Authors: Alannah Carbonneau
Mike pulled the truck into a parking stall - at the
! I didn’t have time to get over my shock as Mike pulled our suitcases from the back seat of the truck before walking to my side. “Come on, Had.”
“Where?” I shook my head, fumbling with my seatbelt. “Where are we going?”
“Somewhere with Pina Coladas.”
“Mom and Dad don’t know yet.”
“Mmmm.” I mumbled again, not quite knowing what to do in reaction to this news. Mike was pretty unpredictable - but this was by far his most extreme adventure yet.
“I’m not old enough for Vegas.” I finally announced and he chuckled.
“But you’d pass for legal in Mexico!”
I glared. “I am legal!” And I really was. I’d just turned nineteen a couple months ago. My legs worked to follow Mike as he walked quickly toward the airport. “We’re really going to Mexico?”
“Yep. Booked it two weeks ago!”
“Naw.” He shook his head and said over his shoulder. “I just appreciate life, Had.”
“Mom and Dad are going to kill us.”
“No they won’t.”
I froze. “I don’t think we should do this.”
Mike stopped to plead with me. His blue eyes were dimming as my poisonous uncertainty infected his crazed happiness. “Come on, Had. Throw me a bone and get on the plane. You need to learn to live - do crazy shit every now and again.”
“I don’t have my passport.”
“I’ve got it.”
Of course he did. “Okay.” I smiled through my nerves. “Okay. Let’s do this.”
“Yes!” Michael’s cheer echoed in the airport and I blushed furiously.
That was the best trip I had ever had in my life. It was carefree, fun, adventurous and unforgettable. I may have been forced to go commando throughout the entire trip because I’d foolishly entrusted my big brother to pack everything I needed, but as he’d remembered the most important thing of all - swimsuits - I’d had an amazing time on the beach and at the pool, sipping Pina Coladas...
“Hadley?” Collin’s deep, concerned voice broke through the fog of my mind and my memory fluttered away as the present reclaimed precedence over my mind and body. I blinked. “Hadley?” He moved his hand to my shoulder where he squeezed it. “You’re pale. We don’t have to take the quad if you’re really uncomfortable...”
I cut him off as Michael’s words echoed through my mind.
You need to learn to live - do crazy shit every now and again.
“No, I want to. I want to take the quad.” My voice was firm with determination as I continued. “Do I need to bring anything?”
Collin shifted uncertainly. “Are you sure, Hadley?”
I nodded, trying to look convincing. “Please, I’m sure.”
“Okay.” He lifted his chin. “You’ll need a swimsuit. I don’t suppose you’ve got a wetsuit or shoes?”
“I’m already wearing my swimsuit. And no, I don’t have a wetsuit or shoes.”
“You can borrow a suit from the rental shed before we go. It won’t be a rough ride. We’ll be entering the river on a class two as this is a beginners class so the likelihood of you falling out of the raft or getting too wet is pretty minimal.”
“Are we ready to go yet?”
He smirked and rubbed the back of his neck. I watched one of his golden brows rise slightly as he asked point-blank. “Have you finished your coffee?”
Momentarily stunned, I glanced down at my still full cup of coffee. “Uh...” I pursed my lips. “No, why?”
“I’m not ruining another of your coffee times, beautiful. You’ve forewarned me that if I come between you and your caffeine shot, that this friends thing...” he waved his finger in the space between us. “Won’t work. I’m not planning on screwing with your coffee time.”
Feeling a laugh bubble in my throat, I nodded and slipped beside him through the door of my cabin, out onto the porch. “You’re a quick learner.”
“When what I’m learning matters, I tend to pay attention.”
My cheeks heated and I sat in one of the chairs, looking out over the mass of beautiful green land. I tried not to read anything into his words, but it was so difficult when what he said made my blood feel warm as it moved in pulsing throbs through my veins. “It’s really something out here.”
“Yeah?” He lowered himself into the chair beside me. “Where are you from?”
“Toronto.” I replied.
He chuckled. “A city girl. That’s why Logan harassed you.”
I raised a brow. “What do you mean?”
“You told me Logan interrogated you when you first arrived. Being that you’re from the city - and a big city - definitely explains it.”
