Read Stranded With a Hero Online

Authors: Karen Erickson,Coleen Kwan,Cindi Madsen,Roxanne Snopek

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #General, #Anthologies (Multiple Authors), #Collections & Anthologies, #friends to lovers, #playboy, #enemies to lovers, #sheriff, #firefighter, #opposites attract, #snowed in, #officer, #holiday romance, #Christmas, #rebel

Stranded With a Hero (5 page)

BOOK: Stranded With a Hero
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Chapter Five

If he thought the house was quiet earlier before they’d gone to bed, it was extra- quiet now. Like a death tomb. However he was feeling anything but dead-and-gone-like.

Though Mindy had certainly dropped a bomb on him with a few simple words, it wasn’t the bad sort of bomb. More like the blow-his-mind, wow-that-came-out-of-nowhere, sure-I’m-up-to-it kind.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to. I mean, uh—Oh God, I don’t know what I mean.” She tipped her head back, staring up at the ceiling for a moment as if she needed to gather her thoughts. The glow from the fire cast her face in shadow, but he saw the despair. The worry.

He was feeling just
enough to make her twist in the wind for a little bit.

“Spit it out, Min. Say what you gotta say.” He scooted closer to her, a subtle movement she didn’t seem to notice, she was so traumatized over her request. A request he would undoubtedly bestow, since the more he thought about it, the better it sounded.

A moment he’d wanted for years was being handed to him on a silver platter. No way was he going to pass this up.

But she was an overthinker so he needed to make his move and soon. He could see those cogs turning in her brain at this very moment. Having her worry for too long would ruin it. There was a fine line when dealing with Mindy.

Should he make a move, though? Things were cozy and almost perfect right now between the two of them but it could all change the minute they escaped the house. Everything could go back to normal. She might forget all about him, and he’d be left with a broken heart.


It was that easy for him, gaining back those feelings for Mindy. Stupid, he knew, but he couldn’t help it. He’d always had a thing for her. Always. It’d just been lying dormant all these years.

“I just…I’ve been thinking about it. What happened between us. All the what-ifs and the whys and the how did I let our friendship die like it never mattered to me.” Her gaze met his, full of sadness and regret and so much more than he could ever know or probably even understand. “Because it
matter to me. You were such a big part of my life for so long and then I let you go because I thought Marty was what I wanted. I focused on nothing else but him and our relationship. He didn’t…want me hanging out with you. He wanted me to all to himself and I believed I wanted that too, at the time. He never gave me time to consider what I really wanted.”

Jealousy brewed within him but he tamped it down. Marty Fenton was a total asshole. “You thought you wanted it,” Josh pointed out, hating yet again how she always seemed to blame herself for her relationship and subsequent failed marriage. “You were young, Min. We all make mistakes when we’re young. Look at what a jackass
was. After you rejected me, I didn’t talk to you again for months. I had you in three classes that year. Yet I somehow avoided you like the plague.”

“I hardly noticed,” she admitted, her voice soft and full of regret. “I was too wrapped up in Marty.”

Yeah, she had been. Even though their school had frowned upon obvious public displays of affection, Marty had been the king and master of PDA back in the day. He’d had his hands and lips all over Mindy in the hallways between classes, at lunch, after school.

It had burned Josh, seeing them together. How much he hated Marty for stealing his best friend. The girl he’d always wanted but had never been brave enough to make his own. Marty had made him feel like a loser and that’s what had burned the most.

“But that’s dead and gone,” Mindy continued, shaking herself as if shaking all those old memories with Marty out of her. “Clearly, whatever you might’ve felt for me all those years ago is dead and gone, too, so I’ll just go ahead and do as you suggested. Grab a couple of extra blankets and head back upstairs so I can sleep it off. Good night, Josh. Hope the couch is comfortable enough for you.”

She tried to make her quick escape but he was faster, grabbing hold of her wrist and not letting her go. “So that’s it? You make your request, don’t wait for my answer, and then leave me here, all within five minutes?”

“I thought your non-answer was your answer.” She sounded—and looked—completely perplexed. And completely adorable.

