The afternoon sun slipped behind the trees, threatening to steal the light he needed to reach the enchanting voice ahead. Darkened pines stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the twilight as if to scorn his efforts to negotiate the indistinct path. He shoved aside the last branches, bounded over a fallen pine sinking into the soil, and entered a clearing where the lilting voice drifted with the forest scents.
He stopped to brush at his clothing, his hinted smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
In the distance the mountains reached high for the last sunlight, their glacial swatches blushing in the sunset. The lake’s waters beside him seemingly deepened with approaching darkness.
Ahead, beyond his old pickup, a squat cabin with a covered porch across its façade blinked flickering firelight. Gray wisps drifted above the chimney and promised a warm night.
To the right, at the porch’s far end, the woman whose voice beckoned him relaxed on the railing, one arm draped about the huge corner post and her legs dangling above the deck. The breeze touched her blonde hair at the moment she fell silent, turned, and gazed at him through shaded eyes. She brushed her hair back, allowing the light beyond the open door to flow over her features. He reached the stairs and paused with one foot on the bottom step.
Shaking his head, he chuckled. “The last thing I expected was to hear a beautiful voice floating in the trees out here in the middle of nowhere.”
Smiling, she met his gaze and crossed her legs. “I’d have thought you’d be used to my singing by now?”
“I wasn’t complaining.” He climbed the stairs.
Tipping her head back, she breathed deep and closed her eyes. “This place asks me to sing.” There was a slight rasp to her voice, a voice that danced with mirth. “Besides, I feared you’d become lost.” Her smile climbed to her eyes when they opened. The free-spirit breeze moved her hair to frame her features and then frame them again with gentle movements.
He laughed, one hand pushing back his dark hair. “It would’ve been a bit difficult to get lost with the lake beside me the entire time.” His laughter slid into a sly grin as he leaned against the logs that constituted the cabin wall.
She wore a simple print dress fitted above the waist, the sleeves short and puffed, the neckline low enough to reveal the turquoise necklace he’d made for her. The blue and green touches on her dress complimented her eyes. She recrossed her legs, each breath she took evident through the thin fabric that hugged her sides.
He freed himself from the wall. “Are you cold?” Setting his hands on his hips, he pushed back his shoulders until his neck popped. The rolled-up sleeves on his shirt held tight to his upper arms and the parted front revealed a chest that drew her gaze.
“Just a bit.” Confident grace eased her down, forcing the dress to her thighs when her body slid over the railing behind. As if a cloud in a dream it settled to its full length when her bare feet touched down. She crossed the planks and looked up into brown eyes. “Did you get it?”
“Yeah.” He retrieved the birch bark strip from his shirt pocket.
“And you took it from the tree beside the stacked stones?” Her dress swayed in the early evening breeze, a dreamy counterbalance to her hair’s movement.
He held the bark high. “Yeah, though it isn’t like there’s a lack of birch trees right here…”
“That one’s special.” She jumped up, plucked the prize from his hand, and hurried into the cabin. Behind her, he followed at a sauntering gait and closed the door.
A fire burned in the hearth, an iron pot suspended above the flames. Before the fire was a mattress on an oval rug. He stopped at the rug’s edge and glanced to his left where a raven sat on a high perch and glared at an owl on a perch across the room. Neither blinked.
“Do these two do anything other than look at one another?”
At the fire she dropped bark into the bubbling mixture in the pot. “They only do that at night—when they’re home, that is.”
“H’m…” He picked up the gray cat when it rubbed against his leg. “Don’t you need eye of newt or something like that?”
She glanced over her shoulder and rolled her eyes. “You’re making fun of me.”
His features became mock horror. “Not me, though you’d think you’d at least have a black cat.”
Wooden spoon in hand, she stirred the pot’s contents. “Now you are making fun of me.” She spun around, her eyes alive with excitement. “Okay…” She rubbed her hands together and then held them out wide. While she spoke unintelligible words he set the cat down. Between them the mattress rose several feet off the floor.
One brow arched, he laughed. “I hiked around the lake so you could do that?”
Indignant, she shrugged. “I’m tired of sleeping on the floor.”
“We have the mattress.”
“It feels like the floor to me.”
“And that thing won’t dump us off during the night?”
“Not unless you brought the wrong birch bark.”
Before she could flee he rushed around the hovering mattress and picked her up. “I wouldn’t think of crossing those powers of yours.” While she squealed he tossed her onto the mattress, which swayed, but didn’t tip. “Damn, you’re good!”
Beckoning him forward, she smiled wide. “I haven’t gotten started yet.”
In a rush he joined her.