Bursting With Love

By: Melissa Foster

“Boil it in the pot, then put it in our canteen,” Aiden said.

“Good job, Aiden,” Lou said.

Jack continued staring at Savannah for a beat too long, and this time she didn’t try to yank her arm from his grasp. She gently freed it, then rubbed the red skin. The feel of his grip was still fresh, the skin still warm.

“That’s right,” Jack said, his eyes still locked on Savannah. “We boil it.” He walked downstream and crouched while he filled the pot with water, leaving Savannah to stare at him and wonder if she’d imagined the heat that had filled the space between them.

Chapter Three

THE FIRE CRACKLED and sparked as they purified the water by the stream. Jack leaned against a large pine tree, his arms folded over his chest, feet crossed at the ankles. This was his favorite time of the Day of Impact, when the students began to feel the pain of the walk settling in to their normally coddled bodies. The fire heated their already warm cheeks, and they began to relax. He knew they weren’t thinking about the fact that they still had to climb back up the hill they’d come down, and they were so euphoric over learning to boil water in order to purify it that they weren’t aware of their mounting hunger. He kept food to a minimum on the Day of Impact so they would begin to see the world around them for what it was rather than as a disposable environment where they could toss trash and take things for granted.

He caught sight of Savannah and Josie sitting by the water with their pants rolled up and their shoes off. Savannah dipped her toes in the water, then wet the washcloths she’d brought with her and rose to her feet. She moved the washcloth in slow circular motions over her wrist, then up to her elbow before rinsing it again and continuing up her lean and tanned arms. Josie said something, and Savannah laughed. Her laugh was feminine, and her entire face lit up with her smile. She washed around her tank top, gently running the cloth over her shoulder and armpit. Jack could almost feel his hand around the wet cloth as it swam over her soft skin and lithe muscles. Savannah flipped her hair over her shoulder with a quick snap of her chin, and their eyes caught. He felt the edge of his mouth lift into a smile and quickly clenched his jaw into a tight line. Her smile disappeared. Jack swallowed hard, feeling his Adam’s apple drag along his throat.

Damn it.

He stalked off, silently cursing himself for losing sight of what he was doing. Now he looked like a letch, and that was the last thing he was. But goddamn she was beautiful. If he were to admit the truth to himself, she was more beautiful than any woman he’d ever seen. He’d always been attracted to blondes like Linda—petite and quiet. Savannah had fiery auburn hair, she was mouthy, and even as he walked away, he could see her long, sexy legs.

Her laughter carried through the air, and as he listened to the unique melody of it, his gut twisted. What the hell am I doing, and why is Savannah Braden invading my thoughts?

Chapter Four

SAVANNAH HAD BEEN lying in her tent for at least an hour, trying to warm up. She never could sleep with clothes on, but it was too cold not to. Even with two pairs of socks and her sweatshirt over her long-sleeved shirt, she was still freezing, and the damned ground was so hard that she knew she’d never fall asleep. She stuck her head out of her tent and listened to see if anyone else was awake. Jack had said that he was going to be awake until the fire went out, but she hoped he’d be in his tent. The moon hung high in the dark sky, casting an eerie shadow over the campsite and reminding her of haunted tales she’d heard as a child. She wasn’t afraid of the dark or of being alone. Savannah had spent hours alone in the barn at night when she was growing up, and as she crept from her tent and went to sit by the dwindling fire, she felt a burst of energy driven by the freedom that came from the crisp night air. It was a different type of freedom than riding her father’s horses as they galloped along the fields, or when she won a big case. Each deep breath of this mountain’s air felt as if it were cleansing her soul.

Savannah rubbed her hands together above the hot embers, took a deep breath, then blew it out slowly. This is why I’m here. She could barely see past the orange circle of the fire. Real life seemed very far away. She loved living in Manhattan, but being in the mountains reminded her of how much she missed fresh, clean air and the smell of evergreens. Other than when she’d visited her father a few months earlier, she hadn’t seen a real forest bursting with brush and prickly bushes in ages. She even missed the feel of a lush green lawn beneath her feet. She looked down at the dirt beneath her feet and realized it had also been forever since her bare feet had touched the ground. Not a sandy beach or cold pavement, but real dirt and dried fallen leaves. Listening to the noises of woodsy creatures as they scurried beneath the leaves of the forest floor and crickets chirping out their songs, she slipped off her socks and pressed her bare feet into the cold dirt. A moan of appreciation slipped from her lips as the sweetness of the forgotten feeling came tiptoeing back. It had been too long since Savannah left work—and men—behind. This was what she needed to clear her mind and heal her heart. A little serenity could go a long way.

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