Chapter 9

(As always guys, please excuse the typos and whatnot. I’m writing so fast for NaNoWriMo that I’m not even allowing myself to edit yet. Enjoy)

So barely three days after leaving, I found myself in the passenger seat beside Colt again with a small duffle bag between us, driving back down to the college town from which I’d come. Coal Creek and Powder Ridge felt like an illusionary memory as we descended from nine-thousand feet above sea level to the slightly thicker air of seven-thousand feet in the small city below.

I felt set apart from the bustle now—like the two years I’d already spent there were far away and disconnected.

“This is like coming out of a dream,” I told Colt. “Or heading into one.”

“You’ll get used to it,” he said. It feels like living two lives for a while but every now and then the young crowd from Powder Ridge will party down here. Those night’s almost inevitably turn into a shit-show, but it does a better job of blending the two places.”

It had taken us about thirty minutes to make the descent. Colt’s driving easily cut fifteen from what it should have been, but I wasn’t diving for the handgrip fixed to the door quite as much as the first time.

“I called my buddies earlier,” said Colt. “They’re off raising hell somewhere else so we’re on our own. So what do you say about taking the long back way home?”

“Sounds good to me,” I answered.

Colt whipped the truck into a parking spot in the back of the grocery store lot.

“Excellent,” he said. “Don’t get eggs or anything carbonated or in a glass jar then.”

Forty-five minutes later we had loaded the last of the brown paper sacks into the back of the cab and Colt had fueled up and pointed us north out of town again. Despite his persistent grumbling I had purchased more apples, tangerines, a plastic gallon of milk, more orange juice, a variety of fresh vegetables, and a bag of semisweet chocolate chips.

Colt hung an abrupt right onto a thin dirt road and the truck growled its way through groves of aspen before hitting a set of switchbacks as the forest changed to pines again.  I could hear round pieces of fruit rolling around on the floor boards behind me and despite his warning, I had purchased a twenty-ounce bottle of Diet Coke and had to vent it several times after opening it to keep the top from popping off. Although it had been just shy of eighty degrees in the city below, above the aspen line the temperature dropped into the low seventies. Colt’s truck wasn’t equipped with air conditioning and despite the lower temperature, the sun warmed the inside of the cab like a green house as noon struck. I rolled down the window and hung my head out, grinning and enjoying the scenery.

The horror of last night seemed like a bad movie now—upsetting right afterward but quickly fading into memory as reality took precedence again. I felt faintly guilty to be enjoying myself, but I didn’t know Alice and I hadn’t been there. Colt, for his part, didn’t show any residual unrest either. He rolled down his window and leaned against the door and laughing at my antics. He hammered down on the throttle over every small rise, causing a swooping feeling to grip my abdomen below my navel. I found the feeling uncomfortable but also exhilarating. I recognized it as the same sensation I felt when Colt tossed me sideways glances, or made flirtatious remarks.

I caught him looking at me from the corner of his eye on several occasions. Again I was forced to notice how beautiful the boy’s profile was. White teeth peeked from the corner of his uplifted mouth, and the camouflage ball cap he’d grabbed in the cabin was pulled low on his forehead. The arm propped on the window sill was bare from the bicep down. He’d rolled the sleeves of his shirt up and raised veins were lifted on his forearms below where the window put pressure. I hadn’t noticed before how high his cheekbones were, or that the line of his jaw was so sharp. Colt caught me staring then, and I blushed, fidgeting with the pale yellow hem of my dress.

“We’re about to come up on Mirror lake again,” said Colt as he took an arcing left turn at forty miles an hour. We dropped in on the opposite side of the lake, and as before, no children played at its bank and no trucks were parked along the road.

I turned to him, suddenly possessed by a reckless idea.

“Let’s go swimming again,” I said.

Colt smiled and the wolfish gleam was back in his blue eyes. He parked the truck in a small turnout and shut off the engine.

“Underwear again?” he asked. I pulled my sweater free of my arm and watched him. His eyes skimmed over my torso and with dawning realization his gaze met mine.

“I’m not wearing any,” I told him trying to fix an angelic expression on my face.

Colt’s eyes widened and without any subtlety he looked directly at my chest, my hips, and then back at my face.

“Unless you’re shy, Cowboy,” I taunted while unbuckled my seatbelt.

We both climbed from the truck and headed for the bank. I pulled my foot free of one boot, then the other as he just stood there and watched.

“What are you doing?” I finally asked when all I had left to remove was my dress.

“Waiting to see if you go through with it,” he said. Challenge and anticipation wafted around him. Once again, his muscles were drawn tight but he was slowly unhooking the silver buckle on his belt.

I took a deep breath, turned back toward the water and lifted the sun dress up and over my head. There was perfect silence behind me as I walked chest-deep into the water. The lake was freezing as ever but between the beating sunlight and the blood that had rushed to every inch of my skin, it felt incredible rather than borderline painful like the night before. I dipped my head backward so that my hair streamed down my back as I turned around to face the bank.

