From America's beloved storyteller, Barbara Delinsky, comes a classic novel of a man and woman following their instincts--and doing what comes naturally...
When Jordanna Kirkland agrees to go backpacking in New Hampshire, she doesn't realize the trip is for men only--and that one of those men would be Patrick Clayes. Not only is Patrick rugged, handsome, and irresistibly charming, he's also her ex-husband's business rival in New York. Jordanna knows she should ignore her attraction to Patrick. But when the nights get cold, those lips of his are awfully warm--and impossible to resist. Why fight it? What happens in the wild stays in the wild, right? The real problem starts when Jordanna and Patrick go back to the boardrooms of Manhattan--but the passion never stops...
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St. Martin's Paperbacks
May 28, 2012
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Excerpt from The Forever Instinct by Barbara Delinsky
SHE RECOGNIZED HIM INSTANTLY. His face was the same, if more mature, with tiny time lines etched into his brow and at the corners of his eyes. Flecks of silver whispered through his thick sable hair. Though thinner than he'd been when she'd seen him last, he was every bit as tall and broad of shoulder. And his intensity hadn't lessened.
"Jordanna Kirkland," he stated, dredging her name from the depths of the past as he soberly stared at the woman whose arrival at the campground had coincided nearly perfectly with his own.
Letting her frame pack slide the length of her leg until it stood on the ground, she struggled to contain her shock and its attendant rush of memories. "Lance."
"It's Patrick now. Patrick Clayes." Dragging his eyes from hers, he extended a hand to each of the other four members of the group in turn. "I'll be your guide."
"Larry Earls," said the first, a slim, pale man.
"Donald Scheuer," was the response of his taller, more heavyset companion.
"John Kalajian," the third said with a nod, an attractive professorial type.
"Bill Wennett," declared the last, the hint of arrogance in his voice echoing his cocksure stance.
All looked to be in their early forties and, from the similarity of their dress and gear, friends. It wasn't quite what Jordanna had expected when Craig Talesehad so gallantly offered her his place on the trek.
Scrupulously avoiding Patrick's gaze, she looked from one man to the next. She had their undivided attention. "How many others will be joining us?" she asked quietly, assuming the women to be lagging somewhere behind. The names Scheuer and Wennett were ones Craig had mentioned; she was with the right group.
John looked at Larry; Donald's gaze met Bill's. Then all four looked with dawning dismay at Patrick, who finally spoke. "I was told there would be five of you. I guess this is it."
"There were supposed to be five of us. Who's she?" Bill demanded, turning an imperious eye on Jordanna.
She raised her chin a fraction of an inch. She'd learned to deal with high-handed men long ago. "Patrick had my name right. It's Jordanna Kirkland."
"Where's Craig?" Larry asked.
"He got an emergency call from San Diego. His daughter is ill. He flew out last night."
"So he called you?" Donald barked in disbelief.
"Yesterday," she stated.
"And you decided to join a group of men for five days in the wilds?" This from Bill again, with unmitigated disdain.
She stiffened her spine. "I had no idea I was joining a group of men. That must have been Craig's idea of a little joke." It fitted. Though as her accountant he was second to none, he was forever ribbing her about what he called her "male instinct" in the world of business.
"It's a lousy joke," Larry muttered. To Jordanna he seemed more threatened than angry at her presence.
Not so Donald. Anger punctuated his every word,though his attention jumped from one to the other of his friends in search of support. "More than that. It's impossible! This was supposed to be a fun week with the guys. Totally uninhibited. There's no way we can have that with her along."
Jordanna's lips quirked at the corners. "Don't let me stop you. You can be as uninhibited as you want. I've seen a lot in my time. You won't shock me."
Donald ignored her. "What in the hell did Craig have in mind?"
For the first time since announcing his name, John spoke up. His voice was quiet, his manner philosophical. "Maybe he wanted to knock a hole in the last bastion of male chauvinism. You know how he's always after us." His pensive gaze slid to Jordanna. "Jordanna Kirkland ... as in Willow Enterprises?"
