Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Place to Start, part 10

Okay, you voracious readers, as promised, this is the second post of the day. Which is also the second-to-last post of the story. Yes, that’s right, I’ll post the ending tomorrow, on the first day of a new year. Seems fitting.

As FL surmised in the comments, this is indeed the first book in a series. I didn’t set out to write a trilogy, any more than I set out to write a novella instead of a short story. But in the writing of it, it turned out that Mac has two brothers. They just showed up, these McIntyre men. And they seemed like interesting people who might have a story of their own that needed to be told, so . . .

I don’t have titles for the other two books yet, but they’ll be subtitled Spring and Fall. Not sure when, exactly, they’ll be available (other than sometime in 2014), but if anyone is interested in being notified via email when they are, there’s a link on the sidebar to sign up for my newsletter. I’d say I send it out infrequently, but the fact is I’ve never sent it out even once. Just ignore the nonsense I wrote on that link about sending it quarterly (I’ll fix that later), my plan is to limit it to news of book releases — hopefully, the kind of email you’re happy to see arrive.

I honestly don’t think I’ll be posting any more stories of this length here on my blog, as it has proven to be a cumbersome method of delivery. But you never know. Maybe a first chapter. Or two.

And please, if you’re out celebrating tonight, take care. Given a choice, I’d happily lose all my readers due to bad writing rather than lose even one of you to an accident.

Here it is, the tenth installment. I hope you enjoy it.

A Place to Start

A McIntyre Novella

Book One:  Winter

by KD James

Jo had barely taken two sips of coffee when her mother called the next morning to check on her. She made reassuring noises and promised to come for dinner once she got back in town and then ended the call in less time than was strictly polite, but she was anxious to see Mac.

She warmed up the truck and retraced the route back down the mountain to Mac’s cabin, almost missing the turnoff. His Jeep wasn’t parked in its usual spot. She decided to go inside and wait for him to get back. She knocked on the door just in case and, when no one responded, hoped it wasn’t locked. On closer inspection, she realized it didn’t even have a lock. She turned the knob and went in.

The cabin was empty. Not only was Mac not there, it looked like he’d never been there. Like she’d never been there. The cabin had been cleaned and straightened, the ashes shoveled out of the fireplace and new kindling laid. The chairs at the table were neatly pushed in and the couch had been moved back into position along the wall. The greenery was gone and the blankets were folded with military precision at the end of the bed. The perishables had been cleared out of the fridge, the dishes washed and put away.

She stood there in the middle of the cabin, feeling bereft. It had been stripped of the simple things that had made it a warm and familiar place and she felt the echoing emptiness as if it were a physical presence. But it paled in comparison to the aching void in her heart.

Mac was gone.

* * *

Jo drove into town, assuming someone there would know where Mac was and when he’d be back. Assuming he was coming back. It hurt too much to bear, the thought that his apology had also been his way of saying goodbye.

She stopped in at the diner, hoping the fondness for gossip would be in full force and she wouldn’t have to reveal her interest in the man to get information. Everyone was just as open and friendly as they’d been the night before, but in a place where everyone seemed to know everyone else’s business and didn’t hesitate to talk about it, not one of them mentioned Mac.

She waited until there was a lull between orders before she broke down and asked Maybelle about him. “You haven’t seen Mac around, have you?”

“Haven’t seen him, love, but there was a sack of groceries at the door this morning when I opened up, with a note saying he hoped I could make use of them. Always been considerate, that one.”

Jo hesitated, trying to be nonchalant. “Did the note say anything else?”

“Sure didn’t. Mac’s not one for being all wordy. But he never leaves until after New Year’s, so I expect he’s around somewhere.”

Fred, the man from the grocery store, spoke up from where he sat a couple stools down, finishing a cup of coffee. “Heard Charlie mention earlier that Mac went up the mountain for a spell. Said he’d be back.”

Maybelle nodded. “Not surprised he’d favor camping over that cabin of his. Most like to be warmer outdoors.”

Jo couldn’t contain her curiosity. “You all know who he– you know he’s an architect, right?”

“Well, sure, hon,” Maybelle said. “Of course we do. But up here he’s just Mac.”

“No pretense in that boy,” Fred agreed. “Solid now as he ever was.”

“But, with all his experience, why is his cabin so . . . primitive?”

“Built it that way on purpose,” Fred said, the admiration evident in his voice. “It’s a smart man who knows what he needs and stops at that.”

“He built that place for warm weather,” Maybelle said. “Two weeks in summer and the occasional weekend in spring and fall. Come winter, he always stayed up with your grandpa.” She frowned and shook her head. “None of us can quite work out why he’d keep you there this time of year.”

Jo felt a sudden inexplicable urge to defend him. “But I’d hurt my foot and couldn’t wear my boots. And there was the snow.”

Fred snorted. “A little snow never stopped a McIntyre.”

“It’s possible he might pop in here,” Maybelle said. “He likes my cooking well enough. You want me to give him a message if I see him?”

“Oh, no, it’s just—” Jo tried to think of a reason why she’d be asking about Mac. Any reason other than the truth, that she cared about him far more than he apparently did about her. She felt miserable enough without adding anyone’s pity to the mix.

She settled for a partial truth. “I stopped at his cabin and he was gone, but the door was open and there didn’t seem to be a way to lock up. There’s the heavy bar on the inside and I just thought, maybe, someone might know how to secure it.”

“Oh, he don’t ever lock it,” Fred said. “Leaves it open and stocked up year round, in case some wet-behind-the-ears tourist gets lost out on the mountain and needs a place.”

Jo wasn’t sure what to say to that. It sounded exactly like something Mac would do. And she’d been that tourist. Nothing more.

“You sure I can’t give him a message, hon?” Maybelle’s look was kind.

“No, there’s nothing, thanks.” Nothing he’d want to hear.

She saw Maybelle and Fred exchange a long look but they didn’t say anything more as she got up and left the diner.

She stood outside and briefly considered going back to Atlanta a week early. Her car had been repaired and returned yesterday, in spite of it being a holiday. So even though she was still driving her grandpa’s truck, getting home wouldn’t be a problem. And she’d learned enough about this place to make a decision. She loved it here and she wasn’t ready to sell. She might never be ready to sell.

She tried to ignore the little voice asking why, if she loved it so much, was she thinking of leaving before she had to. Her grandpa’s place was quiet and peaceful, a sanctuary where she could escape the constant noise and hectic pace of the city and just focus on writing. The people were friendly and welcoming and there was a real sense of community, something she’d never had before and would miss when she left. The place was everything she’d hoped it would be. And more.

But being up here wasn’t the same without Mac.

For someone who had always enjoyed solitude and was content with her own company, the realization was unsettling. As was the realization that she wanted to spend more time with a man who didn’t want to get involved with her. It’s not like he hadn’t warned her. It’s not like she hadn’t agreed to the stipulation. She missed him anyway.

She spent the next few days writing, finishing one story and starting on another, making random notes for a third. She went into town every day for lunch, getting to know her neighbors and feeling more at home. She went to bed early and got up with the first rays of dawn and tried not to think about Mac.

And failed miserably.

