Keeping his inner demons at bay means Blake Malone has more than enough trouble on his plate. He doesn’t need any extra complications. But that’s exactly what he gets when, on his way to North Dakota, he leaves his truck unattended—and returns to find a beautiful woman sleeping in the front seat.
Opal Allen seems to have a knack for attracting trouble. Which is why she isn’t about to tell her new road trip companion the real reason she needs to hightail it out of town. But Blake has a way of seeing right through her, which is both terrifying and exhilarating. Now her biggest problem is figuring out how to resist their undeniable attraction. Because once this road trip is over, she plans on never seeing Blake again.
But the best adventures don’t go according to plan.
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Last I checked, I was traveling alone.
I walk to my grandfather's truck, a 1987 Ford F-series pickup in blue and white, and blink at the small form curled up on the seat.
Under the darkened dome of the sky, it's hard to discern anything other than the size of the thing inside my truck, and that it has dark hair. It could be a man, a woman — even a kid. I quickly scan the parking lot, searching for any accomplices to a premeditated crime involving yours truly.
It's the end of August, and the days can be wicked humid and hot, but the same can't be said for the nights. I have on a light jacket to help keep the chill off my skin. I glance into the cab of the truck. Small as this person is, they have to be feeling the cold.
The night is still and quiet, only two other vehicles taking up parking spaces of the 24-hour convenience store. It's after midnight on a Wednesday. Most sane people are home and in bed. I focus on the stranger in my truck. Whatever they're up to, it's bound to be nefarious. I like my share of nefarious dealings, as long as I'm the one doing them.
Muttering to myself and craving a cigarette, I carefully set down the plastic bag of chips, beef jerky, and orange juice I purchased to curb the hunger gnawing at my gut. I rub the stubble along my jaw, head cocked, as I come to a decision. It's an easy one — whoever they are, they can't stay in my truck.
Hands out, palms down, I soundlessly skulk around the front of the truck and toward the passenger side. My eyes shift from side to side in pursuit of any possible friends of theirs hoping to make my night especially spectacular with a blunt object to the back of the head. I feel ridiculous, sure I look like the Pink Panther slinking around in the dark.
My boot kicks a piece of gravel and it pings against the side of the truck my mother secretly kept in a storage unit all these years for me. I didn't even know the truck was still around until my brother Graham unknowingly drove it from North Dakota to Wisconsin my last week in the Cheesehead state. I just about cried when I saw it. Just about, but not quite — because crying would be bad for my image. My throat burned from keeping it in, though, and when Kennedy, Graham's girlfriend, commented on the redness of my eyes, I told her it was a reaction to whatever perfume she'd doused herself in.
Smooth, that's me.
I wince, hoping the rock didn't do any damage to the truck. This is one of the last pieces I have of the man who never judged me in all the years he was alive. Good thing for my grandfather's untarnished view of me that my life didn't completely fall to shit until after he died.
A head snaps up, and large, dark eyes slam into mine. I freeze against the unexpected jolt of them. The woman appears youngish, her face pointy and elfin. Her features are interesting, like it couldn't be decided whether to make her look exotic or plain. We study one another for one charged moment, and then whatever had her immobile collapses. Her mouth opens in a piercing scream, and she scrambles to the middle of the cab. I jerk back, her reaction startling me.
"What the hell kind of a person creeps up on someone like that?" she accuses. Her voice is breathless, but there is an undertone of huskiness that brings my nerve endings to attention.
I open my mouth with the intention of apologizing, and then realize what I'm about to do. Scowl taking over my features, I grip the door handle and pull. She scoots across the seat with her back to the driver's side door and, wide-eyed, looks back at me.
"Get out ... of my truck," I say slowly, setting my palms on the worn and torn vinyl upholstery to lean forward menacingly.
"You left the doors unlocked. And the windows down," she adds, like that makes it acceptable for anyone to commandeer my vehicle.
I nod. "A clear welcome to all vagrants far and wide."
"I'm not a vagrant," she insists, tightening her arms around herself.
