What the hell is she doing here? Lucas’s mind raced as he checked Emma for a pulse and tried to assess where else she was injured. She wasn’t moving and that was killing him. “Emma?” he said, trying to keep his voice soft and calm. When she didn’t respond, he said it with a little more urgency and held his breath, hoping that she’d answer him.
“Dammit,” he mumbled. The snow was coming down so hard and fast that it was a total whiteout. As much as he feared moving her, leaving Emma in the car and calling for an ambulance wasn’t an option. Reaching into the car, he unbuckled her seat belt, softly whispering to her the whole time. As gently as he could, Lucas scooped her up into his arms and slammed the car door shut. He looked at the hill in front of him, wondering how he was going to get them both up the slick surface.
Cursing again, he said a silent prayer and slowly and carefully made his way back up. It wouldn’t have been an easy task for someone in excellent physical condition; he was hampered not only by the snow but his aching knee. If it hadn’t been hurting earlier, it was certainly going to after this little excursion.
It felt like hours but he finally got them back up to the house and once inside, he raced to lay Emma down on the sofa closest to the fireplace. She was pale, but the wound on her head was bleeding less. Lucas ran quickly to his bathroom and found his first-aid kit. When he returned to Emma’s side, he tried calling her name again to see if she’d respond.
Having been an athlete his whole life, Lucas was familiar with how to treat some injuries. He cleaned the spot on her forehead and gently washed the blood away from the rest of her face. Feeling her hands, he could tell that she was beginning to warm up from being by the fire. Carefully he began to remove her coat and then went to take off her shoes. With each item, he checked to see if there were any other injuries that weren’t as clearly visible as the one on her head.
Once her shoes were off, he gently rubbed her feet and then her ankles and nearly sobbed with relief when she made a slight sound of protest. He sent a silent prayer heavenward and then softly said her name again. “Emma?”
Emma felt as if she’d been hit in the head with a hammer. Clearly she must have died, because the last thing she remembered, her car was spinning wildly and then everything went black. The throbbing in her head increased and she mumbled, “Great. I would be the only person to go to Heaven and still have pain.” The sound of male laughter nearly made her scream. She tried to sit up, but found that it hurt too much to move.
“Shh…easy,” the voice said again. “Don’t try to sit up, Emma. Tell me where you’re hurt.”
The voice sounded familiar and Emma started to wonder what was going on. If this was Heaven and God was talking to her, wouldn’t He know where she was hurt? Why was He asking her? When He asked again, Emma wanted to put her hands over her ears. “Why are you shouting?” she finally asked. “Everywhere. I hurt everywhere, okay?”
He chuckled. “That’s my girl,” he murmured.
“What?” she whispered as she struggled to open her eyes and see who was talking to her. It felt like a hot poker was flaming behind her right eye, and it took all of her strength to sit up partway. “Lucas?” Emma looked around, confusion written on her face. “What are you doing here?”
“I was going to ask you the same thing,” he replied softly.
“Where are your parents?”
“They’re at their place. Why would you ask?”
“Their place?” she asked.
“Yes, their place.”
“So your father isn’t here?”
“And your mother?”
“With Dad.” A look of amusement began to cross Lucas’s face.
Emma put a hand to her head and lay back down. “I’m so confused,” she mumbled. Rising from his spot beside her, Lucas walked into the kitchen to grab some ice to help Emma’s head. Why was she here? Why would she think this was his folks’ place? And really, why was she even going to his parents’ place? In all the years Emma had worked for Montgomerys, she’d never come to one of the family homes. What the hell was going on?
He put the ice in a bag and wrapped it in a towel before heading back over to where Emma lay resting on the sofa. She looked very small and fragile lying on his big oversized sofa. Her eyes were still closed and the grimace on her face told him she was definitely still in pain. As much as he wanted to find out the extent of her injuries, there was no way to get them safely to the hospital to have her checked. Lucas had no doubt that it wouldn’t take long for them to skid into another ditch.
Back at Emma’s side, he gently placed the ice on her head and she winced. The thought of causing her any more pain nearly killed him, but he knew the best thing they could do was try to ice the lump that had formed on her temple.
“So,” he began softly, “what made you come up here in a snowstorm?”
