Meghan Mallory has a plan for her life and it does not involve falling in love. She doesn’t have the time nor the inclination. She’s too busy trying to save the world. But when a freak snowstorm puts her in the path of a man she has secretly been fascinated with for years, she is forced to reconsider her stance on dating. Spencer is rude and obnoxious with his bad boy swagger but then he rescues her when she gets stranded on the side of the road, like a knight in tarnished armor, and sweeps her away to his house to ride out the blizzard.
Spencer Collins likes his life just fine, thank you very much. As the owner of the lifestyle club Cuffs & Spurs in Jackson Hole, he has a bevy of available subs who are his to command – not that any of them have held his interest in longer than he can remember. When his best friend’s sister-in-law gets herself into trouble, Spencer heads out to rescue the little brat who is in need of a firm hand. But he never expects to be forced to confront the incendiary heat that has always existed between them.
As the storm rages around them, they surrender to a passion hotter than the sun. Now that he has felt her surrender, Spencer attempts to lure Meghan into his world. But will they let go of their pasts or will they allow secrets to destroy them?
Publisher’s Note: This steamy contemporary romance contains elements of power exchange. While it is part of the bestselling Cuffs & Spurs series, it can be read and enjoyed as a standalone.
“Son of a nutcracker!”
The phrase boldly going where no one had gone before should have applied but was not to be attempted in a Mini Cooper. The tires slipped and slid over the slick pavement. The blizzard had turned the two-lane country road into a treacherous obstacle course.
At least she had collected the data she needed for her research—for what it was worth. And she’d made it out of the mountains so that she was on a long stretch of level deserted road bisecting rolling plains. Meghan cursed her rotten luck. This trip could have been postponed for a few days. But no, she had to collect her soil samples today of all days.
Not the most brilliant notion she’d ever had, that was for damn sure.
Smarmy Brett Kramer and his sly gerrymandering. The fresh-faced intern from Stanford had spent every moment since he arrived at the Alpine Science Institute attempting to worm his way into her position. It was fitting that his face reminded her of a weasel, with his prominent nose and weak, receding chin.
In truth, she didn’t think she had anything to worry about. Professor Tanner, whom she worked for as a graduate teaching assistant, always complimented her work and helped her when she had questions about the courses she was taking via satellite with the University of Wyoming located in Laramie. Or, if she needed a second opinion on her computations, he was happy to lend a hand.
But that didn’t mean she didn’t worry. The sciences were a competitive, rather cutthroat academic field. A single misstep could end the career she’d worked herself silly for in a nanosecond.
Otherwise, she would have waited until after the frozen tempest dumping piles of heavy, wet snowflakes had passed to collect her measurements for her field study. Granted, at six this morning when she’d left her house there had not been a single drop of precipitation. The research she was conducting on the depletion of carbon in the soil as a result of climate change was crucial and important—not just for her career, but for the human race. Enough so that the department head of the Alpine Science Institute was willing to approve her grant research request if, and it was a big if, she was able to collect enough numerical data evidence about the deteriorating carbon soil levels affecting native flora and fauna, which she theorized was a result of shrinking glaciers and another step in climate change.
But this, her mini-expedition today, was not the most brilliant idea she had ever had. The windows of her Mini Cooper fogged up even as the heater belched out warm air. The windshield wipers swished back and forth at as fast a pace as was possible, and still her visibility on the road deteriorated. She could see ten, maybe as far as fifteen feet, in front of her bumper. It might be midday, but the storm had transformed day into night.
The snowstorm had blown up faster than the weatherman had predicted. It was a frequent problem around here. Deep down she had known better than to head out today. On the plus side, at least she’d made it off the trail and wasn’t stuck in higher elevations. By the time she’d made it to her car, two inches of white powder decorated her vehicle. She had called her sister, Jenna, while she cleared her car of snow because she knew she would never make it into town. Not in these whiteout conditions. At least at Jenna’s, she could help out with Liam and would have a luxurious bedroom in which to ride out the storm. Not to mention, Jenna’s family tended to stockpile food for just these kinds of scenarios. She could envision her sister and Dottie making a huge vat of beef stew or some other fabulous creation to feed everyone while the storm raged outside. Even the thought of it warmed her body up a bit.
