Until We Kissed by Heather B Moore

Livvy knows Dr. Slade McKinney is the perfect man for her, but when she keeps running into Mason, Livvy discovers fate has a different plan.

USA Today bestselling author Heather B. Moore welcomes you to Pine Valley!

Pine Valley librarian Livvy Harmon has big dreams, which include marrying Dr. Slade McKinney. Trouble is, he’s only kissed her once in their four months of dating, and it wasn’t all that great. But Livvy isn’t ready to give up yet on hooking such an amazing man, even though Slade seems to have time for everyone but her.

When Livvy keeps running into writer Mason Rowe, who seems to be camping out in her library to finish his book under strict orders from his agent, Livvy at first keeps him at arm’s length. But the more their friendship grows, the more she finds that her dream relationship with her doctor boyfriend isn’t so dreamy after all.

AMAZON

“This is the perfect story to have on your winter must-read list.” ~Five Star Amazon Reviewer

Read an Excerpt:

Chapter One

“Hello?” Livvy tried not to sound over-the-top excited even though she’d been waiting three days for Slade to call and confirm their date. Or Dr. McKinney, as he was known to his patients. Thankfully the Pine Valley library was empty since it was five minutes to closing time, and Livvy didn’t have to put him on hold for an annoying patron needing to check out a book at the last minute.

“Liv?” Slade said into the phone, his voice rich, deep.

The way Slade shortened her name made goose bumps stand on Livvy’s arms. It was like he had his own personal nickname for her. Okay, so Liv wasn’t really all that unique. Her mom called her Liv; so did her brother and her roommate . . . But that was beside the point.

She leaned against the reference counter, where she’d been putting in the recent book order on the computer. “Hi, Slade,” she said in that light, breezy tone she’d perfected just for Dr. Slade McKinney, aka Mr. Dreamy Doc. She didn’t want to creep out Slade and let him discover that long before they had gone on their first date she’d been stalking him. Well, stalking was too strong of a word. Maybe light stalking, or being extremely observant.

But who could really blame her? It had been her girlhood dream to marry a doctor. Even Ken from her Barbie-playing days had been a doctor. And it was only natural that Livvy had dated a pre-med student in college. And when that relationship didn’t work out, she had dated another one. She had eventually graduated in library science, unmarried, but she didn’t let that deter her from her goal of marrying a doctor.

Only her best friend, Felicity, knew about Livvy’s goal. Some things were better kept to one’s self, because she didn’t really have an answer to the why of it. She could possibly, potentially, blame it on her days of sitting on the upstairs landing, peeking through the banister, and watching the television show ER, which her mother had forbidden her to watch. Thursday nights her mother made doubly sure that Livvy went to bed early.

Livvy had gone to bed quite happily, knowing that in twenty minutes she could sneak out onto the landing and watch anyway—albeit a slightly skewed and muffled version of ER.

And one of the families on their block had a doctor for a father and a mother who dressed beautifully and was always heading up local charity events.

Then there was the rash of medical thrillers that Livvy had gotten hooked on a few years back. Authors like Joe Monsun, Collette Burrows, and Mason Rowe all topped her must-read list. As the librarian for Pine Valley Library, Livvy made sure the new releases were on her annual budget list.

“So, uh, Liv,” Slade said in that low, melodic tone of his. “I’ve got to reschedule tonight after all.”

The stab of disappointment was sharp in Livvy’s gut, and she closed her eyes and exhaled to gain her equilibrium back. It’s okay. It’s fine. This is what it is like dating a doctor.

Slade was still talking. Saying something about having to switch with the on-call doctor at the hospital because the other doctor had to go out of town for his anniversary . . .

Livvy tried not to pout, but inside she was definitely pouting. She didn’t want to be a high-maintenance girlfriend, but she and Slade had been dating for five months and three days, and still . . . they only went out every couple of weeks. Texts had replaced phone calls in the interim, and texts were way less exciting than phone calls from Slade.

“Okay, no problem,” Livvy said, an unwanted squeak in her voice. She was not going to cry. “Maybe we can change our reservations for tomorrow night.”

