Croy and Lorelei made their way through the edge of the woods, occasionally sinking deeply into the wet earth below their feet. They kept a steady pace and remained silent. Every so often Croy would hold out his hand to assist Lorelei over a log or through a brier patch; however, she chose to ignore his help. That is, until they came to a river crossing. Although small, the water was swift and frigid. They had two choices: walk through the water or try and find a path around. After collaborating, they decided to cross. They removed their shoes and socks and Croy rolled up his pant legs. He entered the water first and struggled to stand. He knew that Lorelei would need assistance. Again, refusing his help, Croy finally got disgusted.
"Lorelei, take my hand," he whispered forcefully.
The rocks were slick and reminded him of the thin sheets of ice that formed
on the lake behind his house during the dead of winter. He knew she couldn't
make it alone. Lorelei placed her hand in his for support before stepping into
the chilly water. The temperature took her breath away and her body shivered in opposition as she fought back the desire to return to the bank.
Half way across the river Lorelei lost her footing and lunged sideways. Instinctively, Croy wrapped his free hand around her waist and tightened his grip on her hand. "I've got you," he whispered. His face so close to her own she could feel his hot breath on her cool cheek. Lorelei could see from his clinched jaw that he was in pain.
"Are you okay," she asked whispering in his ear.
Although his arm was throbbing it was the rapid beating of his heart that concerned him more. Her tiny waist positioned within his grasp and the closeness of her lips to his face sent shivers down his spine that had nothing to do with the chilly water. Heaven help me, but this girl makes me hot in thigh deep freezing water. Croy released his grip on her waist, but maintained a firm grasp of her hand as he secured his own footing before continuing their arduous journey across.
Lorelei attempted to jam her feet in her socks but could barely get them over her wet toes as her body shook uncontrollably.
"Come here," whispered Croy.
Too cold to resist the warmth of his body, she settled against his chest and allowed him to rub her arms vigorously. Croy knew time was against them but wasn't sure how much more Lorelei could take. Feeling her body shudder several times was a good indication she was trying to conceal tears.
"You're the strongest woman I know Lorelei. You can do this. We can do this together," he encouraged.
Once Lorelei's shaking had diminished, they continued their journey through the woods, careful to tread lightly. The wet fabric of her dress weighed her down and slowed their progress. She held the hem up high to ease her strides, appreciating the concealment the dark night provided.
Making their way through a thicket, Croy spotted a fire that had almost dwindled into ash. He stopped, grabbed Lorelei's hand and they lowered to the ground. Securing his gun, he leaned against a fallen tree limb to improve the accuracy of his shot, all the while trying to ignore the increasing pain in his arm.
Fear overtook Lorelei making her want to retreat to her cabin. She inched as close to Croy's back as possible. Hearing a noise, he motioned for her to lay flat on the ground. Gripped with terror, she willingly obeyed. It was the same type of paralyzing fear she felt when the Yankees entered her cabin. Croy hunched down as best as possible and aimed his weapon into the dark night. He had no idea what they were about to encounter. His heart pounded wildly and his mouth was so dry he found it difficult to swallow. Suddenly, the rustling of twigs and leaves was accompanied by two small beads of light shining in the dark. He wrapped his index finger around the cold trigger of the rifle and held steady waiting for what was to come.