I was excited to see S Doyle has a new book coming on January 17th. I reached out to her and got an exclusive two chapter excerpt for you. I hope you enjoy.
If you want more, you can buy on Kindle or read via Kindle Unlimited on January 17th.
Hope’s Point, Alaska
I looked at Jackson, who was sitting to my right. Motherfucker never gave anything away.
I didn’t have to look at my cards. I knew I was holding kings. I also knew there was an ace on the flop.
“Check,” I said.
Noah, who we referred to as Ark, snorted. “You two are pussies. Check.”
“Who’s the pussy?” Cal asked Ark. “Two bucks.”
A typical Cal move. As our boss and fearless leader up here in Nowheresville, Alaska, he was constantly keeping us on our toes. Settling for a round of checks would never fly for him. My guess he was holding nothing, too.
The door to the bar where we were playing poker flew open and we all looked up to see who would be joining us for our Friday night entertainment. Most everyone from the camp not working a shift was already here. A bunch of guys were playing pool. Bud, the owner of the place, had some country music playing in the background. Nothing too exciting.
Which is why, when the door to the bar opened, everyone looked.
As if one day some fucking rock star might just appear and shake up our world. Only we all knew that was never going to happen. It wasn’t like there were any strangers who just showed up in Hope’s Point. Not when you’re in the northwestern tip of the state. Only way here was by sea or by air.
So we all knew the guy who came in with his wife behind him. And it never failed to be the freaking weirdest thing I ever did see.
“Zeke,” we muttered as a group.
“Yep,” he said in way of acknowledgement.
“Hi, guys!” Eve waved to us.
She had her arm around her husband, who had a four-month-old baby strapped to his chest in one of those baby sarong wraps.
What made that sight so weird?
Zeke was tall, built like an ox, with a military short haircut. He had to be somewhere in his late forties, maybe fifty given the creases around his eyes. But he screamed badass. No, beyond badass. The guy looked like the psycho killer out of every horror movie I had ever seen.
His wife, however, was this young, hot chick who always had a smile for anyone who said hello. The two of them were the least likely looking couple I had ever seen. And no one would have pegged a guy like Zeke as a baby daddy.
Only in fucking Alaska.
“Eve.” We all returned her greeting with smiles of our own. Eve was cool. But Zeke was the type of guy who made us all sure to keep our greetings toward his wife friendly and from a distance.
I would not want to be the man who ever stood between Zeke and his wife.
Not that he had anything to worry about from us. Apparently, the last company that had drilled oil up in these parts had filled their ranks with slimeballs. Dyson International didn’t operate that way. The men out here now were professional, hardworking and always respectful of the locals.
Cal made sure of that.
“What are you playing?” Eve asked, making her way over to our table.
“Hold ’em,” I told her. “Want to play in?”
“She doesn’t,” Zeke informed me.
Eve slapped him lightly on the shoulder. “He was asking me,” she told her husband. “I can play if I want to play.”
“Babe, it’s date night,” he said.
That’s right. The horrifying badass with the slobbering baby stuck to his chest said things like date night.
She practically glowed when she looked at him. “Yeah, I forgot. Me and my two guys tonight. Sorry, Eli, maybe another time.”
“Sure thing, Eve.”
I watched them head to a table in the corner. Zeke always, always sat with his back to the wall so he could see everyone and everything that happened in the bar. It wasn’t lost on any of us that he sat in the same place, in the same way, every time he came here.
“So what do we think?” I asked the guys, not for the first time. “He has to be a former S.E.A.L., right?”
“Couldn’t tell you,” Cal said. “But I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be his enemy.”
“True, but he is one lucky son of a bitch,” Ark said. “Eve’s a sweetheart.”
“What? You don’t think she is?” I asked him.
Jackson, who we had appropriately given the nickname Daniels, after his preferred whiskey, was the quietest of our group. But that was because he always had his eyes and ears open. Watching and listening for signs that the rest of us might miss. It’s why Cal had hired him, despite his former criminal record. Jackson always knew before anyone else on the crew when trouble was coming.
