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ROCKY MOUNTAIN SHELTER Chapter One

Today I have the first chapter of ROCKY MOUNTAIN SHELTER to share with you!

RockyMountainShelter300

 

Chapter One

May, Rocky Mountain House

A metallic shriek filled the air as Trevor Coleman stomped on the brakes, gravel flying as his oversized pickup skidded to a halt. On the ridgeline of the run-down rental house he’d been stalking for days, a dark silhouette teetered precariously, and he swore under his breath.

He shoved the truck back in gear and hurried onto the pothole-ridden private road. It took a minute to manoeuver the narrow driveway, his approach hidden behind a line of thick, overgrown pine trees. Barely into the main yard, he jolted to a halt, rushing out the door toward the house. He didn’t want to scare whoever was on the roof into taking a fall, but no way could he turn a blind eye to what looked like a teenaged kid trespassing.

“Hey,” he shouted. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

His feet carried him forward as the youth spun to face him, arms flapping upward. The kid’s feet slipped on the worn shingles, his body smacking down on the rooftop then sliding rapidly toward the edge. Trevor put on an extra burst of speed, aiming at where the kid would fall off the roof and plummet to the ground.

He was greeted by silence instead of a jet-propelled body.

Trevor stepped back a couple of paces to discover the kid sprawled belly down, arms spread wide as he clutched a hammer. The prongs had dug into the roof like an ice axe.

“Jeez, you’ve got horseshoes up your ass.” Trevor whipped off his hat as he stared upward, trying to figure out the easiest way to get the kid down so he could kill him with his bare hands. “Stay put. I’ll get the ladder.”

“There isn’t one.”

Trevor jerked in surprise. That was no teenaged boy. That was a female voice.

He eased away another foot and examined her more carefully. “How’d you get up there?”

“I climbed. Do you mind? Go away.”

Like hell he would. Trevor stayed alert as she got her feet under her, twisting to vertical to stare down like a disapproving angel.

Now that he was closer, it was very clear she was a woman—there was no disguising the way she filled out the flannel shirt and well-worn jeans. Dark brown curls stuck out from under the brim of her baseball cap, the rest of her hair tucked away, and he had the sudden hope the wind would gust and send the cap flying so he could see it all.

She was far enough away some details were lost. Like her eyes—definitely dark, but he wasn’t sure if they were deep brown or dusted with lighter tones. Her lips were drawn tightly together into damn near a pout, which gave him all sorts of ideas about how to turn her frown into a smile, not the least of which would be planting a kiss on them.

Because the stubborn glare she was giving him was a challenge and a half, and Trevor liked challenges. Especially when they were delivered by mysterious, good-looking women, although he didn’t know about the standing-on-the-neighbour’s-roof part.

She wavered for a moment, arms shooting out again to catch her balance. She didn’t make a sound, though, probably in an attempt to seem less frightened than she was.

If she wanted to pretend everything was cool, he could play that game as well. “You want a hand?” he drawled.

Her nose twitched. “Is this when you start clapping?”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.” He glanced along the roofline. The house had a higher section to the left of where she stood, the second-storey windows like wide eyes staring at him. “Seems a strange place to be taking a walk, that’s all I’m saying.”

“There’s a leak,” she offered finally as an explanation.

Now they were getting somewhere. Something to fix. He could deal with that. Not to mention, it would give him a chance to possibly pick up some information—details he’d been searching a long time to find. “Why don’t I—”

Her feet slipped again, the sharp incline too much to control.

This time Trevor knew she couldn’t recover, and he shot forward, keeping a wary eye out for the hammer. It flew off the edge barely a second before she rolled after it.

He expected to hear her shriek on the way down, but deep silence hung on the air in the seconds before he caught her against his body and momentum drove them both to the ground.

She was soft in all the right places, and warm—

—and gone. Vanished before he had a chance to truly appreciate a bit of bodily contact as a reward for his heroic rescue.

She’d scrambled to her feet, backing up until there was ample space between them. “Thank you.”

Then damn if she didn’t turn and walk away, snatching up her hammer as she passed it, headed straight for the front door.

