The Bedroom is Mine

by Jane Bonander

The Bedroom is Mine

No man was more determined to remain a bachelor than ruggedly handsome Ross Benedict—and there wasn’t a single woman in the town of Twin Hearts who could change his mind. Until he arrived home one night...and found a fiery-haired stranger warming his bed. As if that wasn’t outrageous enough, the hot-tempered intruder demanded that he leave.

Lily Sawyer had every right to be alarmed. She’d just rented the secluded cabin and wasn’t told that it came furnished...with a man! Still, she refused to budge. So did Ross. Until they discovered who was behind the mix-up. Now, the only thing they had in common was the desire to teach Ross’s matchmaking sister a lesson—by proving that her romantic plan could not possibly succeed. Or could it...?

KindleSmashwordsAppleNookKobo Google PlayPRINT

Release Date: May 5, 2024
Genre: Historical Romance





Twin Hearts, California

New Year’s Eve, 1879


Tugging mercilessly at his stiff collar, Ross spat out a vile oath, then strangled the urge to swear again. He hated getting trussed up like a turkey. Might as well put a damned noose around his neck and hang him from the nearest tree. One was as uncomfortable as the other.

He pulled cold air into his lungs, savoring it. And savoring the brief quiet. Except for the distant burbling of the river caressing the rocks as it made its way south, there was no sound he wanted to hear. He let the river sounds soothe him as he tried to block the noise that filtered out from inside his sister and brother-in-law’s house.

His dog, the faithful lab mix Red, curled up at his feet, Ross leaned against the porch railing and closed his eyes. He thought about Trudy and how much he wanted to slip into her warm bed and between her lusty white thighs. He swore again, getting hard just thinking about it.

He took a long, angry pull on his cigarette as he stood in the shadows, listening to the shallow laughter of those inside as they prepared to ring in the New Year.

He called himself ten kinds of a fool for letting Samantha drag him to one of her shindigs again. Unfortunately, his younger sister could wrap him around her little finger, and she knew it.

The back door opened, allowing a stream of light to wash across the porch and Red lifted his huge head off the floor to see who intruded on his nap time.

“Ross Benedict, are you hiding out here?” The voice was filled with pique.

“You know damned good and well I’m hiding out here, Sam.” Ross flicked away the cigarette he’d been smoking, the ash dying the moment it hit the damp grass.

She shut the door behind her and before pulling her shawl around her shoulders, she reached down and gave Red a head scratch. “Aletha Carmody is looking everywhere for you.”

He didn’t like the teasing tone of her voice. “Aletha Carmody has a face that would stop a clock and a voice that scares my dog.”

Sam sputtered an exasperated sound. “Oh, I thought she’d be perfect for you. Really, I did.”

Reaching into his pocket, Ross dragged out his tobacco pouch and a piece of paper. As he rolled himself another cigarette, he retorted, “Just like you thought Olive Hornsby would be perfect for me last year? And Hortense Cobb the year before that?”

Samantha sighed. “Olive Hornsby married Elias Rhodes last May, Ross. They’re expecting a baby sometime after the first of the year. That could have been you.”

He lit his cigarette and visibly shuddered at the thought of bedding the scrawny, pale Olive Hornsby. “Well, thank the bloody hell it wasn’t.” He took a drag on the cigarette, then stamped it out beneath his boot—perhaps a bit harder than was necessary. He could feel Sam’s eyes probe him through the darkness.

“All I want is for you to be as happy as I am.”

There was a wistfulness in her voice that he forced himself to ignore. It wasn’t…natural for a man to tie himself down to one woman. He didn’t understand how men did it. Of course, if he ever discovered that Derek, his brother-in-law, had cheated on Sam, he’d twist the man’s balls until they came off in his hand, then make him eat them.

“And the only way I can possibly be happy is to be married?” He was incredulous. After all these years, she still didn’t get it. He loved the bachelor life.