“I think only a certain type of woman could be with a man like that. That type isn’t a sweetheart. My guess, she’s as badass as he is and could probably kick all your asses.”
“But not yours, right, Daniels?” I laughed.
Except when I looked at him, I realized he was dead serious. Who was I kidding? He was probably right. The thing I figured out quick about Jackson was that he didn’t have much of a sense of humor.
“Still, whatever their deal is, they are obviously into each other,” I pointed out. “You guys ever think about all that? The wife, drooling kid. Baby car seats and S.U.V.s and shit.”
“Had it,” Cal said softly. “Lost it. Never doing that again. Now, are we going to play cards or talk about our fucking love lives? The bet was two bucks.”
I frowned. I knew Cal had lost his wife and young daughter in a car accident years ago. There was a picture of the three of them he kept on a shelf in his office at camp. He didn’t talk about them, ever, but they always seemed to be there with him.
Everyone put up the two dollars Cal had bet, and Ark dealt the turn.
A harmless two of spades.
I glanced over to where Eve was chatting away while Zeke just looked at her, his hand on his son’s back, rubbing gentle circles.
“Love lives,” I muttered, thinking about what Cal said. “How can we talk about love lives when we don’t have any? Eve is the only attractive woman in Hope’s Point and she’s obviously spoken for.”
“You’re forgetting about Olivia,” Cal said and even as he said it, I swear he smirked at Ark. “She’s attractive.”
Instantly, Ark reacted. “Olivia is not hot. She’s a she-devil. Don’t let those looks fool you. That woman would eat any man alive after she had him in bed.”
Olivia had long, dark hair, legs that went on forever, and dark blue eyes. She was totally hot.
“Tell us how you really feel about Dyson’s newest engineer?” I poked him.
Ark growled. “I feel better when she keeps her ass in Anchorage and stays out of my way. A woman who gets between a man and his babies is obviously a shrew.”
Babies being his rigs. As head engineer, Ark was responsible for their maintenance. Since Olivia had been hired, she’d been up to Hope’s Point twice to make suggestions on improving efficiencies.
Ark was not a fan of suggestions. What I couldn’t figure out was if he really despised Olivia as much as he said he did. Jackson probably knew which way the wind blew, but typical of him, he wouldn’t comment.
“Olivia is company and that comes with all that sexual harassment bullshit,” I said. “What we need are some nice normal women up here. To date.”
Cal was assessing me with a look that suggested he cared about what I needed. It was the kind of look I always thought a dad would give me, if I had ever had a father.
“It’s been a while since you took some time off,” Cal said. “You need to get away for a bit? Find some companionship? I can arrange some extended time off for you to head to Anchorage. Or the Lower 48, if you think you need to really get away.”
I grimaced. “I’m not talking about getting laid. I’m talking about a date. Dinner, drinks. A game of pool. Conversation.”
Jackson looked at me as if I had grown two heads. “You’ve been watching too much Bachelor. When you started watching Bachelor in Paradise, I should have known things were bad.”
“Do not mock BIP. Jared and Ashley are together now,” I said defensively.
“Jesus, we’re talking about the freaking Bachelor now. Is someone going to do something about the hand we’re playing?” Cal snarled.
“Check,” Jackson said.
“Check,” I added just so I could get back to the crazy idea I had. “What if we did that? What if we set it up so a bunch of nice, hot women would come up here for a trip and a blind date?”
“Are you insane?” Ark asked. He bounced his knuckles on the table to indicate he was also checking. “What woman in her right mind is going to fly to Alaska so she can go on a date with you? You understand Bud’s is the only establishment Hope’s Point has to offer.”
True, but there was also something exotic about Alaska. Especially in the summer. Snow-kissed mountains, beautiful clear rivers, amazing wildlife.
Alaska wasn’t a place, it was a state of mind. It was breathing in the cleanest, freshest air you’ve ever smelled and knowing this was what the Earth should taste like. It was a connection to the planet, to the animals and to the people who had been here before the Alaskan natives had ever considered the Lower 48.
