Authors: Mimi Barbour
“Lay back, honey. Put your feet up on the seat. That’s good.” It took only moments to get herself and Pegi into the front and to start the engine so the heater blasted warm air. Once settled, she removed her coat and took off the fuzzy sweater underneath and piled both on Amy whose teeth chattered incessantly.
Despite the chapped lips and reddened cheeks, Sara could see the girl was a beauty.
Auburn hair, naturally curly, had escaped from a ponytail and formed tiny ringlets around her pretty face, highlighting her drenched emerald eyes. Thank goodness her slender body hadn’t weighed overly much, or Sara wouldn’t have been able to carry her.
“Thank you. Your sweater feels warm. I can’t stop shaking. Wow, I never really understood how cold—cold could be.” Amy’s chattering sounded weird with her teeth clicking continuously.
Agile from years of yoga, Sara manoeuvred herself past the floor console and into the back seat where she checked Amy’s swollen leg. “Can you move your foot? I think it’s best to leave the boot on. It’s keeping the leg from swelling worse.” Not being great at first aid, Sara had always relied on her nursing neighbour to bandage Kai’s scrapes and wounds most active boys suffered. “I wish your father was here.”
Even though the words “me too” were whispered, Sara heard them distinctly." Dad is going to kill me when I get home. He’s so busy with his new job; he hasn’t had time for me at all. I miss my friends in Vancouver so much, and I only wanted to spend a few days with them over the holidays, but he refused to consider it.
” Amy sniffed.
Said he had no time to bring me there. Like I couldn’t take the ferry myself. Treated me like a kid, and freaked out when I pushed him on it. You know, I’ve tried to understand about his work, really I have. But he doesn’t care that my life is over. That I have no friends here. That I’m miserable.” Tears gushed and streamed, drenching her cheeks and pouting lips.
Immune to displays of self-pity, Sara added. “So to fix him, you ran away in a snowstorm to hide in the woods. Where you could have died rather than sit the foolish man down, explain your feelings, and talk to him like an adult.”
“He doesn’t listen.”
“Do you talk? Or scream and pout?”
The silence was telling. “I’m a brat, aren’t I? I’m so sorry.” She held her hand toward Sara, pleading for comfort, and Sara could no more ignore the gesture than stop the hug that followed. Pegi, bounding over to land on top of them, broke up the moment and had them laughing.
“Get into the front Pegi. Amy’s fine now.” Sara smoothed the girl’s long straggly hair from her face and kissed her cheek. “She could never stand it when my son and I got into a battle either. From the first sign of tears, she’d do anything to stop the war.”
Sara reached into her pants pocket and pulled out her cell phone. “I need to call for help. I haven’t seen anyone else on the road since we got here.”
The bars pointed to a full battery, but the words ‘No Service’ illustrated clearly they were out of luck. Darn it! Sara thought through her options and decided she had no choice.
“Amy, we can’t keep the car going, or we’ll run out of gas. We’re stuck too deep in the snow for me to drive out, and my house is too far for me to carry you. Our only hope is for me to try and find a signal further up the road and call a neighbour who doesn’t live too far away. He has a four-wheel drive veh
icle and would come and get us.
Look, there’s a straight stretch past the curve up ahead. I’ll try there. Give me your father’s number so I can add it into my address book and I’ll call him also.”
She carefully copied the numbers and then redressed in her coat and gloves. Before she left the vehicle she reached into the bag on the floor by the front seat and pulled out a fancy parcel. “In the meantime, here’s a huge bar of chocolate for you to nibble. I’ll be back as soon as I’ve reached someone.”
She pulled on her headlights, pushed the heavy door with all her might to dislodge the recent snow, and heaved herself out. “No Pegi. You stay and keep Amy company.” With a shove on the animal’s chest to push her back, she slammed the door, then slid and fumbled her way to where she surmised the road lay.
So much snow had fallen in the last twenty minutes that without the faint treads from her tires, she’d never have found the highway. Her skewered headlights illuminated the curve sign, and using baby steps, she glided in that direction. Holding her phone in front of her, Sara prayed for a change.
