UNDER THE STARS
Cedar Bend Book 1
The 4th Annual Bachelor Auction is upon us, and ladies this might be the year you say ‘I do.’ The first year’s wedding was totally unexpected, the second, a coincidence perhaps, but three times confirms it; the Cedar Bend Bachelor Auction is the place to find your future one and only.
Having survived a health scare, former child genius Sophie Wheeler isn’t looking for a happily-ever-after, she just wants an adventure, and drop-dead-gorgeous Gabriel Marshall fits the bill in more ways than one. Throwing caution – and a good chunk of her savings – to the wind, Sophie battles nerves, shyness and half the women in Cedar Bend for a chance at Gabe’s Adventure Package date.
Firefighter and confirmed bachelor, Gabriel Marshall likes his life just as it is; no commitments, no ties and a different woman every night of the week. So being won by sweet, respectable Sophie Wheeler – the one woman he shouldn’t touch – is not in his plans. Why then did it only take one look from those tawny-gold eyes to have him offering a four day, three-night hike? And how was he going to hide the fact that fate had somehow matched the guy who couldn’t even read a newspaper with the smartest woman in town?
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Sophie stubbornly forced herself to focus on something else, anything else. With no light pollution, evening was fast slipping into night, though there was still not a sign of a cloud. “The weather is fabulous out here.”
“First-timer’s luck. It turns on a dime in the Rockies, and the higher we go… Well, expect to get wet.”
“Just as well I bought a raincoat and pants then. Let it not be said that I didn’t pack everything on your list.”
In the failing light she saw one eyebrow lift.
“Let it not be said that you only packed what was on my list.”
Sophie felt her cheeks heat and hoped he couldn’t see. “You’re never going to let me live that down, are you?”
He grinned. “No, but the cookies? They’re a much-appreciated addition.” That grin widened. “Also appreciated was the look at your—”
“Don’t say it!” she warned.
“Panties. Imagine the angel from the auction wearing see-through, lace panties.” Laughing, he reached over and tucked her hair behind her ear, so it no longer shielded her face. “And,” he whispered, his voice deeper than before, “she blushes.”
“Gabe…” She clamped her mouth shut when it came out sounding strangled, breathless. The last thing she wanted was to give herself away.
“Come on, angel, time to hit the sack. You’re going to want a good night’s sleep. We’ve got another full day of walking tomorrow, and tomorrow you’re going to feel every single ache from today. I’ll square the last few bits away if you want.”
Nodding, she got up and headed out of camp, only to hear Gabe stop what he was doing and follow her. She whipped around. “Seriously?”
He didn’t say a thing, just folded his arms as if that settled everything. Which it didn’t.
“I don’t need you to hold my hand while I go to the toilet.”
“Even I wasn’t planning to be that close, but I can be if you wa—”
She held up her hand. “Stay here.” Then pointed to a spot between them. “Right here.” Muttering to herself, she walked farther in, taking extra care as she tried to see where she was placing her feet—the last thing she needed to do was prove him right by tripping and spraining her ankle.
“You okay?” he asked after a minute or so.
“Gabriel!” His unrepentant laugh floated over to her, making her lips twitch. Honestly, she thought, zipping up her fly again, he was too charming for his own good.