Calling Down the MoonbyLadyArielle©
My life is a B horror movie, Lindsay thought despairingly. I won't be surprised if there's a hook hanging off the door handle, ripped from a wandering serial killer's wrist.
The internal mockery cheered her a bit as she tried the ignition again. Click. The rental's engine didn't even try to turn over, and she sighed, scowling at the steering wheel. Outside, it was dark as pitch, rain lashing at the windshield, flashes of lightning and rolls of thunder adding to the cliché. She'd been making good time, too, considering the weather and her total unfamiliarity of the countryside. She had pulled over to check her map, a little nervous about the narrow highway that seemed to stretch on forever. Wanting reassurance that she hadn't made a wrong turn twenty miles back, she had discerned she was on the right road and had just set the map aside when the car simply died. Ten minutes of patient attempts to restart the stubborn Chevy that she just knew was laughing at her somewhere in its metal depths, she admitted defeat.
"Stupid car," she growled, smacking the steering column with enough force to sting her hand. "You couldn't break down somewhere near a town? The rental agency had better compensate me."
She groped for her cell phone, fishing it out of a side pocket of her purse. Thumbing a random button, she scowled again when it registered there were no bars. Great. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, no cell reception, dead car for company. All she needed now was a maniac in a hockey mask to tap on her window. She was too angry to feel scared, and pitied any psychotic that crossed her path at the moment.
Lindsay peered out the driver's window, hoping to catch a glimpse of a light that might mean there was a house or cabin nearby. From what little she'd been told of the area, she knew that private cottages dotted the wooded mountainside, mostly belonging to wealthy big-city professionals looking to get away from urban noise for a couple of weeks. She imagined that minus the ear-splitting thunder crashing every few minutes, it would be peaceful out here. It would be a perfect place to work, if she could find one to rent in her price range. Her career as a writer was taking off now, having published two novels and several short stories in prominent magazines, but while it supported her well enough, buying a pricey mountain cabin was still out of reach. Just renting would be a stretch.
Her thoughts buzzing around her head, Lindsay stilled as she spied a possible light through the rain and dark. The electrical systems in the car were as dead as the engine, so she couldn't roll down the window; instead, she opened the door and levered herself to peer over the doorframe. Blinking the rain out of her eyes, she could just make out what appeared to be a lit window about a quarter mile away. She quickly popped back into the Malibu, slamming the door against the weather. Grabbing her laptop case, overnight duffle, and purse, then tucking her cell away and slipping the map into a side pocket, she took a deep breath.
"If whoever's in that cabin is a homicidal maniac lying in wait for stranded strangers, it's your fault I'm dead," she informed the Chevy. "But at least I'll be dry when he dissects me."
On that cheery note, Lindsay braced herself and stepped out into the storm.
Michael had been peacefully sipping a beer and listening to nature's symphony for over an hour, not even pretending to be working anymore. He longed to be out in the woods, smelling the damp earth where the trees grew so thick that the rain only drizzled through. The full moon beckoned, even hidden behind storm clouds. It wasn't the storm that kept him indoors, though – a little rain never bothered him. No, it was something in the air that made his nose twitch and stay put. Something was coming, and he wanted to be ready for it.
When the door banged, he jumped up to answer, only faintly surprised that someone was wandering the hills in this weather. His welcoming smile froze a little when he caught sight of the bedraggled woman on his porch. It wasn't her appearance – even soaked to the skin, wet hair plastered to her head and cheeks, makeup smudged and nose red she was remarkably lovely. It was her scent that went straight to his head, making it buzz as if he'd drank a six pack, instead of the single Blue Moon sitting on his coffee table. Rain and earth clung to her, which was expected, but under that she was vanilla and musk and warm bread fresh from the oven, with a tangy spice that hinted of a passionate nature. He resisted leaning closer to breathe her in, covering his sudden reaction with a hesitant smile. Before he could form any coherent greeting, she spoke.
"Hi," she stared up at him, tilting her head to meet his eyes. Hers were green, he noticed, and approximately a foot below his. He estimated she was just over five feet tall. Just the right height to tuck under his arm, the perfect snuggling size. She'd fit in his lap with room to spare, leaving space for hands to wander over that small lush figure. He was so busy trying not look like he was staring and listening to his overactive imagination and just breathing her that he almost missed what she was saying. "Sorry to bother you, but my car broke down. Do you have a phone? Cell reception is crap out here."