“I definitely didn’t answer.” He slowly shook his head, his thumb sweeping along the sensitive skin inside her wrist. Her fingers curled, the tips brushing against the edge of his hand and triumph surged through him. He knew he got a reaction out of her with that one simple touch. What if he really went for it?

His brain was fully engaged now and out of sleep mode. Time to kick it up a notch.

“What are you saying, Josh?” Her voice had dropped to a breathy whisper, full of all sorts of promise and potential and his brain kicked straight into overdrive.

“This is by far the most confusing conversation I’ve ever had, all for a rather simple request, don’t you think?” He sat up straighter, pulling himself closer to her, and he braced his free hand on the couch, close to Mindy’s hip. “I mean, all you asked for was a kiss.”

A trembling breath left her, with a hint of mint from her toothpaste and he wondered if she tasted minty, too. “It was stupid.”

He raised his brows. “What? Asking for a kiss?”

“Yes. I shouldn’t have done it. Here we are, trying to become tentative friends again and instead I’m blowing it. Asking for more than you could ever want to give.”

“Who said I didn’t want to give you what you asked for?” He was mean, making her scramble but it was sort of fun. Reminded him of how he used to tease her when they were kids. “Like I said, it’s only a kiss.”

“If it’s only a kiss, then why are we talking so much about it?” A little whimper escaped her when he reached out and tucked a stray tendril of hair behind her ear, then smoothed the side of her face with his index finger. Damn, her skin was soft.

“I don’t know. Maybe you’re nervous. You always did like to chatter when you’re nervous, Min.”

A huff of laughter left her and her eyes sparkled in the dim glow of the firelight. “Even after all these years you don’t forget, do you?”

“I can’t forget anything if it has to do with you. It’s all locked up in my brain. Every little fact about you, every tiny thing. You consumed me for years yet you had no idea. When it was…over between us, I was devastated. Sick. Mad. Jealous as hell.” He shook his head, banishing his thoughts. “But that’s all in the past and I’m over feeling that way. I’m all for letting it go.”

“Me, too.” She closed her eyes when he traced the delicate line of her jaw with his index finger. “I—oh, wow, I never thought it could be like this between us.”

“Like what?” He had no idea where she was going with this but he didn’t care. He knew
where he was going in about thirty seconds.

Straight for her lips.

“So easy. Sexy.” She swallowed hard, and he caught the movement of her throat. “I really wish you would kiss me now, if you’re going to do it.”

“What if I want you to wait? Anticipation is half the fun,” he teased, feeling like a jackass yet he was also enjoying himself. Hopefully she’d understand, she’d get him.

And hopefully he’d make this kiss worth the wait.

“The anticipation is slowly starting to kill me,” she admitted.

“Hmm, well we wouldn’t want that to happen because that means you’d miss out. And we can’t have that.” He cupped her cheek, stroked her baby-soft skin with the tips of his fingers as he drew her in. Close. Closer, their lips perfectly aligned, their heads to the side, their body language speaking to each other big-time and liking what the other had to say.

“Josh.” His name was an achy little whisper, her voice sending an arrow of lust straight through him to settle between his thighs. Damn, the woman was good. Too good. And they hadn’t really even done anything yet.

“Yeah?” He kissed her cheek, the petal-soft skin, the scent of her fragrance driving him wild. If he didn’t watch it, he’d push her down on this couch, strip off her clothing, and have his wicked way with her for the rest of the night.

“P-please.” Ah, she was stuttering. Time to put her out of her misery and close the deal.

He brushed her mouth with his in a featherlight kiss. Once. Twice. Slid his hand from her cheek into her hair and pulled her close to him, his fingers curling into the silky strands, tightening his hold. She opened for him and he swept his tongue inside her mouth, sliding it against hers, the kiss deepening, heating. A soft murmur of pleasure left her and he swallowed it, devouring her, taking the kiss even deeper, hotter in a matter of seconds.

His blood rushed through his veins, settling in his groin. Just like that he wanted her. More than ever before.

