“And I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation.”
“Do you think I want to believe this? This is killing me, you bastard.”
He knelt in front of her, not to be in a position of pleading or supplication, but to bring himself eye-to-eye with her so she could see just how deeply her accusation cut. Andrea wouldn’t appreciate groveling. She would mistake it for pity.
So Brett stared into green eyes spitting fire right back at him. Memories of their marriage before the accident scrolled through his mind. How she’d charged through life, even charged right over him when she was angry. And she hadn’t lost an ounce of that fight even now.
“I’m going to tell you this once. I am not screwing around. You are everything I have ever wanted in a wife, and more woman than I can even handle. Believe me or don’t. I will not beg you to trust me.”
He shoved to his feet and turned to leave.
“Brett. Wait.” Her words were tight. She wasn’t over her anger, but then neither was he.
Stopping, he still didn’t turn. He struggled to rein in his temper, reminding himself that sex was a sensitive subject for Andrea since the skiing accident.
Did he miss their old life? Hell yes. He wanted Andrea healthy again, and was willing to do anything to make that happen. But he thought they’d worked through the whole physical-intimacy issue. He’d told her it was an invitation to be more inventive and she’d taken up the challenge as firmly as he had. They had a full—although different—sex life.
And he wasn’t willing to give that or her up because he’d been a dumb ass and used his home computer for some of his correspondence, which would ultimately make their dreams possible.
Thank God she hadn’t stumbled on anything worse. His thumb drives with lists of names and contacts were safely locked away at work, with an emergency stash of getaway cash. Just in case.
“Yes?” he said, half glancing over his shoulder.
Her chin tipped. God, the woman had an expressive face, every nuance of her anger, confusion and pain shouting from the fine-boned features he’d loved for fifteen years. “Brett, don’t play word games with me. There’s a difference between screwing around and having an emotional affair. It’s clear from the emails that you haven’t met in person yet.”
Her quick brain turned him on every bit as much as her beautiful body. He let himself smile for the first time since she’d hurled the inconceivable accusation at him. “I am not having an emotional affair with anyone. I am not trolling the Internet for babes. You are my one and only babe.”
She searched his eyes for eight thumps of his pulse before nodding curtly. “Okay, I believe you.”
Relief gut-punched him. She raised her arm, the one without the stylus, and stroked her wrist along his face. He closed his eyes and lost himself in the feel of her skin against his, the scent of her, like a Bali orchid. Just breathing in her perfume stirred him, making him ache to show her just how much he wanted only her.
“Andrea.” He groaned her name into her curled palm.
Her arms slid farther upward to hook around his neck and draw him toward her. He leaned closer and claimed her mouth. His wife. His lover.
She eased back, eyeing him more seriously than he’d hoped.
“Brett, you know this means we’re going to have to hire a new helper.”
“I’m not following.” He leaned back against the sleek steel desk.
“If you didn’t send those messages, then somebody did, and she’s the only other one who knows the password. She must have let her college-age son use our computer for his online courses.” Andrea’s fine, narrow jaw jutted. She was a tough woman who didn’t tolerate betrayal. “That poor girl Misty is going to be so disappointed when she finds out her ‘Brett’ isn’t at all what she thought.”
And yet again, his brilliant wife was 100 percent on the mark.
His brilliant, beautiful wife.
Brett leaned to kiss her again, sliding his arms under her legs and lifting her against his chest. He would show her exactly how much he still wanted her.
And in the morning, he would launch the final stage at financing the life Andrea deserved.
Sunny felt Wade’s hand fist on the back of her parka a second before he lifted her off her feet and thrust her behind him. The engine rumbled louder, roaring down the trail toward them.
From the direction of her village.
She thought about reassuring him it was probably nothing bad, but they both knew people had been murdered near here and they still had no confirmation that the deputy had acted alone. Until then, staying on alert made sense.
There wasn’t anywhere to hide. No substantial trees, less than a half dozen short, stunted conifers, and plenty of craggy rock. What had once seemed majestic now felt painfully barren.
The growl of the engine, the crunch of the tires with chains eating up the ice neared, with another odd scraping sound. A three-foot wall of snow sluiced around the corner a second before—
A snowplow came into sight, a familiar snowplow on the front of a twenty-year-old blue Ford, carefully maintained for the Everett family business.
She gasped in recognition as she stared at the couple on the other side of the windshield. Even with the sun glinting off the glass, she could see the pair well enough.
Oh God, her sister had left the community after all. And since there was no way in hell Misty would ever speak to Flynn again, the Everett twin beside her must be Ryker.
Wade shifted in front of her, muscles rippling under his snow gear, his arm moving until he reached beneath the hem of his parka. He pulled out a heavy black gun—a 9 mm, she was pretty sure, the same one she’d seen him carrying before. He was careful to keep it out of sight of the truck, gripping the weapon behind his back.
“Wade…” She gripped his arms. “It’s my sister. It’s Misty.”
“And the guy with her?” he barked over his shoulder. “Do you trust him?”
Did she trust Ryker Everett? She’d turned down date offers from the dope-smoking conspiracy theorist. But she’d always thought him harmless. She never thought twice if she was ever alone with him at the gym. Not that he even came by alone anymore, now that he was married with a kid on the way. So did she trust him?
