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Authors: Beth Kery

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“But not enough thought to give me the paperwork I asked for. I wasn't just asking for the names and teams, Alice. I wanted your rational for how you paired up the kids. The zip line is a significant challenge for a lot of our new campers, and a few of the older ones as well. It's important that we put some planning into how we're going to comfort and empower them for what could potentially be an anxiety-provoking activity,” he said quietly.

“I'm sorry. I can type up my list this evening,” Alice said, humiliated. How could she have forgotten? It wasn't like her. It'd been a crazy past few days. Was she a lot more preoccupied and distracted by the news about Addie Durand than she realized or cared to admit? Maybe Dylan was right to be so concerned about her mental state.

“We don't approach a potentially dangerous challenge like this in a careless or thoughtless fashion,” Kehoe said.

Rebellious anger spiked through her embarrassment and irritation at herself. True, she'd screwed up, but it wasn't because she was thoughtless. Having been terrified at the mere idea of zooming across the top of the forest while suspended from a skinny little wire, Alice had put significant planning into how she'd match up her kids to empower them for the challenge. During her own training, all Kehoe had done to alleviate her blind panic over completing the activity was match her up with a useless Brooke Seifert. All Brooke had done was simper saccharine platitudes for her safety, and even escalated Alice's anxiety by tricking her to look down at the forest floor, mounting her vertigo until she'd been mindless with fear by the time she flew off the platform.

Some help Kehoe had been.

Although the truth was, Alice had never
confessed
to the fact that she was scared shitless of heights to Kehoe, allowing him or anyone else the opportunity to comfort her during the experience. Alice didn't speak of her weaknesses easily, let alone babble on about them to a man like Kehoe.

“I know it's important. I messed up,” Alice admitted stoically, looking Kehoe square in the eye. “I'm really sorry. Like I said, I have put a lot of thought into my team's pair-ups. I can name them easily. I can give you the rationale for my pair-ups right now—”

“I don't have the time to listen to an oral report. I want the typed list and your rationale
first
thing after dinner tonight,” Kehoe interrupted sharply. He made a rapid note, his writing so pressured it looked like his ballpoint might drill all the way through the multiple sheets of paper to the clipboard itself. He turned and stalked a short distance away, calling out to gather the scattered, chatting teenagers. Alice glanced at Kuvi abashedly.

“It's okay,” Kuvi whispered hearteningly. “It was a little thing, comparatively. Gina Sayre forgot that anti-bullying workshop
agenda we had to do, plus lost track of Mark Drayner and Shayna Crawniac during the kayaking activity she led. Kehoe was furious when he found the pair of them tied up to shore and going at it in Martyr's Cove, both of them half-naked.”

Alice smirked. “We should rename it Sinner's Cove.”

“I should have reminded you. I know how distracted you've seemed lately.”

“It's not your responsibility,” Alice muttered, frowning.

She really needed to pull it together. It sucked, having Kehoe lecture her like that. Until now, his disapproval of her had remained vague and difficult to pin down. Alice's team was top in points, and she'd avoided making a major mistake so far, despite the fact that either Kehoe or one of his manager minions was watching them like hawks. She'd clearly just received her first black mark in Kehoe's meticulous notes, however.

Thankfully, Kehoe only stayed with their group long enough to assign them a Durand manager before he walked off rapidly through the forest in the direction of the next zip line platform. He was obviously intent on gathering more documentation of counselor screwups, Alice thought darkly. Only nine of the fifteen counselors would be selected to become a Durand executive, after all. Kehoe had to find rationale for making cuts somewhere. Alice feared she'd just conveniently gifted him with a nice sharp knife.

*   *   *

THE
challenge itself went as smoothly as could be expected. There was only one rough patch—when Judith Arnold, a pretty, stubborn, talented seventeen-year-old whom Alice had just recently made the student team leader, called Alice out in front of all of the Red Team.

“What do you mean I'm paired up with
Noble D
?” Judith demanded when Alice called out the pair assignments. “I should be with Jill!”

Here we go,
Alice thought.

