Roses in Ecuador – Heather Huffman
(Chapter Eight-Nine – pages 48-53)
Tree limbs smacked her in the face. Thorns and underbrush clawed at her skin and clothes. Her legs screamed from the exertion. Still she pressed on, keeping Devon well in sight. When she burst out of the trees into a clearing, he reached out and grabbed hold of her, pulling Jane to him just before she ran straight off the edge of a cliff.
“Oh, dear Lord,” she gasped, clinging to his shoulders and burying her face against his chest. His heart was hammering as hard as hers. The thunder of a waterfall filled her ears. She couldn’t hear anything else; she had no way of knowing if their pursuers were still behind them.
“I think we should jump.”
“I think you’re crazy.”
“Probably, but I still think we should jump,” he persisted.
Jane peeked over the edge. The water seemed pretty darn far below to her. “Holy crap. I still think you’re crazy.”
He spun her back around and cupped her chin in his hands. “Trust me, Janey. Please.”
She paused for a beat, searching his eyes. “Okay. On three?”
Their pursuers were closer now; Jane could hear them above the roar of water.
“Three.” Devon grabbed her hand and pulled her with him over the edge of the cliff.
The freefall to the water lasted just long enough for Devon to wonder if he’d killed them both – and to think he liked the way her hand felt in his, even as they plummeted through the air. The crash into the water knocked the wind out of him, but he was happy to be alive—and happier still when he felt Jane struggling to resurface.
They popped out of the water, sputtering for air. Without a word, Devon tucked Jane to his side and kicked his strong legs, propelling them to shore. He’d lived in the basin long enough to know they hadn’t survived the jump yet, not until they were out of reach of the myriad of predators who called this river home.
Their pursuers fired at them in vain. Devon wasn’t sure whether it was divine providence or the fact that the distance was too great for the bullets to find their target, but he wasn’t willing to stick around to see if their luck would hold. The pair crawled out of the water, still gasping for air, and stumbled into the protection of the jungle.
Devon cast a worried glance at Jane when she stopped to lean against a nearby tree with her eyes closed. “Do you have a little bit more in you?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” She shoved away from the tree. “Just point me where you want me to go, boss.”
“Are you sure?”
She replied with a look that adequately conveyed her irritation.
“Okay then.” He took her by the shoulders and turned her to face north. “That way.”
Devon knew he needed to take the lead since he was the one who knew where they were going, but he was loath to let Jane out of his field of vision. She looked pale and shaky. And tired.
As they trudged through the dense vegetation, Devon wondered what kind of trouble his pretty little neighbor had landed herself in the middle of. Neither spoke much; they were both too tired and unsettled.
When Devon finally broke the silence, it was to let her know they didn’t have much farther to go before reaching a cabin where they could take a break and get a drink of water. “Can you make it a little longer?”
“Would you stop asking me that? It’s patronizing.”
“How is concern for your welfare patronizing?” He stopped and turned to her. “You look like you could collapse at any moment.”
“I told you before, I don’t collapse.”
Those were the last words to leave her mouth before she crumpled like an old marionette at his feet. He felt a little bad for not catching her, but it had taken him by such surprise he hadn’t reacted quickly enough. Jane had been so adamant about not collapsing, he’d believed her.
“Well, this sucks,” he told no one in particular before kneeling to scoop her unconscious form into his arms. She wasn’t a large woman and he considered himself to generally be a strong man, but the added weight made his already tired muscles protest. Suddenly the cabin felt much farther away than it had five minutes ago – not that he’d ever tell Jane that. Of course, it was probably best if he didn’t tell her he hadn’t caught her, either.
Devon resolutely set out toward the cabin. By the time the building came into view, he was happier to see it than he ever had been before. Once there, he laid her on the bed and gently tugged her wet boots and socks off. Then he hesitated. If it were anyone else in the world, he’d strip them down to their skivvies and put a warm blanket around them.
But this was Jane, and that posed a whole new set of problems. For one, he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted the first time he saw her in her underwear to be while she was unconscious. That just seemed too creepy. For another, there was a very distinct possibility she would be really pissed at him if she woke up in her underwear.
Still, she looked miserable in her soaked clothes. He reminded himself he was a grown man and the head of several corporations. Surely he could be adult about helping a friend in need and weather any fallout from that decision.
“Okay then,” he told himself aloud, feeling a little silly as he reached down to tug her T-shirt up. It was an awkward process, disrobing a woman who was completely passed out. This certainly wasn’t how he’d been envisioning undressing her for the past several days. He was fairly proud of himself by the time he finally had Jane’s clothes in a sopping heap on the floor and a warm blanket tucked around her.
He looked down at her on the bed; she looked so fragile. He couldn’t resist reaching down to brush aside the blond ringlets that clung to her cheek. Then he surprised himself by leaning over and kissing her tenderly on the forehead. She murmured in response. He froze, wondering if he’d been caught in his impetuous gesture of affection. She sighed and settled deeper into her pillow.
He straightened and took a step back. He didn’t understand what it was about her that brought about such a tumult of unfamiliar emotions. It irritated him not being able to sort it all out. Absolutely, she was beautiful, but he was accustomed to beautiful women. What magic power did she have that held him so captive? Was it her apathy – was he truly that shallow?
Thunder rumbled in the distance, telling him they would be waiting out a storm in the little cabin. He scowled. That’s just what he needed, to be confined in a small space with a stunning, nearly naked woman he couldn’t touch.