Romance was completely and utterly overrated.
Nikki scowled, tossing her orange polyester suitcase on the backseat before climbing in the driver’s seat of the ancient Volvo.
She glanced at the house one last time—a townhouse she and her best friend had been renting since summer—and then shifted the car into reverse and exited the driveway.
Men sucked. Love sucked. Roommates who wanted the house to themselves so they could have a romantic weekend sucked.
As she waited at a light, she glanced down at the map on the seat next to her.
Where the hell was she going anyway? A cabin in the middle of freaking nowhere? Well, technically the outskirts of Lake Tahoe wasn’t nowhere, but it was pretty damn close to it for a girl from San Francisco.
So now she was going to be stuck in a secluded cabin in the forest. All alone with a fire and her endless stash of marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers.
Well, maybe it might not be so bad after all.
When Shaylee had informed her Nikki was being booted out of the house for the weekend, she’d given her the key to Justin’s cabin. Justin being Shaylee’s boyfriend of the season.
Though Nikki didn’t understand why they didn’t just use it themselves. A cabin in the woods sounded a lot more romantic than a townhouse smack dab in the city.
Because Justin has tickets to the theater to celebrate our four-month anniversary, so we need to stay in the city. Shaylee had pleaded, begged and guilted Nikki into finally agreeing to leave.
Checking the time again, Nikki hit the gas. There were only a couple more hours before the sun went down and getting lost in the dark, in the woods, was not her idea of a good time.
So much for that plan.
Three hours and two cappuccinos later, she was squinting through her windshield at a dark, tree-lined road. Good gravy it was cold. She really needed to get the heater fixed.
Shit. She slowed to a stop and held the map up toward the light again and shook her head. Where the hell was she? Twisting the map, she looked at it from a different angle. Hell, was she even reading it right?
“Screw it.” She tossed the map onto the passenger seat and hit the gas again. It had to be nearby—she’d passed all the landmarks that were there.
She looked for the unmarked turn-off that was supposed to appear after an old wooden fence.
Twenty minutes passed, and her eyes were starting to drift shut. She was sleepy, and there was virtually no light except for her headlights. She hadn’t passed another car in God knew how long.
She hit the brakes as a squirrel darted across the road.
“Damn, stupid—” her eyes widened. “Oh. The fence.”
It was so thin and rundown she’d almost missed it. Spotting the narrow dirt road beyond it, she turned in. That was fate for you—the squirrel had been her sign.
The crunching of her tires seemed obscenely loud in the quiet of the night. Her lights bounced down the road, locking on a small cabin at the end.
Finally! And it was exactly as Shaylee had described it. Quaint, surrounded by trees, with a creek she spotted flowing in the back.
Nikki pulled the car forward and parked it in front of the cabin. She climbed out, grabbed her suitcase from the back, and stomped up the wooden steps to the door. Shit, it was freezing out here.
Fumbling in her purse, she tried to find the key Shaylee had given her. Damn. It sure was dark. Didn’t people in the boondocks believe in porch lights?
Her fingers closed around the cold metal key just as a yawn popped her jaw. Bed. That was the only thing on her mind. Screw the s’mores. Those could wait until breakfast.
She unlocked the door and swung it inward, reaching inside to find a light switch. Nothing.
Swearing under her breath, she stepped inside and kicked the door shut behind her. There had to be at least one light in this cabin.
Stretching her arms out and squinting—as if narrowed eyes would give her a better chance of seeing anything in the pitch black—she ran her hands over the smooth wooden walls.
No light switch, just more wall. Wall. More wall. Wait, what was that? Something warm, and…hairy?
“What the—” She jerked her hand back, just as arms wrapped around her waist and lifted her off her feet.
The war cry that erupted from whoever was behind her mixed with her terrified screams. The person—a man, it felt like—held her high against his chest as he crossed the cabin.
“Don’t hurt me! Oh, fuck, please don’t hurt me!” The air rushed from her lungs as she was flung onto a bed or couch. Fear clogged in her throat, and her blood pounded.
