“When I started out this day, it was November,” she told him. “And the year was 2014. The mountain was in North Carolina.”
McSwain didn’t answer right away. He bit the corner of his lip pensively, staring straight ahead of them.
She’s crazy, he decided. She had to be. Kelly Long seemed too convinced of what she was saying to be lying. There was the matter, too, of the odd clothing she was wearing, and that small contraption she’d called a “cell.” Or was it a “phone?” She’d used both words to describe it.
What if she wasn’t crazy? What if she really had come from 2014 North Carolina?
Besides being of questionable sanity, and prickly, to boot, she was also pretty. A very pretty, highly attractive woman. Mature in age, if not in behavior. He couldn’t deny he found it hard to keep his eyes off her. Yet those days for him were over. Starting his life over at forty-five, a woman was indeed the very last thing he needed. Perhaps in his younger days he would have considered it, but not now.
Especially not with a woman like Kelly Long. This high-strung beauty supposedly from the future.
“You got any idea how far North Carolina is from here?” He asked the question more to break the awkward silence between them.
“Exactly. That’s what I mean.” Kelly turned in her seat to face him. “How does this happen? I mean, one minute I’m hiking on West Mountain. The next I’m checking out a cascade and falling into the cave behind it, just falling, falling, falling.”
“Uhm…checking out?” McSwain scowled at her. “How do you do that?”
Kelly sighed in frustration. She didn’t want to insult him. If anything, as scruffy and stern as he was, he was putting out an effort to understand her. That didn’t change the fact, however, that she was becoming more and more distressed.
“I was walking up the mountain, but I got off the trail and went to look at it. Oh—well, now. I got off the trail to get a picture of the deer, and—oh, yes! There were the lights!” She was beginning to remember. “McSwain, where are you taking me?”
“To town. I’m hoping somebody there will know who you are.”
“No one there will know me. Can you forget about going to town?”
“Well, I think maybe you should see Dr. Fairlane. You did hit your head pretty hard on that tree limb—”
“Oh, yeah, don’t worry about that,” she insisted and rubbed her head. “I’m fine, really. Just fine.”
“Hmmm. Let’s let the doctor decide that, all right?”
She held back the urge to scream. Why did he have to be so stubborn? “I’d rather you take me back to the cascade.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“C’mon, McSwain! Work with me here! The cascade. The waterfall…” Kelly forced a smile. “If I can get back to the waterfall and—and I fall back into the water, maybe it’s—it’s like a portal or something. And I can get back to North Carolina and out of your hair. Okay?”
McSwain moaned and rubbed his face. She was dizzying him with all her talk. “How do you know that’ll work?”
“I don’t know. But, hey, it works on The Twilight Zone, so it’s worth a shot!” She could hear the desperation in her tone of voice. “Take me there, please.”
“Kelly, take you where?”
“To the waterfall!” she shouted.
He raised his voice right back at her. “I already told you, woman! I don’t know of any waterfall around here!”
Angrily, she tossed her head. “Well, then you stop this wagon and let me off right now. If you can’t help me, I’ll find the waterfall myself.”
“I ain’t letting you off here in the middle of the woods. I’ve gotta get some supplies in town, and I’m not leaving you alone in these woods.”
“You stop this wagon or I swear I’ll jump right off it!”
Fine! She wants off so badly, let her get off!
McSwain fought the temptation. He had done a lot of bad things in his day, things he certainly wasn’t proud of. Things that had sent him to prison. But none of those things included abandoning a woman in the woods, where wild animals or outlaws could get at her.
Even a crazy, hardheaded woman deserved to be protected. Kelly Long’s problem was, ironically, that she needed protection from her own foolishness.
“Young lady, you’d better not jump off the wagon,” he warned, his voice low.
“Oh, no? You just watch me!”
McSwain bit back a cuss word as he watched her twist around in her seat with that little dog in her arms. She was going to do it—she fully intended to jump off that wagon and probably over the side of that hill, possibly killing herself or injuring herself seriously. Of all the crazy, foolhardy, obstinate things to do!
“Whoa!” He pulled hard on the reins.
“Oh? So you see it my way? Finally!” she spat the words at him. “What—what are you doing?”
He had clamped his hands on her waist and tugged her closer to him. Not an easy feat, hopping off the wagon while yanking her off with him. He was afraid to come around the front and pull her down, just in case she decided to trample him with his own wagon.
“What are you doing? You—let me go!”
She sounded scared now. Good. He hated to admit it, but he preferred it to her crazy shouts and threats.
To top it off, her little dog had tumbled out of her arms and was yapping away furiously at the big, bad man hauling her master towards a large rock.
“You hush up!” he commanded the dog. “And as for you, Miss Long…”