Satisfied that she was alone with nature, she returned to her sonnets. She had just turned the page when yet another noise startled her. Before she could turn to the direction the sound came from, she realized she had company.
"You seem very deep in thought," a man's voice said from behind her. Turning, she saw a stranger standing on the opposite side of the creek, and she sprang to her feet, clutching the book to the bodice of her dress.
"I beg your pardon?" How dare someone invade her privacy? She thought the area so desolate that she had been fortunate to find it at all. Now to find a stranger there ... she realized the possible ramifications of her actions in going to the area alone. She hadn't left a note for her father, and no one but Peter knew of this place, if he would ever think of it.
The stranger moved towards her, and she backed up instinctively. He stopped and extended his hand as to assure her. "Please don't be afraid," he said eagerly. "I didn't know anyone was here." He waved his hand around as he spoke. "It's such a beautiful place I should have realized someone had already found solace here. I was taking in the day, and seeing the stream I followed it, eager to see where it would lead me."
Emily looked closely at the stranger for the first time. He was tall and well built, dressed in baggy pants and white shirt, his brown hair unfashionably long with curls framing his face and neck. His age was perhaps a year or so her senior, but then, she wasn't good with ages, and especially with someone who was so attractive.
She felt herself relax just a bit. "You have ventured far from the path, I'm afraid."
He nodded his head casually. "Yes, I believe I did. But then, I wouldn't have found you, would I?"
Emily found this encounter rather interesting, so she threw caution to the wind and decided to banter with him a while. Maybe it was the beauty of the day or the fact that she was facing what could be a dangerous situation. Whatever it was, she felt an excitement that she had never encountered before.
"Found me? But I am not lost."
"No, I see you aren't. But, if you had been, I would now be your hero, and you would allow me to lead you to the path."
Emily laughed. "Well, fortunately, that is not the situation." She glanced at her hands and was surprised to find them shaking. Her heart was beating wildly, and although she found the situation rather uncomfortable, the excitement was more so.
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I will return to my reading."
He had crossed the brook and was near her, saying nothing. Emily could feel his presence and carefully repositioned herself on the rock, glancing at him through veiled eyes.
The stranger moved on, not saying another word, and from behind her book, she watched as he moved further into the forest following the stream. His presence had unnerved her. Her mother would be turning over in her grave for the foolishness that Emily had undertaken by speaking to this stranger. She never should have come to the area unchaperoned.
Emily tried to concentrate on her reading, but she was too excited. Who was he? She had been born and raised in Trumble and knew everyone, including most of the people from the surrounding areas due to her hours in the store. She chastised herself for being so careless with her own safety. But, she thought to herself, she had never felt this feeling before. It was strange, new, and she wasn't sure she liked it.
Then, as she attempted to concentrate again, she heard noises once again, coming from further up the hill. Looking up, she saw he was returning, this time with his stockings and shoes under his arms. He was wading in the shallow water, watching his step over the slick flat rocks. As he approached, she took the initiative.