Roberts of Silver Springs, Book 2
He’s nobody’s hero.
Spike Roberts has no idea why everyone in his hometown of Silver Springs, Colorado thinks he’s a hero. Fixing someone’s flat tire or rescuing a stranded kitten isn’t the stuff of legends. It isn’t until Amy Sanderson drops into his life that he decides being a hero isn’t such a bad thing after all — as long as he can be her hero.
Life hasn’t been easy for Amy, but she’s come out the other side stronger and wiser. Now her two jobs and rambunctious, young son keep her too busy to date — even if she wanted to. Then thrill-seeking vagabond Spike Roberts asks her out, and she knows better than to say yes. But she does it anyway.
When Amy’s past becomes very much present, they’re left wondering if their small town romance can survive a big time scandal.
“Would you hurry up, you’re embarrassing me!”
When he heard the hissed reprimand, Spike Roberts looked up from helping a woman get started on a Jacobs Ladder machine. Some guy across the small gym stood with his hands on his hips, scowling at a figure clinging halfway up the rock climbing wall. Spike instantly recognized the signs of someone panicking, and sighed.
“Excuse me, Kate,” he said to the woman. “I’ve set the timer for three minutes. Just take it slow. I’ll check back in a bit.”
Training sports enthusiasts wasn’t his normal gig, but the owner of the Silver Springs Training Center asked him to cover for the day. Spike and his partner Zach McCormick had a handshake agreement with their buddy Trent, the owner of SSTC, that they’d help out when they weren’t busy with expeditions. In return, Trent referred customers to their outdoor guiding company, Rocky Mountain Adventures. As a result, their small, just-for-fun ‘business’ had grown by leaps and bounds. In fact, Zach was off leading the very Black Diamond ski trip that Trent was enjoying…leaving Spike alone to deal with the busy gym.
As he crossed the small yet impressively appointed space, Spike spotted a line of several people waiting impatiently to climb the narrow wall. It was meant to be a timed exercise, where the climber would punch a big red button to start the clock. The challenge was to climb up and down in less than two minutes. The number display currently read 7:49.
He sighed again. Eight minutes. He had no idea if the climber froze going up or coming down, but whoever it was hadn’t moved a muscle since he’d looked over. And the dude on the floor looked pissed.
Someone grabbed his arm as he walked past the line-up. He stopped and did his best to keep his expression placid. “Yeah?”
“I’ve been waiting here forever,” growled the beefy guy who’d clearly taken an extra dose of steroids with his Wheaties this morning.
“Not forever,” Spike replied with a fake smile. “Eight minutes and ten seconds, maybe, but not forever.”
The guy looked like he was chewing glass, but let go when Spike shrugged off his hand. Smart move. He might not match Mr. Muscles in bulk, but he had a good three inches on the man, and his tall, lean frame was ripped from leading ski tours, river rafting trips, mountain climbing expeditions, and any other kind of outdoor activity he and Zach thought might be fun and attract customers.
“What’s the problem here?” he asked the guy glaring up at the stuck climber. He recognized him as a semi-regular member. If he remembered right, his name was Dick Johnson.
Cruel parents, he thought as Dick frowned at him.
“The problem is that she won’t come down. She made it that far, and then stopped. I keep telling her to just let go, that the belay rope will keep her from getting hurt, but she won’t do it.” Dick shook his head in disgust, then leaned in to whisper something. “I think she’s…crying.”
A crying woman was the bane of every man’s existence. Spike patted Dick on the back in sympathy, even though he seemed a little douchey at the moment.
“Have you gone up to try to help her down?”
Dick rubbed the back of his neck, and blew out a breath. “Nah. I dunno, man. I mean, she can’t even climb a wall.”
Spike must have missed a crucial piece of information. “So?”
“Dude, this is our first date. I’m all about extremes, bro. I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with a chick who can’t even climb a frickin’ wall. Plus she has a kid!”
“Ah.” It made sense, to a degree — mothers didn’t usually climb sheer cliff faces with babies strapped to their backs, and Spike personally shied away from dating moms for this very reason. He was far too busy for an insta-family, but he hoped he didn’t come off as callous as Dick.
“You didn’t know?”
