Master of Solitude
MOUNTAIN MASTERS & DARK HAVEN, BOOK 8
Since childhood, Mallory McCabe has dreamed of falling in love with a hero. And then one saves her life. He’s honest…and blunt. Deadly, but filled with pain. Overpowering, yet ever so gentle with her. Oh yes, she’s found her hero. Taking him to her bed is simply…right. As is losing her heart.
How could she have known he’d want nothing more to do with her?
His indifference hurts. She vows to forget him…then he buys the land next to hers.
Released early from prison, all Sawyer Ware wants is to put his life back together. His police detective brother houses him while he makes plans. But when a violent gang targets his brother, Sawyer puts his future on hold. He’ll have to take on the gang first. After a decade as a Navy SEAL, he won’t–can’t–walk away if someone he loves is threatened.
His mission is likely to prove bloody. He sure can’t afford to get involved with a woman, especially his captivating neighbor. He hungers to be near her, to enjoy her clear laugh, her easy friendship, and the peace she brings wherever she goes. A relationship is absolutely out of the question.
Why won’t his heart obey orders?
PRAISE FOR THIS SERIES
"This story is something unique and special and will be a favorite of mine for sure for a LOOOOONG time. Cherise Sinclair writes fresh, sexy, and sweet stories that just take your breath away. I can't get enough!" ~ Marie's Tempting Reads
"Master Of Solitude gets a SIZZLING HOT HOT HOT FIVE SHOOTING STARS! I was addicted to this story from the beginning and nothing gets my motor running like Dom who also happens to be a hero." ~ Marie's Tempting Reads
"This is totally a five-star read with great characters, a charming setting, suspense, sizzling sex scenes, and good story." ~ Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews
"Oh how I've missed this erotic and sensual world that Cherise Sinclair created some time ago. Mallory McCabe and Sawyer Ware were EVERYTHING you guys…EVERYTHING! A tortured soul, and a woman who wants nothing but to heal his heart. This journey was one of passion and emotion. It poured off of every page and I couldn't put it down for even a second." ~ Shayna Renee's Spicy Reads
"Love it when a man who has taken a few knocks in life still stands true to the honor ingrained in him no matter what life throws at him. 5 Stars!" ~ SnS Reviews
A few minutes later, finished with errands, Mallory drove her pickup up her winding mountain road. As the tall evergreens cast shadows over the darkening road, loneliness trickled through her.
Seeing Becca had reminded her of Serena and Missy, her besties who’d moved to San Francisco earlier in the summer. When she’d spoken to them last night, she’d realized they loved living in the city—and weren’t coming back. She had other friends, but she missed the ones she’d had for years.
And she was returning to a dark, empty house…because Gramps had died last year.
She sighed. Her life wasn’t the same without him in it. She’d expected the aching grief from losing him, but she hadn’t anticipated how often the little things would wound her heart. There was no longer a hoarse, raspy laugh in response to the cat’s antics. Her mornings now lacked Gramps’ silly complaints. He’d always found something to grumble about before his first cup of coffee. After work, she’d automatically check to see if he’d emptied the cookie jar…and it hurt to see no cookies had disappeared.
Her first summer in Bear Flat, he’d taught her how to hammer nails, saw boards, and…had taken the place of her nonexistent father.
Why did you have to die, Gramps? She pined for him the way a person would long for sunshine at the end of winter. Only this time, the warmth wouldn’t return, would it?
She wished he hadn’t fretted so much about her before he’d passed on. Being the old-fashioned, protective man he was, he’d wanted her to have a husband. Although he’d been proud she’d taken over his construction company, he’d also wanted her to have someone with whom to share her life.
Yes, Gramps, it would be nice to have a husband and children. To have someone to laugh—and grumble—with. Someone to share the long snowy winters and the first daffodils shooting up in spring.
But she didn’t see a loving relationship in her future.
The last man she’d dated hadn’t lasted a month. She’d overheard him tell a friend, “She’s nice, but too damn boring. I want to get smashed on weekends; she wants to garden. Hell with that.”
Slowing for a curve, she huffed a laugh. Life was a balance, now wasn’t it? Maybe she wasn’t flashy, but she had plenty of friends. Her work satisfied her and made her customers happy. She liked who she was and wasn’t about to twist herself up, trying to look all eye-catchingly feminine.
She grinned, thinking of Becca’s advice. “…screw his brains out.” Considering she’d turn thirty in a couple of months, she was quite old enough for a fling, right?
