All You Need is Love

All You Need is Love, Book 1 in the Green Mountain Series

Will & Cam

“Marie Force has written a memorable love story full of great humor, a wonderful town of quirky characters and a fantastic HEA! Entertaining to say the least! The best part? This is just the beginning and Marie Force will have fans clamoring for her next release after reading All You Need Is Love!” —Tracy Marsac, ReaderToReader.com

 

“If you’re looking for a heartwarming, feel-good story to lose yourself in for a few hours, than this is one book you should look into!” —5 stars, Reviewer Top Pick from Night Owl Reviews. Read the full review here.

The family-run Green Mountain Country Store is cherished by locals as a reminder of simpler times. The Abbott children are determined to keep it that way—but their father has different plans… When Cameron Murphy heads to Vermont to build a website for a new client, she imagines a more relaxing trip than she gets. After wrecking her car by colliding with the town moose, she meets the most handsome hero she’s ever seen. Unfortunately, her savior, Will Abbott, is also the son of her client—and he wants nothing to do with the new website or the city girl creating it. For all Will cares, Cameron can march her fancy boots right out of town and out of his family’s business. But he can’t seem to get her out of his head. As his family’s dispute heats up, so does the chemistry between the two, leaving them wondering if simple is better after all—especially when it comes to matters of the heart.

Read the short story that appears at the end of the print edition of All You Need Is Love titled To Know Her Is To Love Her

“Ms. Force managed to give each Abbott child their own space in the family dynamic and their interactions with each other were wonderful each sibling having a different bond with the other. Ms. Force has me craving a story for each one. As I sit here, I can name all 10 and what they do for a living, this is some masterful writing.”—Denise, 4 star review form Shh Mom’s Reading. Read the full review of ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE here.

 

The review on Just Booked of ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE states, “the dynamic of these two characters (Will and Cameron) is so heart warming and sensual.”—Dani, Just Booked, a romance reader blog. Read the full review here.

 

“You can’t help but love the Abbot Family and I can’t wait to see what happens with Will’s widowed sister and the sweet mechanic who has been waiting in the wings, or brother Colton up on his mountain with no electricity making his maple syrup.”—5 star review by Lucy Dosch, Ebook Obsessed. Read the full review here.

 

“This book is a great romance. It has some sexy hot scenes, a great story that felt real and the promise of more from the Abbott family. It’s a must read for the romance lovers out there.”—4 star review by Stuck in Books. Read the full review here.

 

In her review, Pam from Ramblings of a Chaotic Mind said of the Abbotts, “I love when a series encompasses a large family in the story; the interaction is always fun and entertaining as we get to meet the different personalities and their role in the family.” Read the full review here.

 

“How can you not love the Abbotts? What an awesome, loving family. I can’t wait for the rest of the series! And the gospel according to Elmer Stillman was both hilarious and insightful.”—Review from Criminal Minds, Romantic Hearts.

 

“It’s the least UGLY of the good bad and ugly: This is a totally different type of book from the fast paced detective books from this author that I’m familiar with. I’m inspired to take a vacation in Vermont after reading about all the wonderful things to see and do there.”—B grade review from The Good, The Bad and The Unread. Read the full review here.

 

All You Need Is Love introduces a new series from Marie Force, and based on this beginning, I predict that it is going to be a smashing success. I fell in love with Will, the Abbott family, the country store, and Butler, Vermont, right along with Cameron.”— 4.5 star review from The Romance Dish. Read the full review here.

 

“Marie Force, once again, has created an amazing world in the mountains of Vermont. Just reading one book, I am hooked on the Abbott Family and the town she’s given us.”—Review from Turn the Page

Join the All You Need is Love Facebook Readers Group.

ISBN
eBook: 978-1101636350
Print: 978-0425266762


Read the Green Mountain and Butler, Vermont Series in Order


Chapter 1

A hard job is like forty miles of rough road.

—The Gospel According to Elmer Stillman

“Apparently, there’re a lot of them around here. Signs every two minutes.” Cameron’s stomach tightened along with her fingers on the wheel of her gleaming cherry red Mini Cooper, purchased yesterday with this trip in mind. “What do you suppose I do if I happen upon one?”

“Um, I guess you hit the gas and jump it?”

