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Adventure Lover: Take Me, Lover, Book 3, page 1

 

Adventure Lover: Take Me, Lover, Book 3
 


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Adventure Lover: Take Me, Lover, Book 3


  To survive, she’ll have to keep up with him all day. And all night…

  Take Me, Lover, Book 3

  Jill Martin loves adventure—as long as it comes between the covers of a book. Preferably one sporting a bare-chested hero. But to reinvent her faltering travel agency, she needs to start with reinventing herself. Her assignment: a three-day backpacking trip through the Olympic High Divide.

  Soon she’s forced to cope with bears, blisters, and a basic instinct to get horizontal with her vertical guide. He’s as hard as the ground they sleep on and his heart’s as icy as the glaciers that surround them. Not a problem, since she’s only interested in his body.

  Ryan Lowe knows how to read terrain, and Jill’s is easy. Soft lips, soft eyes, soft curves, soft muscles. She won’t last a day. Plus, if she knew what his imagination was doing with her body right now, she’d turn tail and run. Yet the city girl surprises him with her sheer grit—and sassy tongue.

  When they run into geocachers using the remote location as a drug drop-off, there’s only one way to escape—plunge headlong into the untracked wilderness. As she puts her life in Ryan’s hands, Jill wonders if she’s in danger of losing something more precious. Her heart.

  Warning: All the romance and twice the heat! Contains graphic non-vanilla sex, the great outdoors, bears, bad guys, and binding commitment. May cause hot flashes if read in unventilated room.

  eBooks are not transferable.

  They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this work.

  This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

  Samhain Publishing, Ltd.

  577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520

  Macon GA 31201

  Adventure Lover

  Copyright © 2010 by Charlene Teglia

  ISBN: 978-1-60504-899-4

  Edited by Laurie M. Rauch

  Cover by Angela Waters

  All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

  First Samhain Publishing, Ltd. electronic publication: February 2010

  www.samhainpublishing.com

  Adventure Lover

  Charlene Teglia

  Dedication

  For my hero, for hiking all over the Olympic wilderness with me.

  Chapter One

  “Eighteen miles,” Jill muttered, reading over her information packet one more time. She settled deeper into the rental car’s cushy leather bucket seat, took another sip of the latte she’d bought at a drive-through espresso stand in Port Angeles, and decided she’d better savor every last drop. Her next decent cup of coffee was three days and eighteen miles away.

  Olympic National Park’s High Divide loop was a mere eighteen miles plus change, according to the printout she held. She walked on her treadmill every night after work while she watched Tivoed episodes of Dancing With The Stars. She could handle that distance.

  The route called for her to climb the trail past Sol Duc Falls, up to Seven Lakes Basin, where she’d explore the series of subalpine lakes that gave the place its name. She’d loop around with her guide and return to the parking lot here at the Sol Duc hot springs. Then she’d have a night in a nice, warm, comfortable rental cabin and as many hours to soak in the hot springs as she could stand before she turned into a raisin.

  The resort at the hot springs had a restaurant too. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open until dinnertime. Jill eyed it through her windshield and sighed. She’d been counting on a last meal before she was condemned to spend the coming days and nights in the wilderness, subsisting on granola bars and instant soup mix.

  She looked over the map of the area one last time, then folded it up along with the rest of her information on the backcountry backpacking portion of her travel agency’s new vacation offerings.

  Jill found it hard to believe that enough women would give up their creature comforts in favor of roughing it survival-style to make the new business direction profitable, but numbers didn’t lie. Luxury vacation packages were down. Way, way down. If she wanted to stay in business, she needed to drastically reinvent her offerings. The rapidly growing—and profitable—niche market for adventure travel represented a new trend. But in order to capitalize on it, she needed firsthand experience.

  Which was why she was here, in a remote part of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, waiting for her wilderness guide and putting off the moment when she’d have to leave the car and the last contact with civilization it represented.

  Reinventing the business meant reinventing herself and becoming a real-life adventure girl. With the tighter economy came more intense competition. If she wanted to stay in business, she had to become more of a risk-taker. Get out of her comfort zone. Well, she’d done that. It was hard to imagine a more uncomfortable three days than the ones she had planned.

  Statistics painted a clear picture. People who weren’t willing to change kept getting the same results. Her results would put her into bankruptcy and leave her job-hunting in a terrible economy if she didn’t start changing.

  She’d never be able to sell potential clients on the adventure vacation experience if she only knew what was in the brochure. Unfortunately, the only adventures she had any experience with came between the covers of a book. The kind that sported a bare-chested male model striking a heroic pose on the front cover.

  So after a lot of research and a shopping spree that put a huge dent in her clothing budget without satisfying her fashion cravings in the least, here she was.

  Jill glanced at her watch and squinted out the window at the afternoon sky. Maybe it was already too late in the day to get out on the trail and make camp for the night. Maybe she should locate her guide and suggest that they rent cabins for tonight and set out in the morning.

