A Mountain Haven Novel, Book 5
After being the rebound one too many times, I accepted love wasn’t for me…
Once, I'd been a hopeless romantic. But getting tossed aside time and time again made me jaded. Happily ever after wasn't for me. Instead, I focused on being my niece's favorite uncle. It was enough.
Until Natalie and her daughter.
Recently divorced, she’s determined to open a bed and breakfast and hires me to renovate it. I should be focused on the job, but instead I’m distracted by the undeniable attraction between us.
When a late-night water leak brings me face-to-face with Natalie wearing nothing but barely-there wet lingerie, I can’t ignore my desires any longer. She and her daughter remind me of the family I'd always wanted but had given up on.
Is this relationship the real thing I’ve always dreamed of, or am I once again a rebound?
+ Excerpt +
Moving back to my hometown as a single mother to renovate an older Victorian house into a B&B was the biggest risk I’d ever taken. After my ex-husband, Jay, left me for another woman, my daughter’s well-being rested solely on me.
After leaving South Carolina to move to Colorado, I didn’t have a husband or an extended family to fall back on anymore. It was just me. I had no idea if this was a good move or the worst decision I’d ever made.
Since we’d moved into the owner’s suite of the soon-to-be B&B, I’d had a difficult time sleeping. I woke up in the middle of the night several times, worrying about the timing of the renovation, the cost, and when I’d be able to start taking reservations.
Tonight I couldn’t fall asleep. Giving up on sleep at ten, I went to the bathroom I shared with my daughter to splash cold water on my face. Feeling restless, I grabbed a blanket and a book, quietly opening and closing the door that separated our space from the rest of the house.
I listened for any sign that my daughter, Delaney, had heard me. When I determined all was quiet, I tiptoed to the couch that had appeared at some point.
My suite was a one-bedroom with a kitchen, eating area, living room, and one bathroom. There was a tiny sitting room next to my bedroom that Delaney slept in. Sometimes it felt like the walls were closing in on me.
During the day, the main areas of the B&B were a construction zone, loud and filled with activity. But tonight, it was quiet.
I removed the tarp on the couch and settled onto the overstuffed cushions. I hoped I’d feel better once the renovation was completed. Or maybe it would only worsen when I had guests to worry about, too.
I read for a few minutes before heading into the kitchen to grab a glass of water. I turned on the faucet, but it sputtered and then sprayed me with shockingly cold water. Momentarily stunned, I could only stand there while water sprayed at me seemingly from every direction.
Finally, I regained my senses and attempted to slide the handle into the off position. But nothing happened. The water kept spraying me. I shrieked in frustration and took several steps back from the spray, wiping water from my face.
Boots sounded on the stairs and then Mac appeared. In worn jeans, a Fletcher & Sons branded T-shirt, and work boots, he flew past me without saying anything. He threw open the cabinet doors under the sink and twisted something. But again, nothing happened. The water didn’t slow.
Mac stood, his hands on his hips as he assessed the situation. “Fuck. I’m going to turn the water off to the house.”
He didn’t seem to mind that he was now soaked, too. The shirt clung to his well-defined pecs, sending me into a fantasy where the water was warm, and Mac was interested in me.
Mac threw open the door to the basement, and he gestured around us. “We need to get this under control before it ruins the floors.”
I was worried about getting him naked, and he was concerned about my floors. I needed to get my priorities straight. How long would this disaster set me back? I couldn’t afford any more delays.
I’d prepared for renovations but not major setbacks. I was naïve. Just like my ex-husband said. When Mac disappeared down the steps, I hurried to my suite to grab towels. Armed with them, I put them on the floor to mop up the excess water. My hands were shaking, and my heart thundered under my ribcage.
Finally, the water slowed and then stopped.
“Did the water turn off?” Mac called up the steps.
“It’s off now,” I said before shutting the door to my suite. I didn’t want Delaney to wake up.
Mac walked up the steps slower than he’d gone down. He took one look at the floor and my motions to clean it up and ran a hand through his hair. “Fuck.”
“Are you going to just stand there and swear, or are you going to help me clean it up?” I didn’t know what it was about this man, but whenever we were around each other, we were like oil and water. My usual sunny disposition dissipated, and I was short with him. He was just as irritated with me.
He moved to me, snatching a towel and throwing it over a large puddle. “What are you doing out here anyway?”
“I wanted a minute to myself. What are you doing here?”
