“Oh, no,” Rose said. “I’m not going to kick Rob and Morgan out of their home. He’s just been shot! Besides, I can’t afford it. I need to save every penny because I want to enroll in school.”
“Well, I have an idea about that, too,” Autumn said. She played with the covers on Rose’s bed, pleating the top sheet in her fingers. “I know it’s not much to offer, but I really need help with the guests, especially this spring.” She laid a hand on her belly. “Morgan has been a godsend but the minute the ground warms up she’ll be frantic getting her vineyard planted. The job doesn’t pay much, but you could have the cabin rent-free. You know what the work entails since you’ve helped out in the past.” She trailed off, looking uncertain. “You probably don’t want to do it.”
“Are you kidding?” Rose said. “I’d love to! When I helped out over the summer I had a blast. I should have quit the jewelry store back then, but I was so set on staying there while I waited for Jason.” She sobered. “But I do want to go to school.”
“We can arrange your hours around your classes,” Autumn said, her eyes lighting up at Rose’s response. “It would be so much more fun working with you than hiring someone I don’t know too well. There won’t be too many hours at first,” she cautioned Rose. “But it will pick up as the spring goes on.”
“That’s terrific!” Rose said. “And Fila’s staying at the Big House for a while? It’ll be like a party.”
Autumn grinned. “I think Mia might move in, too. I can’t wait.”
Rose pushed herself up on her elbows. “They could share the cabin with me.”
The corners of Autumn’s mouth drew up even higher. “I think I’ll keep them up at the house. I have a feeling someone else will want to move in with you before too long.”
“I’m sorry it’s not much of a hideaway anymore,” Cab said two weeks later as he stood with Rose at the base of her tree house. A first snowfall covered the ground, hiding all traces of the investigation of the site except for a few torn bits of yellow police tape that dangled from the trees.
“I got a note from Carl,” Cab said gently. “He plans to come back in the spring.”
“I guess he’ll want me to take this down.”
“He might.” Cab took her hand. “How do you like your new house?”
“I love the cabin on the Cruz ranch,” Rose said. “It’s even got an extra bedroom for my studio. And Autumn and Ethan have both sworn they’ll never enter it without asking for permission first. I still feel guilty about kicking Morgan and Rob out—especially Rob.”
“Are you kidding? His mother’s showering attention on him like he’s five years old. They both love it. Lisa’s help with Rob makes things easier on Morgan and it gives all of them a chance to smooth over any last remnants of their old argument. Sounds like Rob and Morgan will break ground on their new house at the first sign of spring, anyway, so don’t worry about a thing.”
They contemplated the little house in silence.
“Do you like working with Autumn?” Cab asked.
“Yes. She’s great.”
“You know there’s a lot of forested land on the Cruz ranch.”
“I talked to Ethan yesterday. He said he’d be happy to let you build a new tree house over there in the spring.”
“Really?” She brightened, then frowned. “Why wait until spring?”
“There’s snow on the ground.”
“I think I’ll insulate my next one,” Rose said.
Cab heaved a sigh. “Then I’ll never see you.”
She chuckled, but edged closer to Cab and leaned against him a little. He’d made sure not to crowd her during these past few weeks—he didn’t want to rush her into a relationship after everything that had happened—but he kept close enough to let her know he was there whenever she was ready for him.
“You don’t mind that I want the space?” she asked him.
“I would have… before. I might have wanted to rank a little higher than your painting.” He hoped she knew what he meant.
“What’s different now?”
“I learned the only thing that matters is that you’re safe and happy. That you’re alive.”
“Thanks to you.”
“Thanks to Hannah’s bison, you mean.” He kissed her on top of her head. “Tell me if you want any help building the new one. If you don’t, I won’t come anywhere near it. Scout’s honor.”
She smiled. “I probably could use some help. In fact,” she turned to the tree house again. “I think you’d better come take a look at this one so you’ll know what I like.”
He looked askance at the ladder. “Think that thing will hold my weight?”
“Only one way to find out.”
The ladder did hold his weight and the tree house floor didn’t even sag when they unrolled the sleeping bags left from the last time she’d stayed here and arranged them into a comfortable nest.
“It’s nice,” Cab said once she’d turned on the tiny propane heater, “but it’s lacking a pool table.”
Rose smiled. “You’re right. I guess we’ll just have to use our imaginations.” She unzipped her winter coat and took off her mittens and hat, shivering in the cold air. Cab joined her, shucking off his outer layers and kicking off his boots.
“Hmm, I just sunk a great shot,” Rose said.
“Oh yeah?” Cab unbuttoned his shirt and tossed it aside.
“Oops, scratched the next one.” Rose peeled her sweater over her head.
“I sunk one in the corner and another one in the side pocket.” Cab helped her to unbutton her blouse. She laid it on the ground, and shimmied off her jeans.
“Sunk another one,” Cab said.
Rose unhooked her bra happily, unable to wait any longer to feel the touch of his hands on her skin. He didn’t disappoint her. He cupped her breasts in his hands, bent down and took one nipple into his mouth. Rose sighed in delight as he played with her, attending to first one breast and then the other until she arched her back, reveling in the sensation.
“I missed my shot,” Cab said, coming up for air. She moaned when he left her to shuck off his pants, but soon found the waistband of his boxers when he came back and reached inside them to enjoy him as much as he was enjoying her.