“Thanks. That’s really helpful.”

His loud yawn had Cameron choking back one of her own. What should’ve been a leisurely five-and-a-half hour trek up the scenic Taconic State Parkway had turned into seven tense hours as her paltry driving experience had proven no match for the twists and turns of mountain roads.

“Are you almost there? I’m getting tired.”

“The GPS says twenty more minutes.” All at once, the phone made a series of weird clicking noises. “Troy? Hello? Ugh!” Colleagues had warned her that mountain cell phone reception was spotty at best, but she’d refused to imagine a scenario in which she didn’t have the world at her fingertips. It didn’t bear thinking about.

Cameron hit Redial on the smart phone and reached Troy’s voicemail. At least he was trying to call her back.

She put down the phone and focused on driving. In addition to the frost heave signs, the frequent moose-crossing warnings were also unsettling. What were the rules of the road when it came to moose? Who had the right of way? The questions reminded her that she had lots more research yet to do about her destination.

When the phone rang, she pounced on it. “Are you there?”

“I’m here.”

“Good,” Cameron said, relieved to hear his voice. “Reception sucks up here.”

“How long do you have to be there anyway?”

“If they hire us, and that’s a huge if at this point, hopefully just a week, maybe two. I’ll pacify my father, and then get back to civilization.” Cameron didn’t like to think about what was riding on her landing this big job.

“Sounds like a plan,” he said, yawning again.

“Stop that, will you?”

“Sorry.”

Cameron had never driven on such a dark road and had visions of missing a turn and pitching off the side of a cliff. Her fingers ached from gripping the wheel so tightly. “Talk to me,” she said.

“What do you want to talk about?”

Over the course of their ten-year friendship-that-defied-definition, they’d covered every subject under the sun. “I don’t know. Think of something.”

“You never did tell me much about the project.”

She released a rattling deep breath, seeking to calm her nerves. “The Green Mountain Country Store needs a website. From what I hear, they’re still living in the early-twentieth-century dark ages. My dad went to school with the majority partner, and they ran into each other at their Yale reunion. Dad told him what I do, and one thing led to another.”

“You mean one thing led to frost heaves and moose crossings.”

Despite her tension, Cameron laughed. “God, Troy, what am I doing here?”

“Taking one for the team the way you always do.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Her father was one of her weak spots, and he’d taken full advantage by all but ordering her to meet with his old friend. But since her website development company was still recovering from the economic downturn a few years back, any new business was welcome—even if it required a trek into the wilderness. “It’s so dark I can barely see where I’m going.”

“You’re talking hands-free, right?”

“Since both my hands are surgically attached to the wheel at the moment, yes.”

“I should’ve driven you up there,” he said, sounding regretful.

“You’ve got court this week.” Her friend was an up-and-coming attorney in Manhattan, and Cameron was proud of all he’d accomplished—and appreciative of the pro bono work he did for her company.

“Still, we could’ve gone up yesterday. I would’ve been back in time.”

“That’s sweet of you, but I wanted to do this on my own.”

“Had something to prove to yourself, huh?”

“Well, when was the last time I drove? Or even left Manhattan? I’m almost thirty, and until yesterday I’d never owned a car.”

“I’m proud of you, Cam. You could’ve said no or sent one of your employees. It says something about you that you decided to take this on yourself.”

Touched by what he’d said, she released a nervous laugh. “We’ll see how proud you are of me after I’m here a week and going through ugly city withdrawals.” Her eyes darted from the dark road to the GPS. “Only five more minutes. I guess I can take it from here.”

“You sure?”

“Positive. Thanks for keeping me company.”

“Anytime, kiddo. Call me tomorrow?”

“I will. Good luck in court.”

“Thanks.”

Cameron looked down long enough to end the call. When she returned her attention to the road, something large and black was in her path. A shriek escaped from her clenched jaw as she jammed on the brakes. The tiny car skidded perilously, and she was certain she’d be spiraling into the abyss at any second.

Instead she smashed straight into the immovable object, deploying the car’s airbags. That was the last thing she saw before everything went black.

