She made a face at him. “I swear my knuckles were white driving over the pass by Mount Hood.”
“Wasn’t it plowed?”
“Yes, but it was still icy and there were snowbanks to each side so I couldn’t even pull over and let drivers by who wanted to go faster.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “You could have flown in.”
“No, I’ll need my car.” She turned to look around her. “This is really nice. I pictured you in town.”
“I wanted privacy.” He only had an acre, but that was enough. His chalet-style house was built on a ridge of exposed lava and shielded by ponderosa pines younger and smaller than those in the park. He’d encouraged native growth, too. One of his jobs growing up had been mowing the lawn. He could live without ever mowing again.
“Come on in,” he said. “Coffee is ready.”
When she stepped inside his house, her eyes widened. “It’s beautiful.”
Outside, he had thought she’d been pretending to be interested. Now she didn’t look as if she were faking it anymore. Nell’s scrutiny made him self-conscious and Colin glanced around. “I haven’t done much decorating.”
“With that fireplace and those windows, it doesn’t need much.”
The river-rock fireplace had sold him on the house, though the vast expanses of glass hadn’t hurt even though he had known they would raise his heating bill substantially. The view from here looked northwest, toward a spine of mountains. It even caught a snippet of Mount Bachelor.
The floors were broad planks of chestnut. Low built-in bookcases formed a long seat beneath one wall of windows. The ceiling-high river rock took up most of another wall, with an ancient slab of wood inset as a mantel. He’d hung a Navajo rug above it instead of a painting.
Nell disappeared to use the bathroom while he poured the coffee in the kitchen that opened to the huge living room. When she reappeared, he saw the stress on her face that she’d been trying to hide.
She added both cream and sugar to her mug, then perched on a stool at the breakfast bar. Colin sipped his own coffee and watched her.
“My parents have a house right on the river.”
“I know. You remember it?”
“Not exactly.” She stirred, gazing into her coffee as if seeking patterns in tea leaves instead. “I looked them up online, then used Google Earth to see the house. I guess I’ve retained enough fragments that the house didn’t surprise me.”
“It’s not far from the park.”
“So it makes sense that I was cutting through on my way to wherever I was going.”
“Yes. Except that it was dark and you hadn’t told your parents you were going anywhere.”
Her eyes, strangely blind-looking, met his. “Are you sure about that?”
“No. But if they were lying, they’re good at it.”
“You saw them? That night?”
“Yeah, I did. The detective who was initially taking the lead asked me to accompany him when he went to talk to them. Of course we hoped it would turn out you’d made it home on your own. That you’d bumped your head, your mom or dad had taken you to the E.R.” He paused, remembering. “Instead, they were both home. They didn’t believe you’d gone anywhere. Your father went out to the garage to see if your bike was there, your mother went upstairs to your bedroom. I remember when she rushed back down, I saw your brother standing at the top of the stairs looking scared.”
“Did you talk to him?” She was focused intently on him.
Colin shook his head. “Later, I’m sure detectives did. That night we were finding out whether you were home or if they’d heard from you. Letting them know about the bike and the blood.”
She touched the side of her head. “My hair was matted with blood. It was all over my shirt. I’d puked, too, in the trunk. I was a mess.”
“I don’t suppose you saw a doctor.”
“I didn’t dare.” Her brief smile didn’t fool him into thinking she was happy thinking about this. “I have a scar. Sort of a ridge. Probably because I didn’t get stitches or maybe my skull was fractured and it knit funny. Not that it matters, since it’s hidden by my hair.”
“Let me see it.”
She looked startled; it had come out sounding more implacable than he’d intended. “Um...” She reached up and sifted through her hair. “It’s right here.”
Colin circled the end of the counter, standing close enough to her he could slide his own fingers into her shiny brown hair until he felt the thickened ridge of a lengthy scar. He traced it end to end, feeling rage rising in his chest, but other emotions, too. Her head was tipped to one side to give him the best access, but she watched his face sidelong. He could see how fine-pored her skin was. The curve of eyelashes was something he’d never noticed on a woman before. Her hair was fine, almost childlike in texture, and having it slip through his fingers as he gently withdrew his hand was a more sensual experience than he’d intended. A scent he suspected was uniquely hers made his nostrils flare, too. He couldn’t easily identify the herbs, but thought there was a hint of mint. And beneath it, woman.