Home > Wild With You (Light My Fire, #1)

Wild With You (Light My Fire, #1)
Author: J.H. Croix

 

Chapter One

 

 

Madison

 

 

My corgi let out a sharp bark.

“What is it, Wilbur?”

My dog stared up at me, his dark brown eyes glinting with joy. He let out a softer woof before plunking his chunky little bottom on the ground by my feet. I looked ahead, and my breath caught in my throat. Mountains, trees, and a glittering lake stretched out in the view ahead.

“We’re in Alaska,” I whispered to Wilbur, almost reverently. I’d read things about beauty eliciting awe, but I’d never experienced it on a bone-deep level until now.

I’d driven away from Houston, Texas, a week and a half prior. I was definitely a city girl, but that was about to change in a major way. My life had blown up, and I needed somewhere to go. When I found out my grandfather, who’d passed away a full two years ago, had left me his hunting lodge in Alaska, I took it as a sign from the universe.

Actually, I might have taken that sign with a touch of annoyance. Less than a year ago, I’d loved my job as an actuary in my father’s investment business. Some people thought numbers were boring, but I loved them. The simple, straightforward manner of numbers soothed the restless anxiety that had been churning inside me for as long as I could remember.

It didn’t matter that I loved my job. It all went up in smoke when he got nailed for fraud. The good lifestyle I’d been accustomed to had been whisked away like a piece of tissue in the wind. My mother wasn’t speaking to me because, apparently, she actually had the expectation I would cook the books on my father’s behalf and somehow clean up the mess he’d created.

Whatever. I wasn’t willing to do that, but at least I had somewhere to go.

While I’d driven through Canada to Alaska, I’d experienced wonderment at the raw and almost fierce beauty of the landscape with a glacial river glittering an otherworldly blue and snow blinding white in the sunshine on the mountain peaks. Some days, I saw few other vehicles.

I’d crossed the border from Canada only an hour ago. We were officially in Alaska. I pulled out my phone, eyeing that single bar of reception. When I tapped the screen open to check the map, I let out a breath of relief when it worked.

“Dammit,” I muttered. I still had over seven hours to go to get to Willow Brook, Alaska.

Texas prided itself on being a big state, but it seemed small in comparison to Alaska. I imagined people here laughed at Texan slogans. The distance wasn’t going to stop me. I had driven this far in my not-so-reliable car with only Wilbur, my very loyal dog, for company. He’d been practically vibrating with excitement this entire trip. He’d known our neighborhood in Houston by heart, so this was a true adventure for him.

“Come on, Wilbur,” I said. “Let’s keep on going.”

A while later, I pulled off at a viewing spot on the highway. This one appeared to be official, but honestly, the entire highway could be considered a viewing spot. I let Wilbur take a bathroom break and thoroughly sniff the area before climbing back into my car. I started up my hatchback, relieved when the engine turned over. Only last year, I’d had a brand-new Mercedes Benz. I’d loved that car. It had hurt to let it go.

When my father’s company and all of his personal funds were frozen, and I lost my job as a result, it was only after a few months of no payments that the bank had wisely pointed out I’d be better off trading it in for something much more affordable. I could get a job, I knew I could, but the stain of my father’s fraud was clinging to me in Houston. I needed a fresh start and hoped Alaska would give it to me.

I still had no idea about finding work here, but I kept telling myself I could find something online. I pulled back out on the highway after watching a caravan of recreational vehicles pass by. These large RVs seemed to travel in clusters. Seeing them helped me feel not so alone. I wouldn’t exactly call it traffic, but people were definitely making their way along this otherwise sparsely traveled highway through the middle of nowhere.

By the time I saw the gas station, just a gas station and nothing else, I had started to get worried as the needle for my gas tank crept closer and closer to the empty mark. There wasn’t a soul here, but a sign on the door gave instructions on using the automated gas pumps and an arrow pointed at the restrooms behind the gas station.

I filled my car up and decided it was a good time to take Wilbur for his evening break and get him some food before we hit the road again. I was a little worried about where to stay. I’d made reservations at a hotel, but the sun was already slipping down the sky. I didn’t want to be driving alone in the darkness out here.

“Come on, Wilbur,” I called as I opened the door.

I never had to use a leash with him. He always came when he was called. He leaped out of the car, trotting his sturdy little body over to the faded and crushed grass in a field beside us. There were bleached fuchsia petals scattered on the ground. I could only imagine that whenever those flowers were in bloom, whatever they were, it was stunning.

Wilbur didn’t pay much attention to the petals other than to mark them several times as he trotted around. We turned to walk back toward my car when I heard a snorting sound. Glancing in the direction of the snort, I saw a moose at the edge of the field. The large brown animal eyed me suspiciously, its antlers dark against the backdrop of the watercolor sunset. The sky was a swirl of tangerine, gold, and red. If my pulse hadn’t been pounding out of control, I might’ve appreciated the beauty of the moment.

Wilbur let out a sharp bark and then took off as fast as his little legs could carry him toward the moose.

“Wilbur! No!” I started to chase after him, but a man’s voice came from behind me.

“I wouldn’t do that.”

Turning back, I saw that a truck was now parked beside my car. The man gestured toward the moose. “Moose aren’t predatory, but it’s close to mating season. Get over here. You’ve got enough time.”

He was kind of bossy, and I felt a prickle of annoyance.

“But—” I sputtered.

“Listen, lady, I can’t help you if we both get trampled.”

While Wilbur ran in a mad dash toward the moose, I hurried over to the man. In a flash, he’d caught me by the elbow and tugged me between his truck and my vehicle.

“Your dog will be fine. He’s pretty quick on his feet,” he offered with a chuckle.

Turning, I watched Wilbur do what I called his spinning move. As he dashed toward the moose, he flipped low on the ground and reversed directions. He was acrobatic and lightning fast.

The man had opened his truck and all I got was a glimpse of rumpled brown curls before he reappeared with a gun. I gasped, but he ignored me and stepped past me, walking a short distance beyond the back of his truck. “Stay there,” he ordered before simply lifting the gun and firing toward a grassy rise nearby.

At the sound, the moose looked our way. After a moment, the animal turned and trotted off. Still panicky inside, I looked around wildly for Wilbur only to discover he was already on his way back to me. His tongue flopped out of the side of his mouth as he ran, sheer joy radiating from him. His brown, black, and white body was vibrating when he stopped at my feet and sat. The man did something with the gun and then rounded to the other side of his truck to put it away.

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