She stopped to get her bearings, and what she saw made her shudder. Wind, that earlier was quite light, had picked up to almost gale force. Banks of snow had formed everywhere, and the blizzard conditions made walking so treacherous, she had no idea how she stayed upright. Her hair whipped out from under the turned-up hood on her coat and slapped at her cheeks and eyes forcing tears to overflow, all but blinding her.
How could a perfectly ordinary day turn out so badly? Here she was stuck in a ditch in one of the nastiest snowstorms she’d ever seen, with an injured runaway in her car, and if she couldn’t get her phone to work, no way to get help. Things couldn’t get much worse.
Blaringly loud, the honking horn made her spin around and instinctively dive for where she hoped lay the edge of the road, but not before seeing the driver fight the wheel of an SUV gone loco. The crash, buffeted by so much snow, didn’t sound half as loud as she expected. Dazed, and lying on her side, she watched the front end of the vehicle plough through the drifts of soft snow, dip into a gully, and became wedged, looking like a one of those chauvinist joke videos they send over the internet depicting women drivers.
Stunned, she lay there, gathering her scattered wits and questioning the higher power about his sense of humour.
Rage rumbled through the voice of the man who limped over to drag her from the ditch. “What the hell is wrong with you lady? Are you nuts, standing in the middle of the road?”
Knowing from many arguments with her son that the defensive role didn’t work, she quickly chose the offensive. “Me? The speed you were driving, in these conditions, you could have killed me.”
“Unsurprisingly, the urge is still there.” His droll tone hinted at temper reined in, but just.
Sara, still clutching her flashlight, shone it up into his face and saw a man looming over her who clearly had a great deal on his mind. Lurking behind the visible anger, she sensed worry and what looked like fear. That alone helped her to forgive his rotten attitude.
In a placating manner that was so Sara, her hand reached out to touch his arm. “Look, I’m fine, and I’m sorry for scaring you. But I have an emergency. My car is stuck in a snowdrift around that bend, and I couldn’t get phone service there. Useless old phone that it is. I hoped that if I came to the straight stretch, I might get a signal. I guess I became so engrossed, I didn’t even notice your headlights.”
For a moment, she didn’t think he’d accept her explanation. The man ignored her and repeatedly ran his hands through his wind-blown hair, his agitation obvious. Then, as her words registered, he grabbed her arms, she supposed to shut her up, and interrupted in a voice that normally she’d never have put up with.
“What kind of an emergency? Late for a party?” His sarcasm grated, but before she could volley back, he continued, his voice breaking with emotion. “I have a thirteen-year-old, runaway daughter who could be roaming these woods. The silly twit has no survival skills of any sort for this kind of weath—”
“Amy Watson is your daughter? Oh my goodness, she’s my emergency also. My dog found her in the bush, and we’ve brought her to the car, but I’m scared she’s in the first stages of hypothermia. I was desperate to get help before I run out of gas. She needs to be indoors.”
The chauvinistic brute disappeared, replaced instantly by a frightened father who unthinkingly lowered his forehead to touch hers in a way that tore the heart right out of her. A sucker for any kind of male emotion, Sara wrapped an arm around the stranger and held on for a few seconds. Her voice gentled. “She’s fine, just a swollen ankle on top of being frightened and cold. Come with me, I’ll show you.”
The first step she took would have landed her on her fanny without his assistance. “Dear Lord! You are a menace, aren’t you? Look! Don’t move for a minute until I turn off my car and get my medical bag. Then I’ll help you.”
As she waited, she sifted through the pithy responses she should have made after his smart-ass remark. Instead, she said nothing and shone the flashlight to help him see his way better. On his return, she couldn’t help but notice how young he appeared and—well—dark. From his full eyebrows and longish hair, to his eyes and his heavy jacket, and when she added his personality into the mix, it looked to be a long night.
Sara, aware her eyes were a dead giveaway to her thoughts, looked away. “I hope Amy isn’t scared with me being gone so long. She was pretty upset by the time I found her.”
