Authors: S.E. Gilchrist
“Hey, I appreciate the
call. Thanks.” Madeline laid the phone down on the counter and looked at him.
Shock had widened her eyes and her hands trembled visibly. “That was a work
colleague letting me know that the police are on their way to arrest me on
theft charges. How could you? I’ve never done anything to hurt you. I don’t
even know you and yet, you lied and said I’ve stolen your credit cards and cash
from your wallet. Shit, maybe you even set me up with the missing till money.”
With every word she uttered, her voice rose higher and higher.
“What?” Harrison shook
his head, longing to draw her into his arms and hold her tight. “This is news
to me. I swear on my mother’s soul, I didn’t do any such thing. Whoever is
making these claims, is not me.”
“Whatever. You need to go.”
“No. What we need to do,
is sort out this mess.”
She rubbed her face,
saying, “I can’t believe this is happening.”
“I’m sorry, babe. I truly
am but I’m as much in the dark as you. But we can work this out.”
“How?” Madeline poured a
glass of water for herself from the tap and turned back around, leaning against
the sink as if she needed the support to stand.
“Someone is obviously
lying to get you into trouble.”
Frowning, she pressed the
glass to her forehead. “I don’t understand anything that’s going on, all I know
is that someone is setting me up.”
He gave into his primal
urge to wrap his arms around her waist, pulling her back against him. Man, did
she feel good. Memories of their mind-blowing hours together in that red room
flooded him. But now wasn't the time to be getting all hot and bothered.
Gritting his teeth and
hoping she wouldn’t feel how hard his dick was, he said, “Let me help you. I
think you’re gonna have to anyway, since it looks I’m involved somehow. I’ve
got an idea.” He held his breath and told his conscience to shut up when it
began to warn him, taking advantage of the situation was not a good idea.
“There’s a small cabin I rent during the week when I’m working in the marshes,
saves me traveling time running back and forth from my apartment here in Karim.
Pack a few things, grab your brother, and you both stay there, give us some
time to think everything through without the cops leaning over your shoulders.”
“I think I really need to
deal with this problem right here and now.”
“Sounds to me that you
have to prove you’ve been set up.”
Madeline chewed her
bottom lip and gazed into his face. “I already got that part.”
“If you’re charged, does
that mean they’ll put you in a cell straight away?”
“I guess until I make
bail.” She pulled away and placed her hands over her face. “Shit. I can’t think
straight. I’ll have to get an attorney. There goes the last of our savings.”
“They have to find you
before they can charge you, right? Lie low at the cabin until we get the proof
“We?” She peered at him
over her hands. “I don't know. It might be best if we stay and deal with this
problem here and now.”
“Babe, you need to make
sure you've got all the right answers before fronting up to the cops. I know
I’m right. I'll keep you and your brother safe.”
“You really mean it,
She nodded and gave a
Rocked to his core at the
warmth in her face, jubilation and hope dancing in his heart, Harrison mumbled,
“Five minutes and we are out of here.”
Madeline sat crammed
between her brother and Harrison on the bench seat of Harrison’s pick up as
they took the state highway out of town and headed in a southernly direction.
Her migraine had reduced to a mild throb in her temples and her nausea had
faded to queasiness. No longer dazed, her normal no-nonsense self, began to
reappear and the further they drove, the more she wondered whether she’d done
the right thing in leaving Karim.
leg or arm brushed against her body and each time she attempted to squirm a
little closer to her brother. It wasn’t that she found the contact repulsive;
rather it was the opposite and that realization was quite disconcerting.
He’d been nothing but
kindness when he’d discovered her huddled in the bathroom. And that massage…by
God, it had taken the edge off her pain and driven back the darkness
sufficiently for her to stand upright.
Although, obviously not
sufficient to drive me to my proper senses.
feel like I’m on the run from the law in some B-grade movie. How on earth, did
it get to this point?
Hustled by Harrison, like a sheep dog herding up a
particularly contrary sheep, she’d raced around the house packing a couple of
duffle bags with clothes and a few personal belongings. He’d given her little
chance to think things through logically and certainly no time to change her
mind. Before she knew it, she’d stuffed her laptop into a backpack along with
her treasured photo album and added the only thing she possessed that had
belonged to her unknown father—an old leather-bound book of poems by
Wordsworth. After loading Harrison up with extra blankets, they’d secured her
gear in his truck and driven to Karim Academy.
“This is mega cool.
Pulled out of school and driving off into the sunset, chased by cops.” Her brother
leaned forward and grinned at Harrison.
“This isn’t a game,”
Madeline snapped, her mind buzzing with all kinds of terrifying what if’s.
