Title Wild at Heart
Author Stacy Gold
Genre Contemporary Romance
Publisher Onyva Press
They each hit the trail solo in search of themselves…
Overworked entrepreneur Jules Martinez is sick and tired of men leaving her for their exes. Determined to wipe the giant, scarlet R for rebound off her forehead, she kicks off a yearlong vow of celibacy with five, blissful weeks backpacking her favorite trails through Washington State. Solo.
Out-of-work financial analyst Evan Davenport hasn’t been happy since camping in Scouts as a kid—before his wealthy parents and now ex-fiancé made all his major life decisions. Hoping to find joy and purpose, he buys all the latest ultralight backpacking gear, flies to Washington, and sets off alone on a weeklong speed hike through the wilderness.
Mother Nature has other plans, though, and keeps shoving Evan and Jules in each other’s paths. Usually naked. When sparks fly, can they find what they’re looking for in life together instead of apart?
“I’m so jealous, Jules.” Bryn perched on the end of one of the beds in our hotel room at Cascade Locks, watching me pack gear. The thin, gray light of pre-dawn filtered through a crack in gold curtains that’d seen better days.
I tucked a bag of snacks and my rain jacket into the top of my backpack, cinched the drawcord, and buckled the lid with a solid click. “Of what, twelve guys dumping me for their exes in a row? I’m sure we could arrange that for you too. If you ever really start dating again.”
“Ha. Funny.” She toed my calf. “You’re taking five weeks off to go backpacking solo. Who cares why?”
Tingles of excitement zoomed around in my chest and I flashed her a grin. “Yeah. Dealing with zero assholes and zero clients for more than a month does sound pretty heavenly, doesn’t it?”
She grinned back. “Like I said, totally jealous. At least of your trip.” Her expression went serious. “I still can’t believe the next guy you date is gonna be unlucky number thirteen, though.”
“Yeah. I’ve thought about that. Probably too much. Definitely enough to jinx the next one for sure. So, I’m swearing off men for at least a year to restart the count.” I hesitated, the excitement buzz fading. “A year is enough time to consider it a clean dating slate, right?”
“Wait. You mean you’re swearing off dating, or swearing off sex too?”
“Yes. Both. All of it.” The last eight years had been nothing but suckage on the relationship front. It’d probably take more than a year to fix my shit. But nothing would change if I didn’t change something.
Bryn eyes widened. “You’re serious.”
“Dead.” Bending, I tugged the rough nylon laces of my left boot. The well-worn leather snugged around my foot. “I’m never gonna figure out anything buried in too much work plus too many bad dates.”
“When did you decide this?”
“Last night.” I shouldered my pack and adjusted the straps until the familiar weight settled on the tops of my hipbones. “What I’ve been doing isn’t working. It’s time to take a big step back and focus on myself for longer than just a few weeks.”
“I guess that’s one way to break the pattern.” Bryn opened the door and we stepped outside into early morning stillness. “And yes, a year is definitely long enough to clean your dating slate.”
Fog tendrils drifted from the Columbia River across the half-empty parking lot. The air hung thick with moisture and cedar and the sweet mustiness of damp soil. The best smell in the world after too many days breathing city fumes.
“I sure as hell hope so. If not, at least maybe I can figure out what to do about my business. I can’t keep working this much.”
We strolled across the lot side-by-side, the chill air nipping my skin through my nylon hiking pants and shirt, waking me up. The sky glowed marigold behind the inky silhouettes of the mountains.
“You’ll come up with a plan. You always do.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” We crossed the empty highway, walked a few hundred yards and turned off. Gravel crunched under our soles. “And thanks for driving me down here from Seattle. And picking me up at the other end.”
“Of course. That’s what best friends are for.” She wrapped a hand around my arm and leaned in, hugging one of my few body parts not covered by my backpack. “Though I still wish I was going with you. I could use a break from assholes and clients, too.”
The first golden rays of sunlight slanted through the tree branches, lighting the dirt road ahead. “We’ll have to plan a girlfriends’ trip once I get back.”
“I’m holding you to that.” Her warm hand tightened on my biceps. “Maybe we can convince Aly to come with us for once.”
I snorted. “We’ll get Aly on a backpacking trip when pigs fly. But I’m all for trying.”
A handful of parked cars and a dark brown trailhead kiosk appeared, marking the southern end of the Pacific Crest Trail through Washington. And my starting point. And the start of five weeks of solitary bliss in one of my favorite places in the whole world.
Bryn pulled out her phone. “Hey. Let me grab a shot of you in front of the sign, to commemorate the moment.”
“Okay.” I took a few steps back.
“Say, single life.”
I popped a hip and smiled for the camera. “Single life.”
“Perfect.” She slipped her phone into her pocket. “I love you, girlfriend. Stay safe out there and call me whenever you hit civilization.”
“I will.” My throat tightened. “I love you, too.”
I was totally looking forward to hiking solo. To enjoying time alone and figuring out my craptacular situation with no distractions. But, for a second, I couldn’t help wondering if I should’ve taken Bryn up on her offer to hike this first section with me.
Deep down I knew it would be a distraction, though. I needed alone time, in the woods, to find my center and do a serious assessment of my life. Especially my love life. Because I kept picking the same kind of winner, over and over, and I was done losing.
“See you in a couple weeks.” With a wave, I pivoted on my heel and stepped into the emerald glow of the Pacific Northwest rainforest. Happy with my choices. And looking forward to not having to do anything, at any set time, for anyone other than me.
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Compulsive tea drinker. Outdoor sports junkie. Lover of good (and bad) puns.
Award-winning author Stacy Gold gave up her day job as Communications Director of a nonprofit mountain biking organization to write sassy, steamy, contemporary romance novels. Her stories are packed with independent, kick-butt women finding love and adventure in the great outdoors. When Stacy’s not busy reading or writing, you can find her dancing, laughing, or playing hard in the mountains of Colorado with her wonderful hubby and happy dogs. Her latest adventure romance novel, Wild at Heart, comes out May 2, 2022.
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