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Nothing beats getting out of the concrete jungle and into the quiet of the forest. Website designer Scottie Ness is taking a well-deserved vacation from the grindstone, and he plans to spend it in the solitude of Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest around Mt. Adams. He’s prepared for everything—except the lightning storm that traps him in a wildfire.
The firefighter who rescues him sustains serious injuries and ends up in the hospital. Jax Quintero might be abrasive, but the guy saved his life, and Scottie wants to thank him. As they spend time together during Jax’s recovery and exploring the state’s landmarks when he’s released from the hospital, Scottie discovers there’s more to Jax than a smart-ass adrenaline junkie. Jax reassesses his opinion of Scottie as an arrogant city boy who has no business in the mountains. Though Jax’s wounds prevent them from taking things as far as they’d like for a while, they can’t deny the heat building between them—and this is one fire they don’t want to put out.
Dreamspinner Press: https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/on-fire-by-alicia-nordwell-7675-b
“WHAT EXOTIC tropical locale are you going to spend your vacation drunk in?” Carter leaned back in his chair so he could see into Scottie’s cubicle. He smirked. “Or are you hitting the casinos in Vegas to make your fortune and leave all of us to toil away in the trenches alone?”
“Neither. Hiking and camping in the Gifford Pinchot around Mt. Adams.” Scottie adjusted a line of code, and the website header widened. “I’m all set to go in the morning.”
“Seriously? You have a week off in August, and you’re going to waste it trudging through the dirt and pine trees when you could be lounging on the beach somewhere?” Carter shook his head. “Wouldn’t catch me doing that. Aren’t there bears and cougars up there?”
Scottie shrugged one shoulder. “I might see a bear, if I’m lucky. Cougars are actually pretty shy.”
“You want to see a bear?”
“It’d make a great picture.” The website he was working on needed to be visually appealing on both computers and mobile devices, and he was having a hard time focusing. “It’s Friday. Don’t you have some reason to duck out and start the weekend early?”
“Nope. Miranda, Tark, and I are all going out for happy hour at Corrigan’s, but not until six. Don’t try to change the subject. You know you can take pictures at the beach, right? White sand, crystal blue water, and palm trees swaying in front of the setting sun.”
“Dime a dozen. I like living in Washington because we have so many places where I can take beautiful nature photos. Coastline, rivers, lakes, mountains, even the desert, all within a few hours’ drive. Besides, I’m still paying off my student loans. I don’t have money for expensive vacations.”
“Two words. Credit cards.”
Of course. Carter wore name-brand shoes with his fancy suits and never brought a lunch, preferring to order takeout. He’d graduated a year before Scottie, so it wasn’t like he made that much more money. “One word. Stupid.”
Carter rolled his eyes. “Whatever, man. When I take my week off next month, I’m going to Hawaii. Hotel on the beach, coconut drinks, and chicks in bikinis. Any women you come across in the campground will probably be covered in pitch and pine needles.”
“I’m not going to stay in the campgrounds. I’m hiking and camping off the trails, and for the most part, I won’t see any people at all.”
A look of horror crossed Carter’s face. “Seriously?”
He nodded. “I used to go camping with my family all the time growing up. We’d hike, fish, roast hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire. It’s peaceful.”
“Whatever, man. When you get munched on by a bear, can I get your chair?”
It was Scottie’s turn to roll his eyes. “I’m not going to get eaten by a bear, and your chair is the same as mine. Why would you want it?”
“I spilled fish sauce on mine earlier this week, and now it smells funny.”
“Well you can’t have my chair, and I’ll notice if there’s a fish funk on mine when I get back, so don’t even try to switch them. Don’t you have a project to finish? I have to get this done before I leave.”
“Fine, fine.” Carter rolled back to his desk. “Have fun communing with wildlife.”
SCOTTIE ROLLED up his backpacking tent with an extra tarp and fastened it to the bottom of his pack. His sleeping bag, a change of clothes, survival kit, portable stove, water filter, and food fit inside. The rest of his camping gear was piled along the wall, taking up most of the living room floor in his postage stamp of an apartment. He plopped down on the couch with a beer and opened his laptop.
Using a red highlighter, he outlined the trails he planned to take and marked his base camp as well as his possible overnight camping sites before printing out two copies. Picking up a pen, Scottie scribbled his full name, the dates of his trip, and what kind of vehicle he was driving on the back of one map. He’d drop it off at the ranger station before he stopped in Trout Lake for some sandwiches. No idea what they did to make them taste so great, but they were way better than anything he could make. He’d have to stop by the ATM on the way out of Vancouver to pick up some cash.
