An all-new novel from the author of After Hours.
She set out to find herself, and discovered the darker side of desire.
Merry’s lost a lot recently—first her mother, then close to a hundred pounds. Feeling adrift, she strikes out in search of perspective. A three-week hike through the Scottish Highlands was supposed to challenge her new body and refocus her priorities, but when disaster strikes, she’s forced to seek refuge in the remote home of a brooding, handsome stranger…
Rob exiled himself to the Highlands years ago, desperate to escape his own self-destruction. Haunted by regrets, he avoids human contact at all costs…but when Merry turns up injured, he can’t very well run her off. And as he nurses her back to health, Rob can’t resist his guest’s sweet demeanor—or her flirtatious advances. The igniting passion between them rouses a secret appetite Rob has long struggled to keep hidden. But Merry craves nothing more than to help Rob surrender to his desires, and the journey draws the lovers into an entirely different kind of wilderness.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||949 KB|
About the Author
Cara now writes full-time and lives north of Boston with her bearded husband. When she’s not trapped in her own head, she can usually be found in the kitchen, the coffee shop, or jogging around the nearest duck-filled pond.
Read an Excerpt
To: Lauren, Kat
Subject: Farewell drinks?
Hey gals! Anybody free for pre-vacay drinks tomorrow? I figure it’s pretty likely I’ll get taken captive as a sex slave by some rippling, kilted Highlander next week, never to return. Promise you’ll keep San Fran warm for me.
I’ve got a zillion things still to wrap up at work, but I should be free by 7:30. Any takers? So hoping to see you guys one more time before I fly out.
To: Merry, Kat
Subject: re: Farewell drinks?
Wouldn’t miss it—I could use a drink this week. Or three. Just tell me where.
To: Merry, Lauren
Subject: re: Farewell drinks?
Hell yeah. See you then!
To: Merry, Kat
Subject: re: Farewell drinks?
Is it totally cunty that I’m sort of looking forward to Merry being gone for a month? Probably. But I swear she lost her old personality, right along with the weight. If it gets any worse she’ll start tossing her hair and giggling every time someone tells her how great she looks. My last nerve. She is on it. Bon voyage.
Okay, yeah. That WAS cunty. Whatever. See you tomorrow!
Merry blinked at her phone’s screen, just as another message alert pinged.
Subject: re: Farewell drinks?
Uhhh . . . o_O I’m guessing Lauren didn’t mean to reply all. And I don’t think she knows she did. Shall we just let her keep thinking that, or . . . ??? Anyhow, I can’t wait to see you tomorrow!
Merry frowned, considering her reply.
She wasn’t hurt.
Well, yeah, she was. But not surprised. Lauren’s default setting was snide, but it stung Merry to have her suspicions confirmed. She’d lost ninety-two pounds, but clearly she’d gained something else—readmission to the joys of high-school bitchery! Nothing like a reply-all faux pas to make thirty-one feel like fifteen.
She squished the carpet between her bare toes, wiping her smudged screen with her sleeve. To confront or not to confront.
Lauren had told her once, “You can be fat, or you can be a bitch. But you can’t be a fat bitch. Bitchiness is a luxury only hot girls can afford.”
Merry hated that motto, but she still remembered it word for word, five or more years after Lauren had decreed it. As though a girl couldn’t be big and a bitch, and, for that matter, hot. Though sadly, it seemed perhaps a girl could not be Lauren’s best friend if she didn’tstay fat.
Which was a rather bitchy policy, Merry felt. Nearly as bitchy as that e-mail.
Was she more annoying now? She hadn’t thought so.
Like anyone on earth isn’t annoying, from time to time. And if she was chirpy and smiley when people complimented her, it was because her mom and had raised her to accept praise graciously, never to deflect or apologize. Save your deflecting for the insults—there’ll be plenty. Swallow the kind words whole.
Merry sighed, physically feeling the angst, forcing it from her body as she’d trained herself to do in lieu of muffling it with food.
Let Lauren sulk. Let her vent. Let her think Merry had turned traitor by veering off a comfortable, delicious collision course with diabetes or joint problems or whatever else she’d managed to ignore until last year.
Maybe Lauren would come around, in time. And if she didn’t, Merry might have to admit that perhaps Lauren was two hundred additional pounds she’d be well rid of.
Sucked, though—ten years of friendship, and she’d never noticed how codependent they’d been. Kind of like how she’d never quite realized she’d gotten so overweight, despite the numbers on her jeans tag and the scale giving it to her straight on a daily basis. People were nothing if not selective in their perceptions of reality.
She hit reply.
To: Lauren, Kat
Subject: re: Farewell drinks?
Awesome! Americano at 7:30. First round’s on me.
Yeah, awesome. Merry could be the bigger man . . . even if she was now the smaller girl. She’d broken some unspoken, fat-girl solidarity pact she’d subconsciously entered into with Lauren. She could forgive the woman for feeling betrayed or abandoned.
Though, yeah. It was pretty cunty.
She turned to the catastrophe that was her living room, strewn with three weeks’ hiking supplies she had to magically clown-car into one pack. She lined items up by necessity—tent, sleeping bag, water filter on the front line. Essential clothes, followed by if-there’s-room clothes . . .
Friends love each other, she thought, checking the caps on her travel bottles. Friends hurt each other. Friends came and went, but Merry had already lost a lot in the past year and a half. Her mother, over a third of her body weight, then her . . . Well, not her boyfriend. Her fuck buddy. Jason had quit texting a few months ago, right around the time Merry had spun giddy circles in a department-store dressing room after the zipper had slid home, practically dancing out into the street carrying her first size-twelve dress, with a side of intoxicating confidence.
Magically, a few weeks later, she’d had to take that dress to a consignment shop—it was too big now. After this vacation, she might need to do the same with her tens. Holy shit. Size eight. The single digits. She might actually one day fit into the sample sizes she patterned at work. Shangri-fucking-la.
The weird thing was, she still felt like the old Merry inside—caring, competent, fun, loyal. But now people were reacting differently to the package those qualities came in. Guys from work who’d never said more to her than, “How do you change the toner in this thing?” were suddenly asking about her weekend, her vacation, her opinions on the latest reality-TV scandal.
While part of her was thrilled—male attention was a side effect of the weight loss she’d been hoping for, after all—another part had to think, Caring, fun and loyal don’t really count for much, do they? Not unless they came wrapped in a pleasing female shape. Not if you wanted to get past the proverbial receptionist with a guy. Which kind of sucked.
And yet . . . she did want that. Thirty-one, and she’d never been in love. She’d been infatuated, sure. She’d been in love in a guy’s general direction, but she’d never felt that light and heat shining back on her. She’d been clad too heavily in her own self-consciousness to welcome it. Some women wore their curves proudly—rocked the hell out of them, in fact. But that had never been Merry. Her extra weight had been defensive, something to hide behind, not to embrace.
Now the armor was gone. She felt exposed, but the sensation was as thrilling as it was scary. And if she ever wanted to get tangled in the writhing tentacles of passionate, mind-blowing, stupid-making, reciprocal true love, she’d have to make peace with this naked feeling.
Perhaps Lauren, like Jason, had preferred the old Merry, the Merry who’d bent over backward to please the people she liked, who’d put herself last.
You’re welcome to her, she thought, stuffing her sleeping bag into its sleeve.
