Freeze Frame, SnapShot, Book One
A new career, a new place, and a new man— you’d think after the rough year she’s had, Isla has finally found her stride. Of course it’s never that simple. Some dreams she is building, some dreams are taken away before they have a chance to form. But she never imagined that the one thing she’s worked so hard to realize, could be the cause it all breaks apart.
Ben doesn’t miss his assignments, his life of deceit, or his unsavory associations—but they appear to miss him. Just as he’s beginning to think perhaps there’s redemption for him after all, his dark past casts a long shadow.—and not just on him, but on the woman who made him believe.
Ben groans as he rolls over on his back the moment I slip my arm from around his waist.
The soft light of an early sun is coming through the small window opposite the bed, as I untangle myself from the sheets and slip into the bathroom to relieve myself.
He’s still softly snoring when I get back. A quick peek at the clock, on the nightstand, shows only six in the morning. To get up or crawl back under the covers, that is the question. After reacquainting myself with all Ben is able to do to my body last night—making up for lost time—I could probably do with another hour, maybe two. I’m still tired, and not just a little sore from last night’s thorough workout.
Ben’s face is lined with deep grooves, mapping out the hard life he’s led. Every line a witness to the decade or more he’s spent working undercover for the DEA, living side by side with some of the most depraved and vile criminals. It marks a man. It’s marked Ben, but every line and every wrinkle he wears just adds to his appeal. His heavily fringed eyelids fan across his cheeks, his full lips slack with sleep.
Beauty in contrast. Something I have an eye for, being a photographer. Everything about Ben is both soft and hard; it wasn’t difficult to fall for him.
I slide back underneath the sheets and my body automatically seeks his warmth, curling up against his side.
“Mmmmm, babe…” he mumbles sleepily, curving his arm around me and tugging me closer. “It’s early.”
“I know. Go back to sleep,” I whisper.
I try practicing what I preach. My eyes drift shut, but the soft circular strokes of Ben’s calloused fingertips on my neck at the hairline, keep me from drifting off. My skin is sensitized to the point that I almost anticipate the path of his touch. When his fingers change course and brush along my spine, all the way down to my ass, my skin buzzes with electricity and all hope of sleep disappears.
“You’re not sleeping,” I mutter, only slightly accusingly into his chest, as I trail my fingers through the hair there. His chuckle rumbles under my ear.
“Neither are you,” he says, his big hand sliding down to cup my ass. Well, half of my ass, seeing as even his shovel-sized paws can’t cover all my real estate.
“Mmmm, you sure you can manage after last night, old man?” His hand squeezes as he rolls me on top of him. My knees drop on either side of his hips and it is immediately evident how well he’ll be able to manage. No words are needed; his solid erection rubbing along my slick core is plenty of proof.
“Isla,” he growls, his hands settling firmly on my hips, holding me in place. “We have to talk.”
Ignoring him, I lean forward, nipping his full bottom lip with my teeth,
“Later,” I mumble against his mouth before sliding my tongue inside.
One of his hands slips back over my ass, while the other comes up to cup the back of my head. In one move, he sits up on his knees and has me on my back, my legs draped wide over his thighs. I shiver when his hand slips around to the front where he leaves it curved around my neck, the light pressure keeping me still as he bends forward and takes my nipple between his lips. The light bite, followed by the wet heat of his mouth, has my hips lift up, eager for friction.
“Easy,” he whispers against my skin. “Lift your arms over your head and keep them there.” I don’t question him and do as he tells me. Not because I don’t have a mind of my own, but because he’s already proved to me that he knows better than I do how to make me feel good. My expertise is mostly reserved to the number of settings on my vibrator. Any sex with another person involved was long ago and barely memorable.
Ben is memorable. Has been since the first time we slept together, a couple of months ago. My body had been played to perfection, much like he is making it sing now. Both of his palms are scraping slowly over my sensitized nipples, dragging down over the soft swell of my stomach to the junction of my thighs. His thumbs play lazily through the wetness gathering there, brushing lightly through my folds. His eyes are focused on his hands—on my body—before he lifts them up to mine.
“Pretty.” Is all he says before he grabs me by the hips, lifts, and with forceful precision, fills me in one powerful stroke.
My body arches off the mattress, my mouth falling open in a long drawn out groan. “Oh…”
“Eyes open.” His gruffly voiced order penetrates my mindless state. I’m not even aware I have them closed. Blinking, I clear my vision, focusing on Ben’s large form moving between my legs.
“Are you done in there?” Ben asks when I step out of the tiny bathroom, a towel wrapped around me. It would’ve been nice to take a shower together, but there’s no way; Ben can barely fit by himself.
“Have at it.” I step aside when he squeezes past me, dropping a kiss on my lips. I try hard not to giggle when I watch him work his shoulders through the door sideways, swearing under his breath. “I’ll just get coffee going.”
Tucking the towel in between my breasts, I step into the kitchen, thankful for the Keurig sitting on the little counter.
I’m just adding some cream and sugar to mine when the door opens behind me.
