“Doing what?” he asked, his deep voice far too close for comfort.

She resisted the urge to turn around. If she did, she was afraid of what she’d see on his face and afraid she’d like it too much. “You know exactly what. Quit looking at my butt.”

“I can’t help it, Red.”

Changing her mind, she risked a quick glance over her shoulder to find him staring at her appreciatively. The way he looked at her was enough to make any sane woman melt. She definitely shouldn’t have given in to the temptation to look. Sighing, she pushed open the swinging door to the kitchen and propped it open with an oversized antique bronze vase.

“I don’t have much but I can make scrambled eggs, sausage, and cheese grits if you’d like,” she said as he opened her refrigerator door.

“Grits?” His eyebrows pulled slightly together.

“You’ve never had grits?”

He shook his head.

“Where’d you live before moving here?” She pulled out a carton of eggs. She knew he was originally from Scotland, but he’d hinted that he’d been living in the States for most of his life. And most of that toe-curling Scottish brogue was all but gone. Occasionally it slipped into his speech patterns and when it did, her entire body heated up.

Liam started to fill her coffeepot with water. “All over, really. Upstate New York, Montana, all across the West Coast.”

“Well, grits are a Southern thing, but I think you’ll like them. They’re sort of like polenta but a lot better.”

He moved around her kitchen, surprisingly at ease. With the exception of her brother she never had anyone over in the morning. Liam made coffee and set the table while she cooked. Though he was silent, it wasn’t an awkward silence. As they moved around the kitchen, it felt familiar. Like they’d done it a thousand times before. A tiny warning bell went off in her head. She wasn’t supposed to feel comfortable around him.

He even fixed her coffee the way she liked it. She didn’t like that they had the same tastes. As they sat at the table, the doorbell rang. They both froze for an instant, but Liam was quicker than her. She blinked and he was out of the chair and by the kitchen door. “Are you expecting company?” His voice was quiet but there was a deadly edge to it.

December doubted that someone wanting to break into her house would ring the bell, but she didn’t say that out loud. He looked like he was in battle mode and she didn’t think he’d appreciate the sarcasm. It was barely seven, but her friend Kat had told her she was coming by to pick up a box of books. “I completely forgot my friend was coming by this morning.”

“Friend?” Liam’s eyes narrowed a fraction.

December’s lips pulled into a thin line. “First of all, my friend is female, but second, I’m allowed to have male friends. And I do. Plenty of them.”

“Why would any male want to be friends with you?”

His words were like a swift punch to her chest. “Excuse me?”

He held his hands up in a defensive gesture. “No, I mean, just friends. I mean, I could never be just friends with you. I…shit, never mind.” His expression was so dejected and out of character she was tempted to smile, but she didn’t let him off the hook.

Liam had a possessive streak a mile wide and it annoyed her. She tried to hurry past him, but true to form, he beat her to the door. By the time she’d caught up, he’d opened it. No doubt after looking through the peephole. Or maybe he’d scented her friend. December still didn’t understand the animal side of him and what his limitations were.

“Hey, December.” Kat’s eyes widened as she looked back and forth between Liam and December.

She wrapped her arms around herself at the sudden blast of cold air that trailed in. “Hey, Kat. I didn’t realize you’d be here so early.” In that moment, December hated the unfamiliar jolt of jealousy she experienced. Especially since it was directed at her friend. The sun was barely up but her friend looked perfect. Her ivory skin practically glowed. Kat was tall and slim, built like a model, but she actually had breasts. With long, dark hair and exotic, almost catlike eyes she was the kind of woman men fantasized about. Now that she thought about it, December was pretty sure her friend had said something about modeling when she was younger. And December felt tiny and small for being jealous of her.

“Sorry, the drive was quicker than I thought in this snow.” She looked at Liam questioningly. “Uh, hey, Liam. I didn’t know you knew December.”

December didn’t bother to hide her shock as she turned to him. “You know Kat?”

He took a step back and cleared his throat. “Sort of. I’ll let you two do whatever it is you need….” His voice trailed off as he disappeared back toward the kitchen.

