Read Sandra's Classics - The Bad Boys of Romance - Boxed Set Online
Authors: Sandra Marton
‘OK,’ he said, taking the pack from her, ‘let’s find a more sheltered spot than this and then we’ll get you warmed up.’ He peered towards a rise to their left and slung the pack on his shoulders. ‘There’s a stand of birches up there. Let’s try them.’
Jessica fell into line behind him. She hoisted her heavy bag over her shoulder and tried to match his stride.
‘How far is the lodge from here?’
‘I’m not sure.’
‘We were flying long enough so that it can’t be very far.’
He glanced over his shoulder at her. ‘That bag’s probably slowing you down. Why don’t you leave it?’
‘Leave it?’ She looked from him to the bag and shook her head. ‘All my things are in it,’ she said. ‘My credit cards and my wallet and my checkbook
Chad started to say something and then he nodded. ‘Right. Well, try and keep up with me.’
‘That’s just what I’m doing,’ she puffed. ‘But it would be easier if you slowed down.’
‘It’ll be dark soon. I want to get to the top of that ridge before that.’
Her breath whistled in her lungs. ‘Can we find the lodge in the dark?’
There was a brief silence. ‘No,’ he said finally.
She waited for him to say something more but he didn’t.
‘Well, then, how about the nearest road?’ she wheezed. ‘Is it very far?’
‘You’ll get your wind back faster if you don’t talk.’
She started to answer and then she closed her mouth and nodded. He was right. She was breathing so hard it hurt.
‘We’re almost there,’ he called a few minutes later. ‘Are you cold?’
No, she thought, not cold. Freezing.
‘A little,’ she said.
‘When we get to the top of the ridge, you can change out of those wet things, those trousers, especially.’
‘But the road
‘Save your breath, Jessie. We can talk in a few minutes.’
her lungs felt as if they were on fire. ‘OK,’ she panted, putting her head down and plodding after him.
He was right.
There would be time for questions when they got to the top of the hill. Right now, all she had the strength to do was concentrate on putting one-foot in front of the other. Left, right, left,
Almost there. And then she could sit down and take a deep breath and let her heartbeat return to normal.
Her leather trousers were making it harder to climb the grade. They were not just wet but unpleasantly constricting.
It would be nice to swap them for her jeans—after she got her breath back. Until she managed that, she wouldn’t be able to do anything...
‘Whoops,’ she gasped, stumbling into Chad’s back, ‘sorry. I didn’t
realize you’d stopped.’
They were in a small clearing surrounded by birch trees.
The trees blocked most of the wind.
The rain had stopped completely and a pale sun shone weakly on the horizon. Jessica sighed with relief and leaned back against one of the trees.
‘That’s better,’ she said breathlessly. ‘That hill was steeper than I
‘Here,’ he said, tossing her a sweater and an
unfamiliar pair of jeans. ‘Get out of those wet things while I get a fire going. There’s bound to be some dry kindling under these trees.’
‘In a minute,’ she panted. ‘Let me recover first.’
‘Now,’ he said.
Jessica’s eyebrows rose. ‘I just want to get my
He put his backpack on a boulder and began to rummage through it. ‘Don’t give me excuses, OK? Just do as you’re told.’
‘Do as I’m told?’ she repeated dumbly. He couldn’t have said
‘That’s what I said. Change your
Count to ten, she told herself. This man just saved your life. Take a deep breath and count to ten.
After a bit, she looked down at the jeans he’d given her.
‘These aren’t mine,’ she said. He looked up and she held the trousers out to
him. 'These must be yours. Mine are pale blue
‘You’re right. Those are mine. Just get them on. Believe me, you don’t need to co-ordinate fashion out here.’
A tightness was forming in her chest.
‘I wasn’t thinking of fashion,’ she said slowly. ‘It’s just that my own jeans would fit me
‘Right,’ he said digging
into his pack again.
She waited for him to say something more, but he didn’t. The tightness was spreading to her stomach.
‘Then why don’t you give them to me? I know you have them. I saw you take them out of my suitcase.
He raised his head and looked at her. ‘We’re going to get along much better if you do what I tell you, Jessie.’
'Listen,' she said through her teeth, ‘I know this isn’t the time to argue about it, but I think I should tell you I don’t much like your attitude
‘Just be a good girl and change your jeans. You look like a drowned rat.’
‘I am not a girl,’ she said with dignity. ‘I am a woman.’
‘And a damned stubborn one.’
‘No, I’m not. Each time I ask you a question, you ignore it, Or you bark out orders.
He got to his feet and put his hands on his hips. ‘You asked me if we could reach the lodge before dark and I said we couldn’t. You asked me if I knew how far the nearest road was and I said I didn’t. You said you didn’t like the
color of my jeans
His eyes were flashing and his chin jutted forward, but she stood her ground. Don’t let him intimidate you, Jessie, she told herself. That’s what he’s trying to do.
‘I said,’ she repeated with exaggerated care, ‘that your jeans would be too big for me.
‘Forgive me,’ he said sarcastically. ‘That’s right. You were afraid my jeans wouldn’t
Was he trying to make her feel stupid?
‘I don’t particularly care about that,’ she said, her voice rising. ‘It just doesn’t make much sense to wear something three sizes too big when I have my own.’
‘My jeans are made out of denim,’ he said. ‘Yours are light cotton. Mine will be a lot warmer. Satisfied?’