This new Merry’s off to walk across Scotland.
And she’s not coming back until she’s fucking found herself.
She was a water nymph. A weightless, ethereal goddess of the loch.
A mattress of undulating coolness under her back, sunshine heating her breasts and belly and face. With her ears submerged, her pulse became the very heartbeat of the earth, the cascade of her hair dancing in the gentle waves. She was more spirit than flesh, a wisp of pure energy to be blown where the breeze wished to take her . . .
But the cold got her first. Her feet found the smooth stones and mush, bracing autumn air clenching her back muscles. Weightlessness going, going, gone as she sloshed to shore.
The water nymph was no more, and she was just Merry. Same old Merry, still thumbing through the owner’s manual for this body she couldn’t yet call her own.
The breeze pebbled her dripping skin as she tiptoed between the sharper rocks to her towel—a towel that was in desperate need of a good machine-washing after more than two weeks’ trekking.
As she dried herself, she took in the landscape, thinking she’d never felt this small before—a smallness that had nothing to do with her dress size or body mass index. Those measures felt so abstract now.
The valleys of northwest Scotland were sweeping, the craggy black mountains grand and ominous, the loch long and wide, wavering like old glass under a vast blue sky. She was well off the popular Great Glen Way route, and the only sign of humanity she’d spied in the past several days had been the ribbon of white smoke rising from the chimney of a holiday cottage she’d passed early that morning.
Once dressed in her hiking pants and a zip-up, she perched on a boulder to tug on thick wool socks. The rock poked rudely into her butt, and she nearly missed her old padding. Two weeks’ backpacking had probably rounded up her total weight loss since the previous summer to a tidy hundred pounds.
She’d fantasized about the day she’d hit that lovely round number. One hundred freaking pounds.
In her imagination, she’d risen at a pious hour just after dawn, stepped on the scale, clasped her hands with rapturous delight, then skipped down the hall to celebrate the accomplishment with exactly three-quarters of a cup of high-fiber cereal and exactly one-half cup of soy milk, a breakfast that—in her fantasy—she’d magically come to find both palatable and satisfying. 220 calories. Write that down. 220—that’s sixteen minutes on the treadmill at 6.2 miles per hour. That’s twenty-one minutes on the elliptical, excluding warm-up, at 115 strides per minute at a 7.5 resistance.
In her imagination, after said breakfast she’d head to work. She’d take a long lunch break that day, and under the flattering lights of the J. Crew changing room she’d discover she did indeed fit into a pair of size eight jeans. Jeans for which she’d pay ninety dollars—more numbers, always numbers—smiling as she signed the receipt, dutifully not thinking about the working conditions of Cambodian children.
Reality looked nothing like her expectations. The past two weeks’ journey had changed all her perceptions, finally plugging her into an authentic model for qualifying all these changes. Dozens of miles she never could’ve hiked in her old body. Steep hills she never could have scaled and views she’d never have glimpsed from their peaks. The feel of the wind or the weak autumn sun on her naked skin. This sensation of perfect solitude. This mirrorlessness, with no one’s eyes on her body, not even her own. To relate to her physicality from the inside, through what she could do, not how she looked.
The numbers didn’t matter. The numbers were just markers people used to convince themselves how much better or worse they were than others, to calculate their relative human worth.
In no time at all this trip would be over, and in no time at all, Merry might be back to giving a shit about the markers. Those rituals may have whittled the equivalent of a fifth grader from her frame, but that compulsive level of vigilance wasn’t sustainable. Plus Merry had tasted of the bacon-wrapped scallop, the fried pickle with ranch, the brownie batter never to see the inside of an oven. She’d been tossed too many years ago from the garden where there grew only carrot sticks and hundred-calorie packs of pretzels, and there was no readmittance. Her mouth had lain in sin with too many Reubens.
For now, no food diary. No logging her day’s cardio session. For as long as she was out here, the numbers could go fuck themselves.
The numbers back home said Merry’s daily calorie budget was 1,450. She smiled, opening a bag of cashews, eating them by the handful as she watched the breeze rippling the loch. She’d surely blast past the 1,450 mark on these alone, inside five minutes. Yet she’d burn them off by noon, humping her forty-pound pack over hill and dale, tugging up her too-big hiking pants when they slipped low and chafed her recently excavated hip bones.
Out here, her body wasn’t a collection of desirable parts and shameful ones, a thing to be tricked and punished and outsmarted, outwilled. It was merely a vessel for food and water and sunshine, a structure of muscle and bone, a capable and ready thing. A machine primed for this trip—170 miles on foot, nearly three weeks to ponder all this natural beauty and appreciate her success. Numbers that qualified her efforts instead of tallying her female value.
She wrapped her hair in the towel and lay across a smooth stretch of grass, surrendering to the smallness. Leaving her body behind as she shut her eyes and welcomed the sun’s heat.
Two hours later, the cramps started.
It began as stabby pangs just beneath her ribs and a roiling in her stomach. She’d had to scrap the day’s miles, hiking at a staggered pace back to the loch, lest she get stranded too far from a water source. The pains were followed by a long night of taunting half-sleep, of unsettling, looping dreams, twisted by a growing nausea.
Merry longed to vomit—surely it’d make this hounding dizziness go away—but that mercy never came. The crisis moved to her bowels by dawn, and that didn’t quell the queasiness, either.
The cramps sharpened and a headache grew, and no matter how much water she drank, thirst dogged her. When her bottles were empty, the simple effort of crouching and pumping the filter made her muscles ache and her limbs tremble.
Something was seriously wrong, and it probably wasn’t just the too-many dried apricots she’d had for lunch the day before.
The little crofter’s cottage she’d passed the previous dawn couldn’t be far—two miles, tops. Sadly, the route was uphill, and her pack felt as though it were filled with cinder blocks. It hurt where the straps bound her, so badly she felt she must be bruising. Dehydration made her light-headed, lining her mouth with cotton and chapping her lips. She focused on each step, trying to lure her mind off the discomfort.Right, left. Right, left. She hummed cheery pop songs, punctuated by low moans each time a cramp twisted her guts.
“Fucking fuck.”She hugged her middle, gnashing her teeth through the latest pang.
Perhaps a mile up the hill, she dropped to her knees, toppled by the weight of the pack, muscles too spent to catch her. Her palm found a rock and was rewarded with a bloody scrape. The impact had barely hurt at all. And that didn’t feel right.
She made it to her feet, reeling.
Not even a hundred yards on, she fell a second time, tripping on a sharp outcropping veiled by the wild grass. This time it was her head that found the rock.
White flashed. The pain didn’t follow for five seconds or more, but when it did, she cried out. As the dancing spots blinked away, Merry lurched onto her side, fumbling with shaking fingers to unsnap the buckles at her waist and chest. The pack tumbled aside, feeling like half a ton of dead weight. She touched her temple. Her fingers came away red and slick.
That’s not good.
I’m going to die out here. And I’ve never even been in love.
God, that was too pathetic. Too pathetic to accept, frankly.
