Take a Hikeby__Lisa__©
"I've never known anyone so uncoordinated in all my life." Evan laughed as he gripped the handle on the top of Zoe's backpack. "You're hopeless," he said, dragging her none-too-gently onto the granite boulder where he'd spent the last five minutes waiting for her.
"Oh, fuck off." Zoe gained her footing and shoved his hand off her, annoyed by the way everything physical came so easily to him. She turned her back on him and stood facing the valley below, taking in the peaceful scenery so at odds with the tension inside her.
She'd pulled her black hair into a ponytail; the cool breeze whipped the ends and rippled across her Nirvana t-shirt while she mentally cursed her older sister for putting her in this situation.
"I've heard unrequited love often makes women a bit testy. Now I know it's true."
She sneaked a glance at him and snorted in spite of herself. "You wish." Zoe pulled her water bottle from the side pocket of her bag and popped the top, tilting it to her mouth to take a drink.
He moved in beside her and bumped her shoulder, causing her to lose her grip and send water dribbling down her chin. Zoe shot him a lethal glare. She caught the droplets and wiped her damp fingers on her shorts. "You did that on purpose."
His mouth tilted in a half-smile and he turned the full weight of his striking blue eyes on her. "I need to make my own fun. In case you haven't noticed you're shitty company."
"I'm normally delightful. Trust me, it's you not me." Zoe watched as the afternoon sun played across his features, wishing he'd at least show some sign he was as tired as her. The breeze ruffled his dark hair and his skin glowed with a light sheen of perspiration. He wore khaki shorts and the straps on his backpack stretched his navy tank top across his chest. Her slim figure and petite features always made her feel insignificant standing next to him. She continuously tried to make up for it with a healthy dose of attitude.
"I've never seen you as anything other than a smartass," he said.
"That's because you're always around at the time." She slipped her bottle into her backpack. "You bring out the worst in me."
"Is this a sexual tension thing? If I let you get into my pants will it help improve your mood?" Evan lifted his arms above his head and his eyes remained on her while he indulged in a leisurely stretch.
"Hmm...no. There are things I want to do to you but none of them would be enjoyable—not for you, anyway." She hated the fact that she couldn't stop her attention from drifting to the enticing vision of flat, taut belly revealed by his raised tank top. Her eyes followed the trail of dark hair from his navel to the waistband of his low-slung shorts.
A deep chuckle brought her gaze back to his and she had to steel herself against the humor his knowing smile stirred inside her. "Just checking," he said. "I'll take one for the team if I have to. Keep that in mind."
She rolled her eyes and tried to decide which would be more painful, diving into the valley below or spending another three hours with him. "I honestly don't think I can take any more of this."
"Blame your sister," he said, dropping his arms to his side. "She's always playing the peacemaker."
"All the stress of planning the wedding must have finally driven her insane. Anyone can see you and I are never going to get along." Her sister Paige began seeing Evan's older brother Matt two years ago, becoming engaged to him twelve months later. As the maid of honour at their wedding next week, Zoe had been paired with the best man. Two guesses who that happened to be.
Paige decided a spur-of-the-moment bonding session in the mountains was just what Zoe and Evan needed to end the hostility between them. So far the idea had turned out to be a complete flop. Zoe couldn't stop sniping at him and he hadn't even tried to hold back from needling her during the two hours they'd already spent together.
"Aw, don't say 'never'." He rested his arm across her shoulder and pulled her in against his side. "We'll be BFFs after this, I just know it."
Zoe pressed her lips together and tried to keep a straight face. She pushed his arm off her and took a deep breath, forging ahead in an effort to hide her amusement. Evan only let her take the lead for a few minutes before he gripped her shoulders and physically moved her aside so he could pass through. She sighed and tried to focus on the scenery to take her mind off her predicament.
Her pack was a heavy burden at her shoulders, blisters had formed on her toes and sweat trickled down her spine. The trail grew denser and the terrain more challenging the deeper they hiked into the mountains. They hadn't passed a single person on their journey which only served to make her feel even more isolated. In normal circumstances she had a lot of patience, but her control began to slip as the minutes ticked by and her exhaustion grew.