Something in her tone gives me pause, and I sweep my gaze over her. Her hair looks dark brown or black and is styled choppily around her face and jaw. The woman's chin juts forward as our eyes connect, silently rebellious. There are dark splotches beneath her eyes and she's holding herself protectively. Under the cropped jean jacket and jeans, her figure appears slight. She reminds me of a terrier, tiny and fierce with more boldness than common sense.
"Who are you and what are you doing in my truck?"
"I was contemplating hotwiring it and selling it, but then I wondered if it would actually start."
"It starts." Usually.
When she doesn't answer the first question, I lambaste her with my eyes, refusing to be the first to break the stare. Her mouth is small and pursed with annoyance, like I'm bothering her by wanting to know what she's doing in my truck. Under the heat of my gaze, she makes a face and looks away, showing me her profile. Her nose is long and slim, her chin sharp and stubborn. It feels like a small victory that she was the one to break eye contact. Something tells me she isn't one to easily give in.
"Conversations generally work best when you talk," I say shortly.
Sighing, the woman regards me as she sits up straighter. "I fell asleep," she mumbles, her mouth twisting at the confession.
I squint my eyes as I straighten, peering over the hood of the truck. We appear to be alone, but that doesn't make me relax any. Appearances are commonly shit and not to be trusted.
My shoulders pop as I rotate them, and I level my gaze once more on the stranger. "I want to make sure I'm understanding this right — you picked a random truck in a gas station parking lot to fall asleep in?"
"No." She picks at the hem of her jacket, a shiver going through her small frame. "I watched you go into the store." Almond-shaped eyes latch onto me. "You seemed harmless enough."
I lock my fingers behind my head and look at the star-strewn sky. This is an insanity I cannot be a part of. An urge to laugh hits me and I repress it, knowing it won't sound in any way normal. I don't need this right now. I have enough problems without this, whatever this is.
I stride around the truck and grasp the door handle at the same time she propels herself in the other direction. My blood ignites, and with a stiff jaw, I reach into the truck, grab her tiny wrist, and pull, my eyes refusing to let go of hers. Anger flashes through her eyes and contorts her features. She doesn't look quite as innocent now. She looks vicious, and mighty — for a munchkin. Calling me an assortment of colorful names, she fights to get free of my grip, and I only tighten it, swinging her down from the cab. She lands awkwardly, stumbling into me, and then she savagely kicks my shin with a booted foot. I grunt and twist her around, her back to my front, and barricade her with my arms.
"Let go of me!"
She squirms against my shackled arms, her head barely reaching my chest. Her body is a compact heat source, singeing me where it connects with mine. She's tiny, proportioned more to that of a teenager than a young woman. There's too little of her, and yet her rambunctious attitude seems to make up for it. I put my mouth close to her ear and feel the pulse pick up in her wrist I hold. The pose would be erotic, if not for the hellion in my arms.
"Start talking. Now. Or the police get involved." I am loath to involve law enforcement in anything that pertains to me, but she doesn't know that.
Her body goes limp, tremors having their way with her form. "Please, no. No cops," she beseeches, her small voice twinging my conscience.
Has she been in trouble with the law? Has her past been so twisted with corruption, like mine, that she sees any authority figure as an enemy?
With a frustrated growl, I release her.
She spins around, a triumphant look on her face, and dives to the left. I move with her, blocking her. Her eyes narrow as she calculates her next move. She feints right and goes left again, but I am right there with her. She's fast and sneaky, but I am a professional at games, no matter that I retired from them years ago. There was a time when I spent most of my days either getting in trouble or trying to get out of it.
One word leaves me and it is coated with warning. "Talk."
The woman's shoulders curve inward and the bravado drops from her face, making her look young and scared. "People are after me," she whispers.
Interesting. I cross my arms and widen my stance. "Who?"
"I don't know who." She drops her eyes and resumes her pathetic look, hands clasped before her. "They've been following me for days and ... when I saw that your truck was unlocked, and unattended" — I frown as her voice loses its softness and turns sardonic — "I took cover until they left. But they'll be back. I know they will."
She grabs the front of my jacket and yanks me forward, her eyes enormous and pleading. She is stronger than I would have guessed. "Please, wherever you're going, please take me with you. Before they come back for me. Who knows what they plan on doing with me, but I'm sure it's something bad."
"You've been outwitting and outrunning unknown assailants for days?"
