Lexi Blake Found in Bliss.jpg

Found in Bliss

Nights in Bliss, Book 5

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Print Book: Amazon

About the book

Re-released in a second edition with new content.

Holly Lang has a hard time trusting men. Eight years ago, her husband tossed her aside and took her son away from her. Finding the little town of Bliss has given her a second chance at life, new friends, and sense of belonging. Unfortunately, Bliss also seems to have filled her days and nights with dreams of two beautiful men. She can’t stop thinking about the gentle but haunted Dr. Caleb Burke, and the exotic and dangerous Alexei Markov.

Caleb Burke isn’t your ordinary town doctor, but he’s always dedicated himself to trying to be a good man. His journey to this quirky little town was not an easy one. Some of the stops along the way left him scarred in more ways than one. But when he first sees Holly, it’s like someone threw open the blinds and let the sunlight into his life for the first time in years.

Alexei Markov is nothing like Caleb Burke. Working as a hit man for the Russian mafia, he was forced to do unspeakable things. He suffered through all the moral compromises to fulfill one simple goal, killing the man who murdered his brother. When a mission led him to Bliss, he found something more precious than vengeance. A woman named Holly Lang. Throughout months of living in witness protection, testifying against his former employers, all he could think about was finding his way back to her.

After returning to Bliss, Alexei and his strange new ally Caleb discover that they aren’t the only ones interested in Holly. Someone else is stalking her and appears to want her dead. The only way to discover the identity of the killer is for all three to face up to the secrets of their past and work together to fight for everything they have found in Bliss.


Chapter One

The lights of the party seemed to flare and focus like a spotlight on the man who had just walked into the room. Like Caleb Burke needed anything to highlight the disaster happening right in front of his face. He felt his heart seize, a cardiac episode waiting to happen. Acute myocardial infarction. Yep. That was what was happening. He was about to have a fucking heart attack, and he knew exactly who to blame.

“No.” He said the word. He said it a lot, but this time he really, really meant it. Caleb watched as that big Russian stood over sweet Holly, his dark eyes promising all manner of comfort, and he knew he wasn’t ready to let her go.

Of course, he also wasn’t ready to take her.


“No?” Alexei turned to him, seeming to notice for the first time that he wasn’t alone with Holly. Moments before, the Russian had walked into the reception hall where Stefan Talbot and his new wife, Jennifer, were hosting their wedding party. He’d marched in like he owned the place and zeroed in on Holly.

Alexei looked the same as he had months before, but it was easy to tell he’d changed. There was a relaxed set to his shoulders he hadn’t had the last time he was in Bliss. But then the last time Alexei Markov had been in Bliss, it had been as a member of the Russian mob.

“Get your hands off her.”

“My hands are entirely to myself.” And Alexei still had trouble with English.

“Caleb, what’s wrong?” Holly asked, her face turning to him. Wide green eyes stared up at him in confusion. She was so gorgeous. Every time she looked at him, he felt it straight in his gut. And his cock. Damn it. He had to turn away from her.

“You shouldn’t be here.” Caleb couldn’t take his eyes off the Russian. It was nothing less than the truth, though he had selfish reasons for pointing it out. “You’re supposed to be in witness protection.”

Alexei shrugged, his eyes going back to Holly as though her presence was a magnet he couldn’t avoid. “I told you. The trials are over. All the men who worked with Pushkin have been put in proper jails. I finish my testimony last week. I am here today. I am free man.”

Free? After everything he’d done? Alexei Markov had blown into town eight months before as a mobster. Just because he’d turned state’s witness and saved Jennifer Waters and Callie Hollister-Wright didn’t give him a free pass. He tried not to think about the fact that the Russian had saved Holly, too. Alexei had thrown his own body over hers, taking the bullet that would have ended her life. It didn’t erase the crimes he’d committed before. “You killed a bunch of people, and they let you go free?”

“He only killed them to save me, Caleb. And Stef got a couple, too. No one’s talking about putting him in jail.” Holly was already reaching for the Russian’s hands, her face turning upward in greeting. “I’m so happy for you, Alexei. I’m happy they let you come back to Bliss.”