Cameron didn’t think she lost consciousness. Rather, she lost her headlights, which pitched her into inky darkness unlike anything she’d ever experienced. In the city that never sleeps, it didn’t ever get totally dark. Not like this anyway. With the headlights went the heater, and within minutes she was trembling from the cold and the fear of being alone in the middle of nowhere with something blocking her path. And smacking her face on the airbag hadn’t helped. Her nose hurt, and her eyes were watering.

She reached for her phone and managed to drop it. Rooting around on the floor, she finally found it, but when she turned it on she had no service. “Ugh! You gotta be kidding me!”

Squinting, she tried to make out what was blocking her path, but it just looked like a huge black wall. She pushed the airbag aside and turned the key. The engine clicked in response but didn’t turn over.

“Fantastic.” Who did one even call out here? Did the auto club send tow trucks into the middle of nowhere? She was powering up the phone to try again when the flash of headlights coming toward her caught her attention.

With fumbling hands, she managed to get the door open. Her legs didn’t want to cooperate as she forced herself out of the car, sinking ankle deep in something cold and wet. Thinking of the five-hundred-dollar cinnamon suede boots she had lusted after for months and finally bought with a gift card from her dad, she whimpered.

On the other side of the big black wall, which was now partially lit, she heard a voice.

“Are you okay, Fred? Does anything hurt?”

The wall let out the deepest “moo” she’d ever heard and began to move.

If her feet hadn’t been encased in something nasty, Cameron would’ve taken a step back when she realized “the wall” was alive. “What the . . .”

Ambling slowly into the woods, the animal’s departure allowed Cameron to see a large man standing in the silhouette of headlights, his truck running behind him. At well over six feet tall, his shoulders were broad and his posture menacing—or so it seemed to her. All he needed was a chain saw to complete the Texas Chainsaw Massacre image that was forming in her overly active imagination.

She wondered if they had chain saw or axe murderers in Vermont. Judging from the number of trees she’d seen on the way up here, they had plenty of use for both tools. Glancing down to her right, she gasped at the smashed-in front of her new car, illuminated by the truck’s headlights. “Oh no! My car!”

“You hit Fred,” the would-be axe murderer said.

Without taking her eyes off the front end of her once-pristine car, she said, “Who’s Fred?”

“The town moose.”

She stared at him, agog. “The town has a moose?”

“That’s right,” he said as if such things were perfectly normal, and she was the crazy one for asking the question.

“What about my car? Look at what he did to my car!”

“Didn’t you see the moose-crossing sign a mile or so back?”

“I saw it and a thousand others, but I didn’t think it meant a moose would be stupid enough to stand in the middle of the road where it could get hit by a car.”

“Are you calling Fred stupid?”

As cold, wet muck seeped into her lovely boots, Cameron wanted to shriek. This whole thing was beyond stupid! She wished she could close her eyes and be back in her SoHo apartment, in a world where everything made sense to her. A “town moose” standing in the middle of a road definitely did not make sense.

If she could manage to extract her feet from the goop, the first thing she’d do was click her heels together three times and hope for instant transport home. Hey, it had worked for Dorothy, right? Thinking about her favorite movie of all time buoyed her flagging spirits.

“Are you hurt?” he asked, almost sounding concerned.

“I don’t think so.”

“Where you heading?”

“Butler.”

“You’re close.”

“I know. The GPS said I was minutes away before Fred got in my way.”

“Looks to me like you hit him, not the other way around.”

“Tell it to the insurance company,” she said, wondering if her insurance covered mooseastrophies. This really couldn’t be happening. Maybe she’d fallen into a dream the way Dorothy had, and when she woke up she’d laugh about the guy who’d been more concerned about a moose than he was about the smashed-in front of her brand-new car.

“Fred definitely got the better end of the deal,” she muttered.

“If you want to grab your stuff, I can give you a ride into town.”

Cameron, who’d spent a lifetime avoiding dangerous situations, who never left home without a can of mace, who rarely talked to strangers or made eye contact with people on the street, had no idea whether she should get into a car with a perfect stranger who could very well be an axe murderer. Then she remembered the can of mace in her purse.

“What about my car?”

“I’ll have Nolan bring it in for you.”

“Who’s Nolan?”

“He runs the garage in town.”

“Oh.”

Cameron pondered her limited options and decided she really had no choice but to take her chances with him—as long as her mace was close in hand.