She saw evidence of his presence in every room of her grandpa’s cabin. Remembered his touch every night in her bed. She missed his gruff taciturn attitude and his rare devastating smiles. And she was very much afraid that, wherever he’d gone, he’d taken with him what was left of her heart.

* * *


Filed under A Place to Start

A Place to Start, part 9

I received a few complaints about yesterday’s brevity. Just one or two [ahem]. Which is really kind of awesome. So, in an effort to make up for that horrendous insufficiency, today I will put up two posts, full of many words for you to read. Thousands of words. You will feel inundated and replete, reading these words, and never yearn for more, ever again. Well, until tomorrow.

I continue to be somewhat baffled by this, but it seems there are one or two [ahem] new people reading or following this blog every day. Who knew fiction was such an attraction? For those of you who are new and perhaps confused about what the hell I’m doing over here, I’m posting a 26,000-word (okay, maybe 27,000) novella in several installments as a gift to my long-term readers. Perhaps you’re intrigued, as well as confused, and would like to read the rest of the story? If so, you can find the beginning of it here.

Here is the ninth installment of the story. I hope you enjoy it.

A Place to Start

A McIntyre Novella

Book One:  Winter

by KD James

Mac heard the sound of a truck approaching his cabin and cursed whoever had decided to disturb his solitude. He’d spent the day reliving old memories and contemplating the feelings provoked by new ones, not yet sure what to make of it all. He’d split more logs than was probably good for a man and last night had made a not insignificant dent in a very fine bottle of scotch.

The peace and quiet he cherished, the serenity of this place that he sought out whenever he could make time, was gone. In its place was stark loneliness, a silence that seemed to echo in his soul. But he didn’t need the company of whoever had just driven up and he sure as hell didn’t need Jo Mitchell in his life.

He’d almost convinced himself of that when the cabin door opened without so much as a knock and there stood his brother, Cam. “It’s a sad, sad day when Ma has me tracking ye down like a stray dog, Duncan McIntyre.”

Mac suppressed a growl of irritation. “It’s a sad day when you feel obliged to do it.”

“She’s been trying to call for days and couldn’t get through. She worries about you this time of year. Ye know that, Mac.”

“She sent you up here to check on me?”

“I was in the area. She said I was to put hands on ye, and nothing less would satisfy her.”

Mac muttered a low oath. “I’m not a wee bairn in need of looking after.”

Cam shrugged in dismissal, as if he thought the argument weren’t worth the effort. Mac knew different and Cam’s next observation confirmed it. “I see you’ve been whittling again.”

Mac looked at the small pile of wood shavings on the floor. “Passes the time.” It also helped him process his thoughts, but they both knew that.

“Speaking of which, I stopped in town on the way here. Saw your girl at the diner.”

“I don’t have a girl.”

“Such lovely sad eyes she has.”

Sad eyes? “She does not have sad eyes.”

“Ach, I know sad eyes when I see ’em. Seems I’ve spent a lifetime looking into sad eyes. I recognize a need for comfort. Your girl has that look about her.”

“She’s not my girl. And she sure as hell doesn’t need your comfort.”

“So you say. Heard she stayed here with ye for a couple days. Complained a lot, did she?”

Mac thought about it. “No. She never complained, not once.”

“Now that’s hard to believe, knowing you. Squeamish, then? You make her your famous rabbit stew? City girls can get right queasy about the sight of blood.”

“She wasn’t squeamish about the blood. It was the–” It was the fact that it was a rabbit. “She wasn’t squeamish.”

“Hated the quiet and the forest? Couldn’t wait to leave and get back to the bright city lights?”

“She loved it here.”

“What then? She’s allergic to firelight? C’mon, Mac, there had to be something that has you holed up here sulking instead of in town celebrating the holiday with a beautiful woman.”

“I’m not sulking. And I don’t do Christmas.”

His brother just stood there and waited, silent.

“She’s from the city, Cam. She doesn’t belong here.”

Cam’s expression was one of disbelief. “You do realize that you live in the same damn city, don’t you?”

“That’s different. I’ve lived here, as well. I know the mountain. She’s not suited for life up here. Jesus and Mary, you should have seen her the night I found her, near frozen to death. Her car was wedged halfway off the mountain in a ditch.”

“She looked pretty damned healthy when I saw her just now.”

Mac got up off the couch, needing to move. “She doesn’t belong here, Cam. It’s not a safe place for a city girl. She doesn’t have the skills to survive. Even if she did, I’m not looking to get involved.”

“I see. So that’s it, then. You’ve made up your mind.”


“Then ye won’t mind if I pay her a call next time I’m in Atlanta. Maybe take her out for a nice dinner? I bet she likes to dance. I’m verra light on me feet.”

Mac glared at his notoriously charming brother, narrowing his eyes in warning. “Ma sent ye here to take a beating, did she?”

“Well, if ye don’t want her, it hardly seems fair– ”

Mac felt his patience snap and he roared. “By the gods, man, you will stay away from that woman.”

Cam laughed at him. Laughed. “You’re being an ass, Duncan McIntyre. Would serve ye right if she did go back to the city and never again crossed your doorstep. Have a care what ye wish for, big brother.”

“It’s none of your concern, Cam.”

“Maybelle’s a pretty good judge of character. She and old Charlie have taken quite a shine to your city girl. So has everyone else in town. And that young deputy sheriff– Thom? Is that his name? Nice looking guy, dark hair, sincere smile? He’s over to the diner even as we speak, doing his best to erase that sadness from her eyes. Not that ye care, of course.”

“The hell, you say.”

“Aye, the hell I do say. Crawl out of your cave and do something about it before it’s too late.”

Mac added a log to the fire and poked at it, hard, sending sparks flying up the chimney. “Speaking of pain-in-the-ass younger siblings, you heard from Drew of late?”

“No. You?”

“Not since the call in June.”

“Damn, that was six, seven months ago.”

Mac stared into the fire, pensive. “Aye. He’s in the wind, Cam. Seems our little brother is plagued by demons, just like the rest of us.”

“Hell, Mac, you’re just a shining ray of bloody fucking sunshine. I’m headed out. I’ve got a deposition in Charlotte tomorrow.”

“Always a pleasure to see ye, Cam. Don’t let the door hit you.”

Cam walked over and wrapped him in a bear hug. “Aye, and you’re a prince among men.”

Mac allowed the hug, returned it. Then pushed away and punched his brother’s shoulder. “Give Ma my love when ye talk to her.”

“Call her yourself, ye thickheaded dolt,” Cam said, returning the punch. “She was worried sick. Cell phone reception up here isn’t that bad.”

It is when you have your phone turned off. “Aye, I’ll call.” Cam gave him a skeptical look. “I promise, I’ll call her. Safe travels, Cam.”

“And to you, Mac.” He paused. “Go mend fences with your girl. She’s a keeper.”

And then he was gone and Mac was alone again, missing Jo. So she’d caught the attention of Thom Dawson, had she? Thom was a good man. Solid, reliable, kind. Dull as an old blade, but a good man.

Jo would be wise to move on, to find a man who’d treat her better than he had. A man who would offer her more than he could. But damned if he was going to show up in town and stand witness while some other man did his best to “erase the sadness” from her eyes. Thom was a friend, but Mac had no doubt that he’d resort to violence if the man so much as put one finger on Jo in his presence. Better he stayed away.

