“Here are your keys and all the information in regards to your tenant agreement is in the cabin. I’ve put directions on how to get there on the back. If you have any questions, there is a list of phone number in there. We’re always happy to help. I hope you like it.”
I stare at the kind, young lady dangling a set of keys at me. I snap out of my daze after a few seconds and take them, mumbling a nervous, “Thank you so much.”
Then I turn and rush out of the office I rented the cabin through and back to my car. It’s January in Colorado Springs, and the weather is crisp out, enough for me to have a jacket on. It isn’t unfamiliar weather, but the idea of being in a cabin alone with it? Not so appealing.
I glance at the directions on the back of the paper the lady gave me to get a better idea of where my cabin is. The sun is just beginning to set, so I know I’m not going to get a lot of time to find it before dark. It isn’t far away, of course, but I do need to set up enough to sleep the night. I got some food just before I arrived, so at least I don’t have to worry about going to the store until tomorrow.
I pull out onto the highway and follow it just out of town, making a few turns until I reach the dirt road that leads to my cabin. They assured me when I rented the place that I wasn’t stuck out here alone, that there were neighbors. As I drive closer and turn down the avenue my cabin is on, I can see three cabins all situated on a cleared surface.
Each has their own driveway and their own little gardens, but otherwise they’re basically all sitting in the lush, open area where the grass is so green it appears almost fake, but I know it isn’t. That’s the only clear space, however. The cabins back onto thick woodland that looks up into the mountains. A few large, shady trees are situated around the clearing. It’s very homely and extremely picturesque. The views are out of this world. Snow-capped mountains as far as the eye can see.
I glance at the number of my cabin and realize I’m the furthest to the left, nestled on the edge of the woods. The cabin in the middle is a good fifty yards away, so definitely not too close but close enough to get help if I need it. That’s fine with me; I needed some solitude, I wanted to get away from the bustling city life. Sometimes, it feels like I just can’t think, let alone find time to myself.
I park my car in the driveway and get out, staring at the small cabin. It isn’t tiny, but it isn’t massive, either. What it is is cheap. I’m not going to be able to afford a great deal. I’m starting as a trainee assistant at a law office on Monday, a job I’ve been hoping to land for a while, but as a trainee, the pay rate isn’t over the top at the start. If I do well and eventually become a full-time law assistant, which is what I hope to do, then it’ll get better.
But for now, I won’t be spending my weekends on the town, that’s for sure.
Taking a deep, shaky breath, I walk toward the cabin and up the front steps. They creak beneath my toes, and doing what any normal person would do, I stop and jump up and down a little to ensure they’re not going to fall out from beneath me. Whoever came up with such a bizarre way of testing something flimsy sure didn’t think it through.
I step up onto the small wraparound deck lining the small cabin and stare. It’s furnished, which I paid a little extra for, but it was worth it. I didn’t own any of my furniture in my old apartment, as it too came fully furnished. There is an old swing chair on the patio, a small table and chairs, and a shoe rack. I smile, feeling a little more at ease, and walk up to the front door.
Sliding the key in the lock, I exhale the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding, then I turn the key and push the wooden door open. The lights aren’t on, and it takes me a few seconds to find them. When I do, I flick them on and stare around at what I’m going to be calling home for some time.
It’s not as terrible as I imagined in my mind; in fact, it’s actually quite quaint. The floors, walls, and even the kitchen are all wood, but it doesn’t seem overbearing in any way. It works, the different shades blend together perfectly. It’s one big living area, with the kitchen, the living room, and dining room all in one large open space. I walk in further, dropping my purse down, and I keep moving through.
The furniture, from what I can see, is old but in good condition. The couch is a pale yellow, but it looks comfortable and clean. There is a glass dining table with four chairs in the dining room, a few book shelves and wooden pieces around, and some nice paintings on the walls. The kitchen is small, but it works, and after a quick check in the cupboards, it has everything I’ll need.
I move to the door off to the left of the kitchen and open it to find a bedroom, the main one, from what I can see. It holds a queen bed, a few bedside tables with lamps, and a desk in the corner near the large window. It looks warm and even has a fire place. I move out and down the small hall-like creation to the second bedroom, which also holds a queen bed but is a lot smaller than the first room.
The last thing I find is the bathroom, which is also the washing room. The space is big enough that it doesn’t seem at all cramped. A large bath, a shower in the corner, and a sink are on the left of the room, and to the right is the washer and dryer, as well as a shelf holding a range of different colored towels.
I can work with this.
The sun is slowly disappearing outside, and a cool breeze whips through the open door of the cabin. I walk over, carefully closing it, and move to the fireplace in the living room, staring at it. There is no wood in it. I glance around wondering if it’s electric, but it isn’t. Where do I get wood? Is there some outside? I can already tell I’ll need it tonight; I don’t handle the cold on a good day.
I have a few more minutes before the sun disappears completely, so I rush outside and past my car, moving around the cabin a few times. There are a few simple gardens, a small shed, but no wood. Frowning, I walk back around the front and glance over at the cabin to my left. I guess there is no time like the present to meet my neighbors and maybe ask for some wood?
I hope they like me.
Better yet, I hope I like them.
I walk up the front steps of the cabin closest to mine. There is a little light coming from the inside, but no noise to be heard. I hope I’m not disturbing them, whoever is in this cabin, that is. I raise a hand and quietly knock, obviously too quietly because nobody answers. Frowning, I knock a bit harder. Nothing. I try again. Still nothing.
