I was losing my damn mind, and I needed to get my shit together.

Enough was enough. Fuck history repeating itself by me getting too lost in my own demons. Once I cooled down and got control again, I was about to prove that my demons would not control me.

But for now, I was still fucking pissed.

Pissed at myself.

But regardless of that fact, I needed to go out and find Tessa before she got herself hurt or even killed. She had already been gone long enough, but no way could even be a quarter of the way to town yet. It was freezing outside and the irrational woman I was growing to care a lot about was out in the elements without even a coat. Grabbing my own coat, a gun for protection, and boots made for hiking in the snow, I prepared to hunt her down, I made a vow to stop blocking her out. I had to stop making the same mistakes. Yes, work was important and was my life. But unless I wanted to remain a lonely man forever, living in the mountain cabin like some hermit, I needed to fight for her. Tessa deserved all of me. Even if I wasn’t exactly sure how to give it.

Rushing out the door, I knew it would be easy to track her down. Her little footprints were revealing the way. I pulled the collar of my woolen coat higher around my neck, trying my best to shield against the biting wind. Winter was bound to hold on longer than normal in the Sierras this year, keeping spring at bay. It wasn’t something I minded, but cold nonetheless. My boots crunched against the snow as I maneuvered beneath the pinion pines, hanging heavy with the recent snowfall.

A scurrying to my right caught my attention. Reaching for my pistol, I inched my way toward the noise. I wouldn’t consider myself much of a hunter, but rather preferred to buy my meat from the grocery store. But I had made sure I was capable of protecting myself if need be, especially being so deep in the woods.

The morning light reflecting off the snow lit my path as I scanned the area for any movement. My finger sat ready at the trigger, waiting for whatever caused the movement to show its face. It wasn’t until I walked around a large pine, that I saw the source of the noise. Up against a cluster of trees sat a makeshift shelter composed of broken twigs and pine needles. In front of it, warming herself with a pathetic fire that barely crackled against the chilly air, sat my Tessa.

I wasn’t exactly surprised to see her there. The walk into town would have been extremely far, and maybe the cold of the outdoors had cooled down that temper of hers. Watching her shiver against the cold in nothing more than a dress, thin black flats, and a sweater that was meant for sitting by a warm fire rather than in the dropping mountain temperatures, I wanted to both hold her tight and spank that ass of hers to teach her never to storm out of the house unprepared for the mountain.

The sound of my boots on the snow announced my presence, causing Tessa to jump up in fear. “Hello?” she called out, sounding much stronger than she appeared. Her tiny frame couldn’t even fight off a jackrabbit, but I had a feeling she would give it her all if she was forced to defend herself. Her stance proved it; she stood ready for a fight.

Placing my pistol back in its holster, I stepped out of the shadows and made my way toward the fire. A fire I was surprised she even knew how to build. There was clearly so much about this woman I didn’t know. Maybe she was a Girl Scout or something.

“I thought you were headed into town to go home.” I watched as Tessa relaxed her body and unclenched her fists. Her big blue eyes scanned me from head to toe, but she no longer appeared afraid.

“It was too far to walk alone right now, so I decided to stay warm by the fire until… well, I’m not sure until what. I haven’t thought it all through but needed to be warm while I did so.” She looked toward the fire, crossing her arms against her chest. “Then I will leave.” Her words didn’t have the same fury and strength they did in her fit of rage back at the house.

I didn’t know exactly what to say to this woman, but I knew she was in no condition to weather the elements, especially with a storm coming. “It’s freezing out here.”

Tessa squatted down to stoke the fire. “I’ll be fine. Don’t you worry about me. I’ve survived worse.” She didn’t look up as she spoke, seeming dismissive as if I had somehow invaded her space. Her nonchalance resembled a no-trespassing sign bigger than I’d ever seen.

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