Sylvia Radcliff likes her men fast talking, fast moving and gone by the second date. At least, she thought she did until she meets the brooding and sexy Heath Williams while on vacation in Mexico. Heath is the polar opposite of every man Sylvia has ever dated...only they aren't exactly dating...
Heath unwittingly came to Sylvia's rescue when her cabby turned into a thief, stealing her money and leaving her stranded in the midst of the Mexican jungle. Due to a chronic phobia, Heath, who calls the jungle his home, has avoided the bulk of humanity for nearly a decade. But something about Sylvia is too tempting to ignore. He not only wants the beautiful stranger, he needs her for the sake of his sanity.
Sylvia, a city-girl through and through, is desperate to get back to civilization. So desperate she finds herself striking a devil's bargain with the enigmatic Heath. She agrees to spend three days complying with his every carnal demand in exchange for his leading her to the nearest town at the end of that time. What Sylvia doesn't plan on is the thrill that comes from giving into Heath, or that at the end of those three days, she won't want to leave the isolated stranger, who suddenly doesn't seem like a stranger at all, but like a man who has taken up permanent residence in her heart.
"The sex set off the story nicely; raunchy when it was called for, and sensual when that was more in tune with the story...Primitive Passion was excellent and realistic... It's worthy of five stars."
--5 STARS, Dani Jacquel, Just Erotic Romance Reviews
"Lanel's out-of-the-ordinary hero steals the show in this provocative jungle adventure. Heath is both appealingly vulnerable and seductively alpha-male. A steamy, sexy read with tremendous emotional depth."-4 STARS, Susan Mitchell, Romantic Times Book Club
CHECK OUT SHARA'S OTHER BOOKS: www.SharaLanel.com
|Product dimensions:||5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.36(d)|
About the Author
But her true love remained writing. One hubby, one dog, and one son later, she started writing romance. Joining
Romance Writers of America introduced her to the business side of romance, but it was the research that fascinated her.
She met sexy SWAT guys and shot targets at her county's
Citizen's Police Academy. She's attended crime scene investigation workshops and read books on every subject from werewolves to The War of 1812.
Shara currently lives in Richmond, Virginia, growing hot peppers and starting fires in her kitchen in her spare time. To learn more about Shara and read excerpts from her books, visit www.SharaLanel.com.
Read an Excerpt
"What?" Sylvia Radcliff wanted to clean out her ears to make sure she'd heard correctly, but she was too busy clutching her purse to her chest and fearing for her life.
"You heard me. Get out." The young cab driver held a gun. Sylvia knew nothing about guns, but this one looked real enough and it was pointed at her forehead.
She bit her lip, too shocked to react, and looked beyond the grimy windows of the ancient cab. "Here? There's nothing here. You told me you'd take me to San Cristobal."
Her pen pal, Maria Alvarez, lived in San Cristobal. They were to meet for the first time after corresponding for ten years. The exchange had begun as an assignment by Sylvia's high school Spanish teacher, but Sylvia and Maria had hit it off, so they'd continued writing, now mostly by email or Instant Message. In fact, Sylvia felt like she and Maria were best friends, though they had never met.
"Señorita," Sylvia corrected automatically.
"Whatever. I will not tell you again. Give me your purse and get out."
"My purse?" Sylvia couldn't help repeating each thing he said. It seemed so unreal, being accosted on her first visit outside the United States. Wouldn't some kind soul drive around that bend and rescue her? It had to be close to three o'clock, rush hour back home, but not here in southern Mexico, apparently.
"Your purse!" This time the cabby shouted, jarring Sylvia into motion. She slowly handed him her purse, hoping he'd just take her travelers' checks and give it back. She'd need the copy of her birth certificate and driver's license to return to the United States.
The purse disappearedbeyond the partition and the cabby waggled the gun in her face. "Get out now!"
Her breath caught and her voice came out in a squeak. "My suitcase?"
The driver looked eighteen, if that, and had coffee-with-cream skin, and a flap of blond hair covering his eyes while the rest of the strands were short-cropped black. Sylvia tried to reason that perhaps he had a hungry family to feed, but then he'd only take her money, not everything. No, his hard black eyes seemed cruel. Why hadn't she noticed that upon entering the cab at the airport in Tuxtla Gutierrez?
"You have to at least give me my ID. You can't strand me in this country with nothing."
"I won't leave without my driver's license and birth certificate. You can just shoot me." She crossed her arms over her chest and swung her sweaty hair off her shoulders with a flick of her head, praying he wouldn't call her bluff. The sound of her pounding heart nearly deafened her, but she had to stand her ground. She needed her identification.