“That’s all you got to say? Thank you?” Trevor raced after her, incredulous. “Really?”

She laid a hand on the door, pausing to look him up and down. For a second he thought she was considering using the hammer on him. “What do you want?”

“I don’t want anything. I mean, I want—” He fell silent, looking at her for inspiration.

What the hell did he want? She had him so muddled he sounded like an idiot. Come on, brain in gear.

He folded his arms over his chest and put on his most flirtatious smile. “Just wanted to say hello, and welcome to the neighbourhood. I heard you’ve got a leak in your roof. I’ve come to give you a hand.”

There. That should get some kind of positive reaction from her. A smile, a nod, maybe a bit of flirting in return.

Nothing.

Instead, she tugged open the screen door and slipped through, offering one final comment over her shoulder before swinging the solid wood door shut. “Thanks, but I got it under control.”

The door clicked. The sound of a deadbolt being turned followed.

Trevor stared in confusion.

The rental house was no longer empty, he’d just rescued a woman falling off the roof, and yet he was no further ahead than he’d been five minutes ago. This was all sorts of fucked up, and not very useful. He didn’t know her name, didn’t know how she’d gotten there…

A sharp creak sounded, and he jumped off the porch, glancing around cautiously. A second squeaking bang followed, and this time he looked upward in time to see one of the shutters on the second floor move, and a jean-clad leg extending over the sill.

Incredible. Damn woman was crawling out on the roof again.

He stepped back into her line of vision. “Are you trying to break your fool neck? You’re going to fall.”

“If you go away and stop distracting me, I won’t.”

Trevor couldn’t believe it. “You’ve got some kind of a death wish, honey.”

Silence in response.

And that was enough to push him over the edge. Trevor wasn’t used to being ignored. Especially not by pretty girls.

He took a quick peek to make sure she was solid on her feet before he did anything. She seemed all right. She had an X-Acto blade out and was patiently trimming away the shingles from the lower section of roof.

Sending up a prayer she wouldn’t lose her balance while she had the knife in hand, he hurried around the edge of the house to where a giant apple tree sat conveniently located. Convenient at least for his purposes. He shimmied up the trunk and into the first crook before he’d had time to consider what he was doing. But even pausing to wipe his hands before tackling the more difficult part of the climb didn’t change his mind.

No way was she leaving him on the ground without any information. He was just being neighbourly, he reasoned, as he stepped from branch to branch, going higher than the eaves trough.

His dad would give him hell if he didn’t offer a lady a hand.

Trevor propelled himself from the tree to the roof, tipping forward to land on his hands and knees to catch his balance before scrambling upward, the old, worn tiles warm under his fingers. He moved in silence, not wanting to startle her again, especially when there was no one to catch her if she did fall.

He waited until her hands were empty, watching from barely over the ridge as she cleared away a section of what was clearly water-damaged roofing. She rose and moved cautiously back to the second storey windows, grabbing hold of the windowsill and leaning in for something.

Trevor took advantage of the moment and ran the lower ridgeline to her side. He caught hold of the window and her waist at the same moment he offered a warning.

“Don’t panic.”

She stiffened but otherwise didn’t move. Didn’t scream, didn’t shout, didn’t do anything except cautiously pivot her head toward him. His hopes he’d avoid getting reamed out faded when their gazes met, her eyes blazing.

Shit.

“I didn’t want you to fall,” he hurried to explain, withdrawing his hand from her waist reluctantly. She was a good-looking woman, and he had zero objections to having her in his arms.

But she wasn’t only mad, she was white knuckling the windowsill. “How’d you get up here?” she demanded.

Trevor tilted his head toward the corner. “Apple tree. A lot of these old homes have big enough trees you can get upstairs pretty easily.” The anger in her eyes flashed momentarily to an entirely different emotion. Double shit. “Don’t worry, not many people around here have a habit of climbing onto roofs.”

“I’m lucky you came over, is that what you’re telling me?”

The snarky comment offered a tiny crack in the ice, and Trevor leapt on it with everything he had. He thrust his hand forward. “Can we try this again? I’m Trevor Coleman. You never did tell me your name.”

