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The Passionate Lover

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«The Passionate Lover» - Кэрол Мортимер

Carole Mortimer is one of Mills & Boon’s best loved Modern Romance authors. With nearly 200 books published and a career spanning 35 years, Mills & Boon are thrilled to present her complete works available to download for the very first time! Rediscover old favourites – and find new ones! – in this fabulous collection…She needed a husband…Shelby O'Neal's arrival at the Double K ranch in Montana should have been a celebration. But her fiancé’s frantic wedding plans became meaningless after Shelby revealed the unusual terms of her inheritance…Arrogant Kyle Whitney believes Shelby is a gold-digger and—now his young cousin has dropped out of the running—that she is mercenary enough to try her wiles on him! But what Kyle doesn’t realise is that Shelby has never been influenced by money and something much more important is at stake…
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The Passionate Lover Carole Mortimer

www.millsandboon.co.uk

Table of Contents

Title Page

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

Copyright

CHAPTER ONE

THE heavy snow beat with icy determination against her numbed cheeks as she stumbled through its blinding thickness, the fashionable black anorak she wore no defence against its relentlessness. Kenny had written and warned her that the Montana winters could be harshly cold, but she had knowingly thought only of the icy English winters she had known all her life, little dreaming that when Kenny said harsh he meant so cold the snow had turned to stinging icicles before it even reached the ground. Consequently the fleecy anorak and fashionably tight denims tucked into high-heeled boots were little protection against the blizzard she suddenly found herself in.

And it was a blizzard. She may never have experienced one before but she knew she was in the midst of one now. The snow was already feet deep in places, and as it fell fast and furious against her face and body it gave no indication of stopping for some time, the dryness of the minus-thirty temperature taking her breath away as she fought her way slowly forward.

She wasn't even sure how she had come to wander off in this way, had been sure, when she first realised she could no longer see the blue four-wheel-drive truck, that Kenny would find her within minutes. But more than minutes had passed now; she seemed to have been wandering around for hours. And she wasn't even sure she was going in the right direction! She could even be walking around in hideously lost circles.

She took a firm grip on herself at that thought. Kenny would find her any second now. He had to!

She couldn't help thinking how different the life she had lived here the last two weeks was from the one she had made for herself in London during and since her marriage to Gavin. Shelby O'Neal, one of London's most successful and exclusive hostesses living on a ranch in Montana, even seriously planning to marry one of the Double K's owners. The first part of the Double K she was sure she loved, the second part…! Kyle Whitney, Kenny's older cousin, was someone she preferred not to think about.

But as the slow, painful minutes passed and she still stumbled through the blinding blizzard in the fast darkening night one thought possessed and held her horror-struck brain. She was going to die out here in this frozen wasteland!

Her legs felt so tired as she struggled to stay upright in the deep snow, and she could no longer feel her toes in the leather boots, the hard snow that fell against the sensitive skin of her face now feeling like painful needles digging into her. She wasn't winning this fight, and although not normally a defeatist she knew she couldn't fight and win this battle against such fierce elements. She was going to die, out here alone in the snow, was just going to collapse and die of the cold and no one would even know it had happened. For a wild hysterical moment she wondered if anyone would care! Then she berated herself. Kenny would care, they were to be married in a few weeks’ time. Then why hadn't he found her, damn him?

She was being unfair now. But this whole situation was unfair. The tears dried on her cheeks before they barely had time to fall, and she wiped at her face impatiently. Twenty-five was too young to die, especially when she had so much to live for. If it wouldn't be so damned futile in this howling wind she would scream—Scream…! Why not? It was a sure fact that Kenny wouldn't be able to see her in this, but there was a chance, just a chance, that he might hear her if she screamed.

Shelby knew it was hopeless even as she opened her mouth to emit the cry for help. The words seemed to be thrown back at her as the wind whipped eerily about her, and she knew that the sound of her voice had just added brief depth to the wind before it was swallowed up. It was futile, she was being a fool to tell herself any differently. No one could find her in this weather, she could be miles from where she and Kenny had got out of the truck to admire the beautiful scenery of the snow-covered mountains, the snowfall only light then, or she could, alternatively, be only feet away and just unable to see him.

Whatever, she was too tired to care any more. She had never felt so tired and utterly helpless in her life before, just wanted to lie down and sleep until it was all over. The crisp white snow suddenly looked like an inviting bed of floating clouds, warm and inviting, like the arms of a lover.

And maybe she would have laid down in his arms and slept forever if she hadn't found the cabin.

