Suddenly, an ominous rumble of the ground beneath her feet. She froze. Listened. What the hell was going on? Earthquake? Something crashed landed? Which direction? Unfreezing and spinning around on the spot, she looked intently for a clue as to what was happening. Did someone need help? Her heart beating wildly, she had no choice but to wait, unsure of which direction the sound had come from.
A loud shout. There.
She took off running, shoving the phone into her pocket, adrenaline coursing through her veins, feet pounding down the path.
She raced around a curve in the path to find a sinkhole opening a few feet away, the ground still tumbling.
“Holy shit!” she exclaimed, stopping dead in her tracks. Should she move any closer? Would she destabilize it even more? She backed off a bit.
As the dust settled a man emerged standing upright in the pit. Not just any man, but a truly pissed off one. She could only see him from the shoulders up until she moved in closer for a better view. He appeared unharmed.
“If you wouldn’t mind lending a hand, darlin’,” he said, his tone suggesting she was not being very helpful just standing there gawking. “Just in case this thing decides to settle even more.”
“Oh, yes, of course.” She extended her arm. The poor guy was covered in dust and debris. He grasped her hand, she gave a mighty pull, and he scrambled up the side of the hole. He slipped at the last possible second on the unstable edge and tumbled forward, landing right smack on top of her.
Fuck. She went down with a thud, the breath whooshing from her lungs in a wild rush, his sudden closeness to her person a hell of a shook. The fragrance of his body wash mingling with his manly aroma washed over her as he lay prone on her body, his head cradled by her breasts. She starred into the bluest eyes ever as his startled glance locked with hers. A complete stranger, embracing her. Albeit, a very handsome and hot one that gave off a tantalizing fragrance if that made it any better.
The man had the grace to look even more horrified than her. When he realized his hands were on her person, and more specifically, squeezing one very sensitive breast, the nipple pebbling from the intimate contact, he extracted himself, getting to his feet, and then bending down to give her a hand up.
“My God, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” he apologised.
“I’m fine,” she croaked, swallowing hard. Her backpack worked to absorb most of the fall.
He took a moment to shake and pound the soil off. Her hands trembled as she took off her backpack to retrieve a water bottle. She drank deeply, offering a second bottle to him. He took it with a nod of thanks, downed half in one quick go.
“Wow,” she finally ventured. “That really was something.”
“Yeah, that was something all right,” he agreed. She got a better look at him as he emerged from his dust cocoon. Topping six feet two at least he towered well above her, wide shoulders encased in a blue work shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, jeans hanging on narrow hips. His blue eyes blazed his square jaw tight. He reminded Casey of a young Robert Redford from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Golden Boy. Sweet Jesus.
“Oh goodness, I’m so sorry! What happened? Are you okay?” A voice intruded as a young man rushed up dressed in a beige uniform, clip board in hand, expression aghast. Oak Island Tours printed in white on his red baseball cap blazoned his occupation.
“What happened is a blasted pit opened up under my feet. And I nearly hurt this young lady by landing on top of her.”
“I’m so sorry—” The man looked down at his clipboard. “Professor Harrison. I didn’t get the chance to warn you. I was running late, oh my goodness—you’re not going to sue the company or anything? I could lose my job.”
“Weren’t you off the marked path?” Casey interrupted, glancing over a black backpack lying at the base of a pine tree at least ten feet off the trail.
“What? Uh, yes, okay. I did go over to look—”
“Well, then, you’d better not sue the tour company for your own negligence.”
“What in the world are you talking about? Who said anything about suing anybody?”
“Well, it was obviously your own fault.” A devil made her say it. Blame it on the last few confusing moments. Things needed to get back under control. Her control.
“Yes, you strayed from the path, didn’t wait for the tour guide to give his safety speech.” She crossed her arms over her breasts, pursing her lips.
His blue eyes flashed and narrowed. “And you did? Why are you here anyway?”
“I booked a private tour. A perfectly acceptable reason I believe for being here.”
“I see you didn’t wait for the tour guide either. Isn’t that a breach of the rules?” he noted, his jaw tightening.
The tour guide pipped up. “Oh, I’m sorry about that. Apparently, I’m double booked for a private tour today.”
“You sure are sorry about a lot of things today,” he muttered, not letting up on his scowl.
“Mr. Harrison,” she began.
“Truman,” he said.
“Truman Harrison,” she parroted. That name sounded familiar.
“Precisely, darlin’. And you are?”
“Uh, Casey Madison.” She’d appreciated his pronounced southern accent having always enjoyed Kevin Spacey playing Francis Underwood on House of Cards. Compared to her stark Canadian accent, his sounded vastly more charming. Even when pissed. Make that royally pissed.
The tour guide spoke up, glanced her way. “Casey Madison from the U of M. Right?”
“University of Manitoba?” Truman asked, furrowing his brow. He leaned forward, pulling something from her hair. He held out a dry bit of twig. She took a step backward, chewing on her bottom lip.
“Yeah, so?” she kept up the brave front, smoothing her braid curving its way down her breast. She regretted tying a bright red ribbon around the blond ends this morning. She glanced at his hair shining bright gold in the sunlight. Oh yeah. A real pretty boy. And being a bit of a jackass.
“Department of Archaeology?”
“Yeah.” Casey chewed on a fingernail.
“Don’t you think it only right and proper to welcome your new department head?”
Casey pressed her lips together into a grim line. Just. Fuckin’. Great. Of all the people to run into here, in Nova Scotia, he would have been the seventh billion in plausible possibilities on her list. Was this payback for stealing Soapy’s Gold? Her fingers twitched to squeeze the life out of the stress-ball printed with the Chancellor’s image thoughtfully presented to her by a fellow Ringer at Christmastime.