Thursday, May 28, 2020

STARTING POINT- First chapter

Starting Point, a prequel to the Doomsday Preppers series is going to be live on June 16th.
Here you have the first chapter. Enjoy!



Chapter 1

Somewhere in the north of Minnesota, outside a remote cabin, in the middle of winter…

All things considered, dying of exposure while watching a star shower beat the hell out of kicking the bucket in a hospital, staring at an IV drip. Being drunk also helped.
Gaze on the sky, Megan reached for the glass of wine on the wooden table by her chair—and knocked over the almost-empty bottle of chardonnay. Oops. She looked down, but whatever liquid it contained had spilled already, leaving a dark splotch on the crisp white snow. Oh, well, too bad. She was too drowsy to move. She knew she should be freezing—heck, she probably was—but she couldn’t feel it. If anything, she felt warm and cozy. It was the booze, undoubtedly. One could always count on booze to make things better.
A pity she didn’t have a pen and paper handy. She would have liked to say goodbye. That was the downside of accidental suicides: no planning. But beggars couldn’t be choosers, and nor could a dead woman walking.
She raised her glass to the sky. “To you, Jess. I tried, girl. Crashed and burned, you might say. Make room up there, because I’m coming.” She tossed back the remaining wine, liquid sloshing over her hand.
It had all been so innocent, so unintentional. After turning off the lights in the rental cabin, she’d come out armed with a quilt, a bottle of wine, and a glass, ready to watch the star shower. A shame she hadn’t thought about taking the key too. Or her cellphone. Of course she’d lock herself out of a totally isolated cabin in the middle of winter.
She was hallucinating already, because she could see Jess’s reproving face staring down at her. “Yeah, yeah. Don’t give me that look, sister. I did try. You saw me trying. That frigging cabin is impenetrable.”
She’d tried smashing out windows with a snow brush, a rock—heck, even this Adirondack chair. Not a crack. The chimney was too narrow to climb down, even for her. She’d been able to break out a car window, but she had no clue how to hotwire the damn thing and there was nothing in it that could help her anyway. She could have crawled into the trunk to conserve heat for a little while, but she had no intention of dying huddled in a trunk, missing the star shower.
“I suppose I could try building an igloo,” she mused to Jess’s apparition. “But who the fuck are we kidding? You know I was never one for the National Geographic Channel. I wouldn’t know where to start. So this is it. Deal with it. I have.” The closest town was too far away. She hadn’t seen any other cabins driving up here, no neighbors to go for help. Even if she’d manage not to get lost in the forest, a huge if at that, she’d never make it to civilization on foot, so she’d resigned herself to the inevitable. When the universe gave you lemons, right?
Never mind that the universe had been giving her lemons all her life and she’d been guzzling down bitter lemonade nonstop. It was time to show the universe the finger and use those damn lemons for downing tequila shots. Figurative ones, that is.
She hadn’t had this in mind when she rented the cabin. She’d come here to view two scheduled star showers in solitude and comfort. The plan had been to move on afterward, make the most of the time she had left for as long as she could. Apparently, destiny had other plans. The story of her life.
All and all, Minnesota was as good a spot as any to bite the big one. She had very fond memories of this place, having spent a great summer here eighteen years ago, when she was thirteen. And she loved the cold. She’d rather die from that than the alternative, thank you very much.
Megan just felt sorry for the owner of the cabin. What a shock it would be for the old lady when she came up and found her tenant turned into a Popsicle. Hopefully the hefty deposit would cover her trouble.
And Logan. She felt sorry for him too. Regretted the way things had ended with her brother—the time apart, not even texting. Death had one good side: it put everything else in perspective. She should have kept her big mouth shut. He’d been happy living a lie. Who the heck was she to intrude on that?
She could still see Jess in the sky, shaking her head. “Try harder, damn it.” Hey, auditory hallucinations too—rude ones at that.
There was no fooling her old friend. Jess knew Megan had thrown in the towel. The impenetrable cabin was just a shortcut fate had tossed in Megan’s lap. Crumbs, for which Megan was secretly happy. Jess disapproved, clearly. Well, tough shit.
Her gaze strayed to the dark splotch in the snow. Maybe she could have left a note written with wine on the snow. Nah, her decision to drink the booze had been the right call. No one should be forced to die totally sober. It was bad enough that she had to do it alone. Then again, everyone died alone. With the difference that most couldn’t choose how and ended up hooked to machines and drips. At the mercy of doctors and sedatives. She was going out in style and on her own terms, something very few people got to do. For this, she should be grateful, really.
And her affairs were in order. Mostly. Her brother would get a hell of a shock, her parents too, but that couldn’t be helped now. And on the long run, they’d be better off. She’d already drained them enough, emotionally and financially.
A momentarily pang for all she was going to miss clenched her stomach. There was so much she hadn’t had time for. Normal, everyday shit. Getting married. Having children. Living in a small town where everyone got in your business. She and Jess had loved to watch TV shows about small-town America. They’d dreamed about traveling the country and finding a place.
They hadn’t had time.
Jess had loved Korean dramas, and they had talked about visiting Korea too. But now that Megan was alone, she wasn’t up for living her last months in a faraway land, at the mercy of Google Translate.
Megan took a long, deep breath, the sharp cold not hurting her throat anymore. She was ready for this. She’d made her peace with the cards she’d been dealt. She hoped that wherever she ended up, there was a muscular hunk to welcome her. Screw the white-bearded old man asking if she’d been good. She wanted a ripped, well-hung stripper, tattooed up to the eyeballs, rubbing against her and asking if she’d been naughty. She still hadn’t identified which afterlife she should pray for to get that, but she was positive God was a woman, so her chances seemed good.
She opened her wool jacket and kicked off the quilt, feeling too hot. She would have liked to continue watching the star shower, but her eyes were so heavy, she couldn’t keep them open. The wineglass slipped from her numb fingers. The last thing she saw were two shooting stars dancing in the forest.