Now that he had all the nitty-gritty survival stuff out of the way, he had to get his photography equipment in order. Scottie didn’t spend much money on himself, but he had a nice Canon camera, lenses, a flexible tripod for his hiking pack, and a bigger telescoping tripod in its own bag. Using a polishing cloth from his cleaning kit, Scottie went over every piece of glass in his camera bag, making sure all the lenses and filters were spotless. Photography might be just a hobby, but he took pride in getting that one shot that made all the hard work worth it.
He’d finished his beer by the time he had the last memory card and battery stowed, and he waffled on what he wanted to do. He’d been up since six, worked a full day, and finished getting all his camping gear ready to load in the morning, but he wasn’t tired enough to go to bed. The weather report he checked promised sunny days and clear nights—though it wouldn’t be nearly as warm around Mt. Adams as it would be in Portland.
“Be advised you’re looking for a male in his early twenties, brown hair, approximately five-ten. His name is Scottie Ness.”
“Thanks, Dispatch. We’re headed in to the coordinates you sent.”
“Copy that. Be safe, Twelve.”
Jax’s crew was small, but they’d been working together for the last two years and he’d partnered with Simon for even longer than that. He knew he could trust each and every one of them, and they knew what they were doing. “Ready?”
“Sure thing.” Simon took the lead, followed by Dave, Carlos, Franklin, with Jax in the rear. The acrid stench of burned wood was lighter here than the area they’d been working last, but it was still a strong stench and the gray clouds of smoke made the sky look angry and overcast. They stuck to the trail at first, calling out Scottie’s name. Scanning the huckleberry bushes and small pine trees on the gentler slopes, Jax didn’t see any sign of a hiker.
Jax called a halt when the forest thickened about halfway to the camp coordinates. “If he was coming back and went off trail for some reason, he’d be easy to miss from here on out. Let’s fan out. Dave, keep to the trail, we’ll do a line on either side. Make sure you stay in shouting distance.” The wind felt like it was shifting, but it was hard to tell in the trees as they swayed this way and that.
The going was harder after that. They were still gaining elevation but ravines slowed them down—full of bushes and small trees that caught at their feet. Jax struggled up a hill, glad of his thick gloves protecting his palms as he used bear grass to help pull himself up the slope. “Scottie!” The closer they got to the camp, the angrier he got. They were headed right into one side of the fire, and the back burn was coming for them even faster.
Where the hell was the idiot they were risking their lives for?
“Scottie,” Jax bellowed. He listened, but all he heard was his own crew moving through the woods, calling out Scottie’s name.
“Scottie Ness,” Dave shouted.
“Like there’s another Scottie out here?” Jax muttered. He checked his GPS. They were nearly on top of the campsite on the map. Maybe they’d be able to see it from the top of the ravine. He dropped his handheld and kept moving.
The top of the steep slope did level off. The trees petered out into a meadow full of grass. Dave was on the path, so Jax stepped out of the tree line and waited for the others to catch up. They all grouped together near the path. Simon bent over, his hands on his knees, puffing for air. “Damn hill at the end was nearly vertical, I swear.”
“Anyone see any sign of this guy? Footprints? Garbage?”
They all shook their heads. Jax took a drink, draining most of the water he had with him. “All right, everyone hydrate really fast. Then we fan out in a search line. His camp had to be here in this meadow.”
Stretching out into a staggered line again, they began to walk through the grass. Jax used his ax to sweep the grass for any indication the idiot had gone his direction.
“Over here!” Carlos called.
Jax hightailed it over to the far end of their search line. He caught sight of the tarp on the ground, and then he saw a leg sticking out. Carlos and Simon were carefully lifting a thick branch laying across the tarp.
Dave grabbed a corner of the small tarp and pulled it off. The wind whipped it up, and he let the tarp go. It blew against a tree across the clearing. “Shit, it’s really coming from the east now. We’ve got a problem, Jax.”
“I know. Keep an eye on the skyline for flames. Scottie?”
The number one question folks ask Alicia when she shares she’s a MM romance author: “Why gay fiction? Why write men when you’re a woman?” and her answer is: “Why the hell not!” Alicia Nordwell is one of those not so rare creatures, a reader turned writer. Striving to find an interesting story one day, she decided to write what she wanted instead. Then the voices started… Yep, not only does she talk about herself in the third person for bios, she has voices in her head constantly clamoring to get out. Fortunately, with the encouragement of her family and friends, she decided for her own sanity to keep writing.
Now you can find her stories both free and e-published. When she’s not on the computer typing away, she’s a wife and a mom of two in the dreary, yet ideal for her redhead complexion, Pacific Northwest. Except for when she disappears into one of the many worlds in her head, of course! She can also be found quite often at her blog, where she has a lot of free fiction for readers to enjoy or working hard, or maybe hardly working, as an admin on GayAuthors.org under her online nickname, Cia.
Cia’s Stories: http://www.ciasstories.blogspot.com