She rolled away in an attempt to escape from whoever it was, but he was already on top of her, pinning her hands above her head with a knee on each side of her waist.
Shit! If she got out of this alive, she would beat the crap out of Shaylee. Who the hell would send her friend up to an isolated cabin to get raped and murdered?
He transferred her wrists to one hand and lifted himself away a tiny bit. She heard him click on a lamp and bright light filled the room. She squeezed her eyes shut, crying out in pain.
“Who are you? Breaking and entering is illegal in case you didn’t know.”
His voice was rough, raspy, and—God, she was stupid for thinking it—damn sexy.
“Who am I?” she peeked at him through one eye, wondering if the man would match the voice. Yes, unfortunately. “I’m the bitch who’s about to have you arrested.”
Arrested? Was the woman nuts? Chase eyed the woman beneath him warily. She certainly looked a little…different.
Her black hair was in two braids, each one coming to rest just below her chin. Green eyes, rimmed in dark black eyeliner, glared up at him. Her tongue darted out across a lush mouth, tracing over a faded red lipstick stain.
His gaze moved lower to the tight black sweater that hugged full breasts. His cock stirred slightly, and he bit back a groan. Stop looking at her tits. He glanced lower, noting the obscenely tiny black and white plaid skirt that revealed pale white thighs. Thighs that soon disappeared into knee-high, laced-up black boots.
He shook his head. Christ. Only he would catch a kinky gothic chick trying to break into the cabin he was using for the weekend.
“I think you’ve got that backward, lady.” He reached down and grabbed his belt off the floor, wrapping it around her wrists.
“Oh, hell no. I’m into some freaky shit, but not with a complete stranger who looks like he belongs in a boy band.”
Boy band? His eyebrows rose, and he glanced down at his brown slacks and blue sweater. How was his attire similar to a boy band? It was completely normal for a dentist just off from work.
“And I wasn’t breaking and entering, I had a key. Or did you miss that fact while you were tackling me like some testosterone-laden football freak.” She glared at him. “What? Didn’t make the team in high school, buddy? Living out your fantasy now on some poor, defenseless woman?”
“Defenseless? Ha.” Scowling, he tightened the notch a little and secured her to the bed. Too bad he didn’t have a gag too.
“Where did you get the key? Did you pickpocket it from some guy?” He glanced at her again, hoping she was sufficiently restrained while he grabbed his cell phone.
“Pickpocket? Oh you are so thinking in the wrong direction, Mr. One Direction.” Her eyes widened, and her mouth twisted into a scowl. She started jerking on the belt and kicking the air toward him. “You jackass. I don’t pickpocket, despite you having already condemned me to be some druggy thief. I was given a key.”
“Fine. Say I believe you. Who on earth would give you a key to my cabin?”
“Your cabin?” Her gaze snapped back to him, the green eyes seeming a little more uncertain now. “No. This is Justin’s cabin.”
He stopped before he could dial the police. Justin? His blood pressure rose, and he pressed his palm against his forehead. Was she one of Justin’s latest women? It would certainly make sense. The man slept with anything with breasts and a pulse.
Snapping his cell shut, he walked back toward the bed. “You know Justin?”
“No, it’s just a super big coincidence I guessed his name right. Of course, I know him. Do you?” She looked downright irritated now.
“I should know him. He’s my brother.”
Her jaw dropped and then snapped shut.
“Well shit.” She groaned, and her head fell back against the pillow, her eyes drifting shut. “So let me get this straight. He gave us both the key to his cabin—”
“It’s not his cabin. It’s my cabin.” He thrust a hand through his hair, his temper spiking. “Jesus, woman. What is it going to take for you to understand that?”
“Well, you could have just told me. I can’t believe this is your place.” She tugged at the belt that secured her wrists. “I’m going to kill him when I get back. Seriously, is this necessary?”
Damn. Seeing her trying to free herself reminded him of what he’d done. He stepped forward and unfastened the belt, releasing her. “I’m sorry.”
