Chapter Ten

Love Your Dreams, Chapter 10

Astrid

I can’t blame the wine, because I haven’t drunk much of it. But when Brianne gives me a tired smile and nods toward the house, I still feel a sharp kick of regret.

“I should head inside. Pruny fingers, tired head,” she says.

“Yeah.” I lick my lips and shift away from her, painfully aware of…everything. The proximity of her body, her gorgeous youth, her innocent, wide-eyed expression. Her breasts.

I’m painfully aware of her breasts.

Only a twenty-three-year-old packs a black bikini “just in case”. It’s more sporty than sexy, except for those of us who find sporty very sexy, then it’s real life porn at my fingertips. Low-cut boy shorts that show off her well-defined abs, and a cropped tank top that lifted her breasts into round swells I could rub my face against for hours.

Hours.

I’m a terrible, horny, sex-deprived boss.

Boss, boss, boss.

Not really.

Sort of.

Oh, God. I take a big swallow of wine instead of watching her bottom twitch around the corner of the cabin.

I almost kissed her. Even worse, in my head it didn’t stop there, and I think she knew it.

This is inappropriate on so many levels, starting with the fact that she just broke up with a boyfriend, tripping over the fact that I’m her boss—and a bitchy one at that—and ending with the fact that she’s here because of Marcus.

Complicated? That’s an understatement.

I listen to her move through the cabin and watch the light in her room flick on. I drink more of my wine. Then the bathroom light. On for a few minutes, then off. I can’t hear her close her bedroom door, but I imagine it, and I finish my wine even though it’s not what will slake this particular thirst. 

When I’m out of wine and done chastising myself, I close up the hot tub and head back inside to double-check that our packs are ready to go.

When I go to fill the coffee maker with grounds and water, I find she’s already done it.

Oh, my sweet little Brianne. Stop fucking tempting me with your goodness.

***

The next morning, we’re up and out of the house thirty minutes sooner than the day before. We don’t talk. She moves around me like a helpful ghost, and I try not to snarl. It’s easier once the camera is in my hands. I take a few shots of her with the packs on, the camera bag on her back, the day bag on her front.

She grins at me, and I’m glad I’ve got the camera between us so she can’t see me smiling in return.

It’s hard to capture the start of a hike when it’s still dark out. I use a portable tripod and do a couple of long exposures, but I don’t focus on this part. I can get this right on another day.

“Okay, you’re ready?”

She nods. “I’m going to climb at a fast but steady pace. You’re going to sprint like a bobcat with a camera around me.”

“Pretty much. Off you go.”

She has instructions to pause every hour on the hour if she hasn’t seen me recently, so I can rehydrate and touch base. And maybe she does that, or maybe we’re just climbing in synch, because I’m catching her a fair bit, but then she’s disappearing again, leaving me to just do this thing that I want to do.

I’m not even sure if these photos will turn into anything good, or if they’ll look like some travel YouTuber’s GoPro stills.

But I’m loving what I see through the lens. I capture some wildlife, and a lot of the path. It occurs to me as I go that this many shots would be another good project to duplicate in a decade. I could devote my entire life to documenting these mountains, and I’d never capture it all.

But I have to try. I think of the changes we know about over the last century, and it pains me that there are many we don’t know about because the photographs simply don’t exist.

The second time I catch up to her, she has a protein bar out. “Hungry yet?”

“Maybe for half.”

She breaks it into two and holds out the bigger half. I take it, ignoring the way my insides twist when our fingers touch. 

“Thanks.”

Next she hands me a water bottle, and I take a couple of good sips before passing it back.

“Good to go again?” she asks.

“Yep. Thanks.”

She nods and heads up the trail, her legs steady and strong as she powers away from me. Once I’m alone, I lift my camera again to capture this point in the path.

You should have taken her picture with the protein bar. 

I will at the next stop, I promise myself. And then I roll my shoulders and get back to work.

***

The rest of the day goes exactly as planned. Brianne is where I need her, when I need her, and politely elsewhere when I want to be left alone with my camera. The pictures are good, too. I feel a mounting excitement as we near the final climb. I change out the memory card again, then up we head. It’s hard to take pictures when I need my hands to make any progress, but I get a couple. I think they’ll capture the chaotic steepness here, the slide of loose rocks and the peak just ahead.

When we get there, Brianne jumps up and down, laughing as she rubs her thighs. “Fucking yes!” she crows, tossing her fist in the air. “Ah-mazing.”

I snap her victorious grin, then carefully do a couple of three-hundred-sixty degree turns, recording the view on my camera, then I flip back to still images and take some super wide angle shots, too. Those are just for fun. The distortion won’t work for the exhibit, but I like to get it all. Maybe I can do an outtakes off-shoot.

“All good?” Brianne asks, her breath still ragged.

I lower my camera and reach for her hand, squeezing her fingers in gratitude. “All very good. Thank you. You were so helpful today.”

She points back down the path. “We’ll have company soon.”

I nod. “Okay, let’s head back down.”

She wriggles out of the two backpacks, and I stow the camera away before we have some water and food and enjoy the view. It’s cool, and there’s snow on the peaks opposite the valley below us, but the sun is shining and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than in this exact moment.

I can’t stop grinning.

And I like the little, pleased looks Brianne keeps sneaking my way.

“Hot tub again tonight?” I ask as we put on the packs. I’m done with shooting for today, so I’ll carry the camera bag back down.

She beams at me. “You know it. We’ve earned it for sure.”

 


Keep reading in chapter 11

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