Besides, Cam didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. Jo did not have sad eyes.

He turned on his phone and called his mother, wished her a Merry Christmas and apologized for worrying her. They talked long enough to allay her concern about his well-being and Mac assured her he was still coming down to visit her in the spring. He even managed, just barely, to stop himself from issuing threats involving bodily harm to his brother when Ma asked whether he was bringing his new girl with him so she could meet her.

He hung up and turned the damned thing off again and stalked around the cabin a few times, muttering about interfering family members, before grabbing his jacket and the keys to his Jeep. He suddenly felt the need to take a drive.

* * *

The conversation around her seemed to fade away as Jo saw Mac’s Jeep pull into the parking lot of the diner, every nerve suddenly on high alert as she waited for him to come inside. But he turned off the headlights and just sat out there, alone.

She knew he didn’t celebrate the holiday, and she was starting to understand why. It had to be a tough time of year, bringing with it reminders of Carly’s death. Her heart broke a little at the thought of him being so isolated while just a few steps away, here inside the diner, was a world of warmth and welcome and friendship. Things he claimed not to want.

Someone distracted her with a question and the offer of another piece of fudge. Then Thom Dawson came over, taking his leave and wishing her a Merry Christmas again and telling her to be careful on the roads tonight. He was a nice young man, although he seemed overly cautious for someone his age. Perhaps a hazard of the job.

When she looked out the window again, Mac’s truck was gone.

A half hour later, the celebration was finally winding down and she was exhausted from all the talking and smiling. And stuffed full of good food. She retrieved her jacket and the empty brownie plate and slipped out the door before anyone could subject her to another round of hugging.

Night fell quickly here when the sun dipped below the top of the mountain and it was full dark when she drove home. The day had been warm and sunny and most of the snow had melted. But the roads were wet from downhill runoff and Thom had warned everyone that there’d be a freeze tonight, with black ice in the usual spots before morning. She didn’t know where the usual spots were and was glad to be home before the temperature dropped.

She parked the truck and wandered around to the front of the cabin, looking out over the vast stretch of darkness broken only by scattered pinpoints of light trailing away down the mountain, mirroring the first few stars sparkling in the clear sky overhead. Even at night, the beauty of this place was breathtaking. And the loneliness she felt in that moment was heartbreaking.

“Merry Christmas,” she said, whispering it to herself on a frosty breath.

She crossed her arms, hugging herself against the chill and turned to go inside, deciding tomorrow was soon enough to call her mother. She opened the door and her foot nudged something sitting on the top step. What on earth? She wasn’t expecting any deliveries.

She picked it up and carried it into the brighter light of the kitchen. It was a small wooden box. Plain but smooth, it looked handmade. She pulled off the lid and a ragged scrap of paper fell out and landed on the counter. She set the box down and unfolded the paper. The words were a bold masculine scrawl.

“I was wrong. I’m sorry.” It was signed with just the letter M.

Oh, Mac. Her hands trembling now, she picked up the tissue-wrapped object in the box, carefully folding back the layers. It was a small piece of carved wood that fit comfortably in her palm. She turned it over.

Oh, dear God. It was Steve, the rabbit from her stories. The detail was exquisite and the likeness incredible, right down to the saucy smirk on his little rabbit face.

She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so she did a little of both. Mac must have read her story, seen her sketches. And then he’d made this for her. She was stunned by the time and thought and sheer artistry that had gone into the gift.

But the simple words of apology were what touched her the most.

She wanted to see him, needed to talk to him. But it was late and the mountain was dark and the thought of black ice made her hesitate. She pulled out her cell phone and the business card he’d given her. One bar of service. She hoped it was enough and punched in the numbers. The call went straight to voice mail.

She disconnected without leaving a message, not sure what to say. “Thank you” seemed inadequate. “I forgive you” seemed inappropriate, especially once she realized she wasn’t sure, exactly, what he was apologizing for.

Her thoughts an unresolved jumble of doubt and hope, she went up to bed, turning off lights behind her. She set the little hand-carved rabbit on her nightstand and stared at it for hours as the light of the almost full moon shone in through the sheer curtain, painting a pale slanted beam that slowly shifted across the floor as night wore on toward a new day.

She finally drifted off to sleep, comforted by the certainty that she’d track him down tomorrow. There were words that needed to be said, words they both needed to hear. But she wasn’t going anywhere and tomorrow was soon enough. They had plenty of time to sort things out.

* * *

Part 10 has been posted; check the sidebar for a link.

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Filed under A Place to Start

A Place to Start, part 8

We’re getting close to the end, now. Are you relieved? Can’t wait for it to be over? Are you even still reading?

If you’re reading over here for the first time — welcome! — this is the eighth installment of a 25,000-word (actually, more like 26,000) novella. It begins here, if you feel inclined to read the earlier posts.

It’s a Monday and probably you all are exhausted, so I’ll keep this one short. No, it’s okay, no need to thank me. I hope you enjoy it.

A Place to Start

A McIntyre Novella

Book One: Winter

by KD James

Jo pulled the truck into a parking spot with plenty of empty space around it, still feeling a bit shaky from the experience of driving what felt like a parade float down the winding mountain road into town. As well stocked as the kitchen was, it didn’t have the necessary ingredients to make brownies. Or anything else appropriate to bring to a Christmas potluck. And there was no way she was going to show up empty handed.

The string of tiny decorative cowbells over the door announced her arrival in the store, but the woman at the register was already headed in her direction. “Oh, my stars,” she said, looking a bit misty-eyed. “It’s been an age since I saw that truck pull in here. Took me right back, I tell you, and for a minute there I imagined . . . well, never mind the ramblings of a foolish old woman. You must be Joanna, John’s grandbaby.”

Jo was afraid the woman was going to envelop her in sturdy arms and a cloud of perfume and tears and she quickly grabbed a shopping basket from the stack by the door as a form of defense. She wasn’t used to being hugged by strangers. “Hello, yes, I’m Jo. Nice to meet you.”

“So very pleased to see you here, Jo. I’m June. You just let me know if there’s anything I can help you with. Anything at all.”

Jo nodded her thanks and said, “I just need to pick up a few things. I’m sure I can find what I need.”

There were a couple other customers in the store and Jo smiled at them as she made her way up and down the crowded aisles. The store was an eclectic mash-up of groceries and hardware and home goods. She selected a box mix of brownies that she knew from experience was as good as homemade, and splurged on a small package of chocolate truffles for herself. And a nice steak for dinner. She was surprised to find a decent bottle of merlot and added that to her cart as well.

She got in line behind another customer and June talked right over him. “Heard you spent a couple days snowed in up to Mac’s cabin.”

The man turned and gave her a surprised look. “Snowed in, you say? Hope that boy treated you right, missy.”

“Oh yes, he was a perfect gentleman. Took very good care of me.” She squelched all thoughts of just how good.

June gave her a sympathetic look. “Good thing he was out on the mountain that night, helping with the rescue efforts. He’s been vigilant like that, these past few years. Ever since–”

“Junie,” the man interrupted, “now, you know the man don’t appreciate idle talk ’bout that.”

