Putting the wild into wilderness
New Zealand adventure guide Rogan Quinn doesn't deny he's a commitment-phobe. He learned long ago that there is nothing more dangerous than love. But that doesn't mean he won't indulge in pleasure where he finds it, and his newest client looks like she's badly in need of a lot of pleasure.
Psychologist Claudia Mathison has brought five of her phobia-suffering patients into the wilderness hoping for a breakthrough, not to mention a break in her career. Instead, Rogan invites her on an adventureand she has no doubt that the sexy Kiwi can take her higher and further than she's ever been. But Claudia has a fear of her own that if she takes that adventure with him, she won't be able to find her way back. Or worse, she won't want to.
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The sound of his mobile woke Rogan out of a deep sleep. He moaned as he rolled over and searched for the phone on the bedside table.
Delicate feminine fingers smoothed over his belly and he smiled as her warm naked body curled closer.
"Are you going to answer that?" Kaylee murmured.
He squinted his eyes to read the display. If it wasn't his mum or one of his siblings, he could let the call go to voice mail. But when he saw the name of his next expedition client, Dr. Claudia Mathison, Rogan changed his mind. "This will just take a second," he said.
Kaylee sighed. "Make it quick. I have to leave soon."
He sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, then held the phone up to his ear. "Dr. Mathison," he said in a sleep-tinged voice.
"Good morning, Mr. Quinn. I hope I've caught you at a convenient time?" She didn't wait for an answer. "I just have a few more things that I'd like to discuss. Details that are important to make this trip go as smoothly as possible."
Psychologist Claudia Mathison had been calling him at least twice a day over the past few weeks with her little "details," and frankly she was beginning to drive him mad with all her requests. Yes, he understood that this trip would be a big challenge for her five phobic clients. But these were people who lived in the real world, not some invalids who could barely care for themselves.
When Rogan had booked the expedition, he'd bragged to his brothers, Malcolm and Ryan, how this could provide a whole new market for Max Adrenaline, the family's adventure-guiding business. Over the past couple of years, they'd been hit hard by a rival Kiwitheir father's former business partner, in factwho ran his own outfit off South Island. But Rogan argued that by opening themselves up to new and different clientele, they may just be able to expand on their core business of climbing and trekking expeditions and gain an edge on their competition.
But Rogan also had an ulterior motive for bringing in new business. Though at first, he'd been happy to work with his brothers and carry on the memory of his father, he'd never intended it to be his lifelong profession. Once the business was squarely on its feet, he'd always planned to go his own way. But the business never seemed to operate in the black, and lately he'd begun to wonder if there wasn't more to life than climbing mountains and crossing glaciers.
He wasn't sure what he was looking for, but whatever it was, he was sure it would make him happy again.
He'd grown weary of the constant stress and his current rootless existence. He wanted to see new places, discover new adventures, but he'd been stuck guiding the same itineraries for the past four years.
Adding new routes was always a risk for the company and a huge investment in time and equipment. But if he and his brothers could find an easy source of income, one that didn't involve gambling their capital, then maybe he could finally walk away from Max Adrenaline and live his own life. Which meant he had to keep Claudia Mathison happy.
"What can I do for you this morning, Dr. Mathison?"
"I've been going over the tent pairings and I think we're going to need two extra tents," she said. "In fact, it might just be better if they all had their own tents, if that wouldn't be too much trouble. I'm dealing with very mercurial personalities here, and I want everything to go as smoothly as possible."
"No, it wouldn't be too much trouble to double the number of tents from three to six," he said. "As long as your patients don't mind carrying their own. Just keep in mind our two-person tents for this type of expedition are eight pounds. So everyone will have to carry that extra weight on their packs."
"Eight pounds? That's not much," she said.
"It is when you're climbing a steep trail," he countered. "Which we will be doing on this trip."
"Perhaps you could send someone ahead with the tents?" she suggested.
"Dr. Mathison, I thought you wanted to challenge your clients. Take them out of their comfort zone. I've planned a week of survival training and wilderness camping. If you want Max Adrenaline to do all the work, then we should just make reservations at the nearest spa and settle in with massages and mineral baths."
A long silence fell between them and Rogan bit his lower lip. He knew better than to sound off like that, especially with a new client. But if this was how she meant to go on, the trip was going to be a rough ride for them both. In addition to her ever-growing list of necessities to calm her phobic patients' fears, now she was taking away the basic challenge of the trek. This woman seriously needed to loosen up.