To say she found the cabin wasn't strictly true, it found her. Actually she walked into it. Her visibility was down to nil by this time, her body one long ache, and when she walked into the solid object in front of her she assumed it was just another of the tall pine trees she had managed to avoid as they suddenly loomed up in front of her in her haphazard walk. The blow she received to her temple as she made contact made her head ring, and she fell to her knees in numbed pain and despair, sure she wasn't going to be able to get up again. Then she realised the object that had caused her so much pain was too big to be a mere tree, the shape of the wood seeming to indicate the tree lay horizontal rather than vertical. She almost had herself convinced she was hallucinating when in her stumbling her hand suddenly encountered a door handle and she actually fell inside the cabin.

It was very dark inside, too dark to see if it had any occupants, and Shelby looked into the gloom warily. She may have got herself into a worse situation than before! ‘Er—Hello?’ Her voice came out quivering with uncertainty, all of the self-confidence she possessed as the owner of O'Neal's, a women's salon in London, seeming to have deserted her in the face of this previously unthinkable danger.

When she realised there was going to be no reply to her tentative query, not even a stirring of movement inside, she knew there was no occupant, her breath leaving her with a relieved sigh.

A sigh that was quickly followed by deep-rooted panic. If there was no occupant of the cabin then she was still alone, with no way of knowing where she was or if she would ever get out of here alive.

But at least she was alive now, and with shelter from the harshness of the wind and snow she could remain that way for a time. Perhaps there would even be the makings of a fire to keep her warm tonight, and tomorrow—Tomorrow Kenny would find her, she was sure of it.

She stumbled inside, closing the door—and the icy cold wind—behind her. It was dark inside, so dark she couldn't make out her surroundings at all. God, if only she smoked, then she would at least have had a lighter or matches in the pocket of the jacket that had so far proved useless. But she didn't smoke, and so consequently she didn't have any matches, only an instinct that told her the fireplace would be directly across from the door if there were one. And surely any self-respecting owner of such a remote cabin would leave matches on the mantelshelf? It was all she could hope for.

The cabin proved to be wider across than she had imagined, although the fireplace was there, and miraculously, so were the matches! Her hands trembled as she ripped off her gloves and struck one of the precious matches, looking around in wonder at the well-stocked and provisioned cabin. Whoever it belonged to couldn't be that far away, possibly just in the nearest town for a few days’ shopping and seeing friends. Whoever he was she felt grateful to him, would leave a note of explanation and reimbursement for anything she used.

One thing she had discovered on that cursory look around the cabin were some old-fashioned oil-lamps, and she lit one of them with her next match, grateful for its cheering warmth as she took stock of her surroundings. There was certainly no luxury to be found here, but there was the fireplace that would soon warm her, and a wood-burning stove that she would be able to use to heat up food and water on. She had never camped out in her life, never stayed anywhere this primitive before, but she had a feeling she was going to be plunged in at the deep-end, that she had to learn, and quickly, if she were to survive. It wasn't even night yet, only early evening, and the temperature that was already more severe than anything she had ever known before could get even lower during the night hours, making her first priority the lighting of a fire.

She was sure it wasn't the best fire anyone had ever built, and the stove threw more smoke out into the room at first than went up the chimney, but she soon fixed that by adjusting the door so that it fit into place better, and the fire threw out enough heat for her to be able to remove her jacket and take stock of the rest of the room.

For the cabin was only one room, well-planned to give the maximum amount of space, but still only one room for eating, sitting and sleeping. Four bunk beds, two on each side of the room, one above the other, stood at one end, a small sitting and eating area in the middle, and the wood-burning stove at the other end to cook on. But the furniture looked clean and serviceable, the scatter-rugs on the floor giving it a homely touch. Rustic charm, her London friends would have said it had, although they would have expected plumbing and electricity to go along with that charm. Shelby was sure it didn't have the latter, and it didn't seem to have plumbing either. But at least she was safe from the blizzard, the inevitability of dying fading as the warmth increased in the room.

Quite when the noises outside began to bother her she didn't know, but halfway through drinking the soup she had heated she suddenly had the impulse to lock and bolt the door. The noises were only the ones of the storm, she knew that, the wind and the swaying creak of the surrounding trees, and yet the feeling persisted, so much so that in the end she did lock and bolt the door just to settle her own mind. It wasn't just the human factor that frightened her, it was the wildlife too. A Londoner born and raised, she hadn't even seen a real live cow until she was ten years old, and then only because the school had taken them on a trip to a farm for the day. Kenny had told her they had deer and other small harmless animals in the thousands of acres of valley and mountains that was the Double K ranch, but she hadn't thought to ask if they had bears too.