"Yes." She nods vehemently.
Her hands drop from my jacket and she steps back. "What?"
I gesture around the mostly barren parking lot. "Where's your mode of transportation? How exactly are they following you? How many are there? What do they look like? And if they're so gung ho on apprehending you, what made them take off?"
"I don't — I don't know. I wasn't paying attention. I've been too busy trying to stay alive." As if knowing I don't believe a word she's saying, her eyebrows lower, and she hides her eyes from mine.
The whole situation is mad, and I'd have to be mad as well to even contemplate having her as a travel mate. And yet ... free entertainment. Because if she is nothing else, she is certainly amusing. Something niggles at my brain. Something annoying. Knowing it's my conscience, I could ignore it, or I could face it. There is a reason she is so desperate to leave with me, and I'm pretty sure that at some future time I'll wonder what I was thinking to agree to this, but ...
"I'm going to North Dakota," I tell her slowly, never once looking from her.
Hope brightens her eyes. "North Dakota sounds great. Perfect, really. Exactly where I was hoping to go."
I step closer, and she steps back. We do this until her back is flush with the truck box and there is no escape. Her throat bobs as she swallows, and though trepidation runs across her face, she doesn't look away. I set a hand on either side of her, trapping her within my arms as the cool metal of the truck box freezes my palms.
"I have an idea who you are," I say conversationally. I let those words sink in; I watch a million thoughts race across her features.
"Y-you do?" she squeaks.
I focus on her lips. They glisten under the light of the moon, soft and inviting. "How old are you?" I ask absently, my voice a low hum.
"How old are you?" she shoots back.
"Twenty-six. What's your name?"
She fidgets, and as if realizing she is, goes still. The pulse at the base of her neck flutters like it wants to fly away. "Piper."
But I'll let her have it, for now.
"Piper," I say softly, bringing my face dangerously close to hers. "You ... are a liar."
She swallows, her lips parting. The motion is done without thought, a nervous gesture, and yet I fight to straighten from her, to put space between us. To step back. It's either that or kiss her. I can do without knowing what the lips of a con artist taste like.
"Let's go." My tone is rough, strained with unwanted attraction for a duplicitous stranger.
She doesn't move from the side of the truck, and with a hand braced on the door, I turn to her. "Are you coming or not?"
"But you ... you said ..."
"That you're a liar? Yes. I recall. It wasn't that long ago."
"But ..." She hesitantly moves away from the truck.
"You went to great lengths to procure a ride with me." I look her up and down, wondering what secrets she has trapped inside that imaginative brain. "Who am I to deny a damsel in distress?"
Her eyes narrow at my tone as she angles her body toward the passenger's side of the truck. She knows the kind of person she is, but she has no idea who I am. The look she shoots me before she gets in the Ford tells me she's having second thoughts. I wonder if I should tell her to get out while she can. A slow smile, hidden in the dark, claims my face.
* * *
He's an alternative rock boy. That I am not surprised by. He's got the look — dark unkempt hair, derisive cast to his sharp features. The black bomber jacket with the upturned collar, the straight-legged jeans covering black boots. I bet beneath that jacket he has on a shirt sporting a band name. His vibe screams rebel and bad boy and loner and any other thing most mothers warn their daughters against. My fingernails dig into my palms, wondering if my mom would have done the same.
All he needs is a cigarette dangling from a corner of his mouth and he could be the quintessential man a woman's heart should always avoid. I've met his kind before. I've even dated them. Never for long, and never without wishing I hadn't.
This guy looks and smells like trouble. And his voice — it isn't smooth or all that appealing. In fact, it sounds like broken glass. Grating and sharp. Nothing about him cries "love of my life" material. Which is just as well. I don't need trouble right now.
"Why are you going to North Dakota?" I ask to fill the silence. My eyes want to close and I slide my fingers under the crisp denim fabric of my jacket and pinch the skin near my wrist. Hard. The resulting throb keeps my brain occupied and slumber out of reach.
A good portion of me thinks I will end up regretting my insistence on pairing up with the sullen man with the easily accessible truck. It was a spontaneous decision, brought on by lack of sleep, hunger, and being ditched by my ride when I slapped a roving hand from my thigh. I saw the North Dakota license plates on his ancient truck, and I figured that was a good sign he was heading in that direction. North Dakota is one state over from Montana — my destination.
