We'll Never Tell(7)By: Jannine Gallant
We can’t tell. She clamped her teeth together so hard her jaw ached. Of course they had to report the body. They didn’t have a choice. Nodding, she turned and climbed up the hillside. She couldn’t look any longer at that bit of pink fabric, at the bones, exposed and vulnerable.
Ethan followed with Sadie at his heels, not saying anything until they reached the top. He pointed to a fallen tree in a patch of sunlight. “Why don’t you have a seat while I make the call? It may take a while.”
She didn’t argue. Sitting on the half rotted log, Sam turned her face up, soaking in the sun’s warmth. Coldness settled around her heart. Maybe it isn’t the woman we saw so long ago. Maybe it’s some other missing hiker… A shudder wracked her body. She had to pull herself together. Ethan was already wondering what was wrong with her. People who spent their time as relief workers at disaster sites didn’t get squeamish over a few bones.
Sadie settled beside her and rested her head on Sam’s knee. She stroked the dog’s silky ears, willing her hands to stop shaking. By the time Ethan finished his conversation and pocketed the phone, her heart had stopped pounding.
“They’re sending people up. They want us to wait here until they arrive.” He dropped onto the log next to her. “Good news. Frank and Gene found the missing hiker. Sprained ankle and a few cuts and bruises sustained in a fall. He was lucky.”
His thigh pressed against hers, warming her. She swallowed. “That’s a relief.”
He leaned back on his hands. “Yep, one dead body is more than enough.”
Sam didn’t want to talk about the dead woman—if it was a woman—until she had a chance to speak to Juliette. They’d have to call Darby and tell her…
She jerked around. “Sorry, I was thinking about something.”
Sharp blue eyes closely surveyed her. “I asked if you want to talk about the night we spent together or keep pretending it didn’t happen. You’ve done an impressive job of avoiding me for what, five years now?”
Her cheeks heated. “Something like that,” she mumbled.
Some of the coolness disappeared from his eyes, and amusement took its place. “Was I that bad in bed?”
She gasped. “No! It wasn’t the sex. Well, it was, but…” She stuttered to a stop. “I think I’ll shut up now.”
“Should I be flattered that I’ve reduced you to speechlessness?”
His teasing eased some of the tightness from her chest. She breathed deeply. The fecund odor of the rotting log made her nose twitch. Behind them, a squirrel chattered high in a tree.
“I don’t do one night stands. When I woke up the morning after and found you still asleep…” She shrugged. “It seemed easier to leave than make awkward conversation. I was headed to Africa that night, so there didn’t seem to be much point in sticking around.”
“Why did it have to be awkward?”
She opened her mouth, but words failed her. After a moment, she tried again. “We didn’t really know each other—still don’t.”
His hands clenched, and he jammed them in his pockets. “Did it ever occur to you that I was looking forward to getting to know you better?”
She turned to study his profile, the straight nose and hard angle of his jaw. “Were you angry I left? I thought you’d be relieved.”
“You thought wrong. I don’t make a habit of one night stands, either. I wouldn’t have slept with you if I hadn’t thought we had a connection.” His voice deepened. “My mistake.”
She drew in a breath and touched his arm. The muscle tightened beneath his sleeve. “You weren’t wrong. I felt it, too. But building a relationship has its own demands, and I was pouring all my time and energy into RAW.”
His eyes narrowed as he squinted into the sun. “Seems like you still do that. How long were you gone this last time, three or four months?”
“Five.” Her shoulders slumped. “I’ve been pushing myself too hard, I admit. I need to take a break.” She picked at a spot of sap on the knee of her jeans. “Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate my priorities.”