“Come on, BB, hurry it up.” Kyler Fuller held the door to the cabin open with his foot, his hands stuffed full of grocery sacks. His muscles strained against the plastic bags as the horizon boiled with dark gray clouds, as thunder boomed and crashed and threatened to make the sky fall.
The eight-year-old Welsh corgi somehow got his stumpy legs up to the front porch and through the door before the rain started falling. Kyler ducked in after him, glad he’d made it to the cabin before the weather.
He’d come up last night and stacked wood in the mudroom after McDermott—his best friend and now one of his sister’s husbands—had alerted him to the forecast.
Kyler busied himself with putting the groceries away, missing the way his long hair used to sway with the simplest of tasks. But he had been able to get more dates since cleaning up his appearance. Now he shaved every day, and kept his hair clipped as if he were about to enlist in the armed forces.
He worked out enough mowing lawns and moving pavers that he didn’t worry about adding running to his regimen. He’d tried getting out to the summer picnics this year, the speed dating event at the church, and hanging out with his friends and brothers at the karaoke bar on the weekends.
Sure, he’d gotten some attention. But not from anyone he cared to continue a relationship with.
“BB,” he scolded as the dog started licking the cabinet. “Knock it off.” He chuckled as the corgi seemed to give him a smile and then went right back to the cabinet, where something must’ve been spilled in the past.
His phone rang, but he ignored the call from his oldest brother, instead tapping out an I made it before the rain in response to Milton. Since another of his brothers, Brennan, had moved to California, Milt had become Kyler’s wingman.
But Kyler had had enough for a while. He’d come to the family cabin up in the hills above Brush Creek, where he planned to stay for the next few days. The fishing, hiking, and relaxing would’ve been better if the weather was more cooperative, but June in this part of Utah was unpredictable at best.
And “Hail,” Kyler said with wonder, at worst.
The sound of the hard hail on the roof and windows upset BB, who whimpered. Kyler scooped him up and held the brown and white dog to his chest. “All right, Bread and Butter. You’re fine.” He chuckled as the dog shook in his arms. He set the little dog on the counter and pulled out a pound of ground beef.
That got BB to hold still, and as the symphony of hail continued to beat down on the house, he seasoned the meat with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. With the grill pan heating on the stove, harder pounding sounded from the front door.
Kyler jerked his head toward the door, his heart leaping to the back of his throat. There was someone out in this storm? This far from civilization?
“Hello?” Desperation rode in the word. More banging came on the door, and then someone tried to open it. Kyler didn’t remember locking the door, but the knob didn’t turn. That was when he realized he was just standing there in the kitchen, while someone was trapped outside in the relentless hail.
“Just a second!” He dashed toward the door, hoping his little dog didn’t waddle off the countertop of go after the raw ground beef.
He fumbled with the lock and yanked open the door to find a waterlogged person standing there. Kyler blinked, surprised to see the curve of a woman’s body inside the police uniform.
All beige, the pants ended in black boots. She wore a belt cinched around her trim waist, and when her dark eyes met Kyler’s, he sucked in a breath. “Dahlia?”
“Can I come in?” she asked, her voice raspy as her chest heaved.
“Have you been running?”
“It’s coming down out here,” she said, still panting.
“Come in, come in.” Kyler stepped back to let Dahlia Reid enter the cabin. She took off her flat-brimmed hat and let the water drip to the floor. Kyler didn’t mind, but he had no idea what to do with her. He mowed lawns, trimmed bushes, and built retaining walls for a living. He didn’t know what to do with beautiful, soaked detectives.
“I’m—uh—making dinner. You want something to eat?” That sounded like a good idea. Food. Water. Shelter. The bare necessities of life. He stepped past her and managed to save the bowl of seasoned beef just before BB got his snout into it.
“We have a washer and dryer here too. We could get your clothes dry.”
Dahlia wandered a little closer, her boots squeaking against the hard floor as she continued to drip water everywhere. “How big is this place?”
“Pretty big,” he said. “We used to come up here for family vacations in the winter.”
“All nine of you?”
“Eleven,” he said. “My parents came too.” He flashed her a smile, glad he didn’t have to explain to her about his huge family. She used to be one of the patrol officers in the Brush Creek Police Department, and she was well-acquainted with Dawn especially. His wildest sister, Dawn had gotten in the most trouble growing up.
But Kyler didn’t know Dahlia Reid. He just knew of her, the same way she knew of him and his family.
“Do you think there might be something I can change into while my clothes go through the wash?” Dahlia ran her fingers through her hair, combing some water from the curly ends.
Kyler stared at her, sure she was a dark-haired angel straight from heaven. His mind seemed stuck on someone he’d known about but had never seen.
“Kyler?” she asked, cocking her head to the side and training those dark as pitch eyes on him.
