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Amanda was curled up in a ball in her tent, tears still streaming down her face. Everything was so messed up. She wanted it to go back to how it had been that morning, when the biggest concern in the world had been how to make Nick’s grilled pancakes work.

She rolled onto her back and looked up when the zipper undid and the door to the tent folded in a little. Nick popped his head in. “Can I come in?” he asked gently. She nodded, not daring to speak, as he unzipped the door the rest of the way and stepped inside and knelt, so that he was leaning over her. “I have a question for you,” Nick said firmly, “And I need you to tell me the truth.”

Oh God, he knows, she thought, her heart expanding even more. She couldn’t take it.

“Did Ben try to hurt you?” he asked, his voice nearly perfectly steady, except a slight break toward the end, when he said the word hurt.

Amanda thought of her wrenched wrist, of the emotional ache that filled her. But she could see fire in his eyes, too. “Ben?” she asked.

“He came out of the woods behind you…” Nick said, “If he hurt you, tell me.”

And they say chivalry is dead, Amanda thought, swelling with pride. Yet here is a man willing to defend my honor. She smiled up at him weakly, “Please hold me,” she whispered.

Nick dropped down beside her so that he was laying, his long legs having to bend in order to fit in the small tent. He held open his arms and she scooted over into him, her face pressed into his neck, forcing his chin up to rest on top of her head. She pushed her body so close against him that there was no space at all between them, not even a slight gap of air. He wrapped his arms around her, the arm under her acting as a pillow under her head, that hand splayed large and strong and protective across her back, and the other arm wrapped over her diagonally, that hand across her bottom, but not in a sexual way, just in a safe way, like he was ready to carry her away. She breathed in the smell of his neck and closed her eyes, the tears still falling down her face, but here, she knew nothing could hurt her.

“What’s wrong?” Nick whispered gently.

“Brian told me,” she whispered.

Nick’s breath came out shaky. He felt his mouth dry and he grimaced over her head into the dark of the tent, but he didn’t let up on his grip of her. She moved her head a little to be looking up, her ear listening to his heartbeat. “I’m sorry,” she said when he didn’t respond for too long of a time.

“No, he was right, you needed to know. It wasn’t fair. I just didn’t want to make it anymore real than it already was, you know?” he said.

“What’s wrong with him?” she asked, “I mean, I know cancer but-“

“Leukemia,” Nick answered.

Amanda’s heart shattered again and she closed her eyes. “That’s what Piper had,” she whispered.

Nick rubbed her back gently. The motion contrasted with Tobias’ attempt and made tears spring to her eyes. This man, this gentle giant of a beautiful man, was so wonderful to her, and she’d been nothing but ungrateful and horrible to him. Granted, she had reported nothing major of yet, nothing besides general road trip stories, but they’d upset him.

“Nick,” she whispered, about to tell him the truth, but her words came at exactly the same moment as he spoke, too.

“I love you Amanda.”

Fresh tears fell down her cheek. She nestled into his neck once more. She felt safe, something she rarely had felt in her lifetime. And that smell… “I love you, Nick.”

She heard him sigh, contented at her words, and he pulled her tighter to him, clutching her, like she was something he considered precious.



Nick woke up at five in the morning, still holding Amanda exactly as he had been the evening before. How they’d fallen asleep for the night at six o’clock in the evening, he was unsure, but he felt more rested and relaxed than he had in a very, very long time. She felt wonderful pressed up against him like this, and he smiled, moving his face so that his nose was buried in her hair, and he could place a kiss on her forehead.

She stirred in his arms, a coo like a dove echoing in her throat. He pulled back a little to look at her, admire her features and kissed her nose. A smile spread across her sleeping face. He pulled back even further, his arms sliding away from how he’d been holding her, rolling her gently onto her back. Her arms above her head, her shirt rode up just a little to reveal the plane of her stomach, and her belly button. He smiled down at it, thinking it was beautiful. He leaned over her, bracing himself up with his arms, and moved as though he were doing a push up, kissing her mouth softly.

Her eyes slowly blinked open and a sleepy little smile spread across her face. “Nick,” she whispered, her voice barely more than a breath.

“Hey,” he whispered, kissing her a second time. She hummed, content. “You know what?” he asked her quietly.

“What?” she closed her eyes, about to fall back to sleep.

Nick kissed her again to keep her attention. Her eyes flickered open. “You’re my something beautiful.”

She giggled. “Noo, it doesn’t work like that,” she whispered.

“Mmhm,” he argued, “It does. We’re allowed to pick whatever we want for beautiful stuff. At the Grand Canyon, I picked you when you were patting the burro. When we were in the balloon, I picked you with your hair all wind blown, and now I pick you, all sleepy.”

“You didn’t pick that stuff,” she giggled.

Nick’s eyes were serious as he said, “Yes I did.”

She reached her arms up to wrap around his neck, staring up into his eyes. “I’ve been such a jerk to you,” she whispered.

“Nah,” he said.

“I couldn’t even tell you I loved you on the balloon,” she said, nodding, “And then the thing with Brian…”

Nick shook his head, “You just weren’t there yet.”

“I’m here now,” she whispered.

He smiled, “I’m glad.”

“Me, too.”

He bent to kiss her, and his lip were almost on her skin ---

When a shrill whistle blew three times really fast, followed by, “EVERYBODY UP! LET’S GOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Pat.

Amanda cracked up and Nick dropped rolled to the side and covered his face. “You gotta be kidding me,” he whispered.

Amanda rolled over and kissed his forehead “Just remember. The guided river tour thing? Your idea. We could’ve been back at the lodge right now in the loft…” she smiled suggestively.

“Mmm, the loft,” Nick murmured.

“And we could’ve… made more pancakes on the grill,” she whispered, pausing to let his mind wander before finishing the sentence in a sweet, sexy voice. She pressed her body against his and ran her hand down the length of him.

“Tease,” he whispered, smiling. She kissed him and felt his teeth with her tongue softly. He groaned into her mouth.

She broke the kiss, pulling away, he leaned up as far as he could, following her mouth until she’d gotten far enough back that his head wouldn’t lift from the floor any further. She giggled.

“LETS GO TENT THREE,” Pat bellowed.

“God dammit,” whispered Nick as Amanda sat up all the way and pulled her hair into a ponytail. He scooted up to a sitting position too, and ran his hand through his hair, stretching his arms.

Amanda watched him. “So… what’re the activities she’s waking us up for?” she asked.

Nick smiled. “You’ll see.”
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