Dick shrugged. “She told me after I asked her out. Couldn’t back out then, or I’d look like a—”
“Dick?” Spike finished.
Dick shot him a glare. “Whatever, man. This is BS. I’m outta here.”
Spike watched in shock as Dick stormed off toward the exit. “Hey, you can’t just leave her up there!”
“Watch me!” Dick flipped him a one-fingered salute and pushed through the double doors.
Spike stared after him until the doors banged shut, then turned to look up at the paralyzed woman. Then at the line of increasingly angry wanna-be climbers. Then at the clock.
Spike sighed again. He’d have to go up and get her just to keep the growing mob from complaining to Trent. Wouldn’t do to have ten complaints waiting for him when he came in tomorrow. They worked hard to keep this arrangement moving smoothly, and he wasn’t going to let a petrified newbie mess it up.
“Hang on, I’m coming,” he shouted up to the woman, and took a running leap at the wall. It was only twenty feet high, and rated moderate, after all. He’d free-climbed much more difficult faces than this. Good thing Trent had insisted he always wear his harness while on duty, just for occasions like these. Landing just a few feet below the quivering figure, it only took him few more seconds to pull level with her.
“Hey, you okay?” he asked.
Her helmeted head was pressed against the grey faux rock so he could only see a sliver of her profile and a spray of dark hair feathering out of the helmet. Her body shook like an aspen leaf in the wind. A breath of a whisper reached his ears.
A pang of sympathy made him frown. “What’s your name?”
Again, a barely audible whisper. “Amy.”
“Hi, Amy. I’m Spike, and I’ll be your tour guide today.”
She snorted, then let out a terrified squeak and clung even tighter against the wall. At least she’d laughed.
“Okay, Amy, it’s time to get you back to solid ground, sound good?”
“I’m going to wrap my arm around your waist, then you’re going to let go and put your arms around my neck, got it?”
She shook her head frantically. “Nope, can’t do it. I’ll fall.”
“I will not let you fall, Amy.” Spike surprised himself by the intensity in his own voice. He’d helped a ton of freaked-out clients extract themselves from sticky situations — most a million times more dangerous than this one — but he felt strangely invested with Amy. “Do you trust me?”
Only then did she turn to look at him. When her terrified, dark blue eyes locked onto his, he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to breathe again. They bore into his very soul, seeing things he’d never shown anyone. The feeling was foreign and uncomfortable, and a very big part of him hoped it would never end.
When she’d taken full stock of him, a hardness he admired but didn’t like glinted in her eyes. It spoke of difficult times and pain, loneliness and sacrifice, fear and survival. A surge of protectiveness for this woman with the probing gaze startled him. She should never know bad times, only happiness.
“I trust you, Spike.”
Her words nearly blew him off the wall like dynamite. In his entire twenty-seven years, he’d never heard anyone say they trusted him with such sincerity. Mostly because he hadn’t earned it. Sure, he had some bizarre reputation in town for being some kind of hero, but he knew the truth. He only helped people when it suited his purposes. Like now. He’d climbed up here to help her down to protect his working relationship with Trent. Now that he was here, looking into the face of an angel, he wanted nothing more than to be her hero.
Clinging to the wall with one hand and one foot, he slowly slid his arm around her and pulled her body into his, never letting her gaze waver. His body sizzled so hot as their skin connected he swore he smelled smoke. When she flung her arms around his neck, panic flaring in her eyes for a brief second, he slid his arm lower and held on tight, acutely aware that he had hold of half a handful of delicious rump.
Her breath came in short pants, but she held onto his gaze like it was her lifeline. Forget that her real lifeline could have easily lowered her to the ground ten minutes ago. But then he wouldn’t be holding one of the most magnificent creatures he’d ever laid eyes on in his arms.
Dick’s an idiot, he thought, fighting the urge to kiss her. Now was not the time, but he certainly hoped to get the chance very soon.
He released her just long enough to clip onto her belay rope, which brought them pelvis to pelvis — a position he wouldn’t mind trying again at a later time, and with far fewer people watching. As in, none. He tried to push the image from his mind, but it was a lot harder than it should have been. So was something else. The only thing to do was to get down, and disconnect from her as quickly as possible. That made him inexplicably sad.
