Kacey had started this trek across Big Stone Lake hoping to beat the storm earlier in the day. Now that she was just over half way, she recognized that the storm was coming in faster than she was paddling the canoe. With each stroke she pulled ahead three feet, and before she could get the paddle back in the water, she wind had blown her back back two.
Progress, she reminded herself, progress. One ahead was better than one behind. Only this lake was three miles wide, and if she didn’t make it to the next island in this wilderness, she would be forced to return to the previous camp site down wind, exhausted, only to repeat the feat tomorrow. She was determined to get there today.
Camping had sounded good, a way out, a reprieve from the stresses of everyday life earlier in the week, but she was learning that even out here, in the middle of nowhere, life can still be stressful in its own way. She let work issues take hold of her thoughts, every meal was an effort, and she was physically exhausted from paddling solo for the better part of this week. Each time she dipped the oar into the water, she focused on the physical act, forcing her mind to quit replaying the trouble she had with her coworker earlier in the week. Another stroke, quit thinking about the impending expense of repairing the transmission in her car. Another stroke, force out the pain from completely ruining the re-purposing project she had started in her living room. The one she would have to return home to and fix.
She let out a shaky breath, and the wind blew her back a good three feet. Ugh. Focus, Kacey! You got this! She tried to mentally motivate herself to finish the last mile of this trek as she took a deep breath in and doubled her effort to reach shore.
She was doing it! She was back to making progress when she felt the prickle of a rain drop bounce off her hand. No problem, she could deal with that. Another sprinkle landed on her face, and she let it roll itself down to her jaw line and drop. Then a few more. She looked up in the sky, irritated, and shouted, “What more can you throw at me today?!?” and as if in response to her challenge, a gigantic drop of water landed right square in her eye. Her eye stung, she blinked rapidly to clear it, and she knew the last mile wasn’t going to be any easier than the first two.
She put the oar back in the water and pushed on, through the growing waves and increasing intensity of the storm. She heard a crack of thunder in the distance, and she knew she needed to get off the water soon. She made it within two hundred feet of the shore when the sky opened up and the rain gushed out of skies much like her kitchen faucet did when her do it yourself project turned into a call an emergency plumber project.
She kept on, dejected, in the direction of the next camp site. She could see the post signalling its presence, and she had never been so happy in her life. She neared, maybe a hundred yards or so to go, the sheets of rain blasting her and reducing her vision, until she saw what appeared to be smoke. She mentally shook her finger at whoever had left their campsite in the middle of nowhere without carefully extinguishing the campfire.
She made it a little closer, the water pooling in the bottom of her canoe, and she could see the outline of a tent on the far side of the campsite. No! Someone had beaten her to this campsite, and she’d be damned if they were going to force her to go back. There was absolutely no way in hell she was going to go back across that giant lake just to pacify some group of campers. Maybe they were college grads, or maybe they were eighty year old experts, or maybe they were ax murderers. She didn’t care at this point. She wasn’t going back, and that was that.
As if to cement her decision, an enormous clap of thunder rumbled, shaking her to her core. Yep. It was too dangerous to even consider turning back. When her canoe finally hit land, she hopped out the front and drug her heavy as hell, water logged canoe far enough onto shore that it wouldn’t slide back out, for now. She didn’t care that it was raining; she was tired. She laid in the wet sand next to her canoe, chest heaving, rain pelting her face, and just let her exhausted limbs rest for a moment. That was the hardest trek she had ever made via canoe, and she was too tired to even think about a tent or supper at this point. She just needed her arms to quit cramping and for her back to stretch out.
She saw a bolt of lightening cross the sky, and she decided she at least needed to get away from her metal canoe, and back into the tree line to prevent being torched by the mighty lightening strikes. She took another deep breath, brought her hands up to her face and wiped her eyes, willing herself to move.
And that’s when she realized she should add hallucinations to her list of problems. Standing over her was a perfectly sculpted male form in nothing but his shorts. His body so spectacular – it was something she had only dreamed about, and his face had this Greek god-ish sculpted look to it, and she considered she may have died and gone to Heaven.
