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hot as sin Page 22


  "I never should have come to Colorado," April said finally, her words soft and regretful. Opening her eyes, she said, "If you hadn't come to meet me in Vail, you wouldn't have gotten in that crash. And then that guy wouldn't have ..."

  Her face twisted and her words fell away.

  "Don't you dare blame yourself," Dianna said. "The crash could have happened anywhere. And I'm glad I went to the commune. I met your friends and heard about the work you've been doing. I was wrong to assume it was a bad place without checking it out first."

  "I didn't exactly invite you up for tea," April acknowledged.

  A small laugh escaped Dianna. The short burst of happiness felt amazingly good--and very unexpected given the circumstances.

  Opening her mouth to let her sister off the hook the rest of the way, a sudden flash of insight held her back. She couldn't go on as she had before. Not if she wanted things to change. Besides, April didn't need to be coddled anymore. She'd always been tough, and managing to escape not once, but twice, from her kidnapper only proved her strength yet again.

  "I heard you've been cooking and helping with children. I want you to know that I'm proud of you, April, but I think it's time you and I came clean with each other."

  April's eyes grew big and Dianna was tempted to back off, but if there was one thing she'd learned during the past few days, it was to get everything out in the open.

  "Why did you leave?"

  The words were barely out of her mouth when she realized it was the exact same question Sam had asked her.

  He'd been right when he said that she and her sister were more alike than she'd ever thought; they both ran away from people when they were scared.

  Nodding, as if she'd expected the question, April rubbed her eyes before answering. Despite how thin she was, how fragile her body looked, Dianna couldn't miss the new maturity in her sister's pensive expression. The April she'd known in San Francisco would have immediately gone on the defensive.

  "I overheard your PR staff telling you I was bad for your image."

  Shocked, Dianna sucked in a breath, but before she could say anything April held up a hand.

  "Please, let me try and get it all out, okay?"

  "Okay," Dianna agreed, "I'll try not to interrupt."

  April needed to tell her story, no matter how painful. For the first time, Dianna needed to listen. Just listen. Just as she should have listened to Sam so many years ago.

  "I'd been wanting to get away for so long and I told myself it would be better for both of us if I just left. I thought if I was gone then you wouldn't have to worry about me anymore and I wouldn't keep disappointing you."

  God, it was hard not to say anything, Dianna thought as she let April continue.

  "I guess part of leaving was wanting to hurt you," April admitted. "It never seemed fair that our mother kept you and not me. I kind of hated you for it. For being better than me. For being more lovable. But once I got to the Farm and started making friends, they helped me see that I wasn't being fair."

  April sighed. "Actually, what they really said is that I'd been acting like a spoiled brat. They helped me see that I was so busy trying not to be you all these years, I forgot to try and be myself." Her mouth quirked up in a rueful half smile. "I know it's hard to believe, but when I asked you to meet me it was because I was trying to figure out a way to apologize." Another quirk of the lips. "I really am sorry for being such a jerk all these years."

  Even though she'd vowed to stay silent, Dianna couldn't help but say, "It didn't help that I immediately jumped down your throat, though, did it?"

  "I guess neither of us invited the other person to tea, huh?" April joked.

  Wanting to get everything out on the table, Dianna knew April wasn't the only one who needed to apologize.

  "I blew it, too. I never should have tried to get you and Mom back together. I don't know what I was thinking. It was such a terrible idea."

  April shrugged. "In a way, it was kind of good that you did that. It made me realize how shitty it would have been to stay with her." Looking at their hands, still threaded together on the bed, she said, "I never asked you what it was like living with her."

  It was so tempting to make it sound normal, better than it was. But Dianna didn't want to lie anymore. Not to her sister. And not to herself.

  "If I didn't hide some of her unemployment money every month, she and her boyfriends spent it all at the bar."

  "Were her boyfriends horrible?"

  "Some were okay, but others were," she almost shivered remembering, "scary. Once I started to develop they'd try to corner me, touch me. And she was always too wasted to stop them."