“Are you ready, Amy?”
He certainly wasn’t ready for whatever was happening here. Spike was a free spirit, a vagabond, a wanderer. Make no mistake, he enjoyed the company of snow bunnies and climber chicks, but they never lasted very long. They’d also never had an effect on him like this woman. It scared and thrilled him at the same time, just like every extreme sport he’d ever tried.
“Ready,” she said, tightening her grip on him.
With a wink and a devilish grin, Spike let go.
* * * * *
“I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life,” Amy Sanderson said, dropping into a folding chair in the gym’s office as Spike went to a watercooler. “And that’s saying a lot.”
As an unwed mother in the small Western Colorado town of Silver Springs, Amy had certainly suffered enough humiliation for ten lifetimes. But this…
Of course, it didn’t help that Spike Roberts, of all people, had to rescue her. The only saving grace was that it appeared he didn’t remember who she was.
Thank God for small favors, she thought.
“Don’t worry about it, Amy. Happens all the time. Here.”
Her fingers trembled uncontrollably as she took the Dixie cup of water Spike offered. He pulled a chair up across from her and settled in. She swallowed the entire cup in a single gulp, and crushed it in her fist, angry at herself.
“I should never have let Dick talk me into trying the rock wall. Should never have agreed to go on a date with him in the first place. Where is he, anyway?”
Her embarrassment deepened as she realized that she hadn’t thought about her date — her first in six years — since she locked eyes with Spike up on that wall. Their hazel depths somehow soothed her panic, allowing her to think again. Not clearly, but it was better than the blind terror that had blanked out her brain. She understood his words, but more than that, she felt his concern for her. That, more than anything, got her moving again.
Spike cleared his throat, and avoided looking directly at her. Finally, he sighed. “Let’s just say he really earned his name.”
He grimaced. “He bolted, Amy.”
She’d figured out that much. “What did he say? Tell me the truth. I can take it.”
She could, too. After she spent the last six years building up her Teflon surface, nothing Dick Johnson had said about her could scratch it. Spike shifted awkwardly, but he finally answered.
“Said he didn’t want to date anyone who couldn’t climb a wall.”
Amy couldn’t help herself. She burst out laughing, and that eased the tension in her better than anything else could have. Except possibly snuggling up to Spike. He sat two feet away, but her body yearned to skooch closer.
Knock it off!
Her body wouldn’t listen. It just kept buzzing and tingling in a way she’d almost forgotten. It had been a very long time since a man had touched her, and as much as she was afraid to admit it, she missed it. She was just grateful that man had been Spike and not Dick.
“He, um…” He grimaced again, but spit it out. “He said he wouldn’t have asked you out if he’d known you had a kid. Sorry.”
She rolled her eyes, relieved. “Don’t be. He’s not worth getting upset over. I’m just impressed he didn’t ghost me.”
Spike blinked a few times, clearly confused. “Ghost?”
“How is it possible you don’t know what ghosting is? It’s when you go on a date that seems to have gone well, then you never hear from the guy again, and he won’t respond to calls or texts. He just vanishes, like a ghost. That’s ghosting.”
Spike’s eyes grew wide, and a flush of guilt rose up his handsome face. He may not have known the term, but it was pretty obvious he was all too familiar with the despicable practice. Amy pretended not to notice, but decided to stick the knife in a little deeper, just to see his reaction.
“Only selfish losers ghost. Real men treat women with respect.”
For some crazy reason, she wanted to kiss away the little crease that formed between his eyebrows. Maybe it was time to take pity on the man.
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
She smiled at his confusion. If she could peek into his brain, she suspected she’d find him wondering if he’d ghosted her at some point.
“We went to high school together. I was a sophomore when you were a senior. Amy Sanderson.”
He looked at her with fresh eyes, as if seeing her for the first time. It sent tingles up and down her spine, and she struggled not to let her self-consciousness show. Maybe he wouldn’t remember. Her dark brown locks were much longer now, and motherhood had changed her body more than she’d anticipated. Where she’d once had flat planes and straight lines, curves had taken their place. It wasn’t that she didn’t like her new body — in fact, she’d never felt more like a woman — but it might throw him off.
