Sunday, June 23, 2019

Update to Cabin Fever!

Hi all!  It's time for the weekly update to Cabin Fever!  I ended the last chapter on a cliffhanger... I hope you enjoy this one:

Chapter 9

Table of Contents

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Father's Day Update to Cabin Fever!

Happy Father's Day!  In honor of Father's Day, here's another very exciting update to Cabin Fever:

Chapter 8

Table of Contents

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Update to Cabin Fever!

It's Sunday again, which means another update to Cabin Fever.  Things start to get heated in this chapter...

Chapter 7

Table of Contents

Monday, June 3, 2019

Final chapter - Will Love Prevail

Hi there my friends of Will Love Prevail,

I am sorry I am so late on this Monday but I wanted to make sure the final chapter of "Will Love Prevail" will be ready and good.
I sit here with tears of sadness and joy in my eyes as I finished this story. We followed Chiara and Mark for a few months and witnessed how they met, the challenges they faced, the trauma they endured and the love they shared.
I grew attached to them and I hope you did too. I love writing for myself and I love that some people enjoy reading my stories.
Things sometimes come to me as I write, I don't have any real outlines on my stories and I am only an amateur. I do this for fun and pleasure but my stories sometimes feel so real and I invest lots of emotions into them and they can actually take a toll on me.
I usually have music on while I write and different music moves me and inspires me as I write. My playlist on this story consisted of mostly Indie Pop but I finished today with this song playing "Silhouette" by Active Child (feat. Ellie Goulding).
If you are inclined to, put your headphones on and check it out and feel this story with me. To me this song captured the essence of the story, about deep and everlasting love.

I now give you the final chapter of Will Love Prevail as we say Good Bye to Chiara and Mark.

Chapter 32 - Final Chapter

One last Table of Contents, updated with a description of "Will Love Prevail" TOC Will Love Prevail

From the bottom of my heart I thank all of you who read this story all the way to the end. You mean so much to me and my writing. I don't know you but you mean a lot. Maybe let me know once more how you liked this story.

Thank you and lots of love,
Dani

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Update to Cabin Fever

Hi all!  I'm back with a weekly update to Cabin Fever.  In this chapter, Jake learns the truth about Natalie...

Chapter 6

Table of Contents

Monday, May 27, 2019

New Chapter - Will Love Prevail

Hi friends,
how is everyone? I am hoping everyone is having a peaceful Memorial Day remembering our fallen from wars past and present.
I am actually away this weekend and am spending time with my son who is active duty in the Coast Guard and lives a four hour flight away from me. I had a wonderful time seeing him and I am so proud of him.
So I'm sitting here in a hotel room (he only has a tiny Studio apartment 😊😊😊😊  ) and it is after midnight in this time zone but not yet midnight in my home time zone.
I didn't want to leave you guys hanging and looked over this chapter, editing quickly and hopefully made it good to go. It is also a very long chapter this time and now I'm pretty tired but here I give you Chapter 31 of Will Love Prevail. I hope I didn't miss any mistakes or anything.
I also wanted to thank you so much for your feedback on my "Story in the making-Caoimhe's Hands". It looks as that there is interest so I will see what I can do here in the near future.
Your comments made me very happy.
Of course also your comments on WLP. I appreciate you so much.
Now I wish you a wonderful week, thanks for reading and let me know how you liked the chapter.
Hugs,
Dani

 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Update to Cabin Fever

Hi all!  I'm back with another update to Cabin Fever.  In this chapter, Natalie and Jake get more one on one time...

Chapter 5

Table of Contents

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Beta Readers Wanted

Hi everyone! Devo Girl here. Sorry I am jumping in just this one time on a Thursday but I think no one has been posting on this day in a while.

I've been taking a break from Devo Diary to work on revising my historical novel. I wrote the first draft a long time ago, some of you may remember I posted it on fictionpress years ago. It's super long, but my goal is to self publish it on Amazon in three parts. Ruth Madison very kindly paid to have the first book read by a professional editor, whose comments were very helpful. I've finally finished revising based on that feedback. I think it's almost ready for publication but it would be great if anyone here is interested in beta reading and/or proofreading the first book. It's about 60,000 words or 200 pages.

The novel is about a blind man in Covent Garden of the early 18th century, which was at the time the center of both prostitution and the theatrical world. The characters are opera singers and whores, rakes and wantons. The genre is historical fiction, not romance. I did a ton of research and really tried to be accurate with the language. The style is very different from my other writing. I know it's not to everyone's taste, but I'm hoping at least a few readers here are into historical fiction.

I'm posting the first chapter below here after the jump. If you like it and want to beta read the entire first book, please message me at devogirlfromparadevo at gmail. Thanks!


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Love UnSeen Continues

Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to show their support last week. It means so much to me. I was really beginning to get discouraged about this story so I'm glad that people are still enjoying it.

I'm sorry this update is so late. I was really very, very ill last week and I'm still recovering, plus had a big backlog of work. So I only have a partial chapter this week, and hopefully will get the rest ready for next. Figured you'd prefer a short update to no update again.

Previously on Love UnSeen: Jackson and Dan's date doesn't go as planned, as some of Jackson's past threatens his present, and yet the two grow closer.

This week on Love UnSeen: Dan brings Jackson to the darkroom to introduce Jackson to part of his photographic process, starting with negative processing.

Next week on Love UnSeen: The darkroom date continues.

Love UnSeen - 19 - pt 1


-CA

As always, the Table of Contents has been updated.

Monday, May 20, 2019

New Chapter - Will Love Prevail (...and little something extra)

Hi friends of WLP,
happy Monday. Hope all is well.
Back with another chapter but yes, we are coming to an end soon...
I'm also working on several other stories and debating what I will post after WLP or I may just start to publish my previous work for you.
I don't know yet.
Anyways, thanks for still reading and following Chiara and Mark through their ups and downs. Here is Chapter 30 of WLP.
Enjoy and let me know if you are inclined to.
Have a good week,
Hugs, Dani

Table of Contents TOC

And here is a little surprise for you...let me know what you think, thanks my friends!
Surprise story in the making

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Update to Cabin Fever

Hi!  Thanks to everyone who commented last week on Cabin Fever... so glad you guys are enjoying it!  And as promised, here's an update:

Chapter 4

Table of Contents

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

No update this week (Love UnSeen)

Sorry, just been having trouble feeling motivated to finish this week's chapter or bother with the effort to format it.

Not many people seem really interested in the story anyway.

If no one is posting next Wednesday, I'll try to make up for it and post then.

Thanks for understanding.

-CA

Monday, May 13, 2019

New Chapter - Will Love Prevail

Hi friends,
It's Monday shortly after midnight and I just got home from work a little while ago.
I want to get the chapter out for today but didn't fine tune it too much since I worked late shifts the last few days.
So if there are any small "boo boo's", sorry...I will try to look over the chapter again later today (Monday).
I want to thank you for your heartfelt comments last week and thank you to everyone still following along. It means so much to me.
Hope everyone is having a great week. I give you Chapter 29  of Will Love Prevail and hope you enjoy some more Chiara and Mark.
Thanks and Hugs,
Dani

TOC

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Update to Cabin Fever!

Happy Mother's Day to all you mamas out there!  Your present is a new chapter of Cabin Fever :)

Chapter 3

And for those of you who missed it: Chapter 1 and Chapter 2

Monday, May 6, 2019

New Chapter - Will Love Prevail

Hi friends,
I hope everyone is well.
Another Monday, another chapter of WLP
Here is Chapter 28 and I hope some of you actually still enjoy it.
I want to thank the two people who commented last week. I had really hoped people like the chapter last week but I really don't know if no one comments.
So to the two people who did take the time to comment, I thank you very much. It shows me you're there and you care about the story.
Also thanks to the reader who commented on my initial request which I then deleted because no one else wrote anything about it.
Hope everyone is having a good week,
Dani


Sunday, May 5, 2019

Update to Cabin Fever!