And then the Greek god spoke in his sultry voice, and she nearly passed out.
“Hi! Are you all right?”
Jake had holed himself up in his tent as soon as the storm started. It was one thing to be alone on an island, it was another to be wet and cold and miserable alone on an island. He stoked the camp fire red hot so it would survive the storm and crawled into his over sized tent that was big enough for four. He had planned for this camping trip to be a social event with some old college buddies, not a series of odd decisions by his usually rambunctious friends that lead to him to hang out by himself.
As he was contemplating what to do next, he thought he heard something down closer to the shore. It could have been anything really. A beaver, or a bear, or maybe his friends had made it after all! He unzipped his tent and saw the metallic glint of the canoe through the sheets of rain, and he made his way joyfully down the hill towards the beach.
As he crested the top of the hill, he was shocked to instead see a female form laying next to the canoe, breathing heavily, sprawled out as if she had just collapsed and decided to call that piece of land home. He nearly tip toed the rest of the way, afraid of scaring this exhausted soul off. He wasn’t going to send company away, and he definitely didn’t want to send this particularly pretty female off. He smiled to himself, thankful that the fates had come through after all.
“Hi! Are you all right?” he asked the lady when she started rubbing her eyes in a vain attempt to dry them.
She stilled, rubbed her eyes again, and tried to focus on him. She hadn’t spoke a word, and she seemed dazed, so he tried to help her up.
“I’m Jake, Jake Tubner, and I thought I heard someone down here. Seems I was right. Kind of. Let me help you up,” he managed to stutter out as he guided her to the sitting position. He took advantage of her dazed condition to look around; her canoe had over two inches of rain water in it, soaking everything that came into contact with the bottom of the canoe. He could see her tent had not survived the near hurricane, nor had her sleeping bag or backpack. She was going to have a long, cold night ahead of her by the looks at it.
Not if he could help it, he told himself. He had a perfectly dry tent, and he had packed an extra sleeping bag for his buddy that didn’t have one. But his buddy didn’t show up, and she was here, and he needed to get her to come in and dry off without seeming like a pervert or a murderer or a creep all together. This was a challenge, one he would enjoy taking on.
He looked back down, and she was starting to fuss a bit. She was beautiful, despite her whimsical wet dog appearance. Her wet hair clung to her long neck and covered the top of her olive colored rain jacket. Her shorts were drenched from the rain, and they did little to cover her shorter but incredibly sexy legs. Her feet were clad in tennis, but they looked about as comfortable as a wet blanket.
“Hi, Jake. Nice to meet you. I’m Kacey” she sputtered out as she made her way to her feet. She stood straight up, still coming a good six inches shorter than he, and stuck out her hand.
He took her hand in his, enveloping it easily, relishing the feel of this siren’s touch. A week ago he was hustling to climb up the corporate ladder, and social events were not just mandatory for promotion, but something he enjoyed. He had a list of six beautiful women’s phone numbers sitting at home, right now, and none of them intrigued him even a fraction of what this woman had in sixty seconds.
She studied the campsite and turned to square him again. “I really don’t mean to intrude, but there is no way I’m going back or finding another place to camp for the night.” When her eyes met his, the depths of her green eyes struck him. They were a shade he hadn’t seen before, and they spoke volumes. He could get lost not only in their beauty, but the story they seemed to withhold.
“No problem here” he responded. “In fact it would be great to have some company to weather the storm with. Sure is a doozey.”
Her shoulders visibly relaxed. “Thank you. I’ll try to stay out of your way” she said as she returned to pulling the heavy canoe out of the water. After letting her struggle a bit, clearly exhausted, he took the rope and pulled it to shore with a single tug. She instantly turned to him, “I could have gotten that” she spouted off, clearly offended by his show of help.
“I know, but I was faster” he said with a smile meant to relax her but only seemed to irritate her further.
She turned to the canoe and grabbed her tent, pouring a gallon of rain water out of the opening up top. “Where would you like me to set up my tent?” she asked, courteous despite her annoyance.
