Dire (Page 17)

Chapter Eight

Gage

Once again I’d made a bad decision. Following the smoke had seemed like a good option, but as we hightailed it back toward the road, I knew it wasn’t. Someone, or something, was watching us. I was positive of it. I tried to stay calm for Mary Anne’s sake, but I had no plan B. We were hours from the truck, and although the next town had to have been closer than that, we’d never make it by night fall. For the first time since we careened off the road I was scared. We were in trouble, and for once in my life I had no idea how to get myself out of it.

The road was nearly in sight when I heard the crunching snow again. I spun around, pulling Mary Anne behind me.

“Well, well, well. What do we have here?” A man dressed in jeans and a dark green fleece glared at us. He had a thick coat of stubble on his face, and his eyes were slightly red like he hadn’t been sleeping.

I looked him right in the eye. If this guy wasn’t friendly, I didn’t want him to think we were easy prey. “Hi, I’m sorry if we’re trespassing on your land or something. We were just looking for a phone.”

“A phone?” He eyed me skeptically, as he tried to peek around me at Mary Anne.

I continued to block her. “Yes. We’re trying to get someone to pull out our truck.” I didn’t want to tell this guy we were stranded, but whether he meant us harm or not, we were going to freeze to death if we didn’t find shelter soon.

“Where’s your truck?” He gazed at the tree line. “No truck has come through here since the storm picked up.”

“It’s a few hours walk from here. Do you happen to know how far the nearest town is?”

“Do you talk?” He stepped closer, and I knew he was trying to get a glimpse of Mary Anne.

She had her hood on, but it didn’t hide her face or size. There was no question she was a girl.

She said nothing, and I had a feeling she was too frightened to talk.

The man stepped closer. “Well, do you?”

“Yes,” she said in a surprisingly confident voice.

“Are you all right?” His posture changed from angry to concerned. Leave it to a female to melt a guy that easily.

“Cold and hungry, but fine. We’d really appreciate it if we could use your phone.”

“I don’t have a phone.”

“Oh.” She looked at me to get my read. “Do you know where we could find one?”

“You need to come with me.”

“Excuse me?” No one was telling us what to do. I didn’t trust this mountain man.

“The girl is freezing. She needs shelter.”

The crunching of more snow announced the arrival of someone else. I tightened my hold on Mary Anne.

“I see you found the intruders,” A male voice asked from behind us.

“We’re not intruders. We’re stranded.” Mary Anne replied before I could say anything.

“Hello there.” The man, who couldn’t have been over twenty-five or so, smiled revealing two rows of white teeth. He wore a short sleeve red t-shirt. He had to have been freezing. Like the first man, he was also in need of a shave. I probably was too.

“Hi.” Mary Anne leaned into my side. I wished I could do something. The situation was going from bad to worse. This guy was looking at her like he hadn’t seen a girl in years. Maybe he hadn’t.

“So we’re going to be going. I’m sorry we were on your land.” I tugged on Mary Anne’s arm.

“Going?” The second guy asked. “Where would you be going? You already admitted you’re stranded.”

“We’ll figure something out.”

He shrugged. “If you’d like to stay out here, that’s fine.”

“Okay, good.” I turned. Anything seemed better than being with these guys.

“Wait. I said you could. I never said anything about the girl.” His eyes zeroed in on her.

“She’s with me.” There was no way I was letting these guys touch her.

“I’m afraid I can’t with a good conscious leave a girl out here in the cold. If you want to freeze to death, that’s your choice. She’ll be coming with us.”

Mary Anne looked at me through petrified eyes.

I pulled her closer. “She doesn’t go anywhere without me.”

“It’s your choice. She’ll be well taken care of.”

She shuddered.

I’d gone from annoyed to angry, but I didn’t want to make things worse. I couldn’t take on both guys, and they were right. We’d freeze to death outside. It would all be okay if we remained together. “She stays with me.”

“Let’s get moving then. She needs to get out of the cold.” The second man reached for her arm, but I pulled her further into my side.

Both men laughed. “A little protective are you?”

“No one touches her.” I was careful to avoid using her name. There was no reason to give them more information.

“Are you two a couple?” The first man asked.

“Yes,” I answered automatically.

She smiled. Despite everything, it felt good to say that, and I could tell it made her happy.

“Lucky man,” the one in the t-shirt mumbled.

“I know.” I tried to relax. Maybe I’d misread their early stance. Maybe they were just concerned about a young woman out in the snow. If these guys were the country bumpkin type they probably had very traditional notions about women. If we just played along with them we’d be fine. They’d want to get her home to her parents.

“Would you like me to carry you?” The second man asked her. “You must be exhausted.”

“No, I can walk.” She sounded distant. I’m sure the hunger, cold, and fear were wearing on her.

“You look like you might fall over.”

“If anyone carries her, it’s going to be me.” I needed to make sure they both understood how things were going to work.

The guy in the fleece shook his head. “You don’t look so good yourself.”

They were probably right. I was exhausted, but that didn’t mean I was going to let some strange brute pick her up.

She touched my arm reassuringly. “I’m fine. You’ve been walking just as long as I have.”

“Yeah, but he has better boots on. Why are you wearing those things?” He pointed at her pink winter boots.

“They look cute and are warm when they’re dry.”

“So why would you wear them in the snow?” He pressed.