Meghan squinted, concentrating on the disappearing lanes and black top road.
“Come on, baby. We can do this,” she urged her Mini Cooper.
She held her breath around a slight bend in the road. Her hands molded into claw formations around the steering wheel. She exhaled a long breath once the road straightened out again. Only another fifteen or so miles of this. Piece of cake. She could do this. Living in Florida had not prepared her for driving in snowy conditions. She had improved in the almost two years she’d lived in Jackson Hole but she’d also not passed another vehicle since she left the park trail ten miles back. Not even a plow or state trooper.
Probably because they weren’t stupid enough to be out in this white, sodden nightmare.
Her tires hit a slick patch of snow that felt more like ice and her front end began to swerve, causing her tail end to fish tail. Meghan spun the steering wheel, turning in to the skid to try and course-correct and tapping lightly on the brakes to try and slow down. All the straining in the world didn’t help or halt her slide. The slick road proved too much for her Mini Cooper, even with the snow tires she had installed over the past summer. Still fish tailing, the momentum carried her car off the shoulder. The vehicle plowed into a minor ditch off the side of the road.
The impact jarred her frame and rattled her bones. She sat, momentarily stunned, her hands in a death grip on the wheel, before assessing her body. Wriggling her hands and feet, she stretched her legs and arms and discovered everything was still in working order. Nothing was broken, thank god. That didn’t mean she wouldn’t be bruised or sore with whiplash from the impact. But it could have been much worse; she would take whatever silver lining she could get.
Meghan shifted the car into reverse and attempted to back out of the minor trench. The wheels spun and churned huge plumes of snow but they couldn’t gain the traction needed to move.
Okay, new plan. She shifted the car into overdrive, turned the front wheels and floored the gas pedal, hoping the turbo-charged engine would propel the Cooper out of the ditch. Her tires rotated. The engine roared. But the little car that normally could, stayed right where it had landed.
And her day had begun so promisingly, with Meghan cataloging data, getting excited at the minute changes in carbon levels she’d discovered… only to have it crash head first into the toilet.
It would be fine. All she had to do was call a tow truck or, better yet, her brother-in-law, Carter, to come help her out. She pulled her cell phone from her front coat pocket and glanced at the screen.
What? She was stuck on the side of the road in a blizzard with no cell service. Meghan beat back the clawing panic. Maybe she just needed to get back up onto the road to get some kind of reception. It wasn’t unusual for cellular waves to pass over gullies and the like, even though this ditch was not all that deep. She bundled herself up, drew up the red hood of her thick parka. Slipping her phone in her pocket, she slid her gloves on. Then she exited her vehicle, leaving the motor running to keep the interior warm.
Glacial winds blasted her as she stepped out. It snatched the air from her lungs in a whoosh and, for the briefest of moments, made her rethink her commitment to living up north. Sure, Florida wasn’t all it was cracked up to be but at least you didn’t have to worry about things like frostbite and losing body parts, or the air being so cold it hurt your face.
The damage to her Cooper was minimal, from what she could see through the torrent of heavy snowflakes. The passenger side front tire was wedged deep in the embankment. And her rear tires had sunk into the snowy ground from her attempt at escape that had turned the ground into a sludgy mix of mud and snow. Which was why the car would not budge from the ditch. She trekked the ten or so feet back up to the road and surveyed the landscape. At least with her lights on and the bright fire engine red of her car, it was visible from the road. That was some measure of consolation—not a lot, but it was something.
Withdrawing her phone from her pocket she checked the screen again. Nothing. No service.
She couldn’t call Carter or a tow truck or even Jack Stone with the Jackson Police to come fetch her. Eventually her Mini Cooper would run out of gas. No gas meant no electricity or heat in the car sooner rather than later.
