Since my last “On the Trail with Darcy and Lizzy” post highlighted Hawk Mountain, I figured now would be a good time to share this little vignette I wrote. Think of it as a holiday gift to B&B fans!
In Boots and Backpacks, Marianne Dashwood and Christopher Brandon both work at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, she as an educator and he as a research scientist. In Chapter 14, Marianne reveals that she has been secretly dating Chis for over a month. Readers may recall that Elizabeth isn’t too happy about this revelation. The following scene is an expansion of what Marianne briefly described to Darcy and Elizabeth when she explained how she and Chris had finally begun a romantic relationship. Enjoy!
The school bus pulled away, leaving Marianne relieved. Six hours spent with 35 eighth graders would take its toll on anyone. Most eighth graders couldn’t care less about birds of prey. But today there was that one girl who had eagerly raised her hand when Marianne had asked for a volunteer to hold one of the rehabilitated red-tailed hawks. That was all Marianne could really ask for out of the field trips she led – for at least one student to be inspired.
She stooped to pick up the crate of binoculars that rested at her feet. The students were supposed to use them to identify raptors, but at one point she had caught a few of the boys using those binoculars to get a better look at her chest.
Well, at least someone was looking. Marianne had been in a dry spell since the whole John…fiasco. But she couldn’t start dwelling on that again. It would only make her depressed, even though she was finally over him. Certainly a dry spell was better than the agony of betrayal, the pain of abandonment, and the misery of having your love discarded. Really, there was a time, right around graduation, when Marianne had not been in the best mental state. It had been even more precarious than she had let on, and considering she had a penchant for the dramatic, she had let on quite a bit.
With the crate balancing on her hip and the guidebooks stacked in one arm, Marianne didn’t have a free hand to open the front door. But Dr. Brandon came to her rescue, opening the door. “Thanks! It’s lucky you were passing by just now,” she said with a smile.
“Here, let me take those.” He reached for the crate of binoculars.
“Oh, thank you. But you really don’t have to. I’m just going to the storage room.”
“I’ll help you put these away,” he said, falling into step beside her.
That’s how he usually was: quietly beside her, helping in some small way. Marianne realized that she had come to rely on him over the last several months. He had introduced her around during her first week at Hawk Mountain, smoothing the way for her. He had also helped her find an apartment. He had even helped her move in, along with Ellie and Eddie. But it was more than that. He used to be her teacher, her advisor. But now he was her friend.
“I wanted to tell you, Lizzy will be coming to visit next month. Finally.” Lizzy had spent the last year and a half in Utah, working for AmeriCorps. She had interned at Hawk Mountain first, and convinced Marianne to do so as well. And now here Marianne was, with a job in her field just out of college, thanks to Lizzy and Dr. Brandon.
“That’s great. I know you’ve missed her,” Dr. B said.
Marianne smiled as she unlocked the storage room. “I have missed her, and she’ll sure hear me griping about it when she visits.”
Dr. Brandon put the crate down on the table. “I imagine you must miss all of your friends from Penn State.”
Marianne placed her stack of guidebooks on the shelf with the others. “Well, I’ve known Lizzy my whole life. My college girlfriends don’t compare, although I do miss them sometimes. But to be honest, it’s good to be away from the people who were around when…They just looked at me with worry and pity.”
Good Lord, Marianne, shut up! The poor man is just being nice and here you are, calling attention to your breakdown.
She laughed at herself and tried to lighten the mood. “Honestly, it’s good to be on my own a little bit. I needed to learn how to do that.”
“I hate to see you lonely though.”
The tone of his voice made her turn toward him. “I’m not lonely. I have you.”
She quickly turned away in embarrassment. For God’s sake, Marianne, SHUT UP! Where had that even come from? This was Dr. B. Sure, he had a disturbingly lean yet strong frame and the kindest hazel eyes she had ever seen, but he used to be her advisor. He was, what? 14 years older than her? Lizzy had been the one always insisting that he was sexy, not Marianne. Of course, she had been obsessed with John at the time.
She stacked the binoculars on the shelf where they belonged. She had to do something to end the awkward silence, so she started rambling. “Anyway, Lizzy will be here next month, like I said. But get this: she’ll be arriving on foot! She’s hiking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail through Pennsylvania. Leave it to Lizzy, right?”
Marianne glanced back at Dr. Brandon, and what she saw in his eyes made her gasp. Longing – pure, raw longing. John had never looked at her like that. She wasn’t even being overly dramatic.
Dr. Brandon looked down, composing himself. “I think you have things well in hand here.”
Marianne couldn’t let him leave. The age difference didn’t matter. All that mattered was the way he had looked at her. “Christopher,” she said in barely more than a whisper.
He hesitated long enough that she could get between him and the door. He wouldn’t meet her eyes, and he was breathing heavily. She realized she was too. She reached her hand up to curl around the back of his neck, one finger slipping below the collar of his shirt. He closed his eyes, but did nothing more. She pulled him gently down, and stretched up to meet him halfway, pressing her lips against his. He seemed to be frozen in place. She could feel that he wanted to respond, but he was holding himself back. He had been holding himself back for months. He hid it well, and had never pressured her, but she had picked up on something under that calm exterior. She wanted to see what it was, to feel it, for she knew it was much, much more than friendship.
She kissed him again, this time moving her lips just so to make his bottom lip a little bit wet, coaxing him to respond. When she pulled back for the second time, his eyes were wide open and intense with a fire that made her catch her breath. And boy, did he ever respond. In one motion, he closed the door and backed her up against it. She could feel the tension in his body even though he was holding her gently. His lips, his glorious lips, met hers with a reverent, restrained passion. His aim was not to coax a response from her, but to worship her.
Of course, she couldn’t help but respond. With a touch of her tongue against his lips, she unleashed whatever he was still restraining.
He pressed her hard against the door, whispering urgently, “Marianne.” And then his tongue was touching hers, making her moan at the warmth and intimacy of it. She didn’t know when she had slipped her hands under his shirt to press her palms against his lower back, but when she curled her fingers and ran her nails down his skin, he groaned into her mouth.
They heard muffled footsteps out in the hallway. He pulled back, panting. “We have to be careful. We…we sh-shouldn’t.”
“Just a little bit longer,” she pleaded.
His mouth joined hers, but without the same abandon as before. His kiss was again reverent, and carefully tender.
Marianne surmised that he didn’t often let go the way he had moments earlier. She was determined to push him to do so again, but preferably not in the storage room at work. Her dry spell was officially over. “Christopher, I’d like to cook dinner for you tonight.”
Visit Hawk Mountain’s website for more information. It is a great organization!