Chase spends the next hour or so moping around the cabin while I read my book. He’s a man who’s very good at getting his way, and it kills him that he can’t get a “nobody” like Jake to do his bidding. He rants about it under his breath as he goes from one window to another, hoping the snow will have miraculously melted since the last time he looked. But it turns out the snow doesn’t do his bidding either.
Eventually, he digs his phone out of his bag as well as his mini-speakers. He gets the whole thing set up, and within minutes, he’s got Billy Joel blasting from the speakers. Those speakers cost a fortune and are impressively loud, considering how tiny they are.
Billy Joel calms him down, as usual. During the second verse of “Piano Man,” he settles down beside me on the sofa and picks up my hand. I yank my hand away.
“What are you doing?” I say.
“What do you mean? I’m not allowed to hold my girlfriend’s hand?”
I slide down the sofa to put some space between the two of us. “I broke up with you. Remember?”
“Yes, but that’s because you were panicked.”
“No. It wasn’t.”
His eyes darken. “Really? You really want to do this now?”
“Look, Chase.” I soften my tone. “I think you’re a good guy, but… we’re not right together. I’ve been feeling that way for a long time.”
He stares past me, out the window into the snowy landscape. This is hard on him—I get the feeling he doesn’t get dumped too often. “I see.”
“I want to stay friends though.”
He rolls his eyes. “Fine. Whatever. We’ll stay friends.”
I chew on my lip. “I’m really sorry…”
“Please.” He holds up his hand. “You’re the one who’s making the mistake.”
I don’t know what to say to that. Except that I’m pretty sure I’m not.
“Christ.” He glances around at the living room, his eyes darting between the worn pieces of furniture. “This is just great. We’re stuck here together. What the hell am I supposed to do? You know there isn’t even hot water in the bathroom?”
I wince. “Yes, I know.”
If we’re here much longer, I’m going to want to take a shower, but I don’t know how I’ll possibly do it with ice-cold water pouring out of the faucets. Jake must be made of steel.
Chase gives me a dirty look, then gets to his feet. “I think I’m going to circle the cabin a bit, see if I can’t get some kind of signal. Get the hell out of here.”
I look down at my watch. It’s a few minutes after four o’clock. “The sun will be going down soon. Be careful.”
“I’ll be fine.”
Well, Jake could always rescue him again if it comes down to that.
Confident Chase bundles himself up again in his useless jacket and strides outside with his phone. I don’t think there’s a chance in hell he’s getting a signal out here. It’s practically impossible, but I suppose there’s no harm in trying.
Also, there’s a tiny part of me hoping he won’t find that signal.
“Where’d Abercrombie get off to?”
I look up from my paperback and see Jake standing over me. His blue eye is trained on my face, but there’s a tiny smile on his lips. He’s probably thrilled Chase isn’t here.
“He went to look for a cell signal,” I say.
The smile widens. “Yeah? Well, don’t expect to see him again anytime soon then. You can’t get a signal anywhere around here.”
“I tried to tell him that.”
Jake glances out the window, at the sun dropping in the sky. “It’s getting late. What about dinner?” He hesitates. “I thought… well, maybe you could show me how to cook something else that… you know, tastes good.”
I laugh. “Are you saying the food you cook yourself doesn’t taste good?”
He makes a face. “You know it doesn’t. You had those eggs I made. I have no idea what I’m doing.”
I dog-ear my paperback and place it on the coffee table, then get to my feet. “All right, let’s have a cooking lesson.”
I discover a can of crab meat in the pantry, and fifteen minutes later, we’re folding in eggs and breadcrumbs to make what is apparently going to be canned crab cakes. I make crab cakes all the time, but I’ve never made them before with anything besides fresh crab. Fresh seafood is not hard to come by in Boston—out in the backwoods of Vermont is a different story. But I think if we add enough seasoning, it will be fine.
