Where are you? Do you realize what tomorrow is? Vi and I want to take you to dinner. It’s time to rustle up some grub and hone those rusty dusty dating techniques you claim to have shelved like some high school burn book. I say the TSE cameras are itching for a decent villain this go-around, and you, my slice ’em and dice ’em dagger-hearted friend, are a prime candidate. Those poor, defenseless, testosterone tube steaks aren’t going to tar and feather themselves, you know. Meet us at the Underground at 5?
I stare at Sophie’s text a moment, both amused and strangely proud to be thought of in such a maniacal manner, before securing my helmet and texting her back.
At the Wild Rose Trail. Taking my bike for a spin. This dagger-hearted girl can’t do dinner. I have an interview at Coffeeology later for that nanny position, so all of my scalding banter will be significantly suppressed and ready to blow tomorrow. Trust me, I’m coming in hot and heavy with cynicism and contempt for men the world over. There won’t be a tube steak in the Western Hemisphere that won’t recoil at the sight of my tar and feather happy tongue. BTW, wish me luck with the interview. I need the work to sponsor my caffeine addiction.
I tuck my phone into my fanny pack, hop on my bike, and take off down the narrow dirt trail that winds around Paradise Falls. The mountain trails in Moon Ridge are famous for their God-breathed appeal. The soil is stained bright red, so beautiful, I’m half-tempted to beat my palms into it and dab it on my cheeks as rouge. Patches of clovers dust the edge of the trails, expanding into a sea of emerald to my left before a smattering of mustard greens dot the vicinity with a spray of yellow flowers. Wild lavender stretches out just beyond that, hugging the cliff side of the rocky crags that make up this portion of the switchback trail.
It’s early March, not quite spring, and if you look north, you’ll find plenty of snow still hovering around the shadowed paths of the mountain. But as it stands, it’s sixty-seven degrees out, and after a frozen winter of subzero temperatures, it feels downright balmy. I soak in the feel of the warm air hugging my body, perfumed sweet with honeysuckle and the sharp bite of earth coming at me like an aftertaste. I’ve hit this trail alone at least twice, and each time I have a fantasy of bumping into a morbidly cute frat boy—muscles bulging and vulgarly defined as if he were straight out of a Marvel flick, face of a god, mind of a demon. It’s yet to happen, but the hormonal whore who lives deep within me can dream.
I’ve donned a T-shirt—first time in five frozen months—my yoga pants, and put my whippet of dirty blonde hair into a ponytail before heading out today. Cycling my way through nature wasn’t exactly what I had planned this afternoon, but my mind started racing, my body was twitching for an outlet—and seeing that both the racing and the twitching were brought on by the sexual drought I’m in and the prospect of alleviating it with the Mr. Right Now who will be assigned to my vagina tomorrow night—let’s just say I have a bit of nervous energy that requires a physical outlet. Sophie is right. Tomorrow is sort of a big day. I scowl as the wind beats against my cheeks. Even with my sunglasses on, I find myself squinting to keep the onslaught of fresh mountain air from blinding me at twenty miles an hour.
Sophie, Violet, and I all attend Leland University. We’re knee-deep in our sophomore year, all three of us holed up in Canterbury Hall Dormitories with the two of them sharing a room, while I’m stuck with the campus stripper-in-training who thinks our dorm doubles as a brothel. I swear she pays off the RA with a fistful of ones straight from her sequin panties to look the other way. There’s no other explanation as to how all those double Y-chromosomes find their way into what should be my testosterone free zone. Taylor really isn’t that bad. She’s just a little too friendly with the opposite sex for my liking. Thus the fact I’ve made fast friends with Sophie and Vi who live down at the chaste end of the hall. We’ve sort of become an inseparable threesome, which is nice because I’ve never had close friends before—none that I liked anyway.
A pair of flop-eared cottontails scurry across the path before me, and I belt out a laugh at the adorable sight, picking up speed as the blue sky above presses heavy over Moon Ridge. The entire state of Colorado has long been known for its psychotic weather patterns. One day you’ll have cornflower skies, the next a snow flurry hits so hard you need to dig your way out of your driveway.
Back in Pine Ridge, where I grew up, a stone’s throw from Moon Ridge but a galaxy apart as far as residential tax returns go—it’s less scenic country and more downtown congestion. Not the glamorous downtown imagery that Manhattan might inspire. Think downtrodden ghost town so dank and glum you can both smell and see the desperation in the air. Mom is still there holding down the fort, as she’s quick to remind me. Jolie Sparks, divorcee with three dirty brats as she likes to formally address herself. Only in Pine Ridge does the aforementioned depressing life circumstance qualify as a job description. Anyway, she owns a ceramics shop along with her hippy dippy boyfriend Dade. I’ve never asked, but I’m pretty sure she and Dade are hitting the mattress in his yurt, and just the thought of it sends bile up the back of my throat. Dade is not a bad guy, but I refuse to think of my mother as a sexual being, thus the mystery surrounding the nature of their relationship.
