Jake spends most of the morning either outdoors or in his bedroom. I manage to rouse Chase briefly to drink more soup. He manages to stay awake for a whole twenty minutes this time. I’m still worried about him, but at least he’s moving in the right direction. Maybe we don’t need to rush him to the hospital. Although I suspect at this point, Jake might risk taking us, just to get us out of his space.
The fire dies down after lunch, and Jake comes over to get it started again. I watch him poke at the fireplace for a minute before he turns to me: “You think you could grab some firewood from outside?”
My heart speeds up. “Firewood?”
“Yeah. There’s a pile of it behind the cabin.”
“Oh… and, um, how will I recognize it?”
He looks at me like he’s never heard a question so stupid in his entire life. “It looks like a pile of wood.” He frowns. “Forget it. I’ll get the firewood.”
“No,” I say quickly. I’m desperate to prove to Jake I’m not a spoiled rich girl, even if I’ve got a Tag Heuer watch and I don’t know what firewood looks like and I forgot to bring gloves to Vermont in February. I’m not sure why I care so much—I just do. “I’ll get it.”
He squints at me. “You sure?”
After all, I’m just bringing a pile of wood into the house. How hard could that possibly be? It seems pretty idiot proof.
Sure enough, as soon as I go out through the back, I see a small pile of wood stacked up close to the house. It looks heavy and like something that will probably give me a ton of splinters, given I’m not wearing gloves, but I won’t give Jake the satisfaction of telling him I can’t do it. I’m going to bring him this firewood if it kills me.
I bend down in the snow, shivering as a rush of wind passes through me. I gather about five pieces of wood in my arms, which seems like enough to at least get us through the day. Maybe. I don’t have much of a sense of how quickly firewood burns, since Jake has been tending to the fire, although it seems like the pile he’s got is dwindling. Anyway, I doubt I can carry any more than this.
I get to my feet, balancing the wood in my arms, when I hear a loud rumbling noise. I freeze, unsure what to do. Before I can react, something socks me in the head and knocks me off my feet. I scream, dropping all the firewood as I crumble to the ground.
It’s Jake’s voice. He sounds frantic. I lift my eyes and realize I’m lying on the ground, in a pile of snow. He makes his way through the snowdrift surrounding the cabin until he’s beside me. He bends down next to me, clearing off the snow that’s weighing me down.
“Jesus, Natalie,” he says. “Are you all right?”
“What happened?” I murmur.
“Some snow must have fallen off the roof.” He squints up at the edge of the roof of the cabin. “It looks like a bunch of it fell. But at least it wasn’t ice.”
I try to sit up, and my head spins for a second, but the feeling passes. I’m slightly dazed, but not badly hurt.
Jake’s eyebrows knit together. “Are you okay?”
“I… I think so.”
“Thank God.” His shoulders sag. “Shit… I heard that noise and I was worried that… Jesus.” He wipes some snow from my hair, and that’s when I realize he’s not wearing his gloves or even his coat. He raced out here the second he heard me yell. “I shouldn’t have sent you out here. I should have gotten the firewood myself.”
I manage a smile. “Well, then you would have gotten knocked down by the snow.”
“Eh, I can handle it. I’m tougher than you.”
“I’m tougher than I look.”
He chuckles. “Yeah, I’m beginning to realize that.”
I reach out and touch his arm, covered only by the fabric of his sweater. “You must be freezing.”
“Well, I’m freezing.” As I say the words, I shiver. “Let’s go inside.”
I start to get to my feet, but another wave of dizziness comes over me and I need to stop. Jake notices my hesitation, and before I know what’s happening, he’s scooped me up under my arms and legs. He carries me back into the cabin like I weigh less than nothing.
“I could have walked,” I mumble.
“It’s easier this way.”
I wonder what it’s like to be so strong that it’s easier to carry an adult woman than to allow her to walk on her own.
