Unraveled, p.19
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       Unraveled, p.19

         Part #3 of Woodlands series by Jen Frederick
 
Page 20

 

  GRAY TEXTED ME MID-MORNING.

  U around?

  Yes.

  A few seconds later my phone rang. It was Gray.

  “How are you feeling this morning?”

  “Good, you?”

  “Felt…odd,” he said and before any anxiety had set in, he continued. “I missed you. ” Then he laughed. “I think. Sleeping over isn’t something I’m familiar with but I woke up thinking about you. When I jogged over to your parents’ house your Rover was gone. ”

  I felt warm all over. “I went back to the condo and now I’m sitting on my balcony knitting. ”

  “I wish I could come over but the boys want to head to the Boundary Waters and do some portaging. ”

  “That’s what? Carrying your canoe around?”

  “Yeah and eating uncooked beans and rice. ”

  “Sounds really fabulous,” I said, completely insincere.

  Gray chuckled. “Anyway, I wanted to call and let you know that I’ll have no cell phone service for a week. Can I see you when I get back?”

  I covered the phone and let out a shaky breath. Until that moment I hadn’t realized how much I wanted, maybe even needed, to see him again and for him to want to be with me. “I’d like that,” I told him once I gathered my self-possession.

  “I’ll be thinking about you,” he said and his low tone made me tremble.

  I took a step off the cliff, hoping the safety rope was still there. “I’ll be fantasizing about you. ” It was about as edgy and sexy as I felt like I could get.

  A long pause followed my words and I grew concerned that I’d interpreted all of this incorrectly. Then I heard a cough, a rustle, and a slight groan. The sound was different when he spoke too. “Sorry, had to get some privacy here,” he said. “I’m going to need you to go into greater detail. ”

  “Ahhh,” I stalled. I had very little practice in talking dirty to someone. “Um, sorry, I’m sitting out here on my balcony and I think I’m redder than my neighbor’s peonies. ”

  He burst out laughing and the sound of it made me want to float up in the air. “That’s okay. ” A pounding on the door echoed down phone lines and I heard Gray’s muffled voice yell, “I’ll be out in sec. ” To me, he said in gruff voice, “I gotta go. I’ll call you the minute I get back and we’ll do something fun. I promise. ”

  The time apart was smart for both of us. I think we were both caught off guard by the intensity our encounter. I spent the week thinking about him and Will. Whenever Will would come home for leave, he’d try to convince me to move to Alaska with him, but I’d always rebuffed him with a litany of reasons. I had too many friends here. I would miss my family. I hated the cold. I may have been hoping that he’d give up jumping out of airplanes for me and realize that our dream of going to college together was so much better. But he was stubborn and the fervor of being a soldier held more power over him than I did.

  Gray was like Will in some aspects. They both loved the military. But Gray’s love was a bittersweet one, tested by loss and experience. He spoke so passionately about the men he served with and made sure that they were ready and safe. His confusion about whether to reenlist or separate was one that would easily resolve when he sat down and accepted that responsibility he thought he couldn’t handle. Deep down, he knew he could do it but while there was time to resist, he would. As for him not trusting a woman enough to have a relationship? That was a different story but what I’d said to Eve was true. I felt a kinship with Gray and no matter what happened to us, I hoped we would be friends.

  He made me feel young and excited, and I loved those feelings. They were better than sitting around my virginal bedroom wondering why I should get out of bed the next day. I found myself excited to get up. I was looking forward to his return, and I didn’t care if he had another adventure planned. I just wanted to spend time together.

  During the week, I spent more time with Bitsy and realized how much I missed her company. Her crush on Tucker worried me. And Tucker worried me, with his strained relationship with his parents. They needed each other, or at least Carolyn and Tucker needed each other. I wasn’t sure if Wills dad needed anything but golf and Scotch.

  On the day before Gray came back from his trip, I packed Will’s things away—all but the flag. If I was going to make room in my life for another person, then his Army assault pack and combat boots needed to be boxed up. Will was still taking up a lot of space in my mind and my condo. And it was time to let him go. All those future plans I had made with Will werent ever going to come true. Not the two kids we talked about having, or the dogs. Not the places we were going to see or the trips we were going to take.

  None of those things were going to happen now—and I couldnt foresee a future that I spent alone. I didnt want that, and I knew Will wouldnt have wanted that for me. He was always so full of life and the fact that Id spent the last two years wandering around in the wilderness of my mind would have pissed him off. I didnt know if he would have wanted me to take up with another military guy. He might be saying right now that I should be looking for an accountant or—no, he would have wanted me to take those adventures. Hed have been proud of me, I think. Silent, hot tears started rolling down my face, but they werent really tears of sadness. They were tears nonetheless—and I cried about all the things that Id felt for Will. I was sorry to let him go, but it was time.

  GRAY HAD CALLED ME THE evening they’d gotten home. I could hear the weariness in his voice.

  “Hey, missed you,” were the first words out of his mouth.

  It was easy to return the sentiment. “I’m glad you’re back. ”

  “Me too. I’m bushed from the ride. Don’t know why that wears me out, but it does. Can I take you somewhere tomorrow?”

  “Can’t wait. ”

  And now we were together.

  "I dont get it," I said finally. Gray was lying in the canoe, hat over his eyes, hands folded over his chest. His fishing rod was lying next to the wooden seat beside him.

  "Whats there to get?"

  "I thought we were doing something adventurous. "

  "Its hot as hell out here, isnt it?"

  It was. The humidity in the air hung down like a wet blanket. The heat was more bearable out on the water and the battered hat that was about two sizes too big for my head, which Gray had produced out of the back of a roommate’s truck, gave me some shade. But yeah, it was hot as hell. I dipped my hand into the water and splashed myself a little.