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone!

I've got a new chapter of Cabin Fever.  One of you asked if Jake's eyepatch is his only disability and this chapter reveals there's more to it.....

Chapter 2

And for those of you who missed it: Chapter 1

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Love UnSeen Continues

Hey, everyone! Back with another episode for you!

Previously on Love UnSeen: Jackson's sister convinces him to talk to Dan and give him a chance to explain why he lied about being engaged to Wendy. Jackson learns that Dan is in the closet, partly because of his family and partly because of his job, and yet he wants to date Jackson to give the blind man a chance to trust him.

This week on Love UnSeen: Jackson and Dan's first official date doesn't go as planned, and yet the two grow closer all the same.

Next time on Love UnSeen: Dan brings Jackson to the darkroom to introduce him to a huge part of the photographer's life.

Love UnSeen - 18



If you guys remember, I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was thinking of writing some Black Butler fanfic, and I have. (Don't worry, Love UnSeen is still my #1 priority right now.) A friend encouraged me to start posting one of my stories (it's called Deadly Nightshade) even though it's in the early stages, so I'm posting it every alternate week from Love UnSeen on A03, where you can follow me as chiealeman or plague of insomnia. (AO3 allows anonymous comments, FYI.) So next week there's a new chapter of Deadly Nightshade and then the week after, Love UnSeen, etc. As of right now, all my fan fiction will have an MC a chronic illness or disability, in keeping with my original fiction.

Deadly Nightshade features an asthmatic Ciel (it's one of the major parts of the story) who is also blind in one eye.

I added a new page to my tumblr blog for my fanfic, which you can read about here. (I'll add it to my website soon.)

Just thought I'd share here in case anyone might be interested in it. As of right now, In/Exhale Season 3 ebook is on hold until I can find an artist for the cover art since the one I had has gone on hiatus.

Thank you all once again for your comments and support! I really appreciate it.

-CA

As always, you can catch up in the updated Table of Contents

Monday, April 29, 2019

Cabin Fever: Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

New Chapter - Will Love Prevail

Hi friends 🌈
another week, another chapter of WLP.
Hope you had a great week. Mine was so busy with all kinds of stuff going on. Time seems to just race by me right now.
I give you Chapter 27 of Will Love Prevail.
Thanks to everyone still reading along and for the comments I get,
Hugs, Dani 💟

Sunday, April 28, 2019

New story: Cabin Fever

Hi all!  This is a new sexy story I'm writing that I hope you will enjoy!  The first part is a bit long, but hopefully you'll enjoy it!  As always, I would love feedback :)

CABIN FEVER


“I think we should turn around.”

My boyfriend, Chase, and I are on our way to a romantic weekend in a cabin in Vermont.  It sounded so wonderful when he told me about it.  A nice warm cabin surrounded by snow.  Just the two of us.  No interruptions from the outside world.

But right around the time when I lost reception on my phone, it stopped seeming like a great idea.  And now that the snow is coming down fast and hard, and the tires of Chase’s Ferrari are slipping on the tiny road we’ve turned down, it doesn’t feel like a great idea anymore. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

New Chapter - Will Love Prevail

Hi friends,
sorry about the later post but life has just been so busy lately.
I was actually in Portland this past weekend and had a great time. Not too long ago I was in Burien where my character Mark lives and I literally felt like I would have to visit Chiara and him...lol
It's so strange how attached we can get to our characters I guess, they feel so real at times.

Anyways, I edited the next chapter this afternoon since I was still off and am giving you Chapter 26 of Will Love Prevail. I just really love my characters Chiara and Mark so much and they are getting their happy ending. The story is not over yet, I want to give you a bit more of them actually being together.

So for this week, enjoy this chapter and thanks for reading, for you patience, and for commenting. Now I'm off to be a soccer mom, another one of my many personas...lol

Hugs, Yours, Dani

TOC - Table of Contents

Later today

Hi friends of WLP,
I will be posting later today. Sorry...
I was gone all weekend for a getaway for my birthday and didn't have time to get the chapter ready tonight.
But I will post later today,
Hugs, Dani

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Happy Easter!

It's been a rough month for me and the holidays have been very busy.  So I don't have anything again this week.  But I should have something new next week.  Sorry for the delay!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Love UnSeen Continues

Hey, everyone! I hope you all are ready for a bit of angst and fluff in this week's episode! One of my biggest pet peeves are romance stories where miscommunication is the primary conflict (especially if it goes on to long), which is why I wanted to have Jack & Dan talk in this chapter. Hope you guys don't think it's too saccharine!

Don't forget to comment, especially if there's anything you want to see happen as I'm always open to suggestions. Even if I don't use your exact idea, it may inspire me of how to direct the story when I'm stuck.


Previously on Love UnSeen: Worried and hurt that despite having sex, Dan is still choosing his fiancee over him, Jackson rushes to his appointment with Harold. Unfortunately, it reminds Jackson of his guilt over his father's suicide, which Jackson blames himself for causing.

This Week on Love UnSeen: Lyn, Jackson's overprotective sister, swoops in, and Jackson is able to talk to her about his conflicted feelings for Dan. Encouraged by their talk, Jackson sits down with Dan in an attempt to determine whether or not he can be trusted.

Next Time on Love UnSeen: Dan and Jackson's first real date doesn't go as planned. Jackson is forced to recall a painful memory from his past, but Dan consoles him and invites Jackson to join him in the darkroom as a token of his sincerity.


Love UnSeen - 17


So a few things I've realized as I've been working on Love UnSeen over the past few weeks:

  1. This story is going to have a LOT more sex than anything I've ever written before. (Ironically, no actual sex in this week's episode.)
  2. This story has sooo many plot threads and tbh I'm scared about how the heck I'm going to tie them all together (nervous laughter)
  3. I know a lot of you would like to see Dan's POV, but I kind of want to stay in Jackson's for the entire book. It'll be difficult, but part of why I started this story was because you almost NEVER get the blind guy's POV in romances like this. I'll have to see where the story goes, though.

As always, the Table of Contents has been updated, in case you want to catch up or re-read any previous chapters.

Thank you again for your support and for reading! I appreciate it!

-CA

Monday, April 15, 2019

New Chapter - Will Love Prevail

Good Morning friends,🙋

hope this finds everyone starting their week off right and in good spirits.
I have been so busy with working a lot and so much stuff going on. 😵 Been working evening shifts until midnight for the past couple of days but at least I got the chapter in on time this week, phew.

I was a bit worried last week because somehow I had to change my user from Google to Blogger (I wonder what this was about and if the other authors had to do this?).

When I didn't have any comments I thought something had gotten messed up but then I threw out a plea 😉 and I saw that you can still comment, thanks for that and also thanks to everyone still reading this.
Anyways, here is Chapter 25 of Will Love Prevail. Hope you enjoy and thanks again,
Hugs, Dani

Table of Contents TOC

Saturday, April 13, 2019

NEW He's Not Mr. Perfect!

Hey there, here I am, another week late, with a new installment of He's Not Mr. Perfect. I hope you like it!
By the way, I would really appreciate if you'd tell me in the comments what you'd like to see in the future, from small things to bigger, immediate or long-run. I have some plot-developing moments planned, but I'm still very much a gardener writer, where I like to see where things take me. I'd appreciate the ideas, really. I'm a little stuck on this scene. I feel that it needs *something* before it can move to what I have planned.
Without further ado, here's

Chapter IX - Dirty Little Secret

I believe there won't be a chapter next week, since I'll leave town on Thursday morning for Easter holiday, but I might be able to schedule a new chapter of B-L-I-N-D before that, this time early into Babs and Henry's relationship. Won't make any promises, though ;)

Enjoy!

