Bursting With Love(7)

By: Melissa Foster

A shriek pulled him from the memory. He whipped around with his large knife in hand, knees bent. Josie huddled against Savannah’s side, her arms pulled in close, fear in her eyes.

“She thought she saw a snake,” Savannah said as she brushed Josie’s black hair from her shoulders. Josie’s skin was milky white, and her eyes were a vibrant blue, giving her the appearance of a porcelain doll…in jeans and clunky hiking boots.

For a moment, Jack didn’t move. A snake? You freaked out over a snake? Elizabeth and Lou stepped in front of Aiden, as if that might protect him from the snake. Jack looked down at the knife in his hand. Or protect him from me? Pratt stood off to the side with a smirk on his thin lips, shaking his head. Jack stole a glance at Savannah, who didn’t look shaken up or amused. She had one hand on Josie’s back and the other on her cheek.

“It’s okay,” Savannah assured her.

The kindness in Savannah’s voice spiked a memory in Jack. It’s okay. I’ll go. Linda’s voice crept through his mind. He turned back around and ran his hand through his hair. Love you, Linda had said before walking out the door. He hadn’t even answered her. He’d made a noise. A grunt. That familiar love-you-too noise that couples make when they’re too busy to give their spouse the time they deserve. Two long years and not once did a woman’s voice ever bring back that moment. What was it about Savannah Braden that had his mind twisting in ways it never had and his body noticing the beauty of a woman again for the first time?

He turned back around to the group and shoved his knife back into its sheath.

“We’re in the woods. What part of that don’t you understand?” Jack knew he was fuming at himself in the memory, but he couldn’t stop the hurt from coming out as anger. “Was I not clear back there? Snakes live here. We are the interlopers. We are the villains, not them. If you shriek, that tells me there’s a bigger danger—a bear, a coyote, a madman—something that we really do need to worry about. A snake will slither away.” As he turned back to continue the hike, he noticed that the smirk had left Pratt’s lips, replaced with a furrowed brow. His eyes shifted across the woods. He wanted to know what expression Savannah wore, but now not only did he have to avoid eye contact, it was apparent that he needed to avoid verbal contact as well.

“You don’t have to be such an ass. She’s young. She got scared. Cut her a break.”

He took one step and stopped at the sound of Savannah’s aggressive accusation. He let out a breath and turned back around, meeting Josie’s eyes instead of the challenge in Savannah’s. He calmed his voice enough to speak instead of yell. “Let’s try to keep the screaming to a minimum.”

JACK IGNORED SAVANNAH all afternoon. When she’d challenged his answers, he’d shaken his head, and when she’d asked questions, he hadn’t looked at her when he answered. Now Savannah sat on a log at what would be their base camp, struggling to put together the poles to her tent, and she’d be damned if she’d ask him for help. What was she doing here anyway? She grew up on a ranch with a house, working toilets and showers, and horses to ride up mountains. She had no camping experience, and she hadn’t had time to research how to construct the darn tent before leaving for the trip. When she’d purchased it, she had been so busy worrying if leaving town was the right thing to do that she’d completely zoned out and hadn’t registered a word of the salesman’s lengthy instructions. She hadn’t had time to do much of anything before making the impetuous, stupid decision to go to survival camp. Why hadn’t she listened to Max, her brother Treat’s new wife? She should have gone to one of the many retreats they owned instead of coming into the wild to live like a Neanderthal alongside this mountain madman. When Jack had spun around with that enormous knife in his hand, all she could do was remain silent and still. Her mind had screamed, Run! but her legs had been rooted in place. And the way his eyes had changed in an instant—as if the slightly crazy woodsman had turned into a wounded puppy and then morphed right back into the angry man—had rattled her.

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