Chapter 2 - The Chase
30 Mar 2012
The first rays of sun dipped gently across Shannon’s eyelids, the light bending with the light breeze that swayed the branches outside her window. The branches sagged heavily with snow. Coyly, the light teased Shannon’s dreams into romantic flights of fancy. When she finally peeked out of the corner of her eye, she almost expected to find Cole gently kissing her lashes. Then she remembered she had locked the bedroom door. She stretched catlike and languorous from fingertips to toes. She remembered her dream and felt the internal heat ignite again deep within her. She sighed. What was wrong with her? She didn’t know anything about Cole except that he had saved her from freezing to death in the snow outside his home. That was certainly not a reason to be flustered and school girlish. After all, it would take a pretty cold person to watch another freeze to death in this isolated place. The only other thing Shannon knew probably said more about her than him. She knew that his eyes held secrets that she guessed she might not want to know. But she also had felt magic in the touch of his fingers. What does that tell you? She scolded. The first good-looking man you’ve seen in 15 years and your head turns. Simpleton. That’s what you are: a simpleton. Oh, my God, she put her hand to her forehead. I’ve really lost it. I’ve got to get out of here!
She jumped up from the bed and pulled the bathrobe tighter around her body. She would have to hope that Cole was not up yet or that he had gone hunting or something. Either of those conditions would leave her free to move to the fireplace, recover her clothes, get dressed and leave. Cautiously peeking her head out into the hallway, she saw that Cole’s door was still closed and all was quiet. Shannon soundlessly crept down the hallway to the fireplace. She stopped just short of the breakfast bar and held her breath. She didn’t smell anything cooking, not even coffee, so she felt it was safe to move further toward the fireplace. Her clothes were right where she had left them hours earlier. And Cole was right. They were downright toasty now. Grabbing the clothes, she raced back to the guest room. She pulled on her under things and her sweat outfit. She kept on Cole’s wool socks. They were just too warm to give up. Now to find her shoes and get the heck out of there before she made a fool of herself. She wasn’t looking forward to hiking through the snow again without a jacket or boots but there it was.
Cole was still nowhere to be seen in the cabin. She felt herself wishing he had at least made some coffee before he left the cabin that morning so she could enjoy a cup before starting out. She slowly unlocked the cabin front door. She remembered from her previous visits that the door always squeaked. Well, she thought, Cole must have fixed that because now it opened without any complaint. She stepped out onto the porch and shut the door soundlessly behind her. She shivered in the frigid air. She would have to start running right away to keep from freezing to death. It was going to be slow going though with all the icy snow on the ground. She descended the stairs.
Suddenly, a large animal bounded out of the woods and headed straight into her path. A wolf! How audacious it was to come so close to the cabin. Shannon froze at the bottom of the stairs and waited to see what the animal would do.
The wolf stared at her and growled a low, warning growl. She tried to back up the cabin steps but he growled again and Shannon stood still again, afraid he would charge. He was certainly a beautiful animal with ice blue eyes and a silvery sleek coat. Shannon found herself thinking how at home he looked. He didn’t look afraid of her. He looked more like he was protecting something, or maybe someone. Maybe he – or she – had a family nearby. That was not a comforting thought at all, Shannon thought to herself. Then, out of the blue, the wolf did the most unimaginable thing. He wagged his tail and sat his haunches in the snow. The wolf stared past Shannon and toward the cabin door with a happy doggy smile on his furry face, tongue hanging from his mouth.
“You’re not gonna get far without boots on,” drawled Cole. Shannon turned slowly toward the door, trying to keep the anger out of her face and her movements lest she upset the wolf. It was obvious now who the wolf was protecting.
“Have you been there this whole time?” She asked quietly.
“Pretty much”, he smiled. “I see you’ve met RIO.”
“RIO. It’s a fighter pilot term. It stands for radio interference officer but he’s just my main man”, Cole said coming down the stairs and walking towards RIO. He dropped to his knees and started rubbing the wolf behind the ears and petting him like a dog. RIO loved every minute of it. Shannon shook her head and went back up the stairs to the cabin.
“You’re nuts”, she said, as she slammed the cabin door only a tiny bit harder than she intended. Cole continued to pet the wolf.
“Don’t mind her”, he said, rubbing the wolf between the eyes. “She’s just crabby without her morning coffee”.
Then, Cole laughed, straightened up and walked to a large barrel that sat by the cabin wall, protected by the patio steps. Lifting the cover to reach inside, he pulled out a large bowl filled with dog food and sat it down in front of the wolf. Then, he said, “Enjoy your breakfast, Buddy. Meat scraps from breakfast coming up in a few.”
Cole bounded up the steps but stopped short in front of the door. He put his shoulders back and prepared himself for the cold reception he knew he would receive once he stepped over the threshold.
Shannon was pacing in front of the fireplace. She was one angry woman, for sure. She stopped pacing when she heard the door close behind Cole. She glared at him from across the room.
“Ok”, Cole said. “So you didn’t think RIO was funny”.
“Funny?” Shannon asked incredulously. “You could have told me. I could have been attacked or something”.
“Not as long as you weren’t threatening me”, Cole said reasonably. “I apologize”, he said earnestly.
“You should have told me,” Shannon insisted. “You should have said something”.
“What was I supposed to say? And when?” Cole’s tone was starting to get heated too. “You came charging in here yesterday, pass out on my steps, without so much as a “how do you do” you take a shower in my home. Then you come out half-naked and tell me some crazy story about being chased. Then you disappear before breakfast the next day. When did I have time to even think about the dog?”
