Heartburn (Love By Design Book 3), page 1
A Love By Design Novel
To those who guard our forests from fire, litterbugs, and overzealous teenagers. Be safe, and thank you.
Excerpt from Tailwind
Books by M.C. Cerny
About the Author
Whittaker Jones could have funded the Interior Department’s conservation budget with his own pinup calendar.
The last thing this sexy forest ranger wanted was to go on a search and rescue mission for a stubborn college co-ed throwing a temper tantrum. He’s got a hot date manning his front porch like a grumpy old man in his rocker with a carton of take-out for dinner.
Amelia Rae Faust hates the outdoors, man buns, and lying, crush stealing roommates.
A hike in the woods turned into an existential vision quest for the girl without a plan. She wasn’t supposed to get lost, or have a one night stand with the surly forest ranger. His body heat is far too tempting and a night of survival becomes something more.
“Stupid, infuriating manwhore.” On a singular mission to escape further humiliation, I stomped through cracking dry leaves over soggy terrain. My running away was more like loping through foliage in a B rated movie with roots and rocks ready to trip me, and no serial killer in sight as of yet. I ducked a branch in my way and turned cursing as I went down inelegantly stumbling over a root.
“Damn it to hell!” I yelled into the void. Nothing responded while pain shot up my leg in a wave of spikes and twinges. Not even a bird chirped or a squirrel running by to eyeball my clumsy arrival.
I hated the woods.
Since transferring from a large city college during the midst of my junior year to New Paltz University, my life seemed to be one stinking pile of crap. It didn’t help being younger than my classmates having skipped a grade in high school. I left the city and superficiality to escape getting lost in the hustle, only to find myself lost in the woods.
Literally. Grunting through the pain to stand up, I fell back down. I bet they wrote musicals about train wrecks like this.
My foot sunk deep, slipping in the newly fallen foliage soaking my boot that was more fashionable than practical. Ewww. Cold enveloped my sock and foot squishing between my toes making this entire ordeal about a thousand times more miserable. I cursed myself for thinking that Ryder West was worth a moment’s consideration. I was an idiot to think that Mr. Playboy-Quarterback would be interested in me. Me. Even the purple tips of my poser gothic hair weren’t fooling anyone in my attempt to fit in. Why couldn’t I be more like my sister? Life was definitely easier for the older Faust sibling.
Perhaps my problem was not my ability to completely overthink everything, including, but not limited to the signals between upright bipedal mammals, but my lack of understanding the basic principles of attraction. Ryder West was one of those boys who seemed to be forever looking for his biological yin to his yang spreading that love like it was a mission to repopulate the world. Who would better fit in than a gorgeous bubbly blonde cheerleader sure to put aside her logical feminist principals the moment he asked her to jump. It was always that girl, the it girl who was nice to everyone, but could flip a switch to get what she wanted the moment the opportunity presented itself. It made me seethe at night because she simply had everything handed to her.
It was that girl whose arm would be forever linked with his answering back an octave higher and submissively bleating, how high, when asked to jump with him. Despite wanting to desperately fit in, I was pretty sure my genetic code missed the mark on that rejecting cave man behavioral responses.
Sure he was hot, and the star playing quarterback at New Paltz University. Of course every girl imaginable wanted to be with him. Even my biological DNA screamed in a begging pathetic voice, please have sex with me. I wanted to be with him. I mean, who wouldn’t? All those muscles and that gorgeous hair… shit, that guy had a full head of wild dirty blond locks that put most girls’ hair to shame.
With minimal effort, he could have been a walking advertisement for Pantene and the dirty little secret of every woman between the ages of eighteen and eighty under the sheets at night. All he lacked was the appropriate man bun and scruff to be the next hipster with a million followers on Instagroupie. I liked to think I was an equal opportunistic lover, but I clearly had a type that involved muscles and varsity jackets despite my feminist philosophical leanings. After this weekend, I planned on sticking to indoor events I had more control over. No more woods, bugs, rainstorms, and mud. This nature stuff could take a hike.
Feeling defeated, I knew Ryder West had zero interest in me, my purple tipped hair and my political views over organically traded coffee undercutting the indigenous people of Costa Rica. I was reduced to acting like a love sick puppy ready for the next rejection filled kick. For dramatic purposes I swung my foot in a sha-pow kick move that made me wobble on my legs and disturbed a minimum of leaf gunk from the forest floor.
“Amelia!” Dinah shouted echoing back my sentiments. I cringed. Her high-pitched voice rang against the dense forest, making a squirrel scurry in front of my path. Where had that squirrel been a hundred yards back when I fell?