My sister and brother both shot out of Pine Ridge as soon as they turned eighteen. My sister, Summer Sparks, moved to Denver and quickly became Summer Horowitz. She and Joe have two little girls. My sister is a happy stay-at-home mom who—as my own mother puts it—is quietly knitting away her existence. Her husband, Joe, is a successful accountant—something my mother finds numerically sacrilegious.
My brother, Arlo, is a firefighter who’s currently stationed in Moon Ridge. He was the one who turned me on to Leland and even helped me score a full scholarship. My good grades may have had a thing or two to do with it, but I did take a couple of inadvertent gap years before landing at the prestigious institute of learning. After all, someone needed to help my mother pay the bills. But as soon as my brother caught wind of the fact, he promised he’d take over. I couldn’t help it, though. Being the youngest, I’ve always been my mother’s favorite, the baby of the family.
I was the one there for her, wiping away the tears when my father stomped out of our lives after a long alcohol-fueled summer. Come to think of it, every season was alcohol-fueled with him. But the main reason he took off was a woman by the name of Nicki, who happened to have very big tits. A point both my mother and Arlo frequently expounded, as if the size of her breasts were some kind of an achievement, and again in Pine Ridge it most definitely qualified.
The road starts in on a series of twists and turns as the embankment to my right steadily becomes steeper and steeper. There’s enough room for two people to walk side by side, but as the road hugs the hip of the mountain even that is a stretch. I should probably slow down, probably pedal as if a semi might be coming around the next blind corner, but deep down I’ve always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie so my feet grind harder, demanding I pick up speed as a wild laugh bubbles from my throat. The wind kisses my face, entering my mouth like a lover with a lashing tongue, soft yet abrasive all at the same time, and I can’t help but feel a spark of arousal as the heat of the sun and the whipping wind run their fingers over every inch of me all at once. It’s intoxicating, erotic, dangerous, and that last point is exactly what presses me to push past the burn in my thighs and pedal as if my life depended on it.
The adrenaline junkie in me is the precise reason I haven’t backed out of that social disaster both Sophie and Violet wanted to spend the evening prepping me for. As if I cared enough to prepare for the mass sexual hallucination taking over campus. It’s Dexter Houston’s great dating social debacle that’s shined the spotlight over our sleepy school. It’s basically a reality docudrama that follows the lives of select couples that the TSE as they’re often referred to, The Social Experiment staff, have mismatched together. Although, I will admit, it did work out for both Sophie and Vi. Soph ended up with her childhood crush, star quarterback Rowen Garrett. And Violet was a part of the bitter exes reunification process—aka the TSE’s foray into the bad breakup league. But as fate and the TSE would have it, she and Lane are once again a hot and heavy item. I’d stick my finger down my throat if I didn’t think it’d land me at the bottom of that fifty foot drop to my right. My group, Group C, has been classified as Chemical Attraction. So far, the TSE has a one hundred percent success rate, but I can guarantee the circus monkeys running that unscientific experiment that I’m about to shatter that record for them. For one—I don’t believe in love. I’m pretty sure that’s a non-starter as far as landing myself on what amounts to some cheesy dating game show. I’ve already put each member of the Sparks clan on tactical alert, and both my siblings and my mother are eager to watch me light the small screen on fire. That is, if the TSE selects me to grace their million plus viewers with. Word behind the salacious scenes says they’ll vet the prospects with a test market to see who has the power to make the masses drool for more. Apparently, ratings equal cold hard cash, and Dexter Houston is hard up for both. And since they don’t follow everyone attached to the debauchery, I’m betting that once they see how soured I am to Cupid and his stupid arrow they’ll quietly give me the heave-ho.
The road elongates a bit and I spot another bike barreling my way, helmet down as his decidedly masculine legs jag up and down, building up the speed he’ll need to get around the last few curves behind me. He’s muscular, not sinewy like most cyclists I encounter. Beefy biceps, well-defined lats spanning like wings over his body, those legs of his look carved of basalt. It’s clear one of us will have to give as the road narrows in the next thirty yards, splitting the distance between us.