December shut the door behind Kat, who was looking at her expectantly. The bottom dropped out of her stomach. Oh God, had they slept together? She shouldn’t care since she had no claim on him, but the thought bothered her. Okay, more than bothered her. It made her see red and feel as if claws could sprout at any moment. “The books are in here.” She motioned toward her living room where the box of books sat on her coffee table.

Kat trailed after her and flopped down on her brown leather love seat. “So, you and Liam Armstrong, huh? Very nice, girl.” She was whispering but December had a feeling he could hear them anyway.

December sat next to her but perched on the edge of the couch. “Did you sleep with him?” As soon as the words were out, she wanted to take them back. She couldn’t believe she’d asked her friend that.

Kat’s pale eyes widened for an instant. Then she laughed as if the thought were hysterical. “Uh, no. Not that he’s not hot or anything, but, uh, he’s not exactly my type. And I’m pretty sure I’m not his either, guessing by the way he was practically devouring you with his eyes.”

December hadn’t expected the relief that swelled through her. It was like a fast-breaking wave that nearly knocked her off her feet.

Before she could say anything, Kat continued. “So what’s up with you two? He’s spending the night? When did this happen? I thought you had a date with that tourist last night. He’s a stockbroker or something, right? And I’ve never known you to let a man stay the night. I want details!”

December struggled to compose herself. She’d almost been able to forget about what had happened the night before. Pretend it was a dream. Her friend’s question brought reality crashing back on her. She’d tell Kat later what had happened, but if she started talking about it now, she was afraid she’d do something stupid like start crying. “That didn’t work out. And Liam and I aren’t together. Not like that. We’re just friends.”

“Friends?” Kat snorted loudly. The sound was so irreverent it made December smile. “Yeah, all my hot male friends have sleepovers with me too. We stay up late and paint each other’s toenails. Do not hold out on me. I haven’t had sex in forever, so give me something juicy.”

She didn’t bother explaining herself. “How do you know him anyway? He hasn’t been in town that long.” Liam had moved to the Fontana Mountain community less than a month ago. She still didn’t understand all the dynamics of his pack, but his brother was some sort of leader. An Alpha, she thought he was called. Now Connor was leader of the local pack.

Suddenly Kat looked uncomfortable. “Uh, something happened and…I don’t want to lie, so just ask him about that, okay?”

A thread of unease wormed its way through her, but she ignored it. Apparently they both had secrets. Instead of pressuring her friend, she changed the subject. “I’m sorry I haven’t been to the center lately. I promise after the New Year I’ll be volunteering again.”

Kat shook her head and peered inside the open box on the table. “You don’t have to explain yourself. I just appreciate all these books.”

When she gave up teaching and started her own bookstore, December had volunteered her free time at the local literacy center. But when her only two employees had quit within weeks of each other, she was still trying to find at least one decent replacement. Volunteering for anything at the moment was out of the question.

“Well, I’ve still got a couple more stops to make before my first class, so I’ll get out of your hair and let you get back to your friend.” Kat stood and lifted the box.

“Liam and I aren’t—”

“Yeah, yeah. Save it. Why don’t you bring him to the party tonight?”

“Party?” She stared at Kat in confusion.

“I can’t believe you forgot.”

December racked her brain. It sounded vaguely familiar. The past couple weeks she’d had a lot on her mind. Someone had broken into her house, roughed her up, and Tased her, some other jerk had tried to mug her, and then last night…She shuddered as she remembered it. Partying wasn’t on the top of her to-do list lately.

“We’ll be there.” Liam’s voice jerked her out of her thoughts. She turned to find him walking out of the kitchen. And he now had a sweater on. She hadn’t even heard him go upstairs. The man really was stealth personified.

A huge grin broke over Kat’s face. “Great. It’s at the ski lodge, so just come by my cabin around seven and we’ll head there together.”

December wanted to argue but knew it was pointless. After the last few weeks maybe she needed to relax anyway. And if Liam was with her, she wouldn’t have to worry about anything bad happening.

“So what’s this party for?” Liam asked after Kat left.

“I have no idea but it’s probably a birthday for someone Kat works with. It should be fun, though, if it’s at the ski lodge.”

“I kept a plate warm for you.” He motioned toward the kitchen.

She didn’t want to be affected by what he’d done, but the gesture was sweet. “Thanks. So, how do you know Kat?” Kat’s cryptic answer had piqued her interest.


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