After a string of bad luck, Mallory Parker is convinced her future lies way beyond the streets of the small home town that stole her mother’s hopes and dreams. As soon as she saves enough money at her new job, she’s going to get out and get a life, and no one can tempt her to stay—until she meets the man who does.
Army veteran Levi Jenkins is still dealing with the aftermath of his last tour of duty. Working in the background as a maintenance man at Whispering Pines Lodge gives him the peace his soul craves. The last thing he wants is the distraction of a woman who charms his heart while teaching him to smile again. Or maybe, that’s exactly what he needs.
Levi fears loving her and losing her would be too much to endure—and yet, asking Mallory to stay could destroy the very essence that makes her so special. If either of them are to be happy, he must find the courage to set her free.
She needed to hit something. Hard.
Holding his gaze without backing down, she silently dared him to take the ax away by force. He could do it easy, and she actually wanted him to force the physical confrontation.
Instead, he gave a brief nod. “Okay. You want to work off some steam, I get it. I don’t want to have to rush you to the emergency room, so let me show you the right way to do it and it’s all yours.”
“Fine.” She shoved the handle toward him and let go at the same time.
Arms crossed over her chest, all her weight on one leg, she waited. He transferred the ax to one hand and let it swing down alongside his leg. Then he walked over for a hunk of wood and returned to set it on the stump, cut side up. Once he moved into position, he glanced back to where she stood.
“Hands like this, then swing back, and around, and bring it down so the sharp edge hits the wood in the center.”
In one fluid motion, he did exactly as he described and split the piece of wood clean in half. Facing her, he asked, “Got it?”
“Yeah. I got it.”
His eyebrow arched at her sarcasm, but she didn’t care. It felt good to not care for once. To not pretend like she was okay with the raw deal life had handed her lately. Felt great actually.
He extended the ax and she wrenched it from his grasp. Only he let go at the same time and she stumbled at the unexpected lack of resistance. His lightning fast steadying grip only annoyed her more.
She stepped into position as he placed a log on the stump for her, then stood back slightly, off to her left.
“No. Put your hands like I showed you.”
She’d seen his swing, and the subsequent play of muscles beneath his T-shirt, but prior to that, she’d been focused on him, not the instructions. She moved her hands closer together.
“This isn’t baseball.”
She moved them farther apart.
“I thought you said you got it?” he huffed as he stepped up behind her.
His arms closed around her, his hands sliding down to adjust her grip on the handle as the front of his body came into full contact with her back. She sucked in a surprised breath and smelled nothing but Levi.
From one heartbeat to the next, all her anger and frustration morphed into intense awareness that literally had her trembling in her boots.~~~
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