Master of the Mountain by Cherise Sinclair

  “Hell with that. I'm sleeping in,” one woman said.

  “If I try to cook, I'll puke, dammit,” the other woman whined. “Why did you let me drink so much last night?”

  “Like I could stop you?” The man's head dropped back onto the arm of the couch. Sighs, grumbles, and then silence.

  Shaking her head, Rebecca headed for the kitchen. Empty. She started the coffeemaker, leaning on the counter for support until she could coax a cupful out, then burned her mouth on the first few gulps. As the caffeine began to work, it seemed as if the world brightened from muted tones to the full spectrum of life as her brain sparked to life. No matter what historians claimed, BC really stood for “Before Coffee.”

  After drinking another cup, she surveyed the possibilities for breakfast. The fridge held pounds of bacon, cartons of eggs, and butter. Potatoes in a bin. Flour and salt in a cupboard. She hadn't cooked for more than two people since her job during college, but no one forgot how to scramble eggs, and it gave her something useful to do.

  And something to take her mind off last night. The memory of Logan's solid body seemed imprinted on hers. She scrubbed the potatoes and remembered how he'd pressed her into the mattress and kissed her, his cock jutting against her stomach. Would she have let him take her if he'd tried?

  Her thighs pressed together over a suddenly throbbing clit. Why hadn't she been braver? Or less brave? If she'd been adamant about her refusal, he wouldn't have pushed, and she wouldn't feel so…sleazy and very embarrassed. And hot.

  Dammit, why couldn't she have gotten interested in a swinger or two instead? They were not nearly as scary. What he'd done to her…pinning her arms down. The way he'd talked and watched her. She blew out a breath. Very exciting and very frightening in a way.

  Finger fucked. What a term. And that was just what he'd done. Her insides quivered at the memory of his callused finger slick with her own wetness, sliding through her folds, pushing deep inside her. She had never come like that in her life. Ever. “Stop,” she'd told him, and “Oh, not quite yet,” he'd answered and just kept doing what he wanted with her body.

  Matt's constant asking what she wanted in bed had annoyed her. Logan didn't ask, and her body loved it. That was absolutely the most frightening thing about this whole matter. She'd never considered herself a needy woman or a pushover, but she sure acted that way with him. So where did that leave her?

  The sex…okay, totally awesome. The man…gorgeous. The possible consequences…not to be borne. No more messing around with Logan. If she wanted to explore kinky sex, she should practice on one of the good-looking swingers. One of the very available swingers.

  She set the potato down in the sink and stared out the window at the surrounding forest. They were available, she repeated to herself. Available and all too willing to screw any woman in the place. Knowing that pretty much killed any attraction for her. With a huff of a laugh, she picked up the potato and resumed scrubbing. Monogamous “R” me.

  Shaking her head, she remembered the fantasy she'd had before agreeing to try this weekend. Now that she thought about it, her fantasy hadn't included a multitude of men, but just one. Some man would come into her room. Maybe she would hesitate, and he'd grab her, pin her to the mattress, force her to cooperate. She scowled. That sounded like her morning with Logan. So what did that say about her?

  Don't want to swing; do want to be pushed around? She bit her lip. Talk about politically incorrect, especially for a feminist like her.

  As she grated potatoes, she considered her options for the rest of the weekend and came to one conclusion. Matt would simply have to take her home. She couldn't tolerate staying another night, watching Matt messing around, and dodging the other men. She'd made a mistake. Big-time.

  Her lips curved. But this morning made up for a lot, even if it left her unsettled. And damned confused. He'd restrained her hands; why should that make her so hot?

  Home. Time to go home, Rebecca. A twinge of guilt ran through her. Such a long drive. By the time Matt had taken her home and returned back here, the day would be gone.


  She put the potatoes on to fry and whipped up some drop biscuits before putting the bacon in the oven. She smiled as the fragrance filled the room.

  Serena and Greg wandered into the kitchen, looking fairly cheerful.

  “I'm starving,” Greg said, shoving his wire-rims up on his nose. “I thought there'd be food by now. Weren't Ginger and Amy supposed to cook today?”