  "No wonder you never wanted me to drink. Or date."

  Dianna put her free hand over her heart. "I know I was overbearing, but I was so scared of anything happening to you. I don't know if I can change overnight, but is it good enough if I promise to at least try to be less controlling?"

  "You can't help it if you're a control freak," April said. "Once I met our mother, things became a lot clearer. I started to see why you've worked so hard for your job and house and security. You didn't want to be like her."

  "No," Dianna said softly, thinking again of Sam and the baby they didn't have. "I didn't."

  April squeezed her hand. "I really am sorry for all the ways I've hurt you, Dianna. Especially when you've done more for me than anyone else."

  "You're my sister," Dianna said softly. "And I love you. I'd do anything for you."

  "I love you, too," April told her, "but here's the thing. I don't want to be taken care of anymore. I need my own space to figure stuff out."

  "I know you do," Dianna said. "I just wish we didn't have to go through all of this to figure things out."

  April sucked on her lip again, her brows furrowed. "So, you were at the Farm?" When Dianna nodded, she asked, "How did you even get up there? Did you hike?"

  "And river-rafted and climbed rocks and slept under the stars."

  Her sister couldn't have looked more surprised. "You did all of that? By yourself?"

  In an instant, all of her worries about Sam slammed into her. "No, I didn't do it all by myself." April had already been unconscious by the time Sam showed up. "I had help. Lots of help."

  Dianna swallowed past the lump in her throat. "His name is Sam MacKenzie and I was engaged to him a long time ago."

  But before she could tell her sister more about Sam's heroics, and about how they'd fallen back in love, a knock came at April's door.

  A gray-haired doctor stood in the doorway. "I'm looking for Dianna Kelley." His expression was grave.

  Barely feeling April squeeze her hand, Dianna pushed back her chair and stood up.

  "Yes, that's me."

  "I'm Sam MacKenzie's surgeon. I need to speak with you right away."

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

  HER LIPS were numb. So were her hands. Oh God, Sam had to be getting better, not worse. He didn't deserve any of this, not when he'd been nothing but a hero.

  Willing herself not to fall apart in the hospital hallway, she asked, "Is there a problem with Sam?"

  The doctor raised his eyebrows. "Physically, no."

  She had to blink a couple of times. "You mean he's going to be okay?"

  The man waved one hand in the air and she suddenly realized he looked more irritated than worried.

  "He's pretty beaten up and we had to pick a couple of shards from the bullet out of his leg. The problem is not his health."

  "Then what's wrong?"

  The doctor pinched the bridge of his nose. "He's driving the nurses on his floor crazy asking for you. He's tried to get up and walk out of his room a half-dozen times. And he's refused to take any of the pain medication or sleeping pills he needs. I'm afraid we're going to need your help to get him to cooperate."

  Dianna couldn't hold back a grin. Thank God, he sounded just like the Sam MacKenzie she'd always known.

  And always loved.

  Sitting up
in the bed, the covers barely covering his hips, Sam pulled off his hospital gown and threw it on a chair. A nurse walked in the room and did a double take when she saw his bare chest.

  "Was there something wrong with your gown?" she asked him, stuttering over every other word, her eyes never leaving his naked body.

  "I need my clothes," he growled.

  He had to get out of this bed, this room, and find Dianna. He needed to make sure she was okay. He hated being away from her, not knowing if she was in pain.

  "Mr. MacKenzie," a young male doctor said as he stepped forward, "it's a pleasure to meet you."

  He didn't have time for this bullshit, for meeting any more doctors who wanted to ooh and ah over his injuries. The bullet had barely grazed his thigh. He was fine.

  "What happened to my clothes?"

  The doctor chuckled. "They were pretty much shredded beyond recognition." Tapping on the chart he was holding, he said, "You'll be happy to know that you passed your CT scan with flying colors. No breaks. No ruptures. How are you feeling now?"

  "I feel fine. As soon as I get some clothes I'm out of here."