Jake is mixing the ingredients together with his hands, but he’s fumbling a little due to his fingers. He could likely manage a knife since his right hand is mostly intact, but I am nervous about testing it. I spend so much time chopping vegetables for my mise en place, I can’t even imagine how I’d do it without having all my fingers to work with.
“So, listen,” I say. “You and I—we need to have a talk about salt.”
“Salt?” He runs his tongue over his lower lip. “Salt is great. I love salt.”
“Salt is great,” I agree. “It brings out the natural flavors in food. But it must be used judiciously. You can’t just dump it on your food.”
He rubs at the back of his neck. “Uh…”
“You should ideally salt your food from about a foot above,” I tell him. I demonstrate by sprinkling some salt into my hand, then holding it twelve inches over the crab mixture he’s working on. “That way you can see how much you’re seasoning your food.”
“Also,” I add, “canned foods are naturally salty. They don’t require you to add much salt. It’s much easier to add salt than to get rid of saltiness, so be careful.”
“I will,” he says soberly. “I promise.”
He grins at me and I can’t help but grin back. The room is chilly, even with the fire going, but it’s warm standing next to Jake. He seems to emanate heat, even though he’s only wearing a T-shirt. The biceps on his arms stand out, as do the tight muscles in his forearms as he kneads the food. I find myself moving a little closer to him, although I can’t say it’s entirely for the heat. At least, not that kind of heat. I look up at his face, at his intense blue eye on the left, the patch covering whatever is where his right eye used to be, the sexy beard on his chin.
God, I want to kiss him.
His fingers have stopped moving against the crab mixture. He’s giving me that look again, and my heart is pounding. Chase is right outside—if he walks in on Jake and I kissing, he’ll go crazy. But if Jake goes for it, I don’t think I can push him away. I only hope he has more willpower than I do…
Or maybe I don’t hope that.
“There’s no damn signal anywhere!”
The door slams behind us, and I jump away from Jake, busying myself with the frying pan. The frying pan doesn’t require much work—mostly I need to get the oil inside and make sure it’s hot enough that the crab cakes aren’t a soggy mess. But I scrunch up my brow and look down like it’s an all-consuming task.
“This is ridiculous!” Chase rants as he stomps into the kitchen. Jake glances behind him, then goes back to working on the crab. “No phone… no cell signal… how can you live like this?”
Jake shrugs and doesn’t answer him.
“Jake.” Chase plants his hands on his hips. “Do you mind if we have a word?”
“Sure.” Jake doesn’t look up from the crab, which is already very, very well mixed. “Go ahead.”
Jake’s fingers freeze. He lifts his good eye, and his shoulders lift as he takes a breath. “Yeah, okay.”
He washes the crab and egg and breadcrumbs off his fingers, then points in the direction of his bedroom. “Step into my office.”
Chase nods and they disappear into the room, closing the door behind them.
Except almost immediately, I can hear them talking. The walls are paper thin in this cabin, a fact that Jake is probably aware of. I wonder if he wanted me to hear their conversation. Maybe he did, since if he really wanted it to be private, he could have taken Chase outside. In fact, I could hear every word of it if I just got a little closer to the door. I probably shouldn’t though. I really shouldn’t.
Well, I’m already doing it.
“Listen, let’s cut the bullshit,” Chase is saying. “We both know you’re perfectly capable of taking me to that cabin.”
I’m not sure if Jake doesn’t respond or if I simply can’t hear it. I’ve got my ear practically pressed against the door.
“Name your price,” Chase says. “What is it going to take to get a ride there?”
“I keep telling you…”
“Five hundred dollars.” Holy shit, that’s a lot of money for a ride one mile away. Chase must really hate it here. “I’ll give you five hundred dollars to take me and Natalie to that cabin.”
“Like I said…”
“A thousand dollars.” Whoa… “I will pay you a thousand dollars, you piece of shit. You’ve got me by the balls and you know it. So there it is.”
