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Authors: Becky Barker

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense

Stowaway (7 page)

BOOK: Stowaway
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He cocked a brow at her. “You were easy last night?”

The little joke didn’t sway her. She nodded without losing eye contact or cracking a smile.

“Hmm, I guess I can trust you if you swear you won’t—”

“Do anything stupid?” she finished for him.

“Go anywhere, contact anyone or try to use them on me,” he finished. “Do we have a deal?”

Chapter Five

Keri agreed to his terms because it suited her for the moment. She didn’t welcome the glitch in her vacation plans, but neither did she want the hassle of taking him back to town. She could tolerate him for a couple days if he didn’t try changing the rules again. He hadn’t shot Don and a punch to his shoulder could quash any funny business. She had no desire to hurt him, but neither did she feel threatened.

“Put the gun and handcuffs back in the first-aid kit while I make coffee,” she said.

“Are you always so bossy?” he asked, doing as she suggested and then following her to the kitchen.

“It’s how things get done,” she replied absently while filling the coffeepot and switching it to brew.

Lamanto leaned against the doorjamb. She gave him a cursory glance. He had a bed head and his skin looked pasty. Dark shadows ringed his eyes, a result of too much blood loss.

“Sit down before you collapse. I need to go to the bathroom and then I’ll fix some breakfast.”

“I can cook.”

“Sit,” she commanded, brooking no argument. Her gaze didn’t waver until he’d taken a seat at the table.

She grabbed a fresh sweatsuit, went to the bathroom and splashed water on her face. The old, darkened mirror above the sink had a crack down the middle, but it still showed her looking nearly as bad as her patient. Even though she kept her hair in a short, easy style, it still stuck out in every direction after a night’s sleep. It helped to run a wet comb through it.

Her face looked pale. She tanned easily, but these past few months she hadn’t spent much time in the sun. All work and no play made Keri a dull girl. The refrain ran through her mind as she brushed her teeth, put on clean clothes and headed back to the kitchen.

The smell of freshly brewed coffee energized her as she began collecting bread, eggs and milk. The supplies she’d thought would last at least a week had already been depleted by half a gallon of milk and half a loaf of bread.

“Scrambled eggs and toast is the best I can offer,” she said, trying not to feel self-conscious as she moved around the tight confines of the kitchen. Lamanto’s close proximity unnerved her more than she cared to admit.

“Sounds great. I think I’ll hit the bathroom while you cook,” he added, pushing himself to his feet.

Keri let out a small sigh as he left the room. She could breathe easier without him so close. Silly, of course, but a fact. She wasn’t used to having her personal space invaded by attractive strangers.

 

Rain pelted the cabin as they ate breakfast. The old tin roof intensified the sound in the heavy silence. Thunder rolled, lightning flashed and the building shuddered in the force of the wind. The temperature steadily dropped.

When they’d cleaned their plates, Keri cleared the table and lit the wall-mounted space heater. It would keep the chill off the back of the house.

“You have gas out here?”

“A propane storage tank out back. Everything is powered by propane, even the generator for electric.”

She poured a second cup of coffee for each of them and sat down again. The sound of the rain on the roof changed. “We’re getting some sleet or hail,” she commented. “I guess Dwayne could be right about snow.”

“Do you get much snow up here?” Lamanto asked.

His strained tone drew Keri’s gaze to his face. She’d avoided looking at him while they ate, but now she noticed how drawn and weak he appeared. The nurse in her knew he should be in bed.

“We can get heavy snow, but it doesn’t stay on the ground long. Not this early in the season. The temperature can vary as much as thirty degrees in a day.” She lifted a brow. “Are you worried about getting snowed in?”

He gave her a lopsided grin. “No, but I need sleep. And as you pointed out, you’re in a whole lot better shape right now. I’m wondering how much I can trust you.”

“So, you’re hoping we’ll be snowbound?”

He held her gaze and slowly nodded. “You didn’t comment on the trust issue.”

“How much can you trust me?” She played along even though she had no intention of stepping a foot outside the cabin. “You’re wondering if I’ll make a mad dash for home the minute you go to sleep.”

He gave her a slow nod.

“We have a truce. I promised. You can take it or leave it. We really don’t have any choice but to trust each other, do we?”