Every noise outside now seemed to take on frightening proportions, and she jumped nervously as a branch of a tree crashed against the window. But was it a tree? It could be a bear, or a wolf! She had read books and seen films where people had gone insane as a creature of the night stood watch outside cabins like this.

Was that what she was doing? Surely she was made of sterner stuff than that? She had lived through, and survived so much the last few years, surely she was strong enough not to crack up at the sound of natural forest noises?

But were they natural? She could have sworn she heard something moving about outside just now, and not just the random noises of the wind and trees but a definite pattern around the cabin. Her hands tightened about the mug that contained her soup, her eyes wide with fear as she looked towards the door expectantly.

The first rattle of the door frightened her so much the mug of soup dropped out of her hand, and she stood up to back against the wall as it rattled once again, an eerie sound, much like a growl, accompanying it this time. God, there was a wild animal out there, and it sounded as if it were going to break in at any moment!

Shelby had never been so terrified, listening as the predator moved away from the door to circle the cabin once more. Her heart rose in her throat as she saw the furry face at the window, her breathing seeming to stop altogether as a hairy paw struck the window pane, the eerie growl accompanying the fierce tapping movement.

The window! God, she had locked and bolted the door and forgotten to shutter the windows! As she hurried to do so the face appeared at the window again, and she stepped back with a scream, her hands shaking so badly now she was incapable of closing the shutters even if she had wanted to. She watched the door with horrified fascination as the creature outside began to pound against the wood, sure that the bolts and lock would give at any moment, splinters already starting to break away from the top bolt.

She huddled down in the corner of the farthest bunk bed. Suddenly there was an ear-splitting splintering of wood, and the door banged open with such ferocity Shelby couldn't hold back her gasp of horror and fear.

Heavy fur framed the aggressive face, cold grey eyes turned on her in total assessment. ‘Why the hell didn't you open the goddamned door?’ Kyle Whitney grated in harsh condemnation, throwing back the furred hood of his thick jacket to reveal his overlong dark hair, snow-coated at the front of it.

Shelby only had time to recognise him before the faintness became a black fog and she fell backwards on the bed in total collapse, still unsure whether her unexpected visitor was a predator or friend…

She was still lying on the bunk bed when she woke up, although she had been moved into a more comfortable position, a heavy down quilt placed on top of her to keep her warm.

Her panicked gaze flew across the room, hardly daring to move as she once again recognised the harshly glowering profile of Kyle Whitney as he stared into the flames of the roaring fire. He looked more human now, the heavy jacket removed, the frozen snow that had clung to his face and hair now melted, leaving his hair curling damply against his forehead and ears, hair that although carelessly styled grew overlong to the dark sweater he wore. He was drinking what smelt like coffee, his narrow-eyed attention fixed sightlessly on the fire as he took huge swallows of the warming brew. He looked hard and unapproachable, much as he had the first time she had seen him two weeks ago.

She had met Kenny Whitney in London six months ago, an accidental meeting when he had called to collect one of the girls who worked in the salon. He had come back to the salon many times after that first meeting, but to see Shelby now, and not Anne. The other girl accepted the loss of his attention with shrugging nonchalance, quickly finding herself another companion. Shelby found it less easy to adapt to this change of affections, refusing all Kenny's invitations with a cool disdain she hoped would quickly dissuade him.

It hadn't. His pursuit of her had been relentless and persistent, so much so that after she had watched him stand outside her flat in the rain for over an hour one evening she had finally relented and invited him in.

He had stayed several hours that evening, the two of them discussing everything and nothing, Shelby finding his life that was so different from her own very interesting, Kenny in London on a year's agricultural course, his cousin and partner back in Montana running the ranch in his absence. Kenny's life was everything she had ever read life on a ranch could be, and he was everything she would have expected a modern-day cowboy to be, rugged, tough, and very decisive. So decisive, in fact, that when he asked her to see him again she found herself agreeing, her earlier reluctance forgotten under the warmth of his slow charm.

The next two months had been the happiest she had known for a long time, Kenny insisting they meet whenever they could, his passionate but undemanding loving just what she needed to make her respond to him as she had to no man since Gavin.

And then the two months had ended, and with it Kenny's time in England, his presence now needed back in Montana. Shelby had done her best to hide her disappointment, knowing she was going to miss him. Nevertheless, she was surprised when he asked her to go back to Montana with him. She hadn't accepted him, of course. It was only a year since she had lost Gavin, another serious relationship was out of the question just yet.