“It ain’t idle talk, Fred Cartwright, and don’t you be telling me what I can and can’t say in my own place of business.” June huffed like a bird with ruffled feathers. “It’s just a shame, is all, how that girl’s death changed the man. That’s all I’m sayin’.”

The man, Fred, nodded in agreement. “That’s the truth of it. Damn shame.”

Jo wondered who had died and what it had to do with Mac. It wasn’t her place to ask, but apparently her curiosity was pretty much out of control where Mac was concerned.

She had to ask. “I don’t mean to gossip, but–”

“Hush now, ain’t no such thing. We’re all family up here. It ain’t gossip to talk about the people you love.”

“Someone died?”

“Oh, hon, it was a tragedy. Pretty girl, full of energy, but flighty with it like some city folk are. Y’know? Took a curve too fast out on the main road and it was snowing and, well, she went over the edge. We had the old guardrails, back then.”

“Took a while before we could get down to her,” Fred said. “Not that it mattered. Coroner said she died on impact.”

June shook her head sadly as Fred paid for his groceries and said goodbye and went on his way. “Poor Mac, he ain’t been the same since.”

“That’s very sad. A terrible way to die. But what does it have to do with Mac?”

June rang up items as she talked. “That’s the saddest thing. That girl, Carly I believe her name was, she and Mac were an item. Word was they were about to get engaged. He was the first one to make it down to her car that night. And just days before Christmas too. Such a shame.”

Jo handed over her debit card and stared at the woman, speechless. “Shame” hardly seemed to cover it.

“But that’s all in the past, hon. Don’t you fret about it none. Why, it’s going on three years now.” She handed Jo the receipt and the bag of groceries. “Will we see you tomorrow at the potluck?”

“Yes. Yes, I’ll be there.”

“That’s good then. Merry Christmas!”

“And the same to you, June.”

Jo put her groceries in the truck and climbed back up into the cab and just sat there in the parking lot, turning over this new piece of information about Mac. He’d been in love, practically engaged, and the woman had died horribly. Sliding off a mountain road during a snowstorm. Not unlike her own situation, except she hadn’t been speeding and had been stopped by the guardrail. A very sturdy, new guardrail.

She started the truck and drove back up to her cabin, slowly, carefully. Thinking about what Mac had said about her not belonging here on the mountain.

* * *

Christmas Day dawned bright for Jo, with sunshine and warmer temperatures and a muzzy head from overindulging in red wine and chocolate the night before. She’d had quite the pity party, but there were some things a girl just had to do when faced with an impossible situation. And why she was still thinking about Mac at all was anyone’s guess.

The truth was, she liked him. More than liked him. And she was beginning to think that what she’d first seen as arrogant controlling behavior was perhaps an overly protective streak born out of tragedy. The knowledge didn’t make his attitude acceptable, but it went a long way toward trying to understand it.

After a morning spent unable to concentrate on anything and wandering listlessly from one window to the next, each of which showcased spectacular views of the mountainside, Jo packed up her brownies and headed down to Maybelle’s diner.

The diner had seemed vaguely familiar when she’d driven by yesterday, but she was taken straight back twenty years in time when she stepped inside. She remembered coming here as a child. Remembered the linoleum counters and red upholstered stools banded in strips of silver metal. The laminated menus and individual jukeboxes at each booth and how her grandpa had let her punch the buttons, selecting songs to play. And the milkshakes, thick and rich and served with almost an entire second helping in the metal tumbler.

She could almost smell the lingering wisps of homemade pie and hash browns and chicken fried steak. But today the air was redolent with the smells of Christmas, of turkey and ham and all the trimmings.

She set her plate of brownies with the other desserts, relieved to see Mac wasn’t there. Not that she had expected him to be. She made small talk with the people she’d already met and they, in turn, introduced her to others until it was all she could do to keep the names and faces straight in her mind. Everyone welcomed her. And hugged her. Everyone offered condolences and had a remembrance to share with her about her grandpa. The unhesitating acceptance was overwhelming, the sense of community unlike anything she’d ever experienced before.

She’d gone back for a second helping of dressing and gravy when the door opened and a man walked in on a gust of cold air. He was tall and well built and outrageously handsome and he looked so much like Mac that she caught her breath for a moment before she realized it wasn’t him.

“Cameron McIntyre!” Maybelle’s voice bellowed out over the din of conversation as she made her way over to greet him. “Well, aren’t you a sight for these old eyes.”

“Maybelle, love, I’ve been pining for ye all the time I’ve been away.” He swooped the woman up in a great twirling hug and gave her a big noisy smack of a kiss on her cheek. “What does a man have to do to get a decent meal around here, lass?”

“Oh, go on with you now,” she said, blushing like a woman half her age. “Come in and let me make you a plate.”

He waded into the crowd like a conquering hero, this man who had to be Mac’s brother, laughing and talking to everyone, slapping men on the back and kissing women on the cheek. He exuded charisma like heat from a bonfire and his Scottish accent was as pronounced as it was charming. He was like Mac dialed up to eleven.

And Jo wasn’t the least bit attracted to him.

He made his way over to where she was standing by the counter and gave her one of the sexiest and most blatantly flirtatious smiles she’d ever seen. This man was potent and he knew it.

“I don’t believe we’ve met, lass. I’d’ve remembered it.” He reached for the hand she extended and held it in his, the gallantry as natural as breathing.

Maybelle set a plate of food in front of him and he thanked her for it, without once looking away from Jo. The intensity was flattering, but she felt no spark of attraction. Neither, she suspected, did he.

“Cam, this is Jo Mitchell,” Maybelle said, “John Blanton’s granddaughter. Jo, this here rascal is Mac’s brother Cameron.”

An expression of genuine sadness crossed his face, and she liked him for it. “Ach, lass, I’m sorry for your loss. John Blanton was a good man.”

“Thank you, Cam. It’s nice to meet you.” She retrieved her hand and forked up a bite of dressing from the plate she held in the other.

Maybelle continued with the introduction. “Jo spent a couple days snowed in up to Mac’s cabin, after the recent storm.”

Cam snorted in disbelief. “Snowed in? My brother was snowed in? Not bloody likely.”

Jo gave him an assessing look and ate another bite of dressing, keeping her expression deadpan. “Oh, but it’s true. We were trapped. Desperate. Had to eat rabbits to survive.”

“Subjected to the full force of my brother’s charm, were ye, lass?”

“It was harrowing.”

Cam threw back his head and let out a full-throated roar of laughter that turned heads. “Jo Mitchell, you’re a pure delight. I think I’m in love.”

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “I think you’re weak from hunger, Cam McIntyre. Have some dressing and gravy, it’s delicious.” She ate another bite and smiled up at him. This man was thoroughly charming, but he had nothing on his older brother.

* * *

Part 9 has been posted; check the sidebar for a link.


Filed under A Place to Start

A Place to Start, part 7

I want to take a minute to publicly thank McB, who read an early draft of this story and offered valuable feedback. I’ve always disliked the term “beta reader.” That sounds to me like someone who would agree with everything you say and tell you how pretty you are, while secretly confiding to your friends how deeply concerned they are about your uncombed hair and inability to construct a decent paragraph. So I consider myself extremely fortunate to have friends who are kick-ass delta readers— avid voracious consumers of books who are intelligent and perceptive and courageous enough to tell you when you screw things up or have spinach stuck in your teeth. Thanks, McB. You did it on short notice and at a time when you had many other things to do and I appreciate it.