“Well, of course.” Her voice had the ring of false innocence to it. She nodded toward the door. “Aletha is probably wondering if you’ve skedaddled back to your cabin in the woods.”

Ross snorted. “If she’s thinking that, she’s smarter than I’ve given her credit for. And speaking of the cabin, Sam, when are you going to let me buy you out?”

She brushed her hand across his shoulder. “Not any time soon. And I refuse to talk business on New Year’s Eve. Once I sell you my share, I’ll have nothing left of Mama and Papa’s.”

He smiled in the darkness, sensing her sadness. Although she was a married woman, she was still his little sister. “It’s not as if someone you don’t know is living there, Sam.”

“I know. I know. Oh,” she wailed on a soft sigh, “I don’t want to be sad tonight. We’re having a party. Come.” She tugged on his arm. “Aletha is waiting for you.”

He cursed again, resisting her pull. “She spent the entire night hanging on my arm, tittering and giggling like a dull-witted child. How in God’s name do you expect me to put up with something like that? And the questions. Hell, Sam, she bombarded me with questions. ‘Do you like children, Ross? You’d be such a wonderful father,’” he mimicked in a simpering voice. “‘Do you like cherry tarts, Ross? Why, I make the best cherry tarts in Twin Hearts.’ And she kept squeezing my arm, saying, ‘My, my, aren’t you the strong one? I’ll just bet you could lift little ol’ me up with one hand. Oh, but that beard.’” He clucked foolishly. “’Doesn’t all that facial hair bother you, Ross?’ Then she lets out this godawful whinnying giggle. It grates on me like a saw on an anvil. Besides,” he groused, “I like my beard.”

Samantha laughed quietly beside him. “You mean you wouldn’t shave off your mustache and beard for a very special woman?”

“Hell would freeze over before I did.” He’d grown accustomed to his beard and would feel naked without it. He suddenly felt her eyes questioning him through the darkness. “What is it?”

“How about a little friendly wager, brother dear?”

“Like what?” he asked, skeptical.

“I’ll bet that if the right woman came along and asked you to shave, you’d do it.”

He didn’t like the sound of that. “Gambling isn’t ladylike, Sam.”

“Afraid you’ll lose?”

He sensed her cocky, self-assured smile. “Hell, no, and I’ll prove it. Name the terms.”

“I’ll bet you...” She paused and tugged at his beard. “I’ll bet that a year from now, you’ll have no beard or mustache, and it will be because of a woman.” She sounded ridiculously triumphant.

“And if it doesn’t happen?”

“Well,” she began, “then I promise on a stack of Bibles that I won’t ever try to marry you off again.”

He guffawed, unable to help himself. “You couldn’t stop meddling in my life if your own depended on it.”

“I’m serious, Ross. Cross my heart.”

“Yeah, I know. You cross your heart with one hand, and the other is behind your back with its fingers crossed.”

“Oh, don’t be gutless, you big boob. Do we have a deal or not?”

He chuckled at her persistence. “Sure. Hell, why not?

The door opened, and Derek stepped onto the porch. “What are you two doing out here? Ross, Aletha Carmody is looking everywhere for you. And Samantha,” he added, pulling his wife into his arms, “it’s almost midnight. My arms are empty without you. I don’t want to miss my New Year’s kiss.”

“Oh, dear heart,” she said, her voice filled with love, “you can kiss me anytime and all the time.”

“But we had our first kiss on New Year’s Eve, sweet lips, and I plan on kissing you on this night every year for the rest of our lives.”

Ross would have gagged had the man not been his brother-in-law. Christ! Did men really talk this way to women?

“Oh, all right, you silly goose. Anyway, I’ve missed you too, and I’m cold.” She cuddled against him and waited for him to open the door.

“Come along, brother, dear,” she called over her shoulder. “Althea is waiting for you.” Her voice was filled with gentle mocking.

