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Wild Man (The Smith Brothers Book 2) by Sherilee Gray (1)

1

Freya

Man seeking wife.

My car hit another pothole, jarring me so hard my shoulder hit the driver’s door.

I gritted my teeth and kept going.

Those three words had jumped out at me when I’d logged onto DateRealMen.com for the first time. And I hadn’t been able to scroll past them.

Today I finally got to meet Beau face-to-face. Though meet seemed like the wrong word. I felt like I already knew him.

The man I spoke to back in Eaglewood said Beau’s house would take about two hours to reach—taking the one and only road that led to it—but calling it a road was a stretch; this was more like a track. A muddy, rutted, potholey track.

I gripped the steering wheel tighter when I bounced over a particularly rutted section, cursing when the bottom of my car actually connected with the ground, making a horrible scraping sound. As excited as I was to see Beau, I was starting to think driving to his house to surprise him wasn’t such a hot idea because right then I wasn’t sure I’d make it.

I could admit my decision to leave Denver yesterday, a week earlier than scheduled, had been a little rash, but I hadn’t been able take it another second. Everything in my life was a disaster. I’d just been through the month from hell, in which anything and everything that could go wrong, had. Some of the highlights: my mother joining a nudist commune; my roommate, Sally, moving her prick of a boyfriend into our apartment without my agreement; and coming home from a business trip to find Bruce, my pet hamster, dead.

And last but not least, I’d quit my job two days ago—in spectacular style. There was no going back after the way I’d told my boss where he could stick it. So, I was also unemployed.

Which was the catalyst for my mini meltdown and early departure from the city.

I’d just wanted to see Beau.

In person.

Waiting another day hadn’t been an option. I wanted to finally feel his arms around me, to have him hold me, comfort me, make everything all right. Talking via email, text, and occasionally over the phone when he went to town wasn’t enough.

I wanted to touch him, know that he was real and not my imagination.

When I signed up to the dating site, I’d just come back from a shitastic date. Another self-absorbed metrosexual who spent more time and money on beauty products and grooming than I did. He didn’t make my heart race. He didn’t make me hot and bothered just looking at him, and he didn’t say sweet things that turned me into a gooey mess.

Beau did all those things.

I’d never believed in love at first sight—how could I when I’d never seen it, felt it? In fact, I didn’t know much about the regular kind of love either. My parents didn’t believe in showing emotion or affection, or maybe they just weren’t capable of it. Oh, they faked it when they had to, because like any child, I’d craved it from them. But then they’d turn around and put conditions on it, withhold it to get what they wanted.

That pretty much set me up for failure in the relationship department.

I knew Beau wasn’t the healthiest choice for me, but I’d taken one look at his profile picture—God, stared deep into those intense blue eyes—and I’d felt it like a bolt of lightning. The problem was Beau didn’t believe in love at all. He wasn’t looking for it, didn’t want it.

Love was never going to be a part of the deal.

He told me this at the end of our first conversation, but by then I was already hooked, completely and utterly. I tried to tell myself to end it, that nothing good could come from this, but we just clicked. He started calling me whenever he could, and there was no mistaking that he cared for me. He liked me.

And yeah, I knew it was naive, and with him I was acting like that kid desperate for love and affection all over again—affection that came with conditions I wasn’t sure I could meet—but I couldn’t make myself end it.

So, there I was, bumping and sliding along a dirt track, going after the man I loved and hoping that by the end of our two weeks together he’d realize he loved me, too.

We just needed to spend time together. Communication had been limited because, obviously, there was no cell service in the mountains. And yes, I was well aware of how suspicious that sounded. There were stories like this on Catfish all the time. He can’t video chat because he doesn’t have a computer. Or, in my case, he had bad service. At first, I was skeptical, but the more we talked, the more I was positive he was the real deal.

Beau had never once asked me for anything, only to be patient while he finished building his house, so we could finally meet.

I drew in a steadying breath and another wave of nerves hit me. So much hinged on this first meeting. Beau wasn’t looking for a hookup, and he didn’t want a long-distance relationship. He’d made it clear what he wanted from the start. He was looking for a wife. A woman who wanted the same things he did. Who had the skills to live off the land, in the house he built with his own two hands in the mountains. To raise a family.

