Authors: Kimberly Malone
All Rights Reserved
. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
I’m going to die.
That’s literally the thought running through my head as all five foot eleven inches of me wrestles with a wooden fence that’s collapsed and falling over a cliff edge. Dangling from a rope some thirty or forty feet below me is the man of my dreams—Eli Richardson, a tall, muscular, handsome man who looks like he was chiseled from stone (and feels like it, too). His brown hair with blonde-dyed tips, normally styled in a disheveled manner, is particularly haphazard looking at the moment, and his vivid green eyes stare up at me with horror and fear. I thought at first it was fear for himself and the young teenage boy, Jason, whom he had just rescued from the cliff side. However, Eli shakes his head at me.
“Ruby!” Eli shouts, his deep voice echoing against the cliff side. “Let go of the fence!”
However, if I let go, the fence will fall on Eli and Jason’s heads.
Am I supposed to let it drop on them?
Even if it doesn’t kill them, it could injury them significantly. And that’s if it
crack their heads open or pull them and the rope that’s taut between the beams of the fence down forty feet to the trickling creek below.
Sweat pours down my coffee-colored arms, and I can feel it running from under my black curly hair and down my back. I strain against the fence, digging my sneakers into the dirt, as I balance on the edge of the precipice. If Eli and I hadn’t had sex literally an hour or two ago and been hiking for even longer than that, I might have had more strength. Of course, I can’t complain—not too many people can say they’ve had really awesome sex with the sexiest man on the planet on a hiking trip right before dying.
But I don’t want to die, and I really don’t want to see Eli and Jason die either. So, I throw all my strength into holding the fence up, glad I exercise regularly. Then, seeing that it’s only loosely held together and falling apart at the ends, I break the top pieces apart. An old man comes to my side, and between the two of us, we pull out the middle and lean the fence away from Eli and Jason. It falls to either side, narrowly missing Eli, but it works. I hear Jason cry a little, as the wood pieces clatter against the rocks below.
“Thanks,” I breathe to the man. I have to wonder why the crowd around us hadn’t been helping, but maybe I was the only one crazy enough to grab a massive fence that was falling over an edge and try to hold it up.
“Nice catch and a good idea,” he says.
“Can you pull us up?” Eli calls.
“I need your help,” I say to the other hikers. “Make a line, and we’re going to pull back on the count of three.”
By this point police and park workers and one EMT have shown up. They’re trying to assess the situation, but when they see us straining on the rope, they join us.
“Three,” I shout, “two…one! Pull!”
I groan, as I pull back with everyone. I had imagined it being much more difficult, but we go almost too fast, and I let go of the rope to assist a park worker, who’s waiting to help Eli and Jason climb over the edge. Watching Eli, I have to wonder if he’s done this before. He’s walking up as they pull the rope, keeping himself parallel with the cliff side, and he seems to have little trouble with it.
However, I don’t know if Eli will tell me. He doesn’t like to talk about himself. He keeps a cold wall around himself and his emotions, and if it weren’t for the amazing moments of intimacy, or when he’d helped me volunteer at Lark’s Food Pantry, or going over a cliff edge so willingly to save another soul, I’d think him a heartless fellow. But nope, Eli’s not heartless. Just mysterious. And sexy. And I can’t get enough of him.
There’s a huge cheer behind me as soon as Eli lifts Jason up onto the ground, and I smile in relief as I help Jason walk to the park ranger before turning and giving Eli a hand the rest of the way up and over the edge. He crawls on the ground on his hands and knees, panting, and I untie the rope around his waist. I lift his shirt just a little, wincing as I see where the rope around his waist rubbed his skin raw when it had jerked to a stop, and I rub his back gently.
“Nice work,” I say to Eli. He just nods his head, still taking deep breaths.
More police, EMTs, and firefighters swarm the area, and Jason and Eli are inspected multiple times. Besides Eli’s rope burns, Jason and Eli only have a few scrapes and bruises. Jason is grinning from ear to ear, as his two friends hug him and give him hell for scaring them.