“Come on,” I pant under my breath as I greedily pick up speed, unrelenting in my pursuit to dominate. I can’t seem to take my eyes off those muscular thighs, those biceps bulging as he presses down hard over his handlebars. His head pops up now and again like a swimmer coming up for air and his sunglasses fixate in my direction. He looks both stubborn and brimming with ego. Innately I know this about him, and it only makes me want to hold my ground that much more.
“Come on. Be a freaking gentleman,” I hiss as the caustic air bites between my teeth. I give a quick glance to my right with its sheer drop, no sight of the bottom, just a few mustard flowers poking up from the cliff side, taunting me with their bright yellow faces.
Before I know it, he’s hauling ass, coming in hot head-on. The wheels of his bike press as far as they can into the side of the mountain, and it’s only then I realize there’s no chance we’ll pass one another safely. This is a deadly game of chicken we’ll both lose.
My handlebars hook onto his like a ram’s horn and my bike jackknifes, ejecting me over the handlebars as I rise through the sky like a trapeze artist before plummeting over the precipice.
“Shit!” The last thing I see is the heavy blue sky before I squeeze my eyes shut tight as my back bangs against the side of the mountain, my skin burning and tearing as the rocky crags have their way with me.
A wild scrub oak quickly breaks my fall, scratching up my face as my body plunges through its skeletal arms. My helmet snaps off and I watch as it plunges below, bouncing off the side of the mountain like a basketball. Swear to God, if I survive this nightmare, I’m suing the manufacturer of that useless hunk of plastic. My body slips another few inches. I let out a howling scream as my mouth fills with a bite of sweet earth and, somehow, I manage to wrap my arm around a leafy green tendril of ivy that’s attached itself to the roots of this dying tree and dangle there like an idiot who couldn’t figure out how to share the road.
“Oh God, oh God!” I shrill into the sky as my body starts in on a slow spin. “Somebody help me!” My chest bucks as the simple motion snaps the roots from the scrub oak and sends me plummeting another good foot. A horrible cry works its way up my throat, and the thought occurs to me it might be the last sound I ever make.
“Shit!” a male voice roars from above before a groping hand swoops down and gives my left boob a hard squeeze. “I got you.” He knots up my sports bra, and I can feel my body slowly beginning to levitate.
I glance up, only to meet with coal-colored eyes squinted hard, sweat beading down his face like tears as my knight-in-boob-squeezing-armor bites down over his bottom lip while struggling and grunting to maneuver me to safety.
“Oh good! Thank you!” I pant, trying desperately to maintain my grip on the remaining sliver of ivy coiled around my wrist like a bracelet. A hard snap emits from the scrub oak, and in one horrific whoosh, the oak and the vine attached to it break free and slide down the rock face before crashing hundreds of dusty feet to the ground below. “Oh my God!” I howl as I dangle at the hands of a madman who couldn’t figure out how to hit the brakes himself. “I don’t want to die! I’m too young to die! I’m too beautiful to die. I swear if you let me live, I’ll use my superpowers for good and not evil. I will never blue ball in this state again!” I do my best to wrap myself around the dildo’s arm who’s struggling to bring me back to the land of the living.
“Stop struggling for God’s sake!” he thunders so loud he sends an entire avalanche of rocks and earth sloughing down the mountain around me. His other hand swoops down and snaps me up by the ponytail so hard and fast it feels as if I’m on the receiving end of a prison-worthy facelift. “Atta girl,” he strums as he lifts me up another few inches, and for some reason—also known as the deep baritone of his ultra-masculine voice—it sends that tender part nestled between my thighs spasming. And as much as I’d like to think that this is the poor man’s version of the mile-high club, I’m pretty sure my system is merely confused as hell due to the mass misfiring of synapses occurring at the moment.
Try as I might, my feet can’t get a foothold onto this sheer rock face, and my arms flail as if I’m attempting to swim to the surface of this nightmare.
“My hair—my hair!” I wail so loud my throat burns from the effort. He gives another hard yank, and a fire races across my skull. “You’re going to scalp me, you idiot!”
“Who are you calling an idiot?” he riots through audible grunts and groans as he does his best to pull me to safety at the risk of my follicles.
“That would be you, the man currently doing a piss-poor rendition of Tarzan with my prized golden locks!” He gives another hard yank as I float skyward a few measly inches. I swear, the bastard just did it to get a good yank out of the deal. He’s vengeful that way—I can feel it.
“No offense, sweetheart, but I suggest you button it up. My chief concern is keeping you out of the morgue, not the quality of your hairdo.”
Who the hell says hairdo? I struggle to look up, but my body indulges in yet another ballerina-like spin.