Uncertain how much to
tell him, she’d given her brother a garbled story about the police wanting to
question her over a theft at the Club. Although, why she had dragged him out of
school in the middle of the day was a question she hadn’t answered; only said
it was important. Used to obeying his elder sister, Matty hadn’t put up too
much of a fuss. Yet. And the day wasn’t over. Any moment now and he’d want to
know the real reason.
She gripped her hands
together in her lap. How much to tell him?
I can’t tell him about the bet.
That is just too…too much.
“Leave off, sis. I know
that, but you got to admit, it’s kinda cool.”
“Not to me, it isn’t.”
She fell silent, loathe to admit how anxious she really was at the thought of
losing her brother and their futures tainted by a pack of lies. He already knew
what was at stake and didn’t need reminding every five minutes.
“What’s with your weird
accent, dude?” Matty said.
“Hey, you blokes are the
ones with the weird accent,” Harrison shot back, grinning. “I’m an Aussie, all
the way from New South Wales.”
“Yeah? What are you doing
Harrison’s smile faded.
“I’m an ornithologist and part of an international research team doing a study
on how climate change affects migrating birds. We’ve been split into seven
groups of three and my lot is based in McFadden National Wildlife Refuge. Any
kind of water birds is my specialty, but my favorite is the snow goose. I can
go on for hours but I won’t bore you.”
Matty laughed. “I know
what that’s like, when you’re on your fav topic and your listener’s eyes start
to glaze over. Sound familiar, sis?”
“It’s not that I find
chemistry boring, its only that I don’t know a great deal about it,” Madeline
“Is that what you intend
to study when you go to college?” asked Harrison.
“If I get there.” Her
brother gave a short laugh, but Madeline caught the underlying anxiety beneath
“You will.” Keen to
switch the focus onto something else, she turned to Harrison. “What do you
think of Texas?”
“Love it.” His response
was prompt and rang with enthusiasm. “There’s a position opening up with the US
Fish and Wildlife Service that could have been written expressly for me. I’m
thinking of applying for the job. ‘Course I’ll have to extend my work visa but
it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Madeline’s heart sped up
a notch. “Sounds like you might be staying around for a while.”
Oh God, I
sound so breathless, like a starry-eyed teenager
“That’s one of my plans.
What pans out over the next couple of days will help me to decide.” A little
smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.
Madeline stiffened and
switched her gaze to the windshield, appalled at how much she wanted to press a
kiss to those sexy lips of his. “Will that mean working at the McFadden Park?”
“Partly. The job also
entails a fair bit of conservation work in Trinity River National Wildlife
Park. I guess budget constraints have come into play, probably cramming two
separate positions into one. I don’t mind. I like to be busy and Trinity River
has some fascinating birdlife.”
The need to cross-examine
him about his involvement in the bet, and what he knew about Roberta and her
lies bubbled in her chest like a volcano about to erupt. With her brother
sitting beside her and listening to every word, she knew now wasn’t the time.
As if sensing her desire
to keep the conversational ball rolling on innocuous topics, Harrison said,
“The cabin’s about fifteen minutes’ drive out of the Refuge and it’s a bit
isolated. Got Wi-Fi though.”
“That’s a relief. I have
an exam next week and my English teacher, Old Schumacher, posted some articles
on the school forum for us to read beforehand.” Matty shifted on the seat.
“You’ll be back before
then, I promise.” Why did everything they say somehow lead back to their
Her brother offered her a
stick of gum. “How did you two meet?”
About to pop the gum in
her mouth, she coughed, her face flaming as hot as an iron.
But Harrison said easily,
“We met at the Club last night and hit it off right away.”
That was one way of
describing the incredible sex they’d shared. Her belly roiled with a return of
her nausea. Madeline balled the gum up in the paper and shoved it into the
Harrison asked her
brother about his baseball team and within seconds the two of them were
recalling every game they either watched on screen or seen in person. Left
alone with her thoughts, Madeline was barely aware of the passing time, until
Harrison announced they were almost there.
She came out of her deep
reverie to find the rolling hills surrounding Karim had faded into the distance
and they had turned off the highway onto a smoothly graded gravel road that
wound through a pine forest. The ground here was fairly flat. Thick shadows
were cast by the trees and overhead dark, grey clouds covered the sky. Harrison
flicked on the headlights. Droplets of rain began to fall, splattering on the
glass and Harrison switched on the windshield wipers.
He slowed down and turned
onto a track that twisted like a manic snake through the trees. The headlights
glinted off brackish pools of water indicating they had entered the marshlands.
Gradually the forest fell away and the track petered out into a wide clearing
where a log cabin squatted. A long, narrow lean-too close by provided shelter
for the car and a stack of firewood.
