Love comes in unexpected places even when you least expect it.
|The air was cool and fresh, with a snap of cold in the breeze. Blue skies above stretched out for miles in all directions, seemingly endless with not a cloud in sight. Majestic against the clear blue background, the Rocky Mountains stood proud, rugged and untamed. Snow topped their caps, making their picturesque appeal complete. The steep slopes plummeted down thousands of feet until they met with flat plain, creating the rippling foothills.
A light breeze whipped through the air, playfully scattering leaves that had already fallen from the trees and taking them on a brief roller coaster ride before setting them down at random. The deciduous trees were in full radiant fall color, with the greens turning to reds, yellows and oranges. The aspens stood proud, showing off their white bark against the brilliant fall display.
The only sounds were the rustle of the leaves in the wind and the calming gurgle of the river as it wound its way through the dips and curves of the mighty mountain. Mid-October in Colorado was a wondrous sight, but it was also a settling time for much of the wild life. Most of the birds had already flown south for the winter. Bears were preparing for hibernation. Even the trees seemed to be getting ready for the bitter cold weather of winter. The stillness of the forest caused even the slightest noise to be amplified. The snap of a twig sounded more like a gun shot.
Jennifer Reams walked swiftly along the ground through the woods, her trail shoes barely creating a soft crunching sound as they passed over the dry leaves. Her dark brown hair drawn up in a ponytail bounced gaily behind her. A small pack was slung over her back and it swayed from side to side with her brisk movement.
Glancing up at the sky, Jennifer smiled to herself. Today would be the perfect day, with the sky so bright and blue, and the colorful leaves creating a splash of hues. Picking up her pace a bit as the landscape sloped downward; she barely noticed her immediate surroundings. Her thoughts were already on the valley below, her secret hidden valley that she had found several weeks earlier.
Heaving veered off the path a while back, Jennifer made her way over a few fallen trees and around some yucca plants. After climbing over some rocks, she could see the edge of the trees where the light was almost blinding. Walking out of the cover of the trees, Jennifer was immediately hit with the full force of the sun. Taking in a deep breath of the cool clear air, she did a slow survey of the picturesque valley. This was the kind of valley displayed in calendars and postcards, a photographer’s dream site. That was exactly why she had hiked an hour and a half. Capturing beauty in a still frame was like capturing a memory or a feeling. Photographs could calm a soul or inspire a dream.
The river was wider here in the valley and the water was calm, flowing over the sand and rocks at a leisurely pace. On the other end of the valley was a small lake, the water serving as a big mirror for the mountains above. With a day like today Jennifer would be able to get some great reflection shots.
Smiling to herself, she let her feet guide her down the last of the rock outcroppings. Once on the valley floor, she headed for the river, wanting a few good shots of the water before the afternoon sun was directly overhead.
So engrossed in the task at hand, Jennifer did not at first sense the presence of another. Happily humming to herself, she turned looking for a narrow place in which to cross the river when she saw him.
“Oh!” she exclaimed at the unexpected sight of another. Her heart feeling as if it would beat right out of her chest, she tried to regain her poise.
“Hello,” she said in a slightly higher pitch then normal. Giving herself points for not screaming, she took a calm breath and tried for a smile. The man did not smile in return. He was sitting lazily on the back of a big sorrel horse, looking like a cowboy right out of a movie. She couldn’t really see his face, his hat casting it in shadows.
“What are you doing out here all by yourself?” he asked abruptly.
The authority in his voice was unmistakable and Jennifer couldn’t help but fear that she had done something awful without even knowing. Feeling like a suspect being questioned, she held up her camera and tried the smile again. “Taking pictures. Photography is a hobby of mine.”
“It can be dangerous out here alone. Storms come up quick in the mountains and this is a long way from the road. You should know that about Colorado Mountains.”
Feeling a bit defensive and more than a little foolish, Jennifer felt her temper rising and tried to hold it back. There was no way she was going to admit to this cowboy that she had not lived in Colorado very long. “Thank you for your concern, but I can take care of myself. Besides if it’s so dangerous how come you’re out here all alone?”
The man seemed to find her huffiness amusing for a small sarcastic grin broke out on his face. Fixing her with a piercing stare, he said, “Lady I live around here and if you hadn’t noticed I did not walk out here on foot.”
“You live around here? I didn’t know anyone lived this far out. I didn’t see any houses by the road.”
Jennifer kept her gaze fixed on the man as he seemed to consider her question. If she wasn’t mistaken he was trying to determine whether or not she was worthy of more detailed information regarding his home.
“Out here driveways can be miles long. This happens to be my land you’re standing on right now.”
“Oh,” she said, slightly taken aback, “I did not mean to trespass! I’m terribly sorry. I’ll leave now. Good day to you sir.” Jennifer knew her face had turned a bright shade of red. She could feel the heat burning her cheeks and ears. Turning on her heel, she began to pick her way back across the valley toward the trees from which she had emerged.
She had only gone a few steps when she heard the horse walking behind her. Stopping, she waited for him to catch up.
“You don’t have to leave. You can take your pictures if you want.”
Tamping down her pride, Jennifer decided that getting the pictures was more important then stomping off. Pasting on a smile, she glanced up only to have it momentarily slide off her face. He was gorgeous. No other word described the sight before her better. Even the frown he wore did not detract from his blatant physical appeal.
Stammering a bit she replied, “Thank you. That’s very kind of you.” Jennifer offered him a tentative yet genuine smile, which he accepted with a shrug.
“Makes no never mind to me. Just be sure you don’t get caught out here in a storm.”
“Would you mind if I come here on weekends? I wouldn’t bother anyone. The valley is just so perfect and untouched. It’s inspiring to see!”
The frown was back on his features, as if he were trying to assess hidden motives.
This time she kept her mouth shut and let him think. Finally his head slowly nodded assent.
He turned his horse toward the western end of the valley and rode off. Just before he rode into the cover of the trees, he stopped his horse and turned once more to face her.
“Remember what I said about the storms.” With that he rode out of sight.
For what seemed like hours she sat and stared at the spot where he disappeared. What an unusual man, she thought. He was rough and very blunt, but there was concern there though she could tell he didn’t want it to show. With a shake of her head, Jennifer trekked back down the valley. She didn’t want to miss the light on the water.