"Help yourself," Michael stepped aside and ushered her in. "It's probably out though. Where's your car?"
"About a quarter mile that way," she waved over her shoulder. "I pulled off to check my map and it just died."
"Well, if you don't mind waiting 'til morning, I can probably fix it for you," Michael offered. It was the last thing he wanted at the moment. He took another discreet sniff and felt tingly all over.
"Could you?" she looked at him hopefully, and he cursed himself silently. "That would be great!"
Way to go, Mike, he thought gloomily. You had to tell her you're a gear head?
He watched while she kicked her muddy boots off and squelched her way to the single telephone on the kitchen wall. His clapboard cabin was mostly one large living/dining/kitchenette, with the couch and a battered leather armchair sectioning off the living area. She looked around, taking in the fire in the grate before lifting the receiver and scowling. Sighing, she hung up.
"No dial tone," she said, shrugging.
"Usually goes out during storms," Michael said cheerfully.
"Great." She looked more resigned than upset.
Michael tried not to smile too widely. "Let me get you a towel. Or better yet, the bathroom's that way and there's a robe hanging on the door. You're soaked," he added, stating the obvious. "Can't have you dying of pneumonia." He waved at the narrow hall that led to the bedroom, tiny linen closet, and three-quarter bathroom.
"Thanks, but I've got spare clothes," she said, hefting the duffle slung over her chest. She set her briefcase down on the two-seater dinette table. It was dry; she must have huddled it under her trench coat.
Michael called after her as she picked her way to the bathroom, "Can I get you a beer? Some tea?"
"Tea would be wonderful, thank you," she said as the door swung shut.
He couldn't blame her for not wanting to drink with a total stranger, but he still felt a stab of disappointment. He never got drunk; his metabolism was too fast. But he had a feeling she – whatever her name was – would be adorable with a couple of beers in her. Not to mention receptive. Total unworthy thought, and he knew it. Unrepentant in his own mind, he busied himself putting the kettle on and locating teabags. His sister left a box a couple weeks ago, where was it? Ah, there....fishing behind cans of tuna and beans, he snagged the Lipton's, hoping for a miracle. She smelled too good for him to behave long.
Lindsay dug in her duffle, only to remember she hadn't repacked it at her last stop. Toiletries were there, comb, hairbrush, hairdryer, curling iron, but just a change of underwear and an oversized t-shirt she used as a nightie as far as clothes went. The night was just getting better by the minute.
"Better than nothing," she grumbled to herself, catching sight of her face in the postage-stamp mirror. Her makeup was a total loss, and she sighed.
The cabin's owner seemed harmless enough, perfectly happy to have a soggy stranger dropped on his doorstep. Lindsay realized now she hadn't even asked his name.
He must think I have no manners at all, she thought as she washed her face and toweled her hair, combing the tangles out and leaving it loose to dry.
She was tempted to blow-dry it, but didn't want to seem too concerned about her appearance. The guy was a complete hunk; he must be used to scores of women throwing themselves at his feet. The risk of seeming like a giddy teenager was too humiliating to contemplate. It had taken everything she had not to stare and drool. Topping her own five-two by at least a foot, his dark brown eyes, carelessly shaggy hair flopping over his forehead, and cleft chin were impossibly attractive. The two-day stubble just added to the allure.
You've been single too long, Linds, Lindsay scolded herself. He's not that gorgeous.
Liar, her brain whispered back.
It was a mark of how her day was going that she was losing arguments with herself. Shoving her thoughts aside, Lindsay bundled into the worn navy and green plaid fleece robe hanging right where he'd told her. It smelled pleasantly of wood smoke and musk. She slipped on a pair of footie socks and stepped out into the hall, feeling hopelessly frumpy.
"Hey," he called cheerfully as she emerged. "You look much better in my robe than I do. But I thought you had clothes?"
"Thanks," she said, horrified she might be blushing. "I do, but apparently I didn't pack my overnight today; the rest of my luggage is in the trunk of the possessed Chevy. The tea smells good."
"I've got sugar and honey," he handed her a mug. "Possessed, hm? Well, now you've got me intrigued. I've met some stubborn Chevys, but never a possessed one. By the way, what's your name?"