Ross grunted. He looked at Red, who was watching him. “If I were you, I’d stay outside.” Then with great reluctance, he turned to follow Sam inside, feeling the lamb being led to the slaughter. Never again, damnit. Never again! This was the last time he’d ever let Samantha set him up. Hell, he liked his life just the way it was. Responsible to no one but himself. He neither wanted nor needed some damned woman trying to fit him into her own personal little mold. Crowding his space. Constantly cleaning and bustling around the cabin, complaining of his propensity for mess. He shuddered at the thought.

Next year would be different. Sam’s little New Year’s Eve party would occur without him. If she tried to wiggle out of her promise not to meddle again, he’d just ignore her and the women she threw at him. He resolved never to let her interfere in his life again.

Aletha Carmody’s titter scratched against his ears, and he flinched. Swallowing another curse, he took a deep, resigned breath and dragged himself into the house.


Chapter One


October 1880


Rain came down in buckets, rare shards of lightning cut through the night sky, followed by rumbling thunder.

Lily thanked the driver for the ride, then struggled out of the wagon, drawing her valise beneath her slicker to keep it dry. She watched the wagon lumber on, wondering how the poor horses could pull it through the mud. She’d been grateful for the ride, although she’d hoped to get farther than this. It had taken the better part of a week to get from San Francisco to this place, whatever and wherever it was. She was still near the coast; she often heard the crashing of the waves as they hit the rocks, and the air, though now filled with rain, still held the tang of salt.

Everything she knew and now feared was behind her, and she had given herself enough time to make sure she wouldn’t be followed.

Lightning flashed again, allowing her to read the sign on the outskirts of the town. Twin Hearts. In a futile gesture, she picked up her wet, muddy skirt and slogged through the muck, hoping to find some shelter from the storm.


* * *


By morning, Lily was cold and miserable to the bone. She’d discovered refuge under a rickety lean-to on the edge of town and her companion for the night was a scraggly cat who found the shelter first but allowed Lily to share it. Now said cat was curled into a ball and pressed tightly against Lily’s legs for warmth.

The rain had stopped, but the sky was still a dull slate gray, and the air was wet. Lily knew California weather well enough to know that it was only a brief reprieve.

She nudged the cat off her skirt, pulled off the slicker and shook it, sending sprays of water into the damp air. From her knees down, her skirt and petticoats were sodden and streaked with mud. Inside her shoes, her toes squished against the wet soles. She touched her hair and cringed; the tight curls were matted to her head.

Pulling in a cleansing breath, she straightened and looked around. Perhaps a few hundred yards beyond her was the main street of Twin Hearts. It was there that she would look for a job. The rancher who had given her a ride this far had told her there was a lumber mill outside of town. She hoped they needed a cook.

She glanced down at her clothes and her heart sank. How would she find a job looking like a rain-soaked, filthy urchin?

There was a brief break in the clouds, sending sunshine spraying through the watery air. A rainbow shone vividly against the green-spattered hills, the sight so lovely Lily’s breath snagged in her throat.

Behind her, she heard the creak of a buggy. She turned to watch as it rocked toward her, feeling a sense of cautious surprise when it stopped beside her.

A young woman in a fur-trimmed bonnet poked her head out of the buggy window. “Good morning!” She had one of those rare friendly smiles that lit up an already pretty face.

Lily swallowed and wiped her hands nervously against her dress. “Good morning,” she answered.

“You’re new around here, aren’t you?”

Lily couldn’t help but laugh. “Just arrived last night.” By hitching rides and walking and sleeping under trees, she thought but didn’t add. She was fortunate enough to have an innate sense of self-preservation, and she’d never accepted a ride from a man who was alone, no matter how harmless he appeared. The man who had given her a ride as far as Twin Hearts had had two young children with him. When she’d slept in barns, she was gone before dawn. All in all, her trip from San Francisco, though an adventure, had been without incident.

“Where are you from?”

“San Francisco,” Lily answered after a short pause. An address more specific wasn’t necessary.

The woman chewed at her lower lip, then narrowed her gaze at Lily. “You must be wet and cold.”

