When Marly Hampton offers a handsome stranger a meal and a place to sleep, it’s only for the weekend after he breaks down in her small town on the outskirts of the Smoky Mountains. But the mysterious Mitch Allen stirs emotions in her long thought buried. A widowed, single mom raising her son, Marly has no time for romance. Or is that about to change?
Mitch won’t be staying in town any longer than it takes to repair his truck. The former Boston detective has hit the open road to run from painful memories. Falling in love is the last thing on his mind. When he’s accused of murder, Mitch comes out of retirement not only to fight for his reputation but also for the woman who has opened his heart. Can they both face a past that stands in the way of their future before they lose what could be? Or will the evil lurking nearby succeed on destroying them?
Mitch watched her face change, like a light bulb went on in her head. “Actually, I would like to impose on you for something, if that’s okay?”
He cocked an eyebrow. “Absolutely.”
“Can you look at the stove?” Without waiting for him, she turned and walked from the room. He had no choice but to follow.
His gaze focused on her slender frame. Of course, his eyes weren’t too tired to follow the sway of her hips. The small but curvy little bottom was certainly a sight for sore eyes. It had been too long since he’d noticed a woman. She wasn’t even dressed up and she had his mouth watering.
Those long legs and smooth curves teased his sexual appetite, something that hadn’t mattered lately. Slowly, he walked behind her, enjoying the view even knowing she was probably off limits. The sign out front had said, The Hamptons. Was it normal to be jealous of something so easily?
In the kitchen, reality struck Mitch like a lightning bolt. Why was he being such a dumb ass, fantasizing over this lovely lady when he roamed the States looking for a reason to explain his existence? Must be lack of sleep.
Marly’s voice broke into his thoughts. “The storm knocked out the lights. That happens a lot around here, too. We lose all the modern day comforts like electricity and communication. And when the lights go on again, I have to re-light the pilots by hand, but today I just can’t get it going and I’m losing patience.”
“I’ll give it a try but can’t promise anything. My specialty is not stoves.” He rested his cane against the kitchen counter.
“Do what you can if you don’t mind. It’s got to be better than what I’m doing.”
The stove was old but fit in with the style of the kitchen just fine. There was a small wooden table with four chairs by a window. Lace placemats and a vase of yellow flowers that had seen better days were neatly placed on the table. Cherry wood cabinets lined one wall and another wall held shelves with knick-knacks. It was a very quaint space, big enough to move around for cooking and cleaning but cozy enough to enjoy a quiet dinner.
Marly leaned closer to Mitch. She smelled of lemons and herbs, the scents tickling his nose. Strange combination. Maybe she had cleaned with something lemon scented, and the pork chops marinating by the stove were the source of the herbs.
He studied the stove, not really knowing what to do. When he began to light the pilot on top of it, Marly grabbed his arm.
“No, not there. There.” She opened the oven door and pointed.
“Okay.” He studied the inside. “Just how did you do this before?”
“You have to light the pilot through that small hole while turning the knob and, when the flame hits the gas, it’ll light.”
“That doesn’t sound too comforting for the guy sticking his head in the oven.”
She laughed, the sound tightening his gut into a knot. Her hand fell onto his shoulder, the touch raising the hair on his arm in awareness. “I wouldn’t put you in harm’s way. I’ve done this hundreds of times and never got burnt. The flame goes down into the stove not up.”
His skin burned now, but not from the fire, from her touch. The only reasonable explanation was the lack of a woman’s touch over the last few months. “Yeah, well, the way my luck has been lately, I don’t want to chance it.”
“Trust me. You’ll be fine.”
Something in her tone convinced him she meant what she said. So he got back to business. He used the top burner to light the long wooden stick match. The smell of lit matches immediately stunk up the room as he placed the burning stick over the small hole in the bottom of the oven and turned the knob until he heard hissing gas.
“Now move it around a little,” Marly instructed, leaning over Mitch’s shoulder. He nervously obeyed, expecting an explosion at any moment. “No, go this way.” He obeyed. “Try to move it so that the tip goes into the hole just enough.”
With all his strength, he concentrated on the task, but couldn’t help thinking of sexual images as she talked about tips and holes and moving around. She was driving him crazy. This was insane!
He glanced up at her. “Do you want to do this?” he asked, with a little more annoyance than was necessary. If truth be told, he was more annoyed with himself than with her. Hell, she was only telling him how to light the damn stove and he was getting a friggin’ hard-on.
“Sorry,” she said quietly, removing her hand from his shoulder. “I’m a hands-on type of person. I don’t like delegating duties. I prefer to do them myself.”
“Well, since you’ve so nicely delegated this to me, would you mind giving me some room to work with?”
“Fine,” she agreed, but only moved back an inch.
Turning back to the stove, Mitch wanted to get it done so he could eat then get the hell out of there before his dick was tortured anymore. He needed to get as far away from Marlena Hampton as possible. He was far too comfortable around her.
Wiggling and turning the stick proved harder than it looked. Just when the match had gotten too short and threatened to burn his fingertips, he heard a ‘poof’. Marly straightened, clapping.
“You did it. Now we can eat.” Into the stove went the pork chops and a casserole dish containing scalloped potatoes.
The sight made his stomach growl. “How long until we eat?” Mitch asked, grabbing his cane and walking back toward the doorway, placing as much room between him and Marly as possible.
“About an hour.” Filling a pot with water, she placed it on top of the stove, lit the pilot and turned to him. “Mitch, tell me something.”
She walked slowly to him, stopping in front of him, her head angled up to look in his eyes. “I haven’t let a serial killer or escaped convict into my home, have I?”