But Kenny had been persistent, even from a distance, writing to her constantly, always repeating his offer for her to go out to Montana, pleading with her almost. Until finally she had agreed.

She had been aware of Kyle Whitney's disapproval of her from the moment Kenny had brought her back to the ranch from the airport. It wasn't that the older man was actually rude, but his contemptuous amusement whenever he spoke to her was enough to let her know he didn't like her and saw no reason to make an effort to be polite to her.

But if Kyle Whitney didn't like or approve of her he came as something of a shock to her too. She had assumed he would be in his early or mid-twenties, as Kenny was, instead he was in his mid-thirties, hard and cynical, seeming to view everyone and everything through a jaundiced eye. He was also one of the most handsome men she had ever seen, his body lean and muscular in the faded denims and thick shirts he usually wore, his hair almost black although run through with strands of grey, dark brows over piercingly light grey eyes, a hawklike nose, and a mouth that looked as if it should have had a sensual curve to it, but which was habitually set in a thin straight line of disapproval.

It was set that way now as he continued to look into the fire, and after the way he had verbally attacked her after forcefully entering the cabin she was loath to remind him of her presence, the door bearing evidence of having been repaired, something he would have had little patience with.

But as if becoming aware of being watched he suddenly turned in her direction, his eyes narrowing in steely acknowledgement as he saw her looking at him in return. He stood up slowly, moving with the natural grace she had come to associate with him. ‘Coffee?’ he questioned with the minimum of effort she had also learnt was usual for him.

She sat up, forgetting any idea she might have had of pretending she was still asleep. ‘Please,’ she nodded acceptance, moving to sit in one of the two chairs placed either side of the fireplace as he handed her a steaming mug of coffee. She drank it thirstily, needing its warmth despite the heat that now permeated the room from the roaring fire.

Kyle still stood over her, dark and threatening. ‘Perhaps now you wouldn't mind answering the question I asked you a short time ago, namely why I had to break my way in here?’ he drawled with disdain.

Shelby couldn't prevent the hot colour that flooded her cheeks, mumbling into her coffee mug.

‘What did you say?’ he bit out impatiently.

She looked up at him with blazing green eyes, her reddish-gold hair falling just below her shoulders in silky waves as she bent her head back. ‘I thought you were an animal of some kind,’ she repeated resentfully.

His mouth twisted. ‘What kind?'

She sighed. ‘A wolf, or a—a bear. I just didn't know!’ she added irritably as he began to smile, a smile full of that contemptuous amusement he viewed her with.

‘We don't have either in this part of Montana,’ he told her dryly.

‘Well I wasn't to know that!’ she snapped.

‘Lady, you're a walking disaster,’ he lowered his long length into the chair opposite her. ‘You wandered off to God knows where thinking you could be eaten alive! What are you, stupid, or just plain dumb?'

‘Neither!’ she flashed at his derogatory attitude. ‘I didn't let you in, did I?'

‘No,’ he acknowledged ruefully. ‘But if I had been a bear, perhaps a hungry grizzly, maybe I would have found you delectable enough a morsel to stick a paw through the window and drag you outside.'

Shelby repressed the shiver of revulsion and fear as he put into words what had been going through her mind only minutes earlier, knowing he wanted to frighten her. ‘I just forgot to put the shutters up—–'

‘They wouldn't have stopped a hungry grizzly.'

‘Then why bother to have them?’ she snapped, noticing they were shut now.

‘To keep the warmth in and the cold out,’ he mocked her stupidity.

So that was the reason for the added warmth in the room. She had a feeling this man was always right, that he was never made to feel the fool that she was now. ‘How did you find me?'

‘With extreme difficulty!’ he rasped grimly.

Too late she realised her change of subject was even more inflammatory than the original one. Damn the man, couldn't he see she had had a scare? Kenny would have been comforting her by now instead of berating her in this way. ‘I'm sorry,’ she muttered, resentful of his coldness.

Kyle looked unimpressed with her apology. ‘I've had a dozen men out looking for you ever since Kenny came back to the house and told us what had happened,’ he bit out. ‘I hope to God they've all had sense enough to go back home!'

She could see that he had a right to be angry with her, although she hadn't deliberately set out to get lost. She couldn't help wishing it had been one of the other dozen men who had been the one to find her! ‘I didn't need you to come looking for me,’ she told him quietly. ‘I could have found my way once the blizzard calmed down.'

