The Mountain Man's Secret Twins(6)

By: Alexa Ross & Holly Rayner

“Thank you,” Kenzie said, swiping her brown hair behind her ears. “You don’t know what this means to me. I’ve had a crappy day.” She gave him a slight smile.

“I know all about crappy days,” Bryce said, walking toward the door. He was suddenly in a rush, anxious to stop the conversation in its tracks. He seemed aloof, as if he’d already spent his allotted words for the day. “I suppose I’ll get back to my cabin. Keep the fire going, and put a log on every once in a while. It should hold all night and keep you warm.”

Kenzie watched as Bryce marched down the steps toward his truck. He looked handsome, if stooped, as if the weight of the world were continually on his shoulders. As she closed the door, she remained at the window, her fingertips against the pane, watching as he maneuvered back onto the winding road.

She sensed that he wouldn’t see anyone for another several days, that he normally lived in his head, safe from the dangers of the world. And god, Kenzie knew those dangers. As of today, she knew what it was like to open herself up to someone and feel like she’d been dragged through the mud. Remembering her mother, who’d been left after 17 years of marriage, she forced herself to begin forgiving the world, hopeful she wouldn’t follow a similar track.

She collapsed on the couch moments later, loving the feel of the tickling fire upon her frigid toes. She removed her soggy socks and undressed, donning a nightgown. She found several blankets in the closet and wrapped up, gazing into the fire, allowing her mind to drift back to Austin and Tori. She hadn’t received a single message on her phone, nothing to alert her that Austin was searching for her or worried about her.

Perhaps he and Tori were together at that exact moment, gazing into one another’s eyes, thanking their lucky stars that Kenzie had left town. Perhaps they were sleeping in her very bed, knowing they had several more days before she arrived home again.

Kenzie leaned back against the couch, gazing up at the low ceiling, which was cracked from the freezing winters and the bright summers, the wood stretched. Grateful for the fire, she cuddled against the back of the couch, her mind whirring with how nice and handsome Bryce was.

Even after dating Austin for two years, she couldn’t remember feeling that instant attraction, that sizzling in her gut that told her she felt something. Something important. Something that mattered. Rather, Austin had been convenient, at the office in which she worked every single day, flashing that smile at her and convincing her, after several months of working side by side, to go out for a drink with him. Starved for love and feeling lustful, she’d agreed.

Now she regretted it. She remembered thinking she was falling for him in ways she couldn’t have dreamed of before, but she’d convinced herself of that. Obviously.

After nearly an hour, Kenzie allowed herself to drift off to sleep, visions of Bryce still filling her mind. She had fleeting dreams about him, about them walking through the snowy woods together, hand in hand. There was such a warmth to him, a strength to him, that assured her everything would be all right. They didn’t have to speak. They could just gaze into one another’s eyes in this other dream world and feel the tension, the spark, that their presence together created.

Kenzie awoke early in the morning and dropped another log on the fire, watching as sparks burst into the air. She shivered, rubbing her hands together, and then dropped her feet into her boots. She brought a bucket from the kitchen and gathered up some snow, anxious for something to drink. Holding the bucket over the fire, she watched as the snow melted into glittering water, and then she drank gratefully. Her scratchy throat felt cool and clean, and her mind was free from thoughts of Austin and Tori.

Realizing she was absolutely starving, having eaten nothing since the previous day’s bite of burger, she moved to her car and drove down the mountain, toward the small town. Stretching her fingers over the steering wheel, she imagined finding Bryce at the diner, tucking into pancakes and drinking coffee slowly, contemplating whatever weight he felt from the world. Perhaps the moment she entered, she would cause him to smile.

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