Will laughed, tossing a handful of garlic into a pan of hot oil. “I told them we won’t be on cell service all week, so if they need anything, they’ll have to call the landline.”
I wondered if Hanna’s eyes flickered to Jensen the same way mine did, watching him pull his phone from his pocket and gaze down at the screen.
I didn’t have to ask to know what he saw there: Nothing. No bars, no 4G, no LTE, no service. Having checked the guest log after we brought our things in—I was more curious about where previous visitors had come from than about where to find the remote controls and firewood—I did happen to read that there was no Wi-Fi, either.
At least with the winery tours, we were fairly constantly on the move, and the drama of Becky, and of the holiday girl beside him, seemed to keep Jensen from worrying too much about work. But now, I knew nine days stretched out ahead of him, blank but for whatever he chose to fill them with. I watched him react to the isolation of the cabin and the days of leisure he would be forced to endure here: his face grew tight, he slipped his phone back into his pocket, and he turned to stare out the window.
And then he turned back, meeting my gaze as though he felt me studying him. I’m sure I looked rather intense and bullish: my jaw set, my eyes focused on him and clearly communicating what I was thinking—Put down the bloody phone, Jens, and enjoy yourself. So I smiled, winking as I lifted my glass meaningfully to my lips and took a long swallow.
The tension in his shoulders seemed to slowly dissolve—through effort or some subconscious trigger being pulled, it didn’t matter to me—and he made his way across the room to stand behind me.
“No work, you,” I said, tilting my head to grin up at him. “Sorry to be the one to tell you, there’s no lawyering allowed in here. Such a shame.”
He shook his head with a small, tense laugh, bending to plant a kiss atop my head. But he didn’t immediately retreat, so I took advantage, leaning back against the solid, reassuring weight of him, biting back a wider smile as his arms went around me.
The Becky excuse was hundreds of miles away, and still no one reacted like this hug was anything odd at all.
Our first morning, after sleeping in till an unholy hour, was full of buttermilk hotcakes sloppy with preserves. Afterward we went berry picking and swimming in the wide creek, then lazed by the fire in the cabin, reading whatever fabulously terrible mysteries we could find on the shelves of the house.
And the days blurred together a bit just like this: hikes through the woods, midday naps, and endless hours spent laughing in the kitchen together, drinking wine while Will cooked.
The only thing missing, I felt, was some gratuitous wood chopping.
Around day three, I knew it couldn’t go unmentioned. I suspected that, when we looked back on it all, this could be my true legacy to the trip.
“The fire looks a bit dim,” I called out to the men, who were playing poker in the dining room.
Ruby looked up from her book and then glanced meaningfully back and forth between where I sat, curled in a ball in the giant leather chair by the fire, and the heavy stack of wood piled in front of the fireplace.
“Well, there’s plenty of wood,” she said, confused.
“Ruby Stella,” I said, sotto voce. “I’m not saying you should shut your trap, but I’m not not saying it, either.”
She clapped a hand over her mouth just as Will jogged into the room, worried. He pulled up short at the sight of the fire—positively blazing in the hearth—and the giant pile of wood next to it—not at all insufficient.
“Sure, I can put some more wood on.” He said it without any pointed lazy ass inflection.
“The thing is,” I said, pushing up onto an elbow, “freshly cut wood really is such a treat. The smell, the crackling . . .”
He tilted his head, studying me before sliding his eyes to where Hanna was giggling behind her book.
“I believe I saw an ax behind the woodshed,” I added helpfully. “A big, heavy ax. And there are some larger logs inside . . .”
Jensen stood in the doorway, his shoulder leaning casually against the frame. “Pippa.”
I looked up at him and grinned. “What?”
He simply gazed at me.
I winced sympathetically. “Unless you don’t know how to wield an ax? Or one quite so large.”
I heard Niall’s laugh carry in from the dining room.
“I can wield an ax just fine,” Will said, pulling back a bit. “Swinging an ax sounds like a walk in the park.”
“No,” I said, placating him, “you’re such city boys. I don’t want you to get hurt. I shouldn’t have suggested it. I’m sorry.”
Ruby murmured an amused “Ohhhh shit” from the couch.
Niall stepped behind Jensen and smiled at me. “Pippa, you’re terrible.”
“But the question is, are you?” I asked. “Terrible at chopping wood?”
Jensen and Will exchanged a look and then Jensen reached for the hem of his sweater, tugging it up and over his head so that he stood in a T-shirt and jeans. “Looks like we’ve been challenged.”
We all but leapt up, following the men-on-a-mission out into the backyard.
Indeed, there was a chopping block to the side of the shed, and only a few feet away, leaning against the structure, was a pretty impressive ax.
An incredibly impressive ax. I’d only been trying to antagonize them, but it looked . . . heavy.
I had my first moment of hesitation.