Grunting while still pointing the gun at her through the open partition, the teen rifled through her purse. He found the two pieces of identification and tossed them into her lap. "Get out now, or I will kill you and hide your body out there."
"Out there" was a steep slope going up the mountain on one side and a steep slope going down the mountain on the other. Palm trees, vines and various other jungle vegetation completely obscured the ground and sky. Sylvia had no doubt if the cabby hid her body "out there" no one would find her before the bugs and heat had rotted away her flesh. Not a pleasant picture.
Clutching the birth certificate and driver's license to her chest with shaking hands, she slid across the vinyl seat, opened the door and stepped out, locking her knees to keep from collapsing in relief. The cab sped away, almost crushing her toes in the process. She tried to calm her breathing as she watched the green and white taxi whip around the bend. Once the roar of the engine faded, the silence seemed somehow loud. Then she realized it was loud, full of buzzing insects and squawking birds and creaking branches. Perhaps even rushing water somewhere not too far off.
For a while, she stood numb with shock, willing another vehicle to travel around the bend, someone to rescue her and return her to civilization. Though the road was paved, it was crumbled in several sections and looked ancient and untraveled. The already dim jungle grew dimmer, and Sylvia realized she needed to take action before nightfall left her blind and vulnerable. Sundown was still a few hours off, but she couldn't recall the last town they'd passed in the hour--or was it two?--she'd been in the cab.
When the vehicle had first pulled away from the airport, she'd been too distracted by the beautiful Spanish Colonial architecture and the bustle of traffic to pay attention to where they were going. Town had given way to gorgeous, exotic vistas and she'd oohed and aahed in admiration. By the time the cab ride had begun to seem endless, she'd lost all sense of location. It had taken her several moments to gather enough courage to speak, and by then the cab skidded to a halt, and there had been a gun poking in her face.
How stupid to have let her guard down. Now it was too late.
Aware she couldn't continue to stand here, Sylvia decided to walk in the direction the cab had disappeared. There had to be a town or a house somewhere out here.
As she walked, her hunger raged, but that was soon eclipsed by her thirst. Sweat dribbled between her breasts and down her back. The day's heat and humidity remained, though the dense foliage hid all but the faintest traces of sunlight. Sylvia prayed she found a town soon, or even a house. Each foreign sound scared her witless; she was expecting a strange animal to lunge from the vegetation at any moment. The thick walking stick she'd found by the side of the road wouldn't provide much protection, but it did help her keep some weight off the searing blister that had formed on her right foot.
She wore practical low-heeled shoes, but they were new, bought two weeks ago expressly for this trip to Mexico. Maria had always talked about fashion in her emails, so for this special occasion Sylvia had left her beat-up sneakers behind. Now, she longed for those sneakers, not to mention her air conditioner, some Godiva chocolates and a year's supply of bottled water.
A repetitive booming sound startled Sylvia from her progressively panicked thoughts. Was that thunder? Just what she needed, a rainstorm, to complete her magnificent day. The sound increased in volume until she recognized it. Hoof beats. She crazily thought of the time-travel novels she loved to read and wondered if she'd been transported back to the time of the Mexican Revolution and Pancho Villa.
The pounding hooves grew louder, blocking out the tropical sounds. There was a chance she would get trampled if she didn't move out of the middle of the road. Sylvia was willing to take that chance if it meant the rider might stop and offer her a ride back to civilization.
A black horse appeared on the road a short distance ahead. A big, beautiful animal more gorgeous than the horses she'd seen at the Belmont track during her rare outings. The man in the saddle wore a leather poncho, black cowboy boots and jeans. A Braves baseball cap pulled low on his forehead obscured his features. He sat straight and seemed monstrously tall from Sylvia's vantage point on the ground.
Luckily, the man spotted her and slowed the horse from a trot to a canter with a low-toned "whoa".
"Hi." Sylvia smiled in gratitude. "Thank God you're here. I thought I was never going to see another human being again." It occurred to her that he might not speak English, so she brightened her smile, hoping to convey friendliness.
"I'm not human." His tone was almost a growl, scratchy, as if he hadn't used his voice in a while. He did speak English, though, thank God.
"You're joking, right? Are you a hallucination then, brought on by my extreme thirst?"
"Maybe." He reached behind him and unhooked something from his saddlebag, an old U.S. Army canteen. He tossed it to her. "Drink."
"Oh, thank you." She unscrewed the cap and gulped down the water.
"Not too fast. You'll get stomach cramps."