“What, for tying me up like you caught me robbing a bank or something?” She rubbed her wrists. “You absolutely should be.”
He shook his head and fought the urge to snap his teeth together again. The woman was completely in the wrong. He’d just pointed it out, and yet she still insisted on making him out to be the bad guy.
“I’ll just get my suitcase and head out.” She slid off the bed and walked back into the darkened living room.
Leave? Chase turned on the lights and shook his head.
“You want to leave tonight?” He glanced at the clock above the fireplace. “It’s almost one in the morning. Where will you go?”
“I don’t know. A hotel?” She shrugged and headed toward the door.
“You’re in Lake Tahoe on a weekend. You’ll never find an available room that’s at all decent.”
“So I’ll drive all night back to San Francisco.” Was she completely insane?
She paused, turning to face him and raising an eyebrow.
Or maybe he was the one who was crazy. Was he really going to tell Justin’s girlfriend to spend the night here? The icy wind whistled outside the windows, and the faint ticking of the clock confirmed his decision.
“You can’t get back on the road this late at night. It’s supposed to snow.”
“Snow?” Her eyes widened, and she looked horrified by the idea.
“Yeah, snow. White, cold stuff? Couldn’t you smell it in the air?”
“Smell the snow in the air?” She blinked and shook her head. “Umm. I’m from San Francisco. I have no freaking idea what snow in the air smells like. I figured since it’s April snow wasn’t a possibility.”
“I think you should stay here tonight.”
She cocked her head and her eyes narrowed. “Is that your attempt at hitting on me?”
“My attempt…what? Hitting on you?” Heat raced up his neck. “No. Of course not.”
“Hmm.” She dropped her suitcase on the floor and walked past him toward the bedroom. “Too bad. You’re kind of cute. Okay, I’ll stay.” She thought he was cute?
He watched her retreating figure, noting again the curves under the bizarre but sexy outfit. He smothered a groan of alarm as the blood in his veins stirred.
Oh God. What was he doing? She was not his type. She was nowhere near his type. Not to mention the massive fact she was Justin’s girlfriend.
“So are we sharing a bed, or are you going to be a gentleman and take the couch?” She laughed, and the soft, feminine sound tantalized. “I promise not to bite if you want to share a bed. Unless you’re into that kind of thing.”
She turned around and batted her eyelashes at him. Lord, she was a flirt. And damn it, it was working. He shifted, his pants feeling a little tighter in the crotch now.
“I’ll take the couch.” Like any horny gentleman getting hit on by his brother’s gothic girlfriend would.
“Bummer. I was starting to think how much fun one of those cliché ‘stuck in a cabin’ flings could be.”
The air in his chest locked as he tried to figure out if she was serious.
“Hey, are you going to tell me your name?”
They didn’t even know each other’s names. The last few minutes seemed surreal. He was sharing his cabin with a complete stranger who kept making wonderfully inappropriate sexual innuendos. “It’s Chase.”
“Cool. I’m Nikki. Short for Nicole.” She gave a slight nod. “Thanks for letting me crash here. I’ll get out of your hair in the morning before the snow starts.”
He watched her disappear into the bedroom, before finally, he glanced at the couch and shook his head. He needed pillows and blankets. All of which were in the bedroom.
Taking a deep breath, he strode toward the doorway.
“I just need to grab—” His breath locked in his throat, and his feet seemed to be stuck to the floor.
Nikki turned to look at him, seeming totally unconcerned that she’d taken off her sweater and was naked up top save for a red lacy bra.
“I need…” Those breasts. In his hands. So round, pale, full and tempting. “Pillows.”
“Pillows, Chase?” She lifted a brow.
“And blankets,” he croaked.
She nodded and reached into her suitcase, pulling out a T-shirt. “It’s your cabin, honey. Where do you keep them?”
She jerked the shirt over her head, and the luscious breasts were once again covered.
Grab the blankets and pillows, you idiot.
