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  • Writer's pictureAlexis Winter

**SNEAK PEEK** Claiming Her Forever


Two Months Earlier . . .

“Quinn, sweetie, we need to leave.”

I don’t know how long I’ve been staring at the casket that’s been lowered into the ground. My toes have gone numb from standing in my uncomfortable black heels that I bought for the funeral. My mother’s funeral. The words bounce around my head as if I can’t actually believe them. I reach over and grab my cousin Genevieve’s hand, which is resting on my shoulder, and squeeze it gently.

“Okay, I’m ready.” I look toward the sky, holding back my tears even though I know there’s no more left to cry. I run my hand down the smooth, cool wood of the casket, saying goodbye one last time.

“Are you going to be okay in that house tonight? You know you can stay with Livy and me.”

I link my arm through Gen’s as we make our way toward her car.

“I know, and I appreciate it. I promise I’ll be okay. If I’m honest, I think I just need to process everything. It still doesn’t feel . . . real.” She pats my arm before we separate and climb into her car.

“Well, Livy is always excited to see her Aunt Quinn, so please let me know if you need anything or just want to chill out, drink wine, and look at old pictures.” I know I’m not technically Livy’s aunt, but Gen and I have always considered ourselves sisters and I’ve always been Aunt Quinn to her daughter.

I give her the same pathetic smile I’ve had plastered on my face all day. Gen and I have been close for as long as I can remember. We’re the two youngest cousins and spent most summers and weekends together. She even lived with us for a few months when her parents were dealing with some pretty serious marriage issues when we were in grade school. They ended up separating for a few years, but they eventually worked things out and have been together ever since.

“Your mom is . . . was . . .” I see her glance over at me quickly before turning her eyes back toward the road, “the most amazing person, Quinn. I know you know this, but she was always there for me when I was a kid, ya know?”

“Yeah,” is the only word I can muster as I feel my eyes glaze over.

I know everyone means well telling me these things, but I’m exhausted emotionally and mentally, and not just from the activities of today. The last two years of my mom’s life were a horrible fucking emotional roller coaster. I’ve always heard that the only thing stronger than fear is hope, but I never realized the truth in that saying until my mom went through cancer. You can’t help but cling to any sort of hope as you go from oncologist to specialist desperate for second opinions and answers. You start putting faith in statistics that are so not in your favor, but you’re desperate.

“When my parents were going through their shit, and when I got pregnant at 16, she was the first one to show me love and support instead of judgment.”

Gen is two years younger than me, so when she got pregnant at such a young age, her parents didn’t take the news very well. They felt they were losing control. Now they worship the ground that Olivia “Livy” walks on and there’s no hard feelings between them.

I don’t respond, and instead just watch out the window as she drives me back to my childhood home. I’m not looking forward to all the things that need my attention now that my mom has passed away. I know I have to go through all of her things and put the house on the market. I briefly considered keeping the house since it’s paid for and it’s all I’ve ever known as home, but I need a fresh start.

A few nights ago, I reached out to the owner of an Airbnb in Colorado. I’ve had this fantasy since I was young where I’d find this gorgeous mountain retreat and spend a few months writing my novel. It sounded silly once Mom was diagnosed with cancer and our entire world was turned upside down, but now it’s all I have to cling to.

My mom and I were best friends, always. We did everything together and despite the fact that the last few years of her life were hell for her, she never stopped encouraging me to pursue my dreams. For the longest time, I lost sight of those dreams. I felt guilty for even imagining what my life could look like had I not been taking care of her 24/7.

Gen pulls into the driveway and puts the car in park before turning to face me. I don’t feel like another heartfelt you’re going to be okay talk. I pull her in for a hug before she can say anything.

“Gen,” I pause not wanting to cry again, “thank you.” She gives me a tight-lipped smile, clearly picking up on my exhaustion, and I exit the car.

I don’t look around as I walk into the house. I’m not ready to take that trip down memory lane without my mom’s hospital bed in the front room. Instead, I head straight to the bathroom to strip out of my funeral clothes and wash the day off of me.