Monday, April 8, 2019

New Chapter - Will Love Prevail

Hi friends,
sorry for the delay this morning. I was just too busy the last few days to be ready to post last night.
And maybe a bit tired too...
Well, here is Chapter 24 of Will Love Prevail.
Thank you so much for the comments last week. I was so happy to read them and appreciate them so much. Thanks for sticking with this story and reading and commenting. You guys really mean a lot to me.
Hugs,
Dani

Here is an updated TOC

Sunday, April 7, 2019

New story next week

Sorry, folks!  I got nothing for you today.  I needed a week off.  I've got something new, but I'm trying to figure out the best way to post it because there are several chapters prior to introducing The Guy, and I don't want you guys to get bored waiting.  So I'm trying to decide how to cut it.  In the meantime, if you haven't already, please check out my new book...

Love is Blind is only $2.99 or FREE on Kindle Unlimited

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Love UnSeen is BACK!

Hey, everyone!

(TL;DR - don't want to read my author's note? Skip to the wait: Part 16)

First off, I want to say how EXCITED I am to finally be able to continue this story and share it with all of you. It's been a rough few years, but I'm determined to get this story's first draft done, and your feedback helps so much with that.

I will be posting regularly, EVERY OTHER WEDNESDAY unless something major changes, just as I did with the finale of Season 3 of In/Exhale.

As before (if you remember), I will be writing this more or less "off the cuff": in other words, I won't be polishing it like I do I/E before I post, but instead this will be more or less a first draft. So that means there likely will be bumps along the way, especially as I am NOT an outliner (because no matter what I do, things never work out the way I plan).

I will try to keep a chapter or two ahead if possible. The good news is with my new medication and med schedule so far I'm feeling SO much better. It's wonderful to be inspired to write AND have the energy and lack of pain so I can actually do so. I don't want to make any promises, because with my illness I can't predict one day from the next, but for the first time in a long time I'm really hopeful that I'll be able to write (and post) regularly as before.

So while Love UnSeen is my first priority right now, I'll also be steadily working on the e-book for Season 3 of I/E, and writing S4, so that can be posted hopefully by the end of this year. Additionally, I will *finally* be able to get UnConventional available again, both as an e-book and in print (the latter for the first time ever!). I also may end up writing and posting a few random fanfics, but again, it all depends on how things go.

Needless to say, hopefully we'll be seeing each other regularly for quite some time!

I was lazy and didn't do a summary of the first 15 parts. So you probably want to re-read at least a few parts, if nothing else. But here's the quick and dirty:

Overall (Very Succinct) Summary: After a break-in shatters his security, Jackson Santoro, a blind man with CP living in New Orleans, is forced to take on a roommate, Dan Oldendorf.  Except Dan is the man Jackson has been fantasizing about ever since he met him at his sister's wedding. Their mutual attraction draws them together, despite Dan revealing he's currently engaged. To a woman.

Previously on Love UnSeen: Jackson and Dan have sex, all of Jackson's concerns about Dan's lies fading into heated touches and sensual kisses. But what else is Dan hiding? And why is Harold, the current king of Cadmus, the Mardi Gras krewe Jackson's ancestor founded--who hates Jackson--suddenly so interested in him? And will Jackson's abusive ex, Benji, finally stay out of his life?

This Week on Love UnSeen: Jackson and Dan's second round is abruptly interrupted by a phone call. Jackson goes to Harold's for his costume fitting, which dredges up the painful past.

Next on Love UnSeen: Jackson's sister consoles him and urges him to confront Dan, which he does, with unexpected consequences.

And now, without further ado . . .

Love UnSeen - Part 16


-CA

PS - Catch up with the updated Table of Contents. Please note I have *fixed* all the posts so you can travel from one chapter to the next directly via a link at the bottom of the page.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Cabin Fever, Chapter 2

Jake’s house turns out to be a cabin, like the one where we were supposed to spend the weekend.  Well, not just like the one where we were supposed to spend the weekend.  I saw a photo of that cabin, and it was really nice—“picturesque” is the word I’d use.  This cabin isn’t picturesque.  It’s about as far from picturesque as you can get.  “Run down” is the term I’d use to describe the scratched walls and splintered wood.  It’s one story high and clearly very small, with a broken-down porch that looks like it’s about to collapse under the weight of the snow.  The windows reveal nothing but darkness inside.  If our intention coming out here were truly to “rough it,” this cabin would fit the bill.

We make a halfhearted attempt to get Chase to stand up and walk into the cabin, but it’s a lost cause—he’s barely conscious.  Finally, Jake lifts him up and carries him again.  When I get inside the cabin, I’m horrified to discover it’s just as cold in here as it was in the Ferrari.  And so dark.  Jake lays Chase down gently on a ragged sofa next to a dimly lit fireplace while I hug myself for warmth.  I glance around and see only a few candles burning to keep the room lit.

“Where’s the light switch?” I ask.

“There isn’t one.”

“So how do you turn on the lights?”

“I don’t. No electricity.”

“You mean the storm knocked it out?”

“No.  I mean the house isn’t wired.”

No electricity ever?  But… I need electricity!  I use it to power my phone and my television and my electric mixer.

“But how…” I glance at Chase, who looks no better than he did in the car.  “How are we supposed to get warm if there’s no electricity?”

“Relax, Princess,” he says, and my toes curl at the words.  “I’ll get the fire going again.  Unless you want to do the honors?”

I glance over at the smoldering logs.  I have absolutely no idea how to get a fire going, keep it going, or put it out.  I know if a fire happens in the microwave because you put tin foil in there, you turn the microwave off.  That happened to me a few months ago, and I was quite proud of myself for handling that situation without requiring the fire department. But that’s about all my experience with fires.

“That’s okay,” I say.

He jerks his head toward a door at the edge of the room.  “There are blankets in the linen closet.  Grab a bunch of them and get him covered up.”

I walk over to the closet while Jake takes off his ski mask.  Underneath, his hair is long and wild, and he’s got a beard like Rumpelstiltskin.  It looks like he hasn’t combed his hair or his beard in months—if ever.  I’m guessing he doesn’t entertain much.  His eyepatch went askew, and I stare at him, trying to catch a glimpse of what’s under it.  But he quickly adjusts it, and I look away before he catches me.  Maybe I don’t want to know what’s under there.

While Jake fiddles with the fire, I pull three thick woolen blankets from the closet.  They feel like they’d be extremely itchy, but beggars can’t be choosers. I’m lucky to even be alive, so I can’t complain about an itchy blanket.  I bring them over to the couch, where Chase is still shivering violently.  His lips look blue.  I call his name and he doesn’t answer me.

“Are you sure we shouldn’t get him to a hospital?” I say.

Jake pokes at the fireplace with a metal stick and orange flames jump in the air.  “I told you it’s not safe.”

“He really doesn’t look good…”  I touch his fingers, which are like ice cubes.  “He might have frostbite.”

“I don’t think so.”

“His fingers are freezing.”

“I don’t think he has frostbite.”

I frown, frustrated that he doesn’t seem to appreciate how sick Chase might be.  “Well, how can you be so sure?”

Jake pulls off his gloves one by one.  I gasp as I get a look at his hands.  It was impossible to tell with the gloves on, but now I can see he’s missing large chunks of his fingers.  Both his pinky fingers are abbreviated—no sign of the left one and the right is just a nub.  On his left hand, he’s also missing half of his third and fourth fingers, and his index finger looks shorter than it should be too although his thumb is intact. 

“I know about frostbite,” he says.  “Okay?”

I nod, only noticing after a second that my mouth is hanging open. It’s bad manners, but I can’t help myself. “Okay,” I mumble, averting my eyes.

“If you’re worried, then make him some warm compresses.”  Jake puts his gloves back on.  “I’ll go get your bags from the truck.  His clothes are soaked, and we need to find him something that’s dry.”

I obediently march back over to the closet and locate a couple of washcloths.  They seem clean enough, at least.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around the “no electricity” deal—how does he live like that?  I go over to the sink in his tiny kitchen and am relieved that at least there’s running water.  I was scared he was going to tell me I was going to have to go retrieve it from a well.  Except when I stick my hand under the water, it’s so cold, I let out a screech and yank my hand away.

