Steve Johnson is living his life’s passion watching over the Colorado Mountains as a ranger and wildlife consultant. But his peaceful life is upended when overzealous and insanely beautiful Shannon Braden flits back into his life after returning from a brief trip home to Maryland. He thought his attraction to her was under control—after all, she’s only in Colorado temporarily, and he doesn’t do casual affairs.
Shannon’s return to Colorado has as much to do with the game of cat and mouse she and Steve have been playing as it does the data she’s been hired to collect. But despite her efforts to explore the undeniable heat simmering between them, Steve’s intent on keeping his distance.
When a ranch abutting the national park goes up for sale, Steve will do whatever it takes to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. And when all his attempts fail, he’s left with no alternative but to follow Shannon’s guidance into the online world he abhors in order to raise the funds. The more time they spend together, the deeper their attraction becomes, and a game of cat and mouse turns into an unstoppable connection. But when Shannon’s assignment comes to an end, will it mean an end to them, too?
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Steve Johnson took off his sweaty shirt and guzzled a bottle of water. Nothing beat a predawn run, especially after a shitty night’s sleep. He set the empty bottle and shirt on the steps leading to his rustic log cabin and crossed the yard to the chopping post, determined to work the remaining tension from his body. A six-mile run on the rough terrain of the Colorado mountains should have worked out all his piss and vinegar, but not this morning.
Sun beat down on his shoulders as he centered a slab of wood on the tree stump that served as his chopping post, trying to ignore the reason he’d been unable to sleep last night. He filled his lungs with the scents of nature and tranquility. He knew every sound and smell of the area, could differentiate every species of animal and plant in the forest, and anticipated inclement weather well before it hit. His body was attuned to the mountains as if he were a part of them.
He hoisted the ax over his shoulder, thoughts he was trying to ignore pushing back in like adamant thieves. He swung the ax. A loud crack echoed in the forest—and in his head—rattling the truth of his angst free. Shannon Braden was back—and she’d come home last night wrapped around Cal Hayden on the back of his horse.
He ground his teeth against that reality and set another log in place.
Smart, sexy-as-sin, talks-a-mile-a-minute Shannon. He’d known her for years. His sister, Jade, was married to her second cousin, Rex. Shannon had spent weeks doing research on red foxes in the mountains. She’d been staying at her uncle’s ranch in Weston, but he knew the company she was working with had made arrangements for her to stay at the vacant cabin just around the bend for the remainder of the project. He swung the ax, thinking of the weeks she’d spent flitting in and out of his peaceful life, full of energy and never-ending conversations—mostly one-sided, which she didn’t seem to mind. Truth be known, neither did he. Listening to Shannon rattle on about anything was hot. She tangled up his thoughts in ways no other woman ever had, which was just his luck. Steve wasn’t into meaningless hookups, and Shannon’s life was in Maryland, while his was there on the mountain, which rooted Shannon Braden firmly in his off-limits zone.
The past couple of weeks had been quiet while she’d returned home to Maryland to attend her brother’s wedding, and the fact that Steve had noticed, and disliked it being quiet, had thrown him for a loop.
His mind reeled back to last night again. He’d heard Cal riding back down the mountain about two hours after he’d arrived. As he swung the ax, he wondered if Shannon had done some hands-on research with Cowboy Cal last night.
He set another log in place, telling himself it was none of his damn business if she had, and split the log so hard the two halves flew ten feet from the stump. Another log, another split. And so became his stress-relieving pattern as the sun sailed higher, taking the bite off the chilly spring morning.
A mass of birds took off from the treetops. Steve paused midswing, a smile tugging at his lips. Shannon. He split another log, trying to ignore his accelerating pulse at the thought of her flitting back into his life.
Melissa Foster is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling and award-winning author. She writes sexy and heartwarming contemporary romance, new adult romance, and women's fiction with emotionally compelling characters that stay with you long after you turn the last page. Melissa's emotional journeys are lovingly erotic, perfect beach reads, and always family oriented.