The Mountain Man's Secret Twins(5)

By: Alexa Ross & Holly Rayner

“Oh, gosh,” Kenzie said, feeling nervous. “I’m so sorry. You don’t have to—if I could just borrow the wood—”

“No. I don’t want you to go all the way back down and not be able to start it,” he said, slipping his socked feet into his thick boots. “I can do it in just a few minutes. I’m guessing that will save you a few hours.” He looked her up and down once more. “Where are you from?”

“Concord, New Hampshire,” she responded, tilting her head and feeling the compassion from his words. It had been a long time since she’d met a kind stranger. “I’m just here for the week. To ski.”

“Ah. And you didn’t bother bringing anyone with you? Scary woods to sleep in alone,” the man said, cinching his bootlaces tight.

“Unfortunately, it’s just me for now,” Kenzie said. She allowed a long moment to pass before speaking again. “I’m Kenzie, by the way. Kenzie Harrington.”

The man got up from the couch and shook her hand, making intense eye contact. “Kenzie. I’m Bryce. Bryce Walker. It’s good to meet you. Now, let’s stop wasting time. It’s almost nine at night, and I have an early wakeup call.”

Was he being rude? Or just trying to save time? Kenzie couldn’t tell. But it was clear he wasn’t attracted to her, or perhaps hadn’t noticed her. Should she flirt with him?

Kenzie bounded after him, toward their cars in the driveway. Bryce revealed a small, dry arena beside his cabin where he kept large stacks of firewood. They began to pile the wood into the back of Kenzie’s car. Bryce informed her that he’d give her enough for a few days but that she’d better stockpile her own, from either the local town store or the branches surrounding her cabin.

“I won’t bother you every few days for wood,” Kenzie said, laughing and tossing some lumber into her trunk, on top of several real estate magazines. “I promise.”

“Good,” Bryce said. Kenzie couldn’t tell if he was joking, but his eyes twinkled as he gave her a final look before ducking into the driver’s seat of his truck. Perhaps there was a chance? “Lead me, okay?” he called out the window.

Kenzie drove down the mountain and out of the depth of the woods, toward her cabin, thankful she remembered the way. As she drove slowly, the truck followed several feet behind, giving her enough room to make mistakes. He seemed conscious of how careful she was, that she required an easy trek.

As she drove, she imagined herself attempting to build a fire alone that night, shivering and cursing, snapping her real estate nails against the twigs and growing dirtier and more frustrated with each passing moment. She suspected Bryce had had a similar image. She suspected he could see through her with those piercing blue eyes, which were tinged with loneliness. A loneliness that, Kenzie knew, she’d probably have to grow accustomed to.

They arrived at her cabin 15 minutes later, Bryce popping out immediately and gathering the wood from her trunk. In no time, he’d stockpiled it in a dry area of her porch and begun to construct a fire-friendly structure in her fireplace. Kenzie looked on from the side of the dank, slight cabin room, watching his arms move easily, lifting and adjusting the wood, before he snapped a match. The fire made his eyes twinkle. He lit some of the smaller twigs first, allowing the logs to grow warmer and drier. Then he struck another match, making the larger logs catch.

With a firm, small fire growing in the fireplace, Kenzie clicked her tongue. “I’m impressed, Boy Scout,” she said.

Bryce lifted himself from his knees, brushing at his dirtied jeans. “You’ll get the hang of it,” he said. “Especially if you’re going to be here for a week, you said?”

“Yep,” Kenzie said, scratching at the back of her skull. “I was hoping you could recommend some places in town? It’s what, 20 miles down the mountain?”

“Right,” Bryce said, his voice taking on a polite tone. “There’s a great grocery store. Hank’s, is what he’s called it. And the pub next door has half-priced pints on Tuesdays and Thursdays, if that suits you. Also, the Early Bird diner. The best breakfast I’ve ever had in Vermont, and for less than five dollars, if you can believe it. And there’s a tiny medical center down there. A single nurse, and a doctor that drives in about once a week. God forbid you need something like that, but it’s good to know it’s there.”

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