Here are a few excerpts from the story to give you a little taste. Enjoy!
Unsure what to say next, Falon didn’t speak for a moment. He was about to make a comment about the nice weather when Beth suddenly blurted out, “Would you like to go for a hike with me?”
Taken completely by surprise, he didn’t reply for a few seconds, which was apparently long enough for her to regret her outburst. Her cheeks turned pink, and she exclaimed, “I’m sorry! I didn’t really mean to say that. It just popped right—”
Beth paused. “Yes?”
“Yes, I’d love to go on a hike with you.”
A brilliant smile beamed across Beth’s face, making him want to kiss her right then and there.
“Really? I-I mean, that’s great! It should be perfect weather for it. We should probably pack a lunch, that is unless you just want to take a short hike.”
“We’ll pack a lunch,” Falon said, letting her know with those words that he didn’t want just a short hike. “I will have to get some proper shoes, though. When I started this trip, I wasn’t intending to do things that would require that kind of footwear.”
“Okay. How about if you come to my place as soon as you’re ready. I’ll pack our lunch. Is turkey okay? That’s all I have for lunch meat.”
“Turkey will be fine. Just mayo for the condiments. Would you like me to drive you home now? Then I’ll know the way to your place.”
They left the park and walked across the bridge, then to his hotel.
“I’ve never ridden in a convertible before,” Beth remarked as they got in his car.
“Then you’re in for a treat.”
With Beth giving him directions, they were soon at her place. He dropped her off at the curb with a recommendation from her on the best place to get hiking boots. Once the boots were purchased, Falon returned to his hotel suite to change into jeans and a gray T-shirt, taking with him a long-sleeved wool shirt in case the temperature dropped.
As he was doing all these things, Falon kept questioning the wisdom of his actions. The more time he spent with Beth, the harder it was going to be to say goodbye, but he couldn’t seem to help himself. He could never remember feeling this strong an attraction to a woman before, especially not for one he’d just met. Last night, she had been a participant in one of his dreams. It had not been the kind of dream from which he awoke aching with desire, but he had woken up with a smile on his face. It was the first time a dream had made him smile in a great many years.
He would go on this hike with her, making no plans for what he would do afterwards. It would just be a nice hike with a lovely woman with whom he enjoyed spending time. He could even look upon it as simply time spent with a newfound friend.
Friend? Yes, he’d had female friends, some becoming quite dear to him, but he couldn’t lie to himself. He wanted more than that with Beth. But friendship would have to do.
Beth’s heart felt like it was permanently stuck in her throat, where it had been since the moment Falon disappeared into the burning house. She was scared out of her mind for him, terrified that he was going to get killed. She thought she’d heard sirens a moment ago, but she refused to budge from this spot to go see if the fire trucks had arrived. She couldn’t leave. She had to be here when Falon got out of that house. He had to get out. He just had to!
Her eyes, which hadn’t left the open doorway for a moment, caught sight of movement. And then she saw him, a small child clutched against his chest. He was going to make it! He was going to be okay!
An instant after that thought passed through Beth’s mind, an explosion rocked the house. She watched in horror as a ball of flames roared straight toward Falon.
In the instant before the fireball hit, Falon dropped to one knee, curling his body protectively over the child. But it would not save them from that inferno. Certain that she was about to watch them die, Beth cried out in denial.
What happened next made the cry die on her lips.
Falon set the empty glass on the counter, his head bowed. He stood there like that, his back to her, for several seconds, then slowly turned around. He gave her a long, searching stare.
“What I’m about to tell you is something you’ll probably find very hard to believe,” he said.
“Are you human?” Beth asked, holding her breath as she waited for the answer.
His eyes were gentle when he replied. “No.”
Beth’s heart rate instantly rose. “Then what are you?”
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m leaving. I can’t stay here any longer, Beth. I have to get away from here, away from you.”
Her eyes returned to him. “And do what, Falon? Live the rest of your life alone, without ever making love again?”
“Do you really think you can do that?”
“I have to try.”
Beth shook her head and took a step toward him. “That’s too much to ask of yourself.”
“Priests do it. They live their whole lives without human intimacy.”
Beth frowned. “Well, you’re not a priest, and, judging by what happened at my place tonight, you could never be one.”
Falon dropped his gaze to the carpet, a flush heating his face. “Maybe not, but celibacy is my only possible course of action.”
“No, it’s not. I can understand why you can’t let yourself have another relationship like you did with Bridget, but that doesn’t mean you have to deny yourself all intimacy. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.”
“I’ve done what you’re suggesting, Beth. I had relationships other than my three marriages, some just brief affairs, though never any one-night-stands.”
“Then why not now?”
“Because I don’t think it’ll be enough. I want . . . I want things I can’t have. I want someone who will be by my side for the rest of my life, someone who, when I look at her and say ‘till death do us part’, it will be with the hope that I won’t have to suffer the pain of her death. That’s what I want, Beth, and it’s forever out of my reach.”