Pushing Lucas’s hand aside, Emma held the ice pack in place. “I didn’t know there was going to be a storm,” she began, her voice trembling slightly. “Your father needed some papers and we were all caught up at the office so he suggested that I take a long week-end.”
“A long weekend?”
Emma nodded. “He told me that to thank me, your mother made reservations for me to spend a couple of nights at a spa up here.”
“Yes, Lucas, a spa. Are you sure you didn’t hit your head, too?”
“What? Why?” he asked, confusion etched on his face.
“You keep repeating everything I say.” “I don’t mean to do that but the whole thing seems a bit…bizarre. I mean, why couldn’t you just fax the papers?”
“Your father said he didn’t have a fax at the house,” she said simply.
Emma cut him off. “Then I said I’d email them but he said he didn’t bring his laptop. I guess your mom likes him to relax and step away from work while they’re up here.”
Lucas was glad Emma’s eyes were closed because the frown on his face would have told her he didn’t believe one word she was saying. None of it made any sense! His father had an office at their mountain home that rivaled the one at Montgomerys. Why would he deliberately lie to Emma?
“Anyway, he was concerned that I don’t take a whole lot of time for myself and so when he offered the extended weekend and then sweetened the deal with the spa, well, how could I say no?”
“What kind of spa?” he asked, even though he couldn’t really care less. He was trying to keep her talking; the more she talked, the more he could tell if she had any kind of serious repercussions from banging her head.
“Oh, you know, the usual. Deluxe, tranquil rooms, manicures, pedicures, massages…total pampering.”
“And that appeals to you?” he asked, somewhat surprised, because Emma seemed very practical and low maintenance, the type of woman who wouldn’t be interested in wasting time and money at a spa.
“Appeal to me?” she repeated. “Right now, the way my whole body hurts, I’d kill for a massage.”
“Not a good idea.”
She pried open one eye and glared at him. “How could that not be a good idea? I was just in a car accident and my whole body is in pain. Massages relieve pain, right?”
“On the surface, sure, you’re right, but the reality is that the body needs to heal a little first, otherwise massage can escalate the injury.”
As much as she wanted to argue the point, it made sense. And if anyone would know about what would escalate an injury, it was Lucas. She knew he’d been through months of intense rehab and had tried everything known to man to get his knee back in shape so he could return to the football field. Unfortunately, nothing had worked. “Okay, fine; no massage right now, but as soon as this snow stops, I’m heading over to the spa.”
“That won’t be happening any time soon,” he said with resignation.
“What? Why? How long is this snow supposed to last?”
“Well, considering that it was coming down at the rate of several inches an hour and it’s been snowing for well over an hour…”
“Please don’t make me do the math, Lucas. My head hurts enough already.”
That made him laugh. Emma had the ability to do that when no one else could. “Okay, no math. The last I heard it’s supposed to snow well into tomorrow afternoon and they’re predicting up to two feet.”
“That is totally not helping my headache,” she murmured and slowly sat up and made herself comfortable. She stared at the fire roaring in the fireplace and then at Lucas, who was watching her warily. “Relax, it’s just a headache.”
“We don’t know that, Emma. You probably have a concussion.”
“You really are a little ray of sunshine, aren’t you?”
His expression was near comical. “Look, I know a thing or two about concussions, Emma. You hit your head pretty hard. You were bleeding. We can’t get to a hospital to confirm or deny, but for right now I’m going with the likelihood that you do have one.”
“But I might not.”
“But you might.”
“Lucas,” she whined.
“Don’t argue with someone who has had their share of bumps on the head,” Lucas said as he rose from the sofa. “Let me get you some Advil or something to help with the pain. Do you want something hot to drink? Coffee? Tea?”
“Do you have cocoa?”
Emma sighed. “Yes, cocoa. You know, the hot chocolate beverage. It sometimes comes with tiny marshmallows in it. Any of this ringing a bell?”
His smile made Emma feel as if everything was going to be all right. “Now that you mention it, it sounds vaguely familiar. Unfortunately, I’m fresh out.”
“Fresh out?” she asked sarcastically as a small smile of her own crept across her face.