  “They're a bit under the weather,” Rebecca said lightly. “And I'm an early riser.” She tucked the biscuits in the hot oven with a satisfaction that she hadn't felt in a long time. Cooking just for herself never seemed worth the bother.

  After flipping the hash browns, she started cracking eggs. As she counted in her head, she heard something scratch at the back door and then a low whine. The eggshell shattered in her hand.

  Greg headed for the back door.

  “No!” Rebecca's pulse started to race. “No dogs in the kitchen.” Ever.

  “He just sits right there inside the door,” Greg said. “He always gets to come in and—”

  “Absolutely not.” Rebecca glared at him until he gave up.

  “How do you know how much to make?” Serena asked. “I've never cooked breakfast for more than four before.”

  Rebecca wiped off her hand, then poured in some milk. “I worked my way through college cooking in a fraternity. The frat mom grew up on a ranch in Texas, so I learned country cooking.” Thank you, Maybelle. She seasoned the eggs and then frowned. “Did I see cheese in the fridge?”

  A second later, a block of cheese appeared on the counter. “Thank—” Her voice stuck in her throat as her eyes took in the hand holding the cheese. Dark tan, scars along the knuckles. Powerful and strong. She knew how easily those hands could pin a woman to the bed. Her stomach fluttered as if host to a wayward bird. “Thank you.” Hauling in a bracing breath, she looked up.

  His cheek creased, and his eyes crinkled. “You're welcome, sugar. It smells good.”

  Surely the heat in her face came from the oven.

  Logan ran a finger down her cheek, moving closer until his chest brushed against her breasts. Her nipples tightened almost painfully as if they remembered his touch. As if they ached for more.

  Bending down, he murmured, “Those pink cheeks, little rebel, make me wonder what you're thinking about.”

  Before she could think of anything to say, he tugged on a loose stand of hair and left the kitchen.

  Chapter Five

  “I won't take you home.” Matt ran the razor across his chin, staring at himself in the steamed-up mirror in their cabin bathroom.

  She'd finally run him to ground after breakfast, and now he didn't even look at her. Rebecca scowled and crossed her arms over her chest. “Matthew, I won't—”

  “Sorry, babe,” he interrupted. “But I've been looking forward to this vacation with the club for months. I'm not going to ruin it because you're too uptight to enjoy yourself.”

  “I'm not uptight,” she said in a thin voice. “I just don't like strangers groping me. And I'm sorry. Coming here was a mistake.”

  “Not my mistake,” he pointed out. He splashed water on his face to remove the shaving cream. “You can take the car if you want; I'll catch a ride with someone.”

  “I don't know how to drive a stick shift.”

  “Oh. I forgot. Well, then, I guess you're stuck until Wednesday.” Turning, he said, “Logan's brother is taking some people to see the falls in Yosemite this afternoon. You said you wanted to see the place.”

  “I do.” She clenched her hands so tight, her knuckles cracked. “Will you at least give me the cabin to myself? You can move in with one of the others.”

  “No.” He patted his face dry. “We've found it works better if the men stay in the cabins, and the women wander around. Unless someone wants a free-for-all, and then we use the lodge room. So I need the cabin. But you're welcome t
o use it too. A couple of the women really enjoy threesomes.”

  Right. “That won't work for me, Matt.”

  He gave an exaggerated sigh. “Look, it's not my problem, but I'll talk with Logan and see if he has an empty cabin. I doubt it, but I'll ask.”

  “Thanks.” Don't overexert yourself. She gave him a stiff nod and left. Matt might as well talk with Logan; if she asked for a cabin, she'd all too likely end up in his bed—again. She frowned. Last night hadn't been exactly her decision, and they hadn't done that much…really…but a second time would mean real sex. She pressed a hand over her stomach where her supposedly nonexistent libido turned a few somersaults. Damn.

  Matt might be comfortable messing around with different lovers, but she wasn't. If she went to bed with Logan—as in making love—then it basically meant she considered her relationship with Matt over. She stopped and leaned against a tree, frowning. Could she ever get past seeing Matt with Ashley?

  But they'd been so right together, and he'd said as much.