Usually, the crew was done by four or five, and it was quiet in the evenings. I wasn’t sure why I didn’t just tell him I enjoyed the solitude. His attitude was usually so surly that I didn’t want to confide in him.
He used his foot to move the towel over the wet spot. “I was working on the tile in the upstairs bathroom.”
We worked side by side to mop up the puddles. “Do you usually work late?”
His jaw tight, he said, “I just wanted to get it done.”
With most of the water cleaned up, I threw my towel onto the pile and stretched my arms over my head, leaning to one side, then the other. “I appreciate you working so hard.”
When he didn’t answer, I glanced over at him to find him tracking my movements. His gaze was locked on my breasts.
That’s when I remembered I was wearing a silky top with sleep shorts. It felt decadent against my skin, and I loved the way it made me feel beautiful. But I was soaked. My pajamas were probably see-through at this point. I just hadn’t anticipated Mac seeing me in them. I lowered my arms and wrapped them around my body. “I didn’t know anyone would be here.”
“You shouldn’t be. You could step on a nail.”
“Is that the reason, or is it that I was out here at the same time as you? Because someone put that couch in the living room.” Sometimes, I thought my mere presence set him off. That nothing I did or didn’t do made a difference.
He threw his hand in my general direction. “I don’t need my guys seeing that when they’re working.”
My hands instinctively went to my hips. “No one was supposed to be here. You’re not supposed to be here. This is my time.” When Delaney was asleep, I could breathe and stress about all the reasons why I was crazy for doing this.
“It’s safe to assume someone could be here at any time,” he said gruffly, gathering up the towels with shaky movements and tossing them into the laundry room off the kitchen.
My nipples were hard, aching points. Did some part of me get off on a man who growled at me? If so, it was a betrayal. Because my brain definitely hated Mac in my space.
Mac crossed the room toward me with purpose. Goose bumps raced over my skin. “It’s dangerous to walk around like that.”
“Like what?” I snapped, my gaze narrowing as he stepped into my space.
He drew a dry towel over my shoulders, gathering it around me in an effort to cover me. Then his hand grazed my nipple, and we both froze. The warmth of his hand seared the damp fabric, piercing my skin.
I swayed on my feet. My core ached.
He snatched his hand away and took a step back. Then two. “You should dry off.”
“What are you going to do about this?” I gestured at the floors so that his attention would be anywhere but on my nipples.
“I’ll turn on some fans to dry the floors. Hopefully, they don’t warp.”
“Were they wet long enough for that to happen?” I asked, chewing my lip.
“I don’t know. But I’m going to take every precaution. We can’t afford any more setbacks.”
Was that for professional reasons or that he couldn’t stand being around me? I couldn’t get a read on him.
Initially, I bought the house and attempted to direct renovations from South Carolina. When there was an issue with the floors, everyone at Fletcher & Sons thought it would be best if I lived closer. Mac had been on board with diverting the crew to the owner’s suite to get that ready for me and Delaney. His determination to create a space for us as soon as possible had been sweet, but I hadn’t seen any other evidence that there was a heart underneath his gruff words.
I clutched the towel to my chest, my skin prickling for a different reason. I shivered and couldn’t seem to stop.
“You need to get dry,” Mac said.
“In a minute.” But it was hard to talk. Every part of my body was trembling, my teeth chattering.
Mac stepped into my space, this time, pulling me into his warm, very hard body. He wrapped those steel arms around me, and I breathed in his masculine scent mixed with sawdust. His warmth was too enticing. I melted into his body as he held me tighter.
I rested my cheek against the soft material of his shirt and the hard pec underneath. He was all man. I’d seen the way he worked around the B&B every day, but being this close to him, touching him, was a whole other thing. The heat unraveled around me, seeping into my skin, the shivers slowing.
He used the towel to rub my skin dry and squeeze the water out of my hair. I felt warm all over now. His gaze was appraising, his touch gentle. My cheeks flushed as he took me in.
He stepped back, regret on his face. “You should change into warmer pajamas and get into bed. You’ll feel better.”
I wasn’t sure I’d ever felt better than I had in his arms. Better than I’d felt in Jay’s arms. Mac had never appeared to be interested in me before. Was it the unexpected display of skin, my body’s reaction to the cold, or something else? Was he short to mask his attraction? Had he pushed me away because he was attracted to me? I wasn’t sure what to think.