Mitch studied her face—the high cheekbones, small pointed nose, and tiny beauty mark along her jaw. Her eyes searched his. “Not any more. I gave that stuff up years ago,” he teased.
He totally expected Marly’s face to drain of all color, but she surprised him with a big smile while laying her hand on his arm. Those slender fingers with long manicured nails dug slightly into his skin. The funny sensation was even more distracting. He was just tired. Just overtired.
“Do you want a shower before dinner?”
Oh, God, the woman was killing him. He strategically placed the cane in front of him to hide the ever increasing bulge in his jeans. He could easily picture her in the shower with him.
“That sounds like heaven. Let me grab my bag. I left it by the door. At least I was smart enough to grab a change of clothes before leaving the truck behind.”
“You would’ve been smarter if you had listened to my dad.”
He sent her a quelling look. Her hands flew up, palms out. “Okay, that was a low blow, but I can’t help it. Your stubbornness has obviously wiped you out, walking around on that bad leg. And don’t try to deny it. Come on. I have an empty apartment over my garage where you can shower.”
He only offered a grunt and turned to follow her into the living room. They passed the seven-foot long flowery couch with two armchairs of the same pattern. There was a decent size television, although it was an older model, and a small stereo system in the room. A few end tables had lamps and pictures on them. Mitch studied the picture of a man in military uniform. Must be her husband.
The woman wasn’t free. Besides, if she were, what the hell would he do with her? He had a bum leg, a fucked up life, and was on the road to nowhere.
So he channeled his thoughts to dinner and sleep. He grabbed the duffel bag and followed her out the front door and down the steps to a large garage. Forcing himself to keep up with her pace even as his knee screamed only added to his misery. She had only given his cane and leg a cursory glance. Either good manners or a lack of curiosity kept her from inquiring about his injury because Marly struck him as the type of woman who wouldn’t think twice about asking what’s wrong.
Hadn’t he hated that from people? Was he disappointed that Marly didn’t bother to ask about his injury? No, that wasn’t it. He was just surprised since every person he had run into after the accident had always asked the inevitable question, “Why do you need a cane at your age?” A nightmare. That’s why.
Mitch rested for a moment at the bottom of the stairs that led up the side of the garage.
“Do you make it a habit of staring off into space?” Marly asked, with just a note of annoyance in her voice as she leaned against the door jam waiting for him at the top of the steps.
“I’m sorry.” Mitch rubbed his hand over his face. “Told you I was tired.” Pushing past the pain, he climbed the stairs and followed her into the small apartment.
Marly opened two windows. The place was sparsely decorated with a couch, small television, and coffee table. A tiny kitchenette boasted a countertop with a stool and mini fridge.
“The bathroom is through that door. I’ll grab you a towel so you can take a hot shower while dinner cooks.” She didn’t wait for a reply but walked into the kitchen area, opened a cabinet, and returned with a large fluffy towel. He could use a hot shower just as much as he could use sleep.
Mitch had to hand it to Marly. She sure could make someone feel at home.
He accepted the towel. “So is that a nice way of telling me I smell and should clean up?”
“What?” She laughed. “No. If I thought that, I’d tell you that you smelled.”
He smirked and placed the towel under his arm.
“There’s regular soap in the bathroom so you don’t have to worry about using anything girlie.”
His smile came so easily that it stunned him. When was the last time a smile graced his face? Months and months. But it felt good.
“That’s a bonus. Will your husband be home soon?”
She had been heading to the door but turned to stare at him. “Why do you ask? Thought you weren’t a serial killer?”
“Just don’t want to be surprising a jealous husband.”
Those bright blue eyes dulled with sadness. “You won’t have to worry about that. I no longer have a husband. But the love of my life, Jeremy, will be home soon so I will make sure he’s aware that you’re here so there are no surprises.” She walked away again, hesitated, and then turned back to him. “I don’t recall you giving me your name?”
He stepped closer, steadying himself with the cane, not missing the change in her composure, the grief outlined on her face, the paleness of her once rosy cheeks. “Mitch Allen.”
Her gaze caught his and held for a moment. “Go take your shower,” she said, barely louder than a whisper. “I’ve got mashed potatoes and veggies to make. You’re not afraid of veggies, are you?”
“Nope. If you put it on my plate, I’ll eat it.”
“Good. Now go take your shower. I’ll yell up to you, Mitch Allen, when dinner is ready.”
Those sweats and T-shirt didn’t do her curves any justice as he watched her walk away. And he couldn’t help but wonder what kind of secrets Marly held that made her go from friendly and happy one minute to sad and vulnerable the next. Why the hell he should care was beyond him.
Mitch remained at the top of the stairs until Marly walked down and out of sight, pleased with watching her very sexy body move. But he wouldn’t want to piss Jeremy off by getting caught checking out his girl so Mitch decided that, although a hot shower sounded real nice, he would begin with a cold one to shake the little urge creeping through his body for the very interesting Marlena Hampton.
By Amazon Customer on December 19, 2011 on Amazon: I loved it! The story of Mitch and Marley was totally not what I expected. I was absolutely intrigued with this story from the beginning. I found it to be one that you really didn’t want to put down. Mitch’s story was one of true reality and healing and Marley’s was one ever so present in today’s world and war. I loved that Ms. James was able to blend the two together to write this very interesting book with lots of twists and turns guaranteed to keep you on your toes. This is a must read!
By Megan on September 24, 2012 on Amazon: I couldn’t put my kindle down it kept me wanting to know what was going to happen. I liked that she couldn’t get him out of her head and he wanted her just as much as.
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