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Throw Me A Lifeline

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Chapter 1

If you asked her later on, Christen wouldn't even know where to start to explain how she ended up stranded in a rental car that was stuck off-road in a snow bank right in the middle of nowhere in the most terrible blizzard the Californian native had ever seen.

To make things worse, her phone didn't have any signal. She'd been stuck for over 45 minutes now, keeping the heating low to save gas, even though her fingers already ached from the cold and still the journalist couldn't think of a way to put herself out of her misery. The nearest town had to be several kilometers away, but even if it wasn't, she could barely see three meters ahead in this snow storm and it was already getting dark.

Suddenly, a light flashed through the thick fog and snowflakes that twirled around outside.
Finally! A car was driving down the street! Christen honked a few times to make sure the car spotted her.

The car stopped on the side of the road. It was a huge orange pick up truck.

"Now, please don't be an axe murderer," Christen prayed as a person hopped out of the truck, turning on a flashlight.

They wore a thick winter coat, hood pulled down into their face so Christen couldn't see the stranger's face.

"Anyone hurt?!" It was a woman's voice.

"N-no, I'm okay," Christen answered with clattering teeth as she opened the driver's door. It wasn't easy, the snow was already so high that it took some effort to force it open.

"Are you insane, lady?!" the gruffy voice asked as the woman walked towards her through the dark, the bright flashlight blinding Christen's eyes as she took in the scene in front of her. "You can't drive in a blizzard like this without snow chains!"

"I wasn't even supposed to be here. My flight got cancelled so I got a rental. I didn't think it would snow this much in such a short time," Christen explained.

The stranger shook her head. "You didn't think, period."

Charming.
Christen would've loved to argue about this but the snow seemed to get only stronger and this woman the only chance to get away.

"Can you help me? Pull the car out?" she asked hopeful. "My phone doesn't have service or I would've called a tow service."

The other woman laughed disbelievingly. "Where the heck are you even coming from? This is a blizzard, Ma'am. No one has service out here right now. I can't get your car out tonight. It's too dangerous in the darkness. You'll have to wait till morning."

Christen's face fell. What now? The stranger walked towards her truck but stopped about halfway, turning back to look at Christen.

"You coming?"

This woman was certainly not a fan of many words, that much was obvious. Relieved, Christen walked around her car and opened the trunk to grab her large carry on suitcase. She lifted it out, almost tumbling to the ground as she lost her balance and slipped with her sneakers in the snow, but a strong hand on her back steadied her before she could fall.

"Careful," the woman warned in her deep voice. She let go of Christen, her gaze wandering down to the journalist's soaking wet sneakers. Raising her brows, she wordlessly took the suitcase and went back to her truck.

Slowly, to ensure she wouldn't slip again, Christen locked the car and joined the other woman in the truck. She had definitely turned up the heating, Christen gratefully noted as she closed the door.

"I live just a short drive away from here," her rescuer told her as she drove cautiously down the snowy road. How she was even able to see where the road was, was beyond Christen.

"Thank you for your help," the journalist said politely. "You're a lifesaver."

"No big deal," the woman shrugged, eyes trained on the road. "You're lucky I was out checking on the barn."

Barn?

"Anyways, I can't thank you enough for this! I'm Christen, by the way," she tried to start a conversation again and introduced herself.

"Tobin," her rescuer offered with a curt nod.

Tobin. The name sounded somehow familiar, as if she should probably remember her but Christen couldn't pinpoint it.

Around ten minutes later they arrived at a large farmhouse. Without saying a word, Tobin hopped out of the truck and carried Christen's suitcase towards the main building. She did it with so much ease that it was obvious that Tobin had to be very fit.

Tobin unlocked the door and stepped aside to let Christen into the house. As the journalist hesitated for a second, the other woman rolled her eyes.
"Come inside, I won't bite."

She unzipped her winter jacket and shrugged it off, not paying much attention to her guest.

As Tobin took off her long sleeve, her t-shirt rode up too, giving Christen a perfect view of the woman's rock hard abs, leaving no doubt about the woman's fitness. No wonder she was able to lift the heavy suitcase so effortlessly.

"What?" Tobin asked and Christen realized too late that she'd been staring.