Maybe nobody is home?
“He won’t answer.”
I squeal at the sound of a small voice behind me and spin around to see a young boy standing behind me. He’s maybe nine, possibly ten, with a mop of blond hair, big blue eyes hidden beneath square glasses, and a small frame. He stares up at me, and for a moment, I’m not entirely sure what to say. Does this child live here? Gosh, I didn’t even hear him come up behind me.
“Do you know who lives here?” I ask him, finally finding my voice.
He stares at me some more, taking me in. “Yes, I live here.”
“Oh,” I say, exhaling a little. “I’m not meaning to bother anyone, I just wanted some help with, ah, the fireplace.”
The little boy stares some more, really fixated on my face. “What’s your name?”
He purses his lips. “That’s a pretty name. I’m Ryder, like the bike.”
I smile. He’s cute, dorky, even, but has the coolest name of any kid I know. “It’s nice to meet you, Ryder. Do you live with your dad?”
His eyes skitter away for a second, and then he nods sharply just before the door swings open. I spin around so quickly I nearly lose my footing then open my mouth to speak to my neighbor, but instead of any words forming, my mouth just hangs open as I stare at the man filling the door frame.
Sweet. Baby. Jesus.
I can’t make my mouth close, and I’m trying, believe me, I’m trying, but the man in front of me ... I’ve never seen anything like him. Never in my life. Not for a single second. Sure, I’ve seen pictures resembling the man standing in front of me, maybe even movies, but I’ve never seen a man like him in the city. He’s certainly not the type you see getting around at the mall, or sitting in little coffee shops.
He’s huge. That’s the first thing I notice—his frame fills the doorway. He’s easily over six foot and has the biggest biceps on any male I’ve ever laid eyes on. His chest is broad, narrowing down, but not too much, into an extremely muscular body. His legs are thick and strong. He’s wearing a pair of faded denim jeans, ripped around the knees, and a red and black checkered shirt, open and flowing in the breeze, revealing a huge, muscled, bronze chest.
It’s his face, though. Covered in a rugged beard, not too long, not too short, just enough to give him a dangerous masculine edge. Dark hair, messy, falling over his forehead complements his masculine face that hold a pair of the deepest, darkest, brown eyes I’ve ever seen. His nose is slightly crooked, obviously having been broken at some stage.
He’s a mountain man. Through and through.
And I’ve never seen anyone like him.
Lara would lose her ever-loving mind if she knew this man was my neighbor. God, she’d pop a top.
“This lady is from next door,” Ryder says. “Her name is Rachel. She can’t find any wood for her fire. She needs help.”
I didn’t tell Ryder I couldn’t find wood, I just said I needed help with the fireplace, but I don’t say anything. I wonder if he was near my cabin? Shrugging it off, I open my mouth to speak to the giant standing in front of me, still not saying a single word. He’s just glowering at me, like I’m in his space, bothering his alone time, and like he wants me anywhere but on his front porch.
“Ryder, inside,” he says, gruffly.
His voice is like ... gravel. Rough, husky, deep, and terrifying. Ryder nods, looking over to me once more. “Nice to meet you, Miss Rachel.”
“You too, honey.” I smile at the little boy.
He ducks past Hercules standing in the doorway, and for a moment, I don’t know if he’s waiting for me to speak or if I’m supposed to wait for him. God. This is awkward. So freaking awkward. He could, at the very least, say hello. That’s what I’d do if I had a new neighbor. I wouldn’t just stand there, all broody and cranky, glowering at them.
“What do you want?”
The question comes out like a whip. Not friendly, or welcoming, just a demand. I bristle. I was raised with a decent set of manners. At the very least, this man could use the basics. Instead, he’s being a jerk and he doesn’t even know me. I have never been one to stand around and take that kind of treatment.
“Pardon me?” I say, crossing my arms, partly from the cold, partly because I’m pissed that my neighbor is being such a douche.
“Are you deaf?”
He gets better.
I blink. Then blink again. He must be kidding. Nobody could be this rude. Right? “I’m not deaf, what I am is horrified by your lack of manners. I only came over here to ask if you knew where I could find some firewood. I’m new to the cabin next door and—”
“I know,” he says, eyes scanning over me, jaw tightening.
“I know you’re my neighbor.”
He says that slowly, like I’m too stupid to understand him.
“Right,” I mutter, more to myself than him. Keep calm. Maybe he’s having a really bad time right now. I should try again. “Well, I’m not meaning to bother you ... uh ...”
I wait, raising my brows. He has to have a name, right? Don’t we all? I snort to myself but keep my eyes on his, waiting for his response.
I try not to show my surprise at his odd name. “Slade?”
“You got a problem with my name?” he snaps.
“Ah, no,” I say, biting my lip. This man is intense. Seriously. He needs to take a vacation or something.
“Firewood is in a storage room on the porch.”
I blink. “There’s a storage room on the porch?”
He stares at me, like I’m some sort of idiot. Great. I’m making a swell impression on my neighbors already, and I haven’t even been here an hour.
I guess I should have paid more attention to the porch, instead of walking aimlessly outside, where most would assume firewood is. I’ve never heard of it being kept on the porch, but there’s a first for everything.
“Well, ah, OK. Thanks.”
He turns and walks into the cabin, not saying goodnight, or you’re welcome, or nice to meet you. The door slams, and I jump a little.
What a dick.
This should be fun.