The Mountain Man's Secret Twins(10)

By: Alexa Ross & Holly Rayner

Kenzie was impressed, if saddened. She stood a few feet away from him, still assessing the strength of his biceps, the way his eyes grew softer as he became more accustomed to her. “All my life, my mother told me to find a man who would take care of me, who wouldn’t allow me to feel lonely, and, most of all, who would pay for my every whim. I think I was bred with the belief that you weren’t allowed solitude.”

Bryce dropped the vegetables into a pot of water and considered her words. “I hope you don’t go into relationships with that mentality,” he said finally. “That they’re meant to fill a hole in your life.”

“I might,” Kenzie said, her voice soft. “I don’t know. I’m still reeling from the last one.”

Surprised at her honesty, Kenzie didn’t speak for a while, sipping her wine and watching as Bryce cooked the rest of the meal. The meat browned and then blackened, and the vegetables grew soft and salty, seasoned with herbs. He worked with incredible skill, his face stoic and concentrative. Kenzie poured herself another glass of wine, conscious that she’d grow less embarrassed and offer more excitement to the conversation if she was just the right amount of tipsy.

She set the table with two plates, two forks, and two large steak knives. Bryce apologized, softly, for not having much—and certainly not any “fine dining” equipment. Kenzie just shrugged, laughing and finally breaking the tense, almost sexual feel of the air around them. “Why in the world would you need fine dining dinnerware?” she asked. “You’re a mountain man. You could eat your venison with your fingers if you wanted to.”

“And if I did that tonight?” Bryce asked, his face brightening. “What would you do?”

“Probably join you,” Kenzie said, joking.

Finally, Bryce placed the venison on each plate, along with a heaping pile of vegetables. He poured himself another glass of wine, lifting his elbow in a fluid motion, and then turned the radio volume down, giving the dinner a more intimate feel.

What are we doing? Kenzie asked herself, suddenly panicked now that the dinner was feeling more and more date-like. And do I want it?

They sat across from one another and dove into their food. Kenzie slid her knife into the tender meat and took a small bite, closing her eyes. She chewed languidly, trying to avoid making any noise. When she opened her eyes again, she found herself staring into Bryce’s bright blue ones. He looked expectant.

“What did you think?” he asked. He looked like a hopeful child, despite being five years older than she was.

The taste still slid down her tongue, making her brain ignite with energy. “Oh my god,” she said, joyous. “It’s the best food I’ve ever had.” She took another bite hurriedly, pleasing Bryce. “Seriously. It’s different than anything from the grocery store. I can’t believe I haven’t eaten like this before.”

“Straight from the woods,” Bryce affirmed, swiping a napkin over his mouth. “No preservatives. No hormones. It’s made me healthier than ever, since I began hunting.”

Kenzie blinked several times, remembering that Bryce had arrived at the cabin at age 18 and hadn’t made plans to leave. Didn’t that mean he was resigning himself from the rest of the world, from really living?

After another bite, she dredged up the nerve to ask him. “Why did you come here in the first place?”

After a pause, Bryce gave her a coy smile. It was clear he wouldn’t cooperate with her. “Why did you come here?” he asked. “This is my home, not yours. I’ll ask the questions.”

Curious about why he wouldn’t open up to her but feeling drunk enough to dive into her own emotional few days, Kenzie began.

“Well, I came here because of a guy,” she said, shrugging and laughing at herself. “Isn’t that how every story begins?”

“I don’t know,” Bryce said. “I don’t hear many stories.”

“Well, trust me, this is a cliché,” Kenzie said, her face growing warm. Her eyes flickered toward the window, watching as the snow continued its heavy slant to the ground. “I met Austin a few years ago, at work, and we hit it off. I thought he was really good looking, and, above all, he was good to me. After watching the way my father treated my mother, I wanted someone I could trust.”

Bryce nodded, taking another bite of his venison. Despite only having eaten half of hers, Kenzie felt completely full, wanting only to drink more. She had a small appetite and currently felt far too excited to bog herself down with food.

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