For a time—a minute, an hour, a day, who knew—she stared into the hard blue sky and listened to the river rushing, waiting for her limbs to re-materialize and her brain to quiet, for panic to make room for calm. When it did, she struggled to her knees and detached the plastic whistle fob from her backpack and gathered a water bottle and compass. Before striking out from Glasgow she’d bought a GPS tracker, a clip-on device that she now moved from her bag to her pants pocket. It wouldn’t do much aside from lend her a vague sense that she was still tethered to some human being, someplace. And if she perished out here, well, they might just find her before the crows did.
With that cheerful thought, she started back up the hill.
Yesterday the cottage had seemed no more than forty-five minutes’ hike. She should have come upon it by now, surely. Or was panic making a snail’s pace feel like a sprint?
But finally, after seeming hours—stone walls, red door. A tiny house no bigger than her apartment appearing beyond the rise.
“Thank you thank you thank you . . .”
A spasm of nausea curled her body. She groaned until it passed, sucking desperate breaths through clenched teeth. Her arm ached as she dug the whistle from her pocket and brought it to her parched lips. She blew. Barely a wheeze at first, but she puffed into it with every step, the cottage growing closer, closer. She’d make it. She might have to crawl, but she’d make it.
The blowing triggered a head rush, and a hundred paces from the little home, she fell to her knees again. Her temple wailed as she got back up, but something else screamed—anger. Panic. Frustration, that no one had heard her and opened the door. Had she imagined that smoke?
No, someone maintained this place. The thatch on the roof was too tame, a broom leaning against the doorframe not weathered enough to have been abandoned here. It must be a holiday cottage. Please don’t let its renters have picked yesterday to head home . . .
“Hello?” she shouted, staggering the final few yards. Her fist thumped the heavy wooden door with a rattle, compounding the ache in her arm. She pounded and shouted, the impact as weak as her voice. “Hello! Please! I’m hurt.”
An aluminum sign was hung to her left, the kind you might buy at a hardware store. No Soliciting. Too exhausted to make sense of it, she put her lips to the whistle and mustered a mighty breath just as the door swung in.
The man clapped his hands to his ears, wincing. Merry was so startled she let the fob fall from her lips. Blue eyes widened, aimed at her bleeding head.
“Hello,” she said dumbly, feeling drunk, stabbed in the guts at random intervals by the cramps, stabbed in the temple by her throbbing cut. “I may be dying. I’m not sure.”
The door opened wider. A dark-haired man was steering her inside, around a corner. Something hard slammed into her butt and legs—a chair seeming to rise up from the floor to collide with her body. She gripped the seat at her sides with both hands, convinced it was floating, that she’d flip over and tumble off if she didn’t hold tight. She wanted to lie down. On the nice, solid floor, where maybe the world would stop rocking this way. She tried to slide her butt from the seat, but the stranger stopped her, pinning her shoulders.
“No, no. Stay put.”
“I need to lie down.”
“You can’t. You’ve had a nasty knock on the head.” He crouched before her, hand still clamped firmly to her shoulder. Gently drawing back the skin above and below her lids, he peered at her eyes. “You’ve not got double vision, have you?”
“No, just a terrible headache. And everything’s spinning. And I’m nauseous.”
He continued to scan her eyes with his blue ones. Gray-blue like the lochs, and the autumn sky just before dusk, Merry mused, still feeling drunk. Cold like slate, hard and sharp. His overgrown hair untamed, like the wild heather. Whoa, deep.
The man covered her eyes with his warm hands, then took them away. “Your pupils are good.” The scent of tea sweetened his breath. God knew what hers smelled of.
He’s hot, she thought idly, a thought so inappropriate given the circumstances, she chalked it up to the head injury.
Some clarity returned as she caught her breath, and the room slowly ceased tumbling. She managed to accept a mug of cold water and emptied half of it. It seemed to douse the steam fogging her brain, though the nausea and piercing headache remained.
The man took the mug and set it on a small table at her side, crouching once more.
“Hold still.” He pushed back her hair to examine whatever damage the fall had done. She studied his face as he assessed her injury, trying to make sense of him after all these days of perfect isolation.
His stubble was flirting with beardhood, black save for a patch of silver below his lip, and she guessed he was about forty. He had a deep pair of creases between his brows and another set bracketing his mouth—stern and steely things. There was less gray in his dark hair, but a healthy streaking at his temples. His expression was hard, but whether it was his typical look or merely one he reserved for shrill, bleeding hikers who barged babbling into his cottage . . .
No matter how stern or scowly he might be, no matter if Merry was concussed, it didn’t diminish her initial assessment. He was hot. Strong nose, distrustful blue eyes. Sort of down-and-out, rugged hotness, like a sexy, desperate fugitive. Which might explain the whole living-in-the-middle-of-nowhere thing. In any case, he didn’t look like a man on vacation.
But definitely hot.
Maybe he’ll rip his shirt to pieces, to make bandages for my head.
Oh shit, I am so hard up.
“Stay there.” The man stood and disappeared into the next room.
Merry looked around. She was in a combination kitchen and den, with a wood stove in the center, shelves with pots and pans and dishes at her end, a rocking chair at the other. The space was lit coolly by the light coming through a single window.
Her mysterious host returned with a metal first-aid box and a wet washcloth. He rolled the sleeves of his thermal shirt to his elbows. “Turn your head.”
She let him swab her temple, first with water, then with some stinging wipe. “Ow ow ow.”
“That’s quite a bump you’ve got.” His thumb circled the spot.
“But you don’t need stitches at least.” He smeared the cut with ointment and smoothed a broad bandage in place. He sat back on his heels, expression softening by a measure. “I’ve gotten tape in your hair. Sorry.”
Merry gave the dressing a faint press. “That’s okay. What about my hand?” She held it out, palm crusted maroon with dried blood.
He took it in his own hand and wiped it clean, revealing only shallow scrapes. She stared at his mouth as the antiseptic wipe burned across the savaged skin, concentrating on the tight line of his lips until the sting faded.
“Probably not worth the trouble of wrapping,” he said, letting her hand go.
“No, probably not. Thank you.”
He backed off, resting his forearms on his knees. “What are you doing out here, wandering around with no supplies?”
“I’ve got a whole pack of stuff, but I had to ditch it when I got dizzy. It’s down the hill a ways. I, um . . . Where’s your bathroom? I should know, just in case. I’m pretty nauseous.”
He stood and went to a cupboard, returning with a large metal bowl and setting it on her lap.
“Or that could work.”
“The bathroom’s not exactly en suite.”
Her bowels had settled, at least. “Thanks.”
“Has the fall made you nauseous?”
“No, I’ve been queasy since last night, and dizzy. I hit my head when I tripped.” She touched the spot.
“Have you been drinking loch water?”
“Have you been keeping it down?”
Merry shook her head. “Not really. Not since yesterday afternoon.”
“Want to hazard some tea?”
“Sure.” Maybe something hot would trick her body into a sense of calm.
The man went to his stove, lighting a fire in its belly and centering a kettle on top. He gathered her mug plus another and a jar of loose tea, and tidied the small kitchen area as he waited for the water to steam, seeming eager to ignore Merry. When kettle finally whistled, he filled a perforated, hinged spoon with tea and snapped it closed.
“I haven’t got any milk in,” he said.
“That’s fine. I shouldn’t push it, anyhow.”
“Please. Are you sure I can’t lie down?”
“I don’t think so. Not if you’re concussed.”
“I think I’m just not supposed to fall asleep.”