Still, they were desperate for her business. "I'm sorry," he said. "Maybe I should ring you back after I've had my coffee."
"Perhaps that would be best," she said. "I'll speak with you later. Ring me at twelve forty-five my time. That would be three forty-five for you. I have a twenty-minute opening in my schedule and we can work out the final details."
Rogan rubbed his forehead. If it was nine in the morning where he was in Auckland, then it was seven in the morning in Sydney, where she lived. "Do you always get to work this early?" he asked.
"I don't need much sleep," she said. "I'll talk to you later."
"All right. Catch you later."
Rogan flopped back down on the bed and threw his arm over his eyes. A few seconds later, Kaylee pressed a kiss to his chest. He looked down to see her smiling at him, her blond hair tumbled around her face. "Good morning," she said.
"Morning," he replied. "Sorry about that."
"No worries," she replied. "It's time to get up. I've got a lot of packing to do today."
Rogan frowned. "Packing? Are you going on holiday?"
Kaylee gave him an uneasy smile. "No. Actually, I'm relocating."
"Really? Getting a new place?"
"More like a a new life," she said. She sat up beside him and pulled the bedcovers up around her naked body. "I meant to tell you last night, but then we had a few drinks and things got randy between us. I'm moving down to Christchurch with Denny Fitzgerald. He's gotten a promotion and he asked if I'd come with him. And I said yes."
"Wait," Rogan said, shaking his head. "You and Denny?"
Kaylee shrugged. "Yeah. He's a nice guy, Rogan. We've been getting closer. He's sweet and he loves me and he wants to make a life with me. And he's around."
"When did this happen?"
"It's been going on for about a year, but nothing official. Until now, that is."
"Why haven't I heard about it?"
"I don't know. Maybe because you're never home. Listen, you're a nice bloke, Rogan, but a girl can't live on a few weeks of incredible sex three or four times a year. As good as it all is, it's just not enough. I want something more. I want a husband and a family. Denny can give that to me."
"I could do more for you," Rogan said. But even as the words came out of his mouth, he realized they weren't true. If he really had wanted more with Kaylee, he would have made it happen. He'd been perfectly content with what they'd hadgreat sex every two or three months when he happened to be home and then not a moment spent worrying about her in between.
Kaylee reached out and smoothed her hand over his cheek. "That's just what you think you want," she murmured. "But I know you. You could never be tied down. It's just not you."
"Yeah," Rogan muttered. "But occasionally I wish it was."
A wistful smile curled the corners of her mouth. "Denny and I are going to be very happy."
Rogan reluctantly nodded. "I hope he appreciates what a great girl he's getting."
"I think he does." She crawled over him and began to search the bedroom for her panties. "You'll find someone else. Women are always attracted to men like you. At least for a while."
Rogan watched silently as Kaylee slipped into her clothes. He wanted to pull her back into bed and have his way with her just once more. But that would serve only one purposeto make him feel worse about her leaving. Of all the girls he'd dated, she'd been his favorite. Though he and Kaylee had never defined their relationship, beyond enjoying each other in the bedroom, he'd still looked forward to seeing her again at the end of every trip. She was sweet and sexy and undemandingalways satisfied with what he had to offer. Until now.
She plopped down on the bed and tugged on her shoes, then turned to him. "So, I guess it's goodbye, then."
"I guess so," Rogan murmured.
She bent over him and brushed a quick kiss on his lips. "It's been fun. And I'll miss you. Take care and don't fall off any mountains."
Rogan reached up and smoothed a strand of flaxen hair out of her eyes. "I'll miss you, too."
She laughed, her eyes sparkling with a devilish glint. "No, you won't. You'll have a new girl in your bed by the end of the week."
Kaylee jumped up and walked to the door, turning back just once to blow him a kiss. "Ta ta, Rogan. Have a nice life."
"Ta ta, Kaylee. Take care."
He listened to her footsteps as they echoed through the cottage, then shut his eyes as the front door closed. "Bloody hell," he muttered.
The sound of the front door opening ended his temporary depression and Rogan grinned. Maybe she'd changed her mind already. Denny Fitzgerald was a tosser, and no sane woman would choose him. "Back so soon?" he shouted.