Time reversed itself. It was as though she were once more standing before the skeptical bank board that would decide whether to grant her that crucial loan to bolster her fledgling business. As she'd done then, she now donned her most serene and confident expression. "That's right."
"You're its president?" John queried.
"And founder," she added, her pride present if understated.
Donald cursed, but he had the grace to do it softly. There his civility ended. "So she's the one he's been raving about all this time?" When John nodded, he scowled. "Then the joke's on us. Man, how could he do this?"
"Must be his warpea sense of numor,' Bill countered, looking as disgusted as his friend.
"Kind of funny, when you think of it," John mused, only to draw three irate glances. He shrugged and held up a hand in self-defense. "Just kidding, guys. Just kidding."
"But what are we going to do about it?" Larry asked.
"She can't come, that's all there is to it," Donald barked.
Bill seconded the motion.
John had the good sense to keep his mouth shut.
By this time Jordanna was incensed. "What do you mean, she can't come?" she demanded. "She's here, in case you hadn't noticed. She's traveled six hours to get here, not to mention the time it took to make arrangements to be out of the office for the week. She's reimbursed Craig for the money he chipped in with you guys and she has her gear packed, and--" her eyes stopped flashing long enough to eye the foursome solemnly "--she's probably in far better shape for this hike than any of you."
Bill gave her the once-over, very slowly, then raised a brow and drawled, "Wouldn't surprise me in the least." His eyes narrowed. "But you have to wonder why a woman would want to go off into the woods with five men."
Jordanna didn't flinch. "You're being offensive," she stated quietly, then turned her head toward their guide for the first time since the fray had begun. And for the first time, she felt a true surge of anxiety. The four other men didn't daunt her in the least. For the past ten years, she'd fought their type. Though self-centered, they were predictable; though unpleasant, relatively harmless. Lance Clayes was something else. He was the link to a past she'd just as soon forget.
The way he was staring at her didn't help. She saw what he saw, fragments of those days of glory. And she saw something more. In the instant before he shuttered his gaze, she saw curiosity, perhaps a touch of respect, but also an undeniable flicker of heat. It unsettled her as the men's outward hostility had not done.
Slowly Patrick straightened, his dark brown eyes now harder as they held Jordanna's. "You're determined to come?"
"Do you know what you're getting in for?"
"I've read the trip description."
"And you think you can keep up?"
"I know I can."
"Have you ever backpacked before?"
Taking a calculated risk, she tipped her head toward the others. "Have they?"
The silence from the four was answer aplenty. If they'd been experienced backpackers, they would no more have hired a guide than have chosen to wear spanking new hiking boots. Not that hers were any more broken in, but they were softer, a gentle offshoot of the traditional heavy leather clods, more sneaker than boot. Indeed, part of her mission was to test their wearability; they wouldn't hit the market for another four months.
Patrick ran his tongue around the inside of his cheek, carefully choosing his words. "I was told you were all beginners," he said, shifting his gaze to the men.
Jordanna answered with a self-confidence none of the others could muster. "We are." She'd learned early on that being forthright about her weaknesses enhanced her strengths. "But we're determined." She ignored four scathing looks. "And ready to go." Innocently she scanned the faces of the men, then spoke with mock sweetness. "We were to be off by one, weren't we?"
"Yeah," Bill grumbled, turning to lift his pack.
"Hold on," Patrick cautioned as he loped off toward the Jeep parked near the other cars on the fringe of the campground. "I've got the supplies here," he called over his shoulder. "We'll have todivvy them up." With a minimum of effort he hauled first his own pack, then three open cartons filled with food and equipment from the back of the Jeep. "Bring your packs over. It'll be easier."
The five did as told, then watched him apportion supplies among six packs. It was with mild dismay that Jordanna watched the proceedings, praying that she'd have enough room in her pack for everything he gave her. She'd followed Craig's instructions to the letter, had even rushed out and bought as many books as she could find on backpacking, several of which had included step-by-step guides for filling a frame pack. Three times she'd loaded and unloaded the nylon-duck bag that sat so innocently atop its aluminum frame; each successive time the bag had looked less innocent. How something so roomy when empty could hold so little when filled was beyond her. But she'd persevered, discarding an additional item or two of clothing with each round of packing, until she'd finally found the right combination.
