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Authors: Julia Gabriel

Feral

BOOK: Feral
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Feral

a short erotic romance

by Julia Gabriel

 

Published by Serif Books

Copyright © 2012 by Julia Gabriel

Cover design by Robin Ludwig Design Inc.,
http://www.gobookcoverdesign.com/

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any mean, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage system, without the written permission of Julia Gabriel.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

 

 

 

I

Julianne was standing in shopping hell when time elected to stand still. All around her swarmed well-dressed men and women and teens, the seemingly permanent population of Tysons Corner Center, a sprawling mall that catered to the shopping needs of the suburban wealthy near the nation's capital.

The handled shopping bags overflowing with things she didn't need—or even want—were suddenly dead weight at the end of Julianne's wrists. Hundred dollar moisturizer, fifty-dollar mascara, audiobooks she would have no patience to listen to, exquisite truffles she would later vomit up, silk lingerie for which she had no willing audience. If it hadn't been for the woman—thirtyish, long Barbie hair, too short dress—standing too close to him, she would have dropped the bags right where she stood and run over to him.

Instead she stood and stared at his profile, drinking in his civilized appearance—she had done that! not her!—until he turned slowly and saw her. He didn't smile right away, but recognition registered in his eyes—those, too, less wild now—and he made no effort to disguise his appraisal of her.

I'm sorry! I never meant to turn out this way.
She could see through his eyes. She knew what he was seeing right now: a woman in her late thirties, her skin no longer fresh and supple, tired eyes, soft rosy lips plucked by frown lines. A woman who stank of idle money with her large leather handbag, trendy jeans, shoes that said she rarely had to walk anywhere.

His hair was still long and golden blonde, though cleaner and neater than when they'd first met. She allowed herself a tiny, rationed smile at the memory of his hair that first day. His cotton shirt was too loose to reveal whether he had thickened or softened around the middle; if he had, it was slight.

Was he still the same? Probably not, given his presence in Tysons Corner Center. Was he a kept man the way Julianne was a kept woman? The way Julianne hadn't wanted to keep him? His companion looked younger than Julianne, but she had the high-gloss varnish of suburban wealth.

There were only two people Julianne could say she had ever really, truly, with every fiber of her being, loved. Her mother had always made herself difficult to love, her father had vanished years ago. She had no siblings, more acquaintances and lunch partners than friends, and a husband who wanted a wife for show only. No, the only people she had ever loved were her daughter and this wild, beautiful man staring at her through the madding crowd of a shopping mall.

II

It was her day off and Julianne was walking deep into the Olympic National Forest, deeper than casual hikers went. The trail all but disappeared, becoming just a narrow tunnel through a wall of green. All around her were ferns and moss and low, heavy branches. After an hour, the undersides of her breasts were damp beneath her shirt and the biting air on her cheeks made her feel bracingly healthy. Her arms were pimpled with gooseflesh, her nipples as awake and alert as her mind. She could taste the air, crisp and clean and sharp.

Ever since she'd been a little girl, she had craved the quiet and solitude of nature, of trees, of the open sky. Back then, the closest she got to nature most days was sitting on the fire escape outside her mother's Brooklyn apartment. 

Some kids hightail it off the farm and head for New York the minute the ink is dry on their high school diplomas. Julianne went in the opposite direction. She headed to the University of Montana to study forestry, then was accepted into Yale's doctoral program for the fall. But first, she was spending the summer in her dream internship at the Olympic National Park. 

Most of the other interns spent their days off driving to Seattle to sample the culture of the city. Julianne went with them once. If she never set foot in a city again, it would be too soon. Her mother worried that she'd raised a complete misanthrope, a social outcast who despised people. In reality, Julianne liked people well enough. She had friends, boyfriends, coworkers—people she treasured. It was just that she found being around people—having to make conversation, trying to figure out their games—enervating. She found her energy, her center, in the forest.

She walked for three hours that day before she came upon the lean-to. The three-sided wooden hut looked like as good a spot as any to sit, rest and eat the sandwich and apple she'd stuffed into her jacket that morning. It was June and cool. The forest was damp, but not unpleasantly so. The western side of the park was a rainforest, though one populated with spruce, fir and cedar trees. Julianne hoped to one day go to the Amazon.

When she finished her sandwich, she balled up the plastic baggie and put it back in her pocket. She was about to bite into her crisp, red apple when she heard a rustling in the bushes.

Now Julianne spent enough time in the forest to recognize the different varieties of bush rustling. Some rustlings were made by wind, others by small animals, still others by large animals. This was a large animal kind of rustling and Julianne looked up, expecting to see the tan hide of a deer.

Instead, she looked up into the face of a person staring at her from around a large rhododendron. She froze, her lips open around the cool skin of the apple. It was a young man's face, maybe not older than she was, and covered with a patchy beard. His hair was long and tangled, with twigs and leaves sticking out of it. He wasn't wearing a shirt.

Her first instinct was that this was a camper, taking a leak in a bush and being surprised by her. Then she noticed part of a bare leg through the dark green leaves. She followed the leg down to a bare foot. The man was entirely naked, it seemed.

Julianne could barely breathe. Her mother had warned her this would happen one day. Her daughter would go off into the forest alone and be killed by an escaped inmate or deranged mental patient. 