“Right.” I hummed dryly. “Because that makes a load of sense.”
“Drink your coffee, beautiful.”
I tried not to take his little endearment to heart, but he’d called me beautiful twice in the last few minutes and it was getting really difficult to ignore this man. I mean, is there any woman on this earth who would be immune to Collin Donnelley’s charms?
I tried not to think about it too much as I worked to finish my coffee. I’d never in my life had to
to finish my morning coffee, but with this man beside me, all I wanted to do was jump up from my chair and begin our day’s adventure. I wanted to do exactly what Mike would want me to do - I wanted to live my life. And not just exist - I wanted to really
Finishing my coffee, I glanced to the side at Collin. “Alright, I’m finished. Are you ready?”
He waved his empty cup at me. “Been finished a while now. Was waitin’ on you.”
I snatched his empty cup. “Be back.” I called as I dashed into the cabin to toss the cups into the trash.
By the time I made my way back outside, Collin was standing near the ATV with an excited, but still uncertain grin on his face. I didn’t want him to be uncertain. There was so much about Collin that I felt, in a way, I needed. He reminded me of my brother in a sense. Not his looks, or his attitude necessarily, but it was more the zest with which he lived his life.
I wasn’t adventurous - at least not naturally. Jumping from cliffs and hoping onto planes had never come instinctively to me. I’d always had Mike there to push me toward the experiences many simply seek out. I sensed that Collin would push me to live my life as Mike had and I desperately needed that. Because I knew that if I had it my way, I would lose myself in my books or within the four walls of a gym. Mike always said that was no way to live life.
Maybe it was because he couldn’t live life anymore that I felt the need to suddenly live mine to the fullest - for my brother. I didn’t know, but I had a feeling - a feeling I couldn’t shake - that Collin was the man I was supposed to experience the entirety of life with. I didn’t know exactly what that meant as of yet. But I felt, so certain, that in time I would understand. Until then, I decided that all I had to do was live.
“So uh,” I paused beside the quad to awkwardly toe the gravel beneath my flip-flop. “Do we get on, or what?”
I watched his lips curl as he shifted his body onto the quad, starting the rumbling engine. “Climb on, beautiful.”
My heart fluttered, although I didn’t know if it was because of his calling me beautiful or because I was about to get on the mini danger-mobile, behind a very sexy man, I had dreamt about for the last two nights.
Shaking the thought from my mind, I hooked my fingers around the grid-like contraption hanging over the back of the quad for leverage to keep myself from falling from the danger-mobile.
Collin glanced over his shoulder at me. “A lot of people hold on that way, beautiful, but being that we don’t have helmets, and you’ve never ridden before, I’d prefer you hold onto me. I’ll drive easy, but I’d feel better knowing you’re still behind me without having to look after a bump.”
“Oh.” I unwound my now stiff fingers from the plastic grid, moving my arms to circle his waist before landing on his very toned stomach. Oh, holy hell, my belly fluttered.
Collin grunted as I sat stiffly behind him, careful not to touch any part of my body to his - apart from my hands where they rested against his very perfect abs. Suddenly, I felt his large hands clap against my thighs where he gripped my legs. I gasped audibly, my hands splaying over his stomach as he pulled me against his body, pressing my spread legs around his very firm thighs.
After positioning me against him, he growled. “That’s how you hold onto a man, beautiful.”
I squeaked, “Kay.”
Collin didn’t say another word as he settled his large hands onto the quads handlebar. I could still feel the heat of where his hands had gripped my thighs - as though his hands had been imprinted there.
Then, we were moving.
The quad raced over the gravel road of the land I had yet to travel - because I had sensed it led to his house - and I hadn’t wanted to invade his obviously cherished privacy.
Every bump the danger-mobile claimed on the road, my body inched closer and closer to Collin’s. My breasts were pressed so tight against his back that I was nearly certain he could feel the violent pulsing of my nervous heart against the muscles in his back. But I didn’t move away. Not only did I not want to move away, but I couldn’t. I liked it where I was - against his firm body.
There was something about him, a strength I felt I suddenly lacked, that when in his presence, I felt I owned once again. It was beautiful to find something so needed within another human being; a human being who didn’t even realize all he was giving.