“No worries, I have all night to stand here and wait on you.”

“I, um, my feet seem to be stuck.”

“Stuck?”

“What is this crap all over the road?”

“That’d be mud,” he said with the first hint of humor in his deep voice. She had to admit it was a nice voice. Too bad it belonged to someone who cared more about a moose than he did about her poor car. “Welcome to mud season in Vermont.”

“Mud has a season. This just gets better and better all the time.”

He turned back to his truck, and for a heart-stopping second she thought he might be planning to leave her there. Instead, he fetched a long black object that resembled the billy clubs carried by New York’s finest and started toward her.

As the menacing music from Texas Chainsaw Massacre played in her head, Cameron’s heart began to pound. If she hadn’t been stuck in the muck, she would’ve been tempted to run into the far less threatening forest.

The axe murderer turned on a powerful flashlight, aimed it at her feet and let out a lusty belly laugh.

“What the hell is so funny?” In the residual glow from the flashlight she caught a glimpse of what might’ve been an arresting face if he hadn’t been so sanctimonious. Chiseled was the first word that came to mind. Rugged was the second. She hated herself for wanting a better look at him when she had much bigger problems at the moment.

The quicksand episode from Gilligan’s Island chose that moment to pop into her head as she realized she could no longer feel her feet.

“Are those suede boots?” he asked when he finally quit laughing.

“Yeah, so?”

“Um, just FYI, suede boots usually don’t fare too well in Vermont mud season.”

“Thanks for the advice, Cliff Clavin. Now maybe you could tell me how I’m supposed to get free of this crap?”

“Quickest way would be to step out of the boots and leave them.”

“Leave them? They’re five-hundred-dollar boots!”

“Ouch,” he said, wincing. “I hate to break it to you, but they’re probably a total loss.”

Cameron refused to believe that. Her dry cleaner in the city could get anything out of anything. “Where’s it coming from?”

He directed the flashlight beam to her left, the light scaling an imposing hill, tracing the path of mud flowing like a river down the slope and across the highway. “When the snow melts it makes mud.”

“How charming.”

“After months of hip-deep snow, the mud is a welcome harbinger of spring around here.” He brought the flashlight back to her feet. “So what’s it going to be, princess? Save the boots or save yourself?”

“God, what a choice.”

The flashlight provided just enough illumination for her to catch his eye roll.

Annoyed, cold and furious over the loss of her favorite boots—not to mention the carnage that was her new car—she bent to unzip the first one. “Where do I, um, step when I take them off?”

“I’ll give you a lift to my truck.”

“But I need to get my stuff.”

“I’ll come back for it.”

Even though she wanted to dislike him for defending the moose over her car, she had to admit he was being sort of helpful—and condescendingly sanctimonious. She couldn’t forget that.

“Fine.” She unzipped the second boot and tried not to think about abandoning their soft loveliness to the Vermont mud bath.

“Ready?” He squatted before her, and Cameron stepped out of the boots and slid onto him piggyback style. A whoosh of air escaped her lungs as he lifted her effortlessly, as if she were a bag of flour rather than a one-hundred-and-thirty-pound woman. He deposited her into the front seat of his toasty warm truck with the finesse of a flour bag landing on the floor of a bakery. “Sorry,” he muttered after the hard landing.

“No problem.” Like heat-seeking missiles, her feet headed for the warm air coming from under the dashboard of the relatively new truck. It still had that smell. How would he feel if Fred crushed in the front of it?

Before she could pose the question, he said, “What do you need from the car?”

She looked up at him, lit by the overhead light in the truck’s cab, and her breath caught in her lungs. Arresting hadn’t been the right word to describe his face. He was beautiful. Prominent cheekbones and lush lashes and full lips that made her want to drool, even though they were flat with annoyance directed at her. His strong jaw was sprinkled with the perfect amount of stubble, just the way a male jaw should look. Since he was wearing a knitted cap, she couldn’t tell what color his hair was but she was picturing light brown based on the color of his brows. Releasing a long leisurely sigh, she realized she was staring at him.

“Any day now,” he said, snapping her out of the dream state she’d slipped into.

Clearing her throat, she said, “I need my purse, phone, GPS and both suitcases from the trunk.”

