Sherri's second chance at love is twice what she bargained for.
Safe, steady, straight on course to a happily ever after. That was Sherri's life before today. Sure she'd had to give up things to make it work; her old home, her old job, not to mention moving to hellishly hot Arizona where she had no friends and her co-workers despised her, but marriage is a compromise, right? And she wanted marriage, with Roger. Dependable, reliable Roger. It all fell apart when she came home early and discovered that Roger wasn't as loyal as she'd thought.
Her lighthouse in the stormy nightmare of deceit and infidelity is an old friend she's never met in person, but who has always been there, waiting for her. David takes Sherri in, promising to keep her safe in his secluded cabin so she can recover. But Sherri isn't safe at all when his roommate arrives home and knows with one look that he wants her. Two men vying for her attentions, one patient and kind, the other all lust, both harboring a dark secret that keeps them inseparable. A relationship like this can't work, can it?
Another ten minutes passed before a red Mustang pulled up next to her car. She squinted at the man who got out. He brushed strands of dark blond hair from his eyes. She had seen pictures of him on the net before—always dressed in a business suit. David wore a rumpled white t-shirt and blue jeans today. He strode across the lot, his face riddled with concern lines.
The bell jingled on the glass door. David scanned the patrons. His brown eyes pierced right through her. He smiled and hurried over. “Sherri,” he said when she stood, holding out her hand in a safe, professional gesture. “I’m so sorry this happened.” His embrace crushed his body against hers so that she felt every curve of taut muscle across his chest and the lump in his pants as well.
She swallowed and hugged him back, her tears starting fresh. “Thanks. Thanks for coming, for being here. I don’t know what to do.”
“Stay with me. It’s not much, but a cabin in the woods might do you good. Nature has a way of putting life, and what’s important, into perspective. You can stay as long as you like.” His mouth touched her temple in a gentle kiss. “You’re welcome there.”
“No, I couldn’t impose. I can’t…”
“You can. It’s an invitation from friend to friend. We’ve known each other for years, just never in person. I feel like you’re family. A sister.”
Her skin went cold. Trapped in his comforting arms, she didn’t want to feel like his sister at all. She wanted him to press that tender mouth of his against her lips and make her forget. The animal attraction she felt for him sent a burning shiver through her womb. Sherri let her arms fall to her sides, afraid of what she felt, completely surprised by it. I can’t take any risks. I can’t try again. Never again. Besides, he’s gay.
His warm hand rubbed up and down the small of her back in soothing motions. “Let’s get out of here, okay? You don’t need to be in a public place. You need to be somewhere quiet where you can work everything out.”
He pulled away and stared down at her. She hadn’t thought he would be so tall. He stood a head over her, imposing and kind all mixed in one.
“Yes, all right,” she blurted, surprised again that she agreed so easily. He was persuasive in a subtle way, and really, it had been her plan all along. “I won’t stay more than a couple of days. I promise. Just until I get my bearings. I might have to move back to my mother’s house.”
“No, no. Stay as long as you need to. You’ve got that new job and all.”
She sobbed. “Well, that’s the other thing. I quit.”
“Oh.” He sucked in a breath and grasped his chin. “Hey, I can talk to my partner. He does research on the Mexican Gray Wolves they’ve released into the wild. He could use an assistant. It’s grant money, so it doesn’t pay much, but it’s better than nothing, and it’ll keep you at the cabin.”
“Really?” His kindness gave her hope. David was safe, a safe place to hide, and maybe a new beginning for a decent job.
“I’ll have to ask him first. He’ll be home late tonight.”
“Thanks, David. Thank you for this. I didn’t know what to do, or where to go.”
He took her hand, his fingers knitting with hers, and led her away. They passed out of the coffee shop into the parking lot. After he gave her directions to his house, she started her car and followed his Mustang, thinking she had done the right thing.
The drive through and out of Clifton was boring. Organized landscaping gave way to desert scrub and vast sections of cactus and wilds. In the distance, Sherri stared at the looming blue-gray mountains. She didn’t know anything about David’s partner and hadn’t realized they lived so far out of the way.
They passed onto a rough asphalt road leading into the Apache National Forest. She reached over to turn on the radio, but could only pick up a static laced country station. After a few minutes, she gave up and switched it off.
A feeling of angst settled in the pit of her stomach. Her nerves were shot. She blinked away another flood of tears. Following her friend on a winding road that led into the mountains, she began to question what she was doing. He might be some nutcase, an axe murderer taking me into the trees to chop me to bits and bury me. She decided no one but her mother would really care if she didn’t show up again. Surely Roger would be relieved.
A reckless sense of rage washed over Sherri. She decided she didn’t care what happened next. Worrying over her future had gotten her in the state she found herself in at that moment. Trying to be too careful, to make all the right choices hadn’t worked out. She focused on the shape of the man driving in front of her and wished he wasn’t gay, that they could have a wild, vengeful fling and immediately reprimanded herself for it. Be careful what you wish for, she thought.
This was David. Her friend. Her lighthouse in the midst of a dark, stormy nightmare. She wouldn’t use him like that even if she could.
The Mustang turned onto a dirt road and slowed to fifteen miles an hour. She saw the cabin long before they reached it. An old-fashioned timber built model, it boasted a side deck with balcony and a stone chimney. She wondered if they had heating or if it would be cold nights huddled by a fire for her.
Her cell phone rang. She reached for it on instinct, saw Roger’s number, and shoved it back where she’d found it. “Bastard.”
David parked on the gravel drive. He got out as she pulled in next to him. Snatching up her purse, she climbed out of her car and smiled awkwardly. “Thanks for this.”
“No problem.” He shrugged. “Do you have a suitcase or anything?”
His forehead crinkled.
“I walked in on him, all right? He was having sex with his boss in our bed. Right in our house.”
He sighed and put an arm over her shoulder, his warm scent pleasing. “Come inside, Sher. We’ll have a drink or two. You can tell me everything or nothing at all.”
Trying to catch her breath, she kept pace with him. He left his arm around her when he unlocked the door. Inside it was dark, the large sitting room inviting and restful. He guided her to a leather couch that faced the fireplace and sank in beside her. She cried into his t-shirt while he stroked her hair.
“You’ll be all right,” he soothed. “You’ll see. Everything happens for a reason.”
Her eyes hurt. The beginning of a headache pounded her temples. Feeling safe in his arms, she closed her eyes and tried to stop thinking about what had happened. His heart thrummed by her ear, steady and low. Each intake of his breath pushed his chest against her cheek. She smelled soap on his skin.
His fingers kept combing through her locks, running over her scalp and down past her neck. “I’ll take care of you,” he promised. “No one’s going to hurt you here.”