Read Sandra's Classics - The Bad Boys of Romance - Boxed Set Online
Authors: Sandra Marton
But there wasn’t much to pick up.
It was no wonder Chad had gone into the woods.
narrowed her eyes and stared down at the ground. There was a piece, and there was another ... She bent and picked up the wood, her eyes searching for more. There was some as she reached the first trees; more a little further. And a little further still…
She had an armful of wood when she heard Chad’s voice calling her.
She looked up in surprise.
How could he sound so far
away? And how could it have gotten dark so quickly? There was a thick greyness all around her. She could barely see beyond the nearest tree.
leaped into her throat.
Time to get back to the clearing.
But where was it?
She turned in a circle, widening her eyes as if by doing so she might force light from the darkening sky.
It didn’t much matter. What was visible had no meaning. Every tree looked like every other and—
where was the path?
Chad was calling her again; she could hear his voice more clearly this time.
‘I’m here,’ she yelled.
‘Chad?’ Her voice trembled. ‘‘Where are you?’
‘I’m coming, Jessie,’ he called. ‘Just stand still and talk to me so I can locate you.’
Desperately, she searched for something to say.
‘Jess. Talk to me.’
She could imagine him rolling his eyes in exasperation.
ark shadows had sprung up everywhere.
Talk, she told herself, dammit, talk!
‘I—I’m sorry I said those things to you before,’ .she called into the darkness. ‘I—I was just angry.
She took a deep breath. ‘I’m sorry for the things I said,’ she yelled. ‘You saved my life today—twice. Maybe even three times
He didn’t answer.
‘Chad? Can you hear me?’
Still nothing. She tried not to peer over her shoulder, into the deepening blackness of the forest.
‘I said, I’m sorry. You’re really a good pilot. A terrific pilot. I know that the crash wasn’t your
words stumbled to a halt and silence embraced her. ‘Chad?’ she said in a breathy whisper. ‘Can you hear me?’
‘No,’ he said. ‘You’ll have to repeat it
all over again.’
Jessica caught her lip between her teeth. He had materialized from the shadows—he was standing in front of her. ‘That’s not fair,’ she said. ‘You heard me the first time.’
‘Damned right,’ he said
gruffly, ‘but I wanted to hear it again.’ He smiled; she hesitated and then she smiled back. He reached towards her and took her hand in his. ‘How the hell did you get all the way out here?’
‘I was collecting firewood
Chad sighed. ‘A rule of survival, Jessie. There are three things you have to know: where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going.’
in the middle of nowhere. I
in the middle of nowhere, and I was trying to
to the middle of nowhere,’ she said with a forced smile. ‘I guess that’s not quite the rule you had in mind.’
It made her feel better.
There was no sense in being enemies, even if they only had to endure a few hours together.
‘You’re shivering,’ he said, putting his arm around her. ‘Come on back to the clearing and I’ll build a fire.’
‘Yes, that’s a good idea.’ Her-teeth chattered together. ‘Isn’t that foolish? It’s not that cold
‘You’ve had a hell of a shock. That’s why you’re cold.’ His arm tightened around her. ‘And I haven’t helped.
, I scared the life out of you by riding you through the worst storm I’ve ever seen and then I almost killed you in a crash landing and now here I am, marching you up a mountain without even asking you if you were OK, or if your head still hurt, or if you were scared.
‘Bingo,’ she said with a shaky laugh as she
realized the truth of what he’d said. ‘Scared is exactly the word.’
‘Yeah, I figured
. I guess that’s the reason I’ve been hard on you. I didn’t want to give you too much time to worry about what was happening.’ He took a breath. In the dim light, she could see the grim set of his mouth. ‘And you were right about my avoiding your questions, Jessie. I should have answered them. You’re entitled to know the truth.’
‘'That—that doesn't sound good
'It isn't,' he said grimly
. ‘You asked me how far we were from Eagle Lake. Well, I don’t know the answer. The only thing I do know is that we’re not in the Tetons.’
‘Then where are we?’
‘I think we came down in the middle of the Wind River Wilderness but I won’t be certain until I get a better look at daybreak.’
‘And if this is the ... the Wind River Wilderness? What then?’
‘That’s the part I didn’t want to tell you. It means you can forget about walking to a road.’
‘Forget it for tonight, you mean,’ she said with more confidence then she felt.
‘I mean for quite a while. If I’m right about this place, we’re at least five or six days from the nearest road.’