She shook her head and continued to drink. Stomach cramps be damned. They couldn't be any worse than what she got during that evil time-of-the-month. But then she realized this might be all the water the man had and maybe he had a ways to go yet. She stopped, wiped her mouth, and re-screwed the cap before handing the canteen back.
The strong tan fingers of the man's right hand gripped the pommel as he accepted the canteen with his left one. "Why are you here?"
"My cabby deserted me. Well, really he left me a few miles back. I've been walking for a couple of hours."
"Why would he do that?"
Sylvia still couldn't see the man's face, but dark brown hair curved under his ears and brushed his collar. "He took my purse and bags. He pointed a gun at me!" She tamped down the overwhelming urge to cry or give in to hysteria.
The man regarded her for a few more moments. "Where were you headed?"
He shook his head. "You're the opposite direction from San Cristobal. Did your cabby pick you up from the airport?" She nodded. "And you didn't notice he was heading south instead of north?"
"How would I know? These roads are so windy and you can't even see the sun in here, wherever here is."
"That's because it's about to go behind the horizon."
Sylvia glanced around her and noted the deep pockets of shadows surrounding her. Shivers cascaded down her spine. "Can you help me, please? Get me to a town or a phone." The horse snorted and Sylvia eyed it warily. "Do you have a car?"
"No car." The man stared at her for a heartbeat or two, then held out his hand. "Hop up."
"Um," she hesitated. She wanted a ride, yes, but she was suddenly suspicious. This was a total stranger after all and could be as bad, or worse, than the cabby. On the other hand, she couldn't continue walking around in a jungle after nightfall with no idea where to go for help.
"Thank you," she said, gripping his hand.
The man pulled her up and twirled her around to sit in front of him as if she weighed nothing, which was hardly the case. She was a relatively short woman with a good amount of meat on her bones, giving her an ample bosom and too-round hips. She lamented her figure in an age when Twiggy-thin models created the American image of beauty.
Sylvia didn't get a chance to see her rescuer's face. One strong, male arm across her belly secured her as he urged his horse into a trot. She couldn't tell what sort of body hid beneath that poncho, but his jeans hugged his legs nicely. If his body matched, she'd bet this was one very sexy cowboy.
"What's your name?" he asked, his lips close to her ear, his husky voice putting all of her nerve endings on alert.
"Sylvia. That's pretty. I'm Heath Williams."
"Nice to meet you." She tried to relax as she felt his warmth spread across her back. "Is town far from here?"
"We're not going to town."
Uh oh. Perhaps it was time to rethink this plan. "But I really need to call my friend, who's expecting me, and to report the mugging to the police and my credit card company. Where are we going then?"
She felt a tiny flutter of panic. She was at this man's mercy. "Do you have a phone?"
"No phone?" Now the panic edged into her voice.
His arm squeezed her tighter. "Don't be skittish."
"Do you have a car?" She'd already asked him that, but she still couldn't believe his answer.
"No car, either."
She exhaled slowly to calm herself. "But the town's nearby, right?"
"Señorita, we're nowhere near a town." He spoke the Spanish word with a perfect Mexican accent, but the rest of his speech was clearly American.
She tried another deep breath for serenity. "But where were you riding from?"
"I was checking my traps. They were empty." His voice took on a grumpy tone. "Nothing but beans and rice for dinner."
He guided the horse off the pavement onto a narrow, matted trail. The branches hung low so that Sylvia had to put her hands in front of her face for protection. A swishing sound and slight breeze made her peek through her fingers. Heath wielded a big, heavy-looking knife in one hand while keeping control of the reins with the other. Though she'd never seen one in real life, she guessed it was a machete like they used in the movies "Romancing the Stone" and "Crocodile Dundee." Branches and vines plummeted with each slash. Sylvia broke out in a clammy sweat as the knife slashed through the air, never missing its target.
"Damn jungle grows back as soon as I cut through," Heath murmured into her ear. She nodded as if she understood. She was a city girl, an urbanite, and at the moment she was longing to get back to the city as soon as possible. Any city would do, but preferably an American one.
By the time an olive-green cottage, set in the center of a clearing, came into view, the sky was painted in orange and purple streaks. Cottage was a loose term for the dilapidated building. Paint peeled in strips from the walls, the porch sagged, and the tin roof looked rusted. The windows were the building's unique feature. Round pieces of thick glass in a rainbow of colors gave it a stained-glass effect. Set back to the right of the cottage, weeds and vines sought to overtake a pole barn and small paddock area.
Heath gave a soft "whoa" to the horse when they reached the porch. His big hands wrapped around Sylvia's waist, lifting her into the air. Before she could protest, her feet touched the porch. She grabbed the corner of a twig chair for balance then watched, hands on her hips, as Heath guided the horse to the barn.
