Authors: Leigh Talbert Moore
Tags: #Love, #Romantic, #Survival, #Small Town, #Paranormal, #Suspense, #Adventure, #action, #female protagonist
“Want to go see the calf?” he said.
I waited as he ran over, emptied the pail into the churn, and then came back to take my arm. The pain was less today, but I still took the pills he faithfully sent every six hours. It was as hot as those movies about Africa always looked, and a bead of sweat tickled my scalp under the braid Roxie’d given me.
Holding his arm increased the heat with our bodies close, and it seemed like all my effort to walk just made the situation worse. Finally we were through the back door and leaning against the rail watching our little friend practice walking. For the moment, my discomfort was forgotten.
“He’s so cute,” I said, smiling.
“I’m calling him Wrecker.”
“What? Why in the world would you—”
“I wanted something to commemorate his arrival,” Gallatin laughed.
“Nice,” I said, narrowing my eyes. Then I smiled. “Steamroller?”
“Yes! Bully for short. It’s perfect.”
We both smiled and I looked back at Bully. His mother stood chewing hay, and I watched him nose around her belly. Dust flecks hung in the ray of sunlight piercing the still air.
“It’s miserably hot today,” Gallatin said.
“Compared to Arizona?”
“Yes. At least there’s wind in the desert, and the heat doesn’t cling to your skin.”
“That’s the humidity.” I made my way to a stool near the back wall when his tentative voice stopped me.
“It would be a perfect day for going to a creek. If there was one nearby.”
My eyes met his. I would give anything to dip in a creek today, plan or no plan.
His spoke lower. “Remember that place by the fence? From yesterday?”
I wasn’t sure why he was being so cryptic. Just then Oma stepped out from behind the wall, and I nearly screamed. She dragged a bag of feed, and Gallatin hopped down to help her. She didn’t look up, but his eyes met mine. His half smile seemed to answer my unspoken question about why he was being so mysterious. I smiled back and nodded. He wanted me to meet him where I’d buried the trowel, and I had every intention of doing it.
* * *
told the girls I had to check on the calf after lunch and then slowly limped down the fence line to the place where I’d dug the hole. The dirt was still loose from where he’d pushed it all back yesterday, and it didn’t look like anyone had returned to inspect the damage or see what was going on here. I looked up and Gallatin was slowly walking in my direction, but he was looking around, too. Once he got to me, he caught my arm and started down the hill fast toward the smaller cabins and the long, narrow guards’ quarters.
Since I could barely walk, he finally scooped me up around the waist and slipped down to the smaller cabin I remembered was his. He left me outside, obscured from sight and leaning against the wall as he ducked in. My heart thumped like a jackrabbit as I scanned the area. I had no idea what he was doing or what would happen if one of the soldiers found me here.
Seconds later, he reappeared carrying a backpack. His long bangs covered his right eye, but his left twinkled. He was so excited, I couldn’t help catching a little of his enthusiasm. Imagining our conversation and what he might tell me made my throat tighten, and a dip in cool creek water made me almost swoon.
“What did you get?” I whispered.
With that, he caught me around the waist again and scurried down the hill from the cabins, away from camp to a break in the fencing. Mentally, I noted our location. An exit like this would mean I didn’t have to dig, but I’d have to make it past several enemy houses and a whole row of guard shacks. Of course, there was also the issue of the electrified microchip and whether or not that was a lie.
I tensed and drew back as we entered the woods, clutching his arm. “Will anything bad happen to me?”
“No one will notice we’re gone, and if they do, I’ll handle it.” He didn’t seem the least bit worried about my brain frying in my skull like an egg.
“But will I be hurt?” I pressed.
“Of course not!” His curt tone told me two things: we were getting close enough for him to feel protective of me, and that microchip story was likely another hoax.
His knowledge of those chips and how to get around them (if they were real) would be my first line of questioning once we reached the creek. In the meantime, I struggled to breathe through the pain in my hip that flared with each bump in the path.
“How far is it?” I whispered, even though we were down a hill and out of anyone’s hearing.
“Just over the next rise and down again.”