And for once, he was glad of it. Wanted to prove to her this was more than a simple kiss to make up for old times. That maybe what they had here could be something real and good and full of so much promise…

He broke the kiss first before it got too out of hand and stared at her, loving how flushed and tousled she looked. Pride surged through him.
put that look on her face and her hair was a total mess because of
fingers. “Now that—”

“Was amazing,” she finished for him, offering a shaky little laugh that really wasn’t any sort of answer.

“You think?” He trailed his thumb across her cheek, her lip, exhaling harshly when she caught the edge of his thumb with her teeth, nibbling slightly before she released him.

She nodded. “Definitely.”

“Then maybe we should do it one more time? To make sure we’re compatible?” And before she could reply, he was kissing her again.

And he enjoyed every single blessed minute of it.

The man had a skilled, lush mouth that knew just how to kiss her straight into oblivion, that much was for sure. The rush of pleasure that pulsed through her body made her literally crave his touch, his mouth, his tongue.

Oh God, his tongue.

Mindy slid her hands up his solid wall of a chest, marveling at all the restrained strength she felt there. He’d been narrower when they were younger, no surprise. Josh had definitely filled out in all the right places. His skin was hot through the fabric of his shirt, his muscles hard. She curved her hands around his shoulders, giving them a squeeze before she wound her arms around his neck and buried her hands in his hair.

A little groan escaped him when she pulled him in closer and a thrill moved through her. She felt powerful, exhilarated. Did she affect him as much as he affected her? God, she really hoped so.

“Min.” He broke away from her, pressed his forehead to hers. His breathing was harsh, matching hers and she cracked open her eyes to study him, startled by his agonized expression. “We should stop.”

“Why?” She tried to kiss him again, but he dodged her before her lips could settle on his. “Playing hard to get?”

He chuckled. “No. Just—after all these years, I don’t want to rush it. Rush us.”

His words both touched her heart and drove her crazy. She’d been without male company for so long. She was craving this. Craving Josh.

“It’s not that I don’t want you, because trust me, I do.” Reaching for her, he took her hand and placed it directly over his crotch. “It’s just…the last thing I want to do is screw this up.”

She breathed deep, stroking him lightly, and she heard his unmistakable shuddering groan. “You want me.”

“Abso-freaking-lutely.” He nodded.

A little laugh escaped her. She was dizzy, downright feeling heady, and she pressed a kiss to the firm line of his jaw, breathing in his scent, the prickle of his stubble scratching her lips. “I want you, too,” she whispered, moving her hand from his lap so she could stroke his chest.

“Ah, Min.” He started to say something else but muttered under his breath, smoothing his hands over her shoulders, along her arms. “Well then, this sweatshirt is in the way.”

Hope lit within her as she pulled herself out of his arms. “Should I take it off?”

He looked conflicted. And she kind of liked that. “If you want,” he said gruffly. “By all means, I’m not going to stop you.”

She tore it off, letting the heavy sweatshirt fall to the floor. She wore the thin long-sleeved shirt sans bra and she knew her chest was brushing against the fabric. No doubt he could see it.

From the way his gaze dropped and turned immediately appreciative, she
he noticed.

God, she wanted his hands on her again. Wanted him to slip them beneath her shirt and touch her bare, shivery skin. She went to him, ignoring the way his mouth opened as if to protest and locking her lips with his. Kissing him as if her life depended on it, she pressed up against him, chest to chest, practically crawling into his lap so she could get even closer.

He wrapped his arms around her and hauled her in and her legs went around him as she straddled him. Their kiss was endless. Hot and deep and wet. A tangle of tongues and soft sounds and fevered skin, hands everywhere, slipping beneath clothes, touching each other for the first time. Learning each other.

Wanting more.

“You feel so good,” she murmured against his neck, kissing and licking him there. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

She couldn’t. Having this second chance with Josh meant more to her than she could ever say.

“I can’t either,” he whispered just before he kissed her again. All thoughts of the past, of current concerns, of everything going on in her life evaporated. She was in Josh’s arms. His mouth was on hers, his hands stroking her back.

There was nowhere else she’d rather be.