“Since neither of us seems to know for sure, let’s err on the side of caution.” His tone had gone a touch sharp, and he had a different accent than the ones she’d heard in the last village she’d passed through. Not as brogue-y as folks in Glasgow or further north, but harder than the gentle, civilized tones of the Edinburgh natives she’d encountered.
As he stirred, his blue eyes seemed to ask the mug, Why? Why? Why?
Merry was chatty at the best of times, and out here, having not seen or spoken to anyone for four or five days, she couldn’t help herself. “This is all very strange. I feel drunk.”
He nodded, not looking up.
“I hope I haven’t wrecked your vacation.”
“I live here.”
Damn. “Just you?”
“Have you been out here long?”
“About two years.” Still no eye contact.
“Did you grow up nearby?”
“Oh, you’re English. I was like, man, what a weird Scottish accent he’s got.”
He raised his eyes to meet hers, and in that split second she imagined she could read his thoughts: Bugger me, is she going to chatter like this all bloody day?
She drummed her fingers around the bowl. “Sorry. You know, for intruding this way.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t intentional.” Not the warmest reassurance, but fine. “How’s your stomach?”
“Still queasy. But stabilizing, I think. Or maybe I’m just not so dizzy. So are you retired, or . . . ?”
“Yes, I suppose I am.”
From what? And how, so young? And why do you live like a hermit? What’s your deal? Are you a serial killer? “Well, you’ve picked a very . . .” Remote. Lonely. Secluded. Murder-conducive. “A very majestic place. To retire.”
He nodded. For a long, awkward moment they stared at each other, and Merry wondered which of them felt more confused by the other.
“My name’s Merry, by the way. Spelled like Merry Christmas.” A jolly name she’d lived up to, in temperament and, until recently, plumpness. When her host didn’t respond, the silence made her antsy. “What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Rob. I mean, this isn’t so nice, how it happened. But you know.”
Rob forced an unpracticed smile that suggested he didn’t find a single thing about their acquaintance in any way nice.
She plowed on regardless, dreading silence more than she feared annoying him. “I’m from San Francisco, just backpacking through.”
“On a gap year?”
“A break. From university?”
“Oh no, I’m thirty-one. I’m just on vacation. My mom grew up in Inverness, and I’ve never been, so . . .” She cut herself off, knowing she’d spew on endlessly if given half a chance. I just lost a hundred pounds, you see, and my mom died last year, and I have no fucking clue what I’m doing with my life or what I want, and I suspect this guy I’ve been banging ditched me for losing the weight, and I think my best friend is next. “I don’t really know why I’m walking there, to be honest. I guess I wanted a challenge.”
After a long pause, Rob submitted to the small talk with what looked like a considerable effort. “How far?”
“Glasgow to Inverness.”
He blinked. “That’s a ways.”
“I was on track to do it in under three weeks, but I hadn’t planned on contracting whatever this is. I hope it’s just some flu, from all the camping, and being so worn out. Thank goodness I noticed your cottage yesterday.”
Rob didn’t echo her relief over this point, but instead asked, “How long did you say you’ve been sick?”
“A day, for the cramps. My headache started last night, and—” No need for details. “And some other symptoms. At first I was hoping maybe it’s just that I’ve been eating nothing but dried fruit, you know?”
“And you’ve been purifying your water?”
“Have you been swimming?”
Only in every loch I’ve passed in the last two weeks. “Yeeeah . . .” She recalled all the playful fountains she’d jetted from her lips while floating on her back, and the cramps sharpened. “Oh dear.” Before she could get a fresh apology out, her mom’s voice intervened. Say thanks, not sorry. Women have been apologizing for too long. “Thank you. For the tea, and for checking my head and everything.”
He held her gaze, looking grim. “You could have crypto.”
Her stomach knotted more tightly. She’d read about crypto and giardia and all those other scary water-borne illnesses in her travel guides, hence all the diligent filtering. “If I did . . . any guess how long it’ll last?”
“A couple of days, maybe. If it’s a virus, it’ll flush itself out. But if your symptoms get worse, you’ll need to go to hospital. Could be bacteria. Then you’d need antibiotics.”
She winced. “And how far is the nearest hospital?”
“With a vehicle? About an hour.”
“Do you have a vehicle?”
He nodded. “When you feel stable, I could take you. Better safe than sorry. And a few warm nights in an inn might do more wonders than anything a doctor could prescribe. You could probably find a bus route bound for Inverness, from wherever you wind up staying.”
Her heart sank. She’d come so far, all on her own, just her and her two feet and the muscles she’d earned this past year. As heavenly as a bed sounded, the thought of climbing into a passenger seat to finish this mission . . . She’d already spent thirty years too many in the passenger seat.
“I’d hate to quit now. I’m less than a week away. I mean, thank you for offering. But I’d rather just rest for a day and see how I feel . . .” She waited for Rob to suggest perhaps she could stay with him for said day, but his face told her nothing. “I don’t suppose I could rest here?”
His eyebrows rose, expression souring as he stirred sugar into her mug. “What, for the night?”
“I could get my pack from down the hill—I’ve got a sleeping bag and pad and a tent. I don’t want to put you out. I’ll sleep outside. Just so in case my symptoms get any worse, I wouldn’t be totally alone . . . ?”
He’d gone blank, attention nailed to the floorboards between them.
She changed her approach. “I could pay you. I don’t have a ton of cash on me, but—”
His eyes snapped up so fast, that stare so intense she froze.
“You can have the bed. For one night. To see if you feel different come morning.”
She released a breath. “Oh.”
He tapped the spoon on the edge of the mug, then came close to set her tea at her elbow.
“Thank you. And for the bed. Seriously, though—tell me if I’m putting you out.”
“My entire life puts me out.” His tone gave her no clue whatsoever if this was a joke or not. True, though—if he didn’t enjoy roughing it, he wouldn’t have moved out here.
“Well,” Merry said, watching as he knocked the spent tea into a plastic bucket and started a second cup. “That’s very kind of you. Do you get a lot of backpackers bothering you for stuff?”
He snapped the infuser spoon closed and dropped it in his steaming mug, finally meeting her eyes.
“I don’t usually open the door.”
For a long time Rob circled the spoon in his mug, stealing glances at his inexplicable houseguest. He felt like a dog trying to make sense of physics.
There was a woman in his home.
There was an American woman—bleeding from her head and likely ill with crypto—sitting in his kitchen. She stared through the far window, face placid but for the line pinched between her brows that gave away her pain.
This was far more troubling than the middle-aged ramblers and adventurous students who normally came calling, the ones Rob did well at ignoring or running off with a few gruff, grunted directions toward the nearest scenic loch or motorway. He always breathed easier the second their colorful jackets disappeared over the next rise.
But Merry couldn’t very well be shunted down the hill, and knowing he was stuck with her for a night or more had his heart beating fast with taut, frantic thumps, his throat tight. He really ought to drive her to hospital and be rid of her, but he didn’t relish chancing it—his tax disc was expired, his license suspended. They might not take notice in the village, but the city was another matter. Plus the city made him anxious. More anxious than Merry’s company did, even.
He forced deep inhalations, though they did little more than leave him light-headed. That made two of them, he supposed.