She continued her verbal jousting with Evan, becoming more personal and less tactful as the hike progressed. The main problem she faced was that her behaviour appeared to annoy her more than it did him. Sometimes he'd reply with a witty comeback and other times she'd notice his shoulders moving in a silent laugh as he turned his head away from her.
Zoe was twenty-two and Evan twenty-four when they were first introduced to each other at a barbeque thrown by his parents. The intention had been to bring the two families together since Paige and Matt were beginning to get serious. From the moment they met sparks had flown between them, sometimes driven by attraction but more often annoyance. Eighteen months later nothing had really changed—but neither of them had tried all that hard to improve their situation either. Up until now their usual method of dealing with the tension had been avoidance, which really didn't solve anything.
Zoe released a loud breath and shook her head, knowing what needed to be done. There was nothing like an over-long hike in the fresh mountain air to help bring some clarity to your thinking. For the sake of her sister's happiness on the big day she had to put more effort into being less...abrasive toward Evan.
Over an hour later they reached a clearing and Evan slipped his arms from his backpack, letting it drop to the ground. He rested against a rock and pulled in air. Zoe wanted to cheer with relief as she slid free from her pack to join him. Even though it was the middle of autumn and the days had begun to cool she felt unusually warm.
A smile hovered at his mouth as he glanced at her. "I only stopped so I could take a break from listening to you wheeze."
Zoe moved in beside him to share the rock. She let out a breathless laugh, too tired to fight with him. "I'd kiss you in gratitude if I didn't think you'd hurt me." She stared at the tree-filled landscape, listening to the wind rustle through the leaves while she braced herself for his reply. When the silence stretched on her gaze shifted to him. "Why so quiet?" she asked. "No more digs?"
Evan's body remained facing straight ahead; only his eyes slid in her direction. "We need to stop that."
She threw a furtive glance his way. "I've been thinking the same thing."
"It's going to take a lot of effort—more on your part than mine."
She hummed her agreement, the humour in his tone making her smile. Zoe soaked up the silence with him for a while, losing herself in her thoughts. She couldn't imagine what it would be like being friends with him now, they'd spent too long as...she didn't even know what to call the relationship they currently shared. Maybe a truce was the easiest option.
"Say something nice to me," she finally said, wanting to test him. "I bet you can't even come up with one thing."
He pushed off the rock and took a couple of steps away, turning to face her once he'd put some distance between them. He appeared to be thinking it over but it didn't take him too long to find an answer. "All right," he said, "even though you dress like a sixteen-year-old skater chick I can tell there's a hot body hidden somewhere under there."
She shifted gravel around with the toe of her sneaker and hid her amusement. "Wow, thanks. I guess a backhanded compliment's better than nothing at all." Zoe looked up at him, deciding to have a try at this niceness thing herself. "I like your—that bit," she said pointing to the area between his navel and waistband.
"This?" he asked, lifting the hem of his tank top. She kept her mouth shut and nodded, not trusting herself to speak. He let his top fall back into place and said, "Okay, I'll admit I also find your sense of humour entertaining."
Zoe bit the inside of her cheek, enjoying herself. She wanted to draw the moment out even longer but figured she'd be pushing her luck. "I think you're annoyingly funny sometimes, too," she finally relented.
He laughed as he bent to pick up her backpack. "Thanks. That's more than enough for one day. Let's keep moving before I get all emotional." He helped her slip into her straps, the gesture so considerate it left her feeling unsure how to respond. She made the wisest decision and just offered a simple thank you. When he'd shouldered his own pack he tugged her ponytail—a reminder they weren't quite friends yet—and headed off to begin the rest of their journey.
Zoe stood there for a while longer, feeling hopeful about this new development. A sense of warmth had begun to develop between them that she'd never experienced with him before now. Maybe Paige had been right and spending time in a situation where they couldn't avoid each other was just what they needed. She'd have to keep an open mind about it all and see where it headed.
His movements distracted her from her thoughts. Zoe's gaze lowered to his legs and she watched him walk, taking note of the way the muscles shifted beneath his smooth bronzed skin. His shorts were just tight enough for her to get a decent rear view and once she'd set eyes on him she couldn't look away.
