Melanie Anderson eased her tired body down onto a large, flat rock. Thank goodness they were taking a break. She could use the time to soothe her aching, soon to be blistered, feet.
Okay, everything ached, but this trip didn’t come complete with a steaming hot tub. They were roughing it, after all.
Man, she was so out of shape.
She toed off her hiking boots-which she’d likely never get back on again-peeled off her sport socks, and stuck her feet in the sluggish stream they’d been following.
Wriggling her toes, she lay back and let the heat from the stone ease into her sore muscles.
Ahh, nature’s own spa.
“Hey, Mellie Mel. Move over. That looks like a great idea.”
One of Belinda’s considerable hips slammed into her and nearly jettisoned her off the rock.
“Ow! Bee! Watch out. I’m in enough pain.”
“Waa, waa, whine. I’m here to protect your virtue and stave off a war. But don’t thank me or anything.”
Raising herself on one elbow, Mel looked down at Belinda. “What’re you jabbering about? You know I love you, but sometimes your nonsense gives me a headache. You’re not making any sense.”
Bee smirked at her, than gestured behind her with a tilt of her head. “Sure I am. Our Mr. Darcy, ever so dark and brooding, was staring at you like you were some sort of concubine laying in wait for him. Your son noticed, and it’s plain as day he’s seriously considering trying to take out either Mr. Darcy or his son. Since James isn’t suicidal, my guess is he goes for Cameron.”
Flopping back down on the rock, Mel said, “You’re making that up. And stop calling him Mr. Darcy. His name is Steven Bishop. I’ve talked to him, and he is nothing like a figment of Jane Austen’s imagination.”
Bee whooped and sat up. She leaned over Mel, blocking out the sun. Entirely. “You’ve talked to him? When? Where? How could I have missed that? Come on, spill. Tell Auntie Bee all about it. All about it, you hear? No detail is to be considered irrelevant.”
Tenacious as a terrier, Bee hovered right in Mel’s face, and Mel knew trying to skirt the issue would be a pointless exercise. Bee would get it out of her somehow.
The sound of tumbling water and the rock’s penetrating heat offered peace, but the thoughts Bee stirred stole it from her. “We talked last night. When you and Caleb went for a swim. The boys got into a bit of a scuffle and we had to pull them apart. They got sent to their tents, and Steven and I chatted for a bit. That’s all.”
“That’s all, eh? Then why has he been looking at you like that all day? Like he hasn’t eaten in a week and you’re a prime cut of filet mignon wrapped in bacon? There’s got to be more to it then that. What did you talk about?”
A loud voice spared her from answering. “All right, troop. It’s time to get moving! Let’s get ready to move out.”
Mel sprang up and searched for her socks and boots, trying to ignore the finger Bee waved at her. “Don’t think I’m letting this go. You will answer me later!”
“Yeah, Bee. Later. I need to go find James. I don’t see him anywhere.”
She found him a moment later. Just inside the tree line, nose to nose with Cameron Bishop. James, big for his age, and Cameron, small for his age, yet both of them holding an aggressive stance.
Fists on her hips and about to give her son a piece of her mind, Melanie found herself interrupted by a voice over her shoulder.
“Knock it off, you two. You’ve been at each other since we got here, and I think it’s time you learned to work with each other instead of against each other. Isn’t that what the point of this whole trip has been, anyway?”
Both boys, and Mel, whipped around to look at him.
“What do you have in mind?”
As soon as the question passed her lips, Mel gulped and wished she’d kept her mouth shut. Having that intense, brooding, and yeah, okay, Mr. Darcy like gaze pinning her was more than a little alarming.
“The next leg of this hike requires some teamwork. I’m suggesting the boys work together. Which will mean you and I will have to… hook up. Are you okay with that?”
“Hook up?” Mel squeaked. “Ah… you mean… um, we’ll just team up like the boys, right?”
Steven raised a brow but didn’t deign to answer.
“No way. I’m not doing anything with the King Nerd of Dorkdom!”
Melanie whirled to face her son. “James Clarence Anderson!”
“Clarence! Haha! And you call me a nerd!”
Steven barked, “Cameron!” and both boys fell silent.
“James, I agree with Mr. Bishop. The two of you are going to have to work together. The group is moving out, so get a move on.”
“Don’t bother trying to change my mind. Off you go. And James, think about Gary while you’re at it.”
James narrowed his eyes at her, but did as she said. Apparently Cameron knew when he was wasting his time and didn’t try to get around his dad’s orders.
Unfortunately. Because Mel suddenly found herself alone with the man. And since he made her feel jumpy and unsure of herself, she’d been trying to steer clear of him since the trip had begun. However, between being the only two single parents on the excursion, and Belinda constantly trying to push them together, that had turned into something of a challenge.
Oh well. It looked liked she’d finally have to relax and deal with the fact that he made her jumpy because she found him attractive. And if he watched half as much as Bee said, maybe he felt the same way about her.
Only one way to find out.
She fell into step with him. “How do you know what’s up ahead?”
He grinned down at her, as if he knew she’d deliberately struck up a benign conversation. “I thought this trip was a good idea. Why should these team building and problem solving exercises just be for the corporate world? Cameron wanted to give it a try, and I agreed, but thought I should get the lay of the land first. That’s how I know what’s up ahead. And believe me, not too far ahead, those two are going to have to put aside their jock, geek differences and rely on each others strengths. Who’s Gary?”
The question threw her. Likely because she hadn’t really been listening to him. She’d been cataloguing all she’d learned about him in the last few days, and concluding that it all equaled up to a really great guy. Even if he did seem kind of brooding sometimes.
“What? Oh. Gary. He’s a kid that used to live a few houses down from us. He was born without hair–I forget the name of the disease–and the kids would make fun of him because he was bald. James always defended him. Said you shouldn’t pick on other people just because they were different than you. They ended up being great friends.”
“Your son sounds like a good kid.”
“He is. Tell me about… oh, no. Are they going to get hurt?”
They’d come to a part in the stream where the water ran much faster. And their guide was leading everyone across it! On a series of rocks.
“No. This is the one of the points in the trip where they start honing those team work and problem solving skills. They’re both smart kids, and they each bring something different to the table. If they work together, decide to trust each other, they’ll make it across just fine.”
Mel watched the boys, her mind full of the fact that soon it would be her turn to make the trip. Chewing her lip, she looked up at Steven.
And found his intent gaze trained on her.
He put his hand out to her. “Will you trust me?”
She looked at his hand, then turned back to check on the boys. They were about half way across the oddly placed stepping stones made by the rocks. Yelling at each other of course, but she caught the undertone of laughter in their voices. As if a grudging degree of camaraderie had sprung up between them.
Putting her hand in his, she said, “I’ll trust you to help get us across to the other side.” Then she grinned, letting go of the insecurities that had plagued her since meeting him. “After that, we’ll see. You may need to convince me every step of the way.”
Tugging on her hand, he pulled her in close, then whispered in her ear. “I fairly sure you’re worth the effort.”
“Then let’s get this team building started.”