“I most certainly am.” Lily had never been one to mince words.

The young woman continued to stare at her. “I had my driver stop because I was nearly blinded by your wonderful coppery hair. It catches the sunlight like a bright new penny.”

Lily laughed again. “How very poetic! And a nice way of saying that my hair’s so bright I could lead miners into a mine shaft without a lamp.”

The woman merely smiled. A strange, secretive smile. “My name is Samantha Browne.”

It was all so ridiculous. Two women conversing like they’d just met at a little soiree in San Francisco, nibbling finger sandwiches and drinking tea. “Lily Sawyer.”

“Nice to meet you, Lily Sawyer. Get your things and come with me.”

The invitation took Lily by surprise, and she stepped back. “I beg your pardon?”

“Surely you’d like to dry out a bit.”

Lily swallowed a jaded retort. The woman was probably from the local bawdy house. She thought about it, aching for a chance to dry out. Maybe even have a bath. And a hot meal. Saliva pooled around her tongue at the thought of food. Bawdy house or not, she couldn’t turn the offer down.

“Samantha Browne,” Lily began, “you must be my guardian angel.” Draping her slicker over her arm, she picked up her damp valise and stepped through the mud to the buggy.

She paused and glanced back at the lean to, wondering about the cat.

“Is something wrong?” the young woman asked.

“Well,” Lily began, “I had a feline bed partner last night, and I hate to leave her…”

“You have a cat? Well, of course, poor thing. Bring it along.”

Lily sighed. “It isn’t my cat. It was here when I arrived.”

The young woman, Samantha, left the carriage and strode purposely to the lean to and stepped inside. She returned with the critter tucked close to her chest, apparently unaware that the cat was filthy, leaving dirt on her beautiful coat.

“We can’t leave it here,” she announced.

“But…I don’t even have a place to stay yet. I’m sure I’ll find something in town, but would they let me keep a cat?”

Her driver, a young man with the sprouting of a mustache, jumped down and put Lily’s belongings on the seat beside him.

As the carriage moved forward, Samantha placed her gloved hand over Lily’s work worn one. “Let’s worry about one thing at a time.”


* * *


The house was lovely. And it wasn’t a bawdy house but the home of Samantha Browne and her husband, Derek, who ran the logging firm on the far side of Twin Hearts.

Lily sat by the fire, wrapped in one of Samantha’s plush, warm robes. She combed her fingers through her hair, fluffing it occasionally to help it dry. She felt like royalty; never in her life had she been treated so well.

She’d been informed that the cat was in the kitchen near the stove, slurping up a saucer of milk.

Samantha entered the room from the kitchen carrying a tray of coffee and scones, still warm from the oven. She placed it on the large round table in front of the couch, then glanced at Lily, obviously sensing she was being watched.

“You’re wondering why I brought you here.”

Lily chuckled. “That would be putting it mildly.”

Samantha Browne arranged a scone on a plate and put it down in front of Lily. Lily’s mouth watered and her stomach growled, but she forced herself to remember her manners.

“My…my family tells me I have a bleeding heart. My husband claims I can’t stand to see anyone or anything suffer.” A tiny laugh escaped her perfect mouth. “I guess a better way of putting it is that I’m constantly sticking my nose into things that aren’t my business.”

She put a cup of coffee down in front of Lily, then gestured toward the delicate pitcher of cream. “But when I see a lovely young woman standing in a vacant lot, drenched to the bone, my imagination gets the best of me. I can’t conceive of any scenario that would have put you there. So you see, Miss Sawyer,” she added with a smile, “I have to find out. And if I can offer you something to eat and a warm bath while you’re here, so much the better.”

Lily poured a tiny amount of cream into her coffee, then stirred. “It’s Mrs., but please, call me Lily.”

Samantha’s head jerked up. “You’re married?”