“Okay, I confess; I don’t normally keep a stash of cocoa in my house.”
“Not a manly drink, huh?”
“For someone with a concussion, you’re awfully snarky,” he said and for the first time since she’d met him, Emma thought he almost sounded…playful. Lucas graced her with a smile as he searched the kitchen for the needed supplies.
“Water will be just fine,” Emma said as she watched him combing the cabinets for other drink options for her. Within minutes she had taken the offered pain reliever with a full glass of water that Lucas had brought over to the sofa for her. “You don’t have to wait on me,” she said as she placed her glass down on the coffee table. “I’m fine, really.” She only wished she believed her own words.
While her awe at being in his home had proven to be a nice distraction, now that reality was setting in, so were some aches and pains that Emma hadn’t noticed a little while ago. The ice was helping her head, as was the ibuprofen, but every time she moved, something else seemed to bother her.
Deciding that sitting idle was probably not the best option, she went to rise from the sofa and cried out in pain. Lucas was immediately at her side. “What is it? What’s wrong?” Carefully he wrapped an arm around her waist and helped Emma sit back down. “Where does it hurt?” he asked as he scanned her body for any obvious signs of injuries.
“My ankle,” she said through clenched teeth.
Lucas cursed. “Okay, let’s get your sock off and take a look at it.” His tone was soothing and although Emma appreciated his kindness, she was beyond frustrated with the situation.
The swelling of her ankle was obvious. Without a word, Lucas rose and went to the kitchen for another ice pack. “For crying out loud,” Emma mumbled under her breath. “Can I seriously not get a break here?” She flopped back onto the sofa and threw an arm over her eyes. This is what you get for taking some time for yourself. Maybe this was the universe’s way of telling her that she didn’t deserve to take a vacation.
She sensed Lucas more than she heard him and nearly jumped when the ice pack was gently placed on her ankle. What a sight she must be: large bump on her head, enormous ankle, looking like a drowned rat, no doubt, after coming in from a blizzard. Nope, no chance of this forced time together leading to any kind of seduction. Of that Emma was certain.
Where had that thought even come from?
“I was planning on making some dinner when I first saw your car pulling in. Are you hungry?” he asked.
The truth was that Emma was starving. Of course, eating as if she’d been fasting for a month was a sure-fire way to kill any hope of Lucas finding her attractive. Just the image of eating a steak with her bare hands almost made her giggle. “Um…sure. I could eat.”
Wasn’t that the understatement of the year? She could eat? Luckily she hadn’t added phrases like “a whole cow” or “everything in sight!” If she was going to fail, might as well fail epically, right?
She could hear Lucas moving around in the kitchen and forced herself to sit upright again. Thankfully he seemed focused on his task and didn’t try to keep up the small talk. Emma allowed herself finally to look around at Lucas’s home. It was sleek yet rustic. The walls were made of solid logs, the floors were natural hardwood, and the fireplace was massive and made of stone. It was an open floor plan; the living room, dining room, and kitchen were one giant space. There looked to be a small hallway off the kitchen but she couldn’t see what was down there. A doorway next to the fireplace piqued her curiosity.
Part of that curiosity was fed by the fact that she really had to use the bathroom. “Um, Lucas?” she finally asked. When he simply stopped what he was doing and looked at her expectantly, she cringed at having to ask. “Could you point me in the direction of the bathroom?” Her face was probably twenty-seven shades of red. Ugh…
Rather than telling her, Lucas walked over and helped Emma to her feet. Wrapping an arm around her waist again, he murmured, “Lean into me. Try not to put too much weight on that foot.”
Emma was more than willing to lean into Lucas; hell, that had been a long-running fantasy for years! Doing exactly as he instructed, they slowly made their way through the doorway next to the fireplace and Emma gasped at the sight.
It was magnificently done in earth tones and the fireplace was open to this room as well. His king-size bed took up one wall, and next to it he had an over-stuffed chair with a matching ottoman. The windows ran floor to ceiling, separated by French doors leading out to what looked to be an enormous deck.
“You okay?” he asked.
“What? Oh, yes,” she stammered. “I just stepped the wrong way.” Liar, liar, liar! There was no way she was going to tell him how much his bedroom suited him or that she was now imagining him sprawled out in that massive bed.