Chapter Six

The incessant buzzing sound was making him crazy. Or maybe that was just having Mindy finally in his arms, kissing the very sense out of him. Damn, she tasted good, felt even better. And if she pressed her braless chest close to his one more time, he swore he was going to haul her over his shoulder and carry her to the bedroom.

Then proceed to have his way with her until they both couldn’t breathe.

But the buzzing continued, in a rhythmic pattern that drove him to distraction. He pulled away from Mindy’s tempting lips, glancing about the room in confusion. “What the hell is that noise?”

“What noise?” She went in for him again, her mouth on his cheek, his jaw, his chin, her hands under his shirt, touching his abs.

He pulled away from her, tilting his head to try and figure out where the buzzing came from. “That noise,” he said, keeping his voice quiet as he listened to the
buzz buzz buzz
that seemed to be coming from the direction of the kitchen.

She remained quiet, her gaze on his, her lips swollen and damp from his kisses. Prompting him to kiss her again, which he did, though far too briefly for his taste. “Oh no,” she gasped, climbing out of his lap so fast she left a breeze when she hopped up off the couch and ran into the kitchen. “That’s my phone.”

He watched her go, running a hand through his hair, trying to calm his racing heart and raging libido. This was happening between them way too fast. Only twenty-four hours ago they hadn’t spoken to each other in years. Now they were making out like reunited teenagers, ready to take off their clothes and get down and dirty at any second.

Man, they needed to chill. No way could he rush this and potentially ruin it. He wanted whatever he had with Mindy to be given a chance to work, not combust and then burn out quick.

Leaning back against the couch, he stretched out along the length of it, folding his arms behind his head. He’d need to stoke the fire soon—and he meant the one in the fireplace, not the inferno that raged between them. Smiling, he gazed up at the ceiling, studying the overhead fan. His eyes started to drift closed as he wondered what was taking Mindy so long and then he heard her voice. Soft murmurings at first, then they got a little louder.

“No, of course I haven’t been texting Kyle and asking how everything is going,” she whispered harshly. “I’m not trying to ruin your
vacation, Marty.” She paused and Josh’s eyes flew open while he listened intently. That jerk Marty was giving her grief when he was the one who sprung the surprise on her about taking the boys? The guy was an ass.

“I’m sorry Kyle’s been so upset. I can’t help it if he misses me.” More pausing, a little exasperated sigh escaping her. “I can’t believe you’re saying this to me. You act like I’m trying to turn the kids against you when that’s the farthest thing from the truth! You’re their father, Marty. They need you in your life.”

Okay. That was it. It probably wasn’t his place to interfere, but he refused to let Mindy’s ex-husband beat her up over something she didn’t do.

He sat up, climbing off the couch and started toward the kitchen, thankful the fire was still bright enough to cast light so he could find his way. As he drew nearer, he could hear the hostility in Mindy’s voice, the tightness in her tone. Clearly she’d had enough.

Yet she still listened to Marty.

“I’m not trying to ruin your wedding! God, if you would’ve prepared us from the beginning about this, the situation might have turned out completely different!” she suddenly yelled.

Yeah, that was it for sure now. Josh strode into the kitchen, his presence making Mindy’s eyes go wide and her mouth drop open. Without a word he reached out, grabbed the cell phone from her fingers, and hit the end button, ending the call.

“Wait a minute. Y-you just can’t
hang up
on him,” she sputtered.

“I can and I just did,” he said grimly, returning the phone to her. “You don’t need to tolerate his abuse, Mindy. You shouldn’t let him talk to you like that.”

She sighed, looking completely defeated. “You’re right. I know you’re right. It’s just…I’ve dealt with him for so long, you just get used to it you know?”

“He’s not your problem anymore. That privilege now belongs to Bobbi. So remember that and tell him he can go screw himself the next time he tries to talk to you like that.”

Mindy blinked up at him, her expression frozen. Like a zombie she held up her phone. “I should call him back,” she whispered.

“No. You shouldn’t.” He plucked the phone from her before she could. “Stop letting him control you, Mindy.”

