Lily saw the temple of Agulinta on television: a vast stone structure swallowed by the Yucatan jungle, rediscovered only now after hundreds of years. So why did the papers she found after her father’s death show the same mysterious carvings that puzzled archaeologists at Agulinta? Her search for answers pulls her to Mexico’s southern border, where the journey to the lost temple will take her through jungle and mountain, over waters home to crocodiles and drug runners, and into uncomfortably close quarters with a man whose need to wander has become a way of life . . .
Australian Carter Logan’s work as a nature photographer has given him the excuse he needs to roam wherever his restless feet take him. But in all the time he’s traveled, he’s never been drawn to anyone the way he is to this determined, cagey young American. Lily’s perseverance through dirt, sweat, and danger to the heart of the ancient temple fires through him. But when the two of them are left alone and stranded in a vicious wilderness, their connection might prove the difference between life and death . . . if the secrets of the past don’t come between them first.
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Lily Bennett reached into the satchel at her side and placed her hand on the leather-bound journal that had triggered her traveling more than three thousand miles out of her comfort zone.
She'd already memorized everything inside its weathered pages. Especially her late father's sketch of the unusual temple she'd been shocked to see on CNN six weeks ago. According to the news report, the newly discovered, three-thousand-year-old Agulinta Temple had been hidden for centuries — literally consumed by the Mexican jungle.
Yet, somehow her father knew it existed.
The temptation to open the journal again was powerful ... too powerful.
She pulled it from her satchel and flicked over the yellowed pages, stopping on his drawing of a hollowed-out circular statue, like a giant donut. Around the face of the structure, pictographs appeared to tell a story. CNN had shown footage of a statue at Agulinta Temple exactly like this. Exactly.
A branch with enormous elephant-ear-sized leaves swiped the side of the taxi, brushing the elbow she'd leaned out the door. It was hard to know what was worse — the hot air seeping through the car vents or the humid air blowing in through the window. Shifting on the cracked vinyl seat, she tugged her cotton dress over her knees, hoping for a slight breeze up her skirt, but it was pointless.
She cleared her throat. "How much farther?"
The taxi driver looked at her in the mirror and smiled, showing off his chipped front tooth. "Not long."
That's what he'd said an hour ago.
Her mind drifted back to the horror written on her mother's face when they'd opened the beat-up old suitcase they'd discovered in her father's shed after he'd passed away. Lily thought she'd known her father well, until that moment.
Alongside the leather-bound journal, they'd also found a collection of black-and-white photos. The implications behind the pictures further shattered her mother's already broken heart. His sudden death meant their future was forever changed; however, the mysterious items they'd found in that case, changed their past too.
For nearly a year, she'd watched her mother's slide into a grieving darkness, dragging Lily and her brothers along with her. Lily had feared the secrets her father had taken to his grave were destined to remain unsolved.
Until CNN revealed Agulinta Temple to the world.
From the moment she'd seen that news report and heard the archaeologist's declaration that the unusual shape of the ancient statue was one of a kind, she'd made it her mission to come down to Mexico and see Agulinta for herself. She needed answers. As did her mother. It'd been a whirlwind couple of weeks, and she still couldn't believe she was here.
Lily took a tissue from her satchel and dabbed it across her neck and chest before using it to soak up the sweat under her armpits. The driver snuck a glance at her, but when she met his gaze, he quickly looked away. She was used to that. With six older brothers, and overprotective parents, she'd felt the eyes of someone watching her whole life. It was like living in a snow globe, and when things tipped upside-down, they'd all be watching to see how she'd handle it.
That wasn't how she'd ended up here, though. Traveling to the middle of the Mexican jungle had been her decision. She'd listened to everyone's objections, fielding calls from every member of her family and her girlfriends.
Her boss had put his foot down, proclaiming the trip too dangerous for a woman like her, which made her even more determined. Taking her new position with More to Explore was a stepping-stone for her career. It had also relocated her from Montana, where she'd grown up under the wings of her abundant family, and into her own dinky little apartment in Seattle.
Defying them all, she'd taken unpaid leave to make this journey from Seattle to the jungles of Mexico. Once she'd proved her decision was final, her boss, being the dirtbag he was, had added a caveat: If she did write a story, and if it was any good, the magazine would publish it.
Everybody thought she was crazy.
Maybe she was.
But this was something she had to do. For her mother's sake. And her own. People had been controlling her all her life. It was time to show everyone that Lily had grown up.