A bucket-list stop for many people, but only a few were ever up to the challenge.
Hope’s Point was more than a challenge.
“Hear me out. We’re decent-looking guys. We stay in shape because we have to. And we’ve all got money in the bank. We’re not bad catches if you think about it.”
It’s why I took job in the first place. The work was grueling. The weather was relentless. The isolation could be maddening. Which meant the pay was off the charts. With nothing to spend it on but the occasional beer, and losing a hand of poker now and then, I had more money saved than I knew what to do with.
“You think that’s enough incentive to haul their asses all the way up here? Do you even know what the cost of that would be? I agree with Ark. You’re smoking crack, my brother,” Jackson added.
“What if we paid for it? A round-trip plane ticket from anywhere in the United States?” I offered.
“Two dollars,” Cal bet.
We all threw up our two bucks just to keep Cal from getting annoyed.
Ark dealt the river. “You want to pay for their trip? Okay, that’s a little different. Makes it seem like they won a prize or something. How are you going to let these women know what you’re offering?”
“We run it like a contest. Want an adventure? Apply to win an all-expenses paid, round trip to Alaska and go out on a date with one of us. No strings attached. How much different is that from any other dating site? A picture, a profile. We pick who we like, and we pony up the bill.”
“Yes, but how are you going to do this?” Ark wanted to know. Ark always needed all the answers up front. “It’s not like you can post a profile on Match.com that says I come with an airplane ticket. No one is going to buy that’s for real.”
We all looked at Jackson, who had made the comment, and waited for him to explain.
He put another two dollars on the table. “You run a Facebook ad. You target women of a certain age and interest. The type of women who would sign up for something like that. I could probably set it up.”
I smiled and bet four dollars. “Raise. This could work. This could really work. All we need is a handful of women to do this and we get to pick our top four.”
Ark tossed his cards away but looked as if he was actually considering my idea.
“Three women,” Cal corrected me. “I want no part of this. I’ll call just to see what you got, Angel.”
That was me. I was Angel. They said it was because my name Elijah sounded like something out of the bible. My mother once told me she picked that name because she’d read it in a Western romance book she really liked. Nothing very biblical about that.
I didn’t poke Jackson on what he was going to do related to either the cards or the women. He looked at me and I did my best to not give him any tells. It must have worked because he threw another two dollars into the pot.
I turned over my pocket kings. Cal and Jackson turned over their aces. Jackson had the higher kicker, but none of that mattered because Ark had dealt a king on the river.
“Fucking lucky bastard,” Cal said as he tossed his cards away.
Jackson just sneered at me. What could I say? I was lucky at cards. Not so much at that other thing.
“So are we in?”
“I’ll set up the ad, see what it brings,” Jackson said.
“Yeah,” Ark agreed. “I want to see the types of crazies who would be willing to do this first before I commit to going on a date with one of them.”
I smiled. Suddenly there was something to look forward to in Hope’s Point. It wasn’t that I had any illusions about what might happen. Despite it being true that I was a member of Bachelor nation, I didn’t really believe in all that stuff. Love at first sight and shit.
This was about having some fun. More fun than racking up a hundred bucks playing poker with the same guys every Friday night we were off.
If this all worked out, maybe in a month I would be sitting at this very table across from a nice, attractive woman who I could talk to. Who would talk to me.
And sure, if she let me fuck her, then that would just be gravy.
I lifted my beer and they all followed suit, even Cal.
I smiled. “Let the fucking Alaska
Dating Games begin.”
Hope’s Point Airport—aka the runway.
It was ridiculous how nervous I was. It had been nearly six weeks since I’d had my brainstorm. We’d taken pictures of ourselves. Jackson set up the webpage and we each wrote some profiles. Nothing serious, mostly just stupid facts about ourselves. Something that would hopefully show the women this wasn’t meant to be too intense. Just some harmless fun.