Lindsay added a spoonful of sugar and sipped it gratefully. "You must think I'm awfully rude. I'm Lindsay Sanders. Linds, mostly. Thanks for letting me in. Sleeping in the car in this storm wasn't appealing."
He stuck out a big paw of a hand and grinned. "Michael Woods," he offered as they shook. "Mike to my friends. And no problem, honestly. I enjoy company. Especially pretty ones."
Her hand completely disappeared in his, but he held hers with a gentle power that made her shiver. Resisting the urge to yank it away, she looked up and met his smile. At that moment, the lights snuffed out.
"That's par for my day," Lindsay sighed.
Michael couldn't believe his luck. The electricity going out during a storm was normal, but only this morning the generator had blown as well. He hadn't bothered to drive the fifty miles to town for the part, being up here alone. Service was usually restored by morning, he had plenty of candles, and food he could cook over the fire in a pinch. Tomorrow was soon enough to make the trip. He unerringly took Lindsay's hand again and squeezed it reassuringly.
"This is typical," he assured her, trying not to sound gleeful. "We probably won't get power back until morning."
"Where are candles?" she asked, sounding resigned.
"Drawer next to the sink. Here, I'll get holders."
Michael moved around her with ease, his night vision kicking in. Lindsay walked carefully to the kitchen, moving slow in the near darkness. He grinned, liking the sway of her hips in his robe as she groped along the small island that marked the kitchen boundary. He met her with a half a dozen mismatched holders in a box he'd snagged from the linen closet and the two of them lit utility candles, setting all six on the coffee table. They were surprisingly bright grouped together, merging with the mellow glow from the fireplace. Mike tossed another log on the fire, poking up the flames until it burned with a cheery, and hopefully romantic, glow. When he turned, Lindsay was curled in one corner of the couch, feet tucked under her, robe spread modestly to cover her legs. She was gazing at the flames, the candlelight making her skin glow. He was sorely tempted to plunk down beside her, but was afraid she'd think he was a complete player. He took the armchair instead. It kept her far enough away that he could only smell her in whiffs. He knew he wouldn't be able to keep his hands to himself otherwise, anyway.
"So at the risk of sounding corny, what's a pretty lady like you doing out on a night like this?" Mike asked conversationally.
"I'm meeting friends for a sort of reunion," she said, smiling faintly at his compliment.
"Oh, man, I'm sorry about the phone then, they'll be worried," Mike said sincerely, as if thoughts of keeping her all to himself – preferably naked – weren't churning through his head. Damn, she really shouldn't smell like that. It was wreaking havoc with his better instincts. He caught himself wondering exactly how dark of brown her hair was when dry, and if it would look as good spread out on his pillow as he imagined.
"I'm a week ahead of them," she said with a small smile. "I was going to use the time to work."
"Work on vacation? What do you do?" he barely managed not to crack a stupid grin.
How on earth he was going to convince her to stay until she needed to meet her friends, he had no clue. But the thought that she wasn't expected anywhere for a week cheered him. He didn't believe in love at first sight – or smell, in his case – but he utterly believed in lust and infatuation. She was in the space of forty minutes fast becoming an obsession.
"I'm a writer," she said simply, looking a little embarrassed. "My most recent novel has been selling better than either me or my publisher had hoped, and they're demanding another as soon as I can churn it out."
"That's great!" Michael said, honestly impressed. "I'm terrible with fiction, myself, but I read a lot. I write tech manuals, how-to stuff. I sell pretty well," he said modestly. In actual fact, he rivaled the "For Dummies" line in readability and sales. He had a gift for breaking complex processes down so that anyone could follow, and enjoy learning. Or so the marketing division of his publisher proclaimed. He enjoyed his work, and had enough feedback from customers to believe the hype was at least somewhat accurate.
"It doesn't follow that writing non-fiction means you can't write fiction," Lindsay said warmly. "One doesn't exclude the other. I've written plenty of self-help articles. I'm sure if you tried, you'd be great at fiction."
"Nah, but I appreciate the vote of confidence. I know good fiction; I don't do it." Mike smiled comfortably. "So have I read anything of yours?"
"Probably not," she sounded amused. "I write historical romantic suspense."