A cloud crossed Alexei’s face telling Caleb everything he needed to know.

“They didn’t let you come back, did they?” Caleb asked. “You’re on the run.”

“No running. I take taxi and then train and then bus. Bus drop off at The Trading Post. It was closed, but Ms. Teeny was kind enough to leave note on door telling me about the wedding.” After his quick explanation, Alexei turned back to Holly. “You look like beautiful doll.”

Caleb grabbed at his tie, loosening it. The damn thing was a noose around his neck. Why had he come to this thing? He should have done what he always did. He should have stayed at home until someone needed him. He should have barricaded himself in his office and stared at medical books until his eyes wouldn’t stay open one second more and he was forced to fall into that hell he called sleep. Yeah, that would have made for a great night. But no, he’d gotten on this monkey suit and headed to the Feed Store Church to attend a wedding, all because he’d wanted to watch Holly walk down the aisle. He’d wanted to see her in a beautiful dress and imagine for one second that she was walking toward him and he was normal. That he was twenty-five again, marrying the right woman this time with his whole life ahead of him.

Not once in that daydream had he included a second man in the scenario, though given where he lived, he should have known that would happen whether he liked it or not.

“Thanks,” Holly said to Alexei, her face lighting up.

Caleb flushed. He hadn’t told her she was beautiful. He’d nodded at her. Why couldn’t he talk to her? He’d been good at this once. He’d gone to parties and balls. Why couldn’t he talk to one small-town waitress?

Because she was the one, but he was too fucked up to deal with it.

“You do look really pretty.” He forced the words out of his mouth. He didn’t say the ones that were locked inside. She didn’t look pretty. She was beautiful. Inside and out. Holly Lang practically glowed in his mind. With auburn hair that curled and caressed her porcelain shoulders, Holly was a vision of everything feminine. She stirred his cock and his mind. He thought about her all the time.

Yeah. He wasn’t going to say any of that.

Holly turned toward him, a vibrant smile on her lips. When she smiled that sunshine-goddess, center-of-his-whole-fucking-world smile, he always thought he would turn into a puddle of goo at her feet. Yeah. That would be really sexy, Burke.

“Tell her more, Caleb. You do well.” Alexei was smiling at him like he was a toddler who’d finally managed to walk.

What the hell was that about?

“Alexei!” Stefan Talbot strode forward looking resplendent in his tux. He wore a broad smile on his face.

Alexei turned and smiled back, his face opening in a way that belied his years. Alexei was twenty-eight years old, but when he smiled, he looked barely twenty.

“I’m so glad to see you, my friend. Did the paperwork get pushed through?” Stef pumped Alexei’s hand in greeting.

“The papers are all pushed. I soon will be as American as the pie with many apples. I will pass my test. I know all of American history. Ask me anything. I love the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I can sing whole preamble to Constitution.”

“I sent him a copy of Schoolhouse Rock to help out,” Jen Talbot said, sliding her hand into her husband’s. “I bet he can sing all about lonely bills, too.”

“Indeed, I can.” Alexei bowed slightly to the bride.

“Stef, you helped Alexei get his citizenship?” Holly asked.

“You must have paid through the nose for that, Talbot,” Caleb said, well aware bitterness was dripping from every word. “There’s a nice long wait usually.”

“The government was happy with all the help Alexei gave them with organized crime,” Stef explained. “I only had to grease the wheels a little.”

“Well, hell,” a new voice said. “Alexei. Did the aliens finally let you go? They kept you for an awfully long time.”

Mel Hughes stood in the middle of the dance floor looking utterly incongruous in a white polyester tux that had to have been handed down from the Bee Gees. Of course, he couldn’t be without his lucky trucker hat and the tinfoil that kept the aliens from attacking his brain. Mel was a kook, but a lovable one. He only went slightly insane a couple of times a year, and Caleb had tranquilizer darts perfectly dosed for Mel’s height and weight. He kept them in his truck. He’d thought about using them on Max Harper from time to time, but he worried it would take more than horse tranquilizer to change Max’s attitude.