“Anything else, Your Highness?”

“What? You asked.”

“Stay put.” He stalked off into the darkness, leaving Cameron to fume at his surly disposition. Of course it was just her luck that he had the face of an angel and the personality of Ralph Kramden. Looking around the neat interior of the truck, she was relieved to find no sign of an axe or chain saw.

Her suitcases landed with a loud thud in the back of the truck a few minutes later. He got in and thrust her purse and electronics at her.

Cameron caught the items with an awkward juggle, and automatically clicked on her phone to check her messages. Still no service. She moaned. “Come on!”

“That thing won’t do you much good up here,” he said with that disdainful tone she was coming to expect from him.

“So I’ve discovered.” The flashing blink coming from the back of her car indicated he’d turned on the hazard lights so approaching cars wouldn’t hit it. At least the back end wouldn’t look like the front by morning. Propped up by the deepening mud, her abandoned boots resembled toy soldiers standing watch over the wrecked car.

Welcome to Vermont.

The short ride into town was full of awkward silence. Sensing his irritation with her, Cameron chose to stay quiet instead of peppering him with questions about the town, the state and what he might know about the Green Mountain Country Store.

“You got a name?” he asked.

“Cameron.”

“What kind of name is that for a girl?”

Instantly on the offensive, Cameron glared at him. “It’s the kind of name my parents gave me—and I had it long before Cameron Diaz was famous.”

“Who?”

Astounded, Cameron swiveled in her seat. “Tell me the truth—have I been abducted by aliens? It’s okay. You can give it to me straight. I can take it.”

“I don’t know about aliens, but I may as well tell you I have no idea who Cliff Clavin is either.”

Cameron’s mouth fell open. “The know-it-all mailman from Cheers? One of the top-rated shows of the eighties and nineties?”

“So you think I’m a know-it-all, huh?”

“You sound rather proud of that.”

“Well, you don’t have to be a know-it-all to get that wearing suede boots to Vermont in March isn’t the brightest idea you’ll ever have.”

“Pardon my ignorance, but I’ve never been here before.”

“All that technology lying in your lap, and you never got the 411 on the mud.” He snorted out a laugh.

“Anyone ever tell you that you can be somewhat insufferable?”

Arching an eyebrow, he smirked at her. “Only somewhat? I’ve fallen short of my goal.”

Exasperated, Cameron shifted to look out the passenger window.

“Was it something I said?”

She shook her head in disbelief. The guy was too much. “What’s your name anyway?”

“Will Abbott.”

That got her attention. “Any relation to Lincoln Abbott?”

“That’d be my dad. How do you know him?”

“I don’t actually know him. Yet. I’m due to meet him tomorrow.”

“For what purpose?”

“To build a website for his store.”

“Damn it!” Will slammed the heel of his hand on the wheel. “I can’t believe him! We told him we didn’t want it!”

“We?” Cameron made an effort to keep the waver out of her voice. Would this interminable day ever end?

“My siblings and I. We’re his partners.”

“Oh.” Since the company had no website, she’d found precious little information about it online and had planned to start from scratch once she got to town.

“Let me guess—when he hired you he never mentioned that his children voted against a website.”

“Um, no, that didn’t come up.”

“This is so typical. He brings one of his big ideas to us, we tell him we aren’t interested, and then he does it anyway.”

“If you’re partners, how does he get away with that?”

“Because he owns the majority—fifty percent. The other fifty percent is split between the ten of us. Five of us help him run the store and vote proxy for the others. The other five provide a variety of products to the store.”

“Ten of you?”

“I’m one of ten.”

“You have ten kids in your family?”

“Yeah, so?”

“I’ve never known anyone who had more than four kids in their family.”

“Well, now you know someone who has ten.”

As an only child, Cameron tried to wrap her head around what it might’ve been like to grow up with nine siblings. “What are their names?”

“You want to know the names of my siblings?” he asked, as if that was the stupidest question he’d ever heard.

“Yeah, I guess I do. If I’m going to be stuck in the middle of your family feud it would be good to know the people I’m dealing with.”

“Feud is kind of a strong word, but we do argue. A lot.” He sighed and tightened his grip on the wheel. “Hunter and Hannah are the oldest. They’re twins.”

