Authors: Alannah Carbonneau
Suddenly, with no warning at all, he was there - running beside me. My heart raced and anger fueled my tired body as I pushed harder, running faster. Only a few minutes and I would be in the safety of my cabin. He couldn’t hurt me when I was in my cabin. In my cabin, I didn’t have to listen to him. I didn’t have to accept the harshness of his words and I didn’t have to look into his stupidly captivating green eyes.
“Hadley, stop running.” He commanded, still keeping pace with me. “I need to talk to you.”
“No, you don’t.”
“I didn’t mean for you to hear that.”
“Clearly.” I pushed harder, irritated that he was able to keep pace with me so apparently easy.
He had to run. If he didn’t run on a regular basis, there was no way he’d be keeping this pace.
My cabin came into view and hope soared. Pushing myself past my limit, my breathing raced as I ran toward the safety of my little rented home.
I didn’t make it far as a large, warm, calloused hand wrapped around my arm - halting me in my escape. The sudden capture was so unexpected, my body jolted and I felt my feet fall out from beneath my body. Suddenly, I was no longer on solid ground, but was instead held by strong arms. Yes, I was held tight, my back pressed against the hard front of the man who’d just made me cry. And I didn’t even have a big brother I could call and cry to - who would threaten to beat the offending man to a pulp for ever hurting me, the way big brothers are supposed to do. That thought made me cry harder and I felt my knees weaken and my body quaked with sobs.
This was clearly so much more than just hurt feelings - this was a mental, emotional, and physical breakdown.
“Shit, baby.” I felt his warm breath spill over my exposed shoulder. “You’re something clumsy.”
“What?” I choked through my sobs, before I remembered he was holding me in his arms. Those very arms were the only reason I was still standing and not on my knees, crying to the heavens above for my loss. I gasped, pleading against the very arms that kept me from total breakdown. “Let me go.”
“Nope.” His arms tightened. “Are you alright?”
“No.” I shook my head, wondering why he wasn’t running for his life from the crazy woman who cried like this over hurt feelings. But honestly, although he may have been the starting reason for my tears, he had nothing to do with them now. Now, it was all about the loss of my big brother - the loss of my protector and tormentor. The loss of my best friend.
I begged again, trying unsuccessfully to restrain my tears. “Please let me go.”
Collin didn’t reply as he bent his knees into the backs of mine, forcing my legs to bend. Slowly, he lowered us to our knees on the grassy ground beneath my feet. His entire form encased mine as he held me, rocking me gently as I emptied myself of my pain.
When I had finished crying, my body no longer trembling with pain and sorrow and loss, I felt his arms loosen from around my waist, but only a fraction. Then, his rough voice sounded into my hair. “Were those tears for him, Hadley?”
I stiffened. “Who?” My voice cut off and I steadied myself before attempting to speak again. “Who told you? What do you know?”
“My mom, right after you ran.” For the first time, he sounded slightly uncertain. “It’s why I chased after you.”
“What did she tell you?” I croaked, closing my eyes against their burning. Thankfully, there simply were no more tears to cry. I’d run myself dry.
“She told me she didn’t bring you here. That you’re here because your mom called and your dad booked your cabin - for six months.” His voice lowered. “That you just lost your brother.”
My body deflated and his arms tightened around me - his strength keeping me from crumbling into my pain.
For a moment there was silence. Then, he spoke again. “I’m really sorry you walked in on that, Hadley. It wasn’t for you to hear. It really had nothing to do with you.”
“That’s not what it sounded like.” I snorted unbecomingly. “Actually, it sounded like it had everything to do with me.”
“It didn’t.” He vowed roughly and I stiffened. “It was between my mom and me. She keeps trying to meddle in mine and my brother’s lives - I love her, but shit, she can’t force us all into settling down. It doesn’t work like that.”
“I can assure you that she’s not trying to set us up, Collin.” I tried to slip away from the confines of his embrace, but he refused to relent his hold and I settled back into the hard warmth of his chest, my head falling into the crook of his neck. “Please let me go.” I asked tiredly.
“Naw.” He shook his head gently so as not to force mine up from his shoulder. “I kinda like the way you feel.”
