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We walk in silence and end up in a clearing beside the stream.
The water level has dropped enough that I could easily boulder hop across and return to the main route.
“Look, there’s the trail.” My feet don’t budge toward camp, where my backpack is sitting, ready to go. Despite his offer to hike with me to the climbing camp, this is an easy out for him.
We watch the water rush over the rocks, wash them clean. If he tells me to go, I won’t be forced to decide on what to do with his story.
I rise on my toes, flex my calf muscles, unable to get rid of the tension that’s gripping my body. “I know you said we could hike together, but now that I can, should I leave?”
He considers his words. “Only you can answer that.”
“I’m serious. Do you want me to stay?” I’m not sure how I want him to answer.
“The answer should be no, and it’s not.” The dark note to his voice makes the warm space between my legs turn molten.
He crosses the space between us in five long strides. His expression is furious and his eyes more than a little wild. Here he is, the guy crazy enough to want to climb a deadly mountain. The kind of guy who doesn’t back down from a challenge.
We stand toe to toe, and he towers over me. “You asked if I want you to go. Aye, I do. I want you to leave so badly I could scream it at the top of my lungs. But with my next breath? I want you.” He grabs my braid in his fist. “I’m half-mad with the wanting of you.” The pressure on my scalp doesn’t hurt, but it’s close. “But I should let you go.”
“So do it, then.” Frustration surges through me as I try to shove him away. I’m not some stupid toy for him to play with because he’s bored and alone.
He loosens his hold, but then lunges forward, burying his face in the top of my head, breathing deep. My hands, pushing against his shoulders, begin to do the reverse, cling, pull him closer. I can’t have him touch me and not do the same.
“Stay the night with me,” he mutters into my hair.
Oh my God. This is an invitation to Pound Town. My lungs don’t work, it’s as if I’ve fallen in the deep end of the pool. This isn’t an asthma attack. This is a life attack.
I stare at him. “Yes.” My whisper is barely audible.
He draws back. “You will?”
“It’s New Year’s Eve.” My stomach throbs. “This is the perfect time to embrace new adventure.” It’s tricky to smile with this huge lump settling in my throat. His irises are the exact same burning yellow that licks the edge of a flame. Inside, I’m scorched down to bare earth, but not empty, rather primed, as if now, at last, I can grow.
He hesitates a moment before brushing his palm over my hair. “You can back out. No harm, no foul.”
“You’re trying to discourage me?”
His gaze darkens. “Auden, I’m asking you for one night of no‑strings sex. No’ exactly a romantic proposition.”
He’s right, but I’m going to agree anyway, because the part of me that wants this is overriding the part that cautions. “Yeah, Prince Charming could probably spin a better line.”
“Don’t want to give you any lines. I’ve nothing to lose, so I’ll speak plain. Most people? I endure them. But I like you. I want you.”
“You like and want me?” Jesus, my heart is two seconds from hulking out of my chest. Pretty sure a vein or two has popped from the pressure crushing my internal organs. “Or you like that you want me?”
“Can’t it be both?” His half shrug coupled with the hint of a playful grin twists my stomach into a pretzel. My insides are an honest‑to‑goodness mess at this point. Jesus, I’m even biting my nails. Time to stuff my hands in my pockets and hope my courage is hiding there next to the lint balls and random pesos.
“I want . . .” My knees quake even as heat radiates up my thighs.
My body is stuck between fight‑or‑flight mode, or rather more to the point, fuck-his-brains-out‑or‑flight mode. “I really, really, really want to say yes.”
Pretty sure he growls, and the sound is so primal and unabashedly needy that I’m wet. I can feel it, illicit and wicked, pooling against my underwear’s thin cotton.
“And you’re all right that tomorrow we’ll go back to being near strangers?” He tilts my chin and leans down, his bottom lip grazing the side of my jaw.
Strangers who are intimately acquainted with each other’s baby makers? My laugh is doing this Jerry Lee Lewis “Whole Lotta Shaking Going On” impersonation. Great, I’m getting propositioned for afternoon delight and giggling like a naughty middle schooler. I clear my throat and try to rearrange my features into something a little more alluring and worldly. “I won’t even shake your hand after.”
“Let’s get this crystal clear. I’m asking to use you, Auden.” Those words should be ugly, selfish, disrespectful, but they don’t match the promise in his face.
Jesus H. Christ. My brain has officially exploded. “Maybe I want to use you, too.” And that’s the truth, in more ways than one. I drop my hands from his shoulders to the bottom of his shirt, let my fingers steal under, and holy shit, yes, good-bye, misgivings about his story and hello, stomach. My own muscles are strong and compact, but over them is a sense of softness, of give. Rhys is forged from stone and iron. I could crash against him again and again until nothing remains but rubble.
I slide his shirt up farther, and he pulls away, fists it off, and throws it behind him. There’s a rustle in the bushes from where it lands.
“Not big on shirt wearing, are you?” I murmur.
“Rather feel you.” He tugs my shirt up, wanting to undress me in the forest. “Look at your body. You’re gorgeous.” He rests his forehead against mine, gaze fixed on my breasts. I look down, too, and it’s strange to see all my familiar curves and dips. My shape has always seemed so normal, and yet suddenly it appears wanton and impossibly erotic.
“Will you let me touch you here?” He circles a thumb over the rise of my breast, sensitive even behind the sports bra’s thick fabric. My nipple hardens, aching to be rolled between his clever fingers.
“Yes,” I manage to whisper. “God, yes.”
“And here?” He grabs hold of my waistband, slides a knee between my legs, and angles up to grind against where I need him most.
I hump him like a wild animal and don’t have the shame or good sense to stop. The thin layers of cotton between us might as well not exist. “Please, keep going.”
“I imagined your taste all morning. What it would be like for you to drag that sweet pussy over the flat of my tongue.” The way he says “tongue” with that gravelly lilt, I could die now and be happy. But I should petition whoever’s on duty at the pearly gates for a few extra minutes so Rhys can put that dirty mouth to extra-good use.
I whimper something that starts as the word “Please” and ends in a jumble of consonants.
“You’ve the look of a girl who hasn’t been properly kissed in a long time.”
I can’t control a shiver of reaction. “Maybe ever.”
He nuzzles the side of my neck. “Better make it good, then.”
At the ends of the earth, Patagonia is a land where ambition trumps reason and the savage summit of La Aguja lures the most determined climbers. It’s also the last spot a “play-it-safe girl” like Auden Woods expects to find herself. But she’ll lace up her brand-new hiking boots and do whatever it takes to secure a dream job at an adventure magazine . . . even if it kills her. And it just might. When disaster strikes, her only chance at survival comes in the form of the surliest, sexiest mountaineer ever to come out of Scotland.
After a climbing accident cost him his brother, professional mountaineer Rhys MacAskill is at the end of his rope. Redemption is not in his future. That is, until a terrifying storm blows a budding journalist into his tent and it’s up to him to make sure they both survive until morning. Despite the demons weighing on him, Rhys can’t resist the temptation of the charming American and one wild night just isn’t enough.
Auden and Rhys soon learn there are no shortcuts as they navigate their way between life, death, and atonement, and discover something they never expected—love.
After studying at the University of Montana-Missoula, Lia Riley scoured the world armed only with a backpack, overconfidence and a terrible sense of direction. When not torturing heroes (because c’mon, who doesn’t love a good tortured hero?), Lia herds unruly chickens, camps, beach combs, daydreams about as-of-yet unwritten books, wades through a mile-high TBR pile and schemes yet another trip. She and her family live mostly in Northern California.