"What's your real name?" he counters.
"Jackie," I fib, turning my head to look out the passenger window. Shadows and indecipherable shapes meet my eyes.
"We should make it to North Dakota in a day or two, depending on how far I can get before needing sleep," he comments, after a prolonged pause in which he silently called me a liar. Again.
"You never told me your name either," I say, staring at the headlights marking a narrow path on the freeway. Other than us, the road is empty. It's eerie, and makes me think of alternate realities and apocalypses.
"I didn't want you to feel left out with your mysterious persona." He fiddles with the radio, finds repeated static, and then turns it off. "Let's do it this way — you tell me yours, and I'll tell you mine."
"I can't tell you my real name. It's safer for you if you don't know."
The responding snort tells me what he thinks of that.
People usually at least try to believe me before assuming everything that comes out of my mouth is a lie. Which, most of it is. I don't know why I lie, especially now, when I sound like I'm from a cluster of bad action movies that use the same lines. It's habitual, an old form of self-soothing I never outgrew.
I clutch my scuffed and dirt-kissed pink backpack to my chest, my meager belongings inside telling a sad tale of a drifter with no anchors to anything but herself.
"If you know, then they can use that knowledge to hunt me down. They'd torture you, and let's face it, we both know you'd break."
His eyes snap to mine and back to the road.
I'm starting over, reinventing myself. I don't know how, but I am. I figure I'll know who I want to be when I catch a glimpse of her.
"Others have died for knowing it," I continue.
The man shakes his dark head, amusement adding lines to the side of his face I can see. "Really? Do tell."
I uncross my arms and sit up straighter, a spark of excitement entering my voice. "I'm an undercover agent on a top secret mission. That's all you can know."
"Does this mission include pink elephants and machetes?"
"How'd you know?" I swallow back laughter at the look he gives me.
His eyes flicker my way and down. "What's in the bag?"
I protectively pull the bag tighter to my frame. "Machetes and mace. A few stuffed pink elephants. Necessities for my mission."
"What's your mission, to ruin some kid's day by massacring stuffed animals in front of them?"
I freeze, my breaths as immobile as me. Did I ruin her day, or her week, or maybe a couple months? Did I ruin her life?
He glances at me, a slice of dark eyes that can shred and rebuild with a single look. "It was a joke."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Map To You"
Copyright © 2017 Lindy Zart.
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
Lindy Zart always writes beautiful stories with a lot of heart. Her novels progress at a nice steady pace giving the reader just what we need for the storyline to develop. Her books give you tears as well as laughter. The Map To You follows the pattern perfectly. The main characters, Blake and Opal, happen on an unlikely road trip. It turns into quite the adventure where both try to find themselves and overcome their demons. They are both on this unconventional journey to find their "home" or rightful place in the vast world. As feelings flare, what will happen when they must part ways? This is the much anticipated Roomies spin off. The Map To You can completely stand alone. But for those already familiar with Blake and his history, you will not want to miss this one. I would recommend reading Roomies first just because I loved that book as well but you do not need to in order to read this one. Overall, another great novel from Lindy Zart tackling some tough topics with tact and tenacity.
When Blake leaves his truck unattended for just a little bit. Who would've thought once he opens the front door why is there a young woman in the front seat sleeping. Of course Blake has no intentions of being around whomever this woman is. Though he opens his heart since he saw the look on her face that says HELP. He takes Opal on a little adventure. One thing Blake wants to do is get rid of his inner demons. First he wants to figure out who this woman is. i fell in love with Opal. She is spontaneous,quirky, AND LOVES FOOD! She is the right person for Blake to help him fight the inner demons that he's been wanting to unleash. When Blake gets to know her she opens his heart in so many ways. He has an attraction towards her like he's never had before. He doesn't know if it's a good thing, but he's able to find out by just being there with her on the journey that lies ahead of the two of them. Opal loves what Blake has, because she falls In love with this house he has and just wishes that she can stay there forever. House she wants to stay the peacefulness that's surrounding her. She knows that forever wouldn't workout. She has to do what her number one goal was to see Paisley make sure she's safe. Who knows if the trip really gets them together ? It took me so long to find a book to read. Being picky reader this was definitely the one. I bought it at 10pm-and didn't realize I finished it at 2am ! Thank you this book is just what I need!
