But was it wrong to put yourself first? That’s survival, right? If you’re running for your life, you don’t get the luxury of being nice. They were going to learn that. It’s fine to wave the pompoms for teamwork—all for one and one for all—but when push came to shove, these guys wouldn’t be risking their lives for Chloe, maybe not even for each other. I was sure of it. Once things got worse, it would be everyone for himself. It always is.
When Simon didn’t come back after an hour, I started to get concerned. By ninety minutes, I was worried. By two hours, I was freaked.
Maybe Simon wasn’t just being paranoid. Maybe the house really was being watched. What if he’d been taken captive and they were searching for me? It wouldn’t be hard to find me here.
I slipped out of the pool house and looked around. Nothing.
Woods surrounded the yard. I crept into them and made my way to the front of the property. When I reached the road, I looked both ways.
We’d come in from the left, but I was pretty sure with Simon’s crappy sense of direction, we’d gotten turned around. So if I was going to head to town, I should go the other way.
WasI going to head into town?
Sure. It was safer there than here.
What about Simon? What if he was still scouting?
No, it’d been too long. He’d been taken.
But if he had, shouldn’t I do something about that?
Right, get myself captured for a guy who didn’t give a damn about me. No, thank you. I couldn’t fight men with guns. If Simon had been captured, he was lost.
But what if he hadn’t been captured? What if he’d fallen down a ravine or something? Shouldn’t I at least look around? I’d walked straight to the road. Never even tried to find him.
What did that say about me?
I sighed, turned around and trudged into the woods.
I’d been searching for twenty minutes. I didn’t dare call his name, so I just kept walking through the forest, hoping to see or hear him. Like that was going to happen. All I could see was trees and all I could hear were birds. Simon could be twenty feet away and I’d never spot—
He wasabout twenty feet away, sitting on a log. His back was to me. Captured? Bound and gagged? Left there while they hunted for me?
No, he wasn’t gagged, but his feet and hands were in front of him, and could be bound. He must be. Otherwise, why would he just be sitting there?
I looked around, and I took a slow step forward. Another step. Another—
A twig cracked under my sneaker. Simon leapt to his feet and spun, hands going up, lips moving. Then he saw me and stopped. My gaze went to his raised hands. And to his legs. Neither was bound.
“Shouldn’t sneak up on me. I have a killer knockback spell, you know.” He smiled. “I could have made you stumble.”
“I see that. Why are you still out here?”
“While I’m in the pool house? Alone? You just left me there. Do you know how worried—?” I bit my tongue. “You’re a real jerk, Simon. You know that?”
I marched into the woods in the direction of the house. Behind me, I heard him scramble off the log.
“Whoa, no,” he said. “I took a quick look around out here, and went back to check on you, and you were asleep on the raft, so I left to take a better look and then I just . . .”
“Decided that you’d rather sit on a log than risk having to talk to me.”
He exhaled and started to answer, and shook his head.
“Okay, you’re right. I stayed out there to avoid you, and that’s a lousy thing to say about someone, but I knew if I went back in there and you woke up, all we’d do is bicker. I’m worried about Derek and Chloe, and I wanted to think about our options if they don’t show up. But now you’re awake, so if you’d like to talk about that, we can.”
“Why? You won’t listen to my ideas anyway.”
“And you won’t listen to mine. So I guess we’re—”
Twigs crackled. Simon shot forward so fast I didn’t see what was coming until I hit the ground. He’d knocked me down, before dropping himself and covering me. He got off me fast, but kept his hand on my arm, holding me down and motioning for me to be quiet. Then he gestured for me to stay put. He rose in a crouch, hands out, fingers splayed, ready to cast a spell.
A slow look around, then he laughed. When I followed his gaze, I saw a deer watching us. I brushed off my pants, and the sound made her bolt. I expected Simon to give me crap for scaring her off, but he only waved toward the pool house.
“Better get inside before she brings her herd back to trample us.”
Once inside, we talked a bit, about how long we’d wait for Chloe and Derek. But that led to arguing about what we’d do next. He started it. Okay, maybe I started it. Anyway, it was getting dark, so I decided to rest, stretching out on the raft again.
I woke up to hear the pool house door opening, and Simon saying, “Relax. No windows. You didn’t notice the light, did you?”
A familiar grunt. I cracked open my eyes to see Derek and Chloe illuminated by the glow of a lantern.
“The longer she sleeps, the better,” Simon said. “It’s a good thing you two showed up because another day alone with her?” He feigned choking me.
“I saw that,” I said as I sat up. “Believe me, the feeling is mutual.” I swept my hair back as I yawned. “There’s nothing like spending a whole day alone with a guy to make a girl say, ‘What was I thinking?’”
“At least one good thing came of it,” Simon muttered.
I shot something back, but as I did, I remembered what he’d done out in the forest. He’d heard a sound and he hadn’t only thought of his own safety. He’d pushed me down. Dropped on top of me. Shielded me.
A week ago, I’d have been in heaven, thinking it was proof he liked me after all. Now I knew better. He didn’tlike me, and maybe I couldn’t blame him, all things considered. But he’d still knocked me out of harm’s way.
I couldn’t quite understand that. I’m not sure I even agreed with the impulse. I didn’t need the help—I could take care of myself.
But it was something to think about. I’d have lots to think about after today.
Not that I was giving Simon any props for “saving” me. I kept arguing with him until Chloe cut in and stopped the bickering.
And so, the four of us were back together. My team. Not exactly the one I’d choose, but I was stuck with them. And they were stuck with me. Maybe it was time to start making the best of it, see where that led. Who knows, I might even be surprised. I doubted it, but someone on this team had to be an optimist.
We talked for a few more minutes, before going inside the house to plan our next move. We might be back together, but Andrew was gone, which meant we still had a long way to go on this journey. Together.