As Katie emerged from the thicker part of the woods, she saw the house first, washed in light and rising out of the distance. Music floated through the air, a rock and roll station that faded in and out. She peered around the trunk of one of the oak trees that surrounded the old plantation home.
A man walked out of the house carrying a length of wood. Her heart reacted first, not a startled jump but a different kind of jolt. He was tall and lean, his brown wavy hair reaching just past his collar, a blue handkerchief as a headband. He wore jeans and a long-sleeved plaid shirt that was left unbuttoned. She glimpsed a hard chest and taut stomach as the shirt flapped opened with his movements.
Spooky Silas, the kids used to call him.
He stopped short of the circular saw and, amazingly, looked into the trees surrounding the house. She hadn’t made a sound. He set the wood against the sawhorses and turned down the radio. And he kept searching.
She was able to do nothing more than press closer against the tree.
Could it be him, after all this time? It seemed a dream, a crazy dream that spun her insides and made breathing difficult. The last time she’d seen him had haunted her, Silas being taken away, all because he’d helped her so many years earlier. Even though he had been cleared of suspicion in his father’s death, he’d still been an orphaned minor. He’d been relegated to state protective services, and Katie had never seen him again.
Spooky and mysterious, yet tender and compassionate. He’d touched her little girl soul and left an imprint that hadn’t quite gone away.
Silas walked toward the edge of the encroaching trees, then turned back toward her. He closed his eyes for a moment. When he inhaled, the memory of the lanky teenager evaporated. He was still lean, but his chest and shoulders had broadened. He’d grown even taller. The last time she had seen him, he’d been an adult to her young eyes. Now he was all man, and the thought stirred her in some inexplicable way.
When he opened his eyes, he looked right at her. She was still certain, despite her hammering heartbeat, that he couldn’t see her. She shrank behind the trunk and waited for him to look elsewhere. Curly green mold that was plastered to the trunk pulled at her hair, but she didn’t even move to disentangle herself. This wasn’t the way she wanted to see him again. She wasn’t sure she wanted to see him at all, wasn’t sure it was wise. She’d wait him out, for as long as necessary, and go home.
She should turn around and leave. And she would have if he hadn’t been walking right toward her…