Her eyes widened with disbelief. ‘What?’
‘It won’t be easy. This is rough country, Jessie, but we’ll be OK if we keep our heads. I’ve spent a lot of time camped in worse terrain than this.’
stared up at him, trying to see his face in the darkness, fighting against a sudden flutter of panic.
‘But ... but they’ll find us,’ she said quickly. ‘You filed a flight plan, didn’t you? And you spoke to air controllers on the radio
. Everybody knows where we are.’
‘Nobody knows where we are,’ Chad said bluntly. ‘Our flight plan called for a direct route to Eagle Lake. We got blown pretty far off course, and we lost radio
contact before I could tell anybody what was happening.’
‘You mean ... you mean we’re on our own?’
‘The thing to remember is that I’ve been in country like this before. If you do as I tell you, we’ll be fine. I promise.’
She took a deep breath. How could he promise such a thing? But he’d promised he’d land them safely, and he had. And he’d promised to get them ashore, and he had. She laughed shakily.
‘Well then, I don’t have much choice, do I? What do we do first?’
‘That’s the girl. First, we go back to the clearing and build a fire. It’s going to get pretty cold tonight. The we’ll have dinner.’
‘Dinner? Are you kidding?’
He chuckled softly. ‘Nope. I’ve got some dried fruit and candy in my pack. Some instant coffee and bouillon cubes, too. Emergency rations, you might say.’ His arm tightened around her. ‘Trust me,’ he said quietly. ‘I’ll take care of you.’
Trust him, she thought. She’d heard that phrase before, from people in the business, from men she’d dated. And it always had brought with it the brassy whiff of hypocrisy.
Chad leaned down and brushed a light kiss over her lips. Then he took her hand in his.
She held it tightly as she followed him through the forest.
Why, she wondered, did the words sound so different this time?
Jessica peered across the little clearing, watching Chad from half-closed eyes as she had been for the past few minutes.
She’d been careful not to shift position or alter her breathing, although she wasn’t quite sure why she was so reluctant to let Chad know she was up.
He’d been organizing the contents of his backpack and boiling water for coffee, moving with an economy of motion and easy grace that was pleasing to the eye.
After a bit, she began to feel guilty about watching him so stealthily, and between that and the vague discomfort of awaken
ing with a strange man in your bedroom, even if your bedroom was a clearing in a forest, it had become almost impossible to say a simple ‘good morning’.
Get it over with, coward, she told herself, and before allowing herself any more time to think about it, she stretched her arms and faked a yawn.
‘Good morning,’ Chad said immediately, turning towards her. ‘Did you sleep well?’'
He smiled. ‘Do you always sleep all curled up like that?’
So, she thought, she hadn’t been the only one doing the watching. She ignored the reminder of the intimacy of their sleeping arrangements. Not so intimate, really. They’d been on opposite sides of the
smoldering fire, each in his or her own bed of leaves and pine branches. There had been plenty of space...
A sudden, dream-like image flickered into her mind and she
shoved it side.
‘I’m glad to see that the sun’s shining,’ she said
briskly, sitting up and tossing aside the nylon tarp he’d given her last night. ‘Everything looks a lot better in the daylight.’
He rose to his feet. ‘Some things always look great,’ he said.
‘Well, that’s because you like the wilderness ...’
‘That, too,’ he said with a quick smile
, as he dusted off the seat of his jeans. ‘I’m going to get washed up, Jessie. I’ll be back in a few minutes.’
She nodded as he headed through the trees and down the ridge. Then she scrambled to her feet.
Had that little remark about some things looking great been meant for her? It didn’t seem very likely, she thought, running her fingers through her hair.
There were bits of twigs and leaves tangled in her dark curls and she was sure her eyes were puffy— they almost always were this time of year because of her hay fever, although, come to think of it, she hadn’t sneezed once since the crash.
Maybe it was the altitude.
she was just looking for something positive in all this mess.
It was hard, remembering
that everything she'd lost was at the bottom of the lake. Even her make-up was gone.
About the only worthwhile thing she’d hung on to was the
ancient little camera she’d brought along on the spur of the moment. It wasn’t anything like the cameras that had been destroyed in the crash, but it was better than nothing.
In the confusion and excitement, she’d forgotten all about it until last night when she’d decided to use her bag for a pillow.
Finding the camera inside it, and the equally ancient five rolls of 36 exposure, high-speed color film safe in their little plastic containers had been wonderful. She’d patted them happily and then fallen asleep despite the hard, cold ground.
