“What are you doing?” Rafe inquired with mild exasperation.
“I noticed. Can’t walk and chew gum at the same time?”
“For your information I was trying to keep from running into you! I…wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t notice you’d stopped.”
“Just a suggestion? Save the daydreams for when you’re sitting down. I don’t want to have to carry you back to camp.”
To Lindy’s weight-sensitive mindset, this was a dig at her size, and she began struggling against his hold as familiar pain and helpless anger dug their claws into her.
“Don’t worry, I’d rather crawl back than have you carry me.”
She increased her struggles until she was panting with the effort and desperate to get away from him. The thought that he found her size disgusting was hard enough to handle without him touching her.
“Let me go!”
Rafe gave her a squeeze that caused her ribs to creak. “Stop struggling! I didn’t mean that the way it sounded!”
Lindy froze in horror. Here she stood, held in the arms of the most maddening and attractive man she’d ever met, and after having known him less than twenty-four hours, her biggest insecurity had just been hauled out of its deep, dark closet to be exposed to the pitiless and oh-so-revealing light of day.
Her first instinct was to cringe in embarrassment, but years of running her own business and fighting to build her self-confidence came to the fore. She lifted her chin, forced herself to relax, and this time calmly requested that Rafe release his hold.
He did and she stepped away, not looking at him as she silently straightened her clothing and readjusted her backpack. “I’m ready to go on if you are,” she told him neutrally.
Rafe nodded. “A couple more miles and we’ll stop for lunch.” He turned his back and began to walk. A few feet away, he threw a soft comment over his shoulder. “You’re a very beautiful woman, Lindy.”
Preparing to take her first step forward, Lindy again found herself frozen, this time with shock. She watched Rafe’s retreating form with disbelief. Had he just said what she thought he’d said? A quick flood of tears filled her eyes, and she blinked them back. At that moment she realized that Rafe’s beauty was more than skin-deep. He was turning out to be a genuinely nice man, not to mention intuitive. How many other men would have noticed her hurt and divined the reason for it? That, along with his looks, was a decidedly deadly combination.
She frowned as a small frisson of nervousness twisted her stomach. “I will not fall for this guy,” she whispered softly, knowing that it was already too late—she was already beginning to slip.
“Are you coming?” Rafe yelled back at her.
“I wish,” she murmured, then yelled out, “Yeah, yeah, I’m coming.”
* * * *
“I wish you were coming,” Rafe muttered. “In my arms, with your legs wrapped around my waist.”
He cursed softly to himself as his cock thickened even more. It was a process that had begun when he’d saved Lindy from her fall. Having her in his arms had sent an unexpected explosion of feeling throughout his body. Her scent had swept over him in a wave that created an undeniable awareness of her. It was beginning to drive him crazy. And now, having felt her soft curves pressed against him, his imagination was coming alive with the possibilities.
There was a subtle tension beginning to build between them, and Rafe wasn’t sure how long he was going to be able to deny the desire to take her. He took a few deep breaths, dismayed at the swiftness of the building need.
“I am not an animal,” he whispered softly to himself, repeating the steadying mantra in his head.
Hearing her catch up to him, he increased the pace, determined to get a grip on his unfamiliar feelings. With that in mind, he again concentrated on the trail and the signs being transmitted by the birds and other wildlife. Although they seemed to prefer the areas closer to the river, occasionally one of the bears would venture into this part of the forest. So far there’d been no sign of one.
Lost in his contemplation of the surroundings, he was startled to hear a subtle growling noise and instantly halted, scanning the wood for its source. Finding nothing, he frowned, then grinned when he realized it was Lindy’s stomach.
“I take it you didn’t have breakfast?” he asked, turning to face her, finding her standing with her hand lying against her stomach.
“I can’t eat that early, it makes me sick.”
“Can you hold on for about twenty more minutes? We’re almost there.”
Lindy nodded and Rafe continued on, eventually leading them to a clearing through which a small stream ran. It emerged from a shallow, rocky grotto sunk into the hillside, the water trickling merrily over stones worn smooth by years of erosion.
“This is natural spring water. It comes from deep underground.”
“Is it safe to drink?”
Lindy carefully negotiated her way over the smooth stones and dipped her fingers into the cold water where it burbled from between the rocks and formed a natural fountain.
“Mmmm, that’s good,” she commented and turned back to Rafe.
He stood watching her, mesmerized by her wet lips and the water dripping down her chin. Taken by the sudden impulse to cross the clearing and lick those sweet drops off her face, he realized that he was standing there with his mouth open. He quickly slammed it shut and bent down to his open pack, removing several packets of food.
“Nancy insisted that I bring a good variety so you’d find something you like. Take a look at these,” he offered, keeping his eyes on the food packets.
Lindy crossed to his side and knelt down. “Wow, potato corn chowder, chili, beef stroganoff—I didn’t know they made stuff like this for camping.”
“It beats hauling a bag of flour and a slab of bacon, or existing on oatmeal, although I have to say the oatmeal with cinnamon, raisins, and almonds is pretty good.”
“Is this any good?” she asked, picking up the chowder.
think so,” he answered, and took a small pot out of his pack along with a couple of metal bowls and spoons. “Have a seat while I heat it up.”
Lindy took the folded blanket Rafe offered and spread it on the ground, settling herself cross-legged on it. She watched him as he started a fire and prepared the chowder.
Lindy accepted the bowl he offered and dug in, taking a tentative taste. Her brows lifted and she looked at Rafe. “This is really good.”
Rafe nodded, saying nothing as his mouth was full, but silently offered her some crackers, which she accepted. They finished their meal in a not-uncomfortable silence as they simply enjoyed the food and the setting.
Finishing her bowl, Lindy sighed with contentment. Rafe offered her more, but she declined. He easily polished off the rest and, after cleaning up, repacked everything.
Lindy had gone back to the stream for a final drink and Rafe was watching her appreciatively when he noticed the sudden hush that had fallen over the woods. The birds had stopped singing. He began scanning the area and quickly found the reason for the silence. Across the stream, mostly hidden by the dense brush, stood a bear, one he instantly recognized as a very large male that occasionally had a tendency toward aggression.
“Lindy, don’t move.” He spoke the words with commanding calm. Lindy instantly froze.