Pulling into the driveway, Emma half expected to see Brent’s truck. She checked her watch. It was still early in the afternoon. Worn out from the excitement and the brisk hike, Hope was settled in watching a movie. There was plenty of time for a hot bath to take the chill off and soak her sore ankle.
She filled the tub and slipped out of her hiking gear. She eased into the hot water and settled back to watch time peacefully pass by. She soaked until the water was lukewarm.
Stepping out of the tub, she turned to check the cabinet for towels and their eyes met. Her heart pounded like a drum, ringing in her ears. Her cheeks were on fire. She had no idea how long Brent had stood there, but from the look on his face, he was just as surprised to see her. A small hand towel was the only thing available and she scrambled to cover herself, an impossible task. When she looked up again he was gone.
She dried off as quickly as she could with the tiny towel, regretting not checking for a bath towel before she climbed into the tub. Still a little wet, she forced her way into her jeans and pulled her t-shirt over her head. In her rushed state, she forgot to put her bra back on, and there was no way the shirt was coming back off. Not now, anyway.
She moved over to the mirror, shoved her bra into the pocket of her jeans and groaned at her reflection. She hobbled to the door and held the knob in her hand, summoned all her nerve, and turned the doorknob.
Brent was poised to knock on the door and they startled each other when the door opened and they found themselves face to face.
His eyes locked on hers. “I was just coming to see if you were okay.”
She covered her eyes with her hand. “I’m fine. I mean what happened is okay. I mean, I’m okay.”
Brent shoved his hands in his pockets. “Oh, okay. That’s good. You shouldn’t be embarrassed.”
“Well, I am, but I’m sure I’ll get over it. It was my fault. I should have closed the blinds.”
“With a body like that, I can’t imagine why you would be embarrassed.” He started to back away and then turned back, looking down at her shirt. “You look cold.” He unzipped his sweatshirt, took it off and wrapped it around her shoulders.
As he turned to leave he spotted her little black G-string underwear on the vanity and lifted them with his index finger. He took her hand in his and turned it over, dangling the panties inches from her palm. “You want these, or can I keep them for a memento?”
Emma snatched them from his finger. “I’m so glad you find this so or amusing.” She winced in pain.
Brent furrowed his brow. “You all right?”
“I will be. I twisted my ankle on our walk this afternoon.”
She stepped out the door, her panties still in her hand. With nowhere else to put them, she shoved them in the front pocket of his sweatshirt.
Hope hopped up and down beside her dad. “It was kinda scary, but kinda fun, Daddy. We went for a walk in Emma’s favorite place and we almost got eaten by a cat. It followed us in the bushes. Emma was brave. She had spray stuff to make it go away.” She paused and looked at Emma. “What did you call it? Tell Daddy what you called it.”
Brent frowned and hugged Hope to his chest. “Can you please go set the table for lunch?”
He waited a moment for Hope to get out of earshot. “How could you put Hope in danger? The cougar warning notices are up everywhere, Emma.” His voice was gruff while trying to keep it down so Hope wouldn’t hear. “You were hired to do a job; what the hell happened?” He raked his fingers through his hair, pacing back and forth. “Who do you think you are, Emma? I thought I could trust you to keep her safe.” He put his hand up to silence her. “You are not her mother, I don’t need you running her all over the place. She’s all I have left, for Christ’s sake.” The scowl deepened, he shook his head. “I trusted you. Clearly, that was a mistake.”
Emma’s eyes stung. “I’m sorry. You are absolutely right. I shouldn’t be here. It’s the weekend and this is all very inappropriate.” She moved to the door, fighting the tears straining to get out. “My keys, my purse…” She frantically scanned the room, blinking to clear her vision. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Brent.”
She shoved one foot into her runner and headed out the door carrying the other—her ankle wasn’t going to tolerate anything else.
Brent stood watching her, the scowl still firmly in place. “Put your other shoe on.”
She gripped the handrail and limped down the few steps, not looking back. “I can’t. My ankle is swollen.” Hot tears poured down her cheeks. She kept moving as he continued to call after her.
“Wait a minute, let me get my shoes,” he hollered after her.
Jogging and hopping, and wincing with every step, she couldn’t stop moving. A few more feet and she would be in her car, alone, and she could let everything go.
Brent was right. What had happened in the last few months was so much more than she should have allowed. Tears blurred her sight as she slammed the car door shut. She ground them out of her way to start the car. This was the pain she had ran from. It didn’t take a death to crush her, just her own stupid lack of control. It was time to remove herself. It was going to take every ounce of strength she could muster to remain professional and composed.