Gavin watched Lily from the mill as she fussed over what he assumed would be a picnic. She was still desperate for things to be perfect. It was one of the traits she hadn't managed to shake for hundreds of years.
His body hardened. She looked stunning, and she didn't even know it. He could see by the way she hesitated here and there that she wasn't one hundred percent confident in herself. He frowned. There were always reasons behind a woman's insecurities, and they weren't good.
Gavin pushed his hair out of his face and stepped from behind the building. He'd thought to be late and make her sweat. He found he couldn't do that. He wasn't cruel.
With his hands jammed into his jean pockets and his shoulders hunched, the high collar of Gavin’s dark fleece jacket covered most of his face. He made his way over to Lily as she posed for a second time.
He was halfway across the park when she spotted him. Her eyes clung to him. A gentle breeze carried her scent to his nose. He inhaled deeply. Wildflowers. It was confirmation her awakening was on the horizon. Her growing power always caused her to have a perfumed essence.
Stopping at the edge of the blanket, Gavin peered down at her. She tilted her head back and hit him with a hard stare.
"So what's for dinner?" he asked, trying his best to have a friendly tone. While he'd been in the forest, desperately tapping down his anger, he had reminded himself of the most crucial thing about the Awakener. She couldn't remember the past lives she'd lived or shared with him. Her soul slumbered, surrounded by a host of memories best forgotten. Not until her power overtook her and drowned her in those memories could she receive her power to awaken souls. It would give him time. He could help her to the site, and leave her and never look back. She didn't know what she was or who she would soon become. He could still save her from his own desires.
She nervously sat up, curls spilling over her shoulder, and wrinkled her nose.
"Sandwiches, chips, and salad," she said, holding up a sandwich to him.
He took it from her hand. His rough fingers slid over hers. She frowned at his hand. He nodded his thanks. Her energy poured into him like warm honey. He leeched her power, working to stop the pulse-waves she subconsciously sent out while her power grew stronger. He grimaced to himself. Damn biggest beacon in the world. If he didn't keep it tapped down, the Council would sense her and send the Hound, if he wasn't already on his way. Gavin glanced at the sky. The clouds were lower and darker than earlier. It wasn't a good sign.
Sitting down on the blanket across from her, he peeled the Reynolds Wrap from his sandwich. The sandwich was utterly stuffed: lettuce, onions, pickles, tomatoes, turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, American cheese, mayo, and mustard. She had been particularly thorough. He stretched his mouth wide and took a bite.
"How is it?" she asked tentatively.
He chewed and swallowed. "Best thing I've tasted all week."
"Good." She grabbed a sandwich that was only half the size of his and took a bite of her own. She gazed out at the mountain. Quiet. Still.
When she was halfway finished with her sandwich, she looked at him from under dark lashes and caused him to stiffen.
"Have some chips. Take a soda," she said, leaning over to toss a bag of Ruffles in his lap.
"This is a truly beautiful town. Did you grow up here?" She settled back down.
"Yes and no," he said, taking another mouthful and then opening the bag of chips. He swallowed.
"How long are you going to be in town, Ms. McMaster?"
"Until I'm done with my research," she replied, "and please, call me Lily." Her brows arched, and she lifted her chin.
Trying to avoid the personal get-to-know-you crap he felt coming on, Gavin cut to the chase, wanting to know what she thought she was here for.
"What are you going to do at the site of the fire? There is nothing there but a torched cabin and dead trees."
She didn't look at him. She picked at the blanket and ran a slender hand over it. She appeared as if her thoughts were far away. "I want to look around. Take some pictures. See if I can find something to help my friend."
"Why?" he probed.
Her gaze shot up and locked on him, holding him hostage.
"Does it really matter why?" She rose to her knees, cheeks heated. "Are you going to help me? Yes or no?"
Her pale eyes, for a split second, inked black. He stopped siphoning the pulse-waves of energy she sent out and stared in disbelief. Holding her energy within his chest, Gavin had worked to stabilize her for the past twenty minutes. It was a fruitless attempt, for it seemed she evoked such a bloodheat that it scorched every emotion within her, inking her eyes black. If her power continued unchecked by her awakening, it could crush her soul and erase every part of who she was as the Awakener. Once he had seen her forced to the edge of oblivion, and once was enough. He was going to have to stay close.
His brows drew together. "I wouldn't have come if I wasn't going to help you," he said in a hard tone, his irritation once more obvious.
Lily's mouth turned to an O. She tugged her hair behind an ear and chewed her bottom lip. She looked disoriented.
He stretched his legs out and lay on his side, a hand holding his head up, trying to relax. "When do you want to go?" he asked.
"As soon as possible. I don't have a lot of time," she said. "My friend is waiting for me to return."
"I can collect my supplies and camping gear tonight. I can be ready in the morning. Did you bring any equipment for a hike?" he asked, watching her pull and tug at her fingers.
"No. Nothing. I thought it would be a short hike. Taking a day at the most."
Gavin threw his head back and laughed dryly. "Why would you think that?"
Her face scrunched, and then she rolled her eyes. "I did research on the fire; the site isn't that far from here."
"No, it isn't far, but it is in one of the most inaccessible spots in this entire area," he said.
"Well, excuse me. Google didn't have any info on that." She crossed her arms and gazed into the distance.
The irritation on her face matched his own and he felt the corner of his mouth wanting to twitch into a smile. "We will have to camp at least two nights to get there and two nights to get back. How do you feel about that? Still want to go?" He studied her, trying to gauge her determination to make the trip with an ugly stranger.
Her lips puckered with annoyance. "Yes."
He rose to his feet. "Well then, get some sleep in your nice warm bed because you will be freezing your ass off come tomorrow night. You're staying at Bea's Inn, right?"
"I'll call your room when I'm packed. I have enough gear for the both of us. That is as long as you're not afraid to be in the same tent as me."
She lifted her chin. "Why would I be? Is there something I should know?"
"Only that this trip will cost you five hundred bucks since I have to provide all the supplies and take time away from my work." He turned and started off.
"Thanks for the food. Sleep tight." Gavin heard her growling at his back, followed by the soft curses under her breath. The corner of his damaged mouth twitched up.
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