“I’m telling you, I can’t—”
“And I’m telling you, I don’t believe you.” Chase sounds furious. I can almost see that vein standing out in his neck. “I know you’re capable of doing it. Don’t bullshit me. You’ve got a fucking snow plow out there.”
Jake is quiet for a moment as I press my ear against the door. “I don’t know what to tell you. I can’t do it.”
I hear a loud thump followed by a crash. Holy shit, did Chase just take a swing at Jake? What’s going on in there?
“Please don’t kick my furniture,” Jake says calmly.
“You’re an asshole.”
Another silence. I’m impressed by how calm Jake is through all of this. Chase is an expert at getting people riled up. It’s hard not to take the bait.
“Is this about Natalie?” Chase finally breaks the silence.
“Is what about Natalie?”
“Well, she’s an attractive woman,” he says. “God knows, you can’t get much female company up here. Maybe you don’t want her to leave.” A long pause. “Is that it?”
“I have no intentions toward Natalie.” As Jake says the words, I feel a twinge of disappointment in my chest. Does he mean that or is it something he’s saying to calm down the man he thinks is still my boyfriend? “Natalie is your girlfriend. I have no interest in her.”
I suck in a breath. I desperately want to tell Jake that I’m not Chase’s girlfriend. Not anymore. Why didn’t I tell him?
“Now I know you’re full of it,” Chase snorts. “You think I don’t see the way you look at her? Not that I can blame you.”
“Is that your game?” Chase says. “You’re so desperate for a woman, you’re going to try to force yourself on my girlfriend the second I’m asleep and won’t stop you?”
“Listen to me, Chase.” Jake’s voice is low and even. “I would never, ever force myself on a woman. Not your girlfriend—not anybody. Never.” He pauses. “But for the record, if I ever did want to do that or anything else, there’s absolutely nothing you could do to stop me.”
I think the truth in Jake’s words is what bothers Chase the most. I can almost hear him fuming.
“You son of a bitch…” Chase growls.
I hold my breath, waiting to hear if there’s another crash within the room. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Jake has tremendous restraint. But if Chase took a swing at him, I’m not sure if he’d be able to keep from fighting back. I wouldn’t blame him if he did.
But instead, I hear footsteps stomping across the room, and I realize I better get away from the door—fast. I scurry across the room as quickly as I can and do a pretty decent job looking busy in the kitchen when Chase bursts out of the bedroom, his face practically purple.
Tonight is going to be interesting.
The crab cakes are surprisingly tasty for meat that came out of a can. I can’t say I’ve cooked many things in my lifetime using canned meat, but hey, in Hawaii they swear by spam. Jake gobbles it up like he hasn’t eaten in months. Chase, on the other hand, pushes the food around his plate.
“What is in this?” he grumbles.
“It’s crab cake,” Jake says pleasantly. “So… crab.”
“It’s disgusting.” Chase picks at it with his fork. He spears a lump of crab meat and examines it carefully. “Is this Dungeness or Snow crab?”
“It’s Bumble Bee,” Jake says, while I stifle a laugh with my napkin.
“Bumble Bee?” Chase shakes his head. “I don’t get it.”
“Bumble Bee brand.” Jake points at his pantry closet. “They’re much better than Chicken of the Sea.”
Chase’s mouth falls open. “Are you saying this crab meat came out of a can?”
Jake blinks a few times. “Are you saying you thought I went crabbing out in the snow?”
Chase pushes his plate away and rushes to the bathroom, presumably to regurgitate the small amount of canned crab he managed to eat. Jake stares after him, his brow furrowed. “What’s his problem? I think it tastes really good.”
“Well, you don’t have his refined taste buds.”
“I guess not.” Jake chuckles. “To me, this is the best thing I’ve eaten in years. You should make a business where you teach people to cook from stuff that comes in cans. It would come in handy.”
I wink at him. “Well, while I’m here, I’ll give you a few more lessons.”