Mercifully, she'd had no trouble placing numerous bags of freeze-dried food in the top of her pack, or stuffing other goodies into side pockets. There were raisins, nuts, freeze-dried coffee and Tang, each carefully packaged in plastic bags for a minimum of bulk and weight. The latter was crucial. When every compartment was securely closed, and her sleeping bag and Ensolite pad rolled and fastened at the top of the frame, she had a substantial load to challenge her fitness
For a second too long sne eyed tne pack. "Problems, Jordanna?" Bill goaded. "Look too heavy?"
"I can handle it," she answered calmly.
Donald joined his friend and ally. "You're sure?" He shook his head, his mien patronizing, to say the least. "You can change your mind now before we getgoing. Once we're on the trail it won't be so easy. It'd be unfair to ask one of us to walk all the way back here with you."
Jordanna simply smiled. "We'll see who tires when," she said softly, then turned to her pack and contemplated the simplest way to put it on. The problem was taken out of her hands when Patrick easily lifted it and held it out. Turning, she slipped her arms through the straps, then, head down, fumbled with the hip belt. When she straightened, he was before her to adjust the shoulder straps.
Given the silence among the rest of the men, she wasn't sure whether to be grateful or annoyed. Patrick's assistance did nothing either for her own peace of mind or for the image of competence she was trying to project. In a way it was patronizing. Yet when she met his gaze there was neither smugness nor any semblance of a leer. Rather there was a dark intensity, a hardness reminiscent of the Lance Clayes of old. A muscle jumped in his jaw. Underdog or not, he was a man of determination.
"You can manage, can't you?" he asked quietly enough to spare her embarrassment, yet firmly enough to suggest his own doubt.
Jordanna was only marginally aware that the others had begun to don their packs. Her attention was riveted to Patrick. "Of course I can manage," she said, wondering why her voice didn't sound as firm as her conviction.
"The pack's heavy."
"We'll be going a long way, some of it over rough terrain."
"I've been running better than thirty miles a week for the past four years."
He showed no sign of being impressed, but simply continued to stare at her, into her, through her.
"I can do it, Lance--"
"Pat. Even if his sense of humor is a little off, Craig would never have suggested I come if he hadn't had faith in me." She took a breath, then stated baldly, "His job's at stake."
"What does he do?"
"He's my accountant."
For several seconds longer, Patrick studied her. His expression grew strangely wary. "You're a successful woman, Jordanna. Why are you here?"
"Can't successful women go on backpacking trips?" she countered, trying to make light of his query and the very powerful presence behind it.
"Sure they can," he asserted softly. "More often, though, they choose a week of leisure at one resort or another." His gaze clouded. "It's odd. Jordanna Kirkland. Peter's wife--"
"Peter's ex-wife," she corrected in a half whisper. "We've been divorced for nearly ten years. Our paths rarely cross. And who I was then has no bearing whatsoever on my presence here today."
He considered her quiet vehemence for an instant before silently turning away. Perplexed, Jordanna watched him hoist his own pack to his back. She sensed there would be far more to say about the past before the five days were done, and she wondered if she would be wise to turn back while she could. Patrick's presence shook her; she felt oddly unbalanced. If only she had an inkling as to the thoughts running through his mind ...
Then she caught herself and brought her chin up On principle alone she was determined to see the week through. She had decided to come; she had spent the past thirty-six hours making arrangements. And neither four reluctant men nor one Patrick Clayes was going to stop her.
Standing idly, waiting for the others to adjust their packs, she surveyed the surroundings only her peripheral vision had previously absorbed. In the parking area stood just four vehicles, two for the four buddies, Patrick's Jeep and her own rented Chevy. It seemed they'd have the woods to themselves--not surprising given the fact that it was early November. The foliage seekers had long since retreated to the warmth of their homes for the winter.
