“Aren’t you kinda scaring away the deer?” a snarky female voice called up to Manny resting against the trunk of the tree in which his hunting blind was built.
As if to prove her wrong, a doe that had been feeding in the fallow corn field nearby raised her head, stilled for a moment, terror in her eyes, then darted into the woods to the north.
Manny hadn’t even bothered to lift his top-end Hoyt Turbo compound bow, because he knew the doe’s fawn was resting nearby. Besides, he was holding out for the buck he’d seen two weeks ago on his trail cam. The majestic creature sported an eight-point rack that would hang beautifully in his personal study. His favorite room in their stately home had been built on the outermost wing overlooking the Thunder Bay State Forest.
“My singing doesn’t usually bother anyone this far away from the middle of nowhere,” Manny called down to her.
“Yeah, well, I’m lost, and I was hoping to find someone who could lead me back to Alpena.”
“Found someone, you did,” he said in his best Yoda impression, collecting his belongings and preparing to descend the makeshift ladder made of two-by-fours nailed into the side of the giant tree.
“Thank you, Jedi Master.” Her sarcasm was even more adorable knowing she’d understood the reference.
“Ooh, she’s calling me Master and I don’t even know yet her name.” Manny hopped off the last rung and onto the soft ground, his Danner Pronghorn waterproof boots sinking slightly in the marshy soil. He clipped his bow onto its shoulder sling and started toward the road.
Even from twenty feet away he could see her shiver and her lightweight blouse may have been perfect for the afternoon sun, but the evening was cooling off.
“Don’t you have a jacket or sweatshirt?” he asked.
“I wasn’t planning on being away from the boat this long,” she said. “I just wanted to escape my parent’s eagle eyes for a few hours and took one wrong turn after another on the way back until I wound up here, in the middle of a forest.” She spread her arms wide, the shimmering fabric floating down like butterfly wings.
“Quite literally in the middle of a forest,” Manny said. He removed his hunting vest and sling, carefully resting his compound bow, his most prized possession, in the tall grasses beside the gravel road, and unzipped his parka. Slipping it off his shoulders, he tsked and shook his head. “I hate to do this because you look beautiful—probably too old for me—but still.”
He draped the lightweight camo jacket over her shoulders as she scoffed. “I’m only twenty. I’m hardly too old. You sound like my father.”
“Wow, in all my nineteen years I’ve never had a hot older woman compare me to her father. I’m thoroughly insulted.”
“What’s insulting is that you keep calling me old.” She snuggled into his parka and breathed what could only be called a sigh of relief. Then she did something unexpected. She lifted the collar and inhaled a long breath. “You smell really good.”
“I have never wanted to be a jacket so badly in my entire life,” Manny said.
“All nineteen years of it?” she asked, raising her eyebrows.
“Nevermind.” She stuck out her hand, pulling the too-long sleeve up over her wrist. “I’m Aloise.”
He took her hand in his and didn’t let go. “Your hands are freezing, Aloise.” Manny lifted her other hand and rubbed them between his, moving a step closer. She didn’t resist. “Isn’t the heater in your car working?”
“I ran out of gas.” Her shoulders slumped.
“This is the luckiest day of my life.” Manny finally looked more closely at her face, drinking in the deep brown eyes and olive toned skin. “What are the odds that the not-so-old woman of my dreams would just happen to run out of gas a few feet from my hunting blind in the middle of a forest?”
“And what are the odds that the best smelling nineteen-year-old guy would just happen to be a few feet off the beaten path right at the spot where my car would run out of gas, singing loud enough for me to hear him from the road in the middle of a forest in—what state am I stuck in?”
“Michigan.” Manny’s word was almost a breath.
“Michigan’s beautiful,” Aloise whispered.
“You flatter me,” —she stopped and creased her brow. “What’s your name?”
“I’m lost, Manny,” Aloise whispered.
“I would love to help you find yourself.”