He eyed his guest. She looked alien in his minimalist home. Too modern, with her shiny dark plait falling over the bright magenta of her fitted hiking top, piped in shimmery, reflective material. Such a vulgar color amid all the drab wood, the muted old curtains, the cold, earthy palette of the Highlands themselves. He’d be pleased to see the back of her, same as all those other lost ramblers.
But her departure couldn’t be rushed, not with that bump on her head, its owner still babbling like a drunk. He selfishly hoped the latter was a symptom of her head injury. Rob wasn’t much for conversation.
He didn’t know how to talk to women anymore, not aside from a handful of mumbled words to the clerks when he traveled to the nearest village to stock up on staples.
At some point in his twenties, Rob had known how to talk to women. Enough to get dates, to pull, to fall in love and get married. Then the darkness had come, and that man had been lost. Rob had gotten good at shouting, though. Demeaning, hateful words aimed at his wife in the grips of the inevitable hangover, and who knew what slurred venom when he was drunk. And he’d been drunk every fucking night, those final three years of his so-called civilized life.
His hands felt cold, wrapped around a phantom bottle. He hugged the mug in both palms, inviting it to scald him. Might take his mind off the panic. This entire scene smacked of retribution, as though Merry had been sent to punish him. Simply standing within ten paces of her disturbed him. That he could be so close to someone so soft and vulnerable—ill, even—was all wrong. He yearned to escape. Happily, he had a ready excuse.
“You seem stable,” he told her. “I’ll fetch your pack. Don’t lie down.”
“Thanks. It’s orange. Somewhere between here and the loch.”
He abandoned his tea and headed outside. As the door shut behind him, he focused on the sky, the air, the horizon . . . though it did little good.
For days at a time, Rob could forget who he was. When the weather stayed fair, he moved like an animal along known paths, meeting the most basic of physical needs, his thoughts no more than sensory feedback. Get him near town or trap him indoors and the words returned, ideas and worries strung paragraphs-long through his brain, tangling on one another, igniting old cravings.
Here in the hills, he had no mirrors. But in town, every set of eyes offered a reflection, and the man staring back at him was ugly and mean, unforgivably cruel. It made him ache for a drink, whereas out here, way past Great Glen, he could forget about the stuff for days at a time, lost in chores, stalking the odd deer, in hours-long swims in the deepest, stillest waters he’d ever known. With no other humans about, he was nothing more than an anonymous mammal—breathing and eating and living. But in the company of other people, he couldn’t help feeling he was the worst his species had to offer. Gluttonous, weak, spiteful.
It had taken the wilderness to make a civilized man of him, and he longed for this place every second he was away from it. Even more than he longed for a drink.
Orange nylon appeared down the hill. Rob eyed the sharp granite fins thrusting here and there through the scrubby grass and heather, thinking Merry may have gotten off easy with just a bump and scrape. As he hoisted her big trekking pack, the heft of it shocked him—three stone or close to it. And she’d been carrying this around for two weeks? Rob adjusted the straps and hauled it onto his back, amazed she’d gotten this far up the hill before ditching it. Perhaps he owed his unexpected guest a bit more credit.
It was just that women made him so very nervous. And Merry’s chirpy demeanor had him feeling all the more wretched, like a toadstool sat beside some cheerful yellow blossom.
He trudged back up the hill and grabbed the plastic whistle Merry had dropped by the stoop, fighting to keep his balance under the weight of her pack.
She was where he’d left her, and the smile she offered made his stomach twist. Her skin was so smooth. So lovely and tan and . . . American. He must look like a transient. A tangle of overgrown hair, face a week overdue to meet the business end of a razor.
He leaned her pack against the wall and clipped the whistle to one of its thousands of straps. So many straps. He blinked at them until Merry’s voice cut through the haze.
“Thank you so much.”
He swore he could hear his jaw creaking, this smile felt so rusty. He grabbed his tea from the stove. “No worries. Can you walk? Why don’t you have a seat in the rocker?” He waved her toward the chair, carrying the emergency bowl and eyeing her unsteady steps.
When she settled, he set the bowl by her feet and dragged the kitchen chair and table over. Their mugs sat side by side. Funny. Rob had only bothered bringing two mugs out here in case one broke. He’d never imagined actually needing a spare for entertaining.
Merry smiled at him expectantly.
This is where you make polite conversation, arsehole. He sipped his tepid, over-steeped tea and managed, “So. Glasgow to Inverness?”
She nodded and crossed two fingers. “Almost there.”
“You picked a good time of year.” The weather? Really? You massive pillock. But what else was there? “Bit cold, but the midges have gone.”
“And most of the other tourists,” Merry said. “Though I wouldn’t have minded running into a few more people. There were a couple times when I panicked, thinking I must have wandered through some wormhole and hiked myself into another century. Like maybe the next ruin I’d pass would be an actual castle, bustling with life.”
Rob tried to imagine the scene, such a silly, romantic thought . . . but he was far too out of practice at such things.
“Then inevitably a jet would pass overhead,” Merry went on. “Do you go for long stretches, not seeing anybody?”
“In the winter. In the nicer months I’ll hear voices or see people in the distance a few times a week.” He lived on a sunny, alluring bit of historic hillside, and only a couple hours’ hike from the central stretch of Loch Ness, albeit on the quieter side of the glen. He was never short on ramblers in the spring and summer. “Maybe once a week someone will come knocking, asking after directions. You’re the first one to turn up since . . . Actually, I’m not sure what the date is. But the first in two weeks or more.”
She smiled, looking around his little den. “Your home is really cool.”
“Very peaceful. Very no-nonsense.”
“I’m not a fan of nonsense, so I suppose that suits me.”
“Not a city type?”
He considered it. “Not in recent years. I grew up in the city, and I loved it as a younger man . . .” Loved it too much, in all the wrong ways. “But people change.”
“You must miss it sometimes, though.”
Some days he did. Missed the pub and the off-license, first and foremost, with an ache like lust. “There’s nothing there that ever did me much good.”
“It brings out the worst in people, living like that. In such a hurry, all crushed up against one another.” He hesitated before adding, “It brought out the worst in me, anyhow.”
“Can I ask what you did, before you moved up here?”
“I owned a couple businesses around Leeds, with a mate of mine. Nothing too thrilling.” Not the way he’d imagined it would be, when they’d been fresh out of university. But how could a blossoming alcoholic not be ecstatic at the prospect of opening his own bar? That was like a fire-starter taking a job in a match factory. And accordingly, Rob’s life had gone up in spectacular flames.
“From businessman to hermit,” she mused, smiling. “No offense.”
“The shoe fits.”
“How about ‘survivalist’? That sounds a bit nicer.”
“I’m not bothered what anyone calls me, these days.” He wasn’t bothered about much of anything, as long as he knew there was food to put in his stomach, wood for the stove, a bed to kip on. Not caring suited him down to the ground. Just keep his belly full and his head empty, keep those old, dark hungers from growling.
Merry yawned broadly.
“You must be knackered.”
She nodded. “I slept, but it wasn’t restful. All those trippy, repetitive dreams you get when you’re nauseous.”
“I’ve got some chores to tend to, but let me show your where the loo is, then feel free to sleep.”
She set down her mug and made it uneasily to her feet. He nearly offered her a hand, then chickened out, intimidated by the intimacy. Intimidated by her weakness. Once she was steady, he led her through the little storage area and out the rear door. “Watch the step down.”
