Kyle fly-fished the morning away, giving Camille time to cool off. By lunch, she had settled into resignation. She expressed concern at how they had ended up in the same tent. He shrugged it off, claiming the pain medicine he took for his leg last night rendered him dead to the world. She wondered aloud if Gracie had exploited her sensitivity to valium and had put one of her sleeping pills in her cocoa.
During the afternoon, they swam together to the large rock area across from their campsite. Camille was afraid to let him swim alone. She was afraid he would get a cramp but the cold water felt good on his sore leg.
“Can I see your scars?” Camille asked as they sat on the same large rock he and Gracie had shared yesterday.
Kyle pulled up the leg of his long swim trunks. “It doesn’t hurt as much as it did this morning. I think I did too much yesterday.” He was actually surprised that the scar looked redder and more swollen than usual.
Camille’s fingers trembled as she traced the gunshot that tore open his leg the day the Valtinis trapped them on the Ridgeline. “I’m sorry you got shot.”
Kyle lay back with his eyes closed behind his sunglasses. “Not your fault, I’m just glad Giovanni went for my leg, instead of killing me.”
“I thought Donnie shot you.”
“Nope, he got Lloyd, once in the vest and once below it. Giovanni got me, if you hadn’t knocked his aim, it would have been worse. He would have got my hip,” Kyle explained what Benton had told him.
“Did Tank tell you Giovanni was stalking me?”
Kyle shook his head, squinting up at her.
Her mouth pressed in a thin line as she looked across at the deep green of the trees above the red shoreline under an aquamarine sky. It was so beautiful here, the lovely serenity seemed to make it easier to talk about it.
“Tank told me Giovanni had been in my house. He took pictures of pictures of me, of my bedroom, and left with some of my clothes. He took the pashmina you gave me. He um... well...” She was oddly embarrassed and completely disgusted by what happened to her beautiful butterfly scarf. “Tank had it cleaned before he gave it back to me but I can’t wear it now. I’m sorry, you gave it to me as a gift but I just can’t.” She sounded so regretful about the impulse buy he had gotten to give her on their blind date.
Kyle cleared his throat, offended and angered. “Burn it, I’ll get you another one, I’ll buy a hundred other ones till you find one you love.”
Camille sighed. “You don’t have to that, it’s just. I don’t understand why men...” her voice trailed off.
“Why men what?”
“Why they...” she struggled to put her thoughts into words. “Why they think they can just... He... he had the same court file you did, and prints of the pictures from... From Ron’s phone. Even the ones that weren’t part of the presented evidence from the night Ron drugged and raped me. I never flirted with Ron or any of his friends, but in court, he acted like he had a right to do that to me. Giovanni claimed he knew I was his from the first time Ron told him about me, he said he killed Ron before he was paroled so Ron couldn’t hurt me again. But then he almost killed Katy and Gramma, and he was in my bedroom. I didn’t even know him but he was the same as Ron in that way. He said I was his.” She shuddered at the thoughts of what might have happened had Giovanni escaped with her. “I just want to know why.”
Opening his eyes, Kyle raised upon his elbows. “Camille, I am so sorry I read those transcripts, I was just trying to understand. One of my pilots went through something similar, they let her rapist go. She warned me not to read it without you. I... I just wanted to help you... There’s nothing I can say except I’m sorry.”
“Kyle, you care about me, I get that. We have daughters together.” Camille tossed a stone and it skipped across the barely moving reflection of the mountains. “If you really want to know, I’ll tell you. Margaux says the abridged version I give at my date rape prevention classes is fine for strangers but if my family needs to know more, then I need to tell them more. We’re family now.”
Kyle pulled off his glasses and looked at her intently. “I only want you to tell me if you want to tell me.”
“Well, let’s get some drinks and sit in the shade, the court transcripts only tell part of it.” Camille slipped gracefully into the water and began swimming back toward their lone tent. Reluctantly, Kyle followed.
Kyle grilled the fish he caught over the campfire coals while Camille stirred freeze dried peas and carrots in hot water. They weren’t talking, she had talked all afternoon and now there was nothing he could think to say. It was just so much, so much worse than the court transcripts portrayed, and the last thing she had said had made everything that happened between them so bittersweet.
After dinner, he watched her wandering the edge of the water. He understood now, and it scared him that his daughter and his brother’s daughter would face a world where there would be men who felt it was their right to be inappropriate with beautiful women, with any woman. Camille has spent her life as a diver, and because she wore swimsuits and had gotten a tattoo, she was treated like meat instead of a person, like she had asked to be abused and disrespected. He and Tanner were the only men she had ever willingly let touch her. Every other man had forced their attention on her. He hated that he knew why some men like Ron and Giovanni wanted her. She was a trophy, a status symbol, a Venus to flaunt before rivals and fulfill every fantasy.