“Uh, tomorrow I’m on my regular on-call shift,” he said. “Sorry, sweetheart.”

The sweetheart endearment meant she forgave him everything and anything in an instant.

“I understand.” Her voice sounded faint to her ears. Had he noticed? She had to be more upbeat, more confident, more like the kind of woman a successful doctor would propose to because she was his better half. She kept the home fort down, raising their children while he was saving lives.

“Do you still want to go hiking Sunday morning?” he asked.

Livvy found herself hesitating. Unbelievable—I’ve never hesitated before. So what if he hiked like a possessed mountain goat and she had to live on Advil the next three days after an excursion with him? He never missed his monthly hikes, and if she were to fit into his busy schedule then she had to take opportunities where she could. Besides, on their last date, two weeks before, he’d kissed her goodnight. A toe-curling, face-fanning kiss. Their relationship was definitely moving forward.

Okay, so the kiss had been a little too brief for her liking, and his hands had been strangely clammy, but she’d decided to ignore that. Because, hello, doctor.

But would he kiss her when she was panting like a hyena and her nose was frozen pink on the top of the Pine Valley ski resort?

“Sure, what time?” she asked.

“Same time as always,” he said. “Pick you up at 5:30?”

“Yep,” Livvy said. “I’ll be ready.”

“Great,” Slade said. “Dress warm. It might snow.”

He said something else about how he couldn’t believe it was November already, but Livvy heard nothing after snow. Yes, she might live in Pine Valley, a known ski-resort town, but she hated the cold. Snow. Wind. Ice. All of it.

Somehow she ended the conversation in a perfectly cheerful tone. When Slade hung up, Livvy stared at her phone for a moment. What had she agreed to? She’d swapped out a perfectly nice evening of a cozy dinner at an Italian restaurant for a freezing-cold trek up a snowy mountain.

She slipped her phone into her pocket, then leaned forward and let her head drop onto the reference counter. Gripping the ends of her hair, she let out a groan as she imagined how the cold would penetrate her very bones. Her feet would be like blocks of ice, and her hands would be numb for a week. Her nose and chin and lips would be colder than popsicles.

“Are you okay?” a male voice asked.

Livvy jumped away from the desk and gasped. When she saw a man, who was staring at her like she’d lost her mind, she backed away. He looked like one of those men straight from a lumberjack contest that she used to watch on TV with her little brother. The guy wore a thick red-and-navy plaid shirt and ripped jeans, complete with heavy boots. His dark hair reached his collar, and he had a beard that actually looked quite good on him—if she were into beards on men—which she wasn’t.

If the man’s eyes had been dark and eerie she might have called 911. But they were a surprising light blue, and his mouth had curved upward as if he were about to laugh at her. Still, she pulled her phone out of her pocket just in case.

“You shouldn’t creep up on me like that,” she said.

“It’s impossible to creep with these boots on,” he said, lifting a foot as if to demonstrate. She looked down again at his boots, then back up. Oh boy. He was tall. And sort of hunky. The broad-shoulder-slim-waist type. Which only proved her lumberjack theory.

“Besides, you looked a little . . . distressed.” He narrowed those blue eyes of his. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Of course I’m okay,” she said. “I received some bad news, that’s all.”

He continued to stare at her, and she wondered why he was in the library in the first place. Looking for a book on trees? Wow. That would be ironic. It was then she noticed he had a legal pad and pen in his hand. Had he been taking notes from an encyclopedia?

“Okay, not bad news, exactly, but disappointing.” She waved a hand. “On second thought, it was really nothing. I just overreacted.”

His mouth quirked again.

She placed a hand on her hip, wondering why she felt like she had to explain anything to a stranger. “You startled me, all right? I’m not usually a jumpy person, but the library is closed. I thought I was alone.”

“I was on my way out,” he said, taking a step back. But he didn’t turn around, and he didn’t look away. It was like he wanted to ask her something yet didn’t know how.

Oh . . . “We don’t have a homeless shelter in Pine Valley, but the cops will help out if you need something. I can make a phone call for you.”

