His hand was cool as it slid up her leg, smoothly brushing her calf, tickling and teasing, causing her spine to tingle and a warmth to start in the deepest part of her. Ever upward it traveled, slipping effortlessly against her, nearly undulating.
“Don’t,” she wanted to say but couldn’t, because her voice wouldn’t work, and really, she didn’t want him to stop. His touch was magical. Divine. And downright dangerous. She knew all this even though she hadn’t yet woken.
Hovering somewhere between consciousness and sleep, she thought she was on the edge of a dream, a warm sensation that lulled her into wanting to snuggle deeper inside the covers.
Still, his touch was sensual. Arousing. And because of it, she was in trouble. Big trouble. But she couldn’t stop. Even now, when she knew it was the worst time ever for him to be sliding his hand along her bare skin.
The smell of wood smoke filled her nostrils, and the bed was warm and cozy, even though she heard the sigh of the wind as it rattled the windows.
Amity vaguely remembered that she wasn’t at home, that her mother, ogre that she was, had forced her and her two younger siblings out here in the middle of no-damned-where for the night.
That’s right. Amity wasn’t in her room at the house her mother rented. There was no lock on the door, no way to ensure privacy.
But Mother was out or asleep, and now Amity was with him.
Did that make sense?
On the edge of dreamland, she decided he’d taken a risk to come to her . . . of course he had. Despite the danger. But she’d dozed and now was still in that blissful state between being fully awake and dreamland. Somehow avoiding Blondell’s watchful eye, he must’ve sneaked into the cabin and slid beneath the covers. God, he was good. Experienced. Made her feel like a woman, not a girl.
Of course, not everything was perfect, and now . . . now there was big trouble. Amity had needed to talk to someone about it, so she’d called her friend. She’d begged Nikki to sneak out and come to the house by the lake, and her friend had promised she would, but like everyone else in Amity’s pathetic life, Nikki had abandoned her. Well, good. Then she wouldn’t have to share her secret.
And he had slipped in unnoticed, come to her, loved her. For the first time in her life, she felt secure.
Yet something wasn’t right. Even in her semi-dreamlike state, she knew they had to be careful.
Hoping the darkness was enough of a cover, though soon, of course, they would let the world know of their love. That thought warmed her as much as his touch.
Her lips were dry, her mind still fuzzy with sleep. She thought she heard a dog barking in the distance but wasn’t sure, and it didn’t matter, of course. Nothing did but him. Realizing that since he’d started touching her, he hadn’t uttered a word, she said softly, “Come closer.” Anticipating his weight, anxious to feel his body against hers, she was disappointed. All she knew was his arm, long and fluid, sliding across her bare skin.
Was he just being careful?
Or was it something more?
It was strange that he wasn’t pressing himself urgently against her, wasn’t nuzzling her neck, or reaching around her to touch her breast. He should be tangling his hands in her hair, his lips hot and anxious as they found her own.
But tonight he was aloof. Playing his game. Toying with her.
And Mother was so close. Wasn’t she? Or had Blondell left, assuming yet again that Amity would babysit the younger ones? These days, who knew?
However, him being here was dangerous. They couldn’t be caught together. Not yet. She writhed a little, anxious for more of his touch, but he kept stroking her, sliding his arm against her.
With his silky smooth touch, he trailed his hand along her thighs, along the outside of her hips, and ever upward, across her rib cage, trailing the length of her.
Oh, Lord, this was magical. And playing with fire. Which, of course, she already had. That’s why she was in so much trouble already.
His arm slid between her breasts and ever upward, yet somehow managed to move against the skin all along her thigh and abdomen and . . . ? Wait! That wasn’t right.
She was waking now, dreamland fading . . .
Letting out her breath in a sigh, she opened a bleary eye. The room was dark, aside from the merest light from the fire and the lowest setting of the kerosene lantern on a nearby table. Lying on the hide-a-bed tucked beneath the loft of the cabin, she heard rain beating against the roof. A hard, steady tattoo. But . . . she was alone. There was no one with her. He wasn’t stretched out on the mattress beside her. No. It was all a dream.
The only others in the old shack were her brother and sister.
Just Blythe and Niall, upstairs in the loft, sleeping. And Mom was probably still on the porch. That’s where she said she was going when you started dropping off, when she grabbed her opened bottle of wine and a glass and walked through the connecting door.
Still, something seemed off. The dream was so real. But if he wasn’t here, beside her, then what the devil...?
Alarm bells clanged through her mind.
Someone, no, make that something had been touching her and even now . . . Oh, Mother Mary! . . . it was rubbing up against her, only to stop suddenly, the length of it trailing over her.
The sibilant sound echoed through her brain.
For the love of Jesus! No!
Screaming in sheer terror, she frantically threw back the covers and scrambled backward on the bed in a single motion. The snake, its reptilian eyes reflecting the red of the dying embers, hoisted back its sharp, triangular head.
Shrieking, trying to fly off the bed, her legs tangling in the covers.
Quick as lightning, the snake struck, its coppery head still visible. Fangs sunk into her leg, hot pain searing.
“Mom!” Amity screamed, reaching for the side table, her fingers touching the base of the kerosene lamp, turned so low as to barely glow as the snake slithered quickly off the bed. “Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God! Mom!” In a full-blown panic, Amity grabbed the lamp and threw it hard against the wall, glass shattering, kerosene bursting in a blinding flash that quickly died.
Where the hell was the snake?
I’m going to die...Oh dear God. “Mom! Where the hell are you?
“Mom! Help! Snake!” she yelled. Afraid to get off the damned bed, she turned toward the door to the porch, only to see a dark figure hiding in the shadows. “Help! Oh, God, I’ve been . . .” Her heart was pounding, sweat collecting on her body. “Mom?” she whispered, scared out of her mind. “The snake just bit me! It’s still in the house, oh, holy crap! Did you hear me?” Tears began running down her face, her heart pounding wildly. “We have to get to the hospital!”
Was the figure one person? Or two?
In the dark, without her contacts, Amity couldn’t tell. Didn’t care. Were they kissing? For the love of God! No, maybe wrestling?
“Mom!” No, wait. That wasn’t Mom, was it? It was only one person, kind of wobbly on their feet. Or not? Chaotic footsteps pounded in the loft above her. Her siblings!
“Niall! Blythe! Stay upstairs!” she cried when she saw, in the faint light, silhouetted in the figure’s hand, the image of a pistol.
Was Mom going to shoot the snake? In here? In the dark? Why the hell didn’t she turn on the lights and—
She realized the gun’s muzzle was aimed at her.
“No!” Cowering in the corner of the sofa bed, she pointed toward the corner where the snake had slithered. “It’s over there. A damned copperhead, I think. Mom—”
A deafening blast roared through the cabin.
A flash of light.
The muzzle of a gun as it kicked back a little.
Amity’s body slammed against the musty pillows of the couch, pain searing through her abdomen.
Disbelief tore through her mind. She’d been shot? Someone had shot her? No way . . . but the blood running through her fingers told a different story, confirmed to her unwilling mind that someone wanted her dead.
She was still screaming as the world went black.