Actually, sleeping on the ground hadn’t been quite as uncomfortable as she’d expected. In fact, she thought, smothering a yawn, she’d slept rather well...
The fuzzy dream memory floated into her mind again, more clearly this time, although it was still uncertain and without substance.
Had she actually awakened during the night, shivering with cold? She might have; it wasn’t all that unlikely, in spite of the double layer of sweaters she’d worn and the nylon tarpaulin.
Jessica had a sudden, vivid image of Chad beside her, drawing her into his arms, holding her close in the warmth of his embrace...
Her cheeks flamed with
How could a dream— and it was a dream, of course it was—how could a dream seem so real?
She crossed the little clearing and laid the folded tarpaulin beside his backpack.
‘The bottomless pit,’ she’d dubbed the pack when Chad had produced a plastic-wrapped packet of matches and an old metal canteen from its depths. The pack had also provided their dinner of raisins and nuts, along with instant coffee and bouillon cubes to add to the water he’d boiled in the battered canteen cup.
‘All the pleasures of home,’ he’d said with a grin, handing her the cup filled with coffee.
‘Almost,’ she’d answered, giving him a grateful smile. ‘Is it always this black?’ she added, looking up at the sky.
‘Blacker. There aren’t any stars tonight but at least there’s some moonlight. Sorry there’s no sugar for that coffee.’
Jessica shook her head and spread her fingers over the hot metal,
savoring the warmth and familiar smell of the coffee.
apologize. I’m still amazed that we’ve got coffee at all.’ She sipped at the dark liquid and then glanced up at the sky again. The moon was chasing through the clouds, its pale underbelly a faint glow against the blackness of the night. The surrounding forest had come alive with a billion sounds.
She drew closer to the fire and shivered. ‘I’ll never fall asleep,’ she said positively, handing the cup to Chad. ‘Not even for a minute.’
‘Coffee too strong?’ he asked innocently.
‘I wish that was the reason,’ she said. ‘What are all those things I keep hearing?’
He chuckled softly and took the cup from her hand. ‘Do you really want to know?’
‘Good thinking,’ she said quickly. ‘Don’t tell me. I never would have believed it would be this noisy in the middle of nowhere.’
‘This isn’t noisy, Jessie,’ he laughed. ‘Noisy is what keeps me wide awake all night in a city hotel room. How can anybody sleep while horns blow and brakes squeal and sirens wail?’
‘All that fades into the background after a while. You’re just not used to city sounds.’
He handed the refilled cup of coffee back to her and smiled. ‘I couldn’t have said it better myself. You’re just not used to the sound of silence.’
‘Silence, huh? Is that what you call it! I never heard so much chattering and snorting and shuffling. I keep expecting something to scream or hoot or howl...’
‘Something will,’ he laughed, ‘but you won’t hear it. You’ll be fast asleep before that part of the symphony starts.’
‘That’s not exactly what I wanted to
know. You could have been kind and assured me there weren’t any sounds like those.’
‘You’re perfectly safe
. Believe me, the creatures in the forest don’t want anything to do with you.’
‘Does that go for the bugs, too?’ she asked, shifting carefully on the leafy bed he’d made her.
‘It’s too late in the season for bugs. Well, for most of them, anyway,’ he added with a quick smile. ‘Besides, you don’t have to bother with them until you’ve been formally introduced.’
‘I have absolutely no intention of bothering them. I just hope they don’t want to widen their circle of friends.’
Chad stirred the dark red embers of the fire with a blackened stick. ‘They won’t if you’re asleep,’ he said reasonably.
‘Well,’ she said cautiously, ‘I’ll try. But I’m not sure I’m going to be able to sleep. My body’s tired, but my head keeps reminding me that I’m lying on the cold, hard ground in the dark of the night in the middle of a forest on the top of a mountain ...’
‘I’ll bet you sleep like a baby. Go on. Close your eyes. No monster is going to sneak up on you, I promise.’
There he went again, she had thought, smothering a yawn, making promises...
It had been the last conscious thought she’d had before tumbling into a dreamless sleep, unless, of course, you counted that middle of the night bit of imagination working overtime when she had thought she’d been in Chad’s arms, burrowing sleepily against the hard warmth of him...
‘I’m back.’ She turned at the sound of his voice. He smiled as he stepped into the clearing and dumped an armload of small branches beside the dead fire. ‘Sorry if I woke you before. I tried to be quiet.’
