Cassie shone the beam of light once more inside the Jeep. At least she had a flashlight. She took the last of the groceries from the back seat. Arriving in the dark had not been the plan, but circumstances beyond her control, like that flat tire just outside Billings, left her little choice.
Tomorrow she’d deal with the utility company. Right now she just wanted to make up the bed and prepare something to eat.
Just as she closed the passenger door behind her, the bag was ripped from her hand, and she found herself unceremoniously pressed against the side of the Jeep. The breath literally rushed from her lungs. With the wind knocked from her, she became aware of two hundred pounds of male flesh pinning her fast.
Her instinct was to scream, but he held her so tight, her mouth lay crushed against the cool metal.
“Just what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” A deep, masculine voice cut through the night air.
Tired, hungry, and more than a little pissed by the way the day had turned out, Cassie used all her previous experience of self-defense training and jabbed her assailant with an elbow. She managed to create just enough leverage to wrench her mouth free.
“Take your hands off me, dick brain. I live here. Just who the hell are you?”
“Fuck.” Immediately, he stepped away from her. “I’m your neighbor, Brad Dawson. I live just across the way from you. I thought you were ransacking the place.”
When Cassie shone the beam of light toward the voice, she caught a glimpse of a very tall man. At least six-foot-four. He blinked several times as the flashlight picked out his features. A strong jaw with those delicious masculine lines she always liked creased around his mouth. He looked about mid-thirties with dark brown wavy hair and gray eyes. The irises were so pale they almost looked silver in the harsh light.
He was broad too, filling out his tan leather jacket and jeans.
“I suppose you felt safe tackling a woman on her own.”
“Well, you didn’t look much like a woman in the dark. What with wearing a baseball cap an’ all. It all looked mighty strange to me.”
“That’s just great. I’ll wear a label next time.” Cassie felt her hackles rise. This Neanderthal knuckle-dragger thought she looked like a guy?
Probably feeling embarrassed, he ignored her curt remark. “Why not switch on the lights instead of scrabbling around in the dark with a flashlight?”
“Pardon me, Mr. Dawson. If that’s all I had to do was flick a switch, don’t you think I’d already have done it? The simple fact is the electric’s not connected. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get on with moving in.”
“Have you tried your generator?”
“I don’t think I’ve got one.”
“Everyone’s got one ’round these parts. When winter comes, the power’s often down.”
She sighed. “Then I’ll have to sort that out in the morning, too.”
“Look, Miss … er… I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”
“Miss Philips, we seem to have got off on the wrong foot. As a neighborly gesture, and in place of an apology, I could look at that generator for you.”
When Cassie lifted the bag of groceries off the floor, she knew straight away that the eggs inside had broken. Her retort couldn’t have been more acerbic. “Best not, I think you’ve already done more than enough damage, don’t you?” With that, she turned and entered her home. Cassie knew her tiredness made her behave far ruder than normal, but she just couldn’t help herself.
Within a few minutes, the lights suddenly came on. As she looked properly around her home for the first time, tears sprang into her eyes. What sort of a legacy was this? Paint peeled from the walls. A collection of old tins and bottles lay scattered around in every available space. Stacks of newspapers rose from the floor in various sized piles, taking up one corner of the room. Old dishes of moldy food still sat on the pine dresser and table where they had been left. Something scurried along the wooden shelving, and as she looked closer, several cockroaches were intent on evading the light. A small scream left her lips, and she shivered involuntarily. Had her uncle really lived like this? She shook her head. If this was the living room, she dreaded to think what the other rooms would be like.