She'd wondered how long her and Judith's relative peace would last. Despite the fact that Judith had been rude and insolent toward Alice since the moment she'd arrived at camp, she had also demonstrated true strength and compassion at times with the other campers. Alice had made the decision just days ago to challenge the girl with the team leader position. Judith was smart and strong. Alice's instincts told her that Judith could lead her peers effectively. She'd been feeling cautiously optimistic about her risky Judith selection. The first days of Judith's reign had been relatively conflict free. Alice had even shared a couple nice moments with the girl at the bonfire last night when the Red Team had been declared top in points. Things had been looking up.

Until
now
, anyway.

“Jill is with Terrance,” Alice said, picking up her backpack and flinging it over her shoulder. “Terrance is an expert. He did the zip line at a church retreat,” she said, referring to the custom by which Camp Durand tried to match up campers with experience at a task—“experts”—with the uninitiated “novices.”

“When he was twelve years old and nearly two hundred pounds lighter,” Judith snapped.

Alice noticed Terrance's head jerk around at Judith's scornful exclamation.

“Shut it, Judith,” Alice ground out furiously under her breath.

Judith's eyes flashed in mixed anger and regret. Her chin went up defiantly. “Jill will be scared shitless without me being there with her. You know that,” she hissed tensely. Judith had taken on the role of protector and defender of the vulnerable girl since the first day of camp. Alice was thankful for it. But she thought maybe it was time for Jill to move out of Judith's tall shadow and begin to experience her own strength.

“Jill and Terrance, you're up first,” Alice called out loudly, ignoring Judith's glare.

“Come on, midget,” Terrance said resignedly to Jill, nudging the girl on the shoulder. “You're the size of a gnat.
You'll
fly over those trees even without a wire.”

Terrance and Jill walked toward the staircase, a Durand manager leading them. A more oddly matched pair Alice couldn't imagine. Terrance Brown was six foot several inches tall and weighed in at around three hundred pounds. He was diabetic. With little to no parental supervision, he regularly gorged on sugary snacks and fast food. Alice was trying desperately to show him the benefits of exercise and a balanced diet in order to set him on a healthier path post-camp. He was a smart, ebullient teenager, a jokester who was always the life of the party. And if he continued as he had before, Terrance was at risk of becoming mortally ill. Alice hoped she could get Terrance hooked into an activity that helped improve his health, and had talked him into jogging with her while at Camp Durand.

Jill Sanchez, on the other hand, was a slight, waifish thirteen-year-old who had become withdrawn to the point of almost muteness after witnessing the shooting death of her mother last year.

“Alice said the anchors and the equipment are state of the art here, and will hold more than five hundred pounds. You'll be fine. At least you've done this before,” Alice heard Jill murmur shyly to Terrance as they started up the steps. Alice experienced a surge of warmth and gratitude toward the girl. She noticed Terrance's slightly bemused, anxious glance down at Jill. Despite his joking bravado, Jill had sensed his worry. As Alice had suspected, beneath his nonchalant kidding, Terrance was worried and self-conscious about doing the zip line, given his weight. Jill had come out of her shell in order to reassure him.

Suddenly, Terrance bent and swooped Jill into the air, plopping her down on the landing of the stairs in front of him.

“Yep. Light as a flea. You're gonna fly all the way to Detroit on that thing,” he declared, releasing a startled looking Jill. Jill
laughed. Alice gawked. It was the first time she'd ever seen the girl smile, let alone laugh. Jill jogged slightly to keep up with Terrance's lumbering gait as they rose up the rest of the stairs, asking the boy an enthusiastic question that faded off into the forest.

Alice glanced sideways at Judith, who had been watching the pair as well. When Judith met her stare, Alice saw her bewilderment.

“The right choice isn't always the obvious one,” Alice said very quietly, echoing what she'd told Judith when she'd selected her as team leader. “Besides, you've forgotten you're as much of a novice as Jill when it comes to the zip line. I paired you up with Noble D for a reason. He'll have quite a few things to teach you.” She nodded subtly. Judith glanced over her shoulder, her gaze landing on the handsome, tall, and somber teenager who stood several feet away, waiting for his partner. Mutiny had returned to Judith's eyes by the time she met Alice's stare again, along with a hint of something else.

Panic.