Jake has dragged our luggage into the cabin and he’s got one of them open.  He’s holding up a dress of mine—a cute black number from Ann Taylor that’s just the right amount of short and slinky.  His mouth is hanging open.

“You brought a cocktail dress, but not gloves?” he says.

My cheeks grow warm.  In retrospect, maybe that dress was a little… impractical.  But it seems like around Chase, impromptu parties are always breaking out.  So I figured I should come prepared.  “What’s wrong with bringing a dress on a trip?”

He glances up at me.  “Things must be really different in the world you live in.”

I glare at him.  “You mean in the world of electricity?”

He arches an eyebrow at me, and I feel a flash of guilt for snapping at him.  The guy just risked his own life to save mine—I should be grateful just to be here. But on the other hand, I don’t appreciate how he’s rifling through my stuff.  I’m a private person, and this makes me very uncomfortable.

“Can you just… not go through my bags please?” I say.  I was going for “firm but polite,” but I have a feeling it came out sounding bitchy.  I should be kissing this man’s feet for having saved us, but something about him is rubbing me the wrong way.

He straightens up and drops my black dress.  Even though he’s not as tall as I had initially thought, he towers over me—and I’m not short.  His good eye stares down at me.  He could probably crush me with one arm if he got the thought into his head.  And considering how unkempt he is and that he’s been living here alone off the grid for God knows how long, I have no clue what he’s capable of.  It makes me uneasy, to say the least.  It’s like being in a cabin with a wild animal.

“I’m trying to find warm clothes for your boyfriend over there,” he says.  “But all I see is fancy, useless crap.”

So my clothes are crap?  I take a deep breath and bite my tongue.  He saved your life, Natalie.  Don’t forget that.

He looks down at the washcloth in my hand.  “That’s not even wet.”

“The water was cold.”

“Well, we don’t have hot water here.”  He looks at me like I’m an idiot for even thinking we would.  “You have to heat it up on the stove.”

Wonderful.

Jake yanks the washcloth out of my hands.  “Let me do it. You find some clothes that aren’t a fucking cummerbund or silk shirt.”

That is so unfair.  Chase doesn’t have a cummerbund.  He does have several silk shirts though.

“Also,” Jake adds, “you need to find some dry clothes for yourself.”  He gestures at my useless boots.  “I’m betting your feet are soaked.  Get out of those boots and warm yourself up. ASAP.”

He may have a point.  My feet are completely numb, although I can still move my toes.  But I’ll be okay.  Chase is the one whose life is in danger—I’ll deal with my wet feet later.

I rifle through Chase’s luggage, and I have to say, he brought a lot of useless stuff.  In his bag, I find a gigantic bag of toiletries that takes up a third of the luggage, containing moisturizers, three kinds of soap, shampoo, conditioner, and a bunch of other stuff I don’t have time to sort through.  The clothing is all really weather-inappropriate.  Why did he bring a silk vest?  I know Chase believes a vest should always be worn with a suit, but why on a trip to a cabin?  Also, why did he bring a suit in the first place?

I do finally manage to dig out a single pair of jeans and a cashmere sweater.  The socks I find don’t seem particularly warm, but they’ll have to do.

“Chase.”  I crouch down beside him and hold out the clothing.  “We need to get you out of those wet clothes.”

Chase lets out a low moan.  His eyes are open only to slits.  Again, I can’t help but think we have to get him to a hospital… or else.  But every time I look out the window, the snow is coming down harder than it was the last time.

Jake emerges from the kitchen, and now that he’s walking on an even surface, it’s obvious the way he was limping before wasn’t entirely due to the snow.  He winces every time he puts weight on his right leg, but that doesn’t slow him down. He’s carrying a pot of water that has steam emanating from it.  I want to dunk my body in that pot.  The chances of getting a hot shower in this cabin are zero.

“I can’t wake him up,” I say, my voice breaking.  “I think… he’s really sick.”

Jake lowers the pot onto the coffee table.  He seems completely unconcerned.  “We just need to warm him up.”

“What about calling for an ambulance?” I lift my eyes.  “They might be able to send some EMTs out here, at least…”

“I don’t have a phone.”

“You…” I’m having trouble wrapping my head around this one.  My phone is my life.  I’d have it surgically attached if I could.  “You don’t have a phone?”

“Nope.”

“At all?  Not even a landline?”

“Nope.”

“Then how do you call people?”

“I don’t.”

“But…” I shake my head.  “What if it’s an emergency?”

“There’s a phone at the general store five miles down the road.  If I really need it.”

I blink a few times.  He lives out here all alone.  No wife, no kids, no family, no friends.  And he has no phone to even communicate with the outside world.  “Don’t you get lonely?”

“Nope.”

 And that’s apparently the end of that conversation.

Jake bends down next to Chase.  He lifts his eyelid with the only intact finger of his left hand—his thumb.  Chase’s eyes flutter and briefly come into focus.  He startles at Jake’s appearance—not that I can blame him. 

“Hey, buddy.”  Jake shakes his arm.  “We need to change your clothes.  Can you hear me?”

Chase just stares at him for a minute, and when he finally speaks, his voice sounds slurred: “Who are you?”

“My name is Jake. What’s your name?”

“Ch-Chase.”

“Can you sit up for me, Chase?”

Chase is acting like he does when he’s had a few too many bottles of red wine from his private cellar. But Jake is really good with him.  He manages to sit him up and get him out of his wet clothes and into the new dry ones.  He’s nicer to Chase than he was to me.  I guess you have to have hypothermia for this guy not to be a jerk to you.

“What about the warm compresses?” I ask.  The pot of water is still steaming.  I dip my fingers into it, which is heavenly.  “Should we put the compress on his hands?  They were ice cold.”

“No,” Jake says.  “That will force the cold blood back to his heart, lungs, and brain, and he’ll die.”

“Oh,” I say.  Good to know.

“Put it on his forehead.”

I rest the warm compress on Chase’s forehead.  His eyes are shut and he moans softly, but doesn’t open them.  He looks terrible.  His complexion is pale and waxy, and he’s barely said two words.  I’m still convinced he needs a hospital, but Jake doesn’t seem like he’s going to give in on that.

“He’ll be okay,” Jake says, as if reading my thoughts.  “He’s got the blankets and the fireplace.  Let him rest.”

I look around the small living area.  “Where will I sleep?”

“I got a sleeping bag in the closet.”

“A sleeping bag?”  I wince.  I’ve never slept in a sleeping bag in my entire life.  Even when I had sleepovers at a friend’s house as a kid, they always managed to rustle me up a bed.  But as an adult, it sounds nothing short of horrible. 

“Sorry, Princess.”  He shrugs.  “That’s all I got.”

I flinch the way I do every time he calls me Princess.  He thinks I’m a spoiled brat, who can only sleep on silk sheets draped in satin without so much as a pea under my bed.  Well, I’ll show him otherwise.  “No, a sleeping bag is great,” I say quickly.  “Actually, it’s more than I expected.  Honestly, it’s not like I even need a sleeping bag.  I can just… you know, sleep on the floor. I do that all the time when I’m camping out.  I always say: sleeping bags are for the weak.”

Jake is gawking at me. 

Too far, I think.

“Great,” he says flatly.  “If you prefer the floor, I’ll just leave the sleeping bag in the closet then.”

“No!” I nearly yell. “I mean, since you have the sleeping bag, I suppose I’ll take it.  It’s been a long day, after all.”

His lips curl into a crooked smile.  He’s smirking at me.  I’m not fooling anyone—he knows I’m full of it.  “If you say so, Princess.”

As Jake goes to retrieve the sleeping bag, I look around the cabin, scanning the small living space.  You could fit this entire cabin in my living room.  You could fit two of these cabins in Chase’s living room.

“Where’s the bathroom?” I ask him when he returns with the thin film of fabric that I’ll be sleeping on tonight.