Missy and Serena occasionally indulged in one-night stands they half-regretted and half-boasted about. “I knew it wouldn’t go anywhere, but he was just too hot to ignore,” Serena had said on the phone last week. “Ooooh, girl, the sex was worth it.”
What would a one-night stand be like?
Sex wasn’t something she obsessed about. She did just fine with her own hand. Although she could climax if a man was talented with his fingers or mouth, it was a lot of effort for a mild orgasm. Especially since she took so long. Guys could pump a few times and be done. And boy, when they were finished, they were finished.
Each of her three lovers had been a friend first—and each had returned to being a friend after the short romance. Steamy sex? It just wasn’t in her DNA.
Would a one-night stand be different since she’d know she’d never see the man again? Would it be more exciting?
Mallory slowed the truck for the next sharp curve. Twilight was when deer liked to feed—and would often dash across the road unexpectedly. As the road straightened, she spotted a couple of cars pulled off on the turnout.
Trunk open, one vehicle was jacked up with a tire off. Was it young Zoe Wheeler’s car? The girl had just gotten her license last month. She might need help—or a ride home.
Mallory braked and parked in front of the jacked up car. Since she wasn’t completely off the road, she turned on her caution flashers before hopping out.
No one was working on the flat tire.
The encroaching forest stood in ominous shade. As Mallory turned in a circle, trying to spot someone, uneasiness sent a shiver up her spine—and kept her from calling out. Instead, she reached into the door’s side compartment for her heavy, foot-long flashlight.
As she walked to the other side of the cars— away from the road, a shimmer caught her attention. The flash of a bluish aura was gone too quickly to read, but someone was upslope where the forest’s shadows reigned. Squinting, she caught a glimpse of a shiny yellow fabric.
A man’s low voice came from there.
Mallory hesitated. Was she interrupting a hot interlude? Well, too bad. Even if she embarrassed everyone, at least she’d know Zoe was all right.
Moving closer, she saw the man. A beefy build. In his early twenties. His chin-length hair was oily and tangled. Piercings studded his lips and nose—and his murky aura was ugly.
Zoe was there, her yellow shirt half ripped off.
Saying something too low to hear, the man shoved the girl against a tree trunk and slapped her.
Mallory froze for a second, then anger surged up. She dashed toward them. “You bastard. Get away from her!”
The man spun around. “We’re just talking. Beat it, bitch.” His hand covered Zoe’s mouth, and as he straightened, Mallory realized how big he was.
Don’t be stupid. Mallory skidded to a stop, yanked out her phone so fast she almost dropped it, and punched in 911.
“911. What is your emergency?”
Mallory raised her voice. “A girl is being attacked up on Kestrel Mountain Road, the turnout on the north side. Before Whiskey Creek Lane. Hurry!” Leaving the phone on, she shoved it into her jeans as the operator continued to talk. Mallory took a firmer grip on her flashlight.
“You fucking bitch.” The man turned toward Mallory, hand closing in a fist.
Yanking her arm from his hold, Zoe lurched into a run, straight toward Mallory. Blood streamed down her face.
The thug chased after the girl.
Hiss and spit, why didn’t he leave? “Get behind me, hon.”
Running past Mallory, Zoe tripped and fell to her knees.
The attacker was far too close; running away wasn’t going to work.
The flashlight seemed woefully inadequate for self-defense. With her free hand, Mallory armed herself with a dead branch. Heart hammering, she took a step forward to be squarely in front of Zoe. Her mouth felt too dry to speak as she faced the man. “You’d better leave before the cops get here.”
“You dumb bitch. Shouldn’t have butted in.” The last of the light glinted off his piercings, and an ugly sneer pulled his thick lips up. He kept coming.
Mallory gritted her teeth and set her stance. The Mastersons had taught her self-defense…years and years ago.
Why did this guy have to be so big?
He swung at her.
Ducking low, she smacked the long flashlight into his side so hard her hand went numb. As he shouted in pain, she poked him in the stomach with the branch.
It broke in two. Stupid branch. She dropped it and back-pedaled.
“Fucking cunt.” He kept coming, swinging at her like an enraged grizzly.
She dodged one swing, but the other slammed into her shoulder like a wrecking ball. Knocked onto the ground, she rolled and scrambled up—and threw a handful of dirt and gravel into his face.
As he scrubbed his hands over his eyes, Mallory danced away, looking for Zoe.
