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Love isn’t something she thinks she needs…until it lands right on her doorstep.
Genevieve Boden is a witch and doesn’t care who knows. The townspeople’s fear of her keeps away those who have hurt her before—like the local men of authority. Besides, a life of exile deep in the woods of West Virginia is due punishment, she figures, for the part she played in her mother’s death. If she’s alone, no one need know that the trauma took away her powers.
Then she finds a bloody, fatally wounded man slumped on her porch. In an instant, her healing ability reawakens—and that’s not all. He stirs a hunger beyond her wildest dreams. But a relationship with the new chief of police? Not a chance.
Alex Rivera isn’t sure how he survived, but he’s certain his beautiful savior did more than just bandage his wounds. Captivated by this wary angel and stunned by the depth of emotion he feels for her, he vows to discover her secrets. After all, thanks to the raging snowstorm, they have nothing to do but share body heat.
Their sizzling attraction goes straight to their hearts. So could a killer’s bullet…once whoever shot Alex finds them.
Contains a convenient snowstorm that throws together two wounded characters who happen to be wildly attracted to each other, a drool-worthy hero, a shotgun-toting heroine, mattress sex, shower sex, couch sex, armchair sex, some light bondage, and a really good cup of hot cocoa.
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Copyright © 2009 Alisha Rai
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Chapter One Her bedside drawer emitted only a whisper when she slid it open to remove the loaded .22 caliber handgun. Genevieve Boden cocked and raised the weapon in a smooth motion as she sat up, ready to fire even before her eyes could adjust to the darkness in her cabin. She held her breath and strained her ears, picking apart the normal nighttime sounds of her home and the forest in search of the unfamiliar.Though she listened for it, the thump from outside shot a pulse of adrenaline through her veins and made her flinch. An animal, she told herself, as she slipped from the warm bed on silent feet. Strays often showed up on her doorstep. The reassurance didn’t do much to ease the knot of tension twisted in her gut.She reached the front door to hear another thump, louder than the first, and then a scratching noise, as if claws raked against the plank floor outside.
A big animal. With long nails?
A moan resonated through the house, launching goose bumps all over her skin.
Yeah, right. She couldn’t think of any animal that sounded like that. Not of the four-legged variety, at least.
Genevieve kept the gun ready and knelt next to the front window. A trickle of sweat snaked down her spine as she twitched aside the curtain and peered out.
At first she could see nothing out of the ordinary, but then the tiny sliver of visible moon managed to do its job and a lump on the steps of her porch separated from the shadows. She squinted. Correction, a very large, still lump.
She reached up to hit the switch to activate the outdoor light.
Genevieve inhaled sharply.
The glow of the single bulb wasn’t much, but it illuminated the face of the unconscious stranger sprawled flat on his back.
Whole and hearty, this man’s features would have been a gift from God, with his fiercely masculine beauty, a series of hard planes and rough angles. It was just too damn bad he looked as though he had tangled with the devil. An angry swollen knot, as big as her fist, took center stage on his forehead against a landscape of bruises and cuts, visible beneath the light dusting of snow on his face.
Genevieve stood and unlocked her deadbolts before she dragged her instinctive response to a halt. Men didn’t just fall from the sky on a daily basis to land, literally, at her feet. The guy might very well be beaten up, but something was fishy. Where had he come from?
Occasionally, she might stumble across a camper, but rarely in late November when the West Virginia mountain nights were so cold. The first snow of the season had started to fall earlier that day, and there were already a few solid inches lying on the ground. Even in good weather, her home was quite a hike for a healthy person to make on foot from the nearest town. If the roads were still in drivable condition, a car could get you pretty close, but she didn’t see any horse or car in the darkness of her yard.
She nibbled her lip and watched the man, counting the seconds he lay there without moving. She got to twenty before she gave up, cursed her conscience and opened the door a crack.
“Hey. Mister.” She hardened her tone, careful to keep the gun pointed in his direction and her finger on the trigger. When there was no response, she opened the door wider and leaned out. “You okay?”
The man moaned and she jumped, her hand tightening on the weapon. His eyelids fluttered open and his head turned toward her movement. He focused on her, his black eyes commanding despite the supplication in his hoarse one-word plea. “Help.”
Self-preservation warred with the desire to help. Undecided, Genevieve stood her ground while he flattened his hand against the plank floor and struggled to rise a few inches. He managed to heave himself further onto the porch before collapsing on his back again. The meager pool of light spilled over his upper body, revealing a dark stain over the shoulder of his shredded jacket.