Contemptuous grey eyes raked over her mercilessly. ‘Could you really?'

‘Yes!’ Her eyes flashed again.

He gave her a look that spoke volumes. ‘And just when do you expect the blizzard to stop?'

‘I don't know,’ she shrugged. ‘But I'm sure I could have managed until it did—–'

‘You didn't even know where the water supply was!'

‘I—–'

‘Did you?’ he rasped forcefully.

She had been wondering where he got the water to make the coffee, but she was too proud now to tell him so. ‘I can melt snow as easily as you did—–'

‘Always supposing you got up enough courage to open the door,’ he cut in again with cold derision. ‘And I didn't melt the snow. There's a sink over there—–'

‘But no taps,’ she said hastily. ‘I've already looked.'

‘There's a lever just above it,’ he told her in a calm voice. ‘It will give you all the water you need. It's pumped up from an underground stream.'

‘You seem to know this cabin very well,’ Shelby snapped her resentment of his contempt.

‘I should do,’ he drawled. ‘It's on Double K land.'

She should have realised that! She had got lost on Double K land, so it stood to reason, with the thousands of acres they owned, that she hadn't wandered off it. She felt even more foolish than ever. ‘What is this place?'

‘My men use it during branding, it saves time if they don't have to ride out each day,’ he explained with barely concealed impatience for her naïveté.

She resented his use of the word ‘my’ men, knew that he and Kenny were joint owners of the ranch. Although Kenny didn't seem to mind that his cousin gave most of the orders, had probably learnt from experience that Kyle was a man who simply didn't take or obey orders from anyone.

‘When can we get out of here?’ she asked abruptly.

He shrugged, very relaxed as he leant back in his chair. ‘Your guess is as good as mine.'

Shelby gave him a sharp look. ‘What do you mean?'

He tilted his head towards the door. ‘Hear that?’ he quirked dark brows.

‘The wind?’ she frowned.

‘The wind,’ he nodded mockingly. ‘The weather report forecast it will continue all night, possibly during tomorrow too.’ He gave her a meaningful look. ‘And while the wind keeps howling we keep sitting here.'

Shelby had gone very pale, swallowing hard. ‘You mean we could be—be snowed in here?'

‘I mean we already are snowed in here. Even if another drop of snow doesn't fall we're still stuck.'

‘There's no need to be sarcastic—–'

‘There's every need, damn you!’ Suddenly the relaxed pose had gone, to be replaced by a man full of fury, a fury that made his eyes glitter dangerously. ‘I don't have the time to spare to come chasing after a stupid idiot like you, let alone spend days out here baby-sitting!'

‘Baby-sitting!'

‘You heard me,’ he rasped. ‘You have no idea how to fend for yourself—–'

‘It isn't exactly a wilderness!'

‘No?’ He stood up, pulling her roughly to her feet, his calloused hand digging painfully into her nape as he dragged her over to the window to throw back the shutters. ‘Look out there,’ he ordered through gritted teeth. ‘And tell me what it is if it isn't a wilderness.'

She wanted to protest that he had no right to treat her this way, that even if he didn't like her he could at least treat her with a little respect. But the sight that met her eyes silenced any protests she might have made over his rough handling. Although the wind still raged the snow had stopped falling, and every way that she looked a deep white blanket stretched into the distance, no familiar landmarks in sight, just snow and more snow wherever she looked.

‘I had no idea…’ she breathed softly, in awe of the terrifying beauty outside.

‘Of course you didn't,’ he scorned, releasing her to resecure the shutters. ‘Like I said, you're a complete novice when it comes to surviving in conditions like this.'

Once again his contempt angered her. ‘And I suppose you're an old hand at it?’ she challenged recklessly.

Kyle folded muscled arms across his broad chest. ‘Let's put it this way,’ he drawled. ‘Which one of us, do you think, has the most chance of surviving out here alone?'

She flushed at his taunt. ‘That's an unfair question, you were born here—–'

‘Exactly,’ he nodded grimly. ‘So why don't you just bow to the inevitable and let me make the decisions from now on?'

‘That's something you're good at, isn't it?’ she was stung into retorting, not used to being treated as if she had less intelligence than a child. ‘Kyle Whitney gives the orders and everyone jumps to obey.'

His eyes narrowed to steely slits. ‘And that bothers you?'

‘No, it doesn't bother me,’ she flushed. ‘I just don't intend being another of the yes-men you surround yourself with—–'

‘Or women,’ he drawled mockingly.