The girl had wormed her way under Mallory’s pickup. Good. With the cops coming, that was the safest place for her.
Mallory’d have to keep the man away from Zoe until then. Oh, sure. Fear had her breathing far too fast. She backed up more and tightened her grip on the heavy metal flashlight.
Blinking, the man swore horribly as tears streamed from his reddened eyes. His aura was almost black with his rage. If he caught her, he’d hurt her badly
He rushed her and swung one fist.
Mallory jumped to one side, whacked his forearm hard with the flashlight, and darted away.
Lunging, he snagged her loose work shirt and yanked her toward him.
Bending forward against his pull, she kicked backward. Her boot smashed into his shin.
“Shit!” He lost his grip on her shirt.
Off balance, she fell forward, clambered back to her feet, and turned.
And a big muscular stranger sprang from behind the car. He grabbed the thug’s arm and used the momentum to slam the bastard against Zoe’s battered Ford.
Heart hammering, Mallory retreated.
The thug yelled and whirled around. “I’ll gut you, asshole.” Pulling a switchblade, the brute attacked.
Mallory bit back a scream.
The rescuer dodged to the side and landed a solid punch to the thug’s ribs.
“Fuck!” The thug backed away, then moved forward more cautiously. His blade weaved a defensive net, stabbing here and there, at the weaponless rescuer.
Oh, no. He’d die. Aghast, Mallory searched for a weapon—and spotted Zoe’s flat tire. She picked it up and heaved it at the thug.
The heavy tire hit his ass, knocked him forward—and right into the rescuer’s big fist. With a horrible groan, the thug staggered back.
Following through, the good guy flattened him with the next punch.
Zoe’s attacker landed on his back.
Mallory’s trembling legs threatened to drop her to the ground with him. Leaning against the truck, she stared at the unmoving attacker.
He was out cold.
Okay, then. As she tried to catch her breath, she glanced at the victor…and blinked.
His aura…oh, she’d never seen anything more lovely. In predominance was the clear, deep red of strength and determination. Grounded in reality, this man could take anything and survive. Green was his secondary color—he was probably a hardworking perfectionist. An outdoorsman. Generous. Loyal. Streaks of darkness spoke of pain, both physical and emotional—and called to her.
He noticed her watching and moved forward.
One hand on the truck, Mallory pushed herself upright. “Thank you so much.”
“No problem.” The way his black T-shirt stretched over his heavily muscled shoulders and chest distracted her for a moment, then she noticed how he’d braced his hand against his side.
She didn’t remember him getting hit or cut. “Have you been hu—”
Looking down at her, he frowned. “Are you all right, miss?” His grip on her upper arm was powerful, but careful.
“I—” She realized she was trembling like an aspen during a high wind. She tried to straighten her spine…yet the unexpected sensation of being cared for and protected made her want to bury her head in his shoulder.
His brown hair was cut very short, and his face was all hard angles. “Miss?” In the shadowy light, his eyes were a dark, dark blue. His gaze raked her up and down before returning to her face. “Are you hurt?”
Considering his size and the rugged lines of his face, she’d expected a deep, harsh voice. Instead, his voice was a smooth, dark velvet, reminding her of the guy in Die Hard.
The hero in Die Hard.
She had a hero here.
And he was waiting for her answer…
“I’m fine. Thanks to you.” She patted his hand and pulled free. Ignoring the quivering of her legs, Mallory went down on one knee and looked under the car. “Zoe.”
The girl was curled into a ball in the gravel, shaking and crying.
The attacker was still out cold. Nonetheless, Mallory wanted to stomp him into the ground. Despite the fury raging inside, she gentled her voice. “Let’s get you out of there, honey.”
Once she’d managed to coax Zoe from under the car, Mallory pulled the trembling girl close…and watched two police cars come wailing around the bend.
The first patrol officer out of the black-and-white spotted her. “Mallory! What’s going on?”
Sawyer rubbed his bruised knuckles as he talked with the police officer. Ex-cons weren’t always given the benefit of the doubt, but the young cop had recognized him—because of Atticus—and listened rather than automatically clapping on the cuffs.
Another officer had taken the two females to one side—because the half-hysterical kid wasn’t about to be separated from the woman—and the females had confirmed his account.
The asshole assailant sealed his fate by cursing the cops and resisting arrest.
