We stared at each other while we ate, or should I say while he ate. My stomach growled, but at the same time I couldn’t eat any food. I also didn’t feel like talking. I pushed my food around my plate while trying to conjure up a plan. I didn’t want to lie to him again, but I also didn’t want to tell him the truth about what happened to me today or where I’d disappeared to. My thoughts were a jumbled mess. So many unanswered questions kept popping into my head. What was that thing? Why did the animals not sense it? Where did it come from? Why me? I needed time to think without him around.
After dinner I refilled my coffee and went into the living room. I settled into my chair, took the other half of the pain killer and lit a smoke. I heard the dishes clanking and the water running in the kitchen, which gave me a few more minutes to think. My mind was a blank though. I couldn’t come up with any excuse or lie for what happened to me. I’d have to wing it when Max started asking me questions. Maybe I could avoid his interrogation until I had the answers I needed.
Max sauntered into the living room carrying a cup of java and sat on the couch. “Can I have one of your smokes?”
I handed him the pack.
“Look Max, you really don’t need to stay. I’m just a little sore and need some rest. I’ll be here for the rest of the night. I’m taking Rose to the airport in the morning and I’ll be home for the next few days taking care of business.”
“You’re beautiful. I love those hot pink socks.”
My jaw dropped. I didn’t expect the conversation to head in that direction and was at a loss for words. I started laughing so hard I couldn’t stop. Almost every time I had a nervous reaction I would laugh, and Max made me nervous more often than not. When I finally got my breath back I glanced up at Max.
“You’re crazy Max, you need to leave. Rose wouldn’t be happy if she found you here in the morning.” And neither would I.
“Give it up Montana. I’m not going anywhere. I stopped by early this morning with Chase and you weren’t here. We went to the barn and Lightning was gone. I waited for you to come back. When Chase walked into the house with you all scratched up and unconscious I became concerned. After he put you on the couch and I made sure you were alright I got pissed that you left the house without me and got injured. I’m staying tonight. I’ll be gone before Rose comes to get you, but I’ll be back before you get home. Are you ready to tell me what happened today?”
“No, I have to wrap my head around this.” I glared at him. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t just go away.
“If you insist on staying you can sleep on the couch. Goodnight.” I left him sitting in the living room and fell into bed fully dressed, which was probably a good thing.
Max had his arms wrapped tightly around my waist, he snuggled behind me, sound asleep. I pictured pushing him off the bed and grinned, but his hold was solid and I could barely move.
I laid in my spot not moving an inch for a few minutes contemplating on how to get out of his vice grip, while enjoying the closeness of his body at the same time, before prying his hands apart. My emotions were too wound up when it came to Max. I wanted him to go away, I didn’t want to enjoy his touch. I was happy being single.
“What are you doing?” He whispered in my ear, creating little shivers that floated over my skin.
“Let me go Max.”
“What if I don’t want to?” He asked, but rolled over onto his back anyway.
I rolled onto my back before flipping to my stomach. Hot licks of pain ran over my road rash skin, the slash on my hip started to throb, my behind ached to the touch.
“Why aren’t you on the couch?” I’d just about given up on getting rid of him.
“You were having nightmares.”
“I don’t remember having nightmares.”
“Ah, I’m sure that’s because once I crawled into bed with you they stopped.”
I didn’t believe him for a minute. I eyed the clock, 7 a.m. I might as well start my day. I scooted over to the edge of the bed still on my stomach and tried to think of a graceful way to get out of bed. Finding no gracefulness to getting up I swung my feet to the floor, pushed myself up with my hands, and cringed when I stood. I stumbled into the bathroom to check out my damaged body and shower, ignoring Max, who was laughing into his pillow. One glance at him showed me he was at least shirtless and I didn’t want to know or think about what other parts of clothing he didn’t wear under the covers.
I tugged off my shirt and sweats and examined the scratch marks on my lower back and the gash on my hip. The gash had a red, angry flare around it, but didn’t look infected. My behind felt like it should be black and blue, but I didn’t see any bruises. I grabbed at my socks and when I peeled them off I noticed black and blue hand marks on both of my ankles, or what I assumed were hand marks. The bruises seemed more elongated than a normal hand print, which seemed wrong. Maybe from the hands slipping? I rubbed my fingers over the prints coming to the conclusion some kind of psychopathic person had grabbed me.
My head rested against the shower wall thinking of how to fit some of the pieces together when I heard the door open.
“Now, what do you want?”
“I brought you some coffee and pain killers.” Max said, sitting down on the edge of the tub.
I opened the shower door a crack and peeked out. He wore a black thermal long sleeved shirt and blue jeans. I stared at the five buttons on his shirt and imagined unsnapping them and running my fingers over his chest.
“I’m getting out now.”
“Would you like me to hand you a towel?” He asked, grinning wide.
“No, I’d like you to go somewhere else.”
He tried to pout, but the grin still reached his eyes. “I’ll be downstairs if you need anything.”
