Past Sins – Chapter One, Part Two

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from Past Sins, available now in e-book on Amazon.

Ethan heard water. Loud water. He bounded up between rocks to a stony ascent, perspiration dripping between his shoulder blades. The trail ended at a steep drop, a creek running swiftly over large boulders below. On the opposite side, spraying from the hillside, a waterfall tumbled twelve feet or so to the rocky creek bed, prismatic spray luminous in the sun.

Rocks provided sufficient handhold as he clambered down to the stream bank, work boots skidding in the mud. Shifting the notepad about in his pocket, he sat down on a boulder jutting over the swift water and closed his eyes, reveling in the cool moisture hanging in the air and clinging to his skin. The fall’s noise prevented him hearing any other, drowning out bird call, the breeze, human habitation nearby, in an effect of absolute solitude.

His breathing and heart rate steadied. Ethan opened his eyes again. He stretched, his boots brushing against something in the moss. He bent for a closer look.

Sandals lay on the mossy soil, one upside down, well-worn sole muddied. The other showed the outline of a small, narrow foot. Hooking his pointer finger through the strap, he lifted the sandal and set it beside him on the rock.

“Hello?” he called. He glanced over his shoulder, to the ridge, then back toward the creek and the falls. “Hello?”

The falls rumbled, silver-green, likely evidencing an underground spring swollen by the recent rains. Ethan spied movement in the dark cleft behind, swaying from side to side and barely distinguishable, like a watercolor painting washing away before his eyes. A woman stepped out, steadying herself in the sun. One hand on the rocks, she raised the other to push sodden hair from her face. Ethan stood. The sandal fell from his hand onto the moss-covered bank.

It couldn’t be the same woman he’d seen on the trail. How would she have managed to get into the creek and behind the falls when he’d been no more than a minute behind?

In a sodden, sleeveless white shift, she swayed on the ledge. Ethan’s gaze shifted away from her saturated garment, certain she wouldn’t appreciate a stranger’s gape at the near translucent fabric.

“Hi,” he shouted, lifting his hand. He heard nothing and turned back, sliding closer to the water’s edge. “Are you all right?” he called.

Her attention snapped in his direction. Abruptly, she crossed her arms over her revealing dress, gaze sharp and focused. “What?”

“Are you all right?” he repeated. Mist moved across the stone, circling round her. She waved it away, the focus in her eyes briefly lost. Her expression changed again, mouth opening. Words vanished in the water’s thunderous roar. A second later, she extended a bare foot as if she expected to be stepping onto something other than air and tumbled into the creek.

Heart thudding, Ethan leaped from the bank.

Fighting a swift current, he waded out to the point she’d gone under. White fabric and tangled hair ballooned in the water as she struggled to surface. Ethan snatched at her shoulder, hauling the coughing woman to her feet. He dug his fingers into her upper arms to keep her from being swept back down. Water dripped from her lashes down bone-white cheeks, freckles standing out like brown ink on her skin.

“Are you hurt?” With the water’s chill soaking through his jeans, he didn’t wait for a reply but scooped the woman into his arms and carried her to the bank. He lowered her to the warm stone he’d just vacated. She bent over her knees, hugging herself for warmth.

“Are you hurt?” he asked again.

 “I––I don’t think so,” she said, words barely audible through her chattering teeth. She glanced up at him, pushing wet hair from her brow with a trembling hand. Wordlessly Ethan stripped off his shirt and wrapped it around her. She glanced at him again in grateful acknowledgment.

“Thank you,” she murmured after a moment.

“No problem,” he said, crouching down beside her.  He folded his hands together between his dripping knees. Following her focused gaze, he scowled at the falls, the dark opening behind. “That can’t be the safest place,” he remarked, turning back to her.

A small shudder jerked her shoulders beneath his shirt. She looked down, away from the tumbling water. Unwrapping her arms from her waist she grabbed her skirt and twisted the fabric fiercely. Water puddled the mossy soil at her feet. Ethan retrieved the sandals from harm’s way, holding them up by the narrow straps.

“Yours?”

The woman stared at the shoes. Her gaze slid from Ethan’s hand to his face, her eyes like a wintry gray sky, eerily pale. He supposed they could have been charming if they hadn’t been regarding him in such a cold, unnerving manner.

“Who did you say you were?” she asked.

Ethan wiped his palm on his thigh. Uselessly, as the denim remained soaked. He held his hand out.

“I didn’t. Ethan Taylor,” he said. “And you?” It seemed unlikely, however, that anyone but the property owner would have known about or dared to enter the opening behind the falls.

She ignored his chilled fingers. “Perry Madison,” she said. “And you’re early.”

“Actually,” he answered, dropping his hand, “I’m late.”

She tipped her head to one side, damp hair swinging away from her shoulder. “Late?”

“I left you a message to explain,” he said. “I had a flat tire.”

Her brow twisted. “You did? When? What day is it?”

“Thursday. I’m sorry,” he said in sudden understanding, “I guess I should have called you this morning to confirm and remind you.”

She reached for her sandals. “I didn’t forget. I have the appointment marked on the calendar.”

Standing, her eyes went again to the falls in mute consideration. She sucked in her lower lip, sinking her teeth into pale flesh. Her cheeks filled with a sudden, hectic color. She started to tremble. A subtle scent reached Ethan’s  nostrils, stirring him in ways it shouldn’t. He dismissed the startling sensation as quickly as it came. She raised her head to look at him, gray eyes wide, pupils large. Her clenched fists lifted, held tightly together against her throat.

Ethan stepped closer. “What’s wrong?”

“I…I don’t know,” she answered and dropped, folding like a damp rag to the earth.

Check back tomorrow for Part 3. Thanks for stopping by!

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About robinmaderich