"Nothing, just lost in thoughts, sorry." A blush creeped up her neck. She didn't want Tobin to feel like she was ogling her. Although the brunette was rude, she had still opened her home to a complete stranger, something Christen herself wouldn't have been comfortable with.

A pair of slippers landed in front of her feet. "Your wet shoes would ruin the carpet. Put them on the drying rack over there." Tobin gestured towards a huge metal rack on the opposite wall.

A scratching sound and a loud woof came from the other side of the door at the end of the room, startling Christen. Tobin smiled. The first real smile ever since she'd rescued Christen lighting up the room as she walked over to the door. Wow.

"Hope you don't mind dogs?" she questioned, hand already on the door handle.

Christen smiled tiredly. "I absolutely love dogs."

Nodding, Tobin pulled the door open. An excited border collie ran into the room, wagging its tail rapidly. The other woman bent down to scratch the dog lovingly behind the ears and grinned, showing off her perfect white teeth.

It was as if suddenly a different person was in the room. She looked so much softer, almost approachable and so much younger. Tobin had to be around her age.

"Have you been a good girl, Nike?" Tobin cooed as the dog licked her cheek.

"Nike?" Christen repeated with a chuckle, drawing the attention to her. Interesting name choice.

The boarder collie slowly moved over to Christen. Her tense, watchful posture mirroring her owner's. Calmly, the journalist stretched out her hand to let Nike sniff, to show her that she wasn't an intruder.You kind of are.

The dog's ears twitched but she inched closer to her, nudging Christen's hand softly to encourage her to pet her head.

"Yeah, Nike. Anything wrong with the name?" It sounded defensively. Shit.

Still petting the dog dutifully, Christen shook her head.
"It's just an unusual name, that's all. Naming a dog after a sports brand."

Tobin stared at her, arms crossed in front of her body. "Nike's the name of the Greek goddess of victory."

Without another word, the woman left the room, pulling Christen's suitcase behind her. Nike yipped happily and followed her owner further into the house.

As Christen entered the living room, she had to blink a few times. This was so not what she had expected when she'd seen the old, worn out looking farmhouse. You're a journalist. You should know that things are seldom what they seem.

Shaking her head, she took in the room a while longer. The hardwood floor was a warm, rich brown, almost like Tobin's eyes and gave the modern interior a cozy atmosphere. There was absolutely no carpet in sight, not even a small rug. And no Tobin either? Where was she?

Christen followed the clicking noise of dog paws against wood into another hallway. A staircase led upstairs. Peeking into the other room, she caught a glimpse of what seemed to be an enormous kitchen. Tobin wasn't in it though, which only left upstairs as an option.

As she climbed up the stairs of this foreign house to find her host, she felt even more like an intruder. Maybe she should've waited in the living room until Tobin got back down. Maybe she's changing her clothes right now?

The door to the left stood open. Tobin was currently pulling out some bedding from a cupboard.

"Do you need help?" Christen asked, startling the brunette and the dog, who had been lazing around in a corner. Tobin cursed loudly, pressing her hand against her chest.

"Goddamnit, Christen!" she said after taking a deep, calming breath.

"I'm sorry."

This woman was certainly not used to having guests, that much was obvious and Christen was pretty sure that she lived alone in this house right in the middle of nowhere.

Tobin shrugged. "Need anything? Towels? Pyjamas?"

"Towels would be great. I should have everything else packed, though. Thank you," the journalist answered sincerely.

"No problem. I'll prepare some food downstairs, if you're hungry once you've unpacked," Tobin told her on her way out of the room. She gave Nike a nod and the dog trotted out of the room.

Unpack?!
Why would she want to unpack when she was leaving this place, hopefully first thing next morning?

"Oh... okay. Uh - do you-" before she could offer her help once more, Tobin had already closed the door behind herself. Sinking down on the bed, Christen took a moment to center herself.

About half an hour later, the journalist couldn't ignore the loud rumbling of her stomach anymore. She didn't stop for lunch anywhere on the way up here, since she hadn't wanted to get caught up in the snow storm. Look how well that turned out.

After freshening up a little, Christen climbed down the stairs. Whatever the other woman was cooking, smelled absolutely amazing. The journalist inhaled the scent, that drifted through the house, deeply.

