Stealing the Groom

By: Sonya Weiss

One bulb from a low-hanging light dimly illuminated the center of the room, keeping the rest of it in shadow.

Amelia forced a cheerful expression to hide her dismay at the small space offered by the one-room cabin and headed straight toward the fireplace. “At least there’s plenty of wood stacked out by the door. Look on the bright side, you loved camping, remember?”

“I haven’t gone camping since I was a kid. I’m not a Boy Scout anymore, Amelia. In case you haven’t noticed,” he muttered.

“It’s just for one night,” she said more to reassure herself than him as she hurried to kneel on the gray stone hearth.

She laid a small pile of kindling in the fireplace and felt along the mantel for matches. As soon as the fire roared to life, she sent Chad a triumphant grin. “I haven’t forgotten my camping skills.”

Brushing her hands together, she stood and looked around at the furnishings. Definitely not up to the opulence Chad enjoyed in his life, but it was nice in a rustic sort of way.

A plain wooden table with two ladder-back chairs—one paint-splattered—sat tucked in a corner near a window. A fat blue bowl of wildflowers with drooping blossoms took up space in the middle of the table. At the window beyond the table, faded red gingham curtains arched with every puff of wind, bringing some of the rain inside.

Amelia hurried over and closed the window, latching it once she had it down, wondering if she’d done the right thing by coming here. She shook off the doubt. She was saving Chad. Of course she’d done the right thing.

A colorful patchwork quilt topped the iron bed. It would be a cozy, romantic hideaway for a couple, which they weren’t and never would be.

As Chad had said, they weren’t kids anymore, and crushes and wishes of first kisses were their history, not their future.

He interrupted her musings when he called her name.

Holding up two cans of tomato soup, he waved them back and forth. “I found something that’ll hit the spot. Just what we need on a night like tonight. I’ll put this on. You see if you can dig up anything else we might be able to add to our feast, and then we can get out of these wet clothes.” He set the cans on the chipped counter and rifled through drawers in search of an opener.

Not finding one, he moved to the pantry.

“The pantry has a few other things in here so at least we won’t starve tonight. Found a can opener too. And, hey, I found marshmallows!” Chad held the bag aloft and grinned.

His grin reminded her of the camping trip they’d taken with her grandfather and his when she’d turned twelve. She and Chad had engaged in a marshmallow fight, then later that night sat snuggled together beneath a blanket while his grandfather told scary tales.

Thunder growled a warning, low and throaty in the distance.

Chad frowned. “Looks like we got here in the nick of time. Storm might be getting worse.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you,” she teased.

Chad quirked his eyebrows. “Ah, but my pretty, who’ll protect you from me?”

Amelia scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Right now, when it comes to virtue I’d be willing to bet I’m the safest woman on the planet.”

Chad emptied the soup into a pot and turned on the burner. “Yep. Safe as the wares of a snowball salesman in Alaska.”

“In other words, who would want me?” Amelia said, meaning to sound playful, but the tone didn’t come out right. She sounded as if she felt sorry for herself, and she hated that because she didn’t.

Other than this latest situation with Chad, she was deliriously happy with her life. No ties, no commitments, she could come and go as she pleased, just the way she liked it.

Chad tossed the empty soup cans into the trash and moved from the stove to close the distance between them. “You do know how beautiful, how amazing you are, don’t you?”

“You’re just saying that because you’re my friend.” This time she nailed the lightness she’d been going for a moment ago.

“Of course I’m your friend, so I know better than anyone how awesome you are. But seriously…” He lightly squeezed her hands. “Any guy would want to be with you.”

“Of course.” She fluttered her eyelashes, using humor to once again keep the emotions at bay. “I’ve got men in every port fighting one another for my hand. So step aside, sir, lest you be trampled by the rushing horde.”

“That I would believe.”

Silence stretched between them and the moment grew more intense. Amelia swallowed hard, unable to tear her gaze away from his. Her brain activity scrambled. She couldn’t string together a complete thought.

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