“No bathroom,” Jake grunts.

My mouth falls open.  “There’s no… but how do I…?”

He jerks a thumb at the front door.  “You go outside and there’s a shovel.  You dig a little hole and you squat.”

No.  Oh my God, no.  I do not want to do that.

“There are some leaves for toilet paper,” he adds.  “Just be careful not to take the poison ivy ones.  Leaves of three, let it be.  Leaves of four, wipe some more.”

I stare at him.

Jake holds my gaze for a moment, then bursts out laughing.  “I’m just joking, Princess.  The bathroom is right over there.  It’s got a toilet that flushes and everything.”

I force a smile, even though inside I’m not laughing.

***

The floor of the cabin is even more uncomfortable than I would have imagined.  The fabric of the flimsy sleeping bag does nothing to cushion my body from the hard wood.  I toss and turn, intermittently emerging from my restless sleep to heat up some water and give Chase a new compress.  God, I can’t wait until morning, when the blizzard is over and we can hopefully get the hell out of here.

At around two in the morning, I wake up with a crick in my neck.  I stretch it out, but it’s ridiculously hard to get comfortable.  I mean, I’m on the floor.  Who sleeps on the floor in the twenty-first century? I look over at Chase, who is lying under four blankets.  Maybe I could take one of those blankets so I’ve got another layer of cushioning between me and the ground.  He’s not going to die if I take one blanket, is he?  Is he?

Screw it.  I’ll just spend the night tossing and turning.

The fire has died down and the cabin’s gotten colder again.  I shiver, even with my heavy sweater on.  I creep over to Chase to check on him, hoping he’s more alert than earlier.  I touch his cheek and…

He’s ice-cold.

“Chase.”  I shake his shoulder.  “Chase, wake up.”

He groans like he did before, but doesn’t wake up—he won’t even open his eyes a little bit.  It’s been hours—by now, he should be less lethargic, shouldn’t he?  He’s really sick.  Jake doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about—Chase needs to get to a hospital right now.  I don’t care if there’s a blizzard outside.

“Chase.”  I shake him harder this time.  “Can you sit up?”

He doesn’t open his eyes. 

When Jake came in, he hung his keys on the ring by the door.  I look there now, and the ring of keys is still there.  His car keys are on that ring.  I could take his truck and go for help.  Jake refuses to do it but somebody has to.  I’m not going to let my boyfriend die on this sofa.

I shove my feet back into my useless non-waterproof boots, which are still cold and damp from last night.  I throw on my Thinsulate coat, which suddenly seems nowhere near warm enough for what awaits me outside.  The red scarf has dried out, at least, so I put that on, along with my hat.  Then I grab Jake’s keys from the hook and quietly let myself out the front door.

The green truck is parked right in front of the cabin.  The snow is still coming down hard, and my leg sinks into it up to my knee as I make my way to the truck.  My feet were slightly damp before, but now they’re completely saturated with ice-cold liquid.  But I’ve got to push through it—for Chase.  I’m the only one who can save him now.

Once I’ve reached the truck, I fumble with the keyring.  He’s got three keys on it, and I frown at them, trying to figure out which one opens the door.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

I look up, startled.  Jake is standing by the door of the cabin in his thick coat with a normal hat that covers his unruly hair.  The snowflakes form white dots as they fall on his heavy beard.  He’s peering at me with his left eye.

“Uh…” I back up against the truck, my heart pounding.  “I, um…”

He takes a menacing step towards me.  My eyes are drawn to that eyepatch covering his right eye—now that I’m close to him, I can see there’s a thin white scar snaking out below the patch.  “Are you stealing my truck?”

Oh my God, he’s going to kill me.  This man is going to snap my neck with his bare hands and throw me into the woods, and they won’t find my body till spring.

“I was borrowing it,” I say in a tiny voice.  “Just… you know, so I could get help for Chase.”

“I see.” He takes another step toward me.  “Borrowing it…”

I consider making a run for it, but it’s pretty obvious how that would go.  He could chase me down in a second in this storm.  But he wouldn’t have to—if I disappeared into the woods, I’d freeze to death before morning in my inadequate coat and boots and not even any gloves.

“Chase is really sick,” I manage.  “I could barely wake him up.”

He stops moving toward me.  He cocks his head to the side.  “You ever drive a truck before?”

“No.”  I lift my chin.  “But I’m sure I could figure it out.”

The menacing look vanishes from his face, replaced with a look of amusement.  “All right, then.  Go ahead.”

I stare at him.  “What?”

He waves his arm at the truck.  He’s not wearing gloves and I can see the stubs of his missing digits.  “You refuse to believe me that it’s not a good idea to go out in this storm.  So take the truck.  Go for it.”

“I…” I look at the truck then back at him.  “Fine.  I’ll do it.”

“Be my guest.”

I fumble with the keys, still uncertain which one opens the door.  The fact that my fingers have become numb and pink doesn’t make it any easier.  I select one of the keys and try to fit it into the lock with shaking hands.

“It’s unlocked,” Jake says.

Oh.

I squeeze my left hand into a fist, trying to get back some of the circulation.  Then I yank open the door of the truck. I climb inside while Jake watches me, nearly tripping on the snowdrift that formed right outside the door.  When I glance back at Jake, that look of amusement is still on his face.  I look down and…

Why are there so many pedals down there?

Shit, this is a manual transmission.  And I… well, Chase gave me a few lessons on how to drive a manual transmission, but this doesn’t look anything like his Ferrari.  But it’s probably the same once I get going.  I’ll be driving really slowly anyway.

“Everything okay in there?” Jake calls to me.

“Yep,” I say.

I can’t let him know how freaked out I am.  I’ve got to be strong.  For Chase.  I’ve got to help him or he could die.  I’m his only hope.  So I put the key in the ignition and…

Damn it, why won’t it turn?

I push as hard as I can, but it won’t budge.  I jiggle it.  What the hell?  Is this the wrong key?  But no, it fits in the hole.  It’s got to be right.

“Having a problem, Princess?”

I peer out through the window, and Jake is grinning at me.  It’s the first time I’ve seen him smile since he found our car.  Considering he’s been living in the backwoods for God knows how long, he actually has pretty nice teeth.  Fairly white.  Not gleaming and perfectly orthodonture-straight like Chase’s, but that slightly crooked left incisor gives even more character to his face. He has, actually, quite a nice smile.

I want to smack that smile off his face.

“The key won’t turn,” I finally say.

He cups his hand to his ear.  “Eh? What’s that?”

“The key won’t turn!”  I pound on the steering wheel in frustration.  “I can’t start the truck!”

“Huh.”  He shakes his head.  “Well, maybe the truck’s trying to tell you something.  Maybe the truck knows there’s a fucking blizzard outside and it’s not a great idea to get lost in it.  Maybe the truck’s smarter than you are.”

“Oh, is it?”

“It would appear that way, yes.”

 I want to scream in frustration.  I bang my fist against the steering wheel and it lets out a honk of protest. 

“Get out of the truck,” he says.

Reluctantly, I climb out of the vehicle, my boots sinking down into the snow before they hit the ground. I barely feel the cold wind whipping at my face.  All I feel is the sting of frustration.  And humiliation.  He holds out his right hand and I drop the keys into it.

“I’ll get the fire going again,” Jake says.  “That’s why I came out—to check on it.”

“Thanks,” I mumble.

“Don’t worry,” Jake says.  “Your boyfriend is going to be just fine.  He’ll live to apply hair product another day.”

I want to knee him in the groin. He may have saved our life, but I’m sick of being polite while he insults me and Chase.  “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

He raises his eyebrows, which aren’t as bushy as his beard.  “Don’t I?”

Whatever.  This storm will be over soon and then we’ll go get help.  This nightmare will be over soon.  Chase just has to hang in there a little longer.

To be continued....

Cabin Fever, Chapter 3

The rising sun is what wakes me the next morning.