He didn’t say anything for a moment, then he chuckled. “You think I’m homeless?”

Livvy’s face heated. “I—I guess not?”

He scratched at his beard. “I knew I let myself go, but I didn’t think I looked homeless.”

Well, now that she had a closer look at him, she realized she might have rushed to assumptions. He didn’t smell, and the ripped jeans could be more of a fashion statement. He wasn’t hauling around a giant backpack full of his life essentials, and even though he was of a lean build, he didn’t have that gaunt look.

“It’s been a long day,” she said, then cleared her throat. “But the library is closed, sir. I need to ask you to leave.”

He nodded. “Sorry I scared you.” Then he turned around and strode to the front doors.

Livvy stared after lumberjack guy until he’d disappeared through the entrance. It was dark outside, so she couldn’t see how far he went into the parking lot. She remained at the reference counter, and moments later she saw headlights move through the parking lot and a dark-colored Jeep drive out.

So . . . not homeless then. She crossed to the front doors, locked them, then turned out the main lights. The night lights would stay on, and since she was curious about what the man had been doing, she walked to the study area to see if anything was out of place. A chair was slightly askew—perhaps he’d been sitting there. But no reference books were on any of the tables, and it didn’t look like anything had been touched since she’d last made her rounds.

Lumberjack man must have come into the library when she was busy helping the group of seventh graders who’d been assigned to do a group project. Otherwise, she couldn’t imagine how she’d missed noticing a man of that stature in her library.

Her phone buzzed with a text. It was from her best friend and nearly next-door neighbor, Felicity Miner. Have fun on your date with Slade tonight.

The reminder made Livvy’s heart sink again. She texted back that Slade had cancelled on her again, and did Felicity have a winter coat she could borrow?

Don’t tell me you’re going hiking, Felicity texted.

I am. I’m weak.

Haha. You must really be in love.

Livvy laughed, then she paused. Was she in love with Slade McKinney? The short answer was yes. The long answer was not something she really wanted to analyze right now. She was still feeling put out by the cancelled dinner date. She supposed that in her Barbie and Ken playacting, she hadn’t really thought that being a doctor’s girlfriend would be so . . . lonely.

A woman never gives away all her secrets, she wrote to Felicity. Please tell me you have ice cream in your freezer and no plans tonight.

I’m 100% free and YES on the ice cream.

Great, I’ll be there in twenty minutes.

 

Chapter Two

Mason tossed his keys onto the kitchen counter of his rented cabin. Today had been a surprisingly good day. Good because he’d written an entire chapter—and although he had no idea where it was going to fit into his work in progress, it was still more than he’d written in a single day for over a year.

And he’d laughed. Another unusual event of late.

The librarian had somehow brought it out of him by calling him homeless.

Maybe technically he was homeless. The rented cabin in Pine Valley was definitely not his home, but his agent had insisted he unplug and get away from all social media until his next book was drafted.

Mason opened the fridge, which he should keep better stocked. He wished he’d done a grocery run on his way back from the library. He shut the fridge and grabbed an apple from the welcome basket on the counter, courtesy of his agent. Biting into the apple, he walked out of the kitchen and through the dark rooms until he reached the sliding door. The moon cast its silvery light across the wood deck, outdoor furniture, and hot tub.

This place would be an excellent place for a writers’ retreat.

He tried to remember the last time he’d been around his peers. It was October of last year, at a gala where he’d received another Best Thriller Writer of the Year award. Two days before Teddy Stern had filed his lawsuit.

The lawsuit was ridiculous, and everyone knew it. Mason hadn’t stolen anyone’s book idea, let alone an indie author who had written a handful of short stories and published them without editing the manuscripts.

In fact, the lawsuit was shot down within a couple of months, but the social media firestorm had been vicious, both for and against Mason. When his next book, Cut, released in February, his usual release month for all his books, he had reached the New York Times list as expected, but his release week numbers had dropped by twenty percent.

Coincidence? Mason knew it wasn’t.

Reviews on Cut were harsh—and although there were plenty of good ones, it seemed that the percentage of bad reviews had escalated.

