A Walk in the Woods (Serial Short Story Romance, Part 1 of 4)

Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The car chugged and jerked before coming to a rolling stop along the side of the road. Pretty pathetic that she even drove to the hiking trail from a mile away. Sigh. She popped open the hood and the odor of roasted nuts filled her senses and made her eyes water and sting. She stepped back and bumped up against a wall of muscle.

She jerked and turned to face a man not much taller than herself. A baseball hat covered his hair and dark eyes were shadowed by the brim, refusing to reveal their color. A short and neatly trimmed beard framed his jaw and lips. Oh, he’s talking. She shook herself as she stepped back.

“Having some car trouble?”

“Yeah, sorry I bumped into you. I didn’t realize anyone else was around.”

He shrugged. “Just jogged here from home to hike a trail. Mind if I take a look?”

Candace shook her head. Do you mind if I take a look? She wanted to slap herself for her silly thoughts. That’s what life was like on the back side of divorce. Her ex-husband had no trouble looking at or touching other women. She watched her erstwhile mechanic as he fiddled with tubes and checked knobs or whatever it was he was doing. His muscled back and arms strained against his t-shirt as he leaned forward. Hmmm, some view. Well, she had come here to take in the beauty of nature, right?

Of course she had intended that to be the flora and fauna and not a man.

He turned to her and wiped his hands on his black shorts. “I’m not sure what the problem is. Were you here to take a hike? If you wouldn’t mind some company, I could take a look and help you later if it won’t start.” He thrust a hand out to her. “I’m Jackson by the way. My friends call me Jax.” His smile was wide showing his pearly whites.

“Candace. So, does that mean we’re friends and you want me to call you Jax?” Her hand was engulfed in his. “How do I even know you’re safe?”

Jax withdrew his hand and pulled out his phone and a badge. Candace knew one eyebrow raised on her face as she looked back to him. “Do you always carry this around with you? How do I know you don’t stalk women out here with this ruse of being in the police force?

He handed her his phone. “Call anyone on there you want and ask them about me.”

She took the phone as she considered him. She scrolled through his numbers but chose instead to dial the police non-emergency number. She had used it enough during the last days of her marriage when things had been difficult but not dangerous.

The man answered the phone. “Hi, I’ve met up with a man who has a badge claiming to work for you. Could you verify if Jackson Bradley is in your department and what his role is?”  She listened as the dispatcher confirmed the identity of the man before her. “Do you know this man personally?” She looked at Jax as he leaned against her car, arms folded across a broad chest, waiting for her. “Thank you, officer. Have a good evening.” She clicked to end the call and handed the phone back to the man in front of her.

“So, you are one of the good guys. I’m sorry to be so suspicious, it’s just—“

“Don’t apologize. You are wise to be careful. It’s a scary world out there. Trust me, I’ve seen firsthand the ugly side of humanity.”

Candace reached into her car to grab her own phone and pocketed her keys in her cargo shorts. She lamented that the one time she came out she was not wearing a more attractive outfit. But then, frumpy was what her hus—ex-husband used to term her. “Let’s go.”

They headed off down the path. “So,” Candace began, “Why narcotics? I bet there’s a story in there somewhere.”

“Do you want the politically correct one or the truth?” He strode by her side with confident steps.

“Both.”

“The PC one is that I want to save the world from the bad guys.”

“And?”

“The truth is, I’ve seen the dark side of drugs when I was a kid and as a teenager a friend got sucked into being a pusher. I stood by feeling helpless to do anything. I tried talking to him. My parents didn’t believe that a good kid like him could be involved. He died of an overdose a week before graduation.”

“Wow. I’m so sorry.”

“Yeah. So am I.” His head dropped as they surged forward into the mulch covered path. Candace’s heart ached for his loss. She also admired him for his desire to do what he had joked about—to save at least the other kids in the this portion of the world, trapped like his friend was. Yup. He was definitely one of the good guys. Her eyes took in one other detail before she focused them forward.

He didn’t wear a wedding ring.

 Stay tuned for day 2 of  4 tomorrow! 

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