I wanted all those things, and I wanted them with Beau. The fact I’d omitted a few things, or more embellished, was not something I was comfortable with, but come on…love at first sight, remember? I mean, I could learn to fish and cook and sew. It couldn’t be that difficult. But love? That wasn’t something I could just walk away from. I got that a man in the wild needed in a wife with those skills, but surely being with his soul mate trumped all that?

A bend in the road appeared out of nowhere. “Shit!” I stomped on the brake.

The car didn’t slow. It kept moving, skidding in the mud. “Oh God, oh God, oh God…” I yanked on the wheel, trying to get some kind of control. It didn’t work. I screamed as it kept sliding. The car jolted and the wheels on the right side seemed to disappear from under me as it dropped into a ditch. The car made a crunching sound as it hit a bank then rocked to a stop.

I sat there, still gripping the steering wheel, stunned.

Something warm trickled down the side of my face and I reached up and wiped it away. My fingers came away wet. Blood. I’d cut my head.

I couldn’t open my door, so I climbed over to the passenger side and shoved the door open.

I stood there for a few seconds, trying not to completely freak out. It was 6:00 p.m. and I was thanking God it wasn’t dark yet. I grabbed my phone and hoped like hell that by some miracle there might be service. Of course, there wasn’t. “Crap.”

I looked around, and there was…nothing. Okay, not nothing. There were trees, a lot of trees, and mountains, and I could hear water running in the distance somewhere. I’d been driving for about two hours, so I had to assume that Beau’s house wasn’t far. But then I guessed that depended on the speed and skill of the driver. The man that told me the distance would be used to the road, the terrain. I could still be thirty minutes away from his house, or more.

Panic started to crawl up my throat.

Think, Freya. What would Bear Grylls do?

The last few months I’d been binge-watching Man vs. Wild every weekend to prepare for this trip.

Higher ground!

Maybe if I got to a higher vantage point I’d see something and work out where I was.

There was no way I could carry all my bags, so I grabbed the small pack I’d brought for when we went hiking or whatever—something else Bear never went without—and put my phone, handbag, drink bottle, and a change of clothes in it.

Then I started up the nearest hill.

It was rocky and slippery. The new spring foliage was coming up everywhere, but the ground was squishy from the snow that must have covered this area a month or so ago.

I was puffing by the time I reached the top. I also had a bloody knee from slipping over twice. I lifted my hand to shield my eyes from the setting sun and did a slow circle.

Panic washed through me again when I saw…nothing.

Nothing but pine trees dwarfed by snow-topped mountains.

I was going to rot here. Beau might not come by this way for a week, when he was meant to pick me up in town. I’d be a corpse by then. Rotting in my car

Hang on, was that

I squinted, lifting my pack to block the setting sun from my eyes. Yes! It was smoke! A house. It had to be.

It was the first sign of life I’d seen along this road, and since Beau told me it was only him and his brother that lived out here, and his was the first house, it had to be him.

I started back down the hill. I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to walk there—I wasn’t a great judge of such things—but surely no more than an hour.

An hour and a half later, I was hobbling over stones, tripping over logs, and had tears running down my face. My new hiking boots were instruments of torture. I had blisters on my blisters. And I was scared out of my mind.

I scanned my surroundings, jumping again at the sound of more twigs breaking behind me. There was a rustling next and my heart pounded harder in my chest.

I had no idea what it was, but it started about ten minutes ago. I’d convinced myself it was the wind, but now I wasn’t so sure.

I pushed through a bushy, shrubby tree, twigs and leaves pulling at my clothes, and stopped dead. More tears, of relief this time, instantly sprang to my eyes. A house.

I hobbled toward it. There was a porch that I would guess went all the way around. Two chairs sat to one side of the door, and sitting on one of them was Beau. There was no mistaking him. He looked just like his picture.

Tears were streaming uncontrollably down my face by this point. “Beau!” I called.

His head whipped around to me and he shot to his feet. A gun seemed to appear in his hands out of nowhere. He lifted it…and fired.

I screamed, covered my head with my hands, and dropped to the ground.

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