Braving the Heat(10)

By: Regan Black

“Do you need anything from your car?” he asked.

Feeling unsettled, she ducked away from his gaze and nudged the backpack with her knee. “I’m set for tonight. Is there a good time for me to swing by and pick up everything tomorrow? I guess I mean today?” The clock on the dash showed it was already past three. “I can help with the repairs to my car, too.”

He didn’t jump on her offer. “Where will you take your things?” He cut the engine and held on to the key.

She had no idea. “I’ll figure something out.” Although she couldn’t leave town, maybe her belongings could. Her mom had extended the offer. Kenzie just needed to make time to drive up there.

The burnished gold eyebrows flexed over his eyes. “You don’t have anywhere to stay, do you?”

She was too weary to fib or bluster through. “I figure there’s an available motel room somewhere in town.” She waved a hand at the clock. “I only need a few hours of sleep. Tell me what time to come by.”

His lips pressed together and he nodded once as if an internal debate had just been settled. “I didn’t think so. You’ll stay here tonight.”

He got out of the car and walked to the camper. She gawked at him through the windshield, trying to make sense of his statement. Trying to catch up as her pulse went racing ahead of her at his abrupt declaration.

When he noticed she wasn’t behind him, he came around to the passenger door and opened it. “Come on.”

She gripped the edge of the seat. “No thanks. If you’ll give me the car key and open the gate I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“As you said, it’s already tomorrow,” he said, completely ignoring the salient point that she would leave and handle her troubles on her own. He reached past her for the backpack, his forearm brushing across her bare knees.

“Hey, that’s mine. What are you doing?” She shifted her leg, pinning his arm. Mistake, a small voice warned her too late. His skin was warm against hers and in this position his handsome face was close enough that the security lights sparked in the dark blond stubble shading his jaw.

The tough, callused palm of his free hand landed on her leg and he extracted his trapped arm and simply lifted her out of the car. He handled her as if she weighed nothing. Worse, he behaved as if he had the right to move her about at will. Where was her fight?

“You’ll stay here tonight,” he repeated, setting her on her feet. “I’ll stay on the couch in the office. We’ll sort out the rest in the morning.”

She dug in her heels as he opened the camper door and waited for her to go inside. “Stephen, this isn’t right. It’s too much,” she added, when he refused to agree with her.

He tipped his head. “Go on in and make yourself at home. We’ve both lost enough sleep as it is.”

Nothing else he could have said would have convinced her to cooperate. Fully aware she’d been a big imposition already, she obediently walked up the steps. She glanced back before he could close the door. “Stephen, why are you doing this?”

He shrugged. “Good night, Kenzie.”

She watched him disappear into the office, bewildered by his unexpected kindness.

Emotions she’d rather not examine churned inside her as she stood in his camper. It was neat and clean, and the evidence that he lived here was everywhere. The plain, heavy white mug stationed near the coffeepot on the narrow counter. The mail tucked into a slim wire basket next to a laptop computer on the shelf behind the table. She passed the bathroom and caught a whiff of the crisp, green scent she’d noticed on his skin.

Why would Stephen give his home to her, even for a night?

Her pride had taken a hard tumble in recent weeks and she’d been so consumed with the lawsuit that she couldn’t ask her friends to let her crash on couches or in spare rooms. Requests like that left her too vulnerable. Her friends, with lives and concerns of their own, didn’t need to hear her worries and fears about her future.

Her backpack slid from her grasp and hit the floor with a soft thud when she spotted the stack of clean towels at the foot of the perfectly made bed. He must have found the trouble with her car and then cleaned up in here, turning his home into a guest house. For her.

Gratitude swamped her. Everyone but Stephen had let her get away with her small fibs about having things under control. He didn’t even know her. They were basically strangers. How had he seen through her defenses so easily?

It was a question she would never answer while she was exhausted. She stripped away the Escape Club uniform and readied herself for bed. As she slipped between the cool, clean sheets, she decided none of the whys and hows of Stephen’s actions mattered as much as figuring out what she could do to make it up to him.

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