Author Katie Mettner

Butterflies and Hazel Eyes ~ Chapter Eight

*This is unedited*



“Charity,” he whispered as he shook my hip. “Wake up.” I opened my eyes and was staring into his face. He pointed up and I flipped to my back to stare into the night sky. I gasped as the green light undulated across the stars, illuminating the sky in a way far more vibrant than the water encompassing our island. The pink and white layers merged with the green, leaving the blackness of the night above it to appear completely lost in space. The stars were brilliant pinpricks of light and I was certain I could touch them as I lie under the dancing lights. The streaks were vivid, but fleeting, while the aurora bounced around us. The lights were quickly chased away by one color only to return in a breath in a new one.

“This is unlike anything I ever expected,” I sighed, my gaze transfixed on the sky. “I’ll never be the same.”

We sat for the next half an hour in silence, save for an occasional gasp or ‘look at that!’ breaking the night. We stared into the sky until the lights started to fade and the stars and night stole back their canvas. While the green remained as a hue in the sky, the vividness slowly dissipated. He was holding my hand as we laid together, me in the sleeping bag and Gulliver wrapped up in the spare blanket Laverne kept on the boat. The fire had died down and I realize now he had put sand on it to lessen the light on the beach. He busied himself throwing fresh wood on the coals until it flared to life again and offered much-needed heat for our chilled bodies. It might be summer, but on Lake Superior, summer was elusive.

He sat down next to me again and yawned. “What time is it?” I asked, rubbing my eyes.

“It’s a little before three a.m.,” he answered. “I was watching for the aurora, hoping it would pop up so I could wake you.”

I took his hand again and held it tightly. “I’d forgotten about it in the insanity of the last few hours. The truth is, the northern lights were the last thing on my bucket list.”

He cocked his head. “You have a bucket list at twenty-six?”

“Well, yeah,” I said sarcastically. “Everyone should have a bucket list regardless of their age.”

He considered it for a moment before answering. “I guess you never know how long you have on earth, so starting a bucket list early isn’t a bad idea. How many things did you have on it?”

“I had fifty, one for each state. It’s taken me six years, but now,” I held my arms out as if to say there was nothing left. “I’ll have to do some serious thinking when we get back to shore.”

“Why? Unless there’s a hole in the bucket you can always keep filling it.”

I chuckled into the night air. “You’re wise, and you’re right. I added things as I completed others, but I was down to one last original entry. It was honestly the one thing I never dreamed I’d cross off, which would have made things a lot easier.”

“Made what things easier?” he asked, drawing stars in the sand with a stick.

“The rest of my life. In my mind, the whole aurora borealis idea was they would be elusive for the majority of my life, especially when I was in the middle of Florida. I drive up here and in less than a week I’m experiencing the one thing I told myself would end the lifestyle I’ve lived for years.”

“Geez. If I had known, I would have let you sleep. I had no idea the northern lights held such deep meaning for you.”

I nudged him in the shoulder and shook my head. “No, I’m glad you woke me up. It was one of those love-hate things. I always knew if I ever saw them they’d be breathtaking and I wasn’t disappointed.”

“I’m glad you weren’t disappointed considering tonight’s show was mediocre. There will be better shows as winter nears.”

“Seriously?” I asked, my voice stunned. “As far as I’m concerned nothing will beat what I just saw. Nothing. Ever.”

“You sound so adamant, but you’re only twenty-six, sweetheart. You have a lot of living to do.”

“Maybe, but nothing beats the joy of experiencing such an amazing display of Mother Nature with someone you find yourself drawing closer to every minute you’re together. Regardless of what happens in the future, no one can take the memory of tonight away from either of us. Not to sound like a romance novel, but it feels like this was a little bit meant to be.”

