Tasty Pickle arrives January 20!

Cover reveal soon!


Chapter 1: Axel

I’m pretty good at avoiding mosquito bites on my balls.

When your favorite pastime is hiking, and your preferred way of doing it is naked, you have to consider the possibility of bug bites in tender places.

I have Mom to thank for the perfect solution. She never liked chemical sprays, so we avoided the industrial-grade traditional repellent.

Her answer? Avon Skin So Soft. She slathered us in it.

So when I took up naked nature hiking, I never worried about having to hose down with something that might shrivel the family jewels. Just a quick swipe of Mom’s all-purpose lotion, and I was good to go.

I took to streaking at an early age. Mom says she had to put sliding locks on the tops of the doors or else my squeaky clean toddler self would slither out of her grasp after a bath and take off through the neighborhood, the wind in my baby fine hair.

Sometimes, like today, when I’m picking my way over rock, I catch a whiff of that feeling from when I was little. The breeze on my body. The freedom of unconstrained movement. Nothing comes between me and the wide open sky.

It’s a Rocky Mountain high, and not the kind that’s legal here in Colorado.

It’s communion with nature.

The only complication beside bug bites is finding the right level of privacy.

Everybody carries a phone, and I don’t need that kind of publicity.

So I bought my own space.

The trails I hike are part of the acreage I purchased a couple of years back, after my life changed with the sale of a phone app I wrote. My parents also own a good amount of land nearby. Nobody should be anywhere near me, which makes it safe enough for my hobby.

I hit a particularly tough stretch, a tall rock with scrub brush on either side. I have a decent length of trail leading to it, so rather than going for finger holds, I take off in a run, my hiking boots biting into the dust, and leap up the side.

I roll at the top and quickly regain my footing. My gymnastics get me a scrape on my hip, but that’s typical for a tough hike like this. Nothing worth wearing clothes for.

But once I’m back to walking, I’m surprised by the appearance of a hint of human traffic. It’s not much, just a suggestion of disturbed dirt, some bent branches, and a few small rocks kicked aside.

It’s enough to send me into the brush line. I’d really rather not surprise a stranger, even if they are on my land without permission. Out-of-town hikers in particular don’t know when they’re crossing unmarked property lines.

I keep winding my way up, aiming for a spot where I can look down and see if the visitors are still here, or if I’ve found evidence that is old.

I climb another slope and sit between two sections of brush to pull out my my binoculars.

As I follow the walkable part of the mountainside, I see something. A bit of orange caught on a branch. I lean forward and twist the focus. It’s a strip of nylon, the kind you tie on a tent stake so no one will trip on it.

Someone’s camping nearby.

My urge is to get dressed. Somebody’s up here, and I don’t want to encounter them as I am.

But my annoyance rises. I bought this land just for this feeling. The gritty rock against my skin. The sun warming my belly.

Besides, they might have been here weeks ago.

I peer at the sun, considering my position. I’m at the east-most stretch of my property. The next parcel over belongs to people I know. We’re related in a roundabout way. My cousin Anthony married a Boudreaux, and her sister got the land and built a wedding venue on it. A castle, in fact.

You can’t see the castle from here. You’d have to go a lot higher to get the right vantage point. It’s a good fifteen-mile hike with no established trailheads and several challenging cliff faces.

Still, I suppose it’s possible someone might have set off from the castle, somebody really skilled and prepared to camp.

I should probably get dressed.

I close my eyes and listen, really listen. It’s early autumn, near perfect hiking weather. A breeze coming off the mountain counteracts the sun bearing down. The leaves rustle as they dry out, preparing to fall. A few birds caw and whistle.

But no footsteps. No voices.

It’s fine. That tent flag could be months old. Years, even.

I hop to my feet and survey the summit. I don’t plan to reach it today. Getting somewhere isn’t the point. It’s all about the journey.

I’m ready to re-commune with nature, head west, and get away from the border of the two properties.

But then I hear it.

A shriek.

It’s a woman.

Then steps.