As a precaution we did change our last names to avoid any disaster situations with crazy stalkers. But we all agreed that was also harmless. It’s not like full names were used on any dating sites.
Then Jackson created the ad, which linked to our page if a person clicked on it. We ran it for five days at a hundred dollars a day, and the thing worked like magic. In that time, we probably got over three hundred responses. Of those, maybe a hundred and twenty were legitimate.
Then it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Ark and I had a blast looking at pictures, reading profiles, weighing the pros and cons of each woman. Not so much for Jackson. Truth was he’d been weird about the whole thing.
He would search through the profiles we received, saying absolutely nothing. Then one day he picked a profile out of the pile of emails, printed it and immediately left to go to his room.
Ark had snorted and wondered if it was love at first sight.
I’d ended up picking the woman who was supposed to land any minute.
Shelby Reese. She was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Twenty-four, just finished college and in between looking for a teaching job and deciding on grad school. Her mom was a nurse, her father was an accountant. She had two older brothers, neither of whom were thrilled she was doing this, but she’d never been outside Baton Rouge before and thought, why not have an adventure.
She was petite and blonde and pretty. But there was something about her smile that spoke to me. A genuineness I didn’t think could be faked. I emailed her, and we communicated back and forth until finally we made arrangements for me to send her a ticket. A P.O. box because she didn’t feel comfortable giving away her home address to a stranger. I thought that made her savvy as well as sweet.
I arranged my work schedule for my down time and we picked a date.
Today was that day and if I wasn’t mistaken, I was hearing the sound of a twin-engine Cessna heading our way.
“Why do I have this sudden desire to start shouting, ‘Da plane! Da plane!’”
I looked at Cal who was standing next to me. He was here for support for both me and Shelby. It was important to me that she feel comfortable. I wasn’t as badass-looking as Zeke, but I was large for a man. Some might call me intimidating.
“Fantasy Island?” he asked.
“Never mind. I forget I’m surrounded by children.”
We liked to bust on Cal that he was the old man in our group, but the reality was, at forty-two, he was only twelve years older than me. Certainly not too old to give love and life another chance. That’s what we all thought. Cal, on the other hand, believed he was done with relationships. Which was why I had no plans to tell him about Vivienne, the woman Ark and I had picked out for him, until it was too late.
I sucked in my breath and waited as the plane turned in the sky then started its descent. What if Shelby didn’t look like her picture? What if she took one look at me and thought I didn’t live up to the hype? What if we had nothing to say to each other? This would be the longest and most painful date in the history of blind dates if that was the case.
It seemed to take forever, but finally the plane landed and the door opened. Doogie, the pilot, got out to set up a step ladder for her. Then he was giving her a hand down and there she was. On the runway.
In a dress. In Alaska. Her hair blew around her face, but I could see it was the same honey blonde from the picture. The dress, too, whipped around her legs. While they were a bit of a blur, I could tell even from this distance they were leaner and tanner than any legs I had seen in a long time.
“She wore a dress.” Cal snorted. “To Hope’s Point, Alaska. Sorry, Angel. That’s got to mean she’s dumb as fuck.”
“She’s from Louisiana and it’s August. Let’s give her a break.” I waved my hand, but it had to be obvious who I was as Cal and I were the only two people standing at the edge of the runway.
Doogie dropped her duffel bag next to her feet and I made my way over to help her carry it. Only she already had it over her shoulder and was jogging toward me, which looked pretty hard to do in the wedge sandals she was wearing.
“Hi!” she called out as soon as she was in shouting range. “Oh my gosh, it’s cold! I looked online and it said temperatures should be in the sixties and I thought I would be okay. But my goodness, I was so cold flying here I thought my legs were just going to freeze up and snap off like ice picks.”
That accent. Sounded like honey flowing out of a jar when she spoke. Luscious and smooth. She looked and sounded as advertised. Wholesome. Sweet.
I might have fallen in love in that moment.
“You must be Shelby,” I said, introducing myself and offering to shake her hand.