  But would he be willing to quit the swinging club? Doubtful, Rebecca, doubtful. Where did that leave her? Breaking up and breaking the lease and being single. Alone.

  Her breath shuddered through her, and then she tightened her lips. Life was what it was, and she had to face facts. A monogamous woman didn't belong with a man who wanted a variety pack of women. She sighed. What did that say about her inadequacies that he had to go messing around with other women? Sure, she could tell herself he just liked to swing, but that didn't help the underlying feeling that she didn't measure up. Too big, too boring.

  With a sigh, she headed down the trail toward the lodge. Walking around a curve, she stopped dead. The dog stared at her from the center of the trail. Oh God, oh God. She took a step back, but it advanced on her. Its ears were back.

  As it got within a foot, her heart pounded so violently, she thought she'd throw up. Don't run. Running made them jump on you and rip at you and…

  It sniffed her jeans. She couldn't quite stifle the whimper, and it looked up at her, growling.

  “Thor.” Logan stood at the bend in the trail. “Come here.”

  Relief rushed through her and made her breath hitch. Yet she couldn't move.

  Giving one last growl, the dog trotted back to its owner.

  Logan reached Rebecca just as her legs crumpled. He caught her, his hands firm around her waist. “Easy there.” He scooped her up in his arms, sat on a downed log at the trail's edge, and cradled her as easily as if she were a toddler. As his scent surrounded her, she managed to draw in a breath and then couldn't seem to get enough air.

  Safe. She was safe.

  Without speaking, he held her as she shuddered, as she burrowed closer into his arms, as her gasping slowed. After a while, she realized he was stroking her back, not fake reassuring pats, but long sweeps of his hand, warm and firm. Her breathing slowly changed to match the rhythm.

  Finally, when she couldn't put it off any longer, she moved, trying to ignore the flush of humiliation. What an idiot she'd made of herself. Last night and now.

  His arms loosened, and she sat up. “Thank you, Logan.” She braced herself and looked him in the face, expecting pity. Maybe even some disgust.

  His expression held only sympathy. And curiosity. “Thor is intimidating, I know, but I've never seen someone quite so frightened of him. Why?”

  She slid off onto the log to sit beside him before spotting the dog standing a few feet away. She barely managed not to crawl back into Logan's lap. Why wouldn't it leave?

  Callused fingers took her chin and tilted her face up, forcing her eyes from the dog. Thoughtfully, he studied her. “Why are you so scared of dogs?”

  She did not want to remember any of it. Never. Forget talking about it. She tried to shake her head. God knew her voice wouldn't work right.

  He didn't release her. His voice deepened. “Becca, answer me.”

  “One b-bit me.”

  “Keep going, sugar. I can tell there's more to it than that. When did it happen?”

  “When I was ten.” Under his level gaze, words spilled out of her, ugly memories she hadn't been able to share with anyone. “Skateboarding in the park and a dog…” The memory of the dog blanked her mind. Her hands fisted, and she jerked her gaze away.

  “No, look at me.”

  When her eyes turned back to his, he stroked his warm hands up and down her arms.

  “Tell me more. Was the dog big?”

  She shuddered, remembering how it had come toward her, growling, teeth bared, the hair on its back up like the dog here. The dog. Where was Thor? She turned.

  Logan cupped his hand around her chin. “Look at me, sugar. Big dog?”

  She nodded and found her voice worked. Mostly. “Big.” There were no words for the size of it. “It came at me, growling, and I tried to run away.”

  He winced.

  “Yeah. The doctor said I shouldn't have run. But it was going to attack me anyway.”

  “Got it.” He let go of her face and picked her up, setting her back on his lap. Without speaking, he held her against him. His arms around her were powerful, his chest solid. Nothing could get to her. She buried her head in his shoulder and sighed.

  “Keep going. Get it all out,” he said. “You ran. Then what?”

  “It attacked, got hold of one of my legs. I fell.” Her head had cracked against the concrete, and pain had been everywhere, striking over and over. “It… I would have died, except I screamed. A man had a baseball bat.”

  “God, sweetheart.” Logan's arms tightened. “You were just a baby.”