Once again, with apologies for the repetition, if you’ve just discovered this blog and are wondering why I’ve put some random piece of a story up as a blog post, I’m in the process of posting installments of a 25,000-word novella over here as a gift to my readers. Delta readers, every one of them. If you’re interested and want to read from the beginning, you can find the first post here.

Moving right along, slowly but surely, here is the seventh installment of the story. Hope you enjoy it. Feel free to complain to McB if you don’t. She can handle it. (And no, Trace, she will not send you the rest of the story. Not even if you beg. Because I know where the bodies are buried. Of course, so does she.) (Dear NSA, totally kidding about the bodies. Really. Inside joke. No bodies here, move along.)

A Place to Start

A McIntyre Novella

Book One:  Winter

by KD James

Jo got up off the floor and wiped away the tears and gave herself a stern talking to. She’d had a plan when she decided to come up here and she needed to stick to it. Mac had been a diversion, a very pleasant one certainly, but he was just that. A diversion. Ample evidence that impulsive decisions were a bad idea.

Yes, she’d slept with him. Yes, it was mind-blowingly good. So what. People had casual sex and one night stands all the time. Just because she never had didn’t mean she couldn’t start now. Time to move on. She ignored the pain in the vicinity of her heart and looked around her grandpa’s cabin.

Oh yes. This was the cabin she remembered. The rough timbers and the vaulted ceiling and the natural stone of the massive fireplace covering the far wall. Even the oversized leather couches and chairs that had made her feel small and insignificant as a child. Not that she’d spent much time inside that summer.

She hit the light switches by the door and the entire place was bathed in a warm glow of familiarity. It all came flooding back. Except the thing she remembered most vividly was not the look of the place but the sound of her grandpa’s rough voice calling to her, telling her to be back in time for supper, to stop daydreaming and wash up, to leave the jar of dirt and leaves and bugs outside, to put down the book and go to bed, to get up and rise and shine and drink her milk and brush her teeth.

And where as a child she’d heard stern disapproval, the woman she was now heard the gruff affection and enduring love of a man unsure of how to deal with a child’s pain and loneliness.

Memories of that summer swamped her and the years seemed to fall away, leaving her painfully aware of how stifling and serious and restrained her life had become. Left her yearning for a simpler time. A time so clearly remembered now, being here in this place, she wondered how the memory could ever have dimmed.

Her reminiscing was interrupted by the sound of a truck coming up the drive. Only it sounded like more than one truck.

She went to the door and opened it and saw a pair of pickup trucks had come to a stop in front of the cabin. A middle-aged woman hopped down from the one closest to the front door and walked toward her.

“Hey, there. You must be Joanna. I’m Lucy. Lucy Graham? Your grandpa was a friend.”

“Hello. Yes, of course. Lucy Graham. I saw your name mentioned in the— um, yes, hello. Nice to meet you.”

The woman let loose a gale of easy laughter and walked right over to Jo and wrapped her arms around her in a big strong hug of warmth and welcome. “Hon, I can see from the look on your face just exactly where you’ve heard my name. I swear, that man and his twisted sense of humor.”

Jo braced herself for an explanation that was perhaps too personal, remembering the substantial bequest her grandpa had made to this woman. Among others.

“Your grandpa was a friend, to both me and my husband, Del.” She motioned to the driver of the other pickup truck. “He came to stay with us toward the end, when he couldn’t shake the pneumonia and it got tough to be on his own. It always tickled him no end to pretend there was something flirtatious between us. And me and Del, well, we allowed it. John Blanton was a good man, may God rest his soul. I’m very sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” Flirtatious? Jo stifled a cringe at the thought. She couldn’t imagine her grandpa ever being flirtatious. But she realized that whatever else this woman was, she was a friend. “I’m sorry for your loss as well. I’m not– he was– ” She cleared her throat and started over. “We’d drifted apart and sort of lost touch. We talked on the phone a few times a year, but I hadn’t seen him—” Why was this so hard? She hadn’t once gotten emotional talking about her grandpa in the months since he died. Why now? “It always seemed like there would be time—” She stopped, too choked with regret to continue. Too late.

“Oh, hon. That’s just the way of things. My own kids are the same, always busy. But your grandpa, he loved you like nothing else.”

“He came to my college graduation. It was such a wonderful surprise, but then he refused to stay, said he had to get back.”

“I remember that. He talked about you all the time. We all are just so thrilled to see you back here, all grown up and successful and happy. It’s all he ever wanted for you.”

Jo swallowed the lump in her throat. “Thank you, Lucy. It means the world to me to hear that. Being here like this . . . well, I miss him.”

Lucy patted her arm in a show of compassion. “Del and me, we been keeping John’s truck at our place since he passed. But now you’re here and we figured you might need a way to get around, seeing as how your car got all tore up the other night. We stopped off at Mac’s place first. He said you were up here.”

“Oh my. That’s grandpa’s truck?” She ignored the mention of Mac and looked at the truck in front of her with its extended cab and oversized tires and gleaming chrome dual exhaust pipes and hoped Lucy was joking.

“Quite a piece of work, ain’t she?”


“You won’t have no trouble getting around in the snow with this beauty, that’s for damned sure. John had toolboxes mounted toward the rear on either side of the bed. His tools are still in ’em. Plenty of weight for traction.” Lucy handed her a set of keys.

Jo stared at the keys as if they were a live snake. “I’m not really used to driving something that big. Maybe I should rent a car instead.”

“Hon, ain’t nothing to it. If you can drive a car, this truck is a piece of cake. Is your mom coming up tomorrow for Christmas?”

“My mom? Here?” The sudden change of topic caught her off guard and the mere suggestion of her mother coming to visit made her stomach clench with apprehension. Her mother hated it up here “in the sticks” as she called it. “No. Mother and I don’t really celebrate Christmas anymore. She’s busy in the city with Stan and I always have work and–”

“So you don’t have plans? That’s perfect.” There was an unholy glee on Lucy’s face that Jo had previously attributed only to co-workers assigned the chore of recruiting volunteers for their kids’ school activities.

“Perfect for what?” She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

“A bunch of us have Christmas dinner every year at Maybelle’s diner. All the singles and loners and people whose kids done flown the coop. You should come.”

Christmas dinner with a group of strangers. That sounded innocent enough. Better than spending the evening here alone. She needed to get to know people if she was going to spend time up here. More than that, she realized she wanted to meet them, these people who had known her grandpa.

“I’d love to come. What time should I be there?”

“We start snacking around three o’clock or so. It’s pot luck, for the most part, so bring whatever strikes your fancy.”

“Pot luck? But I don’t have anything here to–”

Del chose that moment to tap on the horn and lean out the truck window. “Woman, I ain’t got all day to wait on your yammering.” He paused a moment and said, “Hey there, Miss Mitchell. Condolences on your loss.” He grabbed the bill of his cap and adjusted its fit on his head. “Lucy, you figure on wrapping this up any time soon? ‘Cause I can come back in a day or two.”

