Jessica Flynn can’t wait to buy up that patch of unspoiled North Carolina woodland next door and expand her spa. What could be more sensuous than a hot-tub soak under the stars? Jessica would love to bask in the romantic view herself-but first she needs to find the right man to join her in this fantasy. Back in high school, she thought that was the dark and brooding Mark Dalton. But then he left to join the Special Forces, and when he returned to town, it felt like their teenage love affair had never even happened.
Mark Dalton has his eye on the same property for his own business. Yet there’s something he wants to have even more. Because Jessica is sweeter than he remembered, and he’s finding it hard to resist his attraction to the competition. When they finally find themselves alone, deep in the forest, nature can’t help but run a little wild. But if she ever finds out what he’s been hiding all these years, she may never forgive him…
Stifling a yelp, she whirled to find Mark behind her, a brown dog at his side. It really was unfair that he could move so quietly. “Yes, but . . . did you get a dog?”
He glanced down at the mutt standing at attention be- side him. “Nah. Found her.”
“Really? Out here?” Jessica stepped closer, holding out a hand toward the dog, who eyed her warily, never budging from Mark’s side.
“Yeah. I’ll drop her by the shelter when I leave.”
“Hi, girl.” Jessica crouched down, talking to the dog. “How’d you wind up out here?”
The dog icked her ears forward and took a step in Jessica’s direction. She was fairly large, with brown fur that was matted in places and adorable, fluffy ears. After a little coaxing, she walked over and licked Jessica’s hand.
“Maybe you should keep her,” she said to Mark. “At least while you look for her family. She’s too sweet to go to the shelter.”
He grunted, gazing down at the dog.
Jessica stroked behind the dog’s ears. “You know what happens to strays at the shelter who don’t find a home, right?”
Mark said nothing.
For some reason, she wanted him to keep this dog.
Maybe it would be good for him to have someone at home to greet him. “You don’t want her to be euthanized, do you? She seems so quiet and well behaved.”
“Which means she probably has a family out there looking for her.”
“And you should definitely let the shelter know you’ve found her. I think they can even scan her for a microchip. Up to you whether you leave her there.” She winked at him.
He said nothing.
The dog really was a sweet thing. She licked Jessica’s fingers, her tail wagging shyly, and then returned to Mark’s side, looking for all the world like she was waiting for her next command. When he started walking, she followed right at his heels.
So did Jessica. They walked together in easy silence, following the string of orange ags he had placed on the ground. He’d been busy today and also true to his word. His flags were well away from the area she wanted for her cabins.
She couldn’t help smiling every time she glanced at the dog by his side. The pooch clearly already viewed Mark as her master. It was easy to see why. He moved with a quiet confidence that obviously set her at ease. Not sure which way to go? Just follow Mark.
Jessica was so busy doing just that that she didn’t even see the hole in front of her until she’d stepped in it. Thrown off balance, she groped blindly for something to hang on to, her fingers latching on to Mark’s arm. He turned in surprise and grabbed her before she went down in a heap.
His hands gripped her arms, warm and strong, his eyes locked on hers. “You okay?”
She nodded because her heart was pounding so hard she didn’t trust herself to speak. There was so much electricity in the air between them that her whole body sizzled with it. Her stumble had landed her close in his arms, so close that, each time she drew breath, the space between them seemed to shrink.
His gaze dropped from her eyes to her lips.
He’s going to kiss me!
Her blood heated, and her lips parted, and…what the hell was she thinking? Grabbing on to the last glimmer of reason in her brain, she stepped backward out of his arms. Pain knifed up her left leg, and it folded beneath her, dropping her in a heap onto the forest oor.
The air left her lungs so fast she felt dazed, sitting there, staring at Mark’s boots. Then the dog was there, nuzzling her cheek, tail wagging.
Mark crouched in front of her. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”
Not wanting to get lost in his eyes again, she looked down at her left knee, which, now that she was no longer drunk with lust, hurt like a son of a bitch. “I think I twisted my knee.”
“Let me have a look.” He straightened her leg out against the bed of pine needles and gently felt her knee through her jeans.
She winced. “It’s been bothering me off and on for a few weeks. I don’t know what I did to it.”
“You have it checked out?”
“No.” She sighed. Dammit, she hated going to the doc-tor. Maybe because, having a nurse for a mother, she’d spent way too much time around hospitals as a kid. “I guess I should though. I thought it was finally better.”
She accepted the hand he held out and pushed to her feet, putting all her weight on her right foot. Her left knee throbbed. She could feel the heat radiating out of it. Son of a bitch.
“You able to walk on it?”
“Of course.” She took a halting step, biting her tongue to hold back a groan. Well, better to get this over with. She hobbled away from Mark in the direction of the spa.
“In the interest of getting home before dark…” His arms came around her, and he swept her off her feet, lifting her into his arms as if she weighed nothing at all (and thank goodness for that because it took a little of the sting off her pride).
“I can walk,” she said, her voice gone all low and husky because now she was closer than ever to him, wrapped up in his warm, masculine scent. She felt his heart thumping against her, and as she met his eyes, it quickened.
So did hers.
Her hands tightened behind his neck, causing his head to dip toward hers. Helpless to ght the pull, she leaned in, and her lips brushed his. Her entire body lit with awareness from her scalp to her toes, like she’d just turned on the light after a very long time in the dark. Whoa.
Yeah. Sparks. She and Mark still had them.
She sucked in a ragged breath, her eyes locking on to his, and then he kissed her back. This time his lips crashed into hers with an urgency that matched the need aring inside her. Her eyes uttered shut, and her lips parted.
Jessica’s forehead bumped into Mark’s. He was looking down at the dog, his expression a mixture of amusement and frustration. At his feet, the dog was staring right back in rapt attention.
Way to ruin the moment, Fluffball.
Mark’s gaze flicked back to Jessica’s, and almost with-out thinking, she tipped her face, bringing her lips back to his. Everything inside her went all hot and tingly as his tongue swept into her mouth.
“Seriously, now you discover your voice?” She glared down at the dog in mock exasperation.
Mark let out a rough laugh. “She hasn’t made a peep all day.”
“I don’t think she likes us kissing.” As she spoke, her gaze dropped to his lips. The damn dog was probably the only one here that had any sense. But right now, Jessica. Did. Not. Care.
The only thing she could think about was kissing him again. And again.
About the Author
Rachel Lacey is a contemporary romance author and semi-reformed travel junkie. She’s been climbed by a monkey on a mountain in Japan, gone scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, and camped out overnight in New York City for a chance to be an extra in a movie. These days, the majority of her adventures take place on the pages of the books she writes. She lives in warm and sunny North Carolina with her husband, son, and a variety of rescue pets.
Two winners will receive a copy of CAN’T FORGET YOU by Rachel Lacey.