Without warning the taxi crashed through a pothole that must've been the size of a trash can, and Lily's head rammed into the smoke-stained vinyl roof. "Shit."
The driver squinted at her through the mirror. "Sorry." The grin on his face contradicted his apology.
It wasn't the first time she'd hit the roof, and based on the number of potholes pockmarking the road, it wouldn't be the last.
For more than twenty-two hours she'd been traveling. She just hoped when she finally arrived at the one and only hotel in Corozal that they had hot running water, good pillows, and a decent restaurant.
The taxi skidded to a stop, launching her forward. "What's wrong?"
"Sorry lady, big snake."
"There." He pointed out the front windshield.
The mottled brown and green snake spanned the width of the dirt road. Both its head and the end of its body were out of sight. It was as thick as her bicep and slithered out in the open as if it had all the time in the world. A snake that big probably did.
"We let it pass." The driver grinned at her via the mirror. "Don't want it caught in my engine."
She shook her head. "No. No, you don't."
Lily wiped the back of her hand across her forehead and caught the trickle of sweat that'd dribbled down her temple. Waiting in the oppressive heat brought out all manner of smells, most of them unpleasant. The driver himself was a cloying combination of body odor, stale cigarettes, and garlic. She put the journal away, leaned her head out the window, and inhaled the fresh jungle air, hoping to remove his scent from her nostrils.
The snake's tail finally appeared and she watched, fascinated, as it glided over the gravel and disappeared into the vegetation. She'd seen her share of snakes, having grown up on a dairy farm in Montana, but she couldn't recall ever seeing one that big.
The driver stomped on the pedal again and she slipped back on the seat. For twenty more minutes they barreled along the jungle track carved through the dense forest, until without warning they were in the open. Out her window, and a long way below, was a river. The driver didn't slow, weaving along the narrow cliff so fast her heart was in her throat at every turn.
Below, the fast-flowing river spouted white water at every rock it tumbled over. She leaned out the window, eager to appreciate the whole spectacle. A few minutes later, the river became a waterfall, tumbling twenty or so feet into a large green pool. She fished her iPhone from her satchel. There'd be no signal; she'd already checked a dozen times since she'd climbed into the taxi. She flicked it on and snapped several photos, hoping she did the pristine ravine the justice its beauty deserved. Lily was known for her terrible photography, and when she flicked through the blurry shots, she groaned. Her reputation would remain intact. It'd become a running joke with her family and friends.
Seconds later, they were back in the jungle. Trees as thick as her oldest brother's chest lined the track, and vines wove up and around them in a dense tapestry.
Movement high in the tree caught her eye, and she thought she saw a monkey swinging from branch to branch. "Are there monkeys here?"
"Sí, everywhere. But they bad. Don't touch."
"Bad? What do you mean bad?"
"Crazy. Loco." He spun his finger around his ear. "If you get bit ..." He made a weird cackling noise, and it took Lily a moment to realize he was laughing. "You will be loco too."
"Oh, okay. That's good advice. Thanks."
He grinned at her through the mirror. "Why you come to Mexico?"
She hesitated, unsure whether to tell this complete stranger her plans, but other than his erratic driving, he seemed harmless. "I'm here to report on the new Mayan temple that's been discovered."
"Ahhh. Agulinta. Yes, we get many visitors now. Are you a TV reporter?"
"No, I'm a journalist for a magazine." Although it was true, she still felt like a fraud saying it. So far, the only articles she'd been permitted to write were on the latest lipstick shade or a new shoe trend. Topics that bored her. Topics that were a world apart from where her heart lay. Her new position at More to Explore promised to fix that. Though, she hadn't written a single article for the travel magazine yet.
She reached into her satchel for her Dictaphone. "May I ask you a few questions?"
His eyes lit up. "Me?"
She refrained from pointing out that he was the only other person in the vehicle. Instead, she just nodded and returned his smile.
"Sí, sí. Will I be in your paper?"
"Maybe. What's your name again?"
"I'm Otomi Gonzalos Jose."
The faded identification card on the dashboard was impossible to read so she asked him to spell out his name for her records.
"Do you live around here?"
"Sí. I live in Corozal my whole life. My parents are here, my brothers, my sisters, my wife, my kids, my nieces and nephews. Nobody leaves. We love it." Although his strong accent veiled his English, he was still understandable.
"How many people live in Corozal?"