He scooted next to me and took both my hands in his, his legs on each side of me as we sat in the sand. “I understand how you’re feeling, because I’m feeling the same way. I was supposed to be reading, but I was watching you sleep for the better part of the last three hours. Mojo was giving me the stink eye, but I didn’t care.” I laughed softly because the dog was giving him the stink eye right now. “Everything about you fascinates me. Not to sound like a romance novel, but I think I’m falling for you, hard. Regardless of what happens in the future, no one will take the memory of tonight away from us. I’m a believer in the idea we only get one true meant-to-be. Everyone before and every one after can be your love, your friend, and your partner, but they will never be your true one. Up until last week I never met my true one. I’m convinced I have now. Whether you believe I’m yours or not is up to you to decide, but I know you’re mine. Whether we keep feeling this way or not doesn’t change what the universe has put into play here. Is this scaring you?” he asked suddenly. “You’re shaking. I’m sorry.”

He tried to let go of my hands, but I kept hold of his tightly. “I’m not scared, Gulliver,” I whispered. “I’m relieved you feel the same way I do. I was starting to think I was crazy for letting this little town, and one man, change my life in the blink of an eye. I know we have a lot of getting to know each other to do, but I hope you want to keep getting to know me the way I do you.”

A smile of agreement and happiness spread across his face. “I do, because I know there is so much more to learn about you. Maybe I don’t have a lot to offer you in monetary ways, but I also know you don’t care about money. You live for the experience of life, and no other reason. Maybe you’ll drive out of my life as quickly as you drove in, but the ride so far has been breathtaking.”

A smile tugged at my lips as I stared into his hazel eyes. The fire drew out the gold in them and while the green was still abundant, the gold got to dance for all it was worth. “You’re a beautiful person, Gulliver. You’re kind to everyone, treat the smallest insect as if it’s your brother, and understand what’s important in life. When I said I had to think hard when we get back to shore about my life?” I asked and he nodded, still running his thumbs over my knuckles. “There’s a deeper reason. I have a note tucked in my Bible at Proverbs 16:9.”

“What kind of a note?” he asked, his gaze quizzical as he waited for the answer.

“It’s a note I wrote myself. It says when my bucket list is complete I must find a place to settle and begin my life.”

He tipped his head toward the fire, lost in our conversation. “What verse is Proverbs 16:9?”

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps,” I recited. “I know it by heart because it’s the verse I read every night before I go to bed.”

He gave me a half a lip tilt. “Considering how you live, it isn’t a bad verse to read every night before bed. Do you attend church?” he asked uncomfortably.

I motioned for him to lean against the log again and I scooted up next to him, still trapped in the sleeping bag. I realized then he wasn’t uncomfortable because of where he was sitting, but because of the subject matter.

“Did I bother you when I mentioned the Bible?” I asked honestly. “If I did, I’m sorry. I don’t go to church, but I do study the Bible during my downtime.”

He tossed a stick onto the fire. “I’m not bothered per se, I was just wondering if you’re heavy into religion. My mom was and it left a bad taste in my mouth.”

I grabbed my toes inside the sleeping bag and leaned over my knees. “I wouldn’t say I’m heavy into religion at all, but you don’t travel around this country and not come to understand there’s a greater power out there. Growing up the way I did, and the way I’ve lived since I struck out on my own, I have no one to lean on, Gulliver. I have no one to call when I’m sad, upset, or scared. I have the sky,” I said, pointing up, “the water if I’m near it, and an old Bible I bought at a thrift store in North Dakota. I’m not trying to be someone I’m not, but it’s the only way I know how to have a relationship with God.”

He put his arm around my shoulders and hugged me, resting his cheek on the top of my head. “It makes me sad to hear you say you have no one to lean on. I’ll be the person you lean on from now on. Not to replace your Bible, but to be there when even the Bible doesn’t help you find solace.”

I sighed as I gazed at the fire and listened to the water ripple against the rocks on the shore. “I’m going to hold you to your promise for the rest of your life. I hope you’re prepared, because I’ll be hard-pressed to leave this place now that I’ve found it.”

We sat in the silence of the night, which was anything but silent, and let our hearts talk while our mouths rested.

