(Loosely based on 'Hansel and Gretel')
Just as the forest ranger's door opened about twenty feet away, Gretchen Blake heard a noise to the right of the building. A huge black bear ran toward her from way out in the woods at the same time a good-looking man exited the building. He was oblivious to what was going on, since he was looking down at his cell phone.
Gretchen froze in place. "Bear!" She pointed to the animal heading toward them.
Once he saw where she was pointing, the man glanced over at the bear. As he pocketed his phone, he ran toward Gretchen and grabbed her hand.
"Run!" he shouted, not letting go of her hand.
As they ran into the woods, the bear was on their heels, snorting and growling behind them.
She gasped for air, the cold in her head making her cough slightly. "Don't let me go. I don't want to be bear food!" Once she glanced backward, she saw that the bear had narrowed the distance between them. It let out a fierce growl. Gretchen ran even faster, pulling the man with her. They must've run for another hundred yards before they came to a river.
Gretchen stopped short, shaking on the inside from the thought of the bear getting closer. She stared downward at the slight rapids, not sure she wanted to keep running. "That's cold water."
"It's either that or you'll be mauled." The man looked over his shoulder, and in one pull, dragged them both into the river. Fish hit her legs as she tried to move faster, the water getting deeper and deeper with her feet sticking in the murk at the bottom. She didn't want to think what was down there.
Considering she'd had a head cold for a few days, this was horrible. The cold water was getting deeper, and she lifted her chin in anticipation of going under water. Goosebumps covered her skin, but she had to survive.
"He's coming." The man pulled her farther into the water, up to her neck. "Swim for it!"
Gretchen wasn't a good swimmer, but took off for the other side of the river, which seemed to be very wide and deep.
The man swam ahead and crawled out of the other side. If he could do it, she could do this, swimming as fast as she could with her head under the cold water. When her hands hit rocks in front of her, she lifted her head and climbed out beside the man, the water dripping off her clothes and hair, giving her a chill. It was the worst possible combination with her cold, which wasn't getting any better.
She turned, staring at the other bank. "Where is he?"
"There," the man said, pointing.
And sure enough, the bear paced the other side of the river, looking as if he was ready to swim for it.
They ran farther into the woods, until the river was out of sight.
As soon as they stopped, Gretchen looked down over her clothes. "I'm soaked." She wrung out her long hair, feeling the slime cover her hand. "Yuck."
"Quit whining. At least we're not hurt." He turned away from her and headed farther into the forest. The day was overcast and threatened rain.
He didn't sound like a very nice man, but she had to state the obvious. "Shouldn't we head back over there? That should be the way back to the forest ranger's building."
The man stuck his hands in his front pockets and pulled it out. "I have a cell phone." He pushed a few buttons. "It's wet and dead."
Gretchen had nothing—not her purse or cell phone. No, that was back in her car. "I think we're stuck." She turned back toward the wide river. "Help! We need help!"
The man moved closer. "Lady. Quit it. You'll alert the bears to dinner if you don't be quiet. I'm sure we'll find a way back. Just follow me."
She was surprised at how nasty this man was, realizing she'd gotten stuck in the forest with a jerk. Of all the people to get lost with, it seemed to go with her bad luck.
She followed the man to the northwest, the opposite direction in which they'd come. It wasn't the way she'd go. Considering he didn't seem too happy with her, she kept her mouth shut. He probably knew the area better than she did—at least she hoped he did.
They walked for a long time, but she kept silent. This man, whoever he was, didn't seem like the type of person she wanted to get to know.
Instead of talking, she went into her own thoughts while shivering in the cool breeze of the Olympic National Forest, west of Puget Sound in the Seattle, Washington area.
Two days earlier, she'd cried all day, but now, she had to be tough to pick up the pieces. This was do or die out here in the wild, and no matter how much her heart felt empty, she had to concentrate on the here and now.
"We're lost," the man finally said, breaking the silence. "There has to be a way back to the ranger's station."
"Maybe there's another ranger's station that way?" she asked, pointing farther into the forest.
"Doubtful. We've been walking for a long time and I don't see any type of civilization."
"I should've left a trail," she muttered. "I'm sorry."
She studied his drying short brown hair and blue eyes, realizing this man was very attractive, but had a temper. Nope, not her type, but he did look a little familiar.
"You know," she said. "A trail? Like they used in the story of Hansel and Gretel? Because of the mean stepmother, the father took them into the woods and they left a trail so they could find their way back."
"That would've been useful." He stopped walking and looked back toward where they'd come. "We might have to go back through the river, if we can find it."
She shivered. She had to warm up, so she wrapped her arms across herself and rubbed her arms, trying to keep warm. He watched her, his expression showing concern. She hated him watching her, wondering if he was some type of masher or something.
"You look really cold," he said. "I wish I had a jacket for you."
Like he was nice or chivalrous to do such a thing. No way. "I'll be fine."
"Yeah. You don't look fine. Your lips are blue, almost matching your eyes." He moved beside her and put his arm over her shoulder, rubbing her upper arm on the other side. "I think we're going to try your idea and hunt for another forest ranger's building on the other side of this forest, since we're close to the northern tip." He raked his eyes down over her. "You're skinny, too. I bet you're really cold."
"That's an understatement." Her teeth chattered so she closed her lips, trying to keep quiet. She didn't need him angry with her again.
"Let's hurry up, then. I don't want you dying of pneumonia because of a bear."
Pneumonia. The word made her so sad from what had happened, but she couldn't appear weak.
She tried to keep up with him as they walked in silence through the forest. It got darker and darker until finally, bright lightning filled the sky. A clap of thunder made Gretchen hold onto her ears. She was terrified, willing tears to stop before filling her eyes. The rain started as a trickle, so Gretchen lowered her head to keep the water out of her eyes.
"Scared?" he asked.
Another thunderclap made her jump, and he moved closer to her. "If it's any consolation, I'm scared, too. Let's find some sort of shelter. Keep your eyes opened."
The rain fell a bit harder.
"Are you afraid of me?" he asked, almost surprised.
"You yelled at me. I'm not sure what I did wrong, but I don't like being yelled at." She wanted to tell him who she was, that her family could make his life miserable if they wanted to. But this wasn't the time, so she kept her mouth shut.
The rain fell harder, pounding a steady beat while pouring through the leaves and branches onto Gretchen's head, the ground turning muddier.
"Let's find some place to get warm then we'll talk about this," he said. "I'm really sorry. I've never had anyone scared of me before." He chuckled. "That almost makes me laugh. Women usually have me on a pedestal, clamoring to go out with me."
She didn't see the humor. She was out in the rain with a stranger who terrified her, with no way out. This was a nightmare. But here he was, laughing and thinking about his status among women. What kind of man was this?
He pointed to a big rock with a few tree branches hanging overhead. "There. We can at least get dry over there."
She followed him to the rock and sat down, and then leaned up against it.
"You okay?" he asked, sitting beside her.
"Sure." She shivered, wishing she could just get dry. She pulled her knees up to her chest and put her filthy shoes on the muddy ground, wrapping her arms around her very wet pant legs.
"Someone will find us," he said. "I'm sure of it."
"How can you be so sure?"
His face turned annoyed. "Don't you know who I am?"
She shook her head, trying to keep her teeth from chattering.
"I'm Dean Hanselman."
Her mouth fell open. Sitting beside her was the most famous criminal lawyer in the United States—and a playboy trying to climb the corporate and social ladder. No wonder he looked a little familiar and he was angry. He got paid to be angry every day of his life.