Authors: Tessie Bradford
Tags: #Contemporary Erotic Romance
Table of Contents
By Tessie Bradford
Resplendence Publishing, LLC
Cover Art by Kendra Egert
Published by Resplendence Publishing, LLC
2665 N Atlantic Avenue, #349
Daytona Beach, FL 32118
Electronic format ISBN: 978-1-60735-637-0
Warning: All rights reserved. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
Electronic Release: February 2013
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and occurrences are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or occurrences, is purely coincidental.
“Michigan has mountains?” Alicia asked her computer screen as she clicked through stunningly beautiful pictures of the Huron Mountain region of the Upper Peninsula. A misspelling in her search for a summer vacation rental had resulted in her discovering there was still a lot to learn about the state she’d lived in her entire life. The area had vast expanses of protected land, numerous inland lakes and rivers and was a favored destination for trout and salmon fishers, as well as hunters. Skanee was described as “dispersed rural community”, but it did have a town hall and post office. The small town of Big Bay was obviously where one would go for necessities.
Alicia toggled back to the screen displaying the listing for the property near Pine Lake. The two-bedroom cottage sat on over twenty acres of pristine land. The exterior was stone. A covered, wooden plank porch ran the length of the front. Two old-fashioned rocking chairs flanked a large window with a low, round table between them. The window was lifted partway, and one of the frilly curtain panels dangled outside. She closed her eyes and could almost feel the breeze, smell the freshness of the air. Complete peace and quiet, good fishing, moderate civilization reachable in an emergency—everything she was looking for.
“Except there is no possible way this is for real,” she muttered, standing slowly then moving gingerly to allow circulation to return to her butt cheeks and legs. “How long have I been sitting here?” she questioned. The clock on the wall indicated it’d been over four hours.
Alicia had rented numerous cottages over the years, and the rental amount on this one was way too low for the amenities it boasted. Maybe the one bathroom was outside? No running water in the kitchen? No electricity? A giant sinkhole in the backyard? Despite her skepticism, she picked up her cell.
After the seventh ring, Alicia was about to hang up.
Who doesn’t have voicemail
, she wondered as the line clicked open.
“Hello?” It was a woman’s voice, quiet and a bit shaky.
“Yes, hi, my name is Alicia Lawrence, and I’m calling about the cottage for rent near Pine Lake.”
“How delightful, my dear! I told Mavis this morning that I’d be hearing from someone today, but she, of course, had to disagree, saying the signs were definitely pointing to tomorrow as a better day. You’d think after all these years… Oh well, I will attempt to be the bigger person and not rub her nose in it too much!” The woman laughed and kept right on talking. “Good Lord, where are my manners? I’m Dottie, Aunt Dottie, everyone calls me Aunt Dottie, except for my boys. They call me Mom, of course. I reckon if they ever get down to it and give me some grandbabies, they will call me something different. I’m partial to Granny Dottie; what do you think, dear?”
That I’ve just discovered the fatal flaw; the owner is a lunatic!
Alicia struggled to come up with a way to end the conversation without seeming rude. Aunt Dottie didn’t give her enough time.
“You’re wondering why my cottage doesn’t cost more, aren’t you, dear?” Ali’s jaw dropped. “I checked some of the other rentals in the area and was flabbergasted at the prices, highway robbery if you ask me. How do they expect regular people to be able to afford so much in this economy? Seems a whole bunch smarter to be reasonable and actually get a renter than asking the moon and having your place sit empty for the summer, doesn’t it? Everything in that ad is one hundred percent true, and the pictures were snapped yesterday. The listing just went up this morning, you know? Oh, how silly of me, of course you wouldn’t know, or is there a way you can check that?”
“No, I mean I didn’t see a date on it, but I wasn’t really looking for one.”
“And a person can find anything they’re looking for on the internet, can’t they? I don’t begin to understand it all, and fought tooth and nail learning anything about it until my son showed me how to look things up, then he put me on the email and I was surely hooked. I have friends all over the world now! Oh my, dear, let’s not get off track.”
Alicia dragged her hand through her hair and dropped back into her chair. Who knew it was possible to become exhausted from listening to someone speak over a telephone?
“What day will you be arriving?”
“Um, well, July first was my target date, but I’ve just started checking into summer vacation options, and I wasn’t initially planning on going as far north.”
“Why did you call me, then?”
Wow, Aunt Dottie didn’t pull any punches! Alicia liked that in people.
“It’s kind of weird, really. A typo in my search led me to your ad. Once I saw the pictures, I started researching the area. It seems so beautiful, peaceful, I don’t know, I decided to call.” Alicia blushed before continuing. “And you’re absolutely right. The price was a huge motivation.”
“Expected to expose the whole thing as a big shim sham, didn’t you?”
“Guilty as charged, Aunt Dottie, but you know what they say, if it sounds too good to be true it, probably is.”
“A glass-half-empty attitude leads to early wrinkles and digestive trouble.” It was Ali’s turn to laugh. “You were meant to stumble across my little cottage; everything happens for a reason, dear. Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself, and I’ll answer any questions you have, and we’ll go from there.”