“Ten kids and twins too?”

“Two sets of twins. Lucas and Landon are second from the youngest. They’re identical twins.”

“That’s so cool.”

He glanced over at her, seeming confounded by her interest in his family. But to Cameron, who’d grown up painfully alone, families like his only existed on the TV shows she’d glommed on to, looking for a family anywhere she could find one.

“I’m after Hunter and Hannah. Then comes Ella, Charlotte, Wade, Colton, Lucas and Landon and then Max.”

“Wow. That’s a lot of kids.”

“Yep.”

“Is your mom in an asylum?”

His bark of laughter took her by surprise. “Nah. She rolls with it all. I’ve never met anyone as quietly efficient as she is. She always made it look easy.”

“How do you make ten kids look easy?”

“I don’t know, but somehow she did.”

“So which five are involved in the business?”

“That’d be me, Hunter, Ella, Charlotte and Wade. Several of the others are involved in businesses that feed products to the store. Colton runs the family sugaring facility that makes maple syrup, and Max helps him out when he’s able to between classes. He’s a senior at UVM. Landon has a woodworking business and oversees the volunteer firefighting department in town. Hannah makes jewelry. Lucas manages the family’s Christmas tree farm and helps Landon with the fire department. I think that’s everyone accounted for.”

“Just out of curiosity—why don’t you and your siblings want a website?”

“Because we don’t need one. We have a very nice business just the way it is. A website will bring a bunch of issues we aren’t interested in dealing with.”

“Such as?”

“We’ll have to hire people to fulfill orders, set up a distribution center, figure out shipping. So many headaches.”

“But it could grow your business exponentially.”

“We don’t want to grow our business. It’s fine the way it is.” He drove into a quaint little New England town with a signature white-steeple church, a volunteer fire department, a combination café and gallery, and there, in the middle of everything, the Green Mountain Country Store.

In the dark, it was hard to see much, but it seemed small next to some of the other buildings and boasted a quaint front porch. They were past it before she could ascertain much of anything else.

Will pulled into a parking lot behind a large white Victorian house.

“Where are we?”

“I assume you’re staying at the inn since it’s the only place in town that takes guests.”

Cameron pulled out the confirmation message she had printed at home. “The Admiral Frances Butler Inn?”

“That’s it.” He cut the engine and got out of the truck.

By the time she emerged onto thankfully dry pavement, he’d fetched her luggage from the back. “Can you hand me the black bag? My running shoes are in there.”

He retrieved the bag she pointed to and dropped it in front of her.

“You don’t have to shoot the messenger, you know,” she said.

“What does that mean?”

“Just because you’re mad at your dad for hiring me doesn’t mean you have to be cranky with me.”

“You were irritating me long before I knew my dad had hired you.”

“You’re just full of charm, aren’t you?” she asked as she pulled on sneakers.

“So I’m told.”

“By who?”

He waggled his brows at her. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“Actually, I really wouldn’t.”

“Suit yourself,” he said with a shrug as he led her into the back door of the inn. He seemed to know his way around, so she followed him through a series of hallways to the front desk where he rang the bell on the counter. The place smelled like potpourri and lemon-scented furniture polish.

An older woman came through the door wearing a housecoat, pin curlers in her hair and a warm, welcoming smile on her plump face.

“Hi, Will. What a nice surprise. What brings you in tonight?”

“Hi there, Mrs. Hendricks. I’ve brought you a guest. Cameron . . .”

“Oh,” the older woman said, resting a hand on her head as if she just remembered her curlers. “I look a sight.”

“You’re pretty as a picture, just like always,” Will said.

“Will Abbott,” Mrs. Hendricks said as her face turned bright red, “you could charm a bird out of a tree.”

Will sent Cameron a smug smile, as if to say “Told ya so.”

Cameron cleared her throat, hoping to remind Mrs. Hendricks that a paying customer was waiting to check in. “Cameron Murphy. Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Hendricks.”

The other woman finally looked at her and gasped. “Oh my! What happened to your face?”

Cameron raised her hands to her face, remembering the moment of impact and how her nose had hurt afterward. “What?”

“You have two black eyes,” Mrs. Hendricks said. “And your nose . . .”