“Are you done already?” I ask, turning around with the mug already to my lips. I promptly drop my mug, spilling hot coffee all down my front. “Fuck, ahh!” I swing back toward the sink, pulling the soaked towel away from my skin.
“Jesus, girl,” my Uncle Al says, moving up behind me.
“What’s wrong?” I hear behind us, as the bathroom door slams open. I turn my head in tandem with my uncle, as a buck naked Ben rushes out.
“Son of a bitch,” Uncle Al bites off before he looks at me, at Ben, and marches straight back out the door. “I’ll wait outside,” he barks, pulling the door to the trailer shut behind him.
“So that’s how it is?” Al Ferris says when I walk outside, two coffees in hand.
“Black okay?” I hand him one, taking a deep breath before sitting down across from him at the picnic table.
I just spent ten minutes trying to calm Isla down while icing down her chest, which was burned bright red. She’s getting dressed as we speak, and I don’t want her to walk out here to her uncle and me going at it. So I take a sip of coffee and make sure I’m calm when I answer.
“We’re together,” I say simply.
“I gathered as much. For how long is what I’d like to know? Until the next assignment comes along?”
I understand his concerns. I told him as much the first time I spoke to him about his niece. It’s the only reason I’m able to keep my cool.
“Al—with all due respect—I’ve barely had a chance to talk with Isla about the future. What I’m willing to tell you is that I care for your niece, and I have no intention to up and leave. I won’t have to; I’m retired.” I hold his glare until he gives his head a brisk shake and lowers his eyes.
“It complicates things,” he finally says, snorting. “I came to make her an offer, but now…” His voice trails off.
“Now what?” Isla walks up and slips onto the bench beside me. “You know I can hear every word in there, right?” My hand finds her knee under the table and I give her a light squeeze.
“I forgot,” Al admits, a bit contrite.
“So what brings you out here, Uncle Al? Is Ginnie okay?” The old man lifts his hand and covers Isla’s.
“Ginnie is fine. Do you remember Henry Carmichael?” he asks her.
“Of course. You went to the academy together. He was at your retirement, wasn’t he?”
“Yeah,” Al sighs, looking down at his own fingers tracing the woodgrain in the table. I have a feeling what comes next won’t be good news. “He’s also the one who said that just because I was retired from the force didn’t mean I should sit on my ass, twiddling my thumbs.” He barks out a sharp, regretful laugh. “Sitting idle would kill me,” Al said. “This is his property, you know?”
I feel Isla startle beside me.
“His? I didn’t know that.”
“Yup. He bought it as an investment property when he handed in his badge a few years before me. Ran the place for a few years, and then decided a campground on a mountain wasn’t gonna help him get laid.”
I had to chuckle at that. I’ve spent enough time living from a small trailer to know that is the damn truth. Although I got lucky in the end. Al lifts his head and grins at me.
“Never got married. No kids. He was always looking for his next conquest. Damn, I swear he got worse the older he got.”
The smile disappears from my face. Was. Which means he’s dead. The small nod Al gives me is confirmation, before he lays it all out.
“I got a call last week from a lawyer in St. Petersburg, Florida, who’d been trying to reach me. Henry died from a massive heart attack, while cruising the Caribbean.” This time it’s Isla who reaches out and grabs her uncle’s hand.
“I’m sorry,” she softly says. “You’ve lost more than your share in this lifetime.”
“Oh, baby girl—that happens when you get to be my age.” The old man smiles at her. “I just prefer to think of it as being lucky I had all of them in my life: your mom, your Aunt Kate, Henry.”
“Still sorry for your loss, Al,” I offer my regrets, earning a hesitant smile.
“Thanks, son, but that’s not why I brought Henry up.” He turns his attention back to Isla, whose hand finds mine in her lap. “The lawyer who called is handling his estate. The damn bastard left me the campground. Lock, stock and barrel. Took me a bit to get my head around that. Even with Ginnie in a care facility, I don’t want to be too far away. Thought about selling it.” Al doesn’t notice Isla going rigid beside me and forges on. “Would probably make a pretty penny, but what am I gonna do with that? My life is fine the way it is. And then there’s you.” He lifts his eyes to Isla. “Anyway, I had the guy send the papers I was to sign to my lawyer in Cortez and went to see him yesterday.”
He pulls a folded document from his inside pocket and slaps it on the table. “It’s up to you, baby girl, but I had him draw these up. Figured since you seem to have found your legs here, you might want a say in this.”
Trembling, Isla slips her hand from mine and draws the papers toward her. My eyes slide over her bowed head to her uncle, who gives me a slight shrug before turning his attention back on his niece.
“I don’t know what to say,” Isla finally mutters, shoving the papers back across the table. “It’s too much.”
“Bullcrap,” Al reacts instantly. “It’s not enough. Trust me on that. You’ve made my life rich, baby girl. Richer and more fulfilled than I could ever have dreamed of. You’re as much mine as you were my sister’s. My blood. My only blood. And don’t think for a second you haven’t brought color to Kate and Ginnie’s lives, too.” He sniffs loudly before letting out a hoarse chuckle. “Besides, you’ll be the one doing all the work. We may both hold ownership, but you’re driving the bus. That is, if you want it?”