Even an oatmeal rhubarb bar. Not her favorite dessert by a long shot, but it would have to do. Right now she would give about anything for some of her mom’s cobbler, but that probably had more to do with thinking about being home again than the actual food in front of her. Except it could never be home again for any of them.
As long as everyone was safe, she could deal with whatever else happened.
Wade knelt in front of the fireplace, their only source of heat right now since the local power plant seemed to be on be the fritz. Lights had flickered off and on for the past hour and she cringed to think what many in this area—so dependent on the power plant—would do if there was a long-term, major outage. The hotel had a backup generator, but Wade had said he figured he should stoke up the fire, just in case.
Light from the flickering logs played off the hard planes of his naked back. He had three tiny tattoos walking down his shoulder, green footprints, of all things. There had to be a story there, and she’d been meaning to ask him since she first saw them. Somehow life kept interfering in the craziest ways. She wondered if she would get the chance to ask before his learning about her family put a huge freaking wall between them.
He dusted his hands clean, a hefty sigh stretching his shoulders even broader. Pushing off on his knees, he stood, tugged on his pants, then faced her. Those stitches on his shoulder reminded her of all they’d been through together, how much they still faced. He’d insisted on changing the dressing himself—citing his medic training again. She’d tried not to feel rejected. It was such a silly thing to want to tend him, but he was clearly all hands-off.
His somber expression sent a skitter of apprehension down her bare spine.
She set aside the cookie bar with the others on the complimentary plate of snacks and tugged the quilt tighter around her. “What’s wrong?”
“Time to talk about your brother.”
Her stomach sank. She could see in his eyes that he already knew the truth.
So much for her big decision to come clean about Phoenix deserting.
As she looked at the cool anger in his face she realized what had been “off” about him in the plane. He must have just found out. He’d said he spoke with one of his teammates right before boarding the plane. Realization crept in.
He hadn’t come on the flight to be with her. He’d joined her because he knew about her brother and there could only be one reason for him to follow her up the mountain. He wanted to see her brother jailed.
She sat motionless. Feeling so damn gullible. For once she didn’t have a clue what to do. Stay put so he couldn’t find her brother? Except then who would warn the community?
She had completely and surely boxed herself into a corner. “How did you find out?”
He dropped into a rocking chair beside the bed and it didn’t escape her notice that he didn’t choose the bed.
“The OSI lifted fingerprints from your backpack to get an ID on you. Your brother’s name popped up in connection to one of the prints in the database. He has a sister named Sunny and here you are. What’re the odds on that?”
She stayed silent, her finger nervously tracing the appliquéd fish on the quilt.
“So much makes sense now.” He clasped his hands between his knees, leaning toward her, his eyes pinning her as effectively as if he’d handcuffed her. “No wonder you freaked when I mentioned the need to report back in. You couldn’t have been that old when he ran. Only a teenager.”
“Sounds to me like you already know everything. Why didn’t you say something sooner?”
“Waiting for the right time.”
“Waiting until you could snag another quickie with the gullible woman?”
His head snapped back as if slapped.
She held up her hand. “Stop. Forget I said that. I’m the one who kept secrets. If anyone should feel taken advantage of, it’s you.”
His forehead puckered in confusion. “Damned if I can figure you out.”
“It’s probably best for both of us that you don’t even try.”
Her words, the wall they built, swelled between them. She inched off the bed and reached for a long T-shirt in her bag, one of Wade’s T-shirts. Her wardrobe was seriously limited these days to what he’d given her and what she’d packed when leaving her apartment over the gym for what she thought would be a simple trip up and down the mountain.
Tugging the shirt over her head while keeping the blanket up would look silly. So she turned her back to him and yanked the cotton in place quickly. When she spun around, he was staring at the floor as if to give her privacy. God, how cold this felt, so different from what they could have had. Except if she had been up-front with him from the start they would have never even been here in the first place.
She sat on the edge of the bed. “What happens next?”
With her brother.
“You need to face the possibility that someone in your community may be tangled up in this, that someone has a very compelling reason for wanting to keep the place anonymous.”
His not-so-subtle hint sunk in.
“You think my brother killed all those people?” Horror almost made her vomit. “No! No, I would know. He’s not capable of that.”
He held up a pacifying hand. “Okay, I understand that isn’t something you can consider. But you need to accept that it’s possible—quite probable in fact—that someone inside your community is tied to this. Letting them know you’ve discovered the bodies, that you’re on your way, could have alerted them.”
His words made sense… blood chilling sense. “But I already sent that email.”
“Telling them everything?”
“I explained about Ted and Madison. I warned that there could be others, and the investigation could sweep up there.” She struggled to remember exactly how she’d worded her note. “I tried not to give too many details because I didn’t want to freak out the families who had lost people, not to mention those who might think someone had died when they weren’t on the list. And the OSI said not to give out all the names.”
