Page 7

Author: Jill Shalvis


She gasped. “Oh, God.” Gentle interlude over, she sat up so fast she bashed her head on his chin. “Do you think I have—”


“No.” He pressed her back down, rubbing his chin with his spare hand. “But you do have a cut that could get infected if we don’t clean it out.”


“By morning?”


“By midnight.”


She stared up at him, looking for a single sign that he was being a perv about this. Because if he was, then he was also a dead perv. But there kneeling at her side, he looked at her evenly, steady as a rock.


This was also totally out of her realm of experience as well, a guy wanting in her pants for non-sexual reasons.


Maybe the scratch was already infected, and she’d lost her mind. This was the only explanation she could accept for the teeny tiny smidgeon of disappointment. In which case, dropping trou was the least of her problems. So she blew out a sigh and unzipped her jeans. For a moment she panicked, unable to remember which underwear she’d put on that morning. She didn’t know whether she hoped for laundry day granny panties, or something sexy. Laundry day granny panties… No, wait. Something sexy. No! Good Lord, she was losing it.


Shimmying the skinny jeans down to her knees wasn’t easy or attractive, and Amy was also incredibly aware of Matt’s big, solid presence at her side. And yep, he was right—there was a big gash on her thigh, curving around to the back. It was burning now, but she hardly noticed over the relief to find that she wasn’t wearing granny panties. She was in the thin baby-blue, cheeky-cut panties that she’d gotten in a sale pack of three. Which is where the bad news came in, because they were a lot like wearing nothing. Worse, they said “booty-licious” across the butt, but luckily he couldn’t see that.


There was a beat of complete silence.


And then another.


And then yet another.


Finally, she looked up. Matt was still as stone, his hands on his own thighs, eyes dilated nearly black.


“Matt?”


“Yeah?”


“You okay?”


“Working on it.” His voice sounded unusually tight.


“I thought you said you did this a lot.”


“Yeah. I do. But apparently not with anyone I’m wildly attracted to.”


This caused certain reactions in her body that were best not experienced in mixed company. “It’s just panties,” she finally whispered.


“And they’re really great panties,” Matt agreed. “But it’s not the panties, Amy. It’s you.”


She wasn’t sure what to say to that, or even how to feel. She should feel weird; she knew this. Instead she felt…


Attractive. Sexy.


It’d been so long since she’d thought of herself in this way that it took her by surprise. So did the yearning running through her.


They were silent for another long minute. Then she heard Matt blow out a very long breath. In the next beat, he was cleaning her wound with a clean pad and antiseptic, which hurt like hell. She distracted herself by watching his long and callused fingers work on her. They felt decadent on her skin, like a long-denied treat. And it was long denied, being touched, being cared for.


Too long.


“Turn over,” Matt said.


She hesitated, everything in her balking at his quiet command—just as at the same time, she was completely turned on by it.


“Amy.”


She turned over. There was another long beat of silence as Matt took in the rear view, and she risked a glance over her shoulder. His face was more angles than curves, his silky hair brushing the collar of his shirt. He was so broad in the shoulders he blocked out any light the moon might have given them. This left only the meager glow from the flashlight, but she wasn’t afraid of the dark.


Or him.


She was safe with him. She knew that. But at the same time, she was about as unsafe as she could get.


She knew that, too.


By the time he finished bandaging her up and she pulled her pants back up, they were both breathing a little unsteadily. He handed her the ice pack for her tailbone. She put it in place, and there was a long silence.


“You’re still shivering,” he said, and lay down beside her. “Come here, Tough Girl.” He pulled her in close. The sleeping bag, still unzipped, was between them. He didn’t try to get into it with her, simply wrapped her up in his warm arms and held her until she stopped shivering.


“Better?” he whispered against her hair.


He was rock solid against her, the muscles in his arms banded tight. Yeah, she was better. “Much, thank you.”


He started to pull away but she slid her arms out of the sleeping bag and around his neck, pressing her face into his throat. It was a move that startled them both. It was also a really dumb thing to do. Normally she had so much more sense than this, but he was turning her on with every little thing he did. She didn’t understand it but she understood this—holding onto him had nothing to do with being cold.