She hadn’t tried to be a sex symbol but it was obvious to Kyle now that Camille had no idea how desirable she was. She truly didn’t understand her affect on the male sex. Just looking at her lean muscles and sexy curves had an effect on any male who wasn’t blind or gay. Then he remembered Sheridan teasing Kyle that he was lucky to have had her once. Sheridan even said that he’d switch back to the home team for a chance to be with someone like her. No, Kyle couldn’t think of any male that would turn down anything Camille offered. Add to that her intelligence, wit, generous spirit, and love of the outdoors and others, it made her a woman any man would be lucky to have at his side.
He watched her building up the campfire as he stirred hot cocoa. He wanted more than anything to be that lucky man.
The moon rose as the sunset. The mirror of the lake made this night almost painfully poignant in its beauty. He carried two mugs of cocoa over to where Camille sat by the lake and sat next to her. The air temperature was dropping fast.
“Thank you,” she murmured, accepting the warm beverage.
“No, thank you,” he responded, “Thank you for telling me and thank you for letting me be your first.”
She looked at him confused, “My first what?”
It was his turn to be surprised, horrified he realized what she still thought of herself, what many victims of rape probably thought. “Camille, you were a virgin our first time together.”
Even in to moonlight, he could see she was looking at him like he was crazy.
“Cam, I’m serious. Those three guys who drugged you and raped you, they don’t count. And any guy who thinks they do, isn’t a real man and doesn’t deserve to get a hello or goodbye from you.”
“Oh.” She looked back out at the lake, he almost said something when a tear ran down her cheek. It glistened in the moonlight like liquid diamond.
He turned her face toward him gently, and brushed away the tear. “Camille, I started falling in love with you before I ever met you. But the things Mina and Kent told me about you were nothing compared to the real thing. You took my breath away and that you chose me, me of all the guys around you, to be your first. It means more to me than I can ever express to you. I loved you then and I love you more now.”
She chewed her trembling lip then tried to turn her face away.
“No, whatever you are going to say, look at me when you say it,” he demanded.
Instead of speaking she leaned toward him until their lips almost touched, her shining eyes never leaving his. Her words whispered into the minute space between them.
“Now that you know everything, how could you possibly want someone as broken as me?”
“I want you more than my own life, you make me whole.”
Their kiss lasted until the moon was high overhead, and sleep was something that didn’t come until dawn had begun to paint the horizon in ombre shades of sapphire, coral, and gold.
Kyle was asleep, loosely spooning her but Camille was far from sleep. He turned onto his opposite side in his sleep and she rolled to curl against him pressing into the warmth of his muscular back. Her body was sated, satisfied in a way it hadn’t been in a very long time, but more than that her soul felt completely at peace.
As the night birds settled and the morning songs began she pressed a kiss into his shoulder and slipped out. Naked in the cool air, she stretched before dressing in her running gear. She tied Tank’s bandanna around her neck. Strapping her water bottle holster to her thigh, she crunched on an energy bars as she headed for the path.
Five miles past the parking lot was another turnoff to the Scarlet Creek Campground. But she knew the trails and went cross country to the hill over that camp. Counting the tents, she sat down to wait. Tank came jogging up the trail from the creek, she said nothing until he had a chance to catch his breath. He swallowed water from a similar water bottle and accepted the bar she held out for him.
“This is good training for our next 10K team fundraiser,” Tank said as he tucked the wrapper in a pocket. “We’ll place first for sure.”
Camille tried to scowl at him but his grin made her laugh, “I should drag you back up to the lake and drown you.”
“Nah, who else would put up with your stubbornness and give you a boot when you need it.” He bumped her shoulder with his.
“Oh I am sure I know someone who would volunteer,” her voice sounded girlish.
“I bet he’d volunteer for a lot more than that.” Tank gave her a look, and a blush crept across her cheeks, “Reallllyyyy? Why Coach Wally, I’m shocked.”
“Omigawd, shut up Tank! We didn’t do that.” Then she grinned, “Well, not all of that.”
He laughed and she put her head on his shoulder, he kissed the top of her hair. They watched the camp below stirring for several minutes
“I gotta get back,” He stood and she stood with him, hugging him fiercely.
“Thank you, Thomas.” Her eyes shined with a depth of happiness he had never seen in them.
“What are best friends for?” He looked down at her then a mischievous smirk crossed his handsome features, “Now you gotta help me with Katy.”
“You don’t need any help, you got the body of Tatum and the moves like Jagger, remember?” Camille winked and danced a little, and they both laughed.
“See you tomorrow, Wally. Don’t blow it before then, this is a sure thing, you know.”
“I know. Take care of my girls.” She called after him.
She sat back down and watched her family and team enjoying the morning for a while before jogging back to Kyle. She laughed as she worked her way back up to Scarlet Lake. She felt free. She felt happy. She was love-drunk and she liked it, she realized she even liked it better than the fall.