Jake carries me all the way into his bedroom and lays me down on his mattress. He helps me out of my coat and hat, and grabs two of the blankets to put on top of me. It’s obvious he feels very guilty about sending me out there, but there’s something else. Something has shifted.
After I’m warm and dry, and the dizziness has passed, he sits on the edge of mattress next to me. There’s an unreadable expression on his rugged features.
“I’m sorry,” he finally says.
“For being an asshole,” he says. “Last night and this morning. I was a dick, and I’m sorry.”
I brush a few strands of wet hair from my face. “I forgive you.”
He sighs, shaking his head. “The rich girl thing got to me,” he admits. “My friends and I… we had nothing growing up. I always resented people who never had to work a day in their lives.”
It’s hard to blame him for feeling that way. I can’t imagine what it’s like to grow up with nothing. I always had everything in the world going for me.
“But I know you’re a really talented cook,” he says. “I mean, you made the cans in my pantry taste good. So… it wasn’t fair of me to give you a hard time and say you don’t deserve to have a successful business. You definitely do.”
“Well, I appreciate that,” I say.
Of course, it doesn’t explain why he was searching through Chase’s belongings and trying to get into his phone. He didn’t want to steal anything—I’d bet the farm on that. So what was he looking for?
“The truth is,” he sighs, “as you probably guessed, I’m not used to being around people anymore. You’re the first person I’ve had in this cabin in a really long time and…”
His good eye grows more intense, looking deep into my own eyes. I get this tingling in my body that has nothing to do with the circulation returning. “And what?”
“It’s…” He rubs at the back of his neck. “It’s nice.”
He keeps on looking at me, and I can’t help but stare back. His hand finds mine on the mattress, and despite the cold outside, his rough palm is warm. I’ve never wanted to kiss a man as much as I want to kiss Jake at this moment. And I bet he’s incredible at it. If this guy doesn’t know how to kiss, there’s something wrong in the world.
He just has to lean in a little farther…
“What the hell is going on here?”
Oh my God. Chase.
My ex-boyfriend has apparently emerged from his semi-comatose state on the sofa. And he’s pissed.
Chase is standing at the entrance to the bedroom, swaying on his stockinged feet. His usually perfect hair is disheveled and his handsome face is bright pink as he glares at the two of us with his slightly bloodshot hazel eyes.
Well, at least we don’t have to bring him to the hospital.
Jake jumps off the mattress, immediately at attention. I see the fingers of his right hand curl into a fist.
“Chase.” I quickly scramble to my feet, pushing aside another wave of dizziness. Thank God Jake only took off my coat and not more of my wet clothing like I wanted him to. “You’re awake.”
“Damn right I’m awake!” Chase snaps. His sharp eyes scan the room. “And it seems like you’ve made yourself busy pretty quick.”
“Chase, please…” I need to calm him down. I don’t want there to be a fight. That is, I don’t want Jake to kick Chase’s ass, because I can’t envision any other sort of outcome to the two of them going at it. Jake may be short an eye and a few fingers, but he’s got biceps like tree trunks. “This is Jake. He’s the guy who saved our lives.”
“And you were obviously finding a way to repay him!” Chase snaps at us.
Jake’s ears turn bright red, but he says nothing, which is probably for the best. “I fell in the snow outside!” I cry. “He helped me get back into the house—that’s all.”
“Likely story,” Chase mutters.
“It’s the truth!” I insist. “Do you realize Jake went out in that blizzard and pulled you out of the snow? You would be dead if not for him! Dead! And he’s taken us in until the snow clears out.”
Chase considers this. He’s obviously still a little out of it from the hypothermia, but he must remember going off into the snow on his own. Maybe he recalls the moment when he lay down by that tree, unable to go on.
“Oh,” he finally says. He looks down at the ratty mattress on the floor and then at me—fully clothed and drenched. He’s buying our story. Thank God. “Right, I… I remember all the snow…”
I look him hard in the eyes. “You nearly died, Chase.”