Then he smiled.
And she nearly fainted.
“Right, I think I remember you now. Your hair was shorter then, wasn’t it?”
“It was. Yours hasn’t changed.”
All the girls in school had swooned over Spike Roberts’ sun-kissed brown hair and tanned skin. He participated in every sport the school offered, plus some they didn’t. He spent every spare moment snowboarding, playing basketball, or scrambling up mountains. And he had the body to prove it. Tall and muscular, but not in a bodybuilder way. Of course, he’d never looked twice at her, preferring girls his own age. A lot of them.
“Wow! I know Silver Springs is a small town and all, but how weird is this? Did you just move back to town or something?”
“Nope, never left. You did, for college, but I’ve never been farther than the town limit. Well, Denver a couple times, but that’s it.”
“How have we never bumped into each other before? I’ve been back for a few years now.”
She smiled. “I don’t think we run in the same circles. Besides, you probably don’t hang out much at playgrounds or your dad’s real estate office after hours.”
“Huh?” he asked again.
“I spend my days either at playgrounds with my son or at one of my two jobs. Well…one. No, two.”
“Is it two or one?” he laughed.
“It was two, then it was one, and now it’s two again.” Why was she telling him all this? She had no idea, but his openness really drew her out. “I have a small office cleaning business, and your dad is one of my clients. I also worked part-time at a travel agency as a receptionist, but they just closed their doors. I have two glorious days off in a row before I start work at Mo’s Diner on the other side of town. My mom works there, and got me a job until I can find something better.”
Why had she brought this up at all? Now she had to tell him the humiliating truth.
“Oh, man, I hated being a dishwasher!”
“You were a dishwasher?” She couldn’t help laughing. “No way, your family practically owns this town!”
“They didn’t own anything in Arizona. My dad paid for school costs, but said I needed to get a job if I wanted any money for extracurricular activities. Said it would build character.”
“You tell me.” He grinned and winked at her, sending a thrill all the way to the tips of her toes.
Was Spike Robertson actually flirting with her? With her? She blushed at the thought, giddy and a little horrified at the same time. She was pretty sure he didn’t know all the sordid details of her past or he wouldn’t be flirting. Maybe that was okay. Maybe she deserved to have one of the cutest guys in Silver Springs show her a little positive attention for once.
“You turned out okay,” she conceded.
He raised an eyebrow, and leaned in close to her. “Just okay?”
A hint of his natural scent surrounded her like a warm blanket she could snuggle in all day. It reminded her of vanilla with a touch of cinnamon. Like something she’d smelled before, but couldn’t quite…
Amy snorted a laugh, her hand flying to her mouth, totally mortified. “I’m sorry, I just thought… Never mind.”
“No, tell me.” He grinned as if he didn’t have a care in the world. Why would he? He was Spike Roberts.
“It’s just… Good grief, this is stupid. Please don’t make me say it!”
“If you don’t tell me, I’ll drag you back up the wall.”
“Not that!” she mock-screamed, and waved her hands in defeat. “Okay, okay. You smell like…eggnog.”
She loved the depth of his laugh, as if it rumbled up from the center of the earth. The skin around his eyes crinkled, and his perfect white teeth gleamed in the small office’s stark fluorescent light. Her heart thudded like thunder, and she wondered if he could hear it. If only Spike had asked her out instead of Dick…
Uh oh. That kind of thinking could only lead to heartache. Spike Roberts had been a world-class player since high school, and so had all of his buddies. Guys like them didn’t settle down, at least not with girls like her. She’d learned that from painful experience. Whatever was going on here needed to be nipped in the bud. She had more important things to consider than her battered ego. Ethan deserved a father figure who would stick around, and not give in to his own childish desires to play.
Leaping to her feet, she moved quickly to the door before he — or his toffee-colored gaze — could change her mind.
“Thanks for helping me today, Spike, but I’d better get home,” she said, her voice quavering even more than after she came down from the wall. “Bye!”
He barely had time to look up in surprise before she was out the door, and headed for her car. Once inside the old beater, with the heater actually working for once, she sighed in relief.
“That was close,” she muttered, her breath fogging in the chilly March air.
Not nearly close enough, a little voice in her head disagreed.