“Anywhere you like” he said, and meant it. With any luck, she wouldn’t be needing it. And not in a teenage hormonal way, but in a human way, desiring connection, desiring to know what thoughts crossed her mind, what made her tick, what made her smile…
She stalked up shore and found a clearing that would do well under normal circumstances. She pulled the canvas out, and a bunch of poles fell out with it. She grabbed them with a confidence indicating she had done it many times before, but her hands were shaking. She struggled getting the pipes locked together, and after a few minutes threw them on the ground and headed back to her canoe.
He went in his tent, arranged the extra sleeping bag on the empty side of his large tent, and pulled the fabric wall down to offer privacy should she take it. He had laid out a dry sweatshirt and socks, knowing she most likely would protest the offer, and headed back out just in time to see her kick her sleeping bag into the woods. She was a spitfire, and he liked it.
“Hi” he said, startling her. She turned back around, her eyes a wild shade of emerald, and that further intrigued him. “Hi yourself” she retorted. “For the record, I am usually not this frazzled. I know how to set my own tent, and a about a million others.”
Her face reddened as she realized the pun, and he brushed it off. “I believe it” he said, attempting to calm her but aggravating her all the more.
“As in camping tents. My Dad owned an outdoor goods store, and we spent more than one weekend in the woods. I know how to do this, but it doesn’t really show right now.” She was so cold that her shiver had made it all the way to her chin, her words coming out in vibrato parallel to the shake in her jaw.
Her Dad owned an outdoors shop and clearly must have spent time with her if she was courageous enough to attempt a canoe trip on her own. He had a great deal of respect for her already. Most of the girls he had dated didn’t want to chip a nail on the tent poles or get tan lines from wearing a bikini in the great outdoors. It bored him, but Kacey excited him. His heart went out to her, knowing how miserable it was being soaking wet in a rain storm that wasn’t letting up any time soon, and the way she was already shivering indicated that resting in a cold wet tent wouldn’t help her condition one bit.
He jogged down to the canoe and pulled out her backpack. When he returned, he handed it to her. She took it, thankfully, and he started his pitch.
“I have a large tent. Please feel free to change inside where it’s dry, so you don’t go hypothermic on me out here.”
“I’ll be fine” she said, her chattering teeth giving her away, the rain still drowning her. “Plus, how do I know you’re not an ax murderer?”
“and how do I know you’re not a thief? That you won’t rid me of all my valuables whilst in the confines of my sleeping quarters?” he said with a smile. She finally returned the smile and headed in the direction of his tent. While she was getting dressed, thoughts of her naked body in his tent filled his mind. He walked over to her disastrous pile of poles and tarp and easily organized and completed the build. He set her things just inside the door, and he headed back to shore to empty her heavy canoe and secure it for the night.
When he returned to the campsite, he noticed it had gone quiet. He stoked the fire, and waited for her to return, but she still hadn’t. He called her name, but no response. He called for Kacey again, and nothing. Getting slightly worried, he unzipped the door to the tent just enough to see in. Maybe she had gone or a walk?
He could see her shadow on the curtained side of the tent, and when she didn’t answer his call again, he stepped in and looked. She was curled up on his spare sleeping bag, hair tied back, wearing his sweatshirt and socks, and not much else.
Thank God, he was the luckiest man in this world. He toweled off and changed into dry clothes, and he sat on his own sleeping bag, watching her peaceful body just rest. He wondered what her passions were, what her hobbies were, and how she had learned them. He had so many questions that he wanted to wake her up and learn the answers. But she was clearly so exhausted.
He carefully wrapped his bag over the top of her, in an effort to help her regain heat, and sprawled out on the floor across the room from her, perfectly content with the circumstances.
He thought of all the things he did know about her. She was beautiful and had the deepest emerald eyes he had ever seen. She was confident and strong. She was independent and loved her daddy. She enjoyed the outdoors and was clearly a sound sleeper.
He knew he wouldn’t sleep with this intriguing female in such close proximity, but he was more than thankful for this reprieve from the storm..