"Oh, about three hundred. Half of them are family." He laughed again, flashing his yellowed teeth.
"What do you know about Agulinta Temple?"
His already dark eyes darkened even further. "We were shocked like rest of world when they found it. I've been crawling through jungle since I was a bebé and I never knew it was there. The jungle swallow it up."
This was consistent with what Lily already knew. Nine weeks ago, a team of National Geographic archaeologists from Italy, who were doing further research on the ancient Mayan temple of Yaxchilan, had detected an anomaly in the vegetation while flying over in a helicopter. When they went in for a closer look, they discovered a temple, so overgrown with vegetation that barely two percent was visible. They noted its position, and a fortnight later arrived at Agulinta Temple on foot.
After crashing through another massive pothole, the car plunged into broad daylight. The first sign of civilization for three hours was a welcome sight that was short-lived. Corozal looked more like the set of a bad western movie. Annoyed that she hadn't thought to interview the driver earlier, she clicked off her Dictaphone and shoved it away.
The town consisted of one main street with wooden two-story buildings lining either side. Each building had a front veranda, and nearly every one had a couple of gray-haired men seated out front. Abundant wrinkles lining their faces deepened as they followed her taxi's slow cruise through the center of town.
They passed a general store, a saddlery, a barber, a clothing store, a few buildings without any signage, and two saloons. Otomi pulled the car to a stop outside Hotel Corozal. The sign, dangling lopsided from a chain attached to just one corner, had two letters missing so it read Hot Corozal. It was a bad sign. Literally.
Otomi came around and opened the door for her. She peeled her sweat- soaked legs off the vinyl seat, climbed out, and curled her head from side to side in an attempt to loosen up cramped muscles. Otomi removed her brand-new hiking pack from the trunk, and she followed him up the three small steps, through the front door and over to the counter.
"Renata, dónde estás, tienes un invitado."
Lily wished she knew what Otomi had said.
A large woman with rosy-red cheeks and a colorful flowing dress stepped out of a doorway and walked toward them, wiping her hands on a frilly apron. She was the picture of homely bliss, and Lily's initial grim opinion of the hotel quickly changed for the better.
"This is my sister, Renata. She will look after you."
The woman grabbed Lily's shoulders and planted a kiss on each cheek. "Welcome. Welcome."
Lily chuckled at the woman's friendliness. "Hello. I'm Liliana Bennett."
"Yes. Yes. I know who you are. Come, your room is ready." The woman grabbed Lily's pack off Otomi and waddled away.
"I just need to pay Otomi."
"It okay. You pay me tomorrow." Otomi cocked his head at Renata. "You better go, she no like to wait."
"Oh, are you sure?" Letting someone else take her bag was bad enough, but her research about Mexico had led her to expect him to ask for his payment up front. She thought they would haggle back and forth, come up with a mutually acceptable arrangement, and only then part ways.
Her mind raced. Something wasn't right. She just didn't know what.
Otomi tipped his imaginary hat at Lily and walked away, leaving her no choice but to follow the abundant derrière making its way up the corridor.
Renata's hips bounced off either side of the walls as she led Lily up a very narrow set of stairs. At the top, Renata walked along a corridor and with each step, the floorboards creaked under her weight. She paused to use a large, old-fashioned skeleton key to open the third door along.
Lily followed her into a very small room furnished with a single bed, a small round table, and two chairs. The wardrobe was a freestanding white cupboard painted with little pink butterflies and looked old enough to be a family heirloom.
Renata hefted Lily's pack onto the bed and the springs twanged in protest, then she turned to Lily. "Your room is good, sí?"
"Yes, thank you." Lily frowned, looking around. "But where's my bathroom?"
"Ahhh, come, come." Lily followed her farther along the corridor to another doorway. "Here is bathroom."
A bath skirted with a blue plastic curtain adorned with more pink butterflies dominated the room, and Lily counted seven toothbrushes in a chipped coffee mug on the corner of the sink.
She cleared her throat. "My travel agent said I'd have my own bathroom."
"Sí." Renata grinned, but failed to elaborate or apologize.
Clearly it was a pointless argument, but the number of toothbrushes concerned her. This little room could become very busy in the morning. "How many guests are in your hotel?"
"Two." She beamed. "Very busy since they discover Agulinta. Is good, sí?"
"Yes. Sí." This was a timely reminder of why she was here. It didn't matter what her accommodation was like. Visiting the mysterious ancient temple, meticulously detailed in her father's journal, was the only thing that mattered.