Although Sawyer’s side throbbed from the action, he had to admit watching the bastard get cuffed and tossed into the patrol car was a fine finish. He didn’t want to think of what would have happened if he hadn’t driven by just then on his way to Atticus’ house. But…all good. The kid’s only injury had been a slap and a huge fright. The woman would have some bruises but nothing more.
As one patrol car took the asshole away and another left to drive the girl to her parents, Sawyer let out a relieved sigh and climbed into his pickup. Amazing how quiet the night was without everyone around.
As he started the ignition, his headlights spotlighted the other vehicle parked at the end of the turnout. Melissa—no, the cop had called her Mallory—sat unmoving on the tailgate of her pickup.
Well, hell. Sawyer turned the key, got out, and walked over. “You okay?”
“Mmmhmm.” Her gaze came up. “Did I thank you?”
“Several times.” He frowned.
She’d wrapped her arms around her waist and was shaking hard enough to bust bones. Not surprising. Most civilians weren’t used to violence. The young woman had fought well and afterward had kept herself together to comfort the girl. Now, everything had caught up with her.
The cops should have made sure she was taken care of—but they were young, and what with tourist season and Saturday night, short-handed. “You got someone to go home to?”
“No. No one.” Her big eyes darkened in a way that tugged at his heart.
“I’m sorry.” Needing to extend comfort, Sawyer rested his hand on her shoulder—and realized he was far too close. She was female, and smart women ran from ex-convicts.
“How about I call someone to come and pick you up?” he asked. Let go of her, fool.
“Thanks, but I’m fine. I just need a moment to pull myself together.” Her attempt at a smile was heartbreaking.
“All right, you take the time you need.” Only it was dark and the side of the road. He’d be damned if he’d leave her here alone. “I’ll wait with you.”
She smiled at him. “Thank you. And thank you for the rescue. You were right in time.”
The thought of her being hurt by the bastard was unsettling.
And he wanted to kiss her more than he wanted his next breath.
No. Just no. Come on, Ware.
Okay, maybe her face was too strong for beauty, her mouth too wide, and her chin too firm. Yet, long, sun streaked, dark brown hair framed a golden tanned face with huge green eyes. Sure, she wasn’t what some idiots would call classically beautiful, but she was incredibly appealing.
He’d overheard the teen tell the cop how Mallory’d taken on the assailant to protect her.
This woman was totally, crazily brave, and he was a sucker for courage. Not that he’d do anything about it. Nice girls and ex-cons didn’t belong together.
Unable to help himself, he ran a finger down her cheek, finding her skin as soft as it looked. The surprise showed in her eyes. Yeah, he shouldn’t have touched her. In fact, he braced himself, waiting to see her flinch away.
She didn’t. Instead, her gaze dropped, and she bit her lip. And then shook her head. “I need to go home.”
Yeah, she did. But from the way her hands were shaking, he wasn’t sure she’d get there. “I’m not sure you’re good to drive.”
With a rueful smile, she turned her hands over and watched them shake. “It’s a good thing I live close.”
No shit. Idiot cops to leave her here. “I’m going to follow you home and make sure you get there. You can call the police station and let them know, if you want.”
She laughed, actually laughed. Her voice was crystal clear and fucking beautiful. “If you don’t mind, I’d appreciate an escort. Thank you again.”
A few minutes later, following the red taillights of her pickup, Sawyer was startled to see her turn in onto Whiskey Creek Lane—the dirt road his brother lived on. She drove past Atticus’ acres to the end of the lane and turned into a private drive, which curved upward toward an older farmhouse.
When Sawyer stepped out of his pickup, he took a long breath of pine-scented air and looked out over the land. He’d seen it from Atticus’ house, but it was even more stunning from this higher vantage point. Encircling the wide valley were forested mountains. Moonlight bathed the creek-fed meadow and fenced pastureland.
Mallory stopped at the foot of the steps, her hand gripping the railing. Maybe unsure her legs would hold her.
No porch light. The house was dark. Not a comforting place after the violence she’d endured. Frowning, he walked over and put a hand under her arm. “Let’s get you inside and put some lights on.”
She let out a soft sigh. “Thank you.”
He helped her up the steps, unlocked the front door for her, and flipped on the hallway lights.
She stepped inside and hesitated. “Um. Would you…would you like to come in for a drink?”
“Seriously?” In his far-too-extensive past, “come in for a drink” was usually code for “wanna have sex?”. He shook his head. “Not a good idea. I don’t think you realize who or what you’re asking in, Mallory.”