“Widowed, actually,” Lily responded, picking up the warm cup and wrapping her fingers around it. She could have avoided this entire trip if she’d accepted her employer’s assistant, Donald South’s, proposal. It would have solved her money problems, instead she solved them herself…which is why she was here, hiding from the world.

Samantha quickly turned away. “Oh, I’m…very sorry. I...I didn’t mean to pry.”

Lily appreciated the sentiment. “That’s all right. It’s been two years now. Seems like a lifetime ago.”

“So, Lily, why did I find you soaking wet on the outskirts of a little logging town?”

“Well, do you always drive around after a storm rescuing drowned rats?”

Oddly enough, Samantha Browne blushed. “Of course not. Actually,” she added as she sat beside Lily on the sofa, “I was coming from my cabin. My—” She stopped abruptly, put her hand to her mouth, then continued. “My parents owned a small cabin in the woods, and after they died, I couldn’t find it in my heart to sell it. I drive up there occasionally to make sure it’s in order.”

Lily gave her a noncommittal smile, then turned to study the fire. “I’m looking for work.”

“Oh? What do you do?”

“I’ve worked as a cook and housekeeper since my husband’s death.” No need to go into his history. It wasn’t important; not to her, not anyone else. “I cooked in a boardinghouse in San Francisco. Until it burned down.” She didn’t bother to mention that after that, she was hired by the man who would attempt to find her and if he did, she would fear for her safety.

Samantha brightened. “You’re a cook?”

Lily gave her shoulders a weary, sardonic shrug. “Now, don’t tell me you’re looking for one.”

Samantha sat forward. “Well, not me personally, but the loggers are always wearing out the cooks. Why, that’s perfect! You need a job?” Samantha nodded with finality. “You’ve got one.”

Lily’s weariness lifted slightly. “Now, if you can find me a room, we’re in business.”

“Oh, but I can do better than that,” Samantha enthused. “ would you like your very own little cabin?”

Lily faced her, her mood lifting more. “Your cabin? Are you sure?”

“I’m positive. It’s less than a mile from the logging camp. The kitchen is equipped for cooking large quantities. Someone from the camp will come by daily to pick up the food. There’s a smaller cabin adjacent as well. Maudie Tupper, the previous camp cook, lives in it. She’s not well.” Samantha tapped her chest. “Lung trouble. Had to quit cooking when she started coughing up blood—Oh,” she said, putting her hand over her mouth. “I hope that doesn’t bother you.”

Lily felt a wash of sympathy for the sick woman. “Of course not. It’ll be nice to have the company. But…why doesn’t she live in your cabin?”

Samantha’s laugh sounded forced. “Oh, she refuses to. But don’t worry, her cabin is snug and dry, and she’d love to have another woman around.”

Lily couldn’t believe her good fortune. She was wise enough not to question it. This was perfect. She didn’t care if the whole cabin had fallen into decay, it was hers to use. She’d clean up and make it shine. She’d make a home for herself, something she’d never had in her whole life. She and the late, not-so-great Black Jack Sawyer had lived in nothing but single rooms over saloons and taverns. Her luck was changing, and she knew better than to look a gift horse in the mouth.


* * *


Ross dismounted and stretched his aching back. The trip over the mountains into the valley was one he always hated. The valley was hot and dry, even in October. Twin Hearts had the blessed ocean breeze to keep it cool all year long.

He dragged in a breath of crisp air and glanced at the cabin. Thank God, he was home. Smoke chugged from the chimney. He grinned. Samantha’s doing, no doubt. Before he left, he’d had an infestation of fleas in the cabin, so he moved his clothes and his bedding to Sam’s for fumigation before they treated the place. Yawning, he hoped she’d returned them, but if she hadn’t, he’d pick them up later. What he needed now was sleep. If it was on a bare mattress, so be it. He crossed to the lean-to and unsaddled his mount, brushed him down, and fed him.