I let my head lull forward as the water runs over my tense shoulders. Every time I close my eyes, I see my mom’s smiling face. Something that always brought me comfort is now a reminder of loss. I can feel tears start to bubble up again, so I shut off the water and grab my towel.

The music streaming from my iPhone on the counter is interrupted by the ping of a text message. I slide the screen open and I’m immediately greeted by a message with a smiling selfie of Liv and Gen, their faces smooshed together.

Gen: Hey, just checking in . . . we looooove you.

I laugh—a genuine laugh—something I haven’t done in weeks. I type out a response and snap a selfie making a kissy-face toward the camera and hit SEND.

Me: I love you guys so much.

After lathering my face and body in lotion—because mom always taught me to never skip it no matter what—I grab a bottle of red wine and make my way to my couch. I pick up my laptop and plop down to check out the Airbnb in Colorado again.

I sent a message to the owner this morning, asking him if three months would suffice for his request of long-term tenants only after he’d previously replied with a very curt NOPE—yes, in all caps—to my request to stay for a month. I open the app and see a red dot indicating I have a message. I open it and read:

Miss Prescott,

Yes, three months will suffice.


My heart jumps a little at the message and I smile. I haven’t told Gen yet, but I’ve decided to move away from Idaho just to focus on myself and try to figure out life for a little bit. The cabin I found in the Rocky Mountains looks like the perfect retreat to finally write my novel—a dream I thought had passed me by. I don’t overthink it, and instead just reply back to him:

Mr. Archer,

Great! I’ll take it!!


I hit SEND before I can second-guess the number of exclamation points I included. I select the dates on the calendar, enter my information, and hit BOOK. I scroll through the photos of the cabin again and squeal a little to myself that this gorgeous place will be mine for three whole months.

The listing states that the upper floor of the cabin is the owner’s private residence, though it doesn’t give any information about him. When I look at his profile picture, it’s just the back of a guy’s head looking out over a ravine. His dirty blond hair is long enough that it brushes the bottom of his thick neck.

The rooms look spacious but quaint. As I scroll through again, I notice that the bathroom mirror caught a reflection of the person taking the photos. I can see a man from mid-chest down standing off to the side. He’s dressed in black jeans and a flannel shirt that has the sleeves rolled up—showing one muscular forearm. I wish I could see more of him, I think to myself as I pinch the image to zoom in.

Gen’s words from the last year of my life echo in my head: “You need to stop neglecting the lady downstairs and get laid!” I always brushed off the idea, reminding her that I didn’t have time or energy for anyone else in my life.

In truth, getting laid, or any sort of romantic feelings or inclinations, have been so far removed from my brain for the last six years that I’ll be surprised if I ever learn to ride that bike again. Not that I ever really, fully rode that bike.

I’d messed around with my college boyfriends but have yet to go all the way. No one knows that little fact. It’s not like I’ve run around shouting from the rooftops that I’m a 27-year-old virgin. Once in a while, I’d let myself fantasize about finding the one and having a few kids of my own, but then guilt would creep in and I’d shove those thoughts aside.

It was like I’d convinced myself I was betraying my mother by wishing for a different life. In truth, that’s one of the things my mom always talked about since her diagnosis: hoping I’d find someone to love me and give me my own family.

I close the laptop, pour myself a hefty glass of wine, and settle back into the couch. I mentally count down the days till I can pack up what life I have left and get the hell out of here. Tomorrow I’ll start selling off most of my possessions and working with a realtor to list the house.


Present Day . . .

I blink back the tears that threaten to trickle down my cheeks as I look around the small two-bedroom house that had been my childhood home. It looks smaller somehow with everything gone. I was able to sell most of the furniture and decor on Craigslist, the new buyer requested to keep the appliances, and the rest I donated.

I lean my head against the doorframe that leads into the small kitchen, remembering all the times my mom would pull up a chair for me to stand on so I could help her cook or wash the dishes. In reality, I was probably more of a headache than a help, but my mom never once complained.

