He should be worried as hell about getting home, but he knew why he’d landed next to this lake, in this idyllic and peaceful place.
When he’d fallen through that portal, all the grief he’d felt over the years had gathered inside him, and he’d gone to the one dream that had always given him a measure of hope. Finding his true love. A faceless person, but still real. At least in his mind.
And apparently she was real and…his true love. He hoped.
He grimaced inwardly. Hell…traitorous, torturous hope whipped inside him, making it hard to concentrate on what was most important—getting home. He took a deep breath and forced himself to mentally go forward calmly and slowly.
“So…” She fidgeted with the ends of her shirt and bounced on her toes for a moment. “What was that thing?”
“The thing you feel through. Some kind of machine?”
He furrowed his brow. “No. That was a portal.”
“A portal?” A look of confusion crossed over her face. “You mean like to another dimension?”
Dimension? He scratched his temple. “Um, no. To another realm, or…” he cleared his throat, “well, it takes you to wherever you’re thinking of.” In his case, it had taken him to whoever he was thinking of. Better not tell her that, though. Especially since she hasn’t come any closer.
She pushed her hands into her pockets. “You thought of Pelican Lake?”
“Uh…” Hell, what did he say? “Well, not really.” He let out a puff of air, not wanting to lie to her, but he couldn’t tell her he’d thought of his possible true love. If she’d told the truth earlier and really wasn’t afraid of him, revealing why he’d landed where he’d landed would certainly frighten her. “Just, um, well, I thought of a place that would make me happy.”
She nodded slowly, as if trying to understand. “Did you mean to go through a portal?”
“No. We were sailing, heading to Arendale to pick up a shipment, and we came upon the portal swirling in the middle of the ocean. The wind caught me, knocked me off the ship and pushed me through.”
Shock crossed her face. “Oh, my gosh. You mean, you’re here by mistake?”
He hooked his thumbs around his belt. “Unfortunately, yes.”
“Why aren’t you freaking out? I would be.” She gazed at him with surprise and disbelief.
He shrugged, not ready to admit what he thought her role might be. Instead, he said, “No reason to get upset. Just take it one step at a time.” He glanced around him. “This is Pelican Lake?”
With hesitant steps she came toward him, still looking at him like she tried to puzzle out his demeanor.
He held his breath, not wanting to alarm her. His heart kicked hard against his ribs, like the time he was bucked off the horse on their farm. Before his mother had died. A pang of grief hit him in the stomach, and he let out a slow exhale.
When she drew up beside him, leaving three feet of space between them, he turned and faced the water with her. They were silent, and he allowed the beauty of the scene to move through him.
He could feel her. Her warmth. Her kindness. Her innocence. While she might be on her own, and perhaps knew abandonment as he did, he sensed her hope for good things. For happiness. He closed his eyes and basked in her presence as much as the nature surrounding him.
“When I saw this place,” she said softly, “I felt happy.”
He opened his eyes.
“That’s not normal for me.”
He held himself rigid, working to keep from reaching out to her. “Me, either.” His hoarse revelation caused her to turn to him. He could feel her gaze on him, and he locked eyes with her. And fell. Hard. Harder than when he’d first seen her.
His throat went dry, and he wanted nothing more than to stroke her cheek, pull her closer, cover her mouth with his. If he did, he knew he would be as close to home as ever. He gritted his teeth.
Color flooded her cheeks and she lowered her lashes.
He had to be careful. He didn’t want to scare her. But…
“Do you need to get home fast?” she rasped. She peeked up at him.
No. Yes. Bloody hell. He focused back on the water. “I have a brother, and he’s probably worried about me. Probably already searching for a way to open another portal.”
“Then we have to get you back to him.”
At her use of the word “we”, he smiled. “You’re really going to help me? A sailor you barely know?” He glanced at her from the corners of his eyes.
She blushed again and ducked her head. “Well, I can’t leave someone from the past trying to learn how to get around in the future, now can I?”
She sure didn’t have to muddle her way through the mess he was in, but he was relieved she wanted to. “I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”
“Well, it wouldn’t be right.” She lifted her chin in a show of adorable stubbornness. “Why don’t I show you the cabin, and then you can tell me all about portals and what makes them.”
When she turned on a heel, he took a deep breath then followed her. He had no idea what was ahead of him, but he hoped like hell it involved a friendship with her. Maybe she would like him. Maybe he could…
Bloody hell…what was he hoping for? He shoved a frustrated hand through his hair. He had to focus on getting home. Because even if she did end up liking him, he had his brother to think of. He had to get back to Liam.