***

The exhaustion was kicking in and I had many more hours to go for the night. Once I finished the next line of code I promised myself I’d get up and grab another cup of coffee. It was nearly ten p.m. but considering we didn’t get back to the mainland until noon, I was currently working in Gulliver’s office on the website. I hadn’t seen him since the moment we got back to the office. He had to take off and help his guys with a problem immediately and hadn’t surfaced since. His disappearance was making it difficult to get much done on the website. I had the welcome page finished and the ‘about us’ page complete, but I would have to sit down with him before I could go any further. Instead, I was writing in the code to protect the website from hackers and preparing the spaces for the rest of the information.

A cup of coffee was set down on the desk and I glanced up, my heart thudding from the intrusion. Gulliver stood in front of me, dressed in a pair of jeans and a polo shirt, his hair still damp. “Hi,” he said. “Figured you might need a pick me up.”

“Hi,” I greeted him in return, sipping the hot brew. “You’re a lifesaver. I was just finishing this line and I was going to find some. You’ve been busy today,” I said, setting the mug down.

His lips tugged into a grim line and he motioned at the computer. “Finish your line of code and we’ll talk. It’s been a long day. I need some food, and I would guess you do, too?”

I could tell by the change in his demeanor whatever had kept him out of the office for the day wasn’t a good thing. “Sure, give me two minutes,” I said, putting my hands back on the keyboard. As I typed, I wondered what happened. When the sun rose this morning our fire was out, we were both passed out on the sand sound asleep, and the boat was still anchored to the beach. The churning of a motor is what woke us, and we both scrambled to our feet as a boat arrived, a towboat chartered by Laverne. We packed our boat, hooked it up, climbed aboard their boat, and motored home. When we arrived back at the dock Gulliver’s phone started going off at the speed of sound. He pretended it was no big deal, but I could tell immediately it was. I made him head out while I talked to Laverne, showered, changed, and then walked into town with Mojo. I wasn’t worried, since I figured Gulliver would give me a ride back tonight and I wouldn’t be out in the dark. Now, I was worried about the business considering what Laverne told me about the motor.

I clicked the mouse twice, saved the work, and shut down the computer. “Done,” I said, stretching. I noticed his gaze on my chest as I stretched, but I didn’t say anything. If he wanted to leer, he could leer. I understood he wouldn’t touch me unless I gave him full permission to do so. “Laverne was surprised by what the guys had to say about the motor,” I told him, standing and stretching again, just to torture his senses. “They said someone had to have tampered with it because it should never have shorted out the way it did. They suspect some of the lines were cut slightly. They planned for it to blow after a few minutes of running the motor.”

He stood stock still on his crutches. “How did she find out the motor was tampered with?”

I held up my phone as I stepped around the desk. “The marina, apparently. She texted me earlier. I told her we were only away from the boat while we were on Oak Island. It’s strange someone would mess with it there.”

“Maybe not so strange,” he said grimly. “Ready to get some food?”

I shrugged, motioning for Mojo to come with me. “Sure. Is there anywhere open this late?” I checked the clock. “It’s after ten.”

“There are several bars open, but I want to talk in private. I was thinking I’d grill some steaks on the patio. I don’t want to leave the building tonight.”

“Sounds perfect,” I agreed. “Would only be better if there was some prosecco involved.”

He motioned toward the door with his crutch for me to go first. “I can probably find a bottle,” he agreed as he locked his office door. “I’m a beer or gin guy myself, but for steak, wine is the better choice.”

I followed him down his hallway while Mojo’s claws clicked behind me. Instead of stopping at his door he kept going, so I followed until we arrived at a door at the end of the hallway. It was marked a fire exit, but when he opened it, no alarm sounded. Turns out, he already had the grill going and the cooler waiting.

“You’re prepared,” I laughed as I stared out over the lake. Whenever I was within visual distance of the water my gaze was immediately drawn there. There was some truth to the legend of the Lady of the Lake. The locals claim she’s a siren and she will never release you once she has your heart.