“He doesn’t control me. Besides, what do you know? Not like you’ve been around. You have no idea what my life is like.” Aw hell, she was fuming mad. “You think you can waltz back into my life, hang out with me for a few hours, kiss me senseless, and then tell me what to do and how to feel? I don’t think so.” She snatched the phone from his fingers before he could utter a word in protest.

“I’m not trying to tell you what to do. I’m just trying to protect you,” he said but she cut him with a look.

“I don’t need your protection. I’ve lived without it for quite a few years now and I’ve done just fine.” She lifted her chin, stubbornness written all over her face. He recognized that look. They went through a stage when they were really young where they’d butt heads all the time.

“Right. We were friends, and then we weren’t.” He rubbed his hand along his jaw, his brain churning. This was probably best. He couldn’t risk getting close to Mindy again only for her to leave him. Reject him. Whatever.

He flat-out couldn’t stand the thought.

“Exactly. We’ve lived without each other this long. We…we probably wouldn’t work out. As friends. Or whatever else.” She waved a hand, waving away thoughts of them together.

Dismissing him outright.

“Yeah. This is best. I agree.” Before she could say another word, he turned away from her, exiting the kitchen. Walking away from the only woman who was capable of breaking his heart not just once, but twice.

Maybe even more. Not that he’d ever give her the chance.

“I’m going back to bed, Josh,” she called after him. “Good night.”

He didn’t bother saying a word. What was the point? They’d already expressed their true feelings.

And they definitely weren’t for each other.

Sleep came fitfully and when it finally did, he dreamed. Of Mindy. She’d gone from sweet to indifferent to flippin’ furious all in a matter of seconds, till he was running out of the house and as far away as his feet could take him.

Waking up had been a test in agony. His head ached and he hated that dream he had because really, the last thing he wanted to do was run away from Mindy. Maybe when he was younger, hell yeah.

The way he’d treated her last night after that stupid horrible phone call with Marty had been all about wanting to protect her. He hadn’t meant to act like such a bossy ass.

Josh had wanted to defend her in the only way he knew how and instead, he’d come across as a complete jerk. Then he’d panicked, not wanting to let his feelings get involved when it came to Mindy.

Funny thing was, they already were. He just didn’t want to admit it.

Josh climbed off the couch and went to the fireplace. He threw another log on, sending a scattering of sparks flying from the already burning wood. They were running low on firewood, which meant he’d have to go outside and gather up more. Going to the window, he pulled the curtain back, a low muttered curse escaping when he saw what awaited him.

Nothing but pure, solid white. They were completely snowed in. The snow rose higher than the window and that meant it was also higher than the front door, though the covered porch could allow them a bit of a break. As in, find a way to get them out.

Hell. He’d have to
his way out of here just to get to the stack of firewood he knew sat on the backside of the house. And there was no guarantee they’d make their escape any time soon. They could be stuck like this for days.

Mindy was not going to like this.

Letting the curtain drop, he moved from the window and went to the front door, unlocking it quickly and stepping just outside so he could stand on the thick doormat. He was still in his thick socks, jeans, and sweatshirt and the frigid, damp air nearly took his breath away.

The covered porch had faired well but was completely socked in by snow on all three sides. Sound was muffled. He could hardly tell if the freaking sun was out or not, though he doubted it was.

This was not good.

He headed back into the house, his mind awhirl with a game plan. After he’d angrily left Mindy last night, he’d powered off his cell phone to save the battery. With the power out, he thought it was a good move. He had no idea how reception would be now though, considering they were snowed in. All that packed snow could obliterate reception.

Maybe he could check out the upstairs…

Josh glanced up the staircase, knowing that Mindy was still up there and most likely sleeping. He’d checked the battery-operated clock that hung on the kitchen wall when he first woke up and he knew it was around seven. Naturally he was an early bird, his job called for it and after last night’s epic fail of a make-out session that turned into an argument, he’d tossed and turned.

Deciding to hell with it, he took the risk and slowly climbed the stairs, not wanting to create too much of a racket and wake her up.

Confess the truth, jerkwad. You don’t want her to catch you up here.

