© Teresa Tysinger. Originally published January 2020.
(Missed Part I? Read it here.)
The last thing Hunter Paine wanted to face on this cold morning was the icy stare of Reese Chandler. He usually went out of his way to avoid her. Yet here he was, driving down the bumpy dirt road that separated their properties, playing the role of good neighbor.
“Of all the wondering mutts in Laurel Cove, why is it always you, Moses?” Hunter eyed the old blood hound sitting next to him on the seat of his truck. The dog turned away from the passenger window, foggy from his breath, and nudged Hunter’s hand with a wet nose.
“It’s a good thing you’re cute. But that’s not going to help me with her.” His eyes returned forward as the truck rolled to a stop in front of the cabin. Reese stood on the top step in a white bath robe, arms crossed. She stared him down with bright blue eyes that flashed against dark hair falling in loose, wavy curls down her shoulders. Every ounce of her stubbornness was equally matched with undeniable beauty. Hunter grunted in defiance of the thought.
He didn’t have two feet on the ground before her own growl greeted him. “Mr. Paine, what in the world could you need this early in the day that can’t wait until a decent hour?”
Why did she insist on addressing him so formally? They’d been classmates since preschool, for goodness’ sake. He crossed in front of the truck and gazed up at her from the bottom of the steep steps with the friendliest smile he could muster. He’d had a lot of practice over the years using honey instead of vinegar where she was concerned.
“Well, Miss Chandler,” he said with a slight pause and tip of his ball cap, “I found your daddy’s hound curled up with two of my barn cats again this morning. Looked happier than a coon in a trashcan the day after Thanksgiving. Figured you’d want him back. But seeing as I’ve caught you in your bed clothes, I’ll just tie him up and be on my way.”
A flush spread across her cheeks as she pulled her robe tight under her chin. Hunter hid a satisfied smile as he turned and reached for the passenger door. “C’mon, boy.”
“Thank you.” Her voice was softer, kinder. “I don’t know why he keeps wondering off. He never did that with daddy.”
Hunter knelt and fastened the clip on a long line of rope lying in the yard to the dog’s collar. Moses, stretched then circled a few times before lazily finding a spot atop the grass, still blanketed with a light frost.
“Well, I don’t recall seeing Moses more than a few steps behind your father. Makes sense to me that he goes looking for him from time to time.”
As soon as he’d said it, regret flooded in. Hunter watched tears well up in Reese’s eyes before she turned to focus on the westward hills. He was all too familiar with that rush of grief. But he also knew he had no right to join her in it. After all, he was pretty sure it was his fault Hollace Chandler was dead.
Our Mountain is a serial story published monthly for subscribers of The Little Blue Cottage. The author, Teresa Tysinger, retains all creative rights to this story. No part of this story may be copied, reproduced, or otherwise used without expressed written consent by the author. The author may be contacted here.