The vegetable garden caught his eye as he and Red trudged toward the cabin. It was free of weeds. Maybe Maudie had been feeling better. He hoped so. As he stepped onto the porch, he glanced at the sky. Morning fog clung to the tops of the Douglas firs. He’d risen long before dawn to get home, anxious to sprawl out in his own bed and sleep for the rest of the day.

He was about to open the cabin door when Red growled. Ross paused and opened the door a little, telling Red to stay. The dog continued to growl deep in his throat, but heeded Ross’s command.

Suddenly wide awake, Ross stepped into the room and realized he had no weapon but his knife, sheathed to his belt.

The bedroom door was closed. Before he could stop him, Red bolted toward the door, pushing it open with a bang. He raced into the room, barking furiously, then suddenly yelping in pain.

The scene before Ross unfolded in slow motion, as if the powers that be held the reins of time. His dog, still yelping, flung his head from side to side as something gray and feral clung to his muzzle. Ross pulled out his knife, and before he could attack the critter that was attacking his dog, he was hit from behind, rendering him so weak he fell to his knees.

His knife fell to the floor and was swiftly kicked away from him. He shook his head to clear it, suddenly aware that he was not alone in the room. But Red’s constant yelping propelled Ross across the room to try to aide his dog.

“Tell your dog to lie down.”

The voice came from behind him. “What the hell?”

“Tell your dog to lie down if you want him to stop his howling.”

Still a bit dazed, Ross did what was asked, and immediately what ever was attacking the dog released its hold, jumped to the floor and meandered off. He saw the swish of a fluffy tail as it disappeared out the door,

“A goddam cat?” he roared.

Red crawled toward him, and Ross inspected the dog’s muzzle. Grateful it wasn’t worse, Ross, still on his knees beside his injured pet, turned to look at his assailant.

He looked up and found himself staring into the familiar barrel of his own hunting rifle.

“Who are you?”

A woman? Attempting to focus, he shook his head again and saw a pair of pale, slim calves peeping out from between the edges of a frilly pink dressing gown.

His gaze slid up slowly, over rounded hips and a firm, generous bosom. Her hair, loose and wild around her face, was red as a firestorm, and her green eyes held not an ounce of fear.

“Me?” he roared. “Who the hell are you, and what are you doing in my bedroom?”

The woman looked momentarily surprised, then spat, “This is my bedroom. Get out before I blow your head off.”

With a movement that belied his size, Ross grabbed the gun and leaped to his feet.

“Now,” he growled, ignoring the fear that suddenly crept into her eyes. “I’ll ask you again. Who in the hell are you?”

She recovered quickly. Moving away only slightly, she volleyed, “Who are you?”

This was getting them nowhere. “My name is Ross Benedict, and this is my cabin, therefore, my bedroom.”

Her eyes narrowed. “That’s a lie. I know who this cabin belongs to, and it surely isn’t you. Now what do you really want?”

Stupefied and angry, he continued to stare at her. “I want to know what in the hell you’re doing in my bedroom. Is that so hard to understand?”

She returned an angry glare. “This is my bedroom and my cabin, at least for now. And…and stop staring at me, you ogling dolt.”

Brows furrowed, Ross turned away, crossing his arms firmly over this chest. Red made a whimpering sound at his feet. “I asked you before, who in the hell are you?”

“Why should I tell you? You’re the one who’s trespassing.”

He spun around, catching her just as she tied the sash of her dressing gown, a movement that pulled the robe tightly over her generous bosom. As a thickness gathered in his groin, a thought wormed into his brain. He uttered a stream of curses that turned the air blue.

“Sam. Samantha put you up to this, didn’t she? Damnit all to hell!” He released the woman and slammed his fist into the door—and it went right on through.

Behind him, the woman let out a shriek.

He turned on her, ignoring the wood splinters that dug into his flesh. One of her hands covered her mouth. The other clutched the lapels of her gown tightly at her throat.

“She did this, didn’t she? Sam put you up to this.”

She removed her hand from her mouth long enough to ask, “S...Samantha Browne?”

