Part 2 of a fun, light-hearted romance fiction piece by aspiring author, Dana Reeves. Please enjoy the conclusion!
It wasn’t going to be easy. Since she was practically immobile and reliant on moving at the pace of a pack of turtles, this was going to take some serious work. Not to mention every time she made a movement in the blasted sleeping bag or tent, it made a terrible rustling sound that would wake the dead.
After Gavin’s bizarre comment at the campfire, everything felt off. She watched him with trepidation, studying him carefully, scrutinizing every move he made. Was there really a ranger’s station around the corner? Was he really the nice guy he claimed to be? Or, could her gallant stranger be leading her deeper into the woods, luring her farther away from civilization? It was hard to tell.
They hadn’t passed any other hikers for days. Days. Surely if there was a ranger’s station not far off, there would be some signs of human life. But there had been nothing. Zilch. Nada.
She couldn’t be certain that he hadn’t been lying in wait, watching her. He seemed to be familiar and comfortable with the woods. Had he been out there, setting a trap, waiting for a victim? Perhaps her fall hadn’t been by accident. Was it possible that he pushed her?
Samantha sat across from him, watching him through the firelight. He didn’t exactly look dangerous, but what could she tell by that alone? She had taken one look into his brilliant green eyes and lost herself completely. Didn’t that happen in those crime stories she loved to watch? The women fell prey to men with pretty smiles and equally handsome words. Oh, for the love… Had she just become one of those women?
She couldn’t just sit here, like a lamb before the slaughter, waiting for him to turn into the big bad wolf. She had to do something. It was time to apply her smarts. If he caught on to her, if he got the slightest inkling that she knew something was off, he might wrap an even tighter rein around her. That’s what happened on those shows. She had seen it too many times. Could she play this smart and remain one step ahead of him? She had no other choice.
After bidding him a curt goodnight, Samantha hobbled into her tent and laid quietly listening for the moment his snores turned into a gentle rhythm. Escaping with a wounded ankle from the inside of a polyester tube was going to prove challenging. So, shuffling quietly, she made her way outside of the tent. Okay, Sam. Leave the tent here. It could buy me some time in the morning if he doesn’t realize I’m gone.She didn’t need the tent anyway. At this point, getting to safety was priority number one. So, with some dried food packets shoved into her backpack, and a hydropack full of water, Samantha set off into the darkness alone.
Bad decision number two. The dark was scary enough, bringing out the worst of the imagination, but then you compile loneliness with mysterious noises off in the distance. That makes heading into the Wyoming wilderness something of nightmares. The second her headlamp came to life, illuminating a small path in the darkness, she contemplated turning back to her dangerous stranger. Had she jumped to conclusions too fast? Was he really that nefarious? Or was heading off into the woods completely solo, all while injured, more of a death sentence?
Frustrated with herself for allowing the thoughts to surface, Samantha pressed on. She just needed to stick with her gut instinct, which meant putting as much distance as possible between herself and her handsome stranger and finding her own way to safety. Injured or not, she was tough. She wasn’t afraid. Well, much… And she was fully capable of doing this alone. She might have to walk for quite some time, and it might hurt like nobody’s business, but she was made of grit. She could do this. If she could reach the ranger’s station before sunrise, it meant finding safety and civilization long before Gavin ever awoke. If that even is his name…
But, as the night sky began to move overhead, making room for the sun to rise, Samantha quickly began to lose hope. She was tired. She was alone. She was…well, lost.
On the verge of tears, Samantha stopped and leaned on her crutches. She scanned the area frantically, pushing back the impending feeling of despair that had managed to lodge itself in the pit of her stomach. What was she going to do? She didn’t have a GPS, or any sense of any direction at all. What if she never found the ranger’s station? What if no one ever found her? Would someone send a rescue team for her? Would they even know she was in danger? She had warned her family she was going off grid for a while, taking to the trails by herself. But would it be weeks before anyone realized she had gone missing? Would her body turn into dust of the earth before anyone came looking?
Sickened at the thought and angry with herself for being so irrational by leaving a perfectly good hiking companion because of her out of control imagination, Samantha closed her eyes. Things couldn’t get much worse than this. The furlough from work had been a mere taste of bad. This… this was rock bottom.
She calmed herself down long enough to stop the tears from spilling over when a noise in the distance caught her off guard. Throwing her head up, she listened.
There it is again.
Something – or someone – was in the woods just ahead of her.