“No aliens, sir. Only federal marshals.” Alexei moved closer to Holly, stepping in like he was her date. “They were very kind to me.”

Mel’s face crinkled, but he shook his head and patted Alexei on the back. “I’m real glad to hear that, son. Now, can I talk to you, Doc? We got an emergency.”

Caleb felt a part of him relax. Thank god. Someone was dying, so he didn’t have to deal with his suddenly out-of-control love life. He looked over at Holly.

“Go,” she urged him. “I’ll be fine.”

He nodded and started to walk away with Mel. He grabbed his bag from the table he’d been assigned to. He never went anywhere without the small leather bag his father had given him when he’d graduated from Johns Hopkins University.

He glanced back to where Holly stood, surrounded by friends. Of course Holly would be fine. What did she really need from him? For the last week, she’d needed him. Bliss had played host to a serial killer, and no woman in town had been left alone. He’d spent several sleepless nights on Holly’s sofa thinking about the fact that he could have been in her bed if he wasn’t such a complete freak. He had seen it in her eyes when she’d told him good night. She would have accepted him. Hell, she’d been hurt that he didn’t make a move on her. That had made his heart ache.

How would Holly have taken it if she’d made love with him only to discover he couldn’t sleep in a bed? The list of things he couldn’t do had driven him out of Chicago. It would cost him Holly, too.

“Poor bastard,” Mel said, shaking his head as he looked back at Alexei. “He doesn’t even know he got taken. It happens that way sometimes. You should check him out, Doc. I got a distressing memo about some new experiments the Reticulan Grays are performing concerning male pregnancy. We wouldn’t want that poor Russian fellow to find himself incubating an alien.”

He wondered if Holly would reject Alexei if he became the first of a crop of male mothers. Probably not. She was an awfully tolerant woman. “What’s the emergency?”

Mel frowned. “It’s Cassidy.”

Nope. No one was dying. Cassidy Meyer was a classic hypochondriac with a bit of Chicken Little syndrome. And she believed in aliens. Cassidy was a one-stop mental disorder shop. And she was a very nice lady.

“Hemorrhagic fever or bird flu?” Cassidy had gotten over the plague several weeks before. It shouldn’t come up again so soon.

“Oh, it’s the Ebola again. It’s the third time she’s had it, Doc.” Mel shook his head. “Those alien experiments ruined her immune system, I guess.”

Caleb knew that if his colleagues were in his position, Cassidy Meyer would find herself on a seventy-two-hour mental health hold, but he’d long ago learned that sometimes tolerance best served his patients. Cassidy wasn’t a risk to herself, and the sweet lady wouldn’t hurt a fly. She simply believed she’d had a couple of alien babies and routinely got some of the world’s worst infectious diseases. As the CDC had stopped coming out when she called, he was the last line of defense between Cassidy Meyer and the brutally cold world.

Besides, he owed her son his life. In more ways than one.

Wolf sat next to his mother, his large hand holding hers. He patted her back with his free hand, an amused look on his face. “Doc, we’re glad you’re here. Ma’s organs are liquefying as we speak.”

Cassidy looked up at him, her hands shaking a bit. “My hands are numb, Doc. I’m afraid my son is right. It’s going to get me this time. I think my liver went. I feel it.”

He took her pulse. It was strong. “Let me get something ready for you, sweetheart. I can fix you right up.”

“You can stop the Ebola?”

Caleb smiled. “I can stop the Ebola, no trouble. And what I’m going to give you has the added effect of keeping aliens away for a while, but you need to come in once a week. Can you do that for me?”

Cassidy’s eyes lit up, a sure sign that no hemorrhagic fever had invaded Bliss. “I sure can, Doc.”

Caleb stepped away, allowing Mel to lean down and hold her hand while Caleb gestured to Wolf to join him.

Wolf Meyer was a big, bad Navy SEAL, or he had been until a few months before when he’d been forcibly discharged after injuries taken in battle. He was a rough son of a bitch, but he was also a loving son.

