A/N: This is intended for a mature audience and has an M rating. There is fairly explicit sexual content as it deals with an evolving relationship between a man and a woman. If such content is not to your liking, please do not read any further and if you are not 17 or older, read my story, The Victus, instead! This is a new novella that will be published once it is edited and polished. Any comments or reviews are welcomed as I would like to know how the story is working for readers before it is sold. I have fixed a few typos and syntax issues in this update 8/24 Thank you for reading! Dee

Chapter One

The Storm

"You'll love camping," Pete insisted, ignoring Kendra's dissent. She crossed her arms over her chest thinking that maybe going on vacation with him wasn't such a good idea.

"It'll be great. We can build a fire, snuggle in our sleeping bags, and make out in the woods." Pete shoved a sweatshirt into his backpack. He'd brought his dirty laundry over to wash at her place and then packed the clean clothes for their vacation.

Kendra rolled her eyes and threw a pair of socks into her pack. "Well, that's the most romantic thing I've ever heard," she mumbled and tossed her favorite fleece shirt on top of the socks.

"What? Why are you so pissy?" With his pack full, Pete tightened the drawstrings on the top compartment and then pulled the spindrift collar closed securing it with more drawstrings. He came up behind Kendra as she put the last of her items into her own pack. Wrapping his arms around her waist, he pulled Kendra's backside against his front. She noticed he was primed to make out now.

"I'm not done packing, Pete." She tried to pull away but he held her in place.

"Come on, babe, why don't we get the vacation started with a bang?" Pete moved Kendra's long, auburn hair off her neck and placed kisses down to her shoulder.

She shrugged and pushed him away.

"Seriously, Pete, I'm not done packing."

"You can finish later. Come on, we haven't been together for a week. I'm dying for you."

She turned to face him and placed her fists on her hips, tilting her head as she said, "You're dying for me? Pete, you have hidden out in your bachelor pad for, like, a month. You didn't want to go out and celebrate my promotion because you were too busy. When I asked you to go out to dinner two weeks ago, you had other plans. So, just back off on the, babe stuff, and trying to get me into the sack. Part of the reason we're even going on this..." she turned around, picked up a t-shirt, and then slammed it into her pack, "…vacation, if you can call it that, is to spend time together to see if we can work things out."

He stood there with his arms folded over his chest, his left foot jutting out, and a frown on his face. His dark brown hair, cut close to his head, was hidden beneath the WVU ball cap he wore backwards, the brim hitting the hood of his sweatshirt. She hated it when he wore it that way.

"Fine, be that way," he snapped and hauled his pack onto his right shoulder before walking to the living room.

"Shit," she said under her breath.

They'd dated for two years, two long years, and Kendra sensed there wouldn't be a third year. The relationship had started great, but then they all begin well. After six months, all chivalrous behavior and courtesies fell away. Pete no longer bothered to hold the door open for her, didn't leave the room when he passed gas, never closed his mouth when he belched, nor did they go on dates anymore. It was as if they'd gone from young, dating couple straight to long-time married couple in less than a year. Kendra's father hadn't done those things in front of her mother even after thirty years of marriage. Perhaps Pete believed once a couple was together for a certain length of time that common courtesies weren't necessary. Whatever his reasoning was for not being more polite, she didn't care. She just wanted him to meet her halfway: if he squeezed the tube of toothpaste in the middle and didn't want to roll it up from the end, then he could at least put the cap back on the tube when he finished brushing his teeth.

She wasn't anal about it. But all of these little things added up to big things. If it were just the toilet seat, she could overlook that. Or if it were just the belching, she could even bare that. But it was all of those things and more.

This vacation was a last ditch effort to see if they had a future together. It wasn't beginning very well. She hadn't chosen to go camping, that had been all Pete's idea. If they'd gone where she wanted to go, they'd be on the beach with pina coladas in their hands. But Pete insisted on camping. It was inexpensive. It was something he loved doing and wanted to share with her. Kendra gave in because in all honesty, it was easier than arguing.

Once packed, they loaded their things into the backseat of Pete's four-wheel drive truck and headed for Watoga State Park. From Charleston, they drove south along highways until changing direction and taking two-lane roads east through the mountains.

The ride had been uneventful, with a few pit stops for food and bathroom breaks. He played Led Zeppelin and drummed on the steering. Kendra stared out the window watching rolling hills, jewel-toned leaves, and the occasional gas station drift by.

As they neared the park entrance, clouds encroached on the blue sky turning the bright, cheerful afternoon gray and foreboding.