He runs a hand through his golden hair, which is mussed from two days straight of sleeping, but not as much as it rightfully should be. He still looks like he stepped out of a GQ Catalogue. “I… I didn’t realize.” He lifts his eyes to look at Jake. “Thank you for helping us out. I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions.”
“You’re welcome,” Jake says stiffly.
Jake has a wary expression on his face that’s a sharp contrast from the way he looks at me. His right hand is still balled into a fist, and he isn’t making any movement to leave the bedroom. He just keeps staring at Chase. The whole thing is making me very edgy.
“You look a lot better,” I say to Chase. “You’ve been sleeping since we brought you here Friday night.”
He scratches at his head, his brow furrowed. “What day is it?”
“Sunday?” His hazel eyes widen and some of the color drains from his handsome face. “It’s Sunday? Are you kidding me?”
I shake my head. “No, I’m not.”
“Jesus.” Chase grabs the doorframe, swaying precariously. “How the hell could it be Sunday? Where’s the Porsche?”
“Probably buried,” I say.
“Great.” He winces as he glances down at his watch. His is a Patek Philippe watch that puts my little Tag Heuer to shame. If I had to guess, I’d say it cost five times what this cabin is worth. “Where’s the phone in this place? I’ve got to make a call.”
“Uh…” I glance at Jake, who still isn’t saying a word. “The thing is, there’s no phone here.”
“No phone!” Chase looks about as horrified as I felt when I discovered there wasn’t a phone. He looks up at Jake. “You’re joking. You must have a phone.”
“No,” he says tightly. “I don’t.” He glances at the two of us, his fist loosening. “Excuse me, but I’ve got some things to take care of.”
Jake brushes past us, jostling Chase’s shoulder roughly in a way I’d swear was deliberate. He leaves the bedroom, grabs his coat and hurries out the back, slamming the door shut behind him.
“Well, he’s a real ball of sunshine.” Chase rolls his eyes. “Sorry I left you alone with that ogre. Christ, you’re lucky he didn’t… I mean, he didn’t try to…?”
“He never touched me,” I say quickly. Although I desperately wanted him to. But I probably shouldn’t say that.
“That’s a relief.” He tugs at the collar of his shirt, then looks down at the fabric and frowns. “Was this what I was wearing on Friday?”
“No. Your clothes got all wet and we had to change them.”
“Jesus.” He rakes a hand through his hair. “That’s embarrassing.”
“I’m just glad you’re okay.” I almost reach out to take his hand, but then think better of it. I don’t want him to think I didn’t mean it when I broke up with him.
“So he really doesn’t have a phone?” he asks. “I mean, like, nothing?”
“That’s what he says. We probably wouldn’t still be here if he had a phone.”
Chase stares at the closed back door. “He’s got to be lying. He must have a phone around here somewhere.”
“I’m not so sure. He doesn’t even have electricity.”
“No electricity?” His eyes widen in horror. “Christ, what a hick. We better get out of here.” He glances out the window, at the blinding white of the snow-covered landscape. “If he can take us to our cabin, there’s a phone there.”
I recall the look on Jake’s face when I mentioned that cabin. I never got him to explain it, but clearly there’s some reason he’s reluctant to go there. “He said it wasn’t safe to drive there.”
Chase laughs. “Right—not for free. A guy like that—I bet if you name the right price, he’ll take us there.”
“I’m not so sure…”
“Come on, Natalie.” He smiles in that confident way of his. Confident Chase is back. Even though I’m glad he’s feeling better, I didn’t miss that smile. This is the guy who got us stranded out here in the first place. “Everybody has their price. I bet his is lower than most.”
I wouldn’t be so sure.
But when Chase is confident about something, there’s no stopping him. Confident Chase does not listen to reason. I couldn’t stop him from marching out into the snow that night, and I can’t stop him from going over to the back door and yelling out Jake’s name.