As we rode along the winding gravel road, I noticed the log peak of a tall roof through the trees and I knew in my gut that it belonged to Collin’s house. Suddenly, I felt the burning desire to see the space this man I was holding tight to claimed as his own. I wanted to know the path he walked to the comfort within his house. I wanted to know what his view was when he woke up in the morning. I just wanted to know him.
The quad rolled to a stop around the bend and I found myself facing a large log house. There was an enormous porch that was an obvious wrap around with wooden chairs resembling those that also adorned my little cabins porch, although the pillows on his chairs weren’t pink. The pillows covering his outdoor furniture were a deep blue - almost navy.
“Home sweet home.” Collin said in low tones before shifting in my arms on the quad.
Holy crap - he was still in my arms.
I released him so quick before scooting back an inch on the seat that one might think I’d been suddenly burned. It would be no surprise. This man was hot with a capital H.
Collin’s jaw twitched and I gulped as he continued talking. “What do you think?”
“About?” My voice was high-pitched and I cleared the frog from my throat as I stared into his green eyes.
“My house.” I could see that he was now struggling to contain a grin. I’d bet my life it was the lady-killer grin.
“Oh, uh...” I refocused on the beautiful, serine house, so unlike the houses I was used to and nodded. “Yeah, I really do.”
He smiled, but didn’t reply. For a moment, we sat in silence as we stared at his house. It really was beautiful. The peaked roof reached high, striving to reach the tips of the mountain trees without success. It looked like the perfect kind of peaceful quaint. Waking up at this Ranch had been unlike anything I had ever experienced in my entire life.
With the noise of the bustling city so very far away, I was left with only the silence of nature - this sturdy land and the soul securing strength of the mountains surrounding this little piece of heaven on earth. Waking up here was something I knew I would never forget - and when I left, I knew my soul would forever long for the peace I had found in this place.
I wish, so desperately, that my brother could have seen this.
Collin interrupted my thoughts as he started the engine once again. In response to the growling rumble of the quad, from the back of the log house, three beautiful rambunctious dogs ran toward us. Collin grinned at me as he spoke. “From your cabin, this is the quickest way to the river.”
And then the tires spun and my body slammed against his as I circled my arms tight around his frame. Wind blew through my hair as Collin steered the quad through the slightly narrow path within the thick forest trees. With every bump in the path, my heart hitched in my chest and my belly fluttered - but it was with excitement. This excitement I was feeling inside, that was brewing within my soul, wasn’t something I wanted to restrain. I wanted to culture it - and then I wanted to unleash it upon the world. I wanted its power and vigor to be so bright, so brilliant and perfect, that Michael felt the burn of its passion all the way in Heaven where I was certain his lively soul was plotting shenanigans.
Feeling a smile pull at the corners of my lips, I tightened my legs around Collin’s hips and held on tighter. For a moment, his body stiffened in my arms and I wondered if I should release him, but I didn’t and soon, his newfound tension evaporated.
Through the break in the trees I saw the rapid white-capped river rolling over the smoothed rocks of the riverbed. The tires of the quad rolled to a stop and as the engine surrendered to the nature surrounding us, the sound of waves claimed the silence I’d come to know from this Ranch.
Pushing myself from the back of the quad, I didn’t even notice Collin watching me as I made my way over the rocky beach to the fast paced water. The river wasn’t small by any means. Actually, it was really quite large. I knew that there was no way I could have made it safely to the other side of the river with the waves rolling and crashing as quickly as they were. Suddenly, although it was beautiful, I wasn’t so sure about the white water rafting Collin had planned for us today.
Spinning to face him, I was surprised to find him standing only a few feet from me. “Oh!” The little sound of surprise escaped my lips before I continued. “Are you sure it’s safe to raft on this river?”
Collin snorted. “Here, no.” He shook his head. “Not for your first time, anyway.”
“We’re not riding on this river?”
“We are, but we won’t be entering the river until further down where the water’s a little gentler and we’ll exit before it gets rough again. This right here would be classified as somewhere between a three and a four. It’s pretty rough, Hadley.” He looked out at the river. “This river doesn’t have a five classification. You’d find that on the river flowing through the Grand Canyon, though. Not a lot of people attempt to raft class five rivers.”