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The man’s smile, lit by the ethereal light reflecting off the clouds, stunned her. The urge to turn her camera his direction and snap away briefly warred with her need to photograph nature’s cloud playground. She resisted, barely, and gestured vaguely around the peninsula. “Plenty of room. You might want to tell your kids to be careful. The ground is pretty treacherous.”
She stabilized the tripod on sandy earth and directed her gaze toward the clouds. A teen built like a defensive linebacker jostled her rig when he pushed past to grab a prime spot. Panic gripped her throat and lit a sparkler along her spine when her tripod wobbled. The expensive equipment tipped drunkenly toward the softly burbling creek. She grasped one of the shiny metal legs, steadying it, and jumped to the right to clear room for the big galoot to get by.
The small movement brought her to the edge of the unstable bank bordering the creek bed. Soil shifted under her boots and crumbled away into the creek with a loud splash. Rikki struggled to maintain her balance; her stomach twisting a mere second after she realized a fall was inevitable. Instinct alone made her release the tripod to avoid pulling it into the water with her. As it shimmied precariously, she flailed her arms, fighting to regain her footing and halt her backward momentum. A small scream escaped her lips as she plunged toward the water.
“Look out,” the group leader bellowed.
Like that was at all helpful.
She slammed against the silt on the creek bottom and her breath expelled in a harsh gasp on impact. Cold, brackish water closed over her head and invaded her nose and mouth when she involuntarily inhaled and her shoulder blade zinged painfully when it made contact with a sharp rock. Fighting her way to the surface, she coughed, spitting to clear her mouth and sinuses.
She flinched as water splashed over her head again when the man jumped into the water behind her. Reaching under her arms to help her up, his big, warm hands connected with her breasts, covering them as he lifted, steadying her back against his front, spooning her with his chest and hips the way a lover might. As soon as she regained her equilibrium, he dropped his hands to her waist, his fingers digging into the flesh above her hips. Any other time, she might welcome the pressure. But not now, soaking wet, with a complete stranger, in front of an audience.