"We need to check-in at the park office," he said, pulling into a parking space in front of a large, one-story log cabin. A restaurant occupied the right half of the building, and on its left, taking up much less space, was the office.

The screen door creaked open and then slapped shut as Pete walked inside. As she sat in the truck, she heard muffled voices coming from the office. Sounds carried far; the forest amplified even the softest noises.

"Thank you," Pete hollered and waved to the people inside. The door creaked open and banged shut behind him. He jogged down the stone steps, a smile on his face. This is when she remembered why she'd gone out with him: His muscular thighs flexed as he came down the last few stairs, calf muscles were defined and smooth above his hiking boots, both arms bent, swinging next to his narrow waist, and that dazzling All-American smile. He was a handsome man.

Opening the door, he scooted behind the wheel, gave Kendra a bright smile, and a peck on the cheek. She couldn't help but grin at his enthusiasm.

"Okay, babe, let's find our campsite."

Pete drove through the park, the thick tree canopy blocked out the sky intensifying the sensation of encroaching darkness. The roads looked wet. Branches, leaves, and twigs were scattered across the blacktop. Pete veered around some of them, but most of the time he drove over the debris.

"Here it is." He pulled into a spot on the grass, turned off the car, and twisted to face Kendra. With both hands, Pete held her face and kissed her gently at first, but then deepened the kiss. He tugged her towards him, placing one hand low on her back.

A car drove by and Kendra pulled away, looking around.

"Maybe we should set up the tent."

He let go of her and opened his door. His shorts tented a bit and Kendra blushed, resenting that she couldn't block out distractions to allow them to continue their passionate interlude. She hopped out of the truck and joined Pete near the tailgate intending to help him unload the gear.

Hoisting and grunting as he yanked the four-person, two-room tent out of the bed of the truck, he strained.

"Here let me help—"

"I got it," he responded gruffly.

She put her fists on her hips and stood back, watching him pull the gear across the truck bed and then letting it fall to the ground. His brow furrowed. That strong jaw pulsed and tensed, not because he struggled to get the stuff out of the truck but because he was frustrated with her.

She'd always been self-conscious of public displays of affection. If she thought someone could see them, Kendra preferred to err on the side of caution, rather than risk being seen kissing or making out. Pete, on the other hand, didn't care, said she was too worried about what other people thought. Unfortunately, she agreed with him. It's something she wanted to change about herself, but seemed unable to alter.

When she saw couples embrace or kiss in public, completely unaware of the world around them, she envied them. How romantic and wonderful it must be to lose yourself in the moment and block out the world around you, focusing only on this one person.

"Pete," she began, but he ignored her. "Pete!" He turned and stared at her, his lips thin and pressed firmly together. "Don't get mad at me. You know I wish I could, but I can't." He walked to the truck's door, opened it, and pulled out both backpacks.

He swung one on each shoulder and then faced her. "Look, just forget it. Let's get this tent set up before it pours." Pete walked deeper into the woods, dropping the packs several feet away from the fire pit, encircled by varying sizes of round stones. "Come on, give me a hand."

Putting up a tent should be the first test of any relationship. If a couple came out unscathed, intact, and still had some semblance of respect for each other after assembling a tent, not only would their bond strengthen but also they'd have a dry place to sleep.

When the first raindrop fell, their tent still lay on the ground, flat as a pancake. The poles were through the loops, but not staked to the ground, and they stood on opposite sides of the deflated mess, seething.

"I told you to hold onto the pole when I tried to put the stake in the ground, for God's sake! Every time you let go, the tent falls down. Now, it's raining and we have no tent." Pete swung around giving her his back and pacing between the fire pit and the tent.

"I'm sorry! I didn't know what you meant. Let's just try again so we can get out of the rain."

He returned, picked up a pole, with a stake in one hand and the pole in his other, as he said, "Now, pick up the pole, hold it, do not let go until I say to."

"You don't have to be so damn cranky," she mumbled, but did as he asked. The pole bent, wobbled, and pulled in her hand threatening to escape. Every time he tugged, the pole slipped in her hand because the rain made it nearly impossible to maintain a tight grasp.

"Hold it, Kendra!"

"I am!"

Finally, the damn pole hooked around the stake and the stake went into the ground. They repeated the steps with the other five stakes until the roof of the tent arced, keeping its shape. Pete ran and retrieved the backpacks, unzipping the tent, and then throwing them inside.

"Get in," he ordered Kendra, reminding her, "Take off those boots first."