“Lately she’s become emotional over every little thing. Trust me, I know.”
“It’s called puberty. As a doctor, I’m sure you’re aware of the phenomenon. It happens to teenage girls.” Her snippy tone came out without any thought of how it would sound to a virtual stranger. Between her and Kai, they tended to ‘dis’ each other, as he called it, ‘push buttons’ to her way of thinking, and her response had come automatically.
His head swivelled, and he eyeballed her innocent expression before answering. “I’m an administrator, not a practising MD. But I do know what that means. And, I’ve given her a lot of slack. Obviously too much, since she thought she could pull off a stupid stunt like she did today. ”
“I think she’s sorry for running away. She’s been frightened, and that in itself is a huge lesson.” Involved in the conversation and not paying attention to her next step, Sara, arms windmilling, instinctively grabbed at the person nearest to stop her imminent fall. Rather than stop herself from landing on her backside, she hauled him down with her.
“Lady, you’re a hazard. It should be mandatory every time you leave your house for you to strap on a blinking yellow light.” She noticed he’d taken the brunt of their misfortune by twisting, trying to save her at the last minute.
The flashlight in her hand was caught between their two bodies and illuminated their faces. At the same moment, they both stopped trying to push away from each other. Instead their gazes caught and held. Shivers broke out all over her body, which had nothing to do with the fact that she lay partially buried in a foot of snow, but all to do with a stranger’s arms cradling her. His eyes—not black at all—replicated her all-time favourite ring, one she’d cherished for years, a brilliant aquamarine.
Neither of them moved for what seemed like forever, but was in fact probably only a few seconds. In that time, she felt as if he’d seen into her very soul with a disconcerting gaze that had her stomach flip-flopping and her breath catching in her throat.
Lordy, lordy, she thought, giddy as a young girl. He’s rather smashing. His raised eyebrow finally caught her attention, stopped her ogling, and brought her back to earth.
“Sorry! Look, the car’s just there, you can see the headlights.” She nodded towards the side of the road where a faint glow sent strange shadow images into the trees. Then she breathed a sigh of relief when he lifted her off of him, and with one smooth move, rolled to his feet. Like any gentleman, once he stood, he reached down to help her up.
She ignored his outstretched hand, knowing with her luck, she’d have another blunder. Then he’d really have something to tease her about. And she was right. Not only did her feet slide out from under her, but if he hadn’t thought quickly and one-armed her against his body, she’d have landed once again on her backside.
Horrified, she tried to push his hands away.
“Oh for heaven’s sake.” He wrapped his free arm around her and all but carried her to the car. Once there, he opened the front door and shoved her in like a victim in a kidnapping. Pegi, not liking this at all, lunged forward, warning the stranger with a menacing growl.
“Stop, Pegi! Don’t bite him—yet. But keep that thought in case I change my mind.” Sara didn’t care if he heard her loudly whispered words.
Amy sat forward. “Sara, are you alright. I got worri… Daddy?" Her father had opened the back door, slid her feet over, and pushed his way inside. “You came to find me?”
“You sound surprised.” The brusque tone in his voice didn’t cover the relief that Sara heard loud and clear.
“I am. I didn’t think I was important enough for you to leave your office for so long.”
"You didn’t think at all. Why would I give anyone else the joy of wringing your neck? As your father, I relish the privilege.”
Sara couldn’t hold back another minute. “Stop it you two. Squabbling like a couple of kids. You’ve devastated your frantic father, Amy. Of course he’s searched for you and in this horrible weather.” Then she pointed her gloved finger toward the man whose name she still didn’t know and hesitated. “What’s your name?”
“Jack. And I wasn’t quite that frantic since I knew my little girl has a sharp head on her shoulders, and in normal circumstances, could look after herself very well.”
“Really, Dad? Do you really believe that? Don’t kid around, okay? I pulled a dumb move and could have been seriously in trouble if Pegi hadn’t found me.” The sob that escaped had both the man and the dog moving towards the youngster.