Alice knew that Judith was very much aware Noble D was attracted to her. She'd been avoiding him vigilantly, but Alice didn't think it was because she found D unattractive. Just the opposite, in fact.

Judith protested a bit too loudly and too often about Noble D's supposed faults. She had a feeling Judith found the idea of attraction and dating nearly as intimidating as Alice had at her age.

“Good luck,” Alice said sincerely to Judith before she followed Terrance and Jill up the steps.

FOUR

S
oothing her campers' jitters helped to distract Alice from her own fear up on top of the tall platform. It was hard to be too anxious about her own well-being when she was so concerned for her kids.

Justin Arun and Rochelle Phelps were the last pair to successfully fly across the treetops. Just as she lost sight of Justin, she heard a quick step on the stairs.

“Alice.”

“Yeah?” Alice asked Kuvi, her brow wrinkled. Kuvi sounded tense.

“You'd better come down. There's someone here to see you.”

“Who?” Alice wondered, walking toward Kuvi.

“The sheriff of Morgantown,” Kuvi whispered, her tone hushed to prevent Aidan Salinger, their supervising Durand manager, from hearing.

Alice blinked in surprise. She saw the question in Kuvi's hazel eyes, but had no answers for her friend. What was the man she'd met last night in Dylan's den—Jim Sheridan—doing
here
? She and Dylan were keeping their relationship private. No one at the camp was supposed to know they were engaged in an affair. Hadn't Dylan warned Jim of that fact after Alice had left? Dylan had mentioned once that the sheriff of Morgantown and he were old friends. Surely he'd asked Jim to be discreet.

So what was Sheridan doing here in the woods asking to see Alice while camp was in session?

Jim looked just as relaxed and amiable standing in the midst of the forest as he had last night in the den. He was chatting with two of Kuvi's Diamond Team campers.

“Keep in mind, I can't guarantee what mood Camp Wildwood might be in from year to year. If I were you, I'd give some serious consideration to whether or not the goat is worth the glory,” Jim drawled with a wink. The boys laughed.

“Mr. Sheridan?” Alice asked warily.

“Call me Jim,” he said, turning at the sound of her voice. He stuck out his hand in greeting. “Good to see you, Alice. Sorry to bother you like this, if I could just have a moment or two of your time? Excuse us, won't you?” Jim said cordially to the two kids. He tilted his head toward the left, and Alice followed him several yards down a path to a solitary clearing.

“Your kids all off successfully on the zip line?” Jim asked, turning to face her.

“Yeah. Mission accomplished,” she replied tensely, not trying to hide the question in her eyes.

“I can see you're not going to be satisfied until I explain why I'm here. No idle chitchat for Alice Reed, am I right?” he asked, his pale blue eyes sparkling with amusement.

“I'm just a little confused. Does this have to do with the alarm going off last night?” she asked quietly. “I thought you said it was just an electrical malfunction.”

Jim nodded, suddenly more serious. “It was. I think.”

“You
think
,” Alice emphasized slowly. “But you're not
sure
like you were last night?”

He shrugged broad shoulders. Alice had the fleeting thought that he must have to have his sheriff's uniforms special-made for his big body. “Let's just say that Dylan's concern about the whole thing
ramped up my worry a little. I haven't seen Dylan that tense in a long, long time. It got me wondering—what's got the iceman so ruffled?”

“He didn't seem ruffled to me,” Alice said dismissively. She felt uneasy, though. What Jim was suggesting was true. To most observers, Dylan would have appeared the picture of control last night. But he
had
been worried about that alarm going off, tense at the idea of a threat. He'd made no effort to disguise that very thing after they'd both returned to the bedroom suite last night. He'd
definitely
not appreciated her venturing out of the locked bedroom on her own. She'd thought his worry and tension were out of proportion to the circumstances, and obviously, so had Jim Sheridan. The only difference was Alice knew
why
Dylan was so vigilantly protective of her.

Jim Sheridan didn't know, though. But from the looks of things, he was bound and determined to find out.

“It seemed to me he was worried about
you
,” Jim said, glancing casually around the wooded clearing as though sincerely interested in the foliage. “Very worried.”

“He wasn't worried about
me
specifically,” Alice insisted. “He was worried because he thought his house had been broken into. Wouldn't you be concerned about that?”