Don’t panic. There’s a way out of this that doesn’t end up with me dead.
Meghan trekked down the road about an eighth of a mile and still had no signal. She’d had the misfortune to crash in a dead zone. Beyond frozen, she trudged the short distance back to her car, her hiking boots sinking deep with each footfall, skidding over icy patches. She was out of breath by the time she climbed into the front seat, wiping off the layer of snow coating her parka.
She had two options at this point. She could wait it out in her car and hope someone, anyone, drove by and discovered her stranded, or she could take a huge risk and hike until she found a house with a phone or a place her cell worked so she could call for help.
Since she still didn’t have any feeling back in her legs, she would give it an hour, maybe two. If no one had found her by that point, she’d chance it. She would have to; otherwise she could freeze to death.
She lowered her forehead to the steering wheel, trying not to panic.
If she couldn’t leave her car because of the storm and no one happened by, she would be forced to wait out the weather in her car and hope like hell she didn’t freeze to death. But that was better than attempting to walk in the cold and getting stuck out in the open.
Meghan spent the next two frigid hours watching her gas gauge dip toward empty. The snow had not let up, in fact it had intensified. But the idea of staying put and possibly freezing to death once her gas ran out had little appeal. There had to be someplace nearby where she could weather the storm and ride it out. A cabin where she could build a fire… something, anything was better than this. With her courage failing, she gathered up her backpack. She had water, protein bars and trail mix, along with some other essentials including the solar blanket she had wrapped around herself for extra warmth. She folded the blanket up and shoved it inside the pack.
She could do this; trudge a mile or two in a treacherous blizzard until she found a place where she could ride out the storm. Meghan reached for the keys in the ignition to shut the car off.
Thud, thud, thud, pounded against her window. She jerked and screeched at the dark figure beyond. Staring, her heart hammering in her chest, she tried to discern whether they were friend or foe—for all she knew, he was an axe murderer. Then again, even they wouldn’t be so stupid as to be out in this crud. It was definitely a he, given the size and shape of his face, not to mention the dark swath of facial hair.
The man yanked the door open. Icy wind blasted into the small confines, competing with the heat pumping out her vents.
“What the hell are you doing, little brat?” His gruff, deep masculine bass voice shattered the stillness.
That voice. The sinful, rich, deep voice slid over her skin like a whispered caress, made her think of melted decadent dark chocolate sliding over her tongue, and caused all her girly bits to stand at attention. Him? Out of all the people who lived and worked in Jackson Hole, all the tourists who flooded the streets with their rental cars, he was her rescuer?
The man who had been a thorn in her side ever since she and her sister had moved to Jackson Hole.
“Nothing intentional, big guy, I can assure you. Storm came up a lot faster than I expected.” She didn’t mention she tended to get distracted like an absent-minded professor when she was taking samples and measurements and collecting data to study later. Nor that she had lost track of time and had been jolted back to awareness when the first snowflakes began to fall. Total rookie mistake on her part, and she knew it. If she had left an hour prior, she would already be sequestered at Jenna’s, warm and fed. But as it was, she had made the hike too late, with the storm kicking into gear around her.
“There’s this thing called a cell phone.”
If she wasn’t frozen clear down to her bones and didn’t need him to rescue her from the prospect of freezing to death, she would have decked the man. Spencer was acting like she was an imbecile, incapable of figuring out how to survive. She would show him. She yanked her phone from her pocket, breathing a sigh of relief that the screen hadn’t magically changed to make her look like a freaking idiot. The no service message was still displayed clearly on the screen and she waved it in front of his face. “Ha, funny man. I’m not getting any service, so if you have another idea, I’m all for it.”
“Come on. Let’s get you out of here.” He held out a hand for her to take.