The house is modest, just over 1,100 square feet, but it was more than enough room for us and my tabby, Bella Sue, who passed away a few years ago. My mom could have afforded a bigger place, but her priority was on saving as much money as we could for my future, something I didn’t know about until she got sick and we needed the money for her endless doctors’ appointments and treatments. Between her health insurance and savings, she was able to receive home health care the last several months of her life.

“You sure about this?” Gen asks as she walks up beside me. She’s been helping me get the last of my stuff packed up in my 10-year-old Honda Civic and clean the house. “Livy is out back picking flowers—something she insisted on doing for the new owners.” She motions with her head toward the window that leads to the backyard.

“Yeah. Just reminiscing a little before I officially surrender the keys.”

“What’s on your mind?” She crosses her arms over her chest and leans against the other side of the doorframe.

I laugh a little. “One of my favorite stories my mom would tell me was the moment I learned to walk right here in this living room. You weren’t even born yet,” I say, bumping Gen’s shoulder.

“Mom was on the phone with Dad for probably the fifth time that month, listening to another one of his 10,000 excuses as to why he’d be a little short on child support.” The truth is, he never paid on time or even close to what the courts told him he owed, but my mom was tired of fighting him for it. “She said she was crying on the phone listening to his bullshit and feeling like once again, she’d let me down.”

Gen shakes her head and rolls her eyes, probably remembering my dad’s behavior when we were kids. She met him once or twice when he’d pop into my life, but mostly, she was there to comfort me when he’d fail to show up again.

“Looking back now, I’m sure they were tears of frustration and disappointment with how her life had turned out. I get it. But she said the moment I pulled myself up on the coffee table and took two steps toward her, everything else faded away. She hung up the phone and picked me up. She said the look of pride and happiness on my chubby little face in that moment was all that mattered. She didn’t even tell my dad before hanging up on him. When I asked her why she didn’t tell him, said she didn’t want to share that moment with anyone but me. It was our precious moment that nobody else could take from us.” I try to hold back a tear, but it escapes and starts trickling down my cheek.

“Your dad was basically a sperm donor who made his deposit and showed up a few times a year to meet the bare minimum requirements for not being a complete deadbeat piece of shit,” Gen replies, causing me to giggle through the tears. “And he ended up being a deadbeat piece of shit anyway.”

“That’s for damn sure. Mom said it was sexy and rebellious that he was a musician when they first met. He was part of the counterculture that was sticking it to the man, as he liked to say, so he didn’t get stressed and bogged down by things like 9-to-5 jobs or securing health insurance—things adults should care about. She was blinded by love, but the moment she found out she was pregnant, their happily ever after went out the window.”

“I’m so sorry you had to deal with that kind of shitty disappointment, Quinn. I wish so badly you could’ve had a dad like mine,” Gen says, wrapping her arms around me.

“Your dad is amazing and he always went above and beyond to make sure I felt accepted and like I was his second daughter,” I reply.

“So, what was it that finally made your mom leave him? I know it was before I was born, but I don’t think I ever asked you or her that. Felt a little personal.”

“Well, it was after he gave her chlamydia for the third time that she officially kicked him out,” I say, shaking my head and letting out a long sigh.

“Jesus, his shittiness truly knows no bounds. I swear, if I ever see that cocksucker around town, I’m going to kick him right in the balls as hard as I can, and when he’s crying on the ground, I’ll snap a pic and send it to you.” We both burst out laughing. Leave it to Gen to bring violence into the situation.

“Okay, I’m going to take Livy to my parents for their weekly Scrabble tournament and let you have a moment here to say goodbye. I’ll see you in a bit.”

I take one last glance around the house before letting out the breath I’d been holding. I shut the door and lock it, making my way toward my packed car. I had the pleasure of spending the last 28 years in this little Idaho house, and now it’s time for a new family to make their own memories here.