Uphill was easier, although he still practically carried me. His strength was impressive as was his endurance. Most times, it felt like my feet weren’t touching the ground, and I couldn’t tell that the effort winded him. We crested the hill and a delicious sound met my ears. The slow ripple of water over rocks.
“Oh!” It slipped out as I gazed at the sunlight glancing diamonds off the beautiful pond.
It was so clear, and I knew it would be cool, frigid most likely as most ground water was. A natural stream flowed from the hill over branches and rocks then gathered at the bottom in a small pool before continuing on further down.
“It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?” Gallatin whispered now too, and all I could do was gaze and nod. “I heard it one evening and followed the sound until it appeared.”
“You heard it?”
I couldn’t tell if he was teasing me again, but he didn’t respond. Instead he caught my waist again, and we started down the hill, him practically carrying me.
“So you’ve been here before?” My voice bounced with our steps.
“Once. I can’t stand sitting in the camp all day with nothing to do. But it’s not much fun being alone here either.”
We were at the bottom and he lowered me to the ground. Standing in front of him, my head only reached the center of his chest, and the warm, lemony scent of that soap we were all given mixed with his sweat. It felt almost intimate, and it made me uncomfortable.
“Thank you.” I said, limping away.
A huge tree had fallen nearby, and the giant trunk formed a convenient seat at the edge of the water. I limped to it and eased myself down, my fingers sinking into the fuzzy green lichens that covered the damp bark. I watched as Gallatin pulled the t-shirt over his head and then quickly stripped down to his dark-brown shorts. His back was to me, and studying the scars on the backs of his forearms, I tried to guess how it’d happened. It was as if someone had gone for his face with a sword or a whip, and he’d blocked it with his arms. What cowardly attack had he been talking about to his sister? He turned, and his lined torso was smooth and free of marks. I glanced away embarrassed.
“You getting in?” he asked, interrupting my thoughts.
“In a few minutes.”
“Of course. Catch your breath. I put a blanket and some towels in the pack.”
He ran around the water and did a cannonball straight into the pool, causing a huge splash. I couldn’t help laughing as drops of the icy water hit me. It was such a familiar sight and sound. Swimming in a creek in the south-Mississippi summertime heat was as homey as biscuits and grits to me.
His wet head emerged and he swam toward me. “Still hurting?”
I shook my head. “The pills really helped.”
“It was lucky I found those in the first aid kit. One bottle of 400 milligram tablets, bandages, and some other stuff was hidden in a locker.”
I wanted to ask him so many questions, my head spun. Taking it slow and being inconspicuous didn’t come naturally to me, especially since I was injured.
“Thanks,” I said and reminded myself to seem innocent. I counted to twenty in my head before speaking again. “I guess you miss being in Arizona.”
He shrugged, and I watched him move his arms back and forth under the clear water. “I remember seeing this place as a little boy. Cato showed it to me, and I thought it looked like a little blue marble. So pretty.”
“I was sure I’d love the water most,” he continued without explanation. “But the desert was... I don’t know. Unexpected. Mystical.”
“I’ve never seen the desert.”
“Oh, you must. It’s completely different from here.”
I shrugged. “I don’t think about stuff like that.”
“What do you mean? You’re not even curious?”
I leaned back and sighed. “No. I mean, that’s something that most likely will never happen to me. So I don’t think about it.”
“Why not?” His expression was baffled.
“I don’t know. I just don’t get all bothered by stuff like that. Life’s too short.”
He studied his hands moving beneath the water then he ducked under again. I watched his tan body streak across the clear pond and surface on the other side facing away from me. Chewing my lip, I worried I’d said something wrong and lost him.
After a few moments, I stood and gingerly slipped out of my sweaty coveralls. I had on my tanktop and boxers, and both were very thin. But I was wearing a bra, and I didn’t care at this point. It was hot, and I was getting in that water. I went over and eased into the pool then squealed. Gallatin jerked around to see what was wrong.
“It’s freezing!” I laughed.
He smiled and went under again. A moment later his head resurfaced very close to where I was lowering my body into the pool by degrees.