I thought I’d never get back to sleep on that uncomfortable floor, especially after my humiliating failed attempt to borrow Jake’s truck, but I guess I was more tired than I thought—almost dying in a blizzard takes a lot out of you.  I sit up cross-legged on the floor, my neck creaking loudly as I turn it from side to side.

Chase is still passed out on the couch.  Maybe I’m imagining it, but he looks like he has a little more color in his cheeks, and his breaths aren’t as ragged.  He looks more like he’s sleeping than hanging onto life by a thread.  Maybe he really is going to be okay.  Maybe Jake knew what he was talking about.

As I struggle to my feet, I hear the hinges of a door creaking open.  I lift my eyes and see a large, unfamiliar man with short dark hair and several days’ growth of a beard pad into the room in slippers, blue jeans, and a white undershirt.  He drops down into a rickety wooden chair at the small table in the kitchen and rubs his face with the balls of his hands.  Just as I’m about to ask this stranger who he is and what he’s doing here, I see the eyepatch.

It’s Jake.

Oh my God, he cut off his hair!

That unkempt mane from last night is gone.  So is most of the beard, but not entirely—he left enough that nobody would call him clean-shaven.  I wonder if he even owns a razor—I bet he did the whole thing with scissors.  Except why?  Why would he do that?

“You cut your hair,” I say numbly.

“Good morning to you too.” Jake lifts his left eye.  Now that all the hair is gone and I can actually see his face, I realize with a jolt that he’s rather handsome.  At least, in a rugged sort of way that contrasts sharply with Chase’s classically handsome features. Especially with the eyepatch. “I got sick of the two of you looking at me like I was about to murder you and toss you into a wood chipper.  I didn’t realize how much I’d let things go till I saw the look on your face.” 

It’s true—he’s far less frightening with all the hair gone.  Also, now that I can see his bare arms and the outline of his chest in that undershirt, I’m incredibly impressed.  I assumed he had good muscles based on how easily he lifted Chase, but wow.  I mean, wow.

Stop staring, Natalie. It’s rude.  Also, your boyfriend is ten feet away.

Well, ex-boyfriend.  But still.

“Well, you didn’t have to do it on my account,” I say, trying to avert my eyes from those distractingly large muscles.

He shrugs.  “I was tired of the Grizzly Adams look.”

“You mean Chewbacca.”

He laughs thinly.  “Yeah, that too.”  He glances over at Chase, sleeping on the couch.  “So Abercrombie and Fitch over there is looking better.”

I hesitantly approach the table to join him.  Up close, I can see that his haircut was a bit of a hack job.  He did better than I might have on my own scalp with a pair of scissors, but he definitely doesn’t look like he’s fresh out of Rolando’s (Chase’s favorite salon). 

“Maybe we could go to the hospital after breakfast,” I say.

Jake squints out the window.  “It’s still snowing.  We’ll see how bad it is.  Maybe later today.”

He’s right—there’s still a fair amount of snow coming down.  Will it ever stop?  My stomach sinks at the thought of it, but I push my fears away.  At least we’ve got plenty of food here, a fireplace, and (thank God) a working toilet.

“Or else I could get you to your destination,” he says.  “Where were you going last night anyway?”

“We were going to a cabin that belongs to a friend of Chase,” I say.  “A… you know, a nice cabin.”

His good eye bores into me.  “You mean, unlike this one?”

“Um.  I didn’t mean that…”

He shrugs.  “So where is this ‘nice’ cabin?”

I recite the address of the cabin.  His blue eye widens at my words.

“What?” I say.  “Do you know it?”

“No,” he says.

“Then how come you looked at me that way?”

“I didn’t look at you any particular way.”

I don’t know what this guy isn’t telling me, and I’m not sure how to get it out of him.  He’s not very talkative, to say the least.  If he were anyone else—especially a woman—we would have probably exchanged life stories by now.  We’ve certainly been through enough in the last twelve hours.

“Let me make some breakfast,” he grunts.

“Okay,” I say hesitantly.  “What are you making?”

“I was thinking roasted squirrel,” he says.  “Unless you’d like porcupine. Porcupine’s good, as long as you get all the quills out.”

This time I see the smile playing on his lips—I know his game now.  “You’re joking,” I say.

“I’m going to make sausage and eggs,” he says.  “Although for the record, squirrel isn’t bad.”

To be honest, I’m a little curious to try squirrel—if he had it, I’d eat it. As a chef, trying new foods is one of the things I’m not scared to do.  You couldn’t get Chase to eat squirrel if you put a gun to his head, but I’d definitely sample it.  Anything except for durian fruit, of course.  There’s just something distasteful about putting something that smells like sewage in your mouth.

In spite of not having electricity, Jake seems to have a working refrigerator. I have no clue how it operates—I assume he powers it using gas.  It’s dark inside the fridge, but it appears to be cold.  The no phone and no electricity thing really shook me, but I guess he’s got the most important stuff.  He even had a shower in his bathroom, although considering there’s no hot water, I wasn’t about to try it out.  Jake’s hair is damp though, which makes me think that shower gets some use.

“Did you shower this morning?” I ask him as he ignites the stove.

“Yep.”

“But there’s no hot water.”

“There sure isn’t.”

Fine.  He takes cold showers.  Considering there are no women within at least ten miles of here besides me, that might come in handy for him. 

After a few minutes of cooking, Jake slides a plate of sausage and scrambled eggs across the table toward me, along with a glass of water.  Many chefs say cooking eggs is how they test a potential hire in a restaurant.  Eggs may seem simple to cook, but they’re not.  The trick to cooking perfect scrambled eggs is to go “low and slow.”  There’s no better way to ruin eggs than to turn the heat up high like Jake did.  The eggs on my plate are about fifty percent brown, which is not what you want to see in your scrambled eggs.

Also, I noticed he dumped on the salt after they finished cooking—another no-no.  When eggs cook and coagulate, the proteins in the yolks pull tighter and tighter together as they get hotter. When they get too tight, they begin to squeeze liquid out from the curds, resulting in weepy eggs.  If you add salt first, it keeps the proteins from bonding too tightly, which gives you more tender eggs and less weeping. 

Also, he added way too much salt. But that’s not specific to egg cooking.  If we’re still stuck here by lunchtime, I’m definitely commandeering the kitchen.  But I don’t expect we will be.

I put a bite of egg in my mouth, nearly choking on the abundance of salt.  I feel like I swallowed a mouthful of the ocean.  Except for the fact that the eggs are also really, really dry. I gulp down some water, then contemplate the scorched sausages.  As someone who loves and appreciates food with every fiber of my being, this plate is offensive to me.  But I can’t say that to a man who opened up his home and refrigerator to me.

Jake raises the eyebrow of his good eye at me.  “What’s wrong, Princess?”

I grit my teeth.  “My name is Natalie, you know.”

“I know.”

I put down my fork and glare at him.  “So how come you keep calling me ‘Princess’?”

He shrugs.  “I don’t know.  It feels right.”  He grins at me.  “Also, it bugs you.”

“Nice.  Real nice.”

“I never said I was nice.”  He digs into his own eggs with gusto.  He must have taste buds of steel.  “Why do you think I live out here in the middle of nowhere, isolated from all other human life?”

“Good point.”

Jake’s left hand rests on the table as he eats.  My eyes are drawn to it, studying the abbreviated digits—all but the thumb has pieces missing.  There are scars at the tips of each finger, so light that I can barely make them out.  Whatever happened to him happened a long time ago.

He notices me staring at his hand and yanks it off the table.  He gives me a look that makes my cheeks burn, and I make myself busy trying to force down the salty eggs and burned sausages.

I manage to ingest about half the plate of food before I give up.  Jake cleans his own plate, then takes my dish and his to the sink.  He turns on the cold water, and even though I can’t feel it, I wince. 

“I could wash the dishes, you know,” I say.

He just shrugs.