Forcing his feet to move, he stepped fully into the room and opened the closet. Pulling out a stack of blankets and a couple of pillows, he tucked them under his arm.
He turned to walk back into the living room and hesitated, glancing at her again. “Do you need anything else?”
“Now, Chase, that’s a loaded question.” She grinned and tilted her head in that flirty way. “Are you sure you want me to answer it?”
Right now, he was about to declare that he had a new “type” of woman, and she was a lot like Nikki. Had she not been Justin’s girlfriend, he’d be taking her up on all the suggestiveness.
He hadn’t been to bed with a woman since he’d broken up with his girlfriend of four years, and that was a year ago. That night he’d gone out and gotten shit-faced, going home with the first woman who’d shown him any interest.
“You’re staring. Do you like something you see?”
He blinked hard. She’s off limits. “Good night, Nikki.”
She gave a soft little sigh, and then he heard the rasp of a zipper. When she reached for the waistline of her skirt, he spun on his heel and bolted out of the room with only her laughter following him.
* * * *
Nikki rolled onto her side, resting her cheek on folded hands. She’d washed her face and brushed her teeth, all the while wondering if he’d change his mind and come back. No such luck. The cliché cabin sex was not to be. At least not with a stuffy, pretty boy who stared at her as if she were some freak.
She probably shouldn’t have taken the bed. Was he comfortable out there on the couch?
The bedroom wasn’t very big, just enough for the full-size bed and a dresser. Only the door, left open, separated her from the small living room.
All was quiet throughout the cabin, except for the occasional popping and shifting of wood in the fire Chase had built.
Chase. She closed her eyes again—his image was branded in her mind. Tall and athletic, with blond hair that was on the longer side and gave him that boy band look. Then there were those sexy blue eyes that had just stared, obviously not sure what to make of her. It hadn’t fazed her. It was a reaction she was accustomed to.
What did he think of her? Usually she didn’t even go there. Let herself wonder. But for some reason, it mattered with him.
And why had she come on thick as honey with the flirting? The poor guy hadn’t been able to hide his embarrassment—or the nice-sized erection he’d been sporting by the time he’d left the bedroom. Which meant he was definitely attracted to her.
She frowned. So why hadn’t he responded to the flirting? She hadn’t seen a wedding ring. Of course, he could have a girlfriend, though he hadn’t thrown one up as a defense.
Stop thinking about it. You’re just lonely because everyone else seems to be in a relationship and you haven’t gotten laid in over a year.
But it wasn’t just the sex. She pulled the blankets tighter around her and sighed. It was having a man’s arms wrapped around her, holding her close. The hardness of his chest beneath her head and a different hardness between her… No means no. Go to bed, you horny bitch.
Taking deep breaths, she did some meditative exercises. It was her sure-fire way to get herself to pass out.
When she opened her eyes, the cabin was cold. Freezing, to be exact. Her teeth chattered as she tucked the blankets around every inch of her body.
There was a bit of morning light peeking through the lace curtains on the window. Such a quaint little place. Her trembling lips tilted up into a smile.
She closed her eyes and just lay still, listening. Listening to the sound of absolutely nothing. There were no cars, horns, yelling people, buses…it was just silent.
It was nice.
She must have fallen back asleep because, when she opened her eyes again there was more light pouring in from the window and she could hear the sounds of Chase moving around in the other room and a fire crackling.
Easing the blanket down to her waist, she sat up. Thank God. It was a little warmer now. She kicked her legs over the side of the bed and stood.
“Argh!” The wood floor was like ice. Moving quickly, she ran into the living room toward the fireplace.
There was a furry throw rug in front of it, and she sank down onto it, stretching her hands out toward the warmth.
“Cold?” His voice was just as sexy as yesterday and tinged with amusement.
“Cold? Freezing my ass off, thank you very much.” She laughed and turned to look at him. Her laughter clogged in her throat, and she swallowed hard.