Mason had tried not to let it bother him. His book could still be viewed as a success, but he found that, day after day, he wasn’t doing any writing.

And he had missed his April submission deadline for the first time in his fourteen-year writing career. Last month when he didn’t have a book on the advance review lists and upcoming releases lists, social media had pounced again.

Rumors swirled that he’d quit writing, that he was truly guilty of plagiarizing Teddy, that he’d moved to Canada or Mexico . . .

He’d ignored it all, of course, but he still wasn’t writing.

Every time he sat down he might type a handful of sentences, but they had no life, no direction, and no purpose. So he deleted those sentences and turned on whatever ball game happened to be on one of his dozens of cable channels.

Mason did have to give his agent credit for her patience. If he lost money, she did too. Yes, he’d had a good run, had made great money, but he was thirty-seven and should still have plenty of productive years left. Besides, what bothered him most wasn’t the money or the lawsuit or anything that anyone said on social media—it was the loss of his words.

He’d even gone to a psychologist, who pretty much told him to play relaxing music while he wrote.

His agent, Jolene, had a more life-altering suggestion.

Jolene told him she couldn’t hold him a release spot if he didn’t get his next manuscript in by January 1. He’d already missed one release year, but his agent thought if his next book came out only six months behind schedule he wouldn’t lose much traction. Jolene had found the Pine Valley cabin for rent and said she’d even have food delivered if it would help.

Mason had told her he’d take care of his own food, but when he’d arrived, there was a large gift basket of food on the counter. He wasn’t surprised.

He opened the sliding door and stepped out onto the patio. November was cold in Pine Valley, but he didn’t mind it. The sharp coolness seemed to be working by clearing his senses. And he found the only thing he really missed about his San Diego home was walking along the beach in the early mornings. But even the steady thrum of the incoming waves hadn’t been able to shake him out of his writer’s block.

So here he was in a mountain resort, looking at towering pine trees. The weather app on his phone had predicted snow this weekend—which he was sort of looking forward to. Growing up in Colorado, he’d loved the snow as a kid. But after moving to San Diego on a college basketball scholarship, he had never left. When he blew out his ACL his junior year in college, he’d spent hours in physical therapy, and he became quite fascinated by the medical industry. That, and he had a lot of time to read.

Which led to the bizarre idea that he should write his own book about an injured basketball player who became caught up in an illegal money-laundering scheme with an attractive thirty-something pharmacist. He had no idea what to do with the 350-page book he’d written, so he did some googling. A week later he had signed with an agent, and after months of quite painful revisions and him questioning what Jolene saw in the story in the first place, the book sold to a major publisher. A year later the book was released to decent reviews. His second book sold more. His third book sat on the New York Times list for fifteen weeks, where it was soon joined by the paperback versions of books one and two.

Mason pulled out his phone—the one on which he’d deleted all social media apps, as promised to his agent. She deserved a phone call tonight even though it was after 10:00 p.m. in New York. Mason knew that Jolene slept less than he did.

“Mason?” Jolene answered on the second ring. “Is this good news or bad news? Please tell me you’ve written at least fifty pages.”

No matter what Mason called to talk to his agent about, it felt that she always did more talking than he did. And she very well knew that not even a robot could have written fifty pages between now and when they’d last talked the day before. “Twelve pages.”

Jolene gasped.

Mason wasn’t sure if it was a good gasp or a bad gasp.

Then she said, “That’s wonderful. Too early to tell me the plot?”

“Much too early.” They both knew he was a pantser. The plot would develop in the first hundred pages, with a lot of rewriting, then be established by the next two hundred pages. Sort of a backwards way to outline, he guessed.

“Well,” Jolene said. “I’m pleased . . . was there anything you did differently today?”

“I went to the library.” He could almost see Jolene’s dark brows raise.

“Huh. I didn’t know there was a library in Pine Valley.”

“There is.” And a sassy librarian. “I showed up around five with my legal pad, and . . . started to write.”

“Hmm. By hand?”

“Yep. I didn’t bring my laptop because I wasn’t planning on a breakthrough.”

Jolene went silent for a few moments, then she said, “Mason, can you go to the library tomorrow?”