She offered her hand slowly, her grip strong as her fingers wrapped briefly around his. “Becky Hall. I’d really prefer you not be on this roof with me.”

“I’d really prefer you not be on the roof, period,” Trevor confessed. “But you said you’ve got a leak. Maybe can we can work out a compromise.”

She eyed him up and down, one hand still clutching the edge of the windowsill. It was obvious she was scared to death, but he wasn’t sure if it was of him or their height above the ground.

Her pulse was visible at the base of her throat, and he watched it, fascinated, drawn to the soft texture of her skin. If they’d been at Traders Pub, or somewhere in town, he would have leaned in as he flirted, maybe even casually stroked a finger along her neck, just to see how she’d react.

Not the time. Definitely not the place. And something warned him to go a hell of a lot slower than usual. Something more than the panic hovering in her eyes.

“How about we discuss a trade?” he offered.

“What kind of trade?”

“I’ll fix your roof, and you help me get in touch with your landlord.”

She stared at him long and hard, and then without a word, threw a leg over the windowsill and crawled inside.

He waited, hope rising. Maybe she was going to get some paper and give him the phone number.

Instead, she lowered the window between them with a snap and turned the old-fashioned latch firmly before meeting his gaze. “That’s okay. I’ll take care of the repairs myself.” Her voice muffled behind the glass barrier. “I trust you can get down the way you came up.”

She disappeared into the darkness as Trevor leaned his face against the window and peered in like some crazy peeping Tom.

Well, shit. That hadn’t worked out at all the way he’d hoped.

 ~**~

He pulled into the parking space outside the Coleman bachelor pad. Two of his cousins still lived there, and from the trucks parked in the yard, both were home. He hurried into the house to find the back screen door open and Raphael and Jesse sitting on the porch with long necks in their hands.

“Look what the cat drug in.” Jesse held out a beer. “I thought you were going to be here half an hour ago. We started without you.”

Trevor twisted the cap off his bottle as he dropped into one of the sturdy lawn chairs, taking a long drink of the cold liquid as he looked his cousins over.

In spite of their differences, he was pretty sure most strangers could tell at a glance the three of them were related. Rafe’s hair was the blondest. Jesse’s a touch darker and then his—a deep brown. His cousins had blue eyes; his were an unremarkable brown. They stood over six feet, solidly built from years of working the land. All of them got their share of female attention without much trouble.

They’d been teased before about their “cowboy uniforms”—jeans, boots and hats, and an unshaved jaw from nights spent tying one on a little too hard.

Trevor laughed. If he showed up looking worse for wear, it was far more likely he’d spent all night chasing down part of the herd or dealing with a ranching emergency. It wasn’t easy trying to beat a living from land that seemed hell-bent against being tamed.

The three of them were the last of the Coleman men left unhitched, which was fine by Trevor. He liked playing the field, although he usually had far more luck with the ladies than he’d had that afternoon with Becky.

Rafe eased forward in his chair, curiosity in his eyes. “I met your brother on the road this afternoon. Lee said he was doing late chores, so you should’ve been done a while ago.”

“I was. I headed into town to hit the library.”

For some weird reason, Rafe stiffened before demanding, “What were you doing there?”

“Yeah,” Jesse teased, “I didn’t know you could read.”

Trevor rolled his eyes. Jesse being an asshole outweighed poking at Rafe’s strange behaviour. “Oh, a cutting blow. You’re such a bastard, Jesse.”

His cousin smirked harder.

“I can’t go on. I’m going to curl up right here and cry in my beer.”

“Asshole.” Jesse laughed the word. “So…what? Why were you in town? Don’t make us pull it out of you, because I’m sure it’s not that interesting.”

Trevor’s amusement faded as frustration rushed in. He’d wanted to do this on his own, but after getting stuck without any forward progress, maybe it was time to call in reinforcements. “Trying to find out who owns the parcel of land that butts up to the west of the Moonshine property line. You’d think someone in town would know, especially if there’s gossip involved, but everyone is surprisingly tight-lipped, and so far I haven’t found anything on file in land records.”

“You guys need extra pastureland?” Rafe asked.