I was lucky to draw the short straw in the housing lottery leaving Dinah as my roommate for the next foreseeable twelve months. I answered her advertisement to share an apartment off campus and now I was locked into a lease that filled me with remorse on a daily basis along with the dirty neon pink panties she left hanging off lampshades like glowing fire hazards. The panties should have been the first clue with the pom-poms filled with too much school spirit for my introvert self.
“Amelia!” Ryder yelled. Their voices called out for me, likely wondering if I had gone off the deep end. I didn’t care what their opinions were about me. I just wanted some time alone to sort out the jumble of feelings coursing through me after what I’d seen. I hadn’t meant to walk into Dinah kissing Ryder unexpectedly, swapping tongues like overly excited puppies, and I certainly didn’t mean to let jealously rule my head running off to avoid them.
The first world problem was that Dinah knew full well how I felt about Ryder. I invited her to tag along to be a buffer between his friends so that I could attempt to find some alone time with my crush. I figured her extra-curricular activities would make her a good conversational match for his football playing friends. Maybe that was my mistake thinking I could trust someone I shared a bathroom and refrigerator with on a daily basis. You think you know someone until they eat your last spoonful of cookie butter with no shame and steal your entire supply of super plus tampons. Bitch.
Puffing out an exhausted breath, I’d been stalking off in the woods for a good thirty minutes, letting my ire simmer down while their voices carried down the trail. Chills f
Rustling and giggling coming from behind me on the trail pushed me to keep going. Imaging their hands holding and fingers entwined made the pit in my stomach cramp with distaste. Rushing, I stepped off the marked path and down a hill to crouch behind a large boulder, hidden out of view. Dinah’s voice echoed, grating on my nerves with its cheery cadence and false concern. “Ryder, do you think Amelia came this way?” I envisioned her coyly twisting her locks and batting her fake eyelashes over her perfect cornflower blue eyes.
His response came immediately, but I couldn’t make out if he was concerned or irritated I might have interrupted their make out session. “Do you think she would have gone off the trail? Sundown is coming….”
I huffed from behind my hiding spot, angered and blowing back a bunch of my loose hair with aggravation. Dinah could play stupid to an Oscar worthy performance if it got her what she wanted. I hadn’t been invested in realizing this before, but her behavior was uncanny and carefully crafted. It affected something I wanted. I didn’t care if standing here in the woods was a childish exercise. If my getting lost cock-blocked them from humping like bunnies that was fine with me.
“I’m sure Amelia is a big girl. She’ll be back before Mateo and Conner have the fire going.” And by that time, I’m sure you’ll be hunkered down right where you want to be in Ryder’s sleeping bag, my evil crush stealing roommate. I was definitely going to look for a new apartment when I got back. If I wasn’t careful she’d switch majors just to copy my homework and philosophy essays. I wondered what Socrates would have said about Dinah’s lack of ethics. I was pretty sure drinking Hemlock ended with the Roman Empire.
“I don’t know, Dinah, these woods get cold at night. Was she wearing her jacket?” I didn’t hear Dinah’s reply to Ryder’s concerned questions because of the leaves rustling and the wind that bit through my flannel shirt right through my camisole and bra. It was yet to be determined if stalking off without my jacket was a stupid idea or penance for thinking that I would be the one hooking up with Ryder this weekend.
I thought I was cool picking out the purple and black flannel to match my black hiking boots and newly dyed purple ombre locks. Clearly, I missed the memo that camping was nothing more than getting drunk with mosquitoes.
Kicking a rock in frustration, I stubbed my toe, biting my lip hard to keep from shouting out the pain and giving my hiding spot away. Great, I probably busted a toenail while I was having my tantrum. A few more rustles and the trail above me sounded quiet again with the exception of birds chirping and what sounded like water gurgling to the right of me. I wondered if I could circle back to the cars and gracefully enter the camp looking self-assured, instead of the foolishly embarrassed mess I was now. I did have my pride. If there was a way to get lost, Murphy’s Law was probably shining down on me.
“I am the biggest idiot ever.” Slapping my forehead and cursing myself, I continued to walk off the path in the direction of the water taking me further away from the marked trail and down a hill. I could see power lines and the beginning of another trail on the ridgeline, but I had no idea how to get up there. Crisp air made me shiver with each step farther away.
I didn’t care where I was headed and hoped I taught both Ryder and Dinah a lesson, though I doubted either would care when they snuggled under the same lame patchouli smelling sleeping bag later tonight. As it stood, I was probably the only one losing sleep over this debacle.