Mason chuckled. “I have no doubt that you are now googling the library hours for Pine Valley.”

“Nine to seven,” Jolene said, laughter in her voice. “Oh, wow. The website is very sophisticated.”

“Pine Valley is a resort town, not a backwoods trailer park.”

“Yeah, but there’s a bio of the librarian listed here,” she said. “The director, Olivia Harmon, has a master’s in library science.”

Olivia Harmon. That must be her. He thought of the woman’s dark curls, which she’d pulled back into a clip, and how her dark brown eyes had seemed to burrow right through him. Her blue V-neck sweater and black slacks had been unassuming but had caught his attention nonetheless. Or maybe it was the five rings she wore—none of which were on her ring finger. Or the jangling of her bracelets. He’d assumed that a librarian would wear quieter jewelry.

“She’s pretty,” Jolene said in a slow voice.

There was a picture of Olivia Harmon on the website? Mason put Jolene on speaker and pulled up the library website on his phone. He clicked on the Contact Menu, and yep. There she was. Dark, curly hair, small silver hoop earrings, brown eyes. She had a freckle on the right side of her mouth. He hadn’t noticed that earlier. Even in the picture, she seemed to be smirking at something or ready to tell everyone that the library was closed.

“Mason?” Jolene’s voice cut through his thoughts. “You’ve met Olivia Harmon, haven’t you?”

“Briefly.”

“And . . . is she perhaps the reason behind this sudden twelve pages?”

“No,” Mason could confidently say. “I met her as I was leaving the library tonight—after the twelve pages.”

The relief was evident in Jolene’s voice when she said, “All right. Just know that this manuscript is your priority, you understand. I don’t want to pull the mother card here.”

“I don’t think even my own mother, were she still alive, would tell me that I couldn’t talk to a pretty librarian.”

Jolene groaned. “I don’t know how many more favors I can call in. Your publisher isn’t exactly happy that your first print run of Cut still hasn’t sold out.”

Mason took her off speaker and put the phone to his ear. “I know, Jolene. Tonight was only about calling you with good news. I know the rest.”

“You’re right,” Jolene said in a brighter tone. “Congratulations, Mason. And let me know if you need anything at all. I’m here for you.”

“Thank you,” Mason said. The phrase might sound cliché for some, but he knew Jolene really would answer his call day or night. She’d even offered to come out to Pine Valley and brainstorm ideas.

Mason had quickly shot down that offer. He didn’t work that way. As a pantser, he could barely shuffle through his own ideas. Someone else’s brain power in the mix would derail his. After he hung up with Jolene he crossed the deck to one of the outdoor chairs. He sat on the cold wrought-iron and opened the browser on his phone. The bio about Olivia Harmon was only two paragraphs, but Mason read every word of it twice.

Not that he was being a creep or anything, and not that he’d ever ask a woman out in a small resort town when he was on a deadline upon which the rest of his career as a writer depended. Jolene was right. Today had been a good day, but he needed to keep his focus.

Besides, dating and being a full-time writer didn’t go hand in hand. When people knew he was a full-time writer, they imagined that he typed out his first one thousand words in the morning with a cup of coffee. Then the next two thousand were written while he lounged by a pool. Then that was followed by some late-afternoon writing at his dining table, after which he went to evening book signings, followed by drinking wine and smoking cigars with a couple of rabid fans at a nearby bar.

No. Being a full-time writer consisted of staring at walls, pacing floors, staring at the laptop screen, answering emails, avoiding phone calls, ignoring texts, then finally typing a sentence. Or maybe two.

Then the cycle would start all over again.

Eight-hour days were more like sixteen-hour days, and still at the end of each day Mason felt like he’d barely accomplished anything.

Maybe he should have been a librarian.

 

Chapter Three

Livvy bit back a curse when her alarm went off Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. It was pitch-dark outside, and when she’d gotten up in the middle of the night it had indeed been snowing. She pushed herself into a sitting position because she was in danger of falling back asleep.

Livvy regretted the loss of warmth about her shoulders immediately. She wanted to burrow back into her covers, but Slade would be here in thirty minutes. And if she cancelled on him, who knew when they’d next get together.