After a minute, Jake stomps up to the cabin, shaking snow from his boots. There’s an unreadable expression his features. “What is it?”
Chase flashes his white teeth. Jake’s teeth are in good shape, everything considered, but Chase’s are another level of perfect. That’s what years of orthodontic work and whitening treatments get you. “So… Jake, is it?”
“I want to thank you again for everything you did for me and Natalie.” He holds out his hand. “What can I say—you saved our lives.”
Jake looks down at Chase’s hand for several beats before he reaches out his own to shake it. Chase notices his missing fingers for the first time and an expression of distaste flits over his face.
“So we’d really like to get out of your hair,” Chase continues. He keeps that smile plastered on his lips. “Natalie mentioned to you we were on our way to our own cabin, which should be pretty close to here. If you wouldn’t mind giving us a ride there, you could have your place back to yourself. And we’d be happy to give you… say, fifty bucks for your troubles.”
“Like I said to Natalie,” Jake says in a flat voice, “it’s not safe to be driving around right now. So while I’d like to take you, unfortunately I can’t.”
“Right.” Chase considers this and nods. “I absolutely understand you’ll have to dig out your truck and it’ll be a pain in the ass for you. I get it, man, I really do. So why don’t we say an even hundred bucks for your troubles?”
I know before the words even leave his mouth that Jake won’t go for it. There isn’t even the slightest flicker of hesitation on his face. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I can’t do it.”
“Okay, okay.” Chase laughs. He shakes his head, as if in admiration of Jake’s incredible bargaining skills. “You twisted my arm. Two hundred bucks. Two hundred bucks to take us a mile down the road. Can’t do any better than that, can you?”
“Look,” Jake says. “You don’t have to pay me anything. If it were safe, I’d take you for free. But it’s not.”
The two of them stare at each other, the smile slowly fading from Chase’s lips. Chase looks like he wants to take a swing at Jake, but I’m sure he recognizes how stupid that would be. Jake would destroy him.
“All right,” Chase says through his teeth. “I understand. If you say it’s not safe, then it’s not safe.”
Jake nods. “Glad you understand.”
And then he pushes past Chase, goes to his bedroom, and shuts the door in our faces.
While I’m just as frustrated as Chase is about not being able to make it to the other cabin, it’s a little bit fun to see him get proven wrong. I want to gloat, but I sense this is the wrong time for it.
Chase clenches his fists, and a vein stands out in his temple. “That guy is so full of shit. He could make it to that cabin if he really wanted to.”
Personally, I suspect Chase is correct. But I feel a need to defend Jake. “I don’t know if that’s true.”
“Don’t be so naïve, Nat.” He shakes his head. “You think that guy can’t shovel out his truck and take us a mile down the road? It would be like nothing to him.”
“Then why won’t he do it?”
“I don’t know.” Chase’s eyes cloud over. “Maybe he’s just being an asshole and thinks it’s funny we’re stuck here—I have no idea. But I do know one thing: every person has their price.”
“I’m not so sure…”
“You kidding me?” Chase gestures at the rickety kitchen table and the rusty stove. “You think this guy can’t use a few hundred bucks? He probably never sees that kind of money. All he knows is minimum-wage blue-collar hard labor. He probably can’t even read very well.”
I think of the bookcase in the corner, filled with criminal law texts. “I don’t know about that…”
“The guy probably can’t even hold down a real job,” he goes on, not caring what I have to say. “I mean, look at his hands. Probably got mangled in some machine. And I bet any employer would take one look at that mug of his and send him packing.”
It doesn’t surprise me that Chase of all people would look at Jake’s face and only see the loss of his eye and the scar snaking out from under the eyepatch. It doesn’t surprise me those things would make him uncomfortable.
But it’s a far cry from what I see when I look at Jake.
Chase glances at the bedroom door again. “I’ll let him think about it. Then I’ll try again.”
But the outcome won’t be any different.
To be continued....