When Lisa emerged from her room dressed in casuals, Sarah looked up and smiled.
“My, that certainly becomes you. Of course, everything does. Those jeans make your legs look so long.”
Yancey was lounging against the kitchen door jam, his expression uncertain. When he spoke, his voice was controlled.
“Going for a drive?”
She shook her head. Going for a walk – in the woods.”
His response was typically different than she would have expected. His eyes twinkled with mirth. “Are you now? Which direction?”
She shrugged. “Does it matter?”
His gaze turned cool. “It matters. You promised you wouldn’t go into the woods alone.”
She turned her palms up. “Then go with me.”
He hesitated, his expression turning wary.
Lisa laughed. “Because you’re the one who is concerned about my safety. I’m going for a walk. You can go with me or stay here. It doesn’t matter to me. I came to the mountains because this is where I grew up – hiking in the hills. I miss that and I’m not going to be held back simply because you’re afraid to have me wandering around on my own.”
Sarah was watching him intently. When Yancey’s attention diverted to his mother, she simply shrugged. Turning abruptly, she walked into the living area. A few minutes later the television was on one of Tammy’s shows.
Yancey finally returned his attention to Lisa.
“Well, if you want to go that bad, then go. I won’t try to stop you. Just be careful where you go.”
He walked by her stiffly and headed down the hall.
Outside, she stood on the porch a few minutes, studying the mountains around them. The closest was in the opposite direction than the trail. She had tested her freedom and found it still intact – to a degree. As long as she didn’t wind up at that building, her safety was of no real concern. She was tempted to try, but both he and Sarah would probably be watching. She sighed and stepped off the porch. Exploring would be left for another day. Maybe if he saw that she didn’t go near the building, he would relax his guard. And so it was that she decided to go in the opposite direction. Peeking through the trees were some gray rocks – maybe a bluff. There were always interesting things around a bluff - sometimes even arrowheads.
She took off, noting where she entered the woods, and using a tall Sycamore tree as a trail marker. Once into the woods, she began to relax. The birds were silent, watching her to see if she was friend or foe. Eventually they began their chatter. She must be friend. A vague trail led up the side of the mountain to the bluff. It was likely a deer trail. So close, and yet she had never seen one in the yard. She followed the trail around the mountain on a gradual curving grade. To her right was a blackberry thicket laden with berries – mostly red, but some dark. That was a good place to remember. Fresh blackberry pie sounded good. Further ahead were some Gooseberry and Huckleberry bushes void of fruit. The wildlife had probably taken care of them. She shuddered as copperhead snake slid off a rock where it was sunning. Snakes were something that gave her the willies. A mouse she could handle – literally, but a snake was something different. It wasn’t the venom she feared, although she was cautious, but the way the body writhed and slithered. She shuddered again at the thought. Best keep her eyes on the trail for any more footless friends.
A movement behind caught her attention and she stopped. It was Yancey, clad in boots, Jeans and a light blue polo shirt. She stopped to wait for him, unsure whether to be happy about his presence or annoyed. If her pulse were any indication, she should be happy – and cautious.
He joined her and grinned. “This would be a lot easier on my ATV.”
“Probably, but I wouldn’t be working off that cake and ice cream, either.”
“Well, if that was what worried you, I’d have told Mom to bring a steak.”
Did he actually tell his mother to get the cake, or had she decided on her own? More likely the latter. It sounded more like something a woman would think of. Besides, she was present when Sarah learned about her birthday and until he left the house. Unless he called her, he hadn’t said anything to her. But then, he didn’t actually say he told her. He simply said he would have told her to bring something else. He was good at deceptive conversation – too good. Or maybe she had a suspicious mind.
She turned and started up the trail. Only an occasional sound of brush being pushed aside indicated he was still behind her. Maybe he didn’t like to walk, but he was certainly good at it – and capable of stealth. That was something to keep in mind. She stiffened. Had he been stalking her the day she fell off the bluff? Was that how he found her so quickly? But no, he had Diablo with him – or did he? After all, that area was in his pasture.
At the top of the trail she paused to catch her breath. Yancey was barely breathing hard. Apparently he did a lot of walking. And yet, every time she saw him, he was on his horse, ATV or in his car. With the exception of the trail, of course, but he never appeared to be in any hurry – coming or going there.
After examining a rock for ants or other insects, she leaned against it, drawing in the clean smell of the forest. Yancey stopped beside her and looked back down at the house.
“It’s a long way down.”
She followed his gaze. They had climbed about fifty feet.
“When we first came here,” he began in a quiet voice, “I used to walk all over these hills.”
“So why did you stop?”
He shrugged. “Other things occupied my mind, I guess.”
“Do you miss it?”
He glanced down at her, his expression tender. “Not until now.” He put a hand on either side of her.
Her pulse quickened, as did her breath. If he was trying to prevent her from escaping, he was doing a poor job of it. She had teeth, fingernails and a healthy kick. She met his somber gaze defiantly. A touch of humor flashed in those blue pools, and then it was gone. Without warning he leaned forward and kissed her on the mouth. It was a soft kiss, not demanding but more inquisitive. In spite of her resolve, she responded.
To her surprise, he was the one who broke away. He stepped back, a twinkle in his eyes.
“Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
She blushed. Not so bad? Her heart was running a marathon.
“It isn’t what I came out here for,” she responded, and then darted around him, sprinting down the path. He called out behind her, but she didn’t stop. The trail was clear and level ahead of her, so she let her long legs stretch out. Running felt so good. A scarred tree marked a turning point in the trail, so she slowed down. As she reached the tree, a large black furry form crashed into the trees ahead of her. She stopped suddenly, grasping the tree with one hand.
Yancey was instantly behind her. “Of all the fool things! Do you realize how close you came to running right into a bear?”
“Yes,” she gasped “Wasn’t that something!” She glanced up at him, basking in the afterglow of a good scare.
At her words, his face paled. “You wouldn’t have thought it was so exciting if he had turned on you.”
The idea struck her suddenly. “That’s why you don’t wander in the woods, isn’t it? You’re afraid of the wildlife.”
“I’m not afraid of the wildlife, I’m cautious,” he defended quickly.
Suppressing the urge to laugh wasn’t easy, but she managed it. “In all the time I spent in the woods as a young girl, that’s the first time I’ve seen a bear. They usually run when they hear you coming.”
His eyes were dark, mostly because the pupils were large. The encounter had frightened him more than he would admit. He studied her a moment before responding.
“Maybe so, but there have been many people attacked by bears - mostly black bears. And then there are Pumas.”
Gazing up into his face, she smiled. “Why Yancey, you are afraid of the wildlife.”
A wry smile touched his lips, but the eyes softened. “I wasn’t the one running away. And from what – a little kiss?” He leaned forward, his hand finding her waist, and drew her toward him. “You know what? I don’t think you’re as afraid of me as you are of your own feelings.”
A quickening pulse was enough to confirm his statement. She twisted away from his hand.
Instantly the hand dropped and he turned back down the trail, speaking over his shoulder.
“Come on, I think you’ve seen enough to convince yourself that I have a valid point when I say it’s dangerous to wander in the woods.”
She followed him without comment. What could she say? He was dead on when he said she was more afraid of her emotions than him. One thought had been gnawing at her consciousness since the first time she suspected him of being involved in drugs. If he was, that made twice she had been attracted by a man who was doing something illegal. What was it about them that drew her to that personality? As much evidence as there was to the contrary, she couldn’t believe Yancey was involved in drugs. Nothing she had seen indicated he was using drugs. Of course, that didn’t mean he wasn’t involved. Allen didn’t do drugs either – as far as she knew. He only sold them – for money. Yancey had money. So, was it the money that attracted her? Even as she thought it, she knew it wasn’t true. Money usually traveled with a companion called trouble. People were always buying trouble.
Yancey walked ahead of her. In spite of his size, his steps were light, as if he chose every one carefully. His attention moved smoothly from the trail to the area around him and back. Occasionally he glanced behind him, as if searching for someone, or something, that might be watching. He never looked directly at her, but the way he held back branches was indication enough that he knew she was there and was thinking of her.
“This really wasn’t a good idea,” he said after a while. “You’ll get ticks and chiggers all over you.”
“They never bothered me that much. I think it’s something about my body chemistry that they don’t like.”
He glanced back, his eyes mocking her. “They probably smell the danger. I’m beginning to think you’re an adrenalin junkie.”
Maybe he was right. Of course, she didn’t leap cars with motorcycles or sky dive, but in retrospect, she had always been attracted to danger - at least to some degree. She had always thought of it as the thrill of intrigue, but maybe it went a little deeper than that. Maybe that was the attraction she felt for people like Yancey and Allen. She stared at his back. Tossing the two of them into the same thought brought out the contrast. In spite of all the evidence, Yancey still came out as a responsible adult. Maybe it was because Allen was younger, or because Yancey had a child. Something deep inside said that if Allen were six years older and had a child, he’d still be as irresponsible as he was now. Then again, if Yancey was dealing with drugs, he was endangering his mother and child. How responsible was that? Why were the police tight-lipped about him? Was it because of an ongoing investigation? They might have considered her an innocent bystander in her relationship with Allen, but being on the sideline again would, at minimum, make them suspicious.
One way or another, she had to get into that building. She was forming a habit of running from feelings. She had done it with Allen and she had done it with her family. Caution said this was a dangerous place to be and she should get out. Reason said if she left now there would never be a solid relationship. She would always wonder.
When they reached the clearing of the lawn, Yancey waited until she came up beside him. His troubled gaze met hers. “From now on, I think it is best that you stay around the house. Every time you go into the woods, you get into trouble.” He turned and marched off to the house.
It wasn’t something that could be denied. So much for freedom. Her gaze wandered to the path to the building. Any excursion there after today would be against his instructions, but what she planned to do there wouldn’t exactly be sanctioned anyway. A search of the building would have to be done while he wasn’t present. Now it was no longer a possibility. It was a plan. The only thing she needed was an opportunity.
The sun made long shadows of her figure as she walked to the house. Yancey had never mentioned the meeting with Allen. Either he hadn’t seen her or he preferred not to mention it. Naturally he wouldn’t say anything about his meeting with the other man. Maybe there was nothing going on, but gut instinct said there was a story here – something big.