They continued on the trail in silence for the better part of a mile. Finally Jax spoke. “I’ve been trying to figure out what to ask you, without it sounding like some pick-up line.” He had been impressed that she had kept up a pretty good pace as they hiked the trail through the woods.
“As in—do you come here often?” Candace giggled and he liked the sound of that. “Well, let me answer that one and we’ll see where we go from there. I don’t come here as often as I would like. Life’s just been—I don’t know—stressful. Today I wanted to get out and try to unwind while getting some exercise.”
“Do you mind, Candace, if I ask what’s so stressful? I mean, other than the dead car on the side of the road.”
She nodded. “Well, there is that. Probably time for a newer vehicle but I’ve never had to make that kind of decision on my own before. I’ve been putting it off but now . . . Anyway,” her hand flipped in the air as if whisking away an annoying bug, “I’ve been through a rough year and still haven’t found a good normal for my life.”
“Normal? What would normal look like?” He was genuinely curious.
She shook her head. “That’s part of the problem. I don’t know. I mean, I get up every day and go to work. I go home at night and make dinner, clean up the kitchen and maybe watch some television and then go to bed. I have no hobbies and haven’t even been attending church like I used to. It’s just too hard to go back.”
“Because everyone there knows . . . and while I didn’t really do anything wrong, I just don’t feel like I fit in anymore.”
“I’m confused. What do they know?” He put up a hand to stop her and they faced each other on the path. Her face was pink from exercise and a slight sheen of sweat as plastering her bangs to her forehead. She was cute.
She let out a deep sigh. “My husband was a bit of a gigolo, enjoying the favors of any women he met. He finally decided that he would prefer to not live with the stress of trying to hide that and divorced me. I had no clue until the papers were delivered. We had gotten married at that church, been in small groups, served together . . . to be there alone is tantamount to walking in with a big D plastered across my chest.”
“Now don’t get me wrong, Candace . . .”
“You can call me Candy.” She gave him a small smile as they set off again on the path.
“Okay, Candy. How much of that is just your perception and how much is reality?”
He watched as her nose wrinkled. “I’m not sure.”
“There are other churches if you need to start fresh, pick a different church.”
A loud blast rang through the woods.
“Drop!” Jax hissed as he grabbed Candy and dropped with her to the ground, shielding her with his body. Through the sweat and dirt the scent of apples taunted him and made his mouth water. Focus, Jax!
“Was that a gun I heard?” Candy whispered. She trembled beneath him and he rolled to his side to be able to look at her.
“Are you okay?” He ran a free hand through his hair, having lost his cap when he dropped to the ground.
She nodded her head.
“Good.” He pulled out his phone and called in. “Yeah, Jax here out at Peterson’s preserve. Just heard gunfire.” He paused. “No. I’m with the only other person I’ve observed in the area. There were no cars in the lot when we arrived. We’re both safe for now.” He hung up and sat.
Candace looked at him as she raised herself off the ground to sit with her arms wrapped around her knees. She rocked. “What now?”
“I’m not sure. If it were just me I’d be running toward that area and trying to find out who was shooting, but I’m unarmed and I can’t leave you.”
“But this is your job, right? A cop is never really off-duty, is he?”
He dropped his head and closed his eyes. Lord, what do I do? I can’t endanger Candy, but I came here to do a job . . .
Her hand touched his arm. “Let’s go after them.”
He shook his head. “It’s not safe.”
Candace stood up and put her hands on her hips. “Well, maybe I’m tired of playing it safe.” She turned and headed down the path.
He leapt to his feet, ran up beside her and grabbed her. He halted her progress and stared down at her. He swallowed hard. What was it about this woman? She intrigued him, but they’d only just met. She licked her lips as she gazed up at him, waiting.
Waiting for what?
He bent his head and placed his lips to hers as she gasped in surprise. His arm wrapped around her holding her close and hers snaked up around his neck. Another gunshot rang out in the woods followed by a scream. They broke apart.
“What?” she gasped. But she had a silly smile on her face.
He grinned back. “Let’s go. Run!” He held her hand as they took off in the direction of the gunfire.
Stay tuned for part 3 of 4 tomorrow!