She followed him across the yard and he pointed out the wooden closet that housed the most rudimentary of composting toilets. On the way back he filled a big enamel basin from the pump, carried it inside and set it on the stove.
He fed two logs to the fire. “Water should be warm in an hour or so, if you fancy a wash.”
“Thank you.” Merry settled again in the rocking chair.
Rob was feeling marginally more at ease, having endured an actual conversation with his guest. He draped a clean hand towel over the basin’s lip and fetched the wool throw from his tiny bedroom, passing it to her.
“I’ll try to stay within shouting distance. If you need privacy to change or get cleaned up, I’ll be outside for at least a couple hours. I doubt you’ll need any more wood for the stove, but if you do, there’s a stack by the rear door.”
He grabbed his jacket from its hook and downed the last of his cold tea. “I haven’t got much food that’s ready to eat.”
“I have tons in my pack. I’ll be fine.”
He nodded. “I’ll see you in a bit, then.”
Her smile caught him just before he turned, leaving his middle warm and queasy. He shut the door quietly at his back.
Rob did the usual weekly rounds, walking the length of the pipe that fed the pump and making sure it was sound. He kept a supply of cured fish and venison in a sturdy plastic barrel set into the earth just beyond the yard, and he checked the planks that covered it and the surrounding ground for signs of scavengers, pleased to not find any. A quick poke through the garden told him the last of the year’s potatoes were as ready as they were going to get. He’d tackle those tomorrow.
With a soft jingling, Rob’s only friend appeared, a small gray streak bounding up the hill from the west.
It was the ugliest dog in creation, some unfavorable terrier mix the color of dust, with stumpy legs and a head like an anvil. His fur looked perennially greasy, even when Rob took the time to wash him in the basin. Deaf as a rock to boot. But sweet.
“What’ve you been up to, then?” He crouched to receive the dog’s spirited arrival, rubbing his floppy ears. The animal routinely disappeared for a day or more at a time, but he’d been finding his way back for two years now.
“You’ll be excited to hear we’ve got a guest.”
At the moment the animal was more excited about a treat. It trotted to the edge of the yard and gave one of its wheezy near-barks. Rob got to his feet, following. He shifted the boards, unlatched the barrel’s lid, and sliced a strip of venison from the nearest hunk with his pocket knife.
He peeled a long ribbon and tossed it to the dog, chewing on the rest as he secured the supply. They stood in some facsimile of companionship, working through the tough fibers.
Useless though it was, he loved the dog.
He owed the dog. It had likely saved his life.
Three years ago, after his wife left him and his father passed away, Rob had come up to the Highlands on a whim, knowing in the back of his head he’d chosen it as the spot where he’d likely take his alcoholism to its natural conclusion. Drink himself to death in the only place he’d ever known any real joy. He’d booked a cottage not unlike the one he owned now, sobered enough to drive, and gone north with a few changes of clothes and a tinkling bootload of bottles.
Perhaps five miles from his destination, the dog had appeared.
Rob had been lucky to even spot it through the drizzle and the gin haze. It had been facing the other way, frozen in the road as though waiting for someone. Rob had slowed his car, gotten out. The dog had felt the slam of his door or his footsteps or caught his scent, and turned. Its tail had given a single, wimp wag, but the closer he came, the more it cowered. It was skin and bones, soaked from the rain. A creature as lost and pathetic as Rob had been, and that was no small feat. He’d lured it close with half a leftover sausage roll, and it had let him pet it. And being marginally drunk, Rob had scooped it up and taken it with him to the cottage, rabies be damned.
The dog had kept him lucid that week, if not sober. At first it had shivered with anxiety whenever Rob had come near, and made more than one panicky mess on the floor in the couple of days it had taken to trust him. But after that, it had been his ugly little shadow. And somehow, watching the dog grow stronger and put on weight had been more compelling to Rob than drinking himself into oblivion. It had been a long time since anything had needed him. Depended on him.
He’d brought the dog home to Leeds the next week and had it checked out by a vet, then took it back to the Highlands a year later when he moved for good. It was just the sort of companion Rob wanted. The both of them made of blood and bone, but mercifully unable to communicate beyond the simplest exchanges. Plus by the time Rob had left society, any creature that was excited to see him had become a rare thing indeed.
The dog’s head jerked, attention locking on a trio of crows loitering farther down the hillside. It stared for a long moment before bounding off on its business, leaving Rob to accept the reality he’d managed to misplace for a few minutes—he had a guest. A wounded, nauseous, human guest he really ought to be checking on.
He tidied the yard and cast the mountains a final glance, letting that cold rock root him in this place. Those snow-streaked peaks had been here forever, and they’d remain long after every human on earth had crumbled to dust. Much the way Rob would remain, long after Merry left to rejoin the race Rob had dropped out of.
He entered the cottage quietly but found her awake. She offered a dozy wave from the rocker, and the hand towel wadded beside the basin told him she’d had a wash while he’d been gone. She’d changed as well, her magenta top replaced by a butter-colored zip-up.
As he peeked in at the waning fire he asked, “Stomach still stable?”
“I thought I’d make oatmeal for supper. If you think you can keep that down . . . ?”
She smiled, the gesture as warm as the stove before him. “We’ll find out.”
He most certainly wouldn’t be smiling in Merry’s position—guts churned up, trapped in some stroppy bastard’s cottage, dehydrated and sick. He managed to smile back, hoping the result didn’t appear too disingenuous.
Merry didn’t look quite so poorly as before. There was color in her face, life in her eyes. It boded well, making it likely she had a virus and could probably avoid a trip to hospital.
She had one foot on the floor, hugging the other leg to her middle and staring at the hills to the south. Rob fetched an armful of logs from the shed and stoked the fire, then settled in the free chair, joining her in gazing out the window.
It was chilly for late September—or was it October now? Rob knew better how to guess than he had last year, but he still had much to learn about the rhythm of everything. The first ground frost had come only a week earlier, and he suspected that meant it was still September.
The day was clear and bright but with the unmistakable bite of the approaching winter on the wind. It smelled of a dozen trips north with his father and older brother, stalking red deer, forgetting for a weekend the stresses of childhood and the sting of whatever words his mum had last lashed him with. Playing tourist in some simpler life out of a history book, imagining his rifle were a bow and arrow. Imagining he was Rob Roy or Robin Hood, any Rob other than some lanky outcast from West Yorkshire with no mates.
These days he stalked to keep meat in his diet, and though the taste of venison had long lost its novelty, the hunt thrilled him just as it had twenty-five years ago. He always felt a touch sad after a successful stalk, knowing he’d have no reason to do so again for months. Fly fishing didn’t offer quite the same rush.
“I can’t get over how quiet it is,” Merry murmured. “Even after two weeks.”
“After two years out here, I can’t get over how noisy it is in the village.”
“Whose home was this, originally? Who built it?”
“A tenant sheep farmer and his family, or so I was told. Sometime in the 1840s.”
“It’s been well maintained, but never modernized like most of the surviving cottages.”
“No electricity, I’ve gathered.”
He shook his head.
“What about water? How does the tap out back work?”
“The previous owner had a pump system installed, fed from the creek. Though you still have to boil whatever you drink or cook with.”
She smiled. “You’re kind of a badass.”