Holy hell, he was a hottie in the morning. Heat stirred low in her belly. Distressed T-shirt over flannel pajama bottoms, his hair was disheveled, eyes were sleepy, and he was nursing a cup of coffee between his hands.
“I want one.”
“One?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Coffee.” She groaned. “Please don’t make me beg.”
His mouth curled into a smile. Wow. Did he have a great smile or what? How had she not noticed that last night?
“How do you like it?”
“Black, with sugar. At least three spoonfuls please.” She tucked her legs under her butt to keep them warm and pulled the long shirt down to her knees.
He made a sound of disapproval from the kitchen, but when she looked back at him he was dutifully pouring in the sugar. What a good boy.
Or man, she corrected herself when he crossed the room toward her. He carried two cups of coffee, his white shirt was stretched taut across his chest. Her gaze lingered on the clearly defined pectorals. Mmm. So, he liked to work out.
Stop it. It obviously isn’t happening.
“That much sugar isn’t good for your teeth, you know,” he lectured while handing off the mug of steaming coffee.
“And what are you, my dentist?”
His lips twitched. “Not unless you’re one of my new patients.”
Whoa. Really? She blinked then blew on her coffee. “For real? You’re a dentist?”
“Yes. For real, I’m a dentist.” His sat back down on the tan couch, pushing aside the blankets and pillows.
“Oh.” She took a sip and sighed. “Caffeine. Mmm.”
“What do you do, Nikki?”
“What do I do? As in a career?”
She blew on her coffee, watching him closely. How would he react when she told him?
A dentist would surely find her job to be somewhat impractical.
“I’m an artist. A painter.” Something flickered in his eyes. Interest?
“What do you paint?”
“Oils. Landscapes as well as portraits.”
He nodded. “Really? I’d love to see your work some time. Where do you sell them?”
“I work with a small art gallery down by the waterfront. I can give you a card if you’d like.”
“I’d like. Very much so.”
A small amount of pleasure stole through her, and she felt her cheeks warming. This was just weird. Usually men got all freaked out when she announced she was an artist. As if they expected her to ask for handouts during the date. It was nice to not be written off or just so judged.
Maybe it was time to go. Get the hell out of Dodge. This just wasn’t good. She was getting way too sappy over a sexy dentist who so obviously wasn’t going to be hitting on her. Standing up, she walked toward the bedroom. “I’ll grab my things and head out.”
She heard him get up and walk after her.
“You can’t leave, Nikki.”
“Well, I can’t share this cabin with you.” She sighed, running a hand through her hair. “Look, obviously there was a mix-up. You were nice to let me crash here last night, but I should leave you to your weekend alone.”
His jaw had hardened, and he didn’t look to be listening to a word she was saying. His narrowed gaze was moving over her body.
“You’re half naked.”
“I’ve got a T-shirt and panties on. I’m dressed.” Jeez, you would’ve thought she was completely naked. And the T-shirt covered her bottom by at least two inches.
He cleared his throat and looked away. “Anyway, you can’t leave.”
“Why?” He should be begging her to leave by now. What the hell was going on with this guy?
He walked past her and pushed aside the white lace curtain. “This is why.”
Had he even opened the curtain? Her eyes narrowed, and her stomach dropped. Oh God. The curtains were open—everything outside was just covered in white. It had snowed, just like he’d predicted.
She hurried to the window, pressing her hands against the glass as she looked down the road. The entire world seemed to be blanketed in snow. Why hadn’t she taken him seriously when he’d brought up that smell of snow thing last night? She leaned her forehead on the glass. “Oh, shit.”
Chase folded his hands across his chest and tried not to look at the back of her thighs. All smooth and pale peeking out beneath the long, black T-shirt.
He wanted to grab her a pair of sweatpants out of his bag—cover her up. No, that was the last thing he wanted. Those thighs were proving to be a great source of entertainment visually.
“Maybe I should try and drive now before it gets any worse?”
Was she nuts? “Do you have chains?”
“Chains?” She shook her head. “What do you mean? I have an awesome chain metal necklace, but—”
“Chains for your tires. Have you never driven in the snow before?”