"You have a nice ass!" she yelled out before she could stop herself.
Evan lifted his arm, did a fist pump above his head and kept trudging on.
* * * *
"So that's it, then." Zoe shoved her backpack into the trunk of her car and lowered the lid. Paige had urged them to travel in one vehicle but there'd only been so much togetherness they were willing to tolerate. Evan drove himself here and parked alongside her in what was now an otherwise empty lot.
Having already stowed his bag he stood with her between their cars to say goodbye. His hands were splayed low on his hips and he regarded her with a friendlier expression than she'd grown used to expecting from him. "Yep. It didn't turn out too badly after all," he said.
Her mouth curved with a hesitant smile. "You're actually an okay person once you stop trying to be so irritating."
He chuckled as he looked her over. "And you're pretty good company when you're too tired to speak."
She huffed out a laugh and looked away, surprised by how much easier it was to be around him. The last few hours had opened her eyes to the man hidden beneath the antagonistic exterior and Zoe had to reluctantly admit she liked what she'd discovered. "I hope everything's going to be okay between us at the wedding now," she said meeting his eyes.
Evan leaned past her to open the driver's side door, resting his arm along the top edge. "If we can manage to find some tape for your mouth to match the colour of your dress I think we'll be fine."
She laughed and gave him a playful shove. "I was being serious."
"Hey." He let go of the door and grabbed her wrists in defense, holding her at bay. "So was I."
His patient amusement and the feel of his warm fingers on her skin encouraged a twinge of something intimate and unexpected inside her. She stared at him while he held her, not sure whether she wanted him to pull her closer or release her. Going by the expression on his face she guessed similar thoughts were whirling around in his mind. "I'm done attacking you," she said, reminding him that he still held her.
"I know. I'm not letting you go just yet." Evan kept his eyes on her while he tugged her slowly toward him. "I want to show you something."
Zoe's gaze narrowed. "What?"
"Relax. Stop looking at me like I'm going to hurt you." A sliver of space separated their bodies. She could feel the heat emanating from him. "My brother and I used to beat the crap out of each other when we were younger," he said. "Our mother always stopped the fighting and made us hug, her theory being that you can't be angry at someone when you're hugging them."
"Your mother's a hippy. I'm not getting all cuddly with you."
The sound that came from him was somewhere between a laugh and a growl. "Try it, Zoe. Give me hell later if it doesn't work."
Evan released her wrists and slid his hands slowly over the curve of her shoulders. He watched her while he touched her, somehow making the connection more personal. She shivered and before she could take a bracing breath he drew her into his arms, wrapping her up in a hug so tight, so comforting, that she actually sighed.
Zoe sank into the moment and turned her head to rest her cheek against his chest. Her arms came up to encircle his waist and she held him, immersing herself in his strength and warmth. His heart beat strong and steadily beneath her cheek, his chin resting on the top of her head while he kept her close. She had no idea how long they stood there like that but the feel of his palm stroking her spine, squeezing the back of her neck before it slid down again, felt so good she didn't want him to let her go.
She could've sworn he placed a soft kiss on her hair before he eventually clasped her arms to pull her back from him. The separation made her want to cry out in protest. Zoe looked up at him, still dazed by the contact.
"Do you feel like arguing with me?" he asked, sweeping his thumbs over her shoulders.
She moistened her lower lip and shook her head, overwhelmed by the tenderness of the moment. Zoe felt like doing something but it had nothing to do with arguing. "I take it back. She was right." Her body swayed toward him of its own accord. She laughed, uncomfortable with her needs but unwilling to give up the opportunity for more. "You're good at that. I want another one," she said.
A look of amusement passed over his features and he tugged her back into his arms without even questioning her request. She surprised herself by hugging him tightly and rubbing her cheek against his chest, soaking up the solid heat of him. His hands warmed her back, his fingers flexing against her muscles in a rubbing, massaging motion that had her closing her eyes to savour the touch. Zoe's own palms moved tentatively over his spine, stroking, soothing.