Holy crap, that’s a lot of blood! Horror trumped her caution, and she hurried out to kneel beside him, laying the pistol within her reach. His jacket was light and completely inappropriate for the weather. Genevieve fumbled for a minute with the zipper, and then just gripped both sides of the material and ripped it apart. When she spread the windbreaker open she got her explanation for the state of his outerwear. The man must have torn the lining out with his hands to wrap a wad of material around his shoulder. The light blue nylon had turned dark red.
The knot was difficult to undo, but it finally came apart. The material actually stuck to his skin. Luckily, she wasn’t given to squeamishness, or peeling it off would have made her gag. The rip in his tan shirt was convenient, and she stuck her fingers in it to make it wider. She drew in a startled breath at the sight of his torn flesh underneath.
The jagged hole in his shoulder left little doubt he had met the wrong side of a gun. He flinched when she probed her fingers underneath him, but the quick inspection told her the bullet had gone clean through. That was the only good news, though. An unhealthy combination of dried blood, dirt, insect bites and scratches caked it, and the skin around the jagged edges of the injury was purple and puffy with infection. Now that she was close enough to feel the heat radiating off him, she realized his half-open eyes were too bright with fever. “When were you injured?”
His mouth worked. “Two—days? Don’t remember. Saw your smoke…”
Two days? He’d been crawling around the cold woods with a serious wound for a couple of days? No wonder he was so bad off. She’d heard of a man who got shot while stranded outdoors once and died of infection within seventy-two hours. This man was lucky he hadn’t also been attacked by animals or succumbed to dehydration.
The mystery as to his lightweight jacket was solved though. Weather turned quickly in the mountains. A couple of days ago, or even yesterday, the windbreaker would have been more than sufficient. Had he stayed out all night tonight, he would have frozen to death. “Who did this to you?”
“Don’t know…tried to get police…” The man shook his head, dazed. “Lost my phone.”
Phone. Yes. Why hadn’t she thought of that? No police, never, but she could get help. “Stay here.” As if he could go anywhere.
Leaving him down for the count, she palmed her gun and darted into her cabin. After Mom had died, she’d broken down and bought the telephone hanging on her kitchen wall.
By the time she got to the second digit in the closest hospital’s number, though, Genevieve realized she wasn’t hearing any telltale beeps. “Crap, crap, crap.” She slammed it down into the cradle and picked it up again. No dial tone. Dead. What a time for one of her few modern conveniences to fail her.
Genevieve returned to the porch and studied the guy for a second. Though she knew nothing would happen, she tried to slow her racing mind and focus past the man’s physical plane.
Nope, nothing. No colors, no energy bouncing around his body. To think, auras had once been as visible to her as someone’s nose.
The cold bit through her nightgown, and she shivered, wondering how he had managed to make it without dying. Who was he? A vacationer? Ski season had just begun, though the nearest resort was a ways off. Perhaps a winter fisherman? He had said he tried to get help…would the bad guy have tried to call the cops? Have you forgotten who the cops are here? Genevieve shook off that thought. She couldn’t in good conscience just leave the guy on her doorstep to die a painful death. Besides, she was tougher than she looked and he was in no shape to do any lasting damage to her. “We need to get you in the house. Can you walk that far?”
He grimaced and managed to raise his upper body a few inches. She kept her gun in one hand and slung his left arm over her shoulders to pull him upwards, using every ounce of will to help him to his feet and inside.
He was a big man, at least a foot taller and roped with heavy muscle. Despite the strength that came from working her small farm, she huffed and puffed by the time they cleared the doorway. She lowered him to a sitting position against the wall before closing the door and turning all four deadbolts. Genevieve switched the safety on the gun and placed it on her counter before stoking the fire and pulling the mattress and bedding from her queen-sized bed in the corner to create a pallet in front of the fireplace.
“Come on, now.” Genevieve helped her unexpected guest toward the mattress. The few steps into the cabin must have tired him. He leaned on her more heavily, and little trickles of sweat beaded along his hairline by the time he lay on his back. Though the fever raged through his body, his eyelashes were crusted with ice, his lips blue. She needed to see to his wounds before she could really bundle him up.
She gathered her supplies from under her bed, as well as water and towels, and hurried to his side. One of his shoes was missing, the other ripped, as if an animal had gnawed on it—hmm, maybe he had come across some four-legged predator after all. The jacket and casual tan button-down were a lost cause, so she wasted no time in using her kitchen shears to cut them right off. The jeans gave her a bit of pause, but she made a split-second decision to destroy those as well, instead of taking the time to try to work the wet denim off his dead weight. When he wore only his boxers, she surveyed him from head to toe with a clinical eye.