He shook himself out of this stupor and said, “Oh, yeah, probably.” The scent of a too-hot pan met his nose and he hurried to turn down the heat under the grill pan. “Let’s see, um, my sisters used to sleep in the first couple of rooms just down that hall. Feel free to look around and see what you can find.”
Dahlia flashed him a brilliant smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes, and turned toward the hall that led to the back of the cabin. She disappeared through the doorway, and Kyler stared at the ground beef and picked up a handful of it to make burgers.
“Idiot,” he whispered. “You should’ve gone with her to find some clothes.” But he couldn’t go charging after her now. He adjusted the flame under the grill pan and got the meat sizzling.
BB yipped, but Kyler ignored him. The dog’s claws clicked on the countertop and he paced, paced, paced back and forth, giving a gargled yip every time he turned.
“I know,” Kyler said, keeping an eye on the arched doorway that led to the hall. “I should’ve gone to help her.” With all the burgers on the grill, he washed up real quick and rounded the peninsula in the island in favor of approaching the hall.
“Detective?” he called, slowing his steps as he neared the first doorway that led to a bedroom where his sisters used to sleep. The noise from the hail quieted the farther he moved into the cabin, and he listened for Dahlia’s reply.
“Dahlia?” He liked the way her name rolled off his tongue.
“Coming,” she called. A few seconds later, the next door down opened and she came out, her fingers still working through her hair. A smile ghosted across her mouth. “I found a few things that will do.”
She wore a pair of loose pajama pants the color of mint toothpaste, and a T-shirt that had a bright red U on it for the University of Utah. Both items were too big and hung off her lithe frame. She might be thin, but she was wiry, strong, and tough. At least if his brother-in-law Tate was to be believed.
Dahlia had trained Tate when he’d first come to town, right before she was made detective for the Unified Police Unit that covered several of the small towns out here west of Vernal.
And that was the bulk of what Kyler knew about her. What he wanted to know seemed bottomless, and he quirked a smile at her. “Where are your wet clothes? I’ll get them going. And I’ve got dinner started.”
“Will there be cheese on the burgers?” She stepped back into the bedroom and returned a moment later with an armful of her wet clothes.
“Of course,” he said.
“Good.” She smiled at him and pushed the clothes into his hands as she passed. “I love cheese.”
He chuckled and followed her back into the front part of the house, where the large living room attached to the dining room and the kitchen where he’d been working spread before him.
“Make yourself at home.” He went through the door closest to the bar and opened the washing machine. The cupboard above the appliance held the detergent pods, and he got her laundry started.
He paused in the doorway to find her sitting on the couch, her back to him, her fingers plaiting her hair as she hummed. The song tickled something in his memory, but he couldn’t quite place it.
The scent of cooking beef met his nose and he lunged around the peninsula and flipped the burgers, the pan hissing and spitting when the juices and raw meat met the hot surface. If he let them go longer than another sixty seconds, they’d be overdone.
He unwrapped the cheese quickly and splashed a bit of water on the grill pan and placed a big lid over the burgers to get the cheese nice and melty. He hadn’t had time to get any of the toppings ready, but he flipped the flame off under the grill pan and removed the burgers to a plate to rest.
He’d never had a problem talking to women, and he sliced tomatoes as he asked, “So, Dahlia, where are you from?” He wasn’t sure of her exact age, but she had to be close to his thirty-five. And she hadn’t grown up here in Brush Creek.
“Vernal.” She looked over her shoulder. “My parents still live there.” Dahlia got up and sauntered over to the counter and leaned against it. “Can I help?”
“Oh, I’m fine,” he said, reaching for the head of lettuce. “Do you have siblings?”
“Nope. Just me.” Her smile seemed tight around the edges, and Kyler turned away from her to get out the ketchup, mustard, and mayo from the fridge.
“Toasted bun or no?”
“It’s fine as-is.”
“Then we’re ready to eat.” Kyler wasn’t sure how long the storm would last, but when he glanced out the window, it was definitely still coming down strong. “At least the hail’s stopped.”
“Yeah.” Dahlia started doctoring up her bun and Kyler copied her.
“So why were you out here?” he asked, knifing some mayo from the jar.
“Police business,” she said, her tone guarded.
“Police business?” Surprise bolted through him. “Out this far?”
Dahlia lifted her eyes to meet his, no fear or hint of frustration in them at all. Her expression was quite unreadable and it sparked something deep inside Kyler’s chest.
“Yes, out this far.” Her words carried a double meaning, and Kyler got the hint.
None of your business.
Dahlia turned away and took her burger to the long picnic-style table in the dining room. Kyler wanted to ask more questions, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to see Dahlia get upset. So he zipped his lips—except to open his mouth and take a big bite of his burger.