“Appreciate it.” Meghan ignored the hand, shut her car off and killed the lights. She grabbed her purse and her backpack as she climbed out, bringing her body into close contact with his towering form. Rarely did Meghan ever feel short or intimidated, tending to carry the disposition of a chihuahua that thought himself an attack dog. Except with Spencer. He made her feel every lacking inch of her five-foot stature. It was part of what always got her back up around him.
She turned and reached into the back seat for the bag stuffed with her field equipment and samples. No way was she leaving it behind.
“You’re wasting time. If we don’t get a move on, we’ll both be stuck out in this mess. Just leave it. No one’s going to mess with it.”
She hefted the bag and slammed the car door before she whirled on him. Snow and wind battered her face as she glared at him. “First of all, I didn’t ask for your assistance although I am grateful for it. Second, some of this equipment is worth more than my car so there’s no way I’m leaving it behind to freeze, and wind up losing my job. Third, what crawled up your ass today? Or any day, for that matter? Would it kill you to, I don’t know, not be a complete asshole?”
Spencer’s full mouth, framed by his black beard, firmed into a hard line and he glowered. The man made curling up with a mountain lion seem downright appealing.
“Depends on the day. Give me those and get your ass in the truck.” He didn’t ask, just reached out and removed the bags from her hands before he stomped up the embankment to his big black monster truck. Even trussed up as he was in his black parka, she could detect the power in him. It emanated from him, was an integral part of his essence. His confident strides were long and chock-full of determined purpose. His jeans carried a fine dusting of snow.
Meghan locked the car with her key fob, then slogged up the embankment behind him. In the last two hours at least another three inches of snow had fallen, blanketing the ground in a sea of white. If she remembered the weatherman’s forecast correctly, they were predicting over two feet. At least her hiking boots were suitable for snow and her thick parka insulated her well enough.
Spencer had already tossed her bags in the back seat and had the passenger door open for her when she stepped up beside him. Before she could comment on his rescue, needle him as was her fashion, his big hands gripped her waist. The simple touch acted like a lightning rod slashing her composure, making her slow to react. He lifted her up, shoved her inside and dumped her rather curtly so that her butt plopped onto the leather bucket seat. The snarky—and most likely bitchy—remark stuck in her throat. Their gazes clashed and a jolt of unbidden desire razored through her system. It left her breathless and shaken. And, if anything, Spencer’s face hardened even further into a stern mask of disapproval, like he was in a competition with Mount Rushmore for whose face looked more like stone. With a scowl furrowing his black brows, Spencer retreated as if she’d burned him.
“Buckle up,” he commanded and slammed the door shut.
She curled her hands into fists, even as warmth from his heater spread through her. The man had the proclivity and seemed hellishly bent on driving her to physical violence. And why, oh why in the holy hell did her body respond to him the way it did? Every. Time. It was like sticking her finger in an electrical socket.
She didn’t even like the overbearing jerk. But tell that to her body and girly bits. They sure as hell didn’t see it that way. Her damn fool hormones would prefer she cozy up to him and give him carte blanche permission to do whatever naughty things he could cook up. Word around the sub club campfire was that the man knew how to cook… and then some.
He vaulted into the driver’s side seat without a word, shifted the vehicle into drive and steered the behemoth truck back onto the road. He was traveling in the opposite direction from Carter’s house. It was on the tip of her tongue to correct him but Spencer saved her the headache as he piloted the truck around snowdrifts and over slick stretches of road where the pavement disappeared entirely beneath a blanket of snow. His wipers swished furiously on high, headlights and floodlights on to illuminate the path forward. Not that it did much good in the white out conditions. Visibility was at zero. They could see about ten feet in front of his truck and that was all.
He placed his phone to his ear. “Carter. I found her. Roads are too bad to make it out to your place tonight. I’ll take her to mine and she can weather the storm there. Yep, will do.”
His place? He was taking her to his place? They were going to be in the same location, alone, the two of them, without supervision? Would they survive the night without strangling each other? Spencer made no bones about the fact that he couldn’t stand her, and was only too happy to frequently comment on her deficiencies.