She closed her eyes, thinking of Slade. His easy laugh, his charming smile, his straight teeth, his green eyes, his doctorate degree.

Okay . . . She was getting out of bed.

Livvy threw off the covers in one motion, then swung her feet over the bed, where she’d strategically placed her slippers. She stepped into them, then grabbed her cozy robe from the end of the bed.

Her roommate, Mallory, had come home late last night—the girl was a serial-dater—so Livvy doubted Mallory would hear a thing as she got ready. But then Livvy paused. She didn’t want to shower before the hike, because surely she’d want to take a two-hour bath after just to thaw out.

Livvy dressed in layers, then pulled on her warmest boots, wishing she had some of those Uggs. Her double layer of socks would have to do. She put on a sweater and a coat, then pulled her hair back into a low ponytail so that she could fit a beanie on her head. She’d wait to put on the hat later so that she didn’t look too much like a wimp when Slade picked her up. He never seemed to get cold.

She made her way through the darkness of the house that she rented with Mallory and peered out the front window. The snow had tapered off, but there were at least two to three inches built up. Slade’s Land Rover pulled up then. He was ten minutes early, but Livvy didn’t wait for him to text or call; she opened the front door, then waved at him. She locked the door and walked carefully along the walkway, through the snow. If she was home before Mallory woke up, Livvy would shovel, but she didn’t have time for it now.

Slade got out of the car, and Livvy smiled. He looked like he’d stepped out of an L.L.Bean catalog, with his beanie matching his down coat. The ends of his light-brown hair showed at the edges of his beanie, and his green eyes were lively. He wore heavy boots that probably outweighed Livvy’s by twenty pounds.

“Hi, Liv,” Slade said, opening the passenger door for her.

Such a gentleman, although she was half hoping he’d kiss her. A quick peck would do. Or even on the cheek? Nothing.

“Good morning,” she said brightly. She slid into the leather seat. He’d turned on the seat warmers, so it was nice and toasty.

Without further ado, Slade shut her door and walked around to his side. It was okay that he hadn’t kissed her as a greeting. They weren’t at that point in their relationship yet. Although she was often confused about where they were in their relationship, she wasn’t about to have the talk. Besides, it was the twenty-first century, and she could be the one instigating the kissing. She sort of saw Slade kissing her as a sign of his interest in her.

Now she was being ridiculous. They’d been dating for months. And he kept asking her out. Slade climbed into the car and grinned at her. “Ready? It’s going to be so cool hiking through the first snowfall of the season.”

So . . . cool . . . pun intended? “Can’t wait,” Livvy said. Maybe he’d kiss her at the top of the ski resort while snowflakes twirled around them, and Slade would tell her that they needed to see each other more often and they should probably meet each other’s parents. He’d invite her for Thanksgiving with his family, and she’d charm them all by telling them of her work at the library. She’d be viewed as the sweetest small-town woman, who would make a perfect doctor’s wife.

“Liv? We’re here.”

She blinked and looked over at Slade. But he’d already opened his door and was grabbing stuff from the back. From the looks of it, he’d brought a CamelBak and some ski poles.

She opened her door and slid out. “Ski poles?”

He smiled, his green eyes crinkling at the corners. “Just to give us more speed going up and more traction coming down in case it doesn’t stop snowing.”

Speaking of snow—there was way more than three inches of snow in the Alpine Lodge parking lot, where Slade had stopped. She slid on her beanie, pulled on her gloves, then accepted the ski poles from Slade.

The sun hadn’t even come up, and Slade was all smiles. It wasn’t that Livvy hated early mornings. In theory, she wasn’t opposed to getting up extra early for something fun, but snow at 5:30 a.m. was a bit much. Even when it was accompanied by Mr. Dreamy Doc.

They set off, Livvy keeping up across the parking lot, past the lodge, and up the first slope. It was invigorating, really, and Livvy was barely breaking a sweat. In fact, she was plenty warm from the waist up. Her legs were cold, but not freezing, and her feet only sort of achy.