“That would be great.” The smile fades slightly from his lips. “I’d really like that.”
Jake holds my gaze until my heart starts to pound in my chest and I forget all about crab cakes. I remember what Chase said in the bedroom: I see the way you look at her. If he can see that, can he see the way I look at Jake?
Chase bursts back into the kitchen, grumbling about bacteria that comes from canned foods. To his credit, Jake gets up and patiently shows Chase his fridge and pantry, offering him every possible option for his dinner. In the end, he eats a bowl of corn flakes and milk. He doesn’t look happy about it.
The cabin is very dark after dinner is over. Jake goes around lighting candles and throws more wood into the fireplace, but it’s too dark to do much. I remember how Jake and I played cards last night—I wish we could do that again. Gin rummy, poker… hell, I’d happily play Go Fish with him. But it’s obvious we can’t do it with Chase in the room with us. So instead, I read for a short time on my Kindle, but all the activity and fresh air has made me tired. When Jake says he’s going to turn in, I say the same.
He hesitates. “You two can have my bedroom if you want. I don’t mind sleeping out here.”
“That’s sounds great,” Chase says.
It’s hard to say no to his generous offer. As lumpy as his mattress is, it’s much better than the floor or the couch. But it’s time to tell him the truth
“Chase and I aren’t going to share a bed,” I say.
Chase shoots me a look as Jake raises an eyebrow. “I didn’t take you for being old fashioned,” Jake says.
I lower my eyes. “Chase and I broke up.”
When I risk a glance up, Jake’s mouth is hanging open. And Chase looks furious.
“Oh,” Jake manages. “I… I didn’t realize…”
“But don’t get any ideas,” Chase sneers.
He blinks his good eye. “No, I didn’t… I mean…”
We’re all silent as this new piece of information sinks in. It changes everything.
“I think I should sleep in the living room,” I say.
“Are you sure?” Jake asks, studying my face.
“Uh…” I’d love to take Jake’s mattress, but I sense this is the best situation. “The living room is fine, but thank you, Jake.”
He shrugs, although his good eye never leaves my face. “All right, I’ll bring some blankets for the couch. And I’ll get the sleeping bag out for Chase.”
While Jake goes off to the closet, Chase narrows his eyes at the couch. It’s obvious he doesn’t think this will be a very comfortable situation, and he’s correct. But what can we do?
“Listen, Nat,” Chase mumbles to me. “I’m still feeling sort of out of it from last night. You mind if I take the sofa and you sleep on the floor?”
Oh great. Now I’m not only downgraded from the twin mattress, but I’ve got sleep on the floor again.
“Fine,” I grumble. It’s probably good for my back to sleep on the floor. Isn’t that what people say? “I’ll take the sleeping bag.”
Jake returns in time to hear the tail end of the conversation. His brow furrows, his good eye filling with confusion. “The sleeping bag goes on the floor.”
I nod. “I’m going to sleep on the floor. Chase isn’t feeling good so he needs the sofa.”
Jake gives Chase a hard look. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that. Natalie slept on the floor the first night, and I slept on the floor last night. Now that you’re not dying, you’re sleeping on the floor. Natalie gets the couch if she doesn’t want my bed.”
Chase opens his mouth in protest, but shuts it quickly. In spite of everything, he knows he’s a guest here.
I wonder if Chase has ever slept on the floor before—he doesn’t seem like a sleeping bag sort of guy. Well, he’s going to get a crash course.
Almost instantly, I drift into a dreamless sleep, cuddled up in a blanket that has the outdoorsy pine-needle scent I’ve come to associate with this cabin and with Jake himself. For a moment as I’m drifting off, I imagine Jake’s body pressed against me, his heavy arm draped over my body, his lips on my neck.
I probably could have slept for twelve hours, but at around three in the morning, I feel an arm shaking me awake. I rub my eyes, blinking to focus them. As I roll over, Chase’s perfectly symmetric face comes into view.