“Has she been taking the B-12 I gave her?”

“Not unless she took it with her into the bomb shelter she and Mel have been holed up in. On the plus side, she managed to knit caps for everyone in town and a baby blanket for Paige Harper. Oh, and she perfected her Crock-Pot stew. Expect to get a big batch next week,” Wolf said.

Cassidy Meyer tried to take care of the people around her. It was only right that someone looked out for her, too.

“Her blood work showed she’s anemic. The numbness in her hands is a function of her vitamin deficiency. Injections will be easy for her to absorb. Once a week should do it. If she forgets, I’ll find her. Don’t worry about it, Wolf. She’s really quite healthy.”

He’d reached into his bag. He’d known this was probably coming. Bliss had been up in arms for a week over the Marquis de Sade case. It had been a good bet Cassidy had been ignoring her health. He kept a supply of B-12 on hand.

Wolf shook his head. “You’re the most frustrating man I know.”

He measured out the proper dose of B-12 in a hypodermic needle. “I’m not known for my bedside manner.”

He was actually. He was known for having a perfectly horrific bedside manner. He couldn’t even blame it on the PTSD. He’d been a gruff bastard before his world had turned upside down.

Wolf groaned. “That wasn’t what I was talking about, Doc. I was talking about how you’re handling the train wreck occurring right in front of our eyes. Are you really going to let that man waltz away with your woman?”

Caleb pulled the needle back out, squirting up to make sure all the air was out. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Holly isn’t mine.”

“But she could be. You can’t tell me you don’t want her.”

What he wanted didn’t matter. Did it? Could he do it? He closed his eyes for a moment. He didn’t want to have this conversation, but it was hard to ignore Wolf. “I think it’s for the best. I can’t have a normal relationship with her.”

When Caleb opened his eyes, Wolf was staring at him in that “dumbass said what?” way of his.

“Normal doesn’t mean a damn thing here,” Wolf pointed out. “No one is going to ask you to leave here, Doc. Bliss is your home. The people here love you for everything you do for them. And they don’t give a crap about your bedside manner. Do you know how many doctors have tried to get me to put my mother in a mental facility?”

He glanced back where Mel was hugging Cassidy’s small body to his, his lips kissing her forehead. “She doesn’t need to be in a facility. All she needs is a little understanding.”

“Yes, and you’re the only doctor who is willing to give it to her. Those two are happy because Bliss lets them be. Why can’t you be the same?”

Frustration welled up. “Damn it, Wolf. I can’t even sleep in a fucking bed. How is Holly going to handle it when I fuck her and then go sleep in her closet because I can’t stand to sleep in the open?”

Wolf’s dark eyes turned soft. His hand came out with a brotherly pat. “You’ll tell her why, and she’ll snuggle with you after finding another home for her shoes. It’s not Holly’s reaction you’re afraid of. It’s yours. You can’t go on like this forever.”

“Sure, I can.” He could foresee many years of misery. Unchecked and unbroken. Yep. He could be lonely forever.

“Like I said, frustrating.” Wolf took a step back. “If you ever want to talk…”

“Since when do I talk?” Caleb replied sarcastically.

One perfect day on the ice was the last time he’d sat and talked about anything beyond medicine and forensic reports. He’d had to talk about autopsies way too much lately. But that one day had been nice. He’d played hockey with the Farley brothers and gotten to know a guy from Russia. They had talked about their families, mostly their brothers. He’d really talked to that man. Of course, his newfound friend hadn’t bothered to mention that he was a member of the mob in town to cause trouble. For some reason, Caleb had relaxed around that guy. The same guy who was literally waltzing off with his woman. Alexei had moved Holly to the dance floor where he was putting his enormously oversized paws all over her.

“All right, then,” Wolf said, concession obvious in the slump of his shoulders. “Well, thanks for helping out with my mom. I promise to bring her by once a week. Hey, maybe if you convince her I’m taking the shots, too, she’ll stop trying to feed me beets.”