But she just moved in and gave me a sweet, albeit brief, hug. “And you’re Eli. I would say you look just like your picture but, oh my goodness, you’re more handsome in person if that’s even possible.”
I smiled. I couldn’t help it. She had big brown eyes and the widest smile I had ever seen.
She also wore a hoodie with a jean jacket on top of it. On top of her completely ridiculous dress. Certainly, nothing that would hold up against the winds that were coming off the inlet, making it feel colder than the thermometer indicated.
“Come on,” I said. “Let’s get you somewhere warmer.”
“Amen Jesus to that!”
I directed her toward my truck where Cal was leaning against the door. He stood straight as we approached.
“Shelby Reese, this is Caleb Walters. He’s here to be our chaperone. So you don’t have to be alone with me until you’re comfortable.”
She didn’t look convinced. “You thought having two strange men greeting me was better than one? I’m not sure you understand women very well.”
Caleb huffed out a laugh. Then he pulled his cell phone out. “I planned on this. Hold on.”
He dialed a number then put the phone on speaker.
“Dyson Enterprises,” a woman answered on the other end of the line.
“Hey, Sally, it’s Cal. Can you do something for me? I’ve got a nice, young woman with me and I want to assure her I and my team of workers are decent men.”
“No problem there, Cal. I would trust you with my life. Honey, I’ve been working for Dyson for twenty years, known Cal as many as ten. He’s the best and he only hires the best of kind of men. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
“Thanks, Sally.” Cal ended the call and we both looked at Shelby expectantly.
“Well, I suppose I can trust another woman. Unless of course she was a plant. But I imagine that would be some pretty elaborate planning on y’all’s part. So I’m just going to go with my gut. Now, Eli, you promised me some warmth. Let’s make that happen.”
I laughed and opened the door to the passenger seat. “You mind getting in the back?”
“Oh, goodness me, there is a blanket!” Shelby scrambled into the back of the cab and promptly proceeded to wrap herself up.
Cal got in the passenger side and I got behind the wheel. I turned the engine and immediately cranked the heat.
“I know you must think I’m all kinds of a fool for wearing a dress,” she babbled. “But I said to myself, Shelby, are you going all this way on a blind date in a pair of jeans and sneakers? I think surely not. I mean, it is August. Back home it’s hotter than a June bug’s ass. And I know what you’re thinking. How do I know how hot a June bug’s ass is? But that’s just a thing we say where I’m from. I had no idea what to expect here.”
“You mean in Alaska?” Caleb drawled.
I glared at him. “I think your dress is real pretty.”
“You do? Well, aren’t you the sweetest thing. So what happens next?”
“I rented you a cabin. We’ll take you there and let you rest up. Then I plan to pick you up for dinner. There is only one place to eat out here in Hope’s Point—it’s not much if you’re into fine dining. But tomorrow I’ve got some fun outdoor activities planned if you decide, after tonight, you’re willing to put up with me.”
I looked in the rearview mirror. She wasn’t listening to me. Her gaze was locked outside the window on the snow-tipped mountains that surrounded this tiny stretch of populated land.
“It’s beautiful,” she whispered as if she had entered some sacred church.
I thought she was more so.
I pulled up to one of the cabins Zeke had rented to us for the duration of our contest. Beyond being badass, he also owned several properties in Hope’s Point. Not that anybody did anything with them since he had built a new home for himself, Eve and little Z.
All of the cabins were pretty simple but kept in decent condition and perfect for what we needed.
I hadn’t been able to tell from his expression what he’d thought about what we were doing when we asked if he would rent us one of the cabins. Pretty sure no one in the history of all time ever gleaned anything from Zeke’s expression. But I had pointed out it might be nice for Eve to have young women around town to talk with. To which he’d grunted. All things considered, I took that as a positive.
“I’ll set you up inside and a get a fire going for you.”
Cal got out of the passenger side and Shelby bounced out behind him. I grabbed her duffel and walked up to the cabin. I used the key Zeke had given me and opened the door. A quick check confirmed it was critter free. Although it wouldn’t have been like Zeke to allow the structure of the cabin to succumb to the elements.