  A tap on her driver’s side window caught her attention. She turned to look in the direction of the sound and found herself staring at a face that would normally make her drool, if the expression plastered on it wasn’t so disapproving. The combination made her swallow hard. Since she was in the process of finishing her latte, it led to a coughing fit that took her a minute to recover from.

  She thought the man on the other side of the window rolled his eyes at her, but since her eyes were watering, it was hard to be sure. Jill blinked furiously and turned the key in the ignition in order to power the window down.

  “Jill Martin?” The tall, dark and, despite the scowl, handsome man asked the question in a tone that said he already knew the answer but hoped he was wrong.

  Damn. The scowling stranger must be the man she was waiting for. The man she’d be alone with for the next three days. The man she was depending on to return her to civilization, alive and unharmed. And already he didn’t like her.

  “Yes,” Jill said. Her voice came out a little watery from the coughing.

  “I’m Ryan Lowe. I’ll be your guide.” He glanced inside her car. “Where’s your gear?”

  Jill motioned towards the back of the car.

  “And you can carry a fully loaded backpack?” Ryan gave her a dubious look that made Jill straighten in her seat.

  “Yes.” She’d loaded her pack and put it on before stowing it in the car. Heavy, but the way the pack’s frame and straps distributed the weight across her chest and hips made it easy to carry once she had it on.

  He nodded, but
she was pretty sure his expression was calling her a liar.

  She could understand his reaction. She probably looked exactly like what she was. The kind of a woman who didn’t willingly venture this far from the nearest shopping mall without a damn good reason.

  Well, she had a good reason. Many good reasons, all of them financial and urgent. One disapproving wilderness guide wasn’t going to stop her from covering the miles that stood between her and her goal of returning to the starting point, having a soak in the pool at the hot springs, a good dinner, and a night of blissful sleep on a real mattress before going home to sing the praises of backpacking the High Divide.

  Still, she found herself reaching up to smooth her braided hair and checked the reflex. She wasn’t going to preen for this man, no matter how sexy his cleft chin was or how much his eyes resembled dark chocolate. It would be a wasted effort. Not only did he not like her, he was going to see her with bed head. He was going to see her on her third day in the wilderness without a shower.

  Jill blanched at the thought. If he didn’t like her now, when she was relatively neat and clean, she could only hope he wouldn’t abandon her before the end of their trip.

  “Are you going to get out of the car?” Ryan raised a dark brow and Jill smiled sweetly in retaliation.

  “No. I thought we’d drive. Aren’t you getting in?” She batted her eyelashes at him and wished they sported their usual coating of mascara. Bare, they just didn’t have the same effect. Too straight, too sandy. Too unnoticeable. But a backpacking trip meant paring down to essentials, so her makeup kit stayed home. She wasn’t going to carry one ounce more than she absolutely had to. And why did she care if her trail guide noticed her eyelashes, anyway?

  “Come on, then.” Ryan didn’t give any indication that he appreciated her humor. He straightened up, then stepped back so she could swing the door open without hitting him.

  Jill put the window back up, turned off the ignition, and got out of the car, fast, before she could surrender to the urge to turn the engine back on and drive away.

  Instead, she closed and locked the car door, opened up the back hatch and stood her pack upright. She sat on the edge of the car’s open rear and slid her arms through the pack straps. Then she stood and the pack went with her. She snapped the chest buckle closed, did the same with the one at her waist, and made minor adjustments to the fit.

  There. She was at least dressed for the part she had to play. Hiking boots and thick wool socks cushioned her feet. A pair of jeans selected for the tough fabric instead of a designer label came next. She wore a long-sleeved turtleneck T-shirt under a warm fleece outer layer. Then finally, the backpack, an accessory that said Adventure with a capital A.

  So everything was too new and she might have actually missed cutting off a store tag somewhere. She had everything Ryan’s faxed list had told her to bring, including the water, which weighed far more than she’d expected. He couldn’t say she wasn’t properly equipped.

  Ryan looked her over from head to toe. Under different circumstances, the thorough inspection might have made her toes curl. As it was, she felt like she was being weighed and measured and found wanting.

  When he stepped closer and reached out to tighten a strap, she did curl her toes inside her boots. The presence of a very attractive and healthy male in her personal space, who smelled like some kind of woodsy soap and had his hands near her breasts, probably would have been enough even without the shock of awareness. But while there was nothing unprofessional about his action, the contact sent a zing through her.

  Their eyes met, and for a moment, she saw something there. Hello.

  Then he stepped back and the moment was gone so quickly she might have imagined it, if it hadn’t left her warm and tingly.

  “Where’s your waterproof layer?”

  “In the pack.” A waterproof rain slicker with a brimmed hood and matching pants sat on top of the first compartment of her backpack. “I can get the waterproof stuff out and on fast if it starts to rain.”

  “When it starts to rain,” Ryan corrected. He stared at her for a minute then gave a grudging nod. “Okay, then. You got everything on the list?”

  “Yes.”

  “You didn’t skimp on the water or food? You followed my instructions exactly?”