If Lucas had suspected anything else, he kept it to himself and continued moving Emma toward the master bath. This time Emma forced herself not to react. The bathroom was a wonder of stone tile and marble, with many spa-like features. The shower could easily fit four people and the sunken jetted tub was like a small swimming pool. When she didn’t move from his arms, Lucas cleared his throat.
“Oh, thank you. I think I can manage from here,” she said and didn’t dare look at Lucas. Emma wanted to smack herself in the head. Manage from here? It wouldn’t matter if the floor was covered in broken glass, there was no way she was asking Lucas to help her! As soon as he removed his arm from around her waist, she missed the support of his strength. Taking a small step forward, she was thankful when she heard the door close. Immediately she sank against the double vanity.
And almost let out a scream.
Whatever she was picturing in her mind about her appearance had been far too generous. The bump on her head was a hideous shade of purple and all her makeup was gone. Her skin was pale and her normally sleek and styled hair was now completely out of control. The curls that she took painful care to straighten were a riotous mess around her face.
Just abso-freakin-lutely fabulous.
“I am never taking a vacation again,” she chanted as she hopped across the bathroom to take care of business. By the time she was back in front of the vanity, Emma wished she had her overnight bag with her. At least then she would have been able to fix her face and put her hair up in a ponytail or something.
“Well, it’s not like he ever found you attractive before,” she reminded herself. Doing her best to stay off of her foot, Emma carefully hopped out of the bathroom and was almost back in the living room when Lucas spotted her.
“What the hell?” he said as he stormed toward her. “Why didn’t you call me?”
“It wasn’t necessary.”
“Really?” he asked sarcastically.
“Yes, really,” she said defiantly as she put her sore foot firmly on the ground and bit back a curse at the pain that shot up her leg. “I told you before I don’t need you waiting on me. I’ll be fine.”
Lucas’s face was a portrait of barely concealed rage. He towered over her five-foot-four frame and glared down into her now wide blue eyes. “I am not going to keep having this same argument with you tonight, Emma,” he said in a tone so low that it was nearly a growl. “You cannot possibly be this stubborn.”
“Really? You want to lecture me on being stubborn?” she snapped back. “Because let me tell you something, Lucas, you wrote the book on being stubborn!”
He wanted to argue, he really did, but he was too taken aback at her words. Honestly, Lucas couldn’t remember the last time anyone had talked back to him or dared to challenge him. Since his injury, people took pity on him or tried to be upbeat and encouraging; this was the first time anyone told him to his face that he had a problem.
He kind of liked it.
“Well, it’s a good thing we’re not talking about me then, isn’t it?”
Now it was Emma’s turn to growl. “Look, I don’t know how it is that I ended up here at your place rather than your folks’ but I am certainly not an invalid.” Lucas arched one dark eyebrow at her and then pointedly looked at her head, then her foot. “I’m not intimidated by you, Lucas. I know that right now it all looks bad and I’m not going to lie to you, I feel like I ran into a brick wall.”
“You basically did.”
“But,” she interrupted, “I am a grown woman and can take care of myself. I don’t need you to carry me around or treat me like I’m going to break.”
“Your ankle could be broken,” he reminded her.
“Still bringing that sunshine, huh?” she asked, and Lucas finally smiled again. “I don’t think it’s broken. It hurts but I can put some weight on it.” They were silent for a moment and then Emma looked around or rather, toward the door.
“What’s the matter?”
“Is the snow still coming down?”
“’Fraid so. Why?”
Emma chewed on her bottom lip for a moment before answering. “Well, it’s just that, after I got a look at myself in the bathroom mirror, I was just sort of wishing for my overnight bag. My clothes are dry but a little stiff and I would love to be able to change.”
“I hate to disappoint you, but right now there is no way I would venture out there and down that hill to your car again. That will have to wait until morning.” Lucas knew he was one hundred percent justified in what he was saying, but hated the look of utter dejection on Emma’s face. Without another word he walked into the bedroom, coming back out in less than a minute.
“I don’t have anything in your size, obviously,” he began, “but I put out some stuff you can change into and if you want, you can take a shower while I finish making dinner. How does that sound?”
