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Take the Honey and Run: Sweet & Dirty BBW MC Romance, Book #6 (Sweet&Dirty BBW MC Romance) by Cathryn Cade (1)

CHAPTER ONE


Friday

The Pine Cabins of Rathdrum, Idaho had likely been cozy, clean and restful back in the day.

Now they were just sad and sorry.

Set back from a narrow, paved road that wove through the North Idaho forest, the row of small, white cabins sat in the shade of tall evergreens. Even with the March sun reflecting off the late-winter snow piled under the trees, along the driveway and narrow parking lot, they were shrouded in gloom.

Manda pictured them back in the 1960’s. Summertime, with a station wagon or sedan drawn up before each cabin, and people strolling along the path, to the creek at the base of the mountain.

The shade of these majestic trees cool in the heat of summer, fragrant with pine and fresh air.

Laughter ringing as kids ran and adults played horseshoes or a game of pickup baseball. Deer peering from the trees, while chipmunks darted out from beneath bushes, looking for treats.

Back then, the wooden sign advertising Pine Cabins—A Fun Family Motor Lodge would have been accurate.

Seventy-odd years later, the sign leaned crookedly on the snowbank behind it, the posts nearly rotted away.

The place itself was in similar shape.

And no matter the current owner's big talk about how he planned to fix up the cabins and turn the place back into a desirable stop for tourists, Manda was pretty sure neither the cabins nor grounds had seen the business end of a paint brush or garden rake in years.

Her cabin, next to the small office, smelled of mildew and other things she'd rather not think about. It was none too warm, either. The battered baseboard heater clanked loudly but gave almost no heat.

This morning, she'd put on Tim's Seahawks hoodie over her bra, a cami, two tee-shirts and her jeans, with wool socks and her worn Uggs. She was still shivering.

Which was why she now sat in the office. In here, a space heater blasted warmth from its red coils. And Tim's buddy Rezan, the owner, was at least company. Although the embarrassment of trying to make conversation with a complete stranger, who was stuck with her through no fault of his own, sort of made her want to go and hide in the bathroom.

Or maybe that was all the coffee she was drinking.

She clutched the paper cup she'd refilled from the cheap coffee maker hissing on a corner table. The office smelled of stale, over-heated coffee. But it was hot and it was free, so she'd drink it.

Just as she'd impose on the good nature of Tim's buddy—she had little choice at the moment.

Rezan Faro lounged behind the desk across from her chair, smiling at her in a way that a lot of girls had probably told him was sexy.

He was handsome, true. His dark eyes were almost too pretty for a man's face. He was only a few inches taller than her five foot six, his wiry body attired in black-and-red Under Armor sportswear, a heavy gold chain at his throat, and an equally gaudy ring on each hand. His black hair was cut short on the sides, the top long. His skin was the muted mocha of mixed heritage.

In other circumstances, maybe at a club with nothing more on her mind than fun, and no boyfriend in the wings, she might have returned his flirty smiles.

But now, she was not in the mood. He was Tim’s friend, for one thing.

But she was grateful, because he was being really nice about having her dumped on him for however long. She tried to picture Tim hanging out and chatting with one of his buddies’ girlfriends to make her feel at ease. The image wouldn’t come.

"So, Manda," Rezan said, his voice light and smooth. "You must be gettin' pretty bored sitting on your ass around here all day." His grin widened, his gaze flicking down her body and back up. "Not that it ain't a gorgeous ass."

She smiled, but her hands tightened on her cup. "I'm fine, thanks. Just... I thought Tim would be back by now."

The Tri-Cities wasn't that far away—her boyfriend had gone to pick up some 'stuff' for Rezan, as thanks for letting them stay here. But instead of returning the next day as he'd promised, Tim had now been gone two full days.

She was getting worried. Okay, she was flat-out scared—not to mention pissed off.

She was stuck here without Tim, and without money. He’d 'borrowed' the last of her cash to buy gas and cigarettes on their way up here, assuring her they'd make plenty more in no time working for his buddy at his little resort.

The big plan was, Tim would do maintenance while she worked the front desk. Why, she could even work her way up to manager if she just used her pretty smile, he’d assured her. It had seemed easier to believe this than to argue with him.

She was also stuck without a car. Her little Camry had broken down just before they'd left the Tri-Cities. Tim convinced her the super at their old apartment building would be glad to take it in lieu of the month's rent they owed.

Again, she'd chosen to believe him. This had become a habit in the fourteen months they’d been together, although lately her belief had wavered, badly.

But the loss of her car meant she couldn't look for a job, because even to waitress or run a cash register at a convenience store she needed a way to get there. The Pine Cabins were a couple of miles out of the nearest small town, Rathdrum.

And the 'resort' had turned out to be this dump, with no visitors except her and Tim, and they weren't exactly paying guests. In other words, there was nothing to manage.

