Rose thought she was finally safe…until her past came back to haunt her.
It's been three years since Rose Wilson escaped a controlling, abusive man and arrived at the historical town of Winter Creek, Montana, accepting a job as the town's schoolmarm. She's at peace here, among her newfound friends and an assortment of rowdy, interfering ghosts. She can finally begin to heal.
When Mark Craine rode into town a year ago, he immediately caught her eye. But Rose kept him at arm's length, afraid to get too close, afraid his goodness was all a lie. However, the more she got to know him, the more she sensed he was a different type of man than her ex. Mark is honorable and kind. Still, it's difficult for her to let go of her past and trust again.
A stolen kiss in the middle of the town's one-room schoolhouse gives her the push she needs to move forward with him. She realizes she wants—needs—more than just his friendship. She needs his love. The schoolmarm wants to take a chance on the tall, dark cowboy.
When her abuser's 'enforcers' show up in Winter Creek, her newfound freedom is threatened. But she's a different woman now, stronger, and she will not allow them to intimidate her. But when her abuser himself shows up and they kidnap her, will she have the strength to get away, or will her ex win?
Content Warning: contains sensual sex, strong language, and some violence
That dirty, disgusting outlaw wants to ravish you. Bri's laughing comment raced in Rose's mind, sending a heated, wet response down her body.
What is wrong with me? This is crazy.
"Kidnapping you might work to my advantage." Mark stepped quickly around the desk, backing her into the hard chalkboard. "What do you want me to do, Rose?"
Kidnap me, for real.
Her body went weak at the implications of her instantaneous answer, at his closeness. Why was the image of this big man dragging her away, against her will, exciting her so much? Why did the thought of being under his control bring her body to life? When Logan had done the same thing it had left her feeling used and abused. He'd hurt her both physically and emotionally, leaving her a distrusting, fearful woman. Why would she hope another man would treat her the same way?
"Maybe that's what I'll do," Mark said.
"But only if it's what you want." He traced his finger lightly over her chin. "No man should ever force a woman, even if it's only part of a fake gunfight routine in a fake western town."
"Some men do," she whispered. "Some men—"
"I knew it." He stiffened at her words, growling out a loud breath. "Who hurt you, Rose?"
The angry tone of his voice made her cringe away from him. "No."
He dropped his hand from her face and backed all the way to the row of desks. "I'm sorry, babe. I didn't mean to upset you."
Rose nodded. "I know that, Mark."
"Do you really?"
"Then come here to me," he said softly, settling his bottom on the nearest desk. "Show me that you believe me."
Before her brain could tell her to stop, she stepped toward him and stopped an arm's length away. He studied her before slowly lifting his hands back to her face. She still felt safe with him. Even knowing that Joe had found her, she wasn't afraid.
"Have I ever hurt you, babe?"
"And I never will," he said gently, spreading his fingers around her head. "You believe me, right?"
She wanted to say 'yes' to his intense question, yet… Could his touch completely nullify the effects of Logan's harshness? Or would trusting this man be another mistake for her?
Has he ever not accepted your 'no'? His touches had changed, lingering on her skin longer, yet he still backed away when she tightened up on him. He still honored her need to take things slow even though she could tell it wasn't easy for him to do.
"Being this close to you," he said, the words groaned low from his throat, "is driving me crazy."
"Yet I don't want to be anywhere else."
Yes, she could believe him. She was beginning the healing process, finally letting go of her pain.
"Fake kidnapping you is only one of my ideas." He placed his other hand under her chin and lifted her face. "And it's just playacting, not real. No way in hell would I ever kidnap you for real."
The only way Rose would ever find her way out of her past was to trust. Deep down she knew this man could be trusted, if any man could be. He'd never done anything to make her feel uneasy around him. Since that first day she'd seen him sitting on that big horse, he'd been a complete gentleman.
"And we can be alone." His eyes widened before he arched his brow. "You're thinking about it, aren't you?"
"No." She swallowed around her lie. "We're alone here, now."
A sexy, wicked grin warmed his face as if sensing her lie. "Yes, but it's not the same thing."
"Still too many people around," he said, combing his fingers through her hair. "If I fake kidnap you, I can take you where we can be totally alone."
"I don't want that."
"I think you do."
Her heart sped up, breath catching tight as he brushed his lips softly over hers. She sighed, opening her mouth for his kiss. "Maybe."
"Only maybe, is it?" He laughed low before gathering her up tight in his arms and deepening his kiss. His tongue licked over her top lip and then the bottom one before lifting from her mouth. "You want me to kiss you though, right?"
If Rose didn't find a way forward, she would never free herself from Logan's abuse. If she never took a chance… Letting go of the last of her uneasiness, she set her hand on his chest. "Yes."