Swamp Ghosts Excerpt #1
Excerpt From Chapter 9
THE RHYTHMIC DRONE of cicadas filled the August afternoon air with the sweet sound of summer gone lazy and slack. I sat on the bank of a shallow, twisting stream with no name, watching Gunn wade through the mud along the shore to photograph tiny aquatic plants. It was hard to believe this was the same man who was so worried two months ago about falling into black water. Of course, right here, it was only dark along the mucky edge of the stream. In the center, it was crystal clear and only two feet deep, barely enough to float our canoe. Easy to tell at a glance you weren’t being stalked by large, toothy reptiles.
I was drowsy from the heat and a stomach full of sandwiches, eaten in the shade of a summer-dusted oak tree. The humming song of the cicadas only intensified the stupor taking over my mind. I think the only thing keeping me upright was the view of Gunn’s bare shoulders and broad expanse of back. Well, that and the equally enticing sight of his wet shorts hanging low on his hips. I tried to focus on the birds rustling in the nearby climbing aster vines, in case there was anything of note flitting around, but it was a losing battle. My eyes were drawn back to Gunn over and over. There was no doubt about it. The man was a pleasure to look at.
It’s possible I was enjoying the view far more than I should have, but I was too heat-drugged to care. I wondered what it would be like to wade quietly out into the water behind him and lay my cheek against his back, just to see what that smooth, warm skin felt like. The urge was so strong, I actually stood up, before I realized what I was doing.
Gunn turned toward me immediately, as if he were aware of every move I made. He watched me, head tilted to the side, then gave me a slow, sexy smile. “You coming in, Maggie?”
The only thing better than Gunn from the back was Gunn from the front. He’d removed his shirt often enough on our trips that you’d think I’d be used to it by now, but it took my breath away every, single time. I stood there, staring. He really did look like a Norse god, and I had to struggle to tear my eyes away from all that chesty goodness.
I pretended to study the open water in the middle of the stream, forcing myself to relax, and answer calmly. “I might. I could stand to cool off a bit.” Oh, boy. Could I ever.
He slogged through the squooshy mud toward me and held out his camera. “Would you put this in the bag? I’ll go test out the water.” He turned and waded to the center of the stream.
The white, sandy bottom was clean and inviting, and he plopped down with a little splash. “It feels wonderful. Just right. Come on in, Mags.”
I had to smile. Gunn was the only person besides Willow who ever called me that, and I liked it. It made me feel comfortable, as though we had been friends for a long time.
I knew the water would be refreshing and snap me out of my stupor, so I pulled my tank top over my head, and unzipped my shorts. I had a perfectly modest swimsuit on underneath, but I still kept it covered up most of the time. I don’t know whether I was worried about Gunn’s actions or my own, but I wasn’t prepared to be provocative around him.
I put my clothes on top of the cooler to keep them off the damp ground, and turned back toward the stream. Gunn had gone completely still, studying me with a gaze I wasn’t sure how to interpret. I stopped, one foot in the water, staring back. Neither of us spoke a word, then Gunn turned away, and the spell was broken.
Wading out to the center, I sat down a few feet away from him, drawing my knees up to my chest and wrapping my arms around them. The cool, clear water flowed around me, bits of duckweed drifting by, along with a few small water bugs surfing their way downstream. I closed my eyes, enjoying the hushed silence that had fallen. Even the cicadas had halted their hypnotic song. Everything hung suspended, waiting, an electric tension building in the air around us.
I opened my eyes again. Gunn was watching me. Not saying anything. Not moving any closer. Just looking. I looked back. Somewhere I thought I heard the shrieks of a familiar voice crying out a warning, but it was so faint and far away, it barely registered.
Slowly, slowly, Gunn reached out his hand. Tiny drops of water gleamed like crystals, caught in the fine blond hair on his forearm. I stared, mesmerized. He turned his hand palm up and waited. I gave no orders to my arm, no instructions to my hand, no permission for it to move. It moved anyway, reaching for his—taking a week, a month, a year to make the journey.
When the tips of my fingers touched the tips of Gunn’s, that electricity in the air slid into my body, short-circuiting my senses. I was aware of nothing beyond his fingers curling over mine, warm, and gentle, and I stared at our hands in wonder. They fit together like pieces of a puzzle, made for each other, a profoundly amazing discovery. I raised my eyes to his. He said something. I could see his lips moving, but the pounding of my heart drowned out the sound.
He said it again. “Maggie.”
Whisper-quiet on the summer breeze, he said my name.
We sat looking at each other for a long time, and then he smiled and turned his head, staring downstream at the glory stretched out in front of us, his hand still warm around mine.