Once Upon a Lumberjack - Maggie Dallen

One

There’s no such thing as too much caffeine.

Kat’s words from earlier in the day came back to haunt her as she shuffled down the eerily silent halls of the lodge.

Steve the bartender had tried to warn her, but had she listened? Nope. Not her.

Too much caffeine? Ha! There’s no such thing as too much caffeine.

She scowled at an enormous painting of an elk as she turned a corner leading to the main hall with its overstuffed, ridiculously comfy leather chairs and the large fireplace. The walls were lined with dead animal heads and more paintings of elk and antelope and other beady-eyed animals that seemed to be watching her as she made the walk of shame.

Coffee shame. She hadn’t even known such a thing existed. She shook her head as she padded along in her slippers. So cocky. So arrogant. Steve had tried to warn her.

She really should have listened to Steve.

No doubt the lodge's bartender had loads of experience with bored city dwellers who thought they could handle their java. You sure you want one more cup? he'd asked.

Fill 'er up, she'd said.

Now she cursed her former self. Her naively optimistic former self who thought she could have just one more cup of coffee and fall asleep at a reasonable hour.

She'd flown to the sun, that was for sure. The sun being coffee. Obviously.

Now here she was, paying the price. She should have been asleep hours ago, but instead she was roaming the lodge's hallways like some sort of over-caffeinated ghost, her eyes gritty and her head pounding as the rest of her body prepared to run a marathon.

If Steve had really been her pal, he could have lied. He could have said they’d run out of beans. He could have swapped out her last cup with decaf.

She sighed as she spotted a glow spilling out from the doorway to the lounge. It was well past midnight and the rest of her colleagues were no doubt fast asleep, but at least the lounge was still open.

The least Steve could do now was give her some aspirin.

She stopped short when she reached the dimly lit bar with its pretty backlit liquor bottles, its cozy booths, and the long oak bar itself. Behind which stood a man.

A hot man.

No, hot wasn’t accurate enough. There was something about him that made him seem…dashing. But not in a Hollywood playboy way. No. This guy was dashing in a rugged way.

He was a dashingly rugged man, she silently amended.

He had dark hair that was just a little overgrown, and the sort of creases and indentations that gave a man’s face character and took him from handsome to oh-holy-cow-he-should-be-modeling-underwear-on-a-Times-Square-billboard.

Yeah, he had that kind of face, with the dimples and the cleft in his chin. Sexy as sin and she had a feeling he knew it by the easy confidence in his every move. He managed to pull off a plaid flannel shirt and jeans like a perfectly tailored tux.

He was the lumberjack of every woman’s wildest dreams. All muscles and manliness. She was pretty sure she could smell the scent of evergreens wafting from him, like he’d just walked back inside after chopping down a tree.

He was Paul Bunyan meets Clark Gable. He was…too much.

The crinkles around his eyes when he smiled was really just overkill. Almost too much sexy when aimed in her direction.

She knew this because he was smiling at her right now. Whether it was her lack of sleep or the late hour or the excess caffeine still coursing through her veins, she found herself blurting out the first words that popped into her head. “You’re not Steve.”

That made his smile widen and she was fairly certain that smile deserved a cape and some sort of insignia. He was a freakin’ superhero with that smile. But he wasn’t Steve, the pleasant young man who’d been refilling her mug all afternoon. Steve had been nice-looking in a very average sort of way.

No one had ever accused Steve of being dashingly rugged, of that she was certain.

The caped crusader pointed a finger in her direction. “And you’re not Rhonda.”

Kat grinned as she continued into the bar and plopped down at one of the empty seats. It was almost impossible not to return that smile. “You are correct. I am not Rhonda.” She rested her elbows on the bar and made herself comfortable. “Who’s Rhonda?”

He tossed a bar rag over his shoulder and leaned over the bar too. “She’s the night manager who usually comes in

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