A Mail-Order Hope

By: Janelle Daniels

He shrugged, and her eyes flickered over the heavily muscled shoulders concealed beneath his green and black plaid shirt. The green matched his eyes, she realized. Well, not quite. It matched the green in them, but there were flecks of brown and gold in there too. She’d never seen eyes quite that color.

“I would’ve shot it. It would have never touched you,” he promised.

She believed him. But still… “What if you had missed?”

“I never miss.”

“Never?” She arched a brow, grateful this conversation was distracting her. The last of her shivers eased, but he continued stroking her. She should probably tell him to stop, but the connection to him was nice. She’d never allowed a man to touch her this way, and every brush of his hands were sending tingles up her arms.

He held her gaze another moment before he finally broke the contact. “No.”

No. Well, that left little more to be discussed. But she wasn’t done. She was inside his cabin. Inside! The thought jarred her, and she finally broke contact with him. She’d done it. She’d gotten inside. All because a bear had almost killed her. But it hadn’t. And now that she was still alive and actually inside Asher’s home, he’d have to talk to her. Why hadn’t she thought of this sooner? She snorted.

“What’s funny?” he asked. He looked over her with concerned eyes.

No doubt he thought she’d lost her mind, cracked under the pressure from her near-death experience. She pursed her lips. “Just thinking how I should’ve arranged for a bear attack on my second attempt to talk to you. Had I known how easy it was to get into your house after, I would’ve done it a lot sooner.”

His eyes narrowed, but she wrinkled her nose at him. Could he not take a joke? Or was it just that it was too soon after the ordeal? Either way, it was behind her. And that was exactly where she preferred near-death experiences to be.

“Do you think this is a joke? You almost died.”

She lifted a brow. “I thought you said you’d never let that happen?”

He spluttered, and she smiled. It was turning out to be a lot easier to unnerve him than she thought it would be. “I’m only teasing.”

“It’s not funny. Had that bear come upon you on your way here…” He shook his head as if he couldn’t stand the thought.

He looked really torn up about it. Guilt pricked her. She wanted him to come out of his shell and start to live again, but she didn’t want to bring him any pain.

“Hey,” she said, stepping forward and placing her hand on his arm. When he flinched, she didn’t comment on it, but continued touching him. It might not be proper, but he needed the connection. “I’m sorry. I won’t tease you.”

“It’s fine.” He stepped away from her touch, and she curled her fingers into a fist, determined not to push him. “I’m sorry. I’m not used to talking to women.”

“Just women?” He gave her a look, and she shook her head. “Forgive me. I can’t ever seem to keep my mouth shut when needed. Or…ever for that matter.”

His lips twitched, and she felt as if she’d performed a huge feat.

“No. You’re right,” he said. “I’m not used to dealing much with others.”

“If not for that bear out there”—she nodded toward the closed door—“this wouldn’t be happening, would it? I’d still be out there sitting on a stump, talking to myself.”

He nodded once.

Well, at least he was being honest with her. “Mr. Walker, you can’t stay here forever.”

“You’re right. I’ll need supplies eventually.”

Her hands went to her hips. “You know what I mean.”

She knew he did. In fact, she had a feeling he’d been teasing her. But teasing or not, there was truth in his words. “You have to move on eventually.”

He ran his fingers through his hair, looking uncomfortable once again. “Look, Miss Sweeney. You don’t know me, and I don’t know anything about you, other than the things you’ve said outside my house. I appreciate you’re concerned for me, but you needn’t be. I’m fine.”

He could say he was fine until he was blue in the face, and it still wouldn’t convince her of it. “No, you’re not.”

He laughed and shook his head. “You don’t give up easily, do you?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“You helped find Clara when she was kidnapped. If it weren’t for you, we would’ve never gotten her back. We owe you.”

His hand sliced through the air. “You don’t owe me anything.”

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