“No. Hell, this is probably only the second time I’ve ever even seen the stuff besides on television.”
Was she kidding? But the mixture of confusion and fascination on her face made him realize she was dead serious.
“You need to get out of the city more.”
She wrinkled her nose at him. “Trust me, I try. This weekend was actually the biggest trip I’ve taken in a while. It should have been…” She hesitated. “This just wasn’t how I envisioned it.”
A thought hit him. One that had his gut clenching and him reaching out to grab the knob on the wooden bedpost.
“Was he planning on coming up here too?”
“He?” She dropped the curtain and sat down on the bed. “He who?”
She snorted. “Oh, no. He had those damn tickets for the theater and wanted to stay in the city.”
Was he missing something? “You don’t like the theater?”
“It’s fine, I guess.” She shrugged. “Though I can think of better things to do with my time.”
Had something happened between her and Justin? He looked at her closely, hoping for some hint in her expression. But she looked calm, maybe a little pissed as she kept glancing out at the snow.
She had a pretty face. It was washed clean this morning and, under all the makeup, it was rather sweet. Round and cherub-like, with long eyelashes and full, pink lips.
When she’d walked out of the bedroom this morning, fresh faced and sleepy, she’d almost appeared vulnerable. Was that why she covered it up with the war paint? To make her appear harder?
“You’re looking at me again.” She tucked a wavy strand of black hair—now down from the braids—behind her ear.
“Yeah. Sorry about that.” But he wasn’t. He couldn’t look away and had no intention of doing so. What could looking hurt? Even if he couldn’t touch. She managed to look innocent, sexy and fun all at the same time.
“You know, Chase.” She cleared her throat and slid off the bed, closing the distance between them. “We’re going to be stuck here for a while, with this big, bad snowstorm outside.”
The blood started pounding through his veins the closer she got. Then she was right next to him, yet not quite touching him.
She was petite and, when he looked down, he was staring at the curve of her breasts. The sweet smell of patchouli oil reached his nose. She was so exotic, so different from any woman he’d ever desired before.
She licked her lips. “What are we going to do to keep busy?”
Bend you over the couch, pull down your panties and fuck you senseless. He bit his tongue before he could say the actual words.
“How about breakfast?” he suggested instead.
He saw the flash of dismay in her gaze and wished things could have been different. Because how nice would it be to go away for a supposed weekend alone and wind up with some sex kitten who clearly wanted to bounce the bed springs with him?
She finally nodded and sighed. “Breakfast it is. Do you need me to cook?”
His brows drew together. “Why, are you any good?”
“Honey, I’m great.” She winked and sauntered past him.
Christ. He thrust a hand through his hair and shook his head. She couldn’t keep walking around in the cabin wearing just that. His willpower was only so strong. She didn’t seem too bothered by him though.
He followed her into the kitchen where she was swinging open the fridge door.
“You’ve got eggs, milk, butter…” She turned around to look at him, her eyes shiny as she bit her lip. “Do you have flour and sugar? I’m thinking crepes.”
“Yeah, in the bottom cupboard on the right.” She knew how to make crepes?
Nikki bent down and tugged open the cupboard. The shirt rose above her waist, exposing blue lace panties with pirate skulls on them. The lacy edges rode high on each ass cheek, leaving little to the imagination.
How the hell pirate skulls could be sexy was beyond him. All he knew was he had a raging hard-on now, and his Boy Scout honor was going down the tube.
“Nikki. How the fuck could my brother send you up and not want to come too?” The words ripped from him.
She stood, flour and sugar bin in hand. “What? What do I have to do with your brother?” The fog of desire that was clouding his thoughts lifted for a moment.
“Everything if you’re his girlfriend.”
“Girlfriend?” Nikki laughed and gave him a sideways look as she pried the lid off the flour. “Honey, I wouldn’t date that lazy ass for a million bucks—no offense, him being your brother and all. He’s dating my roommate.”