My cottage backs onto woodland, and there’s a path leading through it. Birdsong and the scent of blackberries fills the air. I let Toby off his leash and he immediately starts foraging for anything edible… wild fruit being his favourite snack.
I leave him to it and stride on ahead, knowing he’ll catch up in good time. Soon I come to a glade where the trees have been thinned out. Oh shit, standing in the middle of the clearing is Daniel. He’s bare-chested and dressed in running shorts, doing stretching exercises braced against a fallen tree trunk.
I slow my footsteps, treading quietly on mouldy old leaves, and rake my gaze over him. His thick almost-black hair is dripping sweat; it falls down his face and the back of his solid neck. His beard is unkept and wild-looking. But it’s his powerful body that mesmerises me and I study the tats on his muscular arms, tempted to get closer for a better look. God, he’s beautiful, I suddenly realise. Beautiful but freaking scary at the same time.
I release a slow breath. Stop it, Cat. You shouldn’t be looking at him that way. The man in front of you is a brute. You need to keep your distance from him.
Slowly, my heart pounding against my ribcage, I turn around and prepare to make my way back down the path. Except, Toby comes bounding up and starts to bark.
Daniel freezes on the spot. His eyes crash into mine, and if I was scared before now I’m practically peeing myself. He straightens himself to his full height, still glaring at me, not saying a word.
Toby keeps barking, but he’s also wagging his tail. I grab hold of his collar and fasten the lead. “Sorry to disturb you.” I bite at my lips. “We’ll get out of your way.”
He arches an eyebrow. “So, you weren’t following me?”
“Oh, God, no. We were just going for a walk.”
I’m still staring at his tats, trying to decipher the intricate patterns. He catches my gaze, and I feel my face burning up.
“Get on with your walk, then,” he says through gritted teeth. “Leave me alone.”
My nostrils flare. “No need to be bad-mannered.”
He crosses his arms in front of his broad chest and lets out an edgy laugh.
“You are an asshole,” I spin around, “the rudest man I’ve ever met.”
He laughs again and keeps laughing mockingly as I stride off down the pathway, Toby at my heel.