Running steps.

Birds burst out of the treeline about a hundred yards below.

Another scream, then an audible, “No, no, no, no!”

Definitely a woman.

And she sounds like she’s in trouble.

I slide down the rock. When I hit flatter ground, I race in the direction of the disturbance, a few mountain critters scampering through the underbrush, away from whatever is crashing through the trees.

At last I spot flailing limbs, a hint of chestnut hair, then there she is.

A woman, petite, red-faced, and screaming.

And she’s not wearing pants.


Chapter 2: Calypso

I’m going to die on the side of a mountain with cactus spines in my hoo-haw, and squirrels will eat out my eyes!

I careen through the trees, hoping whatever vile creatures pelted me with nuts are long gone.

Then I crash into something solid, warm, and definitely human.

Oh, God, it’s worse than killer rodents.

It’s a man.

And he’s…naked?

I let out another shriek and try to back away, but he has his arms around me.

“Let go! Let go!” I scream, my spit most certainly flying in his face.

He does, and I fall backward, sprawling.

This day could not get any worse.

First, I’m forced on a hike by my employer.

Then, I get tired and slow down for like fifteen seconds and somehow lose the group.

Then, I get pelted with nuts by maniac squirrels with a grudge.

I run the direction where I think the group was headed and lose the trail completely. No one answers when I call out.

Of course, I have no cell signal.

Of course.

Just like a horror movie.

So I head back the way I came (I think) and start stress-drinking Gatorade.

Then, I have to pee.

So I pop a squat.

Apparently on a cactus hidden in the brush.

Tiny spines attach to my my girl parts.

I fall over, and then I see something flash by me. I’m sure it’s a mountain lion, or tiger, or bear. I don’t know. I’m not Dorothy.

And I run, my yoga pants around my ankles, something crashing in the bushes.

I manage to get the pants off.

And then, this.

A man.

A naked man.

And now I’m on my back, my cactus-impaled girl parts flashing in the sun, my yellow daisy underwear still caught on my ankle.

Right now I really would like to be eaten by a mountain lion.

I can think of nothing else to do, so I close my eyes, lay my head in the dirt, and wish for death.

Then something nudges my shoe.

Uggh.

I ignore it.

Nudge.

No. I’m dead. Death has become me.

Nudge.

“Hey.”

So, he speaks.

I squint one eye. He’s standing over me like a bronzed god, naked as the day is long other than a backpack, a neckerchief, and hiking boots.

And I look.

Of course I look.

And, whoa.

He’s packing.

He must realize I’m looking because one eyebrow lifts. He opens his mouth like he might call me out on it, but then he looks.

Oh, right, I have a distinct lack of clothing from the waist down.

And I can’t close my legs or I’ll push the cactus needles farther in.

I close my eye again.

“We’re a real pair,” he says. I imagine that male member swinging back and forth. I shouldn’t. But the sight of it is burned into my brain.

And I have to admit, I like his voice. It’s low. Sexy. Rumbly. Maybe I’m already dead. He’s the angel sent to carry me away.

Huh. I like this. I open my eyes again to see if he’s real. Yep. Deep tan. God-like face. Pecs for days. Abs like an underwear ad. And, yeah. The best part. Damn.

“Are you okay?” He stares down at me, his gaze dropping to my naked bits, then flying up again.

Should you talk to an angel? What is the protocol here?

But I do. “Please tell me I’m dead.”

That gets a smile. He tries to bite it back since something serious could very well be happening. But damn, it’s charming.

“You look very much alive to me,” he says. “What happened?”

I really want to cross my legs, but it’s not possible. “I peed in the wrong place.”

His need to drop his gaze again is palpable. His jaw ticks with the effort of not looking. “The wrong place?”

“Cactus.”

His neck, previously as golden tan as the rest of him, goes red. “So there’s cactus needles in your…”

“Yes. And I’m being chased by maniac squirrels. And possibly, a …” No. I’ll stop there. That’s enough.