Thunder rumbled in the distance but the pounding on the roof lessened. The room grew quiet as their gazes remained locked. When Keri began to feel an unwelcome fascination with the depths of his eyes, she shifted her attention back to her coffee. After swallowing the last drop, she said, “Better let me check your wound and then get back to bed.”

Lamanto finished his coffee and pushed his chair from the table. He shrugged off one arm of the flannel shirt and then slowly tugged it off his bad arm. Keri watched as his flat stomach and rippling abs were slowly bared. She scolded herself for the physical reaction, but then reminded herself that any warm-blooded female would feel the same. It was just the chemistry of the human species.

To dispel the sizzle of attraction, she pulled latex gloves from her first-aid kit and moved around the table. He spread his legs and she stepped between them to reach the bandage. She could feel the heat of his thighs brushing against her legs and her pulse quickened. It had been much easier to tend his wound when she’d been too exhausted to react to all the testosterone.

After carefully checking the stitches, she taped fresh gauze over them and pressed it in place. She worked in silence but felt Lamanto’s steady gaze on her face. He didn’t look toward his shoulder or watch her hands, only her face. She kept her expression and tone bland, but her nerves began to prickle.

“It’s healing nicely with minimal seepage. It feels a little hot to the touch, so I’ll get you more ibuprofen.” Stepping aside, she peeled the gloves off her hands and threw them in the trash. Reaching back into her kit, she realized her hands were trembling. It bruised her professional ego.

“Thanks,” he said, taking the pills and washing them down with the glass of water she offered. When he started to pull his shirt back on, Keri realized his good hand wasn’t too steady, either. She took the shirt from him, turned it right side out and then helped him get back into it. The shirt was big enough to ease his bad arm into it as well.

“It’s getting colder in here. I’ll get a fire started, but you should be warm enough in bed.”

He frowned. “I can’t just go to bed if you need help.”

“I don’t want help. I have everything I need and plenty of experience doing what needs to be done.” Right now, she wanted space so she could breathe without inhaling the scent of him or move without feeling the heat of his gaze. “Go back to bed.”

Lamanto slowly nodded and rose from his chair. She followed him into the living room.

“I’ll rest on the couch.”

“Bed,” she insisted tersely.

“Is your nickname Ratchet?”

“I’m a damned good nurse.”

Lamanto kept mumbling and grumbling, but he went into the bedroom without more argument. She heard the squeak of the old bedsprings and sighed.

The sound of the storm had lessened. Keri looked out the window to see wildly blowing snow. Giant flakes whirled, creating a blinding curtain of white, obscuring trees still laden with leaves. A chill coursed over her and she realized how much the temperature in the cabin had dropped.

After kindling a flame in the fireplace, she put some logs on to burn and busied herself in the kitchen. First the dishes because she couldn’t stand having dirty dishes in the sink. Jack called her obsessive. She preferred order in her life. Trauma nursing led to chaos in her career, so she controlled her personal life as best she could.

Next she braved the weather to finish unloading her SUV. Finding Lamanto amongst her supplies had kept her from collecting everything last night. It took a few trips, but she gathered extra clothes and bedding without getting it all soaked.

Once she’d done that, she moved back to the kitchen. As she started unpacking a box of grocery staples, an image of her mother popped into her mind. A mature version of the image she saw in the mirror each day. Her dear, loving, devoted mother; her empathetic cohort in a testosterone-filled household. Her mother had doubled as a parent, a friend and the sister she’d always wanted.

A sob caught at her throat and tears stung her eyes, but she wouldn’t let them fall. “Mom,” she whispered quietly. “I miss you so much.”

It had been more than two years now, but the grief still ambushed her, the pain as fresh as the day she’d awakened from a coma to learn her mother had died in the crash that nearly killed her too. Her chest tightened as she choked back the tears. It was still hard to think of her mom without hurting.

Elaine Merritt had been a good-natured, generous person who loved cooking and caring for her family. Her mom had insisted on packing baking staples when they came to the cabin, even for a short time. Sugar, flour, shortening, salt, soda, canned milk, dry pasta, beans and rice, she’d had a list of what she considered the basic necessities.