  Jill tipped her head up to meet his eyes. His height topped hers by enough inches to make it an effort with him standing so close, and that irritated her almost as much as the implication that she was some sort of idiot. “Yes. Since I don’t want to die in the wilderness, I followed the instructions given by a survivalist expert exactly.”

  He gave her a long look. She stared back, acting on the feeling that this was a test and if she looked away first she’d be admitting some sort of failure. It was amazing how hard she found it to overcome the instinct to break away from that penetrating gaze, but finally it was Ryan who ended it.

  “I guess you’re ready.” He turned away and she saw that he was wearing his pack. It wasn’t new. It looked weathered and well-used. Like his boots.

  “As ready as I’ll ever be.” Jill cast one last, longing look at the lodge. Then she followed Ryan Lowe through the parking lot, wrinkling her nose at the pungent sulfur smell from the natural hot springs. They headed into the woods, where the summer greens blended with the yellows, reds and oranges of autumn as September turned the corner into fall.

  Despite the unhurried strides Ryan took, Jill had to work harder than she expected to keep up as she struggled to adjust to the unaccustomed weight of her pack and the uneven footing of the trail. She scowled at his too-attractive backside.

  No way I’m asking him to slow down for me.

  Too bad he didn’t like her. Her guide was seriously hot. They had definitely shared a moment there, even if it had only been due to chemistry and proximity. Jill was pretty sure a real-life adventure girl would jump on the opportunity to add some nocturnal excitement to this trip. That zing told her there’d be an impressive payoff for jumping Ryan, despite his disapproving scowls. Despite the fact that they had nothing in common and would never see each other again.

  Then again, she rationalized, eyeing his butt and the relaxed strength that showed in his movements, since he didn’t like her in particular, or maybe just tourists in general, she wouldn’t have to worry about breaking his heart and leaving him desolate when her trip ended and she went home.

  Maybe she would complete her transformation and become a complete adventurer at heart.

  She’d spent the last year too focused on the business to pay attention to her sex life. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been asked out on a date. When she went home, it would be back to the grind. In fact, dating opportunities would probably be even scarcer if the reinvention succeeded and business picked up. Now was the perfect opportunity. And there was that zing. Instead of fading away, the awareness seemed to bounce around inside her like a pinball, setting off bells and flashing lights.

  If she wanted to be a wild woman, she could do worse than to take a walk on the wild side with a man she’d never have to see again.

  She’s going to ask me to slow down any minute now. Ryan resisted the urge to look back over his shoulder at the city girl who’d been crazy enough to hire him to bring her through the backcountry.

  Jill Martin was soft. Soft pink lips. Soft gray eyes that looked like they were prone to daydreaming. Soft, silky caramel-colored hair she’d braided back in an attempt at practicality that was spoiled by the little wisps that escaped to curl around her neck and forehead. Soft white skin that was sure to chap from the wind and sun. Soft curves her sturdy outdoor clothing didn’t disguise. Soft muscles.

  Soft in all the right places, which he’d discovered without intending to. His fingers still thrummed from the fleeting touch of female flesh and the very male reaction he’d had to it. He’d let her go as quickly as if he’d touched a live coal. Unfortunately, the reflex to touching something hot was to grip and hold on. The urge to hold ont
o Jill was not one he welcomed.

  She was way out of her element. She wouldn’t last a day. Inexperienced hikers got overconfident and got into trouble very quickly in remote areas. Which was why he was leading her down Lover’s Lane and taking the long route to Sol Duc Falls instead of driving to the upper trailhead, which would get them to the falls with less than a mile’s walk over an easy, well-maintained trail.

  He didn’t want her to start out with a false sense of confidence. He wanted her ready to quit before it was too late. Once they reached the subalpine meadow that was their destination for the night, they’d be committed and unable to turn back until morning.

  After almost six miles of rocky, rough terrain, she’d be weeping at the thought of climbing any further when they finally reached the falls. She’d beg him to turn around and bring her back to the resort. He would, of course, be willing to oblige.

  He might even share a cabin with her before he sent her back to her city life.

  The idea of gaining welcome relief from the sexual tension that rode him after that brief touch had far too much appeal, which told him just how strongly she’d affected him. He shouldn’t be thinking of opportunities to indulge himself with a client, especially not one so obviously wrong for him. If it had been too long for him, he needed to take himself in hand before he did something he’d regret.

  Ryan stretched and rotated his shoulders under the weight of his pack. His guide business took him into all kinds of terrain, from the mountains to the Pacific beaches, through alpine meadows and deep rain forest. Whatever outdoor experience a tourist wanted, Olympic National Park offered it and Ryan could lead the way. For a price.

  He wondered what had possessed an obviously inexperienced hiker to choose such an extreme introduction to the sport. He could do the entire High Divide loop in a single day, if he did it when the extended northern daylight was at the maximum, he started early enough, moved fast, didn’t hit snow, and didn’t stumble in the deep twilight coming back down.

 
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