“Amy.” He stroked a hand down her back. “You’re safe, you know that, right?”


Safe from bears and coyotes and creepy crawlies, maybe. But she wasn’t safe. Not from the yearning flowing through her and not from feeling things she didn’t want to feel. Feeling things like this left her open to being hurt. “We’re not the only ones out here,” she said. “Right before you found me on the trail, someone was in the bushes, watching me. I saw just a face.”


“There are a few people out here on this mountain tonight,” he said, and rubbed his jaw to hers.


“But that’s not what I meant.”


“I know.”


Again he stroked a hand down her back. “When I first took this job, it’d been a while since I’d gone camping. And then as it turned out, on my first night out here, I was stalked.”


She tipped her head back and tried to see his face. “By…?”


“Every horror flick I’d ever seen.”


She found herself smiling. “Was the big, bad forest ranger scared?”


“I started a fire,” he said instead of answering, and the typical guy avoidance of admitting fear made her smile in the dark. “But even after I had a roaring fire, I still felt watched.”


“What did you do?”


His hand was still gliding up and down her back, absently soothing, not-so-absently arousing her further. “I got up and searched the perimeter,” he said. “Often. I finally fell asleep holding my gun, and at first light was startled awake by a curious teenage bear.”


“Oh my God,” she said on a horrified laugh. “What happened?”


Amusement came into his voice. “I shot the shit out of a tree and scared the hell out of us both. I fell backward off the log I’d fallen asleep on, and the bear did the same. Then we both scrambled to our feet, and he went running off to his mama. If my mama had been anywhere within two thousand miles, I’d have gone running off to her just the same as the bear.”


She burst out laughing.


“What,” he said, smiling at her, “you don’t think I have a mama?”


“I think you wouldn’t go running off to anyone if you were scared. You’d stand firm and fight.”


He shrugged. “I’ve had my moments.”


“So your mom…?”


“Lives in Chicago with my dad, tending to the three grandkids my brother’s given them. We talk every week, and they ask me when I’m going to give them a few as well.”


“When are you?”


He shook his head. “Not anytime soon.”


“Why?” she asked, fascinated in a way she couldn’t explain even to herself. “Kids not for you?”


He shrugged. “My ex seemed to think I don’t do love, at least not the kind of love a family requires. Said I wasn’t good with people.”


“You were married?” She was surprised, though she shouldn’t have been. Matthew Bowers was a catch.


“For about twenty minutes,” he said. “Just after I got out of the military.”


“When you were a cop,” she said.


“Yeah.”


“Is that why she thought you weren’t family material?” she asked. “Because of your job?”


“Partly. And partly because I failed her. But mostly because she was pissed off at me.”


Amy wanted to ask how he’d failed, but that felt too intimate, especially given that she was lying in his arms with his ice pack on her ass. But his ex’s words didn’t make sense. He wasn’t the sort of guy to fail a stranger, much less someone he cared about. What he’d done for her today proved that. His job might have brought him here to check on her, but it hadn’t been his job or responsibility to stay the night with her and keep her safe.


And yet he’d stuck.


She’d had people in her life who had been responsible for her and hadn’t stuck. “Matt?”


His wordless response vibrated through his chest to hers, and he turned his head so that his face was in her hair, inhaling as he rubbed her back.


“I think you’re pretty good with people,” she said softly.


She could feel him smile against her. “Thanks,” he murmured. “Now tell me about you.”


“Nothing as interesting as you.”


“Try me,” he said.


That was the last thing she intended to do. “Well, I don’t have an ex-husband…”


“How about a mom? Dad? Siblings?”


“A mom. We’re not close.” An understatement, of course. Her mom had gotten pregnant as a teen and hadn’t been mom material. “I was raised by my grandma, but she’s gone now. She died when I was twelve.”


“Any other family?”


No one she wanted to talk about. “No.”


He tightened his arms around her, a small, protective, even slightly possessive gesture. It should have made her claustrophobic.


It didn’t.


They fell quiet after that, and Amy wouldn’t have imagined it possible since she was snuggled up against a very solid, very sexy man, but she actually fell asleep.

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