"How prejudiced of you to assume," Michael scolded playfully. "Do you use your real name, or a pen name?"
"Pen name," she said, laughing. "Libby Sands."
"Libby....wait. Libby Sands? As in The King's Ransom? I read that last month, incredible writing," Michael leaned toward her, elbows on knees. "I couldn't put it down."
"You read it?" Lindsay looked flabbergasted. "It's marketed as a romance."
Mike shrugged. "Some of the best writers are," he said with no trace of embarrassment. "I read all genres, but I will admit I'm picky on romance. They have to grab you right away, and actually have a plot. They did a great job with the cover blurb and art, it caught my eye. I was amazed it was only your second book."
"I've freelanced for years, whatever I could get," Lindsay said, beaming. "I wrote my first over about five years, King in just under eight months after Duke's Denial sold. I'm working on finishing up my third now."
"I think I'm in Heaven," Mike said, winking at her. "I don't suppose I could read the manuscript?" He gave her his most hopeful, charming look.
"I don't know," she said doubtfully. "My sister reads for me sometimes, but mostly I wait until the editor gets a hold of it, after it's written. I find I have to write what's in my head first before I share. But maybe after I've submitted it. Least I can do," she added with a soft smile. "You've been so kind."
I don't want to be kind, I want to be irresistible, Mike thought, smiling back.
It ought to be illegal to smile like that, Lindsay thought savagely. They should post warning signs.
Her host was gazing at her as if she was the most interesting person in the universe, and Lindsay was finding that look hard to resist. She wondered how many women had succumbed to his boyish charm, then started visibly at the pang of jealousy that followed.
"Could you sign my copy of King's Ransom?" Michael asked suddenly.
"Sure," Lindsay answered, surprised. He didn't seem the autograph type.
Mike hopped up and disappeared into the shadows, returning shortly with a paperback and pen. Lindsay accepted both, hands bumping during the transfer. The electric shock that leapt between them made her flinch and her stomach grow a whole colony of butterflies. To cover her confusion, she turned to the title page, ducking her head and tilting the book to catch the light. Mike sat down next to her, leaning forward to watch her sign.
"Mike, or Michael?" Lindsay asked a little breathlessly. Her heart was pounding hard enough that she was afraid he'd hear it thumping away.
"Are we friends now?" he asked teasingly, giving her a swift sideways look.
"I'm wearing your robe," Lindsay matched his light tone with an effort. "I think that qualifies."
"So you are. Mike it is then." He gave her a quick appraising look, obviously pleased with what he saw.
Lindsay dragged her eyes away from his and stared at the page blankly, groping for something to write. Smiling suddenly, she wrote fast, handing the book back and grinning.
"To Mike, friend and exorcist of possessed Chevys. My hero. Yours, Linds. Oh, and you signed it 'Libby Sands' as well. This is great, thanks!" Mike grinned like a kid.
"You're welcome," she said, grinning back.
"I like how you signed it 'Yours'." He looked at her full on, expression changing from excited laughter to warm intimacy so suddenly it took her breath away. "It has a nice ring to it."
"It's just an expression," she said, trying for casual. It didn't seem to convince him. He gazed intently at her for a long moment.
"I love the way you smell," he blurted suddenly. She blinked at him in confusion. "What is that perfume?"
"Soap," she blinked again. "I can get you a bar."
"No. I'd rather smell it on you." With that, he took her face in his big hands and kissed her.
It wasn't the hungry demanding assault she would have expected from the abruptness of his action. It was soft and gentle, barely brushing her lips, sweet and hesitant, testing her response. If he had been forceful, she might have resisted, perhaps even slapped him. To be fair, she wasn't sure at all she would have even then. As it was, that hesitation melted her on the spot, and she closed the gap when he pulled away, kissing him this time, her mouth softening, encouraging him to move closer. A sigh escaped her lips and her eyes popped open when he set her back and moved to the opposite corner of the couch.
"I'm sorry," his eyes were dark in the flicker of candlelight. "That was unforgivably male of me. I don't expect you to sleep with me just because you're stuck here. I won't blame you if you don't trust me and want to go back to your car."
"I wasn't complaining," Lindsay said gently. "I trust you. It just...happened."
"You don't even know me," Mike said roughly. "I haven't given you any reason to trust me."