A Mail-Order Hope

By: Janelle Daniels



She jerked as her eyes widened, and her surprise only shook a few more laughs loose in him.

“Sorry,” he finally managed to say. “You’re very kind to offer the money.” He didn’t want her to think he was laughing at her. In fact, he was grateful. No one had been this kind to him in a long time. “I was only laughing because I realized that you think I need the money.”

“Oh, I’d never say that,” she said quickly.

He held up his hand. “I’m sure that’s what it looks like to everyone. I live in a grubby cabin out in the forest alone. But what a lot of new people in town don’t realize, is that I had a mine when I came here. I struck gold. I have no need of money now, or ever again.”

Her cheeks reddened so much she appeared sunburned. “Oh.” He nodded again when she glanced at him. “Well, then I guess I do need the money more. You should help me, someone less fortunate...”

Her words were so obviously an attempt at manipulation that even she smiled after she said them.

He snorted. “I think you’re fully capable of winning on your own.”

“I figured as much.” She sighed, looking out at the glade. “I didn’t think you’d want to join me.”

“You know how I feel about it.” For some reason, he felt the need to justify his decision. “It isn’t about you.”

“I know that. It’s all right.” She shrugged as they started their trek back down to the cabin. “I’ve gotten used to my weekly hike anyway. I’m glad I’ll be continuing that.”

“Wait, what?” He stopped their progress in a shady stretch of the path. He processed her words several times, but each time, he came up with the same conclusion. “Are you saying that you’re still planning on visiting me?”

“Of course.” She held out her hands as if to ask what did you expect? “I’ve already told you that I’m not giving up on you. I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do, but you can’t stop me from coming to visit.”

He held still and remained silent as he battled back the emotions overwhelming him inside. Why wouldn’t she leave him alone? Couldn’t she see how hard this was for him?

Every second he was with her, talking with her, it was becoming harder to remain detached. He liked her—was attracted to her physically—but what was even more dangerous, was he was attracted to her mind, her spirit. “What can I do to convince you to leave me alone?”

“Nothing,” she responded in a firm tone.

He couldn’t accept that. “There has to be something.”

“Well…”

She eyed him as if considering her options, and he wanted to shake her and make her spit it out. The suspense was killing him. He couldn’t keep doing this, he just couldn’t keep being around her. “Well?”

Her body loosened as she made a choice. “Okay. I will agree to leave you in peace, if you agree to three things.”

He liked the first part of her sentence, but definitely not the second. “What three things?” he asked warily.

“First”—she held up her index finger—“you’ll join me on the scavenger hunt, and you will do everything in your power to help us win.”

He ground his teeth, but didn’t argue...yet. “Second?”

She held up another finger. “Second, you will participate in one Founder’s Day Activity during the festival.”

“Only one?”

She narrowed her eyes at him, and he held up his hands in surrender.

“Third,” she continued, raising yet another delicate finger, “You’ll accompany me to the dance at the hotel in two weeks.”

He cursed silently. “You can’t be serious.”

“Oh, but I am. Very serious.”

“To get you to leave me alone, I have to do all three of those things with you—go out, be social, attend functions? That kind of goes against everything I want, doesn’t it?”

She folded her arms, and her posture transformed into one he’d seen his superiors in the war use so many times. He was beginning to realize more and more that she was a warrior. She certainly was just as stubborn, intelligent, and strong as one.

“Regardless, it fulfills both of our desires. I want you to rejoin the world, interact, socialize, see that there is still so much to live for. And you want to be left alone. By agreeing to my conditions, you’ll attend functions, talk to people, and hopefully, come to your senses. But if you’re too stubborn to see what you’re missing out on, you’ll get all the loneliness you want after you’re done.”

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