They caught me. Naked, shivering and dripping after a spontaneous swim in the forest. Two rugged men whose hard gazes captivated and scared me all at once.
They warned me. Told me I was on private property and I needed to obey the law…or I would be punished.
The idea of them both punishing me, pleasuring me, kept tormenting me. I couldn’t want them. I shouldn’t. But I did.
I didn’t mean to trespass again. I thought I could retreat without notice. But they’re coming for me.
To show me the pleasure in pain. To show me just how right forbidden can feel. And to love me twice as hard as I ever fantasized.
I run up the track. My thighs scream—but I can’t stop yet. Pain blazes from my blistered heels. The ground levels out. My sneakers slide on dirt.
The world disappears, dropping out only yards from where I’m stopped.
I go to my knees, gasping. The urge to vomit rises hard in my throat, yet the sight ahead pierces me almost as sharply as the burning in my lungs. The view from the peak of Hunter Mountain is everything I’ve been led to believe. I press my palms to the earth. Oh god, the air is good.
So damned good.
Fragrant and so clean I’ve only experienced its pale imitation from a bottle. Forest scent. Almost makes this worth it. Almost. I fill my lungs, and my racing heart slows a fraction. I drop onto my heels. Green rolling hills and the kind of quiet I’ve only imagined stretch out before me.
I shut my eyes. In my thirty-one years I’ve never experienced a moment of quiet like this. Where the loudest thing competing for my attention is the sound of me—my breath.
My galloping pulse.
There’s always been a background noise so ever present I never noticed it until this absence. Traffic. Street. People. The whine of electronics a constant hum.
Pity there’s not a moment of peace to be found.
Not now. Not like this. Not on my own.
Why’d he send me here?
Flapping jerks me out of my thoughts. I look up. Broad, dark wings beat overhead.
Holy crap. Is that an actual eagle? The huge bird soars over the ledge to hover above the ravine.
On Hunter Mountain. I drag my backpack off my shoulders, and open it up, fingers slipping into the inside pocket where the letter waits.
I roll onto my backside, and then peel back the seal from one side of the envelope to the other, glue stretching like cheese for a moment before snapping. My thumb pauses in the fold of the paper. I unfold the note a fraction at a time.
Congratulations, Baby, you made it.
Aren’t you glad you did?
Enjoy the view for half an hour. Set your timer, you impatient little thing. Then take the path to left, there’s something there I want you to see.
I scrunch the paper into a ball, and it’s only the abomination of littering in a place like this, that stops me from hurling it in the direction of the eagle.
I’ve come all this way, suffered through so much, for a hike?
Why’d he even bother? I’m not sure if this is him trying to hang on—or refusing to completely let go.
Neither answer is one I’m prepared to dwell on. So I gather together the remnants of my hopefulness and obey my husband, setting my timer exactly as he’s instructed. Then drink from my water bottle and eat an apple to pass time, because he’s right—I’m a very impatient thing.
The beep pings from my phone. With the nonexistent reception here, an alarm is about all the phone’s good for.
I tuck the phone away, slip the backpack on and stand. My legs give a jellied wobble, leaving me with a feeling of walking on bendy stilts. I circle the top of the mountain, then find a track on the left, the one he must’ve meant.
Do Not Enter, the sign reads.
Of course it does. I sigh and take the path, adjusting the straps of the bag and wondering what fresh torture he has in store for me.
One small mercy, walking down is a damn sight easier than running up.
I descend into the trees and the silence bleeds into a more organic quiet, where birds rustle, things move, and then…water rushes.
I pick up pace. Tired or not, I jog down the path toward the sound, then burst into a clearing.
The scent of water hits me.
I stare at the stream plunging over a hanging ledge. My eyes widen as if I could somehow take it in more. A real waterfall.
A heady mix of awe and joy floods me.
Bounced from one L.A. foster home to the next, vacations and sightseeing hadn’t been any part of my upbringing. I’d worked my ass off to get into college, then worked it even harder in my good, safe, secure bank job to pay off student loans—until him.
Until Dean came along and every plan I ever had went up in flames.
But this? Waterfall. Had I mentioned on one of our lazy Sunday mornings after he’d fucked me into exhaustion, how I’d always longed to see one?