A woman, who I guess is Jason’s mother shows up, and she smothers Jason in a hug. I see them pointing at Eli and I, and I take a step to the side as Jason’s mother rushes over. She’s wearing scrubs; she must have just rushed over from work. I don’t blame her in the least.
“Thank you,” the woman says to Eli. She gives him a hug, tears in her eyes. “Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome,” Eli says.
“I’m so grateful.” The woman hugs Eli again and then turns and hugs me. “You are wonderful, wonderful people!”
“Oh, I didn’t do anything,” I say—although I hug her back.
“You kept the fence from falling on them,” one of Jason’s friends says.
“Thank you, thank you,” Jason’s mom says. I give her a smile, but then I step back to give Jason room as he approaches.
The boy is sporting a few gauze patches and gives us an embarrassed grin. “Thanks, man,” Jason says. He holds a hand out tentatively to Eli, and Eli shakes it.
“You’re welcome. Take care of yourself now, Jason,” Eli says.
“Wait! Can I get your name and number?” the woman asks. She looks between Eli and I. “I want to send you something.”
“No need,” Eli says. He steps back, disengaging himself, and gives them a small smile. “No, please, I don’t want anything.”
“Me either,” I add when the woman looks at me.
“Okay. Thank you, thank you so much,” the woman says again.
We stay long enough to give a report to one of the policeman, the other hikers praising Eli—and even me—throughout the report for our quick thinking although I don’t feel like I did much. As soon as we’re finished, Eli and I collect up our stuff, and Eli begins wrapping his rope back up. I can tell by the way his hands are moving, swiftly and fluidly, that he’s in efficiency mode, as if he’s trying not to think about something.
Maybe he was more scared for Jason than he’d let on, and the adrenaline is still pumping?
It certainly was scary for me. I set my hand on his shoulder and massage his back again. His muscles are still tight, and I hear him breathe out slowly at my touch.
Eli and I wave at everyone one last time, excusing ourselves, and we head back down the trail. The parking lot, previously empty but for a few cars, is full of vehicles now, many of them police cars and a couple of ambulances and firetrucks. Our cab driver that we’d called right before the incident is waiting at the back of the lot, staring at everything with wide-eyes.
“What’s going on up there?” the cab driver asks when we get inside.
“Just a close call, everyone’s fine though,” Eli says. He glances at me. “I was going to take you out for dinner, but after such excitement, perhaps we should call it a day?”
I smirk, knowing that Eli’s referring to a couple of different events. And granted, after that scary incident, I’m exhausted. However, I can tell by Eli’s eyes that something very specific is bothering him, and he wants the chance to retreat. I’m frustrated, but I concede.
Eli gives the cab driver my address, and the driver takes off down the road back into Atlanta. Our ride back is quiet. At first I want to blame it on Jason’s close call, but I’m not sure. Eli avoids my hand when I reach out for him, and he keeps his head down, staring at his feet as the countryside turns into city.
I feel like I’m so close to figuring out a puzzle with Eli, but the last handful of pieces are behind a wall that I can’t break down—and the door won’t open. Try as I might, I can’t get a conversation started with Eli, and when I finally give up, I see the cab driver eyeing us in his rear view mirror.
“Thanks for the hike,” I say when the cab driver stops the car. “I had a lot of fun—besides the accident.”
Some light comes to Eli’s face, and he tells the driver to wait. He gives me a small smile, as he walks out and escorts me to the front entrance of the complex, my penthouse at the top. “I had fun too, Ruby.” He stares at my hands in his. “I’m sorry if I seem distant; I just have a lot to think about,” Eli says.
I smile and kiss him on the cheek. “You’re always thinking, but I understand. That was pretty scary back there. You were a hero.”
Eli stares at me. “You helped, too,” he says softly.
“Eh, I didn’t do much, but thanks,” I say. “Maybe clumsy sidekick?”
Finally, Eli gives me a truer smile. “Beautiful sidekick.”