“Maybe. Pasture some, hay the rest, but there’s no use in making any plans until I know who to contact.”

His lack of progress was more than annoying; it was becoming a personal taunt. Like a fuck you that he couldn’t do as much for his family as the rest of his siblings. “My dad’s still not feeling well, so we’re all trying to take up the slack until he’s back on his feet.”

“And even short-handed, you want more land?” Rafe shook his head. “I wish we had your troubles.”

“I thought the Angel clan was doing okay,” Jesse said. “With going organic, and all that shit.”

Rafe made a rude noise. “It’s going better than it was, but we’re still a long way off making it a complete success. I don’t have to tell you why.”

Trevor sympathized without saying anything.

They all knew that of the older generation of Coleman brothers to settle in the Rocky Mountain House area, Rafe’s father Ben had proven to have the shittiest attitude and the least sense. Trevor would take his father—or Jesse’s dad, Uncle Mike—any day of the week over Ben, but it wasn’t the kind of sentiment you straight up said to another person. Gee, yeah, it sucks that your dad is an asshole.

Might be true, but it just wasn’t said.

Rafe tipped his chair back on two legs, staring into space as he absently picked at the label on his bottle. “You know, I’ve never heard the story either. Seems like that land should belong to someone in the family, but I’ve only heard it called the rental.”

Which was what Trevor knew as well.

“We’re the youngest, except for Lee, and nobody tells us shit,” Jesse complained.

“There’s never been a reason to tell us,” Raphael pointed out. He finished his bottle and stood. “I’m starving. I’ll get supper going.”

Trevor lingered over his drink. He’d struck out for the past couple of months, but Becky moving in changed things. Maybe he’d be able to finally get ahead. “There’s someone new renting it now,” he said. “The house on the southwest quarter.”

Jesse raised a brow. “What? The old-timers are gone?” He snapped his fingers. “Hey, you’re right. I heard somebody say they decided it was too much work to take care of, so they moved into town. That was back a month or so ago.”

“Well, someone else moved in already, so I might be able to find out who owns it from her.”

Jesse’s eyes widened. “Her? Tell me we’ve got new blood in the neighbourhood.”

Something tightened in Trevor’s gut. He had absolutely no reason to feel possessive, or protective, but damn if that wasn’t what whipped through his veins the instant interest lit up Jesse’s expression. “Yeah. Must be an old schoolteacher come to retire, or something,” he lied.

Anticipation faded from Jesse’s blue eyes. “Well, damn it all.” He threw his beer bottle across the deck into the open garbage can, the glass ringing loudly off the metal frame. “I swear Rocky is where people come to die. Makes it difficult to find anybody to spend time with.”

The utter dejection in his cousin’s voice made Trevor laugh out loud. “What makes it difficult is the fact you’ve already dated all the women in the area and pissed off most of them, in this county and the next three over.”

Jesse held his hands up in surrender, flashing a grin. “I can’t help it if I’m too much for any one woman to handle.”

Rafe made a gagging noise from the doorway. “If anyone has any appetite left after that load of crap got delivered, get your asses in here and help. Trevor, I take it you’re staying for supper?”

Trevor had his own place down the road, but he liked company too much to spend his evenings alone. “I’ll cook the vegetables and save your taste buds from Jesse’s slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am cooking methods.”

Jesse snorted as he rose to join them in the kitchen. “You two have no idea what culinary marvels I’m capable of. I keep my talent on the down-low, kind of like Superman in the kitchen.”

“No argument here—you’ve got a stomach of steel. We’re far too redneck for your class of cooking.” Rafe shoved a dirty plate into Jesse’s hands. “That’s why you get to wash. And get a move on, ’cause there’s nothing to eat off.”

Trevor forgot his worries in the complaining and joking that followed. But one thing he didn’t forget was the pair of light-brown eyes that had burned into him with all the fire he liked in a woman.

Intriguing. That’s what she was. Not only did Becky Hall have the answers he needed, she was easy on the eyes, and he wanted to find out what made her tick. It was a good combination—one that made him eager to return to the old rental house.

Becky was going to find out just how determined he was to be neighbourly…

 

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