Last of the Ravens
He leaned in, cupped her chin and lifted her face, and then he placed his mouth over hers. She was so surprised by the move that for a moment she didn’t react. She simply stood there and accepted; she experienced; she felt. Yes, it had been a long time since she’d been properly kissed, and this simple touch of mouth to mouth was more than proper. It was extraordinary. The kiss rocked her to her toes, it paralyzed her, it shook her to the center of her being and fired up a wave of desire that was strong and primitive and totally unexpected. She heard the ticking of the big clock and the beat of her own heart, she felt Bren’s lips and the wobbling of her knees and a tingle that shook her and took her to a place she had not been in a very long time.
Desire. She couldn’t say the sensation was entirely unknown to her, but it was something she’d denied herself for years, and she had never experienced it so fully, so deeply or so quickly. Bren’s lips moved gently and she shuddered. Her lips parted and so did his, and for a moment she was frozen, unable to breathe, unable to describe the connection and pleasure she experienced. When he removed his mouth from hers it took all the will she had not to grab the front of his shirt and pull him back.
“That’s why,” he said, and then he turned away and left her standing there, shaken and confused and very tempted to chase after him.
Bren helped Miranda carry her purchases into the cabin he had so long coveted. If he had his way he’d buy the place and raze it to the ground. A good look at the interior did nothing to change his mind about those plans.
A couple of decent lamps and a decorative bowl were hardly going to help matters. What the cabin that marred his mountain really needed was a good fire.
“Cozy,” he said beneath his breath as he surveyed the orange sofa and matching overstuffed chair. “Ugly as sin, but cozy.”
Miranda laughed. “Tell me what you really think, why don’t you?”
They had managed to ignore the kiss, at least openly. He couldn’t forget it and he knew she hadn’t forgotten, either. He could almost swear there was an electric current running between them, a current that repelled and attracted at the same time, a current that changed the smell and the feel of the air he breathed.
Bren had known at first touch that she was the one for him. Sexually, reproductively, to the soul and to the bone, Miranda was for him. From that moment he’d felt as if he was being led—hell, dragged—into a life that was predestined and he had no choice in the matter. But just because she was here and they had some kind of ancient connection didn’t mean they had to act on it. Her presence and his knowledge of the possibilities didn’t mean he had to follow his impulses. For a moment the kiss had chased his doubts away and he’d been ready to dive in, body and soul, but the doubts were back. He would not be led, not in a matter as important as this.
He wondered if Miranda felt anything out of the ordinary. She was Kademair, but that didn’t necessarily mean she knew, as he did. That didn’t mean she looked at him and realized he was meant, biologically at least, to be the father of her children. Did she struggle with the possibilities, as he did? Maybe she was blithely and wonderfully ignorant of how momentous their meeting was.
The father of the rebirth of a species or a childless bachelor and the last of his breed—that was his choice. It was not a choice to be made in an instant, no matter how natural one path seemed to him at this moment. The natural path would take him directly to Miranda Lynch’s bed, into her body. With everything he was, he wanted to peel those black jeans away from her skin, taste her, arouse her, claim her in a way he had never thought to claim any woman.
If he were an animal there would be no choice to be made. But he was not an animal, he was a man. Difficult as it was, he would attempt to think rationally. He would try to push back his natural attraction until he was sure of what he wanted.
His well-ordered life could change in an instant. Did he want the dramatic change this woman’s appearance offered?
Miranda showed him where to place the lamps, while she put her sodas and skim milk in the refrigerator, commenting on how rude the cashier at the grocery store had been. It was true. Tammy had not been happy to see Bren return with another woman. Bren had barely spared a glance for the cashier, unnaturally taken as he was with Miranda, but he’d noticed.
“So,” Miranda said while her head was in the refrigerator and she didn’t have to look him in the eye, “why do you want this place so badly, anyway?”
“It’s an eyesore.”
“This cabin might not be up to your standards, but it’s hardly an eyesore,” she said, closing the refrigerator and turning to face him. “Are you really such a loner that you want to have this entire mountain to yourself?”