“God, I hope you’re not bleeding. I can’t stand the sight of blood,” he opines as if anybody cares at the moment. Dear God, what if he passes out at the sight of the scrapes and bruises I’ve incurred? My pony and I will be shit out of luck as we sail down to our final demise. I hope the funeral director at the morgue has a decent turban to hide my bloody scalp—although judging by the mile-high distance between the ground and me, I may not have a face to display either. I’ll need a turban and a hockey mask.
I do my best to glance upward and inadvertently do a little spin, reminiscent of one of those circus performers strictly clinging from their deaths by way of their own prized locks. Deep down, I have always felt as though my life were a circus, but by no means did I want to call that into existence.
The wind picks up, and that elegant little spin my torso indulges in turns into an all-out airborne pirouette, twirling and whirling so fast the sudden urge to vomit ratchets up in me.
“Holy hell!” I growl like a cat skinned alive. The buffoon who’s got ahold of me like a tiger by the tail twists my hair around his wrist until his hand is notched against my scalp. Just like that, the dizzying spinning stops cold, leaving me to pant breathless at the earthen wall before me. Never mind the fact my head feels as if it’s about to detach itself from the base of my neck, and, honestly, there might be a small mercy in there somewhere. I’m determined to claw my way back to terra firma just to deck the greedy road hog who landed me in this ponytail predicament in the first place. “That’s it.” I muster the strength to howl like a wolverine while doing my best to throw myself at the mountainside as if I were attacking a predator.
A hard grunt emits from my throat as I latch myself to the face of the cliff and somehow, miraculously, my foot catches on a stone that protrudes from the mountain like a step. I look right up at those dark, sinister, albeit sexy as hell eyes, and groan. “I’m going to murder you,” I grit through my teeth, and those hypnotic eyes of his round out in surprise and, dare I say, a touch of fear, as I manage to bolster myself up a few feet. He catches the inertia of my thrust and hauls me up over the lip of the embankment.
“There we go.” He hoists me over until I’ve cleared the side and rolls himself on top of me as we topple back to safety. The sweet scent of pine and musk mingle with sweat, and something about the masculine combination makes my heart race a little faster. “God. You made it.” His lips brush over my cheek as he pants wildly into my ear. The heft of his body weighs me down, makes me feel foolishly safe and stable if not for a fleeting moment. But that whole hair pulling, boob-clutching scenario comes crashing back, and I suddenly feel less than impressed by his barbaric efforts.
“Well, it’s a lucky day for you, buddy. Isn’t it?” I push him away as he steals a moment to snap off his helmet.
“Me?” A megawatt grin flashes over his face as if I just stroked his ego, and judging by the size of it, I can see how I might have accidentally grazed it. He’s textbook handsome, older than me by maybe a decade, dirty blond hair, heavily stubbled cheeks, dark soulless eyes. Usually I’d be more than amused to be the damsel in distress—rescued by a handsome stranger fueled with the desire to feel me up while enacting his deliverance. But, at the moment, I’m a tad pissed this so-called do-gooder didn’t have the wherewithal to get the hell out of my way to begin with.
“Yes, you.” I dust myself off as I rise and examine the damage to my bicycle: bent handlebars, the front wheel is off the base, the chain still looks good. “If my brother found out I kicked the bucket at the hands of some megalomaniac who doesn’t know the rules of the road, he would make sure you died in a slow and painful, equally horrific manner yourself.”
“What?” he balks as he takes a full step forward. There’s a slight familiarity about him, and I can’t quite place it. A professor, maybe? Bartender at the Underground? Maybe this is the turkey who’s secretly been giving me decaf down at Coffeeology? Nevertheless, my mind and my heart are both still racing, and I don’t have the time or patience to piece together where he might have pissed me off prior to this occasion. And, believe you me, I know this to be true because I’m never wrong when it comes to people, and this one very much evokes all of the pissed-off vibes my body has to offer.
“That’s right.” I turn my bike around and he quickly steps in front of my path once again as if it were his job. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get home and change out of my dirt encrusted clothes. I have an interview, and I’m pretty sure the branches sticking out of my hair are not a good look for the venue.”
“Slow down, princess.” He leans in and his thumb caresses my cheek as quick as lightning before I can recoil from his touch. “I’m walking back with you. I need to check you out.”
“I am not a library book. You cannot check me out. My God, stealing second base wasn’t enough? And don’t think I didn’t notice that lip massage you offered up my face when you tried to straddle me.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” He holds out his thumb with a pink stain over it. “You’re bleeding. And in no way was I trying to steal second base,” he says that last part in air quotes as if I were being ridiculous before picking up his own bike and trotting alongside me on the trail slowly expanding between us. “I was rescuing you for shit's sake—which I wouldn’t have had to do if you would have adhered to the rules of the road and stuck to your side of it.”