Lily desperately wanted a shower, but her hunger pangs were more dominating. "Renata, is there a restaurant near here?"
The Mexican woman's eyes widened, showing off the yellowish tinge around her black irises. "Sí, Zanbrero, is cantina down street. The chicken burritos is good, but if Gonzalos in kitchen, just have salad." She scrunched up her face. "Sí?"
"Oh. Okay." Lily cringed, wondering how she'd ascertain who the suspect chef would be. "Is it far?"
Renata chuckled. "Nothing is far in Corozal."
Lily believed her; from the drive in, it looked like the entire town consisted of just one street.
Renata handed Lily the giant brass key. "I make you beautiful breakfast at seven o'clock tomorrow, sí?"
"Yes. Thank you." Renata's suggested time was late enough to allow Lily to get ready for her guide, who was due at eight o'clock in the morning.
After Renata waddled away, Lily returned to the bathroom to quickly wash her hands and face. In her bedroom, she unpacked only the couple of items she'd need for the night, then she grabbed her satchel containing her most important possessions, slung it over her shoulder, walked out her door, keyed the lock, and headed downstairs.
She stepped down the front stairs of Hotel Corozal and strolled in the opposite direction from which she'd arrived. Other than two pairs of elderly men who still sat on the porches, the street was deserted. She smelled forest leaves and spicy food. Four small black pigs ran out from beneath a building and barreled right at her. Lily dodged to the side at the last second, and the pigs continued squealing up the street like a wolf was on their tail.
The high-pitched cackle of children laughing somewhere in the distance was welcome relief as the words ghost town tumbled across her brain. Lily was once again reminded of western movies as she climbed the four rickety wooden steps to the cantina and stepped in through the swinging saloon doors.
Several men seated upon bar stools turned to her, and a line of unease crept up her back. Although their sneers indicated her presence wasn't welcome, her hunger couldn't be ignored any longer. Lily had what her mother called a bottomless stomach.
Excerpted from "Out of Reach"
Copyright © 2018 Kendall Talbot.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
i really liked.this book-lots of adventure but not just killing and violence. The heroine was looking for answers to.questions about her dead father. Both she and the hero cared about some of.the other characters. The heroine.more than the.heeo, but still...and she is a spunky and courageous person who does her share of saving the day! I enjoyed this book better than most in a long time. I recommend it to othets like me with a fascination for the Mayan history and ruins.
An amazing, breathtaking, life-dangering adventure to find what the truth was about her father's past. I have never had the pleasure to visit Mexico - or a true jungle for that matter - but with the images the author draws to my mind's eyes, they were vivid, colorful, precise, like watching through the camera lens. The waterfalls, the out of control river, the monkeys, the roosters in the morning, and the dangers lurking just around the next push, it was the best. I loved it, the tension, the possible hazards, the risk of each step they took, and the great adversary and provider - at the same time - the woods surrounding them were. The human threat they face, the constant feeling of being hunted, trying to survive, the fight for their lives, it was intense, it was powerful, mixed with the jungle, it was giving an unique energy and atmosphere to the tale. Lily was an amazing survival expert, both physically and mentally strong young woman who was not afraid to face a challenge, no matter what the challenge was. She had such positive outlook, can-do attitude, an endurance to be envied. She is determined to find out about her father's past, and there is nothing that will step on her way or stop her from getting to the truth. Carter Logan has been traveling the world for years. His troubled youth left permanent consequences into his life. He is an adventurer, he is a thrill seeker, he is a loner and prefaces to spend his life alone. He is considerably older than Lily, he actually thinks at one point that Lily looked like his daughter and was the same age the daughter as well. I liked both Carter and Lily, a lot actually. I think they had an amazing perspective on life and to the situation, they were in. I believe they had chemistry between them, as a team, as friends, as people working towards an important goal together. For several reasons, mainly from the inner thoughts of Carter and the fact that Lily didn't seem to be attracted to him, just thankful he saved her in so many situations, I actually wish that the romance would have left out of the story, without it, it would have been five spoon read for me. Or maybe an epilogue into the future could have saved the romance for me. Two very different yet likable characters conquering their fears, the jungle, and the life-threatening danger during an amazing, thrilling adventure through the Mexican primeval forest while fighting for the survival and to find the truth about the past. An exciting and hair-raising experience ~ Four Spoons