“If you had asked me that last week, I would have said yes, unequivocally. But now?” She braced herself as the brakes squealed on the truck, Misty’s eyes going wide inside. “I don’t know who I trust anymore.”
“Fair enough.” Wade slipped the gun into the pocket of his parka. “I guess we’re about to find out.”
Wade kept his hand tucked away in his parka, holding the 9 mm as the snowplow slowed in front of him. Morning sun glinted off the windshield of the rusted-out blue truck with one helluva blade across the front channeling snow into a tidal wave that rolled over the cliff’s edge.
Wind tore at his clothes, pummeling him so hard, Sunny gripped his coat to anchor herself behind him, her jagged-edged knife still in hand. He slid his other arm behind him to make sure she stayed on her feet.
She whispered from behind him. “My sister, Misty, is sitting in the passenger side.”
He should have guessed that right away, since fear of Misty leaving had driven Sunny up this frozen hell on earth in the first place. Chances of running into a stranger up here were pretty slim.
Wade squinted against the sun, peering deeper at the woman with shoulder-length dark hair, the same color as Sunny’s—without the sapphire streak. She also appeared to be a couple of years younger than Sunny, but he knew threats could come in any age range, any size package.
“And the driver?” Wade asked, tightening his hold on her against gale-force winds. “The guy with her?”
“Ryker Everett, twenty-two. I’ve told you about him before.” She leaned into his back. “He’s the one who runs a snowplow business with his father and twin brother, Flynn. Ryker’s married with a kid on the way. A laid-back, free-spirit kind of guy. He’s a big-time conspiracy theorist, but seems to be all talk, no action. But like I said…”
“You’re questioning everyone now. Not a bad idea these days.”
The brakes squealed, rocks and icy chunks spitting from behind the tires. The truck stopped a foot shy of the snowmobile.
The passenger-side door flung open. Misty leaped out, surprise stamped on her face.
“Sunny? Oh my God!” Her voice carried on the wind with a guttural sound that would have cued him in to her deafness if Sunny hadn’t already told him.
Wade felt Sunny shift behind him, saw the blade of her knife reflect the sun’s rays before she sheathed it again. She bolted around him and scrambled along the icy road toward the snowplow. Misty palmed her way along the truck’s quarter panel, staying as far from the road’s edge as possible. Meeting at the snowmobile, the sisters hugged each other, holding so tight their arms sunk into layers of winter clothing.
He kept his eyes on the other guy just past them. Ryker Everett, Sunny had called him. Everett slid from the truck, attention locked on the two women across the hood without intruding on the moment.
Wade studied the hulking Paul Bunyan wannabe in front of him and figured out one thing about the guy fast. Ryker Everett might be married with a kid on the way, but the man standing a few feet away had some hefty feelings for one of those two women. With the sisters still hugging tight, Wade couldn’t tell which one the fella stared at with his heart planted firmly on his wind-worn sleeve.
But he intended to find out.
Sunny cupped her sister’s face, tears streaking down her cheeks and glinting as they froze. “I’m so glad you’re all right. I was worried about you.” She turned to the guy still standing on the other side of the hood, shuffling from boot to boot. “Thank you for taking such good care of her, Ryker.”
“Ryker?” Misty pulled back, then laughed. “You never could tell them apart. This is Flynn.”
The other twin? Did that change Sunny’s thoughts on whether or not to trust the man?
Misty cocked her head to look past Sunny. “Who’s that with you? Where have you been? Are you ’kay? I was so worried ’bout you.”
Sunny looked back over her shoulder at Wade, her hazel eyes relaying her uncertainty. He weighed the options and decided on the path that made the most sense.
Wade stepped forward, his fingers still wrapped around his 9 mm in his pocket. Just in case.
“I’m with a military rescue team. I helped Sunny when she got stranded up here. A lot has happened in the past few days.” An understatement, for damn sure. “Why don’t we all shuffle this conversation into the truck where it’s warmer?”
They had a lot to discuss and a limited amount of daylight hours left to reach the community where hopefully they would find some answers. He just prayed those answers weren’t going to plunge Sunny right back into harm’s way.
Truck jostling in a pothole, Misty grabbed the cracked leather seat in front of her as she sat in the back of the extended cab with her sister. The world outside the windows was pitch-black, no city skyline. Nothing but the moon, stars, and twin beams of the headlights streaking ahead. The dim glow of the dashboard cast the men’s faces in a spooky green glow as they talked to each other.
In the nine hours since they’d miraculously run into each other, she hadn’t been able to peel herself from Sunny’s side. The vehicle wasn’t handling as well in the dark, but both Flynn and the military guy, Wade, had insisted on charging all the way back home, no stops other than refilling the tank with the extra fuel in the back. The last few miles were the clearest and easiest anyway, the ones traveled most around their village, which she’d once thought to be safe and remote.
She could still barely wrap her brain around the fact that so many of their dear friends had been murdered. What a devastating loss for their community. And why? It seemed so arbitrary, those who hadn’t died. Unless their bodies simply hadn’t been found. She shivered again in spite of the blasting heater. She could have been one of those corpses in the ice, if not for her sister.