Shelby bounced in and clapped. “Oooh, this is so nice.”
Nice? I didn’t know that I would describe it as nice, but it was functional enough for however long she planned to stay.
“You ever deal with a pot-bellied stove?”
She shook her head. Right, of course. Daughter of an accountant and a nurse, she probably grew up in some suburb. I started putting together what I needed to get the fire going and when I did, I showed her how she needed to use the mitt to open and close the stove to add any wood.
“You don’t need to feed it too much wood. You’re going to be surprised how much heat you get from it. And I made sure the blankets were all thermal, so you won’t get cold at night. Although it’s been fairly balmy this past week.”
Her eyes grew wide. “Balmy? Sugar, if you think this is balmy, then I’ve got some swamp land to sell you in the bayou.”
“Damn, I like the way you talk.” It just made me smile.
She smiled, and I liked that even more.
“Okay, I better go, or I might not leave. But before I go, can I take a peek at what you packed? I need to know if you have the kind of gear for what I’ve got planned.”
She frowned then. “I did bring jeans. And sneakers. But this is warmest coat I have.”
I nodded. “It’s okay. One of the things Hope’s Point does have is a cold weather gear shop. Olivia started making us stock female sizes because assuming everyone working on an oil rig would be male was, in her words, sexist.”
“I think I like Olivia. How come you didn’t ask her to be a chaperone?”
“Because Ark loses his shit any time she comes to town. And we need him focused.”
She wrinkled her nose, which was adorable. “Then I probably won’t like Ark.”
“Trust me, you’ll like the guys. They will be there tonight at the bar. While we give each other a lot of shit, we’re pretty tight. You would have been happy with any one of them as your date.”
She tilted her head and smiled. “Aren’t I supposed to think you’re the best date?”
I ran a knuckle lightly under her chin. “Baby, that’s a given.”
“Did you just call me baby when you barely know me?”
I flashed her a smile. “You bet I did, baby. I’ll be back in a few hours to take you shopping and then dinner. Get some rest. Sound good?”
I hesitated because I had this weird inclination to bend down and kiss her mouth. Not anything super sexy. Just a kiss. Two lips meeting. A sense of intimacy.
Except she was right. I didn’t really know her. I just felt like I did. I could count the time I had spent with her in minutes, yet she was already familiar to me.
Which was crazy.
I left her then and gave myself a shake to clear my head. I was being ridiculous. She seemed like a sweet, pretty woman. Everything she represented herself to be in her profile. I was just happy with the result of my efforts.
Having a night out with Shelby… worth every penny.
Eli shut the door behind him and I let out a sigh of relief. The hard part was over.
I was here. I’d made it. Step one of the plan was complete.
Make it to Alaska. Get away from home.
Step two: play nice with the very large oil rigger.
Geesh, he was big. I suppose I should have known that based on his profile, but seeing him up close and personal had been something else. He was someone I was going to have to be careful with how I played him.
Step three: start my life over.
I walked over to the bed and fell back into it with my arms spread. This was the craziest thing I had ever done and I couldn’t believe it was working. I was in a place no one could find me.
I pulled my phone out of the satchel I had brought along. Still no phone service. Which meant no one could reach me.
I was a ghost.
Beyond that, I had a very large man, who was being super sweet to me so far. Probably because I was the first woman he’d seen in a dress since he’d been up here.
Sometimes men could be ridiculously easy.
He’d brought a chaperone to the airport. That was thoughtful of him. The last thing I considered the men in my life to be were thoughtful. Plus, he was going to take me shopping later. Both positive signs he wasn’t ready to kick my ass to the corner at first sight.
Not that I thought he would, but still, I’d had this crazy fear that it would be written all over my face what I was really doing here in Alaska. I wanted at least a few days to settle myself before I left.
I certainly wasn’t here for anything as simple as a date.
No, I had come all this way to Hope’s Point for one reason and one reason only.
I was here to save my life.