Though only partially bare, the trees wore their remaining leaves like shabby cloaks shedding threads here and there in the afternoon breeze. Beyond, the evergreens stood tall and grand in anticipation of their coming days of supremacy over those whose beauty was more ephemeral.
Two trails led into the woods from the parking area. Having studied the trip description long hours into the night, Jordanna knew they'd be taking the Basin Trail and making a large, rugged loop covering nearly twenty-two miles before returning on the Wild River Trail.
"Okay, listen a minute," Patrick began, gathering them all around for preliminary instructions. "First off, we travel as a group. The trails are well marked and hard to miss, but I don't want to risk losing any of you. We'll stay on the beaten path. No bushwhacking. Zero-impact hiking is what it's all about. When we disband Friday night, there should be no sign whatsoever that we've ever been here. Side trips through the brush will only destroy the natural beauty of the place. None of us want to do that," he stated positively as he looked from one to another of his charges. To Jordanna's relief, his gaze touched her but briefly.
"Our walking time this afternoon will be roughly two hours, though with stops here and there weprobably won't reach the Blue Brook shelter until dinnertime. It's a perfect walk for beginners. But--" he paused, a warning look on his face "--if anyone has trouble, any trouble, I want you to yell. If your pack is killing you, it might need a simple adjustment. Same with your boots. At the first sign of blisters, we stop to apply moleskin. At the first problem with a knee or an ankle, we put on an Ace bandage. Since none of you have backpacked before, there are bound to be aches and pains, but--within limits--I want you to speak up. This is a pleasure trip. We don't need martyrs. We're not looking for heroes. A problem dealt with early on can be easily handled. Down the road it may be a little harder. Understood?" He cast a glance from one intent face to another. When each had nodded, he eased up. "Any questions?"
Jordanna had a million questions. Where do we sleep? How do we cook? What if it rains? Will there be bears? But, like the others, she shook her head, confident that the answers would be forthcoming in time.
"Let's go," he said. "I'll lead the way. John, you take up the rear. We'll switch around once you all get the hang of it."
Without further ado, he set off. Jordanna watched his retreating form, admiring the way his gear seemed an extension of his body, wondering how long he'd been backpacking. Judging from the spring in his step, he loved it.
John's quiet call drew her from her momentary preoccupation. With a start she realized the others were already on the trail. Flashing him a buoyant smile that she hoped would cover for her lag, she moved quickly ahead.
Though the air was brisk, it wasn't cold. Havingchecked the long-range forecast, Jordanna knew that there were no major storms expected. Chills she could easily withstand; the clothes she wore were designed to be lightweight and warm. Snow, though, she could do without. She was no glutton for punishment.
The path was of crushed stone leading southward past several deserted campsites before entering deeper woods. She concentrated on walking steadily and shifted her pack once to a more comfortable position. She was grateful she hadn't skimped in selecting her gear; her shoulder straps were well padded, her hip belt substantial enough to evenly distribute the load. Amazing what she'd learned about backpacking in such little time, she mused. She only hoped her cramming would pay off further along. Going to bed at 2:00 A.M. hadn't been the smartest thing to do, particularly since she'd awoken at six to shower and dress and head out from New York. She would be tired tonight. But then, evenings on the trail were probably going to be quiet and early ones.
Few words were spoken as the six walked on, each seeming too awed by the silent splendor of the woods to shatter its effect. They had left all civilization behind. Even the path was now of packed earth strewn with leaves. Larry, the photographer of the group, paused to take pictures from time to time. When he stopped to adjust his pack, Patrick assisted him while the others rested, occasionally sipping from canteens or flexing cramped shoulders.
On the move once more, they came to a wetter area of ground, where a plank walkway had been constructed.
"Someone was thoughtful," Larry observed.
"We'll run across these from time to time," Patrick explained, tapping his booted toe against thefirst of the planks. "But they're not first and foremost for our benefit."
"Then whose?" Bill asked irreverently.
"The earth's," Patrick answered. "Walkways like these retard soil erosion. Without them, some of the trails would be impassable, not to mention devoid of vegetation." Without awaiting further comment, he went ahead. The others followed. What had been the symphonic rustling of dead leaves underfoot became a more percussive series of thuds as they progressed.