“My side?” I inch back, incredulous that he had the nerve to go there. “My side of the road happened to conveniently disappear about ten feet back just as you exploded down the trail with your head down like a battering ram. In fact, if there’s anyone here to blame, it’s you! Had you kindly plastered yourself to the side of the mountain like a true gentleman, I would have had plenty of room to skirt right by.” I stride over and get right in his face. He’s an entire foot taller than me, but that doesn’t stop my gaze from hooking onto his and demanding he look me in the eye. “And don’t you ever call me princess again. I’m nobody’s princess, and before you get high and mighty on me, you’re not exactly royalty yourself.”
He glares at me a moment with those eyes illuminated by the sun, lighting them up like a pair of citrine lanterns. “Look, I get it. You almost lost your life. You’re shaken up. As soon as we hit the parking lot, I’ll call for medical attention. Clearly you need to get your head examined.” His brows arch as they dig in, and his lips curl at the tips, satisfied with his delivery.
“No, thank you.” I press on as fast as my feet will scamper as we take the first of two blind corners. My God, if another biker were acting as erratically as we were, we’d both end up at the bottom of the hill. Not that I was acting erratically. Okay, so maybe I was acting a bit fucking erratic, but that’s not the point. “My brother works for the fire department, and I don’t need him wasting his time with this. Knowing Arlo, he’ll confiscate my bike, and I’ll be relegated to hoofing it for the next four years.”
“Is this the same brother who you threatened would end my life?” He hacks out a short-lived laugh as if it were a joke. “Sounds like he’s concerned for your well-being, as he should be. Maybe I’ll give him a call and have him confiscate your wheels regardless. You’re a menace on that trail. You’re lucky I was there to help you. Do you realize how many people end up at the bottom of that ridge each year?”
I stop short. “Did you just threaten me?”
“Darn right, I threatened you. Maybe if you had a little more control over your emotions you wouldn’t have been hauling like some speed demon ready to off the both of us.”
“ARRGGH!” The sound of my frustration reverberates through the pristine spring sky as I do my best to haul ass back to the parking lot. “As soon as we hit civilization, I want you out of my sight. If you think I’m a bit emotional while cruising on a ten-speed, you should see what I can do with a six-cylinder roaring beneath me. Get in my way again and just try me, buddy,” I seethe as the dirt road comes to an uncelebrated end, and the sight of my Corolla leaves me sighing with relief. The only other car in the lot is a Mercedes G-Wagen, and I scowl at the sight of the pricey ride. Figures.
“Nice,” he huffs. “Not only do you threaten a homicide, but you volunteer to mow me down yourself. Your parents must be proud.”
I gag on my response. For a moment, I consider my options, but seeing that the end is in sight and I can happily hightail my way back to Leland, I opt for the hope of a nice long shower rather than telling him off.
He follows me to my car as I struggle to open the trunk.
The brutish oaf picks up my bike without so much as asking and carefully lands it in the back, and I repay him by way of doing my best to decapitate him in the process.
“Geez!” he howls as he does his best to jump out of the way.
“And let that be a lesson to you!” I riot at him as I dive for the driver’s seat.
“A lesson on what? Uncalled-for hostility? To think twice before I save someone’s life? You bet I will, princess! I’d steer clear of cliffs if I were you. I’m putting an all-points bulletin out with your pretty little face on it. DNR—Do Not Rescue.”
I give him the finger as I peel out of the lot.
“Good luck on your interview, sweetie! You’re going to need it!”
I let out another scream, this time drilling all of my frustration into the sky along with it. Teaches me to keep an eye out for cute frat boys on a deserted trail. Only I would meet up with an egotistical maniac ready to cop a feel at the drop of a damsel in distress. Okay, so maybe I was lucky he had ham hocks for biceps. Maybe he did manage to wrangle me to safety. And maybe I was a little harsh, but lashing out on people happens to be my go-to response in a crisis, and that more than qualified.
I head back to Leland, crawl up Canterbury tower, and take that long hot shower I’ve been craving oh so bad, and soon all of that hostile anxiety melts away and all I see are those coffee-colored eyes that pulled me back to safety, those cuttingly handsome good looks, that body of chiseled steel and I get lost for a moment in a fantasy that indulges in revisionist history. I can still feel the weight of his body over mine, the scent of his warm cologne with a hint of pine still clings to my senses, and that megawatt smile sends a hot spear of wanting right down into my core.
It doesn’t change the fact he was an obnoxious ass.
I’m glad I’ll never have to see the likes of him again.
****Hope you enjoyed it! Have fun with the rest of the story!****