The sizzle of the meat as it landed on a hot rack hit my ears and he closed the lid of the grill. “I showered and hoped you’d want to share dinner with me, so I got it ready. The steaks won’t take long. I also have potato salad and beans, but they’re cold. I only eat cold beans. I think it’s a Wisconsin thing, so it’s perfectly fine if you don’t want them.”

I rubbed my arms as I spun on my heel to where he stood by the grill. “I love cold beans. I never eat them any other way. Please don’t give any to Mojo, though,” I said, waving my hand in front of my nose.

My silliness spurred laughter from deep within him and I sensed it was the first thing he had to laugh about today. He grabbed me and hugged me tightly, kissing my neck as his laughter faded. “I needed some levity in the day. You always know what I need. Thank you,” he whispered.

He released me to flip the steaks and I lowered myself to a chair at the round, two-person patio table. The top was glass and pinged when he set a chilled bottle of wine on it. In seconds, there were two filled glasses and I was guiding one to my lips and sighing with satisfaction. “And you always know what I need. My fingers are tired from typing, but my body is tired in general. Steak and wine might earn me a one-way ticket to falling asleep on your couch.”

He winked conspiratorially. “Which is why I have a couch. You’re more than welcome to it, but Mojo has to sleep on the floor.”

I swear the dog huffed at him from under the table. A smile tipped my lips as I grabbed the silverware and napkins from the basket on the table and spread them out so we could eat. He set the beans and potato salad down then grabbed the steaks. The scent of nicely charred meat met my nostrils and I moaned with happiness. “I know this is going to taste like heaven,” I sighed as the steam rose from the sirloin. When I sliced into the meat, the juices poured onto my plate, making my mouth water with anticipation, until the paw patted my leg.

I stared into Mojo’s eyes and sighed. “You already ate your dinner, big guy,” I said firmly, snapping and pointing for him to get down.

He gave me a whine followed by a grunt, and I worried Gulliver was going to choke on his steak. I sliced a tiny piece off the edge and held it in the palm of my hand. “Fine, I’ll share, but you can’t bug me the whole meal,” I scolded while he chomped down the steak.

Gulliver was laughing behind his hand. “Sure he can, and he probably will.”

I rolled my eyes to the stars. “He’s a steak lover. Always has been. He doesn’t beg at the table unless he smells steak. When steak is involved, everything is fair game for Mojo.”

“I don’t mind if you share to keep him happy. He’s been working hard. He kept us safe from the bears last night, so he deserves an extra treat.”

I chuckled and waved my fork at him sarcastically. “Sure, there were so many bears last night.”

His knife stopped sawing through the meat. “There were, while you were sleeping. Several curious black bears decided to visit. Mojo stood up, bared his teeth at them, and they took off like a shot.”

My fork clattered to the plate. “I had no idea. Why didn’t you tell me? Good heavens, we could have died!”

He pointed at me with his knife while he chewed. “That’s why I didn’t tell you. You have a thing about bears.”

“No, I have a thing about being eaten by bears,” I corrected him.

I rubbed Mojo’s head and gave him another piece of steak, cooing at him for being a good boy.

“Tell me how you adopted Mojo,” he encouraged as we ate.

“Ah, the story of Mojo,” I teased. “It’s a short story, actually. I hadn’t had Myrtle a week when I stopped at a rest stop in California. I could hear something thwacking under the hood and decided I better check it out.”

“Thwacking,” he repeated, “doesn’t sound good.”

I leaned forward and punched his arm lightly. “Don’t make fun of me. I’m not a mechanic, but it didn’t sound good, so I got out of the motorhome and left the side door open. With my head stuck under the hood I didn’t see a tiny pup jump into the motorhome. Turns out the thwacking was the handle on the battery which had come loose. When I climbed back into the motorhome to clean up, a little Mojo sat in the middle of the floor gazing up at me with sad, empty eyes.”