Head down now, Jordanna studied the planks, then the soggy ground to either side as her professional instinct went to work. She wondered how her hiking shoes would hold up on wet ground. Had Patrick's words not rung fresh in her ear, she might have been tempted to step off into the muck. But his words had hit their mark, and besides, she was hemmed in front and rear by men who would delight in any slip she made. A soggy shoe was not the most auspicious adjunct to a hike. Perhaps at the end of the trip, she decided, when no great harm could be done, she'd experiment.
On dry ground once again, they climbed steadily along what Patrick announced to be Blue Brook until they reached a footbridge. There, at his direction, they lowered their packs for a rest. At first Jordanna was startled. They'd been walking for barely an hour. Only when she set her pack on the ground and straightened did she understand his motive. Though she thought herself in the best of shape, there seemed to be tiny muscles in her back that she'd never felt before. Stretching carefully, she eased down onto a nearby rock to savor the sight of the gurgling brook below.
The men talked among themselves. She sat apart, perfectly comfortable with the distance. Solitude was a treat for her, given the number of people whorushed in and out of her working life. If the others left her to her own musings during the trek, she wouldn't mind in the least.
She looked up to find Patrick shading her from the sun.
"Fine," she answered quickly, her gaze darting back to a gentle cascade splashing into a pool. "It's really beautiful."
His eyes followed hers. "It's just the beginning. This season is the best. Minimum people, maximum nature."
Something in his tone said that he appreciated solitude as she did. Looking up, she studied the rugged planes of his face. He was unfairly handsome; time had served him well. "Do you--" she swallowed involuntarily and began again "--do you do this often?"
He continued to stand beside her, legs braced wide. His dark hiking pants were well worn and fitted him comfortably. She sensed pure muscle beneath. "Backpacking? Whenever I can."
"Guiding," she corrected, tutoring her thoughts away from his thighs. She wondered if he earned his living as an outdoorsman. Scanning her memory, she couldn't recall having heard about him in recent years. But then, she realized, the mind did strange things. For years she'd blotted out anything and everything to do with football. She might have seen something in the paper and never taken it in.
Eyes trained upstream, he didn't spare her a glance. "Nah. I only take groups out once or twice a year, usually in late fall or early spring. When I go myself, it's into more remote areas, ones I've never seen before."
"You're an explorer then?"
"Mmm." As though loath to say more, he abruptlyturned and wandered to a nearby boulder. Lithely hiking himself upon it he wrapped his arms around his knees to enjoy the scene a while longer.
Staring after him, Jordanna wondered just what path he had taken in life. His playing days were over; forty-year-old quarterbacks were not exactly in demand. If he'd turned to coaching, he'd hardly have been able to take off for a week at the height of the season. On the other hand, he might well have entered broadcasting, where his presence on the weekend would suffice. He was eloquent; his initial speech to the group had proved that. And if the private type, he was hardly shy. Yet in the old days he had avoided the press. Peter had been the one to court them with every bit of charm he could manage, and that was considerable, she remembered with a scowl.
But she didn't want to think of Peter. Or Lance. Or the old days.
With a deep breath she lowered her gaze. Her fingers idly slid through the dried brush by her side, but the startling image in her mind's eye was of a softer, more vibrant brush, that of the dark hair peeping through the open neck of Patrick's shirt as she d seen it moments before. Stunned, she frowned, then reached for a dead leaf and crushed it along with the unbidden image. Refocusing on the enchantment of the stream, she let her mind trip pleasantly until, at length, Patrick hopped down from his perch and retrieved his pack in silent example to the others. With the wave of his hand, they were off again.
Bathed in the relief of having donned her pack alone, Jordanna felt fresh of mind and decidedly confident. Eyes alert, she took in everything, from the pines swaying rhythmically above to the solid firs more stoically enduring the intrusion of humanity.The cliffs that banked the far side of the stream were granite slabs slicing neatly into the water, where, over ages, they were gentled by the crystal-clear flow.