When Blake leaves his truck unattended for just a short while the last thing he expects is finding someone inside when he gets back. However, there's a young woman asleep in the front seat. Blake doesn't want any company, but she looks like she needs his help, so he offers her a ride. Blake has his own demons to fight and he knows Opal will be trouble. He can't leave her behind though and takes her on a journey, will this be a good decision? Opal is running from something and she doesn't have much money. She is exhausted when she meets Blake and she can't tell him why she's in his truck. She also can't lie to him, because Blake seems to know exactly what she's thinking. Opal likes Blake, but she isn't ready to be involved with someone. What will they do once they reach their destination? Will Opal eventually be safe or does she have an uncertain future ahead of her and what about Blake, is it fair to include him in her plans? The Map to You is a wonderful romantic story. I immediately loved Opal. She's quirky, spontaneous and she has the great capacity to completely be herself. She's endearing and sweet and it's hard for Blake to resist her charms. Blake is a good guy struggling with depression, he's trying to fight the demons of his past and he's unsure about his future. Lindy Zart describes his problems in a beautiful realistic way. Blake could use some lightness in his life and Opal is exactly what he needs. He offers Opal safety and stability in return, which makes their relationship interesting from the start. They meet in an unusual way, they have plenty of sparks, their banter is fantastic and their connection is original, which is something I absolutely loved. Lindy Zart has written a creative love story with many fascinating twists and turns. I often had a smile on my face when I read about Opal, she's funny and gives the story a terrific feelgood factor. I liked that it's being combined with two deep emotional histories. Both Opal and Blake had a complicated childhood, something that moved me and made me feel like I could get close to them through understanding everything about them. I love it when an author achieves that. The Map to You is a versatile enchanting story with plenty of charm and character.
10+++ stars! Blake & Opal's story is full of heart and humor, and also some heartache. All of it is wonderfully told and an absolute joy to read! I was sucked in from the beginning & didn't want to put it down. I had some trouble getting into & connecting w/ Kennedy & Graham in Roomies, and wasn't such a big Blake fan in that story, either. But something about him tugged at my heart, and I was SUPER excited that he was getting his own story! He's broody on the outside, but a big ol' softie on the inside, and Opal is absolutely perfect for him. She makes him smile, and laugh, and cracks open the heart he thinks he doesn't have. She is feisty & spunky & sassy & I adore her! This story has found it's way to my top reads of the year!! : )
The Map To You is a least likely romance. Blake and Opal have both had very hard lives. Blake's made a lot of devastating mistakes in his life and he struggles with depression and addiction. Opal is on the run from her past with no place to run to. From the moment they meet there is a deep connection. Their souls recognize the broken pieces in each other. I found myself completely consumed by these two characters. They touched my heart and soul. I laughed and I cried a lot. Most importantly, I could not stop reading this book! This story touches on some very important subjects that need to be brought into the light and talked about more often .
The map to you is a very interesting story between two very broken people. They both have a lot of baggage from past. But the difference is that Black is still caught up in the dark when Opal is a ray of sunshine and although her life was and still is hard she can find something good in all the bad. Black and Opal meet in very strange unusual circumstance and although their first interaction can be their last they end up traveling together. On the road, they start to reveal a little bit of their true self and past and in the way is liberating especially for Black. I liked both of them they were unique in their way. All the past and previous decision had led them to who they are today and what I see is two good persons with a caring heart. Unusual but a great read. I volunteered to review an ARC of this book for Netgelly
This was such a good story so full of emotion, heartbreak and love. I really enjoyed it! For one seemingly so flawed, Blake is just so lovable. I couldn't help but just want and hope for the very best for him to finally find happiness and contentment. Opal has the ability to be/do that for him. Even though she has baggage of her own she shines like the sun and brings that to her relationship with Blake. He needs her light. I love them together! They get along so well and have incredible chemistry. This is my first Lindy Zart book and it won't be my last. She is such a gifted storyteller.