After a million hugs and assurances of “I promise to call,” I head out on the 12-hour drive to Grand Lake, Colorado. Gen tried multiple times to convince me to stay in Meridian, Idaho, but I told her it was something I needed to do, and it was just for three months. What I didn’t tell her or anyone is that I really don’t have any intentions of moving back here . . . ever. I’ll happily come visit, but it’s time for my own adventures. I feel a little like Belle in Beauty and the Beast searching for that great wide somewhere.

The drive is uneventful. I stop only to fuel up, grab a snack, and use the restroom. I’m anxious to get to the cabin, and I hope the owner is still awake. It’s nearing 10:30 p.m. when I arrive. It’s ink black, and only the light from the moon and one lone lamppost show me the way down Sunshine Lane. Such a cute and cheery street name—an omen, I hope, for how my time here will go.

I creep slowly up the drive, and the crunch of gravel beneath my tires seems to echo off the mountainside. I drive even more slowly, as if that’ll dampen the sound at all. I squint toward the front door and then back at my phone, double-checking the address as I put the car in park and turn off the ignition.

The night air is crisp and cool, and I take in a deep breath as I stretch out my achy muscles. The stars are incredible in the darkness—like millions of tiny diamonds against the velvet sky. I extend my arms overhead as I walk around to the trunk to grab my luggage. I notice a tinge of a headache and that I feel slightly winded and dizzy just from pulling my suitcase out of the car.

“Whoa.” I reach out and steady myself against the car

I make my way toward the front door, noticing the telltale blue glow of a television through the curtains. The rest of the cabin looks dark. I pull out my phone to now triple-check the address, afraid to knock on a random person’s house this late and startle them. That’s when I see a message I missed earlier:

Miss Prescott,

Please let me know what time you’ll be arriving. I’ll make sure the key to your private entrance around the back of the house will be hanging on the light next to the door.


“Shit!” I say right as the front door swings open and an imposing figure fills the entire doorframe. In my excitement, I stumble backward and fall square on my ass on the hardwood slats of the porch. A sharp, stinging pain radiates up my spine. Talk about making a first impression.

“Ouch. Hi . . . hey, sorry, I’m Quinn.” I scramble to my feet, trying not to wince as I thrust my hand toward the man I assume is Sawyer. He just stands there before reaching out his hand and helping me finish righting myself.

“You—you’re Sawyer? Is this the right . . . ? This an Airbnb?” My voice hitches and I’ve suddenly lost the ability to form complete sentences or thoughts. “I’m so sorry. I completely missed your message from earlier. I literally just checked my phone and saw it. I was driving all day from Idaho. The GPS said it would be about 12 hours, but I hit some traffic and then with all the stops—” His stature has clearly rattled my nerves and I’m doing a shit job of trying to act cool about it. Not to mention the spark I felt when his huge, rough hand engulfed my own.

“Yup. Your entrance is that way,” he says, pointing to the right and cutting off my rambling nonsense.

“Right. The key is on—” I start, but he walks out of his house without another word. Instead, he heads toward where he just pointed. He doesn’t tell me to follow him or look back to make sure I am, but I assume I’m supposed to. I scurry after him in the dark, dragging my suitcase and hoping I don’t take another tumble down the small set of stairs.

We walk silently around the house and down a few stairs to a massive balcony. I notice he’s only in socks, and just as I’m wondering what he was watching before I interrupted his evening, he stops and I run smack dab into the middle of his backside.

“Oh shit, sorry!”

I stumble backward. My God, have I completely forgotten how to act like a human? What the hell? He doesn’t even acknowledge my mishap and instead gives me the same instructions that were written in the message he’d sent hours earlier.

Even though I’ve taken a few steps back, his scent lingers. He smells like one of those manly scented candles from Bath & Body Works: woodsy with a touch of musk. Of course he does. Why wouldn’t a brooding mountain man—with a perfect jaw and a chest so wide that if Rose had fallen for him in Titanic, she could’ve stayed afloat on him—smell delicious and sexy at 11 at night?