Colt’s eyes were anchored on me, never breaking as his fingers deftly unbuttoned his shirt. He stripped the cotton from his body and then set to work on his jeans. I knew my cheeks were pink but I looked at him steadily as I knew he had watched me. He kicked one boot off then the other so that both of them lay on there sides on the dirt of the bank. Then he quickly pulled his jeans and boxers free, dumping them both on the ground.

Compared to his leisurely stride, it probably looked as though I’d run into the water. He never broke eye contact but lost the battle to keep my eyes above his waist. Buck’s body was the stuff statues were modeled after. He was all lean strength and powerful grace. A fine dusting of dark hair covered his legs, but his chest was bare. Broad shoulders balanced the tone of his arms, and his muscled chest tapered into a slim waist with two cut lines on either side of his pelvis that tracked down below his stomach. I worried that the water would boil around me. He did nothing to conceal himself below the waist and I struggled to keep my gaze from fixing there.

Colt had the beginning of an erection although it wasn’t yet standing at attention. It would have been impossible not to appreciate his length and thickness though. He had trimmed the hair short and I forcibly pushed thoughts of bedrooms and entwined limbs from my mind as he made his first steps into the water. He walked toward me until he was waist deep then huge an enormous breath that drew his ribs wide and lifted the muscles in his chest before he drove beneath the water.

I lost him beneath the surface as the sunlight gleaming off the water obscured my ability to follow him. I was surprise when he surfaced twenty feet to my right and in deeper water. He grinned broadly and then took several strong freestyle strokes in the water, bringing him nearer to me and back toward the bank. I stayed put, treading water as he drove himself below the surface again and stuck his feet into the air in a handstand. I was smiling too when he resurfaced and drew breath before mimicking his action.

Colt swam back and forth from deep to shallow water. Growing more comfortable and brave again, I kicked my feet upward, floating on my back so that the mountain breeze licked gently across my exposed breasts. I shut my eyes and soaked in the sunshine and scent of pine. The water covered my ears and blissful silence enveloped me. After several minutes I dropped my hips and paddled for the bank. Colt was laying on top of his jeans on his back, still naked and drop-dead mouth watering. Droplets of water sparkled on bronze skin and the glare of midday set his body in gentle contrast to the white of the pebbles on the ground.

I sat down on my dress about six feet from him.

“Don’t lay out,” he said with his eyes still shut. “You’re way too pale for that to be a good idea.”

I scoffed and threw myself back to lay on the skirt of my dress. I was nearly as tan as he was but I noted with a slight frown, the tops of my shoulders were turning bright pink.

“Why don’t you burn?” I asked him.

“Oh, Adrienne,” he said, hitting me with a fleeting glance before shutting his eyes again. “I am burning.”

We lounged on the beach for another half hour or so, until I actually began to feel my sunburn and was forced to concede defeat. My shoulders, face, and the pale skin of my chest were all flushed and overly warm to the touch. Most likely, it would develop into a semi-painful burn over the course of time but at that moment, I was too happy and comfortable to care.

I caught Colt looking at my again while we redressed in silence. We walked side by side back up to the truck and loaded into the cab. The half mile back to the cabin flew by, especially considering the speed with which Colt drove. After pulling into the driveway, Colt hit the unlock button but didn’t shut the engine off.

“Aren’t you coming in?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “I’ve got some work to get done at the shop.”

He backed out and headed down the dirt road passed the little church that was once again deserted. Where do all these people live, I thought not for the first time.

I washed my hair beneath the stream of hot water before rubbing lotion into my pink skin. Afterward, I made myself a cup of tea and proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon curled up in the living room armchair reading my book. I snacked through the night and eventually, at nine at night with no sign of Colt, I cooked spaghetti and penned him a note that dinner was in the microwave.

The nightly chill was beginning to creep into the cabin but I found myself itching to be outside again. With a blanket wrapped tight around myself and a fresh cup of tea, I slipped through the backdoor and settled myself in a folding chair on the deck.

My jaw literally dropped open as I stared up into the blackness. My college town is far above sea level but never had I seen anything as majestic as the night in Coal Creek. There were so many stars that despite the meager sliver of the moon to sky shone in depths of flickering light that I felt immediately lost in its expanse. The Milky Way flowed like spilled cream overhead and if I held my thumb and forefinger together just wide enough to see through, nowhere except at the horizon line could I find a space devoid of the randomized brilliance of starlight. I don’t know how long I looked, wondering how many stars I was gazing at that many of my friends and family had never seen through the haze of urban light pollution. There was nothing in the way; no buildings, no halo of street lamps. Even the atmosphere interrupted the cascade at only a fraction of that at lower elevations.

In what seemed like the blink of a moment, another hour had passed and the cold had finally crept beneath the blanket. My knees cracked as a stood, stiff from holding still for so long. I changed into fleece sweats and climbed into bed just after eleven. Despite the horrific crime the night before, and despite how frustrating Colt’s flirting and sequential absences were, I felt a peaceful restfulness that had been alien in my recent past. Sleep came easily without dreams, and I never heard Colt return home around one in the morning.

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