TESS OF OWL CREEK
Buddy whined and sat down on his haunches. “We’ve only gone five miles, Buddy,” she said patting him on the head. “We have fifteen more to go. If we’re lucky we’ll be there by dusk. We’re going home where we belong—where we’ve always belonged. We won’t have much, but we’ll have peace of mind. I’m going to put my sore feet in the spring, first thing. And I’m going to put you in there with me. It will be fun.”
A shiny black SUV went by leaving a trail of dust, then it slowed, pulled over to the shoulder of the road, and stopped. The stranger rolled down his window, and she wiped her forehead with her arm, and trudged over. His dark eyes looked directly at her. “There’s not a house within miles. What are you doing out here alone?”
She was not shy when she answered. “I’m headed to Owl Creek Rd,” she said. “It’s not far from Charm. I have a cabin there.”
“You shouldn’t be out here alone,” he said with a look of concern. "I’d be happy to drive you wherever you need to go.” He paused. “I’m Sawyer Rhodes. I have a horse farm near your cabin. It looks like we’re neighbors.”
She was taken aback by his offer. “Are you sure? Your car looks clean, and my dog is pretty dirty.” All the while she was looking him over. He looked trustworthy, and her intuition told her it would be fine. She nodded, and he climbed out of the vehicle. Wagging his tale, Buddy licked the stranger’s hand.
“Ferocious dog,” he chided as he lifted the hatch. Buddy jumped in, and Sawyer took the carpet bag from Tess and set it beside Buddy.
“I’ll keep the computer with me,” she said holding the black Vera Bradley bag close. “My life is in it.”
He smiled a slow easy smile. “There’s plenty of room,” he said making sure she was settled in before he shut the car door.
She’d noticed a litheness about him when he walked around to the driver’s side—and climbed in with ease. He wore a black hat, and was dressed in a black jacket and trousers. She guessed he was a Mennonite though she’d never seen a Mennonite driving a car this nice.
She settled back into the seat and murmured, “Air conditioning,” she said as she breathed in the newness of the vehicle and the smell of leather. “It feels really good.”
“How long have you been walking?” he asked his face serious.
“Five hours,” she said glancing at his profile. His tan face and lean body told her that he liked the outdoors, and was a working man. He’d said he had a horse farm. She’d noticed his lips right away, they were firm. His nose was straight. There was no doubt about it, he was incredibly good looking. Suddenly, she was aware of her own dust ridden, sweaty body. She scooted toward the door to put distance between them.
“You must have wanted to leave pretty bad to set off walking in this heat,” Sawyer said.
“I did,” Tess replied. She didn’t see any point in explaining because she was sure she would never see him again. He probably had a girlfriend. It was ridiculous to think that there was a remote possibility that he would have interest in her.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked as if he were genuinely interested.
She put her hand to her forehead. “My mother died yesterday,” she said in a broken voice. “My stepfather is getting married tomorrow.” And then she was rambling, “I had to get out of there. The sight of him sickened me. I had to leave my trunk there. It has my books in it, and some sentimental things.” Her hand went to her throat with a look of disbelief, “I forgot my mother’s locket. She wore it every day---my father gave it to her on their wedding day. She gave it to me when she was dying and I left it on the dresser.”
He reached over and touched her shoulder. “Don’t worry. We’ll go back and get your things. I have a truck at my farm.”
She felt unraveled. “I don’t know what to say. Why would you do this? Why do you care?”
“Somebody helped me once,” Sawyer said. “He was a complete stranger. I was down and out on my luck and he helped me get back on my feet.” He patted her shoulder. “It’s payback time.”