Caleb grinned. He only owed Wolf so much. “Nope. I’m afraid this doesn’t work on your alien DNA. And I’m the one who gave her the recipe for tofu and beets. And the beet smoothie.”

Wolf’s frown made his whole face turn to granite. “You son of a bitch. Do you know how horrible that was? And I had purple teeth for days from that smoothie. Asshole. This is how you treat the man who saved your life?”

“I’m looking out for your alien DNA, man.” And he liked fucking with Wolf. It made him feel almost normal.

He walked back to Cassidy, gave her a shot in her left butt cheek because that was what he did at a wedding, and packed his bag up. He looked out at the dance floor.

Holly swayed in Alexei’s arms, her gorgeous body moving with grace as he led her around. Caleb’s hands tightened into fists at his sides. Why the hell did Alexei deserve her? And what was he going to do about it? He strode out of the room before he did something he would regret, like attack a man at Stefan Talbot’s wedding. He’d given an oath to do no harm, but he really wanted to harm that asshole. He stalked down the hall. He needed to think. His brain was running a hundred different directions, every single one of them leading to a path of rejection and humiliation.

The halls were deserted, thankfully. Everyone was in the ballroom having a great time. He could hear the music, the chatter, the clinking of glasses. It was all at a distance, but then everything was. At a distance. He was on the outside, staring in at the life that happened to everyone but him. He couldn’t blame anyone but himself. He’d wrapped himself in a hundred different walls, building them so fast and so high that he would never break them down.

But suddenly he wanted to. Because he wanted Holly. He’d wanted her the moment he’d seen her. He’d spent the last year of his life watching her at Stella’s. It had almost been a relief when a serial killer had come to town. He’d had a reason to get close to her that he couldn’t deny. He’d been able to stay near her for days.

And he’d talked to her. Or rather, he’d listened. He’d taken her with him on his rounds. He was a country doctor now, and that meant driving from place to place, practicing in unorthodox ways. Holly had been a sympathetic helper. She hadn’t flinched when he’d lanced a boil or vaccinated screaming babies. She’d held the man’s hand and sang to the babies to get them to calm down. She’d been curious and quick to learn. She was a natural nurse, and he’d been a better doctor for having her around. It had felt so good to have her next to him in the cab of his truck.

Why the fuck was he walking away?

He needed to think. He needed someplace small where he could think. He hated it, but when he needed to clear his head, he needed a closet, someplace tight where he didn’t have to worry about his back. He spied the supply closet.

He was about to open it when he heard the moans.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Doc. Not unless you want a spectacular view of Rafe and Cam’s junk in use.”

Caleb turned and saw Rye Harper leaning against the wall with a teasing smile on his face. The cowboy had a tux on, but he’d ditched his tie, and there was a Stetson on his head. “Why are Rafe and Cam showing each other their junk in a…oh. Laura’s in there with them.”

Laura Niles, Rafe Kincaid, and Cameron Briggs were Bliss’s latest trio. They’d only been together for a short time, but they seemed to be getting into the groove.

“And Max, Rach, and me have dibs on that closet. We talked Stella into watching Paige. Do you have any idea how hard it is to doubly penetrate a woman with a baby monitor that goes off every ten minutes? Seriously. It’s not as easy as it sounds. We’ve been looking forward to this.” Rye leaned in and pounded on the door. “Hey, you’ve been at it forever. Give a fellow a chance!”

There was a muffled shriek, and then a masculine voice shouted back. “Screw you, Harper! Find your own closet.”

Rye frowned. “Fine. Dibs on the coat closet.”

Rye turned and ran toward the closet down the hall.

Caleb sighed. Maybe a walk would do him good. He forced himself to go for a run outside every day. In the beginning, he’d barely been able to walk from the car to the house, but now he did it all the time. He even fished regularly. It was only on occasion that the panic hit him. Yes. He needed a walk.

Maybe then he could figure out how to deal with his heartache.

* * * *

Alexei Markov settled his hand on Holly’s waist with a deep sense of satisfaction. She was here. He was here. No one was going to arrest him. He knew it was an odd thing to consider, but he’d had to worry about being arrested for so long that being able to not worry about it was freeing. No cops would come between them. Just one cranky doctor, but he had a plan for dealing with him. Yes, Alexei Markov was a damn lucky man. He’d come through hell with only a few scars.