A few moments later, Rogan's older brother, Mal, walked through the bedroom door. "I met Kaylee on the way out. Rotten news, that."
Rogan cursed softly, then crawled out of bed and grabbed his jeans, tugging them on as he walked to the loo. "When did you find out about her and Denny Fitzgerald?"
"Dana told me a few months ago. I assumed you knew." Dana, their sister, usually wasn't great about keeping a secret.
"Just found out this morning," Rogan said as he began to brush his teeth. "Can't say I blame her. I can't offer her much of a life." He looked out the bathroom door. "What are you doing here?"
Mal held up a large envelope. "I brought you this. It's the first three chapters of the biography Amy is writing about Dad. I thought you might like to read it. It's quite good, if I can say so about my own girlfriend's writing."
Rogan grabbed a towel and wiped his mouth, then wandered back out to the living room. When he didn't grab the envelope right away, Mal shrugged and dropped it on the table in front of the sofa.
Rogan wasn't sure how he felt about everything that was happening in regards to Max Quinn. The book, the expedition to recover his body from Everest and the publicity that was sure to follow. He understood why Mal was so keen on it all, but there was some instinct buried deep inside Rogan that shouted caution.
But then, Rogan knew more about his father than Mal didthan Mal wanted to know. He'd first heard the rumors about their father on a trekking expedition to Annapurna. A few blokes from another team were chatting over dinner and the conversation had turned to women climbers, and one in particular. Annalise Montgomery. He hadn't meant to eavesdrop, but when he heard his father's name mentioned, he spun around to face the other climbers. The pair quickly went silent when they recognized him and they'd refused to say more. Rogan wished that had been the end of it.
Rogan sat down on the sofa and regarded the envelope pensively, then reached out to pick it up. "Are you sure you really want to open all this up again, Mal? What if we find out something we don't want to know? Something that hurts Mum?"
"She thinks the book is a good idea," Mal said.
"But she's still wobbling on the expedition. She said as much to me last week," Rogan countered.
"She'll come round. We've almost worked out the funding. And you can't tell me you're not interested in climbing Everest."
Truthfully, Rogan was interested in the climb. He wouldn't have clients to worry about and it would be different. Max Adrenaline had never offered an Everest expedition in deference to his mother. Still, he didn't expect that she was going to approve of all three of her sons climbing the peak that had killed her husband.
"I still think we ought to discuss the book," Rogan said. "All of us. You, me, Ryan and Dana."
Mal shrugged. "Getting all four of us together at one time is nearly impossible. And what difference would it make?" He stood up. "Now, I have to find my old bike. Have you seen it? Ryan was using it last winter. Amy wants a bike with a basket so she can run errands around town without the car."
"Haven't a clue. Why don't you just buy her a new bike?"
"I suggested that, but she's on an austerity kick right now. She says we should start saving our money. So we can start a family."
"You're not even married yet," Rogan said, staring at his brother.
"I know. But we're talking about making it official. And after that, who can say. We both want kids, so it might happen sooner rather than later."
"Jaysus, Mal, things are moving a bit fast, don't you think?"
"No," Mal said, shaking his head. "Now that we've decided we want to be together, we're moving forward. Just as Dad always said, 'one foot in front of the other.' That's the only way to get anywhere in life."
"How is that going to affect your schedule?"
"Amy realizes we'll have to be apart for long periods of time. But she says she understands that's the way it has to be. We'll work it out. Although I would like to cut back a bit on leading the long trips. I was hoping to talk to you and Ryan about that."
Rogan ran his fingers through his tousled hair. So much for his own plans to leave the family business behind. Now that Mal was talking about marriage, that would leave only Ryan to guide the big expeditions and he couldn't do it alone. The business and the family would surely suffer.
"Sure," Rogan said. "No problem."
"Great. It'll only be for a while. Business is going to pick up and we'll be able to afford to hire more guides. At some point, I'd like to take just a few trips a year."
Rogan pushed to his feet. Max Adrenaline had always been Mal's baby. He was the one who'd convinced Rogan and Ryan to sign on. And now, he was the one anxious to step back. "So you managed to find the one woman in the entire bleedin' world who was willing to put up with the lifestyle. How did you manage that?"
He brushed past Mal and walked to the kitchen, his frustration slowly simmering. Why were things always so much easier for Mal? It always seemed as though he had complete control over everythinghis life, his emotions, his women.