Yellowstone Deception(9)

By: Peggy L Henderson

“So. Are you ready?” he asked, breaking the awkward silence.

“Um, sorry. Let me get my shoes,” she stammered, and turned hastily into the room. She hoped he hadn’t noticed her face, which must be flaming red at this point, judging by the heat creeping up her neck. Dear God, she would never survive this evening without making a complete fool of herself.

Too late, she realized she should have invited him in. Her nerves were getting the better of her. Maybe she could feign a sudden illness and tell him she couldn’t go out to dinner after all.

“Can I come in?” he called, still standing in the hall.

“Oh . . . sure.” Jana cringed. The door closed behind her with a soft click.

“Did you bring hiking boots?” Dan asked. She turned, and chanced a look at him. He stood, eyeing his surroundings. Apparently, he was just as impressed with the nice room as she had been earlier.

“Yes. I figured I’d need them to go see Aimee’s . . . the spot you thought was her grave.” She turned to face him. She noticed the daypack he had slung over one shoulder.

“You might want to wear them,” he suggested when she reached for her sandals at the foot of the bed.

“Now?” she echoed. “Isn’t it too late to hike Purple Mountain?”

“It is. I’m taking you to dinner, remember?” His smile sent renewed adrenaline through her veins. He pulled the pack from his shoulder, and held it out. “Dinner’s in here,” he said before she had time to wonder at the gesture.

“We’re eating trail mix?” she asked, hoping her attempt at following Aimee’s advice to lighten up didn’t come across as too stupid-sounding.

Dan laughed. “I may be a cheap date, but hopefully not that cheap. Local burgers were all I could come up with. But for my lack of gourmet fare, I hope the ambiance will make up for it.”

“Ambiance?” Jana swallowed nervously. His inference that this was a date sent another rush of warmth through her system.

“Yeah. I hope you’ll like it.”

Curious, but afraid to ask what he was talking about, Jana sat on the bed and pulled on her hiking boots. While she tied them, Dan continued to survey the room. “I hope this is comfortable enough for you,” he said, pushing aside the curtain to look out the window. He had slung his pack over one shoulder again.

“This is really too much. I could have just as easily stayed in a motel room outside the park.” Jana stood, and grabbed for a wool sweater she’d hung in the closet earlier. She stared at Dan’s back. His shirt hugged him like a second skin along his shoulder blades, defining the muscles along either side of his spine. He turned, and her eyes quickly darted to the ground, hoping he hadn’t caught her staring.

“Ready?” he asked, and moved to open the door for her. She realized he hadn’t responded to her comment. He stood aside, and waited for her to step out of the room ahead of him. His hand lightly touched her lower back as he followed her into the hall. She suppressed a gasp. His warm hand might as well have been a hot iron as it sent coils of heat radiating up her back, down her legs, and around her waist, to settle in the pit of her stomach. She fumbled in her pocket for the room key.

With her nerves on edge at her heated reaction to his simple touch, Jana followed Dan as he walked briskly down the hall, through the lobby, and out into the bright early evening sunshine. He cut a sharp right along the sidewalk, and headed across the parking lot toward the visitor center. She broke into a jog to keep up with his long, confident strides.

“Where are we going?” she finally asked when they skirted the visitor center and headed for the boardwalks leading to the Upper Geyser Basin. He seemed to be in quite a hurry.

Dan slowed, and glanced over his shoulder. He waited for her to catch up with him.

“If we hurry, we’ll be able to see Old Faithful erupt.” There was a boyish enthusiasm in his voice. Aimee’s enthusiasm. No matter how many times she’d seen Old Faithful erupt, the idea of seeing it again had excited her every time.

“But we’re right here.” Jana swept her arm to their left. Old Faithful’s sinter cone stood like a solitary sentinel several hundred feet away, steam and occasional sprays of water belching from the opening. The benches that lined the boardwalk were already filled with people, but at this hour, the number of spectators was far fewer than earlier in the day.

Also By Peggy L Henderson

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