I waited until the door closed behind him, jumped out of the shower and turned the lock on the doorknob. I hurried putting the salve on my scrapes, got dressed, threw on some makeup, and fluffed my hair with my fingers. The bump on my head felt smaller, but still throbbed.
Slinking into my bedroom and looking around to make sure I was alone I took some pictures of my ankles. Satisfied I had some evidence I swallowed half a pain killer and went downstairs. I found Max standing in my kitchen looking lost.
“What are you doing?”
“Attempting to cook breakfast, but I can’t find anything in your kitchen to cook. Tell me again why you only have protein drinks.”
I turned on the TV and started rummaging through my yoga disks, I needed a good stretch.
“I usually don’t get hungry until around lunch.”
I found the DVD I was looking for and put it in the machine.
“You do know breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” He replied, watching me closely.
“Hence the drinks,” I carefully began stretching.
“There’s bacon in the freezer, help yourself. As far as eggs go, I won’t be getting any until I find someone with chickens. Fresh are the best.” I didn’t consider myself a health nut. I just didn’t like supporting big corporations if I didn’t have too, besides fresh eggs trumped store bought eggs anytime.
“Chase knows someone. I’ll mention it to him.”
“You mean the ghost kid?” I snickered.
“He’s real. Is that helping?” Max had defrosted the bacon in the microwave and now it sizzled in the pan.The smell of bacon frying made my stomach growl.
“The yoga? It has to, I’m driving today and don’t want to take a ton of painkillers. I also don’t want to explain why I’m stiff and sore to Rose.”
“So why aren’t you taken?” Max asked as he sat on the couch with a big plate of bacon and Killer on his heels drooling. I think he cooked the whole package.
I thought about his question as I watched him slip some of the bacon to Killer. I wasn’t expecting the discussion to turn to me again.
“I’m a selfish person Max. I don’t like to share and I’ve been told I can be too blunt in my honesty. I tend to hurt other people’s feelings easily and I‘m not a relationship kind of girl. I like my independence.”
“You’re beautiful and sexy, even though you’ve lied to me several times since I met you.”
I ignored him and finished my workout. An uneasy quiet engulfed my living room. I glanced at Max, his gaze was glued to my ankles. My sweats had ridden up my legs during my stretching and the hand prints glared an ugly purple color on my white skin.
His eyes flashed angrily. “Talk to me. Tell me what happened.” He picked me up and set me on the couch so he could examine the bruises better. “These are hand prints.” He touched them gently, sending an electric current up my legs and into my belly.
My heart started racing and all of a sudden I wanted him to kiss me. I slid back against the couch as fast as I could and quickly covered my ankles, willing my heart to slow down and my mind to come back to reality.
I scowled at him. “If you must know, I took Lightning out yesterday morning for an early ride and was on my way home when I realized someone was watching me. I stopped and dismounted so I could scope out the area. The animals didn’t react to anything abnormal, so I decided I would walk them the rest of the way home. I was almost out of the woods when someone or something yanked my feet out from under me and started running, dragging me.”
I leaned toward him and looked him in the eyes. “I didn’t see anything Max. I didn’t see it coming and I didn’t see what had a hold of me.”
I closed my eyes, visualizing the moment. “The shadows from the leaves seemed off and I’d catch a glimpse of the sun filtering through the trees.” I took a deep breath and exhaled, opening my eyes I sat back. “I can’t explain it, like a shadow blending in with its surroundings? I saw a tree coming toward me at close range and grabbed it. Whatever had me let me go and I swung around with enough force to hit my head on the bottom branch.”
Okay, so I didn’t tell him the whole truth, he didn’t need to know I was most likely on his property scouting.
“Where was your gun?”
My face lit up with surprise, his lips twitched the tiniest bit in amusement.
“Yes, I know you have a gun Montana and I know you carry it when you go out. Where was it?”
“It was in Lightning’s pack. I forgot to take it out when I dismounted and I didn’t want that thing to feel threatened enough to attack me if I reached for it. I thought I would see it coming.”
What could I say? I’ve never had to re-con my property before or keep a constant eye on my life, all of this was new to me.
He got up, started a fire, and stood in front of the blaze.
Thank goodness he didn’t ask me about my wet shoes.
I walked over to him. “Rose will be here soon and I have to get ready. Max, is anyone else in danger here?”
He turned and pulled me closer him, wrapping his arms loosely around my back.
“No Montana. This thing seems to only be interested in you. I need to find out why, promise me you’ll keep your gun on you at all times.”
He kissed my neck, sending flames shooting down to my toes.
“You should forgive Killer.” He breathed across my hair. “He can’t sense this thing, no animals can. I’m sure he would protect you if he could.”
I laughed, nervousness wracked my body from being in Max’s arms and I didn’t like the desire his closeness evoked in me. “He won’t be able to protect me if you keep feeding him all that bacon. He’ll be too fat.”
I picked up his plate, only three slices of bacon remained, poured myself some more coffee, and climbed the stairs to my bedroom. I sat on my bed and lit a smoke, willing my nerves to calm before Rose arrived.