* * * *
Alicia was giddy with excitement as she opened the front door of the cottage. Her fatigue from the ten-hour drive instantly disappeared as she surveyed the inviting charm of the living area. It was everything Aunt Dottie had promised. Knotty pine walls, stone fireplace, and traditional furniture upholstered in country American patterned fabrics gave the space a warm, cozy atmosphere. The kitchen was off to Alicia’s left, open to the living area, and a round dining table sat in front of a wide sliding glass door straight ahead. A vase of gorgeous flowers sat in the middle of the table with a piece of paper propped against it. Ali dropped her purse on the couch, walked across the large room, and read the note.
Welcome, Alicia! Drop by to visit when you’re settled. Aunt Dottie
They’d become email buds since that first phone call, and Ali was looking forward to meeting her in person. When she’d told the older woman she was renting the cottage alone, Aunt Dottie had started sending info on the area and its summer activities. That had led to discussions of Ali’s interests and hobbies. Soon, they were chatting about everything from favorite recipes to good-natured gossip about the locals. More times than not, Aunt Dottie worked in comments about the number of eligible bachelors. Early on in their conversations, Ali had discovered Aunt Dottie was not only a hopeless romantic, she fancied herself quite the matchmaker. When Alicia had reminded her she was only staying for four weeks, Aunt Dottie had sent an extremely comical email expounding on the benefits of a “summer fling”!
“The only thing I’ll be flinging is a fishing line,” Alicia announced out loud at the memory.
Ali quickly checked out the rest of the cottage before getting to the business of unpacking her SUV. She laid her suitcases, box of books, and computer on the queen-sized bed in the larger of the two bedrooms and set her tackle box and rods just inside the front door. The groceries required a couple of trips. She dug through the bags for the items requiring refrigeration and left the rest for later. It was almost seven-thirty, and she wanted to get outside and soak up some up-north nature before dark.
She grabbed her camera, a flashlight—just in case—and the map of the property. There wasn’t enough time to get to the lake and back, but the river was only about a ten-minute walk to the west. Ali was more than ready to scope out where she planned to spend many quality hours.
It was hot for early July, almost ninety degrees, but the humidity was much less oppressive this far north. Alicia breathed in the scents of evergreen, wildflowers and fresh country air while following the marked trail through the woods. The only sounds were those of crickets and birds and the crunching of her tennis shoes on the pine needles and leaves on the ground. Alicia delighted in the sheer calmness of her surroundings. The knowledge that this was going to be her world for four glorious weeks had her smiling from ear to ear.
Ali gazed up, mesmerized by the evening sun glinting through the trees. One moment she was pushing back wisps of fiery red curls that had escaped from the clip fastened high on her head to obscure her view, the next she was plummeting forward. A scream tore from her throat just before she hit the forest floor, face first. Stars danced behind her eyelids, and she gasped for breath from the jarring force of her landing. Ali rolled onto her side and wiped at her teeth and lips to get rid of the dirt she could feel and taste.
“Whoa, hold on there; stay still, miss.” A man came running through the woods. He shrugged off his backpack and dropped on his knees beside her. “Don’t move until we figure out if you’ve broken anything.” He laid his hand on her shoulder. “Tell me what hurts.”
Alicia stared at the fine specimen of rugged male goodness who was now stroking that large hand down her arm and onto her hip.
“Mostly my pride,” she said with a grin, awkwardly pushing herself into a sitting position.
He continued touching down one leg then up the other, applying gentle pressure to her knees and ankles, watching her face for a reaction. Her skin tingled despite being denim-covered.
A vague sense of familiarity niggled as she studied the chiseled angles of his face and piercing green eyes.
, she thought as her perusal continued down to his chest and the noticeable musculature his white t-shirt accentuated. Unless a woman was in a coma, she’d remember a guy like him.
“I don’t think anything’s broken,” he stated, slinging his pack over his shoulder as he stood. “But take it slow and easy until we’re sure.” He wrapped his fingers around hers and carefully eased her off of the ground. Ali stumbled forward when she put her full weight on her left foot. His arm was immediately around her waist, steadying her.
“No, I’m okay,” she said, leaning into him just a little while flexing her foot. “I stubbed my toe against something; that’s what sent me flying.” She scanned the ground; so did he.
“Don’t move.” He picked up a large stick and poked it down a few feet behind where they were standing. A loud, metallic clank sounded as the stick was snapped in half. “You’re lucky you still have your foot. This is an animal trap, a homemade, illegal one.” Ali shivered at the thought of what the contraption could have done to her and any other innocent creature. “We’ll come back tomorrow and do a check of the whole area.”
“I’m with the Department of Natural Resources. I was heading to the river to do some testing when I heard you scream. Aunt Dottie is going to have a shit-fit when she finds out about this.”
“You know Aunt Dottie?”
“Everyone knows Aunt Dottie,” he said with a laugh. The deep rumbling sound, along with the humor reflected in his eyes, set butterflies dancing in her tummy. All of a sudden, Alicia realized she was still nestled in his strong, comforting, muscle-y embrace. She took a quick step backwards and concentrated on cleaning her shirt. “Being that this is her land, private land, may I ask what you’re doing out here?”