by Kelsie Belle
eBook ISBN: 978-1-62741-725-9
Running from a past that threatens to haunt her for the rest of her life, Rayne Carrington finds herself in Eden’s Ridge by chance. Six months later, she encounters a dangerously alluring stranger, who turns her world upside down with his mere presence. But how does she handle a man who is hell bent on resisting her at all cost?
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It was hard to believe he had come full circle. Never in a million years would Christian Stockwell have imagined himself in the position he was tonight, a scarred and weary homing bird, heading to the place he had most wanted to escape at one time. The stereo of his silver Chevy Camaro convertible was on full blast, belting out heavy rock hits that kept him company during the long hours as he sped down the highway on his way to sure solitude. He had the top down and the night air felt wonderful as it whipped through his hair and wafted against his skin.
The memories of the past few months weighed heavily on his mind but he did his best to push them aside and concentrate on the road ahead. He didn’t need to remember the fear and pain that had been his constant companions during that horrible time when his freedom had been stolen from him. He didn’t need to recall the grueling debriefing sessions he had been put through to ensure that he was not a threat to fucking homeland security after the ordeal was over. All he needed to focus on now was the fact that he would soon be home, sequestered in the serene ambience of Eden’s Ridge, nestled away from the constant questions and pitiful stares.
The welcoming sign flashed by his head and he slowed the powerful car and lowered the volume of the stereo as he entered his childhood hometown. Eden’s Ridge was a small mill town; a quiet, serene rural community blessed with picturesque countryside, generally pleasant weather and warm, friendly people. As a boy Christian had hated every inch of the place. What everyone else fondly referred to as ‘paradise’ had been literally hell for him. He had felt trapped by the nearness of everything, fettered by the slow pace and the familiarity with which people greeted him everywhere he went. His father had served several terms as the town’s mayor and his mother had been its first lady, which had effectively branded Christian the town’s golden boy – a totally unwanted and undeserved title, in his opinion.
From the ripe age of nine he had known that Eden would not be his home forever. He had to get out, needed to more than he had needed food, water or rest. He was convinced that there was a big, wide world out there just waiting for him to explore and he had craved it like a drug, it had been an infection in his blood. Taking off at the age of eighteen, to attend college half way across the country, had been as easy as breathing to him. He had not looked back once yet he felt no remorse, no guilt, no fear. Christian had grabbed his freedom by the horns and held on for dear life. Like a kid in a candy store, he had embraced the rush of excitement that had come with every new experience.
A dozen years later, he had seen it all and then some in his subsequent worldwide travels but the novelty had worn off eventually. Being constantly on the move, unable to form any real bonds or properly appreciate any one place, had left him with a hollowness inside. The things he had witnessed and experienced in his line of work had only helped to exacerbate that feeling and compounded it with callousness. Some days he barely even felt human anymore.
Christian drove through the quiet streets of the town center, noting that not much had changed about it in the years since he had been gone. A few new businesses had been opened up along the strip and the park had been restored somewhat but that was about it. Eden was its same old, simple, peaceful self. As he passed through the square, there was a young couple strolling along the sidewalk hand in hand, a group of older men sat chatting alongside Davie’s bar and two ladies stopped to meet and greet in front of a closed store. A group of teenagers hanging out in the park, turned to stare and point as his car zipped by them, turning off Main Street unto Alyssum Road.
Pulling into the driveway of the yellow and white two story house that once belonged to his parents, Christian noticed two things simultaneously. One – there was a red Toyota Corolla parked alongside where his Camaro now sat, and two – there was a light on upstairs. These two things were oddities because his parents had both been dead for almost five years. A fatal car accident had taken them both while he had been holed up in some barracks halfway around the world. The house should be vacant now. No one else had a key but Isabelle, his mother’s younger sister and he was pretty sure this wasn’t her car or that it wasn’t her inside the house at 9: 30 p.m. on a Friday night.