She ignored all that and focused on the gorgeous pines and the dusting of snow upon them, making everything look like a winter wonderland. They passed a row of cabins. Likely they had heaters and fireplaces, thick fleece blankets, and mugs just waiting for hot chocolate.

Livvy tore her gaze from the cozy cabins to focus on the slope they were climbing. “Wow, it’s really gorgeous,” she said as the first episode of breathlessness hit. She gulped in the cold air.

“Yeah, amazing, isn’t it?” Slade said. He went quiet again.

On the last hike, Livvy had learned that Slade didn’t like to talk much on the hikes. It was more of a Zen time for him, and she totally got that. But it was so quiet out here, and that was something remarkable to be noticed by a librarian.

They passed by another cabin, and a thin line of smoke was coming out of the chimney. Livvy couldn’t help the flash of envy she felt. Someone had a fire in their fireplace and was probably sipping cocoa or coffee and looking out their giant window, watching the snow float down. Their toes and feet and legs were warm.

Appreciate nature, Livvy, she thought to herself. It’s not that cold. She was shivering. And she couldn’t feel her feet. Did she still have a nose?

Then she nearly fell to the ground. “Ow! Ow! Ow!” she squealed. Pain gripped her left calf.

Slade whipped around. “What’s wrong?”

“My . . . leg,” she gasped. “A charley horse.” She couldn’t walk, couldn’t move.

“Flex your foot,” Slade said, hurrying back to her because he’d gotten about ten paces in front of her when she’d started to lag.

Slade grabbed her arm so that she could balance on her good leg.

“But won’t that hurt?” she said in a pitiful tone.

“Not as much as the charley horse.”

So Livvy held onto Slade as she flexed her left foot. The stretch made the ache ease, although it hurt to flex.

“Better?” Slade asked, looking down, his green eyes focused on her.

She sighed. “Better.” Then she put weight on her foot, and the pain returned, not so strong but deep. She winced.

“We can go back,” Slade said. “Your body temperature probably dropped too fast.”

Well, she hadn’t expected him to offer to cut the hike short, but the man was a doctor. Saving lives, healing sick people, and all that. “I don’t want you to miss your hike,” she said. “Maybe I can hang out at the lodge.”

A line formed between his brows. “Well, I was going to take you home, then come back up. I can still get my hike in, just delay it a little. But if you want to sit in the lodge instead, then it will save me time.”

Time. Everything in their relationship was about time. His time. Never hers.

“I’ll sit at the lodge,” she said, too irritated to say what she wanted to say. Besides, her calf was still sore.

“If you’re sure?” Slade said.

Livvy didn’t miss the hope in his eyes. She forced a smile even though it probably looked half-frozen.

Slade didn’t seem to mind her frozen smile. “Great. I’ll be about an hour and a half.”

“Okay, see you then.” Livvy hoped her voice sounded strong and confident. She stood for a moment, watching him hike away from her. He paused several paces later and turned and waved, sheer gratitude in his expression.

Livvy smiled her frozen smile and waved back.

Then she moved her cold, numb feet toward the row of cabins that were on the way to the lodge. The sun was beginning to rise, and soon it would warm her, right? The snow turned gold white, and Livvy squinted against the glare. When she arrived at the cabin they’d passed earlier, the smoke was still rising from the chimney. If she cut around the back of it, there was a straighter shot to the lodge. So she trudged through the new snow and arrived at the property line of the cabin, which was surrounded by a low river-rock wall.

Sitting on the wall, she decided to rest for a few moments, at least until the pain in her calf subsided. She should probably flex her foot again, so gingerly she started to flex. Another cramp seized her calf. “Ow! Ow!”

She closed her eyes, gritting her teeth together, letting the pain pass.

“Are you okay, ma’am?” a man said behind her.

Livvy screeched and nearly fell off the wall.

A strong hand grasped her arm, preventing her from falling into the snow. “Easy. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

That voice.

Livvy turned to look at the man. The lumberjack man. “You.”

He wore a dark-gray turtleneck that somehow made his eyes bluer. Same beard, same quirk of mouth like he was laughing at her, same broad shoulders, same boots . . . The jeans were darker, no holes this time.