They stared at each other for a long minute, Julianne's eyes wide and dry in fright. She was trapped. This was it. Would anyone even find her body? By the time they did, she'd be nothing but dry white bones, easily mistaken for an animal. She tried to telepathically send a prayer up to the heavens, a last ditch effort.

The man stepped out from behind the bush. Julianne didn't take her eyes off his face, but her peripheral vision took in the animal hide tied low around his hips. So he wasn't completely naked. Still, that was small comfort.

"Who are you?" she whimpered. "Don't hurt me. Please," she whispered. The gung-ho park ranger-in-training in her was gone now, bolted back down the trail. What was left was a slight young woman in a decidedly precarious position. She had her phone with her, but the idea of bars out here was laughable.

The man frowned. Julianne was close to tears now and growing lightheaded. She tried to breathe, but could only manage weak mewling gasps. He shook his head and made what sounded to Julianne like sad barking noises.

Oh God, he's crazy.
That was the last thought to pass through her mind before she fainted and fell back onto the floor of the lean-to.

When she came to, it was late afternoon. The light in the sky was dimming. Her head throbbed painfully, but the floor of the lean-to felt soft and warm beneath her hair. She opened her eyes and found ... another pair of eyes, staring directly into hers. They were dark, bittersweet brown eyes.  Fear rippled through her as the situation dawned on her. Her head was in the naked man's lap.

He stroked her hair gently, and a look of wonderment came over his face. He combed his fingers through her hair. He was young, that began to register in her foggy brain. His skin was pale, though not in a sickly way. He looked healthy, actually. His beard and hair were a dirty blonde, no pun intended. Though he didn't look all that dirty, she thought dimly, despite the foliage lodged in his tangled hair. If you could overlook all that, he was kind of good-looking.

I need to wake up. This is the weirdest dream I've had in ages. I'm lying with my head in the lap of some guy who looks like he was raised by wolves and I'm thinking he's kinda' good-looking?

But I'm not afraid.
The man's expression was soft, not hostile. Worry crinkled the skin around his eyes. If he had wanted to rape and kill her, he could have done that already. That didn't explain his appearance, though, and his general lack of clothing.

She made a move to sit up, not sure whether he would let her. He let his fingers slip from her hair, moving his hands to her back to support her as she sat upright.

Whoa. Woozy.
Her body swayed and he reached out to steady her. He held her by the arms, her face just inches from his. She looked into his questioning eyes and knew she was going to faint again. She was certain of it. He let go of one of her arms and touched her nose lightly with his finger, then took a deep breath himself.

Right. He wants me to breathe.
She inhaled, filling her lungs with clean, sharp forest air, then slowly let it all out. She was startled to see him inhale at the same time, a thoughtful expression on his face, as though he was tasting her breath.

"Who are you?" Julianne whispered. "What are you doing out here?"

He opened his mouth as if to speak, then pressed his lips back together. This failure to speak drew her attention to his mouth. It had been awhile since she'd been this close to a man's lips, and these were lovely lips indeed. In fact, for someone who was nearly naked, needed a shave and had twigs in his hair, he was pretty damn handsome. There was a strong jawline beneath the scruffy facial hair and her fingers suddenly ached to stroke one of those prominent cheekbones. This close, she saw a tiny diagonal scar on his forehead and wondered how he'd gotten that.

And those eyes. They were a rich, deep brown and there was no mistaking the look of concern in them right now. Whoever this man was, he clearly intended her no harm.
But why not?

"Who are you?" she repeated.

He barked in response. Startled, Julianne jerked backward out of his grip. So this was what people meant when they said
barking mad.

She watched him carefully. He watched her back. When she felt certain he was not going to hurt her—at least not immediately—she touched her lips, then her ears. "Can you hear?" He looked at her uncomprehendingly. "Can you talk?"
He doesn't understand what I'm saying.
She tried a few words in Spanish, then French. Then she was out of languages.

He tilted his head suddenly, as if he was listening to something off in the distance. Julianne noticed that the daylight was fading.
Shit.
She had to get back. She had a three-hour hike ahead of her. While he concentrated on whatever he was hearing, she slid down from the edge of the lean-to. His attention snapped back to her. She gestured with her hands at the sky and vaguely at the forest, trying to communicate that she had to go. 

She was barely ten feet down the trail before she heard a barking sound behind her. When she turned, the man was pointing at another trail.
Oh right. That was the trail I came in on. Great. I could have been lost all night.

She smiled sheepishly as she walked over to the other trailhead. He reached out and touched her arm, then pointed to his back. Julianne was confused. He bent his knees so his back was lower, and pointed into the darkening trail.

"Wait. You want—"

He inclined his head toward the trail, then pointed at his back again. He was offering to give her a piggyback ride? Was that it? She made a tentative step toward him and he nodded. She leaned her chest against his back and looped her arms around his neck. He stood and pulled her legs around his waist.

He didn't run at superhuman speed but his pace was more than mere jogging. Julianne was impressed with his strength, not to mention his stamina. Nor could she ignore the way his back muscles felt flexing beneath her breasts and the rhythmic bouncing of his body between her legs.

BOOK: Feral
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