“Natalie,” he says. “Wake up.”
“What is it?” I struggle into a sitting position, but my head is still foggy. Why is he waking me up in the middle of the night? “What’s going on?”
He jerks his head toward the front door. “I dug out the truck. I think we should take the keys and go.”
My mouth falls open, although really, I shouldn’t be surprised. I know how badly Chase wants to get out of here, and Jake wasn’t giving in. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Why not? The keys are right over there. He’s sound asleep.”
I’m not so sure about that. It’s on the tip of my tongue to tell Chase how I attempted the exact same thing two nights ago, and Jake stopped me in my tracks. Well, he didn’t stop me exactly. He let me fail spectacularly.
But Chase wouldn’t fail. He dug out the truck. He knows how to drive a manual transmission. I’m sure he wouldn’t get stuck trying to turn the key in the ignition.
“It’s not right,” I say. “Jake saved our lives. You shouldn’t pay him back by stealing his truck.”
“I’m just borrowing it,” Chase says, which is the exact same thing I said to justify my attempted theft the other night. “Anyway, I don’t trust that guy. I’m scared he might… do something to you. Maybe we’re not a couple anymore, but that doesn’t mean I’m not worried about you. That crap about it not being safe to drive—that’s bullshit and he knows it. He’s essentially keeping us hostage here.”
I can’t entirely argue with that logic. I believed Jake when he said it wasn’t safe to go out during the blizzard, but now the snow has stopped. I find it hard to believe his big truck with the snow tires and plow attachment can’t manage to make it a mile to our cabin.
So why won’t he let us leave? I can’t think of any reason that doesn’t make Jake look really bad. I’d like to think of myself as a good judge of character, but Jake is very difficult to read. I have a feeling nothing good can come out of staying here. And I’m touched by Chase’s concern.
I let out a sigh. “You promise we’ll bring the truck back as soon as we get someone to come get us at the cabin?”
Chase nods vigorously. “Of course.”
Well, it’s not like Jake’s going anywhere in that truck with the snow so bad. And we’ll have it back to him probably by the end of the day.
But that’s not my only reservation about taking the truck. The truth is, I don’t want to leave. The thought of leaving Jake behind forever is a very depressing one.
“Maybe,” I whisper, “you should go ahead and I’ll stay here. You can bring back help.”
Chase stares at me. “Natalie, what the hell are you talking about? Stay here?”
“I just feel like—”
“Do you understand what I’m telling you?” He raises his voice a notch. “Jake is not trustworthy. He could attack you if I’m gone. Especially once he realizes I took his trunk.”
Is he right? My instinct says no. After all, he wouldn’t need to. I would give myself to him immediately if he got within kissing distance of me.
But then again, I don’t want to be stuck here anymore than Chase does. I’ve got work Monday—a business to run. I’ve got to get home.
“Come on,” he says. “Let’s get out of here before he wakes up.”
“Fine,” I mumble. “Let’s go.”
I bundle up in my coat and boots and hat, and reluctantly follow Chase out to the truck. Chase has the keys in his hand, and I feel a stab of regret. I really don’t want to leave Jake. But at the same time, I want to get out of this damn cabin almost as much as Chase does. I want phone and internet and working lights and hot water. I want out. I had a weekend off the grid—that’s more than enough. I’ve got responsibilities back home.
So when Chase opens the door to the truck, I climb inside. Even though I wish there were another way.
Chase slides into the driver’s seat next to me. His cheeks are bright pink from the cold. The controls for the truck look just as intimidating as they did last night, but Chase doesn’t seem concerned. He’s Confident Chase again.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
My stomach drops.
It’s Jake. Just like the other night, standing outside his door, staring at us. The only difference is that last night, he almost seemed amused by my attempt to steal his truck. Tonight, none of that amusement is visible on his face. His left eye is like steel.
Oh, and he’s also got a rifle pointed at Chase. That too.
To be continued....