We shouldn’t be doing this, briefly flitted through my mind as his lips grazed my neck. I could feel the stubble on his chin as it ghosted over my bare shoulder, making me shiver in anticipation.
“Sophie, you’ve been driving me crazy for the last two days, please,” he begged, but for what, I was a bit fuzzy about.
We were standing behind the tent I was to share with Anna, my friend from my divorcee group. The same person who convinced me this four day rafting trip would clear my mind and help me figure out what I was going to do now that my husband had left me for a woman ten years my junior.
“Jack,” I moaned, louder than I intended, especially with the others from our rafting trip milling about as we started to turn in for the night.
“Come to my tent? Stay with me, please?” His voice was raspy and alluring, its sound complimentary to his rugged good looks. He was fit, handsome and tanned, exactly how you would picture someone who guided rafting groups down the majestic Royal Gorge.
There was a war going on between my body and mind over what I wanted to do, versus what I should do. I hadn’t been with a man in almost two years. My ex-husband had travelled frequently, leaving our sex life high and dry, even before we separated. My brain just wasn’t ready to deal with a casual fling with a man who rowed a boat for a living and was probably as young as my ex-husband’s new girlfriend. His lips were quite convincing though, as they moved across the back of my neck to nibble on my other ear.
“Sophie, are you back here? Genevieve suggested a sing alo– Whoops,” Kate started, looking between Jack and myself with a curious eye. We’d managed to separate a fraction of an inch before she rounded the corner of the tent, but her approach had the same effect as a bucket of cold water being dumped over my head.
With a clearing head, I made up a story, quickly thanking Jack for sharing his thoughts about how best to pack a dry sack and turned towards Anna, agreeing that a sing along sounded just fabulous.
The last thing I wanted to do was sit around the campfire and sing ‘Kumbaya’, but I had to get away from that mesmerizing man. Glancing once over my shoulder, I shrugged, hoping to convey that I was sorry, but I just wasn’t ready for what he was offering.
His return look was haunting. It was filled with a hunger I hadn’t seen pointed in my direction since I was a sexy college co-ed. Back then, I was thin, wore tight low cut shirts and had colored my hair to an unnatural state of blond that was only found on the toddlers running around beach communities.
Now, I was approaching middle age. My body wasn’t pudgy, but I’d lost the firmness that’s wasted on the youth. The crows feet around my eyes and stray grey hairs that poked through my professional dye job weren’t the only indicators of my age. No, I was now also well seasoned in the broken heart department.
Sitting on one of the logs that Roger had pulled around the campfire, I waited for Anna to assault me with her inquiry about what she just saw.
“I’m not going to say a word,” she whispered in my ear, smiling along as Roger brought out his harmonica to start our sing-along.
“Oh, don’t sound so shocked. I’m glad I caught you with Jack and not Roger.” She smiled, nodding her head towards the other rafting guide on our trip. He was probably in his mid-fifties and weathered to Robert Redford’s extremes. He too was fit, and handsome in his own way, his sandy grey hair almost never visible beneath the wide brimmed hat that shielded his shockingly blue eyes from the glare of the blazing sun. He was friendly and could always be counted on for an engaging story about some mishap or ancient tale that happened on the Arkansas river. I’d ridden in his boat the first day before we all were switched up, landing me in Jack’s boat today, and apparently right into his crosshairs.
I’d spent much of the day talking with Jack as he guided our raft through a multitude of rapids, none of which seemed to ruffle his feathers. He was calm and collected, even when we almost high sided on a boulder because one of the ditzy blondes in the front wasn’t paying attention to her paddling.
“Jack, come on. Pull up a seat. I bet these charming ladies would love to hear your rendition of ‘When it’s Springtime in the Rockies,’” Roger teased, before playing a few bars in Jack’s direction.
I could have sworn the tips of his ears got red at the mention of the old tune, but he laughed along and allowed his deep tenor voice to break up the silence of the night.