“Oh, the poor guy.” He frowned at the idea of baby Mojo all alone. “How did you know he was a stray?”

I gave the dog another piece of steak while I chewed a piece myself. When I finished, I answered. “He was skinny and scraggly. There was no doubt he didn’t have owners. I know you won’t believe me, but when I first got him, he fit in the kitchen sink in the motorhome.”

“No way!” he said, his voice filled with laughter. I was thrilled talking about Mojo was taking his mind off whatever had happened today, but I still wanted to know what it was.

“It’s true,” I promised, holding up three fingers like a Girl Scout pledgee. “I gave him a bath right there and fed him milk and toast, since I had no dog food. He fell asleep wrapped up in an old blanket on the passenger seat. He hasn’t left my side since. I took him to the vet and he told me he was probably abandoned with the rest of his litter, but he somehow escaped whatever they were dumped in. He wasn’t even old enough to be away from his mom. Apparently, with the right food and a little love, my Mojo forgot to stop growing.”

He laughed as he lowered his knife to the plate and picked up his last piece of steak, laying it on his palm. He held it out to the dog, and being an equal opportunity steak eater, Mojo quickly snapped it up. “He’s a good boy. I bet he sensed if he jumped in your motorhome you’d take care of him forever.”

“He and I were destined to be together. We’re more alike than different, actually. He was abandoned by his family and so was I. All he needed was someone to love him, and so did I. He’s made the last six years tolerable. When he kept growing, and I realized he was going to be a gigantic dog, I understood he was sent to me for a greater purpose. He was going to protect me, no matter what, so I do the same for him. As you can see, he never leaves my side. I’m surprised he stayed with Laverne yesterday morning, to be honest. I didn’t think he would.”

Gulliver finished his potato salad and leaned back in the not so comfortable wrought iron seat. “I suppose it just means he’s comfortable there. Laverne probably treats him like a king.”

I laughed happily and nodded as I finished my wine. “She was scared of him when we first got there and now she’s making him beds in the corner and letting him sleep on the dock in the sunshine. He has a way of sensing those scared of him and ingratiating himself into their lives.”

“He’s no dummy, he knows what he wants. It’s not much different from what I want, actually,” he said pensively. “The difference is, he’s got the girl.”

I slid my hand across the table and took his. “He’ll share, I promise.” I winked and his seriousness fell away as he held my hand.

“I hope so, because after spending last night with you, I find it hard to think about anything but you.”

“I feel the same way, but I’m worried. You took off this morning and disappeared for nine hours.”

His lips thinned and he motioned at the remnants of our dinner. “Let’s clean up and go talk in my apartment. It’s beautiful out here, but I don’t want anyone overhearing us.”

We made quick work of packing the cooler, making sure the grill was off and cool, and cleaning up the dirty dishes. Once it was all tucked away in the cooler I grabbed the handle and he held the door for me. Luckily the cooler was on wheels, which explained how he got it out there. Once we were safely inside his apartment, I stuck the rest of the food in his fridge and put the plates in the sink to soak.

“Mind if I use a bowl to give Mojo some water?” I yelled at him. He was in his bedroom and I wasn’t sure if he could hear me.

“Totally fine. There are plastic ones under the sink.”

I searched and found the perfect bowl, filling it with water and setting it on a towel for Mojo to slurp up. When I got to the couch, Gulliver was sitting in his recliner, his brace and shoe off, and chair reclined. He smiled sheepishly. “I hope you don’t mind if I relax. After last night and today my knee is killing me,” he explained.

I held up a finger and scooted off the couch again. I rifled through his freezer and came up with a gel pack. I rested it across his knee, which was swollen and red, then rubbed his calf gently to let him know I cared. “The ice should help. Don’t apologize. I’m just glad you’re comfortable enough with me to relax without being self-conscious.”