“Yes,” he answered, his voice filled with silky understanding. “Samantha Browne.”

The woman swallowed hard. “ do you know Samantha Brown?”

Ross was sick of the game. “You know very well how I know her.”

The woman’s demeanor changed. No longer cowering against the bed, she planted her fists on her hips and studied him. “No, I don’t. Why don’t you tell me? You come in here acting like a raving lunatic, frightening me half to death. I think I deserve an explanation. That is, if you’re capable of stringing that many words together at one time.”

Ross was momentarily surprised at her unusual tactics. After all, most women threw themselves at him. And no eligible woman, or any other for that matter, had ever called him an ogling dolt or a raving lunatic. Once, of course, Trudy had called him her raging stallion, but that was after a particularly satisfying night in her bed. It had been a compliment, not flung at him like pig swill. This red-haired witch was different from all the others, he’d give her that.

“She’s my sister. As if you didn’t know.” He turned and studied the hole he’d put in the door. “And this is my cabin. I live here.”

She gasped. “Your...your sister?”

Ross’s temper was volatile, but after an explosion, he mellowed out quickly. “Now you understand. I don’t know what little game Sam is playing, but this is my place. If the two of you thought this little ploy would work, well, damnit, think again.”

“I don’t believe I understand you,” she said carefully. “If we thought what would work?”

“Ah, hell. Never mind. Just get dressed and get out of here. The little plan backfired, and I’m dead tired.” He yawned, purposely emitting a loud, disgusting sound before pulling his shirt from his pants.

She didn’t move.

“You gonna send your attack cat after me?” he asked.

They stared at each other, her gaze haughty and cool, his blatantly, purposefully sexual, while he unbuttoned his shirt. He pulled it open and scratched again, giving her a wide view of his naked chest. That usually frightened tight-assed women away.

Suddenly, she shoved him, catching him off balance. He crashed into the wall again.

“Get out of here,” she ordered. “I’m renting this place from Samantha Browne, and if you have a problem with that, see her. I’m not leaving.”

Ross pushed himself away from the wall, feeling the knot of fury twist in his chest. He’d see Sam, all right, and he’d take her over his knee and tan her hide. Then he’d return and toss this flame-haired harridan out of his cabin on her backside.

Picking up his rifle, he stormed from the room. “This isn’t over, woman. When I come back, I’d better find you packed and gone, damnit.”


* * *


Lily closed her eyes and sagged to the bed, her heart pounding so hard she worried that it would crack her ribs. She allowed herself a moment to pull herself together, then hurriedly dressed and went into the kitchen to start preparations for the loggers’ lunch.

The cat, which she eventually called Ruby, rubbed against her skirts. “Nice job, girl. We’re quite a team.”

The back door opened, and Maudie came through, tying her apron strings behind her. “What was all that commotion in here a while ago?”

“Some big oaf busted the bedroom door, claiming this was his place.”

Maudie chuckled. “Sounds like Ross to break down a door.”

Lily turned from the stove. “You know him?”

“Well, yes. It’s his cabin, dear.”

Puzzled, Lily didn’t know what to think. “Why would that young Mrs. Browne rent it to me? Did she really think it would be empty?”

Maudie frowned. “Maybe. Ross is overseer for the mill and does all the buying and selling. Maybe she got confused.”

“And her brother actually does own the cabin, then?”

“Well, they own it together, I’d say.”

Certain there had to be some reasonable answer for all of this, Lily vowed to find a way to see Samantha Browne at her earliest convenience.

As she worked, she thought of the man who had just left. Man? She forced a dry laugh. More like a bear. She was no small women, but he was many inches taller than she. Shoulders so wide he’d had to turn sideways to get through the bedroom door. But he was a bear, in breadth and manners. He merely dressed like a man to cover his crude, beastly behavior.

Remembering his final threat, she stiffened. She was not leaving. She was not. She was curious to know, however, why Samantha Browne would rent her a cabin that was already occupied.


↑ Return to Top ↑