Finally, he said, “I’ll take care of this.”
I swallowed, suddenly unable to have a coherent thought. Confused by my revelation, I stepped back from him, the damp towel loose around my shoulders. Tightening my fingers around it, I felt exposed and vulnerable when I hadn’t shared anything with him.
“Thank you,” was all I could manage before I turned on my heel and hurried toward the door that separated my space from the construction zone. Closing the door softly behind me, I was very aware that Delaney might have heard us. I listened carefully for a noise, and hearing none, I leaned against the door that separated me from Mac.
Was he attracted to me? Warmth spread through my body, my nipples tingled, and my pussy clenched. What would have happened if he’d kissed me? If his hand would have lingered on my nipple or even cupped my breast? I knew I wouldn’t have said no.
I hadn’t felt an attraction to anyone in a long time. Far longer than I cared to admit. Jay cheated on me and moved to Texas to be with his new girlfriend, leaving me living in a town where I wasn’t from, with his parents who weren’t mine.
I’d felt so alone when his parents sided with him. They’d said he needed time to explore what he wanted. That had made zero sense to me because he’d married me. We had a child together. He didn’t have the luxury to explore his attraction to another woman, who’d also left her husband and kids. It was selfish. And every time I stood up to them, our relationship fractured even more.
Feeling more alone than I ever had, I reconnected with my best friend from childhood, Kylie Wilde. She was the one who’d convinced me to come back home, even when I’d never planned to return.
It was her idea for me to buy this B&B so I could work with my daughter. She took pictures of the house and sent them to me. She said I needed space and time away from Jay’s family.
I closed my eyes, feeling the solid door against my back. What would happen if I went back in there and asked for what I wanted? Something told me Mac wouldn’t say no. He seemed like a man who knew what to do with his hands, who’d never leave me aching for more. He knew how to satisfy a woman, and there was a desire in his eyes. He wanted me.
Could I have something physical with a man and keep it separate from my daughter? It didn’t seem feasible, but I wanted someone to relieve this ache in my core, and I knew Mac was the man to do it.
Kylie would tell me to go for it, but then she’d always been a little wild, as her last name suggested. Her whole family was. That’s what happened when you were the youngest of four brothers.
I’d always been more cautious, and now I had Delaney to think about. Her father left so abruptly that her entire world and safety net was removed from under her. I was the one who kept things stable for her. I couldn’t act on a whim. It would make me no better than Jay.
I left South Carolina because there was nothing left for us. I was worried my in-laws were saying things to Delaney that they shouldn’t. I wanted to protect her from what was going on. She didn’t know the details, and my mother-in-law thought it was her duty to feed it to her.
I started a bath in the incredible tub Mac had installed in my suite. When I protested the cost, he’d said I’d need a good one if I was going to be managing the B&B on my own. He told me not to worry about the expense, saying some ridiculous thing about it being a good advertisement for his business, but no one would see it but me. I’d sing its praises to anyone who asked, but it wasn’t the same as putting a tub into a guest bathroom.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the couch, the tub, or the way he’d worked so hard to get the apartment ready for me.
I slipped off my damp pajamas and stepped into the steaming water. I hoped this would relax me, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how aroused I’d been from Mac holding me. I sank into the water, resting my head on the lip of the tub. I reached for my tiny vibrator, the one I used because it was so small and quiet, and turned it on. I pressed the tip where I needed it the most, and a moan slipped out before I could cover my mouth.
I was so ready to combust, and it was all because of Mac. I imagined what would have happened had one of us made a move to kiss each other. Dream Mac said he wanted to make me feel good, and I was all for that.
I licked my lips as the vibrator did its job to take me over the edge. It wasn’t the same as Mac touching me, but I’d take my pleasure where I could get it.
Hooking up with the contractor who was renovating my B&B was a bad idea. Ever since his brother, Sam, formed a side company that created outdoor spaces, Mac took over as the foreman. I’d see him every day, and I didn’t want things to be awkward—or any more than they already had been.
But the irrational part of my brain pointed out that we were alone. Delaney was sleeping; we could give into our baser instincts. But every time my naughty side got on board with that idea, I remembered the look on Jay’s face when he told me via video that he was leaving me for his girlfriend.
I wouldn’t be that selfish. I had a child to think about and a business to get off the ground. I didn’t have time for built contractors who had a way with tools. I’d just need to take care of my own needs.