When he first glimpsed her out of the corner of his eye, he thought she was a forest animal, a deer foraging for food. If he looked at it directly, the wild creature would crash through the undergrowth and disappear into the emerald depths of the woods. His gaze swung toward the movement in the briar patch and focused, but she didn't run.
A pair of deep brown doe eyes stared back at him. The animal frozen among the brambles was human. The sun shone on the crown of her dark brown hair, picking out strands of gold and red. The tangled, curly mane spilled around her thin face and down her back. Sweaty tendrils stuck to her forehead and fell across one eye.
Her eyes drew him back again. They dominated her small face so much that he scarcely noticed the elegant, high bridge of her nose or bowed upper lip of her mouth.
Nathan's gaze slipped from her eyes to her body. The girl wore a sleeveless dress of fabric so thin it clung to her like a second skin. The shift may once have been colorful, but was now so faded and threadbare it was a dingy off-white. But the cheap, cotton dress was merely a setting for a precious stone. The girl's slender arms, sharp collarbones and long neck were a warm tan against the pale fabric. Underneath the translucent material pressed the swell of her breasts and the small, hard shape of nipples.
Inside his sober black pants, so very hot from absorbing the sun's rays, Nathan's cock stiffened. Ashamed of his brazen perusal of her body and its effect on him, his gaze snapped back up to her face. The girl's wide eyes held a glitter of inherent awareness, although perhaps it was only reflected sunlight.
The exchange transpired in moments, but felt like an eternity in which they were suspended like ants in amber.
Sweat trickled down Nathan's spine, itchy and tickling. The armpits of his shirt were wet and, after an hour of rambling through the wilderness, he wished he'd worn one with short sleeves. His black jacket was draped over one arm. He'd abandoned it after the first twenty minutes of hiking. His clerical collar was tucked in one of the jacket's pockets.
The open glade in the woods was somnolent with heat, the air so thick and muggy a person could drown in it. He hadn't known the mountains in summer would be so humid. Back at seminary he'd pictured the Blue Ridge much differently than it actually was--more Alps than Appalachia.
The amber moment had run its course. Nathan needed to speak before the silence grew any more awkward. He stretched the corners of his mouth up into a smile. "Hello." He half-expected the wild-looking girl to startle at the sound of his voice and bound off into the woods.
"How-do." She inclined her head as slowly and graciously as a queen accepting her subject's homage.
"I'm the new minister, Reverend Nathan Andrews." He moved a few steps toward her, but was confronted by a thicket of blackberry briars and had to stop. "I'm out today, hoping to meet some of the community." The non-church-attending backwoods members of my congregation.
"Mm." Her eyes scanned him up and down more leisurely and lingering than he had dared look at her. "Might hot for visitin', ain't it?"
His smile became more sincere. "Yes, it is. But I've found when it's not steaming hot here, it's pouring rain. This seemed slightly more agreeable weather."
The girl walked toward him, passing carefully through the briars without once snagging her clothes. She stopped when she stood only a few feet from him. "Ain't you young for a preacher?"
He could smell her hot skin, her ripe, feminine sweat, not unpleasant but natural and heady as catnip. Scratches marked her arms in thin, long streaks. A wooden bucket dangled from one of her hands. It was half-filled with deep purple berries. Nathan glanced down at her bare legs and feet under the hem of her dress. More scratches and dusty grime coated her high-arched feet and lean, brown legs.
Again he brought his attention back to her face. "I just graduated in spring. Class of '34. This is my first church."