Last Light
Author:M. Pierce

Brilliant. I’d have a cult following.

 

I couldn’t find any John le Carré, so I grabbed the latest Jack Reacher novel.

 

I paid for the hair dye, pastries, book, and a pack of beef jerky with cash. I carried no ID and no cards of any kind. Driving was out of the question.

 

I hiked out of town by the shortest route. I avoided the roads and popular trails, instead retracing my path through the woods. It was four in the afternoon.

 

The air chilled as evening approached and shadows fell long through the forest.

 

“Stupid,” I muttered, hiking faster. It was stupid to go out so late. Soon it would be dark; night comes early in the mountains.

 

But if I survived my own fake death, I could survive anything.

 

I guzzled half a bottle of water as I hiked. I checked my watch: 4:30, 6:30 on the East Coast. The memorial would be over by now. Even if Hannah stayed for the collation, which I hoped she didn’t, she should be back at her motel. Why didn’t she call?

 

I paused to check my phone. Nothing.

 

“Whatever.” My breath steamed in the air. No big deal. Hannah could hold her own on the East Coast, and I would see her soon. I would see her in just a few days.

 

It was February 8, 2014, and I hadn’t seen Hannah since the day I staged my death, December 14 of last year.

 

I’d spent exactly fifty-six days without Hannah. Fifty-six days without her smile. Fifty-six days without her body. But who was counting?

 

My breath grew ragged as I trekked up a snowy incline.

 

Whenever I missed Hannah like that, I remembered the last time. The last time we lost our minds together.

 

It was Friday night—Friday the 13th—the night before the day we drove out to Longs Peak. Hannah would see me off at Glacier Gorge Trailhead. Then she would drive to Kevin’s cabin, turn on the cellar freezer, and drop off my food and supplies. We already had a key to the cabin courtesy of Kevin, for an innocent “weekend getaway.”

 

My Jeep would remain at the trailhead lot.

 

Hannah would return to Denver and stay away until the search cooled.

 

We went over and over the plan until there were no holes, no questions.

 

We were mentally exhausted, but neither of us could sleep.

 

“We should turn in early,” I said. “Big day tomorrow.”

 

“Are you having second thoughts?” Hannah came to sit on the edge of the bed with me. I pressed a hand to her thigh and she smiled feebly.

 

“No,” I said. “Are you?”

 

“No. I’ll miss you, but…” She watched my hand. Her eyes glistened in the dark and her milky skin was lambent. “This is about your writing, and I know I come second to that.”

 

“Hannah—”

 

“No, listen. I’m okay with that, Matt. I don’t…” She traced her fingers over my knuckles and pursed her lips as she thought.

 

Reflexively, my fingers stirred against her thigh. We should turn in early. Yeah … right. Hannah was wearing a tiny turquoise nightie and I was in nothing but lounge pants. And after almost two months of living with Hannah, I still felt crazy when I looked at her.

 

“I don’t want to be the sun in your sky,” she continued. “Do you get what I mean? I’m happy being the moon. I’m happy coming second to your writing. I don’t want to be your whole life. And if this—” She kissed my shoulder. The imprint of her lips burned on my skin. “If this crazy thing we’re going to do is what it takes to protect your first love, then I’m game. We’re in this together, Matt. You can count on me.”

 

“Hannah.” I spoke her name slowly. I dragged my fingers up her inner thigh. “You’re stronger than I am. Do you know that?”

 

She shivered. “We’re different…”

 

“Night and day,” I murmured. The air between us was charged. A few touches, a kiss—that was all it took.

 

My fingers reached the top of her thighs and brushed bare skin. No panties.

 

“Hannah,” I growled.

 

I wanted that pleasure to go on forever. Never to say good-bye to it. That heat, her nails digging into my ass, the frantic union of our bodies.

 

She drove me mad. She knew how to do it. One look from those dark eyes, her soft face framed by a spill of curls. I was powerless.

 

When we were spent, I sank against her.

 

I curled her hair around my hand and kissed her ear. “Think … of me,” I said, gulping in air between words, “when you do it … alone. Me. My body. This.”

 

“I will. I will. I love you, Matt.”

 

I lifted myself enough to gaze down at her. I stripped off her nightie so that we could be naked together, and I pulled the covers over us. In a moment like that, it would have been easy to say Hannah was my sun—my whole life. But that was a feeling, and I know a feeling from a truth. The truth was that I loved Hannah, but I loved my writing more, and what I would do the following morning was the surest testament to that fact.

 

Faking my death. Separating us for months. Reclaiming my anonymity while Hannah played out our lie and bore the guilt alone.