I know what he must think of me after going through my bags, and I’m determined to prove him wrong.  This isn’t like the sleeping bag—I’ve washed my fair share of dishes in the course of my life.  I mean, I’m a cook.  I’m not excited about washing dishes in ice-cold water, but I’ll do it.

“I really don’t mind,” I add. 

“It’s already done,” he says as he pulls the plates out of the stream of water and drops them in the drying rack.  “But your offer to help has been noted.”

Well, gee, thanks.

While he’s drying off his hands, I walk over to the window and peer outside.  I want to check out the damage.

My God, there’s a lot of snow.

The landscape is like a white blanket, stretching as far as I can see in every direction.  I know there are trees but I can barely see them.  And the worst part is that it’s still snowing.  How could it still be snowing?  How could there be any snow left in the sky?

“I’m going to go look out the door,” I say to him.  “I want to see how bad it is.”

Jake doesn’t say anything, but after a pause, he follows me to the front door.  I pull it open and…

Oh Jesus.

I’ve never seen so much snow in my entire life.  It’s overwhelming.  Even though I was able to get into Jake’s truck last night, it’s now got a huge snowdrift behind it and it’s half-buried, although part of me wonders if it had looked like that last night and I hadn’t noticed because it was so dark and I was so tired.  In any case, I don’t see how we’re getting out of here before lunchtime. I don’t see how we’re getting out of here before spring.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

I whip my head around to stare at Jake. He isn’t being sarcasatic. He’s got his arms folded across his chest, and he’s staring at the landscape before us.  But unlike me, he doesn’t look frustrated or angry (or cold—even though he’s wearing a freaking undershirt).  He’s got a far-off look in his blue left eye and a small smile playing on his lips.

“There’s so much snow,” I say.

“Yep.”

“But…” There’s a growing sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  “When it gets like this, what do you do?  How do you get out?”

“I don’t.”

“You don’t?”

He shrugs.  “I stock up on everything I need if the radio says a blizzard is coming.  I’m good for at least a month.  Everything should be melted by then.  And if not, I can wait it out.

I grit my teeth.  How could he be so calm about being snowed in miles away from any sort of civilization?  He almost looks happy about it! 

“But what if you need something?” I sputter.

“That’s why I stock up.”

“But…” My hands squeeze into fists.  “What if I need something?”

The smile on his lips widens.  “Then grab a shovel, Princess.”

I’m starting to hate this guy.

He goes back into the cabin and I follow at his heels.  I don’t understand how he could possibly not care about being completely snowed in.  I mean, at least he should want to get the two of us out of his hair.  It can’t be fun to have two strangers invading his Fortress of Solitude.

Unless he has other plans for us.

But no.  I don’t think so.  Jake seems like a decent human being.  I’d like to think I’m a good judge of character, and even though his appearance initially frightened me, now that I’ve spent more time in his company, I don’t believe he’d do us any harm.  He might be a jerk, but I don’t think he’s dangerous.

But really, it’s hard to know for sure.  After all, this is a man who might not have had sex in years. But after seeing those muscles in his chest, it’s clear to me that if he’s celibate, it’s entirely by choice. If he wanted a woman, he’d have no problem getting one.

“Listen,” I say to him.  “Isn’t there anyone else nearby who might be able to help us?  Someone who has a phone?”

“Nope.”

“There must be though!”

“Nope.”

God, he’s maddening.  I fold my hands across my chest.  “Well, maybe you could take us to the cabin we were trying to get to in the first place?  Isn’t it nearby?”

He hesitates.  I know the cabin must be near here, because we were almost there, according to the map.  And he was close enough to the Ferrari that he heard me honking for help.  So I bet we’re really close.  It might even be walkable—at least for somebody with decent boots.

“I don’t think the truck can make it there,” he finally says.

I let out an exasperated breath.  “What if I dig out the truck and clear a path?  How about then?”

He throws back his head and laughs.  Loudly.  You are going to dig out my truck?”

“Sure.  Why not?”

“You ever shovel snow before, Princess?”

A muscle twitches in my jaw.  “No…”

“So you know how snowflakes are all light and fluffy when they fall on your pretty blond hair?”  He grins at me.  “Well, when you put all those snowflakes together, they’re really damn heavy.”

“I can do it.”

“Says the girl who didn’t even bring a pair of gloves.”

Well, he’s got me there.  But I’ve never been afraid of a little hard work.  I built my catering company with my own bare hands.  I could have taken a loan from my parents, but I refused their money.  I borrowed from the bank and solicited investments until I had enough to get us off the ground.  I started small, fueled by my love of food, but as it turned out I inherited not just the Rochester Chin, but also the Rochester business acumen and drive to succeed. I built an incredibly successful catering company from scratch, and you don’t do that by sitting in front of the television, eating bonbons. 

“Anyway,” he says before I can protest further, “I’m not even entirely sure where it is. I’m not going to risk it.”

Except I saw the look on his face when I told him the address of the cabin.  He’s lying through his teeth.  I don’t know why he’s reluctant to take us to that cabin.  There’s clearly something he’s not telling me.

But before I can probe further, Chase starts groaning on the sofa.  He’s waking up, although he still looks really out of it.  But he’s alive.

“If you want to heat up some soup for him,” Jake says, “there are cans in the closet next to the sink.  He probably should eat something.”  He jerks his head at the door of the room where he slept last night.  “I’ll be in the other room.”

While Chase is stirring on the couch, I go over to the pantry closet to check out the soups.  When I throw it open, I’m impressed by how well-stocked he is.  There are three walls lined with dry cereals and snacks, jars of sauces, peanut butter, canned meats—cans upon cans upon cans.  Despite the fact that I only work with fresh ingredients, something about this closet stirs up my creativity.  If you can make food taste good that came out of a can, you are truly a skilled chef.

I select a can of chicken noodle soup and go over to the stove to heat it up to lukewarm.  The kitchen is small and well-organized, so I’m able to find the spoons and bowl without much effort.   I carry it over to the sofa, where Chase is trying to sit up.

“Hey,” I say.

He rubs his eyes, which are bloodshot.  His usually perfect hair is disheveled in a way I’ve never seen, even when he’s rolling out of bed in the morning.  And even though he’s not as white as he was last night, his complexion is decidedly waxy.  “Hey,” he mumbles.

I sit down next to him.  The sofa is lumpy and nearly as uncomfortable as the floor.  “How are you feeling?”

“Like shit.”  Chase’s voice sounds like sandpaper.  “What happened?”

“You had hypothermia.” I put my hand on his knee.  “You almost died.  This guy… he lives here and… he saved us.  Both of us.”

As I say the words, the enormity of what Jake did for us hits me.  He saved us.  I would probably have frozen to death by now if he hadn’t come along.  He risked his own life, driving around in a blizzard, to find the two of us and bring us to safety.  No matter how much of a jerk he is to me, I can’t ever forget that.  He saved my life.  I am only sitting here right now, breathing air, because he rescued me.

“Christ…” Chase rubs his eyes again.  There are dark purple circles under his eyes.  “I feel like a truck hit me.  Like I can barely move.”

“Try to drink some soup.”

I hold the bowl for him and he manages to take about ten spoonfuls with a shaky hand until the effort wears him out.  I leave the soup on the coffee table for him and let him lie down again.  He must really be worn out, because he falls asleep on that lumpy couch in one minute flat.

***

While Chase sleeps and Jake is in the other room doing God knows what, I read one of my paperbacks, taking advantage of the natural light from the windows.  It’s a serial killer thriller that was a big bestseller, and Drew lent it to me, saying it was his favorite book of the year.  My brother and I have similar taste in books, so if he likes something, I’ll usually like it too.  I hope it holds true for this book, because I need something to take my mind off my situation here. 

I have my Kindle as well, but I’m only going to use that when the sun is down, since I want to conserve the battery.   I’m worried if we’re here several days with no internet and no television (although possibly a radio somewhere) that I’ll quickly have nothing to do.