  The nurse looked helplessly at the doctor. The man shrugged, "I'm afraid we can't let you leave quite yet, but we can try to get you some clothes."

  "I don't know if I can find anything that will fit him," the nurse said, blushing profusely as she gestured to Sam's muscular shoulders and broad chest.

  "Dr. Keyes has a similar build. Why don't you go see if he's got an extra set of clothes he could lend Mr. MacKenzie?" Turning back to Sam, he said, "Before I go, could you tell me how you did it?"

  "Did what?"

  "Lived through your fall. You could have died a dozen different ways. But you didn't."

  Dianna had needed him. He'd needed to get back on the trail so that he could save her and April--and marry Dianna. That had been his motivation, plain and simple.

  "I had unfinished business to take care of." And a woman he loved waiting for him on the other side.

  And then a woman walked in carrying a handful of clothes, but it wasn't the nurse.

  It was Dianna.

  ------

  Dropping the clothes, she ran to Sam, burying her head in his chest. He wrapped his strong arms around her and stroked her hair.

  Even though she'd managed perfectly well by herself for ten years, she was no longer afraid to admit to herself that she needed him.

  His strength. His confidence. His love.

  When she was with Sam, she finally felt safe.

  "I was so worried about you," she said softly. "Are you okay?"

  He smiled into her eyes and she'd never seen anything more beautiful than his scruffy tanned face--cuts, bruises, and all.

  "Never better. Why aren't you in bed? You've got to be exhausted."

  She laughed. Here he'd been hit by a bullet and he wanted to know why she wasn't resting.

  "This time you're the one who needs to rest," she said, pressing a soft kiss on his lips. "You've spent so long taking care of me and everyone else. Now it's finally my turn to take care of you."

  "I'm fine," he insisted, but she wanted to make him understand.

  "For so long, I told myself I didn't need anyone to watch over me, that I wasn't going to wait for some guy to swoop in and save me. But I was wrong. It's not about being saved, it's about knowing there's someone out there who will always have your back, no matter what."

  She leaned in close to kiss him again. "You've always been the strong one, Sam. You've always been the one who had my back. This time, let me take care of you."

  Cupping her face with his hands, he kissed her so sweetly, her lips were a direct line to her heart.

  "How can a guy argue with that?"

  Smiling, she said, "I told the doctors I'd work my special powers to get you to see reason."

  "Tell them to throw their pills away. You're the only medicine I need," he said, before asking, "How's April doing? Have you seen her yet?"

  "I was just in her room. She's going to be fine. And we talked, Sam. Really talked for the first time."

  "I'm glad," he said, smiling. "I can't wait to meet her to tell her what a great big sister she has."

  And then he grew serious again, a muscle jumping in his jaw. "Who was that guy on the trail? Why was he after you? Did he hurt you?"

  As if on cue, there were two sharp raps on the door. The two police officers from the campground walked into Sam's room.

  "Ms. Kelley, Mr. MacKenzie, if you don't mind, we've got some questions to ask both of you."

  Dianna's heart jumped, but Sam's hand on hers helped calm her down. Never having been nearly as comfortable on the other side of the interviewer's chair, she wanted to get her part over with as soon as possible. Speaking quickly, she summarized the situation as best she could for the cops. Talking about the stranger's revenge plot, she felt as if she were watching herself from a distance.

  When she finished recounting her part of the story, the police turned their attention to Sam.

  "So you admit to lighting the fires, Mr. MacKenzie?" one of the officers asked when he was finished recounting his part of the story.

  Sam's steady gaze didn't waver. "Yes."

  He'd already explained his reasons, that creating a smoke signal was his only chance to be seen beneath the thick canopy of trees. He didn't give excuses or make apologies.

  Now more than ever, Dianna saw that he'd risked everything for her. His career and his life.

  "Did the hotshot crew put the fires out yet?" Sam asked.

  "Yes, but we're still going to have to write you up for arson."

  "Understood."

  The police closed their notebooks and stood up, but Dianna had no intention of letting them leave before she got her questions answered too.