  “They sewed me up as good as they could, but”—she shrugged—“I have scars.” She could hear her classmates taunting, “Ugly, ugly, ugly.”

  “Well, I'll take a closer look at them later,” he said.

  She stiffened. “You will not.”

  He chuckled and then lifted her like a doll, placing her on the log between his legs with her back against his chest. “Meantime, you and Thor need to make friends.”

  “No way.” She tried to stand, and an iron arm locked around her waist.

  “Give me your hand.” He reached around her and put his palm in front of her waist. “Rebecca.”

  When he used that voice, that tone, why did she obey him? This wasn't like her at all, yet he made her feel so safe. Her hand crept into his.

  His voice warmed. “Good girl.” He shifted slightly. “Thor, get over here and say hi to the lady.”

  Thor paced over to them. When Rebecca tried to shrink back, Logan's unbending body behind her prevented it. Her free hand clasped his thigh, the fingers digging in as the dog came closer.

  Its eyes looked mean, and she couldn't muffle a whimper.

  Logan's hand held hers steady as the dog sniffed her fingers. “She's a friend, Thor. Stop picking on her; she's had a rough time.”

  As if it understood, the dog looked up. She was shaking uncontrollably, wanting only to run. It snuffled her hand again, and then it licked her palm.

  “It wants to eat me,” she whispered. “Please, please, let me go.”

  A laugh rumbled in her ear. “No, sweetheart. I'm the one that will eat you. Thor only licks people he likes. It's his version of a hug.”

  “Really?” She hadn't been this close to a dog since the attack. She'd cross the streets to avoid anything larger than a miniature poodle. If people had dogs, she didn't visit. “Look at his teeth.” Sharp and huge and savage.

  “Thor is a mixture, a mongrel. We figure he's part-shepherd, part-husky, and part-collie. Remember Lassie? Lassie was a collie.” The matter-of-fact voice comforted her as Logan gripped her hand, forcing her to stroke Thor's head.

  The dog's tail moved slightly, back and forth. Even Rebecca knew that was a good thing. Logan didn't let up, making her pet the dog over and over.

  “Now huskies tend to be shy and don't really like people,” Logan said, his voice a low murmur in her ear. “But shepherds are smart guys and want to
hang out with humans, since they get bored easily. Collies are natural protectors. Anything that needs to be saved, a collie's your dog. All three breeds are accustomed to working with man.”

  Rebecca's muscles had relaxed, and after a second, she realized he'd released her hand. She was petting the dog by herself. And it let her. She pulled her hand back. Would Logan release her now?

  The dog moved forward. Rebecca's breath caught, and she cringed back against the immovable body behind her.

  Another paw moved forward, and then the dog laid its head on her knee and leaned heavily against her leg. Big, dark eyes looked up at her, and its demand couldn't have been more obvious if it talked. Pet me some more.

  It—he—wasn't a monster. Her laugh caught on a sob, but she managed to lay her hand on his head and stroke his fur. Soft fur.

  “Very good, sugar.” Logan kissed the side of her neck. “You've made a friend, and Thor has someone else to nag into petting him. A good day's work.”

  He set her down on the log beside him before rising. Bending over, he placed a hard kiss on her lips, then snapped his fingers at the dog and continued down the trail. Rebecca watched them until they disappeared around a corner of the forest.

  Well. She'd petted a dog, and he had wagged his tail and licked her. Her breathing and heart rate were still too fast, but she smiled. He liked her. Thor liked her.

  She pushed to her feet and had to hold on to a tree until her knees stopped wobbling. Starting down the trail, she remembered something Logan had said. “No, sweetheart. I'm the one that will eat you.”

  The flush started in her face and didn't stop until her toes curled in her sneakers.

  * * * * *

  Jake had returned, thank Christ, and Logan not only didn't have to play nice with the people but he'd even caught a two-hour nap. The swingers who had gone in the van with Jake to see Yosemite Valley had returned, pleased with their afternoon. The few swingers who remained at the lodge had been—occupied—and were also pleased with their day, sharing tales of their adventures over the supper table.

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