Bliss had given him back his life.

“Have you healed up? The last time I saw you, you were still in pretty bad shape.” Holly looked down at his torso where a bullet had torn through his gut.

“I find life is perfectly fine without spleen.”

Caleb had been forced to remove it and resection a part of his bowel. Caleb Burke had stayed with him through the first terrible moments all the way through the operating room. It had been Caleb’s hands that held him together. It had been Caleb’s cranky voice that had told him he better live.

Alexei pulled her close. Dancing was an excellent way to get a woman close to a man. He was grateful for whoever decided to have a band and dancing at this wedding. It gave him a brilliant excuse to do what he’d always wanted to do—rub himself all over her.

“How was witness protection?” Holly’s feet moved in time to the music. “I read your letters, but you didn’t talk a lot about what it was like.”

Terrifying. Lonely. He’d been shot at multiple times. It was to be expected when mobsters were involved and prison time was on the line. Alexei had gotten used to the feeling of a Kevlar vest around his chest. He’d become close to the two US marshals assigned to protect him. Michael and Jessie. Michael was the badass former Marine, and Jessie matched him. Only she did it with a feminine flare. He’d been sad to say good-bye to them.

Except he hadn’t exactly said good-bye. He’d done exactly what Caleb Burke had accused him of. He’d run. The marshals had wanted him to stay in Florida where he would have become someone named Howard Solev. But he’d always known he would come back to Bliss. He’d always believed he would come back for Holly.

And he owed Caleb Burke. It was a debt he intended to repay.

“It was fine. The motels were roaches, but I watch a lot of television. I learn much of the language. I watch all of your shows. Gilligan’s Island is my favorite.”

A laugh escaped her lips. God, he’d dreamed about those lips. “Tell me you haven’t been learning the language from old sitcoms.”

“What be you talking about, Holly?” He’d liked Different Strokes, too.

She leaned in, her laughter so much more musical to him than the song playing. “Well, this should be interesting.”

“I also watch much reality TV. I don’t like modern shows. Too many murders. I do not need to watch so many shows about blood splatter and the trajectories of bullets. But I like the ones about the housewives. Except for New Jersey. It is too close to mafia. The womens there could be bosses. But Atlanta is fun. How are your heifers?”

Holly’s eyes went wide. “I don’t have any cows, Alexei.”

Holly apparently wasn’t up on the lingo. “Your friends. Laura and Nell and Rachel and Callie and Jennifer.”

She shook her head and looked around as though afraid someone had heard them. “Oh. Yeah. That’s strictly a Southern thing, Alexei. Seriously. If you call them heifers, the Real Housewives of Bliss might cut off your balls.”

So many nuances. “Well, please to keep balls on body.”

He had plans for his balls. And his cock. He wasn’t about to lose them now.

She flushed, a bright pink color staining her cheeks. She would look like that when she was aroused. Her face would flush, and a fine sheen of sweat would cover her when he worked over her, his cock so deep inside. “Yes. I think that’s best.”

How soon could he get her under him? Was five minutes too soon? He’d dreamed of having her for months. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw her face and her smile and her soft body. Holly Lang was the embodiment of everything he wanted out of life. She was funny and sweet. Her letters to him kept him going. He’d risked a lot to stay in touch with her. Every new city he’d been to he’d managed to find a way to mail her letters or send her texts from phones he wasn’t supposed to own.

He wondered if Caleb had even bothered to read the letters he’d mailed to him.

He twirled Holly, loving how her body moved and her eyes twinkled as she took joy in the dance. He pulled her close again and began to maneuver her toward the hallway. He was happy to see familiar faces, but he wanted to get her alone. He wanted there to be no doubt in her mind that he’d come back for her.

“Walk with me.” He couldn’t screw that phrase up.

“All right.” She put her hand in his. She was a voluptuous woman, but her hand was small in his. Trusting. He wasn’t going to let her down.