“This is your space and your entrance. The key is here,” he says, grabbing a key that’s hanging by a leather strap from the bottom of the outdoor sconce. He puts the key in the door and opens it, reaching in to flick on a light.

“You don’t have to lock the place up when you’re here or not here. Up to you. Nobody up here will take anything.”

His voice is deep and gravelly, like he’s been gargling with rocks. He stands in the doorway for a minute, one hand on the frame as I duck beneath his arm to enter the cabin myself. I get another deep inhale of his scent and instantly blush at my cat-in-heat-like behavior.

“Thank you so much, and again, I’m so sorry.”

I turn to face him after I’ve stepped inside. The light from the cabin illuminates his face and my breath catches in my throat. His dirty blond hair has fallen down over one eye and his closely-cropped beard accentuates his angular jaw. I can see a small patch of the same dirty blond-colored hair at the base of his neck, where his flannel shirt is open. Something comes over me and I apparently decide that right now, in the darkness, after I’ve interrupted his evening and made a complete ass of myself, is a good time to make small talk.

“So, have you always lived here or . . . ?” I can see the somewhat annoyed look on his face combined with what looks like a slight flash of amusement.

“Night, Miss Prescott,” he says with a smirk before turning around and walking back toward his part of the cabin.

Yup, nailed that introduction.

I shut the door and give my nerves a minute to settle down before I pull out my phone and send a text to Gen to let her know I’ve made it safely to the cabin.

Me: Hey, Gen, made it to the cabin. I’m just going to wash off and crawl into bed. So exhausted! XoXo

She sends back a thumbs-up and a kissing emoji. I’m tempted to tell her about Sawyer, but I save the rundown of my embarrassing behavior for another day. After a quick shower, I settle in for the night and head to bed with images of Sawyer Archer’s icy blue eyes in my head.


The moment I heard the ruckus on the front porch, I knew Miss Prescott hadn’t received the message I’d sent earlier, or if she had, she hadn’t extended the courtesy of responding with the details I’d asked for. What I didn’t expect was to find a small, almost ethereal-looking creature on her ass staring up at me with big blue doe eyes illuminated by the porch light. She looked helpless, and I clearly made her nervous given the way she was stumbling all over her words and feet.

Sitting back in my recliner, I’m realizing I was a dick for not offering to help her carry her bags in, but I was thrown off after being woken up, and if I’m honest, her damn pouty lips had my brain fucked up. Most nights I have the same routine: eat dinner then drink whiskey in front of the television until I fall asleep in my recliner. It’s pathetic but it’s safe.

I go to my room and strip out of my jeans and flannel before crawling between the cool sheets. I’m hopeful I’ll fall asleep quickly, but just like every other night I try to sleep in this bed, sleep eludes me. It doesn’t help that I heard my ex-wife has been spotted back in town. Just what I need—that fuckin’ drama back in my life.

I haven’t spoken to her since the day our divorce was finalized. She made it clear we were over when I walked in and found her fucking my best friend, Tanner, in this very bed. Why did I keep it and still sleep in it? Fuck if I know. Then when the divorce was actually finalized a few months later, she had the audacity to scream at me and say I didn’t fight to save our marriage. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

I stare at the ceiling—willing myself to think of anything but that mistake—when an image of Quinn pops into my head. I just met the woman, don’t know anything about her, and don’t plan on learning anything about her. A woman like that only comes to a remote mountain place like this to escape a broken heart. I know because that’s exactly what I did. I should just tell her now that it doesn’t work. I roll over and close my eyes, wishing away the image of her pale, round face and plump, pink lips staring back at me.

When I wake the next morning, the sun hasn’t even risen. I groan as I kick back the covers and make my way to the shower. I turn it on and take a look at myself in the mirror. My eyes look tired but my dick is very much awake and ready for the day.

“Sorry, buddy,” I say, once again ignoring my erection.

The last woman who touched him fucked him over, so to say he doesn’t get a lot of attention these days is an understatement. I don’t even feel inspired to jerk off anymore.

