a Walters. Well, I was until I was stupid enough to get married."
She blinked as a torch of light from his flashlight swept across her face.
"Cari?" Surprise colored the man's voice. "You scared the hell out of me."
"I could say the same, Josh. Especially since you're supposed to be dead."
"Don't believe everything you hear. Hang on and let me get some light in here."
Caroline closed her eyes against the sudden brightness as Josh flipped on an emergency light. She opened them slowly to see the first man she'd ever slept with standing in front of her in nothing but a pair of sleep pants hanging low on his hips. He still had the same rock-hard body he'd had as a college athlete, but a scar marred his chest at one shoulder.
He looked good. Damn good. So good her body reminded her she hadn't had sex in four long years, not since Danny had died. Grief hadn't kept her celibate; her weird working hours and travel schedule had been more to blame.
"You must be frozen."
Josh was right. Her feet were like wet cakes of ice, and her jacket was little protection against the chill of the room.
"I am." A shudder shook her.
"We can fix that." Josh grabbed a blanket from the familiar couch as she shrugged out of her coat. His hands lingered on her shoulders; his breath was warm against the back of her neck, creating a tingle that rolled all the way down to her toes. "I'll build the fire up."
Caroline settled onto the couch, studying Josh's body as he poked through the ashes and added tinder then a half-log. A long trace of scarred flesh that looked like a healed knife wound ran down his shoulder. Whatever he'd been doing in the ten years since they'd parted, it had been dangerous.
"Come here." Josh took her hand and pulled her from the couch onto the rug by the hearth. He settled behind her, wrapping the blanket around them both, sharing his body heat. The fatigue she'd been fighting, combined with the welcome heat of the fire, was her undoing. She leaned back, relaxing into him, not caring about the consequences.
"You smell good." Josh's voice rumbled against her ear. "Like cookies."
Caroline smiled. "Vanilla body spray."
"Very sexy. Very...you."
Damn. She'd forgotten how charming he was, how he knew exactly what to say. She hadn't forgotten how it felt to be embraced by him. There had been times, too many of them, when she'd pretended it was Josh making love to her instead of Danny, Josh promising that he'd be there forever, love her until the end of time.
Danny had been a good man, dependable and an excellent provider. He'd been a rock when her parents had died in the plane crash, taking care of all the legal matters while she'd gone into an emotional tailspin. She'd loved him for that, just as she'd loved him for giving her stability to build a new life.
But had she ever been in love with him the way she had with Josh? Not really. Josh had been her first crush, her first kiss, her first lover. She'd read his last letter until it had been in tatters. She'd carried the pain of the final sentence, "I love you and I always will, but I'll understand if life takes us in different directions" deep inside as she waited for letters that had never arrived, phone calls that had never come. She'd thought getting married would banish the old memoires, but she'd grieved for two years when she'd heard he'd been killed in Afghanistan on a secret military mission, hiding her sorrow from her husband and everyone else in her life.
Yet, here Josh was, very alive, his body pressed against hers.
"Getting hot?" he asked, his breath warm against her cheek.
Yes, but not like you think.
"The heat feels good," she said instead. "I hadn't realized how lousy my car heater was until I hit the wind."
"We don't want you to get frostbite." He moved his hands to cover hers, folding his arms around her center. "Let me keep you warm."
"Thank you." She tipped her head back, turning to look into his face. His eyes met hers, asking a question, before he bent his head to touch his mouth to hers.
She held back a moan as his tongue teased her lips open, exploring her mouth. Josh eased her toward him, turning her so she felt his rock-hard erection against her hip. She leaned into him, her fingers exploring the hard scar on his shoulder, her body remembering the rhythm of lovemaking as his mouth moved from hers to drop tiny kisses down her jaw.
The blanket became their cocoon as he slid her sweater over her head, tossing it on the floor, and he turned his attention to her breasts. She gasped when his mouth settled on an erect nipple, teasing and suckling through the thin fabric of her bra. It felt so good, so right, to be here with him, losing herself to the warmth spreading through the core of her being.
"Take it off," she whispered, wrapping her arms around his neck so he could unfasten her bra. He obliged, his hands tickling her as they slid the hooks apart.
"You're as beautiful as I remember," Josh marveled, gently easing her onto the warm rug and settling beside her. "And as tasty."
Caroline arched as his mouth sought the other breast, awakening a deep, desperate need. Her whole being ached for him; she moved impatiently, wanting more, needing more.
"Don't be in a hurry," Josh said. "I've dreamed about this a long time."
He'd dreamed about her? About taking her, making love to her?
His lips found hers; she scooted closer to him, her legs around his hips as they sat in front of the flames, her breasts against that rock-hard chest. The heat the fire cast on her back didn't begin to compare with the burning need deep inside her, the blazing passion he stoked in her with every touch of his hands.
Danny hadn't made her feel like this. Sex with him was gentle, tender, a physical expression of the way he felt about her. Josh awakened something wild inside Caroline, something she'd buried deep after they'd parted.
"The bed's still warm," he whispered.
"Good." She dropped the blanket wrapping them and stood.
"The floors are cold." Josh slid his arms under her and carried her to the bedroom at the far end of the house, where an electric heater added warmth. He placed her gently on the tousled bed and smiled.
"You're still overdressed." He leaned over, unzipped her jeans and pulled them off. Another quick move and her panties, the sensible kind she wore these days, were on the floor as well.
"Not fair," she breathed as Josh climbed in to lie beside her. "I'm naked; you're not."
"Take care of it then."
He lifted his hips as she turned and slid the boxers off him, his erection jutting toward her. She'd forgotten how big he was; excitement built at the thought of him inside her.
"Now where were we?" he asked in a lazy voice, tilting his body toward hers. "Just about here?"
His mouth moved onto hers in a deep, exploring kiss that set every nerve on fire. His hand skimmed down her shoulder to her hip before slipping between her legs. She gasped as he slid a finger inside her moist opening, teasing until she thought she might explode.
"It's been a long time," she said in a strangled voice, half afraid he'd make her come right away and half afraid he'd stop. "I want us both to..."
Josh slid a second finger inside her, leaning over to take a nipple into his mouth and suck. The combination was unbearable. Caroline lifted her hips, thrusting against his hand, losing herself in the white heat of her orgasm. She buried her face against his heated flesh, her arms winding around his neck as she came, gasping his name.
When the shock waves ended, she felt Josh's fingers slip out. He slid down the bed, his tongue replacing them. She arched against him, loving the things his mouth did, yet needing his cock there instead.
"Please," she begged, the word coming out on a hiss. "Please, Josh, now."
He slid his hands under her ass, lifting her as he withdrew and began kissing a path up her belly and back to her breasts. Shifting, he placed himself atop of her and let her guide him into her slick canal.
She buried her hands in his hair as he teased her, sliding slowly in and pulling back out, sucking gently on her nipple, then giving a sudden nip. She wrapped her legs around him as his strokes deepened and he began to ride her, filling her and bringing her to near-madness.
"Now," she cried. "Now, now."
Josh moved his mouth to savage hers, impaling her with one last deep thrust. She felt the quivers as he joined her in the implosion, a shuddering climax that left her breathless and exhausted.
"I'm sorry," Josh said, rolling off her. He reached for her hand to hold.
"For what? Reminding me how damn good it feels?"
"For forgetting you're married."
"Was. He died four years ago."
Josh turned on his side and stared at her. "You're a widow?"
"Surely you have someone new by now."
"No. I haven't even dated since Danny died."
"Shit." Josh rolled off the bed, grabbed his boxers and disappeared into the adjacent bathroom, slamming the door hard.
Tears filled Caroline's eyes. What had she done wrong?