He didn’t want to answer that question, not yet. Was he still a loner? “Why is your friend Talbot so determined to hang on to it? I’ve offered him more than enough to buy a better place elsewhere.”
“I suppose it has sentimental value,” she said as she left the galley kitchen. “It belonged to his father. Back in those days the cabin at the top of the mountain wasn’t much bigger than this one, he said.”
“No, it wasn’t,” Bren admitted, remembering his father’s cabin, the place where he’d spent most of his childhood. His mother had demanded more, for herself and for her son, and for many years they’d moved between a proper house in Townsend and the cabin on the mountain. The house in Townsend, nice as it had been, had never felt like home.
The conversation about this mountain and the cabin was small talk, but in the air something momentous lingered. A kiss and the electric energy in the air danced between them. Everything had changed, could change, and surely Miranda felt that on some level. Bren wasn’t good at romance; he didn’t know how to woo or chase or smoothly seduce, and he still wasn’t sure what he was going to do about this woman who had worked her way beneath his skin. The possibilities remained endless.
He was straightforward in everything he did, including sex, so he asked, “Do you have a boyfriend at home?”
“No,” she answered quickly.
She didn’t wear a ring, but that was less than conclusive. “A husband or fiancé?”
“No.” She didn’t ask him why he wanted to know. After the kiss she shouldn’t need to ask. “What about you? Is there a girlfriend out there wondering where you are on a beautiful Sunday afternoon?”
“No,” he responded as simply as she had.
“A Mrs. Korbinian?”
“Not yet,” he said, looking her squarely in the eye.
For some reason that answer brought a hint of color to Miranda’s cheeks. She tried to ease the tension in the room with a laugh that sounded all wrong, as she removed her hat and tossed it onto the couch as if it were a Frisbee. “What’s wrong with us? The ghost thing scares a lot of men away, but you…what’s your excuse, Korbinian? Why are you still single?”
“Maybe one day I’ll tell you.” If he stayed here much longer he wouldn’t be able to leave. He had the best of intentions, but if he stayed in Miranda’s company he’d soon be physically incapable of walking away, and the decision he wrestled with would be made. Bren headed for the door, but he did turn to look back at Miranda. She was a hard woman to leave. “Dinner tomorrow, my place, I’ll pick you up at six.”
He didn’t give her a chance to refuse his offer, but left quickly—while he still could.
Miranda showered and put on her pajamas early in the evening, determined to get the rest that had brought her to the mountains. She would relax if it killed her! She made soup for supper—chicken noodle soup right out of the can, since real cooking wasn’t what she’d call restful. To be honest she wasn’t all that hungry, but she made herself eat a few spoonfuls.
After soup she sat on the deck for a while, enjoying the spectacle of near and distant vistas, but her eyes were drawn too often to the house at the top of the mountain. Korbinian’s house—in no way could it be called a cabin—had been built with an eye to fitting into the environment, so it didn’t exactly pop out. The roof was a dull, dark green; the deck, which ran the length of the house, seemed almost a part of the wooded landscape. If not for the little bit of light shining through large windows, which surely afforded Bren a stellar view, she could almost think his house was a part of the mountain he wanted to claim entirely as his own.
She couldn’t get a good handle on Brennus Korbinian. Yes, he looked at her like he wanted to eat her up, and they were both unattached and healthy in a world where in so many cases that was good enough for everyone involved. Miranda had never understood the appeal in a one-night-stand, but plenty of women—and men—her age did. If she was ever going to consider a casual sexual relationship, Bren would be perfect.
She understood her attraction to him, but why was he paying her so much attention? Korbinian was successful and good-looking, so he shouldn’t be exactly desperate for female companionship. Lack of social skills aside, he should have women lined up at his door, if that was what he wanted. He didn’t strike her as one of those men who had to conquer every woman they met, as if sex was a game and they thought themselves master players. She’d met guys like that, men who moved in too quickly, got too close, smiled too widely and too intimately. Bren wasn’t like that, not at all. In the beginning he had been anything but friendly, and he was very low on the smarmy meter—even though he had hiked to the cabin naked, which she surely would’ve taken as a warning sign if she didn’t instinctively like him at least a little bit.