This made me stiffen and I replied coldly. “Yeah, well as you so clearly informed your Mother, Reese, and myself, you’re not the relationship kind of guy - and I’m no easy girl.” Screw sorrow, I was pissed now. “You might like the way I feel, but I’ll never be the kind of girl who loves and leaves.” I struggled in his arms and finally, he released me. “I know the kind of guy you are, Collin, and I’m not interested in getting myself burned by whatever flames you’ve got inside you.” I shook my head as I stumbled to my feet. “No thanks!”
Collin lifted himself to his feet, towering over me as he gazed down into my face. “I would burn you, Hadley.” He nodded before sighing. “Friends?”
I gazed up at him, wondering for a moment, if he was freaking insane. Then I nodded slowly, but firmly. “Yeah, friends. But just so you know, if you ruin my coffee time once more, this
- it won’t work.”
Slowly, his lips curled into a grin. My heart raced. It was that freaking lady-killer grin I was beginning to
like. Damn. Why did all jerks have to be so darned hot?
“I ruined your coffee time?”
“Yeah.” I folded my arms beneath my breasts before pinning him with ‘I’m serious’ eyes. “You did.”
Tipping his head to the side, he asked. “How did I do that?”
“Yesterday, you shoved your crotch in my face.”
“I seem to remember you on your knees, shoving your face into my crotch. Now, don’t go thinking I’m complaining because I ain’t, but I figured I’d set the record straight before you go spreading rumors.” He leaned in an inch and I felt my body stiffen. “Don’t forget, we have witnesses.”
My mouth dropped. “I was picking up my credit card!”
He shrugged. “You don’t need an excuse, honey.”
I glared. “Ruin my coffee time once more, Collin, I dare you!”
He smirked. “And today?”
“I was planning on getting a coffee on my way back from getting an itinerary. You crushed that plan.”
His gaze darkened. “I really am sorry, Hadley.”
I forced a smile. “I’m going to go inside now. See you around, Collin.”
He didn’t reply, but I felt his green eyes on my body until I escaped the heated prism of his gaze behind the heavy oak door of the cabin.
As I leaned against the door, I realized I’d been holding my breath.
After coming back from my run, I dressed in a pair of jean shorts and a flowing white tank top that allowed for the warm days breeze to seep through the fabric. Beneath my clothes, I wore my white bikini bathing suit. Today, I planned on finding the water that was rumored to be so close to my little cabin. I had a date with the sound of river waves tumbling over a rocky riverbed.
Snapping an elastic in place around my wrist, I decided to start the day with my long hair down. I wasn’t really one to wear it up if I could avoid it. I had a lot of hair and wearing it up was often irritating. It was heavy, but I couldn’t convince myself to cut it. My long hair was my cloak when I needed it. I didn’t often feel the need for my cloak, but when I did, I liked having it and I knew it was something I would never part with. Plus, I’d always been more attracted to women with long hair. There was just something feminine about it.
Walking from the small bedroom, I was startled by the sound of heavy knocking on the door of my cabin. For a moment, I stiffened as I pondered the time. It wasn’t even past 8:00 a.m. and someone was seriously banging at my door?
Feeling slightly irritated and a little disgruntled, I padded from the hall toward the door of my cabin. Unlocking it, I swung it open and my heart kicked in my chest.
“Hi?” A question sounded on the end of my word as I stared up at Collin. Was he really here? Was I dreaming? I mean, if I was dreaming it really wouldn’t surprise me - I had been dreaming about him the past two nights.
He held a coffee cup toward me and I recognized the paper cup as one from the cafeteria. He grinned, “Coffee time truce?”
Unconsciously, my lips spread into a smile. I reached out for the coffee and he watched me take a sip of the bitter black liquid. Just the way I liked it. I sighed, letting my eyes flutter closed to momentarily appreciate the caffeine.
When I finally opened my eyes, I breathed my reply. “Truce.”
Collin blinked down at me as though stunned, before he shifted and cleared his throat. “Uh.” He ran a hand through the mess of his wild sun-kissed hair. “You busy today?”
“Yes.” I said without pause and his brows rose in question I immediately answered. “I have a date.”
“Oh.” He replied stiffly. “With?”
“The river.” I announced matter of fact and the tenseness in his green eyes vanished. “If I can find it.”
“Definitely my kind of girl.” He nodded appraisingly through his teasing reply.