“Did you just poke yourself or…”

“No. Something’s there. Prickly spines stuck to me.”

He lets out a long slow breath. “Right. I know the variety. Do you need me to—”

“No! No. I can probably get them. I’m just haven’t had a chance.” I can’t meet his gaze now.

He bites his lower lip and it’s ridiculously sexy. There’s a rush to my parts, and owww. Yeah, no. Don’t do that, body. Now is not the time to send any blood down there.

“Should I turn around?” he asks.

“Yeah. Probably.”

He does, and dang, the back side is as nice as the front. Calves, thighs, butt. Zero tan lines Apparently clothes are not his thing.

I don’t realize how long I’ve sat there staring until he says, “I’ve gotten the tiny clinging cactus spines before. They’re called glochids.”

I have to look. I sit up and bend over. This is the worst.

“How many are there?” he asks.

I peer down. “At least six. Maybe more. They’re kind of small for how much they hurt. I didn’t know they came out of the cactus.”

“The big spines don’t. But the small glochids are barbed, so they will easily attach to your skin if you brush against them. You didn’t look first?”

I’d hoped to pee quickly and move away from the evidence. It might draw mountain lions, like sharks are drawn by blood. I don’t know. I don’t hike!

“I was in a hurry.”

“Due to the maniac squirrels?”

I hate this. “Partly.”

“Chickarees can get feisty if you get close to their tree nests.”

“They threw nuts at me.”

He chuckles. “I believe it.”

He believes me. I’m not crazy. “Are there mountain lions?” I glance around as if saying their name might conjure one.

“That would be rare. I’ve never seen one. They mostly hunt at dusk. They sleep through the day.”

“Oh.”

“How’s it coming?”

I touch one of the spines, sucking in a breath at the pain. “They’re too small to grab.”

He nods. “I have some duct tape.”

“Duct tape?”

“Yeah. The best way to get them out is to spread the tape over them and then yank it off. The needles stick to the tape and come out.”

That sounds like the world’s worst Brazilian.

“You want me to get the tape?” His voice tells me he knows I’m concerned about trying this method.

“If you think it will work.” I desperately want my panties back on. I have a pair of shorts in my backpack. I don’t care about the yoga pants I lost.

He slides his backpack off his shoulders, and I’m treated to his entire back side. He clearly hikes a lot. His legs are tree trunks of muscle. His shoulders bulge.

I grimace at my pasty white legs, pinking up in the sun. This trip alone would be a reason to quit my new job. But I need it. And a hotel castle deep in the mountains has been exactly the escape I was looking for.

Until the new employee “outdoor adventure.”

The man has extracted a roll of duct tape and bites off a strip with his teeth. He walks backward and holds it out so I can take it without him turning around.

Even with him facing away, I still manage to spot his rather impressive member dangling between his thighs as he stands there.

Blood rushes to my spine-infested parts. Damn it.

“If a woman screams on a mountainside and no one hears, did she really pull a half-dozen needles from her nether regions?” I ask.

“I’ll hear you,” he says.

I peer down, aligning the silver tape so that it covers all the needles. I’m not bald down there, although I keep things pretty trim. Bigger than a Cheeze-It, smaller than a Triscuit. Even so, there’s going to be some hair coming out with the spines.

I press down, sucking in a breath at the hot flare of pain as the tape pushes the needles farther into my skin.

Now it’s time to pull. I grasp the end, ready to get it done.

And I can’t do it.

I clench my jaw, trying to force my hand to do what I tell it.

But it won’t.

Great. Now I’m sitting in the dirt, two feet from a bronze stranger, with duct tape for underwear, spines in my girl parts, and I can’t even finish the job.

Tears prick my eyes. This is too much.

I shouldn’t have had to leave my life in San Diego.

I shouldn’t have had to take a job at a hotel when I have a degree in engineering.

I shouldn’t have had to change my number, erase my online footprint, and go into hiding.

But here I am.

I can run from my old life, but I can’t run from these spines.

“You okay?” He’s half turned, but not quite looking at me.