He stopped at the top of the stairs, looking around. The wall facing him was lined with various photos, most of them of Mindy’s boys at the different stages of their lives. Babies, toddlers, school pictures, sports-team photos, this wall was the life and times of Mindy and Marty’s children. In a few photos Mindy stood with her boys, smiling proudly, her arms around their shoulders after a soccer game or some sort of school function.

Marty wasn’t in one single photo. That gave Josh such a flare of satisfaction, though he felt like an ass just thinking it.

Moving away from the wall, he headed down the hall, glancing in each open doorway he passed. One boy’s bedroom, a bathroom, then another bedroom. He approached the last door on the right and he slowed his steps, knowing exactly who waited beyond that partially closed door.

It was Mindy’s room. And most likely, Mindy was in bed, sleeping soundly.

Josh peeked inside around the edge of the door, catching sight of Mindy lying on her stomach, sprawled across the middle of the bed. Despite their earlier fight and the uneasiness over where he stood with Mindy that clung to him like smoke, he smiled. Pleased to see she’d taken over that entire bed versus lying on just one side.

He wished she could be the same about her life.

Damn. The minute she was awake and coherent, they were going to talk about what happened last night. He refused to let it end like this. More than anything, he needed to apologize for trying to take over her life so thoroughly. He hated himself for that the most.

Quickly he left her doorway and went into one of the boy’s bedrooms, headed straight for the window. He cracked open the blinds, relief flooding him when he found that he could actually see outside. The sky was dark with clouds, not a hint of sunshine anywhere and the snow seemed to stop just at the first story of the house.

The clouds appeared bloated, and he knew with the cold air outside if any rain fell from them, it would turn into snow. What he needed to get out of here was for the temperatures to warm up. A steady rainfall would work away at the snow. And warmer air would do the same.

“What are you doing?”

He turned from the window to find Mindy standing in the doorway, looking disheveled and sleepy. “Checking the weather,” he answered, trying to gauge her mood.

She didn’t look angry or resigned or even sad. No, she appeared to be nothing but sleepy.

A little frown curved her full mouth. “Why can’t you just do that from downstairs?”

“Come over here and I’ll show you why,” he said, immediately regretting his suggestion once he saw the wary look on her face.

Damn. Maybe she was still angry.

But she came to him anyway, shuffling up to the window in her slippers and peeking through the blinds. “Oh my God,” she whispered. “There’s snow everywhere.”

“Yeah,” he agreed.

Mindy turned to him. “It looks deep, too.”

“It is.” He shrugged when she squinted up at him. “We’re socked in. The snow is as high as the front door.”

“This is crazy. What are we going to do?” she asked.

Josh started to leave without answering her and she followed, her steps determined and her mood…he could tell she wasn’t happy. “So if we’re really snowed in…” She trailed off.

“Yes, we’re snowed in,” he confirmed.

“What are we going to do?”

“Guess we’ll just have to kiss and make up,” he said, hoping she was open to his suggestion.

If she still wasn’t a little angry over what happened last night, Mindy would’ve been in full agreement with Josh. Kissing and making up sounded like the perfect solution to how they could spend their time snowed in over the next few days.

But she was still angry at him—more frustrated than anything else. From what she could tell, he felt the same way.

“Kissing is not going to solve all of our problems,” she threw out, because it had to be said. Yes, last night’s kisses had been nothing short of amazing. But then they’d argued and the both of them ruined everything with a few choice words.

So silly. So typical. But if she couldn’t be truthful with Josh, who else was there? He was her oldest, dearest friend. She needed to be honest with herself. Now that she’d spent only a few hours with him, in his arms, kissing him, she wanted to turn her oldest, dearest friend into something more. Something serious.

The question was could they work together as a couple? He’d been incredibly bossy last night, barging into her personal life and telling her what to do. His attitude had made her angry.

But he’d also been sweet. She’d enjoyed making dinner for him, frosting cookies with him, reminiscing over old times. They had such a strong connection that went years deep. Now that she had him back in her life, she didn’t want to let that go.

BOOK: Stranded With a Hero
4.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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