The scratches and bruises all over his body and the giant knot on his noggin weren’t great news, but the most worrisome injury was the mess on his right shoulder. Had it been taken care of right away, it probably wouldn’t have been a serious wound, but she’d never seen anything quite as bad as the putrid infection that had set in. She cleaned the wound and the skin first, wincing along with him as she unstuck the dried blood and grime from hair and flesh. After the cleansing, she gently probed the area around the wound.
His labored breathing turned the question into a soft whisper of sound. He had a slight accent, a hint of New York clipping the words. She glanced at his face. His eyes were slits of coal, his brow creased with pain.
She made her smile reassuring, her voice brisk. “No angels here. My name’s Genevieve. What’s yours?” She tried to work fast as she distracted him.
“Alex—oh, God.” He gritted his teeth when she covered the infected area with an antiseptic rinse before packing a poultice with herbs and tying it tight over his wound with a bandage.
She stuck a straw into the glass of water, bringing it to his parched lips. “Alex, you need to drink, okay?”
He gave a tiny nod in acceptance. She raised his head and supported him until she judged him to have had enough.
“Gen—Angel. Gonna die?” he gasped as she put the drink down.
He deserved honesty. “I don’t know.”
“Will you…tell my mom? My brother. I love them.”
She swallowed. “Yes. What’s your full name?”
He didn’t seem to hear her, his gaze turning inward. “Don’t wanna die.”
“I’ll do everything I can,” she whispered.
“Beautiful…” He closed his eyes and slipped into unconsciousness.
Despite her assurance, she honestly did not know if she could promise him life. Forget the dehydration and exposure—she had no way of knowing what damage the bullet had done internally, and the flesh was even more infected than she first believed. Her gut tightened in anxiety. She had worked automatically, calling on everything she had ever read or been taught, but the sad truth was, she had no practical experience with gunshot wounds. However, at this point, she wasn’t certain he would live until she could get him medical care.
Genevieve studied his fitful rest. His chest rose and fell far too shallowly.
I love them.
I’ll do everything I can.
Not for the first time in three years, she mourned her lost power. Healing had once been as natural to her as breathing. She’d saved countless animals in her childhood and adolescence. Granted, she’d never tried to cure massive infection before, but now she couldn’t even attempt it.
Or could she? She couldn’t, in good conscience, let him die if she had the ability to save him.
She laid her trembling hand flat over his bandage, closed her eyes and willed her mind and body to relax.
She clenched her eyes tighter, so frustrated a bit of moisture leaked out. Not tears; she never cried, damn it.
Mom, if you have any pull up there…please just help me out. I’m not hurting this time, I’m helping. Let me just…oh.
Energy slammed into her body, and she felt rather like she’d been plucked from her small cabin and thrown into a dark closet. The world receded around her and became condensed to the man in front of her and then only to his pain. Trying to think past the euphoria that came from having her lifelong power returned to her, she pictured the purple and blue flesh beneath the bandage, and punctured it in her mind, allowing the pus and bacteria inside to pour out down his arm. The man growled in agony.
The pus still trickled when she focused her energy into the wound itself and visualized repairing ripped muscle and flesh, fusing the torn sides together. His body bowed in an arch. He tipped his head back and roared in pain as he heated to a boiling point. A wet sheen of sweat covered his body and face. The power surged into him, and he glowed purple for just an instant.
In the space of a breath, it was finished. She doubled over, the pain in her shoulder and head blocking any other sensation.
Christ, it hurt. She’d forgotten how much. His pain, magnified by three…oh, it hurt. Genevieve whimpered and curled onto her side. Breathe.
She lost track of how long she lay there, unable to think beyond the pain. A half an hour? One hour?
When she could lift her eyelids without flinching, she knew the worst was over. Sweat covered her face, her nightgown stuck to her body, but she was able to move. Though her limbs felt heavy with exhaustion, she rallied her remaining strength to finish what needed to be done. She removed Alex’s blood-and-pus-soaked bandage, scrubbing his body with a wet towel, drying with another. Drying sweat would be the last thing he wanted when he went through the next stage.