“Sure,” Jim agreed, nodding thoughtfully. “But why's it a bad thing for Dylan to worry about your safety, too?”

Alice blinked, taken off guard by his question. “It's not a
bad
thing—”

“It's pretty clear he thinks you're special. Most young women would be flattered to see Dylan so anxious for their safety. Most every young single woman I know in Morgantown and a good portion of the older married ones, as a matter of fact,” Jim said with a disarming smile.

“I . . . I don't think—”

“You two are an item, right?”

Alice exhaled, exasperated. “Is that what you came for? To find out if Dylan Fall and I are an
item
? What, did you run out of good gossip to barter with at the local donut shop and thought you'd dig up some here? I've got more important things to do than feed your salacious curiosity.”

She spun to go, but paused mid-turn at the sound of Jim's low chuckle. She glanced back. His pleased expression made Alice's frown deepen.


Salacious?
I guess Dylan has his hands full with you.”

Alice gave a disbelieving bark of laughter, a comeback forming on her tongue.

“You aren't helping matters much, Jim,” a man said. Alice started, her retort forgotten. Dylan strode into the clearing, Sal Rigo trailing behind him.

For a stunned second, she just stared in shock, sure she was hallucinating Dylan's tall, impressive form. He wore an impeccable dark blue suit, a pristine white shirt, silver cuff links, and a silver and navy striped tie. Even through her amazement at his presence, Alice distantly acknowledged he looked downright amazing. His bold masculine features seemed tense and determined. His near-black eyes flickered over her quickly. She was so keyed in to him she knew instinctively he was making a quick thorough assessment of her well-being. He seemed both bizarrely out of place in the midst of the sylvan setting, and yet completely at home at once, like he utterly owned these woods.

Which he did, of course.

“Dylan,”
both she and Jim muttered at once. Jim sounded just as surprised as Alice. Seemingly having decided all Alice's limbs were where they should be, Dylan locked his attention on Jim. Sheridan had labeled Dylan the iceman earlier, and Alice had often had reason to suspect he would be intimidating when pressed. Seeing him at the moment, Alice knew she'd been a hundred percent correct in her assumption.

“Why are you questioning Alice out here in the woods?” Dylan demanded quietly.

“You make it sound so unusual. I just had a few questions about last night, that's all. It hardly warrants an emergency trip from the office on your part,” Jim said incredulously. The sheriff's gaze ran over Dylan and then Rigo, lingering on Rigo. Rigo was nearly as tall as Dylan's six-foot-three-inches, but bulkier. He reminded Alice of a rock. Alice now knew that Dylan had personally commissioned Sal Rigo and another man from Durand's security division with the task of watching over Alice at the camp. Dylan had originally done it without her knowledge. Alice was being followed—spied on, in truth. To see the evidence of her surveillance so blatantly paraded in front of her raised her hackles.

“What's all this about?” Alice hissed, her question for Dylan.

“That's what I'm trying to find out,” Dylan replied with seeming calmness, still pinning Jim with his stare. “What is it that you feel is so crucial to question Alice about while she's working?”

Jim sighed and took a step back. “The truth? I guess I came to ask her what's got you like this,” the sheriff said, waving at Dylan.

“Got me like
what
, exactly?”

“What's got you rushing out of your office and traipsing through the woods the second Mr. Security Guard here says the word,” Jim said mildly, nodding at Rigo. Alice saw Jim's glance slide over to her, his eyebrows arched expectantly. Dylan's gaze followed the sheriff's lead, flickering over her. For a split second, his gaze locked with hers.

Stop this, Dylan. Stop making more of this than there is! If you insist on highlighting the Addie Durand situation, how can I keep up this constant effort to minimize it and deal with the everyday details of my life?

Dylan's features stiffened as if he'd heard her panicked thoughts. He turned his shoulder to Alice and faced Jim. Feeling utterly dismissed by him, Alice's anger and helplessness swelled.

“I see you
think
you already know the answer,” Dylan said to Jim.

“I wouldn't say that. If it's anything close to what I'm thinking in my wildest imaginings, though, I can't quite make out why I've been left in the dark.”