"Don't be so bossy." She untied each boot and then stepped inside the tent, which had enough headroom for her to stand straight. Pete did the same and joined her.

Inside, and out of the rain, they stared at each other, chests heaving from exertion and anger. Rain pelted the fabric of the tent, sounding like a thousand fingers tapping on its roof. The air, frigid and damp, seemed to crackle with tension. Would this be another fight? She was tired of fighting.

Drops of rain slid down his forehead, over his cheeks, and chin. His sweatshirt was splotchy with dark patches of wetness. She watched his hands clench and relax as if he were trying to restrain himself. His gaze wandered from her face to her breasts, down to her stomach, and stopped at the juncture between her legs. She felt his gaze on her skin as if he had touched her wherever he looked. When he glanced up at her, she moved to him, wrapping her arms around his neck. The frustrations of the day and earlier sexual rejection poured from his lips into that kiss. This was not a gentle, caressing kiss, but a greedy and possessive one. She in turn, grabbed a hank of his short hair, barely able to hold on. In the next moment, he yanked off her shirt, running his hands over the cloth of her white bra. His mouth left hers, kissing her throat, collarbone, and then covering one breast with the moist heat of his mouth, before moving to the other one.

This is when they were at their best: when caresses took the place of words and they allowed their bodies to say what their lips could not. She wished they could converse as effortlessly.

He peeled one bra strap off her shoulder, kissing and nipping, following the strap's path down her arm. After both straps were off, he lifted her breasts from the lacy cups, and drew her against his sweatshirt, kissing her until her mind focused only on the sensations his hands and mouth created. The cool, thick cotton material, slightly damp against her bare chest brushed against her nipples. The world around them melted away. Wrapped in a heated realm, only the two of them existed and the arguments they'd had, the doubts she'd felt faded. He made her forget she wanted to leave, and she made him believe that everything would be all right—At least, while their bodies did the talking.

They spent the next hour searching one another for that perfect spot to elicit a sigh of appreciation or moan of pleasure, until neither of them seemed satisfied with the sensations only hands or fingers provided. She needed more and so did he.

As he ravaged her mouth, his hands unfastened her bra. The clasp came undone, and the white, lacy garment fell to the ground. Pausing a moment, he stepped back and admired her breasts. Pete lifted one corner of his mouth before kneeling to place hot kisses along her belly, stopping at the waist of her jeans to unbutton them. Her skin frizzled with excitement, every cell on high alert. Even the vibration the zipper made as he drew it down sent currents of desire straight to her core. Once he'd unzipped her pants and peeled them open, he swirled his tongue low on her belly, just above the top of her white panties. Her fingers dove into his hair, loving the silky feel of his mouth on her.

One tug and he had her jeans around her ankles and her panties followed. The cool air prickled her skin as goose bumps covered her body. She stepped out of her pants and underwear to stand nude before him. His dark brown eyes moved as he took in her form. She saw appreciation and desire in those eyes.

He pulled his sweatshirt over his head and then removed his shorts and socks. Boy, he was a sight to see. Unmarred, tanned skin stretched over a tall, strong frame. Wide shoulders covered with rounded, cut muscles, flanked a hard chest that was topped sparsely with dark hair. Below his chest, was a taut and flat washboard stomach. He worked hard to keep those muscles defined, and right now, she was most thankful for his effort.

Pete held out his hand, and she took it. On the floor of the tent, he lay down and guided her next to him. Rolling to his side, he lifted himself over her, and looked down, seeming to ask for permission. She gave him a shy smile and then he joined his body with hers; a sigh of contentment escaped her lips. He was a wonderful lover, attentive, patient, and thorough. In that department, she could never fault him. Always, he knew what she liked, and he never forgot her needs. It baffled her that between the sheets, they worked well together, but the moment they left the bedroom and began speaking, they were awkward.

Pete leaned on his forearms, lifting his chest and head up enough to watch her. Every now and then, he bent to kiss her. After a few more kisses, his hands cradled the top of her head, anchoring her in place. He smiled down at her, but it failed to brighten his eyes. If she weren't mistaken, his expression looked forlorn.

But then he moved in her and the melancholy moment ended. It was all beautiful: the feeling, his face, his strokes, and their union. There was something new in his touch, a certain appreciation, or reverence.