He looked to the floor, unsure how to process the compliment, and shrugged. “You get used to the hassle.” The hassle was comforting; the rituals of preparing things as essential as water and heat. And who needed mod cons if they were never in any hurry to be anywhere, ever? It was a luxury in itself, Rob thought, having the time to do all these things in his antiquated ways. The luxury of endless, ready distractions.
“Though come December,” he said, “I do miss an indoor bathroom and hot water on demand. The stuff that comes through the pump is dead cold, and you have babysit it to make sure it doesn’t freeze.”
Merry made a face, possibly impressed, possibly confused why anyone would want to live this way. But caught on a sudden realization, all at once Rob didn’t care what her expression said.
She was . . . she was beautiful.
He’d missed it at first, so consumed by panic. But even shaky and nauseous, she had a glow to her face, matching her glossy brown-black hair. Her eyes were the same color, and her skin . . . peaky as the chill had made her, it shone against the yellow of her top with a natural tan.
“You don’t look particularly Scottish.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This a good book in the great writing style of all McKenna's books. The characters are not your typical alpha male/hero meets submissive and innocent girl: he is almost the anti-hero, she is strong but in the process of overcoming her insecurities. Yet you get to care for these characters as the story progresses and keep hoping for their recovery and happily ever after. As in other books by this author, she addresses sexuality in all its shapes and forms head on, and is not shy to develop characters affected by social stigmas and longing for self and social acceptance. As you can imagine, some scenes are emotionally charged yet always tasteful and never disturbing. I did not give it 5 stars because there was too much isolation of the characters and that made some parts drag a bit. I would like to see a little bit more action and less tortured souls. But it is still a terrific read.
Since Wiling Victim I've been a fan of Cara McKenna and I wanted to love this book but it was more of a meh for me. Rob is a recluse living in the middle of nowhere Scotland. Merry is hiking through Scotland trying to find herself. During Merry's journey she lands on Rob's doorstep and together they help each other in ways that they didn't even know they needed. Lets start with the things I loved 1) Loved Rob's storyline and how he dealt with his personal struggles and demons 2) Loved the idea of Merry and how she became a strong individual and how Rob brought that out in her What I didn't love was all the inner dialogue it felt like this book went on forever and ever which for me didn't add to the story but it took away from the story.
Its a twist from the usual, but i didn't care much for it.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I began Unbound. You see, I’m one of the last people on Earth to discover McKenna’s amazing writing. Without giving too many details, I’ve known (and loved) Rob. I’ve heard the very same things she expertly weaves through this novel spoken out loud to me. I’ve felt the guilt roll off my partner, and felt the ache to soothe him, just as Merry did. I don’t want to spoil any parts of the book, but I will say that I was surprised by the depth of emotion here, and the way everything brought in felt so incredibly real and realistic. Nothing was frivolous and the characters didn’t have drama between them simply for the sake of having drama. Having said that, I did have to step away from this a few times, perhaps mostly due to my own issues and the way this hit home with me. It wasn’t just Rob, either, but Merry and some of the things in her life, spoke straight to my heart. My one gripe with the steam, and hence the 4.5 instead of 5, is that there could have been more. The included scenes were definitely steamy, I just wanted more more more. I’m greedy that way. For me, this book captured me from the beginning, making me laugh with the reply-all faux pas early on, and Merry’s relationship with those around her. I could really relate to it, and I was genuinely curious how her journey would turn out. I wish I could say this book made me laugh and moan, and it did that for sure, but it also made me cry. If you’ve ever wondered about the shame and guilt that comes along with some fetishes or non-standard sexuality, this is definitely something you’ll appreciate reading.
I liked it cant wait to read more from her.
Compelling I read this book a while ago but waited a bit for it to seep in a bit before reviewing. McKenna has a powerful voice and a compelling way with words and characters. The issues in this romance are jagged for both character really and very human. This books looks into what happens when a man is a sub in a culture that doesn't think men should be that way. He has addiction issues and self hatred. Merry is a mess herself. She has formally fat issues but is overall accepting. The character driven nature of this love story and the romance work for me. However, the plotting doesn't. I ended up reading it all out of jumbled up orders because certain things went too slow and other parts too fast and you could see the blow up coming like a freight train. I also wish this book had been a Happily Ever After rather than a Happily for Now and likely in the future. I understand and value genre pushing but for me when I have this much angst and reversing of tropes in a Romance then I really need the steady heartbeat of a clear and glorious Happily Ever After. It is one reason I can allow my self to be put through the emotionial ringer with whole heartedness. To be fair, it is a well done ending where the reader things their happiness is possible. However, I want to see it, feel it, and live it. Great writing, great characters, pacing needs work.
I didn't have much hopes for this book, but I was def. pleased! It is a cute and sweet story.
What's not to love about a HOT recluse living in the Highlands of Scotland? And I'm being totally serious when I say that. I was tempted by this tale immediately when I saw that 1) The setting was Scotland. 2) The word desire was used more than once in the description. Also, my BFF read it and said it was a hot read. So...my curiosity was peaked and I was pleased to find that I thoroughly enjoyed this steamy tale. I felt like the story was largely based around Rob and his past, but I'm going to start with Merry because, I really liked her and her story was relatable. Merry is on a mission. She's recently made some pretty significant life changes. She's lost a huge amount of weight and is looking to continue to enhance her life. Her mother was from Scotland and Merry had always wanted to go there. Since her mother's passing, Merry has made it a goal to head to Scotland and hike from Glasgow to Inverness. If you're not familiar with Scotland, that's a looong hike. I was impressed by Merry's determination. Along the way, she has a bit of a stumble and needs help. She finds a little cottage, where she meets Rob. Rob is a bit rough around the edges but, Merry can tell there is something a bit different about him. Merry's gentle and kind demeanor helps to open some of the doors that Rob has long since closed. Rob sought refuge in the hills of Scotland after suffering through a downward spiral. He was once a very successful club owner, but the lifestyle was tough on Rob. He became consumed by it and the result was devastating. He lost his wife, his brother, and felt the only solution was to escape. Rob was a very complex character. Not only does he struggle with certain personal demons, but he's always felt a bit different than others. He has particular sexual tastes that he can't really explain. He's never been able to explore his needs freely either. But when Merry comes along, he finds a true partner. They have a connection that goes beyond sexual. Merry is accepting of Rob, which in turn allows him to be more open with her. Rob's road to finding solace wasn't easy. Ultimately, Rob had to find himself in order to be all-in with Merry. I was so happy to see him conquer his personal demons. His journey was realistic and I was happy to see that it actually took time. Because...that's how real life works. Overall, I really enjoyed Unbound. While I loved the sexy scenes, this book was more about personal journey's to me. And I like that in my Erotic novels. Sometimes, I just want the sex, but I appreciate it when there's more to the story and that's what I got with Unbound. I will definitely be reading more of McKenna's books. She's made a fan out of me! Quotes: ~"I think lots of us spend our twenties trying on persona's," she offered. Rob's brows rose, and he met her eyes squarely. "I know I got myself jammed in a rut, trying to be everybody's best friend," she said. "Trying to make everyone happy. By the time I was thirty I was like, Jesus. If I'd charged these people for all the therapy I doled out, I'd be a millionaire by now."-Loc 751 ~"I felt broken. I had everything I thought a person needed to feel satisfied or fulfilled or secure or whatever, but I didn't feel any of those things. I felt...Well, yes. I felt empty. Like some part was missing, some mechanism that converts success into contentment."-Loc 1054
I have not read any of Cara McKenna's books and was glad I picked this one up. The story is awesome!. It really kept me involved. I have her marked now as a favorite of mine. Love her writing style!