“Heavenly,” she replied with a sigh. “Thank you.”
Lucas stood back and let Emma hop back toward the master suite. It killed him to do it, but he wanted her to feel comfortable and to trust in him. If she wanted his help, he would gladly provide it, but as of right now, he was smart enough to realize that she was trying very hard to remain independent. Lucas was a reasonable man. He just wasn’t sure how long he could let her keep this up. As soon as he heard the bathroom door close, he reached for his phone and called his father.
“Lucas! This is a surprise. Twice in one day!” his father’s voice boomed over the phone.
“Well,” Lucas began, “I had a bit of a surprise myself.”
“Really? What’s that?”
“Don’t even try to play innocent here, Dad. I think you know perfectly well what surprise I had.”
William stayed silent. Clearly he was waiting for Lucas to take the lead.
“What is the matter with you?” Lucas snapped, stepping into the office off of the kitchen just in case Emma came out and heard him. “How could you make Emma drive up here in a storm?”
“We didn’t know there was going to be a storm, Son,” William began calmly.
“Oh, really? Because thanks to your inconsiderateness, Emma got hurt!”
“What? What happened? Is she okay?”
“No, she’s not okay,” Lucas snapped. “She has a damn concussion, I think, and a sprained ankle and her car is in a damn ditch! What is wrong with you? How could you do that to her? What was so damn important that you had to risk her safety?”
“I have no excuse, Lucas. I forgot some paperwork that I wanted to look over and I thought I was helping Emma.”
“How was inconveniencing her helping her, Dad?”
“She never takes any time off. I thought if I could at least get her away from the office, I could make sure that she actually did something for herself.”
“Did it ever occur to you that she doesn’t take any time for herself because you don’t let her?”
“Excuse me?” William said, his tone indignant. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that you work her too hard. You don’t let her delegate and you treat her as if she is the only one you can trust to do anything.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about! You come in what, once a month? And you think that gives you the right to judge?”
“I call it as I see it,” Lucas said simply.
“I don’t think so. And all of that is completely not the point. I want to know why it is that she showed up here at my place rather than yours. We don’t live so close to one another that she could have made a wrong turn and miraculously showed up here. Now what gives?”
“I don’t often give out the address to our house; I’m used to sending stuff to you. I guess I just answered automatically with your address when she asked.”
It was a plausible excuse, Lucas knew, but right now the whole situation still seemed bizarre. He was about to say that again when his father interrupted.
“Is she okay? Where’s Emma right now?”
“She’s taking a shower.”
“She must not be too hurt then if she’s off by herself in the shower.” Lucas could practically hear his father grinning.
“I can’t get to her stuff because her car’s down in a ditch and believe me, it wasn’t easy getting both of us up out of the damn ditch with her unconscious. She just needed to freshen up.”
William hummed his approval. “It’s too dangerous to try and get her to a hospital.”
“I know that, Dad,” Lucas said wearily. “I’ll keep an eye on her overnight. It’s not good to let someone with a concussion sleep too much. Believe me. I know that part well enough.” And right then and there they were both thinking of all of the times Lucas had taken a hard hit while playing football. Lucas had to force himself not to go down that road. “I’ll take care of her, Dad, but this discussion is not over.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Lucas. There’s nothing to discuss. I made an honest mistake. I gave her the wrong address. I was completely at fault for not checking the weather, but that’s it.”
“Uh-huh. We’ll see.”
“Go check on her and I’ll call you in the morning to see how she’s doing, okay?” Lucas readily agreed, hung up the phone, and headed back into the kitchen to finish their dinner. How had this day gone so wrong? As much as there were times when he appreciated being isolated and alone, being isolated and alone with Emma was going to be a struggle. When he’d had his arms around her earlier it had felt good—too good. For almost two years Lucas hadn’t allowed himself even to think about how it would feel to touch Emma and now that he had, it was going to be hard to forget.
He put the phone down on the kitchen counter, walking toward the back of the house and looking out at the property. It was pitch-black out now, and the snow was still coming down heavily. There was no doubt in Lucas’s mind that they were going to be stuck inside for the entire weekend.
He’d been alone for too long. How the hell was he supposed to survive this?