The Mountain Man's Secret Twins(4)

By: Alexa Ross & Holly Rayner

But neither this cabin nor the one down the hill was occupied. Growing chillier with each passing moment, Kenzie forced herself to drive farther into the mountains, deeper into the woods, hunting for a neighbor. If she couldn’t find one, she’d turn back, head to the closest town, rent a motel room, and weep herself to sleep in a grungy, bedbug-swarmed bed.

After driving for nearly 15 minutes, lost in the heat of her car’s blasting air and the cyclical nature of her own thoughts, Kenzie found herself staring at a small, remote cabin with a slight porch in front and a large truck parked in the center of the driveway. The cabin was far from the main road, leaving Kenzie to believe that whoever had built out here wasn’t hunting for visitors. But as she gazed at the cabin, watching as the light from the interior fireplace licked at the porch poles, she realized this was her only hope.

And now that she’d been shamed so supremely by a man she’d loved and a woman she’d worked alongside for years, she couldn’t imagine any kind of embarrassment at the hand of the stranger in the cabin. If he murdered her, perhaps that was all the better. At least Austin would feel guilty.

Giggling to herself, realizing her thoughts were crazed and her stomach was gurgling with hunger, she ducked from the driver’s seat and began her ascent toward the cabin, shivering full force. The stairs creaked beneath her. With mere inches between her nose and the door, she could almost feel the warmth of the fire inside.

Unable to wait in the chill a moment longer, Kenzie rapped on the door. She waited, listening to the shifting weight of someone inside coming to his feet and marching toward the door. His footfalls were heavy, sending fear coursing up and down Kenzie’s spine. Perhaps she wasn’t prepared to be murdered after all.

After what seemed like a small eternity, the door burst open, revealing a tall, blond, blue-eyed man with a muscular frame beneath his blue and black flannel. The blue in his shirt made his eyes gleam. The moment Kenzie caught sight of him, her breath stopped. She took a slight step back, overwhelmed by his masculinity and frank expression. She stuttered, wanting to find the right words.

“Hello,” he said, his voice gruff. “Can I help you with something?”

Kenzie strapped her familiar real estate smile on her face once more, knowing it had an effect on men—but not betting it would alter this man’s opinion of her one bit. He seemed too firm in his beliefs, not interested in the opinions of others.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” she said, stumbling over her words. “I’ve just rented a cabin about 15 minutes from here, and it doesn’t seem to be as advertised…” She trailed off, shrugging. “By that I mean—nothing inside the cabin works. And I don’t have any firewood to make a fire.”

The man considered her for a moment, taking in her words. Finally, after what seemed like years, he beckoned her inside. “Just let me get my boots on. I’ll bring some firewood and help you get it started.”

“Oh, gosh,” Kenzie said, feeling nervous. “I’m so sorry. You don’t have to—if I could just borrow the wood—”

“No. I don’t want you to go all the way back down and not be able to start it,” he said, slipping his socked feet into his thick boots. “I can do it in just a few minutes. I’m guessing that will save you a few hours.” He looked her up and down once more. “Where are you from?”

“Concord, New Hampshire,” she responded, tilting her head and feeling the compassion from his words. It had been a long time since she’d met a kind stranger. “I’m just here for the week. To ski.”

“Ah. And you didn’t bother bringing anyone with you? Scary woods to sleep in alone,” the man said, cinching his bootlaces tight.

“Unfortunately, it’s just me for now,” Kenzie said. She allowed a long moment to pass before speaking again. “I’m Kenzie, by the way. Kenzie Harrington.”

The man got up from the couch and shook her hand, making intense eye contact. “Kenzie. I’m Bryce. Bryce Walker. It’s good to meet you. Now, let’s stop wasting time. It’s almost nine at night, and I have an early wakeup call.”

Was he being rude? Or just trying to save time? Kenzie couldn’t tell. But it was clear he wasn’t attracted to her, or perhaps hadn’t noticed her. Should she flirt with him?

Kenzie bounded after him, toward their cars in the driveway. Bryce revealed a small, dry arena beside his cabin where he kept large stacks of firewood. They began to pile the wood into the back of Kenzie’s car. Bryce informed her that he’d give her enough for a few days but that she’d better stockpile her own, from either the local town store or the branches surrounding her cabin.

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