  "Who was he?"

  The taller cop with the gray hair answered. "His name was Graham Taylor."

  She could tell they wanted to leave it at that, but she, Sam, and April had all nearly died at his hands.

  "What was that place he took me to?"

  The officers looked at each other, the older one giving a quick nod to the younger one, who said, "A meth lab. We've been looking for him for the past few months, but all trails led to his twin brother. We were still gathering evidence and hadn't yet questioned either Jacob or Graham." Clearing his throat, he said, "I'm sure we'll be back in touch by phone in the near future."

  Dianna sat down hard on the edge of Sam's bed when they were alone again, stunned by everything that had happened.

  "I can't believe what you had to do to find me and April. I'll never forgive myself if you lose your job."

  "I'd light those fires again, Dianna. If you were in trouble and it was the only way I could get to you, I wouldn't hesitate for a single second. I can get another job. But without you, I've got nothing."

  And then Sam was running the back of his hand along her jawline, making her unable to focus on anything except the shivers running through her body.

  "There are so many things I want to say to you right now. But the most important thing is that I love you, Dianna. I've always loved you. I always will."

  She brought his hands to her lips and kissed his warm skin. "I love you, too. Always and forever."

  His eyes were starting to close and she could see how hard it was for him to stay awake.

  "I'm not going anywhere, Sam. I promise. Right now the most important thing you can do is rest."

  She watched him sleep for a couple of hours, her heart full with happiness. While the past three days had almost taken everything she loved from her, miraculously, she'd come out the other side with more love than she'd ever dreamed possible.

  Still holding Sam's hand, finally at peace, she closed her eyes and leaned her head back against her chair. The next time she opened them, she found Sam awake and staring at her, his blue eyes dark and passionate.

  He held out his arms and she crawled up onto the bed with him, careful not to brush up against his thig
h.

  "Am I hurting you?" she asked, even though she had no intention of leaving him.

  "The only thing that hurts is having you so far away."

  His lips ran a trail of kisses down her face, past her earlobe, lingering at the sensitive spot on her neck.

  "I'm pretty sure this isn't what the doctor meant when he said you needed to rest."

  She felt Sam's grin against her skin. "To each his own. All I can say is I'm feeling better already."

  His kisses felt so good and she wanted to sink into them and forget everything, but there were so many things she needed him to know.

  Pulling away slightly, she was mesmerized by the gleam in his eyes that told her how much he wanted her. She was amazed all over again that he wanted her, just as she'd been at eighteen.

  Of all the women he could have chosen, he'd picked her.

  And she'd chosen him right back.

  Only this time, they were actually going to get the fairy tale. The whole thing, not just the opening credits.

  "I can't wait to hear what you're thinking," he teased, brushing a lock of hair out of her eyes.

  At her silent question, he said, "Your brain is always going, always working, always questioning. It's one of the things I've loved about you from the start."

  Her smile huge, she said, "I was just thinking about us. About our future."

  She paused and looked at him to see if the word "future" had freaked him out, but his expression remained open and loving, a far cry from the shuttered, closed-up man he'd been through the first half of their journey to find April.

  "Earlier, when April and I were talking, she told me it isn't my fault that I'm a control freak." He chuckled as she said, "But I've finally figured out that it's time for me to let go. Not just with April, so that she can live her own life, but with you and me. I don't know what's going to happen, Sam. I can't predict what's in our future. When I was eighteen, I was scared, so I left. But I'm not scared of risking my heart to you anymore."

  Sam's mouth came down over hers with a kiss so sweet and filled with love that it brought tears to her eyes.

  But there was one more thing she needed to know.

  "What about everything you said to me? About needing to stay away from me because of what happened after I left?"

  His black hole. How could she ever forgive herself if he ended up back in that dark place?

  His answer was swift. Sure. "I'd risk a thousand black holes for the chance to love you, Dianna. Because not being with you will hurt me far more than anything else. Even falling off a cliff," he teased.