Wild North (The North Brothers, #1) - J.B. Salsbury Page 0,2

hurry back. We’re not waiting for you.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Maybe this conversation won’t wait until we get back to the city. “You’ve been cold and distant, and why would you say you won’t wait for me, even if you’re joking?”

He sighs, and his shoulders drop a little. “I’m sorry. I’m just tired and ready for a very hot shower.” He tugs my beanie down lower over my messy hair. “I was kidding about not waiting for you, obviously.” He cups my jaw and runs his thumb over my lips. “Be safe. Hurry back.”

I lean into his touch, searching for the tingles and the warmth I used to feel when he’d touch me. “I’ll bring back pictures.”

“Perfect. And you can blow me in front of those when we get home.”

He kisses me, this time with an added gentleness that I haven’t felt in a while. Maybe if we talk, we can work things out, but do I even want that anymore?

The path to the waterfall is roughly a mile and a half uphill. After two cups of strong tea and a large Clif bar, I have energy to burn. I take in deep breaths to fill my lungs with the scent of the forest, pine bark, and both fresh and rotting foliage. As I make my way farther away from camp, the tree canopy breaks up, and the sun beats down on my coat and warms me up.

I rub at the promise ring on my left finger and think about what he said to me the night he slipped it on. New Year’s Eve. He promised he’d replace it with an engagement ring as soon as his financial situation was more stable. I told him I didn’t give a shit about how much money he has, but he said it was a man thing, whatever that means. A few months later, things between us started to go bad. But why?

The trail starts to open up, and the view of the sun rising over the mountains is too beautiful not to snap a photo. I’m going to miss these sunrises and sunsets. In the city, buried between high-rise buildings, I never see the sun this way.

I stop next to a tree and pat my pockets, searching for my phone. Dammit, I must’ve left it in the tent.

I turn and spot the path I’d just come from and consider going back to grab my phone. Going back would add a little time to the hike, but at least I’d get the bomb-ass Instagram photos.

As quickly as my hiking boots will carry me, I make the trek back toward camp. I only hope Lincoln saw my phone before rolling the tent up. I pick up my pace, which is easy going downhill, hoping not to add too much time to my hike. I spot the familiar cluster of red spruce trees and know I’m getting close.

I hear Courtney’s laughter, followed by Lincoln’s, and it almost makes me stumble because I haven’t heard him laugh like that in a long time.

Walking around to where our tent is set up, I spot the bright-red fabric on the ground and hurry to search for my phone, when the sound of Courtney squealing calls me up short.

“Get your hands off my ass,” she says playfully.

A surge of satisfaction fills me that she and Darin are finally flirting. I try to peek around the surrounding trees to get a glimpse.

“You guys better cut that out, or you’re going to get caught.”

I blink, wondering why Lincoln’s voice sounded so much like Darin’s.

A sinking feeling in my stomach has me reaching for tree bark to steady myself.

Don’t jump to conclusions. A need for clarification has me creeping closer, slowly, hoping with everything in me that I find Darin and Courtney flirting and groping each other.

My thumb rubs anxiously against the promise ring on my finger.

Muffled words become clearer as I move soundlessly through the trees.

“I hate that I can’t touch you whenever I want,” says a deep male voice in a whisper. It’s hard to tell whose voice it is—Lincoln’s or Darin’s.

“You can touch me now.” My gut twists as I recognize Courtney’s attempt at a sexy drawl.

“I’ll leave you two alone, but make it fast.” The male grumbled voice is followed by footsteps that are getting closer. I tuck behind a group of trees, just as Darin stomps off through the forest right past me.

I press my back to the bark of a pine tree and