Long after dark had descended upon the canyon, and the fire was dying down, Roger suggested we all get to bed, since we’d have to be up around dawn to get on the river if we were going to finish our trip on time.
Anna and I both stood and headed towards the tent, when my elbow was grabbed, causing me to stumble back into Jack’s arms.
“Am I really that scary? I didn’t mean to pressure you.” he whispered, as we continued walking toward our tents. “But you didn’t have to ignore me completely.”
“I have to say, your attention is very flattering, Jack, but I’m still sort of a mess. I came on this trip to sort myself out, not fall into the arms of another man who will just break my heart.” Stopping, I turned to face him, wanting to make myself perfectly clear, “I think it’s best if maybe I ride in Roger’s boat for the rest of the trip.”
At my words, his face crumpled, and he walked away, shaking his head as if to try and figure out the meaning of my words.
I avoided him the rest of the trip, much to Anna’s disgust. She couldn’t understand why I didn’t let myself live a little and have some fun. Especially if it was just a little trip fling that wouldn’t mean anything once we got back to town.
Except, that wasn’t who I was. I wasn’t a love ‘em and leave ‘em sort of girl. If I had a connection with a person, I fell hard and fast. And I could tell with Jack, after the day on the boat, that if I allowed myself, I’d be doing the same exact thing as I’d done with my ex. I would fall for him, then change everything about me to make him happy, until I didn’t even recognize myself in the mirror.
Once the vans transported us back to the fafting company’s parking lot, I made a quick exit, not wanting to have to say some kind of goodbye to Jack.
For all I knew, he was a seasonal employee who came into town for the summer and left to move south as the weather grew cold, not unlike a migrating bird.
No, I needed to protect my heart, and the best way to do that was to just forget about the handsome man with the lovely hazel eyes, sunkissed hair and the wry grin that seemed to win over any woman within a five block radius.
Before stepping into my car, I took one glance over my shoulder at Jack helping to carry one of the rafts back into the large garage on the property. I blew him a kiss he’d never see and returned back to my big house nestled up against the mountains just outside of Canon City.
The house your Ex picked out and decorated with the help of the designer he chose, who now also happened to be his girlfriend. I’d won the house in the divorce, but pulling up the long driveway, I just wanted to be rid of it, and all the memories associated with it.
Maybe it was time to sell the place, move into something smaller and do what I’ve always dreamed of.
Now to only figure out what that dream might be, I thought glumly, walking into the expansive space and turning on lights along the way.
The sun was setting, scattering its soft pinkish hue through my house from the large windows that overlooked the western mountain range. Tossing my bag of dirty clothes onto the floor near the laundry room, I walked into the kitchen to see if there was something stiff for me to drink.
I’d barely finished my second swallow of cabernet when my doorbell rang.
“Coming,” I shouted, patting down my hair, that had to look atrocious after four days without a proper shower.
Pulling open the oversized door, I was stunned. There, standing on my front step was a showered and clean shaven Jack holding a bouquet of flowers and a piece of paper.
“Jack?” I waved him inside, feeling even more grungy standing beside him. “What are you doing here? How did you know where I lived?”
His trademark smirk lit up his face as he waved the paper in my face. “You forgot your certificate of completion, and your address was on the waiver you signed before the trip.”
“So you came all the way over here to give me my certificate?” I laughed, doubting there was any such thing, but had to give the man credit for his stalking methods.
Handing me the paper and flowers he added, “That and you left before I could say goodbye.”
Sighing heavily, I knew I’d have to discourage his attention, even though every fiber of my being craved it.
“Can I come in for a sec? I just want to talk to you, that’s all.” His hands were in front of him in surrender, but the grin was still ever present.
Directing him into the kitchen, I pulled out one of the stools at the counter and asked him if he’d like some wine or a beer, knowing that was about all I had in the house.
“A beer would be great, thanks.”