The tightness began to ease from her chest. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘All you had to do in the first place was give me a reason.’
‘The only reason you need is that I told you to do it.’
Back to square one, she thought in disbelief.
Let it go, Jessie
, an inner voice said, but suddenly she remembered his arrogance on the flight from New York and then her mind skipped to the unknown hours stretching ahead.
Establish the ground rules now, Jessie
, another voice said, and she lifted her chin.
‘Perhaps we should sort things out a bit,
Mr. O’Bryan. I’m grateful that you got us down safely.
How kind of you to say so.’
She decided to ignore his sarcasm.
‘But we’re not on a ship. You are not the captain and I don’t have to obey your orders.’
‘If you want to get to a road, that’s exactly what you’ll do, Miss Howard. We haven’t got the time to argue over everything I say.’
‘I wasn’t arguing with you, for heaven’s sake, I was simply—‘
Do what I tell you and we’ll get along fine. Is that simple enough?’
Fury sent all caution flying.
‘What it is, is simple- minded! But I’m in no position to argue, am I? You’re the expert. You’re the one who knows which way the road is, not me.’ She turned away on her heel and then she spun towards him again. ‘Or am I assuming too much?’
Even in the fading light, she could see him recoil. ‘And what is that supposed to mean?’
‘I think it was pretty clear.’
‘If that was supposed to be a crack about my flying ability
‘Would you mind going somewhere while I change my clothes?’
‘Listen, Miss Howard, my flying ability is the only reason you’re alive and in one piece.’
‘In one piece? Is that why the plane is in the lake and we’re here?’
‘It’s a damned good thing the plane isn’t here,’ he said, gesturing at the growth of trees that surrounded them.
‘It’s just too bad it isn’t where it’s supposed to be. Eagle Lake, for instance.’
‘Is this your professional opinion? I didn’t know you had a pilot’s license.’
‘I probably have as much right to one as you do,’ she said. ‘I’m not the one who flew us into a storm. I’m not the one who landed on the rocks.
‘Right, you’re not. You’re just the one who was so damned scared of doing what millions of other people do every day that you needed a nursemaid. If I hadn’t had to spend
all that damned time holding your hand and cajoling you
‘Oh, just listen to you! Holding my hand and cajoling me. Right! Was that what you were
thinking about when you should have been thinking about that storm? “Ah won’t let anythin’ happen to you, Jessie,”’ she mimicked cruelly. ‘What’s the matter, Mr. O’Bryan? Did you think I’d fall into your arms with gratitude if you got me to Eagle Lake in one piece?’
Chad snorted in disgust.
‘Just what I need! A woman who's read one romance too many. My God, lady, you must think you’re the world’s most irresistible female. Listen, I’d just as soon have
a Barbie doll in my bed as you. At least they don’t talk.’
Her smile had all the warmth of a shark’s. ‘Is that what you got used to during those long nights riding the range? How cute.’
For an instant, she thought she’d gone too far. His eyes narrowed and he took a deep breath. She stood her ground and waited; finally, he turned away from her.
‘I’m going to start a fire,’ he said tonelessly.
‘Do whatever you please about those wet pants? I don’t really give a damn.’
Jessica watched as he stalked off into the trees
. Then she looked at the jeans he’d given her and made a face. She’d told him she’d put the damned things on, but that wasn’t enough. What did he want? Was she supposed to click her heels and salute?
She stepped behind a bush and peeled off her wet leather trousers.
Okay, so it was a relief to get out of them. As for his jeans… they were huge, as she’d expected, but they were, indeed, warm.
She rolled them to ankle length, pulled the belt from her own trousers, and looped it through the jeans.
Quickly, she dealt with the rest of her soaked clothing, pulling off her damp sweater and changing it for the dry one. She felt better almost immediately.
Her socks were wet, but not unbearably. Anyway, she could dry them by the fire
Chad would surely build.
If you had to end up in a wilderness for the night, being marooned with a cowboy might just be useful.
Jessica ran her fingers through her hair, and stepped into the clearing.
The final rays of the sinking sun lit the lake
with dull fire.
searched the wind-ruffled water and then swallowed drily.
All traces of the plane had vanished; it was as if it had never existed.
Her thoughts flashed back to the minutes before the crash—she could almost hear Chad’s voice reassuring her, talking her into calm acceptance of what lay ahead.
plopped down on a boulder.
No matter how you looked at it, he was the reason they were still alive. Anger had made her say things she knew were untrue.
It wasn’t his fault they’d crashed—you didn’t need a degree in engineering to know that a bolt of lightning had probably been the culprit.
He’d made what had seemed to her to be an impossible landing on a dot of water and then he’d got them out of a sinking plane; and she’d said thank you for all that by insulting him in every way possible, starting with his flying ability and ending with his masculinity.
Not that he hadn’t asked for it—all that stuff about following orders and blind obedience had made her see red, but she could tolerate it for the time it took to get her out of here.
If he wanted to make like Daniel Boone for a while, let him. She owed him that much.
She got to her feet.
He wasn’t back yet.
Well, when he returned, she’d apologize for the things she’d said. For now, she would do something useful and show him that she took all this seriously.
They needed kindling, he’d said. OK, she thought, bending and picking up some small branches, she’d collect some. After all, she’d been a Girl Scout, hadn’t she?
She smiled as she picked up another piece of wood. This is for you, Troop 126 of Canton, Ohio, she thought.