He was barely conscious, grooves of pain and suffering carved around his mouth. I feel you, buddy. The lines of strain deepened as small shivers coursed through his body. Genevieve finished drying his legs and feet and ran to her small closet to get extra blankets. By the time she’d rushed back to him, his shivers had grown to great racking shudders. “Cold,” he rasped. “So—cold…”
She knelt next to him, working as fast as she could to bury him under the mound of blankets. A bright red flush covered his entire form, a reaction to the power she’d crammed into his body. His core temperature had taken a hard hit, to go from close to freezing to burning hot in the space of a couple of minutes.
The shudders didn’t dissipate, and Genevieve grew worried. She gave a startled squeak when a hot hand reached out from under the blanket and grabbed her wrist. “Need you,” he bit out. She was startled enough that she did not protest as he drew her under the blankets with him.
He heaved over onto his uninjured side, his face buried into the crook of her neck, hot breaths gusting against the sensitive skin. His heavy leg pinned her. His right hand shifted on her belly, and she spared a moment of worry that he would aggravate his shoulder by jostling it even the slightest bit. It didn’t seem to matter to him, though. Perhaps what she had done had numbed his body, or his brain was so far gone with pain and fever, a little more hurt didn’t affect him. His rough hand smoothed down her body and over her hip, catching in the fine lawn of her cotton nightgown. He grasped it before she realized what he was doing, dragging it up her body until it bunched above her breasts. Genevieve gasped as he pressed their naked bodies together, one large hand coming to rest under the curve of her breast, the other anchoring in her long braid. As his flesh met hers, his shudders finally subsided and he slipped fully into unconsciousness, his body turning into a dead weight.
He was so heavy, and her home was warm to begin with, so his furnace-like body temperature didn’t help. She shifted just a bit, but froze when the rough hair on his chest abraded her nipples. Would it be possible to get out from under him without moving? She wedged a hand between them to gingerly rest it on his hot chest and gave a slight push, but he remained immobile. She must be tired, she decided, if she was able to notice the resilient, muscular flesh beneath her palm. Shame on you. He’s near death.
Shaking her head, Genevieve pushed harder. He grunted and moved, enough for her to slide her upper body out from underneath him. She shoved her nightgown down until it covered her to at least her upper thighs.
She should move, get the gun, and keep watch on this guy. Try out her old, decrepit radio and see if she could contact someone for help. He could be some sort of career criminal, the bad guy. Genevieve yawned loudly instead. God, she was tired. Maybe she could take just a minute to catch her breath. Then she’d get up. Her state of exhaustion was related to him, so it wasn’t like he would be particularly spry in attacking her if she stayed for a second.
She craned her neck back a bit to study the stranger’s face. When the Lord saw fit to drop a man on her doorstep, He didn’t do it by half measures. This was a Man with a capital letter, the kind who probably choked people with a cloud of testosterone. Beneath bruises and cuts she knew were already healing at ridiculous speeds, the stranger’s face was perfectly formed, with a strong, straight nose, high cheekbones and full sensuous lips.
His skin was a toasty shade of brown. He was Hispanic, she guessed, which was unusual in the mostly Caucasian surrounding communities. She followed along his tanned throat to what she could see of the rest of his body, feeling a tiny twinge of guilt for ogling him while he slept. The twinge got swept away in admiration. His shoulders were broad, his stomach a flat washboard. A dark sprinkling of hair covered his chest, narrowing to a line that disappeared into his boxers. His left hand still lay on her stomach and no amount of calling herself foolish could stop her from noting he wore no wedding ring, had no pale strip of skin on his ring finger.
With her defenses lowered by utter fatigue, she wasn’t able to stop the impulse that had her stroking back the dark lock of hair that fell over his forehead. She lingered, exploring the coarse and curling strands.
His eyes popped open and caught her in the act of fondling his hair. “Sorry,” she whispered, embarrassed, and lowered her hand. His impossibly long lashes drifted closed again, but not before he tightened his hold and pulled her toward him. He gave a satisfied grunt when she pressed against his entire length.
His heat permeated her body. Sleep sucked at her consciousness, and she tried her best to fight it. Get up, get the gun. You can’t just snuggle next to this guy.
She couldn’t trust him, but surely he’d be out for a while. It wouldn’t hurt to give in to her heavy eyelids for a few minutes, right? Just for a bit. Five minutes tops, and then she’d be back in fighting form.
Roll out of bed and doze on the ground, then. She gave a halfhearted jerk to move away, but his fingers caught in her braid. Her exhausted mind gave a shrug, and she couldn’t even pry her eyes open anymore anyway. Sleep rushed over her like a Mack truck. Her last conscious thought was the groggy realization that she hadn’t had a man on top of her in years. Alex was a definite upgrade