October 21 marked the release of the final book in the Compass series. It’s very sad to say goodbye to these characters as they’ve become like family to me over the past few years. Compton Pass would be at the top of my vacation places if only it really existed!
The deepest falls aren’t always the hardest.
Compass Girls, Book 4
Darkness has crept into Sterling Compton’s charmed life, relentlessly stealing what’s left of her grandmother’s memories. When she happens upon a compelling stranger leaning against a broken-down pickup in the middle of nowhere, grief and a gut-deep attraction spur her to take that too-safe life by the horns.
From the instant Sterling emerges from her Jeep, Viho is drawn to her carefree spirit. Her innocent offer of a ride turns into the ride of his life in his truck bed—and he forgets why he meant to avoid Compton Pass at all costs.
He should have known that karma was waiting to laugh in his face. Especially when Viho figures out Sterling’s father is the one who stood between him and the man he should have called “father”.
Yet it’s tough to hate someone who offers him a job. Especially when he and Sterling realize there’s a living tie on the way that will bind Viho to her family forever—if he can convince her she’s much more to him than an obligation.
Sometimes it’s hard to let go, but every story has an ending. This one has a Native American hero with a chip on his shoulder the size of Wyoming and a vulnerable heroine who has a gift for polishing up diamonds in the rough. Some scenes may tug heartstrings so hard it’ll hurt, but the oh-my-god orgasms make up for it.
Putting out one hand, he said, “Viho.”
“Interesting name.” She shook it, marveling at how he swallowed her fingers with heat and a gentle pressure that didn’t crush her but didn’t treat her like she was delicate filigree either.
“I could say the same.” He flashed her another semi-smile. “Mine’s Native American. It means Chief.”
“Seriously?” Sterling nodded, impressed. “So are you royalty or something?”
He certainly had an air of nobility about him, despite his commoner’s clothes.
“Nah.” He shook his head a bit. “I guess I could have been. If we still had chiefs, my grandfather would have been it. The small reservation I grew up on looked to him for approval. But getting involved in our government wasn’t my path. Causing a rift in our community was never my intention. And besides, I’m nobody’s leader.”
“How did you know that?” she wondered. After today, she was starting to doubt herself and her life choices where she never had before.
At first, she didn’t think he intended to answer. She figured that was a pretty personal thing to ask a guy you’d spoken fewer words to than you’d say to a drive-thru attendant in the course of ordering a meal. But something about him made her feel as if they’d known each other for a hell of a lot longer than three point two seconds. Maybe it was the way he didn’t pressure her, letting her take the lead in their interactions and conversation, unlike most guys she met, who were eager to pinpoint anything they had in common. Some way to get closer to her, either because they were interested in moving up the ranks at Compass Ranch or because they wanted in her pants. Or both.
Instead, Viho reminded her of Jake, widely recognized as the best man around for taming wild horses. He had that same aloof patience that lured in the wild beasts and made them believe they were safe. And they were. Jake lived up to that implied promise. He cared for all his creatures, went above and beyond to see that they had everything he could give them.
It also could have been the sadness she sensed lurking behind Viho’s spectacular eyes that struck a chord.
“First, the place I grew up wasn’t the norm. It was culturally conservative. Dominated by a few extremist families that would never have seen past my less-than-pure blood. I’d have spent my entire life outvoted by the rest of the council regardless of how worthy my ideas were of their support. We’d have wasted everyone’s time in one giant pissing match, no one moving forward. It’s probably cowardly, but getting more involved seemed like a waste of time. Turning that tide was impossible. It never sat right on me anyway. Politics. People shouting over each other instead of understanding the other’s point of view. I’ve always enjoyed being outside, alone, listening to nature…”
No wonder he hadn’t been worried about spending the night outdoors.
“What does it tell you?” she asked.
And he shut down as surely as if she’d called him a loser.
“Hey.” She paused her examination to lay a hand on his wrist. They both shivered in response. His skin was balmy against hers and his pulse jumped beneath the pads of her fingers at the contact. “I wasn’t kidding around. Not making fun of you. I was serious.”
“Oh.” He sighed. Suddenly he seemed to age, and Sterling realized he was significantly older than she’d first thought. Maybe thirty-five or forty to her twenty-four. A man with some experience didn’t sound like such a bad thing to her. Hopefully, she hadn’t come off as some punk kid harassing him. “I guess I should have said that when it’s quiet around me I can hear myself think. And I don’t feel as out of place in the universe. If I stop listening too long, I start to feel like I don’t belong here and never have. And that’s totally a strange thing to admit. To anyone. But especially to…you know, you.”
