The Mountain Man's Secret Twins(5)

By: Alexa Ross & Holly Rayner

“I won’t bother you every few days for wood,” Kenzie said, laughing and tossing some lumber into her trunk, on top of several real estate magazines. “I promise.”

“Good,” Bryce said. Kenzie couldn’t tell if he was joking, but his eyes twinkled as he gave her a final look before ducking into the driver’s seat of his truck. Perhaps there was a chance? “Lead me, okay?” he called out the window.

Kenzie drove down the mountain and out of the depth of the woods, toward her cabin, thankful she remembered the way. As she drove slowly, the truck followed several feet behind, giving her enough room to make mistakes. He seemed conscious of how careful she was, that she required an easy trek.

As she drove, she imagined herself attempting to build a fire alone that night, shivering and cursing, snapping her real estate nails against the twigs and growing dirtier and more frustrated with each passing moment. She suspected Bryce had had a similar image. She suspected he could see through her with those piercing blue eyes, which were tinged with loneliness. A loneliness that, Kenzie knew, she’d probably have to grow accustomed to.

They arrived at her cabin 15 minutes later, Bryce popping out immediately and gathering the wood from her trunk. In no time, he’d stockpiled it in a dry area of her porch and begun to construct a fire-friendly structure in her fireplace. Kenzie looked on from the side of the dank, slight cabin room, watching his arms move easily, lifting and adjusting the wood, before he snapped a match. The fire made his eyes twinkle. He lit some of the smaller twigs first, allowing the logs to grow warmer and drier. Then he struck another match, making the larger logs catch.

With a firm, small fire growing in the fireplace, Kenzie clicked her tongue. “I’m impressed, Boy Scout,” she said.

Bryce lifted himself from his knees, brushing at his dirtied jeans. “You’ll get the hang of it,” he said. “Especially if you’re going to be here for a week, you said?”

“Yep,” Kenzie said, scratching at the back of her skull. “I was hoping you could recommend some places in town? It’s what, 20 miles down the mountain?”

“Right,” Bryce said, his voice taking on a polite tone. “There’s a great grocery store. Hank’s, is what he’s called it. And the pub next door has half-priced pints on Tuesdays and Thursdays, if that suits you. Also, the Early Bird diner. The best breakfast I’ve ever had in Vermont, and for less than five dollars, if you can believe it. And there’s a tiny medical center down there. A single nurse, and a doctor that drives in about once a week. God forbid you need something like that, but it’s good to know it’s there.”

“Thank you,” Kenzie said, swiping her brown hair behind her ears. “You don’t know what this means to me. I’ve had a crappy day.” She gave him a slight smile.

“I know all about crappy days,” Bryce said, walking toward the door. He was suddenly in a rush, anxious to stop the conversation in its tracks. He seemed aloof, as if he’d already spent his allotted words for the day. “I suppose I’ll get back to my cabin. Keep the fire going, and put a log on every once in a while. It should hold all night and keep you warm.”

Kenzie watched as Bryce marched down the steps toward his truck. He looked handsome, if stooped, as if the weight of the world were continually on his shoulders. As she closed the door, she remained at the window, her fingertips against the pane, watching as he maneuvered back onto the winding road.

She sensed that he wouldn’t see anyone for another several days, that he normally lived in his head, safe from the dangers of the world. And god, Kenzie knew those dangers. As of today, she knew what it was like to open herself up to someone and feel like she’d been dragged through the mud. Remembering her mother, who’d been left after 17 years of marriage, she forced herself to begin forgiving the world, hopeful she wouldn’t follow a similar track.

She collapsed on the couch moments later, loving the feel of the tickling fire upon her frigid toes. She removed her soggy socks and undressed, donning a nightgown. She found several blankets in the closet and wrapped up, gazing into the fire, allowing her mind to drift back to Austin and Tori. She hadn’t received a single message on her phone, nothing to alert her that Austin was searching for her or worried about her.

Perhaps he and Tori were together at that exact moment, gazing into one another’s eyes, thanking their lucky stars that Kenzie had left town. Perhaps they were sleeping in her very bed, knowing they had several more days before she arrived home again.

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