My chest squeezes. Maybe this means he forgives me…
I take off the backpack and toss it onto the ground. Then tear off my top, kick off my shoes and peel off my socks. The late spring air has my nipples puckering, but I unhook my bra and let it fall where I stand.
He hasn’t instructed this part, but I can just see him imagining it when he wrote the note. He’d picture me unable to resist skinny dipping in the wilderness.
Had it made him hard when he’d told me to come this way?
I undo the button at my waist and peel off my jeans. My underwear goes next. Then I walk buck naked toward the water.
Of course he’d been hard.
He’d have known I’d do just this. My thighs squeeze. Heat moves through me. I’m naked out in the open without Dean and he can’t do a thing to stop me.
I climb onto a rock.
A laugh springs from my lips. The sound echoes back at me, clear and crisp and startling. It’s been too long since I’ve heard that sound.
I leap into the water.
Freezing cold slams into me. I resurface with a gasp. Oh, shit. The water’s not just cold it’s so icy it has teeth. Still, I do the thing I’ve always, always wanted to do, and swim to the waterfall. Foam and bubbles, and the current seem to force me back. A tremor of danger moves through me. It could be risky to try to swim through the waterfall.
I take a breath and dive underwater. Pressure pounds my back then dissipates. I emerge on the other side, and look up. The water curtains me from the outside world.
Sadly, no cave, but I climb onto the bit of rock ledge and watch for the brief moment before cold and self-preservation force me down.
That’s the thing about fantasy, you never dream these parts—the threat of hypothermia or how a slimy rock feels on your bare ass.
I dive back through the waterfall, and swim toward where I’ve left my things. My skin goes numb. A blanket of goose bumps coats my limbs. I collect my carelessly scattered clothes. Dirt and mossy chunks of forest floor cling to my feet and work up my ankles. My teeth chatter. I bend to retrieve my underwear and jeans.
Sound crunches behind me.
I spin, clothes clutched in my hands. A man stands in front of me, maybe six feet away. My heart seizes.
He stares, gaze raking over me as though he’s never seen a woman. From the looks of him maybe he never has. His beard is rough, dark and speckled with silver, but it’s the jaw underneath—clenched tight as he takes me in, that has my own teeth biting together. He’s built like someone who spends his days felling trees or wrestling grizzlies.
My pulse mimics the sound of the waterfall, growing louder in my ears, until I don’t know which roar is which. That whole big body seems poised.
Set to pounce.
“I didn’t know anyone was here.” My voice emerges strangled and rusty.
He says nothing, but his gaze makes its way from where I clutch my things to my chest, then lands on mine.
His features set hungrily, tension thrumming tight through his expression in a way that makes me feel like a buffet that’s being presented at the very brink of starvation.
I can almost feel my heart beat against my forearms through the clothes I hold. Air moves in icy prickles over my naked thighs and between my legs. His attention moves there. To my uncovered cunt, which my bundle of clothes doesn’t hide.
His chest moves quickly, like he’s an animal under the heat of too much sun.
His fingers twitch at his sides. Big fingers. He has big fingers and big hands. Hands that would hold roughly. Fingers that would grab brutally.
And I can’t move. Can’t cover myself. Can’t conceal my most private area.
He takes a step—just one.
I jerk backward and stumble. My clothes tumble to the ground.
He looks at my chest. At my breasts, nipples puckered and strained. There’s a sensation rushing through me that reminds me of the brief period in my teens when I’d get high. A light-headedness that suspends me almost out of body.
He hisses, and comes for me.
A jolt of numbness plunges me back into frozen atrophy.
A blast rings out. Birds spring from trees.
After spending years imagining fictional adventures, Amber finally found a way to turn daydreaming into a productive habit. She now spends her time in a coffee-fuelled adrenaline haze, writing romance with a thriller edge.
She lives with her husband and children in semi-rural Australia, where if she peers outside at the right moment she might just see a kangaroo bounce by.
Amber is an award winning writer, Amazon Bestselling Author, and member of Romance Writers of Australia, Melbourne Romance Writers Guild, and Writers Victoria.