The opportunity to explore the building presented itself several days later when Sarah was making a shopping list in preparation for her trip to Fayetteville and asked Lisa if she wanted to go along. Giddon had barely left the yard on Diablo and Lisa instantly recognized it as a chance to investigate the building. She sighed.
“No, I need to finish the Laundry. It’s almost dry and I hate it when it gets all wrinkled.”
Sarah shook her head. “Suit yourself, but personally, I think it would be good for you to get out a little.”
“I like it here. I’ll see enough of the city when I go back to college. I plan to grab every moment I can in the country.”
Without further argument, Sarah and Tammy left, and Lisa was alone. She hung the last garment and changed into jeans and tennis shoes before leaving the house. After one last look around to see if she was being watched, she started into the woods. Her plan was to approach building from the back. No one was around, so she could probably use the path, but if Giddon suddenly returned, it would be obvious where she was going. If he caught her in the woods, she could say she was looking for wild flowers.
She searched around for a landmark that could be seen over the trees, but nothing was tall enough. Deciding to use the sun to orient herself, she detoured around several dense patches of blackberry bushes. Dodging cobwebs by the dozens, she pushed on until deciding she had reached a point behind the building. Pushing through some sumac that she thought bordered the clearing where the building stood; she squinted up at the sun. It was hard to tell, but there were no trees ahead, so it must be the clearing. At any rate, Giddon would be back soon. It was now or never. She stepped through the last of the brush.
The ground gave way under her foot, and with a sickening lurch of her heart, she plunged downward. She screamed as she wind milled her arms in the hot air. Her fall was brutally interrupted by a rock ledge about five feet down. She lit with one foot underneath her body, and the momentum of her fall threw her forward - over the ledge. She screamed again as she tumbled down a steep hill. Frantically, she grabbed at the five-leaf ivy that covered the ground. Again her fall was briefly interrupted - until the roots released their grip in the loose gravel. Then she was falling again. One second she was falling head over heels, the next rolling on her side. She finally reached the bottom of the embankment and fell headlong into a bunch of blackberry bushes.
There she lay stunned for a few minutes. Finally she slowly sat up. To her amazement, there didn’t seem to be any serious injuries. She gingerly untangled herself from some thorny vines and tried to stand. A sharp pain shot through her ankle and a cry escaped her lips as she dropped back to the ground.
She glanced around, a little disoriented. Where was the building - and the trail? Unhurt, she would have no fear of wandering around to find her way, but her injury prevented any exploration. Every step must be in the right direction. Her troubled gaze followed her trail back up the hill and she gasped. She had fallen off a bluff.
What if she had been seriously injured? Who would have known where she was? It was a stupid move to walk blindly through such wild country. What if a snake had been in those bushes? Her mind had been so focused on Giddon’s business that she had forgotten her own. Her attention focused on finding something to use as a crutch. Something moved in the brush not far away and she froze. Brush crackled and then there was silence. Fear clutched at her heart with cold fingers. If it was a bear, she was in a terrible predicament. She couldn’t outrun it - in any condition, and it could climb a tree as fast as she could. What was it she had heard about bear attacks? It was best to lie down and play dead? She shuddered. Not hardly.
The animal started to move again, this time in her direction. Maybe a little noise would frighten the animal away. In a voice quaking with fear, she began to sing.
“Come on down, Old Dan Tucker. You’re too late to get any supper. Suppers on...”
The familiar voice sent a thrill of excitement coursing through her veins. Excitement and fear. It was Giddon. For a moment she contemplated silence, but what would be the point? He already knew she was here, and it wasn’t as though she could run and hide. She scrambled up and stood on her good leg. Drawing a deep breath, she finally called to him.
He broke through the brush and stared down at her, his expression a mixture of concern and confusion.
“I heard you scream. What happened? What are you doing out here?
She glanced at the cliff. “I was exploring and I fell off that bluff. I hurt my ankle and I can’t walk on it. I don’t think it’s broken.”
He glanced up at the cliff and his complexion paled slightly. He gave her a hard look.
“Sit down and let me look at it.”
She complied and he examined her ankle, twisting it until she winced.
“It doesn’t appear to be broken,” he concluded in a monotone, “But we should take you to a doctor, just to be sure.”
“I don’t need to go to the doctor.” She tried to stand and winced again.
Giddon helped her to her feet. She put the offending foot on the ground, tentatively applying a little weight, clamping a hand over her mouth to stop the cry of pain.
Giddon swooped her into his arms and pushed through the brush.
“You can’t carry me all the way to the house,” She said, clinging to his neck.
“I don’t intend to.”
They reached an open place in the brush where Diablo stood hip-shod, his eyes half closed - as if all hell wasn’t getting ready to burst loose.
Giddon deposited Lisa on the animal’s back and, putting a foot in the stirrup, swung up behind her. She felt his breath on the back of her neck and stiffened as one arm slipped around her waist.
“Looking for flowers again?”
“I happen to like walking in the woods.”
“Didn’t I tell you it was dangerous to be alone?” His voice was rough, but the arm that encircled her waist held her gently. He nudged Diablo into a swift walk.
Secure in his strong arms, she wondered how she could have suspected him of anything sinister. Yet, one backward glance at the hard lines of the face over hers reminded her that there was more than the gentle side to him. His hands might be soft, but he was capable of dealing with whatever came in his direction. He was no wimp - of that she was certain.
Diablo’s gate was smooth, and in spite of her injured ankle she began to enjoy the ride. They hadn’t traveled far down the trail before she got a peripheral view of the building. Her directions hadn’t been far off. She looked the other way and made a fuss over a chattering squirrel until they had passed the building.