Dead tired and cranky as hell, Alec was driving home long after sunset when his cell beeped. Sean. He turned the hands-free on. “Talk.”
“Yo, how’d it go? I heard your message about the hunting trip being cut short. Just checking you didn’t murder our clients and bury them in the middle of the forest. Although if you did, I’ll totally understand. Just send me the location and I’ll come with a shovel.”
Ha. Ha. “Let’s set some things straight, asshole: do you understand the concept of a silent partner?”
Sean laughed. “One that doesn’t talk much? You, for example.”
Alec prayed for calm. “Do not overbook your little expeditions ever again. Ever.”
The punk was going to be the death of him. The deal had been for Alec to be a silent partner, providing capital and dealing only with survival training, not to cover Sean’s ass in hunting trips with obnoxious, bored CEOs who wanted to play tough guy.
“That bad, huh?”
Alec grunted. “Their constant bragging about kills on other trips grated on my nerves like fuck. Thank God sleeping in the woods grew old damn fast and they called it quits early.”
Alec didn’t know how Sean put up with that crap. In his place, Alec would have been sent to jail long ago.
“That’s weird.” Sean sounded confused. “They normally carry super-duper state-of-the-art tents with all the comforts. Some of them even have portable toilets.”
“Yeah, well. I took them deep into the forest. No clearings big enough to put those atrocities up. If they wanted amenities, they should’ve stayed at their hotel.” He had them shitting in the woods, hunting at night with vision goggles, and getting only a couple of hours shut eye crouching in the snow.
Sean laughed. “Oh God. I better get the complaint forms ready.”
“Don’t give a shit.” Those assholes had no respect for the life they were taking. “You know where I stand.”
“Yeah, yeah. Hunting is only acceptable as a means of survival.  Big, bad special forces dude—you were never so tenderhearted about shooting humans.”
Damn right. “Animals have never tried to shoot me.”
Sean ignored that. Like always. “You’re driving on a logging road, by the sound of it. Why didn’t you stay at the hotel in Grand Rapids? You could have rested a bit and then gone out to party. Fuck some pretty thing. God knows they throw themselves at you all the time.”
“Not interested.” Neither was his dick. Hadn’t been for a long while now. Meaningless sex was just exercise, a form of release that wasn’t worth the awkward aftermath. Too much trouble.  “It would had been tempting fate to spend any more time near those jackasses than required. I’d have shot them.” He’d been about to in the forest. Several times.
“Good call then not staying. Cops tend to frown upon murder. Future clients might too.” Sean’s voice turned a little more serious. A little. “Thanks, man. I owe you one.”
At that moment Alec noticed one of the rental cabins he managed was totally dark. One of the rented cabins. He frowned. “You owe me more than one, punk. Almost home, talk to you later.”
There were no lights on anywhere on the property, no smoke coming from the chimney, which was odd because Heather had told him a city girl had picked up the keys that afternoon. He was running on fumes, and the last thing he wanted was to smile and be polite and make small talk. Not even the star shower filling the sky could keep his interest. Still, he navigated a K-turn and drove up the hillside. He’d check that everything was in order and take the chance to introduce himself to the new tenant. Heather had great instincts about people, but she also had a soft heart and Alec liked to keep on top of stuff just in case. Ensure everything run smooth and no one took advantage of the old lady. He’d offered a million times to manage the online bookings, but Heather had refused, and Alec knew better than to insist. Her stubbornness was legendary, which had actually served her well. And him. If she hadn’t been so hard-headed all those years ago, when Alec had first come to live with her, she would have sent the angry teenager back into the system right away. She wouldn’t have been the first, either.