He scrunched his eyes closed and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“I guess that means we’ve passed that awkward introductory stage of our relationship.” With that lame attempt at a joke, she released him and tried to concentrate. On his words. On the truck. On anything but putting her hands on him again. Maybe sliding her palms beneath his shirt to steal some of his warmth and map the contours of his prime body.
Because suddenly, she really wanted to show him that he was in the exact right place in the cosmos, and so was she.
“It’s kind of weird, you know. I’ve always thought I knew where I was meant to be. But lately, things are changing, and I think that might be worse. Finding out that how you thought things were supposed to be isn’t going to last forever, and that your life is your family’s, not your own.”
“I know exactly what you mean, Sterling.” He gazed at her with such intensity that she had to clear her throat and deliberately turn away. “And when that anchor gets yanked up and you start to drift, it’s easy to get dizzy. To lose your way.”
“Is that how you ended up stranded on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere?” She recalled the black, red and white bedroll she’d spotted in the bed of the truck. It looked like he’d used it. A lot. Not just for picturesque camping trips to manicured grounds, either.
“I suppose it was the start of that path.” He shrugged, kicking a rock into the distance.
The grief radiating off him reminded her too much of what she’d been feeling when she left Compass Ranch earlier—the pain she’d been trying to obliterate, if even for a few hours.
So she steered the conversation to less dangerous ground. Like the cooling weather.
Viho rewarded her change of subjects with the hint of a smile and the loosening of his tense shoulders. As they chitchatted, she tinkered with his engine. It quickly became clear that his assessment was accurate. The thing was toast.
Surrendering, she turned toward Viho at the same instant he leaned in for a closer look. They plastered together. Instinctively, her hands flew to his chest to brace herself. And she smeared grease all over his soft, charcoal cotton shirt.
“Son of a bitch.” She tried to wipe a smudge off and only splattered it more. “I’m so sorry.”
“No problem.” His easygoing nature counterbalanced her impending freak-out, which would only enhance the social awkwardness that had always plagued her. But when he reached down, grabbed the hem of the tee and whipped it over his head, he struck her dumb.
Muscles rippled as he moved, hardness covered with smooth, tan skin she wished she had a right to touch. “Uh…”
“It was an accident. No harm.” He wadded up the fabric and tossed it into the back of the truck.
Except there might be some damage to her heart if it didn’t start beating again where it’d nearly exploded in her ribcage. It was time for her to admit it. She had never drooled over a man, not even a movie star or that guy she’d exchanged some heated emails with through an online matchmaking site, the way she lusted after Viho. Instant and vicious, attraction seethed between them.
“Sterling,” he murmured.
“I think we’d better wrap up here so you can take me into town now.”
“What if I don’t really want to do that anymore?” She couldn’t stop herself from being honest when he’d been so open with her earlier.
“Then I’ll wait for the next person to come by.” He shrugged, but she didn’t miss the flash of disappointment in his warm stare.
Did he think so little of himself that he didn’t understand her implication?
“Viho, this is not the time to be dense.” Brave, sure, she could be. But making the first move in this situation… Well, that was a little outrageous, even for her.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He encroached on her personal space then, and she loved it.
“I think I’d rather stay here with you and listen to what nature is telling me right now.” She wiped her hand on her skirt, then reached up to his cheek.
“You can’t mean that.” His eyes went wide. “Are you for real? Maybe I didn’t drink enough water today. I’ve been stuck out here for a while.”
Sterling smiled. She knew she was doing the right thing. He’d needed to find her as much as she’d needed to discover him today. For whatever reason, they were here in the same place at the same time. Wasting that opportunity—divine or pure dumb luck—would not be wise.
Sterling might not have believed in fate before, but she could be converted.
“Does this seem like I mean it?” She launched herself at Viho then, sure he wouldn’t allow her to fall. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she went onto her tiptoes.
He didn’t leave her straining for long. His broad hands cupped the back of her thighs and lifted her to his level. The tips of her boots dangled off the ground as their bodies aligned. Locking them tighter, she wrapped her legs around his hips and crossed her ankles even as her hands rested on either side of his neck. A breeze cooled her ass when her skirt rode up due to her very unladylike position.
Holding her as if she was as dainty as her cousin, Hope, he stared into her eyes until she lunged forward, plastering her lips on his before he could bring either one of them to their senses. That was when his gentlemanly exterior sheared away.