She didn't even have a phone, because it was in Tim's car, where it had been charging.

Rezan shrugged, and leaned way back in his chair. "Yeah, I thought Timmy'd be back by now too. Sure hope he ain't run out on me... and on you too." He smiled ruefully, in a way that said Tim had inconvenienced them both.

Her stomach knotted. "He—he wouldn't do that.”

Only she didn't sound very convincing, even to herself. Because the sad truth was, she had slowly come to realize, Tim was like a big kid in many ways. When he was excited about something or someone, he was all in.

The first several months they’d been together had been fun, exciting and full of good times, in bed and out.

But for the last few months, she’d begun to worry her boyfriend had one foot out the door. He'd been getting more impatient with her. Criticizing her, interrupting her, telling her not to worry about every little thing. Things like his quitting his job selling furniture, right after she’d lost her own job.

When she’d asked him if he was still into her, still invested in building a future together, he’d said of course he was, that she was being silly. That he was just sick of the Tri-Cities and the crappy jobs there.

Then he’d laughed, and danced her around their tiny apartment, full of a new plan for them here, at the Pine Cabins. Caught up in his enthusiasm, she’d let him cuddle and love her into agreeing to start over in a new place.

Now Manda wondered if even that show of affection had been a lie. Was he done with her too? Did he even intend to come back here, or had he skipped out on her?

She of all people knew men did that.

Her best friend Chloe had never liked Tim, even when things were going well between him and Manda. What she'd say about him leaving Manda here with no money, no car, and no phone, Manda could only imagine.

No, that wasn't true. Manda knew very well what Chloe would say—that Tim was a loser, best viewed from Manda's rearview mirror as she drove away.

The knowledge had been building in the back of Manda's mind that if Tim didn't change, and soon, she was going to have to leave him.

Chloe kept telling Manda that she was stronger than she realized, and she'd be just fine alone.

Manda, however, had trouble believing this. So maybe she hung on a little harder and a little longer to guys than she should, but the alternative was being alone. Growing up she'd witnessed firsthand what "alone" had done to her mother. Arliss Kowitsky made their husband-and-father-less state bitter and forlorn.

And who in her right mind wanted to be those things? Not Manda. And, being honest, she hadn't quite outgrown the habit of doing the opposite of whatever her mother nagged her to do. So she hung onto Tim.

Rezan's chair groaned, snapping Manda out of her dark thoughts as he leaned forward, his gaze warm and concerned. "Hey," he said soothingly. "Hey, gorgeous. Didn't mean to get you all shook up. Don't be worrying about Timmy. He'll be back—"

A loud rap song erupted, cutting off his voice. He palmed his phone, flashy black with zirconium-studded initials, and put it to his ear. "Yeah?"

He listened for a moment, and his face tightened. His gaze jerked to Manda, and then away, long lashes veiling his eyes. "Yeah, o' course she's here. But you listen to me. You get your ass back here and tell her yourself." His voice grew louder, almost shrill. "I ain't gonna do your dirty work for you. No. No... Tim! Don't you hang up on me!"

He waited a second, then slammed the phone onto the papers on his desk, scowling. "Fuck! Fuck this shit."

Manda stared at him, ice trickling through her despite the warmth of the office, and the coffee in her hand. "What?" she asked, her voice thin. "What's wrong with Tim?"

Rezan sighed heavily, and rose, his chair slamming against the wall behind him. "I'll tell you what's wrong with him. He's a spineless little piss-ant, that's what."

The room went quiet, the only sound the hum of the heater and the drip of melting snow off the eaves outside the front window. Manda set her coffee carefully on the grimy, old brochure rack beside her chair. "He's not coming back, is he?" Her voice was brittle as glass.

Rezan tipped his head down and shook it. A long lock of gleaming hair fell forward, brushing his cheekbone. He reached up and swiped it back in line with the rest. "No. He ain't."

Manda bolted out of her chair, fumbled for the door knob, and yanked the door open. She banged her shoulder painfully on the door jamb as she scrambled through it, but she ignored the pain, intent only on getting outside. She gulped a deep breath of fresh, chilly air, her stomach rolling.

She didn't lose her breakfast, but it was a near thing. After a few more long breaths, she hugged her arms around herself. Her heart thundered in her chest, the hot ache of tears building behind her eyes as she stared blankly at the snow and trees surrounding her.

Not because she'd honestly miss Tim all that much, but because, what was she gonna do?

Oh, God, her mama—and Chloe—were right. Manda should've kept her head down, working and saving her money and ignoring Tim when he swept like a charming whirlwind into her life. Because she clearly wasn't any better at picking men than her mother had been.

Her mother had given up on romance after Manda's father left them. Manda kept trying to prove her mother wrong, and find a good man, and this was her comeuppance.

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