Hey, Call! You over here? Call! Is everything all right?”
She whimpered as he whipped his mouth away and softly cursed. With an unsteady hand, he jerked down her sweatshirt and stepped protectively in front of her, leaving her shielded behind his body and the trunk of the tree.
“Everything’s fine, Toby.” His voice sounded raspy. She wondered if his friend would notice.
“I thought I heard shots,” Toby said, “but I was cooking so I didn’t pay all that much attention. Then I went into the living room and found the front door open. When I saw your rifle gone from the rack, I was afraid something bad might have happened.”
“Our neighbor, Ms. Sinclair, came nose to nose with her first black bear.” Call looked her way, gave her a quick once-over, saw that she didn’t look too disheveled, and tugged her out from behind the tree. “Charity Sinclair, meet Toby Jenkins. Toby’s chief-cook-and-bottle-washer over at my place, and all-around handyman. At least he is till he leaves for college in the fall. Toby, this is Ms. Sinclair, our new neighbor.”
“Nice to meet you, ma’am. I heard Mose sold the place. I’ve been meaning to come over and say hello.”
“Forget the ma’am,” Charity told him. “It makes me feel too old. Charity is enough.”
He nodded, smiled. He was young, maybe nineteen or twenty, with thick, dark red hair and a few scattered freckles, sort of a young John Kennedy, an attractive boy with what appeared to be a pleasant disposition. She wondered if he could tell by looking at her what had been going on when he arrived. Then she noticed Call’s shirt was open and missing a button and felt her face heating up again.
Call cleared his throat. “I’ll be home in a couple of minutes, Toby.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll have your breakfast waiting.” With a wave good-bye, he set off down the path the way he had come.
When Charity turned, she saw Call watching her, his face dark, his expression closed up as it usually was. “I didn’t mean for that to happen.”
Oh, God. He was obviously sorry it had and it made her even more embarrassed. “Neither did I. I don’t make a habit of…of…I don’t exactly know what happened.” She studied her feet, then stared off toward the creek. “It must have been the fear, you know? They say when your life is threatened you revert to your most basic instincts.”
She risked a glance at him, saw that his jaw looked iron-hard. “Yeah, that must be it.”
She glanced away, trying not to think of what they’d just done.
Trying not to wonder what would have happened if Toby hadn’t arrived when he did.
“You’d better go,” she said, making an effort to smile. “Your breakfast is waiting and I’ve got work to do.”
As she started to turn, the sun peeked out from behind a cloud, casting shadows beneath his cheekbones and the little indentation on his chin. He didn’t move when she grabbed the plastic bag of garbage and headed for one of the heavy iron trash cans that were supposed to be bear-proof.
She saw him walk over and pick up his rifle, his fingers wrapping around the stock with a casual ease that said he was comfortable with the weapon. He didn’t walk away as she expected. Instead, he stood there watching, waiting until she disappeared inside the house.