“Me.” He was definitely holding back a laugh. “I can’t believe you’re sitting on my wall. It’s freezing out here.”

That phrase made Livvy shiver. “You’re telling me.”

He lifted his dark brows. “Do you live around here?”

“Not exactly,” she said. “I was on my way to the lodge when I got a charley horse.” Number two.

Lumberjack man sucked in a breath. “Ouch. I’m surprised you weren’t cursing up a storm.”

“I don’t curse.”

He chuckled. “You’re kidding.”

She shook her head.

“Okay. I guess I can see that about you,” he said.

“What do you mean by that?”

Her question seemed to catch him off guard, because his expression sobered. Then he tilted his head, studying her. If he kept looking at her like that, her face was going to thaw out.

“You’re too sweet,” he said. “Like, June Cleaver sweet.”

Livvy narrowed her eyes, and the man only quirked his brows again as if challenging her. She didn’t know if this was a compliment or insult, but it was way too weird to be seeing lumberjack man twice in the same weekend . . . She didn’t even know his name. Livvy moved off the wall, gingerly putting weight on her left foot. Yep, her calf felt like it had a deep bruise, but she could walk as far as the lodge, then figure out how to thaw out her body.

She took the first step, testing, and sucked in her breath.

“Do you want a rice bag?” lumberjack man asked.

“A rice bag?”

“You know, a heated rice bag to ease the pain in your leg,” he said. “You could come inside my cabin too and warm up a little.”

She shot him a look that didn’t need to explain how she felt about that offer. Didn’t he have something better to do than watch her hobble around his cabin? He obviously wasn’t homeless—not in the least, by the looks of the gorgeous cabin.

Lumberjack man lifted his hands. “Or . . . I could heat the rice bag and bring it to you.”

“But wouldn’t it cool off too fast?” she said, and before he could answer she added, “I can make it to the lodge okay. Besides, Slade said that I need to keep flexing my foot. Work it out.”

“Slade?” he asked. “Is that your husband?”

The innocent yet knowing tone of his voice gave him away, and something fluttered in her stomach at the realization that maybe he’d noticed she didn’t wear a wedding ring. Right now, she was wearing gloves, so he had to have noticed at the library. “Slade’s my boyfriend.”

“And where is he now?”

Livvy didn’t like all these persistent questions. “He’s hiking. I was with him until my leg cramped.”

“He left you?” Lumberjack man looked up the slope, and Livvy sort of liked that he was incredulous about it.

She felt that way too but hadn’t admitted it to herself. “The lodge is just over there.”

He looked from the slope to the lodge, then back to her. “It’s not ‘just over there.’ It’s probably a half mile.”

“Not so far.”

He scoffed. “What time did you start hiking?”

“Five-thirty or so.” She swallowed.

“Before the sun came up? No wonder you’re freezing and cramping up.”

His voice was hard, and she wasn’t sure why he cared so much.

“Like I said, you can warm up at my place, or I’ll walk you to the lodge.”

“Uh, I’m sure you’re a perfectly nice guy.” Her sarcasm didn’t fool him. “But I prefer the lodge.”

He nodded, as if he wasn’t surprised at her answer. “Hang on, I’ll be right back.”

And before Livvy could respond, he strode off, his boots cutting through the snow. She probably shouldn’t be staring at him walking away, so she looked toward the slope. Maybe she should start walking; she didn’t know lumberjack man, except that he was kind of nosy and opinionated and well . . . bossy.

She was about to make the trek to the lodge on her own when he reemerged from the cabin. He’d pulled on a coat, and he carried a small, pillow-like thing.

As he approached, Livvy found that his direct gaze was disconcerting, as if he could see more into what she was telling him.

“I brought the rice bag,” he said, holding it up. “We’ll heat it in the lodge, since you don’t want to come into my perfectly warm cabin.”

She shoved her hands into her coat pockets. “Thanks, but why are you doing all this? I don’t even know your name.”

“Mason,” he said easily. “And you’re Olivia Harmon, right? Library director.”