Rescuing Emery:Brotherhood Protectors WorldBy: Barb Han
To Elle James for letting me write in your world and introducing me to your awesome readers—a huge thank you. You already know how much I love you.
To Ali Williams for another outstanding editing job. You make me a better writer.
To Tori, proofreader extraordinaire. You are the best and I love working with you.
“Going up tomorrow?”
Kathrine Kilbourne seemed hellbent on convincing Ash Cage that strapping wood to his feet and rocketing down the side of a mountain was a good idea.
“I didn’t leave anything up there,” he answered with a wink. The air was brisk. The days short. Ash’s first February in a wintery state had him questioning his life choices. He might hate the cold with a passion, but it was a helluva lot better than the desert. And as much as he loved his home state of Texas, he was nowhere near ready to face it again.
“You have time to come in for a bite?”
Kat, as she’d asked Ash to call her, glanced toward the sky and the snowflakes coming down, that were already decreasing visibility. With business down for the seventy-year-old widow, despite favorable snow conditions, the invites for food had become a regular occurrence. Not that Ash was complaining.
“I can spare a few minutes before I should probably head home.” He rented a small cabin a mile up the road. Realtors would call the place rustic. It was a two-room cabin with a stove for heat and original wood floors, though Ash didn’t mind the tight quarters; it was all the space he and his dog, Seven, needed.
“I’ve got coffee. Strong and hot. Just like you like it. And a biscuit for my favorite four-legged friend.” Today’s work was ending early thanks to a white-out warning. This blizzard was supposed to be the big one. The kind of snow-dump that caused skiers and snowboarders to fly hundreds of miles for the chance to carve the mountain in fresh powder.
“Seven would eat store bought treats if he was hungry enough.”
“He deserves better than that.” Kat wagged her finger. “A dog that saved as many lives as him should have the very best.”
Ash didn’t disagree. “Yes, ma’am.”
Kat made a show of looking over her shoulder. “Is she standing right behind me?”
“My mother-in-law. Because I know you’re not using that formal word with me.”
He apologized, and she chuckled. Calling Mrs. Kilbourne by her first name would take some getting used to. Ash’s deep-seated southern upbringing caused him to slip on occasion, calling her the ‘M’ word as she’d so often teased when he referred to her as ma’am.
Old habits died hard. When he’d settled in Hero’s Junction last summer he’d been concerned about Kat. On the surface, she was an aging woman living alone. He’d worried a transient might take advantage of the situation. After getting to know her, Ash feared for the man or woman crazy enough to take the feisty widow on. Not only did she sleep with an axe and a shotgun next to her bed, she knew how to use both.
“Door will be unlocked when you’re ready.”
“See there. That wasn’t so bad, was it?” She smiled, turned and disappeared into the house looking satisfied. In addition to daily yoga classes, the woman chopped her own wood and still found time to bake muffins so good they could make a grown man cry. She came alive playing hostess to guests of her motel, a roadside haunt for snowboarders and skiers by the name of Snowed Inn, and kept up with fourteen rooms, making them clean and comfortable for travelers.
Her downfall? By her own admission, she couldn’t wield a wrench or a screwdriver if her life depended on it. Those, she’d said, she was allergic to.
That’s where Ash’s skills came in handy. He’d shown up with nothing more than a military-issue duffel and desire for work. She’d seen to the rest.
“Seven,” Ash called. His dog had been a bomb detector for the Delta Force Unit until his age dictated retirement. He’d been the best at his job. All total, he’d led about four hundred patrols and no solider was ever injured when Seven was walking for them.
Caring for Seven had given Ash a renewed sense of purpose after he’d been medically boarded out of the military.