At the house, Giddon helped her down and assisted her into the kitchen. He lifted her effortlessly to the counter so he could examine her ankle again. After having her wiggle her toes and move her ankle this way and that, he finally stepped back and observed her with a frown.
“You really need to have it X-rayed. You could have a fracture.”
At least he was trying to control his temper this time. His piercing gaze lifted to her face and the hair rose on the back of her neck. She shook her head. “I don’t want to go to the doctor. It’ll be all right.”
“You’re the most headstrong person I’ve ever met,” he said forcefully, and abruptly turned away. “Sit still and I’ll go get an ace bandage,” he barked.
It would have been the perfect time to leave, but how? She didn’t have a car. Of course, she could take his. The keys hung on the wall beside the door. All of which was irrelevant. He had offered her a perfect way out. Go see the doctor.
He was back almost immediately, carrying an ace bandage. He avoided her gaze and began wrapping her foot. His big hands were surprisingly gentle as he wrapped her foot and secured it with tiny safety pins. His dexterity was amazing. Even she would have had trouble working with something so little, but he dispensed with the job in short order.
He tested her foot for circulation. “There, that should hold you.” His tone had softened. Maybe he had swallowed her story. Maybe he was merely angry because she had gone wandering in the woods after he had warned her against it. Maybe he figured she had learned her lesson. He glanced up and met her gaze with an expression that made her heart flutter.
“You looked like a scared school girl out there when I found you.” His eyes were no longer piercing. In fact, they held a tenderness she had never seen.
She blushed. “I thought you were a bear.”
His expression was sober as he placed a hand on the counter on each side of her. “And what would you have done if it had been a bear?”
His close proximity sent her heart racing. She had a wild urge to throw her arms around his neck and kiss the worry from his face. She squirmed and gave him a bright smile.
“Grin him down?”
His expression remained serious. A stern tone entered his voice. “I want you to promise me you won’t go into the woods alone again.”
She met his gaze and spoke earnestly. “I promise I won’t go into the woods alone again.”
He looked relieved and reached up, pulling a leaf from her hair. “That’s better.” He gently brushed a stray strand of soft hair away from her cheek. “You could have been killed today, you know that?”
“I know.” She stared down at her hands. Was he actually concerned about the fact that she might have been killed, or that his hideout might have been discovered in a search for her body?
“You’re getting awful good at pulling me out of scrapes.” She said. “Are you sorry you brought me here?”
“No.” The single word was terse and the eyes reflected sincerity. In fact, his entire expression reflected deep concern. Worry that she had caused.
On impulse, she touched his brow. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think about how it might affect you if I got hurt out there.”
Her soft touch did more than erase the worry from his brow. It ignited a fire in his eyes as well. “Lisa.” His voice was little more than a husky whisper as he pulled her close and sought her lips.
Her arms encircled his neck, and her lips met his eagerly. She clung to his muscular shoulders, returning his ardent embrace. Everything was going to be all right. His feelings for her were as genuine as hers for him. She could feel it in his soft kisses on her neck, in the way he whispered her name. She stroked his cheek and kissed his forehead.
They were so absorbed in each other that they didn’t hear the car enter the drive. When the kitchen door opened suddenly, they jerked apart and turned guilty faces to Sarah, whose expression made it clear she had seen and comprehended their actions.
Yancey cleared his throat, and Lisa stared down at her hands. Tammy burst through the door and saw Lisa sitting on the counter. Her eyes widened as she noticed the bandaged foot.
“What happen to yow foot? I want to sit up thew!” She turned excited eyes to her father.
Yancey lifted Lisa from the counter and helped her into a chair. “She was wandering in the woods again and fell down. That’s what happens when you don’t do as you’re told. You get hurt.” He took Tammy’s tiny hand in his. “Now let’s go get the rest of the groceries.”
Sarah started putting up the groceries. Her expression was solemn, but the eyes that regarded Lisa were full of mischief. “I trust you had enough time to yourself today?”
Lisa’s face grew hot. “I was enjoying myself until I fell over the cliff.”
The humor in Sarah’s eyes was immediately replaced with concern - and then a guarded expression. She gave the sack of groceries undue attention as she quarried Lisa.
“You fell off a cliff? Where?”
Lisa bit her lip. “I’m not sure where,” she lied. “I got lost.” At least that part wasn’t a lie. “Anyway, I was lucky it was a low cliff and that Yancey found me before a bear did.”
Sarah glanced up with a short laugh. “I hardly think a bear would....”
Yancey stepped through the door with his arms full of groceries and Lisa didn’t miss the warning look he shot his mother.
“Well,” Sarah amended, “I don’t know that much about bears and things like that. I stay here at the house where it’s safe.”
Lisa struggled out of the chair and limped over to the sack of groceries. Sarah frowned.
“Yancey, help her into the other room and make her get that foot up for the evening. In fact, why don’t you take her to the doctor?”
Lisa put up a hand as Yancey started toward her. “I don’t need to go to the doctor and I’m not an invalid. I just turned my ankle a little. By tomorrow I’ll be fine.”
Yancey rolled his eyes at his mother and turned his palms up to God. “I’ve already told her, but she won’t listen to me either.”
Sarah turned to Lisa with a smile. “I’ll cook supper tonight. I haven’t cooked more than a couple times since you came, and I’m afraid I might forget how.”
“But I’m here to help,” Lisa protested.
“Then watch Tammy.”
Lisa reached for Tammy’s hand. “Come on. Let’s go watch TV in the family room.”