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Chapter Seven

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I hopped from stone to stone, splashing stream water onto my wedge espadrilles. I should probably have worn sneakers. Did I own sneakers? Maybe I should have bought some, or, more realistically, borrowed some from Kaye.

Left to my own devices on one of my rare days off, I'd decided to do some sketching outside. I hadn't realized that, in Fall Island, "a nice walk along a nature trail" meant, at least by my standards, fording raging rivers and climbing mountains.

I ducked under a pine bough and emerged onto a cracked granite hilltop sparkling in the sunshine. The tops of the pine trees surrounding the hilltop looked like ocean waves cresting against an island. Even I had to admit the view was worth the hike up here.

Spreading an old blanket across the granite, I pulled a sketchbook and pencils from my handbag. I wanted to use my days off here to learn from Suzanna White, her energy, her use of color, to make my own work less dark, less quiet. I was so out of practice after my year with Rhys that I didn't know where to begin. Impulsively, I flipped open my sketchbook and drew Suzanna's angel statue, with her wings spread wide and each individual feather rippling in the wind. At the foot of her statue, I drew myself, gazing up at her. That was how small I felt, but also... how awed I was by her.

"Miranda?"

I scrambled to my feet, dropping my sketchbook on my picnic blanket.

Owen Larsen stood at the mouth of the path, with sunlight streaming down on his blond hair and broad shoulders. He squinted at me, his brow furrowing, while my heart pounded crazily. What was he doing here?

"You're hurt," Owen said.

"I am?" I glanced down. For the first time, I noticed the blood racing down my leg. A big gash on my knee hung open.

"Christ," Owen muttered, running his hand through his brilliant hair. He stalked across the hilltop towards me. "How did you do this?" he demanded.

"I don't know! I was just sketching."

Owen's gaze snapped towards mine. A strange flicker of emotion passed across his face. "You'd better sit down," he said gruffly, "and let me take a look at this."

"I'm sure it's fine," I said, even as the hot blood coated my shin and trickled dangerously close to the ankle strap of my wedges. "My shoe," I added stupidly.

Owen ducked under my shoulder and sat me down on the blanket. Kneeling beside me, he unbuckled the ankle strap. His big, scarred hands were surprisingly gentle, sliding across my ankle and instep. Without a word, he put the shoe on the blanket next to me.

"Thanks," I whispered, feeling incredibly silly. "I like these shoes."

"Got any napkins or tissues or anything?" Owen asked.

"No. Just my sketchbook paper."

Owen dismissed this suggestion with a grunt. His hands moved to the buttons of his flannel shirt.

"Oh, no," I said in alarm, "you don't have to-"

"It's all right," he muttered, tugging the shirt off. His muscular arms were lightly furred with golden hair, and his white undershirt was stretched taut across his broad chest and shoulders.

Good Lord.

"Hold still." His cheeks flushing, he placed one hand across my thigh. With his other hand, he tied his shirt carefully around my knee. "You have no idea how you did this?"

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