Flower in the Desert is my new novella, currently available on Amazon and coming soon to B&N and Kobo (I just uploaded to B&N today, so it’ll probably be live tomorrow or Sunday). Anyway, here’s a fun little freebie- a big ol’ snippet of Flower in the Desert!
Jase and Ruby are stuck in the Grand Canyon, after a string of unfortunate circumstances. In this scene, they start to realize that there might be something sparking between them that doesn’t have anything to do with survival.
Ruby woke slowly, like coming out of a haze, the pressing fatigue like a weight dragging her down. She could feel Jase behind her and she flattened herself against him, greedy for his warmth. The air was heating up, but it was still chilly on the canyon floor. She opened her eyes and noticed the embers of the fire were still smoking. She pulled herself to sitting and poked at the fire, but it was no use. It was beyond saving.
The sun hadn’t risen yet and a gray fog surrounded them, so thick she could barely see past a few feet on either side of them. With a sigh, she dropped to her elbow, glancing over her shoulder at the man sleeping behind her. Jase’s heavy arm was tossed over her hip and she smiled when she saw the pink makeshift bandage on his hand. His dark features were relaxed in sleep, and she took the time to study him in the hazy blue light. Life was strange, she mused, as she watched the sleeping man. In the midst of the worst week of her life, she’d met someone she could truly count on. She barely knew Jase Rivers, but that didn’t seem to matter much. She knew she could trust him with her life. She knew he was honorable. She also knew he had a dark sense of humor and a sharp mind.
The fact that he was the first man she’d been attracted to in a long time hadn’t escaped her attention either. How could it, when he’d smiled at her and held her and kissed her hand like he was just as interested in her as she was in him? Maybe the seriousness of their situation was getting to her, but she didn’t care. Maybe her attraction was based on some kind of savior fantasy, but she didn’t think so. It felt real.
In the quiet of the early morning, a snapping noise caught her attention and she looked toward the sharp sound. A spotted white horse stepped into the clearing, partially obscured by the fog. Ruby froze, her mouth dropping open as she watched the majestic animal trot past. It was followed by a small white colt and a bigger black horse.
“Jase,” Ruby whispered, shaking his arm. He took in a ragged breath and opened his eyes. “Look.” He blinked a few times, groggy, and craned his neck. His arm tightened around her protectively as they watched the herd of wild horses pass through, blithely unaware of their presence through the thick fog. Ruby didn’t realize she was holding her breath until the animals were gone and then she took in a deep gulp of air.
“They’re moving toward water,” Jase said after a moment. “We should follow them to it.” Ruby nodded, her fatigue fading at the prospect of water. They had collected a bit of rainwater the day before by squeezing out their soaking clothing, but they needed all the water they could get. She dropped her eyes to his hand, still lingering on her hip. He flexed his fingers, and his thumb brushed the bare skin between her skirt and her top. Her breath caught again at the sight.
“Did you get some sleep?” she asked, breaking the silence. He sat up abruptly, dropping his hand to the ground.
“Some. You?” He pushed himself to standing and then held out a hand for her.
“Enough,” she said, taking his hand and hoisting herself up. A rush of dizziness overtook her and she swayed on her feet for a moment. He caught her elbow to steady her, a scowl of concern sliding over his face.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
“Good enough,” Ruby shrugged. “Can we please get the fuck out of this canyon today?”
“Yes ma’am,” he said with a slight smile as he kicked dirt over the dying fire.
Jace easily found the trail the horses had made, and they followed behind, keeping enough of a distance to not spook the animals. The high heat of the day had yet to descend upon them, so traveling quickly was somewhat easier. The day was primed to be scorching hot. The sky was clear, which meant the sun would soon be beating relentlessly down on them. A shaft of searing amber light cut across the canyon as the sun rose, cutting through the fog like butter. As the early morning haze melted away, they came upon a standing pool of clear water, left behind by the flash flood. The wild horses stood at the edge, their necks lowered to sip at the water.
“That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Ruby said, her mouth watering at the sight. The horses scattered as they got closer, and Jase crouched at the water’s edge.
“It’s standing, but it’s only been there for a few hours,” he said, looking up at her. She nodded, bending down beside him and cupping her hands in the water. She shivered as the cool water touched her skin and goosebumps of pure joy broke out over her skin.
“It’s cold.” She shot Jase a look, knowing from her lifetime of camping to never drink water that hadn’t been decontaminated.“Should we risk it?”
“Wait,” he said, his hand flying to her knee. Ruby froze, the water dripping between her fingers. He pointed and she followed his gaze. At the bottom of the pool of water, Jase’s backpack was settled in the sand.
