Tiger in the Snow
Tessa looked upward at the dimming sky. Considering that the winter sun had shone brightly overhead when they stopped, several hours had passed while she lay unconscious. Derek had wasted neither time nor energy calling for assistance.
The rat bastard had left her there to die. Since she had refused to be his mistress, he would find her disappearance convenient. She clenched her jaws and hoped for the gratifying opportunity to get her hands on him so she could throttle the jerk. Her shoulders drooped as righteous anger evaporated. The likelihood that she really would have the opportunity to exact a little vengeance looked pretty remote.
She shivered as cold sank bone deep and chilled the warmth of outrage. She was lost, freezing, hungry, andso damned tired. Hopelessness settled in her chest, which sparked a retaliatory fit of new anger. She’d always taken care of herself and she determined she would do so this time. But then, determination wasn’t always sufficient. She had no good reason to think she could survive being so woefully unprepared for this winter hike.
Despair descended again, only held at bay by the faint, desperate hope that she could come across someone, anyone, from whom she could beg help.
“As long as I’m moving there’s hope,” she muttered through chattering teeth, but the pep talk rang hollow.
Maybe being found by some hillbilly mountain man wouldn’t be so bad after all. She clenched her jaws, but her teeth still chattered. If said imaginary, hillbilly mountain man could provide heat, she’d give him anything.
The waning sunlight drew her eyes to a wide trail. Tessa’s heart leaped with hope. A trail meant she was near civilization. Presumably. Slipping, sliding, and stumbling she raced toward the trail. Icy sweat joined the wetness soaking her clothes so that she teetered on the edge of hypothermia as she plodded along the trail, arms wrapped around herself, feet numb. Only the tears dripping from her eyes were warm, and those soon chilled in the cold temperatures.
The triumph of reaching the trail soon faded as she walked and saw no one. Of course, it wasn’t exactly peak season for hikers, but she had hoped to come across someone. Anyone. She had expected the famous trail would at least be lightly populated, not deserted. She walked, well, trudged would be a better word. She looked around her, hoped to see the golden glow of human habitation, like a window to a cabin with actual people inside. But cold and darkness and loneliness soon had her concentrating on merely putting one foot in front of the other. To stop walking was to die.
Hope ebbed. Maybe she would die out there, a stupid woman who had believed promises of forever from a man who had not meant them, a man who had patiently explained while they were still snuggled in a warm bed that she just didn’t have the background and social connections to be his wife. One would have thought that, at the ripe old age of thirty-six, she’d know better.
Tessa cursed her stupidity. She should have known that a snob like Derek wouldn’t consider a nobody like her—an administrative assistant—as a suitable candidate for marriage.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. The wrath she stoked distracted her from her current predicament.