‘Or women,’ she snapped irritably. ‘You chose to come looking for me, I didn't ask you to.'

‘Your sort never asks for anything, Mrs O'Neal,’ he bit out contemptuously. ‘But they take readily enough when something is offered to them.'

Shelby stiffened at his intended insult. ‘What are you implying I've “taken"?'

‘Kenny sent you the airline ticket to come out here, didn't he?’ Kyle reminded scathingly.

The plane ticket had been in Kenny's letter immediately after he had received her letter telling him she would go out for a visit. It hadn't been something she had asked for or needed, well able to pay her own airfare. But she had seen it as a gesture of Kenny's love. She certainly hadn't thought anyone would view her as a money-grasping mercenary because of it. Kyle Whitney didn't know how wrong he was!

‘You're wrong about me, Mr Whitney—–'

‘Am I?’ he derided harshly. ‘I don't think so. You're a young and attractive widow, and you came out here thinking Kenny would be a gullible meal-ticket.'

‘No—–'

‘Oh yes,’ he insisted coldly, his mouth turned back in a sneer. ‘When Kenny came back from England extolling the virtues of a beautiful widow I had some misgivings. When he dropped the girl he had been dating since high school because of you I knew I was right to be worried. But I thought time and distance would dull his memory of you, that he would soon get over the infatuation. But you didn't intend for him to do that, did you. Oh no, you wrote to him almost every day—–'

‘Twice a week,’ she defended indignantly.

The coldness of his gaze scorned her. ‘Whatever. It was enough to ensure that he didn't forget you, and that's the point I'm trying to make.'

Shelby had never been subjected to such injustice in her life before. Kyle Whitney didn't know the first thing about her, and yet he presumed to be her judge and jury on the insubstantial evidence he had picked up here and there about her. ‘Kenny is hardly a child that you need to—–'

‘He's two years younger than you are.'

She hadn't forgotten that fact; it had been one of the reasons she had been reluctant to become involved with him in the first place. But he had easily over-ruled that objection, and once she got to know him she hadn't really thought the two years mattered either. But as far as Kyle Whitney was concerned it was just another black mark against her. And his condemnation was unfair. Kenny had finished with his childhood sweetheart before leaving for London the previous year, and if his cousin didn't know that then it wasn't her fault, Kenny certainly didn't have to tell the older man everything. And she may have written to Kenny twice a week, but he had written much more than that, more like the every day Kyle Whitney had accused her of doing.

‘—although thank God he seems to have gotten over that now,’ Kyle rasped.

Shelby suddenly realised she had been so deep in thought she had missed this last scathing comment. ‘Sorry?’ she prompted with a frown.

‘You might well look concerned.’ The ghost of a smile creased the hard face.

He was a man who smiled little, she had learnt that over the last few weeks. The only time he seemed to relax was when he was out working with the men on the ranch. ‘Could you explain what you just said?’ She still frowned, puzzled by what he was trying to tell her.

He shrugged his broad shoulders. ‘Doesn't the fact that Kenny isn't one of the people out looking for you speak for itself?’ he drawled.

Shelby felt her heart give an uncomfortable lurch, watching Kyle with disbelieving eyes as he poured himself another mug of the strong coffee, almost as if he hadn't just dealt her a terrible blow emotionally. ‘Is he hurt in some way?’ she demanded, concerned.

Even white teeth gleamed against the mahogany skin as Kyle gave another brief, humourless smile. ‘I guess after the way he's been running around after you since you got here it must be pretty difficult for you to accept or understand that he just didn't want to look for you.'

‘Why?’ she asked through stiff lips, knowing that no matter how much this man may dislike her, he wouldn't lie to get her out of Kenny's life. But if what he was saying was true…!

Kyle sipped the coffee. ‘The argument you had must have been really something,’ he looked at her admiringly. ‘Or maybe he was just too disgusted after the way you walked off like that.'

‘But I—–'

‘It was a damn fool thing to do,’ he growled, the harshness back. ‘Even if you were mad at Kenny.'

‘But—–'

‘And when we get out of here I'll give you the hiding you deserve for doing it,’ he added grimly. ‘You might not have been found until the spring.'

Shelby gave up all effort of trying to defend herself. ‘The spring?’ she echoed dazedly.

He looked at her steadily. ‘When the thaw comes.'

She felt herself blanch as his meaning became clear. Although she was also concerned as to how he had got the impression she and Kenny had argued; it simply wasn't true. And yet he said Kenny hadn't helped look for her. She didn't understand any of this.

.

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