The wind is howling as Rey hunkered down, tucking her chin into her thick wool scarf, shivering. The morning had been bright and sunny, the temperature hovering a few degrees above freezing, and she thought it was the perfect opportunity to take a hike. After all, it was winter break; she had no classes and a day off from work. What better way to spend it than exploring the dense, snowy forest surrounding the small college town?
All she wanted was an edge on her end of the year project. Everyone else was doing sunsets and beach shots, family members or - in one case - risqué photos of their significant other. But Rey wanted something that would set her apart. The winter wilderness called to her, and inspiration struck.
That morning she had packed her backpack with her photography supplies, a sandwich, bottle of water, extra socks. Her boots were meant to be waterproof but she wanted to be safe. She braided back her chestnut brown hair and wore thermals under her dark jeans and heavy green sweater. Feeling confident, she drove to the state park and found a spot in the parking lot. It was empty this time of year - Wisconsin winters were nothing to joke about, and the area wasn’t good for winter activities like snowshoeing or skiing. She was alone as she set out on the marked path, following the painted wooden trail markers.
But it wasn’t enough. She just had to push her luck and trek into the thicket of fur trees, clicking as she went. Rey figures she has GPS on her phone, so finding her way back would be simple. As the afternoon wore on, she drew deeper and deeper into the woods.
The pictures were amazing. Capturing the rare cardinals as they flitted through the naked branches of the trees, capturing the light as it shone through the canopy of pines. She wasn’t even sure how long she had been out there until she paused on a felled log, digging into her beat up old Jansport for some water and a social media break.
Two hours had flown by. Digging into half of the peanut butter sandwich she had fixed, she tried to scroll through Twitter. Nothing would load - the service sucked in the middle of nowhere. Sighing, Rey tucked her phone back into her bag and sipped some water. Once finished, she brushed her hands on her jeans and slipped them back into her gloves. She really should have gotten some thicker ones before she left - these were thin and her hands ached as the wind blew and cut through them.
It was a short while later that she realized, with a sinking feeling in her belly, that she wasn't sure where the trail had gone. And then the sky began to darken and gray. Shivering, she watched fat flakes of snow drift down from the sky, wet and heavy.
I’m lost, she thought with rising panic. Turning in a circle, she found it impossible to tell which way she had come from. The trees all looked alike, thick fur trees and pines that towered over her like ancient, silent specters watching over her, unhelpful to the predicament she found herself in. She sank to her knees on the crunchy dead leaves and felt a wave of hot tears sting the back of her eyes. I’m lost, and no one even knows I’m out here.
She tucked her chin in her scarf and sniffled. Her nose was beginning to run from the tears and the cold. It was so quiet, she could hear the snowflakes as they fell.
Sitting here crying won’t fix anything. She dragged herself to her feet and slowly started through the dusting of snow. It was piling up fast - she needed to find shelter, fast.
With growing panic seeing her chest, she started walking faster. All Rey wanted was to be home, safe, toasty warm in her bed and annoyed at her dorm mate like usual. Like any other day. She could imagine a big mug if Swiss Miss and warm pajamas, and hugs her arms tight around her middle.
This is stupid. I never should have come out here, Rey thought. All for her stupid project. She should’ve settled for sunsets and beach shots like everyone else. Now, she wasn’t even sure she would make it back to finish the project.
It was getting darker and the wind whipped and howled. Rey moved faster, half jogging as she staggered through the forest. Her heart pounded in her chest as she slid over a pile of leaves - as she stumbled over a thick tree root. She sobbed loudly - if she cried alone in a forest, would it even make a sound? Her hands shake as she wipes her nose, fingers aching in her thin gloves. What was I thinking?
Rey didn’t feel the hill coming - all she saw was a trail of gray smoke and her heart clenched in her chest. Smoke meant fire - fire meant people - she pushed forward and then screamed as the ground gave beneath her feet and she was suddenly tumbling down a sudden hill.
“No!” she cried out, her body slamming into the ground. Pain bloomed in her knee as she clawed at the cold, dead ground to stall her sliding down the sheer hillside, but nothing helped. Down she rolled, head smacking off the dirt. Her breath puffed out in relief as she landed at the bottom, relieved but aching. Pain rocked through her head and when she tried to stand, her knee gave with a sharp, hot burst. She cried out as she struggled to stand up right.
Gritting her teeth, she knew she had to push through it. Grunting with the effort, Rey dragged her leg. She would never make good time this way, but there was somewhere near. She saw the smoke. That had to mean someone was near and could help her - or at least find help to get her out of here.
With tears trailing down her dirty cheeks, Rey cried and limped. It felt like time slowed down. The sky was only getting darker and the pain only getting more intense. She painted through each wave that washed over her, hot and prickly through her leg, pounding and dull in her head.
What felt like an eternity later, she saw it - a little log cabin with golden light glowing in the window and smoke pouring from the chimney.
“Thank God,” she groaned. With renewed vigor, Rey hobbled through snow and heavy, wet leaves until she could drag herself up the front steps. The front porch had a single folding chair and overturned milk carton with an empty ashtray. She wondered who lived here, in the middle of nowhere, but not for long. Breathless, she pounded on the door harder than necessary. She was desperate, scared, and freezing.
A long moment passed as she breathed hard. She heard movement inside and relief flooded her chest. Thank you God, thank you. Her heart lurched as the door swung open. The last thing she saw before collapsing was a tall, dark-haired man with suspicious eyes. It was all too much, she would think later. She was exhausted, hurt, and hungry - and she felt the world tilt briefly before it all went black.