Even though Keri depended more on frozen entrees, she’d still packed her mom’s staples. Good thing since she had an unexpected guest with a big appetite. Thoughts of him had her dumping a bag of frozen beef stew into the slow cooker for dinner. Lamanto would wake up hungry, and her cooking skills couldn’t compete with her mom’s.

She found a tissue, swiped at her eyes and blew her nose. Exhaustion had to be at the root of the melancholy, exhaustion and a return to the cabin. She’d been determined but wary of coming back. That’s why she hadn’t wanted her dad or brother to witness her return, in case she totally fell apart. She’d hoped it would be emotionally cathartic rather than devastating.

Lamanto had unwittingly eased the return. He’d kept her distracted from the heartache and loss. Not that she ever planned to admit as much to him. Nor did she want anyone to know she planned her own investigation of the accident that had cost her so much.

A glance toward the radio unit had her wondering if she should try to get a message to her dad. Part of her knew it would be the logical thing to do, but a larger part wanted to honor the promise she’d made her stowaway. He’d trusted her enough to go back to bed.

Or had he just trusted the storm would force her to keep her word? Keri supposed she could sneak in there and handcuff his good arm to the bed, but what purpose would it serve? If he hadn’t shot Don, that made him a victim rather than a criminal. Who knew?

Shaking her head, she went to the living, put a fat log on the fire and grabbed a book from another box she’d packed. She loved to read but rarely had time, so curling up on the sofa opposite the fire made perfect sense. What could be better than a good book on a stormy afternoon?

A nap? She answered her own question awhile later as she tried to focus on the storyline but failed. Pulling an afghan over her shoulders, she closed her eyes and drifted to sleep.

When she woke, dusk had fallen. The fire flickered and the cabin smelled like beef stew. Her stomach rumbled as she lifted her arms over her head and stretched the stiffness from her limbs.

“Whatever’s cooking sure smells good.” Lamanto’s sleepy voice shattered the stillness as he made his way from the bedroom.

She tossed aside the afghan and sat up straight, her gaze shifting to him as he moved closer. He still looked pale but more rested. They both had a lot of catching up to do on sleep.

“Stew and it’s probably ready if you’re hungry. I’ll put some biscuits in the oven. It won’t take more than a half-hour.”

“You’re going to whip up some homemade biscuits?” he asked, his tone brighter.

“I’m going to open a can,” she corrected.

“Oh,” he replied, flashing her a grin. “If I had two good arms, I’d whip up some biscuits.”

“You’re a good cook?”

“Not as good as my dad, but I can hold my own in the kitchen.”

“Your dad’s a chef?”

“Only for the family. My mama says she wins the bread and Papa bakes it.”

Keri smiled. She liked the way he said mama and Papa. There was something very old-world respectful and endearing about it.

“Wow,” he said, his gaze settling on her face. “You’re really beautiful when you smile.”

The compliment had her drawing her brows together in a frown. She wanted to chastise him for flirting, yet his words sounded so genuine. The thought brought a blush to her cheeks and warmth to her body. She redirected the conversation.

“Your mother is the bread winner of the family?”

Lamanto nodded but didn’t elaborate. He just kept looking at her, making her feel self-conscious about her wrinkled clothes and wild hair. Rising from the sofa, she smoothed both and asked, “What does she do?”

“Who?” he asked, his tone distracted.

She propped her hands on her hips and stared at him. “Your mother. We’re talking about your mother.”

“She sells candy.”

Okay then. Enough with the small talk. Her patient needed to wake up and clear his head. She noticed his right hand was supporting his left arm.

“How’s your arm?”

He finally shifted his gaze from her to his shoulder. “Better.”

“I should have made you a sling. I’ll do that before we eat.”

“What can I do to help?”

She didn’t really need help, but she told him to add some logs to the fire while she went in search of something to support his injured arm. They met again in the kitchen where she cut a wide strip of fabric from an old pillowcase.

“I think this will work,” she said, moving close to him again. She slid the fabric under his forearm and fashioned the support before pulling the edges together. He bent his knees so she could reach behind his head to knot the ends. Eye to eye, they stared at each other as tension sprang between them, as sudden and fierce as the earlier storm. Her breathing stuttered as their bodies brushed.

BOOK: Stowaway
5.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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