Alarmed, Cameron looked around for a mirror. “What about my nose?” She walked across the small lobby to a framed mirror and shrieked at what she saw. Her nose was swollen and sure enough, dark bruises were forming under her eyes. “Oh my God!”

Turning back to find Will leaning against the counter and Mrs. Hendricks looking on with concern, Cameron marched back over to confront him. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Tell you what?”

“That my face was all banged up!”

“Um, maybe because I figured you’d hardly need me to tell you that something had smacked you in the face.”

“It must’ve been the airbag,” she said, remembering that moment of utter blackness. Had she passed out? She’d been ignoring the pain in her face as she tried to get her bearings with Will, but now that they mentioned it, her nose was throbbing rather insistently.

“The airbag would also explain the burn on your neck,” Will added.

“Burn?” Her voice was a shrill squeak. “What burn?”

He leaned in closer to her, and she swore her heart skipped a beat as she caught a whiff of his outdoorsy scent. The touch of his finger on her neck sent a shocking bolt of heat straight through her, landing in a tingle between her legs. What in the name of hell was that about?

“There.” As if he’d touched something hot, Will pulled back his hand and straightened out of that insolent slouch he did so well.

The two of them stared at each other for a long heated moment.

“Was there an accident?” Mrs. Hendricks asked, interrupting the intense interlude.

“She hit Fred,” Will said gravely.

Mrs. Hendricks brought a hand to her ample chest. “Oh! Is he okay?”

“He seemed no worse for the wear,” Will said. “Good thing it was a small car.”

“It was a new car!” Cameron said, wondering if anyone in this godforsaken town would care that her adorable little car was no longer adorable.

“Well, as long as he’s okay,” Mrs. Hendricks said as if Cameron hadn’t spoken. Then she turned to Cameron. “I can call Doc Edwards for you, if you’d like.”

“Thank you, but that’s not necessary.” All Cameron wanted was a warm bath and an ice pack for her throbbing nose.

“Could I borrow the phone to call Nolan about her car?” Will asked.

“Of course.” Mrs. Hendricks handed him the portable phone, and he dialed a number from memory.

While Cameron completed the check-in paperwork and handed over her credit card, Will filled Nolan in on the accident.

“Yep, she ran smack into poor old Fred.” A pause. “He seemed fine, but we might want to send the doc after him in the morning to make sure.”

Glowering at him, Cameron whispered, “The car. Remember the car?”

He met her glower with a scowl. “Now, about the car.”

Finally, Cameron thought, signing on the dotted line for Mrs. Hendricks and accepting the key to her third-floor room.

Will handed the phone back to Mrs. Hendricks. “Nolan’s going to fetch the car tonight so no one hits it out on the road. He said to check in with him in the morning. The garage is across the street.” Pointing toward the front door. “That way.”

“Thank you.” Cameron forced herself to look up at him and all his beauty. “I appreciate your help.” His eyes, she realized were light brown, almost gold. Why did he have to be so spectacularly gorgeous and so outrageously cranky?

“You need help getting your stuff upstairs?”

The idea of him following her to a hotel room sent more tingling awareness rippling through her. “I can do it.”

But before the words were out of her mouth, he was already heading to the stairs with her bags. Uttering a quick thank-you to Mrs. Hendricks, Cameron scurried after him.

On the third floor, he deposited her suitcases outside Room 18. He stopped so suddenly that Cameron nearly ran into his broad back.

Turning, he caught her inches from his chest, and the awareness that had sizzled between them downstairs chose that moment to reappear. Cameron had never experienced such an overpowering need to touch another person. She rolled her hands into fists to keep from acting on the impulse.

“Listen,” he said, haltingly, “you seem like a nice enough person.”

“Wow, thanks.” Charming? Whatever.

His expression turned stormy. “What I was going to say is that things are apt to get a little heated tomorrow at the meeting. Don’t take it personally, okay? Our beef is with him, not you.”

“I’m here to do a job. Nothing about this is personal.”

“Good,” he said, apparently picking up on her double meaning as she’d hoped he would. “Let’s keep it that way.”

“Fine by me.”

“You might want to put some ice on your nose,” he said as he headed down the stairs.

Too bad he missed the gesture she made at his retreating back.