Hopefully this would be a fast stop. In and out. Minimum niceties. He had an overdue date with his bed, and his patience was at a historical all-time minimum.
As he approached the cabin, the headlights of his truck illuminated a small bundle lying in a chair in the front yard, arm hanging over the side. No gloves. What the fuck? There was a bottle in the snow—a glass too. A quilt discarded nearby. Fantastic.
He cut the engine and got out of the cab. Had the stupid city girl passed out in the cold, not even properly dressed? “Yo, lady.”
No answer. No movement either.
The hair at his neck prickling, he broke into a run. Shit, her lips were turning blue, and she was cool to the touch. “Wake up!” he said, shaking her and patting her cheek.
Nothing.
Fuck.
He checked her pulse. Frail, but there. He had to get her body temperature up, pronto.
Lifting her in his arms, he hurried to the porch. The cabin was locked. Damn. Thank God he always carried the master key, because he could kick this door to kingdom come and it would not give way. After some juggling to retrieve the key, he got the cabin open. Leaving the woman on the sofa, he ran to his truck, grabbed a Mylar blanket, and dashed back. The fire in the stone hearth was all but extinguished, so he threw a log on to rekindle it.
She was still unresponsive. Waiting for the fire to warm the place up was not an option, and her jeans and shirtsleeve were soaked. He yanked the wet clothes off her—wool jacket, jeans, sweater—until she was down to her underwear and a spaghetti-strap camisole, which were the only dry garments. Peeking from the upper edge of the camisole was a beautiful dragon tattoo that seemed to cover her chest. Her flat chest. This close, he couldn’t help noticing the ravages of what looked like a double mastectomy. Breast cancer? The colorful tattoo did a good job of drawing the eye, but the scars were there.
He wrapped the Mylar around her, took off his coat and shirt, and hugged her, hoping his body heat would help raise hers. Fuck, she was skinny. She might need warm intravenous fluids. If she didn’t come to soon, he’d call reinforcements.
He lay on the sofa with her on top of him, rubbing her arms and back. Keeping his cheek on her forehead, trying to assess her temperature. He was always a degree or so hotter than an average person, so in no time he was radiating heat like a furnace, and little by little her body warmed up. He brushed a strand of platinum-blonde hair away from her face. Her lips were no longer blue. Her pulse was stronger. Shit, that had been a close call.
And like that, panic turned to anger. Stupid woman. What the fuck had she been thinking? Damn Heather’s fondness for finding renters through Craigslist. As if NoName needed more weirdos.
He thought about disentangling himself from underneath her, but he was afraid that would wake her up. And if she woke up, angry as he was now, he would read her the riot act at the top of his lungs, which would freak her out. There was a good chance she would be too drunk to care, though. After all, he couldn’t tell if she was sleeping or had passed out shitfaced. The latter, probably.
Be that as it may, he’d already dealt with enough city folks and their crap today. He could use a break. And some shut-eye too. This sofa was the first soft surface he’d had under him in days. Not to mention she was the first woman he’d had over him in a very long time—but he shook that thought away. It had been an emergency. This was all about keeping her alive.
He gave another glance at the woman softly snoring on top of him. He touched her forehead again. Warm. She was going to be fine. He could relax. And he might as well catch some Zs himself, because exhaustion was catching up to him.