Hunger woke him, Kyle stretched then realized Camille wasn’t in the tent. He quickly dressed and crawled out. She wasn’t by the water or near the camp.
“CAMILLE,” he shouted and her name echoed back to him as the birds silenced.
It was haunting. Just the sound of the water lapping on the shore of Scarlet Lake and the wind in the trees answered his pounding heart. Walking around the area. Kyle couldn’t see anything missing from the camp. His brain began filling up with all the possible scenarios as to what happened after he fell asleep and none of them had a happy outcome since he had awoke completely alone. Almost out of desperate need to do anything in the suddenly desolate place, he boiled some water to make coffee for himself and tea or cocoa for her, if she came back.
He had just dropped a brew-bag in his mug when he heard his name.
Instead of sagging in relief, he poured steaming water in a second mug, then turned with a smile. “Hey, you want hot chocolate or tea?”
She was wearing running clothes, her cheeks were beautifully flushed. “Tea and food.” She lifted up on her toes and kissed his cheek. “Thank you for last night.”
“Thank you for this morning. Did you sleep okay? I woke up and you were gone,” he tried to play off his concern as he mixed eggs and milk for french toast. Dipped bread began to sizzle in the butter of the skillet.
“Sorry, I never can sleep past dawn and you were resting so peacefully I didn’t want to wake you. I went for a run, Tank and I do 10Ks as a team to raise funds for all kinds of things.” She squeezed honey into her mug and stirred it before blowing on the contents. “That smells amazing.”
“French toast is my favorite camping breakfast. My dad used to make it when he took us boys camping.” Kyle put the first pieces on a plate, drizzled them with honey, and handed them to her. “Ladies first.”
Camille groaned with pleasure, “Mmmm, this is soooo good.”
Kyle smirked, flirting, “I like it better when you say my name like that.”
Camille laughed, then mocked in the same tones she just groaned, “Ohhh Kyyyylllleee, your french toast iiissss ssssooo french. Give me mooooore, I neeeeddd mmmoore.” She stuffed another bite in her mouth, giggling and chewing. A single drop of honey glistened temptingly in her bottom lip.
Kyle narrowed his eyes, pointing his spatula at her. “If you want more, you better stop talking to me like that. ’Cause I will turn off this cook stove right now and find something else to do with you, young lady.” Putting two more pieces on her plate, he put more butter in the skillet. “You have a little something on your lip.”
Camille’s eyes wrinkled mischievously, then licked her top lip on the left side. “Did I get it?”
She ran her tongue back and forth over the center of her top lip then over to the right, “How about now?”
“Nope, still there,” he said, flipping two more pieces of french toast. Watching her, images of what she did with her tongue last night were causing the blood to rush from his brain to somewhere else.
This time the tip of her tongue traced the whole of her top lip again before making a slow drag across her bottom lip before her teeth pulled at her bottom lip. He turned off the burner, she laughed and tried to get away. She only made it halfway to the tent before his arms wrapped around her. The kiss was intense at first but then settled into smoldering, consuming.
“If we don’t stop, this is going to go a lot further than last night and we still don’t have any condoms.” He was shaking as he said it. He needed her, and tasting her till she screamed his name was not going to be enough.
She groaned breathily, her head tipped forward. “I know, you’re right. Sorry, I shouldn’t tease you like this.”
She stepped out of his arms. “Let’s eat and if your leg feels up to it, it’s a two mile hike to the falls beyond the lake. There’s a spot where we can jump off into the water.”
“Anything you wish.” He promised, and he meant it.
That evening Kyle and Camille laid under the diamond bright stars and waning gibbous moon. They were warm near the fire, watching shooting stars carrying wishes earthward. Camille thought about seeing their daughters and the swim team camped in the next valley. While Gramma Doreen and Gracie made them breakfast this morning, Will helped Willow set the tables. Tank was feeding wood into the campfire while Tiana pushed Katy in her wheelchair. They had done this for her, to help her forgive the man she loved and realize how much she needed him. Gramma Doreen’s words came back to her.
“A picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes painful words, but forgiveness can erase them all if you let it.”
She realized her family’s one wish, her wish and Kyle’s wish were all the same. It was time, time to let go of the pain of the past and start over. Time to forget about the painful pictures and words that tainted her life for far too long.
Camille rolled over on top of Kyle and kissed him with all her intent. She could feel the fall but also something more powerful, and she hoped it never ended.
Lifting her lips, she whispered, “Make love to me.”
His eyes were intense, “Are you sure?”
She smiled shyly, in the firelight he could see the blush on her cheeks. Her eyes told the same truth as her words, “I’m sure, I want this. I want us. I love you, Kyle.”
“I love you, Camille.”