She licked both lips, savoring the residual flavor. The hint of almond captured from the depths of his mouth teased her senses. She pushed further against the furnace of his taut abdomen with her bare rump. Low moans escaped her throat while his muscular hands explored.
Hanna Griffin shot erect in the solitary bed. She blindly groped the emptiness, the frigid void to her left, then covered both eyes with barreled fists. The pain of separation, the abyss between what she and Erin were and the aloneness she now felt consumed her. I can’t take it, this ache in my chest. Help me out of the darkness. “Please, no more.” Her brain registered the words, yet her heart ignored the plea, remained locked in the memories, the night of unparalleled pleasures when they were connected in body and mind. Subtle reminders prevented her escape. The sensory shock when some stranger sauntered by, his masculine cologne invading her nose, or the man at work that walked with pride, just like Erin, churned knots in her gut. What course could end this journey to nowhere, ricocheting from one numbing task to another just to burn twelve hours of daylight. Hanna studied the blackened ceiling for an answer, a way out of this pit. A one word response across her sleep starved mind blared out. Resolution. She must purge everything he was, that they were, but how? Of course. I must stand in the dragon’s breath. Internship with the yellow jackets of Larimer County had convinced Hanna fighting wildfires was not the dream of her childhood fantasies. Yet the back-wrenching hours, scoured by sun and marred by ash, conveyed one lesson: only fire can conquer fire. She must return to the spark that ignited this consuming flame of yearning that would not be quenched. The lodge at Peaks Valley. Hanna pawed the lamp by her bed, tapped the switch and bolted toward the shower. Half way across the room, she stopped. A day trip’s not enough. It has to be a sleep over. Get through one night, endure the shadows alone, and I'll be free. Redirecting her route from the bathroom, Hanna scurried around the hollow apartment cum prison, and stuffed two days’ worth of clothes in a worn overnight bag. She darted for the door, caught the flash of a determined woman, thirtyish, peering back from the mirror, paused to examine her thin nude profile and giggled to no one. Forgot something, didn’t ya. She diverted to the dresser, then the closet, rifled through a dozen options and declared, “Yes, this should work.” Hanna grabbed her purse and luggage. She juggled an apple and surveyed the room for any forgotten booty, then raced out the door. ~ * ~ Sixty miles north of Roanoke, Virginia, Hanna pulled into an closed visitor center, exited the sub compact, propped both arms across the roof, and ogled the horizon. Timing is everything. Within three flutters of a sparrow’s heart, the sun crested the distant ridge of the Shenandoah Mountains and a divine artist painted the under belly of lazy cirrus clouds peppered across the grayish blue blanket with a palette of crimson, cyan, and orchid. The tinted mosaic inhaled its second breath and the colors deepened. They expanded, consuming everything, until the earth broadcast a simple message to anyone willing to listen. Life is fragile yet wondrous. Enjoy it. Another minute and the short-lived miracle expired an instant before a yellow eyeball burst across the heavens and washed away the tapestry. Hanna returned to the here and now, the pain in her chest, the voice screaming oxygen, and took two deep gulps of crisp dew filled air. She plopped into the cozy interior of her second-hand car and continued east onto Route 60, venturing into the vintage, yet bustling town of Buena Vista. She headed along the winding road between Washer Hollow and Indian Gap Trail, crossed Jake’s Mountain and split the Forks of Annie. At the very crest, two quick turns and the little yellow coup took control, as if it remembered the mistakes of the past, germinating from this very vista, Parker point. Hanna pulled into small paved lot, killed the engine and absorbed the faint whispers of each cinder tree combing against its neighbors. Behind closed lids, she gathered courage with each sniff, ignored the honey bees buzzing around the mountain laurel and warning, You expect too much, too fast. Go home. Time will stitch the wound, make you whole again. “No, I can do this, damn it. I can.” Once again Hannah tripped through the incidental contact with the stranger now six months past. Her mind revisited that spine-melting event. She inhaled his bewildering scent and stared into those piecing cobalt irises. Despite the undercurrent of arrogance about this and that, her pulse again responded to the resonance of his commanding voice saturated with flirtation hints. His reference to her tiny hands, a woman more beautiful than the valley below, more alluring than the twin peaks four miles south. Her body flushed from the memories. Such impertinence. Still, she absorbed every word, each playful sparkle in those mesmerizing eyes while this Erin, this giant with chestnut hair pushed forward and penetrated her space with the pretense of a dandelion seed buried within her hair. Hanna recognized his ploy and leaned further into the man’s tantalizing touch. Another invasion, to her neck, before he counted her fingers. Comparing the disparity between her digits and his, he won the sport. The typical parlay, the gender wars, a man breaking down a woman’s resistance until her fortress, her very will, was conquered. Such a fool. To fall so soon, so deep. When she peered through his shield and looked beneath the veil of charm into the shadows dancing in those fiery blues, another person cried out, a boy hiding in the closest. A spirit with its own hesitations, fears, uncertainties. Unlike hers, his inner self was not exposed on the surface, but still there to be explored by one willing to venture beyond the veil of games and secrets. I always thought, I sensed he was more than just words. Hanna jerked her head back and forth, until nausea drowned her thoughts. “What am I doing? I’ll never push him out--never.” Behind closed lids, something lurked just out of reach at the edge of a haze clouding her senses. Nothing sinister or foreboding. Rather a calm figure, a hand to cradle, support. Through the miasma, a voice echoed across the surface of her jangled thoughts. “No, don’t stop. What you seek is there, on the edge. Stay the course, just push forward.” Hanna snapped back to that private place she visited as a child, just inside her mental playground, where she’d retreat when scolded, bullied, or frightened. Only this time, she wasn’t alone. A strange but comforting presence shadowed her stance, haunted the demons that pricked at her heart and refused peace. The breeze against her cool flesh turned to a warm wind, like the blast from a furnace as it draws against your lungs. Pressure cushioned her rump, her spine, and both nostrils bathed in a masculine aroma. Not sweat, rather the musky, pleasant smell of a natural male. “Young lady, are you all right?”
Hanna’s organized life has been fractured by one mistake, one incredible night of unparalleled pleasure, and now her world has descended into unbearable solitude. Days burning sunlight in a mind numbing haze, nights staring into the black void enveloping her empty bed, until a stranger, a peculiar man lost within his own shadows, offers a path to resolution. He suggests a course from her self-induced darkness, if only she can see the truth behind his words. To purge the memories that hound her thoughts, block her return to a normal existence, she must allow herself to circle back where it all began.
"Beautifully written, Beyond Forever is passionate and romantic...I found the story within the story captivating as I was teleported to The Lodge at Peaks Valley.. The story is award-winning material."
"What I liked: Sweet, well written, and satisfying are the three words I’d use to describe this short story. The plot flows, you’re pulled along, and you don’t want it to end.. What I didn’t like: Can’t think of a thing! In sum: Here’ s a good one for us romance junkies. Pick it up.” 5 stars