“Are you kidding me?” Ruby gasped.
“It’s waterproof, but that doesn’t mean water didn’t get in,” he said, clenching and unclenching his jaw. “Everything could be ruined.”
“Well, we’re going to find out,” Ruby stood and kicked off her sandals. “I’ll get it.”
“No. I’ll go.”
“No, I’ll go. My clothes dry faster than yours,” she said, sliding her sweater off her shoulders and handing it to him. “Besides, it’s not that deep.”
“Be careful of sharp rocks,” he said, glancing down at her dusty bare feet.
“I’ll be careful, Mr. Rivers,” she said, bunching up her ragged skirt around her knees as she stepped into the cool water. “Don’t you worry.” The goosebumps tingled over her skin again as she stepped thigh deep. “This counts as a bath, right?” she tossed over her shoulder. “Or do I have to be naked for it to count?”
“Just get the damn bag, woman,” he said, but humor lit up his eyes.
“Bossy, bossy,” Ruby murmured as the water hit her ribs. She took a deep breath that puffed out her cheeks and dove beneath the water, feeling around blindly until she found the bag. The damn thing was heavy, but Ruby pulled it to the surface, standing up triumphantly. She swooped her mop of wet hair back out of her face and opened her eyes. “See? Not hard,” she announced to Jase, who was still crouched on the bank, watching her.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” He shook his head, a tease of a smile on his lips. She waded back to him, wringing out her hair with one hand and dragging the bag with another. The cool water and the discovery of the bag had revitalized her, and she felt pretty damn good right about then. However, Jase’s smile faded the closer she got to the bank. He stood, unbuckling his belt. Her eyes widened and she stopped when she was still ankle-deep in water.
“If you’re going to flash me, at least give me the heads up so I don’t miss the good part,” she said, only half-joking.
“What?” he looked up at her, brow furrowed in confusion so genuine that Ruby actually felt disappointed.
“What are you doing?” she clarified as he slipped the leather through his belt loops.
“Take this,” he said, holding the belt out to her. “Your skirt.” His eyes dropped to her midsection, and Ruby realized that her skirt was slipping perilously down her hips. Her lower belly was exposed, C-section scar and all, as well as her hip bones and the waistband of her thong panties. She burst out laughing, wondering if she should even bother being embarrassed anymore. There was no room for modesty in the middle of a life or death situation, apparently. Stepping out of the water, she dropped the bag in the dust and took the belt Jase offered.
“Who knew the only diet that would be effective is the ‘starve in the Grand Canyon diet’? Maybe I should patent it,” Ruby said through her laughter, tugging the wet linen up to her natural waist and cinching the belt around herself. Jase ignored her and busied himself unzipping the bag, pulling out the items inside and lining them up on the ground. Ruby wrung out her skirt and then crouched next to him, watching him as he inspected each item.
“My phone is fucked, but it was dead anyway,” he said, tossing the cracked iPhone down in the dirt. “Radio’s intact, but it’s waterlogged. Medical supplies are fucked. We have two bottles of water, some food, and the heat blankets.” He held out a half-full bottle of water and she took it.
“Not bad, right?” Ruby tipped her head back and took a swig from the bottle, her spirits raising even higher as the water rolled down her throat.
“We need the radio to call for the chopper,” he said, catching her eyes.
“So we let it dry out and then try it,” Ruby said with a shrug.
“Fuck,” Jase hissed. “You can’t spend another night in this canyon.”
“We’re not going to,” she said. “We’ll get to higher ground and we’ll call for the helicopter. That’s the plan right?” He nodded silently, scrubbing his hand through his beard. “Then that’s what we’re going to do.” She sat back on her ass and pulled her sandals on her newly clean feet. “You know, if you want a bath, this is your last chance.” She threw him a smile. “You can get undressed and I won’t look. I swear.”
“Liar,” he said.
“Can’t blame a girl for trying.” Ruby shrugged, as nonchalantly as she could muster. She didn’t know what was getting into her. Her sense of humor had never been this bold. Maybe the trauma of the situation had flipped some switch in her brain.
“Show me more of yours and I’ll show you mine,” he replied, repacking his bag.
“What?” Ruby did a double-take.
“Nothing,” he said, opening the wrapper of a salvaged protein bar and holding it out to her. “Take a bite of this.” Ruby narrowed her eyes at him, but did as he said, her hunger winning out over her curiosity. She chewed slowly, catching his eyes. They were dark and unreadable again, but they were trained right on her and he didn’t look away.
Neither did she.