I grin. “Thanks.”
“Rest well, Ruby.”
Eli pauses, still holding my hands. Then, he drops them and turns, walking back to the cab with slow, deliberate steps, pausing once, almost as if he were having a fight with himself. However, he makes it to the cab and gets in. I wave, and he lifts his hand once before the cab takes off.
I exhale and make my way into the complex, pressing the passcode for the elevator and heading up. Being around Eli makes it difficult for me to breathe, but I hate when I’m away from him. I’ve never felt like this around a guy before, and I’m dazed as I make my way back up to my penthouse.
Is this love?
The thought came out of nowhere, and I stare around at my bright and cheery penthouse as I close the door. I want to blame the rush from the day’s events on my feelings, but I’m not so sure.
I’m just exhausted,
My brain’s all muddled.
Buttercup, my fluffy yellow cat, an older dear that I’d gotten from a rescue shelter a few years ago, comes running up, rubbing between my legs, and I give her a good pet. Turning on the sound system in my penthouse, which is wired throughout the place, I head to the bathroom. I take a long, hot shower, glad to get rid of the dirt and sweat and fear from the hike and the incident, but less happy to lose Eli’s scent from my skin.
Slipping into my green silk robe, I’m so tired I decide against making dinner and instead treat myself to a couple scoops of strawberry ice cream with a hot fudge topping, curling up in front of my computer and checking email while Buttercup sits on my lap. There’s nothing pressing, and I browse the web briefly. Out of my own curiosity, I type “Eli Richardson” into the search bar, but I can’t find anything besides a small bio on him on their company website, and there isn’t even a picture of him.
I rub my forehead, tired of the persistent headaches that have been coming more frequently, wondering where my energy’s gone to lately, and wishing I could make sense of Eli, the mystery that surrounds him, and my heart.
Feeling pensive, I pick up a sketch pad and a pencil, and I sit out on my balcony, Buttercup following me out. A breeze gently blows my hair into my face, and I fix it as I stare out at the city below, listening to the music from inside my home. The sun’s just about to set, and it casts a glow over everything.
My thoughts are everywhere, and I idly begin to draw. I’m the creator and owner of Ruby’s Jewelry, a multi-billion dollar jewelry company, and things have been going great for the business. However, I also haven’t had a new idea for a jewelry line in forever, and I’m getting anxious about it.
I can feel the strain in my lines as my logic fights with my emotions, and I mix curves with edges. A square and a circle combine as a result, and I stare at the page by the balcony light when I’m done.
I have a new design line at last. And I know what I’m going to call it.
“Tension,” I say.
Larisa, my talented assistant and one of my dear friends, is staring at my sketch with wide eyes behind her black-rimmed glasses. “Miss Jennings,” Larisa says—she refuses to call me by my first name during business hours—“I’m no artist, but this might be your best line yet.”
We’re at my office, coffees in hand. I held off from showing Larisa my new design line long enough to hear about her new boyfriend, Lance, and by Larisa’s descriptions, even I’m a little jealous. He sounds hot, and we joked that putting Eli and Lance into a room together might be dangerous. Larisa had then asked me about my weekend, and I hadn’t been able to wait another second, proudly pulling out the sketch I had made last night—the one we are currently discussing.
“Seriously,” Larisa says again. “This is beautiful! Have you shown it to the rest of the staff?”
I shake my head. “I wanted you to be the first.”
Larisa beams at me, looking adorable in her cute business suit top and skirt, her blonde hair pinned up in a perfect bun. She’s the spitting image of a sexy secretary, and she’s got the brains for it. “And how was the rest of your weekend?” she asks. “Did Mr. Richardson ever call you?”
“No,” I say. It’s true; Eli hadn’t called me. “But he showed up to help me with Lark’s Food Pantry, and after that we hung out together for the weekend.”
“Really?” Larisa smiled at me. “I’m happy for you, but I have to be honest—I’m surprised. After everything you said, Mr. Richardson just seemed like the one-and-done type.”