As soon as the thought of jerking off enters my head, I see Quinn’s face. I almost blush having the thought. I don’t even know the woman and only met her for two minutes. I step into the shower and let the hot water and steam engulf me, hoping it washes away the guilt I have for being a sick bastard.

By the time I scarf down a few eggs and toast and pour myself a cup of coffee in my thermos, the sun has just broken through the horizon. I step out my front door and pull my keys from my coat. It’s only October in the mountains, but there’s already a nip in the air in the mornings. That’s the thing about the weather in the mountains: it’s crazy unpredictable.

“Good morning!”

I spin around, startled by the chipper greeting. Quinn just smiles at me. Her auburn hair falls in a halo of loose waves tumbling down her shoulders and back. It’s a stark contrast to her ivory skin, and it’s only now I notice a smattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks.

“Did I startle you? I’m sorry. Just wanted to get a start on the day and experience my first mountain sunrise.”

She has a huge smile on her face as she gestures toward the mountain range behind us. Way too chipper for this early in the morning.

“Mornin’,” I mumble before turning away and hoping she lets me just get into my truck so I can be off on my merry way.

“This place is just . . .” she doesn’t finish the statement and just makes an expression with her eyes wide and her mouth open.

“Yeah, it’s somethin’.”

“Hey, quick question,” she starts.

I take a deep breath and turn back around to face her. “Yup?”

“Could I maybe pick your brain about this place? Not the cabin, but the town? I’d love to really take a deep dive and learn about it.”

She shoves her hands deep into her snug jeans and I can’t help but drag my eyes the rest of the way down her shapely legs. I’m not sure what her angle is or why she’s so intrigued about it. She can Google it, after all. I’ve got two businesses to run and I’m not one for small talk.

“Ma’am, everything you’ll need is in the binder inside,” I say motioning back toward the house. “Anything else you wanna learn is on the internet. Now, I need to get to work.” I turn around and wave as I quickly make my way to my truck and climb in before she can stop me again.

She stands there and waves at me before turning back to face the ravine behind the house—giving me a nice view of her perky little ass. I actually chuckle a little to myself. I can tell from just our short interaction that: 1) she doesn’t realize how goddamn beautiful she is, and 2) even if she did, it wouldn’t mean much to someone like her.

I feel my dick twitch in my jeans and I already know I’m going to be in trouble.


I park the truck at my Jeep rental office and make my way inside. The overhead lights are already on and music is pumping through the speakers.

“Morning, boss!” I hear Pearl shout from somewhere in the back. She isn’t a normal employee of mine, but recently, she’s been gracious enough to help me out here and there until I can hire a new manager. The last kid I hired was eager and a kick-ass worker until he broke both arms and one of his legs in a mountain biking accident.

“Morning, Pearl.”

She pops out from behind the curtain that separates the offices from the waiting area and hands me a second cup of coffee. She knows me well.

“Thanks, darlin’.”

I’ve told her a million times that she should just take over as manager here since she doesn’t work full-time anymore at her husband Blake’s cabin rental business, but she insists she isn’t interested.

She takes a seat on the stool behind the counter as I set my coffee and phone down on my desk.

“What’s with the look?” she asks.

“What look?” I log into my computer and look at our schedule for the day. Seems like we have a pretty solid day of not only individual rentals but three full-day tours. A few other guys from town work those for me and don’t really bother actually coming into the office. They grab the keys, get their Jeeps, and meet at the destination site where Pearl tells everyone to rendezvous.

“I don’t know, but you’ve got a different look today. Your vibe is off.”

She squints her eyes at me curiously and wraps a chunk of hair absentmindedly around her pointer finger.

“Is this some young millennial talk? Because I don’t know what the hell you’re going on about.”

“Oh, stop acting like you’re a grizzled old man. You’re only a few years older than me. And I hate to break it to you, Mr. Grump-Ass, but you’re technically a millennial too. It’s anyone born from 1980 on.”

“How’s the cabin biz? Thinking of going back to it?” I ask, hoping to avoid her probing.