She shook her head and ran her fingers through her hair again, trying to smooth and shape it, painfully aware of her unwashed, unmade-up early morning face and the fuzzy taste in her mouth. Chad, she noticed, looked bright-eyed and ready for the day, except for the shadowy beginning of a beard.
‘You didn’t wake me,’ she said quickly. ‘I was up...’ He glanced at her and she hesitated
. ‘OK,’ she said sheepishly, ‘I wasn’t. I guess I managed to sleep a bit after all.’
He squatted beside the remains of the fire and began to rearrange the kindling and branches.
‘Yeah, I thought you might have dozed off once or twice,’ he said casually, digging in his pocket for the matches. ‘I figured that’s what it meant when you started snoring.’
‘I do not snore,’ Jessica said indignantly. ‘I never
…” She sighed as he grinned at her. ‘I didn’t, did I? Tell me I didn’t.’
Chad brushed his hands off on his jeans. ‘OK, you didn’t,’ he said agreeably. ‘You just make strange noises when you sleep.’
Never mind. Truth is,’ she admitted, watching as he coaxed a tiny flame to life, ‘I slept like a log. You were right, I guess. I was a lot more tired than I realized.’
‘Yeah, you hardly stirred all night.’ He leaned forward and blew on the struggling flame. ‘Well, you did wake up briefly at about three in the morning. The cold got to you.’
She stiffened and watched him carefully, but he was concentrating all his energies on the fire.
I?’ she said finally. ‘I don’t remember that at all.’
He shrugged his shoulders and added a couple of twigs
to the stack.
you were warm again, you just drifted right back to sleep.' Suddenly, he lifted his head and his eyes pierced hers. ‘You don’t remember that, huh?’
Jessica shook her head.
‘No, not at all,’ she said quickly, hoping the dancing flames would hide the color she felt blazing in her cheeks. ‘I guess I snuggled right into that tarpaulin you gave me and dozed right off again.’
Chad grinned lazily. ‘Sure,’ he said easily, ‘that must have been it.’
She wanted to look away from him but his eyes held hers, the golden lights in their hazel depths dancing with faint amusement and something more, something she couldn’t quite fathom...
She swallowed drily as he bent his head and broke the electric contact between them.
‘Well,’ she said in a light voice, ‘the sleeping accommodations in this hotel weren’t bad, but the plumbing leaves a lot to be desired. I’d give anything for a toothbrush and some soap and a sink.’
She nodded her head. ‘Anything.’
He smiled as he got slowly to his feet. ‘We should have a drum roll here,’ he said, holding his hands out to her, fingers spread, ‘and a spotlight.’ Slowly, he rotated his hands before
him. ‘Abracadabra,’ he said dramatically. ‘The Great O’Bryan promises that at no time will his hands ever leave his wrists.’
It was impossible not to smile in return.
‘The Great O’Bryan?’
Do not scoff at a demonstration of woodland magic, ma’am. Will a volunteer from the audience kindly note the absence of charcoal smudges on my fingers? And the teeth are shiny, ma’am. Care to check more closely and verify that?’
‘What I’ll verify is that you’re crazy,’ Jessica laughed. ‘You’re not going to tell me you have tubes of toothpaste and bars of soap in that bottomless pit you call a backpack, are you?’
‘No, sorry about that. Even the old pit has its limits. But fine sand is a great substitute for soap. And I’ll personally cut you a terrific aspen twig toothbrush that you can use down by the lake.’ He waggled his eyebrows in an exaggerated leer. ‘Now, aren’t you sorry you said you’d give me anything I wanted for that information?’
‘Nope, it’s too late to back out. You’re not a welsher, are you, Jess?’
‘Well, no,’ she said. Color swept into her face as she remembered the phantom feel of his arms around her in the dark, small hours of the night. ‘No, I’m not,
‘Good. Then you won’t object to collecting the next batch of kindling.’
Kindling? That was what he wanted?
,’ she said, with a quick smile. ‘Sure. ‘No problem. ‘Just give me five—‘
He moved quickly, came to where she stood, bent his head and gave her a light kiss.
‘Kindling,’ he said, ‘and a proper thank-you for that feat of magic.’
She knew she should say something. Tell him not to do that again… but he’d already turned away. He took an aspen twig from his back pocket and gave it to her.
‘Service with a smile,’ he said.