Worth the Wait (St. James #1)(15)

by Jamie Beck

Vivi giggled. “No one wants to suffer her wrath, do they?”

“No.” David shuddered with exaggeration. “No, they don’t.”

Hank’s odd expression aroused Vivi’s curiosity about the prickly vibe between Cat and him. Maybe she should scuttle her matchmaking plans.

They meandered down Cherry Hill Road, avoiding the occasional car or bike that passed by. Vivi concentrated on the rhythmic scuffing of their feet against the pavement to keep her thoughts off David. Awkward minutes stretched like hours until Vivi spied the hollow’s entrance near Cooneymus Road.

“So, what is this place, anyway?” Hank asked as they descended into the wooded reserve.

“About twenty thousand years ago, glacial meltwater eroded the southern end of the island, leaving three large kettle holes.” David’s hands gestured as he spoke, and Vivi noted the gleam in his eye. “Most of the hundreds of depressions on the island have clay bottoms and hold water, but here the bottom is porous. Those who think parts of the hollow sit below sea level are wrong. The actual bottom of the deepest kettle hole is about twenty feet above sea level. It’s also—”

“Geek!” interjected Vivi, waving her hands in the air. “Hank, we’re roaming along dirt paths in the wilderness where everything is nice and quiet. Ignore him or he’ll try to scare you with a story of some weird rodent—”

“The small-mouth Block Island meadow vole, found only here—” David began.

“Whatever.” She grinned after cutting him off a second time. David playfully nudged her, but she persisted. “To listen to him, you’d think the place were infested.”

“I recall a certain someone running away squealing after we found a nest.” David flashed a triumphant smile.

“Yeah, and I’ve got the scar to prove it.” She pointed to a noticeable, half-inch-long white stripe on her shin.

“Don’t whine.” He placed his hand around the nape of her neck and stroked it with his thumb, sending a frisson of energy along her nerves. “I’m the one who got a hernia carrying you all the way back to the house.”

His warm gaze made her forget everything except how much he’d always meant to her. Old feelings stretched her heart open. She knew her radiant smile projected the feelings she’d been trying to conceal, and she didn’t care.

“So, when do you need to get back to Laney?” Hank’s ice-water reminder doused her momentary happiness.

“Forty-five minutes or so.” David removed his hand from Vivi’s neck, leaving a chill in its wake.

She frowned. Oh God, how she turned into a puddle over any attention from him. Pathetic. Rallying her willpower, she stopped suddenly on a wide area of the path surrounded by lush greenery.

“This looks like a nice spot for photos.”

“You’ve got a good eye, Vivi.” Hank stood under the canopy of a shadbush tree and admired the scenery. Dappled sunlight glinted off his golden hair.

“Thanks.” She inhaled the wooded scent of the reserve. “Don’t move.” She snapped several quick shots of him and the tree. Its multistemmed trunk reached up behind him like fingers extending from a palm.

“Enough!” Hank’s hand blocked her from taking additional photos.

“Come on, don’t play coy, Hank. You love showing off your hot body in those formfitting T-shirts.”

He tossed his head with a short laugh. Gorgeous. Vivi snapped two more shots of him and his twinkling eyes before he moved away from the tree.

“Hey, I came to keep you company.” He wagged his finger in mock anger. “Not to be the subject of your pictures.”

“If you want to spend time with Vivi,” David interjected, “you’ll learn to tolerate the photos.” He dug his toe into the dirt. Was he angry with her for taking pictures of Hank?

“Tolerate?” She pivoted toward him. “Interesting. Here I’d always thought you were a willing participant in my photo journals.” Then she twisted her wrist dismissively. “Guess it’s good for both of us I’ve found a new subject.”

David glanced away before he softly uttered, “Perhaps you’re right.”

Vivi resisted the urge to stick out her tongue, but it was darn hard. She settled for shooting close-ups of the Northern Arrowwood shrubs. Several minutes later, she replaced the lens cap. “We should head back. Cat’s probably awake and getting bored.”

“Lead the way.” Hank carried the camera bag for her.

David trailed behind them, his head bowed. Vivi tried not to speculate about his mood swing. She’d already frittered away years of misreading his intentions.

Twigs snapping under the crush of footsteps pierced the silence. Her stomach knotted; she hated conflict and tension.

“Let’s play a game. Something easy, like the ABC game.” Vivi’s eyes scoured the path. “Aha! Ants. I got the A. David, find us a B.”

“Bark.” He pointed to a nearby tree.

“Cloud,” Hank offered, looking up at the cottony splotch in the otherwise blue sky.

Behind her, Vivi heard David mumble, “ABC game.” Her quick glance caught him grinning despite his downcast eyes.

Once they arrived at the house, Hank excused himself to search for Jackson. David stopped on the front steps and gazed at the side yard, apparently lost in thought. He turned to Vivi, cocking his head. “There is no going back, is there? No matter how badly I want to.” His shoulders slumped as he turned to go inside without waiting for an answer.

Alone on the steps, Vivi congratulated herself for surviving another round with David, and tried to ignore the heaviness settling in her chest. With Hank’s help, she just might make it through the week.

CHAPTER FIVE

Georgetown University

Twelve Years Ago

Alone in his cramped dorm room, David pushed back from his desk to hunt for his red pen. He thought he’d left it in the pencil cup. Apparently not. After turning his backpack inside out, he slouched onto his bed with his computer case and began methodically digging through each pocket. He didn’t find the missing pen, but his fingers discovered a folded note wedged between two interior partitions.

Curiosity pricked him upon finding the unfamiliar letter. A faint vanilla aroma reached his nose when he unfolded the missive. He then smiled, immediately recognizing the girlish cursive handwriting, scrawled in purple ink.

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