He quickly put the top up on the convertible and hopped out. Leaving his luggage inside, he reached under the seat for the beretta hidden there. Tucking the gun into his waist, he strode purposefully towards the front porch of the house. Whoever was inside was definitely trespassing and it pissed him off to think that he would have to deal with this bullshit right now when all he wanted was to strip out of his over-worn clothes and take a long, hot bath before throwing himself across the comfy mattress of his old bed.
Stealthily, Christian inserted the key into the lock of the front door and turned it, then carefully pushed the door open to let himself into the dimly lit foyer, leading to the living room. The house was quiet and dark except for the light coming from the hallway upstairs and the sound of the shower running. The fucker was taking a shower in his house.
He pulled the gun from his waist and quickly crossed the floor and began his slow ascent of the staircase. On the landing, he cautiously looked around the corner down the hallway to ensure it was clear. Taking a few tentative steps towards the bathroom door, Christian released the safety from the beretta and pointed it in front of him. Suddenly he heard the knob on the door turn and in the next instant it swung open. He stilled, gripping the gun firmly and aiming at the opening.
“Don’t move motherfucker!” He gritted through clenched teeth, cocking the weapon and readying himself to pull the trigger.
The response that greeted him was an earsplitting, definitely female, scream of terror.
Rayne let the water cascade freely down her body, running through her hair, over her shoulders and onto her back. It had been an excruciatingly long evening and she was glad to be back home in the quiet and solitude of the old house. Her shift at ‘Taste of Heaven’ diner had ended at 9: 00 p.m. The place had been jam packed since it was Friday and no one in Eden seemed to cook on a Friday night. She had been on her feet since 1:00 p.m., taking orders and carrying heavy trays back and forth from the sweltering kitchen to the dining area, so a leisurely shower was just what the doctor ordered right now. It felt good to just stand under the spray of warm water and let it soak out the knots that had formed in her muscles.
After a while she lathered her washcloth with soap and took the time to leisurely cleanse every inch of her body. When her hands came to the junction between her legs and brushed against the sensitive nerves there, Rayne shivered. It had been so long since she had been stimulated that way, she almost missed the feeling of being touched so intimately. She didn’t dwell on it though, couldn’t allow herself to get caught up in thoughts like that. What purpose would it serve to get all worked up when she had no intention of letting anyone fulfill that need any time soon? She had only been on a couple of dates with Ethan so far and she still wasn’t sure how she felt about him at this point. She knew it was best to just finish up her shower and get out of the bathroom quickly so she could curl up in bed with an e-book.
Rinsing off quickly, Rayne reached for her towel as she stepped out of the shower, toweling the moisture from her hair and skin vigorously. She wrapped the large, soft towel around her slender body and went about brushing her teeth. Finally satisfied that she was good and clean, she reached for the handle of the door and swung it open.
Suddenly she was staring down the barrel of a handgun and a hard, cold voice grated, “Don’t move motherfucker.”
The scream that ripped from Rayne’s lungs was almost deafening, even to her own ears. Terror coursed through her body as she stood rooted to the spot, clutching the towel to her chest, eyes huge like satellites in her stricken face, screaming like a banshee.
“What the fuck? Cut it out! Jesus Christ, you could wake the dead with that thing!”
The sound of the voice coming from behind the gun brought her screaming to an abrupt halt. The stranger lowered his gun and her eyes jerked up to meet his. Another jolt of shock ripped through Rayne at the sight of his face. She was pretty darn sure that she had never seen this man before. She surely would never forget such a beautiful face.
He had jet black hair, cropped moderately short on his head, the top slightly higher and arranged in random spikes. His eyes were a deep blue or rather violet. They were so dark, they appeared almost black. He sported a five o’clock shadow along his strong jawline that enhanced his rugged edge, making him look almost too delectable for words. Her breath caught painfully and she swallowed hard as a totally unexpected yearning swelled in her nether regions. Strangely, she felt no fear now, but her interest was definitely piqued. Who was this beautiful stranger and what the hell was he doing here?