4.5 Stars ~Reviewed by ANN & posted at Under the Covers Book Blog In my last interview with Charlotte Stein, she mentioned being excitement about Cara McKenna’s newest book. Now after having read UNBOUND, I can totally understand where Charlotte was coming from. Fans of Stein will LOVE UNBOUND. McKenna pens such a beautifully erotic storyline for two lost characters trying to find their way through life. After the loss of her mother and losing 100 pounds, Merry has decided to take a three-week hike through the Scottish Highlands. This is where she falls ill and stumbles upon Rob’s secluded home hidden in the Highlands. At first, it’s a little awkward. Rob is a total stranger to Merry yet there is something intriguing and undeniable that makes her want to stay. There is a slow build in the first half of the book. However, I find that it is necessary for both characters. Merry is overcoming her losses and is in a way trying to find her true self. Rob, on the other hand, is the opposite. He is hiding from the world, hoping to go on by without being noticed. He tries to deny himself the privilege to being with other people because he thinks himself to be a bad man. As you read, you will get more of his backstory and I think it definitely makes up for the slower start. Merry and Rob must learn to trust each other before they have any grounds on which to grow their relationship from. Once there, readers are in for a BIG TREAT. I know why Stein was rejoicing about this book. Rob Rush has to be one of the most intriguing heroes I’ve read. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but the title does give readers some idea of what his kink is. I found him fascinating, although I’m not sure how his character will be received by others readers. I do know that there are some people who will find this book so erotically charged that it will be a highlight for them as much as it has been for me. As the story progresses, McKenna delves even deeper into her characters, wrenching out more emotion and passion in this pair. I became entranced by every word and found myself falling more and more in love with these characters. For some of the hottest sex scenes you will read, UNBOUND has everything I want in a romance. Unexpectedly charming characters with a heady dose of kink makes this story one of my favorites this year. *ARC provided by publisher
This is the 3rd book from this author that I have read. She is definitely on my list of authors to follow; I enjoy her writing. This was a really good book.... poignant and HAWT. The hero is a complex character, but I found him to be very likeable (pretty heavy subject matter that I thought the author handled very well). I even got a little teary eyed at the end... definately a good read.
First things first...Why the hell is this my first Cara McKenna book? Seriously. Approximately halfway through Unbound, I started pushing it on my friends. As soon as I finished, I emailed my book group, telling them they must read it ASAP. Then, one of them emailed me back, gently reminding me that she's been telling me to read McKenna for months. So then I felt like an idiot. But now all is well, because I have seen the error of my ways. As you may have inferred from the opening paragraph, I loved Unbound. But not only did I love it on a squealy, fan-girl level, I also loved and appreciated it on a much deeper, profound level. This was a beautifully written and constructed story that appealed to me on all levels. Besides the author's name recognition, the hint at a hero with a penchant for the taboo is what drew me in. But what exactly are Rob Rush's "issues"? The blurb is ambiguous, and I love that. I wanted to know, no, I was dying to know what it was that had sent Rob into exile. What could have possibly driven a man to become a recluse, shun society. I was hoping the reason would be something really juicy, but also meaningful. There's nothing worse than thinking you're digging into a character with heavy, heavy issues, then learning it was superficial. That is not the case in Unbound. McKenna did a brilliant job of creating a deep and complex hero who is also exceedingly alluring. In the opening chapters, it seems we're being led to a conclusion in regards to Rob's pleasure. But in a move that makes me want to jump up to cheer and praise McKenna to anyone who will listen, we soon learn that all is not what it seems. What gets Rob twisted into knots sexually, is out of the "norm", even in kink. It was definitely unexpected, in the most excellent way, but also...really, really hot. Going with Rob on the emotional and physical journey is Merry. As much as I felt endeared to him, I also became attached to Merry. She is on an emotional and physical journey of her own, to discover more about and pay tribute to her deceased mother in her homeland of Scotland. Merry has recently shed one hundred pounds, and is coming to terms with her new life, the feelings and issues that come with literally transforming into a new person. As much as I initially liked her, when Merry and Rob's paths cross, she became even more heroic in my eyes. Her strength of character, her unflinching acceptance and appreciation for Rob made her into a heroine that should be admired. She was thoughtful, yet prodding, bringing this man who'd left society, back. Her inquisitive nature gently broke down Rob's walls, and helped create a new man. One who can accept, even embrace, himself. Unbound, from the beginning to end, is an exceeding thoughtful, intense, and brilliant story. I would even say that it is by far one of my favorite erotic romances, and definitely would make my Favorites of 2013 List (if I made one). Cara McKenna not only pulled me in with a sexually charged and emotionally intense story, but she also won me with her gorgeous prose. The Scottish Highlands, a cabin hidden in the woods, two people forming an intense physical and emotional bond that will transform both....have rarely been so enchanting.
Our Review, by LITERAL ADDICTION's Associate Reviewer - Shawnie: *eARC received from the Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review Unbound is a slow paced, life altering novel about finding one's self and embracing it, no matter the emotional strain. Acceptance at its finest... with just a "rope" of kink. Merry has lived in a shell that was entirely self made, but now after dropping a hundred pounds, she has decided to live and live big. Things aren't nearly as good as it use to be though, her best friend is not at all supportive, and Merry hasn't really accepted her new self. With all that, plus the death of her mother, she decides to take a trip. A three-week hike through the Scottish Highlands to get to know the new her, and to also see the place where her mother grew up. Of course, nothing goes as planned... After about two weeks hiking and roughing it (relatively speaking), Merry catches a virus of some sort that leaves her in pain, weak and dizzy. With a small stroke of luck, she remembers the cottage she'd seen during a hike, and starts out for it. Maybe not the smartest thing, but she's determined, and a little bit desperate. Rob is a self made recluse, and is perfectly fine with that. He lives a simple life with simple rules, and nobody bothers him. He's not the most gentle man, nor the nicest (even on good days), but when Merry knocks and screams at his door bloodied and sick, he can't bring himself to leave her to her fate. He can, however, hope that she gets better in the next 24 hours so she can get on with her business and stop bothering him. This story starts with a woman who doesn't know who she is anymore, and a man who is an antisocial, lonely recluse. These tortured souls throw caution to the wind, and decide to trust in one another, because what's a few secrets of the heart - and of the flesh - between strangers who will never see one another again? Soon these two find themselves in an all out tail spin of acceptance and indulgence; opening doors to each other that neither thought was possible. Through kink and open mindedness, they grow to care for one another, and watch as each grows into the person they were meant to be. Unbound is a book that drowns you in emotions, and the emotions are ones that you feel like a physical blow; emotions that leave you weak and sometimes unable to cope. I had to repeatedly get up to wash my face and gather myself in order to finish this book. I am probably out of tears at this point. It was worth it though. This books makes you take a step back and look at your own life. It makes you question everything. The best lesson learned from the book is this: Happiness is around several corners, but we have to have the courage and determination to go after it.
&9 59 #9,35*8/& 43# 9/3