“Does it hurt your injury?” His tan brows pulled together over his amber eyes. Somehow they were less startling to me the more time we spent together.
“No more than anything else does,” I said. “I think my whole body is going numb now.”
Once in the water, I quickly ducked my head and pushed off from the bottom to the other side where he had just been. When I resurfaced, he was still at my point of entry, watching me with a smile.
“It’s wonderful, isn’t it?”
I nodded. He slowly tread water to where I was floating, doing the same. I could tell he was thinking about our conversation.
“I wish I could be like you,” he said.
Cupping my hand, I splashed a peal of water at him. “No you don’t.”
He laughed. “But I do!”
“I’d like not to wish for things that can’t happen. To be content with the way things are.”
“I don’t know if that’s how I am. It’s not that I don’t wish for things. I just don’t worry about things that are impossible.”
“But I thought in this country anything was possible.”
We were floating closer together, and I decided to take a chance. “Is that why you hate us? Our country, I mean?”
“I don’t hate you or your country. Why would you say that?” His eyes flashed, and my heart beat painfully hard.
When I spoke again, my voice trembled. “Why else would you attack us? Take us prisoners.”
Silence followed my question. All I could hear was the trickling of the water over the rocks. He looked around the forest that curved over our heads, then he looked straight at me.
“We’re not here to hurt you. We’re hoping to leave very soon, but we have to be sure the timing is right. We don’t want you to be harmed as a result of our visit.”
Blinking hard, I tried to breathe normally. “What does that mean?”
He turned and swam to the other side of the pond. Then he pressed his hands in the grass and pushed up onto the bank. I watched as he stood and went to the backpack and pulled out a large blanket. He spread it out on the grass in the patch of sunlight and flopped down on it.
“Would you like to lie in the sun?” he said.
“No, thank you.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean... The water’s very cold, and I only thought you might want to warm yourself. Nothing more.”
“I’m okay. Thanks.”
He nodded and stretched out on the blanket in the sunshine. His tan body was long and lean, and if things had been different, I might’ve found him attractive. If I wasn’t already in a committed relationship, of course. And if he weren’t The Enemy.
I turned my back and swam to my side of the bank near the fallen tree and climbed out. My coveralls were warm and cozy as I slipped my chilled body into them. Slowly, I lowered myself to sit in front of the log and leaned my head back against it. The sun made speckled shadows across my face as it drifted past the leaves overhead, drying the creek water in my hair. He hadn’t answered my question, but I was pacing myself. I’d learned several new things today. Nothing really concrete I could use for my escape plan, but we were building to that. I took a deep breath and allowed myself to relax.
Next thing I knew, Gallatin was gently shaking my shoulder. “We have to get back now.” My eyes blinked open, and I couldn’t believe I’d fallen asleep. “Would you like me to carry you?”
“I can walk.” I tried to jump up, but the pain slowed me immediately. “
He gently lifted me by my waist. I stood, and my head was in his chest. His genuine concern had softened my defenses toward him, but I had to stay focused. I stepped back, and he waited, holding the backpack as I rubbed my eyes and pulled up the zipper on my coveralls. My hip was still sore, but I could tell it was getting better. It hurt, but not as fiercely as before. Still, I let him slip a strong arm around my waist and hold me close against his body as we practically jogged back to camp.
“I’m sorry I fell asleep.” With every step my head bounced against his shoulder.
“It’s my fault. I did too, and now it’s almost dinner.”
We quickly went up the next hill and then down again to the break in the fence. I stood on one foot as he rolled the chicken wire back then caught me again and lifted me through the opening. Quickly we were back at the small cabins, but just as we stepped out by the guardhouse, voices made us jump back.
I almost cried out in pain at our sudden halt, and the fact that he was nervous made my chest tighten uncomfortably. Gallatin covered my mouth, holding me close against his chest. My back was pressed against the wall of the cabin, and as he peeked around the corner, he slid his palm from my face to cover my hand. Instantly, a feeling of calm flowed through me, unclenching the fear in my lungs. I thought of the way a cat relaxes under a long stroke, and my eyes almost closed.