  "How does that make it dangerous?"

  "You could die from heat. A fish could capsize the boat. A gator might eat you. "

  I looked around the placid water.

  "We dont have alligators here. I think thats a southern thing. "

  Gray tipped his hat back slightly so I could see his eyes. "For real, no gators?"

  "Ive never seen one. "

  "You ever been here before?" He waved an expansive hand over the water.

  "No, Ive never been. " This place, just an hour south of the city, wasnt known to me. Id heard of it before, but Id never been here. Water really wasnt Wills thing. The river was quiet and there were a few boats on it. A cluster of trees and long reeds lined the shore. The whole landscape was a picture of lazy calm. "Seems safe though. "

  "You didnt even know about the gators not to mention all the other pitfalls. "

  "If it’s so dangerous, why are you lying back with your hat over your face? Shouldnt you be alert?"

  I tapped the bottom of his foot with the toe of my sneaker.

  "Thats your job. You wanted the adventure. "

  "So youre just going to sleep?"

  "Yeah, you protect me and let me know if Ive caught anything. "

  “Will we stay in contact when you go back to San Diego?” I nudged his tennis shoe again.

  “Sure. Friend me on Facebook. ”

  “You have a Facebook account?”

  “Have to. Only way I can keep track of everyon
e from my platoon who separated. ”

  I stifled a giggle.

  “What? Why is that funny?” he sounded indignant, or as indignant as a person can sound half asleep in a small boat.

  “I just can’t see you reading a Facebook feed. ” An image of Gray sitting next to me at the Central College coffee shop, flipping through Facebook feeds as we took a break from studying flashed through my mind. I chased it down and held onto the image for a moment. Longing tugged at my heart. I wasn’t ready to let him go.

  “Hey, I like stupid cat pictures as much as the next person. ”

  Sticking my fishing rod under the seat, I started to shift toward him but my motion caused the boat to rock with some force.

  "Trying to make your own adventure?" Grays low voice broke through the silence.

  “Whoops, sorry. I want to lie down next to you. ”

  "Sure thing, baby. ” The way he said baby reminded me of how he’d growled it while we had sex, and it sent a tremor through me that had nothing to do with the rocking boat. Although when I stood up, the boat did tilt too far toward the water for me to feel comfortable.

  "Stoop and do a sort of duck walk until you get to me or well be swimming, not boating," Gray instructed.

  I slunk down to my haunches and shuffled awkwardly over to Gray. His long legs with their surprisingly soft hair rubbed against me and the tremor turned into a tingle. Our eyes caught, and his smile was naughty. He pulled me upright while his legs braced against the boat, again reminding me of his physical prowess. I settled against him, the space so small that I was almost lying half on top of him. His arm was under me and it felt very cozy and intimate. Closeness, not just sex, was another thing Id missed.

  Gray sat up and picked up his oar and placed it across the top of the boat. He did the same with mine. This time he lifted his legs up and placed them on top of the crossed oars. His long legs dangled off the other side and rested against the seat I was on. Then his hands picked up my legs and rested them against the oars. When he returned the reclining position, he pulled me down next to him and covered his face with his hat. I should have been uncomfortable. I was lying on a small wooden bench leaning against a plastic cooler and my legs were resting on crossed wooden oars. His arm was under my shoulders, cradling me.

  Id not been held like this in forever. "Just stop thinking," he said. His head was so close to mine, I could feel the small puffs of breath as he mouthed each word.

  "How?"

  "Pretend Im a pillow. Close your eyes and count slowly. "

  I closed my eyes and began to count. One, two, three. Little by little, my body relaxed. Whether it was the sun, the heat, or the soothing touch of Grays hand on my forearm, I let myself go and I drifted off into nothingness.

  Gray smoothing lotion on my legs woke me an hour later. I fought waking because the dream had been so lovely. Big hands and long fingers rubbing up and down my legs. Those capable fingers squeezed my calves gently and palms followed the curve of my knees. Those questing hands paused above my knees. "Dont stop," I moaned. I wanted this massage to continue, right up my thighs. Those thumbs could brush the crease between my legs and hips.

  When the hand didnt move like I wanted, I pulled it up and placed it right where I wanted it. The tip of the thumb pointing toward my private place between my legs. The rest of the fingers splayed across the top of my thigh and because the fingers were so long, they could wrap around the side. I sighed with pleasure and heard a masculine groan of appreciation in return. The thumb dug in for a moment and then the pressure receded. Instead, I felt the hand on my opposite leg and then my arms. I frowned but was too weak and tired to protest more. Instead, I allowed sleep to pull me under once again.

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  Gray

  AS SAM DRIFTED OFF INTO another lazy rest, I took the opportunity to look her all over. Too bad she wasn’t nude, but I knew no amount of cajoling would convince her to sit in this boat without any clothes on. Shame because then I could have inspected every inch of her in the sunlight. I’d have put sunscreen on more than just her legs.

  When she awoke after a short nap, I gave her a sandwich and ate two before she finished half of hers. I liked providing Sam’s meals. There was something intensely satisfying about that. Probably a feeling that harkened back to our cave-dwelling ancestors, not that spreading mayo on bread was the same thing as going out and killing a wooly mammoth for food. But I could totally do that if she needed it.

  “Tell me about your husband,” I said, surprising myself.

  “Really? You want to know?”

  “Why not?” He was, after all, dead. I wasn’t jealous of a dead man. Right? Right.

  “The only person that really wants to talk about him anymore is his mother, Carolyn. ”

  “Is that as horrible as your tone suggests?" I squeezed her a little closer to me.

  “Pretty much. The Will she describes isnt like the real Will. Hes like a boy who never grew up. All perfect and innocent. "

 
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JEN FREDERICK SERIES:

Woodlands