“You haven't been left anywhere. But if you
had
, surely there would be good reason for it,” Dylan replied. “Whatever you're thinking, coming out here to the woods and badgering Alice isn't warranted.”

“Stop talking like I'm not even here!” Alice blurted out, their private little conversation infuriating her.

All three men gave her startled glances. She met Sal Rigo's gaze straight on, zeroing in on the most comfortable target. The man had been her watchdog for the past several weeks, slinking around, following her every move on Dylan's request. The reality of her invaded privacy suddenly seemed all too real. After she and Dylan had made love in Addie Durand's old room last night, she'd suddenly had an unpleasant thought and asked Dylan about Rigo's and Peterson's nighttime duties. He assured her that her “bodyguards” were finished for the day once she was with Dylan, a fact that had relieved her greatly.

Certainly, she wouldn't have made love later on that night in that window if she'd thought otherwise.

But had Rigo or that other Durand security manager—Josh Peterson—been skulking in the trees every time she met up with Dylan in the woods at night? Did they exchange information about it and smirk knowingly to each other? Had one of them been secretly watching on that day when she threw up after completing the zip line when Thad had comforted her, holding her against him while they talked?

Had Rigo run and told Dylan about her seemingly private interlude with Thad? Is that why Dylan had been so prickly that
night when he'd found her on the beach with Thad? Nothing major had happened between Thad and her, but just the idea of her privacy being breached at such a vulnerable moment suddenly felt like a hand tightening on her throat.

“Look, I don't know what you hoped to gain by coming here today,” she told Jim in a pressured, quiet tone, “and I don't know why
you
,” she glared at Rigo, “felt it was important to run and tell Dylan about it, or why
you
,” she glanced at Dylan, “thought it was necessary to come here to the woods, but I do know one thing: I'm
working
. I don't have time for whatever game you three are playing.” She started to walk off, then paused, frowning at Rigo. “And don't follow me right now.
Got
it?”

“Alice, wait,” Dylan called tensely. He clearly wasn't faking his concern, but she was too angry at that moment to feel any compassion for him. For the first time since she'd known him—for the first time since she'd begun to fall hard for him—she ignored his request to stop. If Dylan had his way, he'd keep her under wraps for an eternity, treating her like a fragile piece of glass that would shatter with the smallest pressure.

He still had a lot to learn about Alice.

She hauled up short with a gasp, stopping just shy of the wooded path back to the zip line platform. Sebastian Kehoe stepped into the clearing, his curious gaze running over her face. She held her breath when she saw his eyes move rapidly over the other three men.

“Dylan. This is a surprise,” Kehoe said after he'd gathered himself. “And Jim. It's good to see you,” Kehoe said, stepping past Alice's frozen form, hand outstretched. He shook hands with Jim. “To what do we owe this honor? I hope nothing is wrong at the camp?”

“No, everything is fine from what I've seen so far,” Jim said, returning Kehoe's handshake. “As usual, you have Camp Durand running like a well-oiled machine.”

Kehoe looked bemused. An awkward silence fell in the clearing.

“Then what, may I ask, are the sheriff of Morgantown, the CEO of Durand, and one of my managers doing standing in the woods with one of my counselors? It must be something important. I hope Alice isn't in any kind of trouble.”

“No, of course not. It's nothing to worry about,” Dylan said evenly. “Jim came to see me at the office. He said he'd heard reports of extensive storm damage in the woods nearby.”

“A couple trees fell onto electrical wires, causing some outages,” Jim added, playing along with Dylan's slight of hand admirably. “Thought we'd better come out and have a look.”

“So . . .
you
came out to the camp woods to check?” Kehoe asked Dylan incredulously, his tone making it clear he found the idea of the CEO of Durand Enterprises checking on possible downed trees in the woods ridiculous.

“Do you have a problem with that?”

A shiver rippled beneath Alice's skin. Dylan's tone was quiet, but chilling. In combination with the palpable ice in his stare, she was surprised Kehoe wasn't frozen to the spot.

“Of course not,” Kehoe assured quickly.

After a pointed pause, Dylan spoke. “I checked the camp schedule and knew the kids were in the woods today, so I wanted to be sure everything was safe. We saw Sal up at the lodge and he said he'd show us the way to where all the activity was.”

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