Lucy laughed and waved her hand in good-natured dismissal. “Men. Can’t live with ’em and can’t bury ’em until someone kills them for you. Joanna, we’ll sure be pleased to see you tomorrow for dinner.”

“It’s Jo. I go by Jo. And I’ll be there. Thank you, Lucy.”

“Jo, then. See you tomorrow.”

Lucy turned and made her way over to the truck where her husband waited impatiently, his mock scowl not hiding the affection he clearly felt for his wife.

Jo hadn’t thought about the possibility of meeting people up here, hadn’t thought much at all about the people who had known her grandpa. It hadn’t been part of her plan. And here was Lucy, a woman who had cared for Jo’s grandpa, who had known him well enough to joke with him and be flirtatious with him and was significant enough to him that he’d left her a sizeable sum in his Will. Lucy, who had hugged her and welcomed her without hesitation and invited her to eat dinner with strangers in a place where it seemed there were no strangers.

Jo felt her carefully laid plans make yet another subtle shift and realized she no longer really cared whether she got it all back under control.

* * *

She spent the next couple hours settling in and reacquainting herself with her grandpa’s cabin. Many things were the same, but much had changed. A fourth bedroom had been added on the main floor, a master suite with full bath attached, complete with ADA fixtures that would have made access easier for a man his age. Grandpa hadn’t been disabled, but he’d accumulated the usual limitations and aches and pains of a man who’d lived 92 years.

There was a sturdy handrail beside the shallow steps leading down into the living area and a subtly disguised ramp had been constructed outside, bypassing the steep stairs that led down to the deck.

She’d pulled the truck into the garage earlier, not wanting to clear snow or ice off it if another storm came through, and noticed that the walkway between the garage and house had been covered. And the area in between where cords of firewood were stored and that used to be open-sided now had a solid wall across the back that would block the wind coming down off the mountain.

There were several similar changes, little touches that had surely made his life more comfortable, and she was glad her grandpa had been practical enough to have them made. Conditions could be harsh up here on the mountain and she’d often worried about him living alone at his age.

Of course, he’d scoffed at her concern every time they talked. If he’d had any weaknesses, he sure hadn’t shared them. They hadn’t even known he was sick until it was too late to see him again.

She made her way into the kitchen, wondering whether there was anything in the cupboards she could pull together for lunch. As intimidated as she was by the thought of driving the oversized truck, she needed to go into town and get food.

She opened the fridge out of habit more than anything else. It had been almost ten months since her grandpa had died. If anything were left in the fridge, it was no doubt approaching sentience by now, just waiting to be released.

She was shocked to see the fridge was completely stocked with fresh food. Who would have done this? She hadn’t told anyone she was coming. She’d planned to arrive early enough that contacting someone to get a key once she got there wouldn’t have been a problem. And if it were a problem, she’d have just rented a room at the motel in town until arrangements could be made. But this. This was not done in anticipation of her visit.

And then she realized the obvious. Mac had done this. He’d stayed here with her grandpa on occasion and, as far as she knew, was free to come and go as he pleased. There was no reason to think that had changed after her grandpa died. She went over to the pantry and opened the door. Fully stocked as well. And with many of the same items she’d found stocked in Mac’s cabin, right down to the MREs. Clearly, he was a genius when it came to long-term emergency food planning.

And just as clearly, spending a couple days “trapped” at Mac’s rustic cabin had been unnecessary, given that this place was an easy hike away, even with the snow. Never mind her injured foot and lack of easy mobility, this place with all its amenities would have been the sensible place to take shelter. Provided he’d been at all interested in comfort.

No longer hungry, she climbed the stairs to the second floor, alert now to other signs of Mac’s presence. She found what she was looking for in the smallest of the three bedrooms, the one at the front of the cabin that had the best view. The same one she’d occupied as a child. There was a large worn duffel bag sitting on the neatly made bed, still fully packed. She unzipped it and everything in it smelled like him. She grabbed a fistful of the shirt on top and buried her face in it and her senses were assaulted with memories of Mac and his touch and his taste and his gentle care.

She felt a sharp pang of longing and the hot sting of tears and shoved the shirt back into the bag, zipping it closed. Well, that explained why he hadn’t had a change of clothes earlier. She wondered why he’d left the bag here when doing so meant he’d been as inconvenienced by staying at his cabin as she had been. It indicated a lack of planning on his part and made her wonder whether keeping her there had been a spur of the moment decision.

She decided it didn’t matter, the result was the same either way. She heaved the duffel off the bed and dragged it behind her as she went back downstairs. She set it next to the front door, resolving to drop it off at his cabin on her way into town.

She went back into the kitchen to make herself a sandwich. She hadn’t had anything to eat since the slice of cinnamon bread she’d eaten that morning while standing at the window in Mac’s cabin, admiring the view. It seemed like a lifetime ago.

She should have been ravenous. Instead, she knew she was going to have to force herself to eat.

She’d put a couple slices of cheese and salami between two pieces of bread and was about to bite into it when she heard the sound of a truck in the drive. Somehow, she knew this time that it was Mac. He knocked on the door as she walked toward it and she prepared herself to give him a piece of her mind if he was there to continue their argument. She didn’t care what he said, she was not leaving.

She opened the door and he was standing there with her backpack and suitcase in his hand. In her anger, she’d forgotten about them.

“Thought you’d want these.” He set them down just inside the door without stepping across the threshold.

“Thank you.” She was still angry and not ready to forgive him. She had no tolerance for people who thought she needed to be told what do to. But her anger hadn’t diminished her attraction to him. He was as handsome and rough and distant as ever, yet somehow lacking his usual confidence. As if he were unsure of himself. It made him even more appealing.

She leaned over and picked up his duffel and held it out. “Yours?”

He nodded and took it from her. Then handed her a business card. “My numbers are on here. Call me when you’re ready to head back to the city. I’ll arrange something.”

She glanced at it, saw the name of a prominent architecture firm and then looked back up at him in surprise. This was his backer? Why would they be interested in a piece of land way up here in the mountains? “You work for Duncan McIntyre? In Atlanta?”

He stood there, silent, the moment stretching between them. The look he gave her was inscrutable. “I am Duncan McIntyre.”

And then he left. Just got in his Jeep and drove back down the mountain and left her there, stunned, as her mind reeled with the new knowledge of who he was. And what that meant.

Mac was Duncan McIntyre.

He was an architect. A famous and wildly successful commercial architect, the principal of a firm that bore his name. She remembered the article she’d read in a glossy magazine while waiting at the dentist a couple months ago. It had profiled his company and his success as one of the hottest up-and-coming architects, raving about his talent for seamlessly fitting his designs into the natural surroundings of a place. Of making use of nature rather than razing it to make room for a building.

The article had painted him as something of a recluse, unwilling to talk about himself or his personal life, refusing to have his photo appear with the article. He was quoted as saying that any so-called legacy he left behind should be about the creations, not the man. He was reportedly worth millions, the worth of his company approaching the billion mark. He’d won dozens of awards and was in high demand, turning down lucrative deals when they didn’t meet his standards.

And she’d complimented him on his skill at making crutches.