“Are you in town for a while?” Holly asked as she walked beside him. The hallway that led to the yard outside was deserted. Everyone was inside enjoying the party.

“I am here to stay. Stefan has been kind enough to help me with my citizenship. I would like to make Bliss my home.”

Her hand squeezed his. “Really?”

They passed a closet. It shook and a low wail came from behind the door. Someone was having a good time in that closet. Damn, but he was happy to be back in Bliss. Had she thought he would only come for a visit? “Really. I talk to Gene at Movie Motel. He agree to let me stay until I find a place to call my own. Gene is very forgiving man. I do have to promise to not murder anyone while I am in motel. Apparently after Ivan killed the girl in one of his rooms, his motel gets called The Murder Motel for a while.”

The Movie Motel had been where he and his former partner had holed up while tracking Jennifer Waters and the painting that held twenty million dollars in bearer bonds. Of course, Alexei hadn’t known that at the time. Ivan had murdered a young woman he’d thought was Jennifer. It was a death that made Alexei’s heart ache every time he thought about it. If only he’d been back to the room sooner, he might have saved her. He’d only saved Jennifer herself by killing his partner. It had been one of his last acts of violence.

“Oh, don’t let him make you feel bad about that. You didn’t kill that girl. And the Movie Motel was booked solid for months. Every ghost hunter in the country came out. It was a huge deal. He upgraded the drive-in screen off that money.”

“Really? He had the ghost hunting crews come out? Which ones?” He’d watched those shows as well. Though he did not understand why men would wish to spend time hunting ghosts.

“Oh, yes. A bunch of those shows turned up. I don’t remember which ones. I kind of tried to avoid them all. And Nell had a shaman from one town over come in and bless the place to rid it of evil. Of course, when they found out there was a real ghost, they all ran. I’ve never seen grown men in coveralls run quite so fast.”

“I am glad all worked out. I like the Movie Motel. It is nice place.” Way nicer than anything he’d stayed in lately.

He opened the door, and the night air hit him. He loved the way the mountains smelled and how dark it was. The sky was lit with a million candles. Each one seemed like a possibility. He’d spent so many years in smoggy, clogged cities plotting revenge. Now he was in a tiny nothing town and everything was open to him.

And there was nothing he wanted more than the woman beside him.

“Come here.” He tugged on her hand, pulling her toward a picnic bench. He could still hear the sounds of music coming from the reception hall, but they seemed to be alone here. It was a cozy nest surrounded by the beauty of the night. “Tell me how you’ve been. Tell the stories about your friends—who are not cows.”

She hopped up on the tabletop, her peach-colored dress crinkling slightly. “I’ve told you all the stories. I wrote to you.”

“Yes, and now I want to hear them from your voice.” He’d forgotten her soft, Western accent.

Her head shook, and he could tell she was slightly embarrassed. She probably wasn’t used to the attention. As far as he could tell, she hadn’t dated for a long time. He intended to make her very used to affection. He intended to lavish her with it. “Well, Laura’s in love. She’s getting married next. They haven’t made it official, but Rafe and Cam are living with her. I think they were the ones in the closet.”

Laura was the pretty, blonde former FBI agent. He’d spent a lot of time learning about the people of this town. He’d managed to find out an enormous amount of information on many of the citizens of Bliss. Except for the man named Mel. There were many classified documents concerning him.

“Callie is coming up on her due date. It’s a boy. She’s ready to not be pregnant anymore.”

“How is your friend Nell?” Holly often talked about Nell.

Her face lit up. “She’s trying to talk Callie into burying her placenta under a tree after she gives birth. She wants us all to have a ceremony to reaffirm our ties to the earth. You can imagine how that went over with Nate and Zane. Oh, and her husband finally reached a breaking point, and he hauled her into a bomb shelter, so now she’s claiming that Henry is a caveman because he won’t let her protest with her breasts.”

“Why does she protest her breasts?” Breasts were nothing to protest in Alexei’s mind. His eyes drifted down. Holly’s breasts were beautiful. How long should he wait before he took her in his arms?