I notice a bookcase in the corner of the room, stuffed with hardcover and paperback books.  Jake never struck me as the type to sit down with a book—when I first laid eyes on him, I would have believed it if someone told me he was illiterate. But admittedly, I could have been judging him unfairly.  When you’re all alone in a cabin in the woods, a solitary activity like reading would be advantageous. 

I put down my own paperback and wander over to the bookcase.  I don’t know exactly what I was expecting to see there.  Maybe some Tom Clancy thrillers or books about fishing or hunting.  What surprises me is that there are two full shelves stuffed with textbooks about criminology and criminal justice.  And these are clearly books that have been read many times—I pick one off the shelf and find the pages worn and dog-eared.

“You ready for some lunch?”

I nearly jump out of my skin at the sound of Jake’s voice.  He’s standing behind me, dressed in his blue jeans and a sweatshirt rolled up at the sleeves to reveal his well-muscled forearms.  The text in my hand falls to the floor, and I rush to pick it up.  Jake makes no comment on the fact that I was browsing his bookshelf.

“Interested in criminal law, are you?” I say brightly.

He shrugs. “I guess so.”

I raise an eyebrow.  “You’ve got a lot of books about it.”

“Yep.”

“And you’ve… read them all.  Right?”

He shrugs again.  “Lots of time to read out here.”

“Do you have a favorite?  Like, anything you recommend?”

“Not really.”

God, he is so frustrating!  Chase can’t shut up when someone asks him about playing golf or that new nightclub on the North End or any of his interests—he loves the sound of his own voice and it’s often difficult to get a word in edgewise.  I always found it exhausting, but it turns out the opposite isn’t so great either.  Getting any information whatsoever out of this guy is impossible.

“So what do you want for lunch?” Jake asks me.

I shudder, thinking of that awful breakfast he cooked us.  “Actually,” I say, “I was thinking maybe I could make you some lunch.  Pay you back for saving our lives and all.”

“Good to know your life is worth one meal.”  But Jake is smiling.  “All right then, Princess.  You want to make lunch, knock yourself out.”

I head back to the pantry closet, and spend a good ten minutes sifting through the contents.  Even though these are all second-rate ingredients, the sheer abundance of it is inspiring to me. I finally retrieve a box of dry spaghetti, a can of tomatoes, olive oil, and a jar of olives. I miraculously discover a cupboard that contains some spices, including garlic powder, oregano, and red pepper flakes.  I haven’t used garlic powder in ages because it doesn’t compare to the real thing.  I’d even take a jar of diced garlic over that stuff, but I don’t have much of a choice.  And of course, there’s the salt and pepper on the counter.

Jake watches me silently as I put the water up to boil while throwing the contents of the tomato jar into a pan.  I season it liberally, since it’s clear he likes salty food, and then start it simmering. 

Twenty minutes later, I’m serving up two steaming plates of pasta with tomato sauce. Jake sits down across from me, regarding the food warily, but then he twirls some spaghetti around his fork and stuffs it in his mouth.  I haven’t taken a bite of mine yet, but I’ve been tasting the whole time, and I think it’s pretty damn good for a meal made out of a box and cans, if I do say so myself. But who knows what Jake will think.  He’ll probably say it needs more salt and has to be more burned.

But then his face lights up, which instantly transforms him from surly woodsman to… well, let’s just say he’s not at all unattractive and he’s got a great smile and my boyfriend is ten feet away, albeit semi-conscious.

“Jesus,” he says.  “This is really damn good.”

I smile.  “Thank you.”

“No, I mean, really good.”

“Glad you like it.”

He takes another bite, more eagerly this time.  I wonder when the last time he’s had a decent meal was.  Jake isn’t exactly a guy who won’t eat at a restaurant that doesn’t have at least one Michelin star.  (Not naming names, but Chase, I’m looking at you.)

“When is the last time you ate something you didn’t make yourself?” I ask.

He grins crookedly.  “It’s been… a while.  Years since I’ve been to a restaurant.  And it wasn’t as good as this.”

“Well, thanks.”

“Are you some kind of cook or something?”

I laugh.  “I am some kind of cook, yes.”

“At a restaurant?”

I shake my head.  “I own my own catering company.”

“Huh.”  He starts to wipe tomato sauce from his mouth with the back of his hand, but then gets up to grab a paper towel from the counter. It’s sweet that he’s trying to have manners on my account. “I wouldn’t have thought that.”

“Really? Why not?”

“I don’t know.” 

He’s looking at me out of his good eye, an unfamiliar expression on his face.  If I didn’t know better, I’d have called it respect. 

“And how about Abercrombie over there?”  Jake jerks his head at Chase, still sound asleep on the sofa.  “What does he do?  He a cook too?”

“No.” I laugh again.  “Chase… um, he sort of works for his father’s company.”

“Sort of?”

I twirl some pasta around my own fork.  “He works there, but it’s not clear he actually does anything.”

God, I hope Chase is asleep and not hearing this conversation.

“What company is that?” he asks.

“Hollister and Co.,” I say.  “They’re kind of a big deal in Boston.”

“I’ve heard of them.”  He leans back in his seat for a moment, his fingers playing with the handle of his fork.  “His father owns the company then?”

“That’s right.”

He nods.  “And how long have you two been dating?”

I never got around to telling him Chase and I broke up just before he got lost in the snow.  For some reason, I decide not to share that information now. “About a year.”

His eye drops to my left hand.  “You’re not engaged though?”

“No…”

I don’t know why he’s asking all these questions, especially since he won’t answer a damn thing I ask him about himself.  Why does he care how long Chase and I are dating or who Chase’s father is.  Unless…

Well, unless he thinks he could get some money off of us.  That’s possible. I mean, he rescued me out of a brand new red Ferrari.  He has to realize we’re both pretty loaded.

When I look around this place, it doesn’t seem like Jake is someone who’s very hung up on money.  At all.  Then again, I don’t know his personal issues.  Maybe he’s in debt.  Maybe he owes money to the mob.  Who knows?

Jake seems to notice the questions are bothering me, so he quiets down.  It’s also a necessity with the way he’s shoveling spaghetti into his mouth. When he finishes everything on his plate, he looks at me expectantly.  “There isn’t any more, is there?”

“That’s the highest compliment to the chef.”  I get up from my seat to grab what’s left in the frying pan.  “Asking for seconds.”

“I just don’t get to eat like this too often.”  His ears turn slightly pink, which is oddly endearing.  “You’re a really good cook.  And I’m… not.”

“Well, I could give you a few pointers before we go.”

“Really?” His face lights up for a moment, then he clears his throat and looks away.  “Uh, yeah, that would be good.” He hesitates.  “Thanks, Natalie.”

He called me Natalie instead of Princess.  I’m embarrassed to admit how happy that makes me.

As I watch him finish the remainder of the pasta, I decide there’s no way he’s trying to extort money from me and Chase.  Not a chance.  This is a guy who’s happy having nothing.  At best, maybe he’s hoping for a reward so he can buy himself a brand new hoe or a few more cans for his pantry.

He runs a hand absently through his newly shorn hair.  It looked okay when I first saw it, but now I can tell how bad a hack job it was.  Granted, nobody else is going to see him but me, but I still feel like he deserves a better haircut than that.  And it’s not like there’s a local Supercuts he can pop over to.

“I have a question for you,” I say.  “Don’t be offended.”

He raises his eyebrows.  “Okay…”

“Have you ever cut hair before?”

He blinks a few times, then bursts out laughing.  He rubs at his scalp.  “I butchered it, didn’t I?”

“Well,” I say thoughtfully, “you did a good job with your beard, for the most part.  But yes, you butchered the top of your head.”

“I figured being a guy with a bad haircut is better than being a scary forest monster.”

“Only slightly.”  I cock my head to the side.  “I could fix it for you.  If you’d like.”

“Oh yeah?  You also got a haircutting business?”

“No.  But I’m pretty sure I could do better than that.”

A smile twitches at his lips.  “Okay, sure.  Why not?”

To be continued...