Tobin whirled around in front of the stove skillfully, several pots and pans in front of her.
Careful, so she wouldn't startle her again, Christen knocked against the doorframe to announce her presence to Tobin.

"It smells heavenly," Christen stated as she entered the kitchen.

Tobin, who'd seemed to have been a bit in her own world, looked over her shoulder and gave a curt nod.
"Thanks."

The journalist itched to offer her help again but decided against it. Nike looked at her with curious eyes from below the kitchen table. Crouching down, Christen slowly held out her hand for her again. This time the dog came closer, leaning into the touch.

"Seems like at least I've won you over," Christen thought and smiled at the border collie, who had now started to lick her palm.

"Nike, stop that," Tobin scolded quietly and the dog obeyed immediately.

Christen shook her head. "It's okay, I don't mind."

"Dinner's ready," the brunette announced and gestured towards the table. "I didn't know what you liked."

Her mouth fell open as Tobin brought the food to the table. An assortment of different roasted veggies, chicken breast, mashed potatoes, rice and two different sauces.

"Wow, Tobin, that looks so good... you really didn't have to cook all that," Christen praised, her mouth watering at the sight.

The brunette said nothing as she sat down opposite of Christen and shoveled food onto her plate.

Following her example, Christen helped herself, too. The food tasted absolutely delicious! She had to refrain from complimenting Tobin again, sensing that the other woman wouldn't want to hear it. But gosh, she'd either been hungrier than she realized, or Tobin was really an amazing cook.

They finished dinner in silence, Nike still eying Christen curiously from her place below the table.

"Want me to help with the dishes?" the journalist offered, as Tobin got up, piling up the plates in the sink.

"No, I'm gonna do it."

Tobin looked tense as Christen remained seated while she did the dishes and she realized that the brunette didn't like being watched.

"Do you have a phone I could use? My cell doesn't have service here." Christen suddenly remembered that she should've called her sister hours ago. "I'd like to check in with my sister, let her know I'm not stuck somewhere in the snow."

"Sure. It's in the living room," Tobin answered dismissively, without turning away from the sink.

Nike followed her into the living room, jumping onto the comfy looking couch, not leaving Christen out of her sight.

"Don't worry, I'm not planning to rob this place," Christen assured her in a soft voice as she searched for the phone. There.

Tyler answered the call on the second ring, relieved to hear her voice.
"I've been so worried! Are you okay?" her sister asked before Christen could get out more than a greeting.

"Where are you? I've called the hotel when I didn't reach your phone, you've never arrived there!"

Where was she? That was actually a pretty good question. The snowstorm had been way too strong to make out any road signs on the way to Tobin's home.

"Calm down Tyler, I'm fine! I'm... uh- at a farm right now? The storm became too strong while I was driving up north," she explained hastily.

Her sister's voice boomed through the receiver of Tobin's old phone. "What?! You're at a random farm during a snow storm, staying there with complete strangers?!"

"Just one. A woman lives here with her dog. She helped me when I had some problems with my car." Tyler didn't have to know that she'd veered off the street.

"Be careful, Chris," her sister warned. "Send me your location? Just to be sure?"

Christen nodded, even if Tyler couldn't see her. "I'll ask her for internet access later. Talk to you tomorrow. Love you."

She ended the call and looked out of the window into the dark backyard. It was hard to imagine what it would feel like living out here all alone.

Nike nudged her leg softly from behind. Okay, maybe not all alone.

Christen turned around to see the still somewhat hesitant border collie wag its tail, a tennis ball in her muzzle.

Taking the ball from her, Christen gave it a soft kick. Nike sprinted after it, paws skidding over the floor in her haste to get the ball and bring it back to Christen.

After playing a few minutes with Nike, Tobin joined them in the living room, a dish towel thrown over her shoulder.

"Time for bed, Nike," she told the dog, who immediately let go of the ball and made her way out of the room and up the stairs.

Christen smiled at what seemed to be their daily routine. It was barely 9 pm.

"I'm gonna head to bed. Is there anything else you need?"

"Actually, there is. I need to get some work done. Do you have internet access?"
It felt weird to ask this question in the 21st century but with Tobin she wasn't sure what to expect.

The other woman nodded and grabbed a piece of paper from the couch table. She scribbled something on it and handed it over.

"Here. That's the wlan key. Good night, Christen."