A snapping branch off to the left forced me to stop, pulling up short in my walk. A large buck with the soft nubs of a youthful rack between his ears looked back at me, dark eyes and tawny fur. His nostrils snorted air from a good distance away assessing me with what I assumed was disdain for my human emotions.
“Don’t give me that look.” Stomping my foot and taunting the buck, I watched him run off and up a hill, leaving me alone in the woods again. Typical male, concerned only for himself, much like my current non-dating life at the moment. There was a high probability I brought this all on myself, but I was reticent to admit it–damn pride and all that.
Trekking farther, I realized I hadn’t found the running water I’d heard earlier, and it was getting darker. The path I followed lacked trail markers and veered sharply away from where I had come from. The trees seemed taller and the rocks harder to climb over. I nearly expected a childless baker and his wife to come traipsing past with a hungry wolf and a cantankerous witch in toe. The sun seemed to have more trouble with each passing minute to peek through branches above. The remaining daylight dimmed and I hummed vague showtunes to pretend the quiet didn’t bother me nearly as much as it did. Twirling around the canopy of tree leaves, I was swallowed up in the burgeoning nightfall.
I took half dozen steps forward only to backtrack a dozen steps back. The left looked far too much like the right and it all blended together in browns, greens, and greys. It wasn’t so much the aloneness of being out here as much as the uncertainty of what would happen next. I remembered reading about nocturnal animals and things like bears and coyotes roaming in the park. You’d never fully get the city girl out of me. I’d take a mugging over an apex predator right about now.
For a moment, I held my hands up making a square shape out of my fingers. The waning sun glittering gold over grey and green made a picture worth taking if I had a camera, but I wasn’t the outdoor type. It all looked pretty, but there was still that little matter of an overwhelming burden of having to get myself out of this situation.
The wind picked up again, its chilled fingers tracing along my neck and spine, making me shiver and curl my arms protectively around my waist. I traipsed over to a large cropping of rocks and sat down on top of it, trying to assess which direction I came from. My parents would say I acted impulsively, foolishly, and with selfishness. If they only knew they would be seriously rethinking that recent tuition deposit and paying for my apartment lease while I was out here finding myself instead of settling in to a respectable math or science major since a MRS. degree was out.
“Shit, I’m lost.” Admitting my folly came out like a forlorn murmur rather than a real chastisement. The admission certainly didn’t help or clarify the situation. I didn’t have any supplies on me and I wasn’t an experienced camper.
Truthfully, I hoped to hook up with Ryder, but yeah, not going there now. That was more of a lost cause than I was presently. My backpack of sin was at the campsite probably stuffed in the back of Ryder’s new SUV and useless now. I watched the moon rise higher in the sky and rubbed my arms, hoping the chill would go away. I definitely wouldn’t need those condoms or edible lube tonight, but my jacket would have been nice or a candy bar to soothe my grumbling stomach. Slipping off the rock, I huddled down, letting part of it protect me from the worst of the wind, saying a little prayer to whatever saint protected horny and foolhardy college students.
I rolled my neck, working out a kink of annoyance. It had been a long shift tonight of nothing terribly exciting. “Finally, time to head home.” I said to the empty office.
Stretching, I called out to the senior ranger on duty, Jeff, when a rowdy group of college kids jumbled inside the station disrupting the calm that usually welcomed the end of my shift. I gathered my jacket and small hiking pack for when I walked the trails. I had been looking forward to an evening of slumber aided by the glow of an eighty inch flat screen television and maybe a cold beer.
One of the kids definitely looked high and one panic-stricken between the oth
“Help us! Please, my roomie is missing and never came back to camp.” The blond girl wearing a blue sweatshirt from our local university screeched, the sound akin to nails on a chalkboard affirming that my night was about to get not exactly interesting, but more of the pain in the ass variety.
My stomach grumbled, the Thai place was open until nine, I had fleeting hope this was nothing serious. I would have preferred quiet and a bottle of beer from Easton’s private brew to go with my dinner, but I doubted I would get home in time to watch the last episode of Game of Thrones based on her wailing. At this point, I’d order a pizza and watch the Red Wedding episode all over again. Her outburst was one solid reason in the column of why I was currently single.
Other author's books:
- Heartburn (Love By Design Book 3)Dream CatcherTailwind (Love By Design Book 4)Stolen September: A Military RomanceRescue MeNight Owl (The Complete Serial)Passion, Vows & Babies: Love, Doctor (Kindle Worlds Novella) (Inner Harbor Book 1)Twenty (novella) (Love By Design Series)
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