Handing him the cold bottle, our fingers brushed against each other, almost like they were magnets and keeping them apart was against the laws of physics.
Pulling back abruptly, I held my hand to my chest, like I’d just been burned. Leaning back against the island, I waited for him to say what he needed so I could usher him out of my home as quick as possible.
I watched as he ran his fingers through his still damp hair, before gazing up at me with a longing I’d never seen before.
“When you look at me, what do you see?”
“W-what?” I stuttered, unprepared for the question.
Standing up, he stalked in front of me, waving his hand in front of his body to make his point.
“What. Do. You. See.” Enunciating each word, he waited with raised brows for my answer.
“Um…” I stalled, “You’re tall, handsome, fit-”
“What else? Aside from my exterior, what do you see?” Wiping his face with his big hand, he muttered, “Shit, maybe I should have asked, what do you know about me?”
He was standing only inches away from me, his eyes staring right into mine, imploring me to tell him what I thought of him. Of his character.
“You’re kind, friendly and know how to steer a boat around rocks,” I teased, trying to ease the tension that was zipping around the room.
“What else?” he whispered, his hand reaching out to rest on my hip.
“You have a great sense of humor. You’re polite and chivalrous and have a really lovely voice,” I mumbled, leaning further into him.
“Do you think I would hurt you?” he asked, brushing a stray hair away from my cheek. “Do you think I can’t take care of you? Why are you pushing me away without even letting me ask you out on a proper date?”
His presence was confusing me, and I had to move off to the side to try and remember why I was resisting him.
“You’re young and can have anyone you want. Why do you want me?” I was surprised by my own honestly, asking the question that had been on my mind since he first showed any interest in me.
“How old do you think I am?”
“Twenty-five?” I guessed.
He let out a riotous laugh that echoed throughout my kitchen. “I’m thirty-eight, does that change anything?”
I was stunned. He was only a year older than I was. “What are you still doing guiding boats for a living?” I blurted, my hand going to shield my mouth a moment too late. “You don’t need to answer that. God, that was rude. I’m sorry-”
Placing a finger in front of my lips, he silenced my embarrassed soliloquy. “I own Royal Gorge Rafting Company. Did you think Roger did? He’s been my partner for the last six years, but I just bought his half this year so he could focus on retiring to Arizona with his wife, Charlotte.”
My eyes must have looked like saucers and my mouth was probably catching a fair number of flies for as long as I stood there in shock.
Taking me into his arms, he held me while whispering into my ear. “I know you’re afraid of being hurt. You might think you know me, but you don’t. I’m part of the chamber of commerce here. I go to the town meetings and help Janie run her heli tours in the winter. I’ve never been married, but got close once about five years ago. I can’t wait to get to know more about you, but just observing you for one day on my boat I know you’re sweet, generous, intelligent and funny, and most of all, you’re brave. You didn’t even flinch when we approached that boulder. You just dug your paddle into the water and did everything I asked. Now I’m begging you to be brave and take a risk. Go out with me?”
Standing in my kitchen being held so delicately by this handsome man, I couldn’t stop myself from answering his request by tilting my head up and kissing him.
I was a girl of action rather than words.
He returned my kiss for a moment, before pulling back to look into my eyes. “If that’s a yes, would you like to go grab some dinner? My fridge is empty and I really don’t feel like cooking.”
We agreed that he’d come back in an hour after I’d had time to take a shower and change out of the grubby clothes I’d been wearing.
Beneath the hot spray of the ridiculously expensive shower my ex-husband just had to have, I realized that life would always come with the chance of something bad happening. It was like a roller coaster and if you weren’t willing to go along with its ups and downs, it would be a much less interesting ride. Steeling my resolve, I vowed to myself to be open to the possibility of new love, even if it meant getting my heart broken all over again.
(TBC – Stay tuned)
Big huge thanks to Kimmydonn for her beta help with this.