Swallowing back her fear, Samantha gripped her crutches in one hand. She could use them as weapons if she needed. Sure, she might have to resort to hobbling on one leg, and she likely wouldn’t make it two feet without them, but she would put up a fight if she had to.
But what if it was a bear? What should she do again? Make a lot of noise to scare it off? Or maybe that was bears on the east coast. What do you do with grizzlies? Play dead? Or a moose! It could be a moose. Aren’t they just as dangerous?
Feeling her heart drum loudly in her ears, Samantha knew she was on the verge of passing out. The pain in her ankle began to throb as her vision started to blur. This is how it all ends. This. Is. It. Would she pass out and get mauled to death by whatever was lurking in those trees?
She closed her eyes, swallowed hard, and braced herself for the worst.
“You’re heading in the wrong direction.”
That voice. The breath Samantha had been holding whooshed out of her lungs in one long exhale. “Gavin?” Suddenly, part of her heart came to life again.
He came out of the trees looking as handsome and rugged as he had the first time they met. “You were heading in the wrong direction, but only by half a mile.”
She stood there, staring at him, at a complete loss for words. Suddenly, all of her feelings came rushing to the surface; her foolishness for leaving him, her ridiculous belief that he was ever dangerous, and the fierce attraction that seemed to pulse through her veins every time he was near.
“Why were you leaving in such a rush anyway?” He almost looked hurt. “You weren’t trying to ditch me, were you?”
She didn’t say a word. She couldn’t. Instead, she stared into his eyes as he came toward her. He didn’t look like a crazed maniac. He certainly wasn’t acting like one. In fact, he had come searching for her. Had she pegged him wrong all along?
Pushing back her pride, Samantha croaked out the truth. “I thought that maybe you were stringing me along,” she admitted. “I thought you were trying to kidnap me.” The moment the words were out in the open, she felt utter humiliation. They sounded even worse when blurted out loud.
And then, making things ten times worse, he laughed. “Did I really give that bad of an impression?”
She felt defensive again. “It was something you said at the fire last night. You said ‘we’, like you…” she couldn’t finish the sentence. It was clear she had been wrong. Dead wrong.
Now he was laughing even harder. “I’m a retired Army Ranger,” he said in between fits of laughter. “When I said ‘we,’ I meant my troupe.”
Her cheeks went crimson. “I feel like an idiot.”
He held out his arm for her. “Come on,” he said gently, “Let’s get to that ranger’s station. You look like you’re in pain.”
“Is that how you found me?” she asked, somehow already knowing the answer before he responded. “Because you used to rescue people for a living?”
He smiled again. “Well, you didn’t exactly make it that difficult to find you. Quietness is not one of your, uh… strengths..”
She found herself grinning slightly. And here she thought she had slipped out of the tent like a true ninja of silence.
“Although you did a good job for a while of losing me.” He told her. “You were gaining pretty decent ground with only one good ankle.”
“So the ranger’s station is real then?”
He paused long enough to take a side-long glance at her. “Why would you think I would lie about that?”
She vowed right then and there she was never watching another crime docuseries again. “I might have had pain clouding my judgment,” she quietly said. Or not.
Gavin smiled down at her. “You’ll be happy to know that one of my buddies, a retired Army guy, actually works at the ranger’s station.”
Of course he did. Her once hysterically insane stranger had turned back into the gallant one… the same one he had been all along.
After they finally reached the ever-elusive ranger’s station and post-hot shower, some medication for her pain, and a cup of hot coffee between her hands, Samantha felt like a completely new person.
Gavin’s former Army buddy did indeed work at the station and gladly called for backup medical assistance. As she waited outside for the rescue truck, Gavin took a seat alongside Samantha.
She looked over at him and smiled. For the first time since their meeting, she didn’t need him. She didn’t need his help, she didn’t even need him to wait with her for the medics. But, despite her not needing him, she wanted him. And, as if he could read her thoughts, he leaned forward and pressed his mouth to hers.
As the world spun slightly under the spell of his kiss, Samantha’s heart did a fast tango right out of her chest. Was this why she had gotten lost in the Wyoming wilderness? Had everything happened – losing her job, meeting Gavin – brought her to this moment in time?
Before this moment, Sam believed her decision-making had been a string of bad strikes. But as their kiss deepened, she knew this hadn’t been one of those. Instead, this felt like it had been the greatest decision of them all. As Gavin pulled away, still cradling her face in his hand, it all became clear. Everything had led to this. She went searching for herself in the wilderness alone, scared, and a bit lost, and she found him in the process – a man whose heart might have just become completely hers.