Back inside, she noted her surroundings this time. How spotlessly clean the place was. If there was anything out of place, she couldn’t figure what it would be. Even the woodpile next to the fireplace was freakishly neat. And the food did smell really good. As Blake hung his coat on the rack next to the door, Ruth couldn’t help but watch him move. He had the grace of a jungle cat, all fluidity and controlled power. She shivered at the thought. Carnivorous grace. A predator, pure and simple.
He wore a red flannel shirt over a white tee, both tucked into jeans that hugged his ass and powerful legs perfectly. Muck boots came just below his knees. He toed off the boots onto a rug beside the door. Never had she seen anyone look so fucking good in such plain clothes.
With a little smirk at her, as if he knew exactly what she was thinking, he opened a closet and retrieved bedding and pillows. Just as the lights flickered once, then went out. Blake didn’t hesitate, but continued as if nothing were out of the ordinary. Firelight flickered over him making his dark hair seem to glimmer in the dim light.
Blake neatly made the couch with sheets and quilts like he might a bed, then made a pallet on the floor. “Intended for you to sleep in my bed, but with the power out, it would be better to sleep in here by the fire. I can’t run the generator all night so it will probably get chilly, and I don’t have the fireplace in my room ready for a fire. You take the couch.” He stretched out on the floor, flashing her that heart-stopping grin as he did. “Relax,” he said. “It’ll be fun. Like camping out.”
“This is your idea of fun?” Ruth couldn’t believe this was happening. She was stuck in the mountains of Kentucky with a man she didn’t know all that well in the middle of a snow storm. And she wasn’t broken up about it all. Sure, he routinely fucked up people who got in his business, but he helped people too. Surely that meant he was one of the good guys.
“Na. This is life. Fun would be doing this outside. We’d have to snuggle to keep warm.”
Ruth couldn’t help the giggle that bubbled up inside her. “You’re nuts,” she managed. There was a companionable silence for a while. The wind picked up outside, howling through the trees and over the house, but she felt no cold. He’d obviously taken care to insulate his home against the chill and wind.
“Come on,” he said, snagging her arm and steering her toward the kitchen table off in the corner of the living room. “Food is calling.” The living room and kitchen area were combined. While the room was small, he’d used the space well, keeping all but the couch in front of the fire against the walls to maximize the living area. They ate in silence for long moments. Which was a good thing. Though the meal was simple, Ruth was certain she’d never tasted anything so wonderful outside her gram’s cooking.
Finally, Ruth asked the question she’d been burning to ask since she’d discovered the truth about him. “Why do you do it?”
“Hold beautiful women against their will in my home in the mountains? Because I’m a lusty bastard and hope to persuade them to…get cozy with me when the fire burns low.”
She sighed. “Do you take nothing seriously?”
“I always take survival very seriously. Snuggling for body heat is a matter of survival.”
He took her dishes. When she offered to help, he gave her a sexy little smirk and told her to get ready for bed. Which just conjured up all kinds of naughty images.
Once she was settled and he situated himself on the floor between her and the fire, she continued their conversation. “You risk going to jail for drug trafficking and for what? You give away your product. Do you not make anything from it?”
“Ah. That.” He sighed as if disappointed, but continued. “Why would anyone do what I do?”
She thought a moment before answering. “I suppose you had someone in need of…medicine.”
“Very good,” he praised.
Which only grated on Ruth’s nerves so she added, “Or you’re just not very smart.”
He chucked. “I like your sass. You’re right. My mother had breast cancer. She would have died a natural death had it not been for my father, my brother, and me. She was the glue that held us together and she knew it. So she went through all the chemo and radiation the doctors suggested. Never once did she complain. But it was hell for her.
“Finally, my father had had enough. He loved my mother more than anything on this earth. My brother and I included. At her last doctor’s visit, he said he was bringing her home for good. No more treatments. My mother looked at him as if he’d handed her the Holy Grail before she broke down into tears. My brother and I wanted to protest. We wanted her around as long as possible. But we knew what she went through. The sickness every day. Not being able to eat. Losing what little she managed to choke down. And the pain. Always the pain.
“One night, Dad had just helped her from the bathroom where she’d been violently ill for half an hour. She could barely stand. Dad had to carry her back to bed. I did the only thing I could think of. I knew Mom wouldn’t like it. She was a church-going woman. But I rolled a joint and went to their bedroom. She was lying there, nearly lifeless from fatigue and lack of food to sustain her. Mom just looked at me, so obviously wanting her suffering to end but unwilling to leave all of us.
“So I lit the end, sucking in a lungful of smoke. I eased down to her and slowly blew it under her nose so she could breathe it in with her mouth or her nose. At first, she gasped in surprise, trying to turn away. But I kept at it. After a couple of hits, she started to feel better.”
Blake was quiet for several seconds. Ruth thought he was done, but, seeming to gather himself, he continued.
“None of us ever spoke about it. Beau, my brother, and I just made sure she had several joints ready each day if she needed them. The nausea lessened. The pain lessened. She still took the morphine the hospice nurse brought, but not as much. Her appetite increased and she got a little stronger. Did it cure her? Not in the least. She died a couple of months later. But her time was spent with us. Not in a drugged-out stupor where she was in constant pain. She still hurt, but it was more manageable.
“In the years since, Beau and I have dedicated our lives to finding the perfect mix of THC and CBD in our hybrid strains.”
“I don’t understand,” she interrupted. “Are you talking about what makes your weed special from everyone else’s?”
“Exactly. THC is what gives you the high and helps the pain. CBD is what helps the nausea, muscle spasms, and increases appetite. Most doctors favor a product higher in CBD content, while patients need both. It’s all very politically correct.”
“You sound like you know quite a bit about this.”
“Well, I’m not just a hick pot grower, you know.” She could see him smile even in the dim firelight. “I’ve actually got a degree in botany and biochemistry. My brother does as well. It’s taken us years—and we’re still working—but we’ve crossbreed the fuck out of several different breeds of pot.”