She cringed as she remembered dismissing his design for a house as being completely lacking in warmth, a design without a heart. How amused he must have been by her gauche opinions. Oh God, and then she’d insulted his earning power and financial ability to buy her property, assuming he must be working for someone else. She wanted to curl up into a ball and disappear.

Instead, she looked around at her grandpa’s cabin with fresh eyes. She thought about all the improvements she’d noticed and saw them with new insight.

Mac was the one who had added all the little touches, and some pretty big ones, that had made her grandpa’s last years more comfortable. She was sure of it. As sure as she’d ever been about anything.

And suddenly it all made sense. Of course he wanted to buy the cabin, he’d practically re-built the entire thing. He’d made this place what it was today. His consideration and hard work were in every touch, every detail. Mac wasn’t a mere caretaker. He’d done so much more than take care of the place where her grandpa lived, he’d cared about the man and his quality of life.

He was one hell of an architect. More than that, he was one hell of a man. And she was beginning to realize the extent to which she’d misjudged him, on both counts.

* * *

Part 8 has been posted; check the sidebar for a link.

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Filed under A Place to Start

A Place to Start, part 6

Taking a quick break from the carnival of cats and the dog and my daughter’s personal belongings strewn all over the place — it’s so good to have her home for an extended visit, chaos notwithstanding — to put up the sixth installment of the story.

If you’ve stumbled across this post at random, I’m in the process of posting a 25,000-word novella in a seemingly endless procession of reportedly patience-testing installments. As a gift to my readers. Because all gifts should be this frustrating for the recipient.

The story starts here, if you’d like to go back and read it from the beginning. I hope you all enjoy this next bit. I’ve got to go clean up cat yak before the dog eats it and then make enough food to feed the small army congregating here later for dinner, but will post more again tomorrow.

A Place to Start

A McIntyre Novella

Book One:  Winter

by KD James

Jo had woken up on the couch with the blanket tucked securely around her, Mac nowhere in sight. She hadn’t expected him to wake her up with hungry kisses and scorching intimacy, not after they’d both agreed what they had shared was purely physical. But she’d hoped. After last night, she couldn’t deny that a part of her had hoped for more. She shook off the thought. No, she wouldn’t make this into something it wasn’t. Neither of them wanted that.

She dressed quickly, smiling at the slight ache in places that hadn’t ached in far too long, ridiculously happy after a night of terrific sex. She helped herself to a cup of coffee, pleased when she saw Mac had already eaten most of one loaf of bread. She cut a slice for herself and stood at the window while she ate, sipping coffee and admiring the view. It made a pretty picture, with the pines towering up against the cloudless blue sky and the sparkling layer of ice coating the landscape, already melting and dripping under the bright winter sun.

She heard a muffled clink of metal striking metal. And then heard it again. It was coming from outside. She leaned closer to the window and saw Mac off to the side of the house, stripped down to a t-shirt and jeans, swinging a sledgehammer over his head to drive a metal wedge into a cut log, the sheer force splitting the log cleanly in two.

Good lord. The man was splitting logs. Effortlessly. Like he was Paul Freaking Bunyan. Was there anything this man couldn’t do? And look good doing it? She watched the flex of muscles in his back and arms and felt a rush of heat as she remembered the feel of those muscles under her hands, of his body over hers. Remembered being awed by the sight of muscles straining with the effort as he held himself in check while she reached to retrieve a condom from her backpack. She’d decided in that moment that the best part of being prepared was when it allowed you to be impulsive.

She watched as Mac set the sledgehammer aside, retrieved his jacket and flannel shirt from a nearby stump and stalked back to the cabin. He looked tired, like he hadn’t slept. And he looked angry.

A tingle of unease slid down her spine and her cheerful greeting died unspoken when he strode into the cabin, barely nodded at her, mumbled something that sounded like “need to clean up” and went straight through to the bathroom.

What was this? No smile? No hug or a quick kiss? Not even a polite “good morning” for her? She understood morning after regret, but this seemed a bit extreme. She heard the shower turn on. She remembered the icy cold water and shuddered. It stayed on for a good ten minutes.

When he finally came out of the bathroom his hair was a wet tousled mess, as if he’d simply run his fingers through it in lieu of a comb. He was wearing the same jeans but had put on the flannel shirt she’d left hanging from a hook in the bath when she got her own clothes back. Didn’t he have another change of clothes?

He looked far too serious for a man who had done what they’d done last night. She set her coffee cup down on the table with a shaky hand, knowing one more sip would curdle in her stomach. “Mac? What’s wrong?”

“Put your boots on and get your jacket. Meet me out at the truck.”

Just like that? Without an explanation? “Where are we going?”

“There’s something I need to show you.” She couldn’t help but notice that he wouldn’t look her in the eye. This didn’t feel like simple morning after regret. It felt far worse than that. Something was very wrong.

She put on her boots and jacket, grabbing her gloves and hat as well, and followed him out to the truck, no longer needing the crutches but sliding a bit on the thin glaze of ice. “The roads are icy, Mac.”

“The main roads are just wet.” He gestured toward the tires. “I have chains for the rest. Get in.”

There were indeed chains on the tires. She got in, in spite of his high-handed ordering her around, and he set out down the long icy drive.

Neither of them spoke as he turned onto the main road and drove a short distance further up the mountain before slowing to turn at another private road that climbed up into the trees. The crunch of the chains broke the silence as they bit into the icy drive, ice that was already turning wet in spots where the sun filtered through the winter bare trees.

They drove for perhaps another half mile before a sharp turn revealed a structure up ahead. A cabin perched high on the side of the mountain, though it was more a house than a cabin.

Oh, yes, she knew this place.

She sat up straighter, her pulse racing now with excitement. He’d brought her to her grandpa’s cabin. Finally. As he pulled the truck to a stop, she turned to him with a smile, ready to thank him for letting go of the ruse, but closed her mouth when she saw the look on his face. His jaw was clenched so hard it was a wonder his teeth didn’t shatter. His bare hands were tight on the steering wheel, knuckles white. He made no move to get out of the truck.

“I was starting to think you weren’t going to bring me here,” she said quietly, caution in her voice. Certain he was angry, uncertain as to why.

“You recognize it.”

“Yes. I’ve been here before.”

“How long?”

She knew what he was asking. “I suspected that first night. But knew for sure the next morning when I saw your place in daylight.”

“You didn’t say anything.”

She shrugged, as if it didn’t matter. “I knew you weren’t being completely honest with me. What I didn’t know was why. I was curious. So I waited.”

He made a noise that wasn’t quite a grunt and she couldn’t tell what he was thinking. He still hadn’t looked at her.

She filled the silence. “My dad died when I was eight,” she said, her voice quiet with remembrance of a painful time. “Mother was having a tough time dealing with . . . everything. She brought me up here to stay with her dad while she sorted things out. It felt for a while like I’d lost both of them.” She paused for a moment, collecting herself. “I was here for several weeks that summer. Grandpa sort of let me run wild. I’ve never forgotten it. It’s a magical place.”

“It’s not magical.” His voice was cold. Angry. “It’s hard and rough and dangerous and you don’t belong here.”

“What? Excuse me, what did you say?” He was looking at her now, his face taut with tension, eyes hard with determination.

“You don’t belong here. You’ve lived in a city all your life and don’t know how to survive up here. A woman like you, alone and unprepared, you’d never make it through even one winter.”

She was stunned by his words and his intensity and felt her anger ratcheting up to meet his. What the hell was going on here? “Are you going to tell me there are no women living up here? Only rough, tough men?”

“Most of the women here grew up on the mountain. They know the dangers. And damned few of them live alone.”

The implication being that they had a man to take care of them, she supposed. Good God, where had this attitude come from all of a sudden? She was almost speechless. Almost.

“Who are you to talk to me this way? One night of fantastic sex and you think you have the right?”

If anything, his expression got harder, more implacable. “That has nothing to do with this. That’s not what this is about.”

“Then what is it about?”

“I’m prepared to buy it from you.”

“You— what?

“The house, the land, all of it. I’ll make you a generous offer.”

The land. Of course it was about the land.

And to think she’d dared to hope, for a few short hours last night, that he’d been interested in her. Just a little. She opened her mouth and closed it again, not sure what to even say to him. One look at his face told her he wasn’t kidding around. He had set a goal and was going after it, whatever it took. Whoever it hurt. No regrets.

God, what a nightmare. She hadn’t even been inside, hadn’t had a chance to see the place as an adult, let alone had time to make up her own goddamned mind about what she wanted to do. And he was offering to buy the place? Hell, practically ordering her to sell it to him. Incredible. The gall. What sheer arrogance.

She was beyond angry. The look she gave him was as cold as the ice outside. “You should know that we had it appraised. It’s worth a lot of money.” The insult was not intended to be subtle. She named a figure that had his face flushing with anger.

“That is fucking ridiculous.” He fairly exploded with anger. “Who in the bloody hell gave you that figure?”

She wondered how much less he’d been planning to offer and felt smug satisfaction and biting disappointment at the same time. She’d been right. He’d been planning to take charge of her life and cheat her out of her inheritance. Bastard. Then she realized he was still talking.

“Unfuckingbelievable. Whoever quoted that price is trying to steal you blind. The land alone is worth at least fifty percent more than that. And that’s not even taking into account the buildings on it. I’ll offer you twice that amount and consider it a bargain.”

She met his angry glare with one of her own. Then she turned and stared straight ahead out the windshield at the cabin. So she’d been wrong about the money part of it. Or had she? Where was he going to get that kind of money? Maybe he was working for a developer. Maybe the land was worth far more than that if they re-zoned for commercial development.

Whatever, he was still a controlling bastard and she’d had enough. She no longer cared why he’d kept her away from this place, though she could guess. She was here now and she wasn’t leaving until she was good and damned ready.

She wasn’t going to argue with him about it. “My plan hasn’t changed. I’m staying until after New Year’s. I think you should leave now.”

“I can’t just leave you here.”

She heard the word “alone” at the end of his sentence, even though he hadn’t said it, and her anger forged itself into steely resolve. “You can and you will. I assume you have a key?” She held out her hand without looking at him, her stare still fixed on the cabin. Her cabin.

She felt something hard and cold touch her palm and closed her fingers over the key. She opened the truck door and shrugged him off when she felt him place a hand on her arm.

“Damn it, Jo–”

She got out of the truck and turned to look him straight in the eye, practically vibrating with fury. “I am an adult, capable of making my own decisions. This is my cabin. My land. And you can tell whichever developer sent you here that it’s not for sale.”

She slammed the truck door, walked over to the cabin and let herself in, and then slammed that door as well, locking it behind her. And immediately felt childish for her tantrum. Who the hell slams doors? At this rate, next she’d be stomping her feet.

She stood there with her back against the door, rigid with anger, refusing to look out the window, waiting until she heard the sound of the truck engine fade as he drove away. Then she slowly sank down until she was sitting on the bare wood floor, feeling the cold of it seeping deep into her very bones while bitter tears streamed down her face.

She wondered whether she’d ever feel warm again.

* * *

Bloody fucking hell. Mac was so angry with himself he could barely keep his truck on the road. She thought he was working for a developer? That was one of the reasons he wanted the land, to keep the goddamned clear-cutting developers out of the area. If there was a way he could have screwed this up worse than he had, he wasn’t sure what it might be. God, he was an idiot.

He’d known it was a mistake to sleep with her last night. Knew she’d question his motives once she realized he wanted to buy the land. And he’d done it anyway. He’d wanted her so badly, and when he’d seen the same desire in her eyes he hadn’t been able to resist the passion between them. He’d woken up in her arms, more content than he’d ever been in his life. And at the same time, absolutely furious with himself.

He’d tried to find a way to explain the situation, a way that didn’t hurt Jo, and all he’d come up with was to tell her the truth. To take her up to John’s cabin, make an offer for the land, and hope she’d take it. It was a generous offer, one he was more than happy to make, even without that promise he’d made to John. She’d be crazy not to take it. And then she’d go back to Atlanta where she’d belonged. But he’d been frustrated with the situation and so damned angry with himself and he’d made a mess of it.

He’d seen her working it through in her head the way she did, sorting out all the angles. And then coming up with the worst possible explanation.

He pulled the truck up in front of his cabin and just sat there, fuming, telling himself he was too angry to go inside. Avoiding the inevitable.

A developer. By the gods, did she know nothing about him at all? No, he realized, she didn’t. He’d made sure of that, hadn’t he? Some plan he’d had. Keep her stranded in his cabin for a few days, give her the silent treatment, let her experience how harsh life on the mountain could be without the comforts of home and she’d be begging to leave. Only it hadn’t worked out that way. She’d been perfectly content in his drafty cabin with its lack of amenities. Content? Hell, she’d loved it.

He got out of the truck, slamming his door just as hard as Jo had earlier. He stomped over to the cabin and went inside and was hit by a flood of memories that nearly brought him to his knees.

Her presence was everywhere. Her coffee cup on the table, a forgotten scarf on the back of a chair, the lingering scent of fresh cinnamon bread and the pine branches she’d brought inside. Her backpack leaned against the end of the couch, her notebook on the floor next to it. And the pile of blankets— would he ever be able to sit on that couch again without remembering how he’d lifted her onto it as she slept and tucked her in after spending the night in her arms?

He walked over and picked up her notebook. He turned to a page with a drawing of that quirky, sassy, cute-as-hell rabbit and gently traced one finger over it. Just as he had the first time he’d seen it.

Damn it, this was intolerable. Unreasonable. He’d barely known her three days. They’d agreed not to get involved with each other and he’d meant it. He kept his relationships short and casual. It was for the best. He had no intention of getting involved with someone again, only to have it end in disillusion and pain and remorse.

Driven by the sudden need to reclaim his space, he packed up all her things. Writing tools went into her backpack. The scarf, her clothes and what few toiletries she’d left in the bathroom went into her suitcase. He washed her coffee cup and shoved the remaining loaf of bread into the fridge. He hesitated over the greenery and cursed a blue streak when he couldn’t quite make himself throw it out.

He carried her bags over and propped them next to the door and looked around the cabin. Expecting to feel relief. Expecting it to feel like his place again. Instead, it just felt empty.

Bloody hell. He missed her.

* * *

Part 7 has been posted; check the sidebar for a link.

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