He pulled back sharply, looking offended. “Since when don’t neighbors help each other out?”
Ah, yes. The credo of small towns. Spy on thy neighbor, gossip about thy neighbor, but help thy neighbor when they need it. “At least let me take you out to dinner or something.”
Brett stared at her doubtfully.
“Say yes,” she urged him. “Otherwise, I’ll feel guilty for taking advantage of you.”
His frown deepened. Rats. He was going to say no, and she really was going to feel bad about letting him work all morning on her house. “Fine,” he bit out.
Oh, God. Now she was the one with suddenly cold feet. Frostbit. Heck, frozen solid.
A date with Brett Morgan? Cripes. What on earth had she just done?
Chapter 5 (#u7af247a9-950a-5d0e-bb40-35d2bc41d8e4)
How in the hell had he let Anna Larkin talk him into a freaking date? He stood in front of his closet, debating which of his extremely limited supply of decent shirts to wear tonight.
It didn’t mean anything. He had no intention of getting involved with her. She’d neatly maneuvered him into letting her thank him for helping install her windows. That was all. But hell’s bells, he’d polished his cowboy boots for this date of theirs.
He fingered his fresh-shaven jaw and the haircut that he’d gotten down at the barbershop in Sunny Creek before he’d headed back up to his cabin. Why had he felt compelled to get a damned haircut for her? After all, Anna was fully as skittish as he was about relationship stuff. She’d practically had a stroke when he set foot in her bedroom this morning.
Reggie leaned against his thigh affectionately, and he reached down to scratch the dog’s head. “What am I doing, buddy? I know better than to get involved with anyone right now. I’m a mess.”
Worse, the shrinks at the VA hospital hadn’t been able to give him any time frame in which his nightmares might subside or his memory return. Maybe never. They hoped a change in scenery from a hospital room would help the process, but so far, being back on Runaway Ranch hadn’t done anything but make him stir-crazy.
He was an idiot to let Anna talk him into this dinner thing. Public places made him sweat bullets, and the whole notion of being social with anyone panicked him. Although this morning with Anna hadn’t been so bad. Maybe because he sensed that she was as reluctant to deal with other human beings as he was. Hell of a pair they made.
Reggie barked from the living room.
“You’re better than a doorbell, Reg,” Brett commented as he headed for the door. Said doorbell thumped his tail on the floor happily. Brett pulled out a new rawhide bone for the Lab as Anna’s ridiculous little car huffed up to his cabin. Grabbing a coat, he headed outside quickly, lest she try to kill herself on his porch steps again.
Fine crystals of snow were drifting down as he stepped out into the soft darkness. Anna had just gotten out of her car and turned to face him as he jogged down the steps.
“Hey,” she murmured shyly.
“Hey,” he muttered back.
“Looks like more snow tonight,” she commented awkwardly.
“It’s supposed to get colder,” he replied equally awkwardly. “Why don’t we take my truck just to be safe?”
“But then my car will be stuck up here.”
“I can give you a tow down the mountain.”
“That sounds like a lot of trouble,” she said doubtfully.
He shrugged. “It’s better than you ending up in a ravine and freezing to death.”
“Well, when you put it that way…”
He moved to the passenger door of his truck and held it open silently, waiting. She took a step toward him. Another. His heart rate leaped. She was as skittish as a deer, and he stood perfectly still lest he scare her off. Step by step she approached him, and he took deep satisfaction in her hesitant trust.
Smiling a little, he backed up the truck, turned it around and headed down the mountain. They came out of the high valley above the main ranch complex, and the huge stone-and-log mansion his mother had insisted on building a few years back came into sight, a warm, golden jewel glowing against the snow.
“Your family’s home is magnificent,” Anna commented.
“I guess. It’s a house.”
“But not a home?” she asked astutely.
“My family’s complicated.”
She tensed beside him, and he glanced over at her curiously.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he added. “We get along for the most part. We Morgans are just a noisy, rowdy bunch.”
He shrugged. “It was fun growing up here.”
She didn’t speak, so he asked, “Did you like growing up in Sunny Creek?”
“I had nothing against the town.”
But her childhood hadn’t been happy. Was that why she was so jumpy about men?
Silence fell in the cab of the truck as he turned out of the ranch and onto the main road.
“Why the Army?” she queried, surprising him.
“Mom, apple pie, and patriotism, I suppose.”
“What did you do in the Army?”
His knuckles tightened on the steering wheel. “Kill people,” he bit out.
She stared at him, wide-eyed. Welcome to the monster I really am, he thought bitterly.
“Want me to take you back to your car?” he asked tightly.
A heartbeat’s hesitation, then, “No.” Another hesitation. “I trust you.”
Aw, honey. That’s a mistake. He wished it wasn’t so, but he didn’t even trust himself.
He and his team had been ordered to patrol that stretch of terrorist-infested road. It was their duty to make sure convoys could pass through the area without getting shot to hell and back. But something had gone terribly wrong. That had been no simple improvised explosive device that blew up, killing four of his guys. What the hell had he missed? Had there been intel he’d failed to read? A report by a local liaison that should’ve warned him to expect more than crude IEDs?
If only he could remember exactly what happened. But the ambush was a blank in his mind. The shrinks said it was obscured by battle stress. That maybe someday he would remember it all. Or not.