*****

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been sleeping, but next time he opened his eyes, the sun was rising and the woman on top of him was nuzzling his chest. She’d managed to disentangle herself from the blanket and her little hands were feeling him up. Oh shit. So that was what had woken him. He was being fondled. And his body liked it.
He cleared his throat. “You okay, lady?”
If she heard him, she didn’t bother answering. She caressed his pecs and went back to nuzzling him. “Thank you, Great Goddess. Thank you. You nailed it. Down to the tattoos.”
Crap. His hard-on was getting bigger by the second. Now the motherfucker was interested. Being groped by a half-conscious woman was the most action he’d had in ages. Such a testament to his sex life. “You okay?” he repeated, his voice barely there.
“I am now,” she whispered, her tongue flickering too close to his nipple. “Can we skip the nickel tour of heaven? I’ve got all I ever prayed for right here.”
Alec wasn’t one for nickel tours either. He was also too much of a gentleman to take advantage of a confused woman. But he couldn’t help asking, “All you ever prayed for?”
She nodded, her sweet mouth moving up to his throat, the tips of her hair tickling his skin. Man, she smelled so good, even after getting shitfaced. Go figure. Her forehead touched his chin and she let out a moan. “Stubble. Love stubble burns. On my face. On my thighs.”
Holy crap. He closed his eyes, trying to get the situation under control. Fighting to get words out. Nothing came.
Her lips brushed over his stubble. When he opened his eyes, he saw hers. They were smoky gray. Opaque. With unbelievably thick eyelashes. He hadn’t seen such striking eyes in twenty years. Since…
He froze. “Meg?”
She ignored his question and looked around, seemingly surprised by her surroundings. A frown formed on her face. She blinked several times and then, as if something had dawned on her, she wrenched away with a surprised yell, covering herself with the blanket.
Alec lifted his arms, trying to look harmless. It wasn’t easy. After all, he had over a hundred pounds on her and was almost naked.
She glanced around again, confusion clouding her beautiful eyes. Yes, she was Megan. No doubt about it. He’d recognize those eyes anywhere. Although last time he’d seen her, she’d been a chubby thirteen-year-old with a sweet, if bossy, disposition. She’d had sparkles in her gaze, dimples in her knees, and curls in her long hair. This Megan was skinny as hell. Her face was angular, and her straight, short hair didn’t reach her shoulders. Oh, and there was no sweet disposition to be found anywhere. “What…”
“You passed out and were freezing. I brought you in.”
Again, she didn’t acknowledge his words. “I’m still here,” she whispered as if to herself.
Where the hell did she expect to be?
“Shit, it was so perfect,” she mumbled, ignoring his presence and burrowing into the blanket. “Cosmically perfect.” She looked up to the ceiling. “Why are you fucking with me? Can you please get another punching bag, thank you very much? And you”—she pointed at a corner of the ceiling—“stop laughing. Not funny.”
She was not making any sense. Then again, one of the symptoms of hypothermia was confusion. “You were freezing to death,” he explained, trying to calm her down. “If I hadn’t been passing by—”
She snorted, standing up. She wobbled, then grabbed the back of the couch and stood straight. Sweet little Meg had apparently grown to be a woman who wouldn’t appreciate him reaching over to steady her. She was still bossy, though. “Right. God save us from good Samaritans.”
“What?” Now he was the one who didn’t understand squat.
She moved aside the armhole of her camisole, by her heart, revealing a DNR inscription over the swirling dragon tattoo. “Do not resuscitate, Mountain Man. Don’t you know how to read?”
Oh. She hadn’t been confused.
Not confused at all.
He stood up and crossed his arms. Fuck trying not to look intimidating. “I was too busy saving your butt, sorry. And for the record, I didn’t resuscitate you. I just groped you until you warmed up.”
“Who asked you to? Ever heard of minding your own business?”
“You weren’t complaining while you were groping me back. Besides, a death on a property I run is my business.”
“I’m alive,” she said, shoving his jacket at him and pushing him to the door. “Unfortunate accident averted. Won’t happen again. Bye.”
He was pissed. More than that, he was stunned. There was no other way to explain how such a tiny woman managed to push him out of the cabin.
After she slammed the door in his face, he realized the master key was still inside.
She’d locked him out.

Rough, unedited, version subject to change

7 comments:

  1. So excited! I had a squealing fangirl moment when I saw the announcement. I probably checked out this blog at least once a month for two years hoping for any upcoming releases. YAY

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    1. Hi! I'm so sorry you had to wait that long. I hope it was worth it and you enjoyed Starting Point.
      Kisses, Elle

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  2. Para cuando traducidos al castellano? Me encanto Hasta el Fondo ....

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    1. Hola! Estoy a la espera de recibir la traduccion de MTMTI, Mas Alla de los Tatuajes. Espero que salga prronto y que te guste.
      Besos, Elle

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