“Shannon, I raised him from a pup. He’s half-wolf and half-husky. He’s very socialized with people. He likes to roam so I let him. He always comes home for food in the morning. He wouldn’t have hurt you.”
“What if I had sneaked out last night?”
“That would have been very stupid. And I don’t think you’re a stupid woman. Incautious, maybe.”
Shannon’s Irish was up again. “Incautious, am I?”
“Hell, yes, you are. You had no idea who was in this cabin or what relation I was to the guy chasing you. He could have been chasing you here to me. Did you even think of that?” Cole was sorry as soon as he said the words. Shannon’s face went white with fear.
“No, I d-didn’t”, she stammered. “I just thought of the cabin as my refuge..my safe zone. It never occurred to me that he could be chasing me toward the cabin or, that you were waiting for me here. I mean, I thought about the fact that he could have been in the cabin but when he was still chasing behind me, I never really took the thought seriously. I never thought about him chasing me toward an accomplice.”
“Well, he wasn’t”, Cole reassured her. “I wasn’t.” Cole crossed to her and put his arms on her shoulders. “I’m not the enemy, Shannon. I’m just saying you need to be more careful. Taking off alone through these woods again - on foot - without knowing whether he’s still there or what he wants is not smart or careful.”
“What can I do? There’s no phone here to call police. No cell coverage. I have to get back to town to do anything about him”.
Cole gently pushed a lock of her hair off her face and back behind her ear. He smiled and said softly, “First, we have breakfast. Then, we’ll talk strategy”.
Damn him, Shannon thought, as she turned her face into his implied caress to her face. Why does he have to be so confident and handsome and so...so...male? Cole's eyes were very dark with intensity but he turned abruptly away and moved towards the kitchen.
"So? Omelet again this morning? Or pancakes?" He stood with the pan in his hand, waiting for her to respond. He was having a hard time keeping control over his own emotions so he worked harder to keep his tone level and neutral. He didn't know why Shannon had this magnetic effect on him but he had to admit now that she did. He wanted to reach for her. The feeling was palpable. And what made it even more magical was that she didn't appear to notice her effect on him. She was too conscious of his effect on her and that alone was intoxicating to him.
"No, thanks." Shannon almost whispered her response. "Just coffee for me, thanks."
"Please, Shannon. You don't know when you'll be able to get something more substantial today. How about eggs and toast, at least." Cole was worried that he had spooked her. There was going to be enough emotional baggage flying around today as they worked to figure this mess out. He really hadn't intended to get her upset on a whole other level.
"I can't. I want to get going." Shannon sat down on the barstool to wait. It wasn't like she had anything to pack. She just had to wait for him to finish breakfast. She felt ridiculous. She just wanted to go.
"Ok, this won't take long." He threw four pieces of bread in the toaster just in case she changed her mind. He poured her a large cup of black coffee and set out the sugar and milk. Then he turned his attention to making an omelet - big enough for two if she changed her mind.
"So...what kind of pictures have you taken lately?" Cole tried to steer the conversation toward her work, hoping she would feel on safer ground.
"Why do you want to know?" Obviously, Shannon was not going to safer ground. She was now suspicious and angry.
"Just making conversation at the moment. You said you shoot lots of different things. What have you shot lately?"
Shannon tried to gather her thoughts. The last 24 hours seemed more like a week and it was difficult to get her mind out of the current mess. "Well, let's see a week ago, I did wedding photos for an old college roommate. A few days later, I took pictures in the park for a couple that had gotten married there and wanted pics of themselves on the horse and buggy ride. And yesterday morning I went to a client's home to do family portraits before I went running. Nothing exciting. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that would interest you, " she said coldly.
Cole brought his head up quickly. "What do you mean...interest me? You don't think I could be interested in your work unless it's out of the ordinary? I'd be willing to bet that your photographer's eye makes even the ordinary look extraordinary."
Shannon groaned. "Now you're teasing me."
"I swear, I'm not." Cole said, laughing gently. "Making small talk with you is next to impossible, isn't it?" Shannon smiled thinly. Then, Cole said, "So...were there other people around when you took the photos at the horse and carriage?"
"What is this - 20 questions? There was only the bride and groom." She smiled sarcastically. "Nobody else was still in the park. Why?"
"So nobody else's face appeared in the pictures?"
Shannon stared at him. "Well, there was a guy who was sitting on a park bench right where we were taking pictures. I couldn't get an angle that didn't include at least part of him so I took the shot and cut him out later. Why?"
"Did anyone try to contact you before you went running the other day?"
"Contact me? What do you mean?"
"Well, did anyone call you about the photo? Did the guy on the bench seem annoyed that you were taking the photo? Did anyone follow you after you left?"
"No, nothing like that. I went home, processed the shots, made a disc with the photos and sent it off to the address they gave me."
"Do you have a copy?"
"Well, yes, of course. I kept a copy."
"Do you have a copy of the photo before you "fixed" it?"
"Good. Now, finish your toast and we'll go."
"I told you I wasn't eating."
"You're just going to let that go to waste?"
"Finish while I get dressed. Then, we'll go." Shannon watched him head toward the bedroom. She sighed. She was hungry, so she took a bite out of the thick, homemade bread with extra butter. She sighed again morosely. She finished the toast while she waited for Cole. She thought about the man on the bench. She thought about the Hunter. She sighed heavily and wished she had never gone for a run that morning.
[to be continued]