Her smile dissolved and she heaved a sigh that brimmed with regrets and what-ifs and might-have-beens.
If things had been different, she and Jake—
No “if” about it. If things had been different, she knew exactly where this weekend would have ended. In bed. Draped all over him like a blanket.
Her shoulders slumped. It was going to be tough saying goodbye to him. But dammit, she wasn’t going to ruin their last day together by dwelling on how much it’d hurt to never see Jake again. She was simply going to enjoy every last second of being with him.
She tucked a stray lock of hair back into her ponytail and pasted on a smile, determined not to let what she truly felt show on her face. But despite her resolve, the thought of severing all contact and trying to forget Jake, resuming her life and pretending everything was peachy, made her stomach roil and her chest tight and achy.
Jake glanced back over his shoulder and bellowed, “Andie. Quit gawkin’ at the scenery, sugar. We need to find shelter, STAT.”
A thunderous rumble punctuated his words.
Andie glanced up at the rapidly darkening sky. A flash seared her eyes. Whoa. Jake was right. Time to take cover. “Be right with you,” she called.
His reply was drowned by a boom so strident that it rolled through her body, reverberating through her sternum. Yikes. That sounded close. She hopped on her mountain bike and pedaled for all she was worth.
In the distance, a dazzling flare of lightning lit the hunched forms of the rest of Andie’s tour group. Another discordant grumble of thunder spurred her to even greater effort. In her haste, she shifted gears while free-wheeling and threw a chain. On cue, the lightly pattering rain swelled to a downpour.
“Shit.” She dismounted to peer at the rear wheel of her bike. The rain tormented her, mocking her efforts to realign the chain. She swiped a hand over her face and blinked water from her eyes. When she glanced up, she could just make out Jake and the other members of her group huddling in the lee of the towering rock spires.
Lightning crackled. Vivid, sizzling bursts of color outlined the terrain, transforming the previously muted terracotta palette with lurid otherworldly tones.
Jake’s shout sliced through her. She instinctively dropped into the lightning crouch. But curling her five-foot-five self into a smaller package, didn’t fool a billion volts traveling at two hundred thousand miles an hour through the air, looking for a convenient place to earth.
The lightning struck.
In one searing instant, Andie died.
Andie crumpled to the ground and Jake instantly reacted, exploding from the shelter and sprinting toward her with his heart in his mouth and desperation pounding through his veins.
And then he reached her, discovered she wasn’t breathing and her heart wasn’t beating. The scorched rags of her clothing horrified him but he shoved all emotion aside. He was too darn busy compressing her chest, breathing for her, willing her to live, to fully comprehend that the woman of his dreams had fallen victim to a lightning strike, that she might die before he could tell her he loved her…. Or who he really was.
Copyright 2011 by Maree Anderson
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