“We’re here.” Harrison
killed the engine and slung an arm along the back of the seat, turning around
to smile at them.
More aware of his
proximity than she cared to admit, Madeline edged forward so she wouldn’t make
contact with him.
“Looks great,” she lied.
Her heart sank as she studied what she considered had to be one of the most
primitive buildings she’d ever seen.
Trees hemmed the area in
to the west, and to the south and east the land dipped down to boggy marsh land
grassed with thigh-high, thin reeds that swayed and rustled with the wind. The
shadows were deep, where anything could be hiding and there wasn’t another soul
or house in sight.
The rain fell harder,
slapping on the car’s roof. Cold seeped through her clothes, chilling her bones
now that the engine had been turned off, and she shivered. “Er…is there power?”
She didn’t dare ask about toilet facilities.
“Somehow I get the impression you’ve never been camping.”
Madeline exchanged an
equally horrified glance with her brother. In unison they said, “No.”
And that was true.
Camping out here in the middle of nowhere where, God only knew what kind of
man-eating beasts prowled not to mention the snakes, was not really the same as
squatting in untenanted buildings in a city.
“You’re in for a treat.”
Harrison’s voice rang with enthusiasm.
Staring about her,
Madeline doubted it. The place gave her the impression of complete isolation.
Any minute, she expected to see an ax-wielding maniac dash out of the trees.
She peeped at their driver from the corner of her eyes. What was his real
agenda? Was he a friend or did he have some ulterior motive?
And more to the point,
what had possessed her to trust him?
Harrison started the car
again and drove under the lean-to where he parked.
“Brrrr. I’m freezing,”
Matty said, opening his door.
Before she could raise an
objection and request Harrison drive them back to Karim, Matty hopped out of
the car. He slung his backpack over his shoulders and made a dash for the front
porch, leaping over the rapidly forming puddles of water.
Madeline felt rather than
saw the glance Harrison threw at her before he also got out of the car,
shutting the driver’s door quietly behind him. Instead of heading straight for
the house, he went to the rear of his pickup and flung back the canvas canopy.
“Come on, sis,” yelled
Matty as he opened what apparently was an unlocked door and disappeared inside
Her heart hammering
against her ribs, she zipped up her overcoat and after pulling the hood over
her head, followed her brother.
The front door made of
thick planks opened into a communal living space. Although small and even
without the lights switched on, the stone fireplace and woolly throw rugs
covering the two sofas gave the cabin a homely appeal. A tiny kitchenette
dominated one corner of the room and there was a door on either side of the
“Home sweet home. At
least for a few days.” A bunch of bags and blankets landed at her feet and
Harrison reached around her to flick the light switch.
The glow from the lone
bulb overhead illuminated the room. Harrison paid no intention to her. Instead,
he hoisted up the bags once more and tramped through the room to one of the
“Only one bedroom and
it’s on the small side, I’m afraid. You can sleep here, Madeline. Your brother
and I will have the couches. The other door leads to the loo and the shower.
We’re on tank water though, which means you’ll have to be sparing with wash
time.” He dumped the bags again onto the floor then walked back to the front
door where he slung off his oil-skin and hung the dripping garment from a
timber peg. “Shoes off, please, Matt. Saves me having to wipe mud off the
“Sorry.” Matty grinned
and surged up off the sofa to toe his boots off near the door.
Silently, Madeline copied
him and also hung up her wet overcoat. She picked up the pile of blankets and
moved to the nearest sofa where she laid them down neatly.
Harrison raked her with
an encompassing glance. Heat bloomed under her skin. What must he think of her?
Dressed in a pair of old sweat pants and a flannel shirt, and with her hair
loosely tied back into one braid. She didn’t have a slick of makeup on her
face—such a stark contrast to her outfit of last night. Hugging herself, she
turned away from his intense gaze.
“No trophies of deer or
bear heads?” Nodding, she indicated the bare timber walls.
“I’m no hunter. I’m a
conservationist, remember?” He bent to stoke the fire with a pile of kindling
and lit a match. Soon, a welcoming blaze warmed the room.
Rubbing her hands
together and a trifle uncertain of what to do next, Madeline wandered over to
the stove and inspected the twin burners. Gas, which would be handy if the
storm cut off the electricity supply to the cabin. A perusal of the cupboard
contents revealed plenty of canned food as well as tea, coffee supplies, and
powdered milk. It would have to do. She was dying for a hot drink. She quickly
located the kettle and soon was handing around coffees.
With the door firmly shut
against the storm raging outside and a fire burning brightly, Madeline began to
relax. Maybe this hadn’t been a crazy idea after all. Taking her mug, she
settled on a sofa and idly watched her brother work on his iPad.
“Assignment,” he said
without looking up.