Then, she saw him. Collecting money for tickets behind the counter up on the right, a brownish blond-haired boy chatted with mismatched tourists, who loudly gushed about their love of caves and all the ones they had visited. The boy didn’t seem to mind. He patiently answered questions about the history of the cave’s owners and the world records the cave held. Probably of interest to some, she supposed.
Curious, Fee crept closer. While awaiting her turn, she sneaked another peek at the good-looking boy in the light blue shirt. He had such pale skin, as if he spent too much time down below. Such odd eyes, though, she mused. Beautiful, gray, and forceful. A strange recognition haunted her, though they had never met. This intrigued her.
As he put a $20 bill into the drawer, he hesitated as if startled. His chin lifted and his attention froze on her, as if she had been more unendurable than the tourists. What did she do wrong? She sucked in a concerned breath, anxiously awaiting his assessment…outsider? He seemed to curiously tilt his head as their eyes locked. A wave of energy passed through them as if they were connected somehow—an unsettling intimacy among strangers. Her heart fluttered when his attention settled on her chest, where her charm rested. Fee immediately focused on her ugly brown boots.
That appeared to snap him out of it. She heard him resume conversation with the couple. She thought he had a pleasant voice, one that some girl might like to hear while lying under the stars. Friendly and confident, he seemed tough enough to handle the rugged terrain, yet with a tenderness for life.
She stole another peek. His deep-set eyes held a sparkle. Outdoorsy and casual, he completed the transaction, as if at home in his natural element, born and bred in these mountains. He was about her age, though taller and lean, but muscular. He obviously kept fit caving. There was something else about him. Sure, his handsome, symmetrical face could melt any girl’s heart, and those lips weren’t too thin—perfect to sink your lips into. Darn those teenage hormones! Before she could gawk any further, the middle-aged couple in their Hawaiian shirts moved aside to snap more pictures to document their day.
Her turn came. Taking a deep breath, in and out, she stepped up. The wooden counter served as a blockade.
“One ticket, please.”
As if the floor gave way, she felt herself spinning. Her brain wrestled to comprehend what he had asked.
“For the next tour.”
Her heart skipped a beat. She turned to each side. Was she on one of those prank TV shows? He smirked, probably guessing her paranoia. She grew angry. Why had she found him so appealing?
“To tour the cave.” She enunciated each syllable in case he had trouble with her different accent.
“We don’t have a cave.”
Was she caught in a nightmare? He was calmly inferring she was crazy or something. Confusion set in. Her throat constricted and her palms sweated. She would have run away, but she couldn’t move. Then, he laughed in a soft, musical way, knocking her back from her panic attack.
“I’m teasing. That will be $10.”
Fee felt the blood rise, turning her cheeks and the tips of her ears beet red.
“Are you with a group?”
Flustered, Fee met his gaze, begging him not to torture her anymore.
“No, do I need to be?” She was cautious now, in case he was enjoying the abuse of her ignorance.
“No,” he shrugged. “I was just wondering if you were…alone. If you wait by the entrance, I’m starting a tour in five minutes.”
His annoyed expression declared that she had no sense of humor as he took her money and handed her back a ticket. Her trembling fingers snatched it away. He had the nerve to grin roguishly.