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The pirogue’s tiny motor pushed them deeper into the marsh bypassing masses of water lilies hugging the perimeter. So far, their search for oil proved fruitless. And that was a good thing because hoop nets dotted the outer area. Those results met with Sharlene’s approval. Drake’s fascination with the swamp was exhibited in the way his camera whirred at the press of the button.
Sharlene left a flag at every turn.
“Almost like Hansel and Gretel.”
He had recovered, she realized by his teasing tone. “It’s picturesque, Drake. But don’t let the idyllic setting lure you to carelessness. The denseness of this swamp can swallow a body whole.” Drake swung and snapped numerous times, capturing her against the natural backdrop.
They traveled the narrow ways, sometimes losing sight of the sun through the overhanging and binding branches. It reappeared lower on the horizon, indicating the length of time spent on what turned out to be a wild goose chase. Sharlene decided to pack it in and maneuvered the craft around the next bend. One last search place came to mind.
“I’m glad this was a waste of your time,” he said.
“Not a complete waste. Allowed me to concentrate on something other than my pitiful problems.” Honesty was her strong suit. Saying something personal like that to a complete stranger was uncharacteristic.
Sitting backward on his seat to face her, Drake’s stare held open curiosity. This event brought to mind the last time he felt so emotionally connected. He faced the heart-wrenching rawness rather than withdrawing psychologically as he’d always done in the past.
Drake took aim with the camera, zooming in for the perfect shot. Sharlene never altered her expression. What she offered right then was a look into her inner soul. That was a look the camera didn’t do justice.
A spirit-connecting shiver rocked him.
Sharlene devoted all of her energies to keeping her mind on the delicate operation and off the feelings of infatuation warring inside of her. Her sensitivity heightened. The stagnant water smell in places absent of sunlight drifted passed her nose. Feathery wisps of wind touched her skin. Every stimulus around her sharpened.
The sight of dark, gooey slickness clinging to Cypress knees put her back in a serious frame of mind. The shutter snaps ceased when Drake read her current expression. Swinging forward, he immediately began logging the unfortunate sight. “Damn!”
“What’s next?” Sharlene asked.
She brought them safely through the alternate route, noting the heavy coverage of oil ended where the passage forked. They were chugging along on the return route when the three-propeller trolling motor clogged in debris. Sharlene saw an unwelcomed sight when she looked up ahead. “Oh, no!”
He whipped her way.
He looked away. “Yeah. So?”
The motor resisted her efforts at clearing the strangling vines from its blades. “We’re stuck.”
“No, we’re not.” Drake sounded confident. “We have the pole.”
She exclaimed with a smile, “The pole!” Wrangling it from under the seat with a little too much enthusiasm courted disaster. The end hit the under-seat, Sharlene lost her grip, and the life-saving stick slipped into the murky water. “No-o-o!” she cried, peering over the side.
“Well,” he said to reduce her ire, “I can clear a path by hand.”
“Are you out of your mind?”
“You have a better idea?”
“Hopefully, there are other fools out today besides us.”
“Have you seen anyone else all day?”
He had a point. “No.”
“Then we don’t have a choice.”
Sharlene noticed a defiant look in his black eyes. She gave a stern warning with a hand on his shoulder. “This place is called Alligator Bayou.” She ordered him to reconsider. “We wait, Drake. There’s no other choice.”
* * * *
Drake gulped because a log in the lilies submerged right on cue. “I’m sorry, Sharlene. To have gotten you in this mess.”
“Like you twisted my arm.”
“I should have resisted.” I was too tempted by just being in your company.
“Uncle Moot’ll find us.”
Looking at the marshy jungle inspired little hope in him. “How can he?” She had the gall to laugh a throaty vibration that closed her eyes in enjoyment. She was the only one basking in the moment. Nevertheless, he soaked up all the charm she exuded, even in those uncertain moments.
“He knows these swamps like every line in his face.” When he seemed doubtful, she added, “Plus the breadcrumbs will help.”
His skeptical look caused another laugh to puncture the deathly quiet, scattering the birds from the trees. Drake followed their flight, a smile of his own slipping across his face. “You do that so easily.”
“Hmmm. Sometimes that’s all you have left.”
They lapsed into silence. Drake fiddled with his camera for lack of anything better to do.
“Can I see?” Sharlene broke the silence, rocking the boat as she shifted to get closer.
“Sure.” He handed her the camera after toggling the dial to slideshow.
“You have a good eye. The pictures of the swamp are magnificent,” she complimented. Her thumb continued to hit the back button until one of her popped up. “I hate taking pictures. But I guess this one’ll do.” She turned the screen to him.
“I’ll say.” Taking the camera back, he scrolled to another. “Now, this one deserves a frame.”
She hesitated when he handed it for her to see. Sharlene made a face. “Ummm.”
“You know you like it,” he teased. She rewarded him with her fabulous grin. “Told you.”