“Trying to figure out how to force my fingers to yank this off.”

He nods. “It’s like jumping out of an airplane or taking off in a hanglider. You have to just clear your head and go.”

“I don’t do any of those things.” I’m sure he does. He definitely strikes me as a risk taker.

“I can do it.” He gestures to his body. “I obviously don’t have any hangups about being naked.”

Of course he doesn’t. He’s a perfect specimen of a human.

“Let me try one more time.”

“Okay. Just let me know.”

I refuse to have some complete stranger — some completely naked stranger — yank duct tape off my parts. I clear my head, grab the loose end, and jerk.

A scream the likes of which I’ve never heard come from my body echoes off the mountainside like a horror movie special effect. I suck in a breath, then pant through it. The sting is unreal.

But the duct tape is filled with needles and hair. I manage to look down. I’m red and swollen, but seem to be cactus-free. I press my fingers along my skin. No additional pain.

I got it.

“Did it work?” he asks.

“I think so.” Now that this is done, I scramble into my underwear, grimacing at the dust. Once I’m partially covered, it’s easier to stand up and go through my backpack, extracting the shorts.

He waits through all this, hands on his hips, chin lifted to the sky.

When the shorts are on, I say, “I’m decent.”

I guess we’ve both forgotten that he’s not, because he turns around, and there he is again, all parts of him.

We both look down at his junk. “Right. Sorry.” He slides his backpack down and around, covering his front. “Technically, this is my private property. I like hiking naked. I didn’t expect to see anyone.”

I glance around. “Why would my boss bring me here if it’s your property?”

His eyes bore into me. “Your boss brought you here?”

“Yeah. Havannah Boudreaux-McDonald. This is the new employee outdoor adventure. And here I thought hazing was illegal.”

He rocks back on his heels. “I know her. I didn’t realize they were doing hikes. This is pretty far afield. Where did you set out?”

“I have no idea. We rode in the back of a big safari Jeep, and they dropped us off at the end of some dirt road. I got separated from the group.”

He nods, frowning. “I know exactly where you’re talking about. I can get you get back.”

I glance down at his backpack. “Like that?”

“Right.” He sets it down, and there it is again. Mr. Schlong. It’s hard not to stare.

He pulls out a shirt and a pair of biking shorts. “Sorry.”

I turn around to let him dress as if I haven’t already seen every square inch of him. “I’m the one at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

I listen to the sounds of him pulling on the clothes, then zipping his pack. “I’m decent,” he says.

I turn around. “Thank you for helping. People like me don’t do well alone in places like this.”

He nods. “It’s fine.” He looks down at the strip of duct tape. “You want me to get that? We shouldn’t leave trash.”

I snatch it up, shoving it in my pack. “I’ve got it.”

He shoulders his pack. “All right. Let’s see if we can get you back on your trail. You okay to walk?”

“I can walk.”

He takes off across the rocky path, and I fall in behind.

It’s not even that far to the clearing where the covered Jeep-machine waits for us. The driver jumps off the hood, dropping a cigarette to the ground. “You made it back!” He looks between me and the man who brought me here.

“I did.” I turn to the guy who brought me to thank him, but he’s already disappeared into the brush.

Huh.

The man gets me a bottle of water and radios the group, who has been frantically looking for me. We assure the others that I’m unharmed and waiting at the Jeep, and I look into the trees, wondering if I’ll catch another glimpse of him on the trail. I don’t.

I can still picture him. I might have memorized every muscle of his back and am keenly aware of the swing of his junk.

But I never learned his name.

8 thoughts on “Tasty Pickle

  1. Kim Reply

    This is great so far!! I can’t wait for the whole book! I’ll be waiting impatiently. I already pre ordered.

  2. Tracie Rogers Reply

    Oh wow… if this is just the start I cant not wait for the rest of this book!!!!!!

  3. Mindy T. Reply

    I don’t know how you come up with these ideas, but this is hysterical!!! I cannot WAIT to read the rest of their story!

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