“Ha. Ha.” My tone was dry. “We confirmed yesterday, that I’m very much not your type, or don’t you remember?”
“About that river...” he avoided my question and I let it pass. It was rhetorical, after all. “I’m leading a rafting tour at eleven. Wondered if maybe you’d be interested in tagging along?”
Hell to the freaking
! Did I ever want to tag along!
I decided to play it cool, hoping he couldn’t see through my burning excitement. “Oh, you mean I don’t have to enroll.”
He laughed, clearly my struggle to restrain my excitement was unsuccessful. “I’ll make a spot for you.”
I smiled, unable to help myself. “Okay then.”
He raised a brow. “Okay?”
“I’ll come. Where do we meet?”
“Uh, you want to come with me now?” He thumbed over his shoulder and I peeked around his wide frame to see a mini vehicular device. I recognized it as a quad. I’d never ridden on an ATV before. Being that I was raised in the city, as a city girl, the whole rough-necking country thing wasn’t something I’d encountered on a regular basis - or even really at all.
I looked back to the man waiting for my reply with curious eyes and shifted. Taking a slow sip of my coffee, I shook my head. “It’s not even 8:00 a.m. I’ll just meet you, uh, wherever you want me to meet you.”
He rubbed his chin as he studied me closely for a moment. Then he chuckled. “You’ve never ridden on a quad before, have you?”
“Hadley.” I heard excitement fringe my name in his tone. “You’ll love it. I promise.”
“No.” I shook my head and stepped a small step back inside my cabin. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“You’re scared.” He stated matter of fact and I felt my spine stiffen.
Oh, hell no.
He was so not accusing me of being afraid of that mini, roofless, danger-mobile. Even if it was sort of true.
“I’m not afraid of it.” I argued. “I just don’t see the point of going out now with you when the tour starts at eleven.”
“I can show you around a little before and then you can help me set up.” He returned without missing a beat. The man was seriously persistent.
“I don’t know.”
Sensing my weakening resolve, he added. “I’m trying to be friendly. This isn’t something I’m used to with women. Throw me a bone, Had.”
I was smiling until he used that sentence - until he called me Had. Flinching at the nickname Michael had forever used for me, my mind wandered.
...Michael was bent over my bed, tossing my clothing into my purple suitcase with speed and thoughtlessness that made me wonder if he was drinking.
“What are you doing?” I asked, stepping slowly into my bedroom.
My brother didn’t waver from his task as he replied. “You’re late, Had.”
“I didn’t know I was supposed to be on time.” I replied, still confused as I gazed at my very messy, very unorganized suitcase. “Am I going somewhere, Mike?”
“Yep.” He nodded, standing back to appraise my suitcase. Then, he turned to appraise me. “You want to take a quick shower?” He glanced down at his watch. “We need to leave here in twenty minutes.”
I scoffed. “We need to leave here in twenty minutes for what?”
Mike grinned and his blue eyes twinkled with mischief as he shook his head. Bending down, he zipped my suitcase and walked past me to my door. “Be in the truck in twenty, Hadley. I don’t want to have to leave you behind.”
“Behind from what?” I demanded, frustration fringing my tone as he chuckled and disappeared into the hall.
For about twenty seconds I thought about forcing him to leave me behind. And then I raced to the shower, stripping from my sweaty workout clothes as I ran.
Twenty minutes later, I was sitting in the passenger seat of my big brothers truck and we were driving to only God and Mike knew where. If I knew my brother, even my parent’s wouldn’t be briefed of his plans before they were too in motion to stop. That’s just who Michael was. He was wild, unstoppable, and so wonderfully and irritatingly adventurous. He really, truly, was a force to be reckoned.
“Where are we going?”
“On a trip.”
“I figured. You packed me a suitcase.”
He beamed. “You’ll see when we get there.”
“Hadley!” He mimicked my tone and I huffed as I settled back into the seat.
Under my breath, I mumbled. “You’re irritating.”
“You’re boring.” He mumbled in reply.
I punched his shoulder. “Am not! I do things!”
“Apart from working out, spending time with Mom and Dad, and reading - what do you do, Had?”
I sputtered. “I...” I shook my head at him. “I like my life!”
He laughed, but didn’t reply. It was no question he’d won this round, but there would be others, I assured myself confidently. I would win a round with Mike if it were the last thing I did!