It had been a quiet, ordinary evening until the knock on his door came, louder than a gunshot, startling him out of the book he was reading. Ben Solo stood and reached for the shot gun propped next to his easy chair and stomped across the hardwood floor of his cabin with a frown.
Who could be knocking on his door? At this time of night, in this weather? He twisted the handle and jerked the door open with an uneasy sensation, greasy and heavy in his gut, and felt his eyebrows jump up to his hairline.
It was a woman. Even in the layers of clothing, she was tiny. A knit cap with a bauble on the top sat crooked on her head, and a gash crossed just over her temple into her dark brown hair. Well, he couldn’t be certain of the color - dried blood made it darker. She gazed at him with tear-filled hazel eyes for just a moment before they rolled back, showing the whites, and she dropped like a sack of flour to the floor.
Ben stared for a moment, still and stupefied. Then he sighed and propped his rifle near the door and squatted down to scoop her in his strong arms.
It was the end of the month, and he’d been alone out here for weeks. One weekend a month he traveled into town for supplies - two cartons of smokes, odds and ends for the cabin. See his mom and have a stiff, uncomfortable dinner where she always tried to convince him to come home. It was awkward, to say the least - he dreaded every dinner at his childhood home. Could breathe easier out here on his own, without the people of the world looking at him with their judgemental eyes and low, whispered voices. They knew who he was, what he had done. Being out in the first on his own, on the edge of state property, was the only place he could find peace. Where he felt at ease. No interlopers or intrusions.
Until tonight. Until her.
Ben had never had company at the cabin. She was the second person to ever step food inside. He frowned at the thought as he deposited her on the old ugly sofa.
“Knocked your head pretty good,” he murmured, though the girl was unconscious. In the warm light of the fire, plus the si god overhead bulb, she looked young. Ben wondered how the hell she had wandered far enough off the trail to reach him. He needed the four-wheeler to get out there from town, and she had huffed it. Not well, by the looks of her.
He decided to start with her head wound. Ben crossed the one room log cabin that he had built by hand to the sink, where a red first aid kit was stashed. He popped it open and fished out the gauze and tape, peroxide. Kneeling beside the couch, he tugged her hat off and dropped it to the floor beside him.
Pretty , he thought absently, gazing at the fine features of her delicate face. She was pale and freckled across her upturned nose and cheekbones. Dark lashes fanned across her cheeks where he eyes were shut. Her mouth was small but her lips were full and pink, chapped. He wondered what her name was, what the hell she was doing out there alone. Shaking his head, Ben returned to the task at hand: cleaning up the gash on her head.
Luckily, it was shallow. No stitches needed. Ben poured peroxide on a gauze pad and dabbed at the wound, sterilizing it. He taped a bandage over her brow, satisfied that it would stay.
Sitting back on his heels, Ben surveyed the rest of her. He lifted one limp hand and noted the dirt caked under short, bitten nails. Her jeans were soaked - he needed to get her warm. As gently as he was capable, Ben unlaced her duckbill boots and slid them off her feet, followed by her thick socks. They were small and pale ivory. He felt the urge to squeeze them for some reason, let his hands memorize every inch of them. Her toenails were painted blue and chipped.
Next, he unfastened to fly of her jeans and worked them, along with her thermal long-johns, down shapely legs. He felt something warm building low in his gut as more of her pale skin was revealed to his eyes. Fuck, she’s perfect. He tried to ignore the little pink panties covering her core, moving on to remove her coat and scarf. She wore a thick green sweater, more thermals under that, and … Ben gulped as he eyed the white sports bra. Her nipples were pebbled up against the tight fabric, looking so inviting…
He swallowed hard as he let his hand drift over her flat belly. Her skin was cool. It jolted him back to the dire situation; she needed warming up, and fast. Ben jumped up to grab a pair of his sweatpants and a thick flannel button-down. It was like dressing a life size doll. He slipped her arms through the sleeves and buttoned the front with shaking hands as arousal took root inside of him. She was beautiful. She couldn’t fight him. It had been so long… her skin was so soft and supple.
He let his fingers dance over her ribs. Holding his breath, Ben cupped one mound of her breast, feeling her right nipple brush his palm. Ben sucked in a breath as his cock twitched to life. Her breath hitched, and he stole his hand back as if he had been burned.
No. Ben pushed those thoughts down and finished sliding the pants up her toned legs. He tossed down some extra blankets and moved her in front of the hearth, covering her up in the thick quilt from his bed. He would wait until she was awake, Ben decided. He would make sure, at least, that she was awake before he touched her.
Sighing, he flopped back into his recliner and stared at her form bathes in the golden light of the fire. He knew sleep wouldn’t come to him, these unusual events making him uneasy, on edge. He picked up the book he was reading and stared at the page until the letters swam together and blurred, then lifted his dark brown gaze to the sleeping girl once more.
Who was she? What was she doing out there? Ben eyed the backpack he had discarded by the door and wondered if he should take a peek inside.
No. Better to leave her a stranger. Get her better, get her out. He remembered who he was and why he had secluded himself in this manner, why he stayed separate from the rest of the world. Shaking his head, Ben forced the thoughts of her shapely figure and pretty face out of his head.
If she knew who I was, she’d run screaming into the hills. She might be nice to look at, but she’s just like everyone else.
Content with his reminder, with his waning desire, Ben directed his attention again to the book. If he struggled to remain focused, if his gaze kept wandering to the unconscious woman, he would never admit to it.