Heath took his time unhooking the secondhand saddle from Priest. He brushed the tired horse down with a currycomb before opening the makeshift gate. Priest dawdled before entering the stall, lapping up blades of grass and stray grain from the ground. Heath gave him a friendly whap to the rump. This was their routine, calming in its familiarity.
The woman standing on his porch was not part of that familiar routine. Heath needed to think. He tried, but only got as far as, what am I going to do with her? before his mind cycled back to the sensory sensations of her round bottom pressed against him on the horse. Her hair smelled like jasmine shampoo. She had a pert nose and bright blue eyes, and wore her blouse with the top button undone. That opening revealed just a hint of curves and creamy white skin. His body had reacted immediately, but he was pretty sure the thickness of his leather poncho and the movement of the horse had camouflaged the reaction.
It had been a strong reaction that lingered as he drew a bucket of water from the well behind the barn and dumped it into Priest's trough. A scoop of grain finished the job of settling the horse for the night, but Heath was hardly ready to go back to his house. She waited there. She'd expect something of him. He was shocked that he'd even picked her up. He hated being around people. More than hated. Feared it.
The last time Heath had gone into town had been the worst. His mouth had gone dry, and he'd hyperventilated before retching on the ground in front of the public market. He'd not returned since, and that had been two years ago. He did occasionally see hikers or cars in the area, but he would always turn the other way before they caught sight of him. Yet, he'd picked this woman up, skin to skin, and his reaction hadn't been panic; it had been lust that hit him in the stomach like a fist.
Five more minutes passed while he tended to the horse. He knew she'd come looking for him if he delayed any longer, so he sauntered up to the porch and braced himself for a conversation. She stood in the spot that he'd left her, arms crossed, foot tapping with impatience.
"There you are. I thought you'd gotten lost back there."
"Just tending Priest."
"Oh." She nodded before grabbing a fistful of her hair and lifting it off her neck. "It's so hot and the mosquitoes have been attacking. Can we go inside?"
"We can go inside." He doubted it would be much cooler, though. He didn't have electricity to run a fan or air conditioner so he just slept in the nude. The vegetation kept the temperatures in the area moderate, but the humidity was killer. Sometimes he'd bring in a bucket of well water and soak his feet to lower his body temperature.
He looked up to see she was waiting for him to lead the way. He leaped onto the porch and the weather-beaten boards creaked in response. Quickly, he opened the door--it had no lock--and gestured for her to enter. He hadn't forgotten all of his manners during his years of solitary existence, but probably most of them.
Sylvia entered slowly, looking around. Not much to see, Heath knew. He followed her across the threshold and shut the door. The cottage was a single room without any modern amenities, not even a toilet. He'd built an outhouse a ways into the woods, and had rigged up a hand-pumped shower out by the well. The icy-cold water invigorated him on a hot day. He also had a large copper tub on the back porch for the occasional bath. This required a lot of preparation, like hauling water from the well to the wood stove to be heated, enough water to fill the tub waist-deep when he sat in it.
"This is cozy." Sylvia's voice sounded doubtful. "Is this all there is?"
"There's a back porch."
She walked to the back door and opened it a crack. A barrel stove perched opposite the tub, crowding one end of the porch. It was rarely lit during the summer unless he needed hot water.
"Do you have a bathroom?"
"In the woods."
"Thank God. And a shower?"
"Back by the well."
"Oh." She closed the door and faced him, and he realized it was getting too dark to see. The matches sat next to the lantern on the table. Heath struck one and lit the lantern wick. A bamboo chair crouched next to the table and his cot rested against the opposite wall.
Sylvia carefully sat down on the solitary chair praying it would take her weight. She'd finally gotten a good look at the man's face, which sported a solid square jaw, aquiline nose and green eyes. He was ruggedly handsome, but what had she gotten herself into? This was far worse than she could have ever imagined. The man had nothing, no fridge, no phone, no electricity; and when he said he had a bathroom, she suspected he meant an outhouse. This was truly scary. Two large trunks under the windows must hold his supplies. The building seemed clean, at least. No cobwebs or food crumbs or insects. The floor looked swept, a vibrant woven rug filled its center, and the cot was made up. A bowl and pitcher and a single glass sat on one of the trunks.
Still, what kind of person lived like this? And did he do it by choice? Was he wanted by the law? She bit her lip at that last thought. What if he was a fugitive rapist or murderer? And here she was, alone with him with absolutely no means of defending herself.