A smile curved her lips up, and Alexei realized she knew what he was looking at.

“I am sorry.” Now he was the one who was blushing. She made him feel like a kid again. The things he’d seen and done during that dark time when he’d pursued revenge should have assured that he would never blush again, but Holly made him feel different, more innocent.

“For what?”

He put his hands in his lap, a reminder to keep them to himself for now. Holly deserved to be wooed. Holly deserved flowers and nice dinners. Holly deserved a man with a job. He had to find a job. “I should be careful. I am to be gentleman around you.”

Her whole face fell.

“Oh, god, not you, too.” She hopped off the table. Her hands went straight to her curvy hips, and those gloriously green eyes narrowed.

“I say wrong thing?” He said the wrong thing all the time. He tried to figure out how he’d insulted Holly. He’d wanted so much for this to go easily with her.

“What is wrong with me? You write me all these letters. You come back here and ask me to dance. I really want to know what it is about me that puts men off. I have nice boobs. They aren’t the perkiest things in the world, but they’re big and soft. And these are childbearing hips, damn it. It isn’t fair. Everyone in this town gets a little something something. Even Stella. Hell, Mel gets laid.” She leaned in, her voice going to a mere whisper. “You told me you thought about me during private times. I guess I thought that meant something dirty.”

Alexei smiled slowly. She thought he didn’t find her attractive. He knew what it meant to get laid. He wanted to get laid with her very, very much. “There is no problem. The private times were very dirty. I think about you in the shower often. Well, I’m in the shower when the thinkings come. And then I come. I thought you would want something different than a man pawing you.”

“Do you have any idea how long it’s been since a man pawed me? A woman needs a good pawing every now and then.”

Tears had formed in her eyes. Alexei wasn’t going to have that. What had Caleb been doing? He’d assumed that Caleb would date Holly. It had been obvious to him that Caleb had a thing for her. When he’d walked in the door and seen them standing close, he’d wondered if he’d missed his chance. Then Holly had been amenable to dancing with him. He got off the table and ran a hand along her hair.

“You do not belong to Caleb?” He had to know. If Caleb had already claimed her, he would have to honor it.

“I don’t think he wants me,” she admitted with a long sigh. “He’s nice to me, but he doesn’t want me that way.”

That wasn’t true. If there was one thing he knew, it was that Caleb was crazy about Holly. Even as he’d lain dying on the floor of the sheriff’s department, he’d been able to see Caleb’s love for Holly. But the fact that Caleb hadn’t made a move gave him the door he needed to make his dream come true.

He stood over Holly. “Then I still have a shooting at you?”

Her face went blank, and then a smile crossed her lips. “A shot at me. Yes, you have a shot at me.”

“You don’t care for Caleb?” His plan wouldn’t work if she didn’t care for Caleb. How would he handle that? He owed Caleb his life, but he wasn’t sure he could walk away from her.

She bit into her bottom lip. “I care about him, but it hasn’t worked out for us. I don’t want to jump into bed with you, Alexei. Well, that might be a lie, but I don’t want to do it tonight. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t welcome a kiss. Russians kiss when they greet someone, right?”

Da, MIlaya moyA,” he said, dipping his head. My sweet. And he was about to find out how sweet she was. He lowered his mouth to hers, reveling in the way her breath caught. Her arms came up to his elbows as though she needed to balance herself. He placed his hands on those curvy hips and brought her close. “Ti takAya krasivaya.”

Her mouth was so close, her breath mingling with his. “I don’t know what you said, but I liked the way you said it.”

He closed the distance between them. Beautiful. He’d told her she was beautiful. He’d said it in his own language because he didn’t want to screw up.

Her lips were so soft, and he pulled her into his arms, finally where he’d wanted to be for the better part of a year. And he still had a shot. He had a shot at her. And he had a shot to pay back Dr. Caleb Sommerville. He’d researched his savior. He knew Caleb’s secrets. No one knew it yet, but Alexei had plans to save them all.

Copyright 2018 Lexi Blake