He held the pack to his knee and avoided eye contact. “Oh, I’m self-conscious,” he said, his voice barely audible. “But you didn’t appear overly bothered by my legs last night, so …”

“I’m not overly bothered by your legs, Gulliver. In fact, I’m not bothered at all, unless of course they hurt, then I’m bothered because I don’t want you in pain. Otherwise, I don’t even notice. I’m happy you can relax around me and not worry about being uncomfortable while we’re spending time together.” He gave me one head nod and I tucked my own legs under me on the couch. “Now, tell me what’s going on.”

He leaned back in the chair and sighed. “Last night the silent alarm was tripped. Mathias Jørgensen, who’s my biggest investor in this project, ran over to see what was going on, since Laverne had called him about me being gone. When he got here, someone had broken in and was in the research lab. They escaped, and he never caught a glimpse of them, but he also doesn’t know if they found any information before he interrupted them.”

“Jørgensen is an interesting name. Is that Swedish?” I asked offhand.

“Danish, his parents are from Copenhagen. You should see the guy. Blond, blue-eyed, and chiseled cheeks. He always has girls sniffing around him.” He shook his head in what was supposed to be disgust, but was more like thinly veiled jealousy.

“Did you find anything missing this morning?” I asked to get back on track.

“They took a couple of bags of old shredded papers. I had them outside the lab waiting to be picked up and burned. I couldn’t find anything else missing. An iPad was out and was locked from too many attempts at the password, but there were no fingerprints, so they wore gloves.”

“The shredded paper concerns me,” I said slowly.

“It shouldn’t. We use a high-security shredder. The pieces of paper are an eighth of a millimeter when they are done. They’ll never be able to piece it together.”

“Why take it then,” I asked confused.

He held his hands out palms up. “All I can figure is they hoped there were whole papers in it. Like someone tossed something in once the bag was out of the shredder. They didn’t, I always double check each bag before I tie it off. We don’t use much paper. Anything we have to do on paper gets scanned into the iPads and shredded immediately.”

“The iPads also concern me. I didn’t know there were iPads in the mix. How many and are there any other phones or tablets tied to the account?”

“We have four iPads and we use them while working on data and to document with pictures and video. Once the work is complete we upload them to our computer server and wipe them. We don’t use a cloud.”

I shook my head in exasperation and sighed. “People think they’re safe, but they aren’t. Not using a cloud doesn’t mean someone can’t hack into your device. The information is there, even after you wipe it, Gulliver. I need to check the iPads. I’m going to have to change passwords and encrypt the email. Unless you’re using the same email as the one for your website, then it’s already encrypted.”

He grimaced and shook his head. “We aren’t, I didn’t know they could hack into a device like an iPad, to be honest. The password is easy and everyone knows it.”

I almost gagged on my tongue. “A true security nightmare, Gulliver. I bet the password is something like 12345,” I sighed.

He laughed and rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “No, but it’s almost as bad. Butterflyjunction.”

I moaned loudly. “Oh my God, why don’t you just hand them all your research with a smile on your face?”

He hit his fist on the arm of the chair angrily. “I had no idea the iPad could be hacked. In my mind we were safe using the tablet to avoid paper. We erased the data once it was on what I believed was a safe server. Now I’m finding out nothing is safe.”

“You’re right there. Nothing is safe, even when we encrypt and protect, nothing is completely safe. The fewer places you have the data the fewer issues you’ll have with it going rogue.”

“The good news is,” he said, winking, “there are only the four iPads. There are no other devices connected to it. I have one here in case you wanted to go over it. It’s on my bed. Would you grab it?” he asked.

“Sure.” I wandered behind his chair to the bedroom door, and I had to take a steeling breath before I stepped into the room. Faced with his most personal space, I wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible, but the second I stood in the room I realized that was never going to happen.



This will be the last chapter put up on the blog for this book. It appears someone would like to take it and pass it off as their own, and I will not give them the entire book to do that with. If you are reading along and want to finish, send me a message or leave a comment here and I'll get you a kindle copy or ePub. Thank you for understanding!
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