He hung up and tossed his cell phone into the cup holder. “I’m to tell you that your sister is pissed you worried her this way.”
Meghan squelched the ever-present guilt when it came to her sister and sighed. “She always worries. Why aren’t we going to Carter’s? It’s a hell of a lot closer than your place in Jackson.”
She studied his profile, the angular, firm jaw covered with a neatly trimmed black beard. His gaze was trained on the road as he navigated. The way his big hands—the fingers long and bluntly tipped—kept a firm hold on the wheel made driving in these horrendous conditions appear effortless. “We aren’t going into town. My house is roughly ten minutes from here.” His gruff voice, the deep, rather exasperated, bass slithered along her spine like a caress.
“But I don’t want to stay with you,” she protested. She’d rather be stranded on Hoth or on the SS Enterprise without power. Plus, she’d been looking forward to a night or two at Casa Jones with lots of yummy food and the chance to hang with her nephew. She was indoctrinating him into her love of pop culture and science with measured success. Then there was also the tiny little fact that the thought of being cooped up with Spencer, alone, made her entire body simmer, and not in anger but anticipation.
“Why? Chicken?” he dared and glanced her way.
Meghan’s heart thudded. Her mouth went dry. And deep down she knew the answer was a resounding yes, not that she would ever admit it. With a deadpan glare, she snorted. “Nope. In your dreams, big guy.”
“Relax. I don’t bite. I have guest rooms you can pick from and we will hardly see each other.”
“Sure. Thanks. I just don’t want to be an inconvenience.” Not just to him but to anyone. Not ever again.
He rolled his shoulders in a manly shrug that was so distinctly bored alpha male, her entire body whimpered with the desire to feel all that strength against her.
And then he opened his mouth. “There are always ways in which you can thank me.”
The innuendo flash-fried her brain, bombarding her with carnal images she wanted to deny. But her body told a far different story. Stupid hormones. Her blood ignited. She pressed her thighs together to squelch the distinct throbbing and felt her nipples bead into hard points. Thank god the parka cloaked and hid her desire. She didn’t want to feel this way about him—or anyone, for that matter.
She cast him a withering stare. “Ew. Thanks, but no. You can let me out right here if this rescue comes with those kinds of strings.”
“Just saying, if you really feel that bad, I can find plenty of chores to keep you occupied.”
“Chores?” She glanced his way. His lips were compressed into a thin line but those midnight eyes of his, the ones she saw in her darkest fantasies, danced with merriment. He was teasing her, the big lug.
“Sure. I could use a maid or a cook.”
She couldn’t help it. Really, the man drove her to it. And perhaps her brain had not yet completely defrosted from her sojourn on the side of the road and then the tawdry images her brain had conjured at his innuendo… Her fist curled of its own accord. She punched him in the arm.
“You’re such a jerk. You had me thinking—”
Before she could retract her left fist, he snatched her wrist. “Careful, brat. Had you thinking what?”
And his dark gaze glittered, bored through her defenses before shifting back to the road. What did he see? Did he intuit that she was fascinated by him? That the thought of him putting his big hands on her again liquefied her insides? Just the simple contact of his hand gripping her wrist, his thumb pressed against her wildly beating pulse, made her panties wet.
“Nothing, you perv. How long until we get there? I need to pee.” Meghan broke contact with him, at least from his gaze, and glanced out the passenger side window intent on ignoring him as best she could.
He released her wrist slowly. If it were anyone else but Spencer, she would have sworn his thumb and fingers caressed her flesh as he let go. Tingles erupted along her nerve endings. Her insides quivered in response.
“We should be there shortly.”
She nodded but kept her mouth shut, far too worried that if she responded, he would hear the breathy sigh in her voice. It was bad enough that she could smell him; the unique, woodsy sandalwood scent intermingled with his indescribable alpha maleness that was all him.
A night alone with Spencer. What could possibly go wrong?