On a recent trip to Colorado, I immersed myself in scenes from my upcoming series, Silver Creek. Set against the wild landscape of the Rocky Mountains and featuring eco-minded heroines, each novel presents a romantic adventure I hope you’ll enjoy. From alpine trails to open valley meadows, these women battle adversity while remaining true to their belief that nature reigns supreme. Grad student, Lisa Richardson, begins the series as she pursues alpine lakes in search of her beloved boreal toad. Little does she know, she’s being followed. Enter McIntyre Walsh. Ex-marine with a heart of gold, this man lives and breathes duty. Protection. When their paths cross, neither is happy about coming into contact with the other, but sit back and watch the fireworks begin. These two don’t know it yet, but they are meant for one another.
The first novel will be available this fall, and I thought I’d share a sneak peek with readers (see below). For more photos, check my Facebook page!
McIntyre Walsh held the binoculars firmly against his face as he watched the young woman traverse the steep Colorado mountainside. It was a hundred foot drop to the valley floor. A fatal proposition, should she slip. Don’t fall, sweetheart. I’m in no mood for a search and rescue today.
Walsh grunted. Credit another college girl hiker too independent for her own good. He’d seen them before—single women in their twenties hiking the wilderness alone with nothing more than a backpack and a camera. This one had both, a fancy black camera hanging awkwardly from her neck as she navigated the ridge as though she were walking a sidewalk, her khaki cargo shorts and white T-shirt no protection against the jagged stone and scratchy pine bark. Sweeping over the route ahead of her, he searched for possible signs of her destination. Where could she be headed?
This young woman wasn’t on a pleasure hike. Her movements were too determined, intent. She was on the hunt for something. Surveying the landscape, the clumps of scruffy shrubs and sharp-edged rocks, he wondered what it could be. As far as he could tell, there was nothing up there worth seeing. No animal. No special flowers.
When she reached the precipice, she paused. The brunette cupped a hand to the pink bandana she wore over her head, and glanced over the panorama before her. Uncapping her camera lens, she brought it to her face for a few snapshots. Walsh knew that vantage point would give her a spectacular view of a lake-filled valley and distant mountain range. On a sunny day like today, she’d be treated to a mirror reflection on the lake’s still surface, the massive twin serrated peaks and evergreen base. It was one of his favorite fishing holes—he’d caught a monster trout up there only last week. She stumbled as she edged closer to the ledge, sending rocks tumbling from beneath her feet in a free fall to ground below. His heart thumped. Regaining her balance, she paused and looked down, then looked back toward the edge of the cliff and the view of the valley.
Walsh grunted again. Give it up, honey. Go back home. It’s dangerous out here in the wilderness alone. A flash of silver caught his attention. Whipping his binoculars toward the object, his intuition hummed as his military training kicked in. Scan every inch. Look for signs of movement. What doesn’t fit?
It was a technique he had learned in the military. Train your brain to look for the piece that doesn’t fit. As a sniper it was crucial. He had to pick out a target, usually well-camouflaged, and the way he did so was to look for clues. Movement, shape or color, something didn’t belong and that something was usually his target.
Continuously moving his line of vision over the terrain, Walsh looked for signs of the flash. Something caused that flash, and it wasn’t a feat of nature. Did the woman have a hiking partner? If so, why were they separated, outside of visual contact?
It wasn’t smart. Examining the terrain behind the girl, Walsh settled on scraggly brush, adjusting his focus as he looked through the branches and leaves, scrutinized rocks—waiting for something to reveal itself. It was an automatic reaction to chance danger. Forget the fact he left his unit more than a year ago, it was part of the deal. Once a marine, always a marine.
Methodically combing every crevice of the rugged landscape for the source, Walsh moved his line of vision back to the female hiker. Other than her, there was nothing moving up on that ridge. But he couldn’t suppress a gut feeling. Something wasn’t right. A threat loomed. He could feel it in his bones, streaming through his veins, same as he did the day that villager tried to infiltrate his unit. On the outside the guy had appeared like any other local Afghani herder, but when he walked up to one of the vehicles asking for help, Walsh knew something was wrong and fired warning shots at the guy’s feet. When he did, the dirtbag exploded, right before their very eyes. Walsh had been credited that day with saving the lives of six men.
He relied on instinct to stay alive. Instinct didn’t fail him. Sweeping his binoculars back along the ledge toward the girl, the silvery light flashed again and Walsh was quick to respond. Honing in on the area above her, he laser-focused on a cluster of small spruce. If someone was there, the nearby boulders would provide their best cover to take a shot. Walsh’s mind always went to the worst-case scenario. It was possible someone was out for a leisurely hike, same as the girl, but he preferred to assume the worst and be surprised when proved wrong.
He was rarely wrong.
Isolating the target, Walsh deemed there were twenty yards between the girl and the threat. Controlling his breathing through practiced methods, he slowed his heart rate, sharpened his thoughts, and drew his weapon. If an attack occurred, the girl appeared totally clueless and ill-equipped to handle herself. He was too far away to personally intervene, but could easily neutralize a threat from here. Sharp-shooting skills came with the training, too.
A spot of black shifted against the gray of rock. A jacketed figure slowly emerged. Walsh fired a shot into the air. The girl froze. The threat ducked out of sight. That’s right, Walsh mused, his heart pumping up a notch. You’re not alone. You have a witness.
To her credit, the girl scrambled down the rock-face, quickly dropping to a lower ledge, the space wide enough to accommodate her and nothing else. With barely a moment’s pause, she leapt down to a plateau below, landing in a squat, her camera swinging precariously close to unforgiving rock points. She didn’t look up but focused her attention on the way down.
Walsh was impressed. Not only did she move with the agility of a deer, seemed she understood the significance of the situation after all. Maintaining an eye on her, he returned his scope to the hiker above. Would he resume his pursuit? If he did, the girl was an easy target. Granted, she appeared to be a fairly skilled mountain climber, but overloaded with a hefty backpack, she yielded all advantage to the hunter, should he choose to follow.
Anger welled in his gut. Why did young women insist on hiking alone? Didn’t they understand there were bad people out there? Did they think they were invincible? Or was it plain stupidity? Walsh grunted. He didn’t care. It was a free world. A girl wanted to hike alone and fend for herself, let her. Just don’t do it on my watch. He had more important things to do, like hunt for his food, enjoy the scenery. Living alone in the wilderness required time and effort, gave him peace of mind. Calm. The way he saw it, his needs ranked higher than protecting the butts of wayward sight-seeing hikers.
Nimbly the girl continued her downward trek, adjusting her backpack as she hit gentle terrain, her pace more half-jog than walk. As she made a beeline for the tree line across an open meadow, Walsh watched the ridge a while longer, allowing her to put some space between them.
Minutes passed and no one followed. Whoever it was remained hidden behind the rocks and brush. If the girl continued without detour, she would make it down to the base in about two hours, well before sundown. Inhaling deeply, Walsh felt confident he’d prevented a confrontation, though he couldn’t ignore the nagging feeling it wasn’t over. He folded his binoculars and slipped them into the pocket of his canvas shoulder bag. Any pursuit now would be easily evaded on her part.
Setting off after her, Walsh cut through a field of pine trees running parallel to the trees where she had sought refuge. Currently a half mile west of his camp, he knew the two forests would converge. On impulse, he decided to follow her, making certain she was out of harm’s way. Nothing else to do, he mused sourly.
Only time will tell how “sour” Walsh feels about this particular hiker!