Her explanation sounded so damn lame now. She felt like a dog paddling in a frozen pond.
“You said the bodies found didn’t account for everyone who’d left. Either we just haven’t found them in the ice yet, or some did make it away.” He thumbed between his eyes as if pushing back a headache. “Which makes me wonder, why kill those particular people? Was it simply a matter of impulse? Or targeting the weak? What do you know about the others?”
“I gave a list to the OSI of the other names and even though I didn’t know them as well as the ones we…” She scooped the quilt off the floor, even knowing her chill went deeper than any blanket could help. “The ones we lost, I’m praying they’re all still alive.”
His hand fell away from his head, his brown eyes alert. “You didn’t know them as well?”
“They were new to the community over the past couple of years.”
“And the others?”
She thought through the names, those nightmarish dead faces, and realized… “They were long-term residents, people we were surprised opted to go. But they kept in touch by email for a little while. God, why didn’t I think about the emails before? Someone is tampering with the email, pretending to be those murdered people.”
“Could have been sent by someone who did leave, if that person was a part of some plan. But why?”
Hell if she knew. “Some nut job infiltrated our group to destroy the group?”
“You’re quite the conspiracy theorist.”
“Actually that would be Ryker Everett.”
“Who’s he?” Wade said a little too quickly.
And yeah, she enjoyed the hint of jealousy in his voice, especially after the sting of him staying in the rocking chair. “Twin brother of my sister’s boyfriend. Or rather her ex-boyfriend.” She thought about Ryker further and decided… “He’s married to an art teacher in the community, Lindsay. They have a baby on the way.” Lindsay even helped at the gym with aerobics.
Living in that small village had made her feel so connected to the people around her. What once felt close, comforting, now seemed tangled, choking… So damn scary.
She forced herself to keep talking, making public things about people who valued their privacy above all else. “Ryker’s been a part of the group since he was a kid. His father’s even one of the community’s founding members.”
He studied her solemnly. “You know I’m going to have to share the things you told me with the OSI.”
He’d brought his cell phone in his survival gear. How could she keep forgetting that? Probably because she wasn’t used to having one around all the time, as he was.
While she couldn’t bring herself to give him a big thumbs-up to share details about people she’d trusted for years, she also knew she couldn’t ask him to stay silent. Rights and wrongs were sometimes very clear-cut. And at the moment, the most important thing was keeping people alive.
Hugging her knees, she rested her forehead on her crossed arms. Sensing Wade standing, she heard the rocking chair thunk against the wall. The rustle of clothes told her he was dressing and then the door closed as he left to make his call.
And she wouldn’t even get to hear his part of the conversation.
Misty scrubbed the travel grime off her and wished her pain was as easy to wash away. To hell with years of training to conserve water and power; she cranked the water hotter until her toes turned pink as she stood in the old-fashioned claw-footed tub. A blue plastic shower curtain hung from the ceiling, circling completely around and filling with steam.
She turned her face into the warm spray, a touch of sulfur smell seeping from the water and hinting it may have come in part from a volcanic spring. She bit back the urge to cry harder, louder. The thought that Flynn might hear her pain had her gasping for air.
She couldn’t believe she’d actually let him kiss her. What’s more, she’d enjoyed the hell out of that kiss. Only by running like a scared rabbit to the shower had she kept herself from hauling him into bed with her. But if she did—and God, did she ever want to—then he would know her secret. He would know she was still a virgin.
Either he would pity her, which she couldn’t bear, or even worse, he would realize she’d never wanted anyone even close to as much as she wanted him.
And what about Brett?
Would he move her as much as Flynn? Could she really bare her body, much less her heart, to a man she’d never even met face-to-face? Suddenly she felt so very foolish.
She needed someone to talk to and there was nobody to turn to other than Flynn. She wanted a computer, not just to reassure herself Brett was real, but to find her sister. For the past four years she’d been so focused on hating Flynn, convinced she’d numbed herself to what she once felt for him. With one kiss, he’d blown that out of the water.
A chilly burst of air cut through her steamy haven. Someone had opened the door. Squealing, she yanked the shower curtain to her naked body, peering around.
Flynn closed the door again, his hands behind his back. “You forgot a towel.”
Shower curtain clutched to her chilly body, Misty resisted the urge to smack the smirk off his face. If she ordered him to leave, she wouldn’t get a towel. If she took one from the stack, she would have to step out of the claw-footed tub.
Anger spiked inside her, fueled, no doubt, by a hefty dose of sexual frustration. “If you think you can just waltz back into my life and pick up where you left off simply because of one silly”—amazing—“kiss, then you’ve been smoking some of that crap your brother grows in the attic.”
“You know about that?” His eyebrows shot up into the hank of blond hair hanging over his forehead.