“Well, since Blake’s mom retired, I realized how much work it was to do it all on my own, and I just wasn’t equipped for that. I still help now and then, but that new marketing guy we hired has been doing a fantastic job. Plus, Blake and I want to . . . you know.”

She wants to say “have kids” or “start a family,” but she’s afraid to bring that kind of stuff up with me. I hate that everyone in this damn town feels sorry for me.

I look over my shoulder to meet her gaze. Her shoulders are pulled tight to her ears and her expression says exactly what I figured. She spins back around and starts clicking around on the computer in front of her.

“I am very aware that you’re deflecting, Sawyer Archer.” She grabs her coffee, spins off the stool, and walks through the curtain into my office to plop down in the chair across from me.

“We’ve got 32 minutes before our first appointment. Spill.” I see the look of determination on her face as she tosses her boots up on my desk. She isn’t giving up.

“Just a tenant at my place. She’s a chatterbox and—”

“She?” Pearl sits at attention. I roll my eyes at her.

“Yes, she. She got in late last night. Staying for a few months.”

“Ohhh, interesting. What’s her story? How old is she?”

Pearl’s already big blue eyes expand as a smile breaks out across her face. Bless this damn woman, she really does only want me to be happy, but everyone in this town needs to mind their own damn business.

I let out a long sigh and lean back in my chair. This isn’t the first time Pearl has gotten a flea up her ass about setting me up with someone. But this is just the first time it’s been one of my tenants . . . and a beautiful woman I already can’t get out of my head. Fuck.

“Well, considering I just met her last night, I don’t know and I plan to keep it that way. None of my business, Pearl.”

“Hmm, maybe I should stop by Bean & Bun, pick up some treats, and take up a welcome basket with Jade.” I can see the meddling look on her face as she talks about her best friend.

“I know what you’re doing, Pearl. She’s young—probably your age. I don’t know why she’s here, but my guess is she’s fresh off some breakup. A woman like that doesn’t just book a mountain cabin for no reason. I’m sure she’s got ‘em and I don’t plan on askin’. Now, can we please get back to work or am I paying you to be a gossip?”

Pearl just shakes her head and stands up before grabbing her coffee and heading back to the front desk just as two rowdy teenage boys walk through the door with their dad.

“Welcome in, guys! Ready for a kick-ass mountain adventure?” I hear Pearl say enthusiastically. Her energy has returned as the boys hoot and holler.

After a few hours at the Jeep rental, most of our big tours are under control, so I tell Pearl I’m heading out for the day and make my way to my custom furniture shop. That’s where I really love to be. No one around to make small talk or get in my way—just me, my tools, and the smell of wood and fresh lacquer.

I’ve been building things since I was a kid. My dad was old school and knew how to work with his hands, so he passed it down to me. He felt a man should know how to maintain his own home and provide for his family, which was something he took pride in. When he got sick, I buried myself in all of this. It started out as a hobby—a way to take my mind off things—but it quickly turned into a very successful custom furniture business.

I work with a couple buddies of mine who own a brewery and a whiskey distillery, Drake and Colton Slade, and supply all the furniture in their tasting rooms over in Virginia Dale. We have a meeting later today in Loveland to discuss a possible business venture together.

As I drive the 20 minutes to my warehouse, an image of Quinn’s bright blue eyes and pale, freckled skin pop into my head. The thoughts quickly turn from innocent to imagining those lush lips wrapped around my cock, and I hate myself for being a pig. That sure as hell doesn’t stop me from remembering how tempting the curve of her hips and round ass looked in those skintight jeans she was wearing this morning. Why is this woman haunting my every thought? I haven’t been interested in a woman since Justine ripped my heart out, and I had planned on keeping it that way.

Just thinking about Justine has my stomach in knots. Memories of seeing her writhe beneath my best friend and moan his name in my bed is something a man doesn’t just get over.

That’s the memory that always keeps me in check—the memory that won’t let me ever consider falling in love again.

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determinant logic
determinant logic
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