Detour to Paradise by River Ames
“Cat got your tongue?”Lucas stared at Julie’s earnest expression and felt his forehead bead with sweat. As a favor to his sister, Summer, he’d been spending a lot of time with her new stepdaughter, Julie. Julie’s recent accident coming on the heels of Summer’s marriage to Julie’s father, Damien, had put a noticeable strain on the newlyweds’ first weeks of marriage.Damien’s exasperating but adorable fourteen-year-old daughter didn’t seem the least inclined to share her father with another woman.But Julie had taken a liking to Lucas. And, during the couple of weeks Julie needed to recuperate from the eye damage she’d suffered using a tanning lamp, it had seemed a good idea to invite her to spend some time at his cabin with his housekeeper and his housekeeper’s young son.The idea of including Julie in his vacation plans had seemed a good one. At least better than having Julie accompany Summer and Damien on their honeymoon. But as Lucas stared into Julie’s earnest face, he realized his month in the Selkirks wasn’t going to be all honey and brightness. He was definitely in trouble—deep trouble.His new niece-in-law obviously had a crush on him that he hadn’t noticed developing. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Knowing Julie, she’d probably call her father in Hawaii and insist he arrange for her to join him. And that would spoil his sister’s honeymoon. On the other hand, he couldn’t encourage the girl.Think man. You’re supposed to be such a red-hot administrator.Lucas ran a shaky hand through his hair. He might have a hundred employees scrambling to keep him happy at Rockworth Construction, but that fact didn’t seem to cut any ice in his present predicament.“We could start by going steady.”He cleared his throat but couldn’t think of anything to say. Nor could he remember ever feeling as helpless as he did in this moment in time. All he could do was look into Julie’s young face and remember how he’d felt when he’d been sixteen and had a crush on Miss Skagget, the prettiest woman ever to teach math at Lincoln High.“Ah ...” He broke off, having no idea what he meant to say. He looked skyward. What he needed was a bolt of inspiration, or failing that perhaps an earthquake to get him off the hook.“You do think I’m pretty, don’t you?”Time had run out. He was going to have to handle the situation the way he handled the rest of his life—bluntly. Obviously there wasn’t going to be any divine intervention to bail him out.“What I think is—”A high-pitched cry cut him off. Lucas glanced up and was stunned to see a woman take a running leap from the ledge above them. He reacted instinctively and held out his arms.“Lucas, what’s going on?”He didn’t let Julie’s question distract him. Instead, he caught the falling woman, feeling as if he’d plucked a comet from the sky. The spontaneous maneuver wasn’t as neatly performed as if they’d rehearsed it, but his reaction time had been quick enough to save the woman he now held in his arms from a nasty spill.An enraged growl from above made him jerk his gaze upward. An angry black bear stared back at him. And that explained the “why” and “whence” of the woman’s sudden arrival.“Don’t move,” Lucas ordered softly to Julie. “There’s a bear on the rise above us.”Julie froze, saying nothing. Lucas’s gaze dropped from the bear to the woman he now held. He didn’t dare let her go. Any sudden movement could prove the catalyst that would bring the bear charging down on them. A sable-colored length of shoulder-length hair had fallen across the woman’s face. Lucas fought the temptation to push back the swath and see what she looked like.The lady in red . . . Somehow the term conjured up images of a slinky, low-cut evening gown instead of old-fashioned red underwear.“Is Mamma still there?”Her voice, soft and breathless, warmed him. But her words were chilling.“Your mother is up on that hill with the bear?” he whispered back, without moving his lips.“Not my mother,” she corrected quietly. “Baby’s mother.”“My Lord, you mean there’s a baby up there, too?”When Sarah had opened her eyes briefly, all she’d seen was her own hair. She knew she was being held in a pair of strong arms against a powerful chest—the chest of the man the girl had called, “Lucas.”She allowed herself a moment of regret that such a strong and virile man, a man endowed with a bone meltingly deep voice, was also slow-witted.“A baby bear.”Lucas sighed in relief. “Oh.”Another furious growl ricocheted through the air. All three humans froze while their hearts raced at breakneck speed. Lucas’s eyes briefly clashed with the ones of the black bear before he quickly looked away. He’d read somewhere that eye-contact with a wild animal incited the primal urge to attack. His grip tightened on the woman in his arms.One second ground by. Then another. Finally, the black bear’s massive head turned, and the rest of its shaggy body followed. In the space above the mountain brush where once death had awaited, there was now only empty space.The focus of Lucas’s gaze returned to the woman. He visually followed the trail of tiny red buttons that led from the V of her legs, past pertly tilted breasts to a crew neck. There was nothing flimsy about her. Hers was the well-toned, faintly muscled body of a runner.“Is it over? Can I open my eyes?”He shifted his grip, easing her to a standing position. She brushed back the hair that had covered her face.His mouth fell open in disbelief. Never. Never had he believed in fate. And yet, standing with his arm cradled protectively around her was the woman that for months he’d been unable to get out of his mind.The last time he’d seen Sarah Burke he’d told himself it would be a wasted effort even to attempt to make her acquaintance.The lady was taken.