As he continued gliding in and out of her, perspiration dotted his forehead. He was locked in concentration. Kendra saw it in his unblinking stare, felt it in the rhythmic motions of his body. Pete guided them where they both longed to be. The faster he drove the closer they came to that sweet cliff of ecstasy. Until, finally, he stiffened above her, arching his back, pressing his body against hers sending them over that edge. And she fell; sweetly, she reached the pinnacle he'd worked so hard to bring her to. Her body gripping him firmly inside her, contracted around him, as his body exploded in hers. Pete grunted and collapsed, but held himself off of her to keep his full weight from crushing her.

He separated from Kendra and rolled onto his back, resting one arm on his stomach, the other on his forehead. Without a word, he sat up, stood, and then dressed. She lay there nude while tremors still ran through her system, and watched him, wondering what was going through his mind. Normally, he snuggled with her before falling asleep or leaving the bed. This puzzled her; his abrupt departure made her feel lonely.

Fully clothed, he unzipped the tent and without looking back, stepped out into the rain. The truck door opened, closed, and the engine started. For a moment, she thought he might leave her, but when the truck didn't move, she sighed, relieved

Inside the tent, she dressed, considering what could have upset him. He'd seemed fine while they had sex, great even. Before that, they had both been ready to kill each other, though. She debated whether she should ask him what was wrong. Deciding he might need time alone, she sat down.

While she waited for him to return, Kendra pulled out their sleeping bags, and pillows. She found a flashlight in her backpack and turned it on. On the tent's ceiling, there were Velcro tabs that she wrapped around the light so that it hung from above casting a beam of light downward. Minutes and then hours passed and still Pete had not returned. She played solitaire on the floor of the tent, read a few chapters from a paperback she'd brought. Kendra set the book down.

Worried, she unzipped the tent, and dashed outside with her head down, running to the truck, opening the passenger door, and sitting down.

His forehead lay on the steering wheel, forearms resting on either side of his head. When she closed the door, he turned to look at her.

She touched his shoulder. "What's wrong?"

He straightened his head and stared through the steering wheel at his feet.

"Us."

Kendra stiffened. "Us?" This was unexpected. Confused, she rubbed her forehead. "What do you mean, us?"

"I mean," he sat up, turned his body so he faced her, "you don't love me anymore."

She pulled back as if he'd hit her.

"What are you talking about?" She hadn't even come to that conclusion, yet. How could he make such an assumption?

His mouth turned down, eyes closed and then opened to look at her. "You don't, you just haven't admitted it to yourself yet."

"Pete, look, I haven't written us off. Why are you?" She cupped his cheek and rubbed his beard stubble. He turned his face into her hand and kissed her palm.

"Then, tell me you love me." He glanced at her; brown eyes surrounded by red threads and looked away. Her hand fell to her lap.

"Pete…this is ridiculous. Of course, I do."

"No," his head shook, "tell me. Say the words."

She stared at him, with her lips parted, tears building near the rims of her eyes as she realized she couldn't say it. The pain that gripped her heart felt as if it had destroyed the organ leaving behind a hardened shell. Why did this hurt so much?

"Pete…"

He blinked and one tear slipped out. Jerking his head away, he watched the rain out the driver's window. "It's all right. I think I've known for a while now."

"What have I done to make it so obvious?" Had she been a bitch to him? She didn't think so. Maybe she'd been cold and distant. That was possible.

"You don't look at me the same way you used to." His head turned watch her. "I saw it for sure in your eyes tonight. You looked through me. But that wasn't my only clue. You don't initiate sex; you used to just six months ago. Besides, we're different. I knew that from the moment we started dating." He smiled wistfully. "I'm being a bit of a coward, I suppose. Let's say, I don't want to be dumped, and I knew it was coming."

My God, he was more insightful than she'd thought. All the times she'd believed he wasn't paying attention, he had been. But they were different. They wanted different things, appreciated different lifestyles.

With tears running over her cheeks, she bent forward, and kissed him. He let her.

"I'm sorry, Pete." He shrugged. "So, what do we do now?"

They sat in silence for a few seconds, mulling over what to do.

Finally, Kendra offered, "You could drive me to a place that rents cars and then finish your vacation. You love camping and maybe it'd give you some quiet time to think."

"Sure. Whatever you want."

"In the morning though, I don't think we'd find anything open near the park at this hour." She wiped the tears from her face with her fingertips.

"Sure. You go on back to the tent. I'll be there in a bit." He reclined the seat and rubbed his face.

Her legs felt as if they had cannon balls tied to them as she slid out of the truck. She wanted to get into her sleeping bag and sleep until morning. She'd worry about getting home tomorrow.