He located a sore muscle just above her shoulder blade and she arched her back, pressing her body closer. She heard and felt the groan that travelled through him; a responding tingle of excitement hit her deep in her belly. Even though she'd always found him physically attractive she hadn't been able to see him as anything other than just the annoying brother of her sister's boyfriend. Now she could barely remember what it was about him that had rubbed her up the wrong way.
Evan dipped his head and left a soft kiss on her temple. He kept her snugly against him with one arm while his other hand tilted her chin. She clutched his waist and held her breath as she gazed up at him, wondering what she'd find in his expression.
His blue eyes were intense as they met hers, his jaw clenched while he looked her over. His thumb swept across her lower lip and his mouth tilted in the slightest of smiles. He leaned closer and said in a low voice, "If I knew in the beginning all you needed was one good...hug to make you more agreeable, I would've done it when I first met you."
Zoe scowled at him while trying to hide her smile. Just because there was a chance he might be right didn't mean she wanted him getting ahead of himself. "You think you can shut me up with a hug?"
"I doubt that'll keep you quiet. This will, though." His hand curved around her neck and he pulled her up on her toes to press his mouth to hers.
Her eyes closed and a sigh rippled through her. She grasped his t-shirt and held on. Her heart thudded and her stomach plummeted at the suddenness of it all. One thought filled her mind in that moment: Oh, God...Finally...Finally. The kiss started out slow, his warm, firm lips coaxing hers to respond. She let him pull her along with him, opening her mouth to accept the silky invasion of his tongue. Just the tip flicked over hers then retreated, his hands resuming their arousing caresses up and down her back.
Zoe trembled with a quick shiver, flattening her palms against his chest. She no longer noticed the chill in the air, the tiredness in her bones. Her mind focused entirely on Evan, still reeling at their change in circumstances. She leaned into him. A moan came from her as her arms slid around his neck and her tongue thrust against his. The connection went deeper, the kiss turned wilder. His hands supported her while his mouth took control, guiding, arousing. She couldn't get close enough. The urge came over her to climb his body and clamp her legs at his waist.
Evan's fingers wrapped around her ponytail and he broke the kiss to tug her head back. His lips moved over her exposed throat, flicking his tongue here, sucking lightly there and driving her to the point where she wanted to beg him for more. He dipped his tongue into the hollow at the base of her throat and her mouth dropped open. She let out a sigh, neediness growing inside her until it took on a life of its own. She sank her hands into his hair and pulled him up so she could bring his mouth back to hers.
"You're a good hugger," she said breathlessly, brushing her lips over his, "and a good kisser. That mouth...I knew you would be."
His teeth nibbled her earlobe while he gripped her ass and pulled her against him. "Wanna see something else I do well?" he asked.
Although she heard the humour in his voice his erection was impossible to miss. She knew the offer was a serious one. Desire rolled through her and she laughed when she least expected to want to laugh. "Yeah."
A husky chuckle vibrated against her throat. "Here?"
Zoe's eyes flickered open, sweeping over their surroundings. They were still alone. At this late hour no one would be starting out on a hike. "Yeah," she repeated.
He groaned and took her mouth again, one hand cradling the back of her head while the other squeezed her ass, grinding her against his erection. He was hard... so hard. She slipped her hand between their bodies and stroked him, her fingertips running along his rigid length. He growled and his tongue swept over hers, his hands growing more demanding. She massaged his cock, wanting to feel his silky skin without any barriers, to find out what it was like to have him—the last man she'd ever expected to actually be with in this way—thrusting inside her, filling her, making her come.
Evan pulled his mouth from hers and spent one breath-stealing second looking into her eyes then he turned her and closed the door, pressing her against the car. She'd expected him to drag her into the back seat, now her stomach churned in anticipation. Zoe closed her eyes as his hands slipped under her t-shirt and smoothed over her ribs, roaming upwards to enclose her breasts. She let out a harsh breath, her ass pushing back against him. His hands kneaded her flesh, his thumbs slowly sweeping over her hardened nipples.
Evan leaned down and kissed the back of her neck. His fingers tugged the cups of her bra down, shoving them under her breasts. He teased her nipple with one hand, the other drifting over her stomach to work on the button at the waistband of her shorts.