“Okay, who the fuck are you and what are you doing in my house?” He clipped and Rayne almost smiled at the irony highlighted by his words – it would seem her stranger could read minds.
“Don’t you think you’re stealing my line?” She asked sassily when she finally found her voice. “Last I checked you broke into my house while I was taking a shower in my bathroom!”
Christian’s eyes narrowed slightly and he cocked his head to one side. “I didn’t break in…I have a key. This. Is. My. House.” He bit out, annoyance radiating from his every pore.
“There must be some mistake then. Because this is my house, I’ve lived here for almost six months now.” Rayne told him, her brows creasing with bewilderment.
Christian tucked the gun in the back of his jeans and folded his arms. Legs braced apart and eyes narrowed, he studied her. “Hold on, you trying to tell me you bought my house? Without me knowing about it? Not possible lady, try again.”
“I didn’t buy it. I have a lease…one year. Well there’s only about half of that left now but I do plan on renewing it when the time comes. I have a contract and everything. Feel free to look at it if you want.” She responded matter-of-factly, folding her arms saucily. “Besides, this can’t be your house. I leased it from the owner, Isabelle Sutherland.”
Rayne was hard-pressed to note the comedy of the situation. She was standing in her bathroom doorway, naked beneath the towel wrapped around her body, her hair dripping rivulets on to the wooden floor and arguing property rights with a complete stranger who had just pulled a gun on her. Downright hilarious.
“Aunt Belle!” Christian muttered, more to himself than to her. “Leave it to you to do something like this.” He shook his head in exasperation.
“You know her?” Rayne asked, her brows knitting again.
“Like I said, she’s my Aunt Isabelle. My mother’s younger sister and caretaker of my house.” He responded drily.
“Oh! Oh wow…” Her eyes popped wide, forming saucers in her face and her mouth formed a huge, dubious O. So that would mean she had leased a house from a woman who was not the actual owner of said house? Yikes!
It took her several seconds to regain her composure enough to reply, “I had no idea. I mean she never said anything about…Oh wow!”
Christian folded his arms across his solid chest and he cocked his head, observing her for a long moment. Rayne tried not to squirm under his intense scrutiny but she could feel beads of sweat begin to form on her forehead despite her best efforts.
Finally he extended his hand, giving her a devastating smile, though it didn’t quite spread to his hard, dark eyes. “Christian Stockwell. That would make you…?”
“Ah, I’m Rayne…I mean, Mackenzie Carrington. But Rayne is fine, I prefer Rayne…” She swallowed hard against the lump suddenly forming in her throat.
Christian’s lips curled in a cocky smile and he gave a slight nod. “Rayne it is then,” he said slowly, the words rolling off his tongue in a low seductive drawl. She took his proffered hand, surprised by how large and strong it was. Long fingers enveloped her much smaller ones, sending an unfamiliar tingle running up her arm. Startled by the sensation, she quickly pulled her hand way.
“Uh, I should get dressed. I…do you want me to call Belle and talk to her about this… situation? I didn’t know…I mean, she didn’t tell me you were coming. Was she expecting you?” Her words came out in a rush. It was a flaw of her personality to talk too fast and too much when she was nervous.
His eyes raked over her towel clad body, and Rayne suddenly felt as if there was no barrier between them. It was as if she was standing buck naked before him and the very thought sent licks of scorching heat right to her core. She blushed from the roots of her hair right down to her daintily polished toes.
“No, she wasn’t expecting me. No one knew I was coming. Go get dressed, we’ll sort this out when you’re decent.” With that he spun on his heels and sauntered down the hallway then descended the staircase.
Rayne stood staring after him until she heard the front door closed and the sound jolted her out of her daze, galvanizing her into motion. She sped across the hallway and dragged the door to her room open. Rushing inside, she slammed the door loudly behind her and bolted it. Leaning against it she squeezed her eyes shut and let out a long breath. What the hell was she supposed to do about this mess now?
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