Maybe with her sitting, watching, I’d be able to draw something out of me.

But as I sit here, staring at the screen, all I can think about is the fact she’s elsewhere in the cabin.

Sighing, I push back from the desk and look across the room at Tanker. He’s in a tight ball right beneath the wide windows, like a painting with the rain streaking down the glass.

“I thought you were supposed to be scared,” I say.

He cocks his head, half-opens one eye, and then rests his chin on his paws.

I stand and wander over to the door. “You sleep, boy. There’s something I need to do.”

Walking down the hallway is a mistake. So is heading downstairs and poking my head into the living room. These are all steps toward acting on my heated desire again.

The wide mantelpiece is covered in ornaments from my travels from all over the US, with playing cards from Vegas, a bottle from Vermont, and a World War Two service pistol an old man gave me in Texas.

Rayla stands at the mantelpiece, gazing down at a bayonet knife.

“I won that shooting pool in Arizona,” I say, my eyes moving over her.

She’s wearing another dress this morning, a long one that goes from her heaving chest down to her toes. But the fabric is light, the sort that mists over her flesh, showing the outline of her hips and legs beneath.

Turning, her smile comes alive. Her features bloom and I have to stamp down on something deep inside to stop myself from leaping across the room.

“Are you serious?” she says.

I nod and stroll into the room, knowing I’m coming too close, dangerously close. But I can’t stop myself as I reach over and heft up the bayonet – the blade that would be attached to the end of a rifle.

“I was playing the drifter, down there to research a novel about meth gangs. This biker was out of his mind, and this was all he had left to bet. We played and I won.”

“And then the biker had nothing?”

I nod, hefting the blade. “I wanted to slip him some money, but he was half-dead from that shit as it was. Losing that pool game bought him one night of freedom from his goddamn drug.”

I know I’ve said too much, given away too much of myself in the rumbling of my tone. I want to snatch it back as I study her, but of course, she’s too perceptive and alert to let something like that slide.

“You don’t like drugs, I take it?”

“No, I do not.” My voice rumbling with rage. “But we don’t need to talk about that. I don’t judge people for what they do. But I’ve seen what drugs can do to people, how bad it can fuck them up.”

She stares, and I feel the past pounding at the locked trunk inside of me. Usually, I can keep it tightly contained, but it’s like Rayla has stomped all over my defenses, making things susceptible and vulnerable when they never were before.

She’s making me human again.

“My parents were drug addicts. They raised me in a crack den. I moved out when I was twelve and now they’re both dead. They both fucking OD’d. Okay? There, there it is.”

She flinches at the anger in my voice, and for a moment I think she’s going to step away from me. But then our closeness blooms and she steps forward, coming so close I could reach out and touch her if I wanted.

And I do want to. Badly. Achingly. More than I’ve ever wanted to touch anything or anyone before.

“It’s okay,” she murmurs, reaching up and laying her hand flat against my chest.

I feel her touch burning through the fabric of my T-shirt. I’ve changed out of my gym clothes, but it doesn’t matter. There could be miles of fabric separating us and our bodies would be alive to each other, effortlessly sparking and primed.

“You can talk about it if you want,” she whispers.

My fingers twitch as my mind wars with my body. I need to think of Millie, of how shy and reserved she was during her childhood, of how happy she was when she told me she’d made a new friend at college. I need to think of her face turning cold when she learns what we’ve done.

“I don’t need to talk about it.” Reaching up, I lay my hand atop hers, adding more pressure so her palm blazes through my T-shirt, hot against my skin. “They never should’ve been parents. I learned to fight for everything I got. And I learned…”

“What?” Her voice is soft, coaxing.

“To never let myself feel,” I snarl.

“Is that why you were never very close with Millie’s mother?”

My daughter’s name sends a shockwave through the room, shattering the moment, and I let Rayla’s